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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 26 page 08


Customer leaves bakery with paper bag in hand

The Loyal Customer

by Judith Baron

Here he comes.

Peter Ashford returned to Charlotte Marceau’s bakery after a six-day absence. He looked more haggard, his cheeks more hollow, his white hair more thinned out, his eye sockets more sunken than usual, though the usual had been quite bad for the past several months. He grinned when he saw her, as he always did. After all, he had been coming every business day for the past five years. Many times it was just the two of them in her little shop by the sea. This time, however, she knew he definitely didn’t come for her food. Suddenly she really wished she had an employee to attend to the customers, though it wouldn’t justify the cost, business being rather slow as it was.

“Charlotte, dear, how are you? I think I’m gonna have one of these today!” He pointed at the choux à la crème sitting on the top shelf of the display counter.

“Sure, Peter. I’m fine, thank you for asking,” Charlotte replied while she looked askance at him. It was nearly five o’clock and she was just about to close for the day. “Do sit down.” She beckoned him to take a seat at one of the two empty tables.

She used a pair of tongs to pick up a cream puff and deposited it on a small square plate. She wrapped a small dessert fork in a napkin and placed them on the tray with the cream puff, even though he always used his hands to eat her pastries. Her hands shook a bit, and she had to steady herself as she carried the tray over to Peter. He smiled as Charlotte approached.

“Thank you, dear. It feels like a long time since I tasted your pastries even though I was here just yesterday!” Peter exclaimed.

“Would you like something to drink? Some tea?” Charlotte avoided his gaze. Like she suspected, he didn’t seem to remember he hadn’t been here for the past six days.

Peter noticed the change in her demeanor. His wife and their adult children avoided him too. And he was ignored at other places, like the liquor store he frequented. He knew what people thought — he had cancer and looked it, but for the love of God, it was not a contagious disease! Though Charlotte still talked to him, she seemed to be acting strange too.

“I’ll have a Death Wish, my dear,” Peter replied with a mischievous wink. “Death Wish Coffee, I mean!” he added quickly, when he saw the shock on Charlotte’s pale face.

She nearly gasped at his beverage choice, not just because it hit too close to home with what he went through, but also because Peter had never ordered an espresso in the afternoons — he said it would keep him up at night. He usually ordered decaf. She went behind the counter and pressed a button on the beverage machine for Death Wish. She grimaced when she realized she had forgotten to put a mug on the cup stand and she fumbled quickly for one to catch the dark liquid that was gushing out of the spigot. She was normally not so easily flustered, but this moment was anything but normal. She opened the cabinet above the machine, grabbed a small saucer, put the coffee mug on it, grabbed a small spoon, a couple of cream pods, a few packets of sugar and put them all on the tray. She brought everything to Peter’s table.

“I don’t know what’s going on. Maybe it’s the chemo, I fall asleep as soon as I hit the pillow anyway, so I may as well have a strong coffee,” Peter said. In fact, he slept so well these days that he couldn’t even remember what he did for the past several days. He had lost track of time. He wanted to try a strong coffee so he would stay awake and not miss anything.