Signs of Death at the Thrift Store

Jack Delano, 1941 FSA PhotographerThe donation line is almost out the door when I arrive with my trash bags of clothes and old toys. My divorce was nearly four years ago, but the back rooms seemed to hold on strongest to the fodder from that life.

A champagne wedding dress with hand-sewn pearl beading somehow continues to smell just like 1999. The impression from a swollen pinky never smoothed out beneath the silk of a left-footed wedding shoe that peeks up from the crumpled plastic bag as if it were a nosey puppy surprise. This time it has curiously made the trip all the way to the store. I push back the shoe and all of its memories further into the bag. When the line moves an inch I am back to the here and now. Waiting for the donation drop-off and tax receipt for fifteen years of a life gone by, I wonder, pitifully, if someone will know just how much love this little pinky impression represents among a rack of worn down cast offs.

Over the anxious shoulders ahead I see a small woman lifting huge shirts from trash bags and counting them out to the clerk. “Twenty-five, twenty-six”… When she finally stops that number is thirty-two. The shirts are a collection of designer and store brands and each of them laundry fresh and layered in a sweet, closet-pressed aroma. It’s familiar, but I can’t quite place the scent. I think that I’ve worn it before. When she sighs and starts pulling the folded, but pressed khakis from a new bag, the line protests and an additional clerk is summoned to handle the rest of us.

By the time I make it to the front of the line that donor is a slumping, wet-eyed woman in sagging, stained clothes and run-over, low-heeled shoes. The clerk is rejecting a pillow case of men’s socks. The donor looks over and raises an eyebrow, as if to offer the sudden bounty to me free of charge; just the labor of trucking it out to my own car. No Thanks, Lady.

On the counter the shirts are as big as tents and the pants are like flattened bolts of fabric. This was a huge guy! I want to ask what happened that caused her to donate these clothes, but will have to make due with a guess. “I’ll take Weight Loss thru Death for $100, Alex”.

A moment later she drags the sock offerings over to a trash can and leans the humped bag against it before hurrying out the door with a handful of tax receipts and the clerk bellowing, “You can’t just leave that bag in the store, Mrs. Jimenez!” Too late. She didn’t have to add the mumbled, “Bitch” that slapped against the quickly shutting glass door.

“Sir, you gon’ hafta wait a minute”, comes at me from the cursing clerk. She quickly follows to no one in particular, “We ain’t gon sell this shit, anyway. Hell, who dis damn big?” The back up clerk steps over to take my donations. “Megan!”, she admonishes, but I’m not sure why since there is no further apology to me or the remaining donors.

My donated count goes quickly and I’m out on the curb, staring at a single receipt that makes the long journey of holding on to these memories seem kind of silly. In the stroke of a warped, plastic, thirty-nine cent pen, I’m freed from a load of that old life and my version of Rapper Jay-Z’s, “99 problems”. For a moment I’m consoled in my heart with the ragged absence of a spouse in any room of my heart or the sun lit vacant rooms of a quiet house.

In the next moment I’m being bumped in to by a Mother and daughter team exiting the Thrift Store and pulling open their bags of goodies. I slide to the right and step toward my car and am surprised to see the ladies in tow. We’re parked together and enter our vehicles with a smiling nod. When I start the car and check the mirrors preparing to pull out of the spot I’m frozen at the image of my just donated wedding dress being pawed over in the adjacent car. Each woman has taken tight hold of the garment. Their hands are quick and deft as they begin to pull at the small ivory orbs. Each pearly globe protests for merely a moment before gently and obediently falling away from its’ lovingly placed spot along the bust and neck line.

The ladies look up briefly, smile and stuff the dress aside, then slide an excited hand into the bulging, overpacked store bag. I pull away from the carnage not wanting to confirm if it will be that little, hump-toed shoe…next.


Jas. Mardis is a 2014 Inductee to the Texas Literary Hall of Fame and an award winning Poet and Radio Commentator.


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