Thrift Store

Maxine Chou '21, Literary guest writer

On a mid-September afternoon, there was the kind of rain that paints the sky a somber grey, making the air feel heavy. The customer noted as much upon arriving at the one-story building, surrounded by an empty parking lot (excluding an old, silver sedan with a dented bumper). The automatic doors beckoned her inside, and fluorescent lights illuminated tired beige linoleum. A combination of must and Glade scented the room as “Top 100 Hits!” played softly, almost inaudibly, through the ceiling’s speakers. Aside from the customer and the middle-aged woman (who appeared to be the only employee because she sat in isolation by the fitting rooms), the store was empty.

The customer had seen the marvels of “going thrifting” on social media, but what she surveyed on the tightly packed racks, however, did not seem marvelous. Though unmarred by holes or tears, the muted colors and worn fabrics induced a feeling of pity. The customer, sighing, decided that the majority of the store’s contents would inevitably end up in a landfill (because who would want any of this anyway?). Suddenly feeling guilty about her disdain, she picked up a grey cable-knit sweater and examined it. Whether her consideration of the sweater was genuine or an attempt to seem genuine, it didn’t matter. She put the sweater back on the rack and moved on. 

Meanwhile, the middle-aged woman, who was in fact an employee (she waddled from her uncomfortable seat by the fitting rooms to an uncomfortable stance behind the register), turned her gaze when the automatic doors opened for the third time that day. As if the building was sighing, cool recycled air escaped into the damp outside world. In came a mother, about the age of the employee, wearing a grey t-shirt whose dark lettering had faded into illegibility from years of washing. It was obvious she had been beautiful in her youth, but the gracefulness of high cheekbones, a gently arched nose, and grey-green eyes faded behind the crows feet and smile lines that crept across her face. She was accompanied by her daughter, a lanky fifteen-year-old, whose harsh eyes and other features masked embarrassment with angst. Lips tightly pursed into a sulk and eyes on the floor, she left her mother’s side. 

Now the store housed four people, each sequestered in their own corner of the store: one employee, who remained standing behind the register, and three customers. No more than a passing glance occurred between them. The first customer rejected the prospect of leaving the store empty-handed (the pity and guilt she felt was too great!), so she purchased a small gold-rimmed mirror for three dollars. The mother and daughter left the store with a red winter coat, running sneakers, blue jeans, two belts, and a grey cable-knit sweater. Later that night, the middle-aged employee left the store with no more than she had arrived with: a tattered wallet and the keys to an old, silver sedan with a dented bumper.