by Margaret Rodeheaver
“Welcome to Charity Thrift Shop,” Joni calls as the door jangles. “We have a special on tee shirts today, two for a dollar.”
A tired woman wrestles a stroller through the doorway, trailed by a toddler with a dirty face. The baby in the stroller is fussing.
“Slow day yesterday,” Evelyn says, bringing me an armload of clothes to tag. “Slow today too.” I sit in the office, tagging clothes, and helping at the counter when Joni gets busy.
“We need more customers,” Evelyn says. “How are we ever going to buy the new doors for our church next door? The old ones look so dingy. So dingy.” Evelyn clucks, wrinkling her nose.
I take the tagging gun, poke the needle through the paper tag, and then through the garment, stabbing my finger. “It takes practice,” Evelyn says.
She watches me tag another garment. “Oh, no, no, no! That should be priced higher.” But the garment is used. It was free to us.
“Look at the label,” she says. I don’t recognize the brand. Evelyn takes the garment, and tags it herself.
I tag another item, getting the hang of the tagging gun.
“I have to work in the back,” Evelyn says. “So many donated items, you can’t turn around. Have you looked back there? Now, you put hangers on those, after you tag them!”
Joni waits on the tired woman, bagging clothes, tossing hangers into a box under the counter. She smiles at the child, and coos at the fussy baby.
The door jangles. “Welcome to Charity Thrift Shop. We have a special on tee shirts today, two for a dollar.”
A scruffy man and his friend nod at Joni. “Where are the tee shirts?” asks the friend.
“All the way in the back.” Joni points. The scruffy man stares around the shop, runs a shaky hand through unkempt hair. I sort through a box of impossibly tangled hangers.
Joni waits on a customer buying plastic containers.
“Sorry, I can’t sell this one. It doesn’t have a price tag.”
“But I want all of them,” the customer says.
“Sorry. It doesn’t have a tag. Some people take the tags off, to try to get the items cheaper.” Joni looks at the customer.
“But wouldn’t it be the same price as the others? They’re all the same size.”
“Sorry.” Joni shakes her head.
The customer sighs. “Just these, then.”
The scruffy man brings something to the counter. It’s an old guitar. The soundboard is bashed in. “How much?” he asks, eyes shining.
Joni is busy with her customer, so I check the busted guitar for a price tag. “Fifteen dollars.”
The man turns the guitar over. He plucks at the strings, examines the head, the fretboard, the bridge. I don’t know guitars; don’t know if it could even be fixed.
“Will you take less for it?” His jeans are frayed around the cuffs, his cotton shirt tucked in. His hands shake a bit, but he holds the guitar easily, places fingers on strings in patterns that might be chords.
“Five dollars,” I say. That’s not much. I have more than five dollars in my purse.
The man looks the guitar over, sets it on the counter, pushes hair away from his forehead, picks up the guitar, and places his fingers on the strings.
He looks at me again. “I don’t have five dollars.” He pulls something out of his pocket. “I’ll trade my pocket knife for it.” I notice the tip is broken off.
I shake my head. “A man needs his pocket knife.”
How do I know what a man needs? Maybe a man needs a busted guitar, to fix himself. Something to steady his hands.
His friend comes to the counter with a couple of tee shirts. Maybe he has five dollars. He pulls a crumpled dollar out of his pocket.
“Plus tax,” Joni says.
He looks at her for a moment, then digs deep in his pocket and places some pennies on the counter.
The scruffy man follows his friend out the door, which jangles and grows silent.
I stare at the guitar.
It was free to us.
The soundboard is bashed in.
How do I know what a man needs?
I rush around the counter, grab the guitar, and stare out the open door at the empty parking lot.