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My Salvation Army Lover
By Christine Stoddard
It was a humid Wednesday afternoon when I first saw her, standing flamingo style in the shoe aisle. She was one of only a couple of customers in the store at the time. But even if the floor had been swarming with shoppers, I would have noticed her. Her coppery skin glowed under the fluorescent light and her orange hair fanned out past her shoulders. She stood tall and wiry. Holding a black dress in one hand and a fuchsia purse in the other, she wiggled her left foot into a patent leather, teal snakeskin stiletto. Sometime between the moment she kicked off the stiletto and plucked a pink pump off the rack, I popped up by her side.
“That color would look great on you,” I rasped. I cleared my throat and inched toward her, detecting the smell of strawberries on her skin. I later learned it was her signature scent.
She startled and dropped the pump. “Thanks,” she said under her breath. We both bent over to pick up the shoe, knocking into each other. I apologized and she muttered something without making eye contact. Then she headed straight to the check-out and Dan to ring up her purchase. I lingered by the shoe rack and stared at her while she removed her pocketbook from her purse. A rhinestone skull keychain twinkled from the zipper pull. A dollar store find, I thought.
Whenever she returned to the store, it was always on a Wednesday. That's when all of the items that had been on the floor a month or longer were marked half off. She was a bargain hunter. I liked that about her. It meant she was smart with her money. I also liked knowing that about her. She was practical. I imagined her driving a used Corolla, using coupons at the supermarket, ones she had clipped with those dainty hands and their ever-lacquered nails.
Each time she came to the store, I'd catch her off guard. I liked to see her jump. I liked the flash that shot through her eyes. I liked the way her shoulders quivered. I would always find something to recommend to her. It couldn't be just any rag. It had to be special, perhaps even a little strange, like her. It also had to be inexpensive.
Once I brought her an electric blue fur coat with butterfly buttons. She was pawing through a bin of tangled scarves when I found her in the back of the store.
“This would go nicely with your hair,” I said.
She blushed. “Thank you. I have one just like it.”
I nodded and tucked it under my arm. Later I hid it in the 'Employees Only' section with all of the unprocessed donations. I didn't want anyone else to buy it.
Another time I recommended a pair of glittery bell bottoms. Yet another time I recommended a turtleneck sweater with baby turtles printed all over it. There was even that time I recommended an iridescent turquoise sheath dress with princess sleeves and red lace trim. She never purchased what I recommended, even if it was just her style. Even if she would've looked perfect in it. Even more perfect, that is.
She was a shopper with a mission, always. The moment she stepped into the store, you couldn't miss the determination on her face. She knew precisely what she wanted and if she failed to find it, she'd march out the door empty-handed. Once I watched her ask Dan if they had any sequined dresses. When he said no, she left without a moment's hesitation. Maybe she was a boutique owner or a fashion designer or the wardrobe lady on movie sets. Or maybe she simply always knew what she wanted.
I remember this one morning when it was snowing. It took her a minute to collect herself at the front door, coming in from the nipping wind. She pushed her hood back, loosened her scarf, and stuffed her gloves in her pockets. Then she stomped toward a lop-sided shelf near the dressing rooms and came up to check-out with an armful of yellow purses, every single last yellow purse in the store.
I didn't see her for almost a year exactly after that. I feared she had gotten married and moved away. But when I spotted her in the store again one day, without a ring on her finger, I finally released the breath I'd been holding for the past 354 days.
I refused to approach her at first. I wanted to study her. She moved the same way. That hadn't changed. Yet her smell had. When I came up behind her at the check-out, I caught a whiff of her clover perfume.
“That'll be $7.54,” Dan coughed.
She rummaged through her tote bag. “Sorry, I know I have it,” she practically whispered after making a wave in the sea of things inundating her bag.
That was my chance. I placed a box set next to her on the counter.
“Perhaps these?” I asked. “They sort of match your dress.”
“What are they?”
“A fur scarf and cuffs for—”
“An old-fashioned coat.”
“I haven't seen these in a while.”
“It's been a while since—“
“I'll take them.”
Dan started to ring them up when my manager yelled my name.
“Coming, Kip,” I called.
I didn't turn around until after she forked over some cash and raced off without taking her change. That was the first time I'd ever seen her car because she had parked it right in front of the store. It was a BMW.
She never came back to the store.
Christine Stoddard is the Executive Editor of Quail Bell Magazine.