Saint Anything Page 58

“I love the smell of bargains in the afternoon,” Layla said. This transition always made my nose itch, but it seemed to energize her: I had to quicken my step to keep up. “Ooh! Look at this!”

The first time I saw the racks of clothes stretching all the way to the back wall, I just felt tired. There was just so much, and arranged in a way that it was work to browse through it, with no set categories or sections. You’d see a thick winter coat, smashed up against a cheap rayon shirt with shoulder pads, bracketed by two hideous prom dresses. And that was just one inch of what was there.

Layla, however, had a gift. Somehow, she was able to spot the good stuff, as haphazardly as it might have been presented. I’d still be bogged down trying to get past a pair of extra-long men’s tweed trousers from circa 1950, but she’d already have found a cropped leather jacket and a white dress shirt that only needed a good ironing to look like something my friends at Perkins would wear.

“It’s just practice,” she explained to me the first time I complained about this. “My mom is a serious bargain hunter. We used to hit this place, all the other thrift shops, and yard sales every weekend. She always says you have to look and move fast. Do it enough and it becomes second nature. Like Mac with his clocks.”

I hadn’t realized, when we first met, how much of Layla’s stuff was secondhand. It was only when Rosie and her friends finally relinquished her room the morning after I stayed over that I got my first glimpse of her closet. While a small space, it was packed, as well as meticulously organized. When she saw me notice, it became clear it was a source of pride.

“These,” she said during the ensuing tour, as she pulled out a pair of jeans folded neatly over a hanger, “I found at Thrift World. They’re Courtney Amandas! Barely worn, and all I had to do was hem them. That was a good day.”

I soon realized that all of Layla’s clothes had a similar origin story. I couldn’t remember where I’d even gotten the shirt I had on, but she knew the background of every single thing she owned. It made me ashamed, even more than the fact I didn’t own anything I hadn’t gotten brand-new. But Layla didn’t seem bothered at all by the differences between us. It was just . . . well, how it was. One more way I aspired to be like her.

Whenever we were at SuperThrift, Layla always pulled stuff for me as well as herself. I’d still be trying to get past a slew of housecoats in various patterns, holding back the inevitable sneeze, when she’d appear beside me and toss a vintage dress, a barely worn pair of boots my size, or a cashmere sweater “just my color” at me before disappearing again. After the first couple of trips, I’d stopped looking for myself altogether and just killed time wandering around, knowing if there were things that were right for me, she’d find them.

Today, this was a pair of black capri pants and a shoulder bag made from a feed sack, both of which she brought to me just after we arrived. “Six minutes,” I reminded her. She acted like she didn’t hear me.

By now, my nose was running. After digging for a tissue, I wandered to the back of the store. The shoes, unlike the clothes, were arranged by gender and size, although who did this it was hard to say. I’d never seen anyone actually working at SuperThrift, other than the women who, when you rang the ASSISTANCE button at the register, emerged from a glass-walled back room where they were watching TV. Even then, they acted like their true job was to show how much they disliked having to help you.

Kids’ and ladies’ shoes were on the left, and men’s were on the right (there were fewer of them, and a lot of bowling shoes, for some reason). Then there was a final section that simply said ETC. Today, it was filled with galoshes.

That was the thing about SuperThrift. Usually, Layla had explained to me, its inventory was made up of donations, castoffs from yard sales, and things other secondhand stores couldn’t get rid of. Occasionally, though, they were given collections, either from places going out of business or estates of people who had passed. This explained why, on one of my first visits, there had been an entire rack of old big-and-tall three-piece suits in varying patterns and colors. It was also probably the reason a box of unworn gas station coveralls, unused, appeared one day.

The galoshes, however, were harder to figure out. They were in bright colors and children’s sizes: small, and green, yellow, red, and polka-dotted. Clearly they’d been worn (I saw fade marks and scuffs), but who had that many kids? I’d counted at least ten pairs and was still going when I heard a voice behind me.

“Man,” it said. “That’s a lot of boots, huh?”

If you had asked me, as I faced the SuperThrift footwear collection, who I would see when I turned around, the last person who would have come to mind was David Ibarra. And yet there he was, in jeans and a red sweatshirt, in his wheelchair. Smiling at me.

I went deaf for a second. Then I stood there, staring at him openmouthed. All those months of studying his face, absorbing every detail I could get about him, and now here he was, real and in the flesh. It seemed like he should know who I was, my association with my brother like a pervasive smell, warning him away.

“Man. What’s with all the boots?”

It was Layla, now coming toward me, her arms full of clothes. She peered at the boots, then looked at David Ibarra. Immediately, her own eyes widened. She’d read that article; never forget a face.

“That’s what I was saying,” he said, moving the controller on his wheelchair so he could get closer to the bin. “Guess it means there’s a bunch of kids out there who are gonna have wet feet next time it rains.”

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