Thrift Store

Most of it was trash people didn’t want to pay the city to haul away. TVs that didn’t turn on, coffee makers with severed cords. But we still accepted everything as donations, and the people who brought them in took their handwritten receipts and walked back to their cars with a tax write off, a new skip in their step like St. Damien after kissing some lepers.

The organization was vaguely religious. There was the occasional biblical portrait hanging in the thrift store where I worked on Montrose and Sheridan. The largest portrait was of the Virgin Mary. She hung above the back door, where the donations came in, child in arms, a bright blue sky and an orange aura surrounding her. Her eyes followed me every step I took.

But more than they were religious, all this place really wanted was cheap labor from half-dead fuck ups who lived in their rehabs and homeless shelters.

They weren’t just in Chicago. These places were everywhere. A guy named Mickey worked in the back with me. He came in from a different store in California. His skin was tanned like old leather, a childish tattoo of No Fear scrawled across his throat, dancing as his gums flapped. I wondered if they hurt. His gums bouncing back and forth against each other. I closed my eyes while he spoke about drinking malt liquor and riding trains in his younger days. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t picture him with teeth.

“These look like they’ll fit,” Mickey held an XXL pair of Jockey underwear above his head, yellow stains crusted on the crotch.

“That’s disgusting,” I said. The stains almost made me gag.

Mickey laughed, his gums shining, and threw the Jockeys into a dumpster. We were digging through what had come in last night: ten garbage bags filled with clothes from the alley, two ring stained coffee tables, and a tote full of what appeared to be miscellaneous junk.

People routinely left clothes or other discarded items by the doors at night. Mickey and I were tasked with going through everything that came in, tossing the trash or soiled clothes into the dumpsters placed around the store’s donation area, and pricing anything we deemed valuable. The leftover clothes that weren’t soiled, but couldn’t fit on the shelves, we threw into a compressor, compacted, tied into bales, and rolled and stacked into the corners, where once a week some out-of-work sap who happened to have a CDL came to pick them up. Like the rest of us, he was paid a small stipend, but his compensation was mostly room and board.

“I need something nice. A suit or at least slacks and a button up,” Mickey said.

“Hot date?” I asked, smiling.

Mickey scrunched his forehead into a facetious look of contempt. He was playful and expressive, waved his hands a lot when he talked. He had no shame from his bald head or toothless mouth. He talked to everyone like he was their equal.

“Funeral,” he said, opening a new bag of clothes, digging for a bit before dumping the contents on the floor for easier investigation. “Where’s a guy supposed to get a decent pair of slacks around here?”

“Who died?”


“Your roommate? The big guy?”

“Yeah, they came and got him yesterday. I’m surprised they could get him through the door.”

“What happened?” I asked, knowing Mickey’s roommate probably went the same way as the others. A quick, painless death from the tip of a needle.

“Methadone,” Mickey said, holding a pair of khakis to his waist. They were too small and had a large tear in the knee. “You know Ole Boy always slept with blankets wrapped around him, head and everything, like a mummy. There was just a little hole near his mouth to breathe.” Mickey tossed the khakis into the dumpster. “He slept in most mornings, too, so I didn’t think much of it when I left for work, and he was still in bed. But I came back in the evening and his huge body was still in the same position as when I left him in the morning. I still didn’t think much of it. Then, yesterday morning, I gave him a nudge. He was stiff as a board.” Mickey stuck his body at attention to demonstrate rigor mortis.

“You slept there all night? Right across from a dead guy?”

“Best night’s sleep I’ve had in years. He didn’t make a sound.” Mickey chuckled. “When I pulled the blankets off, his whole head was blue.”

“Like totally blue?”

“Like a goddamn Bomb Pop.”

“You didn’t smell him all night?”

“He always smelled a like sour milk. His counselor begged him to take a bath, but…” Mickey shrugged.

“What was his name? David, right?”

“Devon,” Mickey said, “smelled like shit but minded his own business. The best roommate I’ve ever had. Here we go.” Mickey pulled out an old suit, matching Camel Hair jacket and pants. There were some easily removable stains on the thighs. He tried on the jacket. It fit like a glove.

“Not too shabby,” Mickey said, opening the jacket, the name Melvin written under the breast pocket in sharpie.

“I’m surprised Melvin wasn’t buried in it,” I said.

“You coming to the funeral?”

“Where at?”

“Nativity of Our Lord in Bridgeport. I guess he was a member,” Mickey did a quick twirl in the suit, like he was on a runway.

I could already taste the buttered Hawaiian-roll ham sandwiches served in the basement after the funeral, maybe some cheesy baked potatoes if we were lucky.

“I’m there.”

“Oh, one more thing,” Mickey dug into the front pocket of his shirt, pulling out a handful of methadone pills. “I got to his drawers before they cleared them out.”

“Devon, you were a good man,” I said, and we split the pills and swallowed.

We spent the rest of the afternoon nursing Styrofoam cups of Folgers in the donation area, itching our noses, a slight nod, deep breaths under a dull blanket of relaxation. Mickey stretched in the Camel Hair suit. I thought about the ham sandwiches and watered-down lemonade at Devon’s funeral in a few days, the Virgin Mary looking down on us from a peaceful aura of light and love.


Theft was a normal occurrence. Not just from the customers. Mickey and I priced quite a few items easily sold, stuff we didn’t have much use for living in a shelter: clothes that didn’t fit, silverware, books. But anything that could catch us a quick buck we set aside. It was a first-come-first-served, finders keepers situation: DVDs, video games, smaller pieces of furniture easily carted up the street to Wilson and Broadway—where they would go quick to the office workers moving into the new luxury high rises sprouting up across the neighborhood.

I stashed my goods on the North Side of the backroom, Mickey on the South. We hid our loot behind the walls of clothing bales. Hiding our day’s haul was almost strictly for show. Jerry, the manager of the store, who was going through management training, rarely came into the donation area, much less poked around to see what we were doing. He stayed up front with the customers and money. Jerry lived in the same house as Mickey, wore button up shirts and slacks to work. He shaved daily, manicured his fingernails and mustache. We hated Jerry.

Mickey had a pretty good haul that day. He had an eagle eye for bright green Xbox game cases. He saw a twinkle of gold like a fish swimming too close to the surface.

“You’re getting all the good boxes,” I said. “You can’t cherry pick and just hover around the door so you get first dibs.”

Mickey smiled. “You’re young and strong, Michael. As skinny as you are, I thought you’d be quicker. Survival of the fittest. We could fight for it.” He put his fists up like a heavy weight champ.

“Just share the wealth. I thought you West Coasters were supposed to be laid back, easy going.”

“I thought Chicagoans were territorial. Why don’t you drop a lawn chair in front of the door.”

“All I’m saying is there’s enough to go around.” My stomach was churning. I’d overslept and missed breakfast that day. “I’m craving an elote. I’m going to Montrose Beach after work, and I need a few bucks for a snack.”

“Beach,” Mickey scoffed. “Those aren’t beaches.”

“There’s sand and water, right? I’ll take the lake over the ocean any day.”

“Then you’ve never seen the women at Santa Monica or had a good connect in Venice. You can bang it out on a real beach all day, grab a couple purses when the floozies are in the water, walk a couple blocks to the boy’s house, rinse and repeat.”

“There’s plenty to do on the Lake here, too.”

“Yeah, but the water’s got no rhythm. No real tide, no real beach.”

“Just stop taking all the good boxes. It’s greedy.”

“Some of us need the money more than others,” he said with a hint of a smirk on his face.

“You trying to get out of the shelter?”

“Bigger than that. I’m out of here in a couple weeks, maybe sooner.”

“Back to California?” I asked, and Mickey shrugged, but before he could answer, the door rang—a shrill electric buzz. We locked eyes, both sprinting toward the door. Mickey pumped his stubby legs, but my stride overtook him. He was puffing, a good five feet behind by the time I opened the metal latch.

Behind the door was a middle-aged, bearded man. “You takin’ stuff?” the man asked, his voice twanged of Southern Illinois. I could barely hear him over the idle of his lifted truck, caked in dust from gravel roads.

“Always,” I smiled.

He led me to the back of his truck, popped the tailgate with a thud. A decal of the American flag covered the back window, Waylon Jennings sung softly from the cab. There was only one box in the bed of the truck.

“This all?” I asked.

“The only one,” he said, sliding the box out to the alley concrete.

We looked at each other for a moment. “There’s no way you live nearby. You drove all the way here to drop off one box?” I said.

“I was in the neighborhood,” he said, and before I could ask him if he wanted a receipt, he roared down the alley.

Mickey was hovering behind me now. “Looks like a good haul,” he said with a laugh.

The box had some weight, but only a couple items slid over the cardboard bottom.  I plopped it down just passed the door.

Mickey handed me his multi-tool, one of the many donated items, which he came to work with every day looped to his belt.

I cut the box open and handed it back to him. On top was an old wedding dress. It had long sleeves, thick frill covering the shoulders. A lacy skirt. It was classy and modest. Under the dress was a wooden box. It was obviously hand crafted, varnished, brass hinges, with Salem High School soldered into the wood on the upper left corner.

I opened the box, hinges smooth with WD40. Mickey and I both fell silent for a moment as we looked inside. The fluorescent lights in the backroom made the pistol’s metal shine a bright silver. It was well taken care of, polished, Smith & Wesson stamped in the metal along the short barrel.

I picked up the gun. It was heavier than I expected for such a small piece. I’d never held a gun before. Mickey stood in awe as if the Virgin Mary had come down from above the door and given him a new set of teeth. I could see it was loaded. Every chamber housing a bullet but one, hallow and lonely.

“Let me see it,” he finally said, twitching a bit. His eyes were becoming wild, a drop of spit—frothy white—clung to the corner of his mouth.

“I think we should call the cops,” I said.

Mickey shook his head. “The cops? Why?”

“This could have a felony on it. It’s loaded,” I said.

Mickey wiped his mouth. “I’ll trade you for it.”

“What? No way.” I held the pistol in both hands now. “Besides, you don’t have anything to trade.”

“I’ll give you everything I got today. I got a lot of good stuff. Video games, DVDs.” He paused a moment. “I’ll give you everything I have for it.”

The hair he still had was wild, eyes piercing, grinding his gums, feet tapping so hard I thought they may crack the floor.


I took the train to Devon’s funeral. Raindrops speckled the windows as it zoomed from the tunnel, exposing clouds shouting sorrows.

The drops zigzagged down the scratched window, pooling at the bottom before flying into Chinatown alleys or on top of condos, people inside waiting to haul their unloved belongings into the donation center behind the store, where Mickey and I would collect them, throw out the trash, and steal anything valuable.

The pistol laid its cold metal against my hip and stomach, wedged between my belt and body. I couldn’t leave it at the shelter, where random searches seemed to be given at the most inopportune times. Rumors spread fast, too. If Mickey talked too much, and Jerry got wind, I’d be out of a job and a roof over my head. The gun was too valuable to discard and too risky to leave unattended.

Mickey had been pestering me about the gun for the last several days, only stopping short at what he planned to do with it.

“Everything you own?” I asked a day or earlier, confused, a little frightened of how eager and obsessed he was becoming.

“Everything. I’ve been saving for the last three months. I’ve got about a thousand dollars tucked away. I’ll give everything to you and all the other shit we’ve taken from here. Just give me the piece.”

I squinted, his face had lost all of its playfulness. “Only if you tell me what you’re going to do with it. Are you leaving town?” I said.

“Far away. So far they’ll never trace it back to you or that hillbilly asshole or anybody. I’m not going to get caught, anyway.”

“Caught doing what, exactly?” and Mickey fell silent. He refused to speak to me from then on. If it wasn’t about the gun, he didn’t want to hear it.


I got off the train at Comiskey and walked a few blocks to Nativity of Our Lord, its steeple towering over the streets. The Mass had already started, and I saw Mickey sitting alone in one of the back pews.

“This place is beautiful,” I whispered, sliding next to him. The priest stood at the altar, robes flowing, white marble pillars surrounding him. He murmured prayers into the microphone, dropping holy water on a closed wooden casket. The first few rows were scattered with Devon’s family, wrapped in black suits and dresses. Most wiped tears from their eyes. A woman who I assumed was Devon’s mother sat up front in the first pew, closet to the aisle, a large hat perched on her head like a crown. It’s what I imagined women wore to the Kentucky Derby. She didn’t cry or kneel or show any emotion. She sat planted, stoic, and only rose for communion.

“Catholics,” Mickey said out of the side of his mouth. “They really know how to put on a show. “


Devon’s family must have had some money. It wasn’t just church donated ham sandwiches. They had paid for the event to be catered. A local barbeque joint served pulled pork, so tender it melted on my tongue.

Mickey and I sat a table by ourselves, sucking down Old Styles, apparently Devon’s drink of choice.

“Did you bring it with you?” Mickey asked.

I patted my waistband, where the pistol hung secured.

“I bet you don’t even know what kind of gun it is.”

“Do you?” I pulled from the bottle dripping condensation.

“It’s a .38,” he said with a scoff. “Do you know what that means?”

“It shoots,” I said.

Mickey started to look annoyed. He had downed about six Old Styles. “It means it’s loud. It means if you fire it people will hear it. If you scare somebody enough, then you don’t need to hurt anyone. If they run off, then you won’t need to actually use it.”

“You planning to rob a bank?” I smiled.

Mickey looked at me disgusted, like a bratty child too selfish to share their new toys Christmas morning.

“Seriously,” I finished the beer and cracked another, “what is it with you and this pistol? What the fuck are you planning? If you’re just going to hold up some liquor store, then you’re better off just skipping out with what you have now.”

“It’s not about money,” Mickey said, and his entire head wrinkled. I’d never seen him this serious.

“Then what?”

“Family. Okay, it’s about my family.”

“What family?” I asked. As long as I’d known Mickey, he’d never mentioned anyone closer to him than a woman who made eye contact on the train.

“I have a family. I have a child.”

“Back West?”

“No. Why do think I came here? My kid’s mother.” He stopped for moment, swallowed, and took another drink of his beer. “My kid’s mother was from Beverly or one of those Irish parade neighborhoods. We lived together in California. We had a son. I went out on a run, went to Mexico for a few weeks, and when I get home, they’re gone. I finally got word they’d come back here about a year ago.”

“How old’s your son?” I asked, a little suspicious of Mickey’s story.

“Ten. He just turned ten this year. I was holed up in this rat hole, working a donation center in MacArthur Park when I finally heard she brought him back here. I need to get him back.”

“And this pistol is going to help get your kid back?”

Mickey thought it over for a moment. “Have you ever had a dog?”

I looked at him in confusion. “Yeah, when I was a kid. His name was Nugget.”

“Well, I used to travel with this half Husky. A blue-eyed, loyal, beautiful animal. Roofus was his name. We went everywhere along the West Coast together, all the way to Vancouver. I could pass out on a corner with this mutt and Roofus would just wait by my side until I woke up. He barked like crazy if he saw the cops. He was everything to me. I didn’t need anybody as long he was around.” Mickey took another drink.  “Well, I had Roofus for years. Eventually, I knocked up my kid’s mother, and she hated the dog. But I didn’t care. I was never going to give him up. But when she finally had that baby, and I held him against my bared chest moments after he was born.” He stared off for a moment. “I never knew love like that. The doctor, when Adrian turned two, the doctor told us he was allergic to the dog. I gave Roofus up to the first person who would take him. I would have thrown him out the window for the kid.” His eyes shined under the fluorescent light. “I have nothing else.”

We sat in silence for a moment, until Devon’s mother slowly made her way to our table. “You friends of Devon?” she asked with the same stoic tone I saw during Mass.

“A friend,” I said.

“I was his roommate at the shelter,” Mickey answered.

“You the one who found him? Or the one who was always stealing from him?”

Mickey fiddled with a gold watch I’d seen him take from a donation box the day before. “I’m the one who found him. I’m not that other kind of person.”

Devon’s mother sighed. “He had all sorts of problems. I didn’t agree with the way he lived his life, but I surely hoped better for him.”

“We all did,” I said, truly believing it.

“Well,” Devon’s mother said, adjusting her hat, “get a good meal in you. I don’t know if either of you have any children, but if you do, don’t leave them. Always take them back. That’s the biggest regret of my life. Not fighting hard enough for Devon. I would have died for him.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Mickey said. “I promise you. I’ll never let my child go.” Devon’s mother gave a weak smile and patted him on the shoulder before slowly making her way to the next table.

As she left, Mickey’s mouth parted, exposing his gums, red and inflamed. He was right, he had nothing else to live for.


Mickey was gone for a few days before Jerry came into the back of the store, his shirt freshly ironed. He smiled a gold canine and motioned for me to come take a look at his phone. An Amber Alert had just gone out across Illinois. A ten-year-old kid had been taken by an estranged parent in Mt. Greenwood.

“They’re disgusting,” Jerry said with arrogance. “Fucking deadbeat parents using kids as bargaining chips.” And he went back to the front of the store to try and sell more scraps.

I walked to the back door, under the portrait of the Virgin Mary. I closed my eyes and thought of Mickey with his son on the beach, the lights flashing and the Ferris Wheel spinning. Mickey smiled, holding his child close to his chest, waves crashing with a rhythm against the sand, Mickey with a new, shiny set of teeth reflecting the moon in a dark night sky.


About the Author

Anthony Koranda is a writer and educator who lives in Chicago with his wife and dog. He received a Master of Fine Arts from Columbia College Chicago. His writing has appeared in AlliumA Journal of Poetry and ProseSobotka Literary MagazineCowboy JamboreeHair TriggerArkansan ReviewPotato Soup JournalThe Magnolia ReviewBarren Magazine, and Into the Void Magazine, among others. Find him online at


Image by Krzysztof Pa?ys from Pixabay