Gloria stepped back from the women’s shirt rack and waited for the old lady to pass. Experienced thrift store shoppers know the dance. A person rifling through the hangers from one direction will step back and let the person rifling from the other direction pass through. It would be best if everyone started from the same direction or to have an arrow that said “Start Here” but there is no such organization, just random rifling.
This makes some sense because everyone has their colors. Some women blow past the browns and linger in the pinks. Others zero in on the blacks and stand at that section of the rack, frozen, imagining themselves vamping, she supposed, black being such a declaration. Gloria, herself, was all about purple, had been ever since she’d read the poem by Jenny Joseph that started:
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals and say we’ve no money for butter.
Purple had become Gloria’s color, her armament, her flag of independence and power. She had a friend who had dyed her hair purple. Gloria hadn’t gone that far though she thought the shade lovely and thrilling. She worried that people would consider her eccentric if she suddenly had purple hair, maybe think that she’d gone around the bend. Or at least that’s what she imagined, having spent a lifetime worrying about what other people thought. But truth be told, she envied her purple-haired friend and wished she had that kind of pluck.
The old lady was taking her time. Gloria looked over the rack at the jackets and blazers and contemplated shifting her attention there, but she’d had her heart set on finding a purple shirt, something shiny and silky, that she could wear to book club Thursday night. So, she waited while the old lady slowly slid each hanger, stopping every other shirt to inspect for stains, sometimes pulling the hanger off the rod altogether to twirl a prospective candidate around, see how it swirled. That’s some character, Gloria thought, with her gray hair all gelled and spiky and those painted on eyebrows. She was a number, alright, in that chartreuse vest with national park badges stitched every which way. A very skinny old lady she was, too. Her legs, poking out from an oversized pair of culottes, were no bigger around than a little kid’s baseball bat. She had to be at least 80, maybe older.
Lordy, Gloria thought, rolling her eyes and suddenly overcome with impatience. There are other people looking for shirts here, lady. Get a move on! She found herself tapping her foot, crudely like a teenager waiting for a stall in the school bathroom. This whole shirt expedition was bringing out the worst in her.
But then Gloria spotted it – the perfect shirt. The shirt was purple, oh yes, a beautiful rich deep purple, and looked like satin, except she knew it wasn’t really. It had long sleek sleeves with two-inch cuffs and an open pointed collar with deeper purple buttons down the front. It was long, too, longer than your normal shirt and tailored at the waist. The shirt was a work of art and it was a size 12. She grabbed it.
“No! Wait! I want that shirt!” It was the old lady rushing at her, fresh from the fuchsias. “I’ve been looking for that shirt for years!”