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.”
“When I see stuff like this here,” Layla said slowly, glancing at me, “I want to buy it just for the story.”
“Not me,” he replied, backing up again. “Just because someone gave up all those bathrobes behind us doesn’t mean I necessarily want to know why.”
“Brother?” I heard a voice say from behind a rack of dresses. “Where are you?”
“Coming,” he replied, turning himself around. I still hadn’t said a word; I couldn’t. But maybe he was used to people staring at him, mute, because he just gave us a friendly wave and then drove off.
“Hey,” Layla said, dropping her stuff on the floor and coming over to me. “Sydney. You look sick.”
“That . . . He was—”
She put a hand on my shoulder. “I know. Seriously, take a breath. You’re scaring me.”
I did as I was told, sucking in that awful smell. Distantly, I could hear a whirring noise as David Ibarra and whoever he was with made their way up to the front of the store. After a moment, Layla stepped away from me, leaning into the aisle to look at them. I made her swear on her mom, twice, that they were gone not just from the store but the parking lot as well before I would move.
When I finally got outside, I leaned against the glass window, closing my eyes. Layla paid for her stuff, and then we walked back to Seaside, where we settled into our booth and continued our homework. This time, though, Layla was the only one who got anything done. I just sat there, my textbook open in front of me. Whenever I tried to focus, I saw not the words or even David Ibarra’s face. Instead, it was that rainbow of galoshes, mismatched and displaced.
It wasn’t until I was leaving and Layla handed me a bag that I realized that not only had I dropped the stuff she’d picked out for me at SuperThrift, but she’d collected it, adding it to her own purchases. I didn’t want to be rude, so I took the things, pushing them deep into my closet once I was home. I knew my mom, in her donating mode, would eventually find them and ask if they were important. I’d have to tell her yes. Like so much else, even if I wanted to be rid of them, they were now with me for good.
* * *
For obvious reasons, I was not in the mood to shop in the week that followed. Layla, however, had her eye on some stuff at her favorite consignment store. Which meant she also had a plan.
“Girls delivering pizzas in pairs,” she announced to her dad one afternoon. She’d asked him to take a seat so she could present what she’d referred to as “an important business proposal.” “Just picture it: a market niche. We’ll establish a specific, visual brand of customer service.”
I raised my eyebrows. She’d recently found a how-to book on small-business marketing at the annual library sale. Despite her dislike of school, she’d devour any instruction manual or romance novel in hours.
“Bad idea,” said Mac, who had not been invited to the table but was listening, as always.