The book donations are Joy’s favorite to sift through. She liked getting first dibs at books she hadn’t read yet. Her manager was nice enough to let her have them since they would usually have to throw most of them away. The toys are the worst. They always needed to the most work. The job itself is not the greatest but she’s learned to live with it. A year in and she’s finally come to terms with the fact that for right now this is as good as it’s going to get, and at least it’s better than nothing. It could be worse, she’s heard real horror stories through the grapevine of former coworkers. Working at the thrift store isn’t so bad, you get used to the smell eventually, she’s found the backroom tasks are easier than the front with having to check people out. It’s shocking how many people try to haggle down the prices, there’s isn’t much wiggle room on a dollar item, but she knows times are tough for everyone so she tries not to judge or get frustrated.
Lately the donations have gotten a bit on the thin side. Perhaps people are rethinking just giving things away for free, they may need it later or could at least make a few bucks in a yard sale. Joy tries to salvage as much as she can that comes in, even the stuff that needs a lot of elbow grease. On the upside it keeps her in the back longer, and she remembered there were years in her childhood that the thrift store was the saving Grace for her parents come Christmas time, so she tries her best to make the most available. The constant scrubbing has taken its toll on her hands. Her once painted nails that tip-tapped on keyboards all day are now down to the nub, she uses what’s left of them to scrape away old stickers from cheap plastic toys, and using the billow pad to clean up the metal on old frying pans has made her hands calloused.
On Sunday morning she settled in for a long day, there were three boxes of donations to go through that had come in on Saturday. Three boxes wouldn’t take much time so she wasn’t in a rush to start sorting everything out. The first box was all clothes, and from what she could tell all from a gentleman of an octogenarian age. Dozens of brown polyester pants and various shades of tan polo shirts, lots and lots of belts, a series of beanie hats, and a few dark blue windbreakers. The second box was filled with old kitchen items, all the plates and mugs also conspicuously brown. There were some clear glass serving plates that were surprisingly nice looking and a cheap tea set. The third box was a mixed bag of knick-knacks and personal items. A little wooden box with a carved flower on it, a few little porcelain statues of angels, a couple of cheap mystery novels, and a black book, amongst other things.
Joy put the clothes to wash, cleaned and disinfected the what seemed to be very rarely used kitchen items, and then sat down to go through the other items. It was a rule for some time now to leaf through the books ever since a customer had found and indecent picture stuffed in-between the pages some years ago, so that’s what she did. The mystery novels produced an old bookmark from some kind of air museum and a post it note with a scratchy grocery list. She opened the black book, which had certainly seen better days, the cover was battered and the pages look like they had gotten damp and then dried all crinkly and uneven. Joy saw that it was all handwritten by someone who, despite having an obviously shaky hand, took great care in trying to be as neat as possible. She started to skim though and it saw that most of it was just boring day to day stuff, like who came to visit them that day or the nice conversation they had with maybe a neighbor. From the dates in each top corner of the page the journal was only a year old. As she kept perusing she saw a line at the top of a page that struck her, “Yesterday I forgot Margaret, she lives on 10500 South St.”
Joy decided to keep the journal and continue reading it later. All throughout the day as she cleaned up in the back, straightened up the clothing racks in the front that looked like a tornado had ripped through, and finally helped close out the store for the day, she thought about that line she had read. She left the for the day, found a spot in the emergency room parking lot she often spent the night in, and settled in to eat the dinner she picked up and continue with the black book. The deeper she got into it the more she realized the author was clearly suffering from dementia, trying to write things down to remember. “Matthew and Paul will come to visit every Tuesday. They will bring groceries, 2 bags.” It broke Joy’s heart knowing this poor human knew that he was slipping into an oblivion, forgetting the people he loved the most. As she sat there watching people file in and out of the emergency room, probably experiencing one of their worst days, and as she thought about this poor old man trying to face dementia as bravely as he could, she felt ashamed of herself for sitting in her car night after night wallowing in self pity. Things could be worse.
The journal ended a little more than halfway into the black back. She filed through the pages to see if there was anything else written but there wasn’t. When she got to the last page a piece of paper fell out. It was a folded in half, when she opened it she saw it was a check, made out to ‘cash’ for $20,000 and it was written only a week before. She sat in shock staring at the piece of paper that was worth a whole years worth of work for her. Her heart started to race, thoughts darted in her head like bees trapped in a box bouncing off the walls. “What if I cashed this?” zoomed a bee across her brain, “I could get in trouble!” zoomed another bee. It was made out to cash so anyone could cash it, but what if it was meant for someone else. She thought about if she did take the money it could be traced back to the store, it would definitely be traced back to her then, she could get fired. But what if she got away with it. Could she really live with herself knowing she stole this much money from someone, especially this someone. The name on the check was a mans, and it sounded like an old man, Gerald wasn’t exactly a young persons name these days.
After several minutes she leaned back and closed her eyes, taking a big breath in she knew she couldn’t cash it. It agonized her to come to that conclusion. Not just because she was afraid of legal repercussions but because she knew she would feel like human garbage and she didn’t want to live with that. But it hurt her so much knowing that in her hands was the key to so much life changing options, like maybe getting a place to live, having the tiniest bit of security. She hated herself for thinking of cashing it and also at the same time for not having the ruthless self preservation of taking the money. And here came the self pity as a tear slowly ran down her cheek. “So stupid.” she said aloud to herself.
She settled in the backseat of the car to go to sleep but it came sporadically. She wasn’t sure what to do with the check. She didn’t want to tell her manager about it because frankly she didn’t trust her. And if she found out that her manager ended up cashing it and keeping the money she wouldn’t be able to live with the regret of being such a profound chump. She considered just throwing it away but who’s to say that check wasn’t written for a specific purpose. It could be just as important or even more so to the person it was meant for as it would be for her.
While sitting in her car the next morning at the thrift store parking lot drinking coffee and killing time she called the number on the check. Once again her heart was racing and she had no idea why. It rang three times, four times, fix, then six, she let it ring eleven times before hanging up. She looked up the address on her phone and saw that it was only about ten minutes away. As much as she loathed the thought of showing up in person that was the only next step she could take. And, maybe, she thought in a dark and ever so tiny corner of her mind, she would get a little reward money. After all, she wasn’t that great of a person.
When she drove over on her day off the thought of reward money flew out the door. The house was in serious disrepair. The lawn was filled with weeds, there was foil on one of the front windows, and the brown trim on the white house was chipped in large sections. Joy wasn’t even sure if anyone lived there, but she forced herself out of the car and practically had to tell her legs out loud to move forward one step at a time. She rang the doorbell a few times, listened for movement but nothing. She knocked on the door through a large tear in the screen door and still nothing. Looking through a window was useless, the one other window that wasn’t covered in foil had heavy drapes fully closed. Joy stood there for a minute not sure what to do. She felt like crying and she didn’t know why. Everything just seemed so pointless and futile in her life for these last few years, and here she is trying to be a good person and that too ended up in failure.
“Are you lost?” asked a man from the slightly open door just as she was halfway to her car.
“Oh no, I’m looking for Gerald. I think some of his things maybe got donated to the thrift store by accident.”
The man opened the door wider for her and she noticed on the table behind him stacks of boxes, envelopes, and notebooks. It wreaked of cigarette smoke and a flash of shock ran through her as she saw guns on the table before he positioned himself so she couldn’t behind him anymore.
“Oh, well Gerald passed away a few weeks ago, but he didn’t live here. Whoever donated his stuff must have been his family.” Then he saw the black book in her hand. “Wait, was that what you were talking about?”
“Yes, that and a check, it was in the book.” She handed it over to him and a smile creeped over his face as he read it.
“Thank you very much young lady. You made the right decision bringing this here.”
“Oh and there’s a check in there too, for $20,000.” She said taking a loud and deep breath.
He took a look at the check and then down at the car she came in. “Keep it. It’s a finders fee. Just do yourself a favor and forget you came here, got it? Seriously.” he said suddenly looking very stern. Then the smile reappeared. “Cheer up, you made 20 G’s today.”