25 February 2007 | Vol. 6, No. 4

Thrift Shop Confessional

I don't know what was harder to believe, that Pam's mother threw her out of the house or that Gail Tate turned Born Again! I thought most people who get suckered into those kinds of religious cults are sheepish and antisocial… losers. But Gail joins sports and has yearbooks filled with sentiments like, thank you for being you and a girl above the crowd. Don't get me wrong. I don't have anything against Born Agains. It's religion I don't like. I mean if there is a God he/she/it isn't going to punish people for not going to church on Sunday, or eating a piece of meat during the wrong time of the year. God. I could go on for hours about how if everyone would just do his or her part in making the world a better place there wouldn't be religion at all. But nobody is going to listen to a punk like me, and even if they did, it wouldn't solve the problem at hand, which is what to do about Gail.

Actually Jenny and I had heard about Gail and the Born Agains months back from Brian one day after school on the lacrosse field. I knew then that I wanted to do something to save Gail, like flush a crucifix down a toilet in front of her, something dramatic that might make her snap to. I even lifted a cross from the thrift shop that I went to with Pam (she didn't know). I told Jenny and she said that the idea had merit but it would be too hard to get Gail near a toilet. It would be better if we smashed a picture of Christ in front of her, in front of the whole school, kind of like how you might pour out a bottle of Jack Daniels in front of an alcoholic, you know, to prove there is life without Christ.

Jenny should know all about that. She and the rest of her family performed one of those AA interventions on her oldest brother just last week, after several more neighbors complained about him shouting up to God. He gets it into his mind sometime that there is something in him, an evil, some sort of shame that only God can remove. Of course his real problem is much deeper than drinking. The guy should be on meds for depression, ADD, but Jenny's mother doesn't believe in that kind of stuff. She says things like that the Lord can take care of whatever she don't understand, and whatever He can't deal with Christ can handle the rest. Jenny's mom isn't a zealot like a Born Again as much as a simple woman making up rules that seem to cater to what she can and cannot deal with. Of course I told Jenny that I would go along with smashing the picture of Christ in front of everyone, but that was before last night. I'm not saying I instantly understood religion or wanted to be Born Again, only that what had happened had made me think if believing in Christ makes Gail happy, what right do Jenny and me have of getting in the way of that?

Annette had pulled me aside after class and said I have a natural gift for the tango, that she personally would like to help develop. All I could think about was the rose, the one we had exchanged from mouth to mouth. It was something a dude like me, in this neighborhood, would have felt strange just looking at before, now I was somehow more powerful than it, beside myself, validated, as something as beautiful. Annette had taught and danced the tango from Buenos Aires to Paris and had picked me to teach. I have never had anyone that exotic interested in that part of me before. It created something inside of me, something that if someone were to say were wrong, I would shut down, like Gail, or try to make them see things my way.

No. The best that I can do now is to avoid Jenny until she forgets all about the cross. I decide to take a different stairwell to first period—maybe one that might run me into Pam. I never did find out what happened to her the other day after her brother chased us out of the house for filming that movie in there. Did she get in trouble for having people over? Was she still on that gypsy curse kick or not? Suddenly in an interest to focus only on Pam and forget all about Jenny, I carelessly switched back to my old route to first period and boom, ran smack dab into Jenny. She's wearing around forty rubber bracelets and a teal shirt that matches my best guy friend Doodle's shoes.

"What are you two doing together?" The words leap out of my mouth before I can think about them. I'm not territorial with my friends or anything like that, but I know Doodle doesn't want to sleep with Jenny and the only thing I can guess is that they're bonding by talking shit about me.

"We were just coming to get you."


Jenny jerks her thumb toward Doodle. "He wants to help us with the plan." Jenny pulls a picture of Christ out of her purse before I can argue or ask how he even found out. "You ready? Gail should be at her locker any minute."

"About that… I was thinking… it might be better to wait."

"Wait? The longer we wait the worse off she'll get!"

"Yeah," Doodle adds, his teeth sparkling like the graffiti lettering across the front of his jacket—Doc Crew.

"You don't even know Gail."

"I'd do her." Doodle begins to laugh and I don't know if I should smack him or laugh along. Ever since we meet I couldn't help but consider him my best friend, the way he loves to laugh at all my stories, how he thinks that everything I do has some sort of significance or is the most important thing in the world. I'd even go as far to say that we are kindred spirits, if I believed in that sort of thing.

"We have to hurry," Jenny pleads.

I look at the picture of Christ in her hand. The long hair and pleading eyes reminds me of her brother, staring up toward the sky, waiting, waiting, waiting to have his pain taken away. Then my eyes drift back to the jacket Doodle is wearing, the Doc Crew lettering. Of course if it were up to Doodle I'd be in already, but there is still Mike and Cupid who need to decide if I'm cool enough to be in. Something like smashing a picture of Christ could be the final push needed to make them approve.

"Come on." I take the picture of Christ and hide it behind my back. "Before I change my mind."

What if this was reversed? What if Born Agains bashed into Annette's dance studio and smashed a framed picture of Juan Carlos Copes at my feet? The image of a tango intervention is amusing enough that when I see Gail down the hall, I hold firm inside the sort of triangular formation Doodle, Jenny, and I are in. I come up to Gail's locker, surrounded by other Born Agains, and look her straight in the eye.

"Hi guys!" Gail's eyes light up, a small window into a starry night sky. People don't bother with her ever since the change. She slams her locker shut and throws a book sash over her shoulder. "What's going on?"

"We just wanted to ask you a quick something about Christ."

"Sure! Ask away."

"What do the Born Agains think about other religions that don't believe in Christ?"

Gail turns to the other four girls and they nod at one another as if in a telekinetic conference, but when they turn back to us only Gail speaks. "Christ was sent from God to save everyone. Nonbelievers simply have to choose Christ and they will be forgiven for any past sins."

"Sins meaning belonging to other religions?"

"Yes. Or not believing at all or not enough."

"Well if everything else is wrong why doesn't God just force us to believe in Christ?"

"He wants us to choose him."

"So he's trying to thin out the heard?"

"We don't like to think of it like that."

"How do you like to think of it?"

"You can always choose to be Born Again."

"Let's say that I don't."

"Let's say that you do."

I look over at Jenny and Doodle. I can tell by their expressions that they are just as shocked as I am at Gail's commitment. I know to them it makes Gail and the other Born Agains seem more absurd, but Annette would call anyone willing to defend something they love as passionate, and my doubts about how good of an idea this really is begin to plague me once more. I try to think of another line of argument to stall the intervention, but before I can, Jenny rips the picture of Christ from behind my back and holds it over her head. Gail looks at the picture then back at me in confusion. Several thoughts cross my mind, thoughts too complicated to convey in expression, and I wind up looking menacing. I'm thinking of Jenny's brother and the televangelists on Sunday mornings that just want everyone's money but I'm also thinking of the Gail I once knew, and how she seemed perfectly fine before and now she seems bloated with false hope. Jenny must read my mind because she lets the picture drop as soon as I come to this, the plastic frame shimming like a tossed coin landing Christ-up.

The Born Agains all look down, and before they know what's going to happen next, Jenny jumps into the air. For a moment everything seems frozen: Doodle's grin, Jenny's airborne, teal spiked Blahniks, and the Born Agains' faith running throughout their eyes, about to shatter, like some stain glass window. Jenny lands. The plastic frame smashes, echoing throughout the hallway. Take that you fucking wack jobs.

"Nett!" Jenny laughs. "You people are fucked up."

"Yes!" Doodle cheers.

"Oh God!" One of the Born Agains cries out.

I expect them all to follow suit, but Gail steps forward.

"What on earth do you idiots think you're doing?"

"Isn't it obvious?" I say.


"You've been brainwashed. Wake up. We're trying to save you from yourselves."

"I can't believe this," Doodle says.

"Shame on you," Gail says.

"Gail. There is life without Christ," I say.

Gail lets her eyes drift upwards to heaven before letting them fall back down onto the smashed frame. She fishes out the picture and tenderly slides Christ into one of her books. "I'm sorry about this girls," Gail says. "Let's get out of here." The Born Agains slowly pull themselves together and follow Gail down the hall.

"You can't just walk away from this," I call out, but more for the small group of people that had stopped to watch.

"Well hallelujah," Doodle taunts.

"Oh shut up," I say.

"What's wrong with you?"

"This isn't supposed to be funny."

"What's you're problem?" Jenny asks.

I turn accusingly to her.

"Gail hates us now."

"What do you care?"

"She was my friend."

"Was is the key word," Jenny replies casually. "You heard what she said. As far as she's concerned we are all going to hell."

"Do you believe in God?" Pam asks. I think the question is a bit heavy considering we're riding on the top of a rubber connection lock, extending from the back of a moving trolley. The Gail thing had ridden me all day and I was just trying to find some peace from it, riding something else, as if this took the weight off my mind. "Because I know there isn't one."

"How do you know a thing like that?"

"I'm living on the streets."

"You're staying at Sheila's."

"For tonight. Then where?" The trolley starts up the steep bridge that crowns the entrance to Taylor Park. My fingertips dig into the metal trim, just under the S.E.P.T.A. logo. I don't know why I bother to do this. I guess I always expect to be blown over the edge, but this never happens. The wind holds us in place, like when Pam maneuvers Victor's BMW behind a semi-truck on the New Jersey turnpike and takes her foot off the gas. The inertia pulls us, an invisible tow, and when Pam returns the car the gas tank is still almost full; he never knows how long or how far we took his car. I think of suggesting Victor's as a place to stay but Pam would rather live in an ATM booth than that pervert's jewelry shop.

"I don't know what you're complaining about. You hate living in that house and you hate your mother. I wish my mother would kick me out."

"Dude, trust me, you don't. The real world sucks. You have to get a job and work all day and pay bills. Think about it—where would you live if you got kicked out?"

"I don't know—Jenny's? Doodle's? Cupid's?"

"See. There is no perfect place that comes to mind," she says.

"Why don't you move into one of those apartments down by Acropolis Pizza?"

"And be a loser like Danny?"

I turn away so Pam doesn't see how this bothers me. Danny isn't a loser. He's one of the most peaceful people I know, and I feel bad knowing what I know about Annette and not saying anything to either one of them about it. You know what Pam's problem is? She's a snob with no money. She also has big dreams but is too much of a chicken shit to do anything about them. Like how she thinks we should move to Hollywood and get jobs being crazy. I guess we could do that. I don't know how that would exactly work. Can you just walk into some studio and ask for your own television show?

"Well would you look at this?"

I crane my neck to see what Pam is looking at as the trolley dives down from the bridge, and spot her backyard neighbor standing at the next platform, holding a shopping bag. I guess we must be on the express because the trolley whisks by without stopping. Pam screams bitch at the top of her lungs and her backyard neighbor lunges around in profound confusion. When she finally spots us, Pam gives her the finger. The woman looks stunned, like the pansies in her backyard we trample every time we cut through to get to Pam's. To her, we must look like those suction-cup things housewives stick on the back windows of their minivans, except instead of panda bears and cats, we are life-sized volatile teenagers.

"That was hilarious!"

"I think she's calling the cops."

"I wouldn't be surprised. She told my mom about the movie."

"How did she know that?"

"She said she saw a girl with a camera running after a boy in a dress across her yard."

"That's not true. Sheila was first and I ran after her in a dress."

The trolley slows down before coming to a complete stop. I don't know this neighborhood and you can't see any landmarks because the street that runs parallel to this is blocked by rows of tall hedges.

Pam looks worried. "Why have we stopped?"

"Relax. They probably have to wait for another trolley to pass. The tracks switch down there."

Pam exhales. "The cops are the last thing I need."

"God, Pam I have never seen you so serious. Everything is going to work out."

"Nothing ever works out."

"You have to believe it will."

"What… so you believe in God now?"

"Not God God, but something, you know, I guess."


"I'm serious. Sometimes I feel like there is something more to me. I don't know what."

"I feel better knowing there isn't a God."


"Because if there is one he must hate me." Pam's expression jumps from fatigue to shock. I think she's seeing an angel until someone grabs my arm and yanks me off the back of the trolley.


"Get off him you asshole!"

"Quiet, punk!"

I break free and Pam and me take off, sliding under one of the hedges but the escape tunnel is blocked by someone's back fence. One of the guys grabs Pam by the leg and pulls her back into the loose stones. I consider climbing the fence but after what I did to Gail today, I couldn't abandon Pam. I would be totally evil. I slide out under the hedge and allow myself to be dragged inside the trolley.

"Stand behind the line." The trolley driver hisses. He's the one who grabbed Pam—a husky black man. The accordion doors slam shut and the trolley lurches forward. The driver picks up the walkie-talkie under the long angular window to his left.

"Officer Davis here. Go head. Over."

"I got 'em. Over."

"We'll be at the next stop. Over."

"Oh my God," Pam whispers. "Cops! What do we do?"

I push Pam forward, over the line.

"Hey! Hey!" the trolley driver barks. "Get back there and sit down."

Pam and me walk down the aisle. She is muttering frantically about jail or some shit like that but I have my eyes on the back door and before I can suggest that to Pam the driver speaks over the intercom. "Don't even think of going near that back door!"

I slump melodramatically into the empty operating booth, a duplicate of the one the driver is sitting in for when the trolley reaches the end of the line and needs to go back into the opposite direction. The trolleys do this all day and night, like the tango, the wires above sparking every time the trolleys pass each other.

"What are you doing?" Pam says.

I lean back, further behind the metal slab that would protect the driver. The large angular window is unlocked and I slowly pull it open. I maneuver one leg out, then the other half of my body follows. I lower myself down the outside, holding onto the window ledge, then let go. My feet hit the tracks with a thud but I am able to catch my balance within the loose stones. Pam isn't as lucky; she lands in a painful summersault that sends her backpack of clothes bouncing down the rails. "I can't believe that worked."

"We got to get out of here."

"Let's go back the way we came."

"I have to get to Sheila's."

"But I got to start home."

"We should split up."

"We never split up."

"They'll be looking for the both of us. Now run before they notice we're gone." Something weighs in Pam eyes like in the picture of Christ himself. Either she is trying to push God away or let him in long enough to get us out of this mess. "Call me."

Pam takes off and I head in the other direction, disoriented and scared—wondering how Pam has done it for this long, out here, in the real world, barely seventeen, on her own.

I try to concentrate on the story Mike and Eric are telling but my mind is still on Pam. I feel guilty being here knowing that she was supposed to come. The cops could have caught her. I barely made it myself. I had hid under several porches, watching the cop cars glide by from behind wood slates, covered in dirt; you would think they were looking for a terrorist or a serial killer instead of two teenagers on a joy ride.

Doodle lights a joint and passes it around the circle. I look out over the crowd mingling under the floodlights. Most of the girls are dressed as mice or maids, you know, easy outfits that don't compromise the cleavage. If Pam had come to the party she wouldn't have worn anything like that. I look at the more bulky costumes, to see if anyone is dressed like tits (like Jenny and me), but all I see are ghosts and pumpkins, then Sheila dressed as a flight attendant. I stand without thinking, almost ripping our costume in half.

"Hey," Jenny complains. "Watch it."

"Sorry. I keep forgetting we're attached."

"What are you guys anyway?" Cupid asks.

On cue Jenny stands, sending the two tassels taped on the front of the tan garbage bags flipping around in circles. "We're tits."

"Fuck," Cupid replies. Despite his name, Cupid doesn't look anything like the cherub of love; he is long as a reed, barely able to hold up his Miller Light, and dressed as a vampire. He passes the joint to me but I pass. Getting stoned turns me into a complete zombie, and I want to go find out from Sheila if Pam ever made it over to her house.

"Just take a hit," the whole crew says.

Without turning around, I stick out my hand, waiting for someone to slip the joint between my fingers, but something else is slid around my wrist instead. I hold my arm up to the lighter Doodle flicks on and turn my wrist under the hue of the flame. The leather swatch looks just how I thought it would, loose, casual popularity, a status symbol the guys had created from nothing, from their own charisma, that even the jocks envied.

"Welcome to the crew," Doodle says followed by a round of various handshakes.

"So how do you feel?" Cupid asks.

"Happy," I reply. It's the truth.

Cupid pulls a bottle of Southern Comfort from his jacket. "You need to live for the day, not the day you die."

"Where did you get that?" I ask.

"The liquor store, stupid."

"I mean how did you get it?"

"Some dude over at the state store got it for us," says Mike, or is it Eric? I always get the two confused.

"I was over there today."

"What were you doing over there?" Cupid asks. I look at Sheila then back at the group of faces, lit by the flame of the lighter, following the joint.

"Pam and me were trolley hopping."

"How the hell do you do that?"

"You just climb onto the back and hold on."

"And you guys held on over the Taylor Park Bridge on the back of a trolley?"

"Yeah. It was no big deal, until the cops chased us."

"Nett!" Jenny exclaims. "You didn't tell me that."

"Yeah," I reply then proceed to tell them the rest of the story, which sounds like all the other stories I tell about Pam, and as I get lost in the story, as I always do, I forget my worry, and when I glance back toward Shelia, I see Pam, and behind her in the neighbor's yard a shadow that looks something like God.

There was a moment last night—when I knew Pam was safe, after I had walked around the party and shown off my Doc Crew string—that I considered telling everyone about the tango, but I never did and when I open the door to the dance studio I'm glad that I didn't.

Annette is sitting cross-legged on the floor. The floor is covered with candles, lit and flickering. She is chanting in some strange language I can only think of as Gypsy. Annette nods toward the piano in the corner where Robbie peeks over a book of composition. He smiles at me, sending wrinkles over his face like dull fireworks. "Robbie and I were just discussing your discipline and I was about to consult the ancestors to see if it is worth staying here in this community for or not."

"I didn't know I had any discipline."

"Here you are, a teenager on a Saturday, in a snow storm. That is discipline, no?"

I take off my winter coat and hang it on a hook to the right of the door. Annette blows out the match cupped in her hand. Robbie starts an Italian tango and Annette saunters over to where I stand. She places my right hand on her waist and takes my left hand into hers then touches the inside of my left leg with her right foot. My left foot comes around and crosses the right. Annette's right foot comes around and crosses her left. Together we form two crusadias, crosses, then instinctively we part. She travels around one side of the room while I travel around the other. She is slender, like the stem of a rose, and when I look out the first window to see if Danny is on his balcony, I feel a prick of guilt about everything Annette doesn't know I know. I press this silent confession up against Annette when we come back together in the middle of the room. She answers by keeping up with me, step for step, until I am steady, like a picture, in a frame.

"I'm impressed," she says. "You don't know how many dancers don't pick up on intrusions. Where did you learn how to? I know I didn't teach you."

Memories of The Black Rose roll into my mind like a Cuban fog. I can see Lady Luna, me behind the mask, but at the same time I can't quite believe I was up there, on stage with her, in front of all those strangers.

"I guess I have a gift."

"Gifts…" Annette scoffs. "…are nothing but darkness in disguise." We turn around once we reach the piano. "But don't worry. You have many years to enjoy your gift before this darkness takes you."

"Has it taken you?" Annette glances out the window, toward Danny's.

"Yes," she sullenly replies. "I suppose it has."

I decide to change the subject to something more tangible: the ring on Annette's right hand. Jewelry stone, trinkets—all the details in Pam's house takes her mind off the very disorder that brings them there, the objects her mother can't stop collecting, piling them in bags, bags that burst out of their station wagon. Annette rolls dramatically out of my arms, and when I reel her back in, I comment on the beautiful stones in her ring. She shakes her head.

"The ring is very old. It began in the despair of old Romania and I have to pass it down, now that my stone is locked inside. This is I." Annette points out a sapphire then touches the silver crucifix, adorned with a green stone, around my neck. I wasn't going to wear it after everything that happened with Gail, but I felt I needed to go on, to save face, to make sense. "You were born in December, no?"

"Yes," I reply, shocked. "How did you know that?"

"The topaz in your cross is your birthstone."

"Topaz," I complain. "I thought this was an emerald."

Annette pulls me into a forward motion while letting out a hearty laugh that sounds like greedy Americans.

"The topaz has been the birthstone of many famous tango dancers. It is a magic stone believed to have the power to heat into a passion or cool down the most enflamed of people."

"I just liked the color."

"You were drawn to the color because you and it are one and the same."

Annette signals Robbie to pick up the beat from four/four to three/four. We begin to move faster. At each pivot, Annette performs a quick stomping of the feet she calls an adorno. She instructs me to do the same and studies as I perform. "Bravo," she says as the music comes to an end. I consider suggesting a samba but before I can a gaggle of women come into the room. Annette claps her hands together until they quiet down. "All right, ladies. Line up against the bar and begin to stretch. No wasting time today."

"I think I'm going to take off," I say, thinking of how whenever there are all these women in class I have to dance with each one of them. Maybe I'll have some luck finding Pam; I don't know where to find her ever since she was thrown onto the streets. Annette presses her forehead against mine. Her brown eyes swirl with something that might be sapphire.

"You can use the women to help you get better," she whispers as one of the heavier women slips off the dance bar onto her ass.

"A little help!" she cries. Annette lets out a sigh that sounds like dumb Americans before turning me toward the door.

The traffic light, outside the studio, is green, which is "flow" for come forward, keep going, don't turn back, but as soon as I reach the corner, the light turns red, which is "flow" for stop, wait, reconsider. I'm confused and for a moment I think the "flow" might have malfunctioned, a spiritual short circuit of the universal Eye. I'm about to turn back, or freeze until the "flow" unclogs. A figure approaches out of the white static of snowfall. At first I think it's Danny and my heart jumps but as the figure gets closer I realize its Pam in some sort of Eskimo coat. We are the only signs of life in the shopping center, aside from the two fading tire tracks in the middle of the road, and the Greeks inside Acropolis, taking a moment from flipping pizza dough to wave hello when I pass by their window. We meet in front of the thrift store. A solar system of freckles looms over the green scarf she pulls down so that she can talk.

"Where are you coming from?" she asks although I should be asking her that. After all, she's the one living all over the place now.

"My house," I reply.

Pam rubs her mittens together as if she's been outside for days. "I had to get out of the old bat's bedroom at like eight." I know she means Ms. Demonte's house up the street from Pam's. There was something about that place; I knew Pam would be safe. "You know old bats, they need like two hours sleep."

An old woman with a scowl appears in the thrift shop window as if she had heard what Pam said. She looks like something I can't quite place—cotton candy hair, thickly-powdered cheeks, and a generous amount of red-hot lipstick that swerves from one side of her mouth to the other—until she starts to pull a collection of ceramic clowns out of the window display. Some of them ride unicycles, play horns, juggle.

I discreetly nod my head toward the window. "Do you see this?"

"Yeah," Pam chuckles. "You want to go inside and fuck with her?"

"It's better than freezing our asses off out here."

There are two other old bats in the store. The one behind the front counter has girth and wears bifocals and the other by the back of the store organizes felt hats.

"Hi there you old coots." Pam says this in a friendly tone that usually confuses old people into thinking she said something nice. It worked yesterday on Ms. Demonte (i.e. the old bat) enough that she invited us inside and gave me the opportunity to unlock the bedroom window so that Pam had a place to sleep.

These old women don't seem as naive. They don't give up a smile; in fact, the old, sad clown from the window steps into the aisle, blocking our projectory.

"We're closed."

"But the sign on the door says you're open 'til five," Pam says.

"We're closing early today, for the storm."

"We'll only be a second."

"No. Now, please leave!" The old woman waves her arms as if shooing away alley cats.

We step back outside. An avalanche of snow from the awning thuds onto the sidewalk sending a large cloud of powder between the thrift store window and us. Once the powder clears the sign that read open is already flipped to closed, that fast. Pam's expression corkscrews into confusion. She pulls me in front of the hardware store, next door in order to say what she can't believe she's saying.

"Those old bats just kicked us out!"

"Who cares?"

"But we didn't do anything yet!" Pam drops to her knees in the snow.

"What the hell are you doing?"

"We're going to sneak back in."


"Because somebody said something to those old bats about us and I want to know who and what."

"This is stupid."

"You don't care?"

"Everybody talks shit."

"Oh really?" Pam glares at me. "Even Doodle and Jenny?"

"I thought you were over this."


"Because you invited Doodle and Jenny over to help shoot the movie."

"Why not. They already saw the place full of clothes."

"I told you they aren't going to tell anyone that you're mother's crazy."

"I thought everyone talks shit?"

I look away in frustration. I don't know if Pam is trying to manipulate me or not but I'm in no mood. A tapestry blows out over Acropolis from Danny's front room window. He must be home, even though he didn't come out on the balcony when I was dancing with Annette. I imagine him on the floor of the empty apartment, with his guitar, having a smoke. I will want to go in there after this. I can't explain why.

"Let's just make this quick."

I drop to my knees behind Pam. We chug just under the thrift shop window, like a small train, connected ass to face. Pam slips her fingers underneath the door then slowly pulls it open, just wide enough to fit inside, without ringing the bell. We crawl past the old clown by the window and manage to make it under a rack of slacks before the front door shuts. There, we curl up, knees inside arms, looking away from one another, to make sure the laughter that has been building during the crawl doesn't explode. A cash register rings open.

"What did we make today, Bea? Five dollars?"

"If you wanted business, Kay you shouldn't have rushed those two kids out of here."

"You don't want those kids in this store."

"Nothing wrong with kids," Bea replies.

"There is something wrong with those kids."


"Something I heard."

"I don't know if you should listen to gossip, Kay." The woman from the back says. I imagine her trying on felt hats.

"It's not gossip, Dot. Penny Johnson lives behind that girl. She says that her and that boy are always cutting through her garden and killing prize marigolds. They hop the back of trolleys too."

"All kids do cutesies, Kay," Dot replies. "And as for the daredevil stuff, God willing we could do it too."

"She also said she saw them filming a pornographic movie. Do all kids do that?"

"And when was the last time Penny Johnson watched a porno?"

"Well I don't know, but if it isn't the girl up to something, it's the boy."

"What you heard?"

"He steals."


"He does. He stole a crucifix right out of this store."

"How do you know we didn't just miscount?" Dot replies.

"Because I count them."

"Yeah, you do do that."

"You know I count everything at the end of the day!"

"Oh well," Dot starts. "God works in mysterious ways. Maybe he wanted the boy to have it."

"Posh. Those things sell for a lot!" The clown woman goes on to say something else, but Dot turns on a vacuum, drowning her out, allowing Pam and me to talk.

"Can you believe that old biddy? And how about what she said about you?" I pull the chain out from under my shirt and dangle it in front of Pam.

"I did take it."


"It was for Gail Tate. I was going to flush it down a toilet in front of her but Jenny thought smashing the picture of Christ would be more effective."

"Gail Tate? That Born Again girl? She doesn't even go to our school anymore."

"Yeah. It's weird, isn't it?"

Pam replies without much interest, while eyeing the cross around my neck. "One day they're here and the next day they aren't."


"Gail, of course. Hey, that's a nice stone in that there cross. Can I see it?" I take off the chain, hand it to Pam, remembering the Gail Tate news. I mean I've heard that Born Agains do stuff like that, but not in a matter of days, without telling anyone, to just uproot and move to God-knows-where and say to hell with everyone they ever knew.

"Did they say where she went?"

"Some town called Gatesville."

"Where the hell is that?"

"Down south. In that direction." Pam motions to the right and lets the chain slide out of her hand, across the floor. "Oops."

"What the hell did you do that for?"

"It was an accident."

"I can tell when you're lying."

"Fine. I did it on purpose."


"I want them to feel bad once they realize you didn't steal it, that they just dropped it on the floor."

"I like that chain."

"I think it's time we cleaned up our reputation."

"Bullshit. Besides, those old coots probably can't even see all the way to the floor."

"Good point." Pam creeps under the rack and yanks out the vacuum plug, pulling it over to the cross.

"Kay!" Dot yells.


"You tripped the damn cord."

"No I didn't."

"Can you please just plug it back in."

"I'm busy putting away the window display!"

"Nobody is going to take those damn ugly clowns!"

"These are worth a lot of money!"

"Bea…" Dot whines. "Could you?"

"Fine," Bea squawks and a few moments later the vacuum is back on.

Pam parts the slacks to see if the cross is gone, but it's still on the floor. "She didn't see it," Pam mutters.

"Good. Now go get it."

"You want them telling everyone in the neighborhood that you're a thief?"

"They don't know anybody I know."

"I didn't know they knew that nosy old bat who lives behind me."

"I want that chain. The stone matches my eyes."

Pam looks in my eyes then slides out from under the rack.

I let out a sigh, glad that she's finally come back to her senses, but instead of the chain, she comes back holding some monster bra, and a pair of pink ladies underwear. "That's not my chain."

"Watch this."

Pam lobs the underwear, a hook shot, after sticking her arm through two pairs of denim slacks, in the direction of the front counter. I part a group of plaids for a better view. The underwear lands on Bea's back. She is crouched down in front of the jewelry case where I had stolen the cross. They have a lock on it now. "What the hell?" The old coot turns in circles as she tries to pull the underwear off her back. Bea finally snatches the underwear then turns viciously toward the old clown woman by the window. "Kay!" The vacuum is turned off.

"Did you call me Bea?" Dot asks.

"No. I'm talking to Kay. Kay!"


"What is wrong with you?"

"Hypertension, arthritis, diabetes, impaired hearing, impaired vision, delirium, depression…"

"No. I mean why did you throw this underwear at me?"

"I did no such thing," Kay laughs. "Honestly, Bea. I sometimes wonder if you're not losing it altogether, eh?"

Bea holds the underwear up in front of her bifocals. "Dot…"

"I never had much of a pitching arm."

"Let me ask you, Bea… did you take your medications today?" Kay asks.

"You think I did this to myself?"

"Do you remember that whole week you forgot the alarm code? You didn't take your medication that week."

"I remember it now."

"That's because we changed it to 111."

"Oh dear," Bea replies. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I'm loosing it for good."

"We all do sooner or later," Dot adds.

Bea lays the underwear on the counter. Dot turns the vacuum back on. I let the pants slide together and turn toward Pam.

"What was the point of that?" I ask.

"I thought she would carry the underwear back to the rack and see the cross."

"Well she didn't."

"One more try." Pam scurries over to the other side of the rack and comes back with another bra. She targets Dot, instead of Bea, at the back of the store. The vacuum is turned off after Pam's hook shot.

"All right. Whose the funny old broad?" Dot complains.

"What are you talking about?" Bea says.


"What about it?" Bea asks.

"Did you throw it?"

"Of course not."

"Kay!" Dot and Bea exclaim at the same time. "Knock off your games!"

"My hands are crammed full with figurines for God's sake!"

"Well then who did? Ghosts?" A silence follows. I imagine a triangle of looks passing back and forth between the old bats.

"You know Penny Johnson told me that the person who used to run the place before us said it was haunted."

"That woman is a gossiping old storyteller," Dot claims from the back of the store.

"I don't know. I'd listen to her," Kay responds. "I used to live in a house with a ghost."

"Ladies," Bea complains.

"Used to rattle plates and flick lights on and off."

"Earth tremors," Bea says.

"Don't be so sure," Kay replies. "I saw this special on Oprah about ghosts, how they haunt places of unfinished business."

"Well nobody died here," Bea replies.

"Well…" Dot replies in a respectful tone. "The guy who owns the hardware store, next door, said that someone was killed in that apartment above the pizza place a couple years ago."

"I have heard that," Bea's tone mimicking Dot's. "Was a woman. They said her boyfriend did it. But they could never prove it."

"Maybe it's her sprit throwing bras at us," Kay responds with excitement that somebody is finally seeing something her way. "Bra's, panties… coming back for justice… and look…"

"Well I'll be," Bea says. "Now what do you got to say for yourself, Kay, kicking those two kids out here for nothing but gossip?"

"So the boy didn't take the cross, but that don't mean that those kids aren't any good."

"I'm spooked," Bea says. "Let's say we get out of here."

"I second that," Dot says.

"Just give me a second to finish up."

It's hard to tell what happens next: key's jingle, orthopedic shoes slide sluggishly over carpet, the cash register drawer is slammed shut, and the lights are turned out. I'm about to slide out from under the rack but stop myself at the approach of muffled laughter. I part the slacks at the front of the rack. A large gust of wind shakes the outside like it were in a snow globe although we are the one enclosed. Danny and Annette emerge within the small storm, laughing and talking. A cab pulls up and Danny helps Annette inside then jumps in himself. Smears of light ride across the floor, then vanish, as the cab pulls forward. I imagine it passing through the intersection, a green light. "Let's get out of here." I slide under the rack and go to the front door. "It's locked. With a key."

Pam dusts off her pants after she emerges. "I'll check the back door." She moves through the rows of racks, down a dark hallway. I find the cross laying back in the case where I first stole it. I don't know why I was so interested in a cross. I wasn't born Catholic, but maybe this was it. I was jealous of those affiliated with such a powerful religion, one that makes people wish they were never born Catholic, or so stubborn in their beliefs that they couldn't imagine life any other way.

By the time we find a key, a layer of ice has formed over the snow. Consequently each step we take has a booming effect, though part of this is in our own heads, the surrounding silence, the confines of the alleyway, how quiet we had been while locked inside the thrift shop.

Danny had passed back by the window around midnight with Annette. They weren't laughing but distant from one another. I wondered if they had talked so much that I had come up. Danny would refer to me as the punk around the corner, while Annette would call me her prodigy, gifted. They would never figure out that I am one in the same. Something else must have happened between them. Perhaps whatever doom I had seen in Annette's eye when we danced had finally set free. Knowing Danny, his free spirit, he would never accept such a responsibility. He would force her to deal with her own bullshit. Annette steps through Danny's back kitchen window, onto his balcony.

"Who is she?" Pam whispers.

"Hush," I reply.

"We're never going to get out of here," Pam says as we trace our footsteps back toward a green dumpster, to avoid anymore booming footsteps, where two flipped lids had provided a square of concrete, a safe place to stand without making any noise.

Annette lights up a slender cigarette and blows a large could of smoke out over the railing. The silhouette of this drifts through a square of yellow, projected from Danny's kitchen light onto the dance studio window. I wonder if this is how they met, window to window, a romance behind glass.

"There you are." Danny joins Annette on the balcony, carrying two glasses of red wine. "What are you doing out here? It's freezing."

"I needed some air."

"You're still mad."

"You are always sneaking around, taking my life into your hands. I'm sick of it, no?"

"I thought if I told you it would ruin the night."

"Everything is ruined anyway."

"I thought we weren't going to talk about this anymore?"

Annette motions toward the studio. "I can't help it. Everywhere I go I'm reminded of this studio."

"Life will work itself out."

"Oh really? I came to American to make money, not hock my dancing shoes." Annette blows out another cloud of smoke. "I should have stayed in Buenos Aires. No. I should have stayed in Madrid. Europeans never get these crazy American ideas."

"This is how this country is. We just need to get you more promotion."

"I thought that's why we went to the club."

"Everything takes time."

"I should move to the city, but I don't have any money for that anymore. One bad move in life can trap you, like a rat." Annette turns dramatically toward the dumpster. Pam and me shrink away.

"I need him."

"You don't."

"They loved him."

"You don't even know how to reach him. Forget about it." Annette tosses her cigarette over the balcony. The smoke drifts toward us. Pam waves her hand up and down and makes a face. I peek back out.

"Maybe you think you can be replaced?" Danny lets his long hair fall out of a ponytail, sexy even from here.

"What do you think?"

"I think there are many beautiful people in the world."

I know when Annette says this she is thinking about me, not me here, or me the Doc Crew me, or the me who smashed the picture of Jesus in front of Gail, but Juan, Juan me, the young teenager behind the mask that stood up and danced the dance with Annette at The Black Rose. Another secret from her. Annette almost senses it, this joke on her account and stomps past Danny, grabbing her glass of wine, before crouching back into the apartment through the kitchen window. Danny's silhouette, that of his long Christ-like hair, hangs inside the square of yellow on the dance studio building, framed like a picture. He lets out a sigh then steps inside closing the window behind him. A cross from the windowpane takes the place of his silhouette.

"Can you keep a secret?" I whisper to Pam.

"I know I can, can you?"

"Look. If I tell you something about me that I don't want anyone else to know, you have to promise me you'll never bring up the Jenny and Doodle thing again, deal?"

"It better be good."

"Oh. It is."


"I'm taking tango lessons from that woman."

"What woman?"

"The woman who just went into Danny's apartment."

"Are you sick or something?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Pam doesn't answer but instead looks me up and down. I know she's thinking about the day we broke into Danny's apartment and he caught us stealing change. She escaped and I lingered behind. She wants to know what happened then, that secret.

"Let's go."

"Where?" I reply. Ms. Demonte's empty bedroom charts Pam's expression—not the bedroom itself—its characteristics: dark, empty, and unfamiliar.

"I guess the old bag's house."

"Let's do some spying in the window instead."

"No way. You said he had a shotgun." I did tell her that.

"He didn't use it."

"You got lucky."

"He's not like that."

"What do you hope to see?"

"I guess I want to know how much they know each other. I mean, are they fucking or what?" I think Pam is going to say why but instead she says All right.

"But if I get shot. I'm going to kill you."

We scale up the metal escape then crouch down on the balcony grate. I lift up Danny's window. Bursts of heat commingle with the cold outside air like mixed feelings. Pam looks afraid but excited. A bottle of wine sits on the small foldout table, to the left of the window, next to Annette's family ring. There is a muffled sound of a guitar then the faint sound of tango music.

Pam looks at me. "You weren't kidding about the tango?"

"No. What did you think?"

Pam looks away from an image that troubles her.

A door slams open followed by a flood of tango music I recognize as Andre Rieu, Spanish guitar midnight tango. I assume the feet struggling against the wood floor are adornos, but the movement is out of rhythm, clumsy. "So you've been seeing him! I thought you didn't know who he was!"

"Please," Annette hisses back. "If you would learn to dance instead of play that guitar, maybe I wouldn't need to dance with someone else."

"So you admit it. You think of him."

"Yes. If that shows what little of a man you are then, yes."

"And what else?"

"There is more, eh?"


"Get your hands off of me."

"I'm getting out of here," Pam whispers.

"Wait." I grab Pam by her sleeve. "This is my fault."

Pam's mind circles in confusion just as the boom goes off in the apartment. Lights turn on in other windows, one by one, like a train pulling into a station.

"Oh, my God! What have I done?" Danny cries out. Pam starts for the escape, but I stop her movement by grabbing her Eskimo coat.

"It isn't just that she taught me the tango."

"What? What!" Pam screams, terrified that I would keep her here, in this place.

"The both of them. I know the both of them."

I let go of Pam's coat and she slides down the escape. I peel away more slowly, my eye stuck on the ring: I only know that the ring begun in the despair of old Romania and I have to pass it down, now that my stone is locked inside. I reach into the window and grab the ring, just as I had grabbed the cross, but instead of Gail, I'm thinking of myself, accidentally knocking over the wine; it spills like blood, onto the floor.

"What the fuck," Danny mutters. "Who's there?"

I slide the window shut, my silhouette across the way, jumping off the cross in the square of yellow, as I scale down the fire escape and join Pam in the snow. The ice coating that seemed so loud a few minutes ago barely crackles. When we reach the alleyway, we tug each other in opposite directions, just like we almost did when we split after the trolley.

"Which way?" I don't want to split up this time. I look toward the intersection. A green light summons us around front. I pull Pam in this direction. We run under the street lamps, under Danny's front window, toward Pam's street where a green light turns yellow then red. A cop car turns onto the road. We shift into a casual gait. We are sandwiched between two "reds," a sign from the "flow" that we should stop and confront the situation but what am I going to say? We broke into a thrift store, spied into a window, at two people I lied to, one that might be dead… When we pass the thrift store, I recognize one of the cops as Doodle's father. I feel suffocated with what I can't say.

"You took it again?" Pam says. She eyes the glimmer that comes from when I pull from my pocket Annette's ring. I show it to Pam. "What is that?" Pam asks.

"Like I tried to say before," I say, then realizing that there are just parts of you that you should never explain. "I don't think that he killed her, do you?"

"No," Pam replies.

"Yeah, we would have heard something."

About the author:

Richie Dent received his MFA in Poetry and Screenwriting from the University of Arizona. His poetry and prose has appeared in Crazyhorse, CV2, and the Jabberwock Review. His first feature screenplay was considered for a 2006 Nicholl Fellowship, and was a quarter-finalist in the 2006 Francis Ford Coppola Competition, judged by Gus Van Sant. Inspired by the materialism of Hollywood, where he currently resides, Richie is working on a screenplay about an interior designer.

For further reading:

Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 6, No. 4, where "Thrift Shop Confessional" ran on February 25, 2007. List other work with these same labels: fiction, short story.

42opus is an online magazine of the literary arts.

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