"That lady with the jacket just saved my soul," I told him, skipping through an aisle of old prom dresses. "I'm going to heaven," I singsonged, "while your freckled fag ass is gonna fry in hell. Ha, ha."
"Goddamit! Where is that bitch?" he bitched, his eyes searching the store for her. "I'm gonna tell her God told me she needs to tithe that jacket to you."
He was talking about the vintage jacket the lady had snagged right out from under his nose, which was pretty swift, I must admit. It's hard to out-thrift Grant. He'd already found me the dress that went with the jacket, a short-sleeved shift from the '60s made from an awesome aqua-colored puckered polyester, and he could see the matching jacket from four aisles away, and he was headed there like a hornet, believe me, but the lady got there before him.
Grant asked her to give it up, which would not have occurred to me to do. He is the master, I tell you. She said no, nicely, so I told Grant I planned to offer her the dress, since it would be a shame to split a matching set. "Are you crazy!" he hissed at me under his breath so she wouldn't hear. "Don't you dare give it up! I will kill you."
But I asked her if she wanted it anyway, and she declined. Grant sighed with relief and ambled off to look at some '70s leisure suits that appeared to be made from lightweight sofa upholstery.
After he left, the lady apologized for wanting to keep the jacket, and even offered to help me find another one that might look just as good, or maybe a white crocheted vest such as the one she just found, which was long and something Bea Arthur would have worn on "Maude." But I was happy with the dress just as it was, and happy too that the matching jacket wasn't wasted on someone who didn't appreciate it, and that is when the lady saved my soul."I feel there's a reason God gave us each a piece of a matching set today," she began, "so I just have to ask, have you given your heart to Jesus?"
Before I go any further, let me just say that when I was a kid, I used to be frightened by fervor. When we lived in Melbourne, Fla., my mother often threatened to forsake her atheism just so she could have me carted to a Christian boot camp called "the Seed," where unruly kids were deposited for months at a stretch, during which time their surliness was somehow psychologically beaten out of them.
Even the coolest of kids came out vapid-faced with fervor. Even slutty Wendy, who had curly mermaid hair to her waist and used to wear her jeans so low and loose that you could practically see her pubes when she thrust her hand in her front pocket for a pack of cigarettes, even she came out with her hair cut off and her collar buttoned up.
That was a surprise, let me tell you. None of us thought Wendy would give up her surliness. It had us all petrified that the Seed had some special power that could suck all the fun out of people.
Afterward, Wendy always sat alone at the front of the school bus, where the rest of us stared at her with the curiosity of aliens itching to probe a bovine. She tried to save a few souls, mine included, asking us if we'd given our hearts to Jesus. I said I had, which is kind of true, because when I was 7 I'd been allowed to attend church with a friend, and I'd approached the podium when the preacher called forth sinners from the audience. I asked Jesus into my heart then, though I was unconvinced he'd hang around for long.When I told Wendy that, she asked if I'd sit beside her, so I did. The whole time she tried to resave my soul, and I got the feeling it was less for my sake than for hers, like she was worried she'd be the only one on the bus going to heaven.
After that, I was a little less afraid of fervor because I could see in Wendy's eyes that I was mistaking fervor for something else. The lady at American Thrift had eyes like that, and I figured if saving my soul saved her from a few more moments of loneliness, then I was happy to give it up for a bit.
God, was Grant pissed. "Where is that bitch?" he kept saying, like he was gonna chase her down and get her to give the jacket back. I had to laugh. "You're going to hell alone," I taunted him, knowing full well that if anyone can make a heaven of hell, it's Grant. He spotted the lady walking out the door, but I held him back and off she walked with my soul, just one piece of a matching set, snagged like a vintage jacket right out from under Grant's nose.
Hollis Gillespie is the author of Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales From a Bad Neighborhood (Harper Collins), now available in paperback. Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered."