Matt had no notion what time it was. He had notions at all. But he had a job. That can change everything.
“You’ll need some clothes,” said Chris.
“I don’t have any money,” said Matt.
“I’ll pay. It doesn’t come out of your cash.”
“I’ll drop you at the Christian thrift store and you’ve got 20 minutes while I pick up some more McDonald’s for you. The trailer’s stocked with food, but I don’t want you to have to cook. I’ll show you how to get one of the piles going and then you’re on your own.”
Chris pulled the Ford into the parking lot of the thrift store. He handed Matt a 50$ bill.
“Be sure to get some good shoes, maybe a couple pair and some coats,” said Chris.
Matt exited the truck and ventured inside the store. Bells ringed. He smelled cedar and woodsmoke. A life-sized Santa said, “Merry Christmas” in monotone. The store was decorated deep in red, white and green. Someone cared and damned those who didn’t care. There was a plastic blue flocked tree with pink balls and Grinch-faced lights. It was the first indoor Christmas tree Matt had seen in a decade. He fell into the last one, drunk, knocked it over. It was the last time he’d seen his sister.
The interior of the store was cavernous and stuffed, stuffed, stuffed, with items. There was one clerk, a young woman, and one other customer. He was inspecting puzzles and had a Parisian street scene in his hands.
Matt went up to the clerk. She was wearing a crocheted sweater featuring a snowman and snowflakes and writing in a notebook. She was the first woman he’d seen in a long time whose face wasn’t ravaged by meth. It took him by surprise. Every conversation he’d had with a woman the past decade was predicated on meth.
She had jolted him. Matt explained his situation and showed her the 50$ bill. He asked for help. She perked up, donned an elf cap, grabbed a shopping cart, and led the way to men’s clothing, practically sprinting. She said her name was Peyton. The bells on her red cowboy boots jingled and jangled.
Ten minutes later Matt was standing at the counter with two garbage bags full of clothing. His main scores were a green and black plaid Pendelton coat, orange rain slicker, a Hamm’s stocking cap, and new underwear and socks that JC Penney dumped after it shuttered. He didn’t find any boots that fit so he settled for some black high top Puma sneakers. He put them on right there. They felt so good Matt thought he could dunk in them.
Peyton smiled behind the counter. Matt held out his money.
“No charge. Merry Christmas. Good luck,” said Peyton. “And put the coat on.”
Matt put the coat on. He felt the wool. It was like being back in the womb.
It was then Matt saw a guitar, leaning against a hat rack that would never hold a hat again. It was a half-sized Flamenco model, made for kids. It had a hole in the front, below the bridge, just like Willie Nelson’s guitar!
Matt stared at the guitar. Peyton watched him. He heard a horn honking out in the parking lot. It was time to go and get on with the slash burning.
“You want it?” said Peyton.
Somewhere back in the lost world of his mind before meth. Matt remembered he’d once played guitar. Not well, but he knew a few chords and some finger picking runs. He’d taken a class in junior high.
“I can have it?” said Matt.
“It’s been sitting here for months. No one’s picked up,” said Peyton. She went over to the hat rack and retrieved the guitar for Matt. She handed it to him. Matt strummed it. It was, incredibly, somewhat in tune.
“Thank you,” said Matt.
“You made my Christmas,” said Peyton.
Matt tossed the bags in the bed of the pickup, but carried the guitar inside the cab.
“You play?” said Chris.
“I think I did.”
The cab smelled of McDonald’s. Matt looked at the sacks with the golden arches.
“I ordered the entire menu,” said Chris.
Matt dug the milkshake out of the sack. He found a straw and took a sip, a deep sip. He sucked down half the shake. His brain froze with clarity.
Is there such a thing as ablution by milkshake?
Chris got the Ford on the road. Matt chose a Charley Pride Christmas cassette from the shoe box. Chris approved. He loved Charley. He’d seen him a couple weeks ago at an Indian casino.