by Susan H. Evans

The plastic strip curtains clack over the doorway of the Haven of Mercy Thrift Store, as I heft in a large trash bag of old clothes. A bearded man in a cap and black coat — perhaps a recovering addict from the Mission — says, “You can put that anywhere.”

I plop the bag down on a decrepit corduroy sofa. Several people in drab coats, laughing and talking, cluster in the front of the store near a heater. I mill around the dim aisles, looking at jackets and coats tightly shoved together on heavy metal rods. On the cracked linoleum floor, cardboard bins spill out winter’s detritus — striped scarves, woolen hats, and fur-lined gloves.

The place needs better light, I think, straining to see. Freezing air circles my ankles and bites my hands. A young, slender woman passes by me. Dark-haired, coatless, she cradles a sleeping newborn in a blanket, the baby’s fragile pale head uncovered. On the stained floor in a corner, a boy scoots a toy train around. Two young teen girls watch six old RCAs lined up in a row, illuminated blue glares of the same movie on all screens.

Dusty bookcases tower over the girls. I glance up and see an unframed picture of a faded Jesus above the televisions. “You are Amazing Just the Way You Are” plays from an old radio. In a back corner, the young mother nurses her baby, huddling on a blue plastic bin of curtains and quilts. A burial mound of children’s crumpled jeans, worn pajama tops, and baby gowns tower on her right side. On her left, a wooden rack holds chipped leather high heels, dilapidated boots, scuffled and almost sole-less penny loafers. A bootie lies on the floor in front of her, crisscrossed by a muddy shoe print.

Satisfied that the store has nothing for me, I walk towards the exit, and overhear an older woman say, “God has been good to me this year. I have been blessed.” Others murmur, “Me, too.”

I finally realize this place has something for me, after all, and it isn’t on a rough wooden shelf or hanging on a rusty rack. The store’s gray shadows fade away, as I begin to see clearly. The nursing mother and child, the “underprivileged” regulars, and the curling print of a framed Jesus all seem to point to a long-ago story set in another improbable place where miracles happened and hope radiated out into a dark world like ripples on a vast blue ocean.

These strangers standing around a small heater transform this place, and transmit a power that travels far beyond the crumbling parking lot of the Haven of Mercy, spreading light, even as earthly light fades from the sky on this January afternoon.

Susan H. Evans lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She teaches at a community college and writes poetry and memoir. She gardens, travels, and helps care for her infant granddaughter, named after the First Lady — Eve, of course. Susan is published in Daily Inspired Life MagazineMocking Owl Roost, Rising Phoenix Review, and Metapsychosis Journal

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