The Year of the Purchase, by Peter Christopher

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August 2022 Issue [Readings]

The Year of the Purchase

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From Campfires of the Dead and the Living, a short story collection, which will be published next month by 11:11 Press.

“Is this your good shirt with the frayed collar and cuffs?” my mother says to me. Before I can answer her, she answers herself, “Let’s go for a new good shirt.”

Goldberg’s is where we go. Behind these windows is the same display of faded mackinaws and plaid shirts I believe I remember from nearly twenty years ago. The door opens to the same clack of bell and clapper. The smell is the same smell of new shoes, belt leather, mothballs.

“Come in, come in,” says Mrs. Goldberg from the dark at the back of the store. “Red, put the lights on for these customer people.”

Fluorescent tubing hums light on the glass case holding clasp knives and buck knives, compasses, belt buckles. Stacked boxes of dress shirts are on top of the case near the shirts for this season—hunting shirts and sweatshirts. Shelves from floor to ceiling support the weight of new-jean stiffness—straight legs, bell-bottoms, boot cuts. Near the cash register is the cardboard cowgirl that as a boy I had wanted as my girl. The cowgirl, young as ever, advertises her jean brand while sitting on a fence, admiring the bronc riding of a cowboy I had wished was me. Mrs. Goldberg, who was old when I was a toddler, sits old as ever in the shadows at the back of the store.

“Red, come tell these customer people of ours about the sales we are having,” says Mrs. Goldberg.

Radio tuned in to high school football comes from the back room. Cheerleaders clap up a cheer. Dickie Dassatti makes the tackle. The home team has the ball on their twenty. Red has them all in the back room as if somehow in miniature.

In this room, my mother looks at shirts in boxes as if she is looking down into the lives of boys and men. I look at my reflection in the glass of the case. A man all the ages I am looks back. A man thirty-seven years old whose mother is still buying his clothes for him looks back.

“This one might fit you,” my mother says to me. My mother puts a shirt into my hand. The shirt is an oxford blend, button-down, white. The price, written in ink on the sticker, is twenty-four dollars.

Before I can say what I should say to my mother—who wears my old army jacket, sweatpants, sneakers with the heel backs broken in as if she is wearing slippers—my mother says to me, “You should have at least one good shirt.”

“Listen to your mother,” says Mrs. Goldberg, and then, “Red, listen to me and turn off that radio. Come take care of these customer people of ours. Keep in mind the bargain we will give them on a good shirt.”

My mother snaps open the breast pocket of a long-sleeve cowboy shirt with pearl snaps for buttons.

I lay the white shirt on the glass case safekeeping the shiny desires of boys.

The home team has driven to the Chicopee ten. Red opens the curtain that closes away the back room and comes to see what he can do for us—not from folding pants in the back room so much as from the bleachers below the press box at Noel Field. My God, Red, what little there is left of your namesake has turned white. Why is it that I thought of you, Red, as young as ever, the same as the cowgirl?

Red takes a look at me.

“I remember you,” says Red. “You’re the one who broke a long one in the last minute against Hoosac Valley and fumbled down near the five.”

“Yes, that’s me,” I say.

“How are you doing?” says Red.

“Still fumbling,” I say.

Fluorescent light flickers over all of us.

The home team goes in for the winning score.

True to Mrs. Goldberg’s word, my mother pays thirty-two dollars for both the white shirt and the cowboy shirt.

On our way home through the great light failing is when I say to her, “Mother, please forgive me, please.”


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