I just stood there on the sidewalk for a minute, staring at the pastel reflection of the neon sign from the jeweler across the street. Tightened the scarf around my neck; hunched my shoulders. Years ago someone had carefully painted these letters on the store window, and now the sun and time and the sodium streetlights had revealed every brushstroke. Each letter was golden, a black shadow dropped to the left of each one, with pencil-thin white for highlights.
I leaned forward and pressed my forehead up against the glass. It felt like a Coca-Cola bottle in July, the kind you could get out of a vending machine at the Forestdale Pool when I was little, the bottles slender and green, yanked out through the circular grate with a dull and violent clank. It had been a few months, maybe even a year, since I’d been back. The wind burned my ears. A stubby white Christmas tree made out of plastic sat on a dusty wooden table in the window. It was decorated with a dozen red poinsettias, synthetic as the tree. I wondered who painted the sign, wondered what they looked like.
I remembered there had been a Salvation Army around the corner, shoehorned into an old movie theatre. I found an Otis Redding record there one time for three bucks, and even though “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” was scratched, the rest of it sounded brand new. The thrift store was long closed, and I marveled what had to happen for a Salvation Army to go out of business. I wondered what they did with all the records when they shut it down, suddenly fretted at the thought of Volt and Tamla promotional singles shattered beneath black and white TVs down at the county landfill in Bessemer.
A car alarm throbbed in the background. It began to sync up with the pulse beating through my cheeks and face against the shop window. My phone buzzed once in my pocket, then again. Two text messages in rapid succession. I tried to remember what was even on the menu that I could eat. Did they even have an actual salad you could order, or was it just a trio of fist-sized bowls filled with creamed corn and asparagus and boiled potatoes? It didn’t really matter, I would just eat a few rolls and drink coffee either way. The alarm shut off.
The phone buzzed in my pocket again. I leaned back from the window. There were three little cartoon kids standing on the last letter, pulling another one up by a thick brown brushstroke. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and looked down at it. Where r u? I looked at the sign. The car alarm started up again. The phone buzzed in my hand: incoming call from MOM. I looked at the little boy climbing on the letter in the sign. “SAVE THE YOUTH,” it said.
Polaroid 600 // Impossible Project B&W // Bessemer, Alabama