I lost myself in getting there. The houses got smaller, dinger, closer together. Cheap businesses sprang up between them like plastic flowers: A quick cash joint. An adult video store. A Laundromat. An apartment building loomed. Trash blew across the street from an overturned garbage can. But still I pressed on, oh virtuous me.
A man stood at the entrance of the shelter, black hat on, gold stud jammed into his nostril. He huddled in a thin jacket against the February wind, texting one-handed. I wondered how he got the money for that phone; wondered how he could justify the monthly expense.
I’d put what the church had asked for—drinks for 40—in the plastic bin I usually reserved for grocery shopping. Save the earth and all that. The man watched me struggle to lift the bin from my trunk; watched me swear as the bin smashed my fingers. I eyed him warily as I approached the door.
“Straight ahead.” He nodded at my donation and opened the door.
I stepped inside and looked around. “It’s for the…”
I placed the bin on a table in the foyer.
“I’ll take care of it.” He placed a hand on each side of my bin to pick it up. “You want this back?”
“Yeah,” I said, mentally cringing at the image of his hands on the bin.
I followed him to the kitchen. He opened a stainless steel refrigerator with a hand-lettered sign taped to its front: volunteers only!! Inside were restaurant-sized jugs of mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup. There was a huge cake, too, beautifully decorated, a carton of cream smashed into its center.
Side by side, we put the juice away.
I picked up my bin and left.
I drove around the little neighborhood, trying to find a way out. A plastic Santa Claus still stood on one front yard, grinning wildly at passersby. A cat sat beneath a tree watching me.
I found my way to the highway and sped towards home. Pretty houses perched upon neat lawns at respectable distances from one other. I drove into my clean neighborhood, my clean house, my clean fridge.
I wondered if I’d ever get that plastic bin clean again.