Drama Fiction Christmas

At first glance, it would be easy to mistake it for a gift store, rather than a busy charity shop. It’s the time of year when seasonal items that are new seem to take over from the goods the public have donated second-hand. There are bays of Christmas cards and shelves decked in festive gifts: glass globes containing snowmen in miniature hats and scarves adorn the shelves in various sizes, simply begging to be taken home and shaken; hot water bottles in furry covers with pictures of dogs, cats, reindeer, hedgehogs and other ‘cuties also shout “please buy me.” Finally, there are tea towels, soaps, essential oils, candles, tree decorations, cuddly toys, crackers, and simply mountains of socks and slippers. If you look hard enough, you’re bound to find something someone will want.

It’s ten minutes before closing and the shop is deserted. From the window, the world seems dreary, dark and comfortless. I’m just about to turn the heaters off and close early when a last-minute arrival appears trailing muddy tracks across the recently swept laminate floor. I view all this from the sorting room door which is propped open by a fire door guard.

“Oh no, not him again!” 

My assistant, Tracy, is clearing the sorting room table. “Who’s it this time?”. 

“The guy in black. The one whose shoelaces are always coming undone. Quick! Let’s hide before he sees us.” What a ridiculous thing to say. I’m not five years old and there’s nowhere to hide!

“Which one? 

“The one who’s always a pain over the DVD’s and CD’s.”

 “That could apply to a number of people, couldn’t it?

“Unfortunately, yes.”

“I’ll deal with him if you like,” she offers helpfully.

“Would you? Thanks! I’m not sure up to dealing with any more difficult people. It’s been one of those days!” Who am I kidding? It’s always one of those days.


Alright, I admit I sometimes feel dehumanised by my job. I’ve been here so long, it feels like I no longer exist. When she was alive, Lyndsey used to say, “if you’re not careful, you’ll end up part of the furniture.” She was right.

Take the woman who stepped into the sorting room earlier. She completely ignored the sign saying, “Staff only.” I wouldn’t mind, but I had closed the door for a reason. I never get time to catch up on the admin without constantly being interrupted. Ridiculous as it is, the only place offering peace and quiet here is the loo and obviously I can’t sit in there all day. In an ideal world I’d keep the sorting room door permanently shut, but then the donations would pile up on the other side. Seated on my swivel chair in the small space that serves as my “office” - I’m not immediately visible to anyone entering the back room, so the woman didn’t see me at first.

“Oh! I wasn’t expecting there to be a person here.” Her tones were haughty, as if I only existed for her benefit. She had the air of a Memsahib, expecting to get her way with those she regarded as “underlings.”

“Well, there is a person in here and I actually had the door closed for a reason.” The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them. I’ve noticed that happening a lot lately! “I’ve actually been the manager here for twenty years.” I’ve been saying that a lot too.

She carries on as if she hadn’t heard me.

“Oh, but this is the drop off point, isn’t it? I assume you do want donations.” She was holding out a large bin liner. “Well, I’m trying to donate some things – that is if you’re interested in receiving them.”

Grit your teeth and smile sweetly. Don the air of appropriate humility. That is unless you actually want to enter a world of pain that involves complaints being hurled back and forth from head office to the area manager in the form of emails, all of which will be taken far more seriously than they deserve. Never work with the public! Was it Confucius who said: “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Maybe that’s where I went wrong.

“First of all,” the woman continued, “I have two table lamps. I take it you accept those.”

“Well actually…”

“I also have a cycle helmet.” 

“Erm, I’m afraid we can’t sell either of those for health and safety reasons.”

“Oh! Charity shops are getting fussy these days. The last two I visited turned my goods down,” she said huffily. “I don’t want it to happen a third time.”

To think I once worked in the city! But then, I got jaded and decided I wanted a meaningful job and look where that got me!

“It’s not that we’re trying to be awkward, but all electrical items have to be PAT tested you see - to make sure they are safe to use.”

“Well, I’m sure it’s not beyond your means to find someone to do that.” 

Just smile sweetly. Whatever you do, do not try to put this person right. 

She’s fiddling in her bag. Now for the coup de grace. The emerging toilet seat. 

“I’m sure someone will find this useful. It’s hardly been used.” It was like she was handing me the Crown Jewels. She must have caught my expression. “I’m sure you wipe everything down anyway.”

There was no point saying anything but thank you, thank you and thank you. It would have been sheer folly to explain that as soon as she was gone, I’d have to dump everything in the bins for which the charity pays a princely sum to have regularly serviced. 


But back to the guy in black.

I’ve long given up on the oughts, shoulds and coulds of my job. I dare say I ought to be setting an example to my colleague here, but the guy in black drives me nuts! Then again, a lot of people drive me nuts! My patience, never my best quality, is wearing thin. It boils down to years of having to endure certain customers nitpicking over the tiniest of flaws -all so they can haggle over the price. I don’t mind if it’s reasonable haggling, but some of them seem to forget that you rarely get perfection with second-hand goods. The point of why the shop exists seems to go over their heads.

“Let me know if you need any help.” Trace calls out to the guy in black from the sorting room door.

“Sure.” He holds up the CD for a closer inspection.

“I don’t think I recognise him,” she says to me. “At first, I thought you meant the guy who makes you run round searching in the back for something impossible and is never satisfied with what you get him”.

“No, he doesn’t do that.”

“What does he do then?”

“No, this guy - the one in the shop now, hangs round just before we close. It’s usually later on towards the end of week, not on one of your shifts. He finds fault with something so he can get a reduction. He’s always checking on his phone to make sure we’ve got the price right. He usually buys the DVDs, CDs and PlayStations.”


“Loves nothing more than picking holes in everything we do.”

“Oh! One of them.”

“Yeah. Do you know I saw him pull out a pocket diary the other day? He was jotting down notes.”

“Why doesn’t that surprise me?”

“I wondered what he was putting down?”

“Something uncomplimentary about the shop, no doubt.”

“Bound to be.”

“Then he probably posted it on Facebook.”

“I can’t imagine him going on Facebook.”

“Why not?”

“Too much of a loner.”

“Well, maybe WhatsApp then.”

“Ditto. For the same reason.”


“Also, he never talks about anything except his purchases. No mention of family or friends when he comes in.”

“Perhaps he hasn’t got any friends. Does he work?”

“I think so.”

“What sort of work does he do?”

“Dunno. I think he works from home.”

“Doing what?” 

“I don’t know. Something….” 

“The mind boggles.”


Hands on hips, the guy in black surveys the current state of the “media” shelves. Only the day before, a young man whose mother is fighting breast cancer, had volunteered his services. Knowledgeable about current trends in music and films, as well as the classics, he spent the afternoon painstakingly sorting through CD’s, records, DVD’s and PlayStations, and pricing them up. He wanted the charity to get the best deal, while also offering a fair price for the customers.

The guy in black inspects the condition of another CD.

Humph,” he says.

“I suppose we can’t stay watching him from the sorting room door all day. Do you want me to start cashing up?” Trace asks.

“That would be great. Thank you.”

It’s now three minutes to closing. Trace stands at the till waiting for the guy to finish selecting his goods and to come and pay for them.

“Your prices are all over the place,” he says, holding up two CD’s. “Why is one priced at £2.50 - when this other one which has more singles on it is £1.50? Who does the pricing here? Makes no sense.”

Trace explains that some of them are worth more than others.

“In my opinion…” There follows a lengthy monologue during which I lose the will to live. “Anyway, that’s not why I’m here,” he says. He points to the Pink Floyd record displayed on the top shelf and marked at £40.  It’s unreachable without a ladder.

“Beats me why you need to place it that height,” he mutters.”

Trace explains we do it to deter shoplifters. What many of the public don’t realise is how serious a problem shoplifting actually is. It’s kind of heartbreaking when our donors (ignore my earlier tirade - there are many generous ones - have given their things to the shop in good faith believing it will help raise money for a great cause, only for them to be stolen).

“Oh.” That temporarily takes the wind out of his sails. 

“Did you want to look at the record? Only it will have to be quick as we’re about to close”.

“I’d like to look it.” While Trace locks up, I fetch the stepladder. 

 Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, complete with two posters, comes down from its stand and is handed over to the Guy in Black.

“Hmmm, you’ve definitely overpriced this one,” he says. “Can you see the mark on the back cover?”

“It’s barely noticeable.” I almost have to squint to make it out. “And it is priced fairly. If you look online, you’ll see some selling for a lot more than that.”

“Hmmm. “

“I’m sorry, but we really have got to close up.” Some of us have got families to get back to. Not me, but that’s another story.

“Tell you what. I’ll give you £30 for it. In the condition it’s in, I doubt you’ll get more.”

Trace looks at me. I look at Trace.

“Can’t do that. It’s only just gone out.”

“Alright.” He hands it back. “I’ll just pay for these CDs, but I think you’re charging too much. You need to get someone else to do your pricing.”

“Don’t you just want to murder him?” Trace says once he’s left.

“A little bit. How much did he spend after all that?” I ask.


“Really pushing the boat out then.”



Unable to face an empty house, I find myself lingering outside the shop after locking up. Everywhere I look, I’m reminded of happier times. The pub on my right overlooking the town’s river, is where Lyndsey and I used to sit savouring cocktails during the warmer months. Now, two small Christmas trees with flashing lights stand either side of the pub door. Above the lintel, a highlighted Father Christmas complete with sleigh and reindeers, carries his sack of presents. To the left, further down the street, strings of lanterns attached to the tops of lampposts light up both sides of the street. As I cross the road to the market square, the town’s Christmas tree is festooned with glittering silver bulbs, moving in the breeze. When Lyndsey was alive, we used to come and watch children singing carols here. It was a sight that would have warmed all but the hardest of hearts. Sighing, I take a few minutes out of my day to remember all the Christmases we shared. It’s been two years since she died from the disease we fight so hard to eradicate at the shop. I feel the pang of her absence acutely.


It’s Christmas Eve and we’re closing an hour early, but that’s not going to make any difference to the guy in black who shows up ten minutes before closing time. Trace isn’t in today so I have the dubious pleasure of his company all to myself.

His eyes pivot from the top shelf back to me.

“What happened to the record?”

“We sold it first thing this morning to a guy who was waiting outside before we opened.” The man had told me he wanted to buy the record for his daughter. His dad had loved the album, but they couldn’t find it in his belongings when he’d passed.

The guy in black seems his usual disgruntled self. 

“Humph. Nothing worth bothering with here today.” 

It all happens in a flash. On his way out out, he trips over one of his shoelaces. As his hand goes out to break the fall, a snow globe topples off a shelf, knocking him on the head.  It smashes onto the floor covering his shoes in watery fake snow. As I rush from the counter, he slowly raises himself up. 

“Are you alright?” All kinds of images rush through my mind of how this unfortunate incident might end! At the very least, I picture a visit to the hospital and endless phone calls and emails, to say nothing of potential lawsuits.

He rubs his head painfully. Close up, his brown eyes gaze at me endearingly.

“Yeah, I think so.” He rubs his head again. Already a bruise is forming at the left temple.

“Maybe you’d like to sit down for a while?” I try to remember the correct procedures in such circumstances. Should I call for help?  I will certainly need to log what has happened in the online accident report.

“No, I’m fine. No need to make a fuss.” His eyes are level with mine, his black shirt tightly buttoned up.

“I’m fine,” he says again. No harm done.”

Maybe I’m the one suffering from concussion because I can't quite believe what I’m hearing.

“If you feel confused or dizzy, make sure you ring up the emergency services straight away.” 


“Have you anyone at home in case you need help?”


“Shall I take your number? To check if you are ok.”

“Nah. No need. I’m fine. I’ll be on my way. I only live up the road.”

Once he’s gone, I brush up the pieces of the snow globe and quickly log in the basic details of what’s happened on the computer. Before I forget.


A few days pass until I see the guy in black again. He’s dressed in his usual somber attire, but he’s wearing something I’ve never seen before. A smile. He’s also carrying a bag. A black one, naturally.

“Afternoon, or should I say evening.” Even his voice sounds different. Brighter.

“Hello there.”

“How are you all?”

Trace emerges from the back with an expression that says it all.

“Er. We’re all ok. Aren’t we Trace?”

”We’re fine.”

“That’s good. I’ve brought you a donation.”


“Would you like to see what it is?”

“Er. Yes. Ok.”

I open the bag carefully, half-expecting a snake to jump out, but instead discover some great records, including the “The Dark Side of the Moon.” Obviously, it can’t be the one he was making such a thing about in the shop the other day.

“Should help boost the sales a bit.” His face is amiability itself.

“I didn’t think you had that record!”

“Oh, I have several of them,” he says breezily. “The one I’m giving you is a first pressing so it should be worth a bit. You could try selling it for £80, maybe more. You’ll find it’s in mint condition. As are all my records.”

“Thank you.” Again, I’m gob smacked. 

“No problem. I’m thinking of donating others soon. Along with some unwanted Christmas gifts. That is - if you want them.”

“I’m sorry, I’m not sure I understand, but thank you. How is your head by the way?”

“Yeah, funny you should ask. I seem to have acquired a bump. Only I don’t remember how I got it.”

“Right. Er, do you remember the other day in the shop?” 

“Not really? It’s all a bit of a blur.”

“Can you remember knocking your head on your way out of the shop?” I should probably mention the snow globe and logging it as an accident, but it might ruin the moment.

“I really don’t.” A chuckle escapes him. “For some reason, my memory’s been a bit hazy lately. But I do know I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and…

“You have?”

“Yeah. You know…try and help others more and all that.  Well, I’d better be on my way. I expect you’ll be wanting to close up.” He suddenly turns round and beams. “You know, I’d be happy to give you a few hours of my time – if you need the help.  You only have to ask. My name’s Nick, by the way.”

December 20, 2023 21:35

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Rebecca Miles
14:38 Dec 29, 2023

I hope you had your own guy in black who turned philanthropic this Christmas. You recycle your experiences so well in this story; I can picture it all clearly and how the narrator battles between wanting to defy these trying customers and toeing the line of expectation. No doubt you've a lot of unwanted presents passing through the doors at this time of year; I hope you can turn a story out of them too!


Helen A Smith
17:31 Dec 29, 2023

Hi Rebecca, I’m glad you appreciated the story. If only people did change that easily, how much better life would be! Unwanted presents? Now, that sounds interesting - you never know! At the moment, I’m getting into the idea of doing stories outside my comfort zone. Maybe another sci-fi one. That would be great!


Rebecca Miles
17:40 Dec 29, 2023

Run with open arms into the new: if you can't do it in a story, when can you do it eh?😜


Helen A Smith
18:20 Dec 29, 2023



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Joe Smallwood
15:06 Jan 08, 2024

Have you knocked some sense into him? I liked the running a retail store aspect. There is so much to it and much work that is not appreciated. And to think that a charity store has to be run like any other business is something I never thought about. Just one thing that occurred to me was that if the man in black could not remember the accident, a concussion is almost certain, having had one myself. Anyway, a good story! Thanks.


Helen A Smith
15:39 Jan 08, 2024

Yes, he had a concussion. A concussion may have had long term effects in his case. I’ve not had concussion but I had a small accident a few years back and it really shook me. The reality is it takes a lot to make a character change. Something profound to make someone see life differently. It’s an idea that interests me. If only humans could step into other’s shoes - even for a day - how much better life would be. It is both a business and a charity.


Joe Smallwood
19:10 Jan 08, 2024

Yeah that was a very big change in that character. But this is realistic. My wife says I wasn’t the same person after my accident.


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AnneMarie Miles
14:07 Jan 08, 2024

I really loved where you took this story and how you incorporated the amnesia prompt. I don't wish more head injuries on anyone, but if it made people more generous, then maybe! Is this a continuation story? I remember another thrift shop employee story from you... I really enjoy reading the perspective and you capture the details of the encounters and characters of this shop so well. It's very fun to read. Thanks, Helen!


Helen A Smith
14:28 Jan 08, 2024

I’m glad it was fun to read. I don’t want to write sad stories all the time. However, I think this may be one of the last charity shop stories I do on here as I want to concentrate on my other types of stories more, but you never know. It kind of is a continuation and it kind of isn’t. That makes no sense at all, but hopefully you know what I mean. ☺️


AnneMarie Miles
03:04 Jan 09, 2024

I do know what you mean! I thought it made sense, and I thought it continued the charity shop chronicles nicely! I have a tender spot in my heart for sad stories so it tends to be my genre of choice but I know what you mean about not wanting to write them all the time. It's fun to switch it up sometimes too!


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Michał Przywara
21:49 Dec 21, 2023

Definitely a stressful customer, though it certainly ends well (well, well enough, given a head injury :) It's fitting his name is Nick. It's also fitting he's the “Guy in Black”, which to me parallels Stephen King's “Man in Black”, a stand-in for a devil-like figure. Maybe that's an extreme thing to compare a customer to, but some of them are a real menace :) But I'm surprised the shop accepts pretty much anything without fuss! I've definitely run into charity stores before that unapologetically said, “Don't bring us your garbage, you're ...


Helen A Smith
07:55 Dec 22, 2023

Hi Michal, Every charity is going to work slightly differently, but donors can be extremely demanding and rude as well as wonderful and supportive. Often people have made up their minds that they are going to give their goods come what may and are not impressed if they are turned away, however reasonable. It’s sometimes easier to say yes than no because of the repercussions. Its a lot easier to dump a load of rubbish on a shop, often fly tipping outside a shop at night when it is closed, than to take it to a dump. I think it’s a bit differe...


Michał Przywara
21:48 Dec 22, 2023

“there’s often a big disconnect between what goes on at ground level and the understanding at higher levels” - heh, that might be a summary of all human endeavours, everywhere, throughout all of history :) I'm not sure if they're called clerks generally (Canada) or if that's just me. I've not worked retail myself, so I'm not familiar with the nuances - sounds like there's room for a story in that. Mind you, I used to sell sandwiches and I have no idea what my role was called, other than a “sandwich artist” :P But yeah, “people have made ...


Helen A Smith
17:10 Dec 23, 2023

I asked a friend who has an American friend and she said “clerks” refers to member of staff in US. It rhymes with works. Clerks in Uk refers to people more in offices or admin roles and rhymes with parks. I like the idea of doing a story about about cultural misunderstandings. Eg. “quite good” here probably implies not that good, whereas in US I think it means just that. I like “sandwich artist.” 😊


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Mary Bendickson
00:50 Dec 21, 2023

Ah, life at the shop lives on. What a fortunate bump on the head!


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Aoi Yamato
03:51 Jan 22, 2024

well done Helen. I liked this a lot.


Helen A Smith
07:00 Jan 22, 2024

Thanks Aoi. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Welcome to Reedsy.


Aoi Yamato
01:15 Jan 24, 2024

you're welcome.


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