Mirror, Mirror

Illustration by Bob AulI was volunteering at the collection center last Sunday when you drove up in something more rust than car. You had some kind of red-plastic film over a broken brake light. Your car wheezed to a stop. In my line of volunteer work, I'm used to seeing poverty up close; there's no shame in it—unless you behave shamefully. With your shirt unbuttoned to reveal an ample belly, you looked like Philip Seymour Hoffman in Love Liza. You climbed out of the car and proceeded to extricate from your back seat a wicker-framed mirror with a point of impact in the shattered center that was about the size of a fist. "I'm sorry," I said. "I'm not allowed to take broken glass." "It's not glass," you barked. "It's a mirror." "Right," I said. "I'm not allowed to take broken mirrors." "Well, which is it?" you asked. You appeared ready to explode right there in the church parking lot. "It's both," I said, trying to explain. "I'm not allowed to take anything that might cut me." You smiled evilly. "If you don't take this, you don't get any of it," you said, indicating the back seat. I looked inside without interest, but what I saw would make a grave robber puke: old food on the floor, empty beer bottles and useless shit. Some old clothes, maybe, something like a chair leg, a plate, a lousy pulp-fiction novel by Grisham, a Time magazine, a dog-shaped bottle, a tea cozy. It was like you'd driven through a Manila garbage dump. I said I understood, but that I still couldn't take your mirror. You clumsily and with a great show of force stuffed the broken mirror back into the car and shouted, "I'm through with you people! You're too picky!" You climbed into the driver's seat; the car heaved leftward. You turned the key, and the engine coughed but wouldn't turn over. Oily blue smoke puffed out of the exhaust. The engine caught, you slammed it into gear and shouted one last time like it was adios: "Too picky!"

 
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