Open 2024 Stories - Shoshana Groom


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

By Shoshana Groom


The wistful harmonica of old country music greeted Zippy when she managed to open the doors of the Best Furr-iends Forever Thrift Shop, arms laden with gifts. “Bless your heart, dear,” said a little old woman in a knit sweater sitting at the counter. “You can give those to Martha in the back. Do you need a hand?”

“I’ve got it, thank you,” Zippy said, peering over the tops of her bags to catch a glimpse of her destination, a worn sign labeled ‘donations’ hand-written in cursive. She shuffled towards the back, slowed by her inability to see the ground before her, and in the corners of her eyes a city’s worth of memories passed by her. Racks upon racks of vintage-style clothing gave way to stands piled high with checkered scarves and hand-crocheted hats; shelves of makeup organizers colored by their own unique histories passed by to reveal ceiling-high piles of books. The subtle scent of warm vanilla in the air beckoned images of baking cookies with grandmothers, and Zippy took a step towards the books; maybe there were cookbooks she could page through, hiding vintage recipes for home-style ginger cookies and babkas and cinnamon rolls heavy with cream. But the bags in her arms were heavy, so she tugged her focus back to the cursive sign.

She set the bags in a marked cart and another old lady, this one wearing a tartan apron, poked her head out from a door labeled “volunteers only” and immediately broke into a smile. “Thank you, dear. The animals will be very grateful.” She poked through the bags and pulled out a stuffed bear with a giant red-and-green bow around its neck. “Oh, how charming!” she said. “Who is this little lady?”

“That’s Bear-atrix,” Zippy said, patting her soft head. “Now that I’m older, I figured it made sense to pass Bearatrix on to a new kid that could love her.”
Martha beamed at her. “How lovely,” she said. “Now, can I get you a receipt?”

Zippy politely declined, and, the bags having been whisked into the back, began to peruse the aisles. The tap-tap-tap of the rain against the distant window beat in time to the gentle lilt of harmonica over the speakers, and Zippy drifted towards the sweaters. Pulling one over her head, she let it envelope her in its warm folds of fabric and the musk of dust-meets-vanilla. The rain was just letting up when she checked out, taking with her two sweaters and an adorable little beret she couldn’t resist, and leaving a generous tip for the animals that left the cashier ‘blessing her heart’ once again.

Zippy was grooving in the land of Baby Gravy when her older sister rudely yanked her into reality. “What did you say?” Zippy asked, pulling her headphones down around her neck.

Batsheva flipped on the turn signal and turned down her own music. “I said, is it okay if we stop at Best Furr-iends? I got into Midtown Theater’s Les Miserables and–.”

“Sure,” Zippy said, pulling her headphones back up over her ears. How much would the thrift store’s contents have changed in the past month? Hopefully there would be some new stuff for her to sift through.

Her sister made a beeline for the four racks of women’s tops while Zippy drifted through the single rack of kids’ clothes, flipping through brightly colored shorts and graphic tees and crop-tops while Yung Gravy rapped about needing Jesus in the privacy of her headphones. Not finding anything cute that would fit her, she moved to a tub of stuffed animals, knelt, and began to dig around.

She pulled out what looked like a bunny, flipped it around, and giggled with delight. It was a hamster, wearing pink bunny ears! A hamster disguised as a bunny. What a hoot. She put it next to her purse so she’d remember to buy it, reached deep into the tub, and began to feel around for anything equally cute. And then stopped as her fingers brushed up against a giant bow.

She pulled Bearatrix out from under a sea of stuffies. The bear’s bow was wrinkled, and one of her ears was covered in another animal’s stuffing.


Yung Gravy sang “three five hoes, what would Jesus do?”; she paused the music, sat Bearatrix on the lip of the tub, and plucked the fluff from her ear. “So no one’s found you yet, huh, Bearatrix?” she muttered.


Bearatrix watched her with big, embroidered eyes. “Give it time, honey, I’m sure some kid will scoop you up in no time. Here, I’ll put you on the top of the pile.” She gently set Bearatrix over a Beanie Baby and tilted her backwards. “There you go. Goodbye, baby.” She grabbed her purse and turned to leave.

“Ma’am?” said a voice to her right. Zippy whirled to see a young volunteer with bright pink hair standing at a junction of two rows, a cart piled high with priced donations in front of her. “I think you left your bunny.”

“Huh? Oh. Thanks.” She grabbed the hammy and took two steps, paused, and turned around. “What happens to the stuff that doesn’t sell?”

She leaned in. “Don’t tell anyone, but we send most stuff to Goodwill. They can deal with the cost of shipping it to Africa or whatever when it doesn’t sell. The textiles, though, those get shredded.” She smirked. “Your sofa might be stuffed with your old Hello Kitties, y’know.”

“Wait, how long do you leave them out for?” She glanced down at Bearatrix, staring up at her from the pile with those giant black eyes.

“Ten weeks.” Her smirk faltered. “Wait, do you feel sad for them? I–I’m sorry–”

“I’m fine,” Zippy snapped, a little harder than she meant. “I was just curious, that’s all. They’re just stuff.” Turning, she hurried away before the girl could say anything else.

When her sister finally returned to the car, arms laden with bags, she paused with her finger on her Off-Broadway Bops playlist. “Zippy, is everything okay?” she asked.

“I’m fine,” Zippy said, buckling herself in and pulling out her phone.

“Okay, just checking.” She paused. “I have some free time this evening. If you want to hang out or anything, or if anything is bothering you…just let me know, okay?”

“I’m fine, thanks,” Zippy said again, forcing a little smile. She put on her headphones, and the sisters fell into silence.

As a storm raged that evening, Zippy knelt by the stuffed animals arranged at the foot of her bed and placed the hammy between a giant Gritty stuffie and a squishmallow. They stared up at her, silent. Did they think her a traitor, sending one of her own stuffies to get shredded to bits? Or did they envy Bearatrix, relieved from a life left gathering dust in formation on the ground? Or did they not care, because they were a bunch of cloth and stuffing and she was a stupid twenty year old woman still engaging in deluded fantasies?

She wasn’t a materialistic kid. She’d planned to do a deep pre-Christmas cleanse of her possessions anyway to make room for the new stuff she would get; she could totally do it right now. She could totally rehome her stuff.

Throwing open her chest of drawers, she pulled out her clothes in an armful and dumped them on the ground. She selected a sports bra with a cats-and-crystals print, a three-year-old relic from her mom’s company. She’d worn it…twice? Maybe three times? There was a faint stain on the underarms, but it was cute. No. She was getting rid of stuff she didn’t need. It would be donated.

She paused, arm outstretched with the garment tight in her fist. Would Best-Furriends even be able to sell a used, stained bra? She’d never buy used underwear from a thrift store. But if it didn’t sell, that was fine, right? The volunteer had said they didn’t shred clothes. They shipped them to Africa, and obviously that was good, helping clothe people in Africa, right?

That stain was kind of gross, now that she stared at it. She didn’t want it. But who would?

She could decide on the bra later. She grabbed the next item, an unflattering, lumpy sweater. That she could send to Best Furr-iends. She grinned and tossed it into her backpack, revealing a small pink tag on the shoulder.

Right. She’d bought that sweater from Best Furr-iends when she got rid of Bearatrix.

Throwing the sweater back onto her clothes with heated cheeks, she knelt by the stuffies. She had planned to donate the Gritty stuffie along with Bearatrix but had run out of room in her bike basket; she had no excuses now. She grabbed him–it–and stuffed it headfirst into her backpack, the gleam of his plastic eyes disappearing into the darkness.

She stood. She took two steps. She turned around, kneeled, and pulled him from the shadows. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “You’ve been a great stuffie. I just don’t need you anymore.” It stared at her with wild googly-eyes. “I…you were just so cute, and brought me so much joy for…” for what, the five minutes when she first saw the ad pop up on her instagram reel and the five minutes after it arrived?


She could still remember the faint smile on her lips as she tapped her credit card info into her phone, alone in that cold temple lobby while prayers in a language she couldn’t understand drifted from the sanctuary. Why Shevie even wanted to go to services for a culture that was technically theirs but was realistically as foreign as The Kremlin was beyond her, but Zippy enjoyed herself in the lobby, sifting through Temu or whatever and discovering gems like her Gritty stuffie. A gem that was now scrunched in a backpack, awaiting banishment from the home that was supposed to love him and a violent death at the hands of an industrial shredder.

She shoved the stuffie back at the foot of her bed and ran downstairs, where her sister was washing dishes to the melody of rain against the window. The counter was dusted with flour, and the heavenly scent of bread and sausage drifted from the oven. “Hey, Shevie?”

“What do you need?”

“Do you remember who bought me that stuffed bear with the big red-and-green bow? It’s pretty old, right?”

Batsheva scrunched up her nose. “I think that was a Christmas gift from one of our grandmothers. You would have been…let’s see, I got a Leap Frog Disney Princess laptop that year so you would have been…three?”

“Then it couldn’t have been Grandma Bobbie, she died when I was, like, a baby, right? But I thought the only time I met Grandma Marie was the time we flew to New Zealand to visit her.”

“She used to ship us presents every birthday and Christmas, I think,” her sister said. The timer went off and she pulled two homemade pepperoni pizzas, the crusts sprinkled with rosemary, from the oven. Zippy couldn’t bake; the traditional skills Shevie had apparently inherited had passed her over, and all she could do was set the table. “I remember that she always had the best presents, funky Kiwi stuff.”


She sliced the pizzas and arranged them on plates . “That brand of bear always came with a punny name on the tag…what was it? Bearnaby?”


“Right, right. Any reason you ask?” She handed a plate to Zippy, grabbed her phone, took two steps to her bedroom, and paused. “You set the table–”

Zippy gave a start. Why had she set the table? “I wasn’t thinking,” she stammered, “I just…it was just muscle memory–”

Shevie spoke at eighty miles a minute. “--I mean, we can totally sit down together, I just assumed we’d have a normal evening but, like, I’m totally happy to–”

“I have schoolwork to do anyway,” Zippy blurted.

Shevie paused. “That makes sense. I need to catch up on my budget anyway…well, anyway, have a good evening!” She smiled, too tight and cheery, and disappeared into her room. Zippy paused at the foot of the stairs. The empty plates gleamed in the warm light of the empty dining room. She walked to her room.
The pizza was rich and herby and savory, oil running down her fingers as she ate in the light of her laptop screen. In the corner of her eye, the row of stuffies watched her, beady eyes gleaming and bodies encased in shadows like a moonlit field of crumbling tombstones. Because of course they would crumble, one day. They were just stuffed animals.

“Honestly, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to go Christmas shopping at a thrift store,” said Shevie, turning off the car’s music. “Won’t our older relatives think it’s tacky?”

Other stores didn’t have little dumb kid’s bears that would be ripped to shreds tomorrow. “They don’t need to know. Besides, it’s more sustainable.”

“Fair enough.” Shevie stepped out of the car and glanced at the list of relatives Zippy had produced. “Who are ‘GA Brenda,’ ‘Herb Schottor,’ and ‘the Desrosiers?’”

“I dunno, I just looked up the google doc of thank-you cards I wrote for everyone that sent us gifts last year.” Her eyes shifted to the window.

They walked into the store, and the reverberations of electro-swing clashed with the opera of moral crisis in Zippy’s head. “Hold on,” Shevie said, “you’re getting a gift for mom?”

“Well yeah, she’s our mom–”

“You can put your name on the gift, but not mine,” Shevie said. “I mean, she’s barely had time for us ever since that Bangladeshi documentary was released. She forgot your birthday, for crying out loud. You shouldn’t be expected to get her anything.”

Zippy shrugged. Behind her eyes danced little bears with big bows. “It’s not personal. I’m sure that when the sweatshop scandal has died down and her company is back in the black, she’ll be able to start working normal hours again. Ooh, look, purple tags are 75% off. Do you think you could go find some generically appealing gifts for our adult relatives? I can focus on the kids.”

“Sure,” Shevie said. The moment she was gone, Zippy made a beeline towards the kid’s section. Falling to her knees before the tub of stuffies, Zippy dug through soft, squishy bodies. Please no big bow. Please no–.

Her fingers closed around a big bow.

She pulled out Bearatrix, looked into those stupid made-in-China embroidered eyes, and burst into tears. She sobbed, she gasped, and she rocked back and forth with the stuffed animal clutched to her chest.

“Zippy?” Through foggy tears, she saw Shevie kneeling beside her, felt her arms wrap around her shoulders. She wanted to pull away, but let Shevie help her to her feet.

“In the back, here darling, let it all out,” whispered an older woman, a volunteer, guiding her into the back. With the bear clutched to her heart, she followed, Shevie by her side.

They led her down a narrow, stark white hallway lined to the ceiling with overflowing tubs of unpriced Shein and Lululemon and unisex summer camp tees, towering over their heads and threatening to collapse. The smell of vanilla grew stronger, plasticy-er, until they sat her at a desk beside a Glade unit plugged into the wall. Trash bags and cardboard boxes of donations cluttered the floor around them.

“I’m sorry,” Zippy gasped, again and again.

“You’ve nothing to be sorry for,” Shevie said. “Zipporah, what’s wrong?”

Zippy caught her breath, held up the bear, and forced herself to speak. “Is there anyone who wants her?”

“Oh, sweetie, the volunteer murmured. “It’s okay, I want her–.”.

“No you don’t,” Zippy said, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Because she’s been sitting in a tub marked ‘fifty cents’ for ten weeks, and you haven’t bought her.”

“There’s so many kids in need that would love a stuffed animal–” Shevie tried.

“No there aren’t. Because she’s been sitting in a tub marked ‘fifty cents’ for ten weeks, and there’s still so many of them that she’s going to be ground into couch stuffing.”

“You could take her home,” Shevie said. “You have so many stuffed animals–”

“I gave it away because I don’t love it,” snapped Zippy.

The women fell silent. Finally, Shevie put her hand over Zippy’s. “How about this,” she said. “My Christmas present to you can be that I’ll find a good home for Bearatrix with someone that genuinely wants her. And you never need to see or think about her again. Does that sound okay?”

Zippy took a deep breath. Shevie’s hand was so warm against hers. “Okay,” she said.

In the car, Zippy left her headphones sitting in the glove compartment. “I dreamed a dream,” played over the car stereo, and Shevie quietly sang along to every word. Zippy stared at her. She had such a beautiful voice. She had such a big heart. She could sing the lead roles in musicals, she could bake amazing meals, she could take her sister in when her sister had no one else. Zippy didn’t know which Les Mis role she’d been cast in.

“Hey, Shevie?”

Her sister paused the music. “What?”

“You’re just going to throw Bearatrix away, aren’t you.”

Shevie’s face flushed, and she began to stutter.

“Why wouldn’t you? It’s just a stuffed animal.” Zippy didn’t look at the bag in the backseat. “I changed my mind, anyway. There’s another Christmas present I’d actually really appreciate, if that’s okay.”

“Of course, whatever makes you happy,” Shevie said, glancing at her sister with thinly veiled concern. “I just wanted to cheer you up.” She reached out and squeezed Zippy’s hand. “What do you want?”

“I want–” a beginner-friendly baking cookbook.


“I want you to teach me how to bake.”


Shoshana Groom from US is a First Reader for Strange Horizons and volunteer with PRISM at Oregon State University. She's previously been published with Apricity Magazine, Corvid Queen, Tall Tales TV, Gone Lawn, and University of Puget Sound's literary journal Crosscurrents. In her free time she like to embroider, dance, and play with her highly destructive pet rat.


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