The Collective
A Short Story by Alice Clark
Written using the suggestion "Destitute"
Originally featured on 05-26-2009
As part of our series "The Summer of Our Hopes and Fears"

Meghan was a hipster in a sense of the word. Not in a humble nomadic, worship the ground and others sort of way, sitting with a didgeridoo given by a homeless man on barter, but in a seventy dollar vintage skirt kind of way. In desperation, she drove her Vespa to the better local library and found The Hipster Handbook among the stacks and studied the derivations of the character, sitting cross legged in a corner.

After applying to several co-ops and organic coffee houses, Meghan got a job at the cosmetics counter at Macy’s, which didn’t bother her too much, except for the perfume. She got it in her mouth when she offered it to passerby on convenient swabs of new paper and it tasted exactly like it smelled and she thought of the chemicals. Chemicals that were in the Willamette for sure, and she wondered if the run offs of phosphates from the local farms were as bad for the soul as the dioxins in the Midwest were that lodged in the cells, in a more honestly harmful sort of way. At her job, she shopped on her breaks and looked for trends to avoid because it was important to be aware.

Meghan moved to Portland because she’d wanted to try. Meghan believed everything and tried to share a flat near the Hawthorne district with a few roommates from college, because the love of using used things was in her too and she liked the idea of sharing. She liked the worn tones of the neighborhoods and the way the buildings spilled onto each other. Thought it’d be people wandering around, with used instruments, free trade coffee, given by friends, and everybody would smell of the human body and hand each other hunks of nourishing food, gently requested from the earth with their own hands in public gardens. She’d showed up in her Midwest clothes, actually from Goodwill, with accompanying smells and stains, and the roommates had referred her to the local vintage for better taste, and she bought one blue skirt with half of her paycheck so that she’d fit.

She sat in a café with three dollar tea and a skinny, bearded man near her asked her to watch his laptop while he went out to smoke and she thought it strange, that much trust of a stranger, and why the man would ask a stranger and she thought that he was trying.

One day she cut her hair with kitchen shears in her bathroom and her friend came in and fixed her bangs, telling her they needed to be at the right angle. Meghan thought they were ugly but didn’t really mind, would rather that than go to a salon. She needed fewer sulfates to feel better.

She loved the breads of the area, believed in the grains and the heart health. The vegan everything. But instead of collective gardens, she went to trendy shops and bought tiny bits of health to mix in with her Wal-mart fare. She bought patterns to make her own things, from free trade calicos. The seams were wrong though and she stood ashamed in lines at independent cinemas. Went to work and wore the blue skirt. Careful ounces of culture, to put on the top to represent the ideal, so it would still be visible, and she felt like she was trying.

Read More By Alice Clark

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