Parking Space: A Love Story!
By Shelly Reuben
Chapter 14 - Welcome Wagon … of Sorts.
Ten minutes after she made her dramatic exit from the snowplow, Lilly Snow arrived home. She was cold, wet, and tired. Her encounter with Noah Pitt (although she did not know his name) had frayed the edges of her joy.
Its surface area, however, remained intact.
A day of shopping had netted her a braided oval area rug, a bag of cranberry muffins, a tin of hot chocolate, a gallon of cookie dough ice cream, miscellaneous dishes and utensils, a box of teabags, a quart of milk, and a green enamel Art Deco tea kettle.
Since hot chocolate and ice cream were Lilly’s definition of therapy, she had all that she needed to recover from those few minutes of rejection, and said of herself analytically, “I am fortunate to have such a shallow personality.”
The kettle had just come to a boil when she hear a tentative “tap, tap, tap” on the door to the hall. Other than Mr. Snowplow Driver and the lady at the Elegant Eccentricities Gift Shop across the street, where she had bought the teapot, Lilly did not know anyone in The Big City.
She – the gift shop’s owner – was a stylish silver-haired woman with violet eyes, blade-sharp cheekbones, and the figure of a fashion model, a profession she took up, she explained to Lilly, after she quit show business.
“I still do modeling,” she explained, “when I’m not here.”
“Here” was an Aladdin’s cave of collectibles, most of which she bought at estate sales. This included but was not limited to candlesticks, trivets, China bowls, oriental rugs, ornate jewelry, vintage clothes, and delicate figurines. For her own use, she had also purchased a restored 1968 turquoise Cadillac Coupe de Ville.
She seemed to know everything about everyone, was either friendly or aloof, depending on whether she liked or disliked you, and if you were one of the favored few, would tell you all she knew.
Her last name was “Marion,” and her parents, in a moment of inspired lunacy, had written “Maid” on her birth certificate for her given name. Consequently, she was “Maid Marion,” and was always called by both names. A bit of luck, she told Lilly, which had been good for her acting and modeling careers, because “booking agents remember who I am.”
Doubting that the person in the hall was either the snowplow driver or Maid Marion, Lilly approached her door cautiously, opening the little cover over the peep hole and peering through. But, of course, peep holes are essentially useless, so she only saw a fluttering of her own eyelashes, and nothing of what might be lurking outside.
“Who’s there?” She asked curtly.
A resonant, basso profundo voice replied, “Your neighbor from across the hall.”
Lilly hesitated for a second.
“How do I know that you aren’t an axe murderer or a Jehovah’s Witness?”
“Wait a second,” the voice in the hall responded obligingly. A moment passed. Then it resumed confidently, “I just checked. I don’t seem to be carrying a bible, and I must have left my axe at the dry cleaners.”
Lilly Snow smiled.
“And who, exactly, might my ‘neighbor from across the hall’ be?”
“My name is Burgess Meekly. My friends call me Mouse.”
Lilly flipped the deadbolt, unlocked the knob handle, opened the door, and peered outside. She saw a slim man of about her height (she was five feet four inches tall) with small black eyes, a long pointy nose and large ears. He looked exactly like a mouse.
“I don’t think you look at all like a mouse,” Lilly lied. “I’ll call you Burgess.”
He twitched his nose and wiggled his ears.
She nodded and shrugged. “Okay. I’ll call you Mouse.”
He held out his right hand, but not to shake hers, for clasped in his fingers was a mug filled with sugar.
Lilly dropped her eyes to the mug.
Her visitor said, “In movies from the 1930s and 40s, if a guy wants to meet his next door neighbor, he rings the doorbell and asks to borrow a cup of sugar.”
Lilly thought about this for a second.
“I don’t have any sugar,” she said.
“I figured as much.”
Again he raised the cup, “So I thought I’d lend you a cup of sugar instead.”
Lilly blinked. Not quite sure if what she’d heard made any sense. Then she said, “Do you like hot chocolate, Mouse?”
“I love hot chocolate!”
And just like that, Lilly Snow’s inventory of new acquaintances grew to three: Mr. Irritable Snowplow Driver, Maid Marion of the Elegant Eccentricities Gift Shop, and Burgess “Mouse” Meekly from across the hall.
Who, within twenty minutes of their meeting, became Lilly’s new best friend. Forty minutes later, he had told her about his job at Verbal Expressions Sound Studios, his knack for imitating voices, and his shared admiration for Maid Marion. Then he described how their neighbor Hector Van Hooft had tyrannized him over when and how to park in the space in front of their building. The same space which, when Burgess had tried to park there that afternoon, would not let him in.
Holding cups of hot chocolate in their hands, the two new friends walked to Lilly’s living room window, looked down at Chestnut Avenue, and contemplated that still empty space. Eddies of snow circled lights on lamp posts like moths. Wind blew loose white granules over sidewalks and streets. Cars sat with tall white hats on their roofs like tuxedoed gentlemen lined up to enter a ball.
All was silent. All was white.
Within the parking space itself, the snow was pristine except for two sets of girl-footprints going from the street to the sidewalk and then back to the street.
“Why,” Lilly Snow thought quizzically, “Those footprints are mine.”
She turned to look at Burgess “Mouse” Meekly.
Burgess turned to look at her.
At the same time, both said, “Odd.”
Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2021. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com