Shelly Reuben’s new novel is about … well, we’ll let you find out for yourself as we weekly serialize the chapters. If you miss one, get back up to speed with our article archive. Now, welcome to:
Parking Space: A Love Story!
By Shelly Reuben
Chapter 16 - A Puzzlement
Lilly Snow and Burgess “Mouse” Meekly, sat on Lilly’s new rug eating ice cream and drinking hot chocolate. After discovering the similarities in their backgrounds (both from the Midwest, both from loving families, and both having come to The Big City to fashion a dream), they lost track of the time.
It was Burgess, since his world revolved around sounds – listening to them, making them, and imitating them – who first heard the low rumble of an engine idling in the street. At any other time, it would have been lost in the omnipresent din of traffic, but on that night, when the city was blanketed in snow and nothing outside moved, the reverberations loomed loud.
He got to his feet, and for the second time since he had met Lilly, he walked to her living room window. She joined him, and they looked down.
They saw two men standing beside the same truck in which Lilly had ridden earlier in the day. She recognized the nice, if disagreeable, face of Mr. Snowplow Driver. The parka that the other man was wearing covered most of his face, but he seemed to have dark skin, and he was holding a hand up to his nose as if he was in pain.
Lilly tried to yank open the window, but it got stuck three inches from the bottom, so Burgess grabbed onto the lower window frame, and with a giant lurch, heaved it up. Lilly leaned out. Snowflakes gusted into her face and flew into her eyes.
“Hey! Hey! Mr. Snowplow Driver,” she shouted down to the street. “What’s wrong?”
Noah Pitt looked up.
“Can you come down here, please?”
Lilly turned to Burgess. “Should we go down?”
He nodded. “But I’ll go to my apartment first and grab a coat.”
Three minutes later, two figures, both of whom had neglected to put on boots, stepped onto the sidewalk and into the snow.
Noah Pitt, hatless and gloveless, stood in the street beside his truck. He nodded at Lilly and then motioned her forward. Again she stepped into the parking space, walked through it, and exited the other side – thus creating a third set of footprints in the snow. Burgess attempted to follow her. As with Amos Goode, his face slammed into an invisible barrier, he stumbled and fell. His hand flew up and he felt his nose for injuries. It hurt, but it was not bleeding.
Confused and dazed, he looked at the three people standing silently in the street and groggily moaned, “Huh?”
Lilly ran back through the parking space, crouched beside her injured friend, and helped him to his feet. Noah Pitt and Amos Goode carefully walked around the parking space and joined Lilly and Burgess on the sidewalk.
Snow continued to fall.
Lilly said, “My feet are cold.” Then she looked at Amos Goode, saw his face for the first time, and exclaimed, “Oh, my God! You’re bleeding. Let’s go inside and get you cleaned up.”
Noah ignored Amos. He studied Lilly Snow as if she were a test and he had to pick-the-right-door behind which she was standing to win the prize.
He asked. “How did you do that?”
He jerked his head toward the parking space.
“Walk through it.”
Lilly had no idea what he was talking about, so she said nothing.
Noah turned to Burgess. “Sorry, kid. Are you all right?”
The young man continued to explore his face with his fingers.
“What hit me?” He asked. His eyes shifted to Amos, who was also dabbing at his nose, “What hit you?”
Noah addressed Lilly “Who’s the little guy?”
Lilly said, “My next door neighbor. Burgess Meekly.”
Noah patted him on the shoulder the way he might pat a Little Leaguer who had just hit a homerun. He said, “Pleased to meet you, Burgess. I’m Noah Pitt. My friend with the bloody proboscis is Amos Goode, Director of the Department of Public Works. He’s in charge of this mess.”
Amos nodded and reached into his pocket to pull out a business card. He gave it to Burgess, who palmed it without looking at it first, and then asked, “What mess?”
“Traffic. Snow removal. Parking spaces. Alternate universes. Invisible barricades.” Noah turned to the parking space in question. “Come here, Burgess. You, too, Amos. I want to show you something.”
He then instructed them to hold out their arms, and with their hands pressing against the unseen wall, to walk the perimeter of the parking space until they were back where they had started.
They did what he asked.
When they were done, Noah queried, “Solid and impenetrable?”
Both men nodded.
“On all four sides?”
They nodded again.
“Okay, Lilly. Now you do it.”
“Try to get into the parking space.”
Lilly tilted her head quizzically at Noah, reminding him yet again of a big-eyed shelter pup. Then, as before, she stepped into, walked through, and exited the other side.
“Do it again,” Noah commanded.
She did, returning to the sidewalk and realizing for the first time that only she had been able to accomplish that task.
“It’s a puzzlement,” she said.
All three men nodded.
Then Lilly turned to Amos Goode and observed, “Your nose is still bleeding.”
Amos explored with his fingers.
“I think it stopped.”
Lilly said, “I have just what you need to fix you up.”
And she smiled.
Noah saw the smile, and tried to resist its impact.
But she exclaimed, “Hot chocolate!” and smiled even wider.
The smile set off dainty explosions of sparkling lights in her big blue eyes, which Noah could not help but admire.
Then the tough, stern-faced, independent contractor and snowplow driver thought again about the shelter puppy, shook his head in defeat and groaned, “Oh, shit.”
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