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 19 - The Divine Meeting of Kindred Souls
The word “serendipity” usually has a cheerful connotation. Like, “It was serendipitous that the former high school sweethearts reconnected during a pie throwing competition at the County Fair,” or “When the inventor met the entrepreneur while standing in line at the bank, serendipity sang a song of sixpence.”
But serendipity can also have a dark side, and scoundrels have been known to benefit from what should have been a benevolent conjunction of stars.
Such was the meeting on Wednesday, January 10th between Hector Van Hooft and Rosemary Thigpen. Rosemary was a meter maid. Or, in contemporary parlance, a “parking enforcement officer.”
Which is too much of a mouthful.
So meter maid she was, and meter maid she will remain.
Hector did not interact with Rosemary that Wednesday morning. Nor at midday. Nor in the afternoon, which he spent unsuccessfully telephoning various department heads, division managers, city councilmen, and state representatives, as well as the office of the governor, the office of the lieutenant governor, the Department of Public Works, the Department of Parks and Recreation, The Daily Chronicle, The Big City Times, and every public relations person or outlet he could think of, including the well-researched trio of Richard Fix, Cadogan McClure, and Jimmy Christmas.
Each call was met with a similar recorded message, the gist of which was “Due to inclement weather, our offices will be closed on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.”
By 4:30 p.m., wearied of futilely punching telephone digits, Hector slammed down the receiver, rose to his feet and almost tripped over the wastebasket beside his desk. Once again he strode to his window, and once again he realized that his window overlooked the back of the building and not the street.
His frustration turned to anger, his anger turned to rage, and he kicked the intruding wastebasket all the way across the room.
Or, at least, that had been his intent.
But instead, his foot smashed into the leg of his very sturdy and very solid oak desk, and if in that second he did not break the big toe on his right foot, he should have.
We’ll skim over the next half hour (hopping, swearing, and incoherent muttering), and rejoin our anti-hero after he had donned a down parka and stomped – or rather, limped – down two flights of stairs. He hobbled across the apartment building’s small foyer, jerked open the door to the sidewalk, and glared through fluttering flakes of falling snow at “his” parking space to which, apparently, he no longer had proprietary rights.
Before we get to the meeting between Hector Van Hooft, Executive Chef at the five-star Wedgewood Restaurant, and Rosemary Thigpen, meter maid, we will momentarily digress for The Big City weather report:
Monday and Tuesday, January 8 and 9: Temperatures range between 15 and 20 degrees, no wind, light but continual snowfall, accumulation of nine to fifteen inches.
Wednesday, January 10: Temperatures in the area of 15 to 17 degrees. Heavy snowfall. Accumulations throughout the city of eighteen to twenty inches. Also on Wednesday, Mayor Chiquita Bamberger instructs all residents, employees, and visitors in The Big City to “get where you are going and stay there” until the snow emergency is over, and to use their cars only in situations where not to do so would “endanger human life.”
Thursday, January 11: Temperatures remain below 20 degrees. Snow accumulations of 35 to 50 inches.
Friday, January 12: Temperatures rise to 19 degrees. Snowplows continue to clear streets, emergency vehicle routes (ambulances, police cars, and fire apparatus) having top priority. Snow stops falling at 3:15 p.m.
Saturday, January 13: Temperatures remain in the twenties. No snowfall. Weather Service reports that “The Great January Blizzard” has been the worst to hit The Big City in its 250 year history. Also on Saturday, via newspaper, radio, text messaging, and other sources, Mayor Bamberger announces that Sunday, January 14 will be “Frosty the Snowman Day” and invites “young and old to congregate outside the Carousel in Primrose Park” for a Best Snowman Competition. “Results will be judged by Susan Chung, President of the Phillip Hellinger School of Design, and the winner will be given a $100 gift certificate to…” And she named the city’s largest bookstore. “Second and third prizes…”
And so on.
Returning to Hector Van Hooft…
As he stood in the open doorway of his building and glared at “his” parking space, he felt increasingly victimized and enraged. Seeking an outlet for his emotions, he bent down, scooped up a handful of snow, and formed it into a snowball. He grinned maliciously. Then, in something of a trance, he raised his arm, and with a windup worthy of a schoolyard bully, he hurled the snowball at the impenetrable rectangle of snow-covered asphalt directly in front of his door, fully expecting it to bounce off the invisible shield and splat on the sidewalk.
That isn’t what happened.
Instead, the snowball soared through both sides of the parking space and landed in the middle of the street.
As if sorcery had suddenly snapped its fingers, Hector awoke from a semi-daze, convinced that by the throwing the snowy projectile through the impenetrable barrier, the spell – or whatever it had been was – was broken.
Overjoyed by his success, Hector dashed, or rather limped, forward, only to crash yet again against the wall-that-he-could-not-see. The impact thrust him backward; he lost his balance, and he fell on the sidewalk in a bruised and angry heap.
Less than fifty seconds later, two big-knuckled hands reached under his armpits, and as if he were a sack of birdseed (instead of the Executive Chef of a five star restaurant), he was hoisted off the ground and propped back on his feet.
Such was the meeting between Hector Van Hooft and Rosemary Thigpen.
It is said that all human beings at some point in their lives have fifteen minutes of fame.
It was then that Hector had his first (and possibly his last) quarter-hour of serendipity.
What initially interested him about Rosemary Thigpen was her five word response to his scuffle with the parking space. She narrowed her eyes, clenched her jaw, and hissed, as if she was the dragon and the parking space was St. George, “I’ve had it with you.”
Then she drew back her foot and gave the invisible barrier surrounding it a mighty kick.
Listening to the meter maid’s tirade as she hopped up and down in agony, Hector was agog with admiration. Once he got to know her a little better and before she turned on him, she became something of his hero.
Now…a bit more about Rosemary.
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