Paul found a car parked in his spot when he returned to his apartment one day after work. With his foot on the brake he stared at the car––a somewhat grimy-looking black Chevy Suburban––with a mixture of hatred and awe.
He found an open spot a dozen down from his, someone else’s, a neighbor’s, and for the time being, decided to park there. He wasn’t about to resort to trying to find a spot on the street to park, as that was a hassle, and besides, he paid for his spot in this parking garage, as did every other tenant. He deserved to be here. Could the driver of the Chevy say as much? He wasn’t sure. He’d never seen the car before in his life.
Paul got out of his car and, briefcase in hand, walked over to the Chevy. He studied the car as he came closer. The windows, he saw, were tinted so heavily that even when he got up close and brought his face to the glass, he couldn’t clearly see inside. Even the front windows were tinted. The back ones were, too. Paul thought tinted windows were illegal. The fact that the car had that much tint unnerved him some. What kind of person drove such a car? A drug dealer, he thought. A criminal.
Paul put down his briefcase after taking out a pen and notepad. He wrote, Please don’t park in my spot. Thanks, and below this, he put his name and apartment number, but then he crossed out his name and apartment number. There’d apparently been a stabbing in his building just a few months ago, in the hallways somewhere, and he was a little on edge from that. He didn’t know the details, if the victim and assailant had known each other or not, for instance, or if the victim had died, only that it had happened. Management had alerted all the tenants with a typed-up letter delivered under everyone’s doors. The letter was brief and said the situation was under control, but to report any suspicious activity to the front desk.
Paul lifted one of the Chevy’s windshield wipers, placed his note under it, gave the car a last glance, and headed for his apartment.
The next day the Chevy was still in Paul’s spot. The note he’d written looked untouched. Standing in front of the SUV, Paul checked the time on his phone, then decided he better call the office. Pam, the secretary, answered.
“Hey,” Paul said. “So I’ll be running a little late this morning. Hold any calls for me, okay? And keep the coffee warm.”
Pam laughed. Paul managed a smile. He was joking. Paul didn’t get many calls, and when he did, for the most part he expected them. He had a one o’clock, but nothing before then.
“Everything okay?” Pam asked before Paul hung up.
“Yes, everything’s fine.”
He thought about telling her about the Chevy but decided against it. Phone back in his pocket, he took his pen and notepad out of his briefcase and wrote down the license plate number of the vehicle. Then he called the front desk.
“Mr. Garrett,” he heard. “How are you?” It was a woman’s voice, energetic and professional. Paul couldn’t put a face to the voice, something he found mildly frustrating. Management had gone through some changes recently, new faces had appeared while old ones had disappeared.
“Fine,” Paul said. “I’m fine. It’s just that someone’s parked in my spot.”
The woman seemed to hesitate. Then she said, “Oh no. We can’t have that, can we, Mr. Garrett?”
Paul made a face. He took his phone a number of inches from his ear. Was she mocking him? It was hard to tell.
She said something else, Paul couldn’t hear what as he brought his phone back to his ear.
“What’s that?” he said. “Sorry, I didn’t catch that.”
“It’s okay, Mr. Garrett. I asked if you could tell me the make of the car and read me the license plate number.”
“Of course,” Paul said. “I already wrote down the license plate number.” He stared at the car. “It’s a Chevy van, black, a––one second.” He walked around to the back of the van and read off what he found there.
“Okay,” the woman said. “Got it.”
“Do you have any idea who it belongs to?” Paul asked. He tried to keep his voice steady.
“I’m afraid I don’t,” the woman said. “I’ll have to get back to you on that, Mr. Garrett. I’ll have to check our records and see if there’s a match.”
“Okay,” Paul said. “Well, thanks. Thank you.” He tried to take a deep breath. He felt self-conscious all of a sudden.
“You’re welcome, Mr. Garrett,” he heard. “Anything else I can do for you?”
“No, no,” Paul said. “That’s all for now. Thanks.”
After getting off the phone Paul walked past the Chevy, over to his car. He saw there was a note under his windshield. He picked it up and read it, then shook his head. He looked around at some of the other cars nearby before getting in his and wasn’t surprised to see other notes under other windshields, a dozen, more than a dozen.
When he returned to his apartment building from work that day, Paul was appalled to find the Chevy still in his spot. With his heart now thudding away, he sped into the first open spot he found, got out, and walked over to the Chevy at top speed. His note was still there under the windshield wiper. He took his phone from his pocket and called the front desk again.
“Mr. Garrett, how are you?” It was the same woman as before.
“The car’s still in my spot,” he said. “Did you find out anything?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Garrett. I haven’t. Not yet. The vehicle doesn’t seem to be in our records. I can tell you that much. I’ve made some calls, but so far haven’t got any leads. But, to tell you the truth, Mr. Garrett, I’ve been extremely busy today, thanks to whoever’s in your spot, it seems. I’ve been answering calls pretty much nonstop all day. ‘Someone’s in my spot! Someone’s in my spot! Quick! Do something about it!’ I swear, Mr. Garrett, people must think I’m a magician or something. ‘Abracadabra! The car’s gone! Your spot’s all yours again!’ In all seriousness though, Mr. Garrett, we’ll get to the bottom of this soon enough. For my sake and yours. Don’t worry.”
The next day the SUV was still there. Paul called the office again from the parking garage. Pam picked up.
“I’m running a little late again,” he said. He didn’t bother making any jokes this time.
Pam said, “Is everything alright, Paul?” There was concern in her tone.
“Yes, yes,” Paul started. But then he glared at the Chevy and said, “It’s just that, well, someone’s been parked in my apartment’s parking spot for the past few days now and I’m trying to sort it out. It’s driving me a little crazy, to tell you the truth. I mean, who does such a thing? Who parks in someone else’s spot? I’d like to meet the person. I’d like to––” He didn’t finish his sentence. He was shaking. His hands were balled up.
“That’s a shame,” he heard Pam say. “But it’s the world we live in, is it not? Things we don’t want to happen are always happening, and they can’t be stopped. The correct thing to try and do, I think, is go with the flow. Don’t you agree? Easier said sometimes than done, I know. But I’m sure your spot will become your spot again soon enough, Paul. Order will surely be restored in the end. Just try and stay calm. You know what they say: keep calm and carry––”
“Okay,” Paul said. “Okay, okay. I know. You’re right though. I shouldn’t let this affect me like this. Bad for my blood pressure and what have you.”
After getting off the phone with Pam, Paul felt a little better. He figured she was probably right. The ordeal would blow over soon enough. His spot would be his again before long. There was no need to get bent out of shape about it. Someone had parked in his spot, so what? Worse things could happen. He could lose his job. His health could plummet.
Pam was such a good secretary, Paul thought as he walked towards his car. Dependable. Logical. She was one in a million, in his estimate.
He found another note under his windshield. This time he didn’t even bother to read it. He got in his car and drove to work.
Arriving in the parking garage after work that day, the Chevy still, amazingly, in his spot, Paul called the front desk to see if there were any new developments. A woman, a different woman than before, it seemed, told him they were going about the apartment building knocking on doors now in an effort to get to the bottom of the situation at hand.
Paul said, “So when are you going to tow the vehicle, or am I going to have to deal with that myself?”
“Mr. Garrett,” the woman said, “I would appreciate it if you’d lower your voice. This isn’t the end of the world, okay?”
Paul opened his mouth. The nerve of some people! “My voice?” he said. “You think that was raising my voice? I’ll show you raised!”
“Mr. Garrett––stop this. We’ll wait another day or two and see what happens. Hold tight, please. If nothing turns up in a day or two then we’ll be forced to take action.”
“Can I get that in writing?” Paul said.
“Excuse me?” the woman said.
“Never mind,” he said, and hung up.
He was furious. Once in his apartment, he set down his briefcase, took off his shoes, entered the kitchen, opened the fridge, took out a beer and went out onto the balcony.
Eight floors up, he had a view of the river and much of downtown. Most days he enjoyed his view, was grateful for it, but not today. Not in the last few days, either. The lowering sun shone bright against skyscrapers, and there was a breeze that felt good against his face. He was home after another day at work, drinking a beer, putting his feet up on the balcony railing. He had food in his fridge and money in his bank account. His health was fine. Life was good. But still he couldn’t relax. All because of that damn SUV.
The nerve of some people! Who did such a thing? He wanted to know. What kind of person parked in another person’s paid-for spot? Paul’s faith in humanity was once again challenged. It had been challenged before, the last time when someone stole his wallet after he’d left it in a restaurant as he’d gone in the bathroom. People were thoughtless, inconsiderate. Cruel. Stupid. People were the scum of the earth.
Paul finished his beer and went back inside, put his shoes back on, and left his apartment. He walked down the hallway to the elevator, pressed the down arrow and waited for the doors to open. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do. He thought he might go for a walk and try to blow off some steam. He needed to do something.
The elevator doors opened and he saw a man in his forties or thereabouts wearing shorts, sandals, and a T-shirt, with a towel slung over a shoulder. The guy had clearly just come from the pool. Must be nice, Paul thought as he stepped into the elevator.
The doors closed and down they started. Paul had never seen the man he was standing next to before, but that wasn’t so uncommon living in such a large apartment building. Still, his mind was racing.
He turned to the stranger, who gave him a questioning look back. “You don’t know anything about a black Chevy Suburban, do you?” Paul said.
The man chuckled. He gave his head a quick shake and said, “Sorry. Can’t say I do. I drive a Porsche.”
The elevator stopped and the stranger got off on the third floor. Paul closed his eyes and took a deep breath and counted to ten.
The next day he drove into the parking garage after work and found that his spot was now suddenly his again. The Chevy was gone. He hesitated before parking. With his foot on the brake, he stared at where the Chevy had been the past handful of days, unable to quite believe it.
He parked in his spot, got out, and stood beside his car. It felt strange to have his spot back, almost like it wasn’t his any longer. He took a step back, looked at the spectacle for a few more seconds, his car in his spot, then turned and walked through the doors that separated the parking garage from the building’s interior. He felt lighter, freer as he walked now. When he was back in his apartment, after putting down his briefcase and taking off his shoes, he called the front desk. He wanted to thank them, also to apologize for his behavior, for having raised his voice.
“Hello, Mr. Garrett,” the woman who answered said.
“Hi,” Paul said. “I just wanted to say thanks for dealing with that SUV that was in my spot, and also I wanted to apologize for how upset I got over it. I’m embarrassed about it and am sorry it happened.”
“Oh,” he heard, “that’s quite alright, Mr. Garrett. Apology accepted. No need really though. I can see how it might happen.”
Paul was standing in the kitchen. He leaned forward and put his free arm against the kitchen counter then, from his elbow to his wrist, and bent himself forward in a kind of stretch, something he did quite often, sometimes without realizing it. The stretch made his lower back feel somewhat better, which bothered him slightly from too much sitting.
“So, I’m curious,” he said. “Did you end up towing the car, then?”
The woman laughed, at least it sounded like a laugh. “No, we did not,” she said. “Here’s a story for you, Mr. Garrett. So, we called a tow truck company to have the car towed, and get this––right when the tow truck got here, when it was in the parking garage and driving up next to your spot to get ready to stop and tow the Chevy, the Chevy, according to the tow truck driver, as I wasn’t there, sped off, out of the parking garage, just like that.”
“What?” Paul said. He didn’t know what to say.
“This is what the tow truck driver told me, Mr. Garrett. He seemed to think the owner of the Chevy was sleeping in the vehicle. He was speculating, of course, but it sounds plausible enough to me. I don’t know for sure, of course, but it does account for the quick getaway the driver made right as the tow truck showed up.”
Paul still didn’t know what to say. He tried to imagine it, someone sleeping in that SUV, someone sleeping in his spot, for the last handful of nights. What did the person, or persons if there were more than one, do in the daytime? Did they, he wondered, get out of the car and slink down to the street and walk along the sidewalks like normal law-abiding citizens? Did they hold jobs? Were they destitute? What was their story? Paul wanted to know. He wanted answers. He wanted closure. He remembered the tinted windows, and shuddered.
T. E. Cowell lives in Washington State.