Parking Tickets

Contributor: Chris Rhatigan

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I drive on the interstate.

Things are very loud.

It is like the car is a noise-absorbing box.

I cover my ears.

The car veers toward the guard rail.

I uncover my ears.

The car no longer veers toward the guard rail.

I do not feel comfortable in the right lane.

I move to the left lane.

The left lane is uncomfortable too.

I see a bright, colorful sign for a gas station.

This seems right.

The gas station sign should be here.

The gas station sign belongs.

I need to go to the gas station due to my desire to go there, so I cut off a pickup truck. The driver yells obscenities.

Maybe they were not obscenities. I could not really hear him. I am driving on the interstate. As I may or may not have mentioned. And things are loud.

As I may have mentioned.

I leave my car running and enter the store. I select a sixteen-ounce cup of coffee. I add three sugars and no milk. I select a shrink-wrapped snack cake.

There are three people in line ahead of me.

I sip my coffee.

I want to eat the snack cake now, but I think (know) people will judge me for it.

“Why is he eating that snack cake? He has not purchased it yet. That is not his snack cake. Why can he not wait until he has paid for it? If everyone acted like him, what kind of society would we have? We would not be able to trust anyone. Everyone would go around eating their snack cakes prior to paying for them. This would lead to chaos.”

But why does the logic of the snack cake not apply to the coffee? Even though you have not paid for either, it is acceptable to drink the coffee, but not to eat the snack cake.

This is what I question.

I pay the three dollars and eighty-seven cents for my coffee and snack cake.

The clerk wears a hat advertising a mustache.

He also has a mustache.

The mustache is not special in any way. It is not a handlebar mustache or a pencil line mustache or a Tom Selleck mustache. It is just a mustache.

The mustache should be here.

The mustache belongs.

The clerk moves his finger in circular motion. He pokes a hole in the circle, obscenely. This display makes me think of the word serious.

He says, “You’re liable to land yourself a parking ticket, you keep messing around like that.”

I say, “What do you mean?”

He juts his mustache at me. The hat’s mustache is also jutted at me. “You know what I mean.”

“No, I do not.”

“Well, you’ll find out soon enough, partner.”

“Why are you calling me partner? We do not have a partnership. Unless I am unaware of our partnership.”

“That is true. We don’t have a partnership. Not legally, at least.” He smiles. “But I know a guy who knows a guy.”

I open the doors. It is raining.

I have nothing to cover my head with.

I consider buying a newspaper, but I hate newspapers. They depress me. Not the stories in the newspaper, but the ink. The ink is, at this moment, the most awful thing I can think of. The way it is on the page. This is truly offensive.

Maybe I could pay the clerk for his mustache and cover my head with that.

I would like a mustache.

A mustache says, “Authority over facial hair.”

There is an enormous stack of parking tickets on my car jammed between the windshield wipers and the windshield. The rain is making them wet.

The tickets are written in crayon for various amounts.

The first one is for thirty-two cents.

I can pay that.

I think.

The next one is for fifteen thousand dollars.

I cannot pay that.

I think.

I will have to get out a loan from a bank. I will use the clerk’s mustache as collateral. They will say “How can you afford to pay this loan?” and I will pull the mustache out of my pocket and they will say “Oh. I’m sorry, sir. I will fill out all of the necessary paper work.”

I sit on the hood of my car.

I eat my snack cake and drink my coffee. The rain makes me wet. This makes me think of the word dog.

I am not going to let these parking tickets make me depressed.

I wonder if I will get another parking ticket.

It would stand to reason that I would get another parking ticket.

Although I know there is a flaw in my logic.

The wind sweeps parking tickets away and they swirl around me like dragonflies.

Magical.

I drive on the interstate. The parking tickets swirl around me like bumble bees.

Threatening.

But they do not strike.

They must be biding their time. Waiting until my guard is down. Then they will devour the supple flesh around my rib cage and between my toes.

Three weeks later, I receive a letter from the gas station. They apologize for the inconvenience. (No problem!) The parking tickets were issued by a rogue force who has since been terminated. (Phew!) They would like to offer free snack cakes and coffee to anyone who suffered mental duress due to the errant parking tickets. (Compensation!)

My return to the gas station is triumphant.

I eat two snack cakes and drink two cups of coffee, making the whole world seem excellent, I should be here, I belong, there is no question about that.

The clerk stares at me.

He pets his mustache, maintains his stare.

Authority.

Maybe I should have paid the parking tickets.


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Chris Rhatigan is the editor of All Due Respect and the co-editor of the anthologies Pulp Ink and Pulp Ink 2. He has published more than 30 short stories in venues like Needle, Pulp Modern, Shotgun Honey, and Beat to a Pulp. He reviews short fiction at his blog, Death by Killing.
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4 Responses to this post

  1. pattinase (abbott) on November 15, 2012 at 6:37 AM

    Close to a poem. Chris. It is fun to unshackle yourself from some of the usual requirements and see where it goes. I fully expected him to leave and find more parking tickets. And his are the concerns of being on the road, alone with too much time in your head.
    Very nice outing and inspirational to me.

  2. Jane on November 15, 2012 at 7:00 AM

    Wonderful voice and rhythm here, Chris. I agree with Patti about it reading much like a poem.

  3. chad rohrbacher on November 15, 2012 at 8:43 AM

    I love this, Chris. And damn, why can't you eat a snack cake before you pay?

  4. C.J. on November 17, 2012 at 10:26 AM

    Damn! Now I want to grow a mustache so I can pet it!

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