He stared at the space where his car had been only four hours before. A minute passed, his shoes sinking into the sodden grass. It was long enough for him to contemplate the inherent unfairness of the universe and realize no amount of concerted willing would summon the dented sedan back to the muddy curb.
Not in the city even a day, he started walking across it.
Halfway across grids of stained asphalt and concrete neighborhoods, the tow lot was nearly closed. He considered the cars behind the chain link and barbed wire. Concluding he wasn’t the first person to think of it, he entered the office instead. The attendant looked up from her pink-covered novel. “We close in fifteen minutes.”
“Good think I’m here now.” The two stared at each other down across the dirty carpet. This was a battle she fought daily, he was as of yet, unbloodied. He spoke again before she could tell him to get out, “I think you have my car.”
“You think?” Her nostrils flared and she put down the pink book. Behind them the minute hand of the clock ticked up towards ten.
He gave her the license plate number and she roused the ancient computer and its block of a monitor. The hands of the clock twitched towards closing time.
“Four hundred fifty two. Cash or check.” The attendant printed the invoice and slapped it down on the ancient desk between them with a haste that was almost helpful. She pushed a ballpoint pen at him too.
Like the vacant space his car had become, he stared at the assemblage of numbers on the paper in front of him as his thoughts swelled against the banality of his predicament. The universe was so very uninspired in its cruelty. “I don’t have that.”
The woman tapped the laminated pages taped to the desk top. “Fee and charge breakouts are there. A hundred fifty is added for each additional day before pick up. We close in– four minutes.”
“I don’t even have tonight’s amount. How could I pay tomorrow’s?” Disbelief more than anything ruined his ability to act inappropriately. He looked up from the rows of charges. “What happens to my car?”
“It stays until the charges get larger than its value. Then the city auctions it. I’d say you have a week or two” He watched helplessly as the attendant picked up her book and sat down again. “Two minutes.”
Long immune to strangers’ misfortune, she ignored him as he internally worked out the math, and then the rapid stages of grief for the loss of his car. He left when the clock hit ten. Less than a day in the city, and he was already trapped here.