People Ruin Everything

by Anne Leigh Parrish

The summer people choked the road, filled up the taverns, trashed the beachfront, and parked everywhere and anywhere, even in places they shouldn’t. Moss’s father was on the city council and had tried, unsuccessfully, to find funding to build a lot so driveways wouldn’t get blocked. The idea of a new parking lot was great, and some other council members, Susan Elliot in particular, thought the price was doable, given that her brother-in-law owned a paving company just over in Shelton, but then Joe Haskel and Fran McNamara raised an excellent point: what would it be used for in the off-season? A new parking lot that sat vacant for eight or nine months out of the year was a silly idea. Moss’s father had had open-heart surgery the summer before, and this was his last year on the council in any case, so he didn’t push the point.

The house Moss shared with Angeline perched on a steep slope. The only place to park was in a small pull-out off the state highway at the base of a long set of stairs. Getting up those stairs in the daylight was hard enough. At night, in the dark after a few beers, it was treacherous. Angeline always cut herself off in time so she could let Moss go first, and guide him if he wobbled or started giggling. Moss wanted to secure another way to get into the place from above, which would require annexing part of the neighbor’s property. The neighbors were city people whose primary residence was in Seattle. They didn’t come over to the Hood Canal very often, so Moss and Angeline left their car in their driveway. Once, the neighbor’s son showed up from out-of-state and wasn’t happy about finding Moss’s beat-up Jeep in the way. Angeline invited him in for coffee and gave him a freshly baked blueberry muffin. Afterward, Moss moved their car, and the incident was forgotten. When the son left, they re-occupied the driveway. At Angeline’s suggestion, Moss worked out a system with the neighbors where they would text ahead to say they were planning to come and stay. When that happened, Moss put their car in the pull-out down below. They hadn’t visited since the pandemic started. Maybe something awful had happened to them, because a realtor put up a For Sale sign a few weeks after Christmas. No one came to look at the house, and Angeline and Moss hoped it would sit a long time before being bought.

Even so, to prepare for that inevitable day, Angeline made a sign to ask people not to park in their cramped little pull-out. When the first, which said, “No Parking,” was ignored, she tried, “No Parking—We Mean It,” to which she later added the words, “And We’re Mean People.” Moss didn’t think that was appropriate. It sounded too threatening. There was no reason to be harsh. She told him she’d take it down, and didn’t. That was months ago.

One evening, as the early summer twilight filtered down through the branches of four big-leaf maples surrounding their backyard deck, they reflected on the toll the pandemic had taken not only on their wallets but on their souls. Before it hit, Moss and Angeline both waited tables at Glory Bee’s. Then the governor ordered restaurants to close, except for take-out, and no one seemed to want to get omelets and hash browns to go. The Mexican place in town did great, so did the Chinese place, and all the burger joints, too. Angeline said it was hard to keep an omelet warm in those Styrofoam boxes, and cold eggs were just the pits. Angeline’s parents back in Ohio were willing to finance her adventure living in the wilds of Western Washington a little longer since college hadn’t worked out. The understanding was the minute jobs were to be had, she’d land one. If not, she had to come back home. Moss pointed out she was twenty-two, an age of independence. Angeline agreed. Her father just liked to talk tough. Her mother was softer, and Angeline would work on her if she had to, when the time came. As for Moss, he was handy enough with cars to get a job at Moe’s Garage doing oil changes, so his income kept trickling in. The house had been in his family for decades, and now belonged to an elderly aunt, so there was no rent to pay, only utilities. It was a good deal.

Spring slid into summer and the weather was spectacular. The water turned a glorious shade of blue—not quite slate, closer to Lapis Lazuli, Angeline said, admiring it from their living room window. She had studied geology before she dropped out. It was early morning, and they each held a steaming mug of freshly-brewed coffee. Moss had the day off, and they wanted to go kayaking soon. A pod of Orca whales had been spotted, and Moss thought it would be cool if they saw them up close.

Angeline was the first to drop her gaze. There was a yellow car parked in the pull-out below. Irritation rose and was about to burst into anger when she pointed it out to Moss.

“Crap,” he said.

Angeline was quick to say the unwelcome car wasn’t harming them, it just shouldn’t be there.

“It’s not even a weekend,” Moss said. There were plenty of places to park along the shoulder.

“Maybe it’s someone coming to see us.”

That didn’t seem likely. Most of their friends didn’t own cars. They stood, waiting for the doorbell to ring, or a knock on the door.

Angeline noticed a piece of paper secured under one of the offending car’s windshield wipers. Maybe it was a parking ticket, but the sheriff’s deputy in charge of parking enforcement was useless. The whole sheriff’s department needed an overhaul, according to Moss’s dad.

They decided to go down and take a look.

The flight of stairs had eighteen steps. Moss went first, as always. Angeline gripped the metal handrail. Going down was a lot harder than coming up.

The car was missing one of its headlights. There was a substantial crack in the windshield. It had Oregon license plates. They felt better, seeing that. This wasn’t some pushy local, or someone out from the city. Still, they wished the car wasn’t there, in their spot.

The note was written on three-hole-punch-lined paper, the kind a high-school student might use. It said: Dear Sir or Madam, please overlook my car being here. I came to visit my grandmother. I have not seen her for some time. I have mobility problems and this is the closest spot to her home. If you have me towed, I won’t be able to pay to get the car out of hock, so please, I beg you, don’t call a tow truck. I should be out of your hair soon.

Moss knew everyone up and down their stretch of road and there weren’t any old ladies among them. Angeline said maybe the grandmother was visiting someone or had recently moved in. She reminded him that he was at work most days, and might not have noticed a van with furniture. Moss asked her if she’d seen anything, and she hadn’t.

They studied the note. It was a lot to write, standing there, in the hot sun. Moss said maybe the author wrote the note beforehand, but they’d have to have known they were going to park there in the first place. That felt creepy, as if they were being targeted, somehow, scoped out, at the very least.

“There’s nothing wrong with planning,” Angeline said. This was a sore spot with her. Moss didn’t plan, and the results were often frustrating. He routinely ran out of gas because he couldn’t look at the gauge when he got in the car. He avoided routine dental exams and got an infected tooth he let go so long it almost landed him in the hospital.

Moss shaded his eyes and bent forward to look through the car’s dirty windows. There was a pink suitcase in the backseat with a Portland Trailblazer’s sticker on it. Next to the suitcase was a pair of track shoes. The footwell was full of fast-food bags and wrappers. He concluded from his observation the driver of the car, and the author of the note, was a woman.

“So?” Angeline asked.

“So, nothing, I guess.”

A crucifix hung from the rearview mirror. Angeline stiffened. She’d been raised a Catholic, and the whole rigamarole sat badly with her. Moss said the owner must be an honest person.

“Because she’s Catholic?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Let me tell you about some of the nuns I knew at Catholic school. You’ll change your mind.”

Moss lost interest. He wanted to go back up the stairs and get ready to kayak.

Later, gliding on the water, saddened by the lack of whales, Angeline looked over the water to their parking spot across the road. The car was still there. It was easy to make out because of its color. She thought of mentioning this to Moss, but he was busy looking through his binoculars, trying to see blow pluming up from the water. He was cross the whales weren’t around. It wasn’t fair to have his expectations raised, like that. People shouldn’t say they’d seen whales when they hadn’t.

“Maybe they just went somewhere else,” Angeline said. Her right shoulder hurt from paddling, and she stopped for a moment. Feeling the extra drag of the kayak, Moss asked if she just wanted to drift for a while. Angeline dangled her fingers in the water. Kelp floated by. A motorboat sped past, and the wake caused the kayak to rock. Then the water calmed, and they resumed paddling. Soon, they were too far for Angeline to see their house or their parking spot, and she forgot about it until they headed for shore about an hour and a half later.

They pulled the kayak onto the gravel beach, then carried it, the paddles, and the life vests up the path to where Moss’s Jeep was parked. They secured the kayak to the bars on the top of the Jeep. They were almost directly across the road from their pull-out, now deeply shaded. A man and a woman walked up the road, talking and laughing. The man had on a tee-shirt and blue jeans. The woman was in a short, tight dress. They seemed slightly drunk, just enough to be loose but not impaired. The man unlocked the door of the invading yellow car, got in, and lifted the button on the passenger door. The woman got in, too. The man rolled down the window, reached out his arm, and plucked the paper from beneath the wiper. He rolled up the paper into a ball and tossed it to the ground. Angeline fumed. Not only were they liars, but litterers, too. People who didn’t respect the environment sucked.

Angeline thought about the note they left. She didn’t like being lied to. Some people lived on lies, made a career of them, in some cases. Just look at any politician. She hated people who thought they were smarter than everyone else, who made getting over a full-time job. They’d laughed as they walked up to the car, and they were probably still laughing wherever they were now and wherever they were going. Suckers, they’d have thought. We gave them a sob story and they fell for it. What morons!

She wished she’d memorized their license plate number. Then she could call the sheriff and complain, and when he ignored her or gave her some stupid excuse, she’d threaten to go to the newspaper. She’d talk about how local law enforcement only catered to tourists, not to residents. But then, the fact the house belonged to Moss’s aunt might come to light, weakening her position, even though she’d lived there for most of a year.

Moss asked why she was so moody.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Are you still thinking about that stupid car?”

“No.”

He asked what she wanted for dinner. What he meant was, what was she going to make for dinner. He never cooked. He knew how, he just didn’t like to. Early in their relationship, Angeline took over the cooking, and cleaning, and doing their laundry, which was complicated for a couple of months when the washing machine broke. Finally, Moss’s aunt had been prevailed upon to replace it. She lived in Bellingham, up by the Canadian border, and was in ill-health. Her immobility meant she wouldn’t drop in on them; where she lived was irrelevant, at least to Angeline, who had never been to Bellingham or Canada. She missed Ohio. In Ohio, people knew how to drive in the snow. When it snowed in western Washington, everything shut down for days until the snow melted.

She said she didn’t know what she wanted for dinner, and in any case, she wasn’t going to cook. She cooked enough. She wasn’t a live-in servant.

“I never said you were,” Moss said. He was drinking from a can of beer and playing another video game on his laptop. The sound of electronic gun-fire punctuated the silence Angeline needed to think clearly.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

Then she asked him if he thought she were weak, easy to persuade, what her father would call a “push-over.”

“What? No!” He was focused on his game.

Angeline went to the window sill where she had put a row of small rocks she’d collected from the beach. The rocks never looked as pretty when they dried. They needed water to bring out their true colors. They were all shades of brown and gray. Yet, she enjoyed their smoothness. She had a favorite that fit comfortably in the palm of her hand.

“Whoa, why are you crying?” Moss asked.

“Things could be perfect if it wasn’t for people. People ruin everything.”

“That’s a big statement.”

“God gave us this beautiful planet, and what do we do? Mess it up. Kill things. Kill each other.”

“What does this have to do with that car?”

She wept. He came to her and tried to put his arms around her, but she stepped out of his embrace and told him to leave her alone.

“I just can’t take it anymore,” she said.

“Take what?”

His answer led to more crying. She went into their bedroom, lay on the bed, and studied the ceiling. She came west to find something beautiful and what she found was a lie. Truth was supposed to be bigger than lies and it wasn’t. Truth was small and rare, like the rocks she longed to find and own. How was she supposed to live, knowing that? How was she supposed to go on?

Her stomach growled. She hadn’t eaten since lunch. She’d feel better if she ate something, she always did. She suffered from low blood sugar and had all her life.

She got up and went into the kitchen. She asked Moss how he’d like a nice plate of scrambled eggs and toast. He said that sounded great. In her absence, he’d given up his video game and had washed the dishes from breakfast and lunch. He asked if she needed help with the food, and she said she didn’t.

She set their tiny table with fresh placemats and a single red candle in a glass dish. She asked him if he remembered where they’d bought it.

“That weird store in Port Townsend,” he said.

The eggs were perfect and they both enjoyed them. The toast was excellent, too. She’d put out a jar of strawberry jam they’d gotten at a farmer’s market the weekend before.

She did the dishes, wiped the counters, and asked him if he’d help her go down and remove the No Parking sign.

“Why?” he asked.

“It’s not doing any good.”

“True.”

The light escaped the sky as they descended the long flight of stairs. She held the flashlight while Moss lifted the sign from where she’d wedged it between two big rocks. He set it face down in the dirt. They’d come back tomorrow, and find a dumpster to put it in, he said. Knowing him, when tomorrow came he’d either forget or change his mind and say there was something else he wanted to do, the sign was fine where it was, or he’d move it another day.

She nodded and looked over the black water of the canal below the sky, now thrown with stars.

XXXXXXX

Award-winning writer Anne Leigh Parrish has two new titles coming from Unsolicited Press: the moon won’t be dared, a poetry collection, October 2021; and an open door, a novel, October 2022. Her latest novel, a winter night, released in March 2021 from Unsolicited Press, is the most recent installment in her popular Dugan Family story. She is the author of seven other books and lives in the South Sound Region of Washington State. Find her online at her websiteTwitterFacebookMediumInstagramLinkedIn, and Goodreads.

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