UNITED STATES—It was the trough right between Christmas and New Year, between overindulgence and overspending. People were slowly coming back to town and there still remained an adequate supply of parking spaces in Hollywood. As a consequence, Greg Burns found himself behind the car that had haunted him since last summer, when it still had dealer plates.
Must be nice to have a brand-new car, thought Greg. It’s insurance against unreliability and good for the environment. On the other hand, Greg had a smugness about driving around in a beater. He never had to worry too much about it being banged up or keyed.
So there was the disturbing car in front and there was a driver in it. This was the moment hoped for and dreaded. This was Greg’s chance to confess and remove one incident from the Angel City’s list of hit-and-runs.
Guilt is perceived as a solitary scourge, but guilt and stupidity have their stepparents. One night last summer Greg Burns had left his cherished parking place to pick up his girlfriend from the Metro Station. It was a Saturday night when the clubgoers inundate Hollywood; it was a foregone conclusion that Greg would lose his spot when they returned.
He recoiled at Sheena’s request, which reaction was partly Roger’s fault, Roger, the misogynistic Lothario, saying “She asks you for too much.”
Well, Sheena was going to get a lesson. The lesson was: you get a stupid ride from the Metro and you forfeit your precious parking place. That’s exactly what happened. They circled round and round and no parking spot was to be found.
“There’s no place…,” Sheena said.
“Don’t you feel like an idiot,” Greg said. “Asking me to give you a ride three blocks.”
Finally, in front of one of the new apartments that houses new media geeks, there was a parking place. When Greg backed up there was a popping sound that suggested mangled aluminum and plastic. A terrible sound. It implied getting out of the car, locating the owner, a police report. Greg realized that people who didn’t have insurance were more honest, in their naïve ignorance of the system. Once you’ve had a brush with the system, you’re ready to bolt.
Sheena in the passenger seat, with earbuds on, was spared the wrenching audio of the impact. Greg shrieked. Sheena glanced outside and said, “Nothing happened.”
Greg took that as his cue to drive on. He wanted to believe Sheena.
The next day to his shock, as he was maneuvering into a new space, a sidelong glance at the car he was parking behind brought the nightmare back. He glanced at the flank of the Cadillac. Sure, there it was! The dent with white undercoating exposed, at the exact height where his bumper had touched the fender.
That moment was born the idea to make one thing right in this lousy world. He resolved to wait here for the owner of the car to return and pay for the repair and paint job. Greg, however, was not quite ready for that.
He appeased his sense of morality, vowing that if destiny brought him and the Cadillac owner together, he’d cough up a few hundred or offer to pay the repair.
So now, in the desolate trough between Christmas and New Years, now was the chance.
The driver got out of the car. It was the spitting image of Greg. A little poorly dressed, the man could have been his double. The ding had been touched up but not properly restored.
He approached him and spoke clearly and steadily:
“I am very sorry for what I did to your car last summer…”
Before Greg could finish, the man’s hand waved him back to the sidewalk. The Cadillac owner said, “There’s nothing I can give you.”
Greg for once in his life kept his lips sealed and walked on.
Graydon Miller is the Wizard of Fiction and contributor to the bi-lingual anthology 80 mph. https://youtu.be/LWCJFOjgQnk