Park Place
Ken Weaver

It’s not like Walter Vack was immune to how the world normally worked.

For example: window stickers. Countless minivans, SUVs, and other types of child-shuffling vehicles have those bright stick-figure decals on their back windows, typically in traditional, nuclear arrangements – mom, dad, two-plus kids, often a furry accompaniment – whereas the vintage Karmann Ghia parked in space #7 had decals of a woman and three cats. “Ballsy,” he thought. The silver coupe had simply appeared, and, as he pulled forward into familiar space #8, Walter Vack had never been so intrigued.

He knew the type. Walter and his wife had owned an assortment of felines back in Oregon throughout the late 90’s, and while they had never purchased adhesive stickers to announce this fact, it wouldn’t have been an anomalous next step. He’d sometimes felt as if it were only a matter of time before something gave: the color-matched litter boxes and food bowls; the overpriced vet-recommended dietary supplements; the carpeted furniture; the kitty alcoves; the hairball-specific Shop-Vacs… Their home was like an exhibit you’d see in a museum of failed marriages. When she’d finally left, taking the animals and their accessories with her, the house had looked as though Walter were just moving in.

It’s like we already know one another!, he thought, keying the woman’s car.

That night Walter prepared himself an elaborate dinner (carbonade de boeuf, an endive salad, plus the remainder of a bottle of Flemish brown that had gone into the stew) and ate slowly in front of his bay window with the lights out, waiting for repercussions. He dined with the slow intensity of a gourmet triumphing over limited cooking utensils, wondering whether or not this was how revenge usually tasted. He switched to wine. His apartment’s dining nook overlooked his corner of the parking lot, and those orange and green decals – the stylized female and felines of this mysterious vehicle – reflected sharply beneath the floodlights. He understood that the Karmann Ghia was a test, and that he’d probably performed rather cowardly in the earliest stages of this test, but it remained unclear why this had to happen on an otherwise perfectly normal Tuesday. Had he done something wrong? Was this metaphor for an incident he hadn’t come to terms with? Did the provocations of this world normally take the form of antique automobiles?

Other nights, following that second bottle of wine, Walter will spend hours gazing up into the heavens, mentally skewing them: repositioning misplaced planets, nudging astral trajectories, envisioning vibrant meteor showers where there are none. With years of practice, a person can reinterpret entire universes over the span of an evening. At the very least, it can feel like some form of oblique progress, like an energetic night out.

Spaces #7 and #8 were unique in the otherwise convivial layout of his apartment building’s parking lot: isolated side-by-side behind two dumpsters, hidden by buttressing apartment walls (windowless, aside from his own). An ideal location for most things one might want to do secretly in a parking lot. Walter imagined taking things steps further in the days ahead: stuffed tailpipes, punctured tires, chipped windshields, terrible things left atop passenger seats. The less-than-careful removal of certain window stickers. These aggressions could have been averted, he told himself, had only the parking spots aligned with actual apartment numbers. He could’ve informed this woman what he thought of her.

He foresaw cases of false assumptions, of mistaken identity. One night he will be sitting atop the encroaching vehicle’s hood, smoking a pin joint, surveying the carnage and the comparatively pristine condition of his own late-model hatchback – only to find out that this vehicle had, in fact, been recently acquired from an elderly woman’s estate by a cooperative of bodybuilders. Walter recognized the inherent difficulties of explaining certain things – his black clothing, the vehicular damage, the recurrent feline theme – to skeptical policemen in the late-night ER. The stickers could begin to change: adding or subtracting animals, exploring permutations of his romantic past, poking his emotional depths. He’ll start to see a shrink, and together they will talk about the vehicle in human terms.

But the most plausible outcome remained the following: as Walter waits patiently in the dark alongside the cold remnants of his meal, an attractive woman around his age appears suddenly from behind the dumpsters, just as his eyelids are starting to droop. She wears a maroon party dress, with matching heels, and in her hand is a blue plastic grocery bag filled with empty Tupperware. Just visiting friends, perhaps in an adjacent apartment. She looks years younger than his ex-wife ever did, and Walter notices a certain longing in his belly that he chalks up to his inadequate culinary skills. For some reason she looks up, and it hits them both at the same time: the isolation of the parking lot, that sole other car parked beside her, a single darkened window overhead reflecting the light from a half-lit moon. Plus, the deep scratch running the length of her driver-side door. There are certain parts of his life Walter would take back if he could, and this woman recognizes that. She stows her package on the coupe’s back seat, gives a sad little wave in the direction of that dark bay window, and leaves a shallow heel print on his hatchback’s passenger door.

If only this were that kind of Karmann Ghia.

Instead there was no further activity at all that night, and Walter will wake up next to a congealed soup bowl with a sharp crick in his neck and an all-too-familiar headache. He’ll wonder whether this is his active life, this here and now of sub-prime dailiness, or whether the night before was. Walter Vack will shower. He will mark the vehicle’s tires with chalk before leaving for work. He’ll attempt increasingly elaborate meals each evening to keep himself awake, to keep himself vigilant. And that Karmann Ghia will remain unmoved that next night and the next night and the next.

Ken Weaver received his MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland – College Park and his M.S. in physics from Cornell University. His fiction has appeared in failbetter, Juked, Monkeybicycle, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Twelve Stories. Ken also writes regularly about craft beer culture, and his first book, The Northern California Craft Beer Guide, will be published by Cameron + Company in Spring 2012.

Photograph by Peter Gorwin