This is a fictional short story, in 1040 words.
Melvin had decided. He would go into the city, and try on those new shoes. No point ordering them online, as they were possibly not going to fit well, or feel right. No way was he going to pay that sort of money, then have to mess around sending them back by courier if he wasn’t happy with them. It would take around an hour to get to one of the car parks, but only a few minutes later, and he would be in the shop.
He couldn’t remember the last time he had bought new shoes. He was happy enough with his work boots, and they were provided. At other times, he wore the cheap trainers easily available from the local street market. As far as he was concerned, they looked no different to the fashionable ones that sold for three times as as much in the big sports shops. Then there were the old black leather slip-ons that had served him well for many years. But with Angela’s wedding coming up next month, it was time to get some new smart shoes for the occasion. He was only invited to the evening reception, and even though he had no ‘plus one’, he wanted to look his best. After all, you never knew who you might meet at a wedding.
The car was a mare to start. He didn’t need to use it that much, as he could walk to work. Sitting idle on the street, the battery wasn’t getting charged up, and he was relieved when it finally coughed into life. By the time he got going, it was a lot later than he had anticipated. The early afternoon traffic was beginning to build up as he approached the exit off the ring road in the direction of the main car park. The big LED sign was flashing ‘No Spaces’. That meant doing the whole circuit again, and diverting off to the George Street car park.
Pulling out into the stream of traffic was a nightmare, as nobody was inclined to give way to let him back in. The school runs were probably starting, and it was beginning to get bumper to bumper around the three lanes. Melvin finally managed to bully his way in front of a bus, then indicating constantly, he got back into the third lane that would take him round again. His hands banging the wheel with frustration, it took a full twenty minutes to go around again, before he was able to pull into the entrance of George Street car park. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the sign read ‘Spaces’. Taking the ticket to open the barrier, he drove up to level one, and started to look around. As he craned his neck to see if there were any spaces further down, the driver of the car behind started to sound his horn. So Melvin carried on up to the next level, furious when he saw that car slip into a space at the far end of where he had just been.
By the time he got up to the roof, there hadn’t been a single space on all four previous levels. The open-air roof area looked to be full too, but he crept along slowly, just in case. Spotting a gap between the tops of two parked cars, he accelerated before anyone could get up behind him. Finally, a space. Swinging the car into it, he stopped dead. There was a motor bike parked sideways across the end. Melvin was furious. “Who takes up a full car space with a bloody motorbike?” He was shouting inside the car. Not like him at all. He had no alternative but to drive all the way back down the circular ramps, and head for the exit.
There was no attendant in the small cabin next to the barrier, so nobody to explain to that he had not actually been able to find a spot. He put the ticket into the machine, but a red light came on. The ticket was slid back out, and the barrier didn’t lift. Craning his neck to see if the attendant was anywhere to be seen, he spotted a sign fixed to the bottom of the small cabin.
PAY BEFORE LEAVING
PAY MACHINES ARE SITUATED ON LEVEL ONE
There was no option but to leave his car next to the barrier, and run back up to level one. He wasn’t about to try to reverse, knowing full well a car might come down behind him, and then they would both be stuck. Locking the car, he jogged up the concrete ramp. On level one, he spotted a sign with an arrow pointing to the pay machines. They were all the way across on the far side.
When he got to them, people were already queuing at all three machines. He hovered around, waiting for the first one to become free, then pushed in the ticket. In the electronic window, a message appeared. ‘Flat fee 4 pm until midnight £5’. Checking his watch, he could see it was just a few seconds past four. With no alternative, he grabbed a five pound note from his wallet, and slid it into the slot. The note was sucked in, as if grabbed by an unseen hand, and the ticket reappeared. Huffing and puffing his way back down to the barrier, the blaring of car horns was already becoming deafening. Four cars were stuck behind his, and people were walking around, waving their hands about. One man was even crouched down at the window of his car, peering inside as if he might discover the driver hiding in the back.
A red-faced Melvin hurried past them all, mumbling “Sorry” as he passed the line of shaking heads and drivers shouting abuse. Struggling into his car past the angry man who had been crouching next to it, he reached over to put the ticket into the machine as he started the engine. When the barrier lifted he had never felt so relieved, and drove hurriedly out of the car park, almost colliding with a taxi. At the roundabout, he took the direction home.
Maybe he wouldn’t bother with those new shoes after all.
Angela was unlikely to notice.