Featured in #ENOUGH

Unpaid Parking Meters

A Story by Katie Healy

The fifth gunshot was still ringing in the hallway rafters when they latched the stall door shut behind them. He’d never been in the girl's bathroom at the high school before and she hadn't seen him since his family stopped coming to church. It wasn’t uncommon to go months without seeing someone at their school given the number of students that attended. He was surprised that she wasn’t crying. He remembered the day at church when he saw her crying in the pew across from his. He had tried not to stare that day but he couldn’t help but notice the way she tried so hard to stifle her tears and the way her parents remained straight-faced the entire mass.

His eyes were aimed at the floor for a moment before he made the suggestion that they climb up onto the toilet seat. Her feet would take one crescent and his the other, their backs leaning against the stall walls. She didn’t know where to put her hands so she eventually just folded them against her stomach. She realized that she was praying a small prayer in her head and she wasn’t sure if she had started before or after she moved her hands to that position. She wondered if he was praying or if he wished that he and his family hadn’t stopped going to church.

Now that he thought about it, the day she was crying in the pew may have been the last Sunday his family had gone to mass. His parents must have begun finalizing  their divorce that following week because he could remember wondering what on earth she could possibly be crying about that was so terrible. That’s why now, he was surprised she wasn’t crying.

She was equally surprised. Several years ago, everything made her cry. Like when she had first gotten her driver’s license, she used to park on the hill a few blocks from the school where there were parking meters. She never paid for them because she was never ticketed when she didn’t. If the city didn’t care enough to check the meters, she wasn’t going to pay. However, one Friday after school, she found a parking ticket tucked between her windshield and a wiper blade. She hadn’t had the money to pay for it, so she reluctantly brought the ticket home to show her parents. She had planned on telling them about it that night when she got home but didn’t find the courage until Sunday morning before church.

The sidewalk from the parking lot into the church seemed miles longer than usual. His mother’s face from that day, now unshakably in his head as he stood on his side of the toilet seat. He could remember how desperately his mother had tried to keep it from coming out, at least until the divorce was finalized. Separating is one thing to be looked down upon by the catholic church. The shame is almost unbearable and when infidelity is the cause of separation, the congregation is rarely forgiving. His folded hands that mimicked the girl’s across the toilet seat, reminded him of his parents hands that day. They walked up the sidewalk into the church pretending to love each other, while knowing eyes watched disapprovingly. He still wasn’t sure if he was proud of them for that day. He did know that he wasn’t ready to no longer be their son, to no longer be anything.

She tried a bit harder to remember his name but gave up quickly. She did remember hearing about how his mother had been caught with another man. When she had asked her own mom why that meant their family was no longer welcome at church, she couldn’t remember receiving a straight forward answer. Up until now, she was under the influence of the idea that people who made decisions like that didn’t belong in their church. However, being eye to eye with this boy now made her heart ache and she wished that they had been given the chance to be more than strangers. She realized that the last day she saw him in church was sad for more than one reason.

In her prayer, she thanked God the hateful conversation about the parking ticket before church was not the last she had had with her parents. They had scolded her for not parking where she was supposed to and she had responded with the same animosity that all people her age display when they know their parents are right. Since that day in church, when she couldn’t stop her tears, her relationship with her parents had gotten better. However, she still found herself tempted to park on the hill every morning before school, especially on cold winter days when she didn’t want to make the walk from the student lot.

He remembered, after the last school shooting, wondering how many more there were going to be before someone did something about it. To him, it seemed simple. He had been afraid that it was going to be him or someone he loved that would have to die before something would be done. Or what if someone he loved did die and still nothing was done. To the world, it seems like just another senseless tragedy that will eventually become a sad memory, but for him, it would be the end of the world.

When she eventually did start crying, it wasn’t because she was helplessly wondering why this keeps happening. It wasn’t because she didn’t know why someone would kill children. It wasn’t even because she knew there was a possibility that the latched stall might be where she dies with this boy whose name continued to escape her. She started crying, because she couldn’t help but wonder if the gun being used to slaughter her classmates was obtained as easily as she had parked on the hill without paying.

He was scanning his brain for the numbers. Was it fifty in Las Vegas, or sixty? Twenty at Sandy Hook or more than that? Up until now, all he could remember were the numbers. They bled together like those shot dead all at once. He started crying when he thought about what number would be in bold next to his school’s name. The name he never thought would be in the newspapers for something like this.

Her hands, now knowing what to do with themselves, reached for his and together, they sobbed silently and held onto each other from across the toilet seat. The bathroom door was pushed open and in their heads, they finished their prayers.

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