The car swooped down on the empty parking spot like a bird of prey, flying the length of one car, then reversing and capturing the open space with one maneuver. The driver’s door opened and a woman stepped out, taking care not to dip her high heels in the oily puddle left from melting snow and the morning’s rain.
She stepped up onto the curb, snapping open a pocket umbrella against the blustery wind, and peered down at the face of the parking meter.
March, the lion’s month, played with the woman, pushing back the edge of her umbrella like the brim of a hat, threatening to take it away and toss it down the rain-slick sidewalk, teasing open her raincoat, stinging her stockinged legs with tiny pellets of frozen rain.
With one hand she dug deeply into her purse, searching for coins, the fee for holding her place, a tax for standing still for exactly one and one half hours. The soft brown leather bulged where she felt for change, pushed out here, then there, in side pockets and deep into the corners where a quarter might hide under pens and pencils, receipts and breath mints.
One by one, she found what she needed and out came the woman’s hand to feed the meter little bites of time. The last coin slipped out of her fingers and fell to the ground. Dancing a jig of frustration, she shifted her purse, tucking it under the arm that held the umbrella that threatened to escape, and picked up the coin with cold fingers.
Paid in full, she reached into her pocket and found her keys and aimed the remote at the car. “Stay,” she seemed to be telling the vehicle as she pushed the lock button. The car chirped its reply.
As she turned to walk away, the fickle wind turned as well. Now, instead of teasing, flipping her umbrella and snapping at the hem of her coat, tossing her scarf into her face, it snuck up from behind her, pushing her down the sidewalk blowing her hair into her eyes and tucking her raincoat between her legs as she rounded the corner.
The car – perched like a bird on a wire, off duty and at rest - waited, engine cooling, wipers idled and lights off. The meter, the master of everything between two white lines painted on asphalt, waited too. Ticking away the seconds until the woman returned.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org