The Spot by Valentine Wheeler
There was a truck in her spot.
It was big and it was brown, and it was parked right in front of 32 Standish Road in the shade of the only good-sized tree in the neighborhood.
Miriam stared at it, but the truck didn’t move.
She looked at her watch. She always took her lunch break right there, parking her mail truck from noon to twelve thirty, parked in front of Mr. Adeyemi’s petunias. Sometimes, if it was an especially hot day, the old man tottered out to bring her a glass of sweet tea so sugary it made her teeth hurt.
A car behind her honked, and she gave the truck one last glare before slowly driving away.
It kept happening.
Not every day—some days she rushed the first half of her route, speed-walking from house to house (never running; you never knew when the manager was watching you). Those days she made it there first and watched with glee as the big brown truck rolled by, forlorn. She tried to catch a glimpse of the driver: she imagined some pot-bellied middle-aged white guy hell-bent on messing up her day. She wanted to be able to spot him at the grocery store or the library and know it was her nemesis. It wasn’t a big town, after all. Other days it beat her there, smugly parked in the shade of the big oak tree, and Miriam always slowed down to stare through the window. The driver must have been in the back every time, though, because she could never catch a glimpse of them. Those days she parked on Mayo, or on Pilgrim, but there was no other spot that was as perfect as 32 Standish anywhere in the neighborhood.
Mr. Adeyemi handed her a glass of tea on a hot June Tuesday, along with a six-inch wide square of cornbread, and said, “That new girl had never tasted cornbread, can you imagine that?”
“What new girl?” asked Miriam, suspicious. She’d been on the route every day for the last three weeks.
“The UPS girl,” said Mr. Adeyemi. “I think she’s lonely. She always stops to chat when she brings me my medication.”
A girl! She filed that knowledge away, reorienting. Somehow, that changed everything about the narrative she’d built. Miriam tried to imagine what kind of girl would steal someone else’s rightful lunch spot. She thanked Mr. Adeyemi for the cornbread and sipped her tea, thoughtful.
A week later, she saw the truck again. This time, it was parked at #8, Dr. Hasenfelter’s house, and Miriam felt an unwelcome spark of concern. Dr. H was nice enough, but her cat Cindy was the meanest tabby Miriam had ever met. She’d barely escaped Cindy’s claws a few times when dropping packages in the vestibule: Dr. H had an unfortunate habit of forgetting to close her inside door, letting the beast lurk in wait for unsuspecting mail carriers. She knew Brian, the old UPS guy on the route, had a nice scar across his forearm that was a parting gift from Cindy.
Her conscience stung a little, but she drove past. It wasn’t any of her business. This girl would learn soon enough. She’d better.
Come Monday morning, Miriam was way behind. She didn’t reach her first house until nearly eleven o’clock, spending time she didn’t have cleaning up the mess made by whoever had taken her route on her first day off in a month. Despite hustling as much as she could in the 95 degree weather, it was nearer to one o’clock than her usual noon when she made it to Standish Road.
And there, in her spot, in her shade, under her tree, probably drinking her tea, was that goddamn UPS truck.
“That’s it.” Miriam pulled up behind it, put her flashers on, and stormed out of her mail truck. “Hey!” she yelled up at the drivers’ side door, hands on her hips. “Get out of my spot!”
“Hey!” she called again, the anger boiling over. “I’m all out of patience, lady! It’s a thousand degrees, I’m way behind on my route because I had to deal with a goddamn flooded basement on Saturday, all I have for lunch is a stupid peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and I claimed this spot a year ago for my lunch. So move!” She kicked the truck, breathing hard.
For a moment, nothing happened. Then the window cranked down slowly.
“You know,” said a voice from the truck, smooth and low, “you could have just asked me weeks ago.”
The door creaked open.
“I didn’t know there was some kind of rule about parking here,” said the voice, and a head popped out from the doorway. “I mean, I assume you’ve painted your name on it somewhere?”
“I didn’t actually check,” said the girl, stepping out, and jeez, Miriam had not imagined she’d be this cute, arched eyebrows raised over wide-set eyes on a bronze face. “I just figured, this being a public road, anyone could park here.” Her voice had a slight lilt, the barest hint of an accent—something Middle Eastern, or maybe Persian.
Miriam crossed her arms over her chest. “I’ve been parking here at noon for a year,” she said. “It’s exactly halfway through my route. You know, Brian would always take his lunch at MacDonald’s.”
“I’m a vegetarian,” said the girl. “And Enoch said I could park here.”
“Enoch?” asked Miriam. “You call Mr. Adeyemi by his first name?”
The girl stared at her. “You call him Mr. Adeyemi?” She grinned at Miriam, showing even, white teeth. “You’re a pain in the rear, but you’re kind of cute.” She stepped back up through the door. “Tell you what. My lunch is just about over. You can have the spot today.” She gestured magnanimously to the pavement with a sweep of her arms, then shut the door behind her.
Miriam stared at the truck pulled away.
She didn’t know her name, Miriam realized the next day as she pulled into her (blessedly empty) lunch spot. All she knew was that she was short, rude, and possibly the cutest girl Miriam had ever seen.
A week later, though, after six days of big brown truck on Standish, she was starting to worry. What if something had happened to her? It didn’t seem like she was going to give up this easily.
She asked Mr. Adeyemi, but he shook his head. “I’m sorry, Miss Gold. I have not seen Aminah in many days.”
Aminah. That was her name.
“In fact, I had a package delivered yesterday, but it was brought by some other man. A large, white one.” He frowned. “He didn’t even say hello, only dropped it on my grass and left.”
Miriam thanked him and continued onward on her route, worry niggling at the back of her mind like a toothache.
She was actually glad when, four days later on a cloudy Friday the big brown truck was in her spot again.
As she drove closer, though, she realized something wasn’t right. The hazards were flashing and a small figure sat on the bumper, hunched over. Miriam pulled up behind it, blocking #32’s driveway. Mr. Adeyemi’s car was missing from the driveway: he was away visiting his sons in North Carolina, Miriam remembered.
Aminah didn’t raise her head, just stayed where she was, forehead in hands.
“Hey,” said Miriam, sticking her head out the window. “Are you okay?”
At this, Aminah looked up. “Oh,” she said. “It’s you.” She gestured at her truck. “I really don’t have the energy to go through this again with you, you know.”
“Go through what again?”
“The whole parking dibs thing.”
“Oh.” Miriam felt her cheeks heat up. “No, I just— You look like you’re not having a great day, that’s all.”
Aminah let out a chuckle that had no humor. “Oh, yes, you could say that.”
Miriam unbuckled her seatbelt and climbed down. “Are you all right?”
“Why would you care?”
“Because I’m not actually a super shitty person?” said Miriam. “Look, is there something I can do?”
Aminah sighed. “I—well. Could I perhaps borrow your phone?”
Miriam dug it out of her pocket and handed it over, watching as Aminah dialed a number and put the phone up to her ear. It seemed to ring a long time, and Miriam heard the tinny sound of a voicemail box.
“It’s Aminah.” She rubbed a hand over her face, eyes closed. “My truck won’t start on Standish Road. Can someone come jump me?” She glanced at Miriam. “Also, my phone is not working, so don’t bother calling me back on it. Just please send someone soon, or I’m going to fall even further behind.” She handed the phone back to Miriam.
“I have jumper cables,” said Miriam. “Do you want to try that?”
Aminah stared at her suspiciously. “Aren’t you on your lunch?”
“Someone’s in my spot,” said Miriam, trying to keep her tone light, and it worked: Aminah’s lips quirked in a smile.
“Let me just pop the hood—” Aminah’s face fell again as she reached the door. “Oh, you have got to be kidding me.” She stared through the window, standing on her tiptoes and tapped the glass. “My goddamn keys.” She turned and leaned against the side of the truck, running her hands over her face. “They’re going to fire me.”
A drop of water fell on Miriam’s face, and she looked up at the sky, which had darkened considerably since she’d gotten out of the truck. Another drop fell, then another, then the heavens opened and buckets of water started pouring on them both.
Aminah started to laugh. Just a little at first, as the water soaked through her hair, her clothes, her shoes; then great gasping guffaws. Miriam grabbed Aminah by the hand and dragged her into her truck.
The rain pounded on the metal of the truck as the door slammed behind them, nothing visible beyond a few feet in front of the window. Miriam’s scanner beeped with a message from her boss: they wanted everyone off the street until the visibility cleared up.
“I guess I’m stuck here too for a while,” she said to Aminah, who was eyeing the parcels in the back with interest. She reached for the tray of letters on the shelf “Hey, that’s the United States Mail you’re rifling through, just so you know.”
Aminah grinned at her. “I’ve never been in a real mail truck.”
“Well, of course not,” said Miriam. “You think we let just any UPS driver in here?”
“You let me in,” said Aminah, getting closer.
Miriam hated the way her cheeks instantly darkened to a deep russet brown in the rearview mirror. “Yes, well, I felt sorry for you, that’s all.”
“I’m pretty pathetic,” agreed Aminah, wilting a little and sliding to sit on the step.
“So,” said Miriam after an awkward pause. “I haven’t seen you around lately.”
Aminah sighed and leaned back, meeting Miriam’s eyes. “Car accident.”
“Yeah, last Sunday I got rear-ended. Had to take the whole week off to recover.” She sighed. “My car’s totalled, so I have the worst rental car in the world. Now my truck won’t start, and now, genius of the month, I’ve locked the keys inside.” She banged the back of her head on the wall. “Unbelieveable. And now I’m trapped in a truck I’m not even supposed to be in with a pretty girl who hates me.”
“I—” Miriam stared at Aminah. “You think I’m pretty?”
Aminah huffed. “Of course you’re pretty. You look like a young Eartha Kitt.” She waved a hand at Miriam. “I bet you look incredible in a catsuit with those shoulders.”
Miriam reddened again, speechless, finally managing, “You can’t just say stuff like that!”
Aminah shrugged. “Why not?”
“I don’t know!” Miriam threw up her hands. “I’m not prepared for this!”
“For someone who looks like you to say stuff like that to me!”
A truck honked outside, and they both jumped, breaking eye contact.
A tow truck idled just outside, its driver standing outside the locked UPS truck with his hands on his hips. The rain had stopped, leaving everything glistening and damp.
“So, uh,” started Aminah, waving at the truck driver. “What are you doing tonight?”
“Watching Star Trek with my dog,” said Miriam automatically. She winced as she heard the words escape her mouth—smooth, Miriam.
Aminah nodded, though, as if this was a perfectly reasonable plan for an evening. “Would you like some company?”
Miriam smiled, delighted. “As long as you don’t mind Voyager,” she replied. “Or a gassy dachshund.”
Aminah smiled back. “I’d love to.” She darted in and kissed Miriam’s cheek and hopped back out of the truck.
Miriam leaned back in her seat, put a hand to her cheek, and smiled out at Mr. Adeyemi’s petunias.
Valentine is a latecomer to writing, though she’s always been a passionate reader. Through fanfiction she found her way to an incredible community of writers who’ve taught her to love making stories.
When she isn’t writing, she’s making bad puns, yelling about television, or playing with her small child.
Her life’s ambition is to eat the cuisine of every single country.
Other books by Valentine Wheeler
“Dead Letter” in the Into the Mystic, Vol. One Anthology