Fiction by Leo Apilash
I stood in front of the magistrate, the honorable Judge Elanor Klamm, looking as humble as I could. My Brooks Brothers suit—a graduation gift from my father and the only suit I owned—was too tight, causing me to constantly tug at the sleeves and crotch to make room. Maria was standing to the right and behind me, and about 10 feet to my left stood the defendant and his wife. He was dressed more casually than me—beige gaberdines, too big in the seat and too short at the bottom; decades-old penny loafers with a shiny new penny peeking out from the left insert, the right one inexplicably empty; and white tube socks bristling with wiry gray hairs in the narrow space between sock and hem. A navy-blue sweater vest covered a sky-blue oxford that was bulging around the heart with what I assumed was a very large eyeglass case tucked neatly into his breast pocket.
As Judge Klamm read out the charges, I couldn’t help notice that the defendant looked much smaller than I remembered. And older; I didn’t recall him being so old. His wife was a completely different person. The last time I saw her was through the refracted light of a shattered windshield, a distorted rictus on full display, eyes mostly white in brilliant contrast to her plumb-red face. If I had not seen them come in together I never would have guessed this was the same woman sitting before me.
“On the charges of aggravated assault with intent to harm, how does the defendant wish to plead?” The judges voice came booming out of the void, oddly masculine in tenor.
“Nolo contendere, your honor,” the old man’s response was crisp and definitive. He knew there had been too many witnesses to try and deny the obvious. I thought with some pleasure, “Yeah, that’s right, take that you m@!#$%r.”
I looked up at the judge, awaiting the penalty to be read out: life without parole, chemical castration, firing squad. Nothing less than the full weight of the justice system pounding this guy into submission was going to satisfy me.
Then something unexpected happened.
The judge turned to me, cleared her throat, and said, “On the charges of willful vandalism, how does the defendant wish to plead?” My look of complete surprise earned me some sympathy points and prompted the judge to fill the silence, giving me some time to comprehend this new turn of events.
“Do you understand the charges you are accused of son? Mr. Joseph Kaye here is countersuing you for $750 for the damages you inflicted upon his windshield. I have three estimates in front of me supporting the plaintiff’s request,” she waved a handful of papers in my direction as evidence. “I’ll ask again—how do you wish to plead?”
Son-of-a-. He figured he had no chance of beating the assault rap so was trying to exact his own pound of flesh. Brilliant. Son-of-a-.
I was afraid that if I pled guilty I would have to pay for the new windshield, which was completely out of the question. Maria and I had maybe $200 in the bank between us; this would be a financial disaster. I couldn’t possibly plead not guilty, I mean, my right hand was neatly wrapped in field bandages, a dead giveaway of my guilt.
“Nolo…uhhh…whatever he pleaded your honor.” I had no idea what the nolo plea meant but terms like guilty and not guilty did not seem to fit. Judge Klamm threw me a look that immediately brought me back to my childhood.
When I was a young boy around the age of 12 my friends and I would spend much of our free time at The Plaza convenience store feeding quarters into what was at that time the cutting edge in video entertainment, Space Invaders. One particular Saturday, having run out of quarters, I was wasting time in front of the magazine rack when, in a flash of inspiration, I stashed the January Playboy under my jacket and made my way toward the front door. What a legend I would be.
I got as far as the Slushie machine before the owner, a kindly avuncular sort, gently put his hand on my shoulder, took the magazine from my coat and told me wait behind the counter by the register. A few minutes later he pulled me into his office and told me to call my mother to come get me. When she arrived and heard the accusation, she turned and stared at me without saying a word and I knew what I had to do.
“I’m sorry Mr. Robmann. I don’t know why I did it, but I did it. I swear it will never happen again.”
The Mona Lisa smile on my mother’s face said it all—“That was the correct answer, you did the right thing.” Judge Klamm was registering this same smile.
“I am of the opinion that both parties know they made a mistake and have already paid for it. You will each pay the clerk $50 on your way out and we will consider this matter closed. I expect to never see either of you in my court again. Next case.”
I let Joe and his wife walk out ahead of us and maintained a healthy distance to avoid any further confrontation. A couple of contemptuous stares traded across the parking lot was how the whole affair ended, neither of us feeling particularly satisfied.
“What the hell is going on here?” the cop asked me.
As I leaned against the hood of the black and white, I held my bleeding and ballooning right hand gingerly in my left and closed my eyes to gather myself. The wide range of conflicting emotions I was experiencing was far less satisfying than I would have expected the preceding events to precipitate. There was humiliation aplenty mixed with a healthy dollop of blind rage, a half-cup of nausea that it even got this far, and just a pinch of sanctimony.
“Hey. Can you hear me?” the cop asked, his voice raised this time. “You alright?”
I took a breath and slowly opened my eyes, “Yeah, I’m okay.”
“What happened?” His officiallooking cop pen was floating expectantly above his official-looking cop pad.
Before I could answer, the old man jumped in, “I just told you what happened, this derelict jumped out of his car and…”
“I already have your story sir,” the officer cut him off abruptly, “I am asking this gentleman his version.” To this day, I have no idea why but just based on his contrasting body language and general attitude toward the two of us I was convinced that this cop was firmly in my camp and believed the old man was off his rocker. This gave me some confidence to embellish my story a bit and helped to increase the proportion of sanctimony in my emotional stew.
I spent the next few minutes detailing my side of the story and how it was clearly the old man’s fault that the cop had to be called. At certain pivot points in my retelling of the drama I heard disembodied voices from the crowd of onlookers cheering me on, “Yep, that’s right, it was the old man who started it,” or “I saw the whole thing bruh, call me if you need a witness.”
If the old man attempted to protest and offer up a different set of facts, the crowd would jeer and shout him down. Hell, even the cop was giving him static: “Do you see the size of this guy, he could have killed you.” His head bent low over his notepad, eyes peering ominously over the top of his Aviator sunglasses, “You are just lucky I was nearby and arrived when I did.” I was actually starting to feel bad for the guy.
This back-and-forth continued for about 30 minutes. When the dust finally settled and tempers appeared to be reined in, the officer told the old man to wait by the side of road for a tow truck to arrive. He suggested Maria drive me to the nearest hospital to get my hand checked but I was determined not to let this cockroach ruin our day and we continued on our merry way.
The next day as I stood in front of the judge…
When we arrived downtown at Piedmont Park our excitement was quickly tempered by the complete lack of available parking. We expected it would be crowded but this seemed hopeless. We spent 45 minutes circling the local neighborhoods again and again, desperately searching for an open spot but there was nothing. Apparently everyone but us got the memo to arrive early.
My patience was just about to run out when lo and behold, walking toward us on the side of the road was a couple making their way into a Jeep parallel parked on the opposite side of the street. I was just where I needed to be to claim the spot as my own but facing in the wrong direction. I quickly put my hazards on to let any nearby competition know I was waiting for the couple to leave. By the universal laws of parking etiquette there was no ambiguity in the message I was sending.
My heart was pounding with anticipation as the couple took their sweet time getting in, fixing seats and mirrors, fiddling with the radio. He knew I was waiting for the spot and found the power he had over me too intoxicating not to milk it. “Whatever,” I thought, “my parking troubles are now behind me; we’ll shortly be on our way to the Jazzfest and all will be right with the world.”
My mind already occupied with the day ahead I barely noticed the black Cadillac Brougham pulling up in the opposite direction and coming to a stop just in back of the Jeep. The old man behind the wheel was clearly positioning himself to pull into the spot and apparently had not seen me sitting across the street with my hazards on. I politely bonked my horn and put my hand out the open window to let him know this spot was mine for the taking. He ignored me.
“Did he just ignore me? Does he not see me?” I said to Maria as much as to myself.
“He’s probably a bit deaf, just honk again.”
Honk, honk. “Hey, excuse me,” I yelled toward the Cadillac, “I’ve been sitting here with my hazards on. I was going to park here. Hey!” Still nothing. “I don’t believe this, this guy’s trying to steal my spot.” I laid hard on the horn this time in hopes that he really was just deaf and not a complete jerk. I could tell this time he was actively ignoring me. He had it in his head this space was his and no one was going to tell him any different.
I needed a plan.
As the Jeep pulled forward, I quickly threw it into drive and took a hard left, the front of my car now facing the sidewalk and positioned perpendicular to the front of Mr. Cadillac. I lowered Maria’s passenger-side window, leaned forward so he could clearly see my face, and overenunciated “@#$%^” while extending a double bird through the window, holding if for a good five seconds to let it sink in. He began gesticulating wildly, screaming silent-movie obscenities that even started Maria chuckling. He put his car in gear and threatened to drive his front end into me but I just sat there and called his bluff. I mean, why would anyone willingly drive a shiny new Cadillac into a Chevy Cavalier clearly past its prime.
I took my time backing-and-forthing my way into the parking spot. Upon completing my final backup maneuver I turned to put the car in park and that’s when he hit me.
The punch landed with a meaty thwack to my left jaw and spun my head abruptly. It was so unexpected, and I was so completely relaxed, that despite the sound being a bit jarring there was no pain to speak of. I quickly turned back stunned to find a shriveled hobbit of a man standing there, fists up in a fighting-irish stance, preparing to administer a second blow. No time to think, I leaned back as far as I could into Maria’s lap, put my hands up in the window and frantically waved them to try and fill the available space.
“What the hell are you doing,” I screamed. I was waiting for him to back off but he remained, unfazed, and continued to jab at my hands seeking an opening.
“What the…,” I screamed again, less of a question this time as my bile started to rise. He eventually decided it was time to haul ass and took off for his car that was idling a car-length ahead of me. He had apparently pulled up past me as I was maneuvering into the spot; I’m sure this must have registered with me subconsciously and I probably assumed he was abandoning ship.
It took me a few long seconds to realize the tide had turned and it was time to go on the offensive. Before I could close the gap he had made it back to his car but I was hot on his heels. As I reached for his door with every intention of dragging him into the street and unloading a can of whoop-ass I heard the muffled thump of the door lock. I was apoplectic. I started punching the door window with my fists and screaming for him to get out of the damn car. As luck would have it there was another car parked just in front of him preventing him from leaving the scene.
The terror on his face was real—his wife, too, who I only just discovered was in attendance.
My knuckles were bleeding and my left hand began to swell up, so I switched tactics and began pounding on his windshield with the beefy side of my right fist. I had no idea what I was doing but I had a blinding, driving need to hit something, so I just kept raining down blows.
On about the fifth or sixth strike I felt the windshield give way and a small spider-web crack appeared. My lizard brain felt immediate satisfaction and goaded me further with a large injection of dopamine that numbed my hand and spurred me on. With each new assault the web grew larger and larger until it spanned the full length and width of the window.
“Get the hell out of there!”
“You goddam piece of ancient crap!”
“You will pay, I promise!”
BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM
“Leo.” My name. Someone was calling my name.
“Leo! Please stop. Look at this guy, he’s terrified. And his poor wife is gonna have a heart attack. Calm down. He could be your dad for chrissake, think how scared he would be. Just let it go.”
I backed away from the car in a semi-stupor and immediately the pain came rushing over me; my right hand looked like a bright red mitten and throbbed with its own heartbeat. With my left hand I clutched it to my chest, slowly made my way over to the opposite sidewalk to find a seat on the curb and began replaying the events in my head, this time from the terminal end of my Hulk-to-Banner transformation.
It was at this point that a cop pulled up in front of me, stepped out of his car, walked right over to the Caddy and asked the old man to follow him.
“Now, what the hell is going on here…?”
Maria could see I was upset about something. I felt completely drained of energy—emotionally, psychologically, physically—as if I hadn’t slept in days, which I hadn’t. My disastrous Interest Theory exam the previous Wednesday was sitting in the pit of my stomach like I had swallowed a black hole, its gravity sucking all my attention and energy, not allowing me to look away or consider anything beyond the test-event horizon. Seeping into my dreams, it would bend all light and matter back to the singularity of that Wednesday afternoon, pulsing with waves of anxiety and uncertainty night after night as incomplete formulas, inoperable calculators, fast-moving clocks swirled in an ever-expanding accretion disk about me. More than once Maria had to shake me out of my nightmare, jaw aching from constant clenching.
“What’s wrong?” Maria lobbed over the top of the Sunday Arts section she had curtained in front of her.
“I can’t seem to let it go. I just keep going over the questions again and again. Some of my answers were just soooo…” There it was again, my own private Death Star warping reality in unhealthy ways. “Okay. I need to shake this off, forget about it. It happened, there’s nothing I can do about it now, right? Let’s find some distraction today to help take my mind off of it, at least for a few hours.”
“And as if right on cue, I have just the thing,” Maria said as she folded the paper to the colorful full-page ad promoting an all-day jazz festival down at Piedmont Park. “Whattya think, should we go?”
A little unnerved that a solution should present itself so fast I asked, “What, today? When does it kick off?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “I know I just want out of here, just out of here. Out of here, nothing else, it’s the only way I can reach my goal.”
“What’s your goal?” she asked.
“I’ve just told you. Out of here—that’s my goal,” I barked, my exasperation on full display. “Sorry, that sounded less confrontational in my head.”
“Okay then,” she quickly moved on, “I’ll pack the basket with lots of goodies and we’ll have a fun picnic chilling in the park.” When we arrived downtown at Piedmont