Watercolor by Ashley Parvin
LOST IN SAN FRANCISCO
Waves of thick fog rolled over the hills of San Francisco while the deep, echoing sound of foghorns spread throughout the compact, energetic city.
Dave Steccato, six feet tall, walked bowlegged into the Small Claims Court building on McAllister Street early on a Tuesday morning in May 2013, wearing a long sleeve, solid blue dress shirt that hid the multi-colored dragon tattoo on his right arm and shoulder. He passed the limp US flag hanging near the filing window of the Clerk’s Office and walked into the Court room.
He found a seat next to an elderly man sitting on a bench facing the judges raised desk.
“Morning,” Dave said.
“Morning,” replied the grey bearded, balding man. “My name is Eric.”
“Mine’s Dave.” He shook Eric’s outstretched hand.
“What brings you here today, Dave?”
“I’m suing my former landlord for my security deposit,” Dave answered. He scratched his wiry, disheveled, black hair. “He said I could bring my two cats but he changed his mind when I moved in. I had to move out after one month.”
“What a jerk!”
“This is the first time I’ve sued anyone and it’s stressing me out.”
“It’s no fun, Dave. But it’s better than regular court where attorneys breed bad feelings. I’m here because a psychologist told me one price, then she sent me a bill at a higher rate.”
“She needs a shrink.”
Eric’s deep, loud laugh was heard by everyone in the crowded room. “Good idea, Dave. I’ll tell the judge.”
Dave grinned. “What’s your occupation, Eric?”
“I’m a city bus driver. What do you do?”
“I’m a pre-school teacher.”
When Dave’s case came up for review, his former landlord was absent. The court clerk told Dave he would be notified within a week of the judge’s decision.
Eric said, “No contest, Dave. You can relax now.”
Dave walked out the courthouse with a sparkle in his eyes and took a trolley home. The fog lifted and clouds, dark under their bellies, rolled across the city beneath the watery sun. In the busy streets, the traffic hummed, occasionally disturbed by police and ambulance sirens.
At home, Dave changed his clothes and decided to drive his aqua-blue car to get to school as quickly as possible. He walked up States Street to where he normally parked the small car, opposite a garden where the beauty of rhododendrons, magnolias and camellias was enhanced by the scent of freshly watered plants. His car was gone. Dave twisted the hair at the back of his head then walked the length of the street searching for his vehicle. Perspiration dotted his upper lip and sweat dripped from his armpits. He ran to other streets adjacent to States Street but could not find his car.
Using his iPhone he called the City of San Francisco. “Could you tell me if my car has been towed for illegal parking?”
The city clerk checked and replied that his car had not been towed. Dave’s stomach tightened. He called the police to file a stolen vehicle report. The woman who entered the details said, “If your car is found in San Francisco, you’ll be called and you’ll have twenty minutes to pick it up. If it’s towed, you’ll be responsible for towing and storage fees.”
Dave put a clammy hand to his forehead, his cheeks grew pink and his eyes glazed with tears. He pushed his curved, mirrored-lens sunglasses to rest on top of his head and thought, There’s nothing else to do in the meantime, except just go on living my life. As they say, "Them's the breaks.”
While on a bus to his school after a one week vacation, he looked out the window and stared at a car that looked familiar. He exited the bus and walked to the car, recognizing his license plate. “Oh, my God!” he whispered. “Maybe I drove it to school one day when I had the court case on my mind, and forgot and took a bus home. It’s parked in a street that has sweeping once a week. It could have been ticketed and towed!”
The following day, Dave met his childhood friend, Martin Campbell, at the worker-owned Arizmendi Bakery on 9th Avenue, where life of the bakery flowed around them like a strong current around a sailing boat. They ordered pastries and coffee while they enjoyed the smell of fresh baked artisan breads, muffins and croissants.
Dave told Martin about his car incident. Martin listened with intense, questioning eyes in his large head.
Martin said, “I’ll call the San Francisco Police Department and tell them to charge you for wasting their time.”
Dave raised his eyebrows, bit his lip and gave a sudden, short laugh. He gripped the top of his head and chin, and jerked them to pop his neck.
“However,” said Martin, “seven Mars chocolate bars will seal my lips.”
“You got it, buddy. I’m gonna get The Club Anti-Theft device that I’ve been meaning to get.”
“OK, Dave. But what are you gonna get to help you with yourself.”
They laughed deeply and energetically as they each raised a hand to give each other a high five.
Clive Aaron Gill’s short stories have appeared in Pens on Fire, the on-line magazine of short fiction and poetry, in Shark Reef, the literary magazine, in Larks Fiction Magazine and in 6 Tales, the on-line magazine of short fiction. He has published a literary novel here. Clive is writing a second novel and more short stories.
Clive has worked as a salesperson, mediator, farm hand, information technology manager and school bus driver. Born in Zimbabwe, he has lived and worked in Southern Africa, North America and Europe. He received a degree in Economics from University of California, Los Angeles and lives in San Diego.