Feed the Meter
The parking meter was a honey badger–I recognized it from a nature documentary. It showed its claws as I stepped out of my car, and I patted my pockets down in panic. I didn’t have anything to feed it.
I raised my hands in a placating gesture and dashed to the corner newspaper kiosk. The honey badger lowered its beady-eyed head close to the pavement, tracking my steps, but didn’t chase me down. Yet.
I once saw a guy who cut the time on his meter too close. He was next in line for the bank teller, tapping one foot and looking a bit sweaty around the edges, when his meter found him–ripped his head clean off his shoulders. It didn’t happen often, but it happened. The city was serious about its parking policy.
I threw a fiver at the guy behind the newsstand, and without comment he tossed back a pack of steak-flavored tofu cutlets.
The badger-meter devoured the cutlets in a frenzy of flashing claws and shredded plastic. I shuddered in sick fascination. When the whirlwind died down, it sat back on its haunches with a belch, and the digital timer on its forehead flashed 30 minutes. I checked my watch. Just enough time, if I hurried.
The next time I had to run an errand downtown, I drove in circles for twenty minutes just looking for a place to park. I was this close to dissolving into a frothing lunatic when a car slipped into traffic in front of me, and I slammed into reverse with a grinding of gears before anyone could bogart my spot.
I detested driving in the city. No, scratch that–it was parking I hated. And the threat of death. I couldn’t figure out why no one else was bothered by the meters. The shrink my wife made me see said I suffered from generalized anxiety disorder, so I guess the problem was mine, not theirs. As I took calming breaths, I ducked my head a little to check out the meter through the passenger window.
“You have got to be kidding me.”
The honey badger stared back at me and licked its chops.
The same damn meter opened every time I had to park downtown, and after a while the absurdity of it dulled. I fed my badger-meter about the hundredth tofu cutlet we’d shared in our time together and pondered the fluttering confetti of plastic packaging. The sound of its claws reminded me a little too much of sharpening knives.
Did honey badgers even like steak, or tofu?
A is for avocado, B is for bagels. J for jalapeño set us back by a couple of letters, and I was thankful our relationship had progressed past slaughter. I was strangely looking forward to Y is for yogurt. I liked yogurt, especially the Greek kind.
One afternoon I brought my honey badger a watermelon snuck from my wife’s garden. I set the melon on the sidewalk, and it wobbled a little in its green-striped glory. The meter eyed my offering curiously before devouring it. When the timer ticked over it read five hours, and we were surrounded by a buckshot halo of little black seeds.
Turned out I could park downtown all day long for the price of one watermelon. Seedless was preferred. I wondered what kind of deal the city had with the steak-flavored tofu cutlet industry.
I did worry a bit about what would happen once the fall crops rolled around. Melons were hard to come by ten months out of the year.
Nicole Feldringer is a Ph.D. student in atmospheric sciences and a former Himalayan earthquake geologist. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with a Frisbee-lovin’ Australian Cattle Dog and writes short stories, science fiction novels, and academic essays on climate dynamics. She can be found haunting your favorite north Seattle coffeehouse, or online at nicolefeldringer.com.