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T. Fox Dunham
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Art by Lee Kuruganti 2015

Parking in Philly


By T. Fox Dunham



“Pick up that shovel, Louie,” I said, grabbing him by his Eagles hoodie. He pulled away, and I nearly yanked it off his squat body, knocking off his cap, exposing his early balding stub of a head.

          “Let the dicks who drive city plows shovel it. I don’t work for Philly.”

          “They’re not going to plow out the parking spots along the street.” I picked up the shovel and poked him in the chest with the plastic handle.

          “I’ll break your balls off, asshole.” He gripped the metal rod from his pocket, backing up his fist, weighing it down for higher impact. I’d taught him how he had to fight. We needed to do something to make up for his small stature and lack of power.

          “I want to move my mom’s car from the garage and closer to the apartment in case I need to take her fast to the ER.”

Louie sighed, dropped the metal bar back into his hoodie pocket and grabbed the shovel. “Shit man. You should have just fucking said so.” He didn’t hesitate and scooped up a shovel of the wet snow then tossed it on the sidewalk with no regard for the clearing the apartment super had done. I repeated the motion. He cleared it fast for being such a runt.

“It’s such a piece of shit. The transmission’s going. You can hear it grinding.”

The falling wet snow stung my face more like ice, and the wind chilled the two chains hanging from the piercings in my nose and lips. My mom finally slept upstairs after a harsh chemo treatment that had left her throwing up every hour for the last two days. I cleaned up the puke, bathed her, tried to make her comfortable. Her body rotted like a mob rat anchored in the Delaware, and we couldn’t afford another ambulance call; so, I had bought it with cash from a recent crystal meth resale we’d done at the University of Penn, but I needed the beat-up-as-shit Nissan closer in case she couldn’t walk. I’d been watching the street, and the blizzard finally thinned out the parked cars. Plows scraped along New Ferry Street like fingernails down a chalkboard.

          “How much did you pay for the car?” he asked.

          “A grand.”

          “You got fucking robbed, you dick,” he said, laughing.

          “Just hurry your ass up, you fucking reject,” I told Louie. “The plow’s going to push snow back into the spot.” Louie snarled but he pushed harder. Everyone loved my mom, even drug-dealing psychopaths. Blacktop appeared through the white carpet. Our shovels raked the street, and we dug at the snow along the edges. Sweat dripped down Louie’s neck, and he drenched his hoodie.

          “Where did you get the shovels?” he asked.

          “Ripped them off from a sidewalk display at the Ace down the street.” He grinned his shit-eating-grin. “I’m going to get that piece of shit car,” I said. “Watch this spot.”

          “No shit,” he said. We both knew the battles that erupted over parking in Philly. Working assholes got their asses stabbed. Neighborhood wars sprung out when neighbors got involved. Several riots in Philly over the last decade had not been caused by race or poverty; it had been over some selfish dick stealing someone’s space on the street.

          We tossed the shovels on the sidewalk, and I dug around in my leather jacket pocket for the keys. Reaching low into my leather jacket, I realized I had left my luger under the seat when I drove it this morning from Boar Bill’s house in West Philly. Shit. I hadn’t been used to driving with a gun shoved under my waist band, so I took it out and hid it. I should have it ready, especially trying to park in New Ferry.

          I must have been fucking psychic. A bright orange Kia Soul thumped down the Ferry Avenue. The bass of that rapping shit vibrated the windows. The driver must have seen the cleared spot, gunned it, lost control and slid down through the slush, trying to brake and finally caught traction on the blacktop. The car turned, nearly clipping Louie’s ass.

          “Go fuck yourself!” He tried to kick the bumper as it slid by him, but his squat legs couldn’t reach. The bass pounded the pavement, and he pulled into the spot. I recognized the entitled I-own-this-fucking-city driving and style of the car, and I knew some shit was about to go down. The driver stepped down, careful to keep his clean-white Jordan kicks out of the slush. He adjusted his baggy wide-legged black jeans, exposing rainbow boxers. A gold rat or some animal hung from a heavy chain around his thick neck. My stomach threw acid, burning my throat, and I sighed, missing my luger. Louie never carried. I covered him while he beat deadbeat junkies with his fisted bar.

          “Yo. Gangster. We just shoveled this spot.”

          “You don’t own this city,” he said, walking right up in my face. His arms swayed at his side, trying to look badass, knowing the rules of confrontation, but his fat just made waddle like a chubby penguin.

          I considered my options. I preferred to talk people down, but we’d insulted his rep, his position. He was going to take what he wanted and didn’t give a shit. We had two basic choices in nature: fight or flight. If it had been just me, I wouldn’t have given a damn. My mom needed this. I reached at my waist, searching for my Luger then kicked my own ass for leaving it. Louie had his hand in his hoodie pocket, already fisting his metal bar. We couldn’t draw this kind of attention, not when the PPD were cracking down on low-level dealing. Dominick, the local boss, had passed down the word: don’t get caught dealing, or we’ll make an example out of you, which usually involved being weighed down to a washing machine at the bottom of Delaware. Using washing machines to drown people made Dominic laugh—sick bastard.

          “You ain’t going to do shit about it,” he said.

          “What’s that shit around your neck?” Louie asked, smirking. “Some kind of gold-plated rat?”

          “Don’t disrespect,” the gangsta’ said.

          “Oh. I meant no disrespect.” Louie’s mug broke into his shit-eating-grin. He fisted the bar in his pocket, working his fingers.

          “It’s a mongoose. I’m Mongoose yo.”

          “Oh really? Mongoose?” Louie laughed, exposing his yellow and broken teeth.

          “What the fuck is a mongoose?” I asked, relaxing. His bad-ass attitude faded.

          “It’s bad ass. Asia. It kills cobras. You know. Riki-Tiki-Tavi bad ass.”

          “Oh?” Louie said, laughing. “Sounds really bad ass.” I laughed with Louie.

          “Yo. I’m the Mongoose and—”

          “We’re the cobras?” Louie asked. I nearly collapsed. Mongoose’s face looked clueless, trying to figure out the funny shit. Louie hissed between chuckling.

          “So bad ass,” I said, my lungs sore from panting the icy air. The cold wind shredded my face with jagged daggers. It raked the city, freezing steel, blowing through the cracks and ruptures in the old brick buildings. It broke pipes, the water spilling into the streets and freezing. Bums petrified or suffocated while sleeping on steam pouring from subway grates. The old huddled around gas stoves, trying to stay alive another day, unable to afford heat in their buildings. Crack pipes and needles froze in the arms of junkies, shattering as our customers collapsed in their transitory euphoria and woke up with frost bite eating their limbs. I knew Philly in winter. It devoured my spirit more each year.

          “Give me the fucking keys,” Louie said. “You deal with this. I’m getting the car.”

          “What the fuck do I do?”

          “Grow some balls, man.”

I threw Louie the keys. He caught them, releasing his fist bar and walked through the slush, not giving a shit about his soaked feet, towards the parking garage.

          “I’m done with you assholes,” Mongoose said. “I’m going to see my bitch.”

          I cracked up a bit again. I couldn’t take the Mongoose seriously anymore. I braced myself to do what had to be done. This spot might save my mom’s life. “Get the fuck back here and move this piece of shit.”

          “Make me. Yo.” He wandered off, his pants hanging down near his knees. I kicked the driver side of his Kia, smearing my boot tread down the exterior. He didn’t hear it, and I kicked again. He turned back, reaching into his pants. Shit. Usually it’s a small mistake that gets your ass killed. Mine sat under the seat in the Nissan.

          “Move that fucking piece of shit,” I yelled, standing my ground. I wondered if he carried. Only dumbasses left their pieces under the seat.

          “Yeah? What you got? You skinny limp-dick mother fucker.”

          I pushed his chest, trying to warn him off. He nearly slipped in the slush, caught himself then came back twice as hard, penguin-flapping his arms again around the bulk. I knew he’d come back. He probably had some gang connections but no real concept of the streets. Dominick and I weren’t made guys, but we were connected. We kicked up our tax to Dominic every month, even a little extra to show fealty to our lord and master; however, Louie usually spit on the bills then dried them on his ass. I loved that little shit.

          “Don’t fucking touch me,” he said, coming at me, thrusting his sternum. “I’ll rip those chains right out of your face.” One of us would back down or end up bleeding out in the snow.

          “Fine. Shit dude. I’m going.” I turned around to walk away, waiting for my moment.

          “That’s right, dude.”

          I swerved, gaining momentum in my arm and hit him in the jaw. It cracked under my knuckle, probably just a sprain or some shit. You don’t break jaws on the fist like the movies. For that, you had to come back with a tire iron.

          “Mother fucker,” he growled and reached for his waist. I’d made a tactical error. I couldn’t see his piece tucked under his fat. His gold-plated .45 glimmered. He turned it at an angle. I couldn’t be killed by this asshole. It was just too fucking pitiful. I stepped back. And he thrust the piece forward.

          “Yeah. How about now? Motherfucker.”

          “Don’t talk about my mother like that,” I whispered. I heard the unmistaken grind of the transmission from the piece of shit Nissan I bought. It hastened as the car accelerated. Mongoose never noticed it, didn’t know what to listen for. I backed up again, leading him into the street. I knew my partner would understand. He pushed the gun in the air, yanking his hand back and forth.

          “You never fuck with the—”

          Louie slammed him with the Nissan, throwing his fat ass into the street.

“Mongoose,” I said.

He yelled, wobbled into the snow then fell over, leaking red into the crystal white. Louie parked in the street, and I searched around Mongoose’s pockets, finding his keys.

          “Vincent. Move your fucking ass. I’ll park it.”

          “I’ll dump him at the hospital. This asshole is going to have brain damage. If he comes back, I’ll have my piece.” I jumped into his Kia, started and drove over. Louie jumped out of the Nissan. A plow pushed down the Ferry Avenue. We had to move. I got out and picked him up by the arms. Louie grabbed his legs, and I opened the back door to his car.

          “Fuck it, man. He’s not a mongoose. He’s a god damn whale.” We rolled him onto the back floor and slammed the door, hitting his head.

          “Pull in behind me. I know a guy with a chop shop that would give us some cash for this piece of shit.”

T. Fox Dunham resides outside of Philadelphia PA—author and historian. He’s published in nearly 200 international journals and anthologies. His first novel, The Street Martyr, was published by Gutter Books and is being made into a feature film by Throughline Films. He’s a cancer survivor. His friends call him fox, being his totem animal, and his motto is: Wrecking civilization one story at a time. Site: Blog: & Twitter: @TFoxDunham

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