A Very Coveted Parking Permit

Submitted into Contest #116 in response to: Write a story that centers around a parking permit.... view prompt



Congressman Mark Ledbetter (D), MA was in trouble with the Virginia Department of Taxation and needed to sell his townhouse. He had bought it fifteen years ago and hadn’t spent more than twenty nights in his district since. The last time he’d laid his head in the poorest congressional district in the state was four years ago when his mother died. His job was actually in Washington, not Massachusetts, and he had staff to work in the local offices. But the Department of Revenue didn’t seem to think these were good enough excuses for him to claim full time Virginia residency while representing a district in another state. 

A friend in the department tipped him off. 

“Mark, are you getting primaried?” his old friend asked in an out-of-the-blue phone call. 

“Genuinely primaried? I doubt it.”

“Well, your time as a resident of Virginia is up, I’m afraid. Someone here caught your scent. You’ve been claiming Virginia residency for eight years. They’re going to formally admonish you at the end of the month. Smells like opposition to me.”

“Damnit,” Mark thought. His accountant told him he was “throwing money away” claiming full time residency in Massachusetts. Why did he listen to him?

“Ok, Bob. I’ll take care of it. Thanks for the heads up.”

The next day, he sent his wife to the district to buy the cheapest in-district condo they could find (at least one in a livable neighborhood) and put his Virginia townhouse on the market. Oh, and he was getting primaried, for real, by a young guy, a public school teacher; his worst nightmare. When he called up Maginnis to make sure he’d have the teacher’s union vote, Maginnis actually hesitated. Can you believe that? Hesitated! He’d won his seat twenty-one times and never missed the teacher’s union endorsement. He was in trouble. He needed to sell his townhouse, high-tail it back to Massachusetts, and make himself obvious until the primary was over. 

The worst part about it was the parking permit. He’d won his in a lottery for $50 when they first laid the asphalt for the parking spots. He was poised to sell it to a desperate neighbor for around 20 grand. The best investment of his life. The neighbors circled him like sharks, leaving him pies and inviting him to fancy galas, all in hopes he’d let them buy the exorbitantly overpriced permit. The problem is that no one was biting on his townhouse. He slashed the price a few times, no takers, and he had about three days before the Department of Taxation went public with his full time residency. So, reluctantly, he decided that he’d include the parking space in the price of the townhouse. 

The next day he got an offer. The neighbors were devastated about the parking permit. He hired movers to pack up all his stuff and he was sleeping in his house in a gentrified development in Springfield when whoever had it out for him at the Department of Taxation formally admonished him for improperly claiming full time residency. The cloying governor vowed to get back taxes from him, the progressives blasted ads about fraudulent residency, and he lost his primary, his townhouse, and his permit. 


Tom Scanlan’s real estate agent told him this townhouse was a steal. The price was twice slashed and the owner was throwing in a parking permit worth around $20k. It was perfect. His mother wasn’t getting around the same anymore. He couldn’t park four blocks away and walk back with her at night. He put an offer down for the full asking price, the homeowners association approved him and they moved in two weeks later. 

Within a few days, he realized something was up with the parking permit. Every single neighbor he spoke to mentioned it, some jocularly saying what a great deal it was, and some with daggers in their eyes, like they believed they deserved the permit. No matter, thought Tom. He was the rightful, legal owner of the permit and whatever the Congressman did that he needed to skip town in a week, wasn’t his problem. 

A woman on the HOA dropped by one morning, bringing Tom and his mother coffee, bustling into their living room all smiles. 

“Betty Gormley, HOA Secretary,” She pushed a box of assorted cookies toward Tom’s mother who gave a small half-smile but did not reach for the box. “Where were you before you came to Windsor Pines, Mr. Scanlan?”

“Please, it’s Tom. Silver Spring. Had a nice condo there, but I needed something a little bit more accessible for my mother. My realtor found this.” Tom gestured around the room. 

“You know, the Congressman and I were very good friends,” Betty said, sipping her coffee. “He was planning on selling me that coveted parking permit.”

Tom glanced at his mother, who sank back further in her chair. “Oh, do you not have a permit, Betty?”

“Only for the lot behind the development. As you can imagine, the permits for the spots in front of the buildings are very desirable. I’m not as young as I once was. I’d be willing to make it worth your while if you’d sell me the spot.”

“I appreciate the offer, Betty, but really, the spot is important to me. I went from a 20 minute commute into D.C. to an hour and thirty, all for the spot.”

“You know,” she said. “You could submit for a handicap permit. I’m sure you’d get one.”

Tom walked over to his window and looked outside. 

“I see three handicap spots and they’re all occupied.”

“It wouldn’t be immediate, of course,” Betty replied, “but I could make sure you were next on the list.”

Tom laughed, sitting back down and leaning toward Betty. “Are you seriously telling me to wait for one of the neighbors to die?”

Betty’s face hardened. “I see you’re not willing to budge on this matter. But I’ll have you know that a lot of people who have lived here a very long time have wanted that spot and what happened with the Congressman… Well. In any case, have a good weekend.”

Tom walked her to the door. 

“Just curious, Betty. How much were you planning to offer me?”

She looked up into his eyes. “Five grand.”

Tom laughed again, opening the door. “Have a great day, Betty.”

When she was gone, his mother said heavily, “This permit is going to give us problems.”

The next morning, they were awoken at six in the morning by a work crew just beyond the back perimeter of his property digging loudly into the rocks. 

Two weeks later, they were informed that they would not be able to use the front door for four days as they were doing a “mandatory” re-pour of the concrete. He tried to fight that, but Betty replied to his email with nothing but a screenshot of the Homeowners’ Association agreement with the clause allowing for “HOA determined mandatory property maintenance.”

Tom started working the other HOA board members to see if there was a crack in their united front. A middle aged guy named Josh seemed to like Tom a lot; he invited him to watch a Nationals game with a few other guys from the development. But the minute Tom brought up Betty and made a joke about her stranglehold on the board, Josh clammed up. Tom didn’t get any more baseball invitations after that, and Josh started running to his car in the mornings to avoid speaking to Tom. 

Six months after he moved in, the HOA board voted fo start charging a $250 monthly fee for all permit holders. 

“Alright, Ma,” Tom said to his mother as she filled in her crossword, “I’m going to have to go to war with Betty over this godforsaken permit”

Without looking up she said, “Good luck, son.”

Tom hired an attorney who assured him that the new measure violated existing homeowner’s policies.

“Look, I know this might seem minor. But I want you to go hardball on this. I need a pit bull,” Tom said.

The attorney smiled. “Mr. Scanlan, I’ve seen thirty year marriages blow up from infidelity and gambling that get less ugly than HOA disputes. You don’t need a pit bull. You need a snake. I’m your snake.”

Tom felt better already. 

Two days later, the HOA board was served by Tom’s attorney for interfering with homeowners ‘agreements. Then his attorney called and said, “One of the tactics I like to use is to start railing the HOA board members for violations of the HOA agreement and then have you submit complaints. Are you on board?”

“Absolutely,” Tom said. 

He submitted complaints against Betty and other board members for having grass a quarter of an inch too long, and perennials that weren’t the right variety, and wreaths hanging in the wrong part of the door. He nabbed Betty for having her built-in barbecue blocking a drainage pipe, which was going to cost her at least ten grand to fix. 

This went on a few weeks. The HOA board tried to get Tom back. He could see people climbing all over his property trying to find violations, but his attorney sent over a team who specializes in HOA compliance and made sure every inch of his property was compliant. 

“Mr. Scanlan,” the attorney said on the phone one day. “I’ve heard back from the HOA’s attorneys. They of course deny that the provision is a violation. No matter. I would suggest sitting down with Betty and proposing a fee for your permit.”

Tom could feel his blood boil. “You’re not quitting on me, are you? I told you, I’m not giving up this spot.”

“Oh I don’t intend for you to sell. Just drive up the price, get her to agree, and then withdraw the offer.”

“What’s the point of that?” Tom asked. 

“It will get her angry. She’ll escalate. And then we can throw some harassment claims on our lawsuit. Now listen, it will be important to start recording everything that happens.”

Tom emailed Betty straight away, subject line “permit.”

“Betty,” it read, “I’d like to meet to discuss my parking permit. Come for coffee tomorrow morning? 8:30?”

Betty agreed and arrived the next morning with the same box of cookies. 

“I’m glad you’ve reached out, Tom. I think it’s time we put any nastiness behind us.”

Tom just smirked. He wasn’t going to acknowledge that any nastiness was going on at all. 

“So I was thinking,” Tom began. “I’d be willing to part with the spot for a guarantee that the next handicap permit comes our way, the HOA board rescinds the monthly fee, and for an additional $25 grand.”

Betty’s eyes widened. “I’m sure you can see that is an exorbitant price.”

“At $250 a month, it’s less than ten years’ worth of payments.”

Betty’s lips formed a thin line. “Ten thousand.”

“I know for a fact you offered the Congressman twenty grand.”

“He was an old friend; longtime resident.”

“So, the spot is less valuable now because you don’t know me as well?”

“It’s not that, it’s just…”

“I won’t go lower than $20k.”

She paused. “Fine. Send me an email. We’ll work out a sale contract.”


The next morning, Tom emailed Betty telling her he’d changed his mind. He wouldn’t be selling her the permit. 

For a week, every spot in front of the townhome was filled, many without permits. He had to call the local precinct to have them towed, but before anyone from the precinct got there, they were moved. His back deck was vandalized. He put cameras up in response. And every day he emailed his attorney with how things escalated. One day, he worked from his home office and saw Betty standing at his patio door, staring into the house. She clearly assumed he was gone; he’d taken his car to the mechanic that morning and his mother was having lunch with his sister. Betty jiggled the patio door to see if it was open, it was, and she stepped inside. 

Tom came down, phone camera recording. “Hi Betty, I don’t remember inviting you in.”

She jumped and looked around frantically. “I, sorry, I thought I heard you say come in.” She looked around again. “Are you recording me? Give that to me now.”

She lunged for the phone, but Tom jumped out of her way causing her to crash into his kitchen table. The vase in the middle of it went flying. Tom walked over to film it, shattered on the ground. “You’ll be paying for that, Betty.”

She ran out the door and Tom sent the video to his attorney. They added a harassment claim to the lawsuit against Betty personally. 

Things calmed for a while as the attorneys hashed the suit out. Tom cooled it on making complaints against the board, but he did take great satisfaction as he watched a crew deconstruct Betty’s built-in grill to move it to three feet away from the drainage pipe. 

A year into his new townhouse, he was driving his mother to the doctor when his brakes stopped working as he turned out of the townhouse development. He slammed on them, futilely, until the car crashed into a wooden fence at the turn out of the development. 

The mechanics said the brakes were cut. A gruff detective assigned to his case asked, “Any idea who might do this?”

Tom gave him a definitive answer, “Betty Gormley. I’m sure.”

The detective raised a skeptical eyebrow when he described Betty as a retired woman in her mid sixties, so Tom launched into a long explanation of their running feud. By the end, his voice was hoarse and he realized he was swearing. 

“Damnit,” Tom thought. “He thinks I’m crazy.”

Tom tried to lower his voice and speak more slowly, but the detective, avoiding eye contact, just said, “Eh yeah I’ll get a few guys over to speak to her.”

He saw the investigators leaving Betty’s house. She smiled at him and waved as they left. Two days later, a raccoon was in their attic. The destruction it wreaked was like nothing he’d ever seen and Tom could tell that even his attorney wasn’t buying that Betty was behind the raccoon. 

Word that Tom accused Betty of cutting his brakes got around fast, and soon everyone started giving him the kind of berth reserved for people screaming about Jesus on the Metro. He was drinking his fourth cup of coffee, telling his mother his plans to catch Betty in the act, when she interrupted him. 

“It’s time to go, Tom. Pack up. Get out. We can go back to Worcester. Closer to your sister.”

“What? Mom? Back to Worcester?Massachusetts? We haven’t lived there in…”

“Almost thirty years. I know. But, I’m not going to die over the parking permit. And there’s too much water under the bridge now to stay here now, even if you give it up. Your sister is looking at places for us.”

Tom was crestfallen; ready to cry. “But mom, we can’t let her win. The permit. She’s going to get the permit.”

His mother lowered her paper and stared at him until he quietly said, “Ok. I’ll call the real estate agent.”

Tom’s attorney withdrew the lawsuit. It was basically moot now. They found eager buyers, but the HOA board was dragging its feet on every single approval. A few buyers were denied for seemingly no reason, a few others just languished in front of the board until they backed out. Finally, he went to Betty, tail between his legs, and told her he’d give her the permit for $10,000. She talked him down to $5,000.

He lost a significant amount of money in selling the place before he had equity, but at least the place his sister found for him near Springfield, Massachusetts had a parking spot for every house. It was a good price, too. Mark Ledbetter and his wife had been quite eager to get back to Virginia. 

October 23, 2021 02:38

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07:47 Oct 28, 2021

Love your story.


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Maria Avisal
05:14 Oct 28, 2021

I love how it comes full circle at the end!


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Philipe Nicolini
12:00 May 01, 2022

Logged in just to praise you. Pacing, descriptions...like Flannery O'Conner and Shirley J had a love baby. Thank you.


Catherine Hill
19:38 May 01, 2022

Wow thank you!


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Aristide .
20:34 Apr 11, 2022

Hey, I really enjoy reading your short stories. I am an artist and I was wondering if it would be possible for me to create a short graphic novel using one of your stories Let me know if that Is ok with you Have a good day


Catherine Hill
19:38 May 01, 2022

Yes you may. Thanks!


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00:04 Nov 01, 2021

Nice story, Catherine! I loved all the escalation over the permit. The beginning was very confusing, because of the three areas (DC, Virginia, Massachusetts) it took me awhile to figure out where he lived, where he was supposed to live, etc. I finally realized he lived in Virginia near DC, in order to be close to the capitol? But that wasn't obvious, because parts of Virginia aren't close to DC at all, so maybe try to clarify that. The end seemed a little anti-climatic, although appropriate. So I don't know how or if I would change it, but ...


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Alefiya Shakir
13:23 Oct 25, 2021

hello, love your stories but I am specially waiting for another part for leap of faith and that universe and it's been a while so I wanted to ask are you planning to make more parts for that? Because I just can't help but the think about the story everyday!


Catherine Hill
20:06 Nov 18, 2021

I just added one to my profile. Thanks!


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