The Car Behind Me
The car behind me beeps.
My hands cover my face; fingertips cling to my moist forehead. My Thumbs rub amongst prickly sideburns. My Palms shelter my eyes with a comforting darkness from what lies ahead. Twenty years to the same place – the cemetery. No more, not today. What for? To watch another number lowered into the earth and covered by dirt. I’ve done my time and you know what? They can call me.
The car behind me beeps again.
I lower my hands, expecting something different. How stupid of me. Nothing has changed in the last – I don’t know how long. I squint at the sun’s grey reflection, angled at me off the tarred road; breathe like an asthmatic in the exhaust around me. Vehicles, mainly cars, slowly pass me either side. ‘You bloody idiot,’ some hero shouts from a courier van. Who would shout at a hearse? Weep, cry, hold on to the door handle – yes, but not shout, never shout. A semi driver honks while his rig slowly rolls by. As if I’m going to answer. Who they are? I’m making the decision here. The sign did say freeway. We’ll, I’m the one who is free now, free except for the body in the coffin. What do you think of that? I might just walk away from here.
The car behind me gets around, beeps again.
The driver tells me I’m a dickhead, when safely in front of me, of course.
Another car takes it place behind me and beeps.
I’m in no rush; I have all day and the body in the back has forever. A man in a black suit gets out of the car behind me and walks towards me. His suit is way blacker than mine, his sideburns so much smoother than mine, his sunglasses reflect petrol haze, hide his eyes. He taps at the driver side window of the hearse. He seems familiar but I have more important things to contemplate. He taps again. I wind the window down a touch.
‘What’s your problem, mate?’ he says.
I wind the window the rest of the way down and reply, ‘nothing.’
A few other cars behind me beep.
‘Nothing,’ he says. ‘Nothing, I can bloody well see that. I think you better get a move on. My dad’s in the back there and we need to bury him within the hour. I’ve got meetings to get to.’
‘We,’ I scoff and get out the hearse, ‘will do nothing of the sort.’ We stand, face to face, eye into eye, chest against chest, word for word.
‘Listen mate, I paid good money for this. You better get in that hearse and drive,’ he says.
‘But, I’ve quit,’ I say. ‘I’m no longer in the dead body business.’
‘You can’t quit in the middle of a freaking freeway, in the middle of a freaking funeral,’ he fumes.
I’m sure he wants to swear. ‘I can, I have and the body in the hearse.’ I stopped at saying where the body in the hearse is going to. I do have limits.
The cars behind me increase their beep.
I reach into the hearse and grab the keys from the ignition, put them in the pocket of the man in the suit. His mouth opens; only stale contemptuous air ventures out. You’d have to agree, that I can categorically say, the body in the hearse is no longer my responsibility.
‘You drive,’ I say. ‘Nothing personal.’ It’s only now, I feel like a real bastard – everything’s personal, isn’t it? ‘Sorry,’ I say to the man in the suit, ‘about the personal bit.’
He’s already climbing into the driver’s seat. I’ll walk home from here.
The cars behind me beep in chaotic chorus.
I walk along the emergency lane. It feels symbolic to trample over the small pieces of shattered windows and reflectors that have been swept here. I’m having the final say. I’m definitely not going to the cemetery today. Burials and cremations had become part of my staple diet like bread and butter. I can put up with the bland food as sometimes I do have a little jam . Burials and cremation though, always, every day – What good was coming from that? You think I’m mad? You think it made me mad? You think I was mad to take the job in the first place? Maybe, if we could have bonfired a dead body every now and then or let a corpse float out to sea, I might have considered staying on. You know, I was at the point when a burial didn’t ignite a single feeling in me, didn’t stir a hint of sadness or a sense of loss. I even preferred to watch the ducks paddle around in the nearby pond as another body went down. My epiphany came though; luckily I knew what it was. I was afraid when it came time to bury a friend or relative – that they too, would just feel like another job; go down like another number. Not now; I’m going the free way.
The beep of the cars behind me grows faint.
I hear sirens in the distance and walk towards an off ramp. REDUCE SPEED NOW a sign tells me. If only I could. I laugh to myself. Maria will be so surprised to see me home early. She knew I’d had enough but I wonder what she’ll say about this morning. You’ve got to laugh, don’t you? A familiar grunt of an engine seems so close behind me. I turn to see the hearse, sucking up the bad air behind me. The man with the dark suit looks fiercely at me as if something or perhaps everything’s my fault. He’s taken a wrong turn. This is not the way to the cemetery – I want to say. I raise my hands to protect my face. Thud!
The beeping has stopped.
Andrew Mansell, March 2013.