A Hearse One More Time
Dad always called it his ‘Station Wagon’, which is what the Americans call an estate car. It wasn’t a station wagon of course, it was a bloody big hearse with a huge engine, bench seats, and enough room in the ‘trunk’ for a body in a pine box, and we all knew it, but he never called it that. The neighbours knew it too, but they didn’t make a fuss because they liked him, mostly, and it was usually parked in our garage unless it was one of the Sundays that he’d pulled it out to wash it. It was usually the first thing that new neighbours would see of us, as we’d fill it to the roof with our belongings whenever we moved house, but he’d grin that big grin of his through the open window and say hi to everyone who gawped.
Something I learnt quite young is that it’s very difficult to be upset with a big, jolly, bald Egyptian with a huge grin on his raggedy-bearded face who’s just gotten out of a big magnolia-coloured hearse with matching vinyl roof to say hello to you. Especially if he’s currently pumping your hand and telling you what a wonderful street this is and how lucky we will be to live here and is this your house? Oh it’s a beautiful house! We do love a privet hedge, don’t we family?! Don’t hesitate to knock on our door if you need help with trimming your hedge or changing your oil or mowing your lawn or any other odd-jobs. And in return perhaps you could walk the children to school with your own one morning, or make us something that you like to bake, or help clear our guttering as none of us are any good up a ladder or sit with the children one evening so I can take my beautiful wife to dinner – that’s what neighbours are for, right? It’s really difficult to be upset if he keeps right on shaking your hand, grinning like a Yorkshire terrier, and complementing your shoes or house or car or dress or suit or skateboard or bicycle or tree-house or picket fence or privet hedge.
When the weather was good, we’d take the wagon up to the lake at St Amsell or by Pimlythe Woods and stay the night, Maryam on the back seat and me up front because I didn’t complain so much about the steering wheel and the levers and things digging into me. Mum and Pops would be in the trunk, sometimes with the curtains drawn and the radio on a music station. On the nights when my hips would hurt and I couldn’t sleep, I’d sit up in the front and imagine I was in a frontier wagon, leading my family across the landscape to a new home in search of the right kind of soil to start a farm, or for a town that needed a sheriff. That’s usually when my sister would cuff me around the back of the head and tell me to ‘stop being such a Jonathan’. Her favourite times were when we’d sit by the lake with our rods past midnight, hoping for something fresh to eat with our morning eggs. When she thought I’d fallen asleep, usually with my head on Mum’s leg and covered over with one of her tartan car blankets, Maryam would lean her head on Pops’ left shoulder, and he’d put his big arms around both of them and say that no man could be happier than with two wonderful girls like this under his wings.
One night at home, I was sleeping badly but couldn’t take another pill until morning, so was reading about Hermes and his winged shoes to distract myself until I felt sleepy again. Maryam had gone with Mum on the train to visit her sister, so it was just me and Pops at home, so I was surprised to hear him in the kitchen so late. I quickly pulled some clothes on over my pyjamas and went to offer to make us both a warm cocoa milkshake with a scoop of ice-cream to help him sleep, which is when the wagon in the garage began to rumble and I heard him come back into the house while the engine warmed up.
“Ah Jonathan, you’re awake. Good lad.” He ruffled my hair and told me to get my boots and warm coat and meet him at the hearse in 2 minutes. His eyes weren’t smiling like they usually did and he was dressed for the lake.
“Are we going camping Pops? Or moving house?” I asked, as it wouldn’t be the first time we’d done either at 3am, though never without the girls before.
“No son. Tonight the wagon will be a hearse one more time. If you can help me collect as many of these blankets as we can find, I promise I’ll try to explain it to you as we drive.”
This piece inspired by an Elephant Words image originally posted at http://elephantwords.co.uk/2015/04/19/the-hearse/.