Chapter 15 – Saab 9-5 Linear – 2.0 Lrt – 5 door hearse


A Complete Undertaking Service

Losing a loved one is a distressing experience. Let well established funeral directors help you with the details in the early days, organizing the complete funeral service. We can provide cars, caskets, press announcements and we have contacts with all the religious and non-religious ministers of burial and cremation ceremonies in the area, so your family can pay its respects according to your own traditions and beliefs.

Personal, Bespoke Service

Our staff are fully trained and thoroughly professional, with a deep compassion for bereaved families. We will arrange to call at your home if you don’t want to visit our comfortable offices in Milford Haven, and we’ll undertake all the arrangements for you. We can arrange funeral services in your home, traditional church services or extravagant celebrations of the life that has passed, all with the attention to detail and utmost dignity that you require at this sad time. We can advise on the gathering afterwards, including suitable venues and catering arrangements, and on floral tributes or charitable donations

He grinds the half smoked fag under his heel,straightens up and looks round to check that none of the mourners have caught him at what the bloody directors would describe as ” a deplorable departure from good taste” , nah – its all good, no-one’s here yet, he runs his hand through his hair and quickly pops a mint into his mouth and adopts the sombre yet efficient expression that the company like them to wear at showtime.

Out of habit, he checks the car, large, black and gleaming – it’s not a Daimler, the company is not quite as up-market as their web site claims,but it’s solid, serious,gives a touch of dignity to the final journey. Christ, he’s beginning to sound like the bloody brochure now.

At least today, he’s driving the hearse and not the sodding relatives car, he hates driving the mourners, they’re either too sad or not sad enough. He can’t decide what’s worse, sobbing women or relatives discussing what’s up for grabs after the funeral tea.

Gary hasn’t always driven hearses, its a pretty recent gig, he is, he guesses another victim of the recession. He used to drive the almost super rich in their definitely super cars, but, times got lean, the almost super rich became just fairly wealthy and most of them decided that they could drive themselves around.

He misses the jobs, not the people, not many of them,he misses the cars, the constant new car smell, the power, their ability to turn heads,get the driver noticed,even when the driver’s him, middle aged, bit balding, body gone a bit soft.

He fell into this one really, and a good job too, cos Lizs’ hours are looking anything but secure at the Council and Alex, their youngest, seems to be bright enough to go to university, which Gary is chuffed about, honest, but its a bit of a financial blow.

So, Gary is chauffeuring the dead now and when he’s really unlucky, the dead’s nearest and dearest. On balance, he prefers the dead, they don’t say much,other cars don’t cut you up on roundabouts and he quite likes it when other drivers, pedestrians,do that strange thing, some mixture of doffing an invisible hat and making the sign of the cross. He likes the respect,the nod to tradition.

The living though, the living, they’re a bit more of a problem, it’s nothing he’s not seen before. In the old days, before he settled down, he used to get enough left-over charlie and whiz and half drunk bottles of champagne from the back of whatever super motor he was driving to keep him and the lads well trollyed for whole weekends.
But these passengers are not the beautiful people, cheap, rapidly purchased chain store mourning,uncertain eye make up and uncertain actions,they are not sure how to treat him, veer from an odd embarrassed politeness to out and out arrogance, but there is something about this close proximity to death that fires their appetites, for food, alcohol, drugs [ the most unlikely people suddenly produce a little baggie of coke, a ready rolled spliff] and sex. The return journey from the cemetery, the crematorium reminds them that they are still alive and, whilst they forget that he is there, they leap on each-other in unlikely partnerships.

He keeps his head averted, his gaze on the road.

Today’s funeral is OK, bloke in his 80s, enough family, well wishers to make a crowd, no-body too upset and complete driver bonus, the burial is at some village church, so nice little drive, bit of a jaunt really, well except for the body of course.

Gary doesn’t get involved with the actual bodies, he’s a driver, just a driver, so he stands, arms folded, watching while the undertaking staff manhandle the coffin into the back of the hearse and carefully arrange the floral tributes on top. They use blu-tac, big blobs of it, which surprised him when he started the job.

He should have another driver with him, but they’re short-staffed. Its February, there’s been a cold snap,its pretty busy. The driver of the relatives car will double up with him when he gets there, but being alone suits Gary, I-Pod in, might even sneak a quiet fag, make sure the windows are open though.

The journey passes, he feels good, alert, even a bit smug, he remembered it was Valentines’ Day today, yesterday, and had time to get flowers ordered, delivered to her office – he’s waiting for her text, plans to act nonchalant, low key.

He sees the sign ahead , slows down to make the turn into the bridge has to stop to allow the car coming the other way room to move. So, he’s watching the woman on the narrow boat, he’s looking down while she’s looking up and they make a connection and
BAM……….
He’s standing on a pavement.
It’s dark, night-time
A car, moving fast, smashes into the back of the car directly beside him.
The windscreen smashes.
There’s a woman, horribly pushed against the steering wheel.
The force of the impact pushes her head out of the smashed glass.
He’s staring in horror….. Its the woman from the barge.

PAARRRP
The sound of honking behind him startles him and automatically he moves forward.
The narrow boat has moved on, out of sight now, the canal no longer following the same path as the road.
The driver behind guns his engine, overtakes, pointing to his own head and grimacing as he passes.

Gary cannot make head or tail of what has just happened.
He looks at his watch, somehow he has lost 15 minutes.
He puts his foot down, he need to get this body to its funeral.
He will try and make sense of this, this weirdness while the service is going on.

The church,one of those too big for the village it sits in types, is already almost half full when he arrives. Glen,the other driver, is standing at the car park gates,looking down the road, looking for Gary,his whole body radiating tension. He clocks the hearse and Gary swears he can see the shoulders drop, almost hear the exhalation of relief.

He parks the hearse,waits for Glen to get back to him,braces himself for a bollocking, but Glen takes one look at his ashen face and without prompting hands him a fag and heads off to organise the pall bearers.Gary wanders into the graveyard
What just happened ?
He shakes his head , trying to clear it
A dream, must have dropped off, fallen asleep at the wheel. He knows that this explanations raises more questions than it solves, but it will do, pushes everything back into the normal, the knowable.

At home, he pushes away the niggling doubts, basks in the loved up approval of his wife, drinks two beers at speed and feels a lot,lot better.

So,when she calls downstairs, says that they’ve run out of light bulbs, he doesn’t need to think, just says that he will pop out to the corner shop, take the dog,be ten minutes.

He hardly gets time to enter the shop before it’s happening again
But now he’s standing on an airport runway.
He’s watching passengers file onto the plane, he can see the man from the corner shop, the man he’s bought tea and bread and milk and fags from for ten, twelve years, lining up, his daughter in his arms.
Gary watches, sees the plane taxi down the runway, take off and then, without warning, burst into flames. He can feel the heat of the fire on his face.

He looks down, the pavement is only faintly familiar, the dog is trotting beside him, clearly enjoying the unexpected outing. Forest Rd, he is 20 minutes from home,with no idea as to how he got there.

He staggers, almost falls, leans his head onto a low garden wall. Two women notice him and quickly veer away, cross the road. He wants to call after them, ask for help, but all that comes out is a pitiful croak, the women speed up, move away, out of sight.

Gary straighten up, he knows he is not asleep, not dreaming, so he decides, he must be loosing his mind, going mad. The dog, puzzled by this unexpected halt, whines, wags his tail tentatively. Gary takes a deep breath, he knows his name, knows where he is, remembers that he needs to buy light bulbs – he doesn’t feel mad but perhaps not feeling mad is all part of it, whatever it is.

He starts to walk, on automatic pilot, heading home. A young woman walks towards him, pale, thin, under-dressed for the weather, she catches his eye and
Bang
He’s leaning against a wall in a filthy, cold, dark room. There is no furniture except for a stained and torn settee and a broken television. He watches as a young woman, the young woman who has just passed him in the street, uncurls from a corner of the sofa, her eyes, her attention completely on the spoon and the lighter she holds. He tries to call out as she picks up a syringe and a grubby pink belt….
Back…. The High street, shops, people, noise, normality.Gary realizes that the dog is no longer attached to him and a further 30 minutes have vanished.

And now he’s in some terrible nightmare…….

The smart woman with the expensive coat – bang – people gathered around a hospital bed, banks of machines, bleeping, flickering and then a different noise, more strident and the all lights on all the machines go out.

The old man pushing a tartan shopping trolley – bang – stepping outside to empty the bin, slipping, falling, head cracking on the icy path.

The toddler snoozing in the buggy – bang – the fist smashing into her face, she falls and the boots, heavy, black, uniform, kick her head, her stomach, her back again and again and again.

Gary’s running now, trying to keep his eyes closed, bumping into people.
The unfixed ladder, swinging in the breeze.
The moped, upside down, wheels still spinning on the Spanish road.
The blood clot racing towards the brain.

And then,he’s outside work, outside the garage and it’s dark and he’s sobbing with exhaustion and terror and he doesn’t know what to do, so he does the only thing he can think of, the only thing that makes any sense.

He’s in the hearse and he’s driving, fast.
Bang
The big black car ploughs through the lights, the lorry had no chance of braking, of avoiding anything except a head on collision.
Bang.

About cathi rae

50ish teacher & aspiring writer and parent of a stroppy teenager and carer for a confused bedlington terrier and a small selection of horses who fail to shar emy dressage ambitions. Interested in contemporary fiction but find myself returning to PG Wodehouse when the chips are down View all posts by cathi rae

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