A Prose Piece...
Standing on the corner, there seemed little hope of a taxi. Horizontal rain drove into my face, despite attempts to tilt my umbrella, like a knight’s lance, against the elements. Each car which passed seemed to chuckle as it sprayed a rainbow of shower drops onto my sodden trousers which clung to me like seal skin. Drips rode down my neck and I could feel a growing paddling pool forming in my squishy shoes.
There seemed to be no black cabs, only ubers, private hires and a succession of smug single commuters in Audis whose impassive faces were continually wiped and reset, with the same disengagement, by the windscreen wipers. One small boy grinned out of a back window, giving me a cheerful loser sign. At least he noticed me.
Finally, I caught a glimpse of a large black car coming round a bend. Impulsively I stuck my hand out and the driver pulled up and wound down his window. “All right, mate?” he said cheerily, “Want a lift? Hop in!”
So I gratefully bundled into the front seat, dripping water onto the carpeted floor. Nice polished wood interior, clean, smelling like new, gliding through the shallows.
“Been waiting long?”
“Ages. Thank God you stopped.”
“No worries”, he said, “always happy to do a favour.”
A favour. That’s when it struck me something was odd. Why a favour? Why the front seat? And now I thought about it, I couldn’t remember seeing a taxi sign. Turning round, the truth dawned quickly, stopping me in my tracks. There were no seats in the back, only a long wooden shelf with silver rails and plush red satin cushions. Quite a few people must have been stopped in those tracks. Luckily, on this occasion, I was the only passenger. It was a hearse.
“Where to, mate?” the driver asked cheerily.
Realising he probably only knew one route, I thought carefully. “Just near the flower shop.. the one on Cemetery Drive”, I offered helpfully. Then, unthinkingly, “How’s business?”
“Dead”, he responded, seemingly without any irony and without the faintest smile. “Not the right season,” he continued, enigmatically. “I blame Brexit.”
“Oh well, you’ll always be in work though, eh?” I offered helpfully. “Had anyone famous in?”
“ That astrologer off the telly.” He smiled slightly. “He was a real star… You’d have thought he’d see it coming though.”
“Russell Grant?” I suggested.
“No, that Roger Moore.”
“Really?” I knew his acting was pretty dead, but didn’t know he was blessed with astrological foresight.
“Oh, no, Patrick…not Roger.”
This was becoming more surreal by the minute. Patrick Moore, the great astronomer, with his famous catch phrase: “The truth is, we just don’t know.”
“At least no-one’s done a runner, though, eh?”
“No. Nice to have a bit of a chat, though… don’t get much of that in my game,” he said.
“No, I imagine it might be quite… quiet,” I said, struggling for the right word. “Don’t imagine you get many return fares either.”
He looked at me, quizzically, wondering if he was being mocked, but decided to ignore it. “Shocking morning,” he said.
“You can say that again”
This was becoming a Pinter play.
“Used to drive an ambulance, me. Then I had a breakdown.”
“Oh, poor you… that must have been awful,” I offered, weakly. “Fully recovered?”
“Yeah, just the alternator, the AA guy said, had it fixed in 10 minutes. Not so good for our passenger, though…. “ His voice tailed off….
As the queue of cars built up behind us, I tried to picture this guy responding to a major emergency. Maybe that had something to do with his change of career path.
Then I started to wonder if I should pay him. Like that Greek ferry man, maybe I should wait till he got me to the other side, as Chris Rea would put it, or maybe put a couple of coins in my eyes just in case.
“I’ll give you my card if you like,” he said. “Could probably do you a deal.”
“Do you know something I don’t?” I quipped.
Again, silence, and a quizzical look out of the corner of his eye.
“Actually, anywhere here is great, mate. Just realised I need to pop in here.” I needed to get out, despite the still lashing rain. Only then I realised the shop I had spotted was a nail bar.
“No worries, mate. Look after yourself. Catch up with you soon.”
“Not if I see you first.”
Then back into the pouring rain, catching my death of cold.
Was it all a dream? Was he a ghost, like something from A Wonderful Life? The truth is, we just don’t know….
Hailing a Hearse