You should only let the past be the past if you want it to stick around. Porter had asked his
wife what she thought about this after his therapy session a few weeks ago. She had wanted to
know the context – did his therapist say that or did he?, what provoked the comment initially, that
sort of thing – and Porter had wanted to know why but neither could explain themself to the
other. Porter wanted to be a good husband, so his suspicion made him feel even worse, his
suspicion that his wife, a sizable part of her anyway, was a coward. But if she wasn’t, why not
answer his question directly?
Of course, if she had, he wouldn’t have responded. He couldn’t have. He couldn’t have
because the context is this:
The hearse ahead of him, his favorite shade of blue, turns down the road with the long,
dark trees. There are other things to do, like the paperwork for his rescue class now that he’s got
the four years of flying experience, but the hearse would be there, too, if not its tire marks from
slowly driving over everything in front of him before he gets there.
Most of the time, the hearse goes only a touch faster than he walks, which, lately, is
largo. His depth perception is off and he’s mistaking shadows for holes in the ground. He tripped
himself up stepping into a hole that was really the shadow of the bell in the belfry of the only
convent in the metro area. He was absently following the hearse through SoDo. He stepped onto
the shadow, didn’t fall into a hole like he expected, and fell anyway. The first time this
happened, a month or maybe longer ago, he could get away with telling his wife it was an
accident, clumsiness. But she avoided him for a few days after this: she knew something was up.
Part of her.
He had seen lots of things board the hearse. His father, when he was nine, got in and this
time, stayed in, after a couple of other tries. After that, a memory of riding horses with his dad
slipped in. His dad teaching him not to throw like a girl, which meant he’d ended up throwing
like a man who’d rather be at the office, or in the back of a hearse. His dad lifting his mom’s
hands out of dirty dish water, drying them and taking her for a walk around the neighborhood
until after dark, coming home and banishing her from the kitchen so he could clean.
Porter doesn’t think he noticed when the hearse began swallowing memories that didn’t
include his dad. Maybe the start of high school, the five-year anniversary. Maybe earlier, when
his mom was suddenly fine, happy, and he hovered as closely as she would tolerate because
happy is what happened to his dad right before he walked into the garage and loaded himself into
the hearse. The color had stormed her cheeks just when it was starting to drain from the memory
of bouncing on the new trampoline his rich cousins wanted instead of a backyard pool, yelling at
him to cover his eyes and hold his breath as she pointed the garden hose at him, or the one of
visiting some cousins on his dad’s side at Cape Cod and building out of seashells the mosaic that
covered one entire room of the first floor of the beach rental. There was no replacement man. His
mom was fine without people after that. Just like he suspected his wife felt, in part, she needed to
Something was wrong with him, Porter knew. He was watching in silent agony all his
wonderful past drain into the hearse and here was his mother, maybe his wife, free, needing no
one. He peered into the hearse, but it was too tinted to see who all was in there without him,
touched its charged handle. The electric bite startled his hand away.
People would ask why he followed the hearse, anyway. If it made him so sad to see
everything he loved disappear, why not go to Jason’s cul-de-sac where there was always a
pickup game of street hockey, why not take his then-new girlfriend out, why not follow his
dreams, why not, why not, why not, why not.
But this is not how hearses work.
You are not the driver of the hearse. You do not choose whether it rolls its muddy tires
right or left or everywhere you look. It is not as if you are merely following the hearse, not as if
you wake up one morning and seek a hearse to follow.
The hearse hit Jason when they were sophomores in high school. They were trying to do
their chemistry homework, and Porter wasn’t getting it. Mostly, he couldn’t see the diagrams
clearly, why they mattered, and there was muck all over the equations. He couldn’t balance them
anymore but Jason thought he was wasting time.
“You could do this crap last week, brother.” He took Porter’s pencil and erased Porter’s
work under the last three problems. “You taught me.” Harsher than usual.
Porter didn’t know what to say so he tried apologizing but Jason got mad when nothing
changed. “People don’t suddenly get stupid.”
Porter punched him and walked the four miles home, seeing himself flung off an
overpass, himself stepped into traffic, mostly himself falling, himself stuck. He shook his head
hard. The hearse purred its sweet exhaust into a cloud-clotted sky. He reached for its door
handle; no shock this time.
Before this, the hearse had never hit anyone, though there may have been some near-hits
that only Porter knew about. Porter hadn’t talked about the hearse very much, but he stopped
altogether after the encounter with Jason. He and Jason didn’t talk until the bruise on Jason’s
cheek faded, but then they were fine. They didn’t spend as much time together, but that started to
be true of everyone in Porter’s life. Porter thought that was best even though solitude felt to him
like someone else’s skin.
His mother grounded him for a week for being so late coming home. She had asked why
before she sent him to his room. He said studying, that he lost track of time.
The hearse moved around his room slow enough for a memory to hop in without it
stopping. Porter looked out his window at the bright hole in the sky that was the moon, felt like
cold wind blew through his torso. How would it be possible for him to stay inside the world?
The hearse stops in front of him the next morning for the first time he remembers and the
driver’s door slowly opens.
He slides in and grasps the warm wheel. He reaches for the door but it’s already closing.
There is no accelerator. The hearse moves as fast as it moves.
Even if you are driving the hearse, you are not really driving the hearse.
There is also no brake pedal.
The light on the windshield looks hard as stone. The sudden rain makes the glass look
like the micro shatters surrounding a bullet hole, only if the bullets entered everywhere. And
then, a movie, many movies: Porter on the swings at school, a memory, except that Porter
thought he liked the swings, that he was happy then. Picking his brother’s wings off and
watching him writhe – he didn’t remember feeling so sick with shame. Meeting his wife, did he
It’s all this way. The people lose color, the air has no song. The longer he watches these
little movies he apparently remembered incorrectly, the more things die. Even as they walk and
dance and have their being in life, they are unalive for Porter.
The maples in the median lunge toward the hearse. Porter tries to turn the wheel but it’s stuck.
It is not a wheel.
It is a tunnel.
Porter leaps out of the hearse and runs to a psychotherapist.
“There is a hearse following me,” he says.
“Tell me about yourself,” the therapist says.
“Navy blue, handles made of gold. I’m pretty sure there’s more than one casket in the back.”
The therapist writes on a legal pad with a blue pen. Things go well for six months, except
that the hearse is still in front of him wherever he goes.
“It makes all my memories suck is the most important thing” is how he starts the next
Therapist scrunches her eyes and nods. “Nostalgia is suicidal.”
“That’s not what I mean.” Porter tries to explain but Therapist interrupts.
“You’re at a place now where I won’t rescue you.”
“I don’t need rescue. I need help.”
“It isn’t my job to fix it.” Therapist’s voice is raised like the hair on the back of Porter’s neck.
“You sound angry.”
Therapist shakes her head. “I’m not mad at you for lapsing into self pity and
powerlessness. I do those things myself. I’m mad because you’re making this my responsibility.”
Porter doesn’t go back. He tells his wife it’s because he doesn’t know how to talk to
therapists. He thinks about the hearse, how he might get in, but his muscles shake with weakness.
He doesn’t have the strength to keep up with the hearse, nevermind outrun it, like Jason and his
wife’s friends want him to do. Maybe, if he’s slow enough – as if he has a choice – the hearse will
finally drive away, completely out of sight.
But it doesn’t. It slows down even more. Before Porter realizes it, it has backed up and
parked on his chest, its exhaust pipe covering his face, shaking like a hihat. His wife’s friend
finds him when she’s looking for his wife, drives him to the ER.
Even if you overdose on pills, a doctor doesn’t hesitate to prescribe you a cocktail of pills.
The fat, white disc makes him spacey, “only until you get used to it,” the doctor says. It
also infuses his muscles with fire again. The beige capsule burns off the fog he hadn’t realized
was crowding his thinking, his vision.
The blue one with a K punched in the middle of it obliterates his anxiety about the hearse
after a few days. The hearse shines under the mortal gold of the sun by the end of week two.
He tells his wife about the medications but not the ER. He wants to be a good husband.
But he can’t give her the context because he’s about to get in the hearse again – this time,
the back seat, where there are indeed many caskets, one open like the doors of the convent he has
walked by many times, likely without seeing it.