She bought the hearse used from the Highlands Funeral Home, and the first time she drove it home to show Patrick, she felt invulnerable. She wasn’t sure how he would respond, but she was ready to argue that the hearse was perfect: plenty of space in the back for all their painting supplies—better than a station wagon or a pickup. Patrick, who was her cousin as well as her partner in the painting business, stood on the sidewalk with his arms folded when she pulled up. He shook his head and muttered, “Creepy.” But she liked the black leather roof with its decorative silver curve; the blue velvet interior; the car’s imposing size.
Driving the hearse lent a ceremonial quality to an ordinary day—a day spent scraping off old paint, caulking holes, taping baseboards. She drove a memento mori, she thought, which still smelled gently of roses. The interior was dark and quiet. One afternoon when she went to clear out the paint cans and trays from the back, she found herself instead crawling into the space where the coffin would be. She pushed aside the cans and settled catlike on the worn blue velvet. The metal stays for securing the coffin dug painfully into her back and thighs, but lying there, she felt immensely alive. If she closed her eyes, she discovered, the lives of the previous occupants drifted into her mind, their stories still luminous.
Sandie Friedman teaches academic writing at George Washington University. Her essays have appeared in Construction, Mutha, The Nervous Breakdown, and The Rumpus, and her fiction is forthcoming in The Atticus Review and The Nonconformist. You can find more of Sandie’s flash fiction at sandiebobby.com.
Photograph by Amauri MejíaHire.
The NFFR and Sandie Friedman Interview
During the pandemic, what’s been your favorite artistic escape either book, music, or tv?
The TV series Unorthodox was especially captivating for me because it is about escape to Berlin, one of my two favorite cities (with New York). You must watch it, if only for the scene at the end of the first episode when Esty wades into the Wannsee and pulls off her wig. In that moment, she transforms from a prematurely severe, matronly wife back into the ethereal pixie she truly is. She turns back into herself.
We’ve been thinking about the elusive definition of Flash Fiction and the different and similar ways we all approach it. What’s your working definition of it or thoughts on what it “is”?
I like to think of Flash Fiction as belonging to the category of “fragments.” I recently read Brian Dillon’s Essayism: On Form, Feeling, and Nonfiction, and underwent a conversion: rather than trying to labor steadily on one grand project, which has always been my unattainable ideal, I have embraced fragments. Like Dillon’s, my writing life is “fractured, contingent, and occasional . . . the serial production of chunks or gobbets.”
What was the inspiration for this story?
Driving with my husband in DC, I kept seeing hearses. I thought of a friend from thirty years ago, someone I adored, who drove a car that reminded us of a hearse, though it wasn’t.