The big black one with the space in the back

I can’t breathe… I… can’t… breathe… Help.

I want to shout but I can’t speak. It’s too hot in here. I’m going to cook. Someone, please, look at me, see what’s happening. I try to cough out the words but all I do is cough.

Yes! He’s looking… I know him! He’s Mr Taylor from that funeral place on Rawlings Terrace. He’s measuring me up for a coffin, I can tell, it’s in his eyes.

“Hello, Billy.”

Cough. “Hello…” Breathe. “Mr Taylor.”

“You don’t look very well. Are you OK?”

I decide that nodding my head is the best thing to do.

He smiles and I think he really means it. He doesn’t seem disappointed at all that I’m alright. “What are you reading?”

I look down at my book, my dad’s dictionary, and blush. He doesn’t know I’ve got it and he doesn’t like me taking things without asking, so I turn it over so Mr Taylor can’t see the front.

“Just a school book,” I lie and he nods.

“Are you sure you’re OK?”

I nod again and add a smile this time.

“OK. Well… they’ll get the bus running in a minute. And if they don’t they’ll send another bus.”

Oh God. We’re going to have to wait? That could take hours.

Breathe. Mum tells me not to panic, that I should breathe. I’m trying, but all I do is gulp air like a goldfish and some of it goes down the wrong way so I cough again.

I want Mr Taylor to return to his seat but he doesn’t.

“Do you mind if I sit next to you, Billy?”

I shake my head. Mum says I shouldn’t talk to strangers but Dad knows him, pointed him out to me once, so he must be alright and there are lots of people around.

“It’ll be nice to have the company, if I’m honest,” he says to me. If he’s honest? Does that mean he’s not? If they do ‘get the bus running’, will he follow me if I get off alone? Will he…

“Makes me nervous,” he continues.

I don’t know what he’s got to be nervous about, unless he doesn’t travel on the bus very often. He’s not been on mine before. “Nervous? Why?”

“Can you keep a secret?”

I look at my dad’s dictionary and nod.

“I don’t like confined spaces,” he tells me.

I want to open my dictionary but don’t. “What’s confined?” I ask him.

“It’s being in a small space when you want to be in a big one.”

It’s nice to know he feels like I do so I grin like my dad does when my mum’s just kissed him. “But this is a bus, it’s big.”

“I know,” he says and laughs.

“And you’re not alone,” I add.

He nods. I feel a bit better but he doesn’t look so good now. I wait for him to carry on but he doesn’t. “Why did you get on the bus if you don’t like being here?” I know it’s a silly question because I did the same thing but I have to because Mum and Dad are working.

“My car’s being serviced.”

“The big black one with the space in the back for…”

He laughs again. “Yes, Billy, the hearse. I’m on my way to collect it now.”

I’m too young for a car but I know Mum and Dad love driving theirs. It must be horrible for him not to have one, especially one that’s so special.

The bus wobbles and someone behind me cheers. Mr Taylor looks happy too and makes me feel good.

“The garage is on the way to your house, Billy, I could give you a lift, save you being on this thing the whole journey.”

I’ve always wanted to travel in a hearse. Hearse. Confined. I’ve learned two new words today. I don’t think my dad will mind at all.

***

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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) :)  on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

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