Matthew Hobson

Creative Nonfiction

Matthew Hobson’s work has appeared in literary journals including Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Chattahoochee Review, River City, South Dakota Review, Gulf Stream Literary Magazine, and Driftless Review where, in 2014, his story “Real Guts” won the annual flash fiction contest. Currently, he is completing a literary mystery novel set in Baltimore and a collection of flash prose pieces of which “Dream Car” is one. Another such piece, “The Audubon Guide to North American Suicide,” was published last year in The Baltimore Review and can be read here. He teaches at Loyola University and lives in Baltimore with his wife and two children.

Dream Car

I was eight the summer my father brought home the Porsche 356 from the scrap yard. Primer-gray, dented, and mottled with rust, the car had no doors or wheels or even seats. The restoration process consumed two years of my father’s life, but when it was finished the car gleamed like a green and gold scarab. Every Saturday, he washed and waxed it, massaged oil into the leather seats to keep them supple. When he wasn’t driving it, the car stayed cocooned under a dust cover. I didn’t even have to be told not to fool with it. About a year later, my father woke one morning before the sun, drove the car into the Carbon Canyon foothills with a garden hose and duct tape, then sat behind the wheel while exhaust took him from the world.

“Maybe he’s not really dead,” a friend tried to comfort me. “Maybe he’s in that Witness Protection thing.”

I didn’t really believe this, but I was an imaginative kid with a penchant for mysteries. The thought of my father living a secret, shadow life somewhere was tantalizing. And, back then, before I’d ever heard terms like “manic-depressive,” the Witness Protection theory made about as much sense as the truth. At night, I constructed wild scenarios about what my father might be doing. Sometimes, he was hiding out in some ramshackle, roadside motel along a desert highway; other times, he was living a solitary life in a white clapboard house surrounded by acres and acres of corn.

We kept the Porsche for several months before my mother sold it. Only a few hours after the advertisement appeared in the Penny Saver, a man showed up with cash. After he paid, he pried the shield-shaped Porsche emblem from the hood. “Keep it,” he said, handing it to me. In my memory, he winks conspiratorially. Probably he was being kind—I suspect my mother explained our situation—but I imagined he was going to deliver the car to my father in his new life.

These days, my father visits two or three times a year in a recurring dream.

I wake to a knock. It’s early. My wife and children are asleep. When I open the front door, it’s him, dressed in a white t-shirt and washed-out 501s. He’s smoking a Marlboro. His hair is as dark as the day he died, his chest broad and back straight, his face not riven with the passing of years.

“Where have you been?” I ask.

He turns to leave, like he doesn’t recognize me. Like he’s knocked on the wrong door. I follow, trying to think of how to persuade him to stay.

This is where I wake up.

But, if I could re-enter the dream, re-write it from inside, he’d say something like, “Let’s go for a spin,” and point to the Porsche parked at the curb.

We drive with the windows down to Angelo’s, a Southern California carhop with waitresses in hot pants on roller skates. A classic car show is in full swing. He backs into the space beside a purple roadster with ghost flames. From the glovebox, he takes a soft cloth, then moves around the car, breath-polishing the chrome. When he reaches the front, he frowns, noticing the Porsche emblem is missing from the bonnet.

I reach into my pocket. “Here,” I say, dropping it into his open hand.

“I’ve been looking everywhere for that,” he says, popping it back in place.

We stroll around admiring the classic cars. I’ve never been much of a car guy, but I try to share my father’s joy as his knuckles caress fenders and bumpers and flaring tailfins. I think about my son, nearly a man, and how I always meant to show him how to replace an oil filter; and my daughter, nine, and how it’s never too soon to learn to fix a flat. Later, my father and I eat cheeseburgers that drip down our chins and milkshakes so thick we need plastic spoons. Sated, we lean against the Porsche and pass a joint back and forth. It’s the kind of moment that would make a perfect memory if only it were real.

“We should do this again sometime,” he says.

I’ve held on to a few memories of my father—shooting baskets on the hoop above the garage, watching a baseball game at Angel’s Stadium, sharing a ski lift on a rare family vacation—but not many more. He was distant, unapproachable, forever at the office or in the garage endlessly tinkering with the Porsche. I couldn’t name it then, but I always sensed something volatile inside him, something violent in repose that might, for reasons I couldn’t anticipate, explode.

In the end, he left silently as smoke.

“I’d like that,” I say, glancing at my watch. “But I’d better get home before my family starts wondering where I am.”

‘Dream Car’ is part of a flash creative nonfiction manuscript that focuses on my father’s suicide. Only in the last year have I written about his death, though I always knew I’d eventually explore the subject. My favorite aspect of this essay is the structure: it opens as a memory, shifts to a dream, then openly morphs into an imagined narrative moment. The interplay of these components—memory, dream, and story—is how I know my father.