Dustin turned. As he stood there he saw that the old man had taken the card out of his breast pocket and was examining it now.
“I don’t want to have to go back east.” The old man said shaking his head.
Dustin took a step forward. “Why would you have to?” He asked unsure as to whether or not the man was going to turn hostile again.
Instead he looked up, his eyes filling with tears. “Back before we moved out here, my wife and I bought matching plots in the town where we lived.” He said sounding regretful. “That’s the sort of thing you do when you’re planning for retirement. You try to cover everything that you’d think you’d need all the way to the very end.”
Setting down the birdcage yet again, Dustin slowly approached the old man and laid a hand on his back. “I understand.” He said gently.
The old man wiped his palm across his mouth and gave a dry laugh. “I’m not sure how you could.” He said sounding bitterly amused by the whole situation. “You see, I didn’t even understand until just now and I was the one making all of the damned fool decisions about the rest of our lives together. I didn’t think that she would die first. I didn’t think that I would be the one to have to bury her.”
Dustin gave him a soft pat before dropping the suitcase and unslinging the bag from his shoulder. Lowering himself to the curb he sat down by the old man’s side once again. “Maybe not,” he said sincerely. “ but I think I know how you are feeling, and I respect where you’re coming from.”
“Now that she’s dead,” the old man continued with a shrug. “I don’t want to go back home alone and bury her in a place that we both hated living.”
Dustin looked around clearing his throat. “You know, just because you bought a plot in another cemetery it doesn’t mean that you have to be stuck with that obligation. Plots are sold aftermarket all the time. In many instances there could even be a profit in it.”
The old man looked behind him in the direction of his dead wife. “It seems wrong to take her and bury her in a place that she never liked.” He said with disdain.
Dustin reached into his gym bag and dug out some papers. “I don’t want to force these on you sir.” He said holding the sheaf between his legs as if he were about to read them aloud. “These are contracts and payment plans for lots outside of town in a pasture out in the rolling hills that I manage with a friend. If you’d like, I could leave them with you for you to consider?”
The man turned and slowly plucked them from Dustin’s hands. “Is it beautiful?” He asked looking them over.
“I think it is.” Dustin replied.
“Everything is ugly where we’re from.” The old man said turning a sheaf and unfolding a brochure stapled to the corner of a page. “I want wherever we’re buried to be beautiful.”
Dustin once again placed his hand on the old man’s shoulder giving it a squeeze. “When things calm down, come by and I’ll give you the best deal that I can afford.” He said with genuine honesty. “I’ll show you around and you can pick whatever location that you want.”
“I’d like us to be buried near a tree.” The old man said folding the papers closed and looking somewhere far into the distance. “Maybe on a hill so that we could see the sun rise in the morning.”
“We have places like that there.” Dustin said in a low voice that trailed off into a long silence.
Suddenly someone called Dustin’s name from further down the street in the direction he’d come.
Both the old man and Dustin turned to see James running up the road garbage bag, suitcase and fishbowl all balanced somehow in his arms. “Dustin!” He said nearing. “Thank God you hadn’t gone too far for me to catch you man!”
Dustin stood walking over to meet him. “Is everything okay?” He asked grabbing the fishbowl from him.
“Oh yeah.” James said as he dropped the rest of his packages, stopping to catch his breath. “It’s just that I mentioned to Alexis about you going to Redwood with your friend and she said that she thought that we ought to go out there with you after all.”
“Where is she?” Dustin asked looking down the sidewalk.
“She’s trying to catch up. She’s just slow.” James said still gasping for breath. “She’s on the phone with her mom trying to work out a place for us all to meet.”
Dustin made a motion for them to go back. “Is she okay being left alone? Shouldn’t we go and walk with her?”
James shook his head. “She’s not too far away.” He said standing upright to massage a spot on his back. “Actually, she’s pretty fast for a pregnant girl. It didn’t help that I was loaded down like a pack mule.”
The old man stood up and slowly walked away flipping open the paperwork and reading as he went.
“Well, fortunately I didn’t get too far.” Dustin said as he watched the old man go.
James nodded up the road. “The streets seem pretty clear.” He said.
Dustin turned to look. There were fallen bricks and broken glass everywhere but nothing major blocked their path as far as he could see. A few blocks down, a man was unloading the entire contents of his house setting it all out in the street. A couch and a sitting chair sat in the middle of the avenue arranged around a large rug. Beside them, he’d set out lamps and tables. Dustin could see that a police cruiser was parked nearby its lights circling above it. One of the cops was sitting on the couch writing something on a notepad.
“It looks like everyone’s just moved outside.” James said seeming to read his thoughts. “I’ve never seen so many people just walking around.”
“I guess they’re worried about these buildings coming down.” Dustin nodded.
“I once heard that this whole area was built on a landfill.” James offered. “It’s not real stable but that’s just the way that they expanded the city back in the old days.”
“I guess if you build a house on a loose pile of trash then it’s going to get messed up whenever you have an earthquake.” Dustin mused. “Who would have even thought of that?”
“James!” Alexis called from down the street. “Thank heavens you found him.”
They both turned to see the woman walking towards them, escorted by the old man. James gave Dustin a guilty smile and jogged back to be at his wife’s side. Dustin watched them marching down the block like soldiers in a Revolutionary War painting.
As they approached, the old man broke away to meet Dustin first. “You’re a hero today.” He said with a sad grin.
“I don’t know about that.” Dustin replied looking at his feet.
“You are.” The old man said. Now it was his turn to give Dustin’s shoulder a squeeze. “You’ve given my wife and I a good place to die and you’re going to see to it that this young couple gets home to a safe place to have their baby daughter.”
Dustin looked him directly in the eye. “I’m not that good of a person.”
The old man shook his head, releasing him. “You don’t have to be a good person to do the right thing.” He said as he walked back to his dead wife’s side. “All you have to be is in the right place at the right time.”