“Get back in the truck!” Steve yelled from his position in the driver’s seat. The sound of his voice interrupted the spell that the woman’s corpse had held on Dustin. “We’ve got a lot of work to do!”
Dustin waved for him to drive on. “I’m going to walk to the mortuary.” He said dismissively. “I want to see what else is messed up around here.”
“Suit yourself.” Steve quipped. “I’m going to tell Juan to start letting people through them gates in about thirty minutes, so you’d better get prepared to deal with clients.”
As Steve pulled away Dustin retraced his steps back around the crack gingerly jumping across the lip and walking partway up the other side. From this angle he could see the old woman’s hands. They were clasped together at her waist in the universal pose all bodies were put in for a wake.
To be honest, Dustin had no idea what he was going to tell the people outside once they started filing into his office. He supposed that the first thing they should do is put some sort of barrier around the fissure to keep people away. The last thing that they needed was for someone to attempt to get another look at their deceased and fall in only to join them.
He was actually a little mad at Steve for not thinking to do that already. If he was going to start letting people wander all around their graveyard then he should have at least planned to keep them far away from this huge gaping hole. Steve wasn’t one for planning though. He saw a situation and he tackled it out of order.
“Juan!” Dustin called to the groundskeeper. Looking up in his direction he could see that the man had gone back into hiding behind the stone pillar.
Juan lifted his eyebrows. He seemed reluctant to leave his spot of refuge from the crowds.
Dustin sighed heavily. “Juan!” He shouted again. “Can you hear me over there?”
Juan nodded furtively. His feet were still rooted however to the place where he stood.
“Get some people to put up something around this hole!” He called out. “Find a tarp if you can. We need to cover it and put up a barrier to keep people from falling in!”
Hearing their exchange someone from the crowd spoke up. “Hey, when are you going to let us in?” They yelled through the closed gates.
Someone else hollered. “I can see my husband over there!”
There was a general commotion as everyone who was gathered started to point and clamor amongst themselves. It wasn’t a riotous scene but one more of shock and surprise. Dustin couldn’t blame them. When you planted you’re dead in a cemetery you usually expected them to stay buried.
Rather than attempt to answer them all individually Dustin turned and began walking towards the funeral home and mortuary offices. The buildings were enclosed in a squat and somber looking granite building which sat at the center of the cemetery. Dustin wondered what sort of damage they’d sustained during the earthquake and what other hazards Steve was subjecting their customers to.
Besides the unsightly crack and exposed corpses within, the rest of the graveyard appeared to be in relatively good condition. As he walked, Dustin noticed a few toppled headstones and an occasional dividing wall which had collapsed but beyond those things the rest of the grounds looked good. Even a large monument of an angel which had been placed in the median of the main avenue that wound throughout the property still stood. Her face was still turned towards the entrance looking across the broken field where the crack lay; her expression one of somber reflection.
Beyond the chaos and devastation that the earthquake had brought upon the morning it looked like it was shaping up to be a beautiful day. The sun peeked through the trees and the grass was covered with a cool layer of dew. A few trailing wafts of mist was all that remained of the usual morning fog. They drifted peacefully amongst the burial plots in a way that was almost soothing.
Despite the frustration that he often felt with Steve, Dustin had to admit that the man had done a great job at keeping the land looking good. When they’d first met at the twelve-step program and Steve had told Dustin of the condition that the cemetery was in there had been little faith that they’d ever be able to fix it up. Weeds had grown up all over the place and storms had knocked down several of the trees. He was facing lawsuits from families and repossession due to back taxes. Somehow all that had been avoided.
The graveyard and the business had already been there when Dustin and Steve had made their accidental acquaintance. In fact, Steve blamed it for his drug addiction. He had been raised there among corpses and headstones by his mortician father. He never liked dealing with people and their losses. He said it brought him down.
When Dustin first arrived in the Bay Area he had no intention of ever doing anything more than just getting by. He had moved there with the intention of dropping out and forgetting his past. By happenstance he had been paired with Steve and Steve had needed him. That was how he wound up being a successful funeral home director. He’d paid Steve’s tax bill.
It all stemmed from Steve’s father who had bought the place as a tiny churchyard forty years ago and had grown it to an impossibly large burial ground. He had died six months prior to Steve attending the substance abuse meeting. Being left in charge of the family business and the cemetery that went along with it, Steve had completely abandoned his legacy by choosing instead to use what money he’d been left to buy more and more drugs. It was actually a lawsuit from disgruntled family members who had trusted the fate of their loved ones to Steve’s father that had driven Steve to seek help.
When he’d mentioned the cemetery to Dustin and how he’d let the property go Steve had every intention of selling it or walking away and letting the land fall to the State. He spent many long hours on the phone telling Dustin about all the things that needed to be done in order to get it back in shape. He told Dustin that he didn’t feel up to the task. He said that it felt like it was killing him.
Friendship is an odd thing in that it doesn’t take hold all at once. Two people start out as strangers that exchange niceties but beyond that, they really have no emotional stake in each other’s lives. Slowly, over time they start to care about little things. It was almost impossible now to figure out the exact moment when both Dustin and Steve’s lives had become so inseparably tangled together by all of the little things that linked their friendship to this graveyard.
In truth, Dustin didn’t even like Steve at first. Dustin didn’t like anyone at that point in his life. He had a problem with trust. Looking back on it Dustin couldn’t even begin to understand the reason why he had chosen to help Steve get his graveyard back in shape.
Three days after their first encounter at the twelve-step meeting Dustin had bought a cell phone. He did so because Steve had rung the communal phone at the hostel where he was staying almost constantly. Every time Dustin answered the phone and heard his worried voice he felt more and more responsible for him. The second week into their relationship, Dustin found himself walking through the cemetery helping Steve to itemize repairs and maintenance issues. In Steve’s mind they were putting it back into shape so that it could be sold.
In the end however, Steve hadn’t sold the property. He called Dustin late one night saying that he’d just enjoyed a joint on his father’s grave. He said that he’d had a revelation. He told Dustin that he was going to turn the cemetery into the best damned cemetery in the area. He asked him for his help. Dustin had cleaned out his savings account to pay the back taxes on the land. It had cost almost every penny that he’d needed to live.
Three years later Dustin was here walking towards their funeral home and wondering how he was going to repair this crack. He pretty much ran the place. Steve managed the grounds crew and he would be the one who ultimately filled the hole but it was Dustin’s job to meet with the families and help them make decisions. In a strange twist of fate, his whole life had become centered around the disposal of peoples remains. People who had managed to disappear entirely.