Chapter 14

The physical act of putting dead people in the ground and covering them with dirt was something that Dustin had always found very rewarding.  After the last eulogy had been given and the coffin lowered down into the earth people walked away and started to accept the death of their friends and family.  He felt like he was hiding all the painful memories that went along with their loss by giving them a dignified location and service to hold one last remembrance before letting go of it all.

Now that Dustin had just been told that the old man he’d spoken to this morning had killed himself and Mrs. Peterson lay in middle of the floor in their primary chapel he wondered when they’d be covered over with dirt.  He thought of the crack and the twenty or so bodies that lined its edges.  He knew that the loss would once again be fresh for the relatives of those people.  They’d have to go though the ritual of letting go all over again.

            Dustin threw up his hands in despair.  “Please tell me that we don’t have any chemical leaks in the processing room?”  He asked trying to focus his attention on anything else besides the old mans suicide and the crack running through the middle of their graveyard.

Leon shook his head smiling.  “Are you kidding me?”  He asked in an exaggerated tone.  “I put the chemicals in the stiffs not on the floor.”

“That’s not what I meant.”  Dustin shot back with growing ire.

“I know what you meant.”  The embalmer interrupted.  “There was one bucket of fluid which tipped over and spilled during the quaky-shaky but its okay boss.  I got out a mop and sopped it up before it had a chance to stink up the place too much.”

“Do we have water?”  Dustin asked.

“We don’t have anything but power from the building’s generator.”  Leon quipped.  “No phones, no water, no nothing.  I had to rig up a foot pump just to finish with the zombie from last night.  Worked great!  I really ought to patent it or something.”

“So what about the crematorium?”  Dustin asked.  “Does that have any issues with leaking gas all over the building?”

“Not any more.”  The mortician answered.  “The crematorium is torn to hell.  I checked it last night because we’re supposed to rock and roll and barbeque up a few bodies later on in the week.  It’s shot.  The pipes are busted so I manually shut off the gas and opened the doors back there to let it air out.”

“Make sure that Steve doesn’t go back there to smoke a joint.”  Dustin said.  “The last thing I want is him blowing us all up getting himself stoned.”

Suddenly Steve’s voice called down the hallway.  “Hey Leon!”  He said in an overly friendly way.  “I’m glad that you’re here!”

“Hey boss!”  The mortician said looking up to greet Steve as he joined him in the doorway.  “I was just telling Dustin that so far today we’ve got three body’s coming to the back door.”

“I’ll stay away from that mess.”  Steve muttered.  Then, as if the thought had just occurred to him he asked, “Would you mind getting back in Chapel one and helping Stan to lift that coffin back up on the platform.”

“Sure.”  The mortician answered.

“I would but I hate getting that close to dead people.”  Steve continued. 

“I don’t mind.”  Leon answered shrugging his shoulders.  “It sure beats the heck out of standing around talking to the living.  That’s just way too confusing for me.”

“I knew that you’d say that you danged weirdo.”  Steve smiled as he gave the fat little man’s hair a greasy tussle. 

Turning back towards Dustin, the mortician lifted his eyebrows.  “I’ll forward the paperwork on the three zombies for you to sign off on once they get here.”

“Sure.”  Dustin said.

As he walked away Steve eased himself into the office sitting down in one of the two chairs that faced Dustin’s desk.  “Sorry about the state of affairs out front man.”  He said earnestly.  “You know me, I don’t think of things like that.”

“Thanks for getting my office straightened out.”  Dustin replied. 

Steve made a shrugging gesture.  “Don’t mention it.”  He said as he leaned forward.  “Juan radioed in a few minutes ago and said that he’s almost done staking off the crack.  We’re just going to get chapel one in the best shape we can and close off the showroom and chapel two before we start letting people in.  Can you think of anything else that needs to be done?”

“We should probably stake off the area outside around that broken window of chapel two.”  He answered motioning in the room’s general direction.  “Also, we need some way to direct these people that’ll keep them away from anything that might hurt them or cause undo stress.  Last thing I want is to have someone sitting where you are now telling me that they’ve just seen their dead relative poking out of the ground up close and personal.  Can we spare any crew members to make sure that people go where we want them to go?”

Steve nodded.  “I’ve got a crew of three that showed up this morning.  It’s not many but we’ll keep an eye on things for you.”

Dustin motioned for his gym bag.  “Is there anyway we could get some water for the birds?”  He asked as Steve reached over and handed it to him.

“Already done!”  Steve smiled.  “They looked thirsty when I took them out of the truck so I put a Dixie cup down in the bottom for them with some water in it.”

Dustin hesitated, opening the bag.  “Thanks.”  He said in genuine surprise. 

“Got some seed for them too.”  Steve continued.  “I don’t know if they’ll eat it but we keep wild bird feed for them feeders out in the gardens.  I put a cup full of that down there next to their water.”

Dustin pulled his laptop from the bag and set it on his desk.  “Thanks.”  He said again as he opened up the computer and turned it on.  “I don’t get you Steve, how is it that you can think to do all of that but you forget about something like roping off the crack or picking up Mrs. Peterson’s casket?”

Steve threw up his hands.  “That’s easy man!”  He said cocking his head to the side and grinning widely.  “Them birds is still alive, everything else that you mentioned is dead.  Why would you go and worry about dead things when there’s living stuff that needs looking after?”

Dustin considered his words.  He thought of the old man that had killed himself in the street.  He thought of his reluctance to return to his roots back east.  Dustin thought of his own roots that he himself had buried before he’d come to the Bay area.  He thought of how anxious everything about them had always made him. 

Dustin considered the twelve step meetings; the one where he’d met Steve and the ones that he still went to.  He thought of the people who came to them.  He thought of how they turned to him for support.  Life had made them anxious.  Dustin found it easier to focus on what was troubling them than to focus on his own issues.

In a way, Dustin agreed with Leon the embalmer more than Steve regarding matters of life and death.  He admired Steve’s way of looking at things but the dead needed to be buried.  Dustin had buried his fair share of ghosts and he’d always found that once you covered them over with earth and walked away it was harder for them to haunt you.  Living things had a way of possessing everything that they came in contact with.

Suddenly Steve radio chirped to life.  “Finished at the crack.”  Juan’s voice erupted from the speaker sounding overly loud.

Steve lifted it from his belt keying the mic.  “Alright man.”  He said casually.  “Get back to the gates and wait for word from me to start letting people in.”

“These people are yelling at me.”  Juan argued.  “When can I let them in?”

“I’m sending Stan over there as soon as he finishes up in chapel one to help you out.”  Steve replied.  “Do you got Marcus with you now?”

“Si.”  Answered Juan.

“Then tell Marcus to get out in front of the gates and make them people quiet down.”  Steve shot back.  “He’s a big son of a gun and I know that he don’t mind showing off his muscle.”

Dustin shook his head, giving his partner a stern look.

“Scratch that.”  Steve said locking eyes with Dustin.  “Just wait for Stan.”

“Marcus showed up huh?”  Dustin asked as he watched his partner reattach the radio to his belt.

“Sure did!”  Steve beamed.  “That boy is one in a million!  I wouldn’t trade him for anything else in the world.”

As much as Steve liked him, Marcus was a member of the grounds crew whom Dustin just didn’t care for.  He was indeed big and he did in fact use his size to be aggressive but that wasn’t what troubled Dustin about Marcus.  What troubled him was that Marcus had a way of sizing people up that just didn’t sit well with Dustin.

He’d been hired on fairly recently and when Steve had introduced the boy to Dustin Marcus had looked him up and down slowly.  Dustin didn’t think much of it at the time but later Marcus had asked him something that had unsettled him for an entire day.  He asked if he enjoyed being alone.

It was common knowledge that beyond work Dustin kept mainly to himself.  The staff was well aware of how he’d met Steve and they knew bits and pieces of his life history before he’d come to run the funeral home where they worked.  Everyone knew that Dustin preferred to not talk about himself.

It had been the way that Marcus had asked him the question of whether or not Dustin liked to be alone that had made him realize that his life wasn’t as private as he’d thought it to be.  His inflection seemed to say, “I know why you’re here.  It’s because you’re a coward.  Dustin had avoided the kid ever since.

“Keep him out front.”  Dustin muttered as he pulled up a master-list of burial files on the computer. 

Steve nodded.  “That’s the best place for him!”  He said.  “Why don’t you like Marcus man?  I feel bad for the boy.  He don’t have no family you know?”

“He’s fine.”  Dustin quipped.  Frowning, he pretended to be distracted by isolating the names of the deceased that were buried in the area of the crack.

Steve continued.  “Did you know that he’s an orphan just like you?”  He prodded.  “He lost his young wife and baby in a car wreck just like you too!”

“Look,”  Dustin spat taking a note pad from his desk and slamming it down.  “I like Marcus just fine! I don’t want to talk about him or his wife and daughter or any of that horrible stuff right now.”

“His was a boy.”  Steve interrupted.

“What?”  Dustin asked.

“His baby was a boy, man.”  His partner said sadly.  “You said ‘wife and daughter’.  You had the little girl.  I feel real terrible every time I think of what happened to the two of you.

 “Please.”  Dustin sighed.  “I just want to be left alone so I can get myself organized before you start sending people in here okay?”

Looking defeated Steve rose to his feet.  “I’m real sorry I brought up all of that painful mess.”  He said sounding sincere. 

“It’s okay.”  Dustin answered dismissively.

Leon appeared at the door smiling.  “All done!”  He said. 

“All right man!”  Steve responded offering his hand up for a high-five.  Leon practically had to jump in order to reach it.

“You know, old ladies never way much.”  The mortician said proudly.  “I was honestly worried that I wouldn’t be able to pick that coffin up until I realized that they’re light as a feather once they’re dead.”

Steve turned to Dustin and smiled.  “Put your game face on bud because it’s about to be show time!”

The End

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