About twenty minutes after Steve had left, the first client crept timidly into Dustin’s office. She was an older lady, clutching the handle of her purse with both hands and wearing a giant sun hat with an enormous brim. Dustin stood coming out from behind his desk to greet her.
“Mrs. Goldman!” He said taking her by the hand and slowly guiding her into one of the chairs. “I’m so glad that you stopped by.”
Dustin hadn’t really remembered her name and he certainly wasn’t glad that she had stopped by. Steve had radioed ahead telling him the order of the visitors that he was directing his way. This gave Dustin enough time to pull their files and organize his notes.
“Thank you, young man.” The widow said once she’d been seated. “It’s been just a terrible morning.”
“How’s your house?” Dustin asked as he eased back into his office chair. “Did you get any damage out your way?”
The old lady shook her head. “I have a lovely dog that got so frightened by the shaking that she went poo-poo on the carpet but beyond that just a few broken dishes was all.”
“Awww.” Dustin said pursing his lips. “Poor little dog.”
“I know.” Mrs. Goldman replied unconsciously mirroring his expression. “She had no idea what was going on. She’s just a little puppy and this is her first earthquake.”
“Well she must have been out of her mind with worry!” Dustin exclaimed.
“I know.” The widow pouted.
Dustin cleared his throat. “Your husband was a fine man Mrs. Goldman.” He said seriously. “We have been honored to have him here in our cemetery.”
“Well he always wanted to be buried here.” The widow said, her voice cracking with emotion. Quickly she dug in her purse and extracted a handkerchief. Instead of dabbing it against her already dampened eyes she chose to wrap the fabric of it around the fingers of her right hand as she spoke. “Even when this place went downhill a few years back he still said that he wanted to be buried on that hill where he could see his bank. He loved that bank and this was the only cemetery in town where he could find a spot where he could watch it. He was so happy about that.”
“Yes I know.” Dustin said.
Even though he didn’t automatically remember her name, Dustin could recall the day that he sold the matching burial plots to both her and her husband. It had been back when he’d first started helping Steve to run the place and he’d felt so at peace showing the two of them around. Mr. Goldman had an advanced stage of cancer and had barely been able to walk out to the spot where he was interested in being buried. Still, he’d insisted and Dustin had taken him. He could still see the old man’s smile when he looked out from the top of the hillside and saw the bank that he’d spent most of his life managing. It had filled out his boney face and made him seem almost well again.
The old lady frowned as she sat looking down at the rag in her hands. “Have you been out to his grave this morning?” She asked.
“I walked out there, yes ma’am.” Dustin answered in a low somber voice. “I don’t recall if your husbands grave had been exposed or not but I’m confident that we can fix whatever disruption that there may have been to his eternal rest.”
“Do you think he’s in hell?” The widow asked suddenly and unexpectedly. Tears flooded from her eyes. She lifted the handkerchief to her face bawling.
Dustin rose from his desk and rushed to her side. “Of course not!” He said patting her gently on her back. “Why would you even think such a thing?”
“Because--- because--- because---” The widow choked repeatedly on the word as she tried to stifle her jagged crying. “Because he did horrible things and now there’s a big hole that seems to go down forever right over where he was buried!”
“There, there.” Dustin said.
“Years ago, he abandoned his family to shack up with me.” Mrs. Goldman continued her mood completely inconsolable. “We were young at the time and didn’t think anything of it but since then it’s been all downhill!”
“Well that has nothing to do with the crack.” Dustin replied looking uncomfortably at the sobbing widow below where he stood.
“He left them, and then we got married and I forbid him to speak with them!” She howled. “I told him that he didn’t need to talk to his kids anymore because they were a mistake and now his bank is closed down and he’s been sucked into hell!”
It was true. The bank had closed last year. It had been a victim of the larger banks which had merged and built branches all along the freeway and next to the grocery stores.
The widow waved her hand weakly out in front of her face. “What sort of a man leaves his wife and kids?” She asked rhetorically. “What sort of woman tells him to just ignore them?”
Dustin took hold of her hand and knelt to face her. “People make mistakes.” He said as he gave her fragile fingers a gentle squeeze. “Your husband isn’t in hell.”
“Well where is he?” She asked sharply, her eyes locking with his. “I saw the spot where he was buried on the news this morning and its total blackness now. What if you never find his body? What if he’s disappeared completely?”
Dustin shook his head. “No one disappears completely.” He replied using the most tender tone that he could manage. “Even if your husband is at the bottom of that crevice we will find him and we will put him back to where he belongs.”
“He belongs with his wife and children.” The widow spat her hoarse voice barely above a whisper.
Again Dustin shook his head. “He belongs with you ma’am.” He said unconsciously pumping her hand up and down with each word that he spoke. “Even if the two of you did some things in life that you regret now, your love together was a real and lasting thing.”
The old lady grew silent as she withdrew her hand from his grasp and looked away.
“We will find his body.” Dustin said standing and walking back behind his desk. “Trust me when I tell you that. We will make this horrible thing like it never happened.”
“Will you get a preacher?” The widow asked as Dustin returned to his seat. “Can you have someone there to forgive him and me for all that we did?”
“We can do that.” Dustin agreed. “We can have another burial service if that’s what you’d like.”
“I don’t want another funeral.” Mrs. Goldman snapped. “His first one was such a tiring affair! Every old superficial friend that he had got up there and said a few words about him. None of them really knew what a horrible father he was or that I was a whore who’d stole him away from his wife 40 years ago. It was all stories about golf and work. What did all of that matter?”
Dustin leaned forward placing his elbows on the top of the desk. “I’m sorry then” He said. “I must not be understanding you. What did you want the preacher for?”
The old lady shot him a look of seriousness. “I want a preacher to look at his body and tell me that the life that we led together was full enough to make up for the lives that we ruined when we turned our backs on his kids and let them be poor and addicted to drugs and both die young, wondering why their father never once tried to contact them.”
Dustin gave her an uncertain smile. “I can give you that.” He said.