“Hello?” Dustin answered switching coarse to stroll further into the bushes for privacy.
“Are you the guy from the funeral home?” The voice on the other end asked.
Dustin blinked twice, deciding how best to answer. “Yes.” He said at last.
“I’m Lance Aldrich, what bodies were you talking about in that message that you left me?”
“A man and a woman.” Dustin answered bluntly. “I’m sorry but I don’t have the paperwork here to tell you their names or ages. They were dropped off about two hours ago.”
“Mom and dad?” The voice asked anxiously.
“I have no idea.” Dustin replied. “If you want to come down here and make an identification you can at any time. I would recommend contacting my partner to arrange a visit.”
Dustin rattled off the number for Steve’s cell phone as he absently paced back and forth between a row of landscaped bushes and the side wall of the funeral home. He felt a mild tinge of guilt for unsympathetically pushing the man off on Steve but in his mind he had no choice. By the time that Aldrich managed to show up, he himself would be long gone and completely free of the business.
To Dustin, everything that happened between now, and the act of him dropping Mr. Kennedy off at the crematorium seemed to be specifically engineered to suck him back in to the job of being Steve’s overseer. He needed to ignore the urge that he constantly felt to comfort grief stricken family members. He needed to not listen to the concerns of the mortician and the grounds crew over him leaving. He needed to pretend like his partner Steve wasn’t about to bury a man and a priceless archeological find beneath his own graveyard just because he refused to accept change.
The only thing that Dustin wanted was to do what was right for the girl whose father was now inside his hearse. He felt a deep urge to get to know her better. It was something that he hadn’t felt since before he’d gotten married. It was an interesting desire and one which he was excited to explore in more depth. If things didn’t work out, then he was more than willing to vanish again.
“Can I come today?” He heard the man asking him from the other end of the line. “I think I need to come today.”
“I don’t care.” Dustin responded. Then, feeling a little guilty he added. “I’m really sorry for your loss but I’m not going to be here to tell you anything about what happened or help you pick out a good florist for whatever type of service that you plan.”
“What do you mean?” The man asked. “What the hell do you know about what happened?”
“All I can say is that the man who’s body that I called you about punched me in the face.” Dustin heard himself confessing. “That was actually the first time that I was punched in the face today. I just got punched again and I guess that I sort of deserved it both times. The woman was dead when I got there.”
“You and my daddy fought?” The man quipped. “Why did you fight with him you cock sucker? He’s 70 years old!”
“He punched me.” Dustin defended. “I was just trying to give him a place to bury you mother. When I left him, he was fine. I don’t know why he shot himself in the head.”
“What!” The man scoffed.
“I’m sorry.” Dustin told him. “Honestly, that’s all that I know. I don’t see how I could possibly help you any further.”
“You stay right there you bastard!” The man said. His voice was seething with anger. “I’m coming down to that funeral home right now and I want to talk to you face to face about whatever it is that you told my daddy you god damned morbid jack off.”
“You can come.” Dustin replied. “I won’t be here but I encourage you to come. The sooner you show up to make arrangements the sooner that you’ll find peace in your loss.”
With those words it was suddenly as if he was seeing himself from outside of his body. Put in the context that he had just phrased them they sounded so ridiculous and hollow and yet he had said that very phrase hundreds of times over the past three years. Jesus! He thought to himself, did you really think that you were doing anyone a favor telling them those kinds of lies?
As the man launched into a tirade of profanity and threats, Dustin realized that he was utterly useless in this situation. He hung up. Almost immediately, the phone rang again.
For a split second he thought about not answering it. There was no type of closure that he could ever hope to offer Mr. Aldrich. Dustin was just as baffled about why the old man had shot himself as his son was right now. At first he thought that it had been the overwhelming grief over losing his wife but now, knowing that he had a grown child living so close to him, he wondered if it wasn’t just an urge to disappear rather than try to rebuild everything again.
Dustin decided to give the man Steve’s number once more.
“Look Mr. Aldrich, I’m very sorry for your loss but honestly you’d be better off calling my partner right now.” Dustin said as he answered the call.
“Sylvia?” Came the now familiar voice of the trapped stranger who had been calling him all morning. “Sylvia? Where are you?”
“I’m not Sylvia sir.” Dustin once again corrected him. “Could you please tell me where you’re at?”
“You aren’t Sylvia?” The man said with alarm. “Why aren’t you Sylvia?”
“Because I’m not her.” Dustin answered. “This isn’t her number.”
“The hell it isn’t you damned liar!” The man spat angrily. “Now this isn’t funny anymore you hear me! I’m trapped and I need you to get home. You’ve been at the gym long enough.”
Dustin decided to try a different approach. “Where’s home?” He asked casually.
“You know damned well where home is you harlot!” The man shouted. “I’m dying here and I don’t have time for your games.”
“I want to help.” Dustin said sadly. “Honestly I want to send some people out to find you but I need to know where you are.”
“I don’t want you to send people.” The man barked. “I want you to come home right now!”
“I can’t.” Dustin said with a little desperation. “How can I? I don’t even know where I suppose to go!”
“This is so unfair.” The man sobbed. “I can’t chase you this time Sylvia. I can’t even feel my legs. Why won’t you help me when I need you? Why do I always have to be the one who takes the first step?”
“I’m not Sylvia.” Dustin said again more forcibly.
“I don’t care who you are!” The man screamed causing static to erupt on the line. “You’re acting just like her!”
With that, there was nothing.