Dustin didn’t need any more encouragement to leave behind his old life. He’d spent enough time talking himself into it and arguing with everyone else over his decision. The trauma of the last two phone calls solidified his decision to leave this version of himself behind and try to start over again. Maybe this time he’d be able to figure out how to disappear completely and not have to be responsible for anyone else but himself ever again.
Dumping the phone in his pocket he strolled from his hiding place at the side of the building back out into the parking lot. The crowd of families regarded him with wary expressions as if they felt threatened by his presence among them. He could see Marcus and Leon talking animatedly near a row of trees off to the side. The boy looked in his direction and sneered. He didn’t say anything.
Dustin ignored the open hostility and all the suspicious glances from the confused family members. Instead he crossed the parking lot making a direct path towards Miss Kennedy. She was standing off to the side, near what he assumed to be her motorcycle and smoking a cigarette.
“Are you ready?” He asked, tossing the keys to the hearse back and forth in his hands.
“What the hell was that about?” She asked motioning towards Marcus.
Dustin shrugged. “It’s administrative stuff.” He said. Pausing he spit a little blood out onto the pavement before continuing. “Actually, I think I just quit. I guess we were tying up some loose ends is all.”
The woman regarding him with marked dubiousness. “And now you want me to get into a car with you?” She asked.
Dustin hesitated. “Well, me and your father.” He answered. “We’ve got the body loaded up around back right now for his trip to the crematorium.”
Miss Kennedy took one final drag off her smoke. She creased her brows as she considered what he was telling her. “You’re still going to take my dad to be cremated today?” She said stamping out the butt with her foot. “Didn’t you just tell me that you quit.”
Dustin made an offhand gesture. “Like I said, there’s administrative stuff and loose ends that need to be taken care of. I promised you we’d take care of your father’s body today and I intend to stick by my words.”
The woman shook her head. “Whatever.” She said, bending to pick her backpack up off the ground. “Let’s get this over with.”
Dustin turned motioning for her to follow. “If you’re not afraid of aftershocks,” He called over his shoulder as they walked towards the door of the funeral home. “It would be faster if we just cut through the offices.”
“That’s fine.” She replied.
Dustin held the door open for her and motioned her inside. Miss Kennedy stood for a moment in the foyer. The earthquake had rattled the doors open to the chapel and knocked Mrs. Peterson partially off the podium where her casket had been sat. She was now propped up against it in almost a standing position. Her face, a façade of peaceful countenance and eternal rest seemed to be greeting them as they came through the door.
Dustin looked at his watch. “Her family should have been here an hour ago.” He said with some concern. “I wonder why they’re so late.”
“What?” The woman said, her gaze transfixed on the erect corpse.
“Her funeral should have been at 3:00.” Dustin explained tapping the timepiece on his wrist. “It’s almost four. If they’re not going to hold the service today then they really should have called.”
“I imagine that they have bigger fish to fry right now.” She replied. “There’s landslides and fallen buildings all over the city.”
“And the matriarch of the family is sitting alone in an empty funeral home.” Dustin said continuing her thoughts for her. “This is why it’s so frustrating to even try having a relationship with people. You do everything that you can for them and then they forget you or leave you alone when its time for your moment.”
Dustin shrugged his shoulders. “She was diagnosed with cancer about six months ago.” He explained. “She came in here alone and talked to me about what burial arrangements that she’d like to have made for herself. She couldn’t have been a nicer lady. She wanted everything taken care of for her family so that when her time came they wouldn’t have to worry about anything. The least they could do is show some respect and see to it that she’s given a proper send off.”
“Well, isn’t that your job.” The woman asked.
“Not anymore.” Dustin said smiling. “Come on.”
Briskly he led her down the hallway, through the break room and past the offices back into the receiving area. As he opened the heavy metal door to the embalming room he could see that Leon had left the bodies of the old man and his wife still sitting on their gurneys. Dustin was thankful that neither one of them had fallen off during the recent quake but rigor mortis was starting to set in on the old woman. It had caused her arms to be partially raised as if in some sort of heavenly plea.
“Can you wait here a moment?” Dustin asked the woman. He was accustomed to seeing this sort of thing but he felt that the grotesqueness of the scene might be too much for her.
“Sure.” Miss Kennedy replied.
Dustin entered the room and closed the door behind himself. Looking around, he found a folded rack of clean drape-clothes and plucked two of them gingerly from the stack. He tossed one on top of the woman, trying to press her arms back level with the table as he did so. Then he walked over to the old man.
There was a bag of personal effects. It sat on the gurney beside the old man’s ruined head. Inside its clear plastic sat a set of keys, some loose change, and a wallet. The usual stuff.
Against his better judgment, Dustin picked up the bag. Slowly, he pried at the corners, reaching inside to grab the man’s wallet. It was plain black leather, thin and worn. It felt light and cold in his hands.
Flipping open the billfold, Dustin plucked out a bank card, driver’s license and an old receipt for repairs that had apparently been made to his wife’s wheelchair just last year. The license said that the man was 78 and had blue eyes. The receipt said that the wheelchair had suffered a bad bearing in its left-back wheel. The bank card was for the Bay Bank and it had a cut-out representation of the sculpture that Dustin’s neighbor had built on the front of it.
The plastic which was there to contain photos was mostly empty. There was a small picture of the man’s wife taken when she was much younger, a tag from a shirt (small), and a photo of a big beefy teenager wearing a Black Sabbath T-shirt. Dustin recognized the boy instantly. If you added fifteen years to his face he would have been the same man that had threatened to kill Dustin over a bottle of water earlier that morning.. This was the man’s son