Seeing the image of the young Lance Aldrich in the picture had filled Dustin with an unexpected sadness. He’d gotten use to dealing with the palpable sense of loss that family members felt during his three years in the business but reconciling the awkward young boy from the photo with the threatening image that he had of the man at the convenience store from that morning seemed to throw him off. It was a sense of both a beginning and an end that came too quickly on top of one another.
Dustin didn’t like thinking of people as people. To him they were all a bunch of disorganized and dangerous messes that needed to either be cleaned up or avoided. This was part of why he’d allowed himself to become so drawn to twelve-step programs over the years. The meetings gave him a chance to try to figure out what made human beings so difficult.
In the comfort of a twelve-step program difficult people were forced to explain to others why they were so hard to deal with. They would sit in the uncomfortable chairs and struggle to search themselves for the motivations that they felt that caused them to act the way they did. It was a revealing verisimilitude.
Dustin himself rarely looked inward during these encounters but instead chose to observe the confessions as a mute witness and try to divine a reason for why people were always doing everything that they could to push him away. To him, it was an act that he partook of to try and seek forgiveness for the multiple injustices that he felt had been enacted upon him by a broken world. Everyone else was crazy and they were the reason why he was always so unhappy. He needed to find a way to absolve them before he could ever feel welcome being around them.
For all the times that he’d been, he’d never found an answer but still he found that the experience was never the less a relaxing one. These junkies, deadbeats and individuals suffering anger issues all had problems that were beyond his control. Seeing them explore them in an open forum made him feel like his life was justified. In essence, they were the problem with what was wrong with him and he couldn’t do anything to change that. They gave him the excuse that he needed to give up trying.
The boy in the picture had looked so miserable. His face was dotted with acne and his arms had yet to take on the definition that manhood would later give them. Clearly, Lance Aldrich was a problem for Dustin just like everyone else. The unfortunate thing was that Dustin was now looking at the boy in the picture’s father and he’d been unable to tell the man anything that would have stopped him from killing himself.
Dustin didn’t even bother to put the billfold back into the bag. He tossed it down in disgust next to the hole in the old man’s head then threw the remaining drape-cloth over the corpse. These were all Steve’s problems now.
Walking over to the door he opened it for the woman. “Sorry about that.” He smiled, trying to shrug off the image of the boy. “There were some bodies being worked on in here and I didn’t think that you’d want to see that aspect of our operations.”
“Thanks.” Miss Kennedy said stepping inside. “I don’t care though. Blood doesn’t bother me.”
“Well,” Dustin said as he guided her into the room. “Most people find it off putting.”
“Are those brains?” She asked nodding down at the floor.
Dustin followed her gaze. She was looking at a small pool of blood and grey matter that had fallen off the side of the old man’s stretcher when the paramedics were there. “Yes.” He answered simply.
“That’s gross.” She said.
“Yeah.” Dustin agreed. Then changing the subject he motioned towards a green door that was set in the wall of a darkened corner of the room. “Look, the exit’s right over there.”
“Fine.” She said.
Together they walked through the exit and down a small ramp out to the hearse. Standing on the driver’s side, Dustin could see the edge of the coffin peeking through a small crack in the drapes which lined the back of the vehicle’s cargo area. He could also see that Juan had left the canaries, cage and all for him beside the casket.
“It looks like we’re riding with my birds.” He said unlocking the door.
“You have birds?” The woman asked. Gently she opened her side and slid in.
“They aren’t mine.” He explained. Getting in himself Dustin swung closed the door and began to adjust his seat. “They’re actually Mr. Mosses. I’ve never met him. He’s a neighbor of mine. At least I think he is. I doubt that I’ll ever get a chance to meet him or give his canaries back to him actually. I’m not sure why I even have them still.”
“I see.” She smirked. “So are you going to cremate them to?”
“No.” Dustin answered. He put his hands on the wheel and thought for a moment. “I think I’ll just set them free.”
“That’s cool.” The lady replied.
Before starting the car Dustin held out his hand. “My name is Dustin.” He said introducing himself. “What’s your first name because I don’t want to drive all the way across the Bay Area calling you Miss Kennedy? It’s too formal and for some reason I don’t want to be formal with you anymore. I’d just like to be your friend.”
“Kitten.” She answered.
“Kitten Kennedy.” Dustin repeated. “That’s an interesting name.”
“You can blame the man in the back for giving it to me.” She said bitterly as she hooked a thumb in the direction of the casket. “I’ve always though it was stupid and made me sound like a whore.”
“I don’t.” Dustin said. “I sort of like it. As a matter of a fact, I have a picture of a kitten hanging above my fireplace.”
“You do?” She asked. “That’s weird. Why?”
“I don’t know.” Dustin replied starting the hearse and easing it slowly down the drive in the direction of the exit. “I think it makes me happy.”
“Well.” She said as they eased past the confused crowd of families still gathered in the parking lot. “That’s what my father always said that kittens were put here on earth for. They hang from branches for all eternity and make people happy.”