They exited the cemetery without incident. Dustin didn’t make it a point to stop or even slow down as he passed Steve. His partner was still standing partially in the hole, looking down into its depths. For a moment he felt like rolling down the hearses window and calling out “Good luck!”
Instead, Dustin drove out past the gates and through the neighborhood bordering the hill where the crack lay.
“So you really quit?” Kitten Kennedy asked, adjusting herself into a more comfortable position in the seat.
“Yes.” Dustin replied. As he continued to distance himself from the cemetery, he found that he felt more and more relaxed with each passing mile.
Coming up to the section of homes that were destroyed by the mudslide which he’d seen on the way in, Dustin noticed that some of the families were now clearing their dwellings of every material possession that they could salvage. No longer were they walking around in shock and confusion anymore. Instead, the one’s who were left were piling television sets, tables, chairs and rugs; compiling them into room style arrangements across their yards.
Row after row of immaculately kept front lawns were beginning to resemble a pattern of normalcy that was usually kept behind closed doors. As they drove by, the various men, women and children who were sitting around on sofas, waving at his hearse as it passed reminded Dustin of the cop that he’d seen downtown that morning using the couch on the street to recline in while writing his ticket. People wanted to be comfortable regardless of whether they had a roof over their heads or not.
“Why does your father have a picture of the ‘Hang in there’ kitten on his headstone?” Dustin suddenly asked turning to the woman and smiling.
Kitten Kennedy gave a long sigh. “It’s stupid and complicated.” She answered. “Why did you tell me that you were an orphan?”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s just that, that’s such a ridiculous way to try and get to know a person.” She quipped. “Why would you think I’d even care? You’re an adult and so am I. Lots of us are orphans.”
Dustin had now come to a four-way stop leading out into the main road which stretched through the entire length of the town. Putting on his blinker he checked both ways. “I’m not really an orphan.” He said in a carefree manner.
It was her turn to be taken aback. “What do you mean?” She asked repeating both his words and tone from before.
“I leave.” Dustin answered giving a helpless gesture. “I don’t know why I do that but for some reason I just leave things.”
“Like now?” Kitten Kennedy asked.
“Yeah I guess.” Dustin said. Gently he maneuvered the hearse onto the four lane avenue. Excluding the occasional emergency vehicle that sped past them, lights ablaze the road was strangely free of traffic.
“So what’s the matter with you?” She asked throwing up her hands dismissively. “Do have commitment issues or something?”
“Jesus, no!” Dustin exclaimed a little more forcefully than he intended to. “If anything, it’s everyone else who has commitment issues!”
Well,” She said, pausing to measure her words. “You… leave.”
Dustin shook his head. “I’m always forced to leave.” He said tapping his chest. “It’s never a decision that I wake up one morning and make. I was prepared to come into work today and get things done. I didn’t want to leave. Other people basically tell me to leave and, since I don’t like hanging around where I’m not wanted I get the hell out of there! They’re the ones who gave up, not me!”
“Calm down.” She chided.
“I show up for work everyday and I take care of everything that needs to be done around that place!” Dustin continued jerking a thumb back in the direction of the cemetery. “I got Steve straight and off drugs, I bury every corpse that comes in off the streets for him and I give them all some damned pretty funerals! I do my part!”
“So why did you leave?” She asked.
Dustin shrugged. “I needed help today and I realized that I wasn’t going to get it.”
The woman shot him a crocked smile. “So you’re feeling sorry for yourself.”
“That’s not it at all.” Dustin muttered, his jaw tightening. “The problem was that Steve and everyone else around there were counting on me to hold it all together. I just couldn’t do it any longer.”
“I think that you threw a fit and left.” Kennedy smirked. “You’ll be back.”
Dustin’s brows knitted. “Why does everyone keep saying that?” He asked, frustration lining his voice. “I leave! It’s what I do.”
“Then you have a problem with commitment.” She countered. “It’s simple. You’re either throwing a crybaby fit or you can’t commit.”
“I committed to get your father cremated.” Dustin said, his expression changing to one of a smile. “I promised you that we’d do that and now, here we are doing it.”
The woman shrugged. “So why do you leave things anyway?”
Dustin sighed “It’s just that there’s a point when I guess that I look at a situation and I know that it’s just not going to get any better anymore.”
“That’s it?” She asked incredulously.
“Yeah.” Dustin said simply. “Everything falls apart and I get blamed for it. I leave. It was getting that way at the funeral home and it had been that way for a while with my parents before I left them.”
“So your parents aren’t dead?”
“No.” Dustin admitted. “As far as I know they’re still alive. I haven’t talked to them in years though. They probably think that I’m dead.”
“Why did you leave?” She shot back.
“I’d rather not talk about it.” Dustin replied. He drove for a moment in silence before continuing. “I guess that it was because they didn’t like the person that I married. They were constantly attacking her and the family that I was trying to build with her. It got to be constant. Every time that I tried talking with them they’d bring her up as if there was something wrong with me for choosing to be with her. I’d ask them to stop but it always came up again and again. After a while, I decided that it was pointless to even try anymore.”
“So you have a wife?” She asked.
“Not anymore.” Dustin admitted. “Why does your father have the ‘Hang in there’ kitten on his tombstone?”
The woman looked down.
They were coming up on the church where Steve and he had dropped James and Alexis off that morning. Dustin could see that it had been surrounded by news vans. The door was shut and a crowd of reporters were gathered out front on the steps which lead up to the chapel.
Across the street, the Denny’s still burned. No camera was turned in the direction of the blaze and several of the firefighters appeared to have just given. Several of them were facing away from the engulfed building watching the commotion from a corner of the restaurant’s parking lot.
Dustin motioned towards the scene. “I wonder what that’s about?” He mused.
Kitten Kennedy looked up, following his gaze as they slowly passed by the church. “Maybe the preacher’s trapped inside?”
“It’s a priestess.” Dustin corrected her. “I know her relatives. They’re my neighbors. They rode out here this morning with Steve and I. Everything was fine when we dropped them off.”
“I don’t know then.” She said, turning to look at the burning restaurant nodding in the direction of the blaze. “My father loved that place. He would take me there for my birthday every year when I was a kid.”
“It’s free on your birthday.” Dustin commented.
“I know.” The woman spat bitterly. “My father never had any money.”
“Is that why he killed himself?” Dustin asked.
“Why did you leave your family?” Kennedy shot back.
Before he could answer both James and Alexis suddenly bolted from around the corner, stopping at the intersection directly in front of the hearse. For a split second their eyes met. Alexis was still carrying her fishbowl. It rested in her cupped hands atop her pregnant stomach. The water was sloshing around inside.
From within the muted hearse Dustin could hear one of the news people holler out: “THERE THEY ARE!” before he saw the entire mass of them turn and begin running as a collection down the steps and out in their direction. Cameras were poised on shoulders and microphones extended as they rushed forward screaming out a barrage of incomprehensible questions.
James leapt to the passenger side of the hearse and tore open the door. “Am I glad to see you!” He smiled desperately as both he and his ugly wife stared inside at Dustin, fishbowl and all.