The couple retreated off into the weeds to talk privately amongst themselves while Dustin stood leaning against the coffin. “Why does everyone keep telling me to mind my own business?” He asked Kitten Kennedy.
“Shut up.” She said, turning her back to him and walking off onto her side of the road.
He stood there alone listening to the birds chirp in their cage. The four of them had gone maybe a half a mile at this point and he figured that Steve couldn’t be very far away. He wanted to get off this main stretch of highway as fast as possible but pushing the casket of Mr. Kennedy had kept their progress slow.
They’d left the hearse basically where it had stalled. James’ had insisted that they put on the emergency lights but other than that, there was little that could be done to get it off the road. Even in neutral the brakes were locked and it wouldn’t budge. Dustin had left the doors unlocked and the keys in the ignition.
For the first time since making his decision to leave, doubt began to creep into Dustin’s mind. It wasn’t what he had done that was giving him pause but rather what was to come. He’d wanted to get to know the Kitten Kennedy better but that wasn’t going so well. Also, because of his promises about disposing of her dead father and him stopping to help his neighbors once again the break from his old life wasn’t going as cleanly as he’d anticipated.
As it was right now, there was a good chance that Steve would find them. Dustin was sure that there would be no getting himself to go back to the cemetery ever again but still he loathed the very thought of having to explain himself any further. His partner wouldn’t take no for an answer. They’d argue about it for years to come standing out here on this road. They’d grow old before Steve would allow him to fade out of his life.
Dustin remembered leaving behind his old life. It had been effortless. Back then he’d somehow managed to fade into the tapestry of his surrounding, emerging only when he was called upon. The matters that usually summoned his attention were problems between people and things and since he feared the emotional storms that would brew in such circumstance Dustin had grown accustomed to doing whatever he could to keep the weather at bay.
It was exhausting work and it was a thankless labor. When a problem managed to insert itself into his world people would gather around blaming him. When there was peace and quiet, he was always fearful that it would be interrupted. In Dustin’s mind, he was a ghost trapped inside a living body. He was invisible until people suddenly felt haunted.
“I used to be a hotel manager.” He said without thought or preamble.
Kitten Kennedy turned. “What?” She asked.
“I used to be a hotel manager.” He repeated.
“So?” She shrugged. “Who cares?”
“Well,” Dustin began. “It’s a lot like working in the funeral business. People come in all dressed up, they go to their rooms, their families call on them sometimes and you have to tell them where their loved ones can be found or put their calls through.”
“They ask for wake up calls.”
“Yes.” Dustin continued. “It’s a business where your main job is to make people forget the pain of being away from home.”
Kitten Kennedy shook her head. “I like being away from home.” She contradicted. “That was the best part of my marriage; the honeymoon. I liked the place where we stayed. They had the best smelling soap.”
“Then the hotel staff was doing their job.” Dustin shot back. “Could you imagine how uncomfortable you would have been if they hadn’t have had that soap? If they hadn’t turned down the bed for you every time you left? Replaced your towels?”
“But that’s part of the package.” The woman argued. “That’s what you’re paying for.”
“Some places don’t see it that way.”
“Well then, those are the places that are probably going to go out of business.”
Dustin shook his head. “I ran a four star hotel in a quaint little southern town that was known for its antique shops. The people who stayed there were very old and very conservative. They didn’t come to spend a lot of money but wanted to be taken care of none the less. Outside of town, there were other hotels that did just as good as ours did financially but ran things differently. Different clienteles.” He added.
“Okay.” Kennedy replied irritably. “If you didn’t like having to cater to a bunch of high-maintenance old farts then you should have gone and worked for one of the other hotels.”
“That’s not in my nature.”
“No. You’re nature is to complain and be a victimized crybaby.”
“Look.” Dustin said, drawing a square in the air around his face with his index finger. “When you stay at these places, you’re basically living in a 200 square foot cell. You go in, have sex, eat, bathe, shave and then go out to sight see. When you come back, your mess is entirely gone. It’s like you were never there and you’re entering a brand new world where your luggage has been stacked neatly in the corner.”
“Yes.” She replied. “And that’s why I chose to stay in places that do that and not the others.”
“Exactly!” Dustin blurted out, clapping his hands together. “And that’s why it’s not in my nature to work and be surrounded by the types of people who would want to stay in those other places. I don’t care about those fiercely independent types who are just looking for a place to drink or be forgotten. I’m drawn to people who need my help. It’s why I go to twelve-step programs and why I became Steve partner and eventually ended up running his funeral home for him. I need to have people who need me and I need to make things right for them.”
“But you quit.” Kennedy argued. “You leave.”
“I leave.” Dustin admitted. “Eventually I have too. If I stick around, people start to blame me for everything that goes wrong. Sometimes, someone new comes along that needs my help more. I’ve given up being a sponsor in the self-help programs that I attend because of that. There are simple too many people who need my help for me to be able to effectively focus on any one of them. These days, I mainly just listen. If I can figure out how they messed up their lives then I try to use it to help people that I see making the same mistakes. Usually, it begins with them feeling helpless and desperate. They get a picture in their heads of how their lives should be and they feel powerless to stop it. That’s how everyone gets into trouble.”
“Sometimes people get dealt a lousy hand a life.” The woman said bitterly. “It’s not their fault and sometimes they’re not asking for any help or sympathy. It’s just the way things are.”
“Because some people are always going to want to stay in the places that have great smelling soap.” Dustin said. “Some people are always going to come to Shady Acres cemetery so they can be buried overlooking the bank that the used to love working at. Some people are never going to be responsible for taking care of things and some people are going to want their father cremated the instant that they’re reminded that he was once alive.”
“So what are you saying?” Kennedy asked, anger rising in her voice. “Are you saying that we’re all just helpless morons and that you’re somehow above it all, having to burden yourself with taking care of us?”
“I wouldn’t be pushing this casket along if I wasn’t trying to help.” Dustin quipped.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve!” The woman growled before turning her back to him.
“Look.” Dustin explained, speaking louder. “I’m just saying that we’re all crybabies.”
From behind him James asked: “Does anyone hear the sound of a car?”
Together they all listened.