The distant sound of some kind of vehicle approaching became undeniable as the four of them stood, heads cocked and alerted. With it, there was music. The tune was muddled by distance but not by raised windows. The high whine of a guitar indicated that it was rock and roll.
“It’s not Steve.” Dustin said, sounding a little relieved. “It’s the opposite direction from where he would be coming from.”
Kitten Kennedy shook her head. “It’s not the cops either. None of them would be rocking that hard.”
James left his wife’s side walking over to join Dustin at the coffin. “It’s probably just some random person.” He said smiling. “They’ll think we’re crazy when they see us all standing out here with this coffin.”
Alexis shifted back and forth on her feet, standing in the weeds. She was once again wearing the sleepy grin that Dustin had come to associate with her face. Whatever differences there had been between the couple were now apparently settled. “Maybe we should flag them down?” She mused.
“That’s a good idea.” Kennedy agreed. She walked out into the road and stared down its length defiantly.
Eventual the vehicle came into view. It was a truck, not a car; white, huge and old. Rust lines decorated its undercarriage rising up in the paint on the sides like flames. It was traveling fast.
Seeing them, the driver swerved, began to slow down and crept to a crawl before where they stood. The song that was playing inside now could be heard more clearly. Dustin recognized the tune as Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Momma I’m Commin’ Home’ released in 1991, the year that he started college. Inside a heavy-set man was crying. Dustin recognized him as well.
Lance Aldrich’s face looked tear stained and swollen. As he sat studying the scene, his eyes settled slowly on each one of them before coming to a rest on Dustin. There was no anger in his expression, only sadness.
Kennedy was the first to approach him. “Can you help us?” She asked coming up to the driver’s side window.
Aldrich turned down the radio, wiped an elbow across his face and leaned out to face her. “What’s going on here?”
“We’re trying to get my dad cremated.” The woman shot back leaning against the window and pointing in the direction of the coffin.
“Today?” The burly man asked.
“Yes.” Kitten Kennedy said, her heavy gaze leveling on Dustin. “It has to happen today.”
“That lady over there looks awful pregnant.” Aldrich commented pointing towards Alexis. “Is it okay for her to be walking out here?”
Hearing him Alexis threw out a hand dismissively. “Oh I’m fine!” She laughed. “Thanks for asking but I’m not due for at least another two months.”
The grocer’s brows wrinkled. “Why are you out here?”
Everyone turned in Dustin’s direction. There was an uncomfortable silence.
Sensing that an answer was expected from him, Dustin cleared his throat. “Our hearse broke down.” He said in a feeble, unsure manner.
Kennedy raised her eyebrows. “The owner had it shut down.” She said turning back to face Aldrich and pointing offhandedly in Dustin’s direction. “This guy here stole it from a funeral home. It had one of those anti-theft GPS things and this guy doesn’t know the code to unlock it.”
“You stole it!” The grocer shouted in surprise. “What funeral home?”
Dustin took a step forward. “It wasn’t really stealing.” He said in his defense.
“What funeral home?” Aldrich repeated.
“I was never told that I couldn’t take it.”
“As a matter of a fact, I talked to the owner just a little while ago and they’re not calling the police.”
Lance Aldrich put the vehicle in park. “Where did you take that hearse from bro?” He growled menacingly.
There was a long moment of silence. Aldrich sniffed, trying to stifle himself from crying again. The song on the radio ended and started again. It was on repeat.
“My momma and daddy are at Shady Acres right now.” The grocer croaked. “They died. That’s where I’m going.”
Before he could stop himself Dustin heard himself speaking. “I’m very sorry for your loss.” He said reflexively. “The sooner you can make arrangements to bury them, the sooner you can put this process behind you and begin grieving for their passage.”
Aldrich’s face exploded into a ruddy mixture of anger and shock. “Are you that bastard that called me on the phone?” He asked, motioning for Kennedy to step aside and throwing open the door.
“Now don’t get distracted.” Dustin continued. “You’re going to have to consider what kind of service that you want to have for them and what sort of music that you want played at the service.”
Aldrich stepped out of the truck. In his hands was the baseball bat he’d used to threaten Dustin at the store that morning. “You are him! You tell me what you said to my daddy.” He said rubbing the fat part of the aluminum shaft with his free hand. “You tell me what would have made him punch you in the face?”
Dustin took a step behind the coffin glancing around to everyone else for help. Kitten Kennedy wore an expression that seemed to be an odd mixture of amusement and offended dejection. James was smiling worriedly. Alexis was looking at her fish. “You need to think about what kind of clothes that you want them to be buried in.” He said desperately.
The grocer approached the coffin, bat raised. “A suit and a dress.” He answered.
“Do they have any that were their favorites?”
Aldrich paused, seeming to struggle with his memories. “Mom liked a yellow print sundress.” He said with some satisfaction. “Dad didn’t care for suits. What did you say to him?”
“Nothing!” Dusting defended arranging himself to keep the coffin between them as the grocer slowly circled it. “Flowers! Did you’re mom like any kind of special flower?”
“She liked sunflowers.” He answered before cocking the bat and taking a swing at Dustin.
Dustin sidestepped it. “They didn’t pick out a lot to be buried in.” He added skipping around to avoid being struck by another swipe. “Do you think they would want a fancy lot with lots of trees or something more simple and cheap?”
The grocer paused. He lowered the bat and seemed to shrink. “They really are dead aren’t they?”
It was in Dustin’s nature during these situations to go and give the grieving family members a soft pat on the back. It was his way of hugging them without having to get too close. In this case he did not approach Lance Aldrich to touch him in a gesture of sympathy. Instead, he just stood there.
As the grocer began to cry, Kitten Kennedy took a step towards him. “You can have my families plot.” She said gently.
Aldrich looked up, blinking. “Really?” He asked in childlike disbelief.
“Yeah.” She answered coming to face him. “My father won’t be using it after today and I don’t intend to be buried there. You can even have the headstone. Just have someone grind off my dad’s name and put the ones of your mom and dad on there. It’s big enough.”
“Can I do that?” Aldrich asked rubbing at his eyes.
Kennedy looked to Dustin for the answer.
“Absolutely.” Dustin said, taking a hesitant step towards the pair. “There’s paperwork that has to be signed in order to transfer ownership but we can take care of that.”
“And the headstone?” She asked. “Can you get someone to get rid of my dad’s name?”
“Sure.” Dustin nodded. “That’s actually pretty easy. I have the name of a stone cutter who could do that work at a minimal charge. He could even put some sort of embellishments on the frame just to hide any scarring that might occur during the removal process. We could have him carve some kind of flower where the kitten picture is. It would look very somber.”
Aldrich looked up. “My mom loved kittens.” He said.