Phillip explained the funeral process to the siblings as it grew dark outside. It was past time for him to go home, but he didn’t say so; there was nothing back at the apartment for him to do, and anyway, these were the most interesting people to come into the home in a while. Most clients were elderly and composed, either repressing their tears or so used to funerals that they didn't care much. These two were young, chatty and smiled often. Phillip still couldn't get over how different the two looked: the tiny, blonde, professionally dressed woman with the hard expressions of a lawyer, and the lanky, grinning young brunette man who could have been a movie actor playing a teenager. Phillip was fairly different from his own sister--his adoptive sister--but even they had more in common than this pair. And he had picked up that the woman liked to play a little dumb, just enough to get everything explained to her.
“So, okay, sorry,” she said through an apologetic grin, after Tristen had laughed at her seeming inability to understand the pricing system. “Do you hold any funerals in here?” She was glancing at the side lobby, which had a few dozen folding chairs and lots of subdued patterns.
Phillip shook his head. “We do hold some memorials here, but the actual services typically take place in a church. We can also help you rent out another space if you prefer. Since the deceased didn’t specify a locale, everything’s up to the family and close friends.” He paused. “I’m guessing that’s you.”
“Yep, we're all she had.” Tristen said. “So, the body doesn’t ever go through here?”
“No. There are some homes where that’s the case, but we stopped years ago. We actually have a sister agency that prepares the deceased for viewings, if that’s your wish.”
“Oh, no, no! I don’t want to see her dead!” April cried, grabbing Tristen's arm. This was the first time that something consciously struck a false note for Phillip. She really didn't seem like the type to suddenly lose her cool like that. But, he thought, everyone acts funny around death.
“Honestly, I feel the same way.” Phillip said, closing the catalogues with an air of finality. But that wasn't honest. In fact, he had never really minded being around the dead--his adopted father's funeral had been open casket, and though he wasn't allowed to do the autopsy, he'd read the results--natural causes--with no problem. But he always tried to connect with talkative clients by expressing some opinion or other. “In that case, we won’t handle the…deceased until the burial. Speaking of which, we can set a date—”
“Oh, we don’t want to take up any more of your time. You’re obviously closing.” April said abruptly, and stood. “We can come back tomorrow, or call…”
“Oh.” Phillip blinked. He supposed they had somewhere to be. “All right, we can probably finish over the phone—”
"Exactly. That would be--"
“What about music?”
Tristen had asked the question, and Phillip just looked blankly for a moment, unsure of that he meant. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw April take a step toward the door and sensed her irritation at her brother’s failure to follow. Tristen’s eyes were locked on Phillip again, who finally managed to say, “Music?”
“For the ceremony. It’s just…Benny’s life was all about music, and I know she’d want something a little different. Actually, very different. Know what I mean?” He was talking with his hands. April crossed her arms, for some reason looking outraged at the question.
Phillip folded his arms. He did know. “Are we talking techno, hip-hop…”
“Maybe, maybe. But mostly she was into prog rock. I think we'd definitely need some early Genesis playing, or some ELO...I don't know if you're familiar..."
"The best song I've heard played at one of these things," Phillip said slowly, thinking, "Was Pink Floyd's 'Great Gig in the Sky.'
"Perfect! And some Jethro Tull, maybe, in the background during the ceremony." Tristen flashed a huge grin--any pretense at grief was dropped. "But I was thinking, there’s a couple of new really local bands, and if we could actually get one of them to play the funeral…” he named a few, and Phillip knew them all, had seen a demo tape for one in the local record shop.
They began talking music, and the conversation got very intense, very quick. Phillip started pulling CDs out from behind the counter, stuff that he would play on slow days. Tristen pulled out his cheap knock-off mp3 player. Phillip could feel virtual waves of annoyance and impatience coming from April, who sat in a cushy couch with her arms folded and legs crossed, but he couldn’t help it. Music was his subject, and he had just met someone with nearly identical sensibilities about the many tiny bands currently springing up in the area. His personality gradually bubbled to the surface. He bashed a lazy indie performance he'd seen in the park, and gushed about the time he'd seen Radiohead at the Pavillion.
Music seemed to be the only thing these days that could absorb Phillip to the point that he forgot not to speak. Usually he looked down or away, spoke briefly and blandly, and generally tried to not attract attention to himself. To his face. Because it wasn’t a usual face. Oh sure, the dark brown hair was ordinary, nice even. His face was delicately featured, tan and clean-shaven, his features indeed vaguely Persian. And one of his eyes was normal, the plainest brown imaginable.
But he had two scars--one beginning at his hairline, the other just above his eyebrow--and both ran down the left side of his face past his chin. They criss-crossed, two ugly white ridges interrupted only by the patch that covered his left eye. And though he forced himself to talk to people, though he had taught himself to greet customers and be friendly if necessary...he would have much preferred never to be seen. He hated the way people looked, and they always looked. Even the nicest, politest people looked.
And in the middle of the deep musical conversation, just as Phillip was debating the merit of the new hit on the radio, he caught his own reflection in a silver plate and he stopped short. He cleared his throat. “Anyway, I’m sure you two…need to go.” He nearly whispered.
Tristan frowned, picking out a tiny frown line on his forehead that only made him handsomer.
“Yes, we do.” April said quickly. “We’ll call you on the music, and the dates.”
“Sorry to have kept you.” Phillip muttered.
“Hey.” Tristen seemed to be trying to get eye contact again, but Phillip smiled politely at the books he was arranging on the counter. He was a salesperson again, and not even a very good one. His client seemed at a loss for a moment. “It was nice to find someone who knows good music."
“Same to you.” Phillip said awkwardly.
“So, I’ve got your card. So…can I call you up if there’s, like, a good show in town or whatever?”
“Oh. Um, yes. Sure.”
Tristen stepped back, and, surprisingly, it was he who left first; April hung back for a second. She glanced at Phillip and smiled with fake sweetness. “Listen, I just thought I'd let you know something."
"Tristen develops a crush on almost every guy he meets, and for that half an hour he's all yours. But he'll move on just as quick. If you’re looking for a real relationship, well, let’s just say...look elsewhere. Okay?"
“Okay,” he said automatically, because he hadn't processed what she was saying. He watched her leave. Then it clicked, and his eye widened. “Wait, what?”