Benny finished with Carol a little after noon. Really it was nearer to 3 pm but Lincoln couldn’t remember what he’d done since opening. When Benny set the coffee in front of him, he nodded at the kid and looked out the window, wondering how long he’d been staring out the window, finding less reason to care as the minutes ticked by. Soon Benny was offering him another cup and Lincoln must have woken up some, because he said yes and Benny got up and smiled his simple smile.

When he sat down and handed Lincoln the next cup of coffee Lincoln said, “You’re smiling again.”

Benny shrugged.

“I’m okay, you know,” said Lincoln.

“I know,” said Benny.

“How does she look?”

Benny’s smile bent a little, like a shirt in need of ironing. “I did what I could.”

“I’m sure it’s fine,” said Lincoln.

“I might need you to look at her hands.”

“I’m sure it’s fine,” said Lincoln.

Benny sipped meekly at his coffee.

Lincoln watched the vapor roll up off the coffee and the daylight crawl down the street outside. It was a southern summer, green and hazy, the two-lane blacktop barren of cars and the bent over willows going yellow in the heat. Lincoln tapped absently at his cheek and tested the coffee. “She’d probably prefer to be cremated,” he said.

Benny almost spat his coffee up.

Lincoln frowned at him and put his own coffee down. “She didn’t say. That’s just what I thought. You know. How she’d be. Wouldn’t want to go in the ground.”

“Yeah, well…” said Benny, as if he had more to say after that.

Lincoln frowned at him again.

“How long were you married?” asked Benny.

“When we met, I just wanted to look at her, all the time,” said Lincoln. “Told her she was beautiful. Smartest thing I could say. Like a poem, kept saying, ‘You’re so beautiful.’ Kept waiting for her to get bored. But she didn’t, she just said, ‘What are you going to say when I’m old and my face is full of wrinkles. Then what’ll you say to me?'” Lincoln laughed. It was a ninety-year-old laugh in a seventy-year-old mouth. It ratcheted up out of him and took an effort to calm down. “I said, you know, ‘There ain’t gonna be no wrinkles on your eyes. That’s all I’m looking at. Looking at your eyes. Those big eyes.’ I ain’t never seen any gal with bigger eyes, you know. She was…you know, what we called ladies then. She was a dame.”

“I tried to make her look-” Benny started.

“I don’t want to look at her,” said Lincoln.

“You would have done it better,” said Benny.

“What am I going to do with her?” said Lincoln. “She ain’t in there. That’s not her in there. You glue her eyes shut and you stuff the cotton in her cheeks and you glue her lips closed. Man ain’t gonna do that to his wife. Man ain’t gonna do that to somebody he loves. She’s gone. She was beautiful, to the day she died. That in there’s a dress, the thing she wore while she was knocking around with a bum like me. And she ain’t in there. She ain’t in there no more.”

Benny screwed his mouth to one side and shrugged. “I’d still like it if you could look at her hands…”

“She was beautiful her whole life,” said Lincoln. “I never saw one woman in my life had eyes like that. Stared into you like you were a painting, and wherever she was was real life.”

“Boss,” said Benny, “should I close up the shop today? You wanna go home?”

“Go check her again,” said Lincoln.

“You want some more coffee?”

“Go check her again,” said Lincoln.

The soft splats of the young man’s sneakers disappeared down the hall and down the stairs. Lincoln looked to the clock and instantly forgot the time it told him. He stared at the road, the bent over willows, and the back of his mortuary sign. On the front he knew it advertised savings on caskets, and he tried to remember what Carol said about pine, or cedar, or rosewood.

She’d been like some angel, with eyes like that, dark and awesome and terrible in so small and round a face.

Benny called up from the basement: “Did you want the gold bracelet on her wrist or the silver one?”

“The silver one!” Lincoln hollered.

She wanted to be cremated, he was sure of it. She wouldn’t want him to go to the trouble. She also wouldn’t want to hurt his feelings and tell him to go to the Wexlers next door.

Burning her or burying her, the damage was done now. He would just sit with his coffee and wait out the days and the nights until someone had to do the same to him.

He hollered down to the basement: “Benny, I want you to burn me!”

He heard the boy drop something. After a moment, the question: “Now?”

Lincoln frowned at the willows outside. “No! Nevermind, bury me with Carol.”

He listened to the boy moving his tools. “But not now?”

“I’m not dead now, Benny.”

“Are you okay, boss?”

“I’m okay, Benny. How does she look?”

“I’d just feel a lot better if you looked at her hands.”

“I’m not going down there, Benny.”

“Okay, well other than that she looks okay.”

“She was beautiful.”

“What?” said Benny.

“I said she was beautiful!”

“I know, boss. I’m doing my best.”

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