I worked at the cemetery with a guy named Chet—and I hated him before I knew anything more than his name. He started work at Walnut Grove a couple of months after me, and while it felt good to not be the new guy anymore, I couldn't stand my successor. Chet wouldn't look you in the eye, for starters, but he had a lazy eye, so it was sometimes hard to tell. Regardless, there was something shifty about him, something shifty and shady, but I could never put my finger on exactly what. He gave off an air of general degeneracy that makes my skin crawl to this day.
His was not a virile or manly physique: flabby, tubelike arms and legs, bloated face—either ashen or rubescent at any given moment—sunken, glassy eyes, and a gut the size of a beach ball. All the hallmarks of a seasoned drunk, with a missing finger on his right hand to boot. If he wasn't too hungover, he would come strolling across the street from the trailer park around 8:45 and meet us in the garage for a long day of honest work. We'd be sitting or standing around the wood stove, drinking terrible instant coffee and hearing all about Bill's bowel movements, and Chet would come swaggering in, and I always felt myself clench up when I first saw him in the morning. I never liked him. I preferred him hungover at the trailer park. I preferred being the new guy.
There was a fat, orange cat that would sometimes come wandering in looking for attention or scraps, but more often, scraps. Ken, the crooked caretaker at the big house down by the east entrance, probably fed him and let him spend the night indoors if it was raining, but I don't think the cat belonged to anyone. Actually, it was probably Ken's wife, Marianne, who took care of the cat in between administering beatings to her browbeaten lowlife of a grave-robbing husband. He was obviously well-fed (the cat, not Ken, though Ken was by no means lean or fit), and he wasn't mangy or flea-bitten or anything like that, but he always looked dirty(the cat and Ken). And one of his eyes was missing. I tried to show affection anyway when he would come swaggering into the garage like Chet with his missing finger. I would pet him and scratch behind his ears, but he always made me uncomfortable, and I hated it when he looked at me, even if he was purring.
None of us knew what the cat's name was, so Chet decided one day that his name was Fuckface. And from that day forward, any and every time that fat, orange cat wandered into the garage in the morning, or during our fifteen minute coffee break, or any other time, Chet would exclaim, “Fuckface!” and look at you, grinning stupidly from ear to ear as if he had just told the world's funniest joke. And you would have to nod politely and smile and pretend to halfheartedly laugh at Chet's ponderously dim “joke,” while all the time wondering both how he even possesses the will to leave his trailer in the morning and why I am working here at Walnut Grove Cemetery myself. Am I destined to become this? A derelict laborer over the remains of others?
One afternoon in mid-July—right around the time I started seriously debating leaving the career of cemetery laboring—Ken came in to the garage during lunch. He never saw fit to eat with us lowly gravediggers, but his white shirt was completely covered in red sauce and he needed to hose himself off. Marianne had beaten him with his Subway, and if you didn't know Ken, you might feel kind of bad for the egg-shaped little wretch until you started hearing little things about him. Stories. Corruption. Missing bodies and such. I was still at Walnut Grove for the court-ordered exhuming of an empty coffin, for example, so I know that at least some of the stories are true.
Anyway, Ken comes waddling in, covered in sauce and meatballs, and starts moving over to the shop sink. We all just stare. Bill is holding whatever disgusting and offensive sandwich his wife made for him halfway up to his mouth. John's match burns down to his finger and goes out, his Viceroy unlit. I don't remember what I was doing, probably re-assessing. Joe may have farted over in the corner near the backhoe. Coleman chewed his gum. Chet, who had shown up this morning for work (much to my chagrin) laughs first (of course), pointing with his stunted hand. “Christ, Ken, what happened to you?” he cries, his haggard and bloated face turning morbidly crimson.
“Marianne hit you with your Subway again?” Bill ventures.
Ken ignores him. “I don't know, Chet!” he lies, but by now everyone is laughing at him and have stopped listening. “Somethin' must've gotten Marianne's goat! Geez, I tell ya!”
Sure, Ken. Somethin', as if that ain't you.
Now, while everyone's laughing and slapping their knees and having a grand old time at poor Ken's expense, the fat, orange cat comes sauntering into the garage as if he owns the place. I groan under my breath because I know it's coming.
I nod and smile. Everyone's laughing, and now Chet is laughing louder than all of them combined because he thinks they're laughing at his stupid, inane, vapid, un-funny mockery of a joke. Even Ken is laughing, but it's because he thinks he pulled one over on everyone, that Marianne is just a crazy old bat that abuses her husband, and that, no, he never switched any bodies or buried them three or four deep to re-sell the same plot, or re-sold non-existent plots and then dumped the bodies out in the fells behind the north entrance. And I am laughing alongside them because I have just decided that this is my last day at Walnut Grove Cemetery.