the lake was my favorite place to go when i was younger. my dad and i spent many early mornings before school and tons of saturdays there, lines dangling in the water waiting patiently for our lunch. most days we went home empty-handed; but there were times when we caught so many trout that i thought the boat would sink under their weight.

after dad died when i was fourteen, i went back to the lake to toss his ashes in. my mom had been dead since i was born–an unfortunate accident in the delivery room i was told “when i could handle it”–whatever that meant. when dad died, i couldn’t afford a funeral, so the mortuary guy agreed to cremate him for free. well, that’s not the total truth–i agreed to help clean up in the “dead” room until i worked off my debt. being around dead people all the time took the thrill out of death. the people looked like they were just sleeping, so death became less of an issue for me. what should have taken three months, though, became permanent. the funeral director hired me as an apprentice, and i’ve been there ever since.

the lake became my refuge when the dead began to talk to me. i could hear them fuss when i took too long getting them dressed or put on too much rouge or, occasionally, dropped them. the lake became my refuge when i needed to get away from my girlfriend–who was only my girl because she liked sex in the mortuary. that was too morbid even for me. the lake became my refuge when i needed a vacation because, as it turns out, being an apprentice doesn’t pay well, and i never had money to travel.

as i sit here on the bank of the lake today, the breeze lightly taps the grass blades; the water folds in on itself; and tears stream down my face. i watch the family of ducks paddle their way to the other side of the island that sits in the middle of the lake. one of them just caught a fish in its beak. i am amazed at its precision and deftness in the murky water. it’s hard to see much in the lake since the power plant began dumping its waste there. an oily film coats the top of the water, but the ducks don’t seem to mind. today, neither do i. i need the darkness of the water to hide what i’ve done.

in the distance i hear the chimes of the local church telling me it’s five o’clock. i wipe my hands in the grass, pick up her shoes and the knife, and head back to work. mr. callahan’s family expect him to be in his suit by seven-thirty tonight, and i have a lot of work to do.