Sam watched Jackson at work. It was not the work of handing out condolences and exchanging pleasantries that he had been assigned, but the work of chatting up Maggie Holbryth which he was so often engaged in.
Sam simply sipped his white wine from the corner of the room best suited to growing wallflowers, deploring both the cheap taste and the actions of his friend and fellow funerary serviceman. He knew Jacksonwas currently hardly sparing thoughts for Ms. Walters, who lay in a cushy coffin about twenty feet away. Likely he only paid her a few terse words and false pretenses.
Sam supposed he understood. They saw this sort of thing every week, and despite feeling relatively acquainted in some way with all of Moorcove’s 700 or so residents, showing one out the mortal coil was conducted with a relatively unceremonious level of ceremony on the part of himself and his three colleagues.
The thing he didn’t understand, was how Paul and Jackson could say almost all of the same things, but Paul always did it better. Paul had a pincushion heart though, one that when it came up against pain or hardship it often responded with a soft spoken joke rather than a cry, tailored to making others laugh though he hardly laughed himself. Jackson, on the other hand, was not a considerate animal. He represented the dead-end-ness of the four of them the most, hardly attempting to hide his extended disappointment for his life underneath a mire of hedonism.
Sam knew most didn’t see this, and understood that he likely did because he’d known the man for years, saw him every day, had cut their losses garnered in early adulthood and moved out to a nothing coastal town together, and now negotiated the treatment and removal of corpses with him.
Maggie Holbryth probably saw it though, Sam mused. What else would explain that pained but polite expression she now wore as she listened to Jackson try and pull the big city card again, though he’d lived in Moorcove for years now.
When she tacitly excused herself, Sam watched Jackson raise his glass to her as she went before he turned and strode into Sam’s corner.
“I need a wing man,” he said. “I’m upbeat, and sometimes catchy, but you’ve got the eloquence. The things I say about myself hardly seem to matter to other people until you are saying them. Come on, I’ll help you pick out something for yourself.” Though Sam made no move to initiate the action, Jackson forcefully clinked the rims of their glasses together before he downed his remaining bottom third.
“You’re turning her into some kind of forbidden fruit,” said Sam. “And she sees that. This town is smallJackson. Did you think you could pick up at funerals, sleeping your way through every young woman, and not have at least one of them notice your stunning lack of commitment?” His irises slid to the edge of their lids to look at his friend, “also, there are no gay people in Moorcove.”
“What’s commitment got to do with it?” Jackson slammed his glass down on a well dressed table and turned back to Sam with a smirk. “And have you ever really tried!? Maggie will come around, you’ll see.” He slapped a hand onto Sam’s shoulder, leaving it there to help punctuate his next request, “Angler tonight?”
How Sam hated The Angler. The same cursed bar with the same cursed people every week for the last two years.
“Sure,” he sighed, hiding his face in his wine glass.
Jackson’s smile broadened, and he gave Sam’s shoulder one more gingerly tap before striding away, hands in suit pockets.
The other thing Sam didn’t understand was why he was so jealous of Jackson. They’d basically deemed themselves failures, and had come out here when Paul presented an opportunity to run the family business together, realizing at thirty that they’d apparently lost out big enough on any dreams they’d had that they wanted to run to the edges of the earth and quietly mourn for themselves and others. That meant there shouldn’t have been any risk, nothing left to prove, and Jackson internalized that.
But Sam still felt like he was dressing himself up for no one.
He turned and watched Paul standing over Ms. Walters. The man had a bit of ginger hair even on his knuckles, Sam noted as he watched his friend brush his hand over the woman’s head. Perhaps there was some small error there left from the embalming process, or perhaps the motion was part of an even more private ritual that Paul conducted for himself and this woman he’d last seen over tea and scones when they were discussing the logistics of her sister’s passing six months prior.
Paul had been strangely made for this. It was as if he’d punched his card when emerging from the womb, and reported to the reaper’s office for promotion several times throughout his life. He was their king, and he touched sorrow and turned what bits he could into gold. Sam wondered what the pain of such a person was shaped like, and if he’d ever truly gotten a holiday away from it. The rest of them had been willing to move out to Moorcove at thirty. Paul was ready any time.
And standing there, fingers growing clammy around the stem of his glass, Sam realized yet another thing that made him different from the others. They’d moved out here to get away from something. But Sam, his gaze on the tears in Paul’s sea foam eyes, Sam knew he’d always been a follower.