A Case for Wrongful Death

By on Oct 30, 2020 in Fiction

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1940s woman walking down street

“Is that right?” Dr. Wheeler stared at Connie.

She nodded.

“Okay,” he said. “Let’s get to work.”

Connie clung to her sister’s hand as she followed Wheeler into a closet sized room with a bare wooden table and a small sink in the corner.

“You have to stay out there,” the doctor said to Lois.

“No,” Connie wailed.

“I’ll be right outside,” Lois said. “But remember, you don’t have to do this.”

“Look,” Wheeler said to Connie. “If you don’t want to, just say so.”

She didn’t, not here, not with this little man. But she had no choice. “Do it,“ she said.

Wheeler spread a blanket over the table.

She closed her eyes and started to pray. “God, forgive me.”

Wheeler burst out, “I can’t work with that kind of thing going on.”

So she prayed in her head. God forgive me– he was pulling her legs apart—I’ll never, ever go against your will again – his cold hands were touching her – God, make me good, make me whole, make me good – something was going up inside of her, sticking into her, sharp, sharp–“Stop! You’re hurting me”—it kept moving, up, inside, pricking her, cutting – “No! Don’t! It hurts. It hurts! God, make it stop!”

Pain crashed through her, wave after wave.

Then something was covering her face.

“Lois!” she yelled.

“It won’t be long now,” she heard him say. “Start counting backward from 100.” It was the last thing she remembered.


She woke up confused. It was dark, and she ached somewhere deep. She sat up. Looked around. Then she was running out of the dark, into the next room, to her sister, hugging her, clinging to her.

“How do you feel?” Lois asked, holding her.

“I want to go home.”

Wheeler suddenly appeared.

“It was successful,” he said. “But she needs to rest. Make sure she has plenty of sleep tonight and aspirin for pain.”

“My sweet sister, you’ve been so brave,” Lois said as they opened the door to fresh air, yellow-green leaves, light.

Connie could barely concentrate, the sun was so bright.

“We’ll go home, I promise,” Lois said. “But we’re supposed to shop, remember? That’s our excuse for coming to Stanton.”

“I don’t feel good.”

Lois put her arm around Connie’s waist and walked her to the car.

“Okay. Let’s go home. I’ll make up something for Papa.”

On the way back to Goldfields, Connie tried to forget the dark room and the horrid little man. But she couldn’t forget the pain, which kept rippling through her. She felt dizzy, like at any moment she might be sick.

They were waiting supper when she got home. Sylvia, the only sister still living at home, had cooked up pork sausage, fresh corn and butterbeans, spoon bread.

“You girls been spending all my money?” her papa said.

“We were just looking,” Lois said. “Getting ideas for the bridesmaids dresses.”

“Well, sit down and eat,” he said.

It felt good to sit, but the smell of the fried sausage disgusted her and, even sitting down, she felt dizzy, like she might faint.

“I don’t feel so good,” she said. “I think I just might go to bed.”

Sylvia put her hand on Connie’s forehead. “You feel hot,” she said. “You think you might have picked up something nasty in Stanton?”

It felt good to sink into her bed. She was so tired and her head hurt. She wanted to sleep forever.

But in the middle of the night, she woke up, shivering, her whole body aching.


The light hurt her eyes so she kept them shut. But she could hear her papa and Sylvia whispering and then she heard Lois. What was she doing here?

“I’m so cold.”

The blankets felt heavy, piled up on her. And her head hurt.

She woke herself up the next time, throwing blankets onto the floor, burning up.

Then it was daylight and a man was bending over her. Was it Dr. Thornton?

She heard the man say, “Call an ambulance. Her fever’s through the roof.” It was Dr. Thornton. She’d known him all her life. Thank God.

She didn’t remember how she got to the hospital. But George was there, looking down at her, his face so serious, his hand gripping hers.

“I’m sorry,” she tried to say. But it came out all wrong.

He was leaning down, his face close. “What? I can’t understand you. I love you.”

“I’m sorry,” she tried again.

“She’s not making sense,” he said to someone in the room.

“I’m so hot.”

And then the pain was tearing through her. Sharp, red, jagged.

“Help me!” she screamed and fell silent.


“What happened?” Lois asked.

“I think she fainted,” Sylvia said.

“No! Something happened.”

Lois reached for Connie’s hand; it was limp. It’s that terrible little man, she thought. God, don’t let it be that.

“Nurse!” she raced over to the gray-haired woman who was taking the pulse of a patient three beds away and grabbed her arm.

“Quick,” she said. “Over here.”

“Hold your horses,” the nurse said. “Can’t you see I’m busy?” She pointed to the ward full of patients.

“No,” Lois said. “You have to come. Something’s wrong,” and she dragged her by the arm to Connie’s bed, where George stood staring at the still figure.

“I’d thank you to let go of me,” the nurse said.

But then she looked at Connie, and her expression froze. She felt Connie’s pulse, rushed from the room, and returned with two orderlies who carried Connie out on a stretcher.

“Please go to the waiting room,” the nurse said. “Dr. Thornton is with her. He’ll find you when he knows something.”

Lois faced the nurse. “Where are they taking her?”

“I think she’s in the operating room.”

“What’s going on?” George shouted.

“Calm down, George,” Walton Reynolds said. “Dr. Thornton knows his business.”

Lois’s fingernails dug into Sylvia’s hand as they walked to the waiting room. Why had she taken her to that awful doctor?

The waiting room was empty. The family sat huddled together in metal folding chairs next to the Coke machine and waited. George paced back and forth across the worn linoleum.

Walton was leaning forward, motionless, his hands locked together in his lap, his eyes shut. Lois figured he was praying. She bowed her head and silently begged, don’t let her die, don’t let her die.

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Nancy Bourne has been making up stories all her life. Eight years ago, she started writing them down and began to publish. Since then, her work has appeared in more than thirty publications nationwide. Her stories have been published in Upstreet, The South Carolina Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Blue Lake Review, and many others. Her short story collection, Spotswood, Virginia, based on Civil Rights in the 1960s and '70s, is scheduled for publication in Summer 2021. For a full list of Ms. Bourne’s publications, please see nancybourne.us. Ms. Bourne writes about her childhood in the South, her life in California, and her many adventures such as rafting the Grand Canyon and traveling to countries such as Iran. “A Case for Wrongful Death” is based upon stories she heard as a child. Ms. Bourne has been an attorney for public schools, a potter with a home studio, and a teacher, most recently teaching writing to prisoners and incarcerated minors.