A Case for Wrongful Death

By on Oct 30, 2020 in Fiction

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1940s woman walking down street

“Her mother should have been here,” he said. “She would have seen what I missed.”

“I tried, Papa,” Lois said between sobs. “I told her it would be all right to have the baby. But she was afraid you would . . .”

Walton took that in. If it had come out different, if she had kept the baby, he might have . . . The possibilities sickened him.

“She was my daughter,” he said and stopped, because he couldn’t hold it in much longer.

Just then, a barrel-chested man with deep blue eyes and a cleft chin appeared at the office door.

“Brother Reynolds,” he said, “Is there anything I can do?” The resonant voice exuded the confident assumption that Walton, or any man in trouble, would want his help.

“There’s nothing anyone can do, Reverend,” Walton answered.

“The Lord can lift us up, even in our most troubled times.”

“He can’t bring her back.”

“That’s true. But He can forgive her and bring you peace.”

Walton didn’t say anything.

“Would you join me in prayer?” Reverend Farris lowered his bulky frame to his knees on the dusty office floor and waited.

Lois immediately dropped to her knees next to him. Walton sat at his desk, watching. He was surprised at himself, but he didn’t want to pray, didn’t want the intrusion of anyone, not even Reverend Farris, into his pain.

The Reverend smiled up at him. “Won’t you join us, my friend?”

Walton wanted to please him. Farris was a kind man, an old friend. He had comforted him in his agony all those years ago when his wife passed away. But his body felt heavy, stiff. He couldn’t move.

“Dear Jesus,” Farris began, “who brought peace to a suffering world, touch this troubled man, fold him in your arms.”

“Amen,” Lois breathed.

“Heavenly Father, who forgives us our sins,” the preacher continued, “forgive our sister Connie. She was young and easily tempted into sins of the flesh.”

Walton’s mind froze as the preacher’s voice droned on.

It was all true. But he didn’t want to hear it. Not from other people. Not even from the Reverend.

When the preacher was finally done and back on his feet, Walton led him to the door.

“Thank you for coming,” he managed to say.

He turned to Lois when the preacher was gone. “Get hold of George. Tell him I need to see him.”

Lois, still on her knees, looked up at him, her eyes bloodshot. “What are you going to do to him?”

“Nothing to him. We’ll be suing that Wheeler devil,” he said. “I prayed beside the coffin over there in the funeral home, and that’s what the Lord would have me do.”


George didn’t want to be there, didn’t want to face the old man. He knew he was to blame: he had made that baby and the dearest girl in the world had died because of it. But why hadn’t she told him? That was the question that kept him awake at night. If only she had come to him instead of Lois, trusted him, he would have married her on the spot and be damned to Tabernacle Baptist and all those so-called Christians. But she hadn’t. And he would never, ever see her again. And there was the baby, his baby. He couldn’t let himself think about that.

He found the old man in the living room, sitting bolt upright in the worn easy chair he claimed as his own. It was red and sagging.

George took a seat in the rocking chair across from him, his gaze focused on Walton’s leather slippers, flat on the carpet. He didn’t want Walton to see his eyes, which were red and swollen. He did not want to be here.

“I figure we need to talk.”

George raised his head and looked at the old man. “I’m very, very sorry, if that’s what you need to hear.” He hated the tears he could feel rimming his eyes, filling his nose.

Walton met his gaze. “I know you are. So am I. She was my child, and I failed her.”


“I trusted you.”

George wanted to say, Yes, I’m to blame. Hate me; I deserve it. But he couldn’t make the words come. Besides, couldn’t the old man see how lost he was?

“We both failed her,” Walton said. His voice was cold. “But that’s not why I asked you here.”

“What do you mean?”

“I want to sue that doctor who killed her.”

“I’d rather shoot him,” George said.

For the first time the old man smiled. “Me too. But suing is legal.”

“How do you figure it?”

“I’ve talked to Horace Vass over at the church. He says we got a case for wrongful death.”

George imagined bursting into the son of a bitch’s office with a hunting rifle and shooting him in the head, the heart, the throat. Imagined the blood. He wanted to grind him into the dust and watch him suffer. But a lawsuit?

He pictured himself on the witness stand in front of crowds of people, admitting he’d got his girl pregnant, being forced to talk about his beautiful Connie, crying.

“I don’t like it,” he said.

“Why not?”

“It’s personal.”

“We wouldn’t have to involve you.”

“Sure you would, but that’s not what I mean.”


“Nobody knows about, you know, why she died. Paper gave cause of death as an infection.”

“I know. I prayed on that. But the way I see it, Connie’s gone; she’s got no secrets to protect anymore. But that criminal of a doctor is free as air.”

“You want to put him in jail?”

“Wish I could, but Vass says we’d lose. Says we’d win a civil suit.”

“You want money from him?”

“I’ll ask for a little money; that’s the way the law works. But what I want is to put that devil out of business so that no young woman will ever suffer what happened to my little girl. Maybe then I can forgive myself.”

“Are you asking my permission?”

“No. I’m telling you.”

“Then I’m telling you, I don’t like it.”

Walton nodded and stood up. The visit was over.


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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.