A Case for Wrongful Death

By on Oct 30, 2020 in Fiction

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1940s woman walking down street

Lois wanted out. But strangers were blocking the aisles, chatting, calling to each other, in no hurry to leave the scene.

And they were using words like immoral, venereal, shameful as if they had any relation to her sister. As if anyone had any idea.

Walton sat at the counsel table, motionless. But here was Dr. Thornton. Looking down at him, his eyes full of concern.

“I’m so sorry, Walton,” he said, “It’s rotten.”

Walton struggled to his feet, staring at his old friend.

 “I’m sorry for you, Walton,” Dr. Thornton said, “but I have to confess, I’m not surprised.”

“You aren’t?” Horace Vass asked.

“You know, somebody’s got to do it. And Wheeler’s the man in this town.”


The next day Walton paid a visit to George’s small, spare apartment. The place looked almost empty; just a sofa and two ladder-back chairs in the main room. Walton was impressed with how clean it was. George’s face was gray and his eyes were sunk into blue-black circles.

“You been sleeping?” Walton asked.

“Off and on.”

“I’m worried about you, son,” Walton said.

“I’m okay.”

“You don’t look okay. Truth is, I’m worried you might do something rash. Somebody might get hurt.”

George looked straight at the old man. “I’m thinking about it.”

“In your place, I’d be thinking about it too. But there are too many dead already. One more won’t help things.”

“I was thinking two.”

“Well, that would get you the noose.”

They sat together several minutes, not looking at each other.

Finally, Walton said, “I’ve got a plan. It might work.”


A week later, Walton paid a visit to the Tabernacle. He found the Reverend Farris seated alone in the large auditorium, staring at the stained-glass window of Jesus surrounded by lambs.

He jumped up and wrapped his arms around Walton.

“Ah, Walton. I’m so glad you came.“

“I’ve been feeling bad about sending you away that time in the barn,” Walton said, disengaging himself and finding a seat in one of the pews.

“Don’t mention it,” Farris said, sitting down beside Walton. “You were grieving. The Lord understands.”

“The fact is, it bothered me, you calling Connie a sinner when my grief was so raw.”

The Reverend patted Walton’s hand. “I know it’s hard to face. We just have to pray to God to forgive her.”

“I’ve been giving it a lot of thought, Reverend, and I’ve concluded that there were a lot of folks, myself included, who were worse sinners than my little girl.”

Farris smiled. “Of course, we’re all sinners. But surely, you believe that fornication before marriage is a graver sin than most.”

“I’m not sure.”

“The truth is, that wasn’t her worst sin.” The Reverend was now gripping Walton’s hand. “You know that.”

Walton turned to face him. “You’re referring to the abortion.”


Walton blurted out, “But you have to understand, I drove her to it. That’s what I struggle with.”

“You’ve had a huge shock, Walton.” The Reverend’s voice was soothing. “That’s why you’re blaming yourself. But God sees all. He knows the truth. Your daughter made the decision to end her baby’s life, the gravest sin of all for a mother. You’re not the one at fault.”

“Please.” Walton was begging now. “Please try to understand, Reverend. She was afraid I would disown her. That’s why she did it.”

“It does not excuse her. She made the choice.”

Walton stood up, shook the preacher’s hand, and walked out the heavy oak door into bright sunlight.

“Wait,” Farris called out. “Give yourself time. Pray. God will speak to you and comfort you.”

But Walton was gone.


Two months later, Walton turned up at Horace Vass’s law office.

“I’ve come to pay your bill, Horace,” he said.

“I figured I’d hear from you sooner or later.” Vass pointed to a leather sofa across from his desk. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you, tell you again how sorry I am for how the thing turned out. But I figured you needed time to make peace with it.”

“I’ll never make peace with it,” Walton said as he lowered himself onto the stiff cushion next to the lawyer.

Vass nodded. “How’s George taking it?”

“He’s leaving town. Said it was better than shooting Wheeler.”

Horace smiled. “I hear somebody else left town.”


“You must have heard. Somebody put a sign up on Wheeler’s office door. Said, “UNSKILLED ABORTION DOCTOR INSIDE.” I heard Wheeler tore it up every morning when he came in, but somehow another one just like it got back up there while he was doing his business. Before long, patients stopped coming. He complained he was being harassed, but the police didn’t pay him much mind. He finally closed up shop and I hear he’s moved to Greensboro.”

“That a fact?” Walton said.

Both men were smiling.

After a long pause, Walton said, “Horace, I thought we were winning.”

“So did I. We had the facts, the law, the witnesses on our side. We out lawyered them. We should have won.”

“What happened?”

“They believed that lying son of a bitch. Believed that venereal disease nonsense.”

“But your expert?”

“Nobody believes experts. Fact is, the jurors couldn’t excuse her for . . . you know. They wanted to believe she had the disease. It made their decision easier.”

Once again, they sat in silence, two old friends comfortable with each other.

Finally, Horace said, “You’ve suffered some heavy blows, Walton. Have you talked to Reverend Farris about it?”

“Not recently.”

“He might could help you.”

“I’ve put the Tabernacle behind me, Horace.”

“How’s that?”

“Let’s just say I’ve graduated.”

“From Baptist Tabernacle?”

Walton nodded.

“You’ve found another place of worship?”


“I don’t get it.”

Walton stood up and reached into his pocket.

“Here’s the fee,” he said, holding out a check.

Walton turned back as he headed for the door, “I have one more question. Those jurors, all those men, do they have daughters? That’s what I’d like to know.” His voice was thick. “Do those sons of bitches have daughters?”



Much of the trial testimony comes from Richard W. Bourne’s law review article, ABORTION IN 1938 AND TODAY: PLUS CA CHANGE, PLUS C’EST LA MEME CHOSE, in Southern California Review of Law and Women’s Studies, Spring 2003, Vol. 12 Number 2.

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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.