The Untimely Death of Walter Hadley

January 22, 2009
By Kevin Dunn, Ivoryton, CT

The car pressed forward without a sound. Emily had been crying in the backseat but now she lay with her head slumped firmly against the window. James stared straight out of the car, his eyes fixated on the passing landscape with such a longing as if he could escape from the confines of the car by simply looking out of it. Jane sat quietly in the front seat, she had attempted to break the silence by speaking with every member of the family but her conversation attempts had been met with answers that were uncomfortably short or non existent at all.
And even though the grieving family seemed to be wallowing together as a group in their remorse, Jane, James and Emily could to silently agree that no one in the car seemed to be taking the death of Walter Hadley Sr. quite as hard as Walter Hadley Jr. his estranged son. Walter looked straight at the road ahead, both of his hands clutched tightly to the wheel and his face maintained a stone like expression that masked the feelings of regret, remorse, sorrow and anger that were racing around inside his head.
The Phone call was still ringing in his ear. He remembered he had felt angry at the sound of his cell phone interrupting the peaceful silence of his Sunday afternoon. He’d answered the phone and a short stifled response escaped the mouth of his sister in law Lucy.
“Walter’s dead.” She’d said quietly through her tears.
Walter, shaken and uncertain how to deal with the death of his father called Jane into the room and she’d picked up the phone and spoken to Lucy on his behalf. Apparently, there had been an accident involving a bus and Jane admitted that the details she received were vague, because she’d had a hard time understanding Lucy over the phone who she insisted was a wreck over the whole thing.
Walter looked out over the highway. The sign ahead revealed that he was only a few exits away from their destination. Soon he would have to face his brother and try and make up for the poor existence that was the relationship between himself and his father. Walter knew that it was no secret he and his father hadn’t seen eye to eye since the death of his mother, and that it was his brother, William, that had taken in his father when he needed a place to live and had even named his son Walter after their father. But how could he convince his brother of the great repentance he now felt when he had been the one to abandon his father. How could William, the good son, Walter Hadley Sr.’s real son possibly accept his condolences over the loss of their father after all of the fighting and hostility they’d been involved in?
Jane looked out over the highway. She contemplated the passionate sorrow she had heard in her sister in-law’s voice. Jane was convinced that she was upset by the loss of her husband’s father, but the wretchedness she had heard in Lucy’s voice seemed troubling. She looked at James in the backseat who was absorbed in what lay outside of the car and then to Walter who was absorbed in navigating the car. The resemblance between the two was uncanny. She knew that they had been fighting more as James had been growing older, and she hoped sincerely that they wouldn’t have a falling out as Walter and his father had had. Maybe this experience would show them both what was really important to them and the fighting would end with the death of Walter Sr.. She turned her head away from her husband and back to the highway. Jane let out a sigh as she came to terms with the fact that she would never fully comprehend the relationship between a father and his son.
James looked out over the highway. He was having trouble grieving the loss of his grandfather. They’d only met a handful of times, and their meetings usual ended with an appalling verbal confrontation between his grandfather and his father. He looked briefly at the back of his father’s head and then returned his gaze back on the road. He blamed his father for never really getting to know Walter Senior, and wondered how much worse their relationship could have been when compared to that of his own relationship with his father. They had been fighting more regularly lately and James now understood that the root of their flawed relationship stemmed from the fighting between Walter Sr. and Jr.
He looked over at his sister Emily and felt an overwhelming wave of pity, she hadn’t been crying because she was filled with grief from the loss, she cried because she’d felt helpless and didn’t know what else she could do.
The car pulled into the driveway. The chill of the cold, November afternoon was nothing compared to the looming feeling of death that took hold over the small suburban house. Walter Jr. took careful note of its size and grimaced. His father would have been much more comfortably living out his final days in his much larger home. Walter Sr.’s car was gone and the whole family was distraught by the uncomfortable scenery that lay before them, the only one to notice the mangled bicycle lying in the driveway was Emily, who dismissed it without a second thought.
Jane approached their front door and knocked with a solemn ominous tone. The dark green oak wood seemed to echo the feeling that had overcome her family. Lucy opened the door with a tissue crumpled in her fist and sobbed violently as she embraced Jane at the front door.
She took them into the house without saying a word and brought them to their small living room where William sat staring absentmindedly at the blank television while twisting one of his son’s caps in his hands. Perhaps he needed to feel connected with his son right now thought Jane as she dismissed the hat in his hands.
“Where’s the kitchen Lucy, I’ll serve something to eat.” She said after a prolonged silence had clouded the room. Lucy beckoned Jane into the kitchen and Emily instinctively followed. Walter, anxious for a chance to speak with his brother ushered James to follow the girls into the kitchen, but naturally he refused and Walter then convinced him go and play something outside. James left the room and Walter turned to his brother, who had remained engrossed by the blank television since their arrival. Walter let out a sigh and placed himself next to his brother on the sofa.
“Lucy’s taking this pretty hard.” He said rather awkwardly, and William nodded his head slightly. Walter shook his head quietly to himself and then said “Look. I know this is hard for you, but I want you to know that it’s hard for me too.” Walter took a breath and looked down at his feet, “I know that I haven’t been the best brother to you, but he was my father too and.” He stumbled in his sentence halfway through; he couldn’t quite place the words he needed to express himself. William slowly turned his head to face his brother, as the realization of his brother’s mistake came sweeping over him.
“What did Lucy say over the phone?”
“She said that dad died.”
William turned his head again as he tightened the grip on his son’s hat in his hands. “I think you must have misinterpreted. Dad is okay. My son Walter is…” He couldn’t make it. He began weeping mid sentence and Walter attempted to comfort him by putting his arm around him. He was dumbstruck with the notion that his only nephew could have possibly have been the one involved with the bus accident. The confusion between his father and his nephew was both humiliating and unforgivable. He felt sick with the unfriendly insight that had just befallen him.
Jane and Lucy reentered the room and William strode from the couch and embraced his wife. The two cried hysterically together as Walter solemnly whispered the revelation to his wife. Walter instructed her to go speak with Emily in the kitchen while he would step outside and explain the situation to James. Walter opened the front door and was met with the brisk unfriendly wind against his face. But the wind was quickly forgotten as the sight of his son embracing his father swiftly took control of Walter Jr.
It had taken the tragic and untimely death of Walter Hadley the third, but Walter Jr. had finally been able to see what really mattered in life. He was going to put aside the pettiness of all the quarreling he had been involved in and enjoy the lives of his family while he still had the chance to. He would no longer be the driving wedge between his family. He finally understood the relationship between a father and his son.

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