The final assignment for my Introduction to Fiction class was to read “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” by Tolstoy. Don’t worry, it’s much shorter. And a bit sad. But everything by the Modernists was… and we’ve yet to really break the trend. I’m currently reading more Tolstoy (Anna Karenina) and I can’t wait to a)finish this giant hunk of literature and b)tell you what I’ve learned in the process.
“The Death of Robert Walters”
The office of Managing Accountant, Robert Walters, was conspicuously empty despite being half past eight in the morning. His secretary, Miss Flynn, was not initially alarmed thinking Mr. Walters had arrived early and was about his usual, quiet business. When he did not appear at nine a.m. for his usual coffee request, she became concerned, and upon opening the door was distressed to see no sign of Mr. Walters.
Walters had never attempted seizure of any position higher than respectably mid-range. His career trajectory had landed him a generous position as Managing Accountant for Sink, Apellard, & Ducheyne, a respectably mid-range accounting firm in Kansas City. Mrs. Walters had often hoped her husband could work toward a partnership, if not his own firm, but Mr. Walters did not consider himself an adventurous enough man to endeavor such.
His life was not without some success. Walters had recently purchased a beige, yet distinguished, Certified Pre-Owned, Lexus Sedan. He was quite proud of his purchase, considering it just the sort of acceptable car a man in his position should drive. He knew driving a sports car, something of a flashy variety, might endorse his virility, yet just as likely cause concern for his stability. Walters wanted to avoid even the rumor of a possible “mid-life crisis.” Unfortunately, Walters had become a bit of a nonentity to his co-workers; Sink, Apellard, and Ducheyne only remembered he still worked for them when the list for employee Christmas cards found its way to their desks.
By nine-fifteen it occurred to Miss Flynn to phone Mrs. Walters. Unable to find contact information for Mrs. Walters or even their home phone number Miss Flynn sat, rather deject, at her desk and contemplated where Mr. Walters might have gotten off to.
Two blocks away, on a frozen park bench looking over a wintery pond absent of ducks sat a man in an overcoat slightly too big for him with a grey flannel hat pulled down over his ears. The man had been sitting there since sunrise, unmoving. The few businesspeople that passed through the park on their way to work barely registered his presence. Just after lunchtime, a hot dog vendor, who knew most of the bums that stayed in the park, decided to check on this unrecognized, still man. As he approached the bench he realized there was something quite wrong with this unremarkable man.
By the time the office buildings were emptying and people were heading home through the park, a crowd had developed around what was earlier an unnoticeable park bench. The coroner, called to the scene by several baffled police officers, determined he had died of a heart attack sometime that morning. The man’s clothes had become crusted with a light layer of frost in the time elapsed. The officers, looking for clues to the man’s identity found a business card in his front left pocket. It read, “Robert Walters, ventriloquist.”
His funeral was politely attended by family and co-workers. During the eulogy Miss Flynn mused that it seemed his greatest accomplishment had been buying a car with a rather high resale value.
Make sure to stop by tomorrow for the second half of All the Sad Young Literary Men or why writing about mediocrity is a trend in popular fiction.