A Death in the Family: Story Synopsis
Knoxville, Tennessee, 1915.
Late one summer night, Jay Follett receives a call from his brother Ralph, who reports that their father is dying. Though Ralph's alcoholic tendencies often lead him to exaggerate, Jay decides to go pay his father a visit in case his condition is serious.
That night, while Mary anxiously awaits her husband's return, a stranger calls with news about Jay. There has been a serious accident involving her husband. A sense of foreboding fills Mary but the stranger won't explain on the phone. He urges her to send a male family member to the scene. Mary's brother Andrew leaves immediately to find out what has happened. Meanwhile, Mary's favorite aunt, Hannah, keeps her company as they wait into the night for news. With Hannah and her parents gathered around her, Mary finally hears from Andrew upon his return that Jay died instantly, probably from a concussion, when a pin came loose on the steering wheel, his car ran off the road into a ditch, and he was thrown.
Mary delivers the news to Rufus the next morning and the family begins preparations for Jay's funeral. Since Jay was never baptized, the officiating priest is less than warm, and some of the family's different beliefs about religion emerge. After the service, Mary's father warns her against religious escapism. Rufus does not accompany the family to the cemetery, but watches the hearse pull away with a family friend, Walter. Later, Andrew takes Rufus for a walk and describes a poignant moment at the burial, when "a perfectly magnificent butterfly" fluttered down with the casket into his father's grave before rising into the heavens and the sunshine.
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