Charlie Walthers lived in shame under his grandfather’s legacy for as long as he could remember. People would move to the other side of the street when approaching him on the sidewalk, old women would spit at his feet, and a priest even attempted to perform a curse on the poor young man one time. So despicable was this shame that Charlie’s father had to marry a woman from across the country- who promptly fled the family when she learned the truth. No one accepted the Walthers clan. All because of his stupid, dirty, no-good grandfather.
Mathias Walthers had been a wealthy man in the town of Meschino who had built his vast mansion, that Charlie now lived in, on good investments and a phenomenally successful architecture company. Despite his wealth and generous heart, the townspeople recognized the man for one thing and one thing only- much to the chagrin of Charlie. Mathias Walthers, though knowledgeable in construction and money, was ignorant in one crucial subject regarding human decency.
Charlie once asked his father, “Pa, why do the townspeople hate us?” as a young child. A group of bullies at school had ridiculed the child for his lineage all day and the teachers all sat him in the back of the classrooms on his first day of school.
“Because, son,” Craig Walthers replied, “Your grandfather- my father- committed the worst sin imaginable in front of people regularly.” The man’s face had turned dark upon saying this with the look of contempt for his own father.
“What did he do, Pa?” the young Charlie prodded, eager to know, “Did he kill people?”
“Worse, son, much worse,” Craig answered. His eyes were cast far off in disgusted remembrance.
At five-years-old, Charlie believed that killing someone was the worst possible thing a human could do. He was puzzled at his father’s words. What’s worse than murder? He thought to himself.
“But, Pa, what-?” Charlie began to ask again.
“Never bring it up again!” his father interrupted sharply. “He was a terrible man who practiced a terrible practice, now go!”
With a reddened face and broken spirit, Charlie walked up the stairs to his lonely room, tail between his legs. What could Grandpa Mat have done? Repeated in his inner ear.
The next twelve years of education had been utter torture on the kid. Classmates avoiding him like the plague, bullies slapping and punching him to “repay his wretched grandfather’s sins”, and teachers giving him bad marks in class just for inheriting the name of Mathias Walthers. Meanwhile, his father would refuse to tell Charlie about his family’s legacy, only growing distraught and shouting for Charlie to go the hell away. It wasn’t until the eve of his eighteenth birthday that Craig Walthers decided that his son was old enough to learn the truth.
“Charles,” the old man said. Charlie always knew his father was being serious when he called him that, “Tomorrow you will be a man and it is time you learned the truth.” Craig sat at the dinner table, the overhead chandelier was dimmed low to set the mood of the situation. His eyes were surrounded by dark circles- offset against his pale face.
Charlie took the seat opposite his father at the large mahogany table. His mouth went dry, he was about to learn The Family Shame.
“Your grandfather was by all rights a good person, Charles,” Craig began, “Donated to local charities, started a successful company to ensure that this family would never have to work again, shoot- he even fought valiantly for this country in the European Campaign, however, there was one thing he did wrong,” he paused to catch his breath and hold back the tears.
Charlie wiped his clammy hands on his jeans. His body was quaking in anticipation for what the truth was. The suspense was unbearable.
“Charles-,” Craig Walthers started then stopped again, the tears were unavoidable now. He was sobbing like a newborn, “Charles, your grandfather…”
Heartbeat racing, Charlie would have sworn he could hear the blood running through his veins. The reason no one liked him, why he was avoided so intently, why he had to attend prom alone, and why his birthday parties were spent eating cake in an empty house. It was about to be known.
“Yuh- Your grandfather,” Craig wiped a tear away and took a breath. He fidgeted his hands, looking more like a convict being interrogated for murder than a father talking to his son. “Your grandfather would pour his cereal before the milk in the bowl,” he spoke in one long breath then whimpered in the pain of saying it out loud.
Black spots formed in his vision. A sensation of dizziness took over his body. A lump formed in his throat. Eyes teared, matching his father. “D- Dad… It can’t be true.”
The only reply was more sobs from across the table.
“Dad!” Charlie screamed through his own crying, “Pa, take it back.”
Craig only shook his head, eyes cast to the cuddles of tears that had formed on the shiny wooden surface. “It’s true, Charles,” he said. It was barely a squeak.
It couldn’t be true! No one was that horrible. Charlie had thought that it was only a myth that people could do such a thing. He forgave everyone who had made his life a living hell, finally understanding why his father wore a bag to cover his face when out in public.
Charlie Walthers cried himself to sleep that night. There was no hope for the kid in this town and Charlie now understood why. The next day would be like any other birthday he’d ever had. A slice of chocolate cake sitting on the counter next to a small gift, horribly wrapped in plain paper. No friends, no celebration, no one to scream happy birthday in his ear. He wished sometimes that there could be at least one person with him for his birthdays. One friend to enjoy in the events he always heard other kids talking about for their birthdays, but Charlie knew it was just wishful thinking. Besides, who’d want to be friends with the kid whose grandfather poured the cereal before the milk anyway?