Student Story:
Mr. Silas Grout

By Faith Walessa

It couldn’t have been anything but a Tuesday—Mr. Silas Grout’s least favorite day of the week, and his thirty-eighth birthday. Neither of these were good things, and together they were most excellently bad.

Mr. Silas Grout swung his legs over the side of his bed and hit them on the floor, just too hard, sending a jarring sensation up to his knees. He paused and mumbled a variation of some dusty, inherited curse words before opening the blinds. He sighed at the deceitful summer sunshine that generally tended to rain. It always rained on one of his birthdays that was divisible by two. And it normally rained on Tuesdays, besides. Mr. Silas Grout was rather clever with numbers and he hated to see such odds against him.

He was the kind of man that is impossible to imagine unemployed, but must by necessity dislike his job. He didn’t hate working for Prince’s Electrical and Utilities Co., but he did dislike it.

He went to the kitchen and sighed again. It was too warm for hot coffee but not really warm enough for cold coffee—and not even Mr. Silas Grout could fathom drinking lukewarm coffee. So he didn’t. Instead, he wandered outside, intending to walk to work, before remembering Prince’s Electrical and Utilities Co. had shifted their operations division to the new office, upwards of twenty miles away. This meant he would need his car keys, which he always kept in the third drawer from the bottom in a reasonably old cabinet in his main floor office. He went back inside, accidentally scratched a floorboard with the heel of his boot, decided to make a coffee anyway (it was lukewarm), dropped his keys once by accident, and grimaced his way back outside, collapsing into his sun-baked car and spilling about a quarter of his coffee on himself.

Mr. Silas Grout hated being thirty-eight.

He hated being any age, really, but thirty-eight just seemed too spiteful of a number to be tolerated. He couldn’t think of anyone else of his acquaintance who was thirty-eight. The whole thing sounded fraudulent and unfair to someone like him, born to be middle-aged.

His car took several times to start, before drawing itself up with a rolling shudder and sighing its way onto the road. There was only unbearable modern pop music on the radio that morning, so he had to endure silence. Mr. Silas Grout prided himself on the attention he devoted to his driving, but with the limited headspace remaining to him, he planned out his week as carefully as he dared. He suspected that corporate had some nasty surprise up their sleeve, guaranteed to upset a faithful employee’s schedule; he’d heard rumors of a large deal being signed, which would of course mean more work for everyone unimportant enough it could be thrust upon.

His car muttered and hissed suspiciously the rest of the way to the office, groaning loudly when he forced it to stop for an inconvenient squirrel. As it grumbled its way forward once more, he heard a light plink on his windshield. His math hadn’t failed him yet. It was an exceedingly Tuesday-ish thirty-eighth birthday, and it was raining. He activated his windshield wipers, one of which was alarmingly off-rhythm, so that they kept colliding. He shut them off and adjusted his mental schedule again; he supposed he’d have to visit the mechanic later.
He wished he hadn’t stopped for that squirrel—now he’d fallen behind a truck and might be late for his first day at the new office—but Mr. Silas Grout was also the kind of man that thinks of himself as basically decent, and takes great comfort from this idea (though he would never acknowledge it). He had a hazy idea that only a basically decent man would stop to save a squirrel. This philosophy formed the backbone of his character. As long as he tipped 15% on haircuts and donated to a vaguely religious charity every Christmas, his conscience was his own.

He took another mouthful of his coffee. It now occupied the unappetizing middle ground between cold and lukewarm. He supposed it would eventually be entirely cold, and therefore slightly improved; but at his current pace (an approximate three sips per kilometer), he would finish it before then.

It never occurred to him simply to wait to drink it.

He did wish, just once, that he could make a decent, hot coffee. But this would require a proper coffee machine, for which he hadn’t the funds—after all, hadn’t he just told his boss he was saving up for a new suit before the next meeting? And was not a well-dressed man equivalent to a successful one? A suit is visible; the contents of a coffee cup are not. That was where the heart of the matter lay.

Ten minutes later, the coffee was finished, according to his self-imposed rhythm, and tepid to the last. Mr. Silas Grout was so pleased he’d calculated right that he never noticed the temperature.

When he died thirty-eight years later, no one realized until he failed to show up at work two weeks in a row. His memory had been going anyway—perhaps he’s finally taking a vacation—maybe he fled the country—they said. When someone finally searched up his house number and performed an inquiry (on company policy), there wasn’t much left of him to bury. The inspector couldn’t find records of any known family and decided he’d had plenty enough of someone else’s problems, especially Mr. … his name was rather forgettable.

So he was buried, with his house number as an epitaph, because no one dared to write anything else. They wanted to call him a good man, because they were sure he must have been, but it was now impossible to know. They had no one to ask, and they wouldn’t want to lie on a gravestone, of course. At least he died quite as he had lived.

Numbers are a gentleman’s drug.


Faith Walessa is a rising senior from Ontario, Canada. She hopes to study English at Hillsdale College, write books, and someday travel to England. She loves fanciful poetry, theater, reading by flashlight, and mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Miss Walessa has also contributed a piece to the Journal on standing out as an international college applicant. More essays, poems, and stories from our top-scoring students can be found here; or, if you’d like to keep exploring some of the themes of this short story, our three-part series on life & death and our just-concluded series on pleasure & pain are natural places to start, as is our introduction to the topic of the will (though, if you are partial to the gentleman’s drug, you might prefer our post on quantity). Thank you for reading the CLT Journal, and have a great weekend.

Published on 18th August, 2023. Page image of Sandro Boticelli’s Map of Hell (produced ca. 1485-1495), one of ninety-two drawings created by him to accompany his personal manuscript of Dante’s Inferno.

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