The narrator, now a grown man, relates the story of his brother Del's troubled life and early death. The real story, however, concerns the narrator himself, as he reflects on his relationship with Del, his father's behavior toward both of them, and on the possibility that he (the narrator) played a role in Del's death.

When the narrator was fourteen, older brother Del--drunk at the time--was struck and killed by a train as he walked along the tracks. But the central event in the story is the narrator's betrayal of Del. Although Del had saved him from falling off a grain elevator roof, the narrator had falsely blamed Del for the near-fatal accident, out of fear of the father's fury, and because "After years of being on the receiving end, it wasn't in my nature to see Del as someone who could be wronged . . . ." [p. 57]

"My father had good reason to believe this lie . . . . " [p. 55] The incident occurred shortly after Del had been released from a juvenile detention facility--detained there for trying to strangle the narrator and threatening their father with a shotgun.

The narrator (later) finds in Del's notebook an essay revealing Del's intention to reform. But with the passage of time after the grain elevator episode, Del reverts to delinquent behavior; a year later he is dead. The narrator never reveals to his father the truth and the family never discusses Del's death.

At times, over the years, as the narrator searches for meaning and closure he believes he can "take all the loose ends of my life and fit them together perfectly . . . where all the details add up . . . ." [p. 68] In the end, however, we are left wondering whether this is possible--for the narrator--or for anyone.


Weaving back and forth through time, revealing the complexity of human behavior and relationships, this skillfully narrated piece takes the reader through a maturation process and a moral evolution. Many issues of relevance to medicine are raised in this story. What is abusive parental behavior? Can a child's anti-social behavior be explained or understood?; what are its consequences for a family? Is the narrator's betrayal of Del excusable? How much power do we have over other people's lives? How do we live with the consequences of our (wrong) actions, and with guilt and shame? Do communication, grieving, or the re-telling of a story help to provide closure?

Students admired this complex story for its understated and self-deprecating tone, on-target portrayal of young-adult thinking and behavior, and its masterful development of moral character. The provocative ending generated useful discussion.

Primary Source

Best American Short Stories 1996


Houghton Mifflin

Place Published





John Edgar Wideman, with Katrina Kenison

Page Count