They will come for me in the morning, the social people, but I won’t be here. I’ll be as far from here as I can get. If I’m lucky enough to catch a ride I’ll be out of the state by the time they realize I’m gone. After that it won’t be long before I’m forgotten, a footnote in a caseworker’s files. I’ll tell you what happened, but you should know this story, like any other, begins at a particular point in time, the beginnings of which belong not to the teller of the tale, but to its participants, though some would argue they are often one and the same. There is a measure of physics so simple in its origins that one might not notice or ponder the depths from which it came, nor the path to where it might lead. The question then, is this: How could a simple hole in our roof bring about such a change in my life?Rainwater splashes against the shingles and the droplets arc away from their point of impact, the residual wetness of their existence no more immune to the laws of gravity than any other force of nature. The water travels across the surface of the shingles and finds a way to wick itself under the protective layer of tar paper where it makes contact with the plywood. Eventually the water soaks through the wood, saturates the insulation of the attic and finds its way to the plaster of the ceiling. When it finally penetrates this inner barrier and drips upon the existence of our lives, it is, without question, the beginning of something that will take my family from me in ways I never would have imagined. This is how the story begins. With simplicity. With a hole in our god damn roof.His name was John Bellows, and he was not only my younger brother by seven and a half minutes, he was my best friend. We grew up in the country. Our house was modest, our furnishings minimal, some of them even hand made by my father. We were a family of four, my twin brother, myself, and our parents, of course. Poverty was a way of life for us, but we were a happy little unit.We were having soup for dinner the night we learned of the leak in our roof. My mother had called us to the kitchen, and as usual John and I raced to the table, both of us trying our hardest to grab the chair next to our father’s left side. Our father was a brakeman for the railroad, this back in the day when railroaders still had to crank the braking mechanisms by hand on the individual train cars. It was a dangerous job, my father’s, but it was something he did with pride, dedication, and a certain sense of gratefulness that comes with steady employment. He wore his wedding ring on his right hand because he’d lost the outer two fingers of his left hand—his ring finger and his pinkie—when he got them caught in the couplings between a flatbed and a coal carrier. We always held hands at the dinner table when we prayed, and it was an honor for both John and I to be the one that got to hold the three-fingered hand of the man who gave part of himself so we could eat every night. John beat me this time, and looking back, I’m so glad he did. We were only fifteen years old at the time, but it would be the last time we ever had dinner together as a family, and the last time John would ever get to hold our father’s hand.We had just seated ourselves at the table, the steam from our soup bowls rising then dissipating in the kitchen air. I picked up my spoon for a quick taste and heard my mother clear her throat. When I looked at her she shook her head. My father snapped his napkin in the air, placed it on his lap, and looked at me over the tops of his glasses. “You know better’n that, Jack,” he said. “Let’s pray.”John and I looked at each other and smiled. This was our favorite part of the meal. We had a standard prayer that was said with every dinner. God is gracious, God is good, God we thank thee for our food. By His hand we all are fed, give us Lord our daily bread.Except somewhere along the way, I don’t know how many years ago, my father began to change the prayer so that the words rhymed with whatever we were having for dinner. Tonight was no different.My father cleared his throat. “God is gracious, God bless this group, God we thank thee, for our…” then he paused as he always did and looked at the three of us. We all raised our hands and together as one said, “SOUP!” When I think back upon those times at the kitchen table with my twin brother and my parents, poverty or not, I cannot remember ever being happier. Poverty is a terrible companion, but we all loved and respected each other in ways that I hope I never forget.But everything changed in an instant that night at the end of our prayer. I remember how we smiled and laughed and let go of each other’s hands, and just as we did, just as we picked up our spoons to begin our meal, that’s when it started. That was the moment the first drop of water landed on the kitchen table.At first I think my father thought either John or I had splashed some water from one of our cups. I didn’t notice the first drop when it landed on the table, but I did notice my father, his spoon full of soup halfway between his bowl and his mouth. His face held a deliberate look and his head was cocked to one side, much like a dog that lifts an ear to a foreign sound. He set his spoon back in his bowl and looked up at the ceiling. The three of us followed his gaze upward, and when we did I saw that there was a dime sized spot of darkness in the ceiling plaster above our heads. We all stared at that spot and as we did the next drop of water landed on the table, then another, and another. The rain had been relentless over the past week, and even as it rained now, the amount of water outside seems much less consequential than the rain inside.My father scraped his chair back from the table and stood with his hands on his hips, his eyes glued to the water’s entry point as if his stare alone could stop the ever increasing flow. My mother stood as well and retrieved a pot from under the sink and set it on the table. John and I stood because our mother had stood, and now the four of us were standing instead of sitting, staring instead of eating.“Jack,” my father said, “go out to the shed and fetch me my tin funnel from the second self from the top and that roll of twine that hangs on the wall. John, get the hose from the side of the house. I’m going to need the ladder as well.”“Yes, Sir,” John said.“Yes, Sir,” I said.John and I ran outside in the wind and the rain and retrieved the items our father had requested. By the time we returned to the kitchen, my mother had put everything from the table onto the counter and my father was in the process of emptying the drip pot into the sink. The water was no longer dripping. It was now a steady flow. I helped my father set the ladder and then I held it fast as he climbed up and cut a small hole in the ceiling around the wet spot.”“Why are you doing that, Dad?” John asked.“To keep the entire ceiling from coming down,” my father said. “The water needs a place to go. If this rain keeps up and we don’t give it one, it will soak the entire ceiling and we’ll have water and plaster everywhere.”When he climbed off the ladder he spoke directly to my mom. “Mother, get me another pot.” My mom grabbed another pot and replaced it with the full one my father carried to the sink. “Boys, grab your chairs. Put them up on the table, back to back.”“Yes, Sir.”“Yes, Sir.”As we did this, our father took the hose and put one end in the kitchen sink. He fit the other end over the funnel, then held it between the backs of the chairs. The rainwater was now entering the mouth of the funnel where it ran through the hose and into the sink. We all watched as Dad looped the twine around the backs of the chairs then tied the funnel tight. When he finished he took a step back, adjusted the chairs just so, then nodded once, satisfied with his handiwork. “Let’s eat,” he said. “Soup’s gettin’ cold.”That’s how we spent our last meal together as a family, the four of us leaning against the kitchen counter, our soup bowls in one hand, our spoons in the other, staring at the kitchen ceiling.Our house was like many other country houses of the time, a two-story orange-bricked cubed. John and I shared one of the two upstairs bedrooms and our parents shared the other. A single full bathroom was shared by all. The main level held just two and a half rooms: the family room, the kitchen, and a half-bath. The next morning my father woke John and I at six in the morning. When I looked out the single small window of our room the sky was filled with clouds but the rain had stopped. “Your mother has breakfast ready boys,” he said. “I’ll be back directly with the tar paper and shingles. I’ve got a pot of tar heating up over the fire. Keep it hot while I’m gone.”John and I told him we would, then we dressed and went downstairs for breakfast. An hour later our father was back and we got started. We weren’t going to do the entire roof. We had neither the time nor the money for such an undertaking. This would be a fixer-upper. Our house, as I said, was two story, but it was a tall two stories, and the pitch of the roof was steep. Our wooden extension ladder was not tall enough to reach the roof, so our father backed his pick-up truck next to the house. With the ladder secured in the bed of the truck the top rung reached the lowest part of the roof. Barely. The three of us, each with a coil of rope over our shoulder climbed the ladder one at a time, and as we stepped from the top rung onto the roof, the first thing we did was tie our rope around our waist, then around the bricked chimney chase. If we slipped and fell the rope would catch us. We’d probably end up with a few cracked ribs and some heavy bruising but it was better than the alternative.We peeled the shingles and the tar paper away from the suspect area near the peak of the roof, but it was, I think, harder to find the leak than my father thought it would be. We knew the general area, but the problem spot remained elusive. The pot of tar over the fire in the side yard was beginning to boil, but if we didn’t know where to slather the sealant, it would do no good. John and I mostly watched our father do the work, which was usually how these things went. It was his way of teaching us, by showing. We sat on top of the peak on either side of him, our legs spread across the pitch of the roof as if we were on horseback. The early morning fog and mist that hung in the air mixed together with the odor of the tar from the fire and I thought the smell and the orange mist must have been identical to what soldiers experienced in medieval times just before battle.After a few minutes of probing, my father untied his rope from around the chimney. “Alright,” he said. “I’m going to have to go in the attic and find the spot from in there. I’ll drill a small hole up through from inside and we’ll know exactly where we need the sealant. You boys wait up here. Might want to move apart some too. Don’t want a drill bit in your butt.”“Yes, Sir.”“Yes, Sir.”A few minutes later we heard him in the attic below us. He tapped around with his hammer for a bit, then we heard a muffled ‘ah ha.’ John and I smiled at each other and watched as the drill bit popped up along a seam that ran through the wood. “Can you see it, boys?”We yelled to him that we could.We scooted closer to the hole and stared at it until our father came back up the ladder. He had a paint brush in his back pocket and he carried a small metal pail full of hot tar. He handed the pail of tar to me before he tied his rope to the chimney. “Hold it by the handle now, son. The sides are hotter’n tar.” He smiled at his own joke. John and I did too. Together we painted the sealant on the roof, covered it with the tar paper and replaced the worn shingles with new ones. The entire project, start to finish, took little more than an hour. When we were done, my father rested his hammer on the peak of the roof and wiped the sweat from his brow with a polka-dotted neckerchief he took from his back pocket.“Well boys, that wasn’t too bad,” he said.“Guess we won’t have to eat standing up tonight,” I said.“Nope,” my father said. “Don’t reckon we will. Come on now, let’s head inside and fix the hole in the ceiling.” He picked up the pail and looked at John. “John?”“Yes Sir?”“Bring my hammer along. Jack, get the brush.”“Yes Sir,” I said.My butt was sore from sitting on the peak of the roof, and when I stood, I did so slowly. I picked up the brush and took up the slack in my rope. I turned just in time to see John reach for the hammer, but somehow it slipped his grasp and we both watched it slide down the far side of the roof and lodge in the gutter.“Shit,” John said. My father was a tolerant man. He forgave others their shortcomings, showed respect where it was due, and was kind to friends and strangers alike. But the thing he never tolerated was profanity of any kind, especially on his property.“John,” my father yelled. “What’s the matter with you? Is that all the better I raised you, boy?”John looked down at his feet. “No, Sir. I’m sorry. It just sort of slipped out.”“Profanity don’t slip out, son. It’s got be on your mind.” He pointed his finger at him. “Most people wear it like a suit of clothes. I’ll tell you this, I will not abide it in my house, you hear me?”“Yes, Sir.”My father’s face was red with anger. I had the impression there was more he wanted to say, but if so, he kept it to himself. When he spoke again his voice was softer, but not by much. “Fetch that hammer so we can finish up. There’ll be extra chores for you tonight.”“Yes, Sir.”John moved carefully down the far side of the roof while my father and I waited atop the peak. When he’d used up all his rope he was still about two feet shy of where the hammer lay. “I can’t reach it. I’m out of rope.”My father frowned, craned his neck out to see how far John was from the hammer, then looked back at the chimney. He shook his head and I could see he was still mad about John’s use of profanity. He looked back at my brother. “Sit still for a minute. You can’t reach it because you tied your rope too short.” My father moved closer to the chimney, then looked down at John. “Crawl back up a little and give me some slack. I’ll retie your rope so you can reach it.”But John didn’t crawl. He instead stood upright and moved closer to the peak. When my father saw the rope slacken he untied the knot and began to let the line out. Just as he did John lost his footing and slipped. He yelled out in surprise and I did too. My father tried to grab the rope, but he reached out with his left hand, the one with only three fingers and the rope slid right through his grip. John went head-first over the edge of the roof and I heard a terrible crunch as he hit the ground, like the sound a watermelon would make if you dropped it on the pavement.My father beat me to the ladder, but not by much. Looking back it’s a wonder both of us didn’t fall off the roof that morning as well. I tell you this story, but I’ll also tell you this: I don’t believe there are adequate words to describe the sounds that emanated from my father’s mouth as he rushed down the ladder and raced around to the opposite side of the house. I was right behind him and as we turned the final corner to where John lay my father stopped so abruptly in his tracks that I ran into him and knocked us both to the ground. John lay right in front of us on his back, his limbs at unnatural angles. My father crawled over to John and took him in his lap. I kept hearing someone shouting “Oh no, oh no,” over and over again until I realized it was me.My father was crying now, and so was I. My mother ran out of the house, saw John in my father’s arms and began to scream. “Mother, call for the ambulance. He’s still alive.”My mother pulled at her hair. “It’s too far, oh it’s too far. My baby, my darling baby boy.”“Mother, call for the ambulance,” my father said again. “Tell them to meet us at the four corners by the state road.” Then he looked at me. “Jack, pull the truck around.”“Dad, I don’t know—” I witnessed something then I didn’t think I’d ever see. I saw my father panic and lose control. “I said bring the fucking truck, boy!” Spittle flew from his lips as he yelled at me.I ran around to the other side of the house and climbed in the truck. I had never driven before but had watched my father do it hundreds of times. I stalled the engine on the first try, and when the ladder crashed from the side of the house I realized I had not bothered to remove it from the bed of the truck. I restarted the engine and made it to the other side of the house without too much difficulty though. My mother ran back out with a pillow and a blanket. We loaded John into the back of the truck and my mother covered him with the blanket. I put the pillow on my lap then gently held his head as my parents climbed into the cab. All three of us were in tears. It was eleven and a half miles to the four corners where the ambulance would meet us. It was another nine miles past that to the hospital.I could feel the dent in the back of my twin brother’s head, even through the pillow. There was blooding coming from both of his ears, and when I peeled his eyelids back, his pupils were large and unmoving. I spent the next eleven miles hoping that God was gracious, that God was good.It began to rain. I kept him as dry as I could in the open bed of our pick-up. His breath came in ragged gasps, and by the time we made the four corners the ambulance was there waiting on us, the attendants dressed in white shirts and pants, the back door of the ambulance hung open like a hungry mouth. We soon realized that there wasn’t enough room for us all, and while the attendants placed John on the stretcher and loaded him into the back, we decided the rest of our lives right then and there along the side of the road, though we didn’t know it at the time. “Jack,” my father said, “ride with your brother. Your mother and I will be right behind you.”“Yes, Sir,” I said. I went to turn away but he grabbed my arm and held me fast.“What have I done?” my father said. “The last words your brother heard was me yelling at him.” I watched my father’s face as it filled with grief and sorrow, the rainwater mixing in with the tears that ran down his cheeks. “I couldn’t hold the rope. It went right through my hand.”“I know, Dad. It’ll be okay. Everything will be okay. You’ll see.” But I don’t think my father heard me. His gaze was on the open door of the ambulance. When he spoke to me again, his voice sounded weak and the corners of his eyes looked blue.“I love you, Jack,” my father said as I climbed in the ambulance. It was the last thing he ever said to me. I wish I would have answered him. The attendant climbed in behind me and closed the rear door. I looked out the back window as we pulled away and when I did I saw my father as he leaned against the side of his truck and opened and closed that three-fingered hand over and over again. My parents were almost out of sight when I saw him and my mother get into the cab to follow us to the hospital.Save their funeral, I never saw them again.The ride to the hospital felt like an eternity to me. Twice I tried to ask the attendant if my brother was going to be okay. Twice he did not answer me. I can remember thinking to myself that he wasn’t answering because he was concentrating on doing everything possible to give John a fighting chance, like checking his blood pressure and his pulse, but even at fifteen years old I knew these things while informative by nature they were not any sort of active treatment. In truth, I didn’t know what they should be doing, but I thought, dear God, do something.We turned into the hospital entrance and in my mind, doctors and nurses and medical professionals of every stripe would be there waiting to take over, waiting to take my brother into their knowledgeable hands, but when we pulled up the ambulance bay was empty. I had to get out of the ambulance first to make room for the attendants, but before I did leaned over and kissed my brother on his forehead.The attendants wheeled John inside and I went in right on their heels. A doctor and two nurses came around the corner and took the gurney with my brother through a set of double doors. When I tried to follow, one of the nurses turned and stopped me. “Let us work,” she said. “We’ll let you know something just as soon as we can.” Then she turned and went through the doors as well. I walked back down the short hall to the waiting room area. I noticed a county police officer leaning against the counter speaking with a nurse on the other side. They were both smiling, flirting I guess, but when the nurse saw me her smile faded. She said something to the county cop who looked my way and when he did, I watched his smile die as well. He leaned closer to the nurse, said a quick couple of words and then walked over to me.“Your brother?” he said. His uniform was tan and brown and his five-point badge glimmered under the ceiling lights of the hallway.I tried to answer him, but I could not make the words come out of my mouth, so I simply nodded instead. “Where are your parents, son?” When I didn’t answer, he put his hand on my shoulder. “You’re one of the Bellows boys, aren’t you?”I nodded. “Yes, sir. I’m Jack Bellows. That’s my brother, John, back there.”The officer looked at me and was about to say something when his radio squawked and a series of unintelligible code words and numbers crackled over the tiny speaker. The county cop took his hand from my shoulder and mumbled something back through his microphone. He then looked at me and said, “I have to go now, son. These are good people here. I’m sure they’ll do everything they can for your brother.” Then he turned and walked through the door and was gone.I leaned against the wall and stared at my shoes.I paced up and down the hallway while they worked on my brother. When the doctor came through the double doors he was not alone. There was another doctor with him. They spoke to the nurse behind the counter and I saw her point at me. I headed toward them and we met half way down the corridor. “Is my brother going to be okay?”The doctors looked at each other before either of them spoke, and I think somewhere in the back of my mind that told me everything I needed to know. The first doctor spoke to me, the one who had wheeled my brother behind those double doors. “Where are your parents, young man?”“They were going to follow the ambulance in. They should have been here by now, I guess. Maybe they had a flat tire or something. What about my brother?”The second doctor, the one I hadn’t seen before took a half step closer. “I’m afraid your brother’s condition is quite serious. Grave, in fact. He has suffered major trauma to his head and there is massive swelling in his brain. There is a procedure we need to perform that will relieve the pressure and give him a fighting chance. We’ll drill a series of small holes at the top of your brother’s skull and insert drains to let the pressure bleed off. We’ve had some success with it in the past, but we’ll need your parents permission to begin.”“Some?”“He’ll surely die without intervention, I’m afraid.”I stood and stared at the doctors, not knowing what to say or do. I was having trouble keeping the thoughts straight in my head. The only thing I seemed to be able to process at that moment was the fact that the doctors wanted to do the very thing to my brother that had caused this whole tragedy to begin with. They wanted to cut a hole in his roof.I don’t remember what I said next, if anything, because that’s when the county police officer came back through the door.The doctors never got their permission, and my brother, John, never got his life. I keep thinking back to what my father was doing with his left hand, his three-fingered hand, as I rode away in the ambulance with my brother. He was flexing that hand, opening and closing it over and over. I thought he was beating himself up over not being able to grab the rope and keep my brother from falling to his death, and maybe he was. But the official cause of death for him was listed as a Myocardial infarction. A heart attack. The coroner said he probably died instantly. When the truck veered off the road and into the ditch, it flipped end over end and my mother was ejected from the cab. They were both DOA at the hospital. My brother passed that very same night.I have no other family. I am completely alone now. This house is no longer my home. I’ve gone room to room, and I’ve taken something from each and stuffed the items into my backpack. A small framed family photograph. My father’s pocket watch. My brother’s favorite cap. My mother’s scarf. It’s not much, but for now I believe it’s all I’ll need. I guess we’ll see.I walked to the end of our drive and looked back one last time.My life is over.My life has just begun.I turned and picked up a rock and threw it as hard as I could at my house. It bounced harmlessly off the brick and dropped into the grass.I went about a half mile down the road before I looked back one final time. My journey, my story, begins here.I cry out alone in despair and I think, poor Jack bellows, but nobody hears him.