The Fat Kid
by Jack Fay
We called him The Fat Kid because he was fat, and none of us knew his name. We didn’t know where he lived, where he went to school, and why he walked behind us all the time. I’d spot him at the other end of the block, and if he saw me looking he’d jump into a doorway or run around a corner.
The bottom of his dungarees dragged on the ground and I could hear the flip-flap of torn Keds striking the sidewalk as he trailed behind. A Red Sox baseball cap fell around his ears, and when it was cold he wore a Navy surplus pea jacket that wouldn’t button in front. What made him stand out was the metal bucket he carried, not once in a while, but always. Still, from what I could see, he wasn’t mentally retarded or anything like that.
Lefty, he’s my best friend, told me a story about The Fat Kid, which may or may not be true, given that Lefty tended to be a little free with the truth. Lefty said, “He’s up on the roof of the tenement right next to where you live, and he’s lookin’ for somethin’, no one knows what. He gets close to the edge, and he falls off. Lands flat on his back in the trash. He gets up, brushes off, shakes crap from outta his baseball cap, picks up that bucket and walks away like nothin’ happened.”
“Didn’t he get hurt or anything?” I asked.
“Too fat, I guess.”
Too much trash, I guessed. “Where does he live?”
“He lives with his Ma on Union Street. I seen him a coupla times behind the A&P pickin’ through the dumpster and puttin’ stuff in that bucket.”
I said, “They must be real poor.”
“I guess,” Lefty said. From what I knew, everybody was poor. It was just that some people were poorer than others.
Winter came early and hard that year. Not much snow but heavy winds out of Canada swept the city with their usual cruelty. In the mornings I’d sit under a blanket with my feet in the gas oven and listen to the frosted windows rattle. One bitter cold morning I heard Lefty calling my name from the entryway on the first floor. I went out on the landing, and yelled down, “I’ll be there in a second.” I put on my heavy corduroys and the fatigue jacket Ma had bought for me at the Goodwill on Thompson Avenue.
Lefty was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs. “Didja you hear?” he asked.
“The Fat Kid is dead.”
At first I thought Lefty was kidding but his face said otherwise.
“He got his head squashed.” I stared at Lefty, not knowing what to say.
“His Ma sent him to the coal yard to get some coal.”
Lefty stopped to light up an Old Gold, and his shaking hands told me he was upset. He took a long drag and continued. “The coal yard has this big wooden gate, you know?” I didn’t know but I said yes.
“When a train has to go in, a yardman swings the gate open so the train can go in, you know?” Lefty took another puff. “So a train goes in but the yardman leaves the gate open. He runs back to his shed, it’s so cold. So the gate’s open, see, and there’s this wide space between the edge of the gate and the post it hangs offa. The Fat Kid put his head and one arm through the space to grab some lumps of coal to put in the bucket.”
Looking down at the cigarette in his hand, Lefty said, “A gust of wind catches the gate, and swings it closed. The Fat Kid dint have a chance.”
All I could say was, “Holy mackerel!”
“Dincha hear the sirens?” Lefty asked.
“No, I’ve been sitting in front of the stove all morning.”
“Well, I heard ‘em. An ambulance and a cruiser went right down Rutherford. I ran after ‘em, all the way to the coal yard. I get there, the Fat Kid’s body is gone but his Ma is there. She wasn’t crying or nothing, just looking stupid-like.”
Lefty snuffed out the Old Gold with his foot and said, “His Ma asked one of the cops, ‘Where’s the bucket?’ The cop said he didn’t know.”
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Jack Fay former Special Agent, Army CID; security director for a major oil company; university adjunct; and author of 10 non-fiction books in law enforcement and security management. He currently resides in Atlanta where he owns and operates a company that sells online courses to private investigators and security managers.