November 3
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.

He always wore dungarees that were too big, and in the winter he’d wear a pea jacket that wouldn’t button in the front. Winter or summer, he wore a Red Sox baseball cap. 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 and walks away like nothing happened.”

“Didn’t he get hurt or anything?” I asked.

“Too fat, I guess.”

Too much trash, I guessed. “Where does he live?”

“I don’t know, but it’s gotta be somewhere near the potato yards. I seen him a coupla times picking up potatoes, putting ‘em in a 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. In the mornings I’d sit under a blanket with my feet in the gas oven, and listen to the kitchen window 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 Army and Navy store on Thompson Avenue.

Lefty was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs. “Didja you hear?” he asked.

“Hear what?”

“The Fat Kid is dead.”

At first I thought Lefty was kidding but his face said otherwise.

“What happened?”

“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, and he had that bucket with him.”

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 by, you know?” Lefty took another puff. “So a train goes in, but the yardman don’t close the gate. He runs back to his shed, it’s so cold. The gate’s open, and there’s this wide space between the edge of the gate and the post it hangs offa. The Fat Kid lays down on the ground. He puts his head and one arm through the space to grab some lumps of coal.”

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 go right down Rutherford Ave. 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.”