Skinner heard the clanging. That fat bitch is calling in her pumpkin boy, he thought. Every shot pumpkin boy had at normalcy was taken the day that heifer spit him out like a bad melon. Skinner didn’t know the woman’s name. She and her pumpkin boy had lived across the street for five years. He knew none of his neighbors by name. Only the unspoken nicknames he’d assigned them upon first impression. For two years “Pedro the Burrito Lovin’ Midget” lived next to “Fat Bitch and Pumpkin Boy”. On the other side of FB & PB was “Preacher Paul”. Preacher Paul always blasted bluegrass gospel and waved as if Jesus was waving back. Skinner hated them all. Smelly, loud, waving neighbors who consistently eyed his prize-winning lawn with envy.

“Lazy asses.” Skinner said when the bell rang again. “She won’t even go call Pumpkin Boy’s name. Lazy fat bitch.” Skinner went back to lopping his boxwood carefully when he heard the echo of the back door’s slam. He was a tall man with Roman features blurred by stubble and aged jowls. A mouth too small for his face, lips too small for his mouth pursed holding in chewing tobacco. No one ever saw Skinner without a jaw full of chew. No one ever saw Skinner spit. His yard and house were immaculately maintained. The white vinyl siding contrasted the deep green of his favorite oaks and pines. For six years straight, Skinner and his perfectly coiffed yard won the Blue Ribbon from Mahalia’s Garden Club. He never attended a meeting and insisted on no pictures in the paper but Skinner always cleaned up for the ceremony. He’d don his pressed khakis, cleanest white shirt and polished black shoes before making the four-minute ride to the Community Center. The ladies would all stare at him. Men shook his hand but knew better than to linger near for more than a polite moment. He was known as a contrarian bastard with a bad temper and an opinion on everything but knowledge about nothing. His jaw would work a plug of tobacco as he let tiny insults slip out. Dagger sized nouns tucked inside barbed wire sentences. Skinner’s reputation pleased him. It let him sulk in misery and stay alone for yard work, house maintenance, and watching his lazy ass neighbors in peace.

He heard a voice coming from the stucco shack of Fat Bitch & Pumpkin Boy.
“Just do what I tell you…” the female voice yelled.
“Ok, ok.” Pumpkin boy replied letting the battered storm door close.
Skinner looked across the street at Pumpkin Boy.
Pumpkin Boy gave a crooked grin and waved.
Skinner looked away until he heard the dirt and gravel crush under the weight of Pumpkin Boy’s feet.
“Aw shit.” Skinner mumbled to the boxwood. “Damn kid’s coming over.”
Turning Skinner noticed the boy had two empty milk jugs. By the time Pumpkin Boy reached the edge of Skinner’s yard, his face was soaked. His lips flopped like seals over his teeth as Pumpkin Boy’s exhausted body clamored for oxygen. The twenty-foot journey was too much for Eugene’s chub rolls to handle. He put up a finger before dropping his hand to his knees.
“Boy what the hell is wrong with you? Did you walk over here or swim the English Channel?”
“I’ve got a genetic problem.” Eugene replied.
Skinner pictured the Fat Bitch being lowered from a Hospital Van a few weeks back. Her exposed, red legs looking like giant sausages from the big toe up.
“Yeah boy, you do.” Skinner said.
“Momma sent me over. Wanted to know if we could borrow some water?”
“Borrow water?” Skinner said, wiping his face.
“Yes sir. Our water pipe’s busted and the man is coming next week to fix it and we was just needing some water for dishes and stuff.”
“How long your water been out?”
“Since the fifteenth, I guess. Can we borrow some?”
Skinner knew the town water bills were due on the fifteenth.
“When you gonna bring it back?” Skinner said.
“I don’t know.” Eugene looked down.
“Your water doesn’t work cause you ain’t got the money. Ain’t that right boy?”
“No sir. My momma said the water pipe’s busted and I gotta, well, the man is coming next week. And we gonna get it fixed. We got plenty a money. She retired from the circus, circus folks is rich.”
Skinner looked at Pumpkin Boy’s brown squinting eyes.
“I see your ball up in the air sometimes. You throw pretty high for a fat kid.”
“I’ve got a genetic–”
“Yeah, I know. But all the same you throw pretty high for a kid with a genetic problem.”
“My Daddy was a Russian strong man in the circus. Momma says I get my inner strength from him and my outer beauty from her.”
Skinner chuckled, then repressed the action.
“How old are you boy?”
“Twelve. Can we borrow that water? Momma really wants me to do the dishes it’s almost meal time.”
“Sure. There’s a well around back. Just pump the handle up and down.”
“A handle, you mean like a faucet thingy?”
“I’ll show you.”
Skinner turned. Eugene thought the creepy old man looked like a question mark covered in green work clothes. Skinner’s back was stooped, caving in his abdomen. His shirt was tucked tight into his pants. The material was bunched up at the back causing a pleated skirt look across the old man’s non-existent butt. Eugene laughed.
“What’s so funny boy?” Skinner said turning sharply.
“Nothing sir. Just a joke my momma told me from her circus days.”
“The well’s over there. Just lift that black handle up. After you put your jug underneath I mean. Then lift it up and pump like this.”
“Like a ketchup bottle when you’re eating spaghetti.” Eugene imitated Skinner.
“Yeah, Ok. That’ll work.”
Skinner sat on the spotless back porch. His gray eyes surveyed the lawn seeking out imperfections or stray blades of grass needing trimming.
“Get off my damn lawn!” Skinner yelled when Eugene’s extra wide shoes slipped off the sidewalk.
“Sorry sir.” he yelled back.
Eugene pumped the water until both jugs were full. Suddenly he realized he had no caps. His momma yelling at him about not having water, not having money, not having a child support check and not having her career distracted the boy when he picked up the jugs. I’ll just be careful, he thought. Take my time. I’m the son of a strong man afterall.
I’m the son of a strong man.

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