March 21, 2024 Short Story

Rhubarb, Rhubarb

Rhubarb, Rhubarb Artwork by Abigail A Frankfurt

Allan and me sit on the stoop like we always do. Near the corner of West 4th Street. He says when he was a kid in Toronto he snuck into the neighbor’s garden and dug up vegetables: radishes, carrots, rhubarb. I say, “Like Rapunzel!” He eyeballs me. I tell him, “In the fairy tale Rapunzel’s Mother snuck into the witches garden and ate her radish and somehow this resulted in Rapunzel being given to the witch and locked away in that tower.” Allan wasn’t interested. He said he would bring sugar into the garden and sprinkle it on the rhubarb and eat it right there in the dirt.

Allan asked, “Did you ever sneak into other people’s gardens?” No. We had a garden. “Ya know I feel sorry for you. You really missed out.” I ate from our garden. He said it was different. The adventure of it all. The fear of being found out. He said he snuck into people’s houses to eat their food. Whatever they had. “That’s bold.” Allan said there was no food in his house. Why did everyone leave their front doors open? Maybe that was a Canadian thing.

We walked uptown to 5th Avenue and East 28th Street because Allan heard of a rooftop party and we thought maybe there would be free food and interesting people. We went all the way up in the elevator. Allan flexed his muscles at me. Said, “Sorry I keep forgetting you aren’t my little brother.” It is like that between us. On the roof there was no food. We sat on a bench. Better than a stoop. And the view; we could see the Empire State Building. Allan said he’s never been there. I said my travel agent was on the 7th floor, but that was in the 90s. It was lit up with these pastel colors that kinda made me nauseous, but I didn’t mention that to Allan. He took a photo with his phone. I said, “You look like a tourist.” He said, “What am I gonna do with this picture?” I told him he could join Facebook or Twittter. He said he was waiting for the next “thing” to join.

It began to drizzle, barely. Enough to make my hair frizz. People began to leave. Allan and me stayed. He told me he had insomnia. So do I. Neither of us eat sugar or drink soda. He lays in bed listening to the ball game. I try This American Life. It’s awful when the birds start chirping, when the sun starts inching. Allan rides his bike all over the city. I walk and walk and walk. So we stay on the rooftop. Allan tells me about his father. A drunk who beat him and his two younger brothers. The boys would tie him to his bedposts and steal his wallet. I asked, “Who did you hate more? Your father for being a drunk or your mother for not protecting you?”

“My Mother.” Allan said. “She gave me the worst beating of my life. When I was 10 years old I had OCD and I would check on my little brothers. Make sure they were asleep. Tuck them in again and again. Check the oven. Turn off the stove. My Mother would sit there, smoke and smoke. She grabbed me and screamed ‘stop it stop it!’ and beat my face ‘til my nose was busted and bloody. I ran out of the house in my underwear into the snow to get away from her. She sat in the kitchen and smoked and smoked.”

Allan told me when he went to school the next day he kept nodding off at his desk. He pinched his thighs to stay awake until they were black and blue. Black and blue.

When he got a car he drove away from Toronto and has never gone back. In the early the 90s he was sent a newspaper clipping. It was an obit about the death of his Dad. Said he was survived by his most loyal companion, his dog.

I ask Allan if he would ever go back to Toronto? He replied, “No.” And I asked “Why?” He just stared into the evening sky and said, “ I’d rather die drunk in New York City, than alone in Canada.”