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"For No One" • The Beatles (by Robbie Herbst)

Janet wanted a garden. She told me this almost every single day across the chain link fence separating our yards. I’d be reading, or mowing the lawn, or lifting weights with the makeshift barbells Marco and I had made by mixing bags of concrete and sticking aluminum poles through the middle. She’d sidle onto her back patio in her bathrobe, nursing a coffee. She wouldn’t cross the yard - whether out of fear of COVID or a certain sense of modesty, it wasn’t clear. Our conversations were shouted.

“Your plants are doing so well,” she said as I watered the zucchini vine.

I waved hello.

“There used to be a neighborhood garden years ago, right here in my backyard,” she said, “but that was only because other people took care of it.”

Her weed-choked yard hadn’t been tended in decades. Rabbits frequented a clump of bushes near the fence, and Ruby was up every morning to patrol the border.

“I would just love a little garden again,” she said.

“Marco and I will make you one,” I said.

“No, that’s too much trouble,” she said.

“Gosh, I miss that garden,” she said.

“We’ll be over this afternoon.”

“It’s too much trouble.”

“How’s 2:00?”

“2:00 is fine! But don’t.”

“We will.”

We did, but we were late. By the time we had picked out a tray of seedlings from the plant stand behind King Soopers and finished our third Hamm’s, it was half past. It didn’t matter. It was April 2020. Our grad school was cancelled. We were living large off unemployment and John Lennon. We took our fourth beers to go, loaded our pockets with numbers five and six. We hauled the plants and some spades and a speaker up the block, circled around to Janet’s house and into her backyard. We put on Revolver again from the beginning and got to work.

The weeds were worse than they looked across the way. We were vicious, pounding the spades into the dry earth, tearing out long ribbons of bindweed and purslane. The worst was the curly dock, which tapped almost a foot deep in some places.

“Fucker,” I said, under my breath so she wouldn’t hear. “Die, shithead.”

We filled her garbage can, clearing maybe 20 square feet. We marked our plot with loose bricks we’d pilfered around the neighborhood. We patted lettuce and kale and basil into the freshly turned earth, dolloping topsoil from the garden store. Across the fence, Ruby watched with growing anxiety, yelping at the small but impassable distance. ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’ rounded the corner into ‘For No One.’ The day breaks. Your mind aches, Marco and I both mumbled. We were synced up like that back then, the absurdity hitting us both the right way. It was shaping up to be a Paul spring—quixotically homicidal; cottagecore insanity.

A hot rain started to fall. We opened new beers. We were in jeans and cotton t shirts. The rain thrashed the soil, boiling over before it could seep in. It washed into the open cans, and the cheap beer became cheaper. Rain flavored. We kept going. The water dripped off my un-barbered hair, and I blinked away pinpricks. The rain lasted maybe ten minutes. The sun found us soaked in indigo denim, our arms splattered with black mud as we moved from tipsy to drunk at 3:00PM on a Tuesday. Didn’t matter. We were laughing now. The little plants were, well, not laughing exactly, but stretching out and exploring their new home, the bright, generous sun overhead. They’d be dead in five weeks, after Janet never once watered them, after Marco and I got bored of walking over to give them life support, after the spring dried into cruel, burning summer.

‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ finished, psychedelic birds flying off, and we tossed the speaker and our spades back over the fence. We tossed our shoes, too, and walked back barefoot. People got out of the sidewalk to give us a wide berth. They grinned at us, in on the secret. ‘We’re drunk!’ we could’ve said. ‘We planted a doomed garden!’ ‘Fantastic!’ they would’ve said and then gone back to their sourdough starters and jigsaw puzzles. At home, we’d restart with ‘Eleanor Rigby’—the loneliest and most romantic. We’d crack another Hamm’s.

We’d become wise idiots. You can only get away with that for a season, but we cashed in grandly. The days breaking so brightly, our minds aching so sweetly.

Robbie Herbst is a writer and violinist based in Chicago. His work is forthcoming or has been published at The Rumpus, X-R-A-Y, Gulf Coast, RHINO Poetry, and other publications.  He is a member of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, and he enjoys the company of his dog, Reba, who is a very good girl. You can read more fiction at


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