Rafter Fiction is short stories based on songs by Rafter. I am starting the series with the songs from his newest album, “Terrestrial Extras”. This is the song, “A Naked Heart.” Buy the album here
I did not really know Allen that well until the summer he was pulling up all of the grass in his front yard. Allen did not go to school, did not play football or baseball, did not play with any other kids on the block. I didn’t even know there was a boy living there until I saw him shoveling snow off the front walk last winter. I asked my mom about him.
“There’s a new boy down the street.”
“Down the street. In the blue house.”
My mom did not say much else about it, only nodded her head and went back to washing vegetables for dinner.
In the summer, all of us were out of school, and I was up early for some dumb reason. Jeff invited me over to play video games that morning, and since mom was still asleep, I ate a handful of cereal and headed toward his house. I didn’t pay attention to what time it was, and when I saw the sun barely above the horizon, I knew that I was too early. I could have went back home for awhile, but this idea was not as appealing as being on the street alone too early in the morning. I happened to walk passed the blue house, and this is when I saw Allen pulling up clumps of grass with his bare hands.
His back was turned to the street. He looked about six or seven, skinny and short, his hair buzzed close. The outlines of the his spine and ribs pushed taut against his skin. I wanted to stay something to get his attention, but I did not know if I should. After pulling a few more clumps, he must have sensed me because he turned around. “Hey,” he said in a really small voice.
His face was small and compact. His eyes were sunken and close to each other, and his lips were too thin. He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his back pocket and shook one out. “You want one?” He shook a cigarette out of the pack for me.
“Cool.” He stood in the yard, a safe distance from me, and smoked.
“What exactly are you doing?”
Allen looked back at the clumps of grass piling up. “Mom says she doesn’t like anything that grows and wants me to tear all the grass out of the yard.”
This was confusing to me, but I just nodded. I was too busy watching him smoke like a man on a union break. “How old are you?”
“Fifteen. This fall. I think.”
I shook my head. “I don’t believe it.”
“I know. I look younger. Mom says she doesn’t want me to get older.”
“But you smoke.”
“It’s supposed to stunt my growth.” He smiled, and this was when I noticed all of his teeth were discolored and broken.
About that time, a large woman in a dark brown dress stepped onto the porch. She carried two coffee cups, and when she saw me, she stopped and her eyes narrowed. “Allen,” she said.
He turned to her then back to me. “I have to go.”
“Okay,” I said.
I didn’t tell my mom about seeing him this time. Instead I told Jeff when we were playing video games. I spent the night at his house that night, and the next morning we sneaked out of his house to see if Allen still working. Allen noticed us earlier than the day before.
Hey,” said. He stopped and lit a cigarette again. “You come to help or just gawk.”
Jeff gave me a look that told me he knew less about what to say than I did. I finally said, “Will your mom get pissed?”
“I don’t think so. Not if you’re helping. She wasn’t mad yesterday. Just wanted to know who you was.”
The yard did not have much more progress than when I saw it the day before, and I knew it would take him all summer if he worked by himself. Finally I said, “Sure. We can help.”
That was our only summer with Allen, pulling all of the grass out of the yard. We asked him why he smoked and why he drank coffee all of the time, and why he was so small for someone older than us. He did not talk about it right away, but once we had been working for a week or so, he said, “My mom doesn’t have very much. She does not have anyone, and she doesn’t like seeing things grow. Every morning, after she unties the weights from my arms and head, she measures and weighs me. She is disappointed when I have grown. And I don’t want to disappoint her. I’m all she has.”
When the yard was free of grass, I watched a paving company back into his yard. I got up early, before the sun baked the blacktop of his front yard, to see if Allen was going to be outside working on something else. I looked for a few weeks, but after not seeing him again, I found other things to occupy my time.