When I was told to check my wheelbarrow into the nightclub cloakroom, I
felt my cheeks flush with rage. I wasn’t used to being without my
barrow—I was so addicted to the feel of the cold steel tray and the
rattle it made as it rolled along the concrete.
Dancing alone on the vinyl dance floor I performed the twist to a Nordic
techno mix. I felt hostile eyes on me and I pined for the security of my
wheelbarrow. I decided I had to relax, have a smoke in the beer garden,
see if I could survive another hour by myself.
Outside I sat beside a girl named Christy who was dressed from head to
toe in white Lycra. She had stacked black plimsolls and rainbow-tinted
coffin nails. We started talking and I couldn’t help but wax lyrical
about my wheelbarrow.
“The wheel’s a bit scuffed now,” I said, “and the handles are flaking
too but basically it’s a smooth ride.”
“Uh-huh,” she said, looking away and striking up a conversation with
some meathead to her right.
At the end of the night, I collected my wheelbarrow and I didn’t care
who stared—it was just me and my old friend again. Gripping it
firmly, flipping it around and standing it on its head energised me like
a B12 shot.
I soon attracted a drug-fuelled crowd, clapping and cheering as I
balanced it on my nose and gave it a spin. Christy approached me—her
eyelids twitching, chewing her tongue like a dog chomping on a rubber
“Hey, it’s you, wheelbarrow boy,” she said, slurring her words.
“Hi,” I said, “wanna ride?”
She climbed in, sat cross-legged and pointed into the distance.
“Your place, cowboy!”
Inside my bedsit she beckoned me to the sofa bed with an index finger
and a sly smile. I gave a sidelong glance to my wheelbarrow that was
propped up by the television.
“Leave your little toy alone,” she said. “Come and show me a good
I was terrified and instinctively wrapped an arm around my barrow,
bringing it close to my chest, spooning it while standing. Luckily
Christy’s eyes glazed over and she passed out.
Three hours later she woke, groggy and pale. It took her a minute to
realise she was lying in a pool of her own vomit, was curled up in the
barrow again and that I had put her there.
She climbed out and rifled through her purse to make sure I hadn’t
“Your mother really did a number on you,” she said, applying a wet wipe
to her cheek. “Seek help.”
Later that afternoon, I gave my barrow a good scrub, oiled the wheel,
cleaned the mud flaps, really dug deep into the crevices—spending
I thought back to how it all began. I was seven, Christmas, mum sloshed
on port and flirting with uncle Leo because dad hadn’t spoken to her in
a month—instead busying himself with DIY projects around the house,
building and destroying.
With tremendous excitement I opened a giant present under the tree, but
I was dismayed to discover dad had bought me a child’s size (but still
pretty hefty) garden wheelbarrow and a pair of plyers.
“Think of the potential,” he said.
I saw none.
But when I noticed my mum whisper something into uncle Leo’s ear with
moist lips, I improvised. I scooped up my baby cousin from her baby
walker, plonked her in the barrow and raced around the Christmas tree as
the baby howled with delight. The mood lifted—my parents smiled, even
exchanged a few words. It was at that moment I forged a heartfelt
connection with my barrow and every other wheelbarrow I ever owned.
But I now realised the barrow was doing me more harm than good. The
truth was things had been fraying at the edges for some time now. Going
out for drinks at my local, hunting for girls in Soho, or catching a
late-night horror flick—all with my wheelbarrow in tow—was starting
to wear thin with my friends. It was no longer an endearing quirk.
So, going to the club alone and meeting Christy wasn’t just a fun night
out for me, it was a final attempt to incorporate the wheelbarrow
seamlessly into my life.
Now I knew it had to go.
I took a stroll around the neighbourhood, leaving my wheelbarrow at
home, upturned, wheel in the air, forlorn. Kids rushed out of their
front doors and swarmed around me like I was a celebrity, confused as to
why I wasn’t with my trusty barrow. When I told them that was in the
past, they were horrified. A boy with yellow teeth caged by titanium
braces, chewed on a gobstopper and said, “We have no reason to go
outside now, you know that right?”
The kids dispersed and I scoured the sky for a nearby star to lead me
somewhere new, somewhere out of this mess but what I really needed was a
cold beer and the kindness of a beautiful woman.
That night I dumped the wheelbarrow on the curb by a tree and it was
taken in minutes.
I wondered whether the new owner would merge the barrow into the rhythm
of their life like I had. And I hoped my wheelbarrow wasn’t wasted on
some construction worker heaving sand and cement around a desolate
building site. I wanted to believe my barrow could inspire profound
insights and conquer expansive dreamworlds.
In fact, I hoped to see it in the neighbourhood again sometime, living a
new auspicious life, flourishing like never before.
It was rumoured I had never been born—that I had appeared on earth a
fully formed man, moulded into skin and bone. Some said I materialised
in an orb of light like a messenger from the future and some said I
emerged from the animal spirits, a beast in my own right. It was a weird
and superstitious village where I lived—everyone had their own bizarre
outlook on life.
Me? My memory is as weak as a soft rain—I know my name is Adam, not
much else. I let the others fill in the gaps.
I did know I felt more comfortable around children, and people said it
was because I had no childhood of my own, that I was struggling to find
out what it was like, what it all meant.
The village kids would play games, strange games, and sometimes they
would let me play too. In one game, a few of us would climb a giant pine
tree deep in the woods where no one dared go except teenage lovers or
small game hunters. The child who scaled the top branch first had to
shout secrets about the kid who was stuck at the bottom.
I was always going to lose—I could barely make it beyond the first
branch. I walked with my body bent over as if I wanted to crawl among
the weeds, and my fingers were mangled into twisted shapes.
One day, leaning into the wind like a long jump skier, a boy named Tommy
held onto two branches, balancing his feet against the crown of a tree.
He called out into the grey sky and crushed me with his lies.
He said, “All the stories about Adam are wrong, he did have a mum—a
slave girl who gave birth to him in a junkyard. Seagulls picked at her
skinny body while she died. Then a mad witch with crazy clown makeup
snatched Adam, washed him in a bucket of blood and raised him in the
forest in a wooden hut, eating snails, without a thing to his name.”
After Tommy’s rant, my friend Alana who couldn’t climb so high either,
sat me down in a clearing beyond the trees and wiped my tears away with
She said, “Don’t listen to Tommy, he’s strong and has a big mouth but he
tried to kill his mum with a hammer and it was him who burned down the
art class last summer. Listen, I know who you really are, you’re like a
broken superman, or a space alien pure and kind, or something like
that—you’re special, okay? What you’re going to do is beat him up,
beat him to a pulp.”
“Oh, I couldn’t,” I said, “I could never hurt someone like that, it’s
But when I next saw Tommy on his way back from school, wiping his nose
on his uniform while sucking on a cola ice pop, an uncontrollable rage
welled up inside of me. I only meant to hit him once but I lost control;
I broke his nose and cheek bone with my elbow and I watched his face
bubble with blood until I heard the noise of angry adults approach. I
made my escape.
I fled to the forest and hid in an underbrush near a river that masked
my tired breaths with its ferocious roar. The night came and went and as
everyone in the village slept—no doubt dreaming of drowning me in
troughs of rain water or burning me among the trees I couldn’t climb—I
waited for the bus into the city.
Maybe leaving the village could help me remember who I was with a clear
mind—remember if I was born from the heavens or the slop, from gods or
Or else I’d learn that forgetting wasn’t such a bad thing after all and
that life is a short violent song no matter where you’re from.
Tim Frank’s short stories have been published in Bourbon Penn, Eunoia Review, Menacing Hedge, Maudlin House and elsewhere. He is the associate fiction editor for Able Muse Literary Journal.