Hard in the Garden 

There was so much fucking zucchini. She didn’t even like zucchini–it was like a character actor, she thought, cast in whatever recipe only to prove a certain high-brow appreciation of the strange–but she had to admit there was something appealing about the vine’s voracious appetite, its casual entitlement to the nutrient-laced soil. Blossom-tipped tendrils sprawled across the plot. They wound their way toward the ropey, sweat-anointed forearms of 4pm Tuesday. 

“Choke me like I’m a seedling carrot root,” she thought.

“Could you pass me that spade, please?” she said. 

4pm Tuesday smiled and it was spring inside her, shoots and buds and blooms. He rose from his rapacious tangle of zucchini. He’d just plucked one from the patch, girthy and dappled with droplets of moisture. He held it like he owned it. “I’ve seen you here before, right?” 

 She’d seen him first. It had been through the wrought iron fence, from the sidewalk. The community garden was ostensibly for her–she bagged her dog’s shit and took out her recycling on time, how much more community could she be?–but the lush oasis a few doors down from her apartment felt like another planet. The community garden was for stay-at-home moms who sought fulfillment between pilates and interior decorating parties; for the sticky, privileged little hands of Montessouri school children; for finance guys honing their anger management skills. But then, one day, she bent to collect a steaming turd from the sidewalk, and there was 4pm Tuesday. He was handsome, yes, but it was something else that had stopped her: the magnetic tension between control and care. When he cupped a tomato in his palm to appraise its ripeness, he knew exactly how hard to squeeze it so that it resisted, but didn’t burst. She’d watched him through the gates, a metallic tang in her mouth–lust, as ancient as the creation of humankind. As ancient as dirt. Then she had walked home, masturbated furiously, and googled “easiest garden plants.”

She took the spade, letting her fingers linger on his. “Cleave my damp soil with your throbbing spade,” she thought. “Let the ground tremble with lust and part beneath your blade. Tunnel through me until you hit the root of all desire. Let's do that wheelbarrow pose I saw in Cosmo as a teen.”

“Thank you,” she said. And then, “Zucchini's pretty greedy, huh?”

“The trick is to work with the hunger."  He took her free hand in his, and firmly but gently pushed her fingers into the soil. It was damp and warm from the sun. “Keep the soil moist. Find the right partner for the bed.” She photosynthesized under his gaze. She felt herbaceous. 

“Don’t be afraid to give something what it wants,” he said. She didn't care if she overwatered her first crop of green garlic. It was going to be a great harvest.

behind the steam

cover stars alia shawkat and phil burgers

Chapter four of the RA Romance Novel Appreciation Club is brought to you by one of my oldest and dearest, Alia Shawkat. Modeling with her ever-charming and talented partner Phil Burgers (AKA Dr. Brown) and written by our very own Aiden Arata.My friendship with Alia has spanned seventeen (!) years, multiple breakups, at least three hair colors (me) and one shaved head (her). She was my very first model for Rachel Antonoff and has starred in a plethora of videos and lookbooks since. She’s navigated wind with a large standard poodle for me, she’s rapped for me and now she’s posed pregnant and in heat for the cover of Hard in the Garden. I love her forever. Paired with Aiden’s exceptional writing, you’re going to need a napkin for your seat! (So sorry). With that, I give you this steamy excerpt from Hard in the Garden written by Aiden Arata and starring Alia Shawkat and Phil Burgers. 

author aiden arata

In addition to being Rachel Antonoff's Content Director, Aiden Arata is a Los Angeles-based writer and artist whose work has appeared in outlets includingThe Rumpus, BOMB, Hobart,The Fanzine,Wonderland, andNDA: An Autofiction Anthology(Archway Editions 2023). She is the author of the forthcoming essay collectionYou Have a New Memory(Grand Central Publishing 2025). She also writes a monthly-ish newsletter, under the influence, about being extremely online during the heat death of the planet.This is her first publicly available erotic excerpt.

the real star: artie