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A Fable

Sunday, July 19, 2020

You Don’t Know Beans

My little Jackie is one sweet little kid; a sweet little idiot. The boy is all good intentions and no brains. 
He knew we was hungry, so he planted a garden. We also tried to raise chickens and rabbits. He loved them so much, he let ’em “play” in the yard—where they all got eaten by foxes. But, afore that happened, they ate up all the seedlings in his garden. Of course, he was never gonna’ get around to weedin’or waterin’ it, so it’s not like we were ever going to get anything to eat from it, anyhow. The boy means well, but he’s as dumb as a brick.
No, that’s not fair—to bricks.
The only thing that kept us going was Emily, our beloved milk cow. She gave us butter and cheese, and—since she was what-you-call a “cash cow”—we traded her extra milk for stuff like flour and sugar. I used to like to bake cakes and cookies for Jackie. Or did, until we didn’t have no egg-laying hens. 
Damn foxes. 
And then Emily’s milk dried up. We had no bull to freshen her, so all she did was keep the weeds down around our little cabin at the edge of the forest. Weeds that I could have used to make soup. 
Stupid cow.
I’m too old and weak to work for anyone else, nowadays, and Jackie—well who would ever hire someone like him? There was nothing left for us to do but sell Emily. Thinking back on it now, I ‘spose I shoulda’ been the one to take that cow to market. Maybe I thought that a cute little kid might get a better price than I coulda’. 
You think you can guess how that turned out, doncha’?
Well, maybe you can—an’ maybe you can’t—but I betcha’ you don’t know the whole story.
Lemme tell ya’ ‘bout the morning the two of ‘em walked into town together. I made a necklace of daisies for her to wear— to dress her up a bit, y’know—and put our last crust of bread and a sliver of cheese in Jackie’s pocket. I told him how important it was, that he had to get a good price for her. “Maybe we could get some more chickens,” I said, “maybe even enough to go into the egg business.” If nothing else, we could live on scrambled eggs and the few wild onions that Emily hadn’t eaten. He nodded like he knew what I was talkin’ about.
I know, now, that it was foolish, but I believed him. 
I swear, sometimes I think that he’s not the family idiot. I am.
Anyway, off they went.
That evening, I spotted him away off, skipping up the path in the dim twilight— alone. He was swinging a little pouch, and he had that big goofy grin on his face. Excited, I called out to ask if his pouch was full of gold coins. 
“Even better!” he shouted back. 
That’s when I began to worry. Turns out, I had good reason to. The pouch did not hold gold coins. It did not hold silver coins. It did not hold copper coins.
It held beans.
Five beans.
Not even enough to make soup.
My first instinct was to beat the boy senseless, but it was far too late for that. The child was born with no kind of sense. Maybe he had just enough sense to see that he was in big trouble, because he started right in telling me that they weren’t just any old beans.
He said they were magic beans. He’d traded them, for daisy-wearing Emily, with some old tramp he’d met along the path to town. He said that the tramp had promised that the beans would grow so tall that they’d lead to a place in the sky—where he’d find bags of goId, a hen that laid eggs if solid gold, and a harp made of gold that would sing anything you asked it to. I’d never heard such nonsense in my whole life! 
Besides, if I’ve told him once, I’ve told him a million times, that he should never talk to no strangers. But the boy just can’t help himself—he can git along with anybody.
Like I told ya’, he’s a sweet kid with no smarts whatsoever.
I took the pouch and sent him up to bed with no supper. I weren’t trying to punish him—neither of us had any supper, ‘cause there weren’t none to be had. In disgust and disappointment, I tossed the beans out the window, where they landed in Jackie’s “garden.” 
I just plopped down to the table with my head in my hands, wondering what in hell to do next. I fell asleep there, a fitful kinda’ sleep with nightmares fulla’ thunder and earthquakes. 
I usually wake up early, when the sun first come in through the window, but the next morning I woke in the dark. Jackie was shaking me. He tried, at first, to drag me to the window, then out the front door. Looking around the corner, to where his garden shoulda’ been, all we could see was an immense bean vine. Five thick stalks twisted around each other. They clung to the side of our little house, then spiraled up into the clouds.
‘Afore I could stop him, Jackie begin shimmyin’ up them giant plants. Up and up he went, ignoring me when I screamed for him to, “come down this minute, young man!” Don’t know whether he heard me or not, but he soon disappeared into the clouds. 
I was beside myself with fear. I ran, back and forth around them damn vines, looking up, pullin’ my hair, and cryin’ out for my baby. 
I heard a distant rustling sound, way up high, then something tumblin’ down through the big leaves. “My god,” I thought, “he’s falling!” What would I ever do to stay alive—in my old age—if I lost my Jackie?
The sound got louder, swellin’ into a kinda’ whooshin’, ‘afore endin’ in a horrible crash. I couldn’t bear to look, at first, but then thought there might be something I could do to save the boy. I opened my eyes and turned to the cabin. The roof was all caved in an’ dust was swirlin’ around so’s I could barely see. 
“My god! My boy! My house!” Only when some of the dust settled, could I see what happened.
Poking out of what was left of my poor roof, the torn stem of a huge green-bean pod. That damn vegetable done ripped through the thatchin’, an’ the rafters, an’ Jackie’s upstairs bedroom—only comin’ to a stop when it reached the kitchen table. Somehow, my boy must have broken it off when he was aclimbin’ through them giant vines. 
When he climbed down, a while later, he just stared at our wrecked house. He told me he was disappointed because the old tramp had lied to him, exaggeratin’ the beans’ magic. He said he’d walked all around, lookin’ everwhere, but never saw him no giants, no gold, or nothin’. 
Just clouds. 
I was bawlin’ my eyes out—from grief an’ relief—but he tried his damnedest to comfort me. He told me that we had nothing to worry about.
For once in his life, the boy was right about somethin’. His sweet good nature, an’ all that pointless jabberin’ he’d done over the years, made him the darlin’ of all of our neighbors. When they learnt of our misfortune, they all come a-runnin’. Dozens of ‘em showed up with tools and such, everthing they’d need to fix our caved-in roof. 
Not only that, they built us a small barn, and a real—fox-proof—chicken coop. They even left us some livestock—a young heifer, and some chickens and ducks—to get us restarted. 
So far, none of them hens has laid a golden egg. Not a one.
You know how—when folks pitch in, like that—they expects to be fed, right? By a stroke a’ luck, I was able to be their good neighbor, too. While Jackie told ‘em all stories about the things he seen—and didn’t see—up in the sky, I served everyone from platters heaped high with thick slabs that I hacked from a Boston Baked Bean.

This story is excerpted from Backstories: As retold by Gary Allen, available in two formats:


Copyright ©2020 by Gary Allen.


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