Another adapted fairy tale from My pen - Jack and the Beans Talk
Once upon a time, there was a boy called Jack who lived with his mother. They were poor, so poor that they only had the choice of fifty-four channels on their cable TV network. Yes, that poor.
One day, Jack's mother, frustrated with this lack of choice, switched off the shopping channel, lobbed the remote control at Jack's head and yelled, 'Get off your backside and go and sell our cow at the market. We need more money.'
Jack was shocked. Not because she'd suggested selling the cow that they had bought as a calf, fed, raised and nurtured like a member of the family, but because the day before he had already sold the cow to a local abattoir for a good price and updated his collection of Grand Theft Auto games with the money.
But he had to pretend. 'Okay, mum,' he said, and went out into the back garden where he did his best impression of a cow being led down the alley and into the road at the front. (Fortunately, he had done a vocational course in 'How to Impersonate a Cow being Led Down an Alley and Into the Road at the Front', and the serendipity of this caused Jack to muse for a while on the value of further education.)
He wandered along the road, wondering what he was going to do, when he met some beans. There were five of them. They came towards him.
He wasn't sure, at first, what to do. (He only had himself to blame for this, he knew. The course after the 'How to Impersonate a Cow being Led Down an Alley and Into the Road at the Front' had been 'How to Communicate with Beans You Meet While Out Walking'. He knew he should have signed up rather than spending his days blowing computer images to bloody smithereens. Still, there was no time for regrets now. There he was, with the beans, and they were obviously expecting conversation.)
'Hi,' he said, uncertainly. He held out a hand, but, being beans, his conversation partners had none. 'Damn', he thought. 'Mum always warned me about acting in ways that highlighted other people's deficiencies.' (This had, it has to be said, been hypocritical on her part, as his now-disappeared father had had a rogue nipple in the middle of his forehead and she had spared him nothing in pointing this out regularly over dinner.)
One bean stepped forward. 'Hi there,' it said. 'We were just thinking, as you walked towards us, how downbeat you were looking. You looked, as I said to the guys here, like someone who had been told by your mother to go and sell a cow to get more money, had had to impersonate a cow being led down an alley and into the road at the front because you had, in fact, sold your cow the day before for Grand Theft Auto money, and now didn't know what to do. Am I anywhere near the truth?'
Jack was tempted to say, 'No, I'm fine,' but this did seem churlish, especially as it had taken the bean a fair amount of effort to say all that and it had lost some of its green tinge. A bean has only a limited amount of breath to spare on protracted discourse, he supposed. And, he had to admit, he had recently considered going for therapy to deal with his GTA addiction and the strange compulsions he felt occasionally to ram the remote control down his mother's throat. Therapy was expensive, though. Here were some beans, offering a free counselling service. Why not?
The beans and Jack walked together to a nearby Starbucks. They ordered Jack a Cappuccino and themselves a Coke and five straws. Over their drinks, Jack shared the sorry story of his life, and the beans listened, murmuring sympathetic noises occasionally. At the end of Jack' s tale, he said to them, 'So, what do you think I should do?'
The beans suggested that Jack came with them to visit a friend of theirs who had a golden goose which laid golden eggs. 'Come on, you're kidding me,' Jack said. The beans looked offended. 'For someone whose daily reality is the world of Grand Theft Auto,' one said, 'you're surprisingly sceptical.'
So Jack went with them.
The friend turned out to be an ogre. He lived in a castle in a valley. 'I thought most castles were in high places,' queried Jack of the beans as they made their way down some steps towards the door. They told him a sad story of subsidence which explained everything. 'That's just as well,' Jack explained. 'I have vertigo.'
The ogre looked suspiciously at Jack, as he stood on the front doorstep of the castle with the five beans. 'Who's this punk?' he said. 'He needs a haircut and a good wash.' But the beans convinced him that Jack was an okay sort and, what's more, in need of friends, and so they all trooped in.
The ogre turned out to be the hospitable type despite the gruff first impressions. The offer of mint tea and thin slices of poppy seed cake came as a surprise to Jack, but he took them. One doesn't, he decided, refuse food from someone fourteen times your size and with a chest like a cliffside.
Conversation sooned moved to the topic of the golden goose and its eggs. One of the reasons for this was that, as they all sipped tea and nibbled at cake, the goose was in the middle of the room, straining away at producing one of the afore-mentioned eggs. It wasn't pleasant and Jack felt almost nostalgic for home, eating a meat pie with his mum while she cut her toenails and nudged the fungal-infected clippings under the rug with the edge of her foot.
Jack wondered how he could steer the talk round to a gentle hint such as 'Can I have one of the eggs?' But he couldn't get a word in edgeways. The ogre and the beans were obviously old friends, and with five beans, all voluble, and an ogre, not the type one interrupts, opportunities were rare. Then Jack thought of something.
'I used to have a pet, too' he said, quickly.
There was a silence. All the beans looked at him. The ogre looked at him. 'And what happened to it?' the ogre asked, his voice a rumble of distant storm.
This was tricky. Jack hadn't actually thought about what to say after his first sentence, and this didn't seem the time to say, 'I sold it to a meat factory to buy computer games.' He'd noticed how fond the ogre was of his goose, having watched him stroke its white head every now and again when it was having a contraction.
Fortunately, though, another course Jack had been on was called, 'What to Say to an Ogre In Awkward Silences You Have Created Yourself.'
Jack began to sob. (Lesson 1: Best to either let the ogre speak, or cry and disconcert the ogre.)
The ogre and the beans gathered round Jack. The ogre put his arms round the boy. As for the beans, Jack had to be content with knowing they were there, and sympathetic.
The ogre, Jack knew, must have presumed something terrible had happened to his cow. (After all, it had. But terrible in an 'I gave my pet cow to be axed' kind of way and not 'My pet cow died of a long-term illness' kind of way.)
The beans, he realised, knew the true story. But they weren't saying, and this he appreciated. He hadn't known beans could be so loyal, although there were probably reasons for that.
Suddenly, Jack felt a warm, smooth, rounded object being placed in his lap by the ogre. He opened one eye, hopefully. It was the egg! Granted, it was a little slimy and had a couple of golden feathers sticking to it, but as long as Jack didn't think too hard about where it had been, he could cope. (He'd been just the same at school when they'd shown the birth film in Personal, Social and Health Education.)
Jack looked up into the ogre's face and saw that he was crying too. Jack felt ashamed, but he knew that, if you didn't admit the truth to an ogre the first time, then it was best just to keep quiet and not risk admitting that you'd been lying. He hadn't been on a course to learn that but, hey, sometimes a guy just has to use his common-sense. Education isn't everything. Ask Holden Caulfield.
Later, Jack and the beans struggled back up the hill, Jack carrying the egg under one arm and some poppy seed cake in the other. The beans chatted away. They really were the most conversational beans. But they hadn't said a word about Jack's dissembling and he knew he owed them a big favour.
This was how Jack arrived home with a) the beans, but also b) the golden egg, meaning that all that guff about climbing up beanstalks and being put in the oven by a Mrs Ogre and having to listen to a silly poem about 'Fee fi fo fum' that didn't even have proper words became unnecessary. His mother was delighted to find that the beans weren't the kind of beans you threw out of windows into the back garden, but were marvellous company, happy to chat about absolutely anything, and surprisingly nimble with the remote control when Channel 33 proved unsatisfactory. In fact, with the money got from selling the golden egg to a local gold merchant, Jack and his mother were able to buy a house next door in which the beans could live.
The beans never mentioned what happened to Jack's cow, and the mother never asked. Her new-found wealth had made her content. Jack gave up playing so much on Grand Theft Auto and bought himself and his mother a range of family board games which the beans would come round and play with them. They sometimes needed help with the dice and pushing the counters round the board, but this gave Jack and his mother rare opportunities to help others. Jack bought his mother some expensive anti-fungal lotion for her toenails which made these board game evenings much more pleasant for everyone. And he bought a subscription to 'Which Cow?' magazine, thinking that this might be a good move, just to put things right even more.
And they all lived happily ever after.