The caravan heats up like a little oven in the midday sun. Jill is stretched out on the bed sweating. She is too skinny. Her little heart skips a beat inside its birdcage and catches up to her again. Jill’s heart is like a skinny little bird: squawk, squawk, squawk.
The caravan is parked on top of the tallest, baldest hill around. The cupboards are bare. It will not rain. And the sun. It has baked the land into bread, the crust has all cracked open and blown away.
Jack is walking to The Butcher to sell their skinny cow and meets an old man, he’s just standing there on the road waiting for him. The old man wants to buy Jack’s cow, but he doesn’t have any money, all he has is a bean. He lifts the bean out of a sack.
‘Jesus,’ says Jack quietly, ‘that’s the biggest bean I’ve ever seen.’
Jack holds the bean up to the sun, sniffs it. ‘Be careful,’ says the old man, stepping away a little, ‘it’s a magic bean!’
When Jack gets home with his magic bean Jill is very angry. She was hoping for cash, she goes stomping through the caravan with her steel capped boots and Jack’s magic bean. She wants to know what Jack was thinking. ‘You’re a fucking idiot.’ she says, ‘We’re going to starve, fe fo fi fum, you can stick it in your ear mate, you can stick it up your bum.’
And she throws the bean out the window.
Jack follows the bean, covers it in cow shit, drowns it with the hose. Dancing on the end of his shovel, singing…’Magic bean, you are my magic bean, the biggest bean I ever seen.’
Jack has swapped the family cow for a bean but it won’t flower till mid-summer and they are hungry. Very very hungry. And now he’s dancing.
It’s too much for Jill, she is looking at Jack through the window of the caravan, he can’t hear what she’s saying to him, she articulates each word slowly, she is saying ‘Jack you are a fucking idiot. A fucking idiot. Jack you are a fucking idiot.’
Jill has been seeing The Butcher on the sly. She is sick of Jack’s stupid mystical shit. She’s fucking sick of it.
The Butcher is putting his apron back on, Jill leans over and whispers something to him and The Butcher gives her something wrapped up in newspaper.
She unwraps it when she gets home, but is disappointed. A cow’s liver and a note: ‘Sweets for the sweet, sweet meat, sweet meat, sweet meat.’ She has no idea what it’s supposed to mean, it scares her. She was talking about money when she was whispering in his ear. Idiots. She was surrounded by idiots. She buries The Butcher’s liver under the bean shoot when Jack isn’t looking at it.
The bean had been growing again. It always grew the most when Jack wasn’t looking at it. Jack deliberately didn’t look at it all day and it was already as big as the caravan.
Jack climbed up into the bean stalk and now Jill can’t get him down. ‘Jack,’ she shouts, ‘get down here, you miserable cunt, go and get a fucking job.’
She potters around below with her watering can and her empty birdcage, planting daffodils and ox tongues and lamb’s hearts around the stalk of the bean.
It is growing on him. Jack inches upwards, ever upwards, tangled angelically on the tips of shooting nodes, smiling his wide idiot grin. Tendrils gently twine themselves around Jacks wrists and tighten. Others bind his legs. They could have ripped him in half, pulled him apart like a Christmas bon-bon. But this is a gentle magic noble bean.
And this is the exciting magical part: Jack’s co2 is absorbed by the stigmata in the leaves of the bean, o2 from the leaves and stem is absorbed into his alveoli. The bean becomes him and Jack becomes the bean. The sun makes it happen. Nitrogen nodules the size of footballs anchor themselves onto the roots of the bean far below Jill’s feet.
Jack has no idea when the bean will stop growing. Look down Jack, go on, look down. Jesus that’s a long way down.
The Giant’s house is on top of a cloud. Surrounded by blackberry canes. Blackberries will grow anywhere. There are rabbits in the blackberries, there are foxes eating rabbits in the blackberries. Weeds within weeds within weeds.
Jack is riding on bean shoots, they take him right over the blackberries and foxes and rabbits to The Giant’s house. Weeeee…
They drop him gently onto the front step, curled up in a bundle of flower buds. Beautiful, it was magic and noble and gentle.
The Giant is sitting on the end of a huge wooden table with his head in his hands, listening to terribly sad songs on the magic harp. It has turned him into a depressive housebound fool. The Giant’s tears flow out in little waterfalls over the blackberries, making them sour and dry and unpalatable. Only the foxes will eat them.
The Giant has a chicken that lays golden eggs. It’s a magic chicken. The golden eggs are also magic.
Jack is an idiot. It is true. He only climbed the bean because it was there, he had no idea that it would take him to riches beyond belief. Stealing the harp and the magic chicken was easy. Jack just walked in and took them. He didn’t even see The Giant sitting there. The Giant was so big that Jack did not see him.
Listening to the harp for so long has made The Giant soft and melancholy and sentimental. The Giant didn’t chase him. The Giant was a poofta. The Giant was weak as piss.
The Butcher is showing Jill his butcher’s shop window, sticking it into her like half a stuck spider against the bean stalk. They work up quite a rhythm until Jill is hit on the head by the first bean of the season. It knocks her unconscious. The Butcher runs away in fright. ‘Beans!’ he screams, ‘Great big falling beans!’
Jack climbs down from the bean shoot with the harp that sings and the magic chicken, sees Jill lying in the dirt bleeding. Takes her into the caravan and bathes her head, puts her feet up.
And when Jill wakes up, the first thing she sees is the suitcase full of lovely golden eggs, her face bathed in unholy apricot.
‘I love you Jack,’ she says. ‘I love you Jack, I love you Jack.’
Jill never mentions The Butcher. Jack is a trustworthy soul and suspects nothing. The Butcher is not coming back; he’s afraid of falling beans. Jill will not go into town, she has become a vegetarian. She’s put on a healthy layer of fat. She sits in the chicken run and waits for another one to be laid. Each new egg is carefully wrapped in cloth and buried under the caravan with the other ones.
Jack saves the seeds from the giant bean. He swaps one for a cow and plants the rest in the garden. Beans are a good crop before corn. Jack is hunting around for giant corn seeds. He talks to every old man he meets on the road. All Jill does is eat beans and look at her magic golden eggs.
Jill digs up her secret treasure trove of magic golden eggs but the rain has got to them and they are rotten. They smell like a packet of matches. She crouches in the coop, whispering encouragement to the magic chicken: ‘Lay.’ she says. ‘Lay you fucker. Lay.’
(‘Tree of Man’ artwork by Miles Allinson)