Jack and the Beanstalk
I was raised poor. We didn’t smile, didn’t laugh. We whispered. We walked on tiptoes, slunk beneath the Great Ones.
Like all the youth, I wanted a small house, a small wife, a small baby, but then a flimsy paper flew in the breeze before my eyes and I wanted a stone mansion atop a hill, twenty babies with twenty mothers to rear them. What’s wrong with me? I wanted to be a Great One. I would have to dislodge a Great One.
Where does my hunger come from? From Pops, the farmer? My mother, the cook? With snippets, crumbs, water, she makes soup. No salt, no meat, a little yellow grease floating on the surface, and I want the whole pot. Beans, I want beans: green string beans, red and brown beans, something to keep me from disappearing.
On the other side of the forest is one tall beanstalk reaching to the sky. The first step is easy. But not the second: my head feels as if it’s floating off; I sway, close my eyes, grasp the stalk. And I’ll still have to battle the giant who owns the beanstalk. Above the treetops, above the clouds, with little safe footing. He’s the greedy one, not me. Maybe I should climb back down.
I pull my body up. Up, up, and I’m on the cloud floor, dizzy. My shoes have fallen off. I stumble to his mansion–high ceilings, long windows. I’m ravenous: I eat his bread, gaze out the window at the sun, golden as the promise of a full stomach. There stands the giant, growling in his throat, opening his mouth, showing brown teeth. He drops the firewood and axe he’s holding. Perhaps we can be friends. He runs toward me, kicks at my stomach. I stretch my hands toward his knees, but I’m small.
“I’m hungry too,” he says. “I’m so big I always have to be eating, hunting. You can’t imagine what that’s like, trying to catch a slow-flying bird, a lame squirrel. But you’re two whole bites. I’ll be able to sit down and rest after swallowing you. Lunch was not enough.” He points to a half-empty sack of beans. “Eating is exhausting. Last week I caught a three-legged dog. He was stringy but I rested for two days. You’ll be a good meal, not as large as a sow, but better than a squirrel morsel.”
I grab the sack of beans and the axe, run to the beanstalk. I blink my watery eyes and he becomes an army of giants following me. I slide and half-fall to the ground. I stare up at the giant climbing down. I must chop the beanstalk–I’ll never be able to climb up into the clouds again. Chop, chop. My eyes water. He tumbles down. I put my hand on my head to stop the spinning. I see, next to the stump, a bloody mountain, one eye closed, one eye gazing at the golden sun.
I take his beans, cook them, eat. I’m still hungry.
About the writer:
Cezarija Abartis has published a collection, Nice Girls and Other Stories (New Rivers Press) and stories in Bennington Review, FRiGG, matchbook, Waccamaw, and New York Tyrant, among others. Recently she completed a crime novel. She lives and writes in Minnesota.
Image: “Giant grave by the sea” by Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840). Pen, brush and sepia over graphite. 25.39″ (W) x 37.40″ (H). 1806-07. Public Domain.