George Mc Whirter
Our feature author is well known in Vancouver circles as both Professor Emeritus at UBC and Vancouver’s first poet laureate, George Mcwhirter. He has appeared between our pages before in his role as final judge of our Magpie Award for Poetry. This cross-genre short story is penned with all the wit a poet brings to the page; it is a brilliantly imagined, timely, and terrifying fairy tale ride through a genetically modified future.
I’ll tell it to you, cold as porridge. Never mind me being a scientist and having to stay objective. I’m a Scot, and breeding behooves me to tell it so. There’s Jack. His father has a great estate, prize heifers and bulls, which his dad sells as whole animals, or eggs and sperm since the science of animal husbandry developed that end of the business. But his son’s sole interest lies in the story his daddy tells him every night about Jack and the Beanstalk.
For his Dad, it’s a cautionary yarn about foolhardiness: a cow with its milk and beef being worth more than a brainless bean that doesn’t know when to quit growing. However, the idea of a giant beanstalk, grown from a magic bean—a bean bought with the prize heifer that the farmer sends his son to sell at auction—thrills our cattle breeder’s boy. In time, the symbiosis morphs and Jack, once the father’s fortune is bequeathed to his discretion, assigns much treasure from his father’s grazing lands and cattle labs into research for that bean.
To evolve such a bean requires genetic engineering, which delights his dad when Jack takes it up. Regrettably, his bairn’s studies are not directed at animal husbandry. Jack does string the
cattle dealings along behind him, on his way to the magic gene for the magic bean, which our lad, Jack, pays to discover, test and replicate in numerous laboratory trials carried out by me. He will release some proprietary right for the code to my future use, he says, on one signed condition: I never apply it to another bean.
“Go. Breed your broccolis, as big as those trees little kids imagine them to be, but leave the beans to me. Now, call me Jack,” he enjoins me, his science serf, the lab lackey he’d leave without a bean to his name. Me, who’s rebuilt aubergines from their atoms up, using my Scanning Tunnelling Microscope to see with, and a nanoscopic needle to thread a virus with growth-boosting DNA into the gene. Me, who from the genes of prize-winning eggplants at county fairs, grew eye-poppers that gleam like pregnant Queen Latifah’s belly in a bikini. Boy, were those beasties beautiful to fondle and behold. But nae matter. I nod at him and the petri dish, where the first giant bean genes coil under the nanoscope, like convolving motifs on a Persian carpet.
“Yes, call me Jack.” Jack grins at me. I don’t know if it’s the only grin I’ll get out of him in a while. “John Wilson Woodruff is too much of a mouthful. And JWW makes me sound like a brand of disinfectant.”
Thereafter I address him as Jack, accepting the dopey congruity between the man’s name and his life’s work, which I’ll share, mind you, to my sundry spin-off and academic benefits. At this juncture, I think it’s straight agribusiness Jack is into: big beans for big Yankee appetites. I bandy about a name for the marketing. Beans got to have names—jumping beans, kidney beans, navy
beans—names that make them sound better than they taste. ‘Jack-beans’ will surely stamp out anybody’s hunger quicker than a bowl of jackboots, but I tell him the name anyway.
“I knew the Scots imagination bristled like a thistle, but keep it in your sporran and leave that side of things to the marketing department,” Jack answers me.
Our contortion, once processed from gene to bean, weighs the stalk on the mother plant down to the ground and blinks at us like a bloated jack-o’-lantern. Or a newborn green baby, hung from its umbilical cord. Lord forgive me for having produced a bean as big as a baby!
Picked and then planted, one huge amount of time transpires for its enormousness to grow into a stalk. Two seasons of growing, during which time I thought it had died, and was thus returned by Jack to my own research at the Wichita Institute of Advanced Agriculture. That is, till my darling dean memos me that my services are required again. ASAP, seeing as Jack’s fee for my reinstatement is as flush with greenbacks as the leaves on the beanstalk I’m about to witness.
I’m back sooner than I ever wanted. And there he is, Jack, the cattle-breeder’s boy, standing out there, peering over the fence into what was one of his Daddy’s paddocks. I look in, then up along with him, like we’re at NASA, taking in an Apollo rocket that’s sprouted branches on the launch pad and is about to burst out of its bloody scaffold.
“Now that it’s grown,” Jack tells me, “the diameter will be measured for a stretch chain saw. The saw will be specially
manufactured and mounted between fork lifts to fell the stalk at the project’s termination.
“I couldn’t copyright the fairy tale, but I am going to patent and copyright the real thing,” he adds. “The bean was never an end in itself.”
Furthermore, Jack has switched to studying unorthodox treehouse construction. In particular, foundations that escalate over the Kali-like limbs of banyans, thereby raising their rich, eccentric owners to a higher plane of life in their tropical retreats. In my absence he’s gotten way ahead of me. “Resilience and resistance in the rubbery substance of the stalk and stems matches the materials for deep sea oil rigs.” Jack swells and sways with pride, as if he’s made of the same stuff his-self, but he assures me. “It’s your good work. No stilts, no tension legs — the stalk’s vertical brace and tiered infrastructure of stems will suffice.”
“Very good’n’aw,” I say in as thick a Scots as I think he’ll understand, “but what’s tha’ tae me, I’m no tha’ kinda engineer.”
But he just blinks at me. “Dee-spite the uni and biaxial tensile strength to withstand any hurricane force wind, we’ve a safe sideways give of 30 degrees. But I want you to aim for better than 45. And to conquer another factor we never did investigate, the beanstalk must be evergreen …”
My long-drawn-out, yin-word query whines like a bagpipe beginning a lament!
“… to endure the sixteen summers and winters to termination. And don’t tell me you are ‘no tha’ kinda engineer’. You, who likes to be known as the hero of the hardy, ever-bearing
Brussels sprout. And the super-sized spinach, whose leaf is as large as dinosaur food.”
To my shame, I’m the inventor of the one leaf, ten-person salad — a spinach leaf you could use for a flexible golf umbrolly at the Scottish Open. One that’d bend to any breeze and not break. I also engineer transfer of food flavours, from fruit to veg, tree to tuber. Get your mind round the maple syrup spud I call the Canadian yam. Oats that flower like fireweed, in such a way as they put a ping of bee pollen in your porridge. But no earthly sense wasting free publicly funded research. Jack’s money is like confetti at a wedding between me and the next stage of his project.
Still ‘n’aw’, y’never know what future turn Jack’s evergreen, year-round bean crop might take in feeding the world’s millions. Nah, let’s be realistic, what’s evergreen for Christ’s sake? Conifers, y’r fir tree, cedar and such, but a bean that tastes like a cedar or Douglas fir tree would make a man boke it up. For the stalk to be a year-rounder and the bean to have a modicum of taste, we’ll have to think of some bristly and needlesome evergreen that has a tang to it.
Okaydokay, I do grafts and blended genes with bristly juniper, whose grizzly-green nip goes into gin. Then, with the pine-sting retsina gets from the Aleppo pine sap. You know, the Greek stuff that sticks to the back of your tongue and up your nose for ages. Better than your fasolada, fella, Jack’s one-retsina-bean soup mix could be a staple for nasal congestion on top of being a diet for the Third World.
I do my evergreenings of the bean and ask the Laird of the Lab to taste-test and pick his flavour of the future.
“Juniper,” says he and nods.
Time for me to go and disappoint my dean again. For years and years he has hated how my agribusiness research hasn’t produced long-term partners. The giantism needed giant water supplies and tracts of farm land to produce fewer but more monstrous plants which would probably yield less than the regular plants because of the extra expenditure and development of machinery and logistics for harvesting. Jack is the first real partner I’ve had, the dean reminds me. There’s enough compost in the felled prototype of the beanstalk to cover an acre with a foot-high midden. A bean pat, ye could call it.
Five years later, with my tenure, and the green longevity of the stalk secure, I’m on recall to test and retest the monster for cellular health. I use a shoot from the quivers of them that cluster to the stalk, like saplings to the trunk of a massive tree.
“It’s in rude gude genetic health,” I tell Jack, as though I’m a weary Dr Finlay GP from TV, not a Doctor of Biotech with his nose in a nanoscope. I need only look outside to see it rearing up, robust enough to take the storybook designs Jack fobs off on it for his castle. Oh, he wants that too. A hired architect asks me, “Is this a kitschy retro-regal delusional Ludwig of Bavaria thing? Or the set for a mad grown-from-scratch Beanstalk movie?” He says Jack wouldn’t give him a straight answer.
Should I? All I do is tell him, “You banged both nails on the head, Sir Architect.” And he looks at me like I’m living in Prince Ludwig-land along with Jack.
It all gets built by the book. A kitchen, cavernous enough to feed a family of orcs, is installed. Inside it, double ovens loom with formidable doors and latches, round lids on its flat top, lifted with crafted crow-bar handles to bare the gas burners underneath. An open-jawed fireplace with swinging hobs yaws in the middle of it. They sink this single cast iron unit into a centre wall that divides the kitchen from the rest of the floor with a servant’s family room, sleeping accommodation, separate cooker, plumbing, bathroom, and you name it.
Jack insists the unit be ecologically sound—gas fired from fermented beans and composted prunings of those leaves and stems surplus to supports for the castle, whose upper rooms are built for grotesquely high headroom. Even the kitchen below reaches thirty feet from floor to ceiling.
Over the open-jawed fire in the centre of the range, the thick hoops of the hobs on which to set the pots and pans swing chin-high to your average tall girl, who might cook for Jack’s imaginary denizen upstairs, delivering the grub through a hatch in the dumb waiter with a manual pulley. The dumb waiter is as out of whack as Jack’s psychotic love of the story he models it on. I pity the poor lassie who pulls its rope.
After this glut of construction, Jack—now in his thirties—wants me to switch from plant to human engineering,
while he engages in the social kind. He’ll set up a chair in my name to keep me to keep me here to term. I know the university phrases our tenured professorships as being without term, which makes Jack’s ‘to term’ ring a bit like a death sentence, never mind m’ labours on the beanstalk and the toll it takes on me.
I know right well what Jack means by ‘human.’ He wants me to engineer him a giant. The gargantuan addition to my salary notwithstanding, I feel my brain shrink to the size of my willie after I dipped it in freezy old Loch Ness. I can see the beastie in Jack’s eyes, clear as Nessie. Heed, arm, and fist rearing higher than a flying buttress to hurtle down and bash me.
“I’ll have to re-educate myself and re-equip my lab, and whose genes am I gonna work from? I’d have to hae consent. And am I to work from a human of standard height? Or begin on the tiny and see if I can make them a regular? What would I tell one of those wee, wee guys — I’m working on a cure for dwarfism? Stand on that stool while I swab ye!” Ridicule does little to reduce Jack’s resolution. “Dwarfism is another project entirely,” says Jack. “Augmenting the tall is more our ticket.”
“Oh, aye!” says I. “Ticket to trials and travails for me. Where’ll I find a family line of big and tall types to develop the big boy DNA that gives yours a leg up into the big leagues? This is no a Nazi Übermensch sex farm, is it?”
More of my coarse Scots still doesn’t give him a scunner. He just blinks at me till I tell him, “I’ll see what I can do.”
But his ‘augmenting’ does give me a hunch about redeploying the enzyme in the beans, turning it into a soupy dietary supplement, something like gazpacho. It’s worth a try. I decide I’ll use it on voles—six voles, who generate voles the size of gophers after a painful gestation.
“Let’s say they munched on my hunch,” I inform Jack, when he finger-tastes the supplement. His face appears unimpressed by my bean stimulant and troupe of easily pleased voles. “Your furry darlings sup this up ... ?” is all he inquires of me. “No at first,” I confess. “I had tae hold them by the heed and feed them through a wee eyedropper. Lord knows the damage ah’ve done them. I’m no a cook nor zoologist. An’ I hae nae practice in medical research on poor wee timorous beasties.”
I lay on enough brogue to make him puke, but still he just blinks, then answers, “It’s a smaalll start, Andrew …” He rolls the double L and shows me the back of his tongue as he opens his mouth, like he’s taste-testing another sip of my supplement. Here he goes again, “Taken orally, in a bigger human system, might not the growth enzyme get flushed out before it does any good?”
“Depends on what you call gud, Jack. You can ingest the enzyme that works to reduce the bulging scar tissue in Dupuytren’s Contracture. Why not the other way — to enlarge?” “Enlighten me.” “Dupuytren’s concerns the scar tissue that makes the ligaments in y’r hands grow huge and contract. Curl up like an old crone’s. Ah’ve done ma homework, Jack.”
“Gud,” says he.
I shudder with a premonition of my new order of enhanced bean-being entering the universe, and the auld taunts for tall, skinny guys turning too true with a skinny malink melodeon legs, big banana-footed beanstalk. Off I go, my head polluted with the kids’ rhyme, thinking y’r banana’s not a tree, but a veggie. It grows like somebody pullin’ a bloody telescope out of the ground. I’m expected to do the same to a child. Where’ll I get the egg and sperm? Jack has finally got me into shit way beyond my ken and competence.
But Jack has his own growth plan.
He recruits two recently impregnated women with enormous ambition for their future children. One has it for her daughterto-be, who she wants to turn into a TV star and celebrity cook, still making sure her bairn doesn’t get waylaid by some greedy, predatory producer, like she was. The producer was one of the big tall weedy types, like Howard Hughes, or more like, as she says, Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines and all the other Virgins he’s put into production. This info flows from the transcript of her interview, which Jack lets me have a decko at.
I was a classy cook in a classy kitchen, this producer comes in like he’s running a food show, ready to chop the celery, inspect the set for the stew. He sees me, lifts both hands in the air, like he’s going to bring down a magic pot for me to fill with my amazement at his fricking amazement. Says the producer prick to me, “I came inta Bertold’s 'cause they say the borscht at Bertold’s is best on the Boulevard. And I have to see who gives the borscht the big B for best.” I’m not half bad lookin’ and I can see he’s half lookin’ at me, half at the pot I’m holdin’.
Then, after he gives me his spiel, he creeps up on tippy-toe and whispers in my ear, “You oughta be seen.” “Seen where?” I want to know. “Seen on TV and on video.” He’s full of it, but I don’t know that yet. All the while I’m cooking for him exclusive that bastard dangles Martha Stewart TV type chances comin’ up for me. Every time he spreads a napkin on his lap and unzips his fly. But as soon as I show up at the table to audition for the part of mother, the bastard wants to toss me off the set of my own apartment. Guess where I tip the byebye pot of borscht? (Pause) Oh, I do a bean soup, too. “Perfect.” I suck my teeth and agree with Jack. “The bean soup seals it.”
The second woman wishes fame the same for her son. Her preference: as an actor in sports epics, thusly, he will dodge injuries and disappointments in the real thing.
She wears her own disappointment like a big F for fucked on her face.
Unfortunately for her, a female basketball player in the first three months of pregnancy tends to throw up. Consequently, the daddy to the future star, her big-and-tall, long-time NBA love, “goes down on some other, poor unencumbered bitch from the WNBA,” I quote.
The pretext behind the recruitment with routine questionnaire, interview, medical examination, and adjudication with other pregnant candidates is a reality TV show that will pursue the kids from gestation to maturity. The program will air worldwide.
Screening and selection of the candidates will comprise the pilot. The set the candidates see before them is a giant beanstalk and a castle, which’ll be the accommodation for the winners—the chance, literally, to live in a fairy tale.
I’m eyeing the ultrasound images over the shoulder of the Johns Hopkins-trained gynaecologist Jack has hired to oversee the whole procedure from the prenatal months to the delivery. Johns Hopkins presumes I’m a resident medic and have snuck up to second-guess him. He cocks an ear to my accent and asks me if I went to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. “No, no. I’m the bean doctor.” He looks at me and out the window at the stalk. “Do the rich go in for such eccentric re-creations over there?” I suppose he means Scotland. “Nay,” says I, too loudly, like I’m some sort of horse and not a Scot. “The Queen’s castle at Balmoral—no, it’s down to the ground. She’d no leave it up in the air, like this one.”
Waffly answers to Dr Johns Hopkins’s expert prenatal care and bean gazpacho twice daily are my humble inputs. To be supped according to contract, until the Belle of the Borscht takes over the cooking in the castle kitchen, and the Basketball Belle moves in upstairs. That’s Jack’s plan. After she samples it, the Basketball Belle asks me if I’ve been boning up on cookbooks or taking courses.
I visit, you see, and deliver my supplement to be taken with the regular stews, meat, veg and potatoes. So it will go. The hoopster will live out Jack’s story upstairs, barred access to the downstairs
by a great door at the stair head. Its lintel’s that high a giraffe would need nary a nod to get through. As with the voles as big as moles, so with mothers’ milk, the enzyme at work in the hoopster’s is evidenced in a boy she can barely hold without dropping.
What’s way over my head, though, is bean pabulum for when the bairn upstairs is weaned! Need I worry, the Belle of the Borscht’s apple-bean sauce from the castle kitchen is a winner. I even steal a spoonful for myself before it goes up the chute on the dumb waiter. Even better, I work her recipe backwards into a full blown apple-bean in the lab for production. Roll over Gerber and say boohoo.
I wonder if the Belle of the Borscht’s walkabouts in the enormous kitchen are out of wonder, now that she’s its queen, or plain agoraphobia. I try not to feel too bad for the two of them. The money in advance for the women is enormous, as was the bonus for the filming of the birth, plus extra for the babies submitting to examinations and visits by the Johns Hopkins man. To their mind, who could beat the patient getting paid for home visits? But the paediatrician raises his Johns Hopkins’ eyebrows when he’s told to leave the bloodwork to me. “He’s a bio-engineer, he knows blood,” says Jack. “And beans,” says Johns Hopkins. “But beans and blood, where’s the connection?” “At the nano level, you’d be surprised.” And mostly I am — by my nightmares. I see the grune knicht, as per the medieval epic —a green beanstalk guy, striding with these kabaa-kaboom, Jolly-green-giant footsteps. Giant leaves blow
all around his legs and arms in a gale of bean fart as he clomps up with an axe to chop off my hand that fed him, then my head. Could m’ fears not be a tad more original? I try to talk this nightly nonsense through with Jack. Talking it through with an autistic alligator would be more productive. He just blinks and opens his mouth for a long ahhh, while I moan on, “The boy upstairs is growing that big he’s scary, and the wee girl downstairs isn’t so wee either.”
Jack finally ends his blinking, his long alligator-ahhh, and laughs, laughs his way down in the glass outside elevator that we alone have code access to. It’s like sliding down the side of the beanstalk Hilton. “Why glass?” I ask Jack. “Why not? I always imagined what the view would be like from up here.”
In the ginormous kitchen and up-down rooms, the two women rear their children with internet education and special tutors, trainers, visits by doctors and nurses (all by service elevators and entrances on the sides of the beanstalk as per tradesfolk of old). Needless to say, Jack — now a man approaching fifty — markets my new growth enzyme, which has been proven to produce no debility in bulls or heifers, mice, even monkeys. Chimpanzees grow as big as Planet of the Apes extras by ingesting my freshly cross-bred banana bean, mass marketed along with the straight beans sold as special US jumbo sweet potatoes.
Those never-aired episodes of the kids growing up might have been wildly popular for being weirdly ordinary. Upstairs,
mother stands on a stepping stool to mark boy giant’s height on the door posts; downstairs, mother of girl princess teaches girl, grown beautiful and adept, to cook nutritionally wonderful pies and pastries, enzyme enhanced, shared with the boy giant-to-be. Among other things, the cook’s percentage-investment in the recipes spreads beyond bean-apple baby food to spin-off bean-dips, soups, and stews. Their success for a growing child is proven: four feet on her sixth birthday, for the girl; five for the boy.
Height has come with ample recompense. “For every inch,” the mothers are told by Jack, “you receive a bonus; for every foot, let’s say, a small fortune.”
But growing chock-a-block with trepidation, the Belle of the Borscht stops notching her daughter’s height on the door jambs after the age of seven. She uses chalk for a while, then flat out stops. “What’ll leading men — little sawn-offs like Daniel Radcliffe, Dominic Monaghan, Josh Hutcherson do, dancing nose to navel with a girl who would knock Amazon Eve — you know, the super-big supermodel — into a new, smaller size set?”
I keep mum about the tall, strong, and slenders becoming regular when the bean derivatives go to work on a new baby boom generation. But I can tell she’s been reading up on this possible career move for her daughter, who works out on the Exercycle to videos of roads between every city in the United States, down every street in every city. She does yoga and morning keep-fit to some team somewhere in Hawaii. She’s not sorry that the exercise gives her an appetite that matches the upstairs gorbs’ to a T-bone.
The gorbs is what they call those as gobbles the grub topside off the dumb waiter. Heard them as clear as day the daughter has, but she’s not scared like her mum. Nobody will give her an inkling of who’s up there, but the daughter’s ears tell her all she needs to know. When she asks me, way early on in her growing up, I say, “Right, my lady. There’s twa sets of feet, yin tiny, and yin, size fifteen by the sound.” I do my bit of corroboration in my Scottish dialect to make her laugh.
She does that, then tells me, “The dat-dat dann are the fast and tiny feet, the dannn de dannn dan dannnnn — these other, are big clodhoppers. My mother says they terrorize her.” “Dat-dat dat dannnn?” I have to ask. “Like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.” “You know Beethoven’s Fifth.” “I’m educated.” She looks at me scornfully. “Home schooled.” She turns her nose up, way above my head. “You should know that.”
Beethoven’s Fifth, good music for what’s to come. Jack’s final bogus episode. It begins in his video for an audience of one with the standard replay of scenes from the beginning — Super 8 footage of the boy, Jack, promenading with one of his father’s prize heifers, which he sells to a bit-part player for a bean that Jack plants in the night. Blackout. The next day, Jack wakes beside his giant beanstalk, middle aged and better, not the boy of twelve in scene number one. Oh, no.
After fittening up, polishing his mountaineering skills with special handhold — not the hoist or elevator used to deliver supplies, tutors, doctors, et cetera —Jack climbs up to knock on the front door, intending to be greeted with well-paid joy by the girl’s mother. After all he’s come to save her and her beautiful daughter and deliver them down to the world below.
But, she wonders, the creature, who makes the massive noises upstairs, will it not want to come pounding down to get out into the world below as well? The Belle of the Borscht asks very sensibly for confirmation before action for the finale starts. “Deal is you get us out before big boots up there comes crashin’ down and crushes me and my daughter into the kitchen floor, right?”
“But you understand there must be a pursuit to satisfy the story. That’s your upstairs downstairs brief.”
“And the audience watching this on Tv’ll take it for real 'cause of the cuts to the chase, right?” “Right, right,” says Jack. “How do those upstairs know to come down?” “They get a phone call. In fact, you can hear it, right now.” I follow these goings-on from a monitor in the lab, Jack looking up the stairway on the far side of the kitchen, pretending to be puzzled and petrified at the noise of same said boots. Might our lad Jack suffer from a faint heart? Might the big beauty’s mother?
“Does big boy’s boots have power brakes?” the mother asks, like she’s talking about a truck coming down an off-ramp.
After which, Jack asks the Belle of the Borscht something I’m not clued into.
“Did you not grind the pills and put them into his breakfast?” The daughter leans over to hear, but only catches a wicked whisper from her mother.
“Horse pills wouldn’t put pounder up there to sleep. Listen to it! That sound like asleep to you?” “Sounds awake,” says the girl. “And jumpin’-mad angry.” “He must have just woken in a snit,” barks Jack, loud enough for me to hear live in the lab a mile away. Jack shouts this next bit so loud he almost takes his tonsils out, “Better get out while we can!”
“These pills in the upstairs breakfast are news to me,” says the girl, while her mother whispers in Jack’s ear, which he can’t really hear because he’s coughing. “What’s up, up there — haven’t they read the script?” I can hear every breath they take because Jack has set the mics to the pitch and range of CIA distant-surveillance recorders. In truth, in all the while of weaning her giant, his mother has been saved any quandary of what to do with him later. He’ll get the best of everything up there and all he has to do is come pounding down the stairs on the right day and they can go out into the world, rich. And, her being a Basketball Belle, how do they pass the time, and what aims does she have for him that she herself has never fulfilled? You got it. He’s so huge, in the world they watch on TV, he won’t be a freak, just the latest, tallest basketball player in the line of Gheorghe Muresan or Manute Bol, whom he idolizes from old
footage delivered at his mother’s request. But it’s moot whether or not the NBA will disqualify somebody who can lean down, stick his chin in the net and let it dangle from his face like a beard. Future eligibility element aside, the mother’s and her son’s ambitions converge in a slam dunk. “Time to go down, son. See what’s up in the world.” “Shouldn’t that be down in the world?” he asks, looking at the door to the top of the stair, which his mother says leads in that direction.
The giant hoopster knows very well how high up in the world they are. The castle has windows, but he’s sick of his view to the horizon and Jack’s livestock a zillion feet down having the time of their lives on the ground, short and all as those lives are.
“Never fear,” the girl gets told by Jack, the boy of twelve grown into a sad man of fifty and not too flexible of expression, who stands in the doorway with the sun’s waning light behind, turning him into a black shadow. His beautiful, big (too-tall-for-him) maiden quails, but Jack must go on believing he will win her with the wonders he can afford to give her in the world below. This part of the script her mother knows, her daughter does not. God forgive me for not filling the poor lassie in.
Jack won’t listen to a word I say when I tell him the Belle of the Borscht is a better bid. The girl has reached the age of consent. Jack has that ticked off on the calendar. She’ll agree. Still coughing, Jack’s words urging the girl to never fear come out with a crackle of phlegm, like bad reception on the radio. He’s been
craning his neck to direct his words upward to her, too. That doesn’t help his delivery either.
“I have come to free you from this place!” says Jack with this fixed look, as if reading the words off the ceiling. She looks down at the head of the elderly nerd addressing her laced-up navel beneath the fairy-tale serving-maid’s bodice her mother made her needle and thread together and wear for the occasion.
“Free me from what—mr Bigfoot upstairs?” she asks. “I’ll have you know, I’m not in the least bit scared. Before I go, I want to see what’s been up there giving us sore heads, and bouncing our cutlery and crockery about like they’re skittles. Don’t you want to, too, Ma?”
Her voice gets really, really high and carries. At the top of the stairs, the door to the floor above flies open. Giant hoopster appears—eight feet tall, minimum, in his white cotton socks and shorts. As his legs grace the steep flight of stairs and his torso follows, then head, the angle lengthens the lad to look nine or ten or twelve feet.
He’s as handsome as Tyson Beckford, as well-muscled as Chris Hemsworth, and I ken the exact measurements, shoulder rack, chest, biceps, thighs. The lad’s as large in life as the big, on-screen image of those glamour-action boys. I’m as proud of him as his mum is. The lad’s as flexible as the chimpanzees my supplement engineered into intelligent gorillas, a world champ at anything, if allowed to compete. If only Jack had added an indoor pool to the castle for the large lad to train in!
But there’s no swimming pool in the story.
“Second shock of my life,” the Belle of the Borscht says afterwards. “I could have fallen in love with him myself, if only I were a bigger woman than I am.”
Then, she cackles and asks for the cigarette she hasn’t smoked in seventeen years.
“Just imagine,” she wonders aloud. “All that living in a penthouse gym. With us feeding him, what did his mum do with all that extra time at the hoops up there? Practise for her comeback in the WNBA?”
The boy and the girl are reminded by Jack and a passel of aides behind him that it’s all on TV, and Jack’s waiting for the daughter to make good on her mother’s commitment for all the money he’s paid.
“How much altogether?” he asks the aide standing right behind him now with a tablet in his hand. The aide pokes it and replies, “Two million, six hundred thousand, four hundred and fifty dollars US.”
Jack watches his princess blush. Her first blush ― at first sight of Jack with a dollar figure attached? No fear a’ that — her falling in love with a dollar figure. It’s love at first sweat that breaks out on Big Beauty for the Big Lad. Big Beauty stands frozen, looking up to the first person in the world she has ever looked up to. What the hell if the plot’s gone haywire. For the mothers, it’s all on live broadcast. There’s more monies to come from all the stations that will carry the reality show they’ve been living for this past seventeen years on a beanstalk.
Roll it for the giant taking the girl’s hand, which is no small thing. Roll it for her eyes taking him in, like a giant bar of Toblerone. Him, Big Lad, sweeping the tiny troll-like gaoler and the aides hiding behind him to the wall. Their exit down the beanstalk, trashing the guards, bolting by me is pure magic. Let’s hear it for me, who made it all possible, the first to change the ending since the tale of the beanstalk was told …
No fury on earth matches that of a would-be movie star mother who’s been duped. Mega dollars do things, but don’t double for fame forfeited. The mothers soon see to that. They display contracts and signatures to the media. The mums initiate a legal blitz, get all recorded footage quarantined, then auctioned and aired with real royalties from a real broadcasting corporation. That Jack wed the daughter of one mother is all hearsay, nary a footnote, sub-clause, or wee fine-print line about it anywhere.
It never crosses anybody’s brain, least of all our Jack’s, to protest or contest the mothers’ double-dipping on royalties and pre-paid rights by the Cow and Bean Guy. Humiliation halters any zeal for legal appeals on his part. Now known as the Cow and Bean Guy, a congressional committee investigates the rogue science by the Cow and Bean Guy’s company, yclept ‘The Giant Bean Brain’s Company’ in the press. Monsanto supplies support,
then Monsanto secretly buys the rights to the science derived from the bean from the brain that begat the idea. I’m glad to unload and upload the science to get it off my mind. All the doo’s downloaded on Jack. For a while I get labelled a genius, since I have enhanced the species and produced a product that will reduce poverty and starvation. I’m cited for the Nobel, but critics nibble at my nomination. The world has a hard enough time supporting us the way we are now, never mind a giant future version.
But I’ve been through that already. It’s an acreage and harvesting problem—i’d have to grow the world and its agricultural land base to twice the size, too. Okay, let the ink-stained wretches have their field day in the press, but I’ll let Monsanto work around all that.
The giant and giantess have more than a moneyed and celebrated afterlife through book contracts, a follow-up TV series, all that, and the giant makes his way as an NBA star. In time, since every youngster with aspirations to play in the NBA goes on the supplement, they simply raise the net. Of course we all know now, the thuds upstairs in the castle were of a basketball: Beethoven’s Fifth was him dribbling, followed by a jump dunk.
The giant’s mum may have got screwed on stardom in the WNBA, but all her breeding and vocational training went to work on her kid. As I never tire of saying, the kid was full of beans. Okay, okay. Over the top, but mother and son dribbled and shot till it made stirring the soups and stews beneath them redundant.
The princess, ever since the great viewing public anointed her with their undivided allegiance, became a celeb cook with a real love of her calling. She tours with her giant beau and her mum, presenting the best local bean recipe in each new city, while her hubby’s team plays a game in town. She calls each dish a “pot shot.” She is indeed a great big girl, lankier than Julia Child way back in her day on the good old goggle box.
I won’t go into the long wrangle over a lifetime diet of my bean supplements qualifying as use of performance-enhancing drugs. Nothing extra shows in our big boy that isn’t an integrated element in his metabolism. They can’t drain him of his blood, which will go on being the same as before, soon as it tops up again.
They’ve been done too young, it’s built into their bodies as unextractably as their veins. That’s the opinion the sports medicine folk give. What can the NBA do if bean derivatives are fed to babies in their pabulum? Tape up their mouths, drag toddlers off for blood tests, not even being sure that such and such a littl’un’ll be a basketball player or just a regular Joe or Jane Tall?
Talent’s still a factor, our prototype’s mum points out. Not all are as gifted as her son, nor do they have as good a coach as her.
Jack, the boy who grew into a man of over fifty, returns to animal husbandry and for his final act in the drama suffers a restraining order refusing him permission to cut down his bean stalk, which is designated status as a national monument.
In spite of the urging of my darling dean, Jack’s and my coauthored papers, published in non-subscribing science journals prior to the Monsanto patent transfer, earn us no respect. For
accredited biological and social science journals we failed to get proper clearance or permission from the National Research Council to conduct experiments on human subjects. It’s a charge the dean and Jack contest, waving copies of contracts Jack made to the end of their days.
But the contracts only prove that the parents, not the children, signed.
Round and round go the lawsuits Jack brings, but it is pointed out his results are grounded in no specific discipline. Has he not turned his science, social or applied — whatever it is — into something more appropriate to the arts? An ingenious, if grotesque version of an old tale, oft told? He should take comfort that the peculiar science his team wrought on the story of Jack and his Beanstalk did not, for the record, fail to make it a fabulous story.