White Whale Review: An Online Literary Magazine Untitled Document
WHITE WHALE REVIEW
Edd Howarth
Edd Howarth wrote his first short story in crayon on the walls of his mother’s kitchen. He was twenty-one years old. Recently, his stories have appeared in Infinite Windows, M-Brane SF, the Absent Willow Review, Miracle Monocle, and The Foundling Review. He has been short listed for the 2009 Bridport Short Story Prize, and was a finalist in the National Irish Science Fiction Film Awards.

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The Bean

Edd Howarth

 

If you're ever holidaying in St. Austell, England, stop by the Queen's Head and ask for a man named Nathan Tailor. Do not ask for Nate Tailor, or Natey, or any variation of Nathan. This is important. You'll be pointed to a man stooped over the bar, talking enthusiastically to patrons who are listening unenthusiastically. He might also be eating pickled eggs from a jar when the bartender isn't looking. Nathan Tailor is one of those men that new barmaids are warned about. He looks filthy even when he isn't filthy. His teeth are black and his cheeks pocked. Nathan Tailor reeks of bonfire smoke and trouble. When you approach Nathan Tailor, ask him about the Bean. He'll be more than happy to tell you about the Bean. You can also ask him about Eugene Everett, if you like, but he probably won't recognize this name. He'll stare off at a different point in time and space and a great fog will sweep over his eyes. If this happens, mention the Bean. The fog will clear, and Nathan Tailor will start talking.

Here's another thing that Nathan Tailor will tell you: The world is like a very fat man.

 

*

 

Years ago, there was a scientist in the town by the name of Eugene Everett. Scientists are a tricky sort to describe, since most of a scientist exists inside its own head. It's a strange place inside a scientist's head. It's geisters of shattered rulers, greasy streams that run as thin as lamp oil on some days, and thick as rice pudding on others. The climate is cold and hot simultaneously, like malaria. You wouldn't want to holiday inside a scientist's head. Here are a few of the things that Eugene Everett thought about: The curve of a wet frog's back. Sunlight bouncing from striped beach umbrellas. Milk. His creamy, effeminate fingers. The devious glint in a baboon’s eye.

 

*

 

Eugene Everett lived in a house under the shadow of the great viaduct. It was a tall, thin building with a bent chimney and bubbled windows.


Eugene Everett didn't do his science in the house, but in a lab, like all scientists. This lab was somewhere near the house. It may have been in the town. It might have been called EVP Insurance, or Atwell's Business Renovations. Something bland enough to disinterest the general public, but intimidating enough to ward off local business owners. I can't disclose the location of this lab, but you can probably imagine a lab. It had white walls, and fluorescent lighting. Imagine something like a dentist's office, with the whirr of distant drills, and foot tapping, and the scratching of noses and cold air. Something like that.

They did a lot of strange experiments in that lab. This was back in the days when you could do strange experiments. These experiments were done mostly on animals, since animals, in those days, were considered second class citizens. The important thing is that you should not think these scientists monsters. This was a different time. People valued different things back then. It was a time when vague, mobsterish men with vast reservoirs of money saw the value in growing extra tails on skunks, and hatching chickens from lizard eggs.

 

*

 

The children of the town still sing a song about the Bean. They sing it in the playground. They sing it on nature hikes. Last Tuesday, the ancient school mistress plopped herself down by the grand piano and felt her way around the ivory teeth. The assembly sang, loud and clear and off-key:

 

Bean, Bean, Bean. Can I have a Bean?

The Bean is bright and all is right

When a Bean is on my shoulders

When a Bean is in the bushes

When the Bean sings on my birthday.

When a Bean is at the bus stop.

 

It's not a very good song, and the children don't really know what a Bean is, apart from being a very good thing, like Dib-Dabs, or football stickers.

 

*

 

The Bean is the magic of the town. The Bean has grown larger, as Eugene Everett has grown smaller


and smaller. So small that anyone now might see a speck on their glasses, or a rain drop glinting on a leaf, and not realize that this is Eugene Everett. Such is the nature of the world.

 

*

 

But many years ago, in the subterranean whiteness of this lab, the Bean emerged.

Eugene Everett and the scientists grew the Bean from a bean. I think it was a kidney bean, but I can't remember. The Bean was the crowning achievement of this lab. An immaculate being, something of a cross between a gorilla and foxglove, if you can imagine such a thing. The Bean sprouted and grew and dropped from a stalk into a glass case, and then the Bean kept on growing, and then the glass case became a plastic dog carrier, and then a cage. The Bean! Just thinking of it now...

The Bean loved porridge, and red lights. It loved to share Eugene Everett's milk, which he drank several cold glasses of a day. Imagine a clock but replace the numbers with thumb-sized drawings of milk bottles. This is how often Eugene Everett drank

his milk. Eugene would pour a little into the Bean's bowl and watch him lap it up with with his dark stamen of a tongue. Who thought of this combination, this combination of pleasing the Bean? But that's science. You keep trying and trying, and then some things work, and you forget all the steps. It's kind of like raising kids. Eugene Everett had two children. The children are grown ups. Daughters. They've moved on. But that's what the Bean reminded Eugene Everett of. Of raising those kids.

He rang them often about the Bean. He sent text messages, too. Can you imagine this Bean? He'd text. Or sometimes: Uh oh, Bean's spilled his porridge. Things like that.

And things were great in the lab for a while. The Bean sang. It was a pealing, flutish noise that emanated somewhere deep in its petals. Eugene and his scientist friends taught the Bean to kiss Johnson's pinky ring, which was a good trick. They demonstrated this at the lab Christmas party, much to the investor's amusement. Now, remember that this was a different time, and that the Bean was happy. Heck, they were all happy. But then an


investor died of some mysterious tropical illness and the lawyers stepped in. The lab was turned upside-down like a gray piggy bank, and all the money that fell out was everything important in the lab. In the space of a few months, and few cubic feet of paperwork, it seemed that the times had changed, and that spending money on Beans and lizard chickens wasn't worth anyone's time. Even the scientists'. The great river of money dried up, the lab was boxed and dismantled, and suddenly everyone was out of a job. Including the janitor, Gus. This, everyone agreed, was the greatest injustice of it all. What, after all, had Gus done to anyone except mop the floors and rearrange the fridge magnets into humorous phrases?

The other animals were taken away. They were probably killed. But that was blood on someone else's hands. But the Bean... They left the Bean to the scientists. This might be due to a variety of factors. One factor is that no-one really knew about the Bean. The only people who knew about the Bean was Eugene Everett, Johnson and his pinky ring, the three other scientists, Gus, and the few who attended the Christmas party. Of these few most were were drunk, and so probably didn't remember

the Bean, anyway. Or his pinky ring kissing.

On the final day they all stood around its cage in the great void that was the lab. They remembered the good times, the pinky ring kissing, the slapping of its great flowery hands against the bars, the music in its eyes. They couldn't kill the Bean. How could they? They weren't mobsters. They were scientists.

So Eugene Everett offered to take the Bean.

 

*

 

Nathan Tailor will tell you a lot about the Bean. He'll tell you that, as a child, he once peeped over a ruined stone wall and saw the Bean locked in a cage. It's at this point that Nathan Tailor will get misty-eyed. He might even cry. Seeing the Bean was the pinnacle of joy in Nathan Tailor's sad little life. “My God,” he'll mumble. “My God.” And then he won't talk anymore for a while.

But back to our story.

 


*

 

Eugene Everett rang his daughter the night he brought the Bean home. He rang the older one. He left a voice mail. She was a fiction editor up in Manchester. A lesbian fiction editor, to be specific. It's hard to get in contact with a lesbian fiction editor, what with the busy days, and the cocktails and lesbian night life. “Looks like it's just me and the Bean, now,” he said. “I don't think he likes it, here,” he said.

He was staring out of the kitchen window and into the garden. The garden was rhombus shaped and overgrown. Eugene Everett's ownership of the garden was declared by a ruined stone wall. Somewhere in the high grass lay sun-bleached Nerf arrows and the rusted bones of a child's tricycle. The Bean was in the middle of the garden. It dragged itself around the grass, scouring a muddy circle into the earth. Eugene Everett had left the Bean in its cage. “Give me a call when you get this,” he said to his lesbian fiction editor daughter.

 

*

 

It was around this time that a little boy started poking his head over the ruined stone wall. This child, as you may have guessed, was Nathan Tailor. He resembled an upturned broom, with matted corn hair and bones where muscles should have been. All the other kids called him Nate. They did so out of meanness, though it's hard to understand why. So mysterious is the language of children. Eugene Everett witnessed Nate's head bobbing over the stone wall on a daily basis. There were three things that Eugene Everett saw while looking out of his kitchen window: the bent poles of the old swing, the Bean circling the garden, and Nate Tailor's head bobbing over the stone wall.

One day Eugene Everett lured Nate into the garden with a plate of biscuits and a can of icy Coca Cola. He sat on his folding chair and waited. He waited the way people wait by bird feeders to see the birds, with their bright feathers and swift, beautiful movements. In motion, Nate Tailor sort of resembled a bird. A flightless bird with a brain injury. Eugene Everett sat and waited, and waited.


He watched the head bob up and down, and then up, up, up, until Nate Tailor was looking into the garden. Looking at the Bean.

“It's quite alright,” Eugene Everett called. His mind was a temperate zone, that day, and the fog was thin.

Nate Tailor dropped down into the garden and paused like a frightened animal in the brush. Eugene Everett indicated the plate of biscuits and Cola, but Nate's eyes were on the Bean. Nate's eyes are still on the Bean. Nate ran his hand down one of the bars the way he would later run his hand down a girl's breast for the first time. It was a mysterious, fearful, and joyous time for Nate Tailor.

“What is it?” he asked.

“It's a Bean,” said Eugene Everett. He had had three beers and two glasses of milk that morning, and his mind was temperate and tropical, muggy and pleasant. “You can touch it if you want.”

“Does it bite?”

“I'm not sure what it would bite with.”

The Bean had no teeth, and no mouth to speak

 

of. It's flutish noise was the result of its petals running over other petals, much in the way of a grass hopper, or a violin. It sucked its food and milk up through a reed-like stamen, which was not a mouth.

Nate Tailor poked his greasy little finger through the bars and ruffled a petal which, if we were going to attempt to personify the Been, could have been called an ear. The Bean shook and its music piped through the garden, into Nate Tailor's own ears, and rose within him like a high water mark of happiness. This is what Nate remembers while he drinks at the bar, or rolls around on top of ancient country housewives. This is what he remembers as he pockets packs of mints at the village shop.

“I don't like it,” he said.

“That's the problem with liking something,” said Eugene Everett. “The more you like something, the less it likes you.”

Nate nodded. This was true. He loved lots of things that didn't love him. Like his mother, who read waterlogged paperbacks in the bath and


smoked day and night. Or the other children, who called him Nate and pinched him. Or a girl in his class called Lovejoy, whose name was grossly misleading.

A storm was brewing inside Eugene Everett's head. He could feel it. Tonight he would ring his daughters and talk about the Bean. He would send them texts and emails. He would spill his hopes and fears and dreams and discontent into the great void. But for now there was just Nate Tailor and Bean. Nate Tailor, with his finger on the bars, and words caught in the kink of his long, knobbly throat.

 

*

 

The time that Eugene Everett, the Bean, and Nate Tailor spent together is debatable, because the only one still around who remembers it is Nate Tailor. And Nate Tailor is not the same Nate Tailor who poked his head over the ruined wall, or ruffled the Bean's petals, or stroked his hands on the bars. Nate Tailor has become a different Nate Tailor. A Nate Tailor who heckles innocent banjo players, and eats all the pickled eggs in the jar meant for patrons at the pub, even when he's told not to.

 

*

 

Eugene Everett has disappeared from history. While the world trundled forward, Eugene Everett shrank like a bush as seen from a train window. This, unfortunately, will happen to us all. History is like a fat man in a very small and cluttered room. As the fat man grows fatter, it has to rid itself of things. This is the view of Nate Tailor, anyway. He once told this to a married couple at the pub. They were on holiday, and looking for a place for a quiet drink. That's when they ran into Nate Tailor. “The world is like a fat man,” he said, leaning against the bar. And then he told them the rest.

“That's nice,” they said. Then they finished their drinks quickly and left. Nate Tailor never saw them again, and used this as evidence for his theory. The fat man had grown larger, and no longer had a place for the married couple.

 

*

 

It was actually Eugene Everett who had planted this theory in Nate Tailor's mind. Only Eugene Everett had not said fat man. He had said every


man. They were in the back garden. Eugene Everett lay on the sun bench while Nate Tailor fed the Bean peanuts, one at a time. He threw them like pellets, and the Bean caught them with its stamen. This is exactly what Eugene Everett had said: “The world is like every man in a cluttered room. You start off small and important, and then you outgrow the room. But the room stays the same size, so you have to get rid of things. We are those things.”

Eugene Everett's mind was growing increasingly thick and hostile. He'd found a summer job teaching biology at the local college, which abated it some. It was a great big building shaped like a ship, with portico windows and a cafeteria called “The Galley.” The students were dumb, but enthusiastic. He spilled his milk once and they all clapped, not out of meanness, but out of some strange joy at seeing milk spilled. They liked seeing it traversing the counter top in a cool, milky stream and waterfalling off the end. “Watch that milk, Professor E,” they yelled whenever he set a glass too close to the edge. Looks like I spilled my milk, he texted the older daughter. And then, days later: Looks like I spilled my milk again! Even though this was a lie.

One day he took Nate Tailor to the college and let him roam the grounds while he taught. After lunch they grabbed a sandwich and ate by the bus stop.

“You too can go to college one day,” said Eugene Everett.

Nate Tailor had shown as much enthusiasm toward the college as a young boy let loose in a woman’s department store. Nate Tailor finished the rest of his sandwich and tossed the wrapper into the bin.

“I want to see the Bean,” he said.

 

*

 

Sometimes Nate Tailor would go home, perch on the toilet seat and tell his mother about the Bean. The Bean, he told her, was a musical thing that lived in a cage in a scientist's garden. The Bean liked milk and the sunset, which was almost usually red. The sun was almost usually red because of the pollution of the modern world, which, as it turns out, is a beautiful thing. Sometimes he spoke about


Eugene Everett, and how he liked to drink milk, but mainly he spoke about the Bean.

“Beauty is a beer in the bathtub,” his mother would say, flipping pages in her waterlogged paperback. This was the cue for Nate Tailor to go and fetch his mother a beer.

Nate's mother had a boyfriend, and everyone called him the Colonel. He was some years younger than the mother, with a shaved head and large, construction worker arms. People called him the Colonel because of a tattoo all the way up his right arm. When he was younger, and drunk, he'd had the good idea to have his name tattooed in thick Gothic script all the way up his arm, from his wrist to his elbow. His surname was Saunders, but the tattoo artist had spelled it 'Sanders'. After that, people started calling him the Colonel, which was a lot safer than mocking Mike Saunders for his misspelled tattoo.

He sat in the kitchen, now, smoking a cigarette and scratching his great big doberman behind the ears. Nate pulled a beer from the fridge and popped it with a spoon.

“Have you ever seen something really beautiful, Mike?” he said.

Mike scoffed and turned to the window. The question seemed to embarrass him.

“There's something in a garden not far from here, and it's cool. It's really cool.”

“And beautiful,” Mike Saunders said.

Nate Tailor nodded, and brought the beer to his mother. Then he sat in his room and looked out of the window. There were very few things that Nate Tailor knew in life. He didn't know how to avoid Mike Saunders when he was drunk. He didn't know why Lovejoy was neither joyous nor loved him. He didn't know what Kentucky Fried Chicken tasted like, or why Mike Saunder's friends called him the colonel. But he did know one thing. There was something beautiful inside of him, and one day that beautiful thing would be shared with the world. Somehow.

 

*

 

“Tell me about your daughters,” Nate Tailor said


one day. They'd driven the Bean to the beach, and propped its cage in a shallow rock pool. The Bean had avoided the water at first, but now it seemed to enjoy itself. It dipped its petals in the green water and held them up, until the sun evaporated every last drop.

“I have two daughters,” he said. “Both are older, now.”

“How old?”

“Old enough to understand everything,” he said. Then he became quiet, and looked out toward the clay cliffs, and the tide frilling the rocks.

“Besides, I prefer talking to you and the Bean. What does a lesbian fiction editor say, anyway?”

“Are your daughters nice looking?” Asked Nate Tailor. He knew what a lesbian was, and an image was forming in his brain.

“Lots of things are nice looking,” he said. “Like beach umbrellas, and the Bean.”

“What do you think the Bean dreams of?”

“What do you think the Bean dreams of?”

“It likes red lights, and peanuts, so maybe it dreams about those.”

“Those would be nice things to dream about.”

Recently, Eugene Everett had been dreaming about not nice things. He dreamed he was in a cage on top of a sea of milk. He dreamed a little ship came by with his daughters, who were wearing old top hats and leggings. In this dream he waved at his girls, but they didn't wave back. One of them turned to the other and said, “How much meat do you think is on that thing?”

“I'd like to bring the Bean to school and show everyone,” said Nate Tailor after a while.

“That wouldn't be a good idea.”

Eugene Everett hoisted the Bean cage up by the handle.

“Why ruin something like this?” he said. He indicated the Bean, the pebbled sand, the world in general.

 

*

 

All terrible things happen on hot days. Babies


die on hot days. When the earth heats up and crumbles into ash, it will start on a hot day. This is contrary to the movies, and books, which teach us that all terrible things happen on rainy days. This isn't true. Worms leave the earth on rainy days. Frogs are born on rainy days. Roads become mirrors and houses warmer and brighter on rainy days. Rainy days are wonderful. When Eugene Everett arrived home on a day in August, it was on a hot day.

He poured himself a glass of milk and wandered out into the garden. His mind was tempestuous. A boiling wind was tearing the rocks from the ground, and charging him with ions. You could barely see anything in Eugene Everett's mind that day, just a swirl of green mist and sediment, like an old fish tank.

The sun was setting over the trees and the insects were crawling out from apple cores and dead badgers when Eugene Everett sat himself down on the patio recliner. There were two things of interest to Eugene Everett that evening: Nate Tailor laying face down and beating the grass with

his fists, and the Bean's cage, which lay open and empty.

Eugene Everett hauled Nate Tailor up from the grass.

“I couldn't stand it any longer,” he said. He was crying.

“You've done a terrible thing,” said Eugene Everett.

“The Bean was getting too big for the cage, and then I remembered what you said about the fat man.”

“Every man. Every man,” said Eugene Everett, and he paced the garden with his hands in his pockets. He plucked a bright ribbon from the grass and threw it into the breeze. He cupped his hands to his face.

“Bean,” he yelled. “Bean.”

And at this moment, Nate Tailor stole away from the garden. He left they way he had entered: over the ruined wall. That was the last Eugene Everett ever saw of Nate Tailor.

 


*

 

There's lots more to say about the Bean, both true and untrue. Ask one of the kids beneath the great viaduct, and they'll tell you these stories. They'll tell you about how the Bean is within us all, and how the magic of the Bean weaves between the bricks of the town, wraps the roots of the trees, and tickles your toes on spring afternoons. Nathan Tailor will tell you this, too.

 

After he's done with his story, go ahead and buy him a drink. You have to admit, it was a pretty good story. However, the whole time you've been listening to Nathan Tailor's story, you've been making a mistake. Don't worry, we all make mistakes. The mistake is what you're feeling for Nathan Tailor, with his bagged eyes, his leathery fingers wandering up the bar to the bowl of pickled eggs. You've heard about his terrible mother, and her abusive boyfriend. You've heard about how his friendship with Eugene Everett withered and died. It's understandable that you would feel something for Nathan Tailor, and that something is called

sympathy.

But here's the mistake.

Nathan Tailor doesn't need sympathy. Nathan Tailor is the happiest man who has ever lived.

 

*

 

Where did the Bean go? No-one knows for certain. Not even Nathan Tailor. It's possible that the Bean was hit by a bus, or snagged itself in the brambles and dried to ribbons. This is what Eugene Everett thought, anyway. He thought this because this was the most logical explanation, and logical explanations are the only explanations for Eugene Everett. He didn't go looking for the Bean. Once he'd lost something, Eugene Everett didn't go looking for anything. To Eugene Everett, the world was every man, and as every man grows larger, things get pushed away, and lost. This is the nature of the world.

 

*

 

There's one more thing to tell.


One day Eugene Everett had his younger daughter on the line, a graduate student at Birmingham. “I've decided that enough is enough,” he said. “The Bean is gone, and the kid's gone, but that's that.”

“That's wonderful, Daddy,” she wailed. “That's wonderful, but remember the last time, Daddy? Remember the last time you promised, promised you'd never ring this number again?”

“The world is every man,” he said. “And as we grow larger, we have to make decisions.”

“You've told me this, daddy, you've told us all of this.”

“One day you'll have to make a choice,” he said. “The world is every man, and-”

And then the phone went dead.

 

 

 

Copyright© Edd Howarth. White Whale Review, issue 5.1

 

 


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