We tell lies to tell truth. Let me first tell you the truth. The greatest year of anyone’s life arrives at age 19. I anticipated 19 throughout high school then treasured it many years after. I wrote poetry, loved heedlessly, lived shamelessly. At 19, one thrusts themselves into the world with pith and lightning, with newfound freedom to explore and grasp the world, yet unladen by the shackles of adulthood.
At 19, I began to grasp mortality. My winter birthday followed the fall of my great grandmother’s death. It wasn’t the first death I’d known, but it was the first to capture the passage of time, the end of an era; my mother’s family fractured with my great grandmother’s passing. I mourned the loss of history and knew life would continue, irrevocably altered.
I also journeyed the furthest I’d ever been from home. I flew to San Francisco to meet an older man with whom (I thought) I’d fallen in love. Alas, I arrived and did not live happily ever after; in fact, I didn’t even get naked with the guy. But I did stumble upon a Hare Krishna Parade in Golden Gate Park, watch the very first episode of South Park while sitting on Bob’s couch (yes, his name was Bob)—and also suffered such an intense loneliness and desire for another that I felt as if I’d conjured a ghost from his third floor bay windows.
When I returned from the West Coast, with months of 19 yet to enjoy, I remembered the bean Harmony Rae had given me the summer before. I’d never really forgotten; I’d simply been unsure what to do with it. But when I returned to Ohio, full of disappointment, I knew the bean must hold some secret! I began carrying it in my pocket and sleeping with it under my pillow. On moonlit nights, I would gaze obsessively into the bean’s uncanny sheen, its reflective texture reminiscent of both the veins of flesh and fissures of a gem. All my dreams of love, all youthful aspirations, creative verve, and my deepest, darkest, subconscious wickedness bombarded the bean with intense curiosity and desire.
But years then passed. I thought less and less about the bean. It didn’t changed, though I did. I took it with me after I graduated college, and as I moved from state to state. I kept it—never anything more than a bean—with other keepsakes, sometimes on display with my knickknacks, but more and more often, I stored it in a box.
When Harmony called almost fifteen years later, I had completely forgotten about the bean, so buried it had become with the material remnants of history we squirrel away, only to remember when we go digging again.
On the morning of February 27th, before my first business meeting in Ko Olina and weeks before I remembered the bean, I wrapped the dead herring I’d found on my balcony in a large plastic bag and stored it in my hotel room mini-fridge. Four days later, the morning before I left Honolulu (the same morning I purchased the silver sun necklace), I sealed the bag as best I could and mailed it UPS rather than take my chances with TSA or the US Postal Service.
The herring arrived in its nondescript cardboard box the following week. Though it had dried on my hotel room balcony, I caught a whiff of fishy rot as soon as I lifted a piece of tape from the interior plastic package—and I began to doubt the sanity of shipping myself a dead fish from Hawaii.
I re-wrapped the herring and packed him in the freezer until I could figure out why I’d brought him with me and what to do with him. Then, on the evening of March 12th, after I bid Harmony goodnight and gave her and her new husband my best wishes, I recalled the words of the herring, plant a seed with my body.
That night, I slept with the re-found bean beneath my pillow, alongside a pouch of lavender. As my eyelids grew heavy, I tried to conjure the ghost from San Francisco. I tried to imagine the sea turtle from Ko Olina, or Harmony as a fox in the woods of Appalachia. Not one of these returned to me. Instead, I dreamt of a house from my childhood that had perhaps belonged to my grandparents or to friends of the family, and beyond that house and a barn, a desiccated cornfield. I stood in the dusty field, amidst broken, brittle stalks. I brought an arm to my brow to protect my eyes from the oppressive sun.
Through rows and rows of useless fields, I walked. The fields became weeds and wildflowers. These gave way to tall grass. As I walked, the flat Ohio farmland became prairie.
I walked. The prairie rolled into grassy dunes. I walked over dune after dune, fighting through virid blades at my thighs and prickling shrubs, until the dunes broke into sandy beach, stretched in either direction, further than the eye could see.
I walked barefoot, my feet upon wet sand. I walked to the water. And continued. I thought perhaps the water was shallow some distance from shore, then looked back to find the rolling dunes as a thin border on the horizon. Yet the waves licked only my toes and the tops of my feet. I glanced down to the deep cerulean beneath. The waves began to undulate about my ankles. I had walked onto water and now stood, surrounded by a treacherous expanse.
I feared I’d fall, but held myself in place, suspended. As if to mimic my feat, a blue butterfly appeared, fluttering before me.
Carefully, I held out my hand and pointed my index finger, hoping it might land there. Instead, it touched my ring and pinkie fingers. I turned my hand and brought the fragile insect to my ear.
—Go back. Go back to the boy you left behind. Give him the love you’ve always wanted, and he will love you in return.
The tiny thing lifted its wings up into the bluer sky, so that the two were difficult to distinguish.
With a sense of urgency, I surveyed the horizon, distant in all directions, and worried that if I tried to walk, I’d fall into the waters below. I stood too far to swim ashore. How did I even know where to go?
Perhaps if I flew?
For so long have I traveled outward and onward. Now had come time to return. I shrank upon myself, my fingers and arms smoothed, my body darkened, and in other places, brightened with color. Legs shrank into tiny limbs, giving way to a tail between them. I fell, a salamander, into the waves. All a blur, I closed my eyes, suspended. I slept, let go, and waited. I’ve waited fifteen years for this seed to wash ashore.
I woke the next morning with a raging hard-on. I felt for the bean beneath my pillow and found it unusually warm in my hand. I don’t know why it had not occurred to me before to plant the bean. Wasn’t a bean, after all, a seed?
I stood, naked, in my studio apartment, glossy white bean in hand. Early morning fogged the room with subtle hues. I kissed the bean for good luck, and found a white plastic planter that once held a spider plant and still contained potting soil. (Unfortunately, the previous inhabitant had suffered from poor placement, and perhaps also over-watering.) I immediately thought to myself, this won’t be big enough.
Some part of me must’ve known what I’d grow in my bathtub, that I needed a large space for it to sprout, its fruit to ripen. I took the planter to the tub, stopped the drain, and dumped the soil. It scattered, a small pile in the center of a now dirtied tub. I needed more. I tucked the bean beneath the pile and filled the tub with a thin layer of lukewarm water.
Then, at the risk of stinking up my apartment, I removed the dead herring from my freezer, and set it beside my tub to thaw.
That afternoon, I left work early to visit the Portland Nursery. I wandered the nursery, knowing next to nothing about gardening or growing plants—even less about what exactly I’d be growing. What sort of soil did I need? Would it need fertilizer? How much sunlight, how much water?
One of the employees smiled as he approached. On a gray March day, few visited the nursery, and my lack of direction had become apparent.
—May I help you find something?
I didn’t want to spend too long trying to explain and so blurted out,
—I need some soil, the closest thing you’ve got to what you might find in Ohio.
—Ohio, huh? What part of Ohio?
—Northwest Ohio. There used to be a swamp there, the Black Swamp. Now it’s all farmland, though I’m not sure how much of it is used for actual grain production anymore.
He said he might have just the thing. He left. Then after a few minutes, he returned pushing a wheelbarrow full of clay.
—Here, he said. It’s all yours. Whatever you’d like to pay for it. Woman dropped it off just yesterday, said she didn’t need it anymore. Said she lugged it with her from Ohio. She’s a potter—or used to be—and preferred to make pots made from clay she dug out of her backyard. But now she lives in Oregon and decided she wants to be a gardener, and this clay isn’t much use to her. I’m not sure how much good it’ll do you. May not be as rich as soil from your black swamp. But I bet with a little compost, you could probably grow whatever it is you have planned. Maybe you could tell me?
—Nope, I can’t. I haven’t a clue what I’m growing. But this clay, I’ll take it!
—You have a truck?
—Nope, walked here.
He held me for a moment in his smile.
—My shift’s over in about ten or so. Let me bag this up for you, and I can help you get it home.
I thanked him. He was a handsome fella, tall and thin with a long beard and gentle eyes. But when he returned with two bags full of heavy clay, I told him,
—I think I can manage this alone. Will you take a twenty?
He winked and waved goodbye as I struggled to lift and swing both bags over my shoulders.
It was a very long walk home. I swear each bag weighed fifty pounds. I stopped frequently to rest. Thankfully it didn’t rain—and the bags held. I had wanted so much to accept the man’s offer but somehow felt as though accepting his help, and him in my apartment, would have violated the privacy of this grand endeavor.
I didn’t get home until after 9 PM, and arrived to the rancid stench of dead fish. I covered the vents in my apartment, threw open the windows, and lit incense I purchased months ago from a homeless man in Chinatown. I dumped both bags of broken clay into the tub, mixed them with more water and my bare hands. So heavy was the clay, I removed my shoes, shirt, and pants and climbed into the tub for leverage. I retrieved and held the bean carefully in my mouth. I clawed and clumped, smoothed and stomped, kneed and kneaded the clay into a thick mud. As I worked the dirt into malleable form, my muscles ached and my dick grew hard. I slipped my underwear from my now muddy thighs. The bean grew heavy on my tongue. I held my nose, removed the bean and pushed it into the herring’s mouth. I thought the smell might make me sick, but instead, it reminded me of the ocean’s salty lick. I plunged my fingers into its slimy innards, then pet the head of the herring, and thanked it. I sat into the mud, pressed my hardness into its giving surface. My belly swelled. I exhaled. I filled the fish with more clay, what clumps of potting soil I could find. This I then buried in the middle of the tub, my entire body aware of this moistened earth, previously destined for pottery.
Yes, somehow I knew—though the prospect was perfectly preposterous.
This mess needed more magic. But what it needed, I wasn’t sure. I woke from my spell to realize I sat in my bathtub, caked with mud. I stood, glimpsed the faucet. I dug a small hole around the drain and opened it, started the shower, then quickly rinsed. I ruined a towel to clean myself, and contemplated the bathtub-become-planting-bed. It looked as much like a gigantic pan of wet brownies as it did the beginning of a garden.
Exhausted, I returned to my bed and lay down for a moment, to ponder what I might do and what it all meant.
I woke before sunrise, the room dark, streetlights throwing lines of light through blinds upon my walls. I didn’t know the time but knew I’d slept deeply. I rose from bed, with an erection, stiffer than the previous morning.
I put on clothes, drank a glass of water, glanced again at the bed of dirt in my tub. It still smelled faintly of fish, but more strongly of earth.
I put on a jacket, to go for a walk, 27th to Belmont, then to Lone Fir Cemetery. I snuck into the cemetery and wandered among the graves. I gazed to the bluing sky, lit only with the brightest stars. Also, Venus and Jupiter. How near one another they were! Were they magic enough?
I looked to my feet, to the tombstones, wet grass and bushes and mud, all damp from recent winter rainfall. And I noticed there, crawling near my feet, a snail.
A snail. It seemed silly, but perfect! I snatched the snail, found another and took it as well, walked briskly home, and rummaged through my bathroom trash to collect a handful of facial hair I’d trimmed earlier that week. I put this and the snails in a plastic baggie.
I fixed eggs for breakfast, brushed my teeth, and searched online where to find the final key ingredient. I read a chapter from a novel and balanced my checkbook. At a quarter to 11 AM, I then biked to Mississippi, to a small shop of natural curiosities, Paxton Gate. I browsed animal skeletons, mounted insects, glass eyes, fossils and minerals until I found, hung from the end of a bookshelf, raccoon and fox tails! But I frowned as I considered them, as the fox tails where those of red foxes. I had had in mind, a gray.
—All those either died of natural causes or were trapped as part of animal control programs, funded by the state to manage wildlife populations.
I clarified my look of consternation.
—You don’t have a gray, do you?
—A gray? From a gray fox? Grays aren’t as common in the west. I think I’ve got one in the back, but you probably don’t want it. It’s not near as nice as these two.
—Can I take a look?
It was skinny and missing a tuft of hair. But its color shimmered with shadow. The store clerk offered it for half the price of the others, which I gladly paid.
I hurried home with the tail in my backpack. At home, I dug up the fish and made a muddy crater where the fish had been. I curled the tail into the crater, emptied the snails and snips, then returned the fish, my bean in its belly. I returned muddy soil to the mix, and as I rubbed together my filthy fingers, my dick got hard yet again. How long had it been…?
As instinctively as a baby cries when hungry, I unbuttoned my pants and grabbed at my cock. The grit and slime felt divine, my disregard for the cleanliness of my clothes only encouraged the sanctity of the moment, my oozing confirmation urging me onward. I fell to my knees, to the earthen bed. I spat on my cock to keep it slick, and this dripped onto the fish’s belly. I stroked my throbbing curve with saliva and mud, braced myself, a hand to the wall, muscles tightening, breath short. One of the snails poked its tentacles up through the soil—and I needed no more encouragement. I heaved and spasmed and shot my warmth. All over the herring’s head, across fox tail fur, onto the bathtub wall, then again, and again, on the fish’s belly. I squeezed, and it dripped onto the snail’s tentacles. It shrank, then expanded, slithered under the surface. With my hand, caked with mud and sticky cum, I brushed more clay over the burial. I piled, built up, and patted the mound in the middle of my tub, as if to cover up and confirm my deed.
So satisfied was I, that I kissed the top of all I’d buried. Now, I needed only to wait, to hope my magical bean boy would grow.
I roasted beets over salt, then fixed myself a peanut butter blueberry jam sandwich for lunch. Once the beets were tender, I sliced and sprinkled them with goat cheese into a glass bowl with an airtight lid. I packed this along with a carrot and kale salad for dinner. I spent the evening at work, daydreaming about what sort of boy might grow from a bean. Would he be stocky, brown skinned, and rough as a root vegetable? Or would he flower into soft, vibrant colors?
I returned home from work that night, set my bike against the wall, and—front door left open, still wearing my bike helmet—peeked into my dark bathroom to find the earthen mound undisturbed.
Had I done anything wrong? Could I not ask for the tiniest sprout? Loneliness whispered in my heart, you cannot comprehend if you haven’t known love.
I set my helmet on my bike and walked back out into the night. It would soon be midnight, March 15th. Somewhere, Jupiter and Venus were a pair, perhaps already growing further apart. Between the trees on either side of the street, shone a half moon.
Then above, a shooting star.
Did I wish too much from the pale bean Harmony had given me fifteen years ago?
I returned to my apartment and regarded again the dark of my narrow bathroom. So difficult was it to see, I almost flipped the light switch; instead, I opened the blinds to streetlight and moonlight.
Then, a quiver, a stir. At the center of the clay bed, where my bean lied waiting—there, a bit of dirt fell away.
I drew the blinds to let in as much light as possible. I opened the window to the night air. Atop the small mound, a tiny bean sprout reared its neck. So slowly—but moving faster than any plant I’ve ever known—the sprout lifted its pale, pea-like head from the clay.
Ever so slowly, it grew. I knelt beside the tub and watched it in the moonlight. Such an eerie pale blue was the pod; I wished I could see it in better light, but dared not break the moon’s spell. And so I watched it grow, as it grew, from a centimeter to three.
I must’ve sat beside the tub for well more than an hour. Though tired, I remained transfixed upon this spectacle! I became increasingly aware of my need to sleep, then also my need to piss. Somehow, standing to use the toilet, beside the tub, seemed too far to leave my watchet bean sprout as it grew to four, then five centimeters in height.
But the growth had slowed, and my eyes grew heavier. Finally, after changes to the sprout’s size became imperceptible—a mere and slender six centimeters—I decided to stand, to pee and go to bed. As I stood, I swear the sprout arched to attention. Too curious to take my eyes from the plant, I unbuttoned my pants to piss in the bathtub. In the dim light, I noticed my piss had an orange tint, and I remembered the carrot, the beets and kale I’d eaten earlier that day, rich in minerals, vitamins, the sort of nutrients my little sprout might need. I diverted my stream, and watered the mound from which the sprout had grown. Ah! I felt so relieved, so full had my bladder been, that I pissed for several minutes, closed my eyes, and listened as it moistened the bed of clay. Run-off emptied into the bathtub drain, and the resulting musicality pricked my ears.
Nonetheless, I felt even sleepier when I finished, and the sprout hadn’t seemed to change much, though it glistened. I knelt again and whispered close,
—Goodnight, my little bean.
The next morning, never before or ever since have I seen such a sight! The sprout had grown into a giant snake of a vine, thick around as my wrist, covered in gray hairs and viridian petioles of heart-shaped leaves. At the base of the outermost leaves, budded tiny slate-blue flowers, a most impossible color for a plant! But more remarkable than the flowers or trunk, which now looped around half the length of the tub, was the giant, veiny pod—pale and translucent as a fish egg—which now occupied my bath. Perhaps a meter or more in length, in parts, thin and wet to touch, and in others, thick and fibrous, as green as the stalk from which it had grown, the pod pulsed with a heartbeat. Within, I could make out the shape of a creature curled into itself. I pressed against the pod, to find the shape of a thigh, shoulder, and ribcage, a boy nearly the size of a full grown adult.
Wearing only the underwear in which I’d slept, I put one foot into the tub and wrapped my arms around the pod, to listen more closely to its thumping. As I did, squeezing gently, the pod split along its belly. A viscous jelly dripped onto my foot, the mass within began to slip. Reaching an arm beneath, along, then into the split seam, I found a bony shoulder and arm. I repositioned myself on the edge of the tub, to cradle my boy and deliver him, headfirst, from his plantlike womb. I pulled his head and shoulders into my lap, wiped thick, clear mucous from his eyes and cheeks. Already, he had a full head of fine hair, a defined jawline, muscular arms, and pert nipples. As I pulled him further from the goo, he inhaled sharply, then began to cough. I held him as he shook, accepting his first gasps of air. His body felt cold, his fingers almost blue. I pulled him into my arms and rubbed his limbs, to bring warmth to his skin. As he shivered and woke, he gripped me so tightly, I thought he might never let go.
Was it true? Was this my boy, born from a bean, from my seed, from a fish, from snips and snails and—then, as I pushed the fibrous encasement from his naked flesh, I found between the boy’s legs, a fox tail. Did the plant somehow grow up around it, I wondered? I gave the tail a tug. The boy yipped! The tail attached, he looked up at me, startled. I stroked his tail and patted his butt. He was indeed mature for a newborn! What age would I say he was? He was smaller, slimmer, boyish—but hairy in all the appropriate cracks and crevices where limbs join, arousing my manly desires. He couldn’t have been more than 19. Then, I remembered when Harmony had given me the bean, when I’d first imbued it with all my hopes and desires, fifteen years ago. Yes, when I was 19, I gave seed to this bean, now a boy of 15.
He calmed himself to breathe more clearly, calmly. His grip loosened though he still held himself in my arms. He looked to me, my sprout with a fox’s tail, and he spoke his first word,
—Yes, my boy. Yes, whatever strange magic has birthed you, I will always and forever care for you unconditionally, as a part of me, as my very own.
I kissed my bean boy on the forehead, and he snuggled into my lap, his tail curling under my arms. I tapped his lips with my finger, which he suckled. And so dawned fatherhood, beyond my wild expectations, a bond born between me and my tall tale boy.