Of Fathers, Ghosts, and Beans

Lotus had no idea what she was looking at. That is, it was very clear that she was sitting in a giant’s castle, looking at a golden harp with her father’s face carved into one side. She could see where the gold leaf had flaked away on one of his cheeks. The pale wood underneath looked like a tear streak running down his face.

Behind her, heavy footsteps sounded. Lotus had to make a choice. The harp was too heavy for her to carry. But her father had been a pragmatic man and he’d raised a pragmatic daughter. Lotus slipped away and climbed down the beanstalk to the world of flowers below the world of clouds.


Plant beans. And do not mourn me. They were the only two commands her father ever gave Lotus and they came only a few days before he died. She was never able to follow either command. Because, as it turns out, in the real world we don’t get to choose who and how we mourn. It just happens, and Lotus found that it happened to her quite a bit.

Beans were out of fashion during the season. The great lords who owned the land beneath their feet, the king and the princes, descendants of the captain of the ship that bore them to this place, were flower mad. Every inch of the greenhouse where Lotus lived and worked had to be used for flowers. Carnations, marigolds, roses. Even their food had to taste of flowers now, hiding the useful plants, the food and the hemp and the fruit trees, where no visitor might stumble upon them.

Lotus had no land of her own to grow food plants. She ate dandelion greens and drank dandelion wine and pruned the pansies for her lord’s table. She was hungry more often than not and if she had any beans she would have eaten them before she planted them. What did her father understand of hunger all those years ago when he held her to that stupid promise?


She crept up the beanstalk as often as she could to visit her father’s face. Sometimes, he had been put on a high shelf that she couldn’t reach. On those days, she sat beneath him and pretended she was a small child listening to his stories. Being pragmatic didn’t mean that she was unimaginative. Other days, he sat on the floor beside the giant’s chair and she could study his face and touch his carved hair. There were lines on his face that she didn’t remember as a girl. Wrinkles and worry lines that she hadn’t kept in her mind’s eye.

Sometimes she cried when she looked at him and sometimes she didn’t, because grief is weird.

There was a giant who lived in the clouds. Lotus didn’t understand how any giant’s hand could have carved detail this fine. She preferred not to meet the giant to ask him, though, and she would climb back down the beanstalk as soon as she heard his footsteps.


The beanstalk rose out of the extra compost heap behind the gardener’s shed. At first, Lotus thought she must have been imagining it. She was just a gardener’s assistant, but she was quite certain that beanstalks only grew if there were beans to grow them, and they certainly hadn’t had any beans on this land in months. But others noticed it too. They watched it, cultivated it, fertilized it, certain that it would grow more food for them. While the lord ate flowers and fancy bits, the servants were ready to dine on beans. When the stalk was too big for Lotus to wrap both her hands around it, one young hallboy suggested the roast the stalk and eat it without waiting for the beans. Lotus was set to sleep in the compost heap to guard it at night. She didn’t mind. It was warm, at least.

And of course it was Lotus, the youngest of the gardening assistants, sent to climb the length of it to look for beans once it was too tall to see the tip anymore. On that day, Lotus began to live two lives. One visiting her father in the clouds, away from the cares of the world. And one on the ground amidst the muck.


The greatest fear is the fear of the unknown. A fever swept the land. People started to die – a lot of people started to die – and Lotus had to make a simple choice. Did she want to live on the ground, growing crops that could hardly feed them with a sickness consuming everyone she knew? Or did she want to live in the clouds, with her father and the giant?

She had no possessions to pack. Nothing on this world was hers except the food in her stomach. Even the little patch of compost that she slept beside didn’t belong to her. She knew her way up the beanstalk even in the pitch darkness by now. The rattling lungs of her fellow gardeners fell away as she climbed. The heavy feeling of fluid in her own lungs died away and her breathing grew easy as she climbed. The voices of those around her told her to hang on and she appreciated their confidence in her as she climbed. But even the voices and the cool touch of a rag on her forehead fell away.

There was a giant up there, but she could avoid him easily enough. Her father was waiting for her.

Dianne Williams lives in Lawrence, Kansas. She grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries and classic science fiction. She once dreamed of being an astronaut. Or maybe a lawyer. Or an artist. She settled for being as many of them as she could all at once through fiction writing.

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