Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Writing Prompt: The Search for Magic Beans
Leah's favorite story as a kid was Jack and the Beanstalk. She loved the idea of an impulse buy turning into an adventure. Not that she expected a huge ladder with a whole other world at its summit to sprout out of the top of the vase she bought at a flea market. But... what if it did?
All of her disposable income went toward buying interesting things. As much as this tendency annoyed her roommates, family, and friends, they could never say she skimped on birthday presents. Or Christmas presents. Or anniversary presents. Or "it's Tuesday and I was thinking of you" presents. In fact, she was constantly being told to cut back on giving her purchases away; as one former roommate put it: "You need to get some new friends because the ones you have now are sick of you giving them all the junk you buy."
On one un-birthday, Leah's mother suggested that she start taking her unwanted items to a thrift shop. "That way, you won’t have to give away all of the things you buy, and you might have a chance to make some money back on the things you don't want," she said. "Not that I don't like the talking Darth Vader cookie jar, hon," she added. Her roommate Ben loudly supported the idea when she told him about it later that night. "You have too much stuff in your room as it is, even with what you give away to people! Your mom is a genius."
The next time Leah stopped on the sidewalk to peruse a busker's wares, she thought about what her mother and Ben had said. She picked up a hand painted collector's plate featuring a popular NASCAR driver. Then she put it back down. Then she wondered... what if? If she didn't buy it, and it turned out to be her personal bag of magic beans, then she'd never know! Besides, she thought she'd heard her dad say once that he didn't hate NASCAR. If this particular item didn't change her life, her dad might enjoy it.
It turned out that it wasn't, and even worse, he didn't. She left the room to avoid his glare, and her mother informed her that she'd misheard her father's opinion on NASCAR: "he doesn't hate it as much as he hates Major League Baseball."
Leah avoided everything except work for the next two weeks. Her roommates didn't see much of her and neither did the owners of the antique shops she frequented. She didn't even stop in at her local coffee shop. Eventually, Ben called her mom, and the two of them knocked on her bedroom door. There was no answer.
"I'm sure I saw her go in there an hour or so ago," Ben said.
Her mother looked alarmed. "Do you think she's finally found her 'magic beans'?" she asked.
Ben shook his head. "If that were the case, we'd know."
The door opened, and a large box emerged, followed by Leah, who was straining under its weight. Ben took it from her and set it on a nearby table.
"Honey?" her mother began. "Is everything okay?"
"It's fine," Leah replied. "I'm just taking some of my stuff to the thrift store because everyone hates my hobby." She sighed as both Ben and her mother offered slight denials, then she said, "It's okay, I should have given this up years ago. I’ll get rid of everything and get on with my life, maybe find a new hobby, like saving shelter cats or knitting.... maybe both.”
Ben’s face showed that he wasn’t entirely convinced (or maybe that he wasn’t looking forward to having a crazy cat lady for a roommate), but he helpfully took several heavy things out of the box before pushing it back toward Leah. “If you’re serious, then that’s good, I guess. But you won’t be able to make it very far with so much stuff in one trip. You can take it a little bit at a time.”
“I’m proud of you, honey,” her mother told her. “This will be good for you, I know it.”
Leah was glad to get away from both of them, but also thankful that her box wasn't too heavy as she walked down the building's stairs. She knew the moment the door closed behind her that they would be discussing this new development in her impulse buying obsession.
She sighed. Over the last weeks, she had been struggling with who to blame for her "problem." For the first several days, she was angry at her friends and family. She enjoyed her hobby; why couldn't they be happy for her? If giving away her purchases was so annoying to them, why had they kept accepting them? They could have just refused to take them, or given them back to her. She was sure she would have gotten the message that way. If Leah really was turning into a pack rat, why hadn't anyone staged an intervention?
Then, she finally had a breakthrough. She was an adult; she could control herself. There was no reason she shouldn’t enjoy her hobby, as long as she didn’t let it get out of hand. And she’d never bother any of the people she loved with it again. She knew that someday she’d find her magic beans, but until then she should get rid of the things she already had. After that, she resolved that she would only buy a few things per week, then get rid of them before she bought anything else. She was determined to continue the search, even if everyone around her thought she was being ridiculous.
She rethought her plan again as she walked toward the neighborhood thrift store. It could work, couldn’t it? She could still do what she loved and not annoy her family and friends, right?
Leah rounded a corner as the late afternoon clouds parted. A ray of sunlight illuminated an old store front with a dusty sign in the window: “FOR SALE.”
She looked up at the building as though she’d never seen it before, even though she was sure she had walked past it a million times. It was a two story building sandwiched between two taller buildings on either side. The first floor was meant to be a store, while the frilly curtains covering the windows of the second floor spoke of its use as an apartment. She could see several potted plants lining the edge of the roof, and for a moment thought one of them was a thick vine, climbing into the sky. When the clouds moved across the sun, she saw she’d been mistaken about the plant, but for the first time in her life, she knew she’d found it. Her magic beans.
A few months later, Leah hung a sign in the door of her curiosity shop: “CLOSED.”
She locked the door and turned off the lights, smiling at the cheerfully painted front windows. Even though a proper sign with the name of her business was on its way, she didn’t think she’d ever get tired of seeing those words, even reading them backward, as she had to when she was inside the building: “Magic Beans.”
With a last smile at the day’s accomplishments, Leah retreated up the stairs to her kitchen. She was still putting things away after her friends had helped her move, but she was able to find her coffee mug collection. She made herself a cup and climbed the slightly rickety spiral staircase to the roof, where Ben and one of his artist friends were hard at work at the mural she’d commissioned them to paint. When they were finished, the beanstalk would stretch up the side of the tall building next door and disappear into the clouds above.
“Good day today?” Ben asked from his perch about fifteen feet above her.
Leah nodded. “Lots of new customers, plus a few I’ve seen before. I sold some of my favorite pieces, and bought a couple of really interesting things, too.”
“You know,” he said, turning back to apply green paint to the brick wall in front of him, “I kind of always thought your ‘buying stuff’ thing would bankrupt you eventually. But I’m really glad it’s going well for you now.”
Leah laughed. “And you’re glad that you’re not getting another Limited Edition Strawberry Shortcake snow globe for Christmas,” she pointed out.
“That too,” Ben admitted with a grin. “Nobody really thought you would actually find your magic beans, but you did. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m happy for you.”
“Thanks Ben,” Leah said, as she took a sip of her coffee. “I’m pretty happy too.”

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