Austin Pick


Jill Came Tumbling After

      Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.
      The hill was very steep, and by the time Jack reached the top, his calves and thighs burned with exertion, so he stooped over next to the well, hands on knees, to catch his breath. Meanwhile Jill lowered the bucket a short ways into the well and watched as the crystalline water rushed in and filled it. The well was of sturdy construction and water collected there effortlessly, always plentiful and ready for the taking.
      "Thank you," Jack said when Jill handed him the brimming pail. They began their descent, the hill's lush green grass cushioning their steps, and Jack was grateful that it did, for he was tired from the long trek upward. The descent is always more speedy than the ascent, and as he traipsed downward, Jack was careful not to spill the water he had worked so hard for, and said, as they reached the bottom, "You know, Jill, it would certainly be beneficial if there was a way that I could obtain water from the well without having to climb this hill. Certainly, if I were to build a pump here at the bottom, then all of our community would benefit, for none would have to climb the hill each time they desired a pail-full of water. Do you suppose, Jill, that such a pump would be possible?" Jill nodded solemnly, admitting that because Jack was such a resourceful being, it was likely that he could devise such a thing.
      Jack worked very hard over the next few months to develop and install his new pump, and many gawked at his efforts as they strained up the hill to fill their buckets. But in the end Jack's pump produced water, by drawing it from the well through a system of pipes, without it being necessary to walk up the hill. Although the pump took some work to operate, no one could argue that it wasn't less work than going to the top of the hill for each pail of water. Jack not only drew his own water from the new pump, but also allowed the people of his community to do the same, and watched with satisfaction as they did so.
      As Jack watched, though, he began to think, and said to Jill, "Certainly all of my neighbors should not simply be able to reap the benefits of my labor. They, in turn, should do some labor for me, or produce for me some products, that they may take of my labor and the products of my labor. Certainly this is only fair."
      So Jack erected a small shack around his pump with a door that closed and could be locked tight, and when people came to the pump, Jack said to them, "I cannot let you take my water unless you give me something in return." This was the first time that Jack described the gifts of the well as his. Some people began to grudgingly perform tasks for Jack, such as carrying his water for him, and some provided him with shingles for his shack or new pails for his water. In return, they were allowed a certain amount of Jack's water determined by the amount of labor they had given. But others refused to do work for Jack, and continued instead to take the long, laborsome walk to the top of the hill for their water. For a while, Jack thought this was fair.
      After a few months, though, Jack decided that he didn't like the idea of the people going to the well.  "Certainly," he said to Jill one day, "those that still draw from the well are in effect stealing from me, for that water would have, at some time, flown through my pump had they not taken it, and therefore it too belongs to me." So Jack directed some of his workers to build a tall strong fence around the hill. After the fence had been erected, even more people were forced to come to Jack's pump for their water. Some people, however, still refused to work for Jack, and went in search of other wells.
      Jill approached Jack from time to time and asked if he had inspected or maintained the well since the pump had been installed. Jack guffawed at this, and said to her, "Certainly the well is deep and will never run out of water, for all of the earth provides this water for our taking."  But Jill stole up to the well anyway, and saw that its firm bricks were a little worn and its water a little lower. Knowing this she sighed, but said nothing to Jack, who had been so quick to dismiss her.

      As the years went by, Jack's pump was made stronger and even made to pump itself, and Jack's shack grew into a mighty castle, and his fence into a mighty wall. His clothing was sewn from the finest cloth, and his buckets were of the sturdiest craftsmanship. Jack's property continued to improve as people performed labor for him. He, in turn, provided them with his water, which still flowed freely. Jack's community had grown impressively too, and its way of life had changed dramatically.
      Reliant on Jack and unable to carry their own water from the well any longer, many were forced to leave their own places around the hill and move into the increasingly crowded community, hoping to find some work that they could exchange for water. Now, instead of working for themselves to meet their own needs, each had a special task. Some carried water from Jack's pump, while some worked in factories producing pails and other materials. Indeed, a few people had grown almost as well-off as Jack, or as they came to call it, wealthy —such as the factory owners— yet more and more people began to find themselves with less and less. While a few benefited from the pump that could be locked tight, most had to struggle for their daily pail, because Jack's system controlled all the water, and they were forced to work accordingly.
      Although Jack's pump had once saved everyone the time of walking to the top of the hill, people now found that they were spending more and more time working for their water, long days inside dark factories, so different from long walks in the open air, with the soft grass underfoot. The green hills were no longer a place for everyone to enjoy, but a great pump-house for walls and workers to enclose. The people begain to notice, to their dismay, that as the years passed they were working harder and harder and receiving less and less in return. All the while, the wealthy few continued to grow more and more well-off. It did not seem to be fair at all.

      Those who had gone in search of other wells eventually found them, and went about carrying their own water, uninterested in working for Jack and preferring their own way. And in time it also became known that far beyond the green hills surrounding Jack's well, other communities of people, each with their own wells and waterholes, were living and drawing water according to their own customs. Some carried water pail by pail, as Jack's people had once done, while others traveled from well to well as the water levels changed. A few were even rumored to have waterworks of their own.
      For many years Jack was content with his system, and saw that this was fair. In time, however, he concluded that all the water in the earth, were it not drawn from another well, would eventually flow through his pump, and so was also his. "Besides," he said to Jill, "those other people do not have the same use for water that we have, and do not understand it's importance. They are lazy and foolish, and it is in their best interest that we help to improve their systems."
      So Jack assembled his guards and soldiers, and proclaimed them to be emissaries of the Great Improvement. He sent them to other wells and waterholes, where they convinced the people that Jack's system was necessary and inevitable, often only after long and terrible battles. In time Jack's men prepared these communities for work within the new system, erecting pumps and walls and castles, all of which could be locked tight. Now people in distant lands were pumping water and making pails for Jack, whom they didn't even know, for reasons they could not easily understand. In their own way, however, they did come to understand the new system: in exchange for more and more of their water, they received an empty well.
      Jack's many managers worked dilligently to improve the communities under their control, a task that, because of everyone's unhappiness, kept them occupied by endless busyness, or as they came to call it, business. Even when their work grew unpleasant, they found that their words always seemed to dilute their difficulties. Jack himself did not work much any more, and seeing all that he owned and all that he ruled, he had made for himself a crown of gold —a shiny substance washed up by well-water— and with this crown fitted upon his great head, proclaimed himself the ruler of the earth, and his system the proper way for all to live. As usual, the wealthy ones agreed.

      Jill had long noticed that the grasses and trees that covered the hills were not as green and lush as they had once been, and realized they were not receiving the nutrients they needed, and that in many places, the life of the land had been all together destroyed to build pumps and dwellings and factories. Jill herself had begun feeling sickly and weak. And she noticed, too, that although the grasses and trees did not have enough water, people had much more than they needed. Workers, oblivious as they carried their pail-fulls of water, allowed it to slosh out onto the worn dirt paths. Upset, Jill often went to Jack and, as calmly as the wind, whispered these things in his ear, but his crown was large and thick, and he couldn't hear her or refused to listen.
      Jack did notice, however, that the pumps weren't producing as much as they once had. But as more and more people demanded water, Jack simply decided to build better pumps, for his way was the right way to live, and could always be improved. All the while Jill continued to whisper to Jack about the improverished land, until Jack finally stated that the grasses and trees were his to do with as he pleased, and that when they were in the way or no longer served any purpose, he had no need for them. Jill whispered patiently that the grasses and trees were as vital as they were beautiful, but Jack again dismissed her with a wave of his hand as he pointed to the crown upon his head.
      One day, though, water only trickled from the powerful pumps, and Jack, growing desperate as he watched people approaching, said to Jill, "This well that you have given me is worthless! Certainly it is not my fault that the pumps no longer draw forth water!" Jill silently beckoned Jack to follow with her hand, and Jack, for a while, refused, but as he watched people crowd around his pumps and try without success to draw water, he finally trudged after her.
      Jill gracefully climbed the hill, and Jack struggled up after her, the dry, brown grass and barren earth crunching underfoot.
      Jack stood atop the hill at last, and looked over at what was once a peaceful hamlet nestled among rolling green hills, but saw instead a sprawling, dirty, flat and grey city, spewing forth smoke and refuse. Below, a long line of people trailed from the city to the pump, which was now as dry as the hills. Jack shuddered, and looked over at Jill, who bit her lower lip and stared back intently. Finally, Jack looked down at the well beside them and saw a rubbled ruin, cracking and grey and empty. He leaned on its curved wall to look down into the darkness, and as he did so, the wall crumbled and cracked and fell away beneath his touch. The entire well began to crumble, and Jack, scrambling to maintain his balance, lurched and grabbed hold of Jill. But the dry, dusty earth, devoid of grass and life, offered no foothold, and he slipped and tumbled backward, still grasping Jill's arm, and saw, as he stumbled, a single, dismal tear upon her cheek, as blue and vast as the heavens and oceans, as green and golden as the grass and sun he had once known.
      And Jack fell down and broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after.

 

1998, revised 2002

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