By Raji Singh
ARCHIVING THE ONCE-RENOWNED FICTION HOUSE PUBLISHING COMPANY:
Rustling through my great-great grandfather, publisher James Thaddeus ‘Blackjack’ Fiction’s artifacts, I come across a miniature pine coffin, hardly bigger than a jewelry box. It’s simple, the kind that entombed many a Civil War casualty.
I “creak” open the lid; a sour smell of formaldehyde escapes. The corpse – a stuffed tan pigeon. Bronze, silver, and gold metals, with delicate tufts of color-filled feathers hanging from each, adorn puffed chest. There’s a small plaque – ‘Sheralee Flew Beyond Duty’s Call.’
A melancholy sensation overcomes me. I can almost feel my great-great grandfather’s hand on my shoulder, his brandy breath warm on my neck as he pines, ‘Sheralee, come back to me.’
Sheralee’s a game bird, nearly half a wing missing. She seems to sleep peacefully. I stroke her gently, as if I’m afraid of disturbing well-earned eternal rest. Her leg moves. Her body moves. I pull away. A lidded wooden cylinder, hidden inconspicuously beneath good wing had slipped, causing the convulsion. She’s a carrier pigeon, I realize.
I’d heard stories about Blackjack and William ‘Golden Boy’ Golden, his half brother and chief writer. They utilized these jet fast birds with homing instincts – to deliver messages in their clandestine ante-bellum abolitionist endeavors.
‘Wherever you saw the tracks of the Underground Railroad, the valiant birds were sure to be winging it not far overhead,’ Blackjack says reflectively. ‘Those were brutal times.’
Inside the cylinder, I find paper rolled so tight it springs at me like a Slinky toy when I begin unwinding it. I squint to be able to read the small print – Blackjack’s writing. It was reminiscences about the 1830 s, old Cincinnati, meeting Sheralee’s ancestor. Sheralee’s aunt was one of the carrier pigeons who carried romance correspondences between Harriet Beecher in Cincinnati and Charles Darwin aboard the Beagle. (You met the aunt in the last posting, when Blackjack met Harriet.)
I bring out my specially-ground magnifying glass – ‘SOO powerful – it could (almost) view the Higgs boson subatomic particle in a single squint.’ – It has to be strong, to be able to read the tiny script Blackjack and Golden Boy used to get as much information onto a not too-weighty mini scroll attached to the stick-like pigeon leg – so the bird wouldn’t list, falter, and fall.
I squint to read my great-great grandfather’s words:
~ ~ “They’re wearing me out,” I heard Captain Polly squawk aloud as she landed on the perch outside her gabled, swinging door bird entry to my publishing office. She was gasping. Her trip from Cincinnati to the Kansas Flint Hills where Golden was running guns to Free Staters wasn’t so hard, but the 400 mile daily, often time semi-daily trips were becoming a drag – aerodynamically speaking of course.
I brought her usual bill of fare, sunflower seeds, apple slices, lightly sugared water. As she gnarred and lapped, I removed the correspondence from Golden Boy. The ever-same plea: ‘Raise more money from sympathizers. For more guns for the cause.’ And then, Golden Boy’s never same coded directions: on how to get them to him for disbursement.
I studied the strained, gray look around Captain Polly’s eyes. They said, ‘HELP! I need HELP!’ She was a dirty bird from the journey. Dust browned her lovely, long yellow, green, and blue plumage.
Captain Polly and I knew each other so well, for over 30 years. She visited Mariner and me often at the wharf-shack when I was growing up. She’d known him aboard ships for 30 years before that. She didn’t refuse my hand as I reached to stroke her. I guess she’d do about anything for me, including killing herself in transit – ‘for the cause’.
“I’ll get help,” she suddenly squawked as she looked up from her feast.
“Sheralee!” we both said in unison…
Off she flew.
Captain Polly seemed to know the whereabouts of just about any flyer within a 1000-mile radius. Unless Sheralee was off maybe cruising the Galapagos with Darwin, Captain Polly would find her. ~ ~
NEXT TIME: Captain Polly’s Air Corps, featuring Bird Colonel Sheralee, aid the cause.
©2012 by Raji Singh
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