by Raji Singh
So many times, have my great-great grandfather, the publisher James Thaddeus ‘Blackjack’ Fiction, and other long-now deceased residents of the renowned, the notorious, the oft-fabled-of Fiction House come to me. In my imagination they say, “Tell our stories, Raji. Through our stories, we’ll live forever. Untold, it is like we’ll never have lived.”
I am The Fiction House Publishing archivist. It is my duty.
It is with this in mind that as I peruse Blackjack’s journal entry about his wife and daughter’s sudden, unexplainable deaths, my hands shake, my breaths become tense gasps, and my eyes moistly glaze.
I sit at the desk and the chair that were his for three quarters of a century. I stroke the pages stained with his tears of remembrance of that time for him that morphed instantly from ecstasy to melancholy. The pages still hold the brandy scent of cigars he nursed to see himself through the pain.
These pages; they are so brittle. I am sure I am the first person to view my great-great grandfather’s words since he wrote them.
How, Raji? You ask yourself. How can you reveal emotions so close to his heart?
In my imagination, I feel his oh- so- often- there reassuring hand upon my shoulder. His soft words of reassurance ease my doubts.
‘Tell my story, Raji. Remember. If you don’t, it will be as if I never lived.’
Emotions knot my throat. I can barely whisper, “Yes, Great-great Granfa.”
~ ~ THE WRITING OF JAMES THADDEUS ‘BLACKJACK’ FICTION.
I stand rigid, proud, welcoming Caroline into the world – cradling her warm, squirmy tininess in my arms, hearing the soft breathless yearning to seize life…
I bring thumb-size Captain Polly and Turt dolls from my vest pocket. I want my daughter to meet my old friends. Her itsy finger brushes their even itsier velvet heads. I know Captain Polly and Turt are outside the window grinning their proud creature grins.
I caress Ann Marie’s gentle hand as she lay in our bed. Light from the bureau lantern plays softly in her dark angel hair haloing the pillow. Her perspiring face radiates purest joy. I bend to kiss her flush cheeks and breathe in her wonderful scent – a fresh blossoming bouquet of roses.
Anne Marie’s voice is but a wisp. “Caroline is born of our love, James Thaddeus.”
The stern-face midwife, hovering incessantly like a bat above us, says something cryptic to our maid. I cannot tell if it is an order, question, or plea. Then she begins swooping wildly about.
Why doesn’t the old, BAT, just fly off, leave our little family to be alone.
(Oh how hurtful, how wrong my mean, regressive thoughts would prove.)
Suddenly Anne Marie coughs, spitting out bile the red of rose. And red: It’s saturating the sheets between her legs. The maid massages her womb, as the midwife instructs her to do. In vain. The bleeding continues.
Everything is happening so quickly.
I shall never know – the why.
Caroline, she is turning the blue of my sudden sorrow.
The BA…, the midwife, swoops about the room in a flurry. She seizes Caroline, and strokes, pats, and feverishly pets her as she eases medicine drops into her mouth. The maid begins stroking Anne Marie’s suddenly twitching temples. The twitching quickly spreads to her whole body.
Captain Polly and Turt tap violently on the window. My old friends are alarmed. But what can they do?
I wish I could see their faces out there in the darkness, reassuring me, ‘Stay calm, Blackjack.’
Seconds, now are minutes? Minutes, are hours?
Many years later, now as I write this I still don’t know – seconds, minutes, hours – which were which that cursed night. Time from that night is only a haze, but the emotions, the sorrow, the pain are leaded weights vivid yet in my thoughts and heavy in my heart. They pull me down. They drag my soul through dark, barbed chasms of grief. The scars – they show on the lines of my face, but they are invisible, aching furrows to my heart.
“Anna Marie, Caroline, come back to…”
I know that will never happen.
They are gone.
I am alone. ~ ~
NEXT TIME: Anne Marie and Caroline gone, Blackjack revisits the past to escape the insanity of the present and to, somehow, build a sane future.
© Raji Singh, 2012