by Raji Singh
The sorrows in my great-great grandfather’s journal: The 1840’s. Cincinnati, Ohio. He writes:
~ ~ “THE GLUMS.” That’s what Mariner kindly called them.
“They blow in as the darkest storm clouds the sea’s ever seen, matey.
“Their gale force knots, knot-you-up ‘til you barely breathe.
“Their doleful siren wail scales all peace from your soul.”
I feel them more-so now, then ever in my life. My wife Anne Marie and our just-born Caroline succumbed in childbirth barely 12 hours ago. I, James Thaddeus ‘Blackjack’ Fiction – respected businessman, renowned publisher said to control the life or death of an author’s work with the “yea” or “nay” from my dip pen – I can hardly cope with my fate – living without them.
To escape their strangling grasp I walk the quiet and desolate pier where Mariner discovered me as a 4-year-old orphan foundling, shivering, “glumming it” – beneath a cart. He called me, Carper. I revisit that past to escape the insanity of my present, and to, somehow, build a sane future.
“Just make the glums set sail, you little Carper,” Mariner spouts. Cull ‘em from your thoughts like you would seaweed from your nets.”
How many times, I cannot recall the high count, did the ancient salt tell me that?
I smile now, for the first time since Anne Marie and Caroline’s passing – at Mariner’s simple solutions to life’s travails. As a youth it worked. So, why not try?
One of two of a foundling’s lifelong companions is Luny Mum. She’s been keeping me company, shining softly on me throughout my nightlong grief walk. She whispers, ‘I must depart lad. Be brave. Remember. Be you 4, 40, or 80. I’m here in your dark to soothe you with my light.’ As her beam strokes my hair, as any mother’s would with a gentle hand to ease a melancholy son, another voice so familiar comes.
‘I’ll take over for you now Mum.’ Poppy Sol, the other forever-there, greets me cheerily, ‘ello bloke. Tis my turn to cheery-o you.’ His warmth feels like a sturdy, fatherly arm encircling my shoulder.
Imagination – a foundlings’ refuge in a harsh world.
I smile a little more, and return to the simpler life of youth that could always chase such GLUMS.
But to ‘make ‘em blow away,’ as Mariner’d say, I imagine I am not me, I am stoop-shouldered Mariner, finding me. I can taste his Kentucky stump juice, reeking like a blast furnace from my mouth. Instead of the pungent tobacco imbedded in my waistcoat, I smell a lifetime of fish saturating my sailor shirt and dungarees. Instead of being able to being able to maneuver my dip pen nimbly to write a rejection letter, I can barely open my arthritic fingers, wrecked from a lifetime of casting nets and setting sails.
I feel myself disappearing – just to cope with my grief – into a jumble, stumble, and tumble of imagination.
As I did as a foundling.
I see a fish cart. Just like the one Mariner seined me from underneath. He examined me like a catch hanging from a line. You are Mariner, doing the hanging up of you. That, in itself is something to smile about. THE GLUMS. Ever so slightly, they sift away.
But like shifting sand, ever so slowly they drift back. ‘Shun them by continuing to be Mariner,’ you order yourself. You cannot. You stumble back to you, Blackjack. You see so vividly Anne Marie and Caroline’s pain-wracked faces in your mind. You wince. You clench your hands into fists. So agonizing, reliving their last moments in this world.
Deep breath. Fading, fading, their faces. Give me temporary respite from the agony!
You tumble back into Mariner. ‘Don’t think I’ll throw this little Carper back to sea. Looks like he’s got good prospects,’ you as Mariner tell yourself. The GLUMS, they begin to recede again.
‘Push them away. Keep pushing. They’ll return. But time heals, though brutally sometimes.
‘PUSH! – Just to survive your now. That’s all you need – for now.
You blink. You’re a jumble of Blackjack again.
‘Looky up ahead, bloke.’ Poppy Sol blinks so you can see more clearly. You squint, almost disbelieving what’s there. You walk toward it. The dew-moistened dock makes a ‘slip-slip’ sound beneath your shoes. Sol’s warming sends the Ohio River’s fishy, mildew scents into your nostrils. They grow stronger as Sol rises, brightens.
You see, peeking from under the cart, a butterfly. It lights on a cat’s crook tail. You recognize the butterfly. “Long time, no see, Calico.” The recognition suddenly changes you. You’re Carper at age 4, when Mariner found you.
“I see my pal Calico’s been keeping you company, Carper,” Mariner says to you.
Calico flitted away then, as she does, now. You pick up the kitten: So dirty gray from being alone, uncared-for. The little rascal. He’s shaking. You warm him to your shoulder and say,
“You’re a foundling, as I.”
That simple act – of caring for another – oh how it begins easing the glums.
‘Just you be spyin’ that crook tail, says Poppy Sol.’ Suddenly you see what is so obvious. It’s identical to the tail of ol Tom, the one-eye cat, ‘el patron’ to so many on the docks. You met him as a boy, when Mariner took you to his wharf-shack. Ol Tom, gritty as he was, was the cleanest looking and cleanest smelling thing there. Ol Tom rubbed you and instantly adopted you as a new son.
You don’t understand any of this that your escape to imagination is doing to you, for you, but it is – briefly – defying, so slowly chipping away at the GLUM wall.
“Ol Tom. You’ve come back to me,” four-year old you, shouts, knowing fully all these years later it is impossibility. But, by the tail! You know. This kitten. He is certainly one of lovin’-up ol Tom’s, at least great-great-great-great-great-great grandsons.
“Hello, Lil Tom,” you whisper.
Lil Tom, “meow.” (Little can I or Lil Tom know, the greatness, the world fame this kitten will achieve – see, Puss n’ Gloves.)
But for me now, Lil Tom is achieving the greatest thing of his life. Oh so important, this thing is for me – Relief; at least for now; Enough to help me through the glums – through another second of them, another half-minute, minute, hour, day, week. And on, into the future –
Relief from the shrouding, GLUMS. ~ ~
© Raji Singh, 2012