by Raji Singh (editor, archivist, archeo-apologist Fiction House Publishing)
The content of this piece – from the writings of Shelva Fiction, my Russian immigrant great grandmother – exist only in fragmented segments. I discovered them while archiving the Fiction House. In the compiling, I found the trauma she was experiencing at the time the writing refers, was so physically difficult, being kept in a dank jail cell while pregnant. Also, an emotional drain: She feared losing the baby.
~ ~ Shelva’s words: ‘Not feel well. I lie on cot. Rock, hard. My dress is thin for this time of year they call in Wise-consin, Lindian Summer – late fall. Mine husband, he is my sweet druzhyna. He removes waist coat. Puts it over me. Just cannot tell him about the baby. Not in this cold, horrible place.’ ~ ~
These strains led great grandmother – as a means of adequately expressing the emotions she was feeling – to revisit her native 19th century Russian language. Try much as an interpreter and I did, we could not arrive at suitable meanings in English that a 21st reader might understand, or truly appreciate. Thus, we have utilized a limited menu of modern words to make her story more palatable. That said, here is Shelva.
* * *
From the other side of the thick, black bars Sheriff Jackson, he say, “They claim a man’s nearly dying from one of the so-called medicines you two are hawking. I tasted the contents of the vials my wife brought home. Personally, I think yours is just spring water mixed with a little bicarbonate to make it bubble up like a drug store tonic.”
Mine Doc. He holds my hand. No idea has he of my pain. I hide it well. His concern now – the life of a man we do not know. This only right. After all, he is a Physician, sworn to help others.
“Do you have a Doctor looking after him right now, Sheriff?” asks Doc. “That is an imperative.”
You can tell, Sheriff he cannot decide what to do by the way he unfastens and fastens the top button of his plaid shirt. “I’ll get to that right shortly…”
I can only listen to their conversation. Invisible sharp points jab at my womb. I curl up and brace forearm to abdomen. This help ease the hurt. I look out the barred window. Neither Sheriff, nor my husband, knows why I am suddenly smiling broadly. Luny Mum has come to me: Full, round, and glowing comfortingly in the sky. She so brightens my dim imprisonment. ‘I am here for you little sister. I’ll not abandon you. Hold my beam in your heart. Let it cool you, if cool you need, and warm you if you need warmth. Bathe in my healing light. Let it soothe you. Though you won’t always see me Shelva, I shall be there for you.’
In my thoughts I say, ‘Thank you, Mum. I know your magic touch will see me through, as it did during so many dark, cold Moscow nights when the Cossacks rampaged.’
Gentle Doc: He tightens his grip on my hand. Though he is riled at the accusations and the indecisiveness of the Sheriff, his touch, it is always gentle, gentle. At this most important moment in time, Sheriff Jackson is languorous, as it is with many of the small American townspeople I have met since departing my homeland. He licks his silvery moustache and says,
“Ol’ Efraim has a bad liver. Been nursin’ it, some say milking it for sympathy, for on twenty years. When it’s all said and done, I’d say it’s just acting up, once again.” Sheriff stops to poke at earwax with the narrow part of the jail-door key. He glares at mine Doc. “Can you honestly say you are a real Doc?”
Sweet druzhyna, he takes the challenge like the man he is. He walks rigidly to the bars; puts face inches from Sheriff. “I completed the best eastern medical school. I proudly carry my diploma. If you’d like to rustle through my medical bag to view it, it is under the seat of our wagon. I served honorably in the United States Army in the western campaign. My surgeries saved many of our nation’s brave Cavalry.”
I know he is fighting back tears that come to his eyes whenever he tries to explain his path.
“Many of my medical colleagues from the warring time became ministers of the Lord because they could not stand to see ever again the bloodshed horrors man inflicts upon man. Now they save souls – or at the least they pacify souls – to try to prevent wars, and yet another Doctor from having ever again to sever another gangrenous limb to save a body.”
Sheriff Jackson laughs a little, not disrespectfully, more so baffled. Probably ashamed for the guffaw, he sort of flicks my husband’s string tie and says, “I too served…” Maybe, that is the only way he knows to make physical and emotional contact with someone he considers kinsman – kinsman of the tribe of war. “I served a brutal hitch, fighting our red brothers in the Dakotas. What waste! But, that all being the case, my good Doctor, why do you piddle with these salves and elixirs?”
“Sir! I now save un-bloodied bodies. “I had to operate to save our troops in the campaign. There is very little of that – aside from a mule kicking a farmer, a boy or girl breaking an arm as they are apt, or some such – that is needed when some insane war isn’t being perpetrated. So often, the simple cures of nature can best be utilized to help a human.”
I smile. Doc, he present what he believes so honestly. But now, his wife lay sick, beginning to perspire, getting hot, so hot, and getting cold, so cold. Why bother him? Nothing he can do. Other than let me rest. But if something happen to me, he blame himself forever. But same with strange man, E-e-ephraim, if something happen to him. What to do? What to do?
My condition for some reason, I cannot explain why, it make my nose and ears extra sensitive. I can hear the jail hovel cockroaches thumping along echo-y wanted posters. I smell the rat fur of of the ever-present rodent inmates. In my thoughts, I picture them as the scowling face Russian rats – THE COSSACKS who tormented so many of those I loved.
I hear my husband say, “Take me to the sick man, Sheriff. I may be able to help him.”
“Well, Doc. It’s like this…” Sheriff hems, haws. Hooks ring of keys on belt. Their jingle jangle as he paces bothers him, so he hangs them on peg behind his desk.
Doc interrupts. “I didn’t see anyone in the crowd as this Efraim. It was still light enough out. I would have seen by his rheumy eyes, and the ominous shade of his skin, if a liver condition were acting up. I would have had just the right mix of medicine in my bag. I could have given it to him instantly. That is the beauty of nature’s cure. We are one with nature…I am just certain he must be suffering from…”
I cannot pronounce what mine Doc just call it. He tell Sheriff,
“It is not a wise thing to diagnose someone without seeing them, but I am just certain it is the condition you are talking about.”
“Be that as it may, Doc, he’s lying, maybe dying on a tuft of straw, in his cabin, and I’ve got to get over to Bensonville to bring back a real, practicing Physician.”
“Damn it. I tell you I am. I demand you allow me see him. Take me to him! For the sake of…”
“Don’t suppose the town-folk would like that. Some of them think you caused his problem with your cures. “You just hold tight here. Liver probably just actin’ up again. I’m just sure of it. Ephraim, he’s a crier of wolf, but he’s a popular fixture about town. Always with a new tale. I sure wouldn’t want to be you folks if he don’t see the sunrise.” We have a peaceful little town. The anger of the citizenry’s never had to be tested. Can’t say how they might react to the onset of adverse emotions.” He points at a never had to be used scaffolding and rope outside the barred window.
Luny Mum blinks and disappears behind a dark cloud so the Fictions don’t have to see it.
The Sheriff says, “I’ll have my wife bring over some fried chicken, corn on the cob, taters. No one can say we don’t treat our guests rightly in this town. She’s a fine cook. You’ll be havin’ what I had for supper.” He departs, despite mine Doc’s continual pleas to allow him to help.
“We’re guests!” Doc growls. “But only if Efraim survi…” He doesn’t complete the sentence.
I shake. I tremble. In my thoughts, I cry out. Mine druzhyna, hold me tight. He seems to mind read. He strokes my neck, clenches me. His bristly face scours my cheek. Even this hurting touch I am grateful for at this painful time. Quietly he whispers, words I cherish. “Whenever I touch you, my dearest Shelva, I am forever lost in softness. Whenever I hold you I feel I am keeping you forever safe.”
NEXT WEEK: ‘TO THE NOOSE OR TO BE LET LOOSE. THAT IS THE…’
(Join me every Sunday night at the Fiction House, your place for short story, lark, whimsy, and merriment. Meet the many residents as I archive their lives and centuries of adventures. You can read their origins in my novel TALES OF THE FICTION HOUSE, but that’s a different story. It’s available at Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.)
© Raji Singh 2013