by Raji Singh
(It’s the 1890’s. My great grandparents Doc and Shelva Fiction find themselves far from home, wrongly jailed for selling an allegedly defective batch of patent medicine elixir. Shelva’s pregnant and sick.)
Luny Mum beams her light down and through the barred window of the jail cell. She strokes the hair of her ailing sister, Shelva, lying on a cot. ‘Poor little sister. I should step from the celestial to be with you in your time of need. Yes, Mum, that’s what you should do. Step down slowly, steadily. Let your light legs become used to the earth. Use your shadows and your light to become a form little sister can recognize, and trust: A human woman, just like herself. You could walk to her, talk with her, and then together you could…’
NEWS FLASH: THIS JUST BREAKING – FROM THE EDITOR-ARCHIVIST, RAJI SINGH. We interrupt the story of the unjust jailing of the good Doctor and his wife to reveal a portrait of the sickly galoot who brought about their incarceration. It details information of great import to the Fiction’s fate.
Midst archiving the facts surrounding the events of the Fiction’s traumatic experience that Shelva related in her writings and that were recorded in Fiction House Publishing journals from the late 19th century, I have just discovered related stories taking place in a paralleling arc to theirs. They were written by James ‘Golden Boy’ Golden, the Fiction House chief writer for over 75 years.
Being the Doc and Shelva’s Uncle, Golden Boy was concerned that their side of the incarceration be told in its entirety. Since Golden Boy never turned down an opportunity to do some ‘hoot-in the-hat’ cowpoke-western style writing midst his serious biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, the two Harriet’s, Beecher Stowe and Tubman, and others of note of his time, he decided to present his take on ‘Ol Efraim, the crotchety, will-of-the-wisp galoot who was behind all Doc and Shelva’s trouble.
Golden Boy wrote this, I feel certain, as not just an exercise in whimsy, but to make certain the good Doctor’s high reputation was unsullied by any inevitable re-writing of history. We will return to the Doc and Shelva’s jail trauma next week.
* * *
OL’ EFRAIM’S TALE
Efraim’s a beanpole of a man with stringy legs that hang limply over the straw mattress in his cabin. The cabin is his unique pod – plants, roots, tubers and bulbs of dozens of shapes somehow flourish as they cling to the sod walls. The walls and his hands are stained green from the stalks, leaves, and grass with which he daily rubs them. Live, twining vines line the ceiling. Seems there are only two things he lives for: Number 1 – tending his plants (for which he uses as ingredient for distilling liquor, and Number 2 – cultivating tall tales in front of the general store or on any town corner where he might corner an unsuspecting audience.
“Had a poison, mean crop of ivy growin’ in the rafters once. One night they reached down slow and sly for my throat. They truly did. Commenced strangling me while I slept. Guess they got fed up with my snorin’ as my dear depart-me-for- snorin’, wife did. I can get rightful rattlin’ of the window panes with my snorts.”
“How’d you save yourself,” one of a group of wide-eyed boys and girls would ask as Efraim tells of the event in front of the firehouse of some warm summer eve. The smoldering campfire-like intrigue of tall tail is in the air and the younguns’ love it to no end.
Efraim’s endings are always different. “Fortune had it that I fell to sleep with my scythe right aside me. Cut myself free, and ran like the dickens out of there. Had to build a whole new cabin – far from that one just to be sure they wouldn’t come slyly creepin’ some night when I warn’t suspectin’.” Or, “Had me some poison spray. Had to keep dousing myself with it ‘til they let loose my jugular. I kilt ‘em off right good. Planted me only sweet ivy after that. I have good night sleeps ever since.”
Thus – I, trusted historian, William ‘Golden Boy’ Golden, present to you, Efraim. So little did my nephew, Doc and his wife Shelva, as they languished in jail, know what kind of a prevaricator, this Efraim was who got them into the bind?
Sheriff Jackson, after he arrests my nephew and his wife, then gets their side of the story, comes to Efraim’s pod to question him. Efraim, on his bed, rolls-and-writhes – half-contrives about his illness. Sheriff Jackson barely more than half-believes.
“You’re a crier of wolf, and a grand hypochondriac to boot, Efraim,” the Sheriff bluntly says. His nose crinkles up at the musty-moldy air surrounding him. “I am coming to the conclusion that I ought to let those folks go free. That, if you’re really that bad off, it was from something of your own creating. Dare I call it bad white lightening? If I could get a sniff and taste of it I could probably prove it. Your nose and your throat’s ability to tell a bad batch is undoubtedly fried away from too many decades of wormy hooch.”
“Well, a powerful awful snootful of somethun’s puttin’ me at death’s door Sheriff Jackson. But you don’t see a still hidden ‘mongst my plants do you?” Efraim challenges. His nostrils are so narrowed he has to breathe through his mouth. Complexion’s pale, white as Luny Mum.
Luny Mum peeks into the nearby woods. She sees Efraim’s still, hidden to the prying naked eye of mere mortals by thick entwining roots. Efraim has cut, trimmed, and trained them to conceal it completely. Luny Mum might beam out news of her discovery. But, alas, Mum’s spirited words can be heard only by those like Shelva and cowboy poets as me who are open to the universe’s varied methods of communication. Sheriff Jackson, he ain’t one of ‘em!
Sheriff grits his teeth. “You sure it’s not your hypochondriac imagination that’s prostrating you E-E-Ephraim? I can’t just have those people put in danger because the townsfolk are stirred to a lynching frenzy thinking one of their own might have died from their medicine.”
“Now Sheriff. You know I’m a delicate sprig. You know that if I could, I’d rise right up, straight as a corn stalk, and forget my failen’ roots.”
“Dammit, Efraim. I told them I’d ride over to Bensonville to fetch you the doctor. But I don’t want to bother him if this is all of your own still’s doing.”
“Believe me Sheriff. I…” Efraim suddenly lets out a scream, so loud, so piercing it looks like the leaves of his wall plants curl in – as if they’re humanly covering invisible ears. The Sheriff tightens his shoulders upward, and clenches shut his eyes. When he opens them, Efraim’s slack jaw is jacking continually, like a Venus Fly Trap that’s lost control. And his whole body has gone green: green as his pod. Sheriff Jackson doesn’t know what to do. Scoop him up and try to save him by transplanting him into the hospital in Bensonville. Or leave him alone as he goes to get the Doctor, and hope his nursery plants will nurse him to recovery.
‘Go Sheriff,’ Luny Mum beams in through the window. “My beam is long enough and strong enough to blanket and protect both he and Shelva at the same time in its protective glow. But go quickly, and return in haste – for both their sakes – because I cannot stay ‘til the morn”.
Sheriff Jackson looks up and around, then, through the window, to Luny Mum. For once in his life, he hears.
“Hold tight, Ephraim,” he shouts, departing. I’ll be back quick as I can.”
NEXT WEEK: THE MAGIC OF LUNY MUM: IT IS ALL AROUND US.
(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