by Raji Singh
Another story from my Russian immigrant great grandmother, Shelva Fiction.
We return home from our traveling sales. The hooves of the horses pulling our patent medicine wagon, they rumble below us. “Clip cloppity.” Their gentle soprano, “neigh, neigh” sounds almost a Rimsky-Korsokavain aria. Luny Mum’s glow, oh so soft. Suddenly, an almost indescribable scent breaches the crisp fall evening.
“Ach,” I say to Doc. “What did our valiant steeds eat that could smell so awful?” I hold my nose. He does too.
Doc chuckles. “A smart alecky boy probably slipped ragweed into the bucket of oats. Hmm, kids.”
So easy going, mine druzhyna. Nothing seems to rustle him. I suppose that is another reason I love him. The smell surrounding us – worse than the brimstone stench used in any Moscow staging of Faust I’ve ever seen. Fortunately, the breeze changes directions. We breathe easier.
I’ll soon find out – I blamed the innocent equines prematurely.
A ‘clackety-clack,’ sound from inside the canvas shell of our wagon makes me forget the defiled air.
I shutter. “What’s that? Someone’s there.”
Just Puss,” says Doc.
I hear ‘click’. “Since when can Puss load a gun, Doc?” I grab the propped up wagon whip and turn quickly. I shout, “AAAUUGGHH!” loud as I’m able, cock-suredly delusional that noise will give me advantage over any flying bullet.
~ ~ editor note: Fear will make you think anything is possible. As Shelva would always be fond of saying: “Just ask Czarina Romanov why she risks a dynasty for the sake of that strannik Rasputin, because she thinks he can heal the unhealable.”) ~ ~
Mine valiant shout, it fades. No gun. No Puss. No deranged monks. “Efraim Ephraim?” The click was from one of the vials. He snapped off the latching lid to smell it. Who knows why? “Efraim, what are you doing here?”
“Well…It’s a long story, Mz. Shelva.”
“I have no time for any of your stories, Efraim. You almost made us die of fright.”
“There, there,” Doc says as he pats my hand and glances back at Efraim. “It’s not so bad Shelva.”
Efraim lowers his eyelids slightly, as if he’s telling a tale without speaking – as if you should feel sorry for him as you would the hemophiliac son-of-a-czar.
“See that callow look of his Shelva. He looks sad as Puss would if Puss saw a whip poised for striking.”
‘I can just about hear Efraim sly, shy undertone – “meow, meow”.’
‘Grr! Doc has the unmitigated… – I get so furious at mine druzhyna sometimes – to start carrying on a conversation with Efraim as if they’re landsmen, from old country, seeing each other for first time in six years and six thousand miles.
“Ah, Efraim. I see you are taking a whiff of my lumbago elixir. Can you guess what’s in it? Hundred people I’ve queried. Nary could one identify even a single ingredient.”
As Efraim whiffs in deeply, the wagon jostles. A teensy amount spills onto him. Ah, the odor: It’s not our valiant transporters. Not from Efraim either, though the onion and garlic bulbs he must eat for each meal is, as someone like he would say, ‘might powerful’. This scent, surely sent from Hades is a combination of Efraim, and elixir. (Bottle it up to keep good or evil spirits away.)
I hold my nose again, and nasally say. “Close it up. Quick Efraim.”
“Shoot, Mz Shelva. I don’t need to sniff it no more to know what it is.” He leans out of the covered part of the wagon, between us, and says. “Well, Doc. You got your abundance of phlegm root and snot garzle weed here. That’s to be expected, knowin’ it cures about anything. Then you got your…”
Efraim commences naming a dozen plus roots, herbs and whatnots I’d as soon never hear the awful sounding monikers for ever again.
Doc stops the wagon. “You’re absolutely right on each, Efraim. I’m astonished.”
“Shoot. Nothing to it. I live amongst ‘em since the day I was born. Mama said I’m ‘one with the plants’. She say-id once, ‘Why Efraim Ephraim. I’ll bet each and every plant you pass knows your name.’ Then daddy he laughs and says, ‘In high society they’d be calling you a plant whisperer, Efraim.’ So I tell daddy, ‘Shoot, they don’t whisper to me daddy, why, they just plain shout.’”
Mine druzhyna nods. I just shake my head, wondering what tale may follow. I don’t have long to wait. Efraim crawls to the seat of the wagon and makes himself, as he says, “to home”. I am almost squish twixt Doc and he. The garlic-onion odors overwhelm at first, but a person gets used to them. Besides a breeze comes up and I’m not downwind. Thank you, Goddess Mariah, spirit of the wind.
“Well Doc Fiction. Let me tell you what I know about plants,” Efraim starts, and he’ll not stop til we reach the steps of the Fiction House. “A man of medicine as you, Doc, will appreciate the healing they can bring…”
Mine druzhyna is intrigued. And I am happy. Though Efraim did not go to the finest medical schools of Amerika and Europe as Doc, his interest in healing is keen as any of Doc’s colleagues I’ve visited.
I know. A friend, an associate, an aid in grand medical schemes has mine Doc.
Little did I know at this time, Efraim would become as great a friend to me.
NEXT WEEK: EFRAIM BUILDS HIS ‘MAN CAVE’
(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