By Raji Singh
These days, the man cave, is all the rave.
Goliath screen tv’s to capture Gargantua footballers, and Pegasusical steeple chasing. IRON BARS – on the windows and doors to keep out the misunderstanding spouse. PLYWOOD BARS – veneered with fad-again 70’s shag, stocked with ample hooch to satisfy any weekend louse.
The man cave: Who hasn’t seen the hundreds of varied styles on the popular Better Caves and Garden cable network?
125 years ahead of his time, Efraim Ephraim built his period-piece man cave near the Fiction House…
My Russian immigrant great grandmother, Shelva Fiction met many a cave man in her youth when her family took excursions from their Moscow home to the countryside. She was afraid at first, but her papa told her, “Do not be. Respect them, daughter. They have just chosen a different path.”
So when Efraim approached for permission to build on the Fiction property, not just a relaxing place of escape, but a home, Shelva didn’t think it unusual. She deemed it unnecessary though, as she wrote in her sometimes halting English, “Mine sweet druzhyna and I offer you, Efraim, perfectly goot hirert hand boonk-house lodging.”
“Oh, I appreciate that Mz. Shelva. Truly I do. But a plant man like me gotta have his walls growin’ with spirit-giving plants, herbs, ‘n such. Specially mushrooms. ‘Shrooms won’t grow proper on a regular wall. Gotta have my own special ‘shroom room.”
“Ach. Fungus, Efraim”
“Don’t say it with a sour, scrinchy face, but with a smile. Like this. ‘Ah fungi. A special sort of fellow is our Efraim of the Fiction House. He’s a ‘fun guy.’ See, yer smilin’.”
“Ach. Lead the way Efraim.”
“Let me escort you, my Highness. Just a few minutes’ walk. Downhill both ways, but a little rocky for your fancy city shoes.”
Gah-launtly, he takes my arm. Away I am whisked by my dingy, garlicky knight.
I must bend to enter Efraim’s chosen porthole to who-knows-where. I am glad I wear my bonnet. Don’t know if it’s true, but I hear bats will tangle into your hair – drive you, sumasshedshig, crazy – how might you Yan-kees slang it – ‘Batty’, guano? I say to Efraim. “What’s that smell? Bear?”
Always the tall taling kibbitzer, Efraim jokes, “Mountain lion. Don’t need ta wary ‘bout ‘bar; the lions in these parts didn’t cotton to ‘em. They packed together years back and ran ‘em off and took over the caves. Them lazy lying lions won’t eat us. I mix up an herb batch that keeps ‘em, all smiles. Nah, Mz. Shelva, really it’s all guano. But it’s fertilizer for the spirit and body. One day I’ll show you how to make a tasty drink with it.”
“No thank you Efraim. And be sure to remind me not to accept any of your invitations to tea.”
Efraim lights the lantern, sees I’m holding my nose.“Not to worry, Mz. I’ve a passel of plants that’ll scent-away the smell, lickety-split.”
I hear a soft rumbling. “What’s…”
“Just the earth’s belly expellin’ gas. Like we all do. Sort of a soothin’ sound, hmm.”
“Not to me.”
Within a few feet, the ceiling’s height brings me to my knees. I ask. “Do you plan on spending your time here crawling about, Efraim?”
“Ha, Ha! No mi Lady. It will be a palace, fit for a…”
“A peasant. Ach! This place for mole not man.” I turn to leave. Efraim seizes my arm. For a moment, I freeze; afraid, as when I little girl and saw cave men for first time. Never thought I’d fear Efraim. Long-winded is he, but not imposing of his will, like a common rodent Cossack. Sternly, I demand. “Release me, now.”
Immediately he does.
By the lantern light, I see terror, tears and fear in his eyes all at once. His face instantly sags. Never have I seen such a mix of sorrow and shame in someone’s look. He pleads and apologizes at the same time, all horseplay vanishing from the cracking voice. “I am so sorry, Mrs. Fiction. I’d never in the world harm you. I care for you and the Doc as much as I did for my folks. If I had a big sister to look up to, she’d be you. I didn’t intend nothin’ by… nothin’…” I just wanted you to see everything before you yea or naiad my idea.”
Efraim is no Cossack, yet I am so disquieted. I feel I am in a daze. Breathing, movement become difficult. More than fear: But at this moment, I cannot explain what.
Efrain rushes to a corner of the cave. His hands and arms fly wildly about as he pushes at, and rolls aside a big rock. It covers a hole no bigger than my laundry basket. He crawls through it. “Look in,” he says.
Going against all my common sense, I do. He holds the lantern far above his head. The rock ceiling must be twenty feet high. I can see – to the back and to the sides of Efraim for another twenty feet, before the lantern-light’s reach diminishes. It could be 100 feet more each way, or 1,000. It is truly an impressive sight, but I do not care.
“Claustropho…” something like that, is what Doc calls it. I realize this is what I am feeling for the first time in my life. So scared, I perspire, I shake.
I rush out.
Efraim follows. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Fiction. I didn’t mean upsetting you. Just wanted to share my happiness with you.”
I wipe tears from my cheeks and breathe slow, deep. I feel Poppy Sol’s warm, comforting rays on my shoulders. ‘There, there, daughter. You are now safe in my light embrace.’
My voice trembles. “Take me home, please Efraim.” I put out my arm, in complete trust again. Gah-launtly he takes it. I walk slow and lean slightly upon him. Do not want to twist my ankle. That is all I need. Mentally I sigh. ‘Better buy sensible shoes, if I am to come to tea in Efraim’s man cave parlor. But I shall supply the tea.’
“Í am sure you will be a lovely home when you are finished with it, Sir Efraim.”
“Thank ya, Mz. Shelva.”
The kibbitzer Efraim returns, and I am glad. I smile when he says,
“Tea time’s 2 p. m. Majesty. That’s when I finish bakin’ crumpets; only with ingredients, you approve of course. But you better plan to showin’ at the cave door by noon, ‘cause that’ll be about the time all the eligible damsels from yonder town’ll start linin’ up.”
“I shan’t enter if you please, Sir. I’ll take tea on the veranda.” I see mine druzhyna in the distance. I run to him, hug so tight. “Wait til you hear about Efraim’s wonderful idea for his home.”
NEXT WEEK: CONSTRUCTION COMMENCES.
(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.)
©2013 Raji Singh