by Raji Singh
(Witnessed and written by my great grandmother in the 1890’s)
I look out the window of the Fiction House. I cannot believe what mine eyes beholt. Never, ever in Moscow could I have imagined I’d be seeing such a sight when I come Amerika.
There’s Turt, emerging from the river, with4 logs, a foot in diameter, twenty feet long at the least, roped to shell. He looks like cannon wielding turrets on mighty Russian gunships once upon a time in my Caspian, I see.
Turt is slip sliding on the soggy bank. His fin-claws cannot catch hold.
I hear a sharp shouting, “Plant them. Plant them.” Turt lifts his sturdy legs one at a time and rams them – shoosh – into the mud.
Anchored. Smart move.
I look around; see no person who could have made the suggestion.
Captain Polly circles the river. Her colorful feathers rainbow against the blue horizon. Ach! It is she, who shouted. Probably flying reconnaissance for Turt, warning of sandbars and pesky, getting-in-the- way lunky catfish. I cannot imagine – who possibly could – what are the duo doing? I slip on a sweater and bonnet and hurry to the river. Then I hear, “”Hi ho, Mz. Shelva. How are you this mornin’?”
Instantly I realize, it is a trio project involving Efraim Ephraim – mine hirert hand. “Efraim,” I say. “What in the blazes are you, the Captain and Turt up to?”
Efraim is leading our old gray mule, Sir Winston, from the barn. A rope circles Efraim’s shoulder. “Well it’s a long story Mz Shelva. So’s I can un-barge Turt’s cargo burden quick as I can, I’ll ‘splain as I work.”
The legs of his trousers are wet, and algae green. It appears to me he went riding on Turt’s shell before fetching the mule.
We walk to the river where Captain Polly, midst swoop, snaggles a crawdad. She lands on Turt’s head, sharing it with him by dangling it in front of his beak-snout. The way they happily lick the slimy treat in unison reminds me of two Moscow children, me and little brutter, Ivan, once sharing a wriggly varenki, stuffed dumplin’. (In time, I’d come to think of dear, tall-taling Efraim, as a brutter.)
Efraim harnesses Sir Winston to a log, and then unharnesses the log from Turt. I walk beside Efraim and the mule just far enough up the bank to reach level ground. Four trips we’ll make. He’s telling me, “The way it is Mz Shelva, I needed ceiling supports for my in-hill residence…”
“Your cave, Efraim.”
“Certainly, Mz Shelva. But it sounds better the way I say it, don’t you think. All the eleegible ladies in town most assuredly do, when I spout about it after Sunday come-to-meetin’s. I get the feeling they’re almighty anxious to see it. But I can’t tell ‘em where it is…just yet. If I did they’d be all about pestering me with romance. Shoot! I’d hardly be able to work.”
Humoring him: “I see how that could be a problem, Efraim.”
He stops tussling with the ropes and looks me in the eyes. “Tut, tut, Mz. –Little do you realize my prowress with the gender opposite mine! But you shall see. Once I complete and establish my, hear how it flows off the tongue… ‘In-hill rezz-i-dence’…
“Well anyway, me, the Captain, and Turt made a deal with a logger downriver. Captain Polly did most of the negotiating – a shrewd one she is. Ya can tell she’s flown around the world more than a few times in her life. Logs exchanged for my ‘shrooms. Captain Polly gets lifelong grazing of his sunflower crop and Turt gets unfettered fishen’ in his trout lake. Not bad, eh?”
“Indeed, Efraim. You didn’t just, possibly, come-upon the logs?”
“Cross my heart. Back me up, Captain Polly.”
“BRAACK! Efraim wood. Efraim wood.”
Hmm: Or is she saying Efraim would? I wonder.
When the last of the logs are firmed into place, Efraim hands me the reins of Sir Winston – he’s named for a young man whom mine husbant says is up coming, politician. My husband met him once in England. Mine Doc, he’s fond of saying, ‘No offense meant to either honorable party, but Winston and our mule are spitting images. Put a cigar in that snout and you’d have your American version of that Churchill bloke.’
“Mind stabling the beast-a-burden for me, Mz Shelva? We’ve got three more voyages to make today; Along with some fierce negotiating for other materials.”
I console our mule by petting its pointy ears, whispering into them. “He doesn’t really think you a brute. Just joshing: Thinks you’re, how might Ameri-kans say it, keen.” The mule nods.
Captain Polly and Turt finish off their treat. Efraim climbs aboard Turt. Turt lifts fin-claw anchors, shoosh. They launch. Efraim slides a flask of stump juice from his pocket and raises it. “Nostrovya, Mz Shelva, as they say in your land. Cheerio, good Sir Winston.”
Captain Polly leaps to Efraim’s crow’s nest shoulder; keeps a sharp eye for trouble.
I lead the mule away. “What do you think, Sir Winston? Will that scheming trio barter a cave into a palace.” Sir Winston stops at the log pile. “Nee Haw.” I pull, no budging. “Oh, I see. You want to join in. Make their trio a quartet.” It nudges me with its snout, toward the logs. “You want me to make it a quintet.” I tie onto a log. Sir Winston does the rest of the work, so I bow my bonnet to its head to shade the sun. 1, 2, 3, 4 trips to mouth of the cave.
As we make the journeys, I converse one-sidely with Sir Winston. “Efraim’s right. We should look at it as his ‘in-hill residence’. I will add feminine touches – antimacassers, nice curtains, and whatnots – to make it more a home: In case, if by some slight chance a woman someday just might come a calling.”
Never in the world did I think I’d get involved with Efraim’s man cave. Even more unthinkable, I kind of like it.
Next week: The build continues.
(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