by Raji Singh
(My great grandmother Shelva’s accounts of strange happenings – triggered by her hired hand’s building of his ‘Man Cave’ circa 1890’s)
Ever since I leave Moscow, I dream of this Eden land now I live. Mine loving Adam husbant, provides his Eve heaven on earth at the Fiction House in Amer-ika. I carry water from my wish come true well to my paradise garden. But, oh how the fresh morning air suddenly turns not so, how might one put it, angelic.
I wrinkle my nose. Ach! What is that awful musty cave stench? I hear squeaky screams and whoosh, whooshes, like lined laundry in a brisk breeze. The sounds crescendo as the sky blackens. I look up – see such an aberration of nature: Bats – in broad daylight. To me, superstitious Shelva, they are devils of the night. They come, by the thousands. I run for the protective-covering arms of my garden’s scarecrow – a tan uniformed Cossack effigy. The scare works for crows, and good-soul Russians, but not bats.
The flying rat-like mammals, prehistoric looking in their leather-like webbed wings, brush me coldly. Oh, how I wish I wear my bonnet or scarf, and long sleeve blouse. I press my hands to my thighs, so, as dastardly Cossacks are apt, they don’t try up to get up my dress.
Sensibly, I am not worried about what in Amerika you call rabies. Mine husbant, Doc Fiction, has natural herb remedies I have seen cure it. But, insensibly, rushing through my thoughts are Carpathian Mountain legends told me by our family’s old cook. “They’ll tangle in your hair, drive ‘em you, batty.” She’d lean over her steamy kettle, her stringy gray locks dripping wet, and say to little brutter and me “I know this, dear Ivan and Shelva, for I am Vampira, their queen.” We’d scream, and run hide in closet. (I suppose now, as adult, this just her batty way of getting us out of her hair.)
“Shoo, shoo,” I shout, as the bats land, to feast on my tomatoes and the bugs my luscious red fruit attracts. Does about as much good as ‘nyet, nyet-ing’ to keep teen-age czarina from sneaking her hand into a jewelry jar. (I see just that thing happen when, young girl, I, in Moscow’s exclusive Sowurtski’s Diamond Shop)
Oh, what to do? Just as none could stop a greedy czarina, no one can stop hungry bats. Mine fine tomatoes are even finer than diamonds to me. Long ago have I left behind the glamour of Moscow for quiet loving life with mine druzhyna, Doc Fiction and the quiet healing ways nature offers: Ach! Whole season of crop…disappearing before mine eyes.
“Shoo, shoo,” I hear in the distance. It is not my echo, but dear tovarishch, Captain Polly.
“This way! This way!” Squawks she. She circles the garden. Captain Polly looks an airborne shepherd herding a flock. The bats take flight. They follow her. Within a minute, I see the last of them disappearing into the horizon. I examine my crop. Other than a few dozen, the tomatoes, Captain Polly has saved. “Hip Hurray for Captain Polly! Thank you, mine tovarishch.” Plant destroying bugs – hardly any remain. Looks like a bumper crop instead of no crop. “Hurray!”
This strange event – it’s all something to do with Efraim, Turt, Captain Polly, and Sir Winston building Efraim’s ‘Man Cave’, no doubt. I start for the cave to give the workers a basket of tomatoes and take from them the explanation for my terrifying experience. I imagine Captain Polly’s bird to bat, then the bat to bird conversation. The way I choose to see it, it is smooth and flowing, not parrot-like halting as we humans would expect.
I imagine Captain Polly recreating Sarah Bernhardt’s soliloquy from, Only a Bird in a Golden Cage, from when mine husbant and I saw her in the drama on the Paris stage. All other men had eyes affixed continually to various anatomical parts of the divine Miss B. Not mine sweet druzhyna. Nyet. I could feel his passionate eyes burning like wildfire into me, his divine Shelva, so anxious to return to hotel and its oh-so-beckoning bed – oh, so uncomfortable for sleep, but so nice for…
~ ~ editor note: My great grandmother left out the events of what took place later that Paris evening. I assume she felt she should leave that type of writing to a Balzac or Baudelaire.
Her re-imagining of the great Bernhardt via parrot and bat is disquietingly unique. This is my version of Shelva Fiction’s French, to Russian, into English translation. I have had various translators at Fiction House Publishing verify its accuracy. For theater aficionados, though you may quibble that the interpretation may not be reflective of Miss Bernhardt’s theatrical vision – however, content-wise, it is pristine. ~ ~
“You bats may remain no longer in this cave. For it shall forever thus be the domicile of his honor Efraim Ephraim, Sir Winston, the grand Turt, and (bowing, sweeping wings from her stalactite perch) myself, Captain Polly.” Captain Polly rolls her r’s, a’s, and n’s, and they echo. For I am the grrrr-aaaa-nnnnd dame of all caverns. You shall vacate, you bats: Immediately. For we need this space. Yes! You must leave! Or expect all the day’s light whence we commence excavating.”
(Bats swooping about, whimpering and screeching)
“Do not fight it, thou honorable flying mammals, the only of your kind who have been deemed the privilege of flight. Why fight it? Must you be exposed to perpetual insomnia before you realize this?”
“Where will we go, Captain Polly?”
“What will we do, Captain Polly?”
“Do not turn us out, oh Captain. This is but a humble home, but it is a golden cage to us: Golden, for it is our treasure; a cage, protecting us from the harsh world, not imprisoning us away from it.”
“We are not heartless humans, birds, animals, and creatures. To show you that we be not cold blooded… Oh, I am so sorry about that my bat friends. Nothing personal and I’ll hope you’ll not take it that way. To show we are not cold spirited, we have found you another cave. One perpetually rat infested. Prime cave estate. Follow me now, and I shall transport you to a bat heaven-paradise all in one cavern.”
That is how I, Shelva Fiction, a dedicated Bernhardt-parrot-bat interpolator see it happening, I say to myself as I peek into the cave to see if Efraim is in.
NEXT WEEK: Shelva’s startling discovery inside Efraim’s 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.)
©2013 Raji Singh