Happy Mother’s Day,Shelva, and all mothers!
by Raji Singh
(In slices of life Great grandmother Shelva serves vignettes about her building friendship with her future father-in-law ‘Blackjack’ Fiction, when she was a pre-teen.)
“Are you planning to kill the Czar, Blackjack?” I nervously ask.
Finally, on the veranda, I am able to muster courage to question what I’ve suspected – ever since seeing him milking venom from the fangs of his Cobra, Cecily; then, overhearing him talking cryptically to her of his plans of what he’d do with the poison vial.
“Just think what the Czar’s Cossack enforcers might do to you if they find out, Blackjack. Unspeakable, terrible tortures. Then they will murder you.”
I am desperate for him to say, to quell my dread. “Don’t be a silly child, Miss Shelva. I’ve no desire to kill anyone. I am only in Russia to visit your family and take part in the Czar’s Cat Boxing tournament.” Instead, Blackjack is silent. I believe he sort-of just smiles. I tremble, in fear for him.
Captain Polly, summering in Moscow, flies to my shoulder and whispers mischievously, “So he says, Shelva. So he says; aark!”
THE MONTH OF JUNE: BUILDING A FRIENDSHIP
Why should I care what Blackjack might do? Someone I’d never met before summer began, who brought into my parent’s home a deadly serpent that would be the cause of lifelong scary dreams?
Because, aside from my brutter, Ivan, never have I such a close companion as Blackjack.
Papa’s ever busy at University. Mama’s hither, thither in her valiant causes. Ivan is spending much time at the mandatory for boys his age, Youth for Czar Conclaves. Blackjack’s out, about seeing people he says are important to what is “private business”. When he’s not involved in whatever this secret work is, ‘Oh pleeze, don’t have it anything to do with crossing the Czar, Blackjack,’ he and I enjoy much of the warm Moscow daze together. He shows card tricks in the parlor. In the sewing room, I teach him embroidery. Midst the luscious perfume of the garden courtyard, he reads aloud from his publishing house’s collection; for him, Captain Polly helps me dramatize Pushkin passages.
I wipe the back of my hand across my brow:
“Oh how the years are fleeting!”
Captain Polly, hidden in a tree, answers,
“Aark! We must all go under the eternal vault.”
After this, Captain Polly, Blackjack, and I – in Blackjack’s boxing parlance – we ‘word spar’.
“In America it’s called ‘shooting the breeze’,” he says. “I wonder what they call it in Russia, Miss Shelva?
“Aark! Kremlin klatter,” Captain Polly interjects.
I shrug. Whatever it is, it is great fun. We do it so I may learn better their Ameri-kan and they, my R-r-russian. But also, so maybe Blackjack can understand what it is like to have a daughter. And that I can feel I have an uncle who is not, kooky-like, as the kooky Uncle Vanya I already have. My thoughts are of Blackjack so often that summer, no silly girl crush, but, as a daughter. (Nearly two decades later I’d marry his son, James my sweet druzhyna.)
My Golden Summer I fall in love with the son, I’ve not met, but Blackjack tells me much of.
Forget the Czar, Blackjac, pleeze. Take me to visit James in America. Mama, Papa will allow it. (I can dream, can’t I?)
I content myself by writing letters to James. Of course, I am too shy to mail them. As a sister, Captain Polly recognizes my lovelorn. She whispers supportively, “Aark. he’ll like you sister Shelva,” and she gives me a most delicate fallen feather. I use its tip as a dip pen to create the prettiest prose. I write tiny, on paper hardly the size of my thumbnail, so that, maybe no one else would bother to read them but me. I insert them in little handmade envelopes and pretend to mail them by placing them in my bureau. Sometimes I dream Captain Polly sneaks them out, carries them to James in Amer-ika, then returns with letters from him.
JULY: BUILDING A CONTENDER
Blackjack and I often stroll in the park. Along are Cecily, and Blackjack’s cat-boxer-in-training, Ragamuffin, and my dear feline Alexa. Captain Polly perches on our shoulders, or sometimes, Cecily’s hood. I stay far from Cecily as I can. I swear Ragamuffin and Alexa make cat eyes at each other on our journeys. Little kitties on the way soon – who knows?
“These jaunts are good training workouts for Raggy,” Blackjack says.
‘Oh Blackjack. All the good I heard you did helping the oppressed in America’s Underground Railroad. I can’t believe you’d hurt another, even the Czar. Tell me you won’t. I care for you so much I’ll believe anything you say.’
The so many mice we see? “Not meant for you Raggy,” Blackjack says. “Only grass, plants, and an occasional bug: We’ve got to maintain you as a lean, mean, pawing machine.” So, Cecily tracks the rodents. There is no competition for the pests from Alexa. She puts up her nose to them, but swoons over sardines.
Now and then Blackjack puts Ragamuffin’s tiny boxing gloves on him. Raggy stands on his hind legs, sparring with Cecily. Captain Polly referees, often flying between, breaking up non-lethal clutches. Oh, the looks we get from passersby. Jealousy, maybe? They’re wishing they had a Lindian Cobra and a South American Macaw to help train their cat boxer?
AUGUST: BUILDING A HOME
Probably our happiest hours are those spent designing and fabricating my dollhouse. Even now as an adult, I still have it. In it resides many darlink little dollies. I must take a moment to tell about this wonder.
Blackjack says it is a replica of the Fiction House, in Amer-ika.
‘One day you will be mistress of that grand home.’ What a wonderful day – when your fancy comes true.
It has cedar shake shingles and bright mosaic tile walls like the real Fiction House, mica windows replacing stained glass. Best of all! It has, just like in the one it models, ‘secret hideaways’. In them, I treasure-away my letters to James, and my precious Faberge miniatures: A carnelian camel with ruby eyes, silver flowers overflowing a rock crystal vase, and the tiniest of cameos.
Most valuable, but not most cherished – those would be the letters – is a delicate china Faberge egg of the Fiction House, barely longer than my hand. (I wish I knew how Blackjack came by it. He’s gotten to know so many people in Moscow. ‘Are they involved in your ‘private’ business, Blackjack. Pleeze, no.’)
The Faberge Fiction’s intricately mitered emerald cornices crown walls of black pearls. A sapphire-plumaged, diamond breasted Captain Polly clutches the pink garnet rail of the widow’s walk. Wings unfurled, she seems to lift the Fiction House from within the porcelain top oval of the egg. The bottom sits on Turt’s intricately carved mahogany shell. His upraised fin-claws hold all firmly, as Atlas the world. (Nowadays my insurance broker says, “It should be locked safely away in a safe deposit vault, Mrs. Fiction.” I say to him, “Feh, heresy. Something so beautiful, it should always be seen.”)
Blackjack and I built my dollhouse so it folds up to appear a svelte suitcase.
With only it, and clothes on my back, one day I must make haste to escape belovet Mother Russia who is rampaged over by her un-lovink Cossacks. Good come from bad. I meet; marry belovet druzhyna.
SEPTEMBER: BUILDING A LIFETIME
Maybe if a daughter we have, she will play with the Fiction dollhouse. If son, his granfa Blackjack will build with him what was our other construction project of that summer – a Cat Palanquin for Ragamuffin. “So Raggy will have his own cat-sel when he enters the Czar’s palace.” So beautiful: twisty walnut spires rise above antimacassar curtains. Inside the castle-shape bamboo carriage, a velvet cushion. It will allow Raggy’s tush comfort before battle.
Sadly, the season is ending. This makes me cry. Blackjack wipes my face with his handkerchief and brushes my tear-matted hair from the corners of my eyes. As Captain Polly claws at the cat-sel walls and pulls on the buttresses with her beak making sure they’re sturdy, Blackjack talks to me caringly.
“We will have many more beautiful summers together, Miss Shelva. Maybe in America. Or here. I know that question you asked when the season began haunts you; makes you wonder if that could be possible.”
“Is it true, Blackjack? Do you plan to kill…”
“Shh, Miss Shelva. I couldn’t talk about it then, nor can I now. It is for the sake of you, your Mama, Papa, and Ivan’s safety. And for the sake of those people I meet with, and the good of thousands of your countrymen and women. One day you will understand the reason for my facade. Please, just trust.”
I’ve come to love the gentlemanly Blackjack Fiction dearly. I’ve heard so much about all the good he did in Amer-ika. What can I say, but “Yes”.
NEXT WEEK: We Journey to the Czar’s Palace
(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 of their origins in my novel TALES OF THE FICTION HOUSE. They are completely different stories. My novel is available at Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.)
©2013 Raji Singh