by Raji Singh
The founder of Fiction House Publishing, my great-great grandfa James Thaddeus ‘Blackjack’ Fiction, visits Moscow in the 1870’s. He meets my great grandmother, Shelva, a little girl. So infatuated with tales he spins, variations on creature themed fables told by 7th century Lindian mystic, Carpier, she creates her own. In her lifetime, they number in the hundreds.
Midst my archiving of the Fiction House, I believe I’ve discovered the first she wrote. It was tucked away in her every day writings.
* * *
“Feh!” Mama says as we sit by the crackly fireplace in the parlor. “Nyet! Shelva does not need to visit the Czar’s Palace and that is that.”
My heart sinks. Blackjack has a personal invitation. He’s offered to take Papa and me. (Blackjack’s going for the Cat Boxing Tournament so popular now in our country. Who is more deserving of an invitation? He invented the sport.) This may be my only chance to see this grand marvel of all Mother Russia, The Winter Palace, that I learn so much of in school.
“But Mama,” I plea, trying to make her understand. Her icy stare, so cold that I believe it could freeze the fire, hushes me.
“Now Mama,” says Papa. “Shelva will learn from…”
Mama rises and pokes a burning log. I just know she is imagining it as the Czar’s posterior. Her words are stern. “No self respecting Muscovite should set foot in that Cossack Conclave, Papa. I’ll not have our daughter treading where plans are made for the spilling of our countrymen and women’s blood.”
Blackjack wisely chooses not to get involved in our family dispute. He pretends to whisper something to Captain Polly. She is on his shoulder. He pats Cecily Cobra’s hood. She is stick straight, standing beside him.
Papa will not be deferred. His moustache tilts to and fro as he speaks. “Now darlink wife of mine, you must remember. Our noble countrymen and women built the Palace. We have as much right to be there as any Romanov. One day, we shall. Until that day, youngsters as Shelva must see what the Russian people are deprived of. This will give her genration strength. To help change things, as we quietly try to.”
Papa’s eyes fix on Mama’s face. She looks away. I can see by the scrunch of her cheeks – she knows Papa is right.
Mama’s way of giving me permission to do something is odd. It isn’t to say simply “Da” to counter a once firm “Nyet”. Instead, it comes by way of an always-ready insult, to he who powers over the people. She pokes the log-butt, unmercifully. “Feh! If ever I see the Czar. It will be midst the Revolution. Intentionally I will regurgitate my meal all over his gold crown – while still he wears it. He is so tall, that will mean he must be groveling under mine and my fellow Russians’ shoes for me to be able to.”
Hiding my smile, I run to my room before this odd form of Mama’s permission might be rescinded. Regurgitate? What an odd word, that never before have I heard. I look it up in my dictionary.
I do not know why I do, but I begin writing this little story. “This one is for you, Mama,” I say to myself:
* * *
Up our still warm chimney Cecily Cobra climbs. ‘Ouch, ouch, ouch!’ There she meets Captain Polly who perches on a spire. “Ready to go,” squawks the Captain.
‘All set,’ hisses Cecily.
“This one’s for Shelva’s Mama,” declares the bird.
‘Yes for Shelva’s Mama,’ agrees the snake.
Captain Polly flies to Cecily. She seizes her rubbery middle section in talons. Away she flies. At first Cecily’s dangling weight pulls Captain Polly, low. Poor Cecily almost plunks into the onion domes of sky-reaching cathedrals. Cecily hoods her eyes. She’s fearful of becoming flat as a latke against the brick sidewalk if Captain Polly loses grip.
Such a sight the citizens of Moscow behold! Most have never seen a Lindian Cobra. All silvery, shiny, like a lightening bolt streaking above the city. Let alone one being ferried by a South American Macaw, her spread plumage rainbow-ing the clear blue horizon.
Captain Polly catches sight of the flattop hat of a uniformed Cossack officer. “For Mama,” she screeches as she ‘poops’ slimy yellow, white, and green wretchedly reeking slime. “Aark! Aerial bombardment,” Captain Polly screeches, barely getting the Cossack’s attention. He glances up. The goop plops his long beard, streaking it with the colors of the revolutionists’ flag. He cannot see citizens behind him that begin cheering wildly. As he spins wildly, trying but failing to make a mental list of their faces, he flails his fists upward, at the duo. Captain Polly gains altitude, unable to hear his curses.
‘One down for the cause,’ Cecily smiles.
Captain Polly calculates a proper trajectory for hauling a snake Cecily’s size, and adjusts her flight path accordingly. They gain altitude. Captain Polly lets the wind do the work, and she stops flapping. She sails and swoops. Cecily un-hoods. She’s just in time to experience entering a misty cloudbank. Never in Lindia had she been higher than tree boughs. Cecily whooshes out mystical flute-like sounds to show her reverie. Captain Polly joins in, whistling accompaniment.
They fly to their destination, St. Petersburg. Each are happy and determined in their mutual thoughts, ‘Yes! This journey we make is for Shelva’s Mama.’
They swoop from the clouds. Cecily squints down. She cannot believe what she sees. ‘Do mine eyes deceive me? Can it be? Yes it is. As unbelievable as it might be. There is…my archenemy, the Mongoose. Thousands of miles from home, as am I. What luck. I was planning to dine on small land creature this cold country has to offer. But now, the warm blood and meat of that furless tramp will coat my throat. Swoop low, Captain Polly,’ says Cecily.
Captain Polly obliges. She strafes the grassy hillside. The surprised mongoose claws defensively upward. Too late. Cecily seizes him by the scruff of the neck. ‘No battle here today,’ thinks Cecily. Mongoose screeches are deafening as cobra poison fangs sink deep into him. His pointy claws, and razor teeth, deadly in ground battle, scratch helplessly at the air as Polly flies upward. In only seconds, Mongoose goes limp. His carcass dangles like a disabled kite, as Cecily munches, carefully, not to loose grip of her meal. Finally, he disappears down Cecily’s bulging gullet. She licks her blood stained fangs in satisfaction. ‘Blech! He’s a sour one, but he’ll do. One less Mongoose traipsing the land.’
* * *
I set down my dip pen for a moment to rest my hand. It is suddenly weary from writing. I laugh aloud for a moment, “What a funny word is Mama’s, regurgitate.”
‘Aerial-ly,’ I think, ‘the trip from Moscow to St. Petersburg for Captain Polly and Cecily is so much quicker than for we humans who must take a train as Papa, I, Blackjack, and his battling cat soon will.’ I stretch my fingers and then return to Captain Polly and Cecily’s flight.
* * *
Parrot and Cobra passenger circle low, just above the Winter Palace. They search the balconies and lush, scented gardens for the object of their desire. They soar and swoop for hours. They’ll not be deterred. Finally, from double doors emerges the Czar. He strolls among the flowerbeds. His long, straight moustache teeter totters as he casually sniffs tea roses. “To rid the stench from his nostrils of the bodies of good Russians, he’s disposed of,” Mama would say.
Never have Captain Polly and Cecily seen gold as shiny as his bejeweled crown, or silk as red as his cape.
The aerial pair circles barely ten feet above him, right straight above him. “Aark! Ready. Aim…” squawks Captain Polly.
‘Fire,’ concludes Cecily, and she regurgitates the mush-like muddy Mongoose, atop his crown, head, and cape. A once-eaten Mongoose is the vilest thing one can ever smell.
‘This one’s for Shelva’s Mama,’ critters crow to one another, as they watch the Czar drop and roll in the roses, “ouch, ouch, ouch,” to scent away the stench.
As dutiful servants rush out with vats of water to douse and clean the Czar, the aerial pair departs the Palace to return to Moscow.
(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