by Raji Singh
Taking a break from Shelva’s stories of old Russia.
Here is a short holiday excerpt from my novel, Tales of the Fiction House, now in trade paperback.
Cincinatti, July 4, 1826
The Cincinnati wharf-shack sways in a light breeze. Close your eyes, you’ll think you’re drifting out to sea. But Carper’s are open and he glares at Laza Bones’ wanted poster and Laza Bones glares back. Carper asks Mariner as they eat upon tabletop Turt. “The sweet little baby Bontez really grew up to be that – ‘thing’?”
“Yessuh, he did.”
Laza Bones ‘grrrs,’ at Carper, pulls out ‘trusty blaubuster’ and shoots. ‘BAM! BAM!’ Flouted barrel smokes. Wharf-shack rattles. Carper ducks. Projectiles ‘ziinngg’ off Turt’s shell, ricochet with a ‘tiinngg’ off wall-leaning Harpoon, deflects straight at Ol Tom, who leaps, ‘MEE-OWW-OWW-OWW,’ straight up from Mariner’s shoulder.
Mariner just keeps chowin’ chowder and talin’ tales and explorin’ Turt’s tattoos.
Turt, he’s really only yawning.
Ol Tom, just napping.
“The whoppers we conjure up in our imaginin,’ eh Carper,” Mariner says. “They make for some right good tellin ‘bout to others. Bet yer imaginin’ a whale-of-a-tale now.”
Carper glances at the poster, board-stiff.
The gunfire is real. It’s outside. Old Cincinnati’s tower bells begin tolling midnight. People are whooping, shouting, running wildly about.
‘AHEM! AHEM!’ Thibidioux’s alive again and he’s prying into the worlds of others. Slyly he grins at Carper. ‘After hearin’ mah story, dontcha’ feels sorry fer me, boy?’
Carper thinks he sees the evil sneer of King Creole on Thibidioux’s face. ‘Not one bit, Laza Bones. Don’t know how you got how you did. Only knows you did. N, that’s that. I’ll jus be like the Mariner, and ignores yer hair-trigger ways.’ Carper refreezes him, and, with little boy impetuousness, glances out the wharf-shack’s porthole and becomes transfixed by the doins’.
“Nuf a my jaw-jackin, Laddie,” Mariner says. ‘Good, the boy’s seein’ more than what’s right in front of ‘ims.’ He scratches chin stubble. “This tiny ship’s not big enough to net in all your thoughts and dreams, hmm Carper.”
Carper gazes out the round, 19th century version of a television to the world. Turt joins, then Ol Tom awakens and with his Cyclops eye, he does too. “Well all right,” Mariner says, rising to pull a raggedy curtain as if pushing an off button. It barely closes and they continue peeking out. Mariner strokes Carper’s hair, pats the nape of Turt’s ropey neck, then tickles Ol Tom.
“All that hoopin’, hollerin’. It’s turned Independence Day, Carper. Country’s independence as well as yourens’. Probably the first one you’ll remember. What say we make it real tootin’ special. Takin’ a part in it. Not just watchin’. Yes-sir-ree! 1826 America. This great lands a’ enterin’ its second 50 years and two of its great makers are still ‘akicken: Tom Jeffers… and Johnny Adams.”
Mariner takes a wooden crate from his sea trunk. He tosses a glob of matches atop the conical and stick-like contents. “China-man gave me these when I docked Singapore. We’ll light up the Cincinnati sky right well to celebrate.” He picks up tiny American flags mounted on pencil-like sticks. “I got it Carper. What this stodgy ol city needs is a parade. We four ‘ll start it. The gaul-dondest’ a parades.”
That captures Carper, Tom, and Turt’s spirit. Carper observes the old salt. Aglow like crystal are his eyes, showing his excitement. It’s worth more than any gold.
“Blow the horns and git set. The si-reen, she’s abeckonin’. Time to hoist anchor.”
Turt trumpets. Ol Tom mews, and Carper claps hands as a seal he’d once seen in pictures.
“All aboard,” Mariner orders. Ol Tom leaps on his shoulder. Mariner lifts Carper to his other shoulder then climbs atop Turt. He leans the fireworks crate between his legs and the back of Turt’s head. Turt exits the shack and trumpets shrilly, excitedly down the pier then soon, onto a street. Ol Tom screeches as torturously as he would if he were perched on a fence wailing to virginal felines.
Carper sings made-up songs with words he’d heard Mariner say. “America, America, Tom Jeffers and Johnny Adams. America, America. Yessirree we’re still a tootin’ and akicken’. 50 years and for always.”
Crowds gather along wooden sidewalks. They cheer the motley paraders.
You see their faces. They glisten in the streetlamps’ glitter and look wondrous with joy. And they are looking at you. Smiling. You know, by a fresh, new, and keen instinct, that you are bringing them this joy. It makes you, the floundering Carper, happy.
Mariner lights fireworks then holds them above his head for launch. ‘POW!’ Earth is stinking sulfur smoke, but the sky explodes into a glittering bouquet of red, white, and blue.
You feel more and more of your sorrowful pain slipping, disappearing, into the colors. You hear a soft voice that comes from amongst them. ‘Bonnie boy – live forever with this joy you now feel.’ Embers from the wilting colors seem soft fingers, wiping your tears of joy.
More sky bouquets. Onlookers line up behind your fours’ parade. Hootin’, hollerin’, shootin’,and fireworkin’ continue on down the street. The crowd joins in your child’s simple ditty. “America, America, Tom Jeffers, Johnny Adams…”
You learn from this that if you speak, people will listen to you – enjoy what you have to say.
And, on this day, little does Carper realize – BORN, is a showman.
The parade, introducing boy to world, exhilarates Mariner. He has chosen so much joy in a life that began so ill fated, yet he considers this his happiest time. Boy seems to have made ancient, young again. Mariner’s hopin’ he can teach every of life’s lessons he’s learned, to him.
Ol Tom ignores the fal-de-ral. He’s had a lifetime of cheering crowds among the swabbies, every time he’s cleared a pack of rats from a ship. Warm milk, an albacore head, and a soft warm feline brought on deck at the next port are the rewards he’s craved.
Turt cranes his neck high like a ship’s mast. He’s the vessel, sailing his friends through an ocean of people. Today, much as for the Carper, this is the beginning of a new life for Turt. The joy he found in old friend Kunta, then in Mariner and Carper, is now suddenly emanating from all those surrounding them. Decades of hatred of two-legs melts away. He suddenly realizes – it seems so simple now – all he has to do is to just let the hatred go, loosen fin-claw and SWOOSH! Forever, his burden – banished.
He blares out his pride of being a trumpeting creature, louder than ever.
As he does, the crowd’s cheers for he and his mates, boom. “INDEPENDENCE FOR ALL.”
Turt makes his vow this day – to forever care for the Carper, and for those he cares.
Cincinnati’s first annual Fourth of July parade begins with these four – unlikelys. The country will remember the half-centennial – bitter sweetly. On this day, the country-makers Tom and Johnny will die within hours of one another. Cincy will remember it for the shelled ship, its stooped, ancient Mariner captaining it with his one-eyed first mate and the little singing boson.
When the city celebrates the centennial 50 years hence, every blauhard ‘tween ages of 15 and 60 will have stories to tell how they or relative rode along. In 100 years, giant floating balloons and wheeled floats will depict Turt, Carper, Mariner, and Ol Tom in the first parade. In 150, at the Bicentennial, Presidents, future Presidents, and also-rans will be seen buttonholing voters – claiming Tom, Johnny and the original 4 paraders all would have supported them.
Turt will be at each of these events – watching from the Ohio River, maybe a secluded park, or, quite conspicuous in the crowds’ midst – though quite invisible midst the hundreds of concrete or styrofoam Turt replicas. He always returns. He will be at the next you can bet.
With this first parade Carper’s reputation as fixture on the streets and piers of Cincinnati – it is set. No more is he a ‘bastaad son-of-a nickel-a-night whure’, but, friend to nearly all, with words for them that are listened-to, revered, because he’ll have gleaned wisdom at the pulpit of the Mariner.
“This parade, she’s far from over. So don’t be a leavin’ yet,” shouts Mariner.
You smile. So do all the parade watchers, who’ve become paraders.
©2012 Raji Singh (Tales of the Fiction House)
(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