by Raji Singh
A curious letter to the editor appeared in the Moscow Times-Oppressor on May 1, 1895 under this banner headline:
‘BRAMBLE SURFING FOR SUMMER AND FUTURE OLYMPIC WINTER GAMES?’
The query by my great grandmother, Shelva Fiction, a Moscow immigrant to Cincinnati, U.S.A, came in the form of a detailed proposal. She postulated:
‘If ever there was a first-ever most extreme sport to include in these first modern-day Olympics, this, my Mother Russia, is it. I would be willing to lead a team to Athens…’
Her earnest though unconvincing letter is of little relevance to its reader 120 years later. But g-grama Shelva’s personal account of how she comes to discover the sport’s ultimate thrill makes for seat-of-the-skirt, edge-of-the-bramble board reading. We at Fiction House Publishing discovered her original accounting in the archives while doing archeo-apology work.
A side note: When notified the 2014 winter games would be in Sochi, Russia, we sent a copy of her letter to the Sochi Olympic Bureau, hoping to generate interest in adding Bramble Surfing to their menu of sports.
Unfortunately, their definitive one-word reply was, “NYET!”
Hear now, Shelva’s accounting. Enjoy!
* * *
Mine husbant, mine sweet druzhyna may be a doctor, still, all the women in my family back in Russia insist on a midwife. “So, I ask mineself – “Vy shoult I be different?”
(Note to yourself, Shelva: You may sometimes talk like a gibbering greenhorn, young Mrs., but try to write clearly, like the famous American, newspaperwoman, and adventuress Nelly Bly.)
The midwife, an affable but formal Ohioan, gently pats my still-flat belly and looks softly into mine eyes. Her hand is warm, her words, caressing. “You are doing well, Mrs. Fiction. Just be sure you get enough exercise in the many coming months.”
“It is a lovely day. I will start now,” I tell myself, buttoning up my blouse and tucking it into my cotton skirt. I leave horse and shay near her house downtown. Our hired hand Efraim Ephraim can pick it up when he comes in for supplies. I walk – shank’s mare – the Amerikans call it – the three miles home. I remove my patent leather city shoes and put them in my purse. Summer’s heat-baked soil caresses my feet.
Ahh! So refreshing: Like my young girl treks through the gently rolling Vorobyovy Gory (Sparrow Hills) with Mother and brutter, Ivan.
By walking, I am able to notice for the first time, the seeming ocean of brambles overtaking the lush green land folds near the Fiction House. The dense, prickly vines twist and twine together, some 15 feet high at their crest. Their pin-sharp points are no longer than my pinky fingernail. Even their thumbnail-size leaves have little stickers.
Ach! So thick: To get to the sweet smelling fruit-berry yield, how could even a sly rabbit enter the brambles tangling morass?
“If not stopped,” I tell myself, “they will creep into mine bedroom window some dark night and strangle me in mine bed.” (Similar horror lore our Moscow cook, Vampira, told Ivan and me when we were small – about her Carpathian Mountain village. Her stories still give me nightmares. Even now in the bright sunlight, I shake a little from fear.)
“Efraim Ephraim,” I shout when I see him currying our nanny goat, Galena. Efraim: He’s always wiling away time with anything to detract from the thousand more important things needing doing. “What on earth, Efraim?” Before I can finish…
“Well it’s like this Mz. Shelva.” He hikes his britches, runs the comb through his chin hair then continues. “She’ll give a lot more milk if…”
I block out what he says until he finishes. It is easier to let his stream of tall tale run its course, then to hush him.
“Why are all these brambles here, Ephraim?”
“Doc Fiction brought ‘em from Lindia for special berry elixir.”
“Does he need so many?”
“Nope. It’s like this Mz. Shelva. Doc let ‘em grow wild. Seems he had a Dr. Heartfield on one side of the property as a neighbor. A Dr. McCoy, the other. They were always raiding his medicine supply when he was out. No honor ‘mongst some of them physicians you could say. The Lindian brambles kept ‘em at bay.”
“Is there any bit of truth in that, Efraim? I am not that green. Hatfield and McCoy. Surely!”
“They was here before your time Mz. Moved on when they couldn’t raid Doc Fiction’s patents no more.”
I retrieve lopping shears from the tool shed. “To work, Efraim.”
Efraim tries one more gambit to maintain the E-Z life. “What say we put all the goats to chawing and chewing. I’ll just bet they could handle it.”
“That won’t do Efraim. It would make their milk too sticky.”
I catch Efraim Ephraim off guard with my nonsense. For once, he is speechless. I take the goat by the horns and hand him the loppers. “This landscape needs a woman’s touch, and your muscles need developing beyond what currying provides. We’ll make the outside of the Fiction House look like my lovely Vorobyouy Gory.
Efraim looks at me crookedly then glance away quickly and shyly as if I’ve said something indecent about female anatomy.
“For gosh sakes, Mz. Shelva. You shouldn’t talk like that.”
“Feh, Efraim. To work!”
I return an hour later wearing durable country clogs so I don’t get stickers: Little progress do I see, though Efraim tries hard. A pile of rigid clothesline-diameter branches that he has cut – they razor into the ground. Dozens of little nicks and gouges stain his cheeks and arms red. An errant bramble, catches in Efraim’s wild black hair, encircling his head, making him appear gallantly ready for ancient crucifixion.
“Oh, no. This will never do,” I say.
“You’re right, Mz. Shelva.” Efraim grins, just a little too quickly. I realize, real as his sustained injuries are, they’re not too painful, and that Efraim most likely has embellished his appearance with the crown of thorns. He starts to mosey to the shade tree where I tethered Galena.
“Oh, no. This will never do,” I repeat. I take Efraim’s hand. “Come with me, sir.” My mind whirls. ‘How can we solve this sticky situation?’ We go to a storage shed. Suddenly an answer clicks into my thoughts.
“Take these boards to the bramble bushes Efraim.”
They are planks, about three feet in diameter and six feet long.
I lift one upright, and then lean it onto low growing brambles. As I begin to walk onto it, and slightly upward, the springiness of the plants makes me bounce lightly. Efraim’s eyes widen in surprise. “What are you doing?”
Ah, exercise, just like the midwife advised: Feels so refreshing.
“Hand me another board, Efraim.” He does. I extend my platform-path outward another six feet and upward slightly. I walk up it, and bounce as if I am on a trampoline. My heart beats faster as the board pushes the hardly-giving-in plants down ever slightly, yet evermore. Just as some women in my condition crave odd foods, I’m realizing that I’m craving excitement – of the extreme variety.
“Be careful, Mz. Shelva,” Efraim shouts. In the distance, Galena adds her “Nays”. Efraim’s arms twirl like windmill blades as he signals me to come down.
“We’ll lay the brambles flat. One board at a time. Then you and Sir Winston (the mule) can plow them out, Efraim. Hand me up another board.” Befuddled about what to do, he grants my request.
Another and another. Nearly breathless, I reach the crest. I’ve pushed it down, from 15 feet high to ten feet. I stand straight. My breathing is deep and powerful. My heart races. I raise my hands over my head.
Queen of my world!
I bounce, springing high above the board nearly a foot and a half: Sweet freedom of the open sky. Captain Polly flies to and lights on my shoulder. She whispers. “Aark! Now you know how I feel while soaring, Shelva.”
What happens next is scary and exhilarating all at once. The potential energy of the bunched brambles turns kinetic. The thick springing-loose vines push back at the board I am on. I’m instantly lifted five feet. “Whee! Oh, no! Any control I once felt, vanishes. Captain Polly clutches painfully into my shoulders and flaps her wings, as if to balance me, to keep me from falling into the even more painful, clutching brambles. On the ground, nothing Efraim can do but echo Galena’s no – nays.
Suddenly, from the berries being crushed and making things slick, the board with me on it begins sliding, surfing downward. There I am, bending, crouching to stay on it. I extend my arms to steady myself. I maneuver the board this way and that, in smooth semi-circles, to keep myself upright.
I travel ten, fifteen, thirty, fifty feet.
I imagine I am on an ocean wave, riding to shore, the bramble stickers, sharp sharks’ teeth readying to devour me. Am I crazy? I love it. I twist, turn, feel like doing a somersault. If I did, I just know I’d land feet first on the board and continue my wild ride. Captain Polly echoes me as she holds tight. “Whee! Ooh! Ride it Shelva. Ride it on down.” The pain of her talons no longer bothers me. Any fear of falling into a prickery netherworld disappears. All that is there for me is the ride, the wild trip downward into oblivion and heaven all at once.
Has even my heroine and idol, Nelly Bly, ever known such adventure.
“Wait until winter,” I excitedly tell myself: “When my bramble slope ices over with snow. Then I’ll put my Russian skiing expertise to the ultimate test.
“Maybe invite Nelly up to my slopes.”
(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, (Kindle and Trade Paperback) and Barnes and Noble.)
©2014 Raji Singh