by Raji Singh
Fiction House’s internationally renowned and imitated business endeavor of the 1890’s, ‘Engage a Bovine’: It all started when my Russian immigrant Great Grandmother Shelva Fiction queried Captain Polly who was tightrope walking the clothesline as they strung wet laundry.
* * *
Shelva hangs the clothes while Polly pins them in place with her claw.
“Oh gootness, Polly Dear. What has become of mine sweet druzhyna husbant’s pants and shirts. We laundered and put them out to dry earlier this day? And my old housedress.” Shelva looks around. No sign of the clothing. Worry lines crinkle out from her mouth and eyes. “Vhat pray tell has become of the shawl I washed? It was a precious gift from the Czar.”
Captain Polly, her plumage a glistening opaque in Poppy Sol’s glare from on high, bounces on the clothesline. She opens her beak wide, and screeches, “Braak! Hang the Czar. From Moscow’s highest dome!”
Poppy Sol seems to wink clairvoyantly as a skinny cloud briefly blinks his light. ‘Indeed so, My Dear Bird. Just you wait.’
“Shush, Captain Polly,” Shelva orders. The Royal Family has spies even thousands of miles from Mother Russia.”
Shelva’s gaze drifts toward the distant pasture, disbelieving what she suddenly sees. “Vhat in the worlt’? Now what is our Efraim Ephraim up to? Is he fitting mine druzhyna’s trousers onto the Heifer? And vhat is that the Guernsey wears? My old dress, and… Oh, no I cannot believe it. The Czar’s shawl is around her neck!”
“Hang the Czar! Hang the Czar!”
They quickly finish their chore. Captain Polly flies alongside Shelva as they hurry to Efraim.
“Vhat has got into you, Efraim Ephraim. Remove those clothes. Immediately.”
Efraim scratches his head, confused. “Now Mz. Shelva. You specifically told me to find a good use for these.”
“I meant, Efraim, for you to find someone, human, who is in need of them. Or for you to donate them to charity. Now, about the shawl! One of my most precious things. Oh, how could you, Efraim?” She removes it from around the cow. The four-leg beast moos in displeasure of losing something so colorful, so silky soft, so still sweet smelly from dried in fragrant wash soap.
Efraim scratches the whisker stubble on his chin. “But Mz Shelva. You throw your shawl on the ground and stomp it every time you mention the Czar.”
“That is why it is so precious, Efraim. I hated it from the very day the Czar presented it to me as a little girl. But Papa said I must accept. Foo on the Czar, I say. If I don’t have the Czar to grind under my heel, at least I have… Ach! Don’t you get me started on that fiend, Efraim.
“Why the duds? Why the duds?” interrupts Captain Polly.
Efraim glares at Captain Polly, angry at her for changing the subject and breaking Shelva’s Czar tangent. It might have kept him from explaining his bizarre behavior, which is a simple strategy to keep from having to do the milking so often.
Shelva says, “Indeed, Efraim. I insist you answer!”
Like a schoolboy caught in a mischievousness, Efraim kicks at the green pasture grass and avoids Shelva’s stare. He raises his arms skyward. “Day after day, Mz. Shelva. The milk. It never stops! I have nightmares when I sleep, that I drown in a sea of milk.” Embarrassed he’s revealed his emotions in front of the mistress of the Fiction House; Efraim stuffs his hands into his pockets and looks to her sheepishly. “I just can’t keep up with all the milking, Mz. Shelva. I thought I heard Doc once say that keeping warm helps slow the metabolism. Thus my dressing them.”
“Ach! What nonsense.”
“Nonsense!” echoes Captain Polly.
Efraim’s avoiding stare shifts upward to the blue sky and he says, as if pleading to an all seeing, all knowing Poppy Sol. “But what can I do?”
Shelva’s eyes light up. “Efraim. I have an idea that combines the bests of Russia and the bests of mine new Amerika. We share with everyone the bounty of the cow: the milk, cream, butter, cheese, yogurt, curds and whey – the Russian way it will be when the Czar is gone and the people rejoice.” She throws down the shawl and steps on it, grinds it with her heel, kicks it.
The Guernsey joins in the Pasture Revolution and stomps it with her hoof. Captain Polly, who has been perching on a fence post swoops down, picks up the garment, and drapes it like a flag from the cow’s horns. “Braak! A cow of the people.”
Shelva ignores Captain Polly’s bravado and polemics.
“We mix the Russian way with the Amerika way, Efraim. We rent the cows out so people can do their own milking. They get enough to supply themselves, and their comrades.”
“Braak!” chimes in Captain Polly. “The American way. The Russian way. Braak!”
* * *
~ ~ The bovines are stripped of their raiment and the herd strolls happily naked in their lush pastures like all proud proletariat creatures. They provide milk happily ever after in surplus abundance, contented that they too do their part for the egalitarian masses.
~ ~ Shelva continues daily to stomp the Czar’s shawl and dream of the day she will one day make a return visit to her beloved Mother Russia.
~ ~ Captain Polly’s rabble rousing grows bolder each day. She soapboxes through the air spouting and squawking her Pasture Revolution. “More milk! Braak! Drown the Czar in your milk!”
~ ~ Shelva’s ‘Russian-American Way’ is the perfect detente for Efraim. Never will he have to touch another udder in his life. He has only to smile and happily accept the coins and dollars the masses slip into his hands to do their own milking.
Oh yes, he continues dressing cows. But they are miniature cows he carves, in all his free time between taking the money. He parlays his not quite fetish-hobby into another successful enterprise, selling them mail order to men throughout America, Europe, Asia, and even parts of Russia. They hang them from the mirror rear views of their carriages, carts, and rickshaws.
(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.)
©2014 Raji Singh