By Raji Singh
Here’s an 1820’s tale about my great-great-grandfather, the Carper. (An excerpt from Tales of the Fiction House)
* * *
Mariner spins and spins for Carper. Next tale, “Pharaoh’s daughter, the beautiful Princess, she discovers baby Moses agrowin’ ‘mongst the Nile’s bulrushes and reeds. He’s a mighty foundlin’. Sproutin up, leadin ‘is people through torturous deserts to freedom. Still leadin em yet today.”
Carper’s eyes spark. “Still?”
Mariner nods. “So jus’ maybe you’ll grow up to do some leadin’ of yer own.” He strokes Carper’s face. His crinkly lines of melancholy begin disappearing. “N’ then Carper, there’s Romulus and Remus. Foundlin’ twins suckled to survive by mama she-wolf in a grassy valley of seven hills. Them boys went on to found the great city, ROME, twixt those hills. I ported there dozens a times. Bee-youtiful’ Carper. You’ll go there one day.”
Carper’s eyes spark.
Mariner picks a couple of ratty-tatty books from the shelf and opens them to pictures of ‘M’ in the bulrushes and ‘R’ and ‘R’ at the teats.
Carper’s imagination is entree into the pages. Escape to imagination begins washing away the GLUMS. The tunnel begins shrinking, then, zap, like that, disappears.
Carper wades out to meet Moses. Princess lifts the future prophet, but wait – a cratered old gator is sliding their way. His vibrating growls quake the pages. The Princess’ delicate gold bracelets and necklace chime as they brush her silken gown. Growl isn’t from the gator. His snout is closed. Carper glances out from the pages, to the wanted poster. Laza Bones Thibidioux turns Adonis-side profile and shows his mangled gator side. He’s the growler. He peers at the helpless trio retreating to shore.
He snorts, ‘Git em ol Uncle. Feast on der bones den toss one out ta yer kin.’
Uncle ratchets mouth, snaps inches from Princess’ waist. Her golden belt rips away and tangles in his pointy teeth. Looking victim to an overzealous ancient dentist Unc leaps above water. ‘CHOMP!; Just misses swaddled Moses.
Carper uproots a rigid reed, taller than he is. He parries, thrusts, as he did battling Turt. He realizes what he must do to save Moses, but not the same thing that saved him from Turt. With free hand, he plucks another reed. He slaps Uncle Gator’s snout with one while jabbing with the other. Unc winces, but he’s a comer.
‘Git that Carper, Uncle,’ Laza Bones shouts.
Carper lets him get just so close, then rams reed between Uncle’s upper and lower jaw. It sticks, holding open snout. Squealing, frightful noises no Princess should ever hear! She covers ears. Carper, to the rescue. To give her majesty time to get away he begins spinning the uncle like a bottle, pushing him to shore. He upends him with the reed as he did Turt with Harpoon. He stands triumphant atop flopping reptile. Poised rigidly with reed he looks a miniature of Mariner’s ‘Poseidon with trident’ picture.
‘Curse you Carper,’ shouts Laza Bones Thibidioux.
Suddenly Carper finds himself watching from a few pages on as loving wolf mother nurses Romulus and Remus. A galloping gator descends a hill and heads toward the unsuspecting trio. ‘Git em Auntie,’ shouts Thibidioux. ‘Keill the beetch and adopt the boys fer yeren’ own. Haul em back to the bayou where dey can be learned the swamp things that’ll let em rule the world.’
No reed. No harpoon. Carper knows he must make do. He looks about barren valley. He spies a ropey snake and grabs it. Auntie lunges. He snaps snake like a whip, coiling it around her snout. (Just like Kunta did to save the Reverend at the river, James lauds. Maybe Carper and Kunta met somewhere along the way?) Carper loads Romulus and Remus onto mother’s back. She smiles thanks, R & R gurgle, and off to safety they ride.
‘GRR,’ Thibidioux growls. His teeth chatter as terbaccy stick he chews sticks in his craw. He chokes it out. “Ye’s not seen de las a me’s, mon fishboy.’
Carper exits the book.
The GLUMS! Gone. But remnants remain. Carper shakes; cries out. “I’m not Moses. Not the twins. You tell me I’m Carper. But I know I’m not. Who’m I Mariner?”
Turt cranes neck so his calming, hypnotic eyes are parallel to Carper’s. ‘Relax Carper. Breathe slow, deep. Count the twinkling starfish as they swirl.’
Ol Tom purrs, gently slipping his head to Carper’s cheek.
Mariner squints. “You have to be someone son. Least for a while. Up to me to help that along, til you can decide who you be. I didn’t just pluck your name from the sea. I named you after one of the noblest foundlings of all time, the renowned Carpier of Lindia, a great poet and storyteller who inspired his people. He led them to freedom of not only body, but of spirit.”
‘Carpier?’ James, too questions, right along with his great-great grandfa. I know that name.’ James stands invisibly next to Carper. Their shoulders rub, but neither feels other.
“Patience. I’ll be spoutin ‘a the Carpier right soon.” Mariner rights up the slouching boy.
Suddenly Mariner begins peering over to the space – where James ain’t. He whooshes his hand, right through James.
For a moment, James thinks he can read Mariner’s thoughts, ‘You be there, but a haint you ain’t. I’ll untangle that mystery knot.’
Then Mariner continues talk with Carper. “In Carpier you have a great legacy to live up to. But I saw right away when I fished you from under that cart that you got it in you.”
Mariner runs fingers over Turt’s shell as a sea captain would a globe. He stops at a thin, turbaned man. “I tried my hand at carvin’ one time. Carved Carpier, sittin lotus-leg next to Kunta’s village. He’s tellen ‘em tales to make their days go easier since they lost their beloved Kunta to the slavers. He’s tellen em, ‘Kunta forever resides now with their ancestors in Polaris’.”
Mariner looks back over at James. Again, James is deciphering Mariner’s thoughts, ‘I’s sure you taint a haint. Just as sure as I knows you ain’t the Carpier; ‘cause I knows the Carpier. Say, are you the little Kunta returnin’ from his restin-place Polara for a spell?’
You want to break down time barriers and shout the surprise: ‘Kunta’s growed and alive, Mariner. A ropin’,’ariling downriver.’ Sure wish some way I could let you know that.
(To see Part I of the Glums, go to Post No. 162.)
(Read more of Carper’s tale in the novel, Tales of 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.)
©2012 Raji Singh
©2015 Raji Singh (New Material)