by Raji Singh
In this season of feasting and celebration, a lot of readers have been asking for the Stump Juice posting. From the Fiction House archives, here it is!
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My orphaned foundling great-great grandfather, James Thaddeus ‘Blackjack’ Fiction, was taken in and raised by a scraggly ancient mariner. ‘Mariner’ himself was an orphan. He relayed many-a-tale to Blackjack. They’ve been passed through the generations.
Here is Mariner meeting a renowned new land-mate, Dr. Benjamin Franklin.
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A FOREST ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF PARIS ON A WARM SUNNY DAY: THE 1780’s.
A friendly shout out: “Bonjuur Musuur!” Tinging the words is a sophisticated Massachusetts, America accent.
The ‘Musuur’s’ reply is in French, but it in such a thick Baastan, Mass. nasal throatiness that it is unrecognizable. It quickly changes to the unique U.S.A. version of English when Musuur Mariner, realizes who approaches. “Well, I’ll be a son-of-a-mermaiden. If it’s not the ol’ publicity hound, Benny Franklin. I heard tell aboard ship you were porting, pretty permanent-like here in Paree.”
Ambassador to France Franklin approaches Mariner, smiling. “I left the city for a quiet, contemplative walk; maybe find a pond to take a dip. Swum just about every day of my life I was able. Bet you didn’t know that about me?”
“Can’t say I did. Well, iffen that be the case we could of used you for life-savin’ at sea many a time.”
Franklin breathes deply, dramatically, as if he’s in a Shakespeare drama. “The pungency of the scent of your stump concoction beckons me, Kind Sir. Sweet, like the pastry shoppes of the Monmarte. What ingredient pray tell, gives it such – je ne sais quoi?”
“My stump juice has genay-se-what?” Mariner says. Then he just smiles as he puts a lid on a canister of powdered herbs and roots to keep the mixings for his recipe a secret.
“Smart American man of business, you are, not giving away anything.” Franklin congratulates. “ You must have read and absorbed all the lessons of my Poor Richard’s Almanac.” He takes a monogrammed handkerchief with his face printed on it from the pocket of his waistcoat. Wiping sweat from his brow, he holds up the handkerchief, and says, “Quite handsome likeness, don’t you think? I sell thousands of theses little ditties in Paris shops alongside other Franklin souvenirs – teacups, saucers, toiletries.”
The lean but muscular Mariner puts aside his stirring branch and shakes Franklin’s outstretched hand. Each man winces, surprised by the other’s strength. Mariner looks up at the golden winged butterfly that lights lithely on his sailor’s cap. “And this, Doc, is my friend Calico. She’s patron saint to foundlings like me. I was left on the doorsteps of a Boston orphanage nigh on two decades back. Calico’s been lookin’ after me ever since. She’s flyin’ a little crooked today from the stump nectar. That’s just fine. Every guardian needs a break, now and then.”
Franklin bows. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Madam Calico. Your friend, the Mariner, looks quite familiar to me, Madam. For the life of me, I just cannot place him.” He adjusts his bifocals and closely examines Mariner’s face, high cheekbones, and deep black eyes. He remembers his oh so lusty forays in Boston over 20 years back. A possibility plays jovially in his thoughts. ‘Let’s see, there was Betsy, Molly, and Dolly… No he just can’t be my…’
Mariner is thinking, as he studies the man over 50 years his senior. ‘Les see. He needs a walking stick. His gout-ed foot’s ‘a bandaged. Yet he’s got a clam’s grip of a handshake, like he’s still a young Turk. And he’s hardly a wrinkle. The colonies can’t fail at inderpendence with the likes of him looking out for us.’
Mariner asks the Ambassador. “Say, what’s that creature living on your head, Benny? I think I could catch a shark, maybe a whale, with it for bait.”
Franklin crescents a wry smile. “They’re all the rage of Paris society, my good Mariner. Everyone wants one of Benjamin Franklin’s beaver pelt caps. Can’t get them shipped from our frontier lands fast enough. You too, my good man, could become a Paris elite – via my skills at promoting, IF that juice-de-stumpe of yours is as sumptuous as it smells. And, if we can work a trade. Here, have my chapeau, as a good faith deposit.” Mariner removes his sea cap and Calico flits to Banjamin’s shoulder as Mariner doffs the Beaver.
Mariner clicks his tongue against the roof of his mouth and admires his reflection in the transluscent stump juice. “The fine loidies of Monmarte would think me quite a dandy, I’m just sure of it. We’ve got a trade. And, for good measure kind suh, with this batch you’ll be getting something extry and unexpected – that something down New Orleans way they call a ‘Lenyap’. All courtesy of the healer who invented this recipe, my old gal Mama Lucy. Thanks to her stump elixir-slickens, you’ll be seeing a rapid improvement on that gout, then a healing.”
Mariner ladels out a tankard for Franklin. He sips, grins, “AAH, delicious,” and adds, “so how long you in port for sailor? I just may have a proposition not only of mutual benefit to you and me, but also for the future of the colonies. What with the Mama’s recipe, my promoting, and your brewing juice-de-stumpe, Mariner, all Paris will be at our feet.”
NEXT WEEK: ‘THIS COULD BE THE BEGINNING OF A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP.’
(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