By Raji Singh
From the Fiction House Archives…
I am James Thaddeus ‘Blackjack’ Fiction – a true Fiction. Typhoon tears me from my parents. I alone survive. I become an orphaned foundling, taken in by new loving parents, Dr. Ben and Indira Singh. Now, I am Raji. These are my found and foundling tales.
I. The Tragedy
We are left writhing by roadsides or under trees. We are dumped in trash heaps. We are cradled in now rigor mortised but once tender arms of parents killed by war, plague, inferno, flood, or scores of other tragedies.
We are the foundlings.
Around this big world, we, the tiniest, are the most helpless. We are abandoned to the whims of the elements, animals, sometimes, worst of all, to the wrath of humans.
We come into the lives of others naked, or nearly so. Those other babes and toddlers in our predicament, thousands, maybe millions – no one knows – most never survive.
Sometimes wild animals nurse, feed, protect and raise us as their own.
How do we cope? How do we survive our beginnings then thrive? Through the goodwill of others, by mere chance, but finally and ultimately, by fantasy we spin in our feral yet developing minds. As we grow, unbeknownst to those around us, we retreat to a blissful make-believe of serendipity and lark to keep us sane so we can flourish in a life in which we are given a second chance.
Now cometh our stories and those of whom help and hinder us – our, Tales of the Fiction House. For all those ‘WE,’ of whom I am one, now do I speak for they have beckoned me to do so — Raji Singh
II. The Lark
Little Known Famous Foundling Facts (LKFFF)
A. MOSES: (nicknamed ‘Nile’s Basket Boy’ by his intimates) Ancient publisher. Initiated move away from cumbersome tablets, to innovative strains of lightweight papyrus rolls.
B. JAMES THADDEUS ‘BLACKJACK’ FICTION: aka ‘The Carper’ 19th century publisher (FICTION HOUSE) and abolitionist. Popularized the now banned (yet still-practiced underground) ‘sport’ of gloved, Cat Boxing along the Ohio.
C. LIL’ TOM – alias ‘Puss ‘N Gloves’: First and foremost of the cat boxers. Two of his three gloved, posing posters are known to exist. Hoped for third: whereabouts a puzzle; is considered the “Holy Grail” of the Cat Boxing collectibles. Estimated value if found, in even fair condition – TWO MILLION DOLLARS.
III. The Triumph
(Here is my four-year-old great-great-grandfather’s triumphant foundling beginnings.
In 1826, he’s taken into a crusty ancient mariner’s riverside wharf shack. )
“This is Ol Tom, Carper. Ol Tom, this is Carper.”
Ol Tom raises paw in welcome and the boy instinctively takes it.
“Ol Tom,” Carper quietly says.
“Meow.” The sleek, one-eye gray feline looks approvingly over their guest then leaps to his usual perch, Mariner’s stooped left shoulder.
“He likes ya Carper. If he didn’t he’d been out the door. He can tell a young sailor who’s worth his salt,” Mariner says, stroking the cat’s glistening fur. Ol Tom is handily the cleanest thing in the wharf-shack. A bed of greasy straw and a seldom-used tub for washing is on one side; a chair that long ago lost its stuffing, the other. Sailor clutter- periscope, scrimshaw, bottled ship, swamps the top of a rotting bureau. Conch shells are all about. Dominating the middle of the room is a bottomless bucket over a hole in the floor – toilet to the river. Surrounding it are piles of corncobs and wrinkly newspapers.
“Ol Tom’s a Cincy legend. Fathered most of the cats on these docks, he did. Nears I can tell, not done yet. I reels him in as a young stray, just like I did you. Hiszen’ line will one day rule this fairen’ city. How ‘bout you boy? Got ideas liken that for youren’ self?”
Mariner’s look locks Carper’s; makes Carper feel an equal. As he prattles, Mariner goes to stir bubbling clam chowder he had put on a small coal-burning stove earlier in the morning. He sweeps dried peas off a rickety wooden table. Carper listens to their hypnotizing ‘tick, tick, tick’ as they spatter to the floor, then ‘blip, blip, blip’ into the Ohio.
He is in a daze. Barely can he feel or sense as Mariner half-sings – half-bellows. “Time ta swab yer deck, Matey. Gotta be ship-shape for galley call.” With a wet washrag he mops the boy clean. Where once was soot, emerges sparkling ivory skin. Where ashen sameness of shape existed, appears definition – lithe fingers, willowy legs and arms, sharp shoulders, carnation pink cheeks reflecting in charcoal-hue eyes. “Handsome lad ya are,” he barks, brushing soot from Carper’s straight, black hair. Mariner’s resolve hardens. “No do-gooders’ll get our Carper into an orphanage. Eh, Ol Tom?”
Ol Tom adjusts his-self to his comfort level on Mariner’s shoulder and winks good eye, inches from ship-shack master. “Meeeooow.”
Mariner ladles two bowls. Carper runs to one, sits, and devours. Mariner layers the Cincinnati Daily Opine on the stove as a chopping block. He whacks off his catch’s head and tosses it on the floor. As Ol Tom leaps for it, begins batting it around between bites, the famished boy pushes away empty bowl and begins on the other.
“Eat your fill son. None go hungry here.”
Carper pulls a red silk handkerchief from his pocket and wipes his chin. Mariner breathes the silk’s sweet perfume. He knows the scent, but from where? Then, as he tosses the carp into a salt bucket to preserve until dinnertime, he notices an artist-rendered picture of a woman in the newspaper. He wipes away fish blood and squints closer at it, then at Carper. He sees the resemblance. Instantly he knows from whence the handkerchief came.
Mariner knows-from now on, this must be the boy’s new port of call.
 LKFFF: There is a famous marble statue in Cincinnati’s main library – a one-eyed cat reading a book. It’s been in different locations in the city for over a century and a half. Its origin is unknown.
Carper will grow up to become James Thaddeus ‘Blackjack’ Fiction, publisher and abolitionist. (See picture)
(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. My novel is available at Amazon, (Kindle and Trade Paperback) and Barnes and Noble.)
©2013 Raji Singh