MOTHER’S DAY MAGIC

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction
‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’
These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House.
I cannot refuse.
(Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

by Raji Singh

In honor of our mothers, from the archives of The Fiction House…

I am James Thaddeus Fiction, the Fifth – a true Fiction. Typhoon tears me from my mother and father on board a sinking ferry near the Lindian coast. A thousand minus one perish. I alone survive. I become an orphan foundling, taken in by new loving parents Dr. Ben and Indira Singh. Now I am Raji. These are my found and foundling tales.
*      *      *
MY THREE MOTHERS

She was well over 100 when I was still a little boy.
I am not even sure I met her, though I am told I did.
Yet my memories of her, my Russian immigrant great grandmother Shelva Fiction, they are vivid as the two mothers who raised me. My memories of Shelva come from letters and stories ‘Mother’ Shelva composes throughout her lifetime:

She tucks the writings away in obscure hiding places in the Fiction House.

Who can say why?

Securely they wait, until I discover them.

The find, purely by accident?

“No,” Tenille tells me, as we sit in front of the fireplace on a still brisk May evening – Mother’s Day. “Fate led you to them, Raji. In spirit, she was watching over you, leading you to them.”

Here now is how Shelva accomplished this mystical feat – on a magical Mother’s Day, of the previous year.

Shelva Fiction: One of my Three Mothers

* * *

It’s late. Luny Mum is full. Dark clouds drifting by occasionally obscure her orb. Scarlet-hued rays streamed ominously from Poppy Sol before he retired for the evening. Tenille and our children are asleep upstairs. It is quiet. Other than a squeaky floorboard, or rattling water pipe, the grand rambling Fiction House is so peaceful this time of night. I am drawn to Shelva’s portrait gracing an alcove. I cannot say why, maybe I’m under a spell or in a trance.

Shelva’s a smooth-cheeked brunette, her neck thin and willowy. She’s stately as any Czarina. The flash of her blue eyes radiates against her glowing olive skin. Ageless, I cannot tell if she’s 25 or 45 when she posed Breathing, deeply, I think I smell borscht and caviar, her favorite repasts: Maybe she and the artist noshed midst the sitting, and now a tangy beet-earth scent and a wisp of the sea life permanently saturate the canvas.

I crank her old oak Victrola, and turn the volume low so I won’t wake anyone. The only ones aroused are the spirits of old Russia as the soft strains of balalaika music sift around me. Suddenly and for no reason the music spikes.

The noise – like a thousand Cossacks crowding me, doing a foot-clapping kazatsky dance.

Fortunately, the doors upstairs are closed. No one stirs.
Shelva’s portrait tilted slightly from the vibration.     The tilting, along with Luny Mum’s obscuring shadows make it look like Shelva’s mouth moves. It must be my imagination, but I hear her say, “I’ve been waiting for you for a long time Raji. Catch me as I make the leap into your world.”

Her portrait begins to teeter-totter, as if somehow it is unbalanced. Then I hear a fanning-shuffling, like a deck of cards. She falls toward me. As I hold her upright, hundreds of envelopes spew from around the back of the frame. They cover the floor.

The very first one I open is a word map, giving directions to her hiding places. Squirreled into nooks, crammed into crannies, filed behind false-paneled walls, I find more envelopes, containing what I’d describe as “word-hoards”.

Furiously, curiously, deliriously I read her tales of the Fiction House. They give me clues – as to who I am, and the history of forebears I never knew; and knowledge of all the residents, saints to sinners, whose lives helped mold me –

The Fiction House residents: Blackjack Fiction, Laza Bones Thibidioux, The Mariner, Kunta Kiinder, Efraim Ephraim, Captain Polly, Turt, Cecily Cobra, Luny Mum, Poppy Sol and all the others I’ve never met.

I sit on the floor and weep, in joy. For the first time since the ferry accident, I truly feel I am James Thaddeus Fiction – the Fifth, besides being Raji Singh.

I feel re-born –

As James.

Thank you great gra’ma, Shelva. Happy Mother’s Day.

Calico (©2013 Image by Joseph Rintoul)

Calico
(©2013 Image by Joseph Rintoul)

To me, an orphan foundling who knew little of his past, or the people he came from, it is Happy Birth Day.

(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. Learn more about Shelva in Shelva Fiction, available at Amazon.)

©2013 Raji Singh

©2014 Raji Singh

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Posted in archeo-apologist, Fiction House Publishing, humor, Short stories, whimsy, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A-TAX ON SYNTAX: HAPPY TAX WEEKEND

by Raji Singh

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction ‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’ These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House. I cannot refuse. (Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction
‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’
These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House.
I cannot refuse.
(Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

We’re in the Ides of April, National Poetry Month.

Here’s a little celebratory prose and verse,

To lighten the burden of the tax day curse.

It’s the 1890s. Fiction House’s hired hand, Efraim Ephraim, lounges alone in his cavernous Man Cave’s hot springs-hot tub. His moonshine still bubbles, almost in cadence to the burbles of the mineralized water. He lifts a jar of freshly dispensed crystal-clear White Lightening to his nose and sniffs. It has the same earthy bouquet of the plant root ingredients. He proudly toasts himself.

“My Dear Efraim, your recipe is unmatched.” He sips, and reconnoiters. “Ahh! An alcohol for the ages.

Angels would sing and dance in unheard of delight,

If on my special recipe they could get tight.

He tells himself, “I should send that ditty to Nellie Bly’s newspaper. They’d print it. On second thought, better not. Gov’ment men’d come and smash my Angel makin’ happy apparatus.”

Efraim contents himself on his reading material, a dilapidated 100-year old copy of Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack.

‘In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.’

“How right, your Almanacky is, dear Benny.” Efraim toasts the long-passed statesman, as if they were not only compatriots in philosophy, but also in their choice of ‘stump juice’.

A Perfect Vessel for Making Stump Juice (Photo by Mark Rogers, 2014)
A Perfect Vessel for Making Stump Juice
(Photo by Mark Rogers, 2014)
Inspired by Franklin’s adage verse, Efraim draws himself another jar of ‘the lightnen’ of the Seraphim’, and commences composing.

Revenuers keep away from my still.

Don’t make me witness your bitter, nectar destroyin’ drill.

You say, ‘No tax from your moonshinen’ do we accrue,

So, into the dirt must we dump your brew’.

The Angels will weep, Oh you Gov-ment men,

So ‘steada usin’ your axes for destructin’,

Join me in toast and drinkin’, Mine Frien’.

* * *

“The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time congress meets.” Will Rogers

(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.)

©2015 Raji Singh

Posted in archeo-apologist, Fiction House Publishing, humor, satire, Uncategorized, whimsy, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ST. PATRICK’S DAY TALE– RRROSE HEATHER, A DAUGHTER OF OL’ IRE-LAND

By Raji Singh

Just one of the 1,001 Tales residing for all eternity in the Fiction House.

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction ‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’ These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House. I cannot refuse. (Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction
‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’
These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House.
I cannot refuse.
(Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

(James is a four-year-old foundling.  His ill fate causes him to loose his memory.  Turt is a long-lived sort of giant turtle, ferrying James to safety in the Lindian woods. )

NOW COMES THE TALE OF JAMES’ FIRST MUSE

1966 – The Lindian Woods

James has the grandest view as he rides atop Turt: His butterflies play beneath the woodland’s vine canopy; treed monkeys screech, pointing at, scrutinizing the foreign flutterers; harmless blue-gold ground snakes retreat to behind bushes when Turt’s trip-hammer fin-claws ‘CLOMP’ close.

It is at this moment James looks to one side and sees – HER.

She wasn’t there moments before. So different then anyone he’s ever seen: Feather-laden hat, shoes that button at sides, and slender, not quite petite – so curvy in a rose-printed ankle-length dress. To keep within confines, continuously she boosts sleek bosom. Gleaming in the sunlight and separated by an emerald-jeweled shamrock brooch, those mounds seem, to the four year old, to encompass all of her.

But, ‘aah, her face.’ Hypnotizing.

“You are so pretty.”

‘So all the gents say, lad. I’ll not blush at the compliment. No innocent colleen, I.’

“What’s your name?”

‘I be Rrrose Heather, Jamie.’ Her R’s roll. Saucy brogue sways in cadence with swiveling hips as alongside travelers she tags. ‘Comes I from old Cincinnat’, via old Ire-land. Your and my bedrooms be adjacent one another, though separated by over a century.Remember blarney tales of me? No? How about of me’ friends Mariner, Carper?’ James’ face is blank.

Under The Kissing Tree: Where First I met Rrrose Heather (Image ©2014 Raji Singh)

Under The Kissing Tree:
Where First I met Rrrose Heather
(Image ©2014 Raji Singh)

(Carper is James’ great-great-grandfa, a foundling 140 years earlier.  Blackjack Fiction would one day build his publishing house on the site of Rrrose Heather’s burned bordello. Many years later, Dr. Fiction would add onto it for his clinic. )

‘Well we’ll keep company, handsome, and I’ll tell ya’. So one day ya’ be all-rememberin’.’

She stretches, tiptoe, for hanging moss. James’ eyes widen. She shields bosom. ‘Ooh, Lad! They almost leaped out: Can’t be lettin’ ya’ be glimspen’, now can I.’ She rubs James’ mosquito-bit legs with the moss. Cool, soothing. ‘Seen me Mariner use somethin’ like this for healin’. Works, suren’ it does.’

It is similar to the same green substance James has seen in vials in his father’s medical valise.

A feeling of joy suddenly brims within Turt. Because, out-of-nowhere he thinks of lovely, ageless, Rrrose Heather: Hasn’t seen her in a century. He breathes deep. Her floral scent swells his senses. Though he cannot see her, he is remembering, mesmerized by her sweeping black hair, the forever purplish-pink flower of cheeks from whence came name, Rrrose of the Heather.

Her face is lineless at 18 years or 80, eyes, weepy, smiling all at once. They glow, so blue, emblazoned with curiosity, knowledge, with an impassioned desire to fully partake of life’s pleasurable mysteries – which, she has.

Turt, he feels her presence, as if she was beside him, painting a heather-garlanded rose onto his shell as she had done so long ago. Though faded, its kiss, unlike so many of the other paintings on him, miraculously has withstood the ravages of sun, sea, and time. He saved her life, or had she, his? Neither really knew which. (But that’s adventure for another day.)

Turt hears James talk to her. He trumpets low. Will she hear my greeting?

Turt imagines she pets his head. Her touch is soft, warm.

James feels her fingers combing through his hair. He’s reminded of his…

‘Your mother, Jamie, nay could she be here. She sent me.’

“I don’t remember her, Rrrose Heather.” Gentle hands cup his cheeks.

‘Poor chil’. Course not. But see her in me. Though we be different – traveled such different paths – deep within, we are alike as twin shamrocks of a meadow. We both be women of the flesh business. Hers was in helping heal it, and me, in bringing it pleasure. Most-importantly, though, oh how we loved, fully. She; you and your fa. Me; Carper and the Mariner. And of course Turt…’ She strokes the flower on his shell.

Turt sighs. Thinking of Rrrose lightens his burdens.

Calico (©2013 Image by Joseph Rintoul)

Calico
(©2013 Image by Joseph Rintoul)

‘…and I loves’ ya’, Jamie; and young Master Jamie will come to love his Rrrose. I’ll be here when ya’ need me. Just as my sister Calico is.’ She opens palm. There’s Calico. The pretty butterfly flies to and nestles in his hair.

James yawns; so tired – so much to feel.

‘Sleepy chil’. Lie down. I’ll tell a grand tale where you’ll experience what’s rosy, and what’s not; and be learnin’ from the lessons.’ She strokes his forehead. He feels the soothing motion of being tucked-in by Rrrose Heather as a blanket of butterflies flutter barely above him. ‘Once upon a time…way down in the Leezianna swamps, lived the dreaded Thibidioux, Jamie…’

‘Who is this Jamie?’ he wonders.

Next Week:  You’ll meet Calico!

(Feel welcome to visit Rrrose Heather’s bodacious bordello 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.  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

©2014 Raji Singh (New material)

Posted in archeo-apologist, Fiction House Publishing, humor, satire, Short stories, Uncategorized, whimsy, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

BEST ACTOR AWARD

by Raji Singh

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction ‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’ These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House. I cannot refuse. (Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction
‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’
These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House.
I cannot refuse.
(Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

 Yes.  It is that time again to identify those who will go down in film history.  Yet, many  individuals have taken on such thespian roles they changed the history that could have been. Let us celebrate those invisible heroes with an old post from our archives…

Esteemed resident of the historic Fiction House, Kunta Kinder, is world renowned for his artwork – painting, carving, sculpture.  His dangerous pre-Civil War work as an African-American Abolitionist ‘Conductor’ in the slave states demonstrates his acting prowess.  Here now, as recounted in the novel, Tales of the Fiction House, one of thespian Kunta’s greatest roles.

*     *     *

THE TALE OF ONE EARLY UNDERGROUND RAILROAD SPUR LINE

(Editor’s Note: Slaves often traveled alone to do ‘marster’s bidding.’)

Bay is harnessed to a buckboard.  She is ‘slow-as-Moses.’ Reined by Kunta’s rope, a-Hempis, she moseys the dirt road toward a western Kentucky plantation.

‘Aleka will be there,’ Kunta thinks, with each new plantation he approaches. ‘She’ll recognize me, but say nothing.’  (Aleka is Kunta’s sister.)

Poppy Sol’s yawning rise sparks, pinkish-red, against hundreds of acres of tobacco plants, then smolders the dew from the leaves. Kunta breathes deeply, holding in his lungs the stinging, sweet wonder of nature’s humidor.

He feels so free in his voluntary servitude. Duty-bound to brothers and sisters in real chains, his soul soars.

Before now – delivering runaways to safe houses north of the Ohio for the old Reverend – he rode Bay straight and proud.

Now, gathering slaves for the new Reverend in the south, he slouches on splintery seat, subservient.

Looking at the white-pillared mansion in the horizon, he pretends not to see the rifle-wielding, Overseer, approaching on foot. Kunta’s an actor playing a part. He begins singing in a contrived, almost-yelping Halleluiah timbre!

“Pharoah’s daughter on de bank, little Moses in de reeds. She fishes him out wid a…”

“Whoa boy! Where you think yer headin’?” Overseer grabs a-Hempis at the Bay’s snout and loops the rope around his fist. He aims the gun at Kunta’s pretend-flinch face. Kunta knows Overseer’s thinking, ‘No killin’ ‘nother man’s property lest there’s might good reason.’ The six-foot tall white man is clean-shaven, pristinely kempt. Creased pants and pressed vest contrast Kunta’s ‘slave costuming – threadbare jacket, tattered chapeau, patched pants and boots.

(The Constant and mortal danger of riding the rails of the Underground Railroad engrain in Kunta a perpetual sense of courage-caution.)

On Kunta’s lap is a bible. Into its leather cover, he’s scroll-worked ‘Moses-aleadin’-’is-people’. The image of his village women’s braids snake through it and point to a northerly ‘promised lan’-a-milk-n’-honey’. He inscribes it into all of Reverend Ezekiah’s bibles that he delivers to slaves. Quickly glanced, it is a picture, pleasing. Examined, it is a guidepost to freedom.

(At this point in the latter half of the 1820s, few, if any whites knew of the secret codes and cryptic maps woven in quilts, painted on barns, carved into trees, that runaways and their abettors utilized to successfully navigate to a free state, territory, or Canada.)

“You ‘def, boy. I wanta’ know where yer headin’?”

“Ah is Reverend Ezeki’ Bellows shepherd-boy. I’s on his mission,” Kunta says with absurd argot and pretend-cower. He sees his ‘fools’ crescent smile in Overseer’s spit-shine boots.

(“Boots for kicken’ a relcalictrant neg’ or negress who don’t pick their share,” the overseer loves telling newly-bought arrivals.)

Kunta raises a bible and thumps it with his knuckles. “Ah’s deliverin’ the good word for the good Reverend, suh. For the Reverend’s dark flock.” He motions, eyes diverted, to an open-lidded crate of bibles behind his seat. If he came across Aleka, or maybe a runaway, he could slip them into the crate’s false bottom and smuggle them to Valhalla.

Kunta clenches jaw, concealing momentary grit of the degradation he again feels – of enslavement to the cook aboard the slave ship. He hates the overseer he knows nothing of yet knows everything of, hates him as much as he hated the Cook.

“Hey, boy. It’d save me a heap a hasslin’ before breakfast if I just blow yer brains out now.”

a-Hempis doesn’t want to test the overseer’s brag – (The mystical rope, a-Hempis, is a reincarnation of a 15th century mystic cleric, Thomas a-Kempis) – what a-Hempis does now will give Kunta a chance to defend himself if Overseer is intent on firing. He tightens around Overseer’s hand as Bay tenses snout. “Ow! Son-of-a-bitch.” Overseer pulls away, lowers gun and shakes reddening fingers.

Bay becomes jittery. She kicks-up dust. ‘Can’t let anything happen to Kunta. He must be there when I foal to see my pony galloping beside me for the first time. Must see my pony when little Kunta makes him or her, his horse.’

(Bay and a-Hempis have varying plans for different scenarios. If Kunta’s ever set for-a-whippen’, a-Hempis would convince the leathery bullwhip to soften its slashing – by promising some of a-Hempis sought-after scent. If Kunta’s hung by his own rope, and, on his own horse, a-Hempis would slip from tree limb, then Bay would gallop through memorized bramble pathways she has traveled through that no hound, man, nor other equines, could figure out and follow. Each situation so different – they would observe Kunta’s lead; follow it.)

“Ahm sure mistress-’a-house wouldn’t want the spreading of our Savior’s savin’-Word be slowed.” Kunta allows a mere tinge of slyness to stain his words. No matter how little the man thinks of him, he won’t want black blood splattered all over mistresses ‘Word.’

Overseer rubs hand. “Gimme your papers.” He examines documents that include intricately scrolled documents Kunta has created to show that body, if not soul, belongs, without-question, to Reverend Ezekiah Bellows. Kunta has, well hidden, equally-meticulously forged documents signed by Reverend, that show he and Little Kunta are free humans.

Overseer drops the papers onto Kunta’s lap and opens crate. “Pretty fancy bible covers for folks born for picken’. None of ‘em read – least better not be able, or I’ll see to it they never do again.”

“Well suh, when Mistress not a readin’ to ‘em, to help calm ‘em for you…they can meditate on the cover – calms ‘em even more for you when they’re in the field…”

“I got whippings to do that, boy.” He pats the bullwhip that rings around his belt.

“Got lots a’ deliveries for the Reverend today, suh!”

“Sounds like whip-lip you’re deliverin’.” He quickly decides against any action because his hand aches. He looks at his pocket watch, gift from his Kentuck pappy; ‘overseer ‘afore me – and his, ‘afore him – taught me all ‘ah needa’ to know about treatin’ negs’.’ “They’re due to crops. Swing a wide berth from the house, head straight to the quarters and don’t snail about.”

Outside the shanties, shadowed gray by the white mansion, your heart, ready to burst free from your chest to fly to be with Aleka, coldly sinks. Nowhere is she among the dozens of ragged spirits, who are blank-eyed from the day-by-day tobacco sameness. None read, but all smooth their hands over your cover design.

‘Follow its path,’ you want to shout to them. ‘You will discover routes to escape your Egypt – you’ll find sympathetic Moses’ ready to help.’ You begin to preach-hint, as you stand amongst your people. “Close your eyes and meditate on the, PATH. You’ll be delivered to the Promised Land.”

You become a mandatory silent when you see the plantation owner in his creamy suit and string tie, approach followed by Overseer and the field guards. “Let me see that,” Owner says.

You shan’t look into his face to decipher what he’s thinking when he examines the cover. You realize he’s interested only in leafing through the pages for contraband. Overseer and guards do the same with other bibles. Overseer drops the book at your feet.

“Yes siree,” Owner says to the air as if you don’t exist, “delivered to a promised land, of tobaccy. All right everybody. To the fields.”

For emphasis, only a few feet from a dozen men and women, he cracks his whip. It ‘snaps’, stinging the ground.

Overseer: “Your heard your Massah. To …”

‘Does anyone here see hope?’ you want to shout as they shuffle away. You pick up the bible. As you think, ‘they are too beaten to see,’ a burly-chest man and petite wife, with two clingy sons under age 4 and a baby, stop briefly. The only difference between him and the others: His eyes are afire – with desire to find the Path. When no one is looking, he puts his hand to your shoulder. No words. But his expression says, “Thanks brother. Somehow, we will see you, and soon.”

‘Yes! There’s always hope. Aleka! Your brother’s coming for you: Have hope.”

 

(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

©2014 Raji Singh (New material)

Posted in archeo-apologist, Fiction House Publishing, humor, satire, Short stories, whimsy, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

OLYMPIC GOLD: GOING FOR THE PYRITE

by Raji Singh

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction ‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we’ll never have lived.’ These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House. I cannot refuse. (Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction
‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we’ll never have lived.’
These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House.
I cannot refuse.
(Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

Here is our traditional Olympic Tale, “Go, Shelva! Go!”

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!

*     *     *

 SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA    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.”SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

“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.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAEfraim 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.”

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

(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

Posted in archeo-apologist, Fiction House Publishing, humor, satire, Short stories, whimsy, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“IMAGINE…DREAMING AS A KING, INSPIRING AS A GANDHI, UNITING AS A MANDELA (or simply – using laughter to lighten another’s load)”

by Raji Singh

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction ‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we’ll never have lived.’ These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House. I cannot refuse. (Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction
‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we’ll never have lived.’
These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House.
I cannot refuse.
(Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

In celebration of Dr. King Day, we remember the heroes in our lives. This post was the foundation of the novel, The Seasons of My Giving Back.  It reminds us of the power of caring for one another.

* * *

  I am James Thaddeus Fiction, the Fifth – a true Fiction.  Typhoon tears me from my parents.  I alone survive.  I become an orphan foundling, taken in by new loving parents Dr. Ben and Indira Singh.  Now I am Raji.  These are my found and foundling tales.

*     *     *

     At least twice a year – from kindergarten to high school – Lindia bound with my parents.  Away from comfortable home quarters at the Fiction House Medical Clinic in Cincinnati, we’d fly, to some impoverished hospital half-a-world away.

Side by side, they ‘cared for’; with me fetching blankets, ferrying bandages, filling water bottles.

“You are learning of one of life’s greatest and yet simplest gifts,” Mother would tell me after a long day.  “Giving!”

Fa, ever the believer that, “there are good lessons to learn in every situation, son,” would add, as if he were prescribing a long-known miracle drug.  “Every unselfish act, Raji, helps you avoid, septem peccata mortalia, those seven deadly sins that tempt all humans:  Lust, envy, gluttony, sloth, greed, envy, wrath.”

I enjoyed helping the sick by assisting my parents, but a nurse or doctor I’d never be.  Soon, they sensed this.

“Many are the ways for you to help people, Raji,” they agreed.  “You will find one if you use that vivid imagination of yours.  In the meantime, we have just the right thing for you while we are at Hospital.”

As any other ten-year-old – Adventure – that is what I yearned:  I’d just read Robinson Crusoe.

So, as we traveled, to where this mystery assignment would commence, I was allowing my imagination free play, as a way to wile away the early morning hours.  Never ending are the tales a tyke can create while riding alone in the back seat of his parent’s sedan.

I smiled broadly and said to myself.  “My parents will sense my desire.  They’ll let me ‘give’, by allowing me to work on a cobra-milking farm – where the venom is transformed into healing medicines.  I’ll become the Number One Squeezer in all Lindia.”

I hear a deep ‘Hah!  Hah!’

Did Fa hear my thoughts; or sense my thoughts?  No he and Mother are chit chattering about illnesses.

Poppy Sol, bouncing brightly along the treetops of the Lindian Woods, looks through my window.  He’s nearly out of breath from trying to keep up with our vehicle’s pace, but still he’s able to sputter.  ‘Hah, lad.  Kidding ye must be.  Never would your Fa, let alone your Ma allow you to become a Squeezer.’

My aspiration of adventurous altruism skids to a dead stop.

But one of Poppy Sol’s stray rays allows a flickering rebirth of hope.  ‘Holt on a minute now, me young bloke.  Just perhaps, I may have a gra-a-a-nd way to bring about a change of mind in them.  Let’s say we…’

I am so excited, but I cannot understand the rest, so, to the glass I put my ear, to, better hear.  Sol can be a mighty prankster – at least in my tyke imagining.  But I’m just sure this is no pranking.

Luny Mum’s beam enters, right through the window glass on the other side of the vehicle.  She taps my shoulder.  ‘Don’t you be believin’ a word that fabricatin’ ol Sol be tellin’, Raji.’

Loving Mum, she’s readying to bid adieu to the day, but still she takes time for me.

‘Raji, as your earth mum says, “use your imaginin’.”  Dream like a King, mi lad.  And Think.  Of how might you inspire?  How might you unite?’

Hmm!  I wonder.  How?  Then a flash of brilliance comes.  ‘I know what I’ll do Luny Mum.’  Poppy Sol glares through the window at me, anxiously awaiting my decision.  This time I know he won’t guffaw.  My great idea burns in my thoughts hot and bright as Sol.  I sniff.  I think I smell my brain afire.  Burning brain:  It smells rubbery.  I never took time to notice the acrid scent of smoldering synapses in the hospital, if ever there was an occasion to notice such a thing.  I look around:  No smoke billowing from my ears.  Look up:  My cowlick isn’t a red flame lick.

‘THUMP!  THUMP!  THUMP!’    

The sedan hit a pothole, causing a flat tire.  That’s what I smell.  Fa retreats to repair it.  Mother keeps him company.  As we sit, a line of chauffeured silver and gold Rolls Royce and Bentley pass us.  I blink.  No, I’m not imagining this.  I see it – with my own eyes.  I just hope not all those well-dressed passengers had my grand idea at the same time I did.  And now they’ll beat me to the punch; or in their case, the champagne.

Luny Mum interrupts my thoughts.  ‘Tell us your plan, young ‘un.’

‘I’ll become a tiger trainer.  We’ll take the big cats to the hospitals to entertain the sick.’

Whaat ho, lad?’  Queries Poppy Sol.

I look out; think I see laugh lines creasing Sol’s glow.

‘Hah!  Hah!  The patients are there to be cured.  Not get eaten.  Don’t be daft, lad.  They wouldn’t let your creatures past the front doors.  Hah!  Hah!’

     ‘Sol’s right, Raji.  You must think of other ways to help.’

But I thought it was such a good idea.

My parents get back in and we’re off.  Curious, I ask.  “What are all those fancy cars doing so far from Lindia City?  On such a desolate road?”

Mother turns, squinting to see me midst Sol’s glow of curiosity.  He also wants to find out why.  Mother’s soft face is aglow with compassion as she explains.  “Often these days, Raji, such royal caravans may be seen.  They too make pilgrimage, for a sole purpose – to give food to poor people.”

“HA!  HA!”  This time the laugh isn’t from Poppy Sol, but Fa.  He looks briefly from the road ahead to address Mother.  “You know well as I Indira, why they journey.”

“But at least they do, Ben.  That is enough for me.”

Fa begins carrying on a ‘prescription’ conversation with me, glancing at me in the rear view mirror almost as much as he does at the road.  “As Goddess Nardesha proclaims, Raji.  It is easier for an elephant to traverse safely through an active beehive than for gentry to enter the glorious hereafter.”

Mother laughs.  Luny Mum joins her.  I wish the two could meet.  I know they’d enjoy the others company.  Maybe one day they will.  Mother says, “Goddess Nardesha has an irascible sense of humor that your Fa likes, Raji.  And she is right.  To appease Nardesha:  That, I believe is why the royal caravans have come into existence…

“Watch the road, Ben.”

As their front seat chit chattering focuses on elephants, beehives, and gentry, Luny Mum’s gentle beam strokes my shoulder.  ‘Other ideas lad, other ideas.  You’ll not want to become one of Nardesha’s pachyderms.’

‘I know just the thing, Luny Mum.  To the sea, I could sail.  Train otters to catch fish for me.  Then I’ll bring the nets-full, to the poor.’

‘Never,’ glares Sol.  ‘Fish!  Where’s the ADVENTURE?  Besides, those you mayest ‘elp be land bound.  In your journey, the floppers would half-bake in me heat.  Would do more hurt than ‘elp.’

‘You’ll have to imagine another way to help the earthbound,’ Mum glows.

“Ben, watch the roa…”  ‘SCREECH!’  Fa swerves to avoid creating road kill of a mangy mongoose.

I’m pushed against the door.  The jolt frees the answer that must have been in my thoughts all along, but trapped.  ‘I know Poppy Sol.  I know Luny Mum.  I shall give back, by helping.  This solution will be unbeatable.’

The celestial glares and glows show that Sol and Mum are interested in this latest proposal.

In unison.  ‘Go on lad.  We await your decision.’

I am so excited I talk so fast I hardly stop for breaths.  ‘Poison tip dart artisan for tribesman to use in their blowguns.  To defend their forests from foreign tree rustlers who ravage the land for selfish profit motives.  Those, elephants, care not a whit about the people, animals, and plants they displace and destroy.’

Sol glistens.  ‘Blimey, lad.  Poison tips.  An excellent idea to rid the undesirables.’

Mum’s stern reaction.  ‘Nonsense you two.  Never ‘ave I heard anything so ridiculous.’

‘No, no, Mum.  Fa has medicines that deaden but do not kill.  The rustlers are unconscious, just long enough for the tribesman to inform authorities to come and jail them.’

I see I’ve convinced Sol, but Mum, she still needs work.

“Watch the road, Ben.”  ‘SCREECH!  THUMP!’  Fa slides into the back Rolls of the royal caravan.  To protect from injury Mother braces her hands against the dashboard, and Fa holds tight to the steering wheel.  I am tossed, over and into the front seat, landing, jostling safely onto Mother’s lap.

‘Youch!  That’s gotta hurt lad.’

“Not really, Sol,” I say aloud.

“What say, Raji?”  Mother asks, gently stroking my cheek.

“Oh, just imagining,” I say.

Luny Mum strokes my other cheek.  ‘It is time I take my leave, lad.  Glad everyone is safe.’  With no fanfare, Mum fades, disappearing into the blue.

We get out of the car just in time to see the train-like chain reaction of Rolls and Bentleys slowly bumping, one at a time, undamaged into the car preceding it.  Their natty sarong and dhoti-attired owners are too occupied to notice, or care.  They’re quite conspicuously appeasing Nardesha by directing their tuxedoed butlers to distribute, from porcelain tureens, sweet smelling delicacies, to the unending lines of raggedy passers-by.  Some of these poor stop to taste, but only for a moment.  Most continue the ongoing movement forward, as if some holy destination lays ahead, some nirvana worth passing up the caravan’s mere morsels.

As Mother, Fa, I, and, Poppy Sol follow, I notice dozens of youth, around my age.  They load unfortunate road kill onto carts, then they also move forward.

I squint upward.  Anxious in my curiosity I query Sol.  ‘From your position, you can see what is ahead.  Where is everyone going?  Is the reason they’re not stopping to eat the gentry’s food, does that have something to do with it?’

‘HA!  HA!’ is Sol’s reply.  ‘Raji, I can see quite clearly from here the job your folks have arranged for you.’

‘Tell me.  I am so anxious to know.  What it is?  Tiger tamer?  Cobra Squeeze?  Poison tipper?  Otter fisher?’

‘You’ll not like it, young bloke.’

‘You’re wrong Sol.  Any helpin’ kind of daring-do adventurin’, ‘ll do me fine.’

‘Well then, brace yourself, lad.  Your ‘elpin’ ‘ll be…

On the road kill gang.  Surely that’ll ‘elps ya from becomin’, a elephant.’

It’s a good thing our whole conversation took place in my imagination:  Because my mental shout of ultimate disappointment would have deafened all within a mile.

What possible good for humankind could the road kill gang provide, I ask myself?

And, just where, oh where – are all the poor, bound?

(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

Posted in archeo-apologist, Children, Fiction House Publishing, humor, Short stories, Uncategorized, whimsy, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

LIKE THE NEW YEAR, LIFE IS FULL OF BEGINNINGS

By Raji Singh

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction ‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we’ll never have lived.’ These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House. I cannot refuse. (Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction
‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’
These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House.
I cannot refuse.
(Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

Happy New Year and best wishes for a year of joy and occasional whimsy!

On this new beginning, we remember the origins of our home, The Fiction House and James Thaddeus Fiction, our founder.

Out of the Fiction House Archives: THE CARPER’S TALE   (From Tales of the Fiction House)

1826 

Daylight for just 15 minutes and already summer’s heat has dried dew from the Cincinnati pier.  A stoop-shouldered ancient mariner in an age-cracked slicker gamily trudges the seemingly un-ending stretch.  Alone.  Sunken jaw ratchets, way to below Adam’s apple, as he grumbles,

“How long I gonna live?”

These would be the first words my great-great grandfa, four-year-old James Thaddeus Fiction, would remember hearing for the rest of his life.  From beneath an abandoned fish cart, he mimics squeakily, “How long I gonna live?”

Mariner looks about, swigs Kentucky stump juice to relieve an aching molar.  “Ahh!”  He squints curiously down at his fresh-caught carp wrapped in yesterday’s Cincinnati Daily Opine.

The boy echoes, “How long I gonna live?”

The sing-song reminds Mariner of albatross he heard while sailing around the Cape of Good Hope.  He clunks down his bamboo fishing pole and peers under the cart.  “Why, you little carper.  You just parrot me?”  He reaches for and reels into the sunlight a soot-covered boy still trembling from the night’s chill.  Mariner’s knobby knees blink at him through dungaree holes.

Our Friend Calico (©2013 Image by Joseph Rintoul)

Our Friend Calico
(©2013 Image by Joseph Rintoul)

A calico butterfly of silver, ruby, and gold had lit on the youth’s head.  “I see one of my friends been keepin’ ya company.”  Mariner winks at it as it flits away, “Happy sailin’, Calico.”  He bends to the boy. “So what’s youren name?  What you been rollin’ round in? And what in the name of Poseidon’s ocean you doin’ schoolin’ here?”  Sniff.  “Eew!  Yer rank as my giant pal Turt after e’s swum the Atlantic.”

Boy wants to say, “How can you smell me over your owen’ self?” Manages only, “Umm…”

Mariner squints at his first catch-of-the-day and grumbles to it.  “Likes that one too, I do. Don’t think I’ll throw ‘im back, either.”

Boy’s face crinkles prune-wrinkly as he flinches; not so much from being level with something looking so like the fire-breathing monster of the nightmare he’s just awakened from – wild silver hair, blood eyes, warty cheeks and knife nose – but from  the sour smell reeking from pebbly-textured mouth.

Everything before this moment – who he is, where he’s from, how long he’s been here – is blank, dark as his previously alabaster torso.  He wears only short pants with pockets hastily stuffed with childhood trinkets, marbles, tin soldiers, a spinning top.

Escaping bed and building during the fire.  His mother ferreted away.  Wandering aimlessly.  Collapsing here from fatigue.  36 hours have since passed.  For him it easily could have been 36 days or 36 minutes.  The wrenching scars his memory – as happens with most foundlings.  Yet, after all that, he doesn’t fear this living monster.

     “I said, what you doin’… Oh never mind.  I start you carpin’ and you look like the type’ll never clam it.”  He engulfs the boy’s hand in his bony fingers – arthritic from a lifetime of casting nets and setting sails – elevates him, until toes are level with his whale-bone belt buckle; surveys him as he would a catch.

A passing paddle-wheeler on the mucky Ohio steam-whistles out a baritone ‘ahoy’ to old salt and young dawg.  “Let’s sail, Carper.  My stateroom – she’s up the way.  I’ll get ya cleaned and chowed.  Then we can find youren.  Unless yer a stray.  You stray from the orphanage, Carper?  If that be, well…all the more power.   Believe me,” he rasps, angrily clenching fishing pole, rap, rap, rapping its hard butt against the dock….”I know first-hand how’s ya don’t wants to be in a place like that!”

The boy’s thoughts are blank as they walk and he clutches Mariner’s hand:  No happy or sad as he looks up into a face equally expressionless as his, only a primitive gratitude for the presence, for the touch of another human.

(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. 2018

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

YOU WILL SHOOT YOUR EYE OUT, RAJI — A LINDIAN CHRISTMAS LESSON

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction
‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’
These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House.
I cannot refuse.
(Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

I hope you’ll enjoy this Christmas tale from Fiction House Publishing’s book, The Seasons of My Giving Back, by Mark Rogers.  Happy Holidays!

*     *     *

Chapter 6

YOU WILL SHOOT YOUR EYE OUT, RAJI – A LINDIAN CHRISTMAS LESSON

Just like the bespectacled Ralphie in the movie A Christmas Story, as a youngster I yearned for a Red Ryder BB gun.  Growing up in Cincinnati’s Lindian community – not big meat eaters or hunters – no one truly listened when I said I wanted this.

I dreamed of making grand safaris into the magical, mysterious Woods not far from home. Many long hours I’d spend in congratulating myself, ‘You will be giving back to your beloved Cincinnati by helping keep it safe.’

“With my Red Ryder…” quite often I excitedly boasted to a kindly, yet unsympathetic old Uncle or Auntie.  “…I could fortress in the wilds and protect the city from errant tigers.”

They’d reply, all the while laughing gently at their own impromptu humor.  “Pshaw!  Precious Raji.  50,000 Bengals fill the football stadium every other week.  You could never keep enough BB’s in stock.”

Then these wizened elders, the tiny bells on their sarongs jingling, the beads on their shirts beating as they jiggled from the laughter, would add something like, “Cobra and Mongoose from our homeland have yet to find a way to traverse the oceans.  So we need no protection from them.  What then remains, Dear Boy, for you to save us from – the furry little rabbits and squirrels?  They are not so vicious.”SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Then, just as Ralphie’s teacher, his mother, and even Santa replied to Ralphie, the Uncles and Aunties guffawed to me, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

But Ralphie’s fa, ‘the old man’, had a Red Ryder when he small.  He surprised Ralphie with the pump-style air rifle on Christmas.

An equally understanding – at least, seemingly, at the time, old Uncle came forward for me on my Christmas.  He always dressed nattily, in starched, pressed cotton pants, and a vest over a dhoti shirt white as his wavy hair.  Every glance, every eye flicker, and every movement of his lean body professed to the world his philosophy of life: ‘To stand on ceremony is the duty of all.’  (He must have come from generations of British Colonial influence.)

The BB gun –

He presented it to me as ceremoniously as if he had been a Royal Brigade officer back in Lindia, and he was pinning a medal of valor on my jacket.SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

I remember vividly to this day standing as if frozen briefly in time, a new recruit in front of Colonel Uncle.  The lofty emotions I felt – They are indelibly imprinted in my thoughts: That day…That day…  

The Red Ryder isn’t shiny and new like Ralphie’s.  The wood stock is worn and faded.  Nicks, gouges, and dents tattoo the tarnished barrel.  But I feel just as lucky as Ralphie.

I run my fingers over the cold steel and splintered wood.  All my childhood senses absorb the ardor of battle my Red Ryder must have encountered over the decades.  I smell the decaying rot of defeated cobras saturating the stock.  I can almost taste the dank of the fur of a charging tiger, “brought down by just a single BB”, I imagine someone bragging over ale at a bistro.

As if it were a seashell, I put my ear to the barrel hole.  Instead of ocean, I hear the calamitous trumpeting of a herd of elephants scared away from an isolate village’s garden, and back into the jungle.  I stroke the splintered teeth marks of a vicious mongoose that tore wildly into the weapon before being subdued.

After a ceremonious pat on the shoulder from crater-faced old Uncle and the even more ceremonious statement, “Now go forth young Gamesman” –

Into the Woods, I foray, to take my place among the tribe of humankind known as, Intrepid Hunter.

Welcome to the Lindian Woods Where I Was Found (Image ©2014 Raji Singh

Welcome to the Lindian Woods Where I Was Found
(Image ©2014 Raji Singh

I dribble a handful of copper BBs into the holding chamber.  I pump the cocking handle.  I take aim skyward, at Poppy Sol.  He glares, reprimanding me with a stinging ray.

So I move my point, toward a gluttonous cloud.  ‘I’ll pop that belly.’

I feel like Papa Hemingway readying to bag his first Rhino.  My hands sweat as I pull the trigger.

The loudest cannon fire BANG!

That is what I expect.

A…phht!  is what I get.

The BB arcs like a rainbow, for not more than 20 feet.  I see where it goes…toward the pond…toward the rubbery lily pad where the Frog Brothers, Frer and Brer, rrriibiit on about the daily news of the Woods.

Plink. 

The BB lands between them, breaking their conversation, and then it bounces off, plunking into the water.  Their sudden stares and immediate deep CRROOAAKS indicate they mock me.

‘There’s that Raji kid again.  The one who almost shot his eye out with the slingshot, last week,’ says Frer.

‘A nuisance he can sometimes be,’ replies Brer, sticking his tongue out at me and simultaneously nabbing a fly.

In unison, they croak loudly, ‘You’ll shoot your eyes out, kid!’

Again and again my shame heightens among the Woods inhabitants as the velocity of the BBs lessen with each shot.

(Seems the relic Red Ryder can’t hold the charge of hand pumped air for more than a few seconds.  But I wouldn’t discover that cold fact until later in life.)

Another shot strays into the water, splashing between a circle of ten napping otters, who hold hands as otters outta whilst sleeping, to keep from floating away from each other.  Seemingly, one at a time their eyes open and they berate me for disturbing their slumber.  ‘You’ll shoot your…’  I get a feeling they’re readying to turn together on their sides, like a wheel, and roll over the water to chase me from their Woods.

I quickly scamper to a meadow where birds are singing joyously.  I shoot the Red Ryder skyward.

POP!

The singing abruptly ends and the birds scatter.  Out of nowhere, the Woods Sky Patroller, Hawk, barrels in from out of nowhere, grabs the BB mid air, flies, just feet over my head, and flings it down hitting me on the head.

“Ouch.”

That is the fastest one of the projectiles flew that day, or would ever again fly from that dilapidated Red Ryder.

‘Never do that again,’ I know is Hawk’s plaintiff cry.  Hawk eyes me viciously and then missiles out of sight.

Sigh!  I guess I may now know just why we Lindians are no hunters.  Likely, we’d starve.

O.K., I will shoot at trees.  Not one barks at me as I take aim.  So I fire.  Relic Red Ryder suddenly takes on a life of its own – but unfortunately, it is in the form of a death gasp.SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

The BB spits weakly from the barrel, barely going two feet before it drops.

I hear a screech.  In animal parlance, I believe it means – “Hey, whattaya think yer doin!”

I look down, just as the BB bounces off the head of a rabbit, then ricochets as the little fella jerks its head.  The BB flies five feet horizontally, and nearly takes out the eye of a squirrel.

The rabbit’s screech, the squirrel’s angry, loud ‘CHHIIRRP!’ tells me, “Run, Raji!!  Like your life depends on it.”

As angry as the critters sounded, I am sure my life really did.  (Harmless creatures, as Uncles and Aunties claimed; Hhrmph!)

The squirrel and rabbit give chase.  They’re on my heels, snapping, grr-ing, for hundreds of yards, until I am well clear of the Lindian Woods and onto a city street.

I near my Lindian neighborhood, out of breath, and I see my ceremonious old Uncle.  He is sitting cross-legged, on a small rug under a Lindian Fan Tree.  It is as if he has been waiting, patiently, for me. “And how went the hunt, young Raji?”

Wait, is that what some would call a ‘knowing smile’ that slightly crescents his face.

I return the gun as ceremoniously as it was given to me.  I summon enough breath to say, “Take it Uncle.  Never bring it back.  No matter how careful, it’s only a matter of time, before, I shoot my eye out.”SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Thank you, Uncle, for giving back to me, of course not only my eye before I might lose it, but also the simple importance of respecting our feathered flyer, slick swimmer, and furry four-leg friends.

(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 Mark Rogers

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SUPERMOON, LUNY MUM IN HOLIDAY FINERY

By Raji Singh

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction ‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’ These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House. I cannot refuse. (Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction
‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’
These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House.
I cannot refuse.
(Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

Tonight is your first and last chance of 2017 to see a Supermoon, Luny Mum in all her glory! She, the story-teller’s muse, will appear again in January…and give us an eclipse at the same time!

We at The Fiction House are impassioned by Supermoons, so here is one of our favorite posts from  The Seasons of My Giving Back by Mark Rogers.

Look up tonight, next month, and enjoy your inspiration!

*     *     *

OF SUPERMOONS, SCUPPERNONGS AND SUMMER

The blissful harvest of all our autumn experiences yet-to-come: Quietly it approaches.

I hope your fall is bountiful as was my first Lindian road kill crew summer of giving back. The yield from that time, a blaring brass band of the warmest of memories, preserves in my heart.

Almost every night of the remainder of that summer after I return home to Cincinnati, the starry sky and twinkling fireflies light the Singh family pathway that leads from the Fiction House Medical Clinic and into the nearby Woods.

Mother, Fa, and I take strolls – just as millions of other families do – after supper and before dessert. For many the repast is watermelon, ice cream, or pie. For us, it is Scuppernong grapes. They grow wild near the pond.

This is a time of evening for us to converse about our day while we feast on the tantalizing fruit of the vine. Our senses bombard us at once. The sweet pulp of the Scuppernongs plays gently across our taste buds.

Mother smiles and says, “It’s like a piano concerto and your tongue is the keyboard.”

The tart of the grapes’ thick skin, as its scent wafts into our nostrils, mixing with the damp of the Woods, seems to calm us.

“Feel your chest,” Mother says, putting her delicate hands to her blouse. “It makes your heart beat soft and slow, as if you’ve entered deep slumber.”

cover the seasons of my giving backWho can hear the squish of the grape you bite into, against the cacophony of nature?

The Frog Brothers, Frer and Brer, from atop their bachelor lily pad, romance the lovely Toad Sisters on the shore with their ribbit, ribbit chorus.

The Ten Otters of the pond gently slap the water as they stare skyward.

Turt is trumpeting a Satchmo rift.

Crickets come out from hiding beneath leaves and join Turt’s serenade.

Though a breeze is slight, there are small waves on the pond. I cannot contain myself. I jump about excitedly.

“Hey, look everybody. The grasshoppers are surfing on the water.”

We look at the water world. The grasshoppers are actually ‘Hanging Ten’, (or however many a hopper has to hang).

Just then, all becomes eerily quiet as a broad shadow passes above us.

I squeeze Fa’s hand, probably remembering a similar occurrence from some little-boy nightmare.

Mother pulls me close. I feel her tremble and I grasp her. Is some vulture-like apparition circling above us?

Suddenly we hear a shout.

“Look up, you Singhs.”

Instinctively we do.

Wheh! Relief. It is Captain Polly flying overhead.

Mother calls, “Why did you scare us, Captain Polly?”

Captain Polly doesn’t answer. She squawks loud. “Aaarrk. See how close Luny Mum is, Singhs. She wants to say hello. In a big way.”

All the creatures of the Woods peer skyward. We follow their glance, leaving our own little world, and our own worldly concerns.

Ahh! Luny Mum’s way of giving back.

We enter her celestial wonder. There she floats, bigger than any of us ever remember seeing her. Her beams overwhelm the Woods, and turn the pond sheet white, like milk. We look at her through the clusters of grapes we hold, and it is as if she is gowned in the most beautiful shades of purple and red.

Neither Mother, Fa, nor I can speak. We can only enjoy the spectacle of light prisms our orb provides us.

I can almost hear Luny Mum speak to me as when I was an orphan foundling and had only she, Turt and Poppy Sol for my friends.

‘I am glad you brought your family to see me, Raji. From now on, I’ll help look after them, as I did you.’

Of course, science disputes the magic of the moment I am feeling.

We are seeing a Supermoon, the first of three this year. Technically, my Luny Mum is a “perigee moon’. Mum is massive, and extra bright, because she is about 50,000 kilometers closer than her regular full moon self, an “apogee”.

All science aside, to me Luny Mum and Poppy Sol are living celestial entities, just two of the few friends any orphan foundling creates in his or her imagination so we are not alone in a cold world.

My perigee Mum would visits many times that year.

She watches with Mother and Fa, as I discover the joys of spitting Scuppernong seeds.

‘He’ll shoot my eye out if he achieves any more distance or accuracy,’ Luny Mum laughs. She eyes Mother squeezing Scuppernong juice into a pitcher of lemonade. ‘Mmm! I can just taste it, Raji.’

Mother pours the mix into glasses, which we raise.

“Here’s to Luny Mum,” we toast.

“May everyone appreciate her brightness tonight!” Fa adds.

I remember seeing on TV, that people all over the world can see our Super Mum – from outside the Taj Mahal, atop Eiffel Tower, alongside the Pyramids at Giza, beside the Great Wall of China – all they have to do is look up.

*   *   *

Calico, A Foundling's Gentlest Friend (©2013 Image by Joseph Rintoul)

Calico, A Foundling’s Gentlest Friend
(©2013 Image by Joseph Rintoul)

One night while we were ‘Scuppernoning’, my butterfly friend Calico flitted by to visit us.

She seemed to hover in the sky for hours. Luny Mum’s brightness shone through the multi-colors of her wings. The Woods and pond became an effervescent rainbow glow.

The eyes of all the Woodland creatures turned from red to orange to blue to green and back, over and again. Anyone lucky enough to be moseying the Woods at that time would have been treated to a light display more dazzling than any Fourth of July fireworks show.

Thank you Luny Mum, for a summer the Singhs and billions of others will never forget.

(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.)

©2015, 2017  Mark Rogers

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THANKSGIVING AT THE HOME OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN’S NE’ER DO WELL BROTHER (a delicious holiday repast)

By Raji Singh

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Latest from The Fiction House. A Parrot’s Delight!

We at the Fiction House are proud to announce the latest tales from The Fiction House, a feast of fables from our feathery friend, Captain Polly. We hope you enjoy Captain Polly’s Lore of the Lindian Woods, a bird’s eye view of the Lindian Woods and the creatures who live there, The Frog Brothers, The Ten Otters, Toad Sisters, Ollie the Octopus, and Turt.

     *     *     *

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction ‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we’ll never have lived.’ These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House. I cannot refuse. (Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

Our Founder, James Thaddeus “Blackjack” Fiction
‘Tell our stories, Raji. If you don’t, it will be as if we never lived.’
These whispering cries of joy and sorrow rise from the bookshelves and portraits in the Fiction House.
I cannot refuse.
(Artwork enhancements by: Joseph Rintoul)

 

 

 

 

The Ancient Mariner, the scruffy sea salt who raised my great-great grandfather, told this curious holiday story.  It’s been handed down for almost 250 years.  Enjoy!

*     *     *

“To the GOOD life!”  Benjamin Franklin toasts.  A dozen of Franklin’s relatives, and a spiffed up Mariner, all “clunk” tankards.  They gather in the Philadelphia home of Franklin’s half-brother Franklin Ulster.  The men, all finely dressed in vests and jackets:  The women, in best subtle gray long dresses.    

     Ulster’s already woozy having sneaked many-a-nip to help cope with Benjamin’s incessant boasts.

They give thanks, sit, pass the food, and eat steamy sweet potato, tart cranberry compote – all the usual, with all the sweet scents of banquet, but turkey.  No one would dare offer up Ben Franklin’s noble favorite creature, which he backs as the new nation’s symbol.

BETTER than any ale you’ve had, eh Ulster.”

The host limply nods.  On that, he must agree.

Franklin proudly thumps his chest and sniffs.  “A woodsy scent this batch has.  I must say, this is the BEST stump juice yet that Mariner and I have had the privilege of brewing.  Fitting nectar for the heroes of the Colonies who lie at rest in their Elysian Fields.  A place you shall need not worry of ever residing, being battle shy midst our Revolution.”

Ulster starts to defend his weapons merchant status, but his wife kicks his ankle under the table.  Brother-in-law Benjamin just might be convinced to float a loan to keep the creditors from the door.  The home, though not a hovel, is faked; garish below the surface.  Plaster of paris Louis XIV statues stand in for the real marble.  Sturdy walnut furniture is replaced with rickety pine lookalikes.

“Concerning our stump juice, as with all things in life, as I always say, Ben Franklin says, ‘Good, Better, Best.  Never let it rest.  Until the good is better and the better best.’  That’s what I always say,” Benjamin Franklin says.

“Oh you do,” Franklin Ulster challenges.  Ulster had pre-dinner fumed for an hour as the honored guest told of his Paris diplomatic exploits that help borne a new nation.  Now he’s caught brother braggart in a lie.  He maliciously spits out, “We both know those words you quote were written on the sign at Goode and Betty Bests Bakery when we we urchins.”

Benjamin squints down on Ulster through his bifocals, and calmly honeys a bun.

“And just who do you think sold them that adage.  Moi!  Mr. Ulster.  And for a pretty penny.  That coin built up through the decades made me the wealthy man I am today, Sir.  As I always say, ‘A penny saved is a penny earned.’”

Franklin Ulster grits his teeth, but Benjamin Franklin is just beginning his pillorying.

“I am truly sorry your Shoppes and various ventures failed.  If only you’d listened to my sage brotherly advice instead of wagering at cockfights.  You could very well be in the financial position I reside.  So, there!  F.U.”

Some of the younger ladies at the table attempt to hide their eyes with their handkerchiefs.  Some matrons titter at the bawdy inference.  Elder statesman, Uncle Benjamin smiles pleasantly at each of them.

Ulster abruptly rises and his brass cock belt buckle upends his plate, sending his Thanksgiving fare down the front of his pants.  “Damn you, Ben.  My name is Franklin Ulster.  I demand the courtesy of being addressed as such in my own home.  Not being treated as some bastard kin.”

“My full apologies Franklin Ulster.  In amends, let me personally serve you the escargot I’ve made for our repast.”  Benjamin Franklin nods to Mariner and Mariner kindly returns the courtesy.  “The Mariner taught me his special recipe when we first met in Paris.  It was the talk of all the French society.  The grand chefs of the city paid my friend quite handsomely for his recipe.”  Franklin goes to a rickety sideboard, and gets a clean dinner plate.

Franklin Ulster impetuously grabs it.  “Snails we eat to appease the grand Doctor Franklin.”

Benjamin Franklin responds, “You’d not offer eagle to those who want it for our national symbol.”

Ulster spits out the crawly foreign fare after the first bite and throws the full plate against the wall.  It smashes into a dozen shards.  “I’m off to slaughter a turkey.”

Before he gets to the door, the normally talkative Mariner, who has been quite quiet throughout the afternoon, shouts, “I’ve ‘ad enough of yer performin’, mate.  Show yer respectins’ for the honored Doc Franklin, F.U.”  The wiry, but sturdy seaman quickly intercepts Ulster, and in seconds, from the long sea line he always has in his pocket, keel hauls him, and hangs him from a ceiling post beam.  There he dangles until a leisurely meal is complete.

~ ~ editor note:  (Keel haul – to tie line to each arm and hang from the bow of the ship.)

The accounts that various Franklins relate in memoirs and letters in the archives of Fiction House Publishing tend to back the overall story. The reader must take into consideration, the Mariner, known for his proclivity for tale telling, and this is his telling, after all – he may have embellished his part in the holiday affair.

You may read A Thousand And One more of Mariner’s tellings in Tales of the Fiction House.  ~ ~

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sincerely,

Raji

© Raji Singh 2012

(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.)

©2015 Raji Singh

©2017 Mark Rogers

 

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