Sung Home: Chapter Eight. {fiction}


Mama mumbled quietly, as she sniffed and rubbed her running nose absently against her sleeve, “We should bury them properly, not throw them in a pit! They deserve more. It just shouldn’t happen like this!”

But later, after Seth and Daddy were covered by a thick layer of dirt by the bulldozer, Mama told me in a flat monotone, “Every person can’t have their own grave. There’s too many dead people. Not enough room, or time, for individual burials.”

It was just too much. So, wrapped snugly in their blankets, Daddy and Seth were lowered down by parallel ropes into the big hole along with all the other dead people from our neighborhood. Mama explained to me when I was older, and asked about it, that every neighborhood in town had had a mass grave after the virus. Some version of this happened all over the world, at very nearly the same time.

Was this what the meteor striking the earth had been like for the dinosaurs, all those millennia ago? One day, life is fine, lots of plants and other dinosaurs to eat, balmy weather just right, then Boom! Things get dark and cold, and everyone around you is dropping dead!

Once the virus had made its way through town, fast as a runaway forest fire before gale winds, Mama and I drove out to Gila Hot Springs to check on Grandma Sita. Sure enough, we found her lying in her bed, dark brown eyes open to the ceiling as if she could see right through it, but still, still, still.

Her grey and black hair had been fixed in one long graceful braid down her back, and she wore her newest blue jeans and favorite tie-dyed t-shirt. Everything was neat and tidy in the house as if she had seen death coming and made an effort to welcome it.

I had never seen a dead person before the virus, since I was only nine years old, but in the short time between the virus coming and the virus going, I had seen so many that I wasn’t shocked to see Grandma dead too.

Still, she had always been so much fun when we visited, reading to me and Seth at bedtime, teaching us to grow and eat her garden vegetables, and teaching us animal yoga poses for fun, seeing her lying empty as a shell in the desert shook me to my core. Daddy, Seth, and now Sita.

Later, as Mama gathered Grandma Sita up in her arms, carrying her to her newly dug grave, I finally cried because I knew that I would never get to do those things with her anymore.

I was named after a big batik that Grandma Sita had on the wall of her bedroom of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, busty and smiling mysteriously in her red and gold sari, bangles on her arms, seed pot, gold coins and lotus flowers in her many hands. My mother had always loved that batik, and hoped that I would love the earth and all life the way the goddess Lakshmi does.

Mama took the batik down from grandma’s wall to take home with us.

Mama could hardly stand to be in the house after Daddy and Seth died. Everything was very chaotic then I’m sure, with so few people to run businesses, the government, maintain roads, and teach in the schools.

Things just fell apart.

Mama had been teaching English literature at the university, but all she could think of was going someplace where we might be safer in the long run.

Outside of Columbus, a couple hour’s drive south of Silver City, and lower in elevation, there was a community where many people who had built off-the-grid houses — houses that didn’t need to be hooked up to the gas, water and electrical systems for people to live comfortably.

There were houses like that in and near Silver City too, but I think Mama also needed to get away from the things that reminded her of Daddy and Seth, and all the other dead people we knew. In any case, Mama said it was important that we buy a house in Columbus before everyone else realized how valuable houses like that were and bought them up.

As soon as the bank opened again, Mama withdrew all our money and off we went.

Life in Silver City with Mama and Daddy and Seth seemed like one that I read about in a story, or dreamed of long ago. It was as if I had died when Daddy and Seth died, and been re-born with Mama in Columbus. Gone forever was our cozy, noisy home.

Mimbres River is calling, welcoming you back

Trickling lightly in the fall, rushing in the spring,

You’ll see it from the distance, cottonwoods tall green

The next day was so uneventful that I relaxed a little. I had gotten into a routine of picking greens and bopping the plentiful rabbits or other small game on the head for roasting, sometimes cooking a few at a time. My waistband was a little looser than when I left, but I truly can’t say I went hungry.

I was walking farther before needing to rest, and it felt good to be gaining strength as we traveled closer to Grandma Sita’s.

Sure enough, as that day’s stanza predicted, Burl and I came upon the Mimbres River, just as the sun dropped behind the hills to the west. Cottonwood trees lined its meanders, great crowns bowed over the waterway, weighted by the sweet, gentle emerald of new leaves. Gnarly old branches littered the ground beneath them, dropped there by the forces of snow, wind and gravity.

New grass and other greens sprung cheerfully besides the flowing stream.

I picketed Burl next to the water and the tantalizing new grass, both of which he enjoyed in his usual, understated manner. I shed my coat, resting on it under a cottonwood, listening to the musical murmur of the river splashing beside me. Yellow and black butterflies flitted about, dancing in the air from one dandelion bloom to another.

After a short doze, I filled my water skins, then dipped my cupped hands and gulped the fresh icy beverage until I could hold no more.

The cattle had proved easy hunting in the early days after the virus, after the grocery stores had been ravaged to emptiness, so I did not worry about being eviscerated by giardia, a parasite that had been commonly carried by cattle and manifested in vicious diarrhea in humans.

Munching a handful of dandelion greens, I thought about whether to gain some more ground or settle in for the evening. The question was answered for me in the form of voices in the distance towards the road. Popping up from my spot, I grabbed my coat, tossing the water bags into the satchel tied to Burl, and led him hurriedly across the creek, farther away from the road and deeper into the thicket.

I cocked my ear in the direction of the voices and heard that they were indeed nearby, between the road and the river. Thank goodness that Burl was not a talkative guy. His taciturn nature had saved us a lot of trouble so far, and I counted on this valuable personality feature keeping us both safe as we continued.

Soon, the forms that belonged to the voices appeared between the branches that hid me. A tall middle-aged man, wearing a worn, flabby cowboy hat and stained leather jacket, and a woman about half his age, similarly attired, strolled side by side, bundles perched on their backs.

Naturally it made sense for all traveling in this area to gravitate towards the river which provided water for drinking and young plants for eating.

After they were well past us, I took Burl’s lead rope and marched us still farther away from both river and road to find our camp site for the night. The last thing we needed at this point was company.

Relieved that Burl and I had turned away from the highway, I slept peacefully. Wrapped in my thick wool blanket, wearing all my clothes in layers, I felt cozy and safe and free. I didn’t really know how caged I had been at the compound until then, sleeping outside Darian’s control.

This is an ongoing series from a forthcoming fiction novel by Laura Ramnarace.
Tune in weekly for the next chapter in ‘Sung Home’.


Laura Ramnarace, M.A. was driven to earn a master’s degree in Conflict Resolution while on her quest to find out why we can’t just all get along. She has published a book on inter-personal conflict, ‘Getting Along: The Wild, Wacky World of Human Relationship’, published a newspaper column also titled ‘Getting Along’, and submits regularly to Rebelle Society. Since 1999, she has provided training to a wide variety of groups on improving personal, working and inter-group relationships. ‘Sung Home’ is a work of eco-fiction set in southwestern New Mexico.


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