fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Twelve. {fiction}

 

The last verse of the song, after which we would just follow the road until we reached Grandma Sita’s, went:

See the highway turn northward, stay close to it now

Leave the river you will climb, the road takes you high

Twist and turn, be careful now, before you drop down

The next day the song took me away from the river and back to the road, winding in steep, tight curves up the rocky canyon. The ponderosas grew more plentiful, and the piñons and junipers thinned as we trudged higher up the steep slope. The shimmering midday light shined in dappled rays through the trees. The high mountain air smelled piney and clean.

We kept just inside the tree line as much as possible, but there were many places where there was a plunging drop-off on one side of the road and vertical stone wall on the other. That, combined with the sharp curves around which I couldn’t see, made that day almost as anxiety-inducing as going through Deming. I strained my ears listening for any human-like sound, glancing about constantly.

I was glad that I had filled every possible container with water now that I couldn’t take it for granted. I huffed and puffed and sweated so much moisture from me that I would have dried up like the jerky I chewed if I hadn’t been able to drink as much as I needed.

It seemed like it had taken me forever to get this far, much longer than I had guessed to begin with, but now that I was only a day or two from Gila Hot Springs, it felt like we had suddenly leapt forward.

While I had been in a state of hopeful anticipation since leaving the Gundersons, now I began to worry. What would I find there? What if some awful bandit like Darian ruled the place? Where would I go then? My lungs stiffened at the thought. My mind grew foggy. I could not think of any other options, except maybe to go back to the Gunderson’s.

I wracked my brain for memories of other family friends who might live in the area, who might take me in, but couldn’t remember anyone. I had been so young when the virus came. I never paid attention to the routes we took when visiting friends. If it didn’t work out at Gila Hot Springs, I would go back to the Gunderson’s, I decided. With the dead people now buried, it could make a pretty nice home.

I did remember the route to Grandma Sita’s house from this point, though from my low, child’s, vantage point in the backseat of our Honda. I remembered the particular curve I now climbed, the colorful striations in the hills off to one side and the cluster of three ponderosas right next to the road on the other side.

When I was little, we’d come around this curve in the road just as the long hill topped off. The combination of steepness and the curve gave the illusion that we were headed right off a cliff towards the grey and purple mountains in the distance. I’d let out a shriek of terror, then Seth would take my cue and wail even louder than me and Mama had to turn around in her seat to reassure us.

Then we’d see the towering ponderosas rise into the frame of the window again and know we were safe. When I was finally tall enough to see clearly out the windows, I told Seth as we rounded this curve, “It only looks like we’re going over the edge, but we’re not, okay?” Seth would look back at me, eyes wide with fear, nodding his head, trusting my word over his own senses, but just barely.

I chose a camping spot at the top of a hill with a view to the north, the direction we were headed. Only two or three more hills to climb between where we were and Grandma Sita’s.

After tying Burl to a scrub oak and eating half a roast rabbit for dinner myself, I bedded down with my head full of wondrous speculation about what lay ahead. I remembered the winding road through the mountains to Grandma Sita’s, ponderosa pines reaching tall and straight through the washed-out blue sky. Purple asters, red Indian paintbrush and golden poppies grew in clusters or swaths along the way.

Grandma Sita always had craft materials set up for us in the stout adobe studio where she made soap and mosaic tables. Laid out across long work tables were paint and paper, buckets of clay, overflowing bins of colorful yarn, clean, new popsicle sticks, glue, tape, and a riot of colored markers.

“It’s all for you, my little ones!” Sita would exclaim, almost as excited as we were to be set loose on the riches she provided. “As long as you keep the mess in here, you can pretty much do anything you want.”

And we did. By the end of our visit, Seth and I each had collections of paintings, drawings, bowls or mugs ready to be fired in Sita’s kiln, and collages of magazine pictures, accented with yarn and glitter. Each time, Sita would be given some to keep, and we’d take the rest home for display on our refrigerator and walls.

We got to know most of the people living in the settlement of Gila Hot Springs because Grandma Sita welcomed everyone enthusiastically, old and young, rich or poor, all shades of skin and speaking in all kinds of accents and even languages.

There was Dane and Jeanne, owners of a rustic bed and breakfast, who had two boys and three girls whom they homeschooled. The elder two, Hallie and Noah, were teenagers last time I saw them, the other two girls, Lilly and Miriam, were a little older than me, and Liam was Seth’s age.

When we visited, Seth and Liam would disappear for hours fishing, collecting interesting stones or doing cannonballs into a deep spot in the river, where an eddy-formed whirlpool had dug the riverbed downwards. During colder months, they would make up stories together, drawing illustrations and writing the stories neatly on lined paper.

Sometimes the whole lot of us — their five, Seth and me, and a couple of parents — would ride together downriver on giant overinflated inner tubes. Another parent or two would drive their large van down to the take-out point to haul us all home at the end of our ride.

Grandma had a man-friend who I suspect was really her boyfriend, but the adults never spoke about him that way. He was a tall, rangy Apache man named Joe Swift, a horse-outfitter. Joe would take us out sometimes on the horses, along with his grandson, Victorio, who was a couple of years older than me. I loved those horses and cherished every moment I was allowed to ride.

Victorio didn’t talk much, and I figured that he thought of me as just a baby then. Now we would be close enough in age to be friends. I looked up to him for his easy confidence with the horses, even as young as he was. Several times when Seth and I stayed with Grandma Sita, Joe and Victorio would come over for dinner.

After one of Sita’s legendary abundant and delicious meals, we kids would cluster together on the big couch in the living room and watch a movie. Victorio was so quiet and serious most of the time, I was always surprised by how he laughed so hard at the funny movies. I guessed his sense of humor must have been mostly on the inside.

Once I noticed him blinking back tears during a sad part of a movie about a boy and girl who were friends and played in the woods together, when the girl died at the end. I figured Victorio must have kept his other feelings to himself mostly too. He treated Seth just like a little brother, patiently showing him how to brush the horses and giving him riding tips.

Even though Victorio mostly ignored me, I liked him for being so nice to Seth. He had lived in Silver City with his parents, so it was unlikely he would be at Gila Hot Springs even if he had survived.

A retired couple, Inez and Ben, lived a couple doors down from Sita’s, and they took turns having dinner or tea together throughout the year. Another guy, Beto, ran a Hot Springs retreat nearby, renting small cabins and camping spaces to visitors who enjoyed the wooded setting and cool river in addition to the several graceful pools that Beto had built to capture the naturally occurring hot water.

Another lady across the way, Kate, kept a huge pen of goats. In the springtime, the place would be a riot of tiny springy baby goats bounding around happily and greedily suckling at their mamas’ teats. They were so cute I begged Mama and Daddy to let me take one home every single time we saw them, but I could never get them to say yes.

Kate lived with her daughter, son-in-law and three small granddaughters, all of whom helped with the goats. Kate’s roasted piñon nut goat cheese was the best cheese I have ever had; the creamy cheese dissolved in one’s mouth and the smoky piñons provided a satisfying texture as well as flavor.

Whenever any of these friends and neighbors arrived at her house, Sita shrieked happily and threw her arms upward in welcome with each arrival, as if each one were a long-lost cousin, no matter how recently they last visited, which made most of them smile broadly or laugh. She’d ply them with a glass of tea, homemade cookies or cake or pie, and a comfortable chair at the table.

Stories were traded, favors asked and agreed to, garden harvests exchanged. All this set beneath the towering sandstone cliffs, like undulated beaches set on end, dotted with scraggly brave flora. To the front of the property, just across the road from Sita’s driveway, coursed the Gila River, swollen and rushing dangerously in the springtime and quietly meandering the rest of the year.

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

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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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