fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Thirteen. {fiction}

 

Never in my life will I forget the view as Burl and I topped the last rise before dropping down into the valley where lay the village of Gila Hot Springs.

In the distance, spring green mountains grew stoutly upwards from the valley floor, topped with broad stands of towering ponderosas. Piñons and junipers perched on the nearby hills that jutted high and plunged low on either side of the road we walked.

How many of Grandma Sita’s former friends and neighbors would still be there? Any of them? Had a warlord like Darian taken over the place and imprisoned the locals? Or had he killed them all?

A blackened burn scar along a south-facing slope threw the surrounding green of new growth into brilliant relief. A bald eagle floated forward far ahead, yet level with me, and soon overtook its mate, small against the horizon. I stopped, standing paralyzed by the bliss of wild beauty, as the avian couple settled into a ponderosa stand a mile or so away, presumably to tend to their nest of hatchlings.

The sun hovered just above the craggy skyline by then, so I set up camp there for the night. We would make our final descent in the morning. I tossed around in my sleeping bag so much that night that I awoke halfway out of it well before sun up, shivering so hard I thought I’d crack my teeth against each other.

I forced myself to cook a big hot breakfast of oatmeal heaped with nuts and dried apricots before loading up Burl and heading, I hoped, home.

There had been no houses from the point where I left the Mimbres river until now. I became extra vigilant as we stepped down, down, down the steep road to Gila Hot Springs.

As we came nearer and lower, I spotted what appeared to be home sites, but before I could see them clearly, we dropped behind the hills between the village and us. The voluptuous Gila river, swollen with the spring runoff, rushed by us in its winding spring urgency.

So far we hadn’t seen any sign of other humans, and I began to wonder if that was because there were people there who didn’t want me to see them or because there wasn’t anyone to see. Then, as we came around the last curve to the village, I saw the reality of the place I had walked so far to see.

My skin crawled as I looked around, ears abruptly attuned to any unusual sounds. It would be too terrible to be captured by another slaving tyrant like Darian. As bad as he was, someone else could be a lot worse. I glanced down at the knife strapped to my boot, just to be sure I still had it. Stepping quietly, I led Burl off the road, just inside the tree line.

The first house I saw had been burnt to the ground, apparently years before. The charcoal timbers lay tumbled together like a giant’s campfire. Grass and thick, furry mullein sprang up where the living room had been, judging from the couch carcass there — springs and a metal frame.

A bird’s nest perched atop the one post left standing in the whole place, and its resident, startled at our arrival, twittered in alarm as it sought a high branch in a nearby ponderosa.

My breath tight, head swiveling left, right, back, forward, I kept a slow but steady pace, taking in the village as it arose before me. All the houses I could see had been burned. Some completely, some just enough to render them uninhabitable. Grandma Sita’s place was at the far end of the village, and I clung to a tiny precious hope that her house had missed the conflagration that had caught the others.

As I rounded the last familiar bend before her place, I saw it. Or what remained.

No more stanzas left to the song. Nowhere else to go, and Grandma’s house was virtually obliterated. Her home had been built in front of a looming butte of beige and tan striated sandstone, and the blackened skeleton of her two-story house stood out starkly against the pale background. The second story had collapsed into the first in a charcoal jumble.

I made out the remains of a few things I remembered, including a pile of broken and charred ceramic plates and mugs, once bright with scarlet flowers and green leaves, now peeking faintly between a charred crust. The heat-warped stainless steel sink slumped, and a cluster of partially melted flatware lay in a prickly bundle, on what used to be the floor of the kitchen.

The wood stove stood in the center of the living room, edges drooping, legs sagging. The stovepipe lay disintegrated into a pile of rusted metallic leaves.

I stood, gripping Burl’s lead rope tightly for support, staring at the extinguished hope before me. After weeks of moving forward, towards the vision I had held of friends and home, I now stood staring at the one sight that never, ever entered my imaginings. I had imagined someone else might be living there. Or that most useful things might have been stolen. But I had never envisioned it not existing at all.

No home. Nothing.

As I stood staring, paralyzed in the moment, time stretched and contracted for seconds, or for hours. I couldn’t tell. My head felt like it was full of fog or cotton, or foggy cotton. No thoughts, no ideas. I had not the slightest notion of what to do.

My whole sense of self had coalesced around the thought of this place, Grandma Sita’s place, being my place, my refuge. I had told myself not to expect too much, but I had also lied to myself when I promised not to. I had expected much more than what lay before me. I didn’t even have an enclosed place for shelter, much less Grandma’s comfy kitchen in which to cook and soft bed in which to sleep.

Not knowing what else to do, Burl and I walked around the property. I wasn’t conscious of my direction, but soon found myself standing before Grandma Sita’s grave, a simple mound with large rocks piled high on top of it, as Mama and I had left it. The two-by-four post that Mama had carved and hammered into one end of the grave site still remained:

Sita Kamala Sriprasad

1970 – 2034

Always loved, never forgotten

I lay down on the ground next to Sita’s grave and closed my eyes, as if we were taking one of our naps together as we sometimes did on our visits. I wished so much that I could awaken soon to see her smiling face looking into my own, the promise of some watery adventure or special treat on her lips.

I opened my eyes and stared at the pile of cold rocks. Burl chomped on the nearby spring grass contentedly, oblivious to the change in our shared fortune.

Well, I can’t just lie here, I thought, pushing myself up off the ground. I took Burl’s lead rope and continued my tour of Sita’s property.

An intact shed sat tucked just inside a cluster of trees between the house and the butte, about the size of my bedroom back in Silver City years ago. I remembered that Sita had kept some tools and machinery in there before — shovels, rakes, two hulking generators, a mower and the like. But when I creaked open the door, nothing but dusty shadows and cobwebs filled the shelves and lined the walls.

How odd.

Was she cleaning the shed out for some other use when the virus hit? I opened the door a bit more. It was pretty tightly built for a shed, although there were some mouse droppings on the counters and floor. No insulation.

It’s funny how our reactions to things have so much to do with the expectations we have. I had come here expecting to find a house in which I could live, and felt devastated to find it burned to charcoal. My original expectation having been reset, finding a small shack felt like a consolation prize, enough to take the edge off the initial loss. This outbuilding could at least protect me from the elements.

Once the mice had been driven out, it would provide a reasonably safe place to store food. It would provide suitable shelter for now, until I decided what else I could do.

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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