fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Fourteen. {fiction}

The loneliness was the worst.

Other than very specifically missing Robert and Emma, and of course Sylvia, I hadn’t felt too lonely so far because I kept imagining that someone I knew, some of Sita’s neighbors and friends, would be here. It never dawned on me that not one other person would be left alive in the village.

How was I supposed to start a new life with no one else at all? Was I supposed to live out my whole life alone here?

I figured I could survive well enough, at least in the warmer months, on local game, seasonal plant foods, and fish from the river. But the winter was another thing. I would have to insulate the shed somehow, then figure out how to heat it, then also collect and dry enough food to not only feed myself now, but through the whole winter as well.

I remembered reading Little House on the Prairie and did not like the idea of twisting dried grass for a fire with my raw, starving fingers. Nevertheless, when I thought of my earlier resolve to return to the Gunderson’s if it didn’t work here, I found myself unable to even consider leaving this place, however it had failed to meet my expectations.

I thought of Robert and wished I had given him the option of joining me. I couldn’t afford to go back for him this late in the season since I needed to use every day for hunting and gathering food, so I pushed that thought hard from my mind. If I was going to stand a chance of making it through the winter, I would have to set aside my regrets and get busy.

As late spring turned into summer, the months passed quickly. I hunted, fished, and collected greens, berries and roots. I ate what I needed and dried the meat by hanging it on tree branches held by strips of homemade cordage. Berries and greens I spread out on the shelves inside the shed, which I had first meticulously cleaned.

It was a constant battle keeping the mice, packrats and miscellaneous other rodents out of the food, even after it had been dried and tied up in pieces of the cotton canvas, coated with a mixture of beeswax and pine sap. I constructed a rectangular latticework rack from wood scraps and some nails I had found in a drawer in the shed, then tied the bundles from these to hang in the air above my head.

As my food cache grew, I had to find a more substantial solution. I finally gained what I thought was the final ground when I constructed a hanging shelf that I suspended high above the floor but below the rafters of the roof. Four sturdy ropes held my aerial pantry aloft.

While clambering around the rafters, I came upon a truly valuable find: a crossbow and a thick bundle of aluminum arrows. I had only shot one a few times, one that Daddy had, which required a lot of help, but I knew I could figure it out if I had enough time, and I certainly had plenty of that.

I insulated the walls of my shed bit by bit, using the tall thick grasses that grew by the river and held in place with small branches that I wedged into the spaces between the framed two-by-fours that formed the walls. I heated pine sap to patch cracks between the outer boards, both to keep it warmer and to further outwit the pesky rodents.

I still had no idea how I would heat the place. It seemed a shame to cut a smoke hole in the corrugated metal roof that did such a great job keeping the rain out.

The next morning, I grabbed my canvas rucksack and headed out to gather some edible plants. Roasted rabbit and fish were very satisfying and they stuck to my ribs, as Grandma Sita would say, but there is nothing like greens in the summertime.

Fresh watercress bobbed cheerfully in bright green clusters at the edges of the cool, trickling, east fork of the Gila, the reflected sun blinding me momentarily now and then. Lamb’s quarters sprouted in narrow tongues along the shaded game trails and the small hearty rounded leaves of purslane carpeted large sunny meadows.

I felt like a thief who has come upon a jewelry store with the door swinging wide open, the help gone, after hours. Soon my sack was nearly full and I decided to see if I could find some prickly pear along the base of one of the sandy hills that stood sentinel high above the restless waters. I was rewarded with a large stand, with paddles twice the size of my hand.

Another day, sack on my back, I trudged flat-footed up the loose slope of a nearby hill, one that I hadn’t yet explored, careful not to slip. I reached a narrow flat band at the base of the hill and made my way around its curve, counterclockwise, scanning for plants to forage.

As I came around the sweep, I suddenly found myself walking into a rare raspberry bramble — full of ripe raspberries! I couldn’t believe my luck. Immediately pressing the greens deeper into the sack, I made room for the delicious haul I planned to take.

I hadn’t had a raspberry of any description since the virus, but they bloomed bright in my memory as jam, syrup and fresh, the last on top of a heaping bowl of homemade vanilla ice cream. Saliva flooded my mouth at the thought. As worried as I was about how I was going to fare through the winter, for the moment I just knew I had died and wound up in a largely undeserved heaven of some sort.

The first several handfuls went straight into my mouth. I continued picking, carefully setting each treasured handful into my sack, cradled by the tender greens. Once home, I mashed the remaining raspberries and spread them in a thin layer on some clean canvas, to dry into crumbly raspberry flakes to add to other dishes as I wanted, or even eat a little straight as a special treat.

At the end of the day, I often soaked in the spring-fed hot tubs built by the residents long ago, or in the natural springs that bubbled up directly from the river. Seth, Mama and Daddy and I used to sit in the luxurious lined pools that several residents of the area had built on their properties, piping in the naturally occurring hot water from the various places where the hot springs rose to the surface.

Then and now, the water drew the soreness from my body and brought peacefulness to my mind.

Burl loved our new home, munching contentedly between the shed and the river, or the butte and the shed. He seemed to instinctively understand that venturing further was a bad idea, and I was glad for his good sense. I didn’t want to have to defend him against coyotes, cougars or wolves, who would rather avoid humans, even now that there were so few of us to bother them.

I worked to survive, hoping even to thrive, but the loneliness deepened in my chest and churned the pit of my stomach daily.

I remembered Mama reading the book The Island of the Blue Dolphins to me when I was little, a true story of an Aleut girl left alone on her home island after her people were slaughtered and kidnapped by invaders. She lived her entire life alone there and was found when she was a very old woman.

With most of the population dead from the virus, the little village that had been here burned down and abandoned, it was possible that no one would come here for a very long time. Like the girl, I could probably figure out how to stay alive, but how much was that worth, to live alone from now on?

It was also likely enough that someone would come, but they could be people like Darian and his gang, intent on dominating and using others. Still, the drive to live is fundamental to all life, so I did the only thing I could do, hunt and collect food, and continue to make my shed winter-worthy.

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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