fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Eighteen. {fiction}

The external walls had been carved with clusters of oversized flower blooms — roses, sunflowers, dahlias, and lilies — set atop sturdy sandstone stems.

The centers of the blooms held round plexiglass windows through which I could see dusty sunlight and the branches of mountain mahogany and scrub oak, shielding the windows from outside view. Small seats emerged from the walls, set beneath this mineral bouquet. Small niches nestled between the stems about head high, holding dusty candlesticks atop simple, smooth, wooden candle-holders.

Cheerfully painted pounded tin wall sconces held electric lightbulbs. The floor was paved in hefty pale burnt-orange Saltillo tiles, accented with colorful smaller tiles set artfully between, in counterpoint to the surrounding tan stone.

I felt like Alice walking through the looking glass, or more likely, down a really big rabbit hole. Or into a hobbit home.

A large central pillar flowed in rippling waves from floor to ceiling, carved in the shape of a sturdy alligator juniper, rough offset squares running up the trunk, the underside of branches expanding overheard and melting into the stone ceiling. The base of the trunk took the shape of raised roots forming a circular banco-style bench complete with cushions, as dusty as everything else, for guests no doubt.

Slowly, feeling pretty sure that I was dreaming, I walked around the pillar, spotting a large platform carved into the sandstone, topped with an equally large mattress. Carefully folded blankets lay at the bottom of the bed. Pillows, all very dusty, rested at the head of the bed. Small shelves had been carved into the wall that bound the bed to the outside wall, holding books and still another candle-holder.

Past the foot of the bed were long, broad wooden shelves, set right into the sandstone, presumably for clothes or other personal items. Above these larger shelves, three small round windows sat in a row, beyond which I could see some dormant raspberry bushes, also hiding the windows from easy view, but allowing in plenty of high desert sunlight.

As I walked slowly by, I ran my hand over the top blanket, feeling the grittiness of the sand that had sifted onto it from the low ceiling over the years that this place must have lain empty. I stared at the blanket, a dim memory tugging at the back of my brain… Sita! This was a quilt Grandma Sita had made. I remembered that it had been on the bed in which Seth usually slept when we came to visit.

I stood stock-still, mind whirling in an attempt to make sense of this. Could this be Sita’s place? No! We would have known. She would have told us. She must have given the quilt to a friend who made this place.

Then I noticed farther ahead, to the left, a passageway leading farther into the hill. I stepped into the short hallway and it split in a V, into two other rooms. I bore right, into a gently lit, curving space, this one even larger than the first.

The kitchen.

Several more small, round windows stood in deeply set window sills, above a long wooden countertop. An old-fashioned icebox sat to the right of the counter, a bulky metal box with a handle at the front. I pulled the handle and the door swung open. It was empty but for the thickly insulated walls and several shelves.

At the bottom was a full-length drawer, presumably for ice or cold water to slow the decay of fresh foods.

Most astonishing was the sink. An actual deep-set stainless-steel sink, complete with water faucets. Water faucets. Under a hill, in a carved-out cave. I reached towards the faucet as timidly as if it might strike me. I turned the Cold knob. And out came water. Cool water. I tentatively cupped my hand below the flow, sipped the water and found it delicious. I turned off the faucet.

Wooden cupboards set above the windows contained mugs, glasses, plates and bowls. Drawers below the counter held silverware and cooking utensils. The lower cupboards held pots, frying pans, measuring cups, mixing bowls and assorted baking pans. A small two-burner electric stove and oven sat daintily to the right of the sink.

Behind me, opposite the counter and sink, stood an expandable kitchen table, with room for four but could, when the leaf was in place, seat eight. Four chairs were tucked in, as if awaiting company.

Beyond it all stood deep-set floor-to-ceiling shelves, loaded heavily with canned and boxed goods. Stuffed. I even found an unopened gallon jar of crystalized honey. I couldn’t even remember when I had anything sweeter than raspberries. Eyes like a giant panda’s and jaw dropped to the floor, my mouth watered.

Canned pinto beans, red chile powder, pouches of  heat-and-serve Indian food, rice, oatmeal, baking powder, salt, pepper, a whole corner of spices of all kinds, double-bagged sugar… and on and on. Another set of shelves on the adjacent wall, much deeper and sturdier than the others, contained sealed five-gallon buckets of oats, rice, several kind of beans, flour, sugar, salt and cooking oils, two deep.

It was a massive amount of food.

Moving like a zombie, I pulled out one of the chairs and lay my head on the table, trembling again, tears running down my cheeks, sniffing the snot collecting in my nose. I could survive for a year on what was on the smaller shelves alone. If I couldn’t make it here, starting from this place, I didn’t deserve to live.

Slowly I lifted my head, wiping my nose on my sleeve, remembering the other room, as yet unexplored. I floated back towards the entryway room and made a right. This room sported a wooden door made of cross-set one-by-fours, which I tentatively pushed inwards.

Bright tiles of all colors covered nearly every surface. It was as if kindergarteners were asked to make the ones that covered the floor and counter. They were all blobby, uneven shapes, though flat on top, like amoebas pressed into microscope slides, or sloppily poured pancakes.

From small as a quarter to twice the size of my palm, they flowed across the floor, up the side of the tub, which was shaped like a gigantic porcelain clamshell and tipped up on one end, then ran up across the counter and down into the sink. An underwater scene of fish and water plants covered one entire wall.

Sturdy heavily speckled Gila trout, the narrower, graceful loach minnow, the gawky, narrow longfin dace with its cartoonish, oversized fins, all swam with the river’s waves, around tile rocks and water grasses.

The style was definitely Grandma Sita’s. I began to think she may have had more to do with this place than I had first thought. Then I vaguely remembered making oddly shaped tiles with her, when, in fact, I had been a kindergartener. She had rolled thick slabs of clay through the large clay-smoosher as we had called it, and she said Seth and I could cut them however we wanted.

The only thing that was not covered in tiles were the fixtures, and the most surprising piece of equipment of all — the bidet. While just short of full indoor plumbing, it looked like one could at least take a pee indoors in a pinch. And wash up besides. I turned the knob, and water flowed through the faucet. Small shelves were carved into wall just above the sink, each one edged in fine leafy, sandstone vines.

A tall, broad cupboard with glass windows sat at the far end of the bathroom, holding sheets, towels, and blankets. Next to it sat a hand-powered washer and an old-fashioned clothes-wringer.

Drawers and a small cabinet under the sink held incidental first aid supplies, nail clippers, tweezers, an oral thermometer, and something I literally had not seen in years — store-bought shampoo, conditioner and soap. Along the tops of the walls, water nymphs and mermaids frolicked happily, carved in relief in the sandstone.

I guessed the sun was probably barely bobbing above the horizon now. It seemed like I should go back to the cabin, and sleep on the implications of my discovery. But I didn’t want to leave. I was sure that if I left now, I would wake up in the morning and find this was all a dream. At the very least, I wanted to sleep inside this dream. And I desperately wanted it to be real. I needed it to be real.

I had spotted some matches in one of the drawers.  

Matches. Imagine that.

I lit a few candles, in the bedroom and in the kitchen.

I pulled some deer jerky out of my pocket for my dinner. I just couldn’t bring myself to eat any of the canned or packaged foods in the pantry. Like a greedy dragon with a hoard of gold and precious gems, I wanted to have it, not use it, at least not yet.

After my meager dinner, I lay awake for a long time on the soft elevated bed, grains of sand that had resisted my attempts to shake them out making their way under my shirt and down my pants. The smell of sandstone was so thick, I had a moment where I imagined myself in a tomb, albeit a beautiful one. Maybe I was really dead. Or dying.

It was incredibly quiet inside the hill, and I found it unnerving not hearing the usual night sounds — the trickling of the creek, howls of the wolves, hooting of owls, and skittering of small rodents. But when I finally slept, peace settled deeply into my bones. It was as if I hadn’t slept in years.

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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