fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Twenty. {fiction}

On my third day in the cave, I noticed a vertical strip of wood embedded in the wall behind the large cupboard at the back of the kitchen.

I hadn’t seen it earlier because it was almost perfectly aligned with the right edge of the back panel. It looked as if someone had built something wooden into the wall behind the cupboard, which seemed odd to me. Starting at the top, about six feet up, I ran a finger down it while looking behind the cupboard, trying to see how wide the board was.

When I was down to about waist-high, I saw a black button about the size of a quarter set into the wooden strip. I pressed the button and heard a low humming sound which caused me to jump backwards. I stood gawking as the whole cupboard opened like a door, as if the whole thing was on hinges. Which, as it turned out, it was.

A large doorway stood open, wide enough for two people to easily walk through side by side. An arched passageway a couple of yards long led into a big bedroom, similar in style to the entryway sleeping loft but much larger and fully furnished.

Inside I found a queen-sized bed with dark wooden nightstands on either side, each topped with identical floral lamps. Two matching dressers flanked a tall double-doored wardrobe standing against the far wall. A graceful freestanding mirror set in a beautifully carved wooden frame stood beside of one of the dressers.

A large trunk sat at the foot of the bed, which, upon opening the lid, revealed linens, bedspreads and quilts. Gentle light flowed downward from a clean metal tube in the ceiling that extended upwards for several yards. Floral and landscape paintings and exotic woven textiles adorned the walls.

On the wall at the head of the bed, towering over anyone who would sleep there, was the vivid, colorful batik of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. Grandma Sita’s batik. The one that inspired my mother to name me after this earth-loving deity. I lay myself down in wonder on the bed, allowing the beauty of this place to engulf me. I felt held and comforted under Lakshmi’s gaze, as if Grandma and Mama were there with me.

I felt like I was in one of those stories of portals into enchanted realms. But there was no evil witch or queen, no fauns or living chess pieces or smiling, talking cats. Just the magic of love and vision, surviving the abyss of death. I lay dreamily for a long time, allowing the soothing feeling of being loved and embraced across the dimensions to seep deeply into my flesh and to marinate my bones.

So gradually that I hardly realized what I was seeing. An arched doorway slowly came into focus. It stood opposite the foot of the bed, set with a perfectly matched arched door made from two layers of two-by-fours, simple but well-sanded and varnished. I rose from the soft bed and walked through the doorway, standing open-mouthed once more.

The immense room before me, a room at least three or four times larger than all the rest of the cave-house, was lined with metal-frame book shelves from floor to ceiling, all filled with books. There were thousands of them. Grandma Sita had built a hidden library.

I wandered down each row, which were neatly labeled fiction or non-fiction, and numbered in the Dewey decimal system exactly like the library on Cooper Street in Silver City. Standing near the entryway, I found an old-fashioned paper card catalog to facilitate one’s search for particular subjects or authors.

The books were raggedly old, shiny and new, hard-back, paperback, small and large. Every topic I could think of was represented in this collection. History, mathematics, philosophy, books on nearly every country, region and culture imaginable.

There were large sections on building and on solar, wind and water-generated electricity, and equally large sections on permaculture and local plants for both food and medicine. There was an arts and crafts selection, covering everything from drawing to basket-making and weaving to pottery.

The fiction section was just as extensive, holding every genre from hundreds of years ago right up to the year the virus hit. Along one wall sat a neat row of tables, and at each of these were comfortable sturdy wooden chairs with thick cushions. A giant chalkboard ran the full length of the wall next to the tables. You could easily have a school here if you wanted to. Or use it for planning.

But who would I teach or learn from? Who would plan anything with me?

The most tantalizing thing of all my discoveries was the old-fashioned, hand-operated printing press inside a large alcove at the very back of the library. Huge rolls of newsprint stood like sentinels against the wall next to the press, along with at least 50 one-gallon bottles of ink. I had a hard time envisioning wanting to print anything, much less multiple copies. Who on earth would I print them for?

Still, just the thought that I could stirred my imagination. What would I want to tell subsequent generations, if indeed there were ever to besubsequent generations?

After my complete investigation of the library, I pulled a copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe from its shelf and returned to the large comfy bed in the beautiful bedroom for a read. Mama had read to Seth and me the story before the virus, and though I couldn’t remember the particulars, I remembered enjoying it. It seemed like a logical place to start.

The weeks passed peacefully. Dreamily. A full year had gone by since I had escaped from the compound, and I knew I wasn’t going to die. At least not of starvation. At least not yet. I had become so accustomed to the loneliness that ate a fresh hole in my chest each day that I hardly noticed it, much as I hardly noticed how I still favored the ankle I had sprained. Coping becomes a habit.

But I had found refuge, safety and comfort. And plenty of food. As winter gradually eased its grip on the land, I soaked up the luxury of my home and enjoyed regaining some of the weight I had lost.

Another delightful discovery I made was that of the heating system throughout the cave complex. The floors held pipes cleverly set inside a wooden framework under the floor tiles. Knobs to release the flow of water were placed periodically, causing water from the hot springs to circulate beneath the floors, gently warming them and therefore the rooms.

I didn’t even have to make a fire to stay warm unless I felt like it.

Much of the snow had melted, and I heard the loud crack of the river thawing as slabs of ice broke loose and drifted downstream. Tiny brave shoots lifted their heads skyward in the patches of ground that lay in the sunlight most of the day. The days were pleasantly cool but not cold now, though the nights were still often below freezing.

I had resumed my hunting and gathering activities as soon as it was practical. Although I had enjoyed stuffing myself for a while with the dried goods from the cave’s pantry while the winter still held the land tightly in its grip, I didn’t want to deplete those reserves any more than necessary.

I felt thrilled by my triumph of surviving the winter. Who knew what challenges next winter would bring? Maybe I could make my way back to the compound to rescue Robert. Together we could make it here. But would my luck hold? Could I sneak in again and sneak out with Robert? Could I make it away a second time, especially without Burl?

My heart sank like a stone thrown into a deep well at the thought of Burl. I missed his steady, comforting presence, and his perennially unflappable demeanor. I felt searing guilt at my failure to save him from those coyotes.

Each night I curled up with my latest book, and was transported to an imaginary world, or a city on the other side of the planet where a savvy yet vulnerable detective sought to solve a difficult but compelling murder case. Or I read about the local edible plants in order to better supplement my diet. I found in the library stacks of spiral-bound notebooks and loose-leaf paper and binders.

Clusters of pens sealed in their original plastic wrappers were piled inside a deep drawer. Maybe one day I would have something to write for the collection myself.

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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