fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Twenty Four. {fiction}

Hallie showed up next, her small girl, Uma, tucked peacefully asleep in a broad sling strapped across her chest.

Her eyes shone happily at the sight of me, and she clasped me to her like a long-lost sister, “Ooooh! I’m so glad to see you!” My heart swelled a size, bumping up against my ribs.

Jeanne interrupted Hallie, her expression solemn, “She was living in that shed all winter, the rodents ate her food.”

Still holding me close, Hallie turned to her mother as her face flushed scarlet. She paused a moment as the implication of Jeanne’s words sank in.

Turning back to me, eyes flashed brightly, Hallie said, “I was so worried about you! I was glad that Victorio went to check on you, even though he got into trouble for it. If I had known you hadn’t left but were starving in that shed, I would have gone to get you, no matter what!” I believed her. Already she felt like my best friend.

Hallie’s husband Beto arrived a few minutes later. I knew Beto as another neighbor of Sita’s, and the owner of a hot springs campground on the other side of the village. I found out that now he shared the responsibility for the horses and hunting with Victorio. Beto had known Grandpa Joe since he was a child, since Beto’s father had been a friend of his, and Apache like Joe.

Although I hadn’t known him as well as the others, he also held me long and hard. Apparently, the love of a grandmother for a grandchild can spread to others in her life as well.

I was squeezed, kissed and exclaimed over by Kate the goat lady too. She had lost her son, daughter-in-law, and their three children all within a few days of each other. I noticed that all these years later, she still seemed a kind of shell-shocked, laughing a little too loudly, then staring into space at times.

Kate was living with Ching Shih, who I was told would be along shortly, and Ben, who I would have to see later, when I could go to their home. Ben was quite elderly now, and wasn’t sturdy enough to leave their home often.

Grandpa Joe enfolded me in his thin creaky arms for a long time. He felt like firewood that had been curing a little too long. Strong, but brittle and light. My heart surged with happiness that he had survived the virus. If I held any reservations about joining this group up until this point, I knew then, without question, that I would throw my lot in with these people.

As Grandma Sita’s partner, Grandpa Joe was the closest thing to family I had here and I could never walk away from him.

I also met those who I had never known. Some had worked for the Forest Service — Frank, who had been a law enforcement officer, Yazmin, an anthropologist, Devon, an agriculturist, and Gary, a biologist.

Others had been camping in the area when the virus came — Ching Shih, a martial artist and detective from Hong Kong, Tochuku, the community’s engineering and technical expert, and Olga and Patricio, an artist couple who had adopted the three orphans, whose grandfather had succumbed to the virus while camping with the children.

Enough of the group had opposed my joining them, as soon as they spotted me by my little shed cabin, to make that agreement stick. Nevertheless, I wasn’t too surprised to find that none of them seemed particularly malicious. Like Frank, most expressed sincere happiness that I had, in fact, made it to them.

It turned out that Frank was the one who had first noticed me near my shed in the early fall. They had no idea that I had already been there a half a year at that point, nor what I had in the way of provisions. Some of the others hung back from me, whether from distrust, shyness or guilt, I didn’t know.

It was easy to keep my distance from the new people, while basking in the warmth of my freshly reacquainted longtime friends.

The orphans Walt, Zoe and Thomas seemed wary at first, much like the toddlers, but soon jostled each other, vying for a spot close to me as we all moved from the table to the couches.

Walt and Zoe were twins who had just turned 12, Thomas 14. The three looked nearly as alike as triplets, except for the age and gender differences. All had the same lean, angular features, and thick chestnut hair burnished with bronze highlights.

“Your gramma made up that song,” Grandpa Joe said in his low, gravely, voice, turning to me, next to him on a couch, “the one that brought you here. She had read a book about the Australian Aborigines, Songlines, about how they used songs as a map, and it gave her the idea. She made your mama learn it, and told her to teach it to you kids, just in case, though your mama thought she was being a little silly.”

“Your mama didn’t know about the cave, see. We couldn’t tell anyone. We just wanted to make sure you young ones could make it here, if need be. We knew you could always find Standing Mountain, you know, Cooke’s Peak, so she made a song starting near there.” Grandpa Joe stared blankly into the air for a moment, then said, “I sure miss her.” He paused again, looking down.

“But I’m sure glad you’re here.” He grinned abruptly, patting my hand, jet eyes beaming straight into my own.

My brain buzzed with the cacophony of questions they had for me, some insisting I tell them all about my journey, while others said not to rush me, that I was probably overwhelmed and tired. I obliged them as best I could, although the many interruptions with questions caused my account to wind around and backtrack a lot.

Eyes widened as I described the winter — finding my food plundered, the rationing, my dwindling store of food, and of course, the loss of Burl. I remained somewhat fuzzy about what prompted my escape from the compound. I wasn’t ready to talk about Sylvia yet. Maybe never would be. I still dreamed sometimes of her swirling rainbow dress and laughing face.

Jeanne, Victorio, Hallie and Noah produced a proper feast for the swollen horde as we talked, the cooks listening from the kitchen to my chaotic narrative. Frank and Victorio hauled another huge table over from the far recesses of the living room along with enough chairs to accommodate the whole crowd.

The cooks set out a huge salad, bristling with colorful slices of bell peppers, thick carrot curls, juicy tomato wedges and emerald ribbons of lettuce, all of which had been plucked from the garden minutes before. Loaves of fresh bread appeared on a platter next to a generous piece of aromatic soft herbed goat cheese.

A steaming, hefty pot of rabbit stew with onions, young carrots and cabbage also materialized, the scent of which lured the rest of us to the tables to dine. I couldn’t remember when I had last eaten so well, and in such good company. Conversation slowed as mouths were filled and hunger sated.

The sun was sliding behind the high western ridge when people began murmuring their goodbyes to one another before making their way back to their own homes. Jeanne’s house was quite full, between her, Frank, Noah and her toddlers, so I spent the night at Victorio and Grandpa Joe’s place which had several unused bedrooms, in the next cave upriver from Jeanne’s.

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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