fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Twenty Five. {fiction}

Elaborate relief carvings, in the same style as Grandma Sita’s, covered the walls and ceilings at Grandpa Joe’s, although they included much more variety of subject.

Bears slumbered, wolves howled, cinquefoils bloomed prettily, and sacaton grass waved its nutritious seed heads in the breeze. Flowing water, sunbeams, and every form of flora and fauna to be found in the Gila, surrounded us, teeming on every surface. In Grandpa Joe’s house, we occupied a dreamlike, ghostly, version of our mountain home, in exaggerated abundance.

After Grandpa Joe had climbed happily into bed, snoring almost loudly enough to wake the dozing river, Victorio and I sat silently on the hillside, watching the night deepen from pale blue-gray to a rich indigo in the slight valley below. The temperature plummeted from the gentle daytime warmth, and would near freezing before dawn.

My head and heart clamored with the intensity of talking to so many people throughout the day, old friends and new acquaintances, after having spent a year completely alone. But after a while, the familiar sounds of the nighttime forest and the brisk coolness in the air calmed me, my jangling nerves growing quieter.

In a low voice, Victorio began to hum a familiar tune, then softly added words:

Turn north onto the new road, sunrise to the east

March on between layer cake, fam-ly hills on right

Look out for the rattlesnakes, when the weather’s warm

I turned to him in shock, mouth ajar in mute astonishment. He was singing the fourth stanza of my song, Grandma Sita’s song.

“How…?”

He shot me a quick sideways grin, then kept singing, verse after verse, not looking at me but out at the night-drenched forest before us. I shut my mouth and listened as he sang the rest of the song. With each verse, I saw nearly my whole journey there, from the turnoff at the highway, to the final rise before dropping down to the incinerated village of Gila Hot Springs.

When he finished, Victorio said, “Grandpa Joe helped your Grandma Sita make up that song. One summer when I was staying with him, they took drives to the turnoff from Silver City and figured out the route. Mostly Sita made up the lyrics, but together they would try out different phrasing until she was satisfied.

It’s not very poetic, I think, because she wanted it to be clear enough for a child, not so concerned about it being beautiful. I heard them practicing it so many times, I learned it too.

For the first few years after the virus, I would look down the road for you every time we went downstream far enough. It wasn’t often because we figured that if someone were going to come this way, it would probably be by that road. I was just sure you and your mom would try to find us, after you had come to bury Sita. I knew you survived, so I thought you’d be back.

But after a while, I figured you all must have died some other way.” Victorio looked down at his feet and fell silent.

Mama must have made up the stanzas from Columbus to the turnoff, then added the ones Grandma Sita and Grandpa Joe had made. Sita would have assumed we would come from Silver City, on the same highway but from the opposite direction. I didn’t know what to say. To think Victorio had been looking for me, for us, all that time. And finally, here I was, the only one in my family who made it.

A survivor amidst the ghosts.

Sung home.

***

Weeding is not my favorite pastime, but it’s really important if you want a good harvest in the fall. Devon and I crouched in the rows of new zucchini and yellow crook-necked squash, tugging at the invasive little miscellaneous sprouts of plants we did not want to compete with the new squashes.

New Anasazi beans climbed the graceful latticework of narrow willow shoots standing between the neatly mounded rows. The mountain sun beat steadily onto our bare arms, legs and faces, darkening my skin to a pecan wood shade and multiplying Devon’s already considerable freckle population.

I swiped the sweat from my dripping brow, accidentally smearing the dirt from my hands across my face. A fat mosquito perched on my forearm and I slapped haphazardly at it, leaving a blotch of blood along with more mud. The rains had been coming regularly, forming and sustaining the small puddles in which the mosquitoes multiplied.

“Aren’t these beautiful?” Devon asked, rust eyes gleaming, nodding towards the burgeoning growth. She yanked off her cotton baseball cap and wiped her brow with her forearm, her short salt-and-pepper hair crowning her head like a porcupine’s spines. Devon radiated relentless enthusiasm about gardening, and about most other things too, so I enjoyed her company even if I did not particularly care for the work.

Devon’s presence nearly always improved my own outlook. I wished I possessed her persistently jovial orientation, but short of that I felt grateful that hers rubbed off onto me when in close proximity.

“Yes, they are beautiful…” Whack! I popped another blood-engorged mosquito on my shoulder.

“Well,” Devon sat back with a satisfied sigh, “we’ve done a good job. Let’s get cleaned up. We’ll have time to rest before our meeting.”

We strode up the rise to the doorway that led into her cave home, Devon still with a spring in her step, me dragging my feet as if they were made of oak boles.  

After an exquisitely long shower and a change into clean clothes, I felt a lot more human. Devon had disappeared for a nap after her own shower into the bedroom she shared with her wife, Yazmin. I flopped onto the comfy couch in their living room, closing my eyes and drifting off, my sore muscles relaxing into the blissfully soft cushions.

Each of us were expected to learn skills from each other. It was foolish to rely only on the expertise of one person for certain sources of food, how to maintain our solar electrical systems or for other crucial kinds of knowledge. Not to mention the fact that it took the labor of more than one person to keep up with some jobs. Like a garden big enough to feed us all, for instance.

Yazmin shared Devon’s enthusiasm for gardening, although she had been an anthropologist for the Forest Service, specializing in pre-industrial social systems. Everyone had specialties and sub-specialties that contributed to our tiny community somehow or other. 

Kate took care of the goats and Jeanne knew all about local plants for food, medicine and other uses, just as they both had before the virus. Jeanne’s cave included an infirmary where she treated the rest of us for everything from sprained ankles to headaches to serious flus. Noah was the building maven, so he worked closely on any new construction, or improving on what had already been done.

Gary had been a school teacher as well as a biologist, so he was in charge of teaching Olga and Patricio’s children, and would do the same for the younger ones when they grew old enough. During the summer, everyone worked in the garden, gathered wild foods, hunted, or prepared the food for storage, in addition to whatever else they did.

I was the librarian. It was my job to locate information needed by the others and to generally familiarize myself with the contents of the library. I loved my job.

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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