fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Twenty Seven. {fiction}

My home was far enough away that I usually stayed with Victorio and Grandpa Joe, since they had several spare bedrooms and I knew them best.

One room I claimed as my own, bringing a couple of Sita’s quilts, clothes and even a few of her paintings. Surrounding myself with these familiar belongings made me feel like she was close.

Grandpa Joe had only remembered the existence of the library after I had mentioned it to him, which is why even though they knew about Grandma Sita’s cave, the group didn’t use it. Wise as he was, between advancing age and possible damage to his brain from the virus, Joe’s memory just wasn’t the same as before.

The others were very happy to learn of the library. Each home had some books since after the virus, but all of those had been read by everyone in the eight years that had passed, and most were thrilled to have so much new reading material. In addition to its entertainment value, the library would help us to survive, even thrive.

I returned home to the library about once a week, staying a night or two. As lonely as I had been before, and glad to be welcomed into the arms and homes of the Cave People, I also enjoyed some quiet time alone with my books. I carried a list of requests for books on particular topics for the others on my trips.

Jeanne consumed all the books on herbalism and on ancient low-tech health and wellness systems like acupuncture and Ayurveda. She also studied anatomy and texts on surgery. Our library contained a huge section on building, which nearly made Noah swoon when he saw it.

Gary, our resident biologist, not only read the books on local flora and fauna, but used the notebooks and pens to keep detailed records of what he observed in the species of plants and animals in our ecosystem. No one knew how things would change, and how we might need to adapt over time. Plus, now he no longer had to compose all his lessons for the older children from memory.

Our library even contained textbooks from elementary through college level. We needed a good teacher to help the children get up to speed, and Gary was that teacher. He had a passion for passing on knowledge of all kinds to the next generation, and he genuinely cared for each student as individual people.

The parents of the little children — Jeanne, Frank, Hallie and Beto — all made constant use of the children’s section, in addition to anything that appealed to them personally. Every so often one of them would come with me to raid our store of children’s books, leaving with a satchel they could barely carry.

The older children — Walter, Zoe and Thomas — were escorted regularly by Patricio and Olga, and encouraged to pick a few that appealed to them. Their excitement at the selection was infectious and I felt thrilled to be able to encourage their healthy craving. Children throughout time have always loved a good story, fiction or true-to-life, as much as anything else in the world.

While she made good use of the books on animal husbandry, Kate loved the fiction section best of all. I could swear that reading about the troubles and triumphs of imaginary characters eased the pain of her own trials. She seemed steadier and more upbeat as she made her way through the selection.

Tochuku wanted to know if there were any books or other information stored in electronic form, but I found none. No electronic readers, no DVDs, no audio CDs, and certainly no flash drives, one of which could contain almost as much as our whole library of books. I could only assume that it just hadn’t occurred to Grandma Sita, since she had never been very big on computers herself.

Despite his disappointment at this oversight, Tochuku devoured the science texts like a man starved. While the others only requested one or two books at a time, Tochuku usually read five a week. He also used the notebooks and pens for detailed notes.

My cave was much farther from the others for a reason. The information in the library could not be replaced. If the community was found, it would be especially important to future generations that it be preserved. Everything we did came from knowledge and understanding stored inside of people and inside of books.

Sita and Grandpa Joe had wanted to minimize the risk that the library would be discovered if any of the other caves were found.

Whenever I walked into the library, I felt the way I had facing the ice cream section in the grocery store freezer as a little girl. I had a very hard time deciding which ones to pick and which to leave. I wanted to consume them all at the same time. I walked slowly down each aisle, running my hand across the spines of the books, scanning the titles.

If I had just finished a book, I chose a new one. If I was still reading my last book, I would consider which one I should take next. Was I in the mood for a swashbuckling pirate story? A mystery? A romance? I went wherever my literary hunger pangs took me. I simultaneously couldn’t wait to read all the fiction in it, and dreaded coming to the last book. I was a glutton for stories.

The non-fiction section represented to me all that had come before, all that humanity had learned to date, the mistakes we made and the triumphs we had celebrated over the millennia.

It seemed immense, to try to understand even a little of every field we had explored — mathematics, biology, geology, architecture, art, social sciences, how to make shoes from plant fibers, which mushrooms were edible and which would kill a person — there literally was no end to what we had learned and done.

There was no way one person could understand, much less expand upon, all that knowledge.

But there was more to it than that.

I found only one un-shelved book when I first entered the library, left on the closest table as a message to whomever entered the library first. A history book, describing in great detail the famous library of Alexandria, Egypt.

That library, destroyed two millennia ago, after having served as a center of learning for hundreds of years, had stored the accumulated knowledge for thousands of miles around. During its height, royal agents were given ample money and the task of buying and collecting as many scrolls (because that’s the form books came in then) as they could, on any topic, by any author.

Books that came in on ships were confiscated and copied by the library’s scribes. The copies were returned to their owners, and the library kept the originals. Scholars from all around were enticed into staying with the promise of being fed and housed, and also given time to pursue their own interests. Their only assigned task was to teach what they knew to students along the way.

The library housed anywhere from 40,000 to 400,000 books. They represented the best, most complete knowledge on every subject in that part of the world at the time. But it came to be in ruins, gradually during some periods of time, and suddenly at others, including destruction by fire during Julius Cesar’s civil war in 48 BC.

Because of the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, about 90 percent of the knowledge it had housed was lost to later generations. Grandma Sita had left this book to inform the finder of the importance of the library to future generations, and as a warning to keep it safe at all costs.

I learned that it was only very recently that the kinds of libraries I had loved as a child, and were found in most towns and every city in much of the world, had only been common for a hundred years or so before the virus came.

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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