fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Thirty. {fiction}

A few days later, I went to Grandpa Joe’s and Victorio’s. Kate had given me the day and night off so I could sleep in my bed at their place.

I found Joe sitting at the dark oak table in their kitchen, sipping some tea and reading a book he had gotten from the library, The Story of ‘B’. Joe looked up from his book, laying it face down on the table. His eyes lit up and his mouth twitched into the slight smile that meant he was very happy. He usually wore a poker face, even when he was pretty pleased.

“Victorio’s out hunting with Beto… want some tea? There’s still plenty in the pot.”

Taking a chair, I nodded yes to the tea. “It was you I was hoping to see actually.”

He turned his face from the mug he was filling, one eyebrow lifted questioningly.

“I’m wondering how the Apaches dealt with the people coming into their territory, I mean, like right here.”

Both eyebrows lifted.

“Well, we didn’t exactly win that one, did we?” he answered wryly, shaking his head as he sat back down on his chair, handing me my tea.

“No, well, I mean I guess not… but why not? What did they do wrong?”

Joe sat for a moment, considering.

“You know, Lakshmi, I’m pretty sure the only thing we did wrong was not have as many people or guns.”

He paused again.

“You see, there were so many coming and so many more that would keep coming. Compared to that, there were only a few of us. And they didn’t want to live with us. They wanted to live without us. They called us “savages” and thought we had no right to exist. Just like they thought the wolves and bears and coyotes and mountain lions didn’t have a right to exist.”

“But what happened?” I had heard enough from Mama and Daddy to know the Apaches were here first, and that they were treated badly, killed and put on reservations, but the rest was fuzzy.

Joe sighed deeply.

“First the Spanish came and took our people as slaves, way down south to Mexico. They were always a thorn in our side, though we did trade with them some.

Later the Americans came here for the silver and copper. We didn’t like that because we believed it was wrong to dig into the earth so much. They told their government we were interfering with their mining, so the government sent soldiers to run us off and kill us. Geronimo resisted them here, like the Victorio that our Victorio is named after.

Geronimo was born here, up the Middle Fork of the Gila River, and Victorio just to the east. But even Geronimo gave in at the end, and the leader Victorio, killed. Most of us were sent off to reservations, some to prison. Some hid in the mountains in Mexico.”

“What if people come here?”

“Well, that could happen, though we are pretty far from any big town. It is a good place to live for sure. We’re protected somewhat by the caves and the bowl. But it means we can’t stray too far either.”

We sat in silence for a few minutes, thinking.

“What’s your book about?” I asked, lifting my chin towards the book on the table.

“Oh, I guess it’s about how we got into this mess. Or, you know, it was a mess before the virus came. I suppose the virus kind of settled the matter a bit. Got rid of the problem, or most of the ones causing it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we pretty much knew that something bad was going to happen, push things over the edge. Everything was polluted, the animals were going extinct all over the world, there were too many people everywhere and more being born. We were causing the world to heat up with our cars and other machines.

The hurricanes and tornadoes were getting real bad. And the wildfires were whipped up out of control. The icecaps were melting…”

I had learned that when Grandpa Joe stopped talking, he was often letting his next sentences collect in his mind before speaking them, so I said nothing.

“We don’t know what caused the virus. Could’ve been any number of things, maybe an ancient virus come back to life after the thawing of the glaciers, or something mutated. Or maybe even something man-made. But now we have less than a billion people, at least that’s what they figured before the media went down.

Here, this area, about one hundred miles around, we probably have about three thousand, or at least we did right after the virus. Who knows how many killed each other in the panic afterwards, or of their own stupidity? Most people couldn’t even grow a little corn, and the grocery stores were used up in a few days. I just hope whoever made it this long keeps to themselves. Away from us.”

Just then Victorio arrived, sweaty and dust-covered. His game bag bulged with rabbits in it and he held a long string of fish in one hand. His eyes met mine and he broke into a broad grin.

“Hey, hey! Looks who’s here. I thought maybe you had forgotten about us here while you’re off having fun with Kate and the goats.”

“Forget you maybe, but never Grandpa Joe!”

He grimaced in mock pain, hand to his heart, as if stung there. “Very funny, Lak,” and turning to Joe, added, “I’m going to put the rabbits in the cool room for now and fry up these fish for lunch. After I get cleaned up.”

Victorio set the fish in the sink and disappeared down a dark hallway with the rabbits. I got up and set to work scaling and filleting the fish, putting the remains in the compost bucket by the sink.

Just as I pulled the large cast iron skillet from its hook on the wall, Victorio re-emerged from the hallway, wearing clean jeans, no shirt, and rubbing his long, loose hair with a towel.

Draping the towel over a chair, he sidled up next to me at the counter, pulling salt, pepper and sunflower seed oil from the cupboard above. He smelled fresh and clean. Something about his nearness made me uneasy, so I ceded the cooking to him and returned to my seat beside Joe. Victorio took pride in his cooking ability, so it was better to give him his space anyway.

“I’ll jerk the rabbit meat and take it to the storeroom at Jeanne and Frank’s,” said Victorio. Joe nodded in acknowledgment.

Each cave had some unique feature to contribute to the whole community, and Jeanne and Frank’s place sported an enormous pantry deep in the center of the hill for dried, canned, pickled things and food otherwise suitable for longer-term storage. We kept what we needed for the short term in our own kitchens.

When the fish was nearly done, Victorio pulled a waxed fabric wrapper of cooked onions, squash and pinon nuts out of the refrigerator and set them around the edges of the fish to heat. Joe read his book while I set the table.

After I had shoveled enough of Victorio’s delicious fare into my mouth, I slowed my eating in favor of posing questions. I had a lot of questions for everyone.

“Do you think it was a good idea that Tochuku and the others left to find more materials?”

When in Joe’s presence, Victorio nearly always waited for him to respond first unless addressed directly.

“Well, Lakshmi, us Apaches lived just fine without the solar electricity or radios and all that for thousands of years before the White Eyes showed up. Sure, it’s nice to be able to turn a knob on the stove and cook food, but it’s not that hard to cook using a campfire, or wood stove, and use candles for light. There’s a big difference between a want and a need.”

Their kitchen featured an old-fashioned wood cook stove right next to the electric one Victorio had just used.

“So I don’t really care about that,” he paused for a couple of beats, “but it’s also true that there are others around, so it would be good to know who is where, and what they’re up to. We don’t want to be taken by surprise.” Grandpa Joe dug back into his plate.

Victorio said, “After they get back from looking for electronic supplies, Beto and I are thinking about scouting out the area in all directions. See what we can see.”

“Yeah, you gave us some good information about what you saw on your way here. Sounded like there are some folks around, but they’re just keeping to themselves. Except those guys from the compound you said were going to Silver City,” said Joe.

The thought of riding out to search the area made my stomach clench a little. Now that I was here, I was scared to leave. I didn’t know if I would ever stop being afraid of being taken back to Darian’s, certainly not before the regular nightmares I had about him stopped.

Victorio said, “We’ve been settled in for a long time now. It took us a while to get over the shock of what happened, to figure out how to work together. You know, like a real community. I think that your coming here made some of us think more about what’s going on outside.

Also, the fact that some wouldn’t let us bring you in right away, and now they see how wrong that was, how scared they were for no reason, well, it’s made us think we shouldn’t be so passive, so fearful. We should know what’s going on and think about our future.”

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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