fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Thirty Five. {fiction}

“I could show them how to make cob cottages if they wanted to make permanent homes,” said Noah.

“What about sharing our solar equipment, or letting them use the wood-working studio?” asked Hallie.

“Bad idea!” said Frank, “we can’t let them know about all that we have.”

“You mean we’re going to be friends with them, and share food and skills, and maybe people, but we’re not going to tell them about the things that might be the most use to them?” Hallie shook her head, mouth pursed.

“I don’t mean that we’ll never tell them that stuff…,” said Frank.

“How will we know what to tell them, and when?” asked Hallie.

I had become more anxious as they talked about what we would share, an inkling of danger tickling the back of my mind. As the inking grew to a full-blown realization, I burst out, “The library! We can’t ever tell them about the library!”

Everyone’s heads swiveled in my direction as one. I almost never expressed a strong opinion when important decisions were being made, since I was so new to the group and knew so little about the topics discussed.

“Look… I, you know,” I stammered, “the library is really important. If anything were to happen to that, it would be like going back to the Stone Age in just a couple of generations. Information has to be passed down to the kids, and their kids. Or it will be like starting from scratch. It’s the one thing that’s truly irreplaceable, our written knowledge.” The group murmured, considering.

“She’s right,” said Yazmin. Others nodded, comprehending. “None of us has known a time when people have not been educated, and learned to read and write. None of us come from a generation when written works were not everywhere.”

Grandpa Joe stepped in, “Yes. I think she’s right too. We Apaches lived just fine without the written word, but our children heard stories from the moment they were born containing all our knowledge. We had good memories for all the details, and how the stories fit together. But we don’t have those skills now. It would be good to learn them again, but even I don’t know many of the old stories.

Our culture was damaged when we were forced into the boarding schools, and forbidden to practice our traditions. We have to protect the little knowledge we have very carefully. We can decide what to share in stages, as we get to know them. And to trust them. First, we don’t tell them where we live, or how. But we should bring them food, to show them goodwill.

Maybe we meet just once a month, bring more of us to meet them. Not too many at once. That’s enough to plan for now. But the library. Maybe we don’t ever need to let anyone know about that. We are its guardians now.”

We sat in silence considering.

Then Beto broke the solemn mood by proclaiming, “I just hope they have a nice young woman for Noah. Someone to take the edge off of his grouchiness!” A wave of laughter spread briefly through the group. Noah looked sideways at Beto for a moment, as if considering his response, but said nothing.

As had become usual, I took notes for the meeting, for posterity. For those future generations.

I had been reading accounts of the earliest settlements of our country, first in our region, in the American southwest, and then on the East Coast. Those people had come from other countries with their leadership structures and plans in place before they set sail from Europe, even if they didn’t always hold up.

We were just a smattering of survivors trying to cobble together a way of life from the remnants of our once massive and complex society. Despite that difference, it was interesting to see how our forebears had handled the task of survival, and of settling down to raise families.

It seemed to me that future generations, if there were future generations, would want to know what we talked about, how decisions were made, what we did, and how we did it. They would want to know about our failures and our successes. I decided to keep a journal of not only our meetings but the day-to-day goings-on in our little settlement.

That line of thinking led me to the History section in our library. Once a week I hauled several volumes back to Victorio’s — Greek, American, Chinese and Egyptian history — every kind of history from every part of the world. I wanted to understand why Grandpa Joe and others believed that all of humanity had been heading towards disaster, and find out how had we come to that place.

What had we done wrong? What was going to prevent us from making the same mistakes as they made? With most of the human population wiped out, how could we start over and do better this time?

I had read aloud to Victorio a story called A Canticle for Leibowitz, where civilization collapsed because of its mistakes, then rebuilt itself, then made the same mistakes, collapsing again. The story left us both feeling like that could easily happen to us too, and I wanted to make sure it didn’t.

“Right now, we’re just trying to survive,” said Victorio.

“Yeah, I know, but we have to think ahead too,” I said.

Victorio held my gaze for a moment, considering. “Yes. Yes, we do.”

We sat together on the couch, me leaning against one overstuffed arm, my legs draped across his lap, Victorio squeezing my tired feet pleasantly as I read to him. We had become more comfortable together but I didn’t know what that meant, or what I wanted to happen between us. I had become close to some of the others, Hallie, Kate and Jeanne especially, but I felt most truly at home with Victorio.

With him I felt most myself.

The morning came of our emissaries’ departure to visit the Forest People. The cloudless sky seemed to go on forever, and the midsummer’s sun, brilliant and warm, quickly evaporated the cool dew from the now dense grasses.

Noah, Ching Shih and Victorio mounted their horses, saddle bags full of provisions for their trip, and somewhat more than that to offer as a gesture of goodwill — mesquite flour, venison jerky, Kate’s finest goat cheese, and fresh vegetables and dried herbs from Devon’s garden. We had made the decision not to give them anything that would indicate that we had stores of food from before the virus.

I stood next to Victorio on his horse, feeling inexplicably awkward as he double-checked his bags and took the reins. He turned his hazel eyes on me for a long moment and reached down. I took his hand, acutely aware of its strength and warmth. My tongue stuck at the back of my throat, but I managed to croak, “Be careful. Come back…”

They had been gone three days when I took some books on cheese-making and wool-processing to Kate. She had been thinking about using the goats for wool as well as milk, but wasn’t sure how to proceed. I had just set them down on the kitchen table when she emerged from the pantry with a worried frown on her usually placid face.

She gave me a hug and I looked into her face, hoping I wouldn’t have to guess at what was on her mind.

I knew Kate still sometimes had terrible nightmares about her daughter, son-in-law and her three granddaughters’ deaths. She had been the one person in the household to survive. She had tended each one of them while they slid deeper into the maw of death. One by one she had buried them, day after day, until each and every one was gone.

When Jeanne had finished burying her own three youngest children and husband, and was sure that Hallie and Noah would not succumb to the virus, she found Kate sitting in her kitchen staring unseeing at the opposite wall. She appeared to not have eaten or drunk anything for at least a couple of days, her mouth so dry it hurt to open it for the water Jeanne insistently offered her.

Jeanne had nursed Kate back to life, even while she and her two surviving children reeled with their own shock. Kate was alive and functioning just fine now, but she was never quite the same. She avoided the children in our community, and they learned never to look to her for affection or help.

If I didn’t know her history, I would think she hated children, but I remembered how affectionate she had been with her grandchildren, and how tender she still was with her goats. Now I figured she avoided children because she couldn’t stand to love them and lose them.

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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