fiction

Sung Home: Chapter Forty One. {fiction}

Sarah welcomed Victorio and I into the tipi she shared with her sister, Nell, a younger, shier version of Sarah. Frank was invited to stay at Barbara’s and her husband’s yurt.

After tending to the horses and unloading our belongings, Victorio and I rested on our guest bed in Sarah’s tipi, Sarah discreetly tugging her sister out the door.

A couple of hours later, we emerged well-rested from our womb-like lodgings to wander around the camp. I couldn’t help but stare at everyone, much as Jeanne’s small children had gawped at me. Now I knew why the others who had traveled here were so happy and animated when they returned home. To see so many new faces and experience a whole other way of living from ours felt invigorating.

Soon we crossed paths with Frank. He joined us on our rounds, introducing us to many of the people we encountered. Noah was nowhere in sight.

I had so many questions. Where did they get the clay that one woman carefully coiled into what looked like would become a broad bowl? Where did they find the obsidian and chert that the knappers used to form arrowheads, axes and knives? If I only had time to learn a little about one of the two, should I pick clay or stone?

A lot of the people wore a comfortable looking cloth I couldn’t identify. What was it made out of? Did they grow it or collect it?

That evening, we gathered around the large fire pit in the center of the circle of tent-homes. Rough-hewn tables held a buffet of fresh corn, salads of wild and garden greens, rabbit fajitas in hand-ground corn tortillas, an herbed sacaton grain dish that reminded me a little of rice, mesquite mush and a salsa made from tomatoes, green chiles, garlic, cilantro and onions.

As had happened when I first arrived at the Cave People’s home, I was also peppered with questions non-stop. They were especially curious about and disturbed by my description of Darian’s compound and wide-eyed at my tale of escape from there. I left out the part about how the Cavers had left me nearly to die. I didn’t want them to have a bad impression of them, of us. And, of course, I never spoke about Sylvia.

It felt strange and exciting to sleep in Sarah and young Nell’s tipi after so many months of sleeping in caves. The wind buffeted rhythmically against our conical shelter, punctuated by a gentle pattering rain that came and went through the night. Coyotes yipped and unknown critters skittered furtively in the nearby grasses.

I had forgotten how much more insulated, protected, we were in our caves, even after sleeping outside for so long on my way to the village of Gila Hot Springs. Our garden, goats and horses were sheltered from predators by the circular concave butte. It had been easy to get used to such safety and luxury.

I also had become accustomed to sleeping next to Victorio. After lying face to face with him while my thoughts settled, I squirmed around with my back against his chest, legs tucked up along the inside curve of his, feeling his steady breath in my ear as I drifted off. He had fallen soundly asleep the instant he lay down his head.

The next day, our one full day in the Forest People’s camp, I chose to study clay and Victorio went to the knapping pit hoping to at least learn the basics of making a stone knife. We had plenty of regular, metal knives at home, but one day we might need to make new ones. Frank spent a lot of the day conferring with Barbara, her husband Steven, and others who appeared to make up some kind of council.

After another feast that evening, we were treated to a whole chorus of singers, singing everything from old-timey bluegrass, to jazz, rock-n-roll, and gospel hymns. Three guitars, a harmonica and drums provided accompaniment.

I had never noticed the lack of music in our own community before the Forest People came to visit us, but now it seemed impossible that we could survive without it.

I thought about what Barbara had said about wanting to preserve the songs. Some paper and pens would go a long way towards doing exactly that. Maybe the library should be storing musical knowledge as well as books. Instruments could be constructed, but songs had to be sung regularly by each generation to be remembered, or they would be lost.

Even the little that this group had retained, just a few years after the virus, was too much for a few people to maintain over generations. Unless it were written down.

The next morning came too soon. Frank and the Forest People’s leaders had decided that we would not bring more of them back with us this time. Although the first frost was still several weeks away, it was close enough that every person was needed to pour their energies into preparations for the uncertain winter months.

On the way home, Frank told us that he and Barbara and the rest of their council had spoken at length about our long-term relationship with them. They had proposed an exchange of teachers, since both communities would need as many skills and as much information as they could get in order to improve our chances of survival in the long run.

Starting in the spring, we would trade people for a month or so at a time so each community could learn from the other. Jeanne could come and teach them about herbs and other healing methods. Sarah would come and instruct Jeanne, Olga and Kate on midwifery. Devon would come to share some of her gardening techniques.

Their best clay person, Claude, who had taught me, would come and explain about how to identify suitable clay in the river bed, how to fire pots properly and use decoration techniques. Ching Shih would teach martial arts. And so on. By cooperating this way, each community could vastly expand their knowledge.

“And yet we’re going to hold out on them. We have a huge advantage that they don’t,” I said, referring to our library, the paper, the ink, and the printing press.

Frank cocked his head in amusement at me as we rode side by side. “Lakshmi, you’re the one who was so fired up about keeping the library a secret! Which is it then? Share and share alike? Or protect the library from others at all costs?”

Confusion buzzed inside my head like bees caught in a jar. Which was the right answer?

We arrived home at dinnertime three days later to find that another trip, this one into Silver City, was being hotly debated, even before we could formally address the proposal at the next official community meeting the following day.

“This will probably be the last chance to take a trip like this until after the winter, and I want to have as much as possible to move my work forward during the winter,” said Tochuku, leaning forward over his half-eaten dinner. Victorio, Frank and I dug in ravenously, having pushed past lunch in order to make it home before dark.

I had whacked a lot of rabbits on their sweet heads for meals along the way, but we didn’t want to stop to hunt or cook the last day of travel. Some sat back watchfully while others stared at their plates, nibbling.

“We already lost one person because of these trips,” said Hallie, mouth tight, eyes bright with pain from the fresh departure of her brother to live with the Forest People.

“I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation again,” added Olga shaking her head defeatedly.

“I understand your fears, but look at what we’ve gained from these trips. We’re now working well with a whole other community. We’re already trading goods and information, skills. And the last trip to Silver gave us a lot more viability in the long run. We can’t have our decisions based on one disastrous trip,” Yazmin declared.

Olga said, “I agree that it’s been good to get to know the Forest People. I really do see that. But going into Silver is much more risky. We know they have Slavers there.”

“Some of us don’t mind taking that risk,” responded Tochuku.

“But a risk that any one of us takes will affect the rest of us if it goes wrong. We can’t afford for anyone to be captured or killed. Or for the wrong person to follow you back,” countered Olga.

The room fell silent for a few long moments, considering the truth of her statement.

Beto broke the silence, asking, “How would you even get to the Makers? The Monks said the Slavers patrol the whole area a lot. How would you make it from the Monks to the Makers without being caught?” Beto sounded more curious than defiant.

Frank set down his fork, still chewing, “I know how we could do it.” Everyone turned to look at him. He hadn’t weighed in pro or con, but apparently took the question seriously.

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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