Fiction · 06/16/2010

From the Ruins

THEN

Savosoyah was a proud man. For his wife, for his son, for his daughter: he protected and provided. Few men could climb rock as he could; few men could shape and wield a spear with equal skill.

But when his young daughter took pained and feverish, Savosoyah was overcome with helplessness. He tried and tested every herb within the valley, but no remedy brought her strength. He used his fingertips, cactus needles, and eagle talons, but no variation of applied pressure brought relief. A child’s soul was strong and untarnished, but Savosoyah worried that the faces of death were growing immune to the successful practices employed by his people.

At night, his family asleep, Savosoyah cried in the dark.

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NOW

The way his jaw slopes and forehead angles gives Landon a unique, half-moon appearance, makes him strangely cartoonish from any and all angles. Oddly attractive at 25, he is now just odd looking, decades later. Especially come summer when he turns as red as blooming Indian paintbrush and peels like an onion. Katrina, his third wife, worries he’ll become the poster boy for skin cancer.

Landon is devoted to the favorite among his offspring. Anasazi Building Company is his baby. Covering the Southwest in Mediterranean Villas is his baby’s motto.

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THEN

Men of his village descended below earth by ladder into a kiva. A healing ceremony was soon performed for Savosoyah’s daughter. A shock of her ebony hair was laid below wall drawings that depicted man-gods and angelic, bird-like creatures. A fire burned, and a shaman danced around the deep pit in the kiva’s floor, tossing feathers, animal skins, and smoking mesquite. The shaman bounded on a large stone plate that bridged the pit, shook a prayer stick and wailed with all his might. Still, the girl’s condition remained unchanged long after the ceremony ended.

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NOW

Katrina has invited the young neighbor couple over for dinner. The Skelhorns are nice enough, but Landon doesn’t really engage in repartee with the husband. The man isn’t much of a drinker (requesting white wine instead of the vodka martini he’s offered), and exudes a critical air. He’s a history professor at the local high school. When Landon modestly mentions that he heads a development company, and gives its name, Mr. Skelhorn remarks that the indigenous, cliff-dwelling Anasazi revered the land while many today feel entitled to lives of the “Richelieu and famous,” the land now parceled into trophy properties.

Skelhorn’s got attitude. Many do with concern to Landon’s profession, his standing. But Landon considers himself a caring person. He grew up wanting to save lives, was pre-med even. The course diverged when b-schools called, but the original sentiment remains.

The guest’s comment irks Landon. It takes restraint but Landon withstands his initial impulse, which is to rattle off mind-blowing figures that testify to ABC’s success. Instead, he considers explaining how — lo and behold — he’s concerned for the welfare of his community as much as anyone. He builds the area’s most beautiful homes, using the name “Anasazi” as a tribute to the region’s original inhabitants, not as a cynical marketing gimmick as Skelhorn and others imply. The Anasazis embraced the natural world, were a vivacious and resilient people. They evolved and adapted for centuries on end, but ultimately were unable to forestall the kind of progress that did them in.

Yes, Landon could easily relate and debate his views with Skelhorn, but he gets tired of having to defend himself. So, he quickly drops the subject and fixes everyone another round.

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THEN

Days passed, some like lightning, others in a crawl. But each day was the same: Savosoyah and his son fished and hunted; his wife wove baskets from plaited plant fibers; his daughter lay in a cave dying, each breath nearing her last. In early evening, when shadows crossed the box canyon where they had settled. Savosoyah felt haunted by what was to come. It was a feeling that extended beyond the fate of his daughter to those of his people. Forces were altering the laws of nature.

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NOW

Katrina asks if he’s sure about his decision, then smothers Landon in kisses after he nods. It’s not that he hasn’t spread their wealth around before (he has), it’s just that never before has he given such a monumental sum to such an organization in need — a matching pledge of up to two million dollars for the remodeling and expansion of the dilapidated pediatric clinic on the nearby reservation. What his wife likes best of all is that their donation will be anonymous.

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THEN

A specially woven basket, the finest spear tip, a ceremonial prayer stone. These objects of offering surrounded the body of Savosoyah’s daughter in the cave where she would now be buried. Savosoyah caressed his wife’s shoulder and nodded; it was time to arrange their daughter’s clothed body in the customary fetal position.

With the first touch of Savosoyah’s hand to the girl’s face, however, a miracle happened, staving off the forces of change. His daughter — who had not moved a muscle in weeks, had not spoken a sound in days, had not drawn a breath for hours — suddenly opened her eyes and bolted alert. Lifted into her father’s arms, she cried. The girl’s warm tears flowed like the river of life across Savosoyah’s shoulder.

Savosoyah splayed his hand below his daughter’s breast until he could feel her heart pumping, each beat as tender as a baby bird’s.

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Roland Goity edits fiction for the online journal LITnIMAGE. His stories appear in dozens of publications, including recent or forthcoming issues of Fiction International,Grey Sparrow Journal, and decomP. He is working on a novel.