First Five - Sonora Symphony

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First Five - Sonora Symphony

Post by longknife » April 4th, 2015, 9:33 am

I wrote Sonora Symphony some years ago and had it published by a house in Canada. We disagreed and I got the rights back three of four years ago.

Sonora Symphony
War's wounds healed by Papago medicine


The Marco Polo tour coach speeds west through the blackness of the desert night. The solid white ribbon on the right side of the pavement frequently flashes white and red from roadside reflectors.

Ray Daniels stares at the hypnotizing broken white line in the center of the highway. His empty eyes gaze into some place nobody else sees. The infrequent pinpricks of light in the distance announcing the rare presence of humanity do not register in his befuddled mind.

The bus stops at some place called Las Cruces. Ray rouses a bit to notice the driver gathering his things and removing a bag from the overhead compartment. Another driver steps in, greeting the man he's to replace with a happy, “Hola.” The new driver then checks the passengers, eyes opening a bit when he sees Ray, the only Gringo among eighteen Hispanics.

“Got on in Colorado Springs,” the first driver tells his relief, referring to Ray. “Got off with the rest in Albuquerque, but did not have anything but a glass of water.”

The new driver stares at Ray’s military-style jacket and shrugs. “Seems harmless to me.”

The fact they're speaking Spanish and he understands them doesn’t register as unusual with Ray.

After a timeless drive through the night, lights ahead reflect off the bottom of sparse clouds to announce a large city. A green sign that passes quickly indicates it to be South Tucson. The driver applies the engine brakes at the exact moment needed to reduce speed to veer onto the exit ramp, lightly applying the brake pedal to slow to a stop.

Ray’s hands grip the bar on the seat divider in front of him a little tighter.
The bright halogen lights from outside reveal the driver’s eyes examining Ray in the rearview mirror.

Ray blankly stares back.

A dozen or so big rigs are lined up in the truck stop’s parking area, and all eight pumps are occupied. Three passenger cars sit in front of the restaurant. The driver pulls into the spot marked for buses and opens the door. “Cuarenta-cinco minutos descanso,” he calls out, announcing a forty-five minute stop.

Seven passengers rise to gather their bags and boxes from the overhead compartments. The other ten make their way down the aisle to step off the bus, going inside the truck stop.

Ray doesn’t move.

Seeing the Anglo still in his seat, the driver comes back up the steps and leans towards Ray. “Hey, Sarge. You must get off here for a break. I have to lock the bus door.” The driver repeats himself and Ray rouses to gather up his small duffel bag from the seat and stand, slowly dismounting the bus steps.

“I will have them make an announcement when it is time to go.” The driver closes and locks the door. He walks inside, leaving Ray standing beside the bus.

Ray stands where he is for several minutes, staring down at the pavement. Without raising his head, he stalks forward, carefully placing each foot in front of the other in a precise military cadence. He searches the pavement for signs of recent patches—signs of improvised explosive devices.

A big triple-trailer rig pulls out of the fueling area, and the driver sounds the air horn to awaken the figure walking directly in front of him.

Ray doesn’t look up, continuing his march to nowhere.

The driver manages to slow so the pedestrian in his way passes unharmed.

Ray approaches the highway and strides ahead, looking neither right nor left.

A nerve-shattering sound fills the night when a speeding car’s horn blares. The driver slams on the brakes, followed by the urgent squeal of tires. He swerves and just misses the figure revealed in his headlights. He holds his hand down on the steering wheel button as he gains speed and turns onto the interstate.

A flashing blue, green, and yellow glow of neon lights comes from a vacant parking lot. Ray sees a sign announcing “Martin’s Diner - Open Day and Night.” He stops and looks around, aware for the first time that he doesn't know where he is.

Strange buzzing and crackling attracts Ray's attention and he looks up. A frenzy of swirling, tumbling insects surround the tall halogen lamps, other creatures swooping in to feast upon the tornado of life.

Ray turns to examine the small building.

It takes several minutes before he reaches out and opens the door. Ray steps inside and slowly moves forward, stopping at the sign that says, “Seat Yourself.”
When he just stands there, the waitress comes up and tells him, “Sit wherever you want. We aren’t exactly busy.”

Ray shyly smiles and makes his way to the first booth.

After setting his duffel bag on the seat and sliding in, Ray places his hands limply on the table top. He turns to stare out the window.

“Care to order anything?” The waitress places a glass of ice water in front of him, turns over his coffee cup, and fills it.

Ray blankly gazes at her, unsure of where he is or what she asked him. He turns back to look out the window without responding.


The waitress shrugs and walks to the last booth against the window, refilling the coffee cup of the wizened old man sitting there. She grimaces. “He seems sober, Poppi.”

“Give him a few minutes, Hija. He may just be tired from the bus ride.” Joe Redmond watched the bus arrive. The truck stop serves as a transfer point for a number of bus lines catering to Mexicans and other Hispanics coming and going across the border. That’s why he was surprised to see the Anglo, wearing what appeared to be a military jacket, get off. He’d watched his progress across the lot and highway, wincing each time the man barely avoided injury or death.

The stranger didn’t stagger. His pace had been steady and measured. He moved as if seeking something on the ground ahead of each footstep. The way he moved brought a vague memory to Joe. “He's searching for land-mines,” Joe whispered.

And, now that he's close, Joe can see the man’s eyes. They should be the windows to his soul. But the blinds are closed.

Joe sighs. Those empty eyes strike a hammer blow to his gut.

Anna Maria sees her father wince and guesses he’s remembering an unpleasant time in his life. She sets the coffee carafe on the table and slides into the booth across from him, waiting for him to say something.

Joe never tells non-military types of his experiences serving in South Vietnam. Especially not his family. But, the man in the front booth awakens memories and he senses it is time to share a bit with his daughter. He reaches out for the cup in front of Anna Marie and turns it over, a sign he has something to tell her. She fills it and, when she sips a bit of the coffee, Joe speaks.

“Hija, you know I’ve never told you about my military service. But that man reminds me of something.”

Anna Maria smiles and reaches across to touch his hand. “You don’t need to if you don’t want to, Poppi.”

Joe returns the smile and starts.

“A Special Forces A-Team’s base camp not far from the village of A Xan in the central highlands of South Vietnam came under attack by a large group of North Vietnamese regulars. The team sent out an urgent call for help, and I went in on one of the five Hueys sent to relieve it. Four Cobra gun ships escorted us. When we got there, I jumped from the chopper, and there were bodies everywhere.”
Joe pauses, finding it hard to try to explain to his daughter the horror he faced. After sipping his coffee, he continues.

“I saw a Muong woman cradling her blood-drenched dead baby, swaying and keening in grief. A lone American GI stood at the door of the command bunker. He held a microphone with a dangling cord in one hand and an empty M-16 in the other. His eyes screamed of the horror he’d just seen.”

Joe inhales and nods towards the man in the front booth. “Forty years later, and that’s the exact same look I saw on that GI’s face.”

Anna Maria rises and leans over to kiss her father’s forehead before going back behind the counter.

“So, boy, what should I do?” Joe bends over and speaks to Gogs, his old hound lying on the floor next to the booth.

The dog’s tail thumps a couple of times before he puts his head back on his paws.

“The guy seems to have one heck of a problem. Maybe I ought to see if I can cheer him up. Give him the lay of the land.” Joe says to the hound - and himself.

The fact that he cares about the man surprises Joe. Up to that moment, he’d been deep within his own cesspool of sorrow for the loss of his beloved Maria Alondra to cancer. In a horribly short time, she’d gone from the lively, loving woman who’d been the center of his life for nearly forty years to an emaciated shell, slowly dying in agonizing pain. Nothing seemed able to stop it.

He spends time in the diner because he can’t stand to be alone in the home he and Maria Alondra had planned and built. His daughter carries herself the same, smiles the same, and has her mother’s moods. Joe understands her presence eases his sorrow...slightly. She too misses her mother, but has a husband and a son to look after - and now, a father.

Telling Gogs, “Stay!” Joe picks up his coffee cup and walks to the booth. “May I join you?”

The soldier slowly returns from his void and looks up at the voice. “Huh?” When Joe repeats the question, he shrugs and watches Joe slide into the seat across the table. He doesn’t display interest or disinterest.

“Hija, our guest’s coffee is cold.”

Anna Maria quickly brings a fresh cup of steaming coffee for the man and the decanter for her father. “Care to order?”

The man looks as blankly at her as he had at Joe. Anna Maria repeats and he responds with a shrug, muttering, “I don’t have any money.” To prove his point, he reaches into his pocket and lays some coins on the table. They don’t add up to more than a couple of dollars.

Joe wonders about that. “When’s the last time you ate?”
“I, uh, don’t know. Maybe yesterday,”

“Well, we’ll take care of that.” Joe cheerfully tells his daughter, “Bring this gentleman a deluxe breakfast, Hija.”

The man strains out of his lethargy to protest he can’t pay, mumbling, “I don’t want to impose.”

Joe waves that off. “You're military?” It's more of a statement than a question.
The man seeks an answer.

Joe quickly changes the subject, introducing himself. “Name’s Joe Redmond.” He offers his hand.

The soldier looks at the hand for a moment before lifting his from the table. Joe’s grip is surprisingly firm, and the man returns it with a sense of comfort. “Uh, name’s Ray.:

“So they tell me,” he softly adds.

Ray’s camouflaged jacket tells Joe a lot about him. One patch above a pocket announces US ARMY, while the other says “DANIELS.” Three chevrons and a rocker indicate the rank of staff sergeant, and a subdued patch on the left shoulder shows that he’d served in combat with the Eighty-Second Airborne Brigade in either Iraq or Afghanistan. The Fourth Infantry Division patch on the right shoulder signifies his current assignment.

The rest of his clothing confuses Joe. It appears that the outfit of sweats, athletic shoes, and wool skullcap were thrown together without regard for military protocol. What on earth is he doing here? There are no army bases for hundreds of miles. Joe faintly remembers that the Fourth is somewhere in Texas or Colorado.

Anna Maria arrives with a platter of eggs with a nice medium rare top sirloin steak, home fries, and toast. She also refills Ray’s coffee cup.

Ray peers at the plate for several seconds before tentatively lifting the fork to shove some eggs into his mouth. After the first bite, he comes alive, quickly digging in to satiate his hunger.

When Ray pauses eating to sip his coffee, Joe asks, “Where ya heading?”

The cup abruptly halts half way between his lips and the table. Ray’s brow furrows as if he's trying to form an answer. At last, he softly answers, “Don’t think I know.”

“Ya all right?” Joe's filled with deep concern. “You okay? Need medics or something?”

That causes the first real emotion Joe's seen on the sergeant’s face. Ray sits erect, anger flaring in his hazel eyes. “No dammit! No more medics. I’ve had my fill of ’em.”

He then nervously looks around, seeking something or someone.

“Relax,” Joe soothes. “No need to get upset. Just eat.”

Gogs had uncurled himself from the floor next to the corner booth and came over to sniff at his alpha male’s companion.

Ray absentmindedly puts the fork back on his plate and reaches down to gently rub behind the animal’s ears. “Nice hound. Think I had one once.”

Joe can see that Ray's having trouble dealing with the world about him. He’d obviously been badly hurt. And, knowing the military the way he does, Joe guesses they’d probably kept him cooped up in a hospital somewhere.

Ray calms and finishes eating, cleaning the plate and drinking another cup of coffee. He then fumbles in his pockets, searching for something. He's unaware of the meager pile of coins he’d placed on the table.

“I told ya not to worry. Breakfast’s on me.”

Ray’s eyes brighten briefly, and he appears to be ready to ask a question.

Anna Maria returns to fill their cups, so the question goes unasked.

“Has my father told you any of his stories yet?”

Ray turns his attention to her. “Uh, no. What stories?”

“Poppi, I’m ashamed of you. I was sure you would’ve at least told him one by now.”

Joe laughs. “Okay, Hija. I had to be polite and let him finish eating.” He turns to Ray and asks, “Care to hear one? My specialty is Indian stories.”

Ray shrugs. A spark of life fills his face.

“Well, Poppi, if you’re going to tell him a story, let me know now so I can join you.”

“So, hurry up, Hija,” Joe urges. He then turns to Ray. “It looks as if you had a question to ask. Care to let me know what it was?”

Ray looks at the elder for a moment and then shrugs. “Whatever it was is gone. Sorry.”

“No need to ever apologize to me.” Joe smiles.

After taking the dishes away, Anna Maria gets a cup for herself and sits next to her father.

Joe ponders for a moment. “Well, do you know anything about the Indians who live around here?” Seeing Ray’s blank look, Joe hastily says, “That’s okay. I can tell you all about that later.”

After gathering his thoughts, he speaks. “Here are a couple of short stories the Apache tell. They’re a bit different from ours, but’ll give you a taste.”
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Re: First Five - Sonora Symphony

Post by longknife » April 7th, 2015, 5:47 pm

I filled this novel with American Indian stories to indicate a possible way of helping someone suffering from PTSD. Joe is a Papago Indian and Ray, as we learn later, is half Cherokee.

Joe has taken Ray to a nearby bat cave where they gathered guano for the garden.

They fill the buckets, and Joe gathers up two poles he’d made and attach them so they can carry them upon their shoulders, like yokes.

“Would you like to hear the story of how bats came to be?”

“Of course.” Ray is no longer the sluggish near zombie of the diner, but a human interested in life.

As they wend their way back to the house, Joe enthralls Ray with another myth.

“Once, all creatures talked to one another. One time, Sun didn’t appear as usual. The animals who liked the dark, such as Owl and Raccoon, happily went their ways. However, others worried. How could they find food? Where would the warmth come to cause plants to grow?

“They gathered and wailed, crying over how they would no longer be able to see or find food to fill their stomachs.

“Little Ground Squirrel, chehkol, was among them and wondered why the Morning Star had not helped her father lift up from beyond the horizon to cross the sky.

“Little Squirrel scurried up a tall mountain until he was close enough to call out to Morning Star. ‘Where is Father Sun?’ he cried. ‘We are cold and cannot see without him.’

“Morning Star looked down upon the tiny creature and whispered, ‘He moved too low in the sky and got caught up in a very large tree. He cannot get free, so you will all have to live without his warmth and light.’ She turned away to continue her journey across the sky.

“Squirrel scurried off in the direction from which the sun rose, crying, ‘Oh my. Oh my. I cannot let this be so.’ He ran and ran and ran until, way off in the distance, he saw faint light. He continued to run up a steep hill, drawing closer and closer to the light.

“When he reached the crest of the hill, he spied a massive tree and, as Morning Star had told him, Father Sun was ensnared in its branches. Squirrel became afraid. The sun’s light was very bright, making it difficult to see, and he was very warm, getting hotter as he drew closer. The sun saw the little squirrel and called out. ‘Come help me, little one. I am stuck and cannot move.’

“Squirrel tried to get closer, but the sun’s light blinded him, and his heat burned his fur.”

The men reach the garden, so Joe stops the story as they unload the contents of the canvas pails into a pile of guano Joe brought from previous trips. He had chopped up cornstalks and vines from the squash and beans to mix into the soil when it was time to plant. He will mix the droppings in with the compost to enrich the ground for the plants to be rotated, planting corn where the squash had been and the squash where the beans had been. He intends to also plant seeds for the large, red tomatoes he savors.

They enter the adobe structure. After hanging up their hats and coats, they don slippers. Joe draws water for coffee, and Ray picks up wood from the bin, opens the door to the big pot-bellied stove, stirs the embers, and places in a couple of pieces of wood. He stares at the flames, mesmerized.

Joe waits until Ray stops looking into the flames so he may pay attention to his coffee and Joe’s story.

Joe continues explaining that Squirrel was very afraid. But Father Sun pleaded so hard that he could not ignore his cries for help. He ran close and grabbed a branch in his teeth, pulling it away from the blazing ball. The light dazzled Squirrel, and he had to back away.

“Squirrel ran in again and again to pull limbs away from Sun. The sun’s light was so bright that Squirrel no longer saw and had to follow Sun’s shouted directions to find another limb to pull away.

“At last, Father Sun was free. He jumped with joy and leaped into the sky, calling out his thanks to Brother Squirrel.”

They sit at the table drinking the strong coffee and Joe pauses.

“And what of Squirrel?” Ray asks.

“Patience, Ray. I will get to that in good time. Drink your coffee before it gets cold.
Ray enjoys the stories, but the pauses are distracting. He soon learns it is all part of Joe’s manner of telling stories. Ray immensely enjoys the way Joe changes voices and often gestures to emphasize certain points.

At last, Joe continues. “Sun gazed down at the small creature with pity. Squirrel’s eyes were blank, and his fur had been burned black. He was helpless and would spend the rest of his days unable to eat since he was blind to the world around him.

“Sun told him he had been very brave. ‘Is there something I can do to repay you for your courageous kindness?’

“The squirrel thought. ‘I enjoy watching the birds share the sky with you and Mother Moon. I would like to join them but cannot, as I can no longer see.’

“Sun called out to I’itoi, one of the Creator Spirits. When I’itoi came, Sun explained the situation. ‘You must do something for Brother Squirrel.’

“I’itoi agreed. He reached out and touched Squirrel’s ears, making them bigger. He then touched Squirrel’s throat and changed the way he made sound. Moreover, to grant Squirrel’s wish, he stretched the skin between his fore and hind feet to turn them into wings. He finally changed the hind feet to claws, designed so the animal, now Brother Bat, could roost and sleep when he wasn’t flying.

“‘Go now, Little One. But, because you suffered so much saving Father Sun, you will join those who live by the light of Mother Moon, and you will find cool, dark places to live and have your families.’

“And that is how the Bat came to be.”

Joe sits back and folds his arms.

Ray thinks for several minutes before asking, “Aren’t squirrels and bats related?”

“Yes, they are, although by millions of years of evolution. They’re both mammals, but from different orders. Squirrels come from Rodentia, while bats come from Chiroptera, a Greek word that means winged hands.”

“In other words, there is some truth to the legend, as they’re related. Right?”

Joe grins. “Why yes, you’re right. Isn’t it amazing that such supposedly uneducated peoples could figure out such a thing long before Europeans came here with their scientific principles?”

Ray sleeps surprisingly well, no sudden interruptions causing him to awaken in a cold sweat. Toward morning, Ray dreams of the small creatures winging through the night. He sees them call out to find insects, filling their tummies before returning to their cool, dark homes. Their droppings provide feasts for all sorts of squirming and wriggling creatures and then enrich the soil for plants.

Ray awakens slowly, eyes turning calmly to the faint light from the main room. Stretching as he stands. He smiles.

“Actually got a good night’s sleep.”

Some time after this story was published, I encountered some information that a program had been started at Camp Pendelton, the huge USMC base on the Pacific Coast just north of San Diego. Several elders from the local tribe were invited to help Marines with Native American blood to ease their symptoms. I have no idea what the success rate was or if it has been used elsewhere.
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