Here's the very beginning of my novel-in-progress Ginny Bates. I seem to have the flu, so this is the easiest post I can manage -- except for not posting at all. Enjoy.
There's links to background information in the sidebar to the right, third item from top.
Fall of 2010
Myra picked up Gillam in front of the university library. She saw him a block away -- taller than the people around him, with a cocoa-brown turtleneck that set off his glossy mahogany mop. He saw her, too, lighting her last half block with a grin. He kissed her on the cheek, pulled on his seatbelt, and said "I've found a place for lunch you're gonna love." He directed her to a diner in a working-class part of town. As they slid into a booth fronted by window, he said "You have to try the chili. Nothing near as good as in Texas, but this is the next best thing."
"Okay" she said, looking over the menu. "They have with beans and without -- what kind of beans are they using?"
"Kidney, not pintos" he said apologetically. "But the all meat version is a mix of beef and pork, just like West Texas."
Myra's round face was serious, as it always was when she discussed food. Her brown eyes were a match for his turtleneck. "I prefer the original Canary Island version, honestly, but that requires pintos. Do they have cornbread?"
"No." He was apologetic again. "But they make their own crackers, extra big and kinda like water crackers, really good at soaking up the grease."
There wasn't a grease smell in this place, however. Just the usual coffee/syrup/bacon of a diner, no matter the time of day. The leather of the booth was soft and a faded red. Myra could imagine hanging out here for hours, writing and sucking down fountain Cokes.
She grinned at Gillam, delighted to be having a private meal with him. "Sounds great. You know, my grandmother -- well, the woman who raised my Mama after she was orphaned -- she was like a lot of the really old people in North Texas when I was growing up in that she believed that food was categorized by whether it was 'hot' or 'cold'. And this had nothing to do with temperature, or spiciness -- no method to it at all that I could ever figure out. Anyhow, she believed that chili should not be consumed with milk, because they were from two different groups. It always upset her when I mixed the two."
"Do you think they were operating on some rural version of food combining theory?" said Gillam. He was at his best when he was earnest.
"Likely. When you grow or gather absolutely everything you put in your belly, you notice things. Anyhow, I'm getting milk." She put down the menu and adjusted her silver glasses. They were a match to all the silver in her once-dark hair. She was close enough to 60 that her near buzz-cut no longer made people mistake her for a man.
"They have a cherry pie here, too, you won't want to miss." Gillam grinned.
"You know how to make me happy" said Myra. "Reminds me of that old separatist joke: You know the quickest way to a man's heart? Through the ribs."
He laughed, wincing. "Listen, I've got a favor to ask. I want to interview you about when you won the lottery. It's not just that I want to hear the entire story -- though I never have, I realized -- but I'm thinking about using it for a paper I want to write about class and culture."
"Don't use anybody's real names. Except mine, you can use mine" said Myra.
"Okay. Can I borrow your notebook? I left mine in the car."
Myra reached into her back pocket and pulled out a small notebook with a pen. "Find a clean page, and don't read anything in there" she warned.
They ordered their chili, and Gillam turned back to her, his lean and agile hands on the table in front of him, fingering the notebook.
"Tell me how you bought the ticket again" he prompted.
"Well, I stopped at a mom'n'pop on the way home from work. I remember it was a Wednesday, because I wasn't going to get paid again until Friday after work, and all the money I had in the world was in my overalls pocket. I was stony, you know? Well, you don't know, not this kind of broke. And I was hungry. Really hungry."
She saw Gillam's face register pain. "You okay with hearing this?"
"I asked, didn't I?" Having his feelings and being brave, that was Gillam.
"I remember I was trying to figure out a way to get both bread and milk. The bread they had was that crap white stuff, of course -- it was out of the question for me to get real bread from the Co-op, not that week. But I had a can of dolphin-safe tuna in the pantry at home, and with bread I could make two sandwiches, for Thursday and Friday lunch. I had dinner for that night, Wednesday, in the fridge -- a couple of potatoes to bake and some cheese to put on it, plus a tomato to slice. It sounded so good right at that moment."
"Just a baked potato?" said Gillam.
"Two baked potatoes, with cheese, and a tomato. That was a good meal" said Myra. "But I still need to figure out what to have for dinner on Thursday night -- "
"What about breakfast for the next two days?" said Gillam. He was sharp.
"I would skip it, or sneak a doughnut from the break room at work. But I always felt so guilty eating doughnuts." Myra paused. "You remember Sierra, her moms were Val and BlueSky? Well, there was a talent show years ago to raise money for Mom's Apple Pie, the lesbian mother's defense fund, and Sierra was about 12 at that time, she did a monologue that began with her saying she'd grown up thinking the main definition of lesbianism was what you ate. Everybody cracked up, but then she went on to talk really intelligently about mandatory vegetarianism, boycotts of certain foods, how sugar equals patriarchy, the lofty status of vegans, the link between fruitarianism and parthogenesis, and even our brief mid 70's attempt at something called breathairianism. She was very funny, even as we knew it was mostly not a joke. Anyhow, I still have that ethic in me, that eating a doughnut is not just putting shit in my bloodstream, it's letting down the sisterhood."
"What about cherry pie?" asked Gillam with an amused grin.
"Not nearly as bad as doughnuts. Which are one step up from a candy bar. Anyhow, I'd not had breakfast that particular day, and my job was running air courier deliveries in downtown, humping up and down staircases because elevators take too long, driving my piece of shit Honda like it was a motorcycle -- it was high stress and I was tapped out. Not a good way to be when shopping for food. But if I got something for dinner on Thursday, then I couldn't afford milk. And I was really craving milk."
"Calcium depletion?" asked Gillam.
"Maybe. Or maybe just comfort. Even that dead white stuff they sell in convenience stores. So I'm trying to do math in my head. I've got like one crumpled bill in my pocket, the rest is change I scavenged from everywhere I could. And that's another piece of stress, having to pay at a grocery store with a big wad of change. Except in those overpriced corner stores, most of the customers are poor people, old folks, junkies -- we all pay with lots of coins. They take it, you know -- money is money."
He was looking intently at her, his large brown eyes soft. "What?" she asked.
"No wonder you always have a wad of twenties in your pocket" he said gently.
They were silent for a while. She fiddled with the napkin holder.
"I grew up hungry, Gillam. My mother grew up hungry. I don't know how long it takes to get over that. When I was a girl, Mama was often too sick to go into the store and buy our groceries. So she'd write out a list on a piece of notebook paper, in the kind of handwriting you don't see any more, that beautiful kind of script they used for movie titles in the 40s, that's how she wrote. She had memorized the store layout, and she'd put the list in order of when I would encounter each item, because I was a little girl and this was a job she hated asking me to do. And beside any item on the list that was not a necessity, she'd put in parentheses a number; that was the upper limit of what I could pay for it, if it was more than that, don't get it. I always did my best to get bargains for her. Anyhow...." she trailed off.
"So, this day. I don't have any pasta or beans or rice left at home. I had one box of brownie mix which had never been used because it was double-bad, you know, sugar and chocolate. I was trying to wish one more meal out of thin air, when I suddenly remembered that Thursday night was a potluck meeting of Stop the Cops."
"I don't know that group" Gillam said. He underlined the name in the pad.
"Buncha ten to twelve dykes organized against police violence in minority communities. It being a potluck, I'd have a spectacular dinner -- there was sure to be whole grains, black beans, a salad, maybe fruit. And I realized if I made those brownies, there might be one or two comments made about how corporate interests grew sugar on the backs of third world people, but those women would eat every one. I wouldn't lose face. So suddenly I had enough money to buy the bread and the milk."
"I'm glad we're doing this over a meal" said Gillam. "I'm feeling empty just listening to you." He was nearly done with his bowl of chili. He motioned to the waiter. "I'm getting seconds, how about you?"
"Yeah" said Myra. "This is really excellent, by the way. Good find." Gillam was pleased with himself.
After ordering another round, Gillam said "So you could get what you needed for the next two days, but where does the lottery ticket come in?"
"Well, I pulled out my change and counted it again. Once the pressure was off, I could actually do some mental math. And I realized I had a buck and nine cents left over, even including tax. I had to walk by the lottery kiosk on my way to the front. And I tended to buy a lottery ticket if I felt like I could afford it. Allie always teased me about it, saying 'Do you know what the odds are against you winning, ever?' And then she would say the exact number, she can remember shit like that. And I would always grin at her and say 'But the odds against me winning if I don't buy a ticket are even higher.' So the question was, could I really afford it this night? It would mean walking the streets of Seattle with nine cents in my pocket. Which is hard to do, even on a good day."
New bowls of chili appeared. They barely noticed the young man serving them. Myra crumbled more of the wonderful crackers in.
"And here's what I thought. You're gonna want to write this down. I thought, maybe the potluck happening the last day before payday was a sign. I had community instead of family. I had memories instead my mama. And I would have milk to drink when I got home."
Myra took a long drag of her cold glass of milk, going "Ahhh!" afterward.
"So I stopped to fill in a lottery ticket. The first four numbers were always the same: 8 and 5 -- "
"For your birthday" said Gillam.
"Then 1 and 31 -- " she waited.
He pulled it out of his memory. "For your mother's birthday."
"And then 41, which had been the number of my basketball jersey in high school, the one period of my childhood when I'd been healthy enough to play sports and be normal. Kinda normal. But that left one number."
She took a few more bites of chili, followed by a sip of milk.
"Sometimes I'd use a number connected to whoever I was dating at the time. But not only was I single at that moment -- it was a new kind of single. The very night before, I'd lain in bed and decided that all the things I was doing to try and get over being an incest survivor were not cutting it. Allie, you know, quotes from AA constantly, and she liked to say one definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again in hopes it would work this time. If what I was doing wasn't working, I had to think of somethng new."
"I don't quite follow" said Gillam. "Weren't you in that support group?"
"Yeah, but that was just coming up with theory. The other half was practicing the theory. Which is where it got tricky. In the last couple of years, I'd tried -- well, I tried being completely vulnerable in sexual encounters. I got clobbered, so I switched to -- quantity, I guess you'd say." She was looking ashamed. "I would say to women 'I'm only going to bed with you because I don't know how else to get close to you.' Which just egged 'em on, it seemed like. I fell in love with my best friend, but thank god she said no. I tried -- have you heard of fuck buddies?"
Gillam nodded, his full cheeks red.
"Well, that, and then always being the initiator, and then S/M."
He was now officially shocked. "What kind of S/M?" he whispered. He wasn't keeping notes on this part.
"Being held down or tied down. It rang my chimes, but not in a good way. I broke up with that woman, brutally. I tried -- " she began turning down fingers as she remember items -- "Acupuncture, moxa, psychic healing, seders, RC, going off dairy, going back on meat, crystal balls, tarot, and writing fiction instead of poetry."
Gillam's color returned to normal with this litany. He even laughed.
"These were good ideas but not the answer. So, the night before, I had decided to stop having any kind of sexual or romantic relationship until I knew what to do. Just go cold turkey. I said it out loud in my dark bedroom: 'As long as it takes. Whatever it takes.'"
"Wow" said Gillam. "Was it your rock bottom?"
"I think so. In the big picture. So when I tried to think of a sixth number, I knew it had to be from my own life, not some girlfriend connection, you dig?"
Gillam nodded, leaned over the table toward her.
"I was racking my brain, trying to come up with a number, sifting through my life. And the week before, I'd found a manila envelope of genealogy stuff my Great-Aunt Lee had sent me, and I'd gone over our family tree she'd filled out in her spidery old-lady handwriting. It went all the way back to Captain James Davis. You remember which ancestor of mine he is?"
"The guy who was part of Jamestown?"
"Yup, that's the fucker. Got here in 1608 and watched women and children starve to death that year, screwed over the Native Americans so bad they wouldn't come near the settlement any more, refused to do manual labor because he was a gentleman, doncha know. And then in 1619, when a slave ship passed by with some extra slaves, Captain Davis was one of the geniuses who said 'There's our solution: Slavery!' I mean, my line ever since then has had guys like him in it, dirt poor but you're never too poor to give up hating niggers or treating women like shit."
Gillam looked around them nervously at Myra's use of the word nigger. He didn't get how she knew when it was okay to say, when it was descriptive and not racism.
"So here I am, this revolutionary dyke descended from a puke in Jamestown, and it occurred to me that he was my ninth-great-grandfather -- that's what Aunt Lee had written. I counted on my fingers and that turned out to be 12 generations in America. If I used 12 as my final number, that would mean I had four numbers of my six that were under 20. Which was a skew that looked pretty unlikely to me. But then I laughed -- the whole thing was a crapshoot, right? So I put down 12 as my last number, went to the front and paid, and got my lottery ticket."
"And that was it" said Gillam. He leaned back against the red leather.
"Not quite. I was so happy about having dinner the next two nights, when I walked out of the store into the dark damp evening, I didn't put on my usual radar. I didn't pick up on these three teenagers, boys, up on the corner. They were white but not skinheads, lucky for me. They were smoking and no doubt saying hateful stuff to each other, and it wasn't until I was level with them and smelled the smoke that I noticed them. When I first moved to Seattle, I took this psychic healing class from Tasha Silver, and I knew how to put on an aura of armor, like instantly. I could be invisible on the streets. But this night, I didn't have it on."
"Fuck" said Gillam. "What happened?"
"Oh, nothing to me. Nothing major" she reassured him.
At that point the waiter brought them their slices of cherry pie. She took a big bite before going on.
"Just -- one of the little pricks turned just as I walked by and said in this nasty voice 'Faggot'. And they all cracked up."
Gillam laughed uncertainly. He was eating his pie in big bites.
"And you know, I could have just slammed on the armor and gone my way, which is what I did every other time. But that night, I -- I was hungry, you know? and exhausted, and from a long line of fuckers I was trying to make up for. So I stopped and I faced them, and I began screaming."
She lowered her voice but used emphasis to get the idea of screaming across. Her eyebrows were raised in self-humor.
"I said 'You fuckwit, it's DYKE, not FAGGOT. You're such a bottom feeder, you don't even know how to HARASS strangers with the right WORDS. I'm a DYKE, and I'm FAT, too, what made you pass up THAT opportunity? What the FUCK would your MOTHER say?' I mean, I totally lost it. I pulled my hand out of my pocket with my keys spread between my fingers like a weapon, and I took a step toward them."
Gillam was laughing wildly. "Oh, my god. What the hell did they do?"
"Great pie, Gillam. World class." She was down to the last bite. "Oh, the little idiots scattered like pigeons. I mean, poof, they were gone. A guy stepped out of the store to see what the ruckus was, but he just looked at me as if I wasn't there and went back in. And I thought suddenly of that Alix Dobkin lyric, you know, 'for they won't defend / a woman who's indifferent to men / and she's my friend / she's a lesbian'. I started laughing -- probably pure adrenaline -- and I got so winded I had to use my inhaler. Then I pulled the milk out of my bag and opened it up and took a big swig. Like I was some kind of dyke superhero in a milk commercial."
"Oh, god, I'd give anything to have seen that" said Gillam gleefully.
"So I went on home, had my dinner, finished the milk, and went to work the next day without breakfast. I did sneak into the break room to filch a doughnut, and it was there I saw the Post-Intelligencer lying on the table. Up in the corner was a little headline that said 'Seattle Area Winner'. I read the numbers, and I went completely numb. My brain shut down. Finally I pulled the ticket out of my jacket pocket where I'd stuffed it the night before, to be sure I really had written down those six numbers."
"How did you feel?"
Myra thought for a second, looking off to her right like people do when they are calling up a memory. "I didn't feel. It didn't make any sense. About then my boss came in, with a run from B of A to SeaTac, I remember that line, and I turned to him and said 'I have to go home.' He glared at me -- he was not a nice guy -- and he said 'What are you, sick? You look like shit on a stick.' So there you go, there's an independent observation of my reaction: Shit on a stick. I just walked out. I didn't know what to do."
"Well, what did you do?" asked Gillam, trying to grab the check but she got it first. He had a tiny smear of cherry at the left corner of his generous mouth.
"I went to find Allie, of course" she said, as they got up from the booth.
(Twenty-five years earlier, in March 1985)
Allie was working short-order at a cafe ten minutes away. Myra sat down at the counter. Ruthie, the waitress, said "Hey, Myra, you want a Coke?"
Myra shook her head, tried to get Allie's attention through the little window. Finally Allie saw her, called out "In a mo."
After two more orders were pushed through the window, Allie came out from the kitchen, wiping her hands "What's up? You look weird."
Myra pulled out the lottery ticket. "I won" she said.
"Holy moly!" said Allie. "How much? Fifty? A hundred?"
"The paper said...$7.2 million after taxes."
Allie froze like a mannikin. Finally she said "Don't kid me, My."
"I don't know what to do" said Myra.
Allie picked up the ticket and read it front and back three times. Allie was always TCB first. "You need to sign this sucker -- Ruthie, lemme borrow your pen. Here, sign it there. Use your real name, not your dyke name. And put your address on it. Now you go call this number." She pointed to the pay phone outside the window.
"I don't have the change to make a call."
Allie reached into her pocket, pulled out some coins. "Go. Ask them what to do next."
As Myra slid off the stool, Allie began screaming. "Oh, my god, you WON! You won the fucking lottery!" Everybody in the cafe looked up. Allie was turning around in a circle, her arms up over her head. "My friend won! She's a millionaire!"
Myra concealed the ticket in her hand and hurried out to the pay phone.
When she came back in, Ruthie had a Coke waiting for her. "On the house" she grinned. Ruthie was short and young, with the pallor and bad skin of a former needle user. Myra had never been able to decide one way or the other if Ruthie was a dyke. She grinned back and tore the end off a straw, then blew the paper off, catching it before it went behind the counter. A guy at the corner table yelled out "You really win the big one?"
She spun around on the stool and spread her arms. "You, my fine people, are looking at a millionaire!"
"How's about a loan?" joked another guy.
"How's about she get her money first?" said Byron, coming in from the kitchen. Byron was a massive man with a shaved head, black though not as black as Allie. This was his cafe. He was also Allie's sponsor, gay, and someone Myra trusted almost as much as she did Allie.
Allie was right behind him. "What'd they say?"
"I'm to go to their office this afternoon. They wanted to know if I'd let the press take my picture, publish my name, all that. I have the choice because I took the annuity rather than the cash option. I said no."
"I'll be done here at 2:00, after the lunch rush. I'll go with you" said Allie.
"Where is your ticket?" said Byron in a low voice.
"Buttoned into my watch pocket" whispered Myra. She took a long drag of Coke.
"Why don't you stay here until Allie can go with you?" suggested Byron. "Have you had breakfast?"
"No, but -- " she laughed, a little crazily -- "I don't have the money to pay for it. Not yet."
He laughed too. "I'll take your credit. Anything you don't want?"
"Nope" said Myra, feeling for the first time what this might mean.
Allie headed back to the kitchen to make her food. Allie knew how she liked her eggs. Byron pulled a legal pad from behind the counter and handed it to her, along with the pencil behind his ear. "Make a list" he said. "Start with who you're gonna tell, since you aren't going public -- which I think is a damned good idea, keep the list of who needs to know short. Then write down what you need. On the next page, write down what you'd like. The second page you may or may not get to eventually. Don't laugh, but do you have a lawyer?"
Myra did laugh. "No, I've barely got a library card."
"You need a lawyer and a financial advisor. I'd recommend mine, he's good, but he don't care much for women. You need one today, girl. Hey, Allie" he said, turning and talking through the order window. "Who's that gal you know who works for the nonprofit, the one who did that accounting thing for me a while back?"
"Alveisa?" said Allie. "Yeah, Alveisa! Gimme a sec, I got her number in my book."
Allie came out with toast, sausage and grilled tomatoes on a plate. She set it in front of Myra, saying "First course" and pulled a little red book from her back pocket. "Here's her work number. Drop my name."
"Use the phone in the kitchen" said Byron. "Anybody asks, you're about to wash me some dishes."
Myra popped a sausage in her mouth, grabbed a half slice of toast and went into the kitchen. Before she got to the phone, Allie grabbed her in a big hug. "I am so fucking happy for you, Myra." Allie was close to tears. Myra hugged her back just as hard.
Alveisa gave her detailed instructions; Myra had to go back to the counter to get her pad and pencil to write them down. After she hung up, she finished her breakfast, which now included a plate of hash browns, eggs over medium, four silver-dollar pancakes, and a big glass of milk. She felt a little light-headed, like her blood sugar was low. She hoped eating would turn it around.
After it was done, she scooted to the very end of the counter because the place was starting to fill up with early lunch customers. At one point when Ruthie was coming back around the counter, Myra stopped her with a hand on her forearm and said "I literally don't have even a quarter to tip you today, but I sure as hell will be back in tomorrow to thank you for that Coke and your everlovin' grin." She leaned over and gave Ruthie a kiss on her cheek. If Ruthie wasn't a dyke, she was still not immune to charm. She blushed and refilled Myra's Coke.
She made her lists. All of them were hard to think about at first. The second list, her needs, got easier when she remembered her Aunt Sarah and her Great-Aunt Lee, both of whom were living precariously on Social Security in Aunt Lee's old house without any consistent help from somebody able-bodied. One of her needs was to get them assistance and make sure they were comfortable.
Her Honda's transmission was about to die. Okay, she could buy another Honda, used but with only a few thousand miles on it. Maybe make sure it had good tires on it. If she quit work -- well, no if about that -- then she'd need health insurance. For that matter, her car insurance was the bare legal minimum, she could get uninsured motorists' now. She could move out of her roachy efficiency and into a real one-bedroom flat, still in her working-class neighborhood where lots of dykes lived. A place with a little bit of yard out back, and maybe a washer/dryer in the basement instead of having to go to a laundromat.
Allie had had a bad molar for several months now, needed a root canal, probably. She could afford that. Hell, she could make Allie quit work, too, do whatever she wanted with her time. Allie could draw like nobody Myra'd ever seen, but she had no college degree and no contacts except for being the person all of the politicos went to when they needed a dynamic graphic for a flyer. Myra didn't know how someone became an illustrator or graphics designer or whatever it was called, but she thought Allie would -- just like Myra knew the steps it would take for her to be a published writer some day.
Suddenly Myra had a big glimpse into her future. This money meant survival, for her, for Allie, for her brother Gil if she could get him clean and sober. It meant years of doing just about any kind of activism or support or writing she put her mind to. It meant help, the kind she had not been able to buy. It meant security like she'd never known. It meant she might live past 53.
That was the age her mother had been when she'd died. Myra had never imagined herself being old. Old and poor is not a good fantasy.
At 2:00 Allie took off her apron and washed up. Myra gave Byron back his legal pad, folded several yellow sheets into a thick wad and stuck it in her jacket pocket. They said "Bye" cheerily and headed out toward Myra's car.
"Do you have your ID and checkbook with you?" said Allie.
"This is unreal, My. I keep trying to wrap my head around it but it's too big."
"They're gonna shit and fall back in it when they see you walk in that door. I bet a stomping sep never won the lottery before."
"Allie, if I get all close-mouthed and shy, will you kick me a good one so I snap out of it?"
"Not to worry, white girl."
"This is the building, I think. One more thing, Allie -- I want you to quit work, too. I want you to go do what you'd do if it was you winning this money. I can't stand to have it unless it means we both get set free. Don't look at me that way, it's not charity, it's exactly what you would do if you won it. You would not hang me out to dry, so just take it."
Allie was seriously rattled. "We have to talk more about it, Myra. Not right now."
"Would it help if I called it reparations?" said Myra with a grin.
Allie punched her on her upper arm, hard. "Ow" said Myra.
"Get you shit together. You about to be a millionaire" said Allie.
Myra's word later for what the pink-handed little white guy had done when she identified herself as the big winner was plotz. Yiddish covered it better than anything else.
After following all of Alveisa's instructions and signing paper after paper, she handed them a deposit slip from her bank and got them to direct deposit. Which meant signing more papers. There were quite a few people in that office with her and Allie, and every one of them, except the black woman, looked at Allie as if she was maybe kidnapping Myra and going to knife her as soon as they got out the door. Myra got steadily more angry, which definitely kept her from going into her meek poor kid mode.
When they walked out into the marble hallway, they began doing the Balkan yells Alix Dobkin used on her first album, the kind of cries that carry across mountain ranges. It pulled people out from behind frosted doors up and down the corridor. They waved, laughing like nutcases, and didn't quite wait until the elevator doors closed before starting another round of yells.
They drove over to Alveisa's office, Myra grinding her gears with abandon. "Just one more fucking hill, you fucking piece of shit, and then I'm going to turn you into a Honda-sized planter" she muttered grimly to her car.
"You're not going to buy a new one?" asked Allie.
"'Course not. You know how much ecological waste is produced with each new car?"
"I think I'm the one who told you" said Allie.
Turns out, Alveisa was originally from the Rio Grande Valley, near Cotulla, a town Myra knew. She was ten years older than Myra, with short black hair and a gorgeous big nose. They talked for a while about going to school in the early 60s with racial segregation in full swing. Then Myra said "I know you're not a lawyer, that I need a lawyer for a lot of this -- "
"I've got some names to recommend" said Alveisa.
"Need to be women. I don't care if they're straight or lesbian, but I don't want to do business with a man" said Myra. "But here's the thing -- I want a will in place before I go home tonight. Is there a way I can write one out in my own handwriting and that would be binding?"
"Holographic, yes" said Alveisa. "Is there a reason for this urgency?"
"Yes, my peace of mind. If I die on the way home, my family would get the money, right? Since I'm not married and of course never will be."
"It would be split between your parents and any siblings, I think" said Alveisa.
"Well, that dog won't hunt. Can't have it" said Myra. "Not even for an hour."
"I have a blank here somewhere you could use as a guideline. If you follow that wording, and write it out in ink, we can get witnesses here in the office and I could hold it for you until you get one done properly by a lawyer" said Alveisa. She could go with the flow, this woman -- Myra already liked and trusted her.
"It would be best if you could put the full legal name and address of your beneficiary, plus their Social Security number if you have it. Or beneficiaries" added Alveisa. She handed Myra another legal pad and a typed form she'd pulled out of a drawer.
"On the top sheet there, Allie -- write out what she said" said Myra. "I'll copy it into my own handwriting. And try to write legibly, for once."
Allie froze. "Uh-uh" she said. "I can't handle this."
"Well, you fucking have to. I mean, I'm having to. Do you want my money going off to people who think David Duke should run for President? I'll figure out something more -- I don't know the word for it, proper, I guess -- after I meet with a lawyer. I know there must be ways to do this without the IRS eating my lunch. Or your lunch, if you're my heir. But until that happens, I need you to cover my back. If I get killed before it gets fixed up, first off find out if my family somehow heard about me winning, 'cause if they then did one of them -- except Gil -- will be the murderer, right there. And second, keep track of your whereabouts and create clear abilis for the next few days, you know they'd love to pin it on you." This finally made Allie laugh. Alveisa was watching with a highly interested expression. Allie took the pad, tore off the top sheet, and began writing. Myra began doing likewise.
Once the will was witnessed and out of the way, Myra and Alveisa began trying to speak the same language. "You will receive a yearly amount, an annuity, every year on the same date for 25 years, of this amount" said Alveisa, writing it down on Myra's pad.
"Holy shit" said Myra.
"I insist that you find a way to protect every bit of what you won't need to spend this first year. There are several paths available to you. But we should begin with what you plan to do for income."
"I'm quitting my job. So I won't have any income except this" said Myra.
"Will you have any severance? Do you have any savings? How much is your checking account at the moment?"
"No, no, and zero" said Myra.
Alveisa paused. Her Valley accent came on stronger as she said "You go, sister, I am thrilled you won this!" She and Myra grinned at each other.
"Do you need money for the next little while until your accounts get stabilized?"
"Well, I'm supposed to get paid tomorrow, but they may hang onto it because I'm not giving them any notice" began Myra.
"I've got her covered" said Allie. "Don't argue with me, you just made me your motherfucking heir, you peckerwood, you will fucking take spending money from me for the time being."
"Apparently I'm okay" said Myra to Alveisa ruefully. "And listen, I've got a list of what I know I'll want to shell out for. At least, so far."
She pulled the wad of yellow paper out of her pocket and separated out the middle sheet. "I have two old lady aunts in Texas just barely scraping by, living on their own and they aren't in good shape. I want to hire somebody to be there every day with them. And get the house repaired, if it needs it. And buy they whatever they goddamned want, a color TV for starters."
"You don't have a color TV" said Allie.
"I don't need one. The revolution will not be televised" said Myra. She turned back to Alveisa. "But I don't want to fuck up their Social Security or whatever."
"Are these people you plan to inform about your winning?" asked Alveisa.
"Yeah, this is the good side of my family, my mother's side. The ones that actually went to school and treat women like human beings and don't hate queers. I'll call them in the next couple of days. They won't tell anyone on the Bircher side of the family."
Alveisa looked like she was having a blast. "I'll draw up a list of information you'll need to get from them. What else?"
"Last year I earned $7 an hour for full-time work, before taxes. I can't remember what that comes out to, but I'd like to make about twice that, if I could. That would let me live in luxury, I think."
Alveisa's hands were moving rapidly over her calculator. "All right. We'll talk more about that when you come back in, but that's a starting point."
"I'm going to need health insurance, dental, disability, whatever I need, because it will all vanish with my job."
"Do you have any pre-existing health conditions that might interfere with that?"
"Asthma, but it's in good control. And I'm fat, I guess, but I do manual labor for a living. But here's the thing -- I want Allie to get to quit work, too, and to have whatever income she thinks is right for her, and she's gonna need health insurance, too."
Allie leaned forward and put her face in her hands. "Myra, I told you we'd have to talk about this."
"That's what we're doing now. Allie, I know you don't want to be a short order cook for the rest of your life. You want to draw, and whatever route it takes to get there, you need to start on it. This is god dropping it down in our laps, you shove it back in her face and she gets ugly."
Allie looked at Myra. "I'm not going to be your girlfriend, Myra. Not ever. Is that part of this?"
Alveisa sat back in her chair, probably wishing she had a camera running.
Myra looked extremely embarrassed. "I swear to you it's not, Allie. We've been all though that."
"No way, no how" repeated Allie.
"I got it" said Myra. "This is about family." She turned back to Alveisa. "However you set it up, fix it so I can't change my mind, so there are no strings attached." She said to Allie "Will that make you feel better?"
"None of this feels okay" said Allie. "The class stuff is hard enough, but I can swallow that down because, as you say, you're swallowing it too. But the race stuff..." She looked at Alveisa. "Maybe you won't want to answer this, but what would you do? If your best friend was white and wanted to support you, no skin off her back to do it, and supposedly no strings attached?"
"It would be inappropriate for me to -- " began Alveisa.
"Oh, come on, you're my advisor, right? I'm paying you for your thinking, right? So give your advice" said Myra. "You and Allie know each other personally from -- where is it? Oh, god, you're not an ex of hers, are you?"
Alveisa burst out laughing. "No, I'm not. I know her from -- other circles."
"Oh. Does that mean you're in AA, too? I'm in Al Anon" said Myra.
Allie jumped in heatedly: "Myra, I have told you and told you that anonymous doesn't mean until you're in a closed room or that you coming out with your own identification gives them automatic leeway -- "
"I'm a recovering alcoholic" said Alveisa, her voice suddenly serious. "I have 8 years and six months of sobriety. I work the steps. And Allie, as someone who is your friend outside of meetings, I would say -- there is nothing without strings attached. But there are strings either way. If she wasn't white, you would take the money, I think. I know I would. This is how we make the bridge to the next level, by taking a step and seeing what comes up. That's my advice to you personally."
"I don't know what your fee is, but it sure oughta be high" said Myra, jubilant.
"It will be" said Alveisa, which made Myra even happier.
Allie sighed. "Okay, then."
"So, back to the question of health insurance for Allie -- I know you got some hinky liver tests a while back, is that gonna shut you out of the loop?"
Allie looked at them both. "I don't know."
"Well, we'll check it out" said Alveisa. "Let's get the records from your doctor and from there we can figure out which company we should apply to."
Myra went down the rest of the list with Alveisa.
"Add a microwave to her purchase list" said Allie. "And a new bed."
"I agree to the bed, but I don't think microwaves are safe, they're just covering it up so far."
"I'll create a discretionary spending fund, we can discuss the amount at the next meeting. What else?"
"I might want to give some to my little brother. But if I do that -- he'll tell the whole family. Shit. Leave that one for now, I don't know. What are you doing to do with what's left over, put it in savings?"
"No, I'm going to find ways to invest it -- in progressive outlets, of course -- so it will generate money for you" said Alveisa.
"But what I need to spend it?" said Myra.
"That's what the discretionary fund is for" said Alveisa.
"No, I don't mean spend it on myself. I mean give it away. I want to support any cause that says they are opposed to Reagan, for starters. I want to bail out the bookstore, I want to pay for poetry readings and theater performances and protest flyers. I want to use the master's tools to dismantle the master's house, as far as I can."
"Are you talking about setting up a foundation?" asked Alveisa.
"I don't know, am I?" said Myra.
"With a foundation, you can create guidelines for dispersal, you can have tax shelters, you could build a permanent fund -- "
"I don't understand any of that" said Myra.
"Don't look at me, Myra" said Allie.
"I can explain it to you as we go. Maybe this first year, we can try out some options and leave things more flexible for you. You've got a huge learning curve ahead of you. You can do it, but it will take time. They make the master's tools hard to fit your hand on purpose" said Alveisa with a conspiratorial smile.
That night they went out and had a raucous meal with their friends Sima and Chris. Allie had to go home by ten because she had to get to work by 6 a.m. She wasn't going to leave her job until Byron could replace her. Myra lay in bed, unable to sleep for fantasizing about telling her aunts and seeing the relief on their faces. She suddenly realized if her Mama had still been alive, this would have saved her; Myra could have had a mother until she was old, like other people do. She began crying, then. Alice curled up with her, putting her head in Myra's palm. Her purring flashed on and off like the lights on top of radio towers, a kind of semaphore rumble. Myra finally went to sleep.
The next morning she called in sick, claiming the flu. She asked them to mail her paycheck to her house, which aroused her boss's suspicions -- he knew she lived hand to mouth. But he agreed. If it came by Monday, she could cash it and then give notice. Might as well have that last bit of money.
Allie had given her fifty bucks and told her to go buy some groceries, so she did that, picking up fresh bread at Pike and a case of Cokes in the little glass bottles that tasted so good. She dropped back by Allie's cafe and put $10 in Ruthie's tip jar. She stopped at Red and Black and bought a little notebook she'd been coveting for months, along with a new kind of pen called a Uniball. Then she got scared about spending so much and went back home. She called her oldest, best friends outside of Seattle, Kate in Portland and Claire in Oakland. Neither of them were home -- it was the middle of the day -- and nobody answered.
She pulled together two bundles of laundry and took them down the street to wash. She sat in the window of the laundromat and wrote in her new notebook. After her clothes were dry, she went home and did a Tarot reading, putting the results in her new notebook. It was the same basic reading she'd been getting for years; she didn't know what it meant any more.
At 6:00 she went to a meeting of the War Resisters League. She wasn't a part of this group yet, but several of her friends and exes were in it and now she might have time to join. Afterward she got a burrito and went to Allie's house. On Friday nights, if nothing else was happening, they watched Nightmare Theater on KIRO and Myra slept over. The movie this time was one Myra remembered from her childhood, about a giant tarantula roaming around a desert small town. It had given her bad dreams as a girl, and this night she woke up again in a pulsing terror, trying to remember where she was.
Allie sat up and turned on the light. "Was it a regular bad dream or an incest dream?" she said.
"Both, I think. Something with eight legs and snapping mandibles was dragging me toward it, my legs spread."
"Ah, shit, Myra."
"Go back to sleep. I'm okay, it's not like it once was. I'm going into the kitchen to drink some milk."
Allie's cat Bearsis went with her. Myra let him drink from her glass in between sips. She thought I wonder if I could get a therapist. Someone to kick her recovery into overdrive. Her working class friends, especially the seps, were relentlessly critical of the idea of feminist therapy -- paying for therapy was like paying for friends. The best joke she'd heard was "How many Capitol Hill feminist therapists does it take to change a lightbulb?" The answer was "Only one, but the lightbulb has to really want to change."
She did a sleepy version of a fearless moral inventory. She was going to be 30 next summer. She was cute, but not that cute. She was tired of waiting to feel completely okay about herself. She thought of that song Bernice Reagon sang, about Fannie Lou Hamer, her saying "I'm sick and tired of feeling sick and tired." Something had to give. Brains had gotten her this far. Maybe money could buy her another several miles of travel.
copyright 2007, Maggie Jochild