Tuesday, October 23, 2007


This is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. If you are already a familiar reader, skip down to Read More. If not, here's links to background information in the sidebar to the right, third item from top.

Ginny walked past Myra playing with Margie and her blocks on the floor of the living room and said "I'm gonna borrow your typewriter, okay?"

"Whatcha typing?" said Myra.

"I had this idea for my parents' 45th wedding anniversary next month. I'm going to get a certified copy of their marriage certificate, then decorate it like an illuminated manuscript. I need to write Denver for it."

"Cool. What date is their anniversary?"

"February 14th" said Ginny with a grimace.

"Gag me."

"I know."

Two weeks later, a manila envelope stiffened with cardboard inside arrived in the mail for Ginny. She opened it at the lunch table, handing Margie's bowl of applesauce over to Myra and wiping her hands first. "It's from Denver County, I know what this is" she said with anticipation.

Once she had it in her hands, however, she said "Shit. They sent the wrong certificate -- the date is wrong, it's for some other couple."

"Oh, bummer. How could they botch it like that?" said Myra.

Ginny was staring at the certificate. "Well, it's weird. The names are the same -- who would guess there would be two people with the same names as my parents married that year in Denver? David Myron Bates and -- this can't be, this is more messed up that I thought. My mother's name is really unusual, Helen Vashti Shapiro, this has got to be her, there can't be two like that. But this date is June 7, 1946. Not February 14th."

She looked at Myra in bewilderment. Myra had stopped spooning applesauce into Margie. Margie had her mouth open like a goldfish and finally said "Mama!" Myra looked at her for a moment and handed her the spoon, then looked back at Ginny. Margie immediately began scooping applesauce out of her bowl onto the high-chair tray.

"Can I look for a sec?" asked Myra. Ginny handed over the certificate.

"It's got a gold embossed seal on it, Gin. This means they double-checked it. Maybe your parents had a religious ceremony but it got filed late or something."

"It has to be, because Cathy was born in December, there was barely nine months between the time of their wedding and her birth -- " Ginny's face changed from confusion briefly to recognition and then, swiftly, to anger. "Oh my god. They lied about when they got married. They've lied all these years to cover up the fact that they had to get married. Because Cathy was on the way."

"What a trip, Ginny. And especially since their anniversary is only one day after ours, in reality."

But Ginny was focused elsewhere. "That bitch." Myra had never heard this word come out of Ginny, and glanced involuntarily at Margie. Margie's mess was now monumental, and Myra grabbed her napkin to begin dealing with it.

"She trapped him into marriage! This explains everything. He would never have married her if he hadn't felt obligated to. God fucking dammit, she ruined his life, she trapped us all." Ginny's face was dark with rage. She stood up and reached for the phone on the breakfast bar.

Myra now had applesauce all over both hands and was trying to get the spoon out of Margie's grip without sending her into a tantrum. She couldn't grab Ginny, so she barked at her "Who are you calling?"

"Cathy" said Ginny grimly, dialing the phone.

Myra let go of the spoon abruptly, which flipped back toward Margie and bonked her on her face. Myra reached out with her smeared hand and pushed down the button on the phone receiver. "No, Ginny. Wait a minute." As Margie's howls began, Myra picked her up from the chair and said "Oh, honey girl, I'm so sorry, did you get an owie?"

Margie's tears got through to Ginny. She joined in the comforting. After Margie calmed down again, Myra said "You're jumping to conclusions. I mean, yes, it does sound that way. But before you tell Cathy she's the reason her parents got married, think -- would you want that information?"

Ginny looked at Myra. "I'm not sure."

"And, Gin -- you won't like me saying this, but it takes two people to get accidentally pregnant."

She was right, Ginny didn't like hearing it. She scowled at Myra.

"I'm going to go wash me and Margie off" said Myra. "You think about it, and we can talk in a bit."

Getting Margie anywhere near running water meant an episode of frolicsome splashing and needing to wipe down their surroundings afterward. By the time Myra returned from the bathroom, Allie had dropped by and was sitting down at the dining table with a bowl of Ginny's tomato bisque. She was listening to a stream of consciousness rant from Ginny, but when she saw Margie, her face lit up and she stood, reaching for the baby. Who in turn was reaching for her, crowing "Allie, Allie, Allie!"

Myra went into the kitchen with just a pat of her hand on Ginny's shoulder as she passed. She put some of last night's broccoli rice casserole into two bowls and heated them up in the microwave, then added a couple of sourdough biscuits to the lip of one bowl and handed it to Allie, settling down between Allie and Ginny to eat her own bowl. Ginny had not slacked off. Margie had apparently decided to eat a second lunch and was cadging bites of everything from Allie, chatting quietly to herself between chews. When Myra leaned in to hear what Margie was saying, she could make out "We do each other in and that's a fact." Myra had been reading from "The Work of a Common Woman" to Margie last night. It was a perfect counterpoint to Ginny's emphatic outrage.

At a slight pause for breath, Allie pointed to the dish of grated parmesan in front of Ginny. Momentarily distracted, Ginny handed it over and, keeping it out of Margie's reach, Allie sprinkled some on her two bowls of food. Margie immediately began trying to pick off small flakes of parmesan from the broccoli with delicate pudgy finger tweezers, putting each bit in her mouth like feeding a baby bird. Myra had another moment of what she'd begun thinking of as Margie Vu, when looking at the face of her daughter gave her a wave of love and recognition that sent shivers down to her bones.

Into the brief silence, Allie said "So, how your family commenced is not what you thought. But that is that to you? Right here right now?"

Myra looked at Allie as if she were nuts. Here was her chance to change the subject, and instead she was diving into it with Ginny.

But Ginny paused to think for a minute. "I'm not sure. It's news, but it doesn't actually contradict anything I've felt my whole life. And I've always had compassion for Daddy. Just -- now I have something concrete to back it up."

Myra held out her hands for Margie to come get in her lap; she really wanted to hold her baby at the moment. Margie looked at her briefly, then looked away. Not much could pry her away from Allie, certainly not an everyday mama.

"Here's another question: If they began so bad, why have your parents stayed married? Why didn't they divorce?"

"Divorce was unthinkable in the 40s and 50s, you know that, Allie" began Ginny.

"Yeah, but it ain't now. They could do it now" said Allie.

Ginny's face showed her brain was back fully engaged. "I don't know. I ask that question in my head a lot, I guess, just not so directly. I never see any signs of real love between them. I have not a single memory of it. Daddy is unbelievably committed and responsible, that's one thing."

"But why hasn't your mom gotten out?" asked Allie.

Ginny liked this question less. "I don't know the why for much of what she does. The way she drinks, there's probably not much logic left in that brain."

"Good questions for you to think on" said Allie, switching Margie to the other side of her lap.

Ginny looked levelly at Allie. "So I should answer my own questions before I jump on them, is what you're saying." The heat had left her tone.

How come Allie gets credit for that viewpoint?, thought Myra. Allie just waltzes in and everybody thinks she's special.

"Well, that's the difference between being in AA and being in Al Anon" said Allie, with a grin. "In AA, you have one job, and it's the same every day: Don't drink. But what's your job in Al Anon?"

Ginny laughed. Myra was relieved enough to venture speech: "One thing you could do, is go ahead and give them the present you were intending to make. Using this certificate."

Ginny leaned back and guffawed delightedly. "Oh, how wickedly passive-aggressive" she said, finally looking at Myra. Then she leaned forward and reached toward Myra's forehead. "You have a smear of applesauce in your cowlick" she said affectionately, wiping it out between her fingers. She kissed Myra lightly, then turned back to Allie and said "So, what's up with you, pal?"

Allie held up one finger to pause for a moment and asked Myra "Am I hearing this baby quote 'A Woman Is Talking to Death'?"

"It's the most important poem perhaps in the English language" said Myra, thrown back on the defensive.

Allie said to Ginny "You know, that month we lived in the Bay Area -- Myra found out where Judy Grahn lived in Oakland and went there one day. She saw a pair of jeans hanging on the clothesline in the back yard that was clearly Judy's shape. She shimmied over the fence and stole 'em. They wouldn't fit her, of course, so she just slept with 'em."

Ginny looked at Myra with an incredulous smile, putting her hand over Myra's. In a confidential voice, she asked "Did they smell like her?"

Myra relaxed again. "No, they'd been washed. But they were poet jeans, you could feel the vibe." She held onto Ginny's hand.

Margie was trying to grab Allie's extended finger. Allie began playing keepaway with her, and said "You got any of those peanut butter cookies left?"

Ginny went into the kitchen, squeezing Myra's hand before she let go. Myra grinned at Allie and said "You're like a stray dog. We keep feeding you..."

Allie grinned back, then handed Margie forcibly to Myra. "I can't eat cookies with this one on my lap." After a moment of protest, Margie leaned back, looking at Myra from between her dark lush Ginny-like lashes and prompting "Margie?" Myra kissed both cheeks before obligingly beginning to sing:
"Days are never blue
After all is said and done
There is really only one
Oh Margie, Margie, it's you."

1 comment:

shadocat said...

You know this is my "favorite-ess" story...I haven't been reading "Ginny" online lately, because I feel like I'm messing with it somehow. But I have to confess, I loved reading this.

Oh, and I put a hot picture of your "she-ro" on my blog-wanna see?