("Yo Mama's Last Supper" by Renee Cox)
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.
When Ginny was four months pregnant, they went in for an ultrasound. As that second, rapid heartbeat poured into the exam room, Ginny's hand gripped Myra's almost painfully tight and Myra felt like she could see colors pulsing in time to the rhythm. Dr. Desai gave them an adjusted due date of November 30th and said everything looked normal. She handed Ginny and Myra each a photograph, swirly black-and-white stills that she had to interpret for them in detail before Myra finally could see the baby, suddenly coalescing into a magic shape like the color blindness tests she'd had in grade school.
"It's a girl" said Dr. Desai. "Not 100% certain, but look here -- there's no projection at that convergence, which to my eye means she's a girl."
In the car, Myra had to sit for a few minutes, slowing down her breathing and focusing on the drive home because her mind was so full of questions.
Allie came over for dinner, bringing late summer Silver Queen corn that Myra steamed lightly. They ate a dozen ears between them, conversing nonstop through the rows of kernels. When Allie made herself iced coffee and they sat down on the back deck to share a chilled honeydew, Myra said "Al, it's time to have the mommy talk."
"Whaddya mean?" asked Allie, her eyes widening.
"You're going to be in this child's life -- this girl's life -- from the get-go. Children assume the adults around them are there to love them and care for them. Unless they are told otherwise, they assume the adults in their intimate circle are all the equivalent of parents. And you, in particular -- you open your heart right up to kids, you're just like me in that regard. She's going to fall in love with you. We need to figure out who you want to be in her life" said Myra.
Ginny added, "We're hoping to put you in our wills as her guardian in case something happens to both of us, simultaneously. A remote possibility, but we have to cover it."
"You mean, I'd be her mom then?" said Allie, startled.
"Yeah. We'd leave you our entire estate, you could hire help, of course. But you're the one we'd want raising her, if we can't" said Myra.
Allie blew on her coffee reflexively, then remembered it was cold already. "I'll have to think on it. I'm -- bowled over by the honor."
Myra offered Juju a morsel of honeydew, which Juju sniffed at but declined.
"What about Chris and Sima?" asked Allie.
"Well, we want them to be as involved as they wish, but -- if they wanted kids, I somehow think they'd already have 'em" said Myra.
"Yeah..." mused Allie. "I have thought about adopting, as you know, My. Despite all the hurdles there'd be. But I don't want to be a single mom. And, I've hoped for a girlfriend who already had kids. I do want children in my day-to-day life, I always have." She stopped, and Myra could sense something unsaid.
"Here's the thing, Allie: Our daughter will be white. And there's a long, ugly history of black folks raising white people's babies for them. I don't want you to be a mammy. I want you to be a mommy." Myra met Allie's eyes.
"Not like your nanny Nilmoni was for you" answered Allie gently. "I know you loved her like a momma, but that don't mean she saw you as her child."
"I'm aware of that" said Myra, pain in her voice.
"How you gonna make that distinction with me, you think?" quizzed Allie.
"To start with" said Ginny, "Legal guardianship papers. And insisting that my family recognize you as a parent, same as Myra."
"They gonna go for that?" asked Allie.
"Some will, some won't" said Ginny. "But I'll repeat it until I'm blue in the face."
Myra said hesitantly, "We have that big room upstairs, with its own sitting area and kitchenette..."
"I knew you was gonna go there" said Allie. "I don't want to live with you all, I need my own place."
"I know" said Myra, "But the offer stands. This house is your house, even if you're just visiting regularly. And with -- Marjorie -- " Myra turned and beamed at Ginny -- "We'll make no distinction between you and us as a parent. I mean, yes, you won't be here, but -- "
"Like I'm the one who works and comes home for dinner, kinda" supplied Allie.
"More than that, but yeah" agreed Myra. "We'll act as a team on childrearing issues, talking it over when we can. And whoever is hands on at the moment, they're in charge, that's the only practical way to do it, but we're all answerable to each other in the long run."
"Huh" said Allie. She looked at Ginny and said "You willing to give up the fruit of your womb like that?"
"I already am" said Ginny. "I want her to have you more than I want to own her. Although, I will admit, there's a possessiveness already in my flesh that's -- shocking to me."
"I'm still the only black face this baby going to see every day" said Allie, not judgmentally but bluntly.
"Unless you haul her out with you and your friends, which I hope you do" said Myra. "We also don't have any men in her life, none on the horizon."
"Except Daddy" interjected Ginny. Myra didn't say anything.
Allie drank a few more sips of her coffee, thinking. Finally she said "I'm gonna want veto power that sometimes you won't like. And -- I don't want you to have any more kids without my vote on it."
Ginny was shocked, Myra could tell.
"Ya'll made the decision to become mothers without asking my opinion, which was you right, but now you asking me to be a mother, too. Which means me taking on 18 years of responsibility. If I say yes, you don't get to add to my commitment without my consent" said Allie stubbornly.
Myra giggled. "Does this mean you want to hold the turkeybaster and -- "
"God, no" said Allie, pushing herself backward in her chair.
"I'm just kidding, Al" said Myra. "It makes sense to me. We are considering two children in total, but we have to see how having one is. And, well, if we really are contradicting the patriarchal notion of children being owned by adults, then this is how you go about it, I guess."
There was a long silence. Allie looked at Ginny and said "How 'bout you? This make you feel more like a brood cow, or less?"
Ginny laughed, some strain on her face. "I'm -- scared. About the whole thing. About taking on 18 years myself, and then trying to share it with -- more than one person. I have no role models for it. But when has that ever stopped me? ....Yeah, I'm in. I want this baby to have more than lip service." She reached out her bare foot and poked Allie in the knee.
"Okay. I need to talk with my sponsor, first. And a lawyer" said Allie.
"Your own lawyer, or do you want to use ours?" asked Myra.
"I don't know yet. Byron first" said Allie.
"Fair enough" said Myra. "And listen -- if we do have a second kid, and it's a girl, we're wondering how you'd feel about the name Allena?"
"Oh, hell, Myra, that's too much to chew on at the moment" said Allie, but her face was pleased.
(Lesbian Family sculpture from Bell Pine Art Farm)
December 1988 -- Margie is two weeks old
The following week, Myra went off to another session with Leesa, leaving Allie at the house with Ginny and Margie. When she got home, Ginny was taking a sitz bath and Allie was in the living room easy chair with Margie on her lap. They were just sitting and staring at each other. When Myra came in the door, she called out Margie's name and Margie began trying to locate her in the room. Myra got close to her, talking to her the whole time, and Margie finally focused on her. Her face lit up in a way that squeezed Myra's heart tight and did not let go. She picked Margie up and thrilled to the breathy sounds of gladness Margie made. Complete ectasy was just this easy.
She sat down with Allie and they baby-watched for a while. Conversation was skimpy, except for delighted prattling at Margie. At one point Allie said "Who knew two big steel-toed bring-it-on-you-dickhead dykes could be reduced to goo like this?"
When Ginny got out of her bath, she walked slowly into the living room. Her face went first to Margie, then to Myra. "Hello, loves" she called out. At the sound of her voice, Margie began flailing in excitement. Myra turned her around so she could see Ginny approaching. As she got into range, Margie went simply berserk, as if her entire reason for existence had just arrived. Which, of course, it had. Ginny's face showed passion Myra had never seen. As they came together, Myra realized she was not Margie's first choice. She didn't want it to bother her, and she couldn't fault Margie's taste, but in fact it kicked her in the teeth. Well, that's what therapy is for she thought to herself.
During Margie's awake periods each day, they began showing her shapes and giving her toys to mouth. Myra read aloud to her often, and played classical, African or traditional Scot music, which Margie listened to raptly. Ginny talked to her nonstop during nursing sessions, using her name in every sentence. They had created their own Baby Book with developmental milestones and space to write in "baby's firsts", illustrated lavishly by Ginny, and they or Allie took turns each day or two making additions to the entries. Allie put sketches of Margie and her mothers on most pages.
(Anna And Sylvie, Montreal Mothers To Two Year Old Sacha)
Early February 1989 -- Margie is two months old
Margie had an appointment Monday at 9:30 a.m. for a check-up that would include her immunizations for DTP and polio. The day before, their phone had gone out. Myra drove to a pay phone and arranged for a service call, but they would not give her a definite time of arrival -- just sometime between 8 a.m. and noon. She and Ginny got up, ate breakfast together, and got dressed, but when the repair person had not arrived by 9 a.m., Ginny went to the pediatrician without Myra. Myra had an extremely hard time emotionally with securing Margie into her back seat carrier and leaving her alone there, seeing Ginny drive off, the first time Ginny had driven since Margie was born.
She went back in the house and did diapers, then washed the floors, trying to distract herself. By 10:30 she was reduced to sitting on the couch in the living room, just waiting, in a foul mood. When she heard a car pull up out front, she stood to look out the window, ready to be snotty to the repair person. Instead, it was Ginny, pulling a screaming Margie from her carrier.
She met them halfway. Margie was trying to reach for Myra, and when Myra got her hands around Margie, Margie tried to lunge her entire body away from Ginny. Ginny herself was near tears.
"What on earth happened?" said Myra, holding Margie tight against her and comforting her. Ginny waited until they were in the house and she could sit down before answering.
"She's furious at me because I let them give her a shot. I mean, I didn't just let them, I held her down so they could do it. She's been crying ever since, and started screaming when I reached for her to pick her up, just now. She hates me, Myra. I betrayed her trust!" Ginny finally let herself cry.
"Oh, god, I should have gone with you" said Myra. She sat down next to Ginny, but Margie looked away from Ginny and tried to move her body away from the side where Ginny sat.
"Why, so she'd be hating both of us now? At least this way you're the good mommy, the one that didn't let strange people stick painful sharp things into her tender little flesh" sobbed Ginny.
"Honey, she's doesn't know any better, she's confused. It's okay, she doesn't hate you, she's just hurt and confused. You are the most wonderful part of her world, she's crazy in love with you, you know that, Ginny" said Myra.
At that instant, the doorbell rang.
"Fuck me running" swore Myra. "Now they get here. Margie, darling, go to your Mama, she understands why you're pissed off, you tell her all about it -- here, take her, Ginny. She absolutely does want to be in your arms, don't you believe different."
Myra answered the door and let in the repair guy, who was rattled by Margie's screams and Ginny's tear-streaked face as he came into the foyer. "She just got her first vaccinations" said Myra, but either he wasn't a father or, more likely, was a father but had no notion of what parenting actually entailed, because her explanation rang no bells for him. She led him to the phone on the breakfast bar, pointed out the door to the back yard, and told him to come find her when he was done. She followed Ginny into their bedroom and shut the door.
They lay down with Margie between them, Margie facing Ginny, and let her cry it out. Ginny kept murmuring reassurance, and eventually Margie began taking it in. Myra got a warm wet washcloth and cleaned Margie's face tenderly, and immediately afterward Margie began nuzzling Ginny's breast, looking for milk. Ginny sat up and nursed her gratefully. Margie pressed against her as if she had never once doubted Ginny.
Myra watched them, almost overwhelmed with emotion, and finally said "She's got one hell of a temper, doesn't she?"
Ginny grinned at her and said "Well, she comes by it honestly. And one thing I learned teaching kids, they lean toward fascism."
"What do you mean?"
"They are naturally self-centered. They do care about others, but self-obsession goes along with immaturity, and they are cheerfully willing to trample on the rights of others to keep from having to deal with difference, or anything that upsets them. It's a developmental stage that, with good parenting, we grow out of" said Ginny, beaming down at Margie.
"Unless we're the Christian Right" said Myra. "Talk about developmentally delayed."
A gentle knock came at the door. Ginny pulled the baby blanket over Margie at her breast and Myra went into the hall. She signed off on the work sheet, and as she was letting the repair guy out the front door, the phone rang. When she answered, it was Allie.
"Where have you been? And what's up with your phone machine, I've been calling since last night" said Allie.
Myra explained, and told her about the vaccination trauma.
"I'm free for lunch" said Allie. Myra glanced at the clock and said "Come on over, but I haven't started a thing."
"I'll stop at the deli" said Allie. "But why don't you stick in one of your apple pies? I got a hankering."
"Deal" said Myra. After setting the pie to bake, she looked in the fridge and pulled out two ripe avocados. She cut each half into fans that she put on separate salad plates on a layer of lettuce and sliced yellow tomatoes, then drizzled with garlic-infused olive oil, sprinkled with crackled black pepper and chopped parlsey, and set on the table. She was just starting Allie's coffee when Allie came in the door. She helped Allie set out hummus, dolmas, raita, fruit salad, and an Asian kind of tortellini with hot peanut sauce. She warmed pita in the oven while Allie carved a small Tandoori chicken. She was setting milk and juice on the table when Ginny joined them, carrying Margie who was still awake.
"She didn't go to sleep?" said Myra, kissing them. Allie kissed them after her.
"No, she pooped and seems a bit fussy, but she won't drop off" said Ginny. Allie took Margie from her, Margie making her sounds of extreme excitement. Ginny washed her hands and helped Myra finish setting the table.
"Look at this spread!" said Ginny, her eyes gleaming as she kissed Allie and Myra's hands after a moment of silence.
Allie was gazing down at Margie, as Myra filled her plate for her, and said "It's only been a day since I saw her, and I can still tell a difference. She grows like something from outer space. Your milk be doing all that, so I just grabbed a quart of everything I saw." She glanced at Ginny and said "Have you tasted your milk? What's it like?"
"Sweeter than cow's milk" said Ginny.
"A little thicker, too. And richer. Like egg nog, but not in flavor" said Myra. Allie was a little embarassed at Myra's contribution.
"You know how throughout human culture, we've figured out all these things that are edible if you do some kind of weird process to it?" said Ginny. "Like, manioc is not toxic if you bleach it five times, or acorn meal has to be boiled a certain amount of time before it make a mush that won't give you diarrhea? Well, I think it must've been pregnant or nursing women who unlocked those secrets. Women who were ravenous, not just for quantity, but also for tastes."
Myra laughed. Ginny was taking a big bite of every dish before she put a portion on her plate, unable to wait to begin eating.
"I bet you right" said Allie. "I mean, when they say hunters and gatherers, it was gatherers who supplied over 80% of the tribe's nutrition, including the protein. Just wasn't all testosterony like hunting, so it don't get the attention of the white boys."
Ginny kept talking with her mouth full. "You remember those films in grade school where they'd show a field full of threshers, talking about 'Kansas, breadbasket to the world' or some such? And there'd been this arcing stream of grain into a shiny hopper? That's what I feel like, a machine that needs that kind of flow coming into me all the time. Except not just grain." She'd already finished her avocado salad and was unconsciously staring at Myra's. Myra pushed her plate toward Ginny, and Ginny showed surprise, then a rueful grin. But she took it, and forked a slice of avocado into her mouth.
"Soon she'll be like Helen Keller, wandering around the table snatching stuff off our plates" Myra said to Allie. But Allie didn't laugh with her and Ginny. She had her lips on Margie's forehead, and she said "She feels hot to me."
Ginny said "They warned me she might get a little fever" as Myra went to the bathroom and got the ear thermometer. She stood by Allie and took Margie's temperature, which came out at 99.2.
"No wonder she's not sleeping" said Allie. Myra went back to the bedroom and returned with the baby blanket and a knit cap. As she put the hat on Margie's head, she explained to her "I bet you feel a little cold, huh, angel girl? This will help keep the warmth in your body. And your Allie will wrap you in the blankie close to her, and that'll feel better, too."
She asked Ginny "Are we supposed to give her something?"
Ginny said "Not unless it reaches over 100, then we should call the clinic."
Allie ate slowly, one-handed, as Myra returned to her own plate. Myra said "I remember when the polio vaccine came out. We were living in a small Louisiana town then, and seemed like every kid in town was lined up at the school gymnasium to be handed a little paper cup with a sugar cube in it. I was still a preschooler, and Gil was a baby. But after we were done and back outside, my mama had to sit down suddenly, right on the sidewalk, because her legs gave out on her in relief. She began crying, saying 'You're safe now, you're safe.'" As Myra told this story, she choked up with the memory. She added "Now I know a little of what she was feeling."
Ginny took her hand for a moment, using the other hand to drain her glass of milk. Allie was silent, and after a minute, Myra said "Tell me, Al."
Allie looked at her for several seconds, a flat expression. Then she asked "Was all the kids in that gymnasium white?"
Myra felt cold, and sorted through her memory. "Yeah. Cajun and other kinds of white. But -- the town wasn't but maybe half white. Oh, fuck, Allie."
Allie kissed Margie's forehead again, then said softly "We did eventually get the vaccine. I remember it too. But it was a month later. Not the first batch. I remember because of what Nana had to say about it, about having to wait."
Ginny had stopped eating. Myra continued on, looking at Allie. After another minute, Allie said "I reckon the only reason they did give it to us is because of that thing, you know, about the swimming pools, and the federal government forcing them to let us use the pools."
"Oh, yeah" said Myra, slowly remembering. "What was that myth -- that polio was being spread at public pools?"
"By us" said Allie. "By pickaninnies, is what the news said. And they used that word, right out loud on the radio."
Myra let the silence gather. Ginny watched her, could tell Myra was bleeding inside, but there was some respect in the silence, some kind of listening and sharing, that bound her with Allie.
Allie said "She's not actually getting a mild dose of polio, is she? Is that how this works?"
Ginny finally spoke. "I'm not sure, but I don't think so. It's too risky. I think it's a dead version of the -- virus, is it? -- they inject into her, and her antibodies don't know it's dead so they go into high gear, flooding her body with protection."
Allie grinned down at Margie. "The things you know how to do, without any help from your brain. You a miracle baby."
After another bite, Myra said "Is that connected to the crap about why blacks supposedly can't swim? The explanation being that you were not allowed to use public pools?"
Ginny looked at Myra in shock. "Can't swim?" she repeated. Myra nodded, but she was focused on Allie.
"I've wondered about it" said Allie. "But my gut says it's older than that -- it's some kind of -- I don't know the anthropological term, but when a culture has group guilt that comes out sideways, and in this case, it's about the Trade. About all the folks who jumped overboard."
Myra nodded, comprehension flooding her face. "I bet you're right, Allie. It does have that feel to it. Some twisted plea for expiation, or explanation."
Ginny realized what Trade meant. She reached a hand out to cradle Margie's feet. She said softly "If she gets pissed off about vaccinations, I can only imagine what she's going to do when finds out about our history on this continent."
"She'll be an avenging angel" laughed Myra. "She'll turn to us and said 'Why did you let this happen?' And I plan to have an answer by then."
"Good luck with that" grinned Allie.
Ginny suddenly realized this conversation was not like any she'd ever had with Allie, a different level of intimacy. It must be how she and Myra talked when they were alone. And now she was part of it, because of Margie. Allie was including her as she included Margie.
"Thank you" Ginny blurted out. "Thank you -- for loving Margie."
Allie looked at her wide-eyed. "Got no choice about that."
"What do you mean, Ginny?" asked Myra, also a little startled.
Ginny didn't want to explain. She was nervous it was white guilt. But she managed to say, "I don't know how it is that any mother -- any kind of mother -- could not feel what we are feeling for her. The willingness to go to any lengths, do whatever it takes, to meet her needs. You're right, Allie, it does feel -- involuntary. But you and I both know, not all mothers -- well, express it, even if they do feel it."
Allie was searching her face. She said "Yeah. It's not just men who seem to miss parts that make the childrearing engine run smooth. Which the best argument I know for women to have the choice about whether or not to make babies. It ain't automatic."
"And it's not a one-woman job" added Myra.
"I like how they did it in 'The Wanderground', you had to have seven wimmins to raise a baby" said Allie.
"Seven seems about right" said Myra. "Well, there's us, and Chris and Sima -- we need two more."
"Pat and Patty" said Ginny.
Myra looked at Allie with a hard grin, and shook her head. "They don't get it, Gin. They divide it into parents, which they think are only two, and then babysitters." The kitchen timer went off, and she got up to remove the apple pie from the oven.
Allie said to Ginny, "Don't sweat it. Five of us equal seven in the regular world. We got her covered."
(Naming ceremony still from "Naming Prairie", documentary by Alexander Juhasz)
First of May 1989
Ginny refused to turn on the phone in her studio because she didn't want to be distracted. Which, Myra pointed out, left Myra in the role of secretary. Ginny replied that Myra could let the machine get it, and the argument always stalled out there. However, when Ginny did get calls she wanted to take, she usually sat on Myra's daybed to have her conversations, which meant Myra overhead them whether she wanted to or not. Except when her father called; those she would take in her studio.
This evening, after a lengthy talk with her father, Ginny came to Myra's daybed and sat, looking thoughtful. It had taken Myra longer than usual to get Margie to sleep. Margie had just begun teething, and she was crying at the drop of a hat. So Myra had only just now gotten to look at her writing for the first time all day.
Myra tried to ignore Ginny now because she was completely stumped on an attempt to show not tell, in a stanza about how the personal is political -- everything she wrote sounded like a flyer from 1974. Finally she gave up, on the stanza and on ignoring Ginny, leaned back in her chair and said abruptly "What?"
Ginny looked at her levelly. "Well, first of all, I just heard that Lucille Ball has died."
"You interrupted my writing to tell me that?" Myra tried to keep her voice neutral, but didn't quite pull it off.
"No, I interrupted for something else, but I thought you'd want to know."
Myra had an another try at not being crankly. "Yes, thanks. She was a Leo, you know."
Ginny's voice was also now trying for neutrality. "Anyhow -- Daddy wants us to go to the Gulf Coast this year, resume our family tradition."
"Fine. Pick some dates, make sure it's not during lesbian/gay pride week, and book the flight." Myra leaned forward again to look at the stanza, which was almost entirely lines marked through with dark pencil.
"What the fuck is up with you?" said Ginny.
Myra pointed to the baby monitor with her pencil. "If she starts crying again, it's your turn."
"Okay. But we need to talk about this Coast trip idea."
Myra leaned back again and choked back the sigh she wanted to give. "What about it? Don't you want to go?"
"I do. I'm not sure Margie's old enough, though."
"You mean for the plane flight? I hear that if babies are still nursing, it's not so hard on them" said Myra.
"That, yes. But -- the cottage doesn't have air conditioning, and she's really not able to be out in the sun more than a few minutes so beach time will be almost nil. The floor is always covered with sand, and she's crawling all the time. I think maybe we have to wait a year."
Ginny went on. "Still, I want to see my family. And she hasn't met her grandmother yet."
"Whose fault is that?" Myra regretted it as soon as it came out of her mouth. Ginny never hesitated to grouse about her mother, but usually didn't like it when why Myra complained.
"I know, Myra. We have to be the grown-ups here, the mommies, and take our daughter there if that's the only way it's going to happen."
"I'm sorry, Ginny. I'm with you on this."
Ginny looked at her for a minute, convincing herself Myra was in earnest.
"Anyhow -- Daddy raised an interesting idea. Jewish boys are named at their bris, given their Hebrew name, I mean. He asked if we wanted to have a naming ceremony for Margie."
"Is that done? Or is this him trying on a feminist hat?"
"Yes, it's done. I like the idea."
"So do I, Ginny. She deserves any kind of celebration we can give her. But there, in Denver? Not at the tight-ass Temple you grew up in, I hope."
"Never fear, I'm not darkening their door again. Yes, in Denver so the whole family will be there, I guess at my parents' house, but I want our family here to be there as well."
"Which means getting our friends to take a weekend trip with us. June in Colorado might be fun. We could rent a suite together. For sure Allie, Chris and Sima, yes?"
"Yeah. I'll ask Patty, but I bet she won't want to go, she and Pat seem to hate traveling."
"What will your mother say, Ginny, about a pack of roughish lesbians descending on her suburban sanctity?"
Ginny giggled. "That's the most appealing part of all, I think. And it will keep mother from inviting a bunch of her fancy friends who don't even know I'm a dyke. She can console herself with making the meal afterward."
"Yum. Be sure to tell her we prefer finger foods."
Ginny gave out a peal of laughter. "You think I won't!"
"We can ask everybody at Friday dinner tomorrow, and pick a date then. But Gin -- what is Margie's Hebrew name?
"Rose, I suppose." Ginny laughed again. "Or we could say we've chosen 'Vulvah' -- just to see the look on Mother's face." They both cracked up.
"Okay. I love you, Ginny, but go away now. I'm dying to write."
"Is that why you were so pissy?"
"Going away, then." Ginny walked back toward her studio, then turned and said "When Margie has a daughter, she could take 'Vulvahchild' as her surname."
On Saturday morning, Ginny was walking a wailing Margie back and forth and raising her voice to argue with Myra.
"First of all, it's not fair to use our friends as hostages -- they need their own rental car, so they can escape my family -- "
"But that's my point, if there's only one car, we have to leave with them -- "
"And second, Myra, five big dykes and a baby carrier, plus luggage. Do the geometry."
"Just be glad our friends have said yes. And the B&B in the downtown gay district sounds great, that was a real find."
Myra switched tacks. "Have you tried that frozen pacifier idea Patty suggested?"
"Yes. She's running a fever, Myra, she just feels like shit."
"Well, I need to confirm these reservations. Could you possibly take her upstairs so I can hear the person on the other end of the line?"
Ginny stalked off through the kitchen. Myra made her calls. After she put the phone down, she fingered the poetry folder on her desk longingly. She could still hear Margie on the second floor. She rubbed her temples, then got up and walked for the stairs.
Three weeks later, after Ginny pulled up in front of her parents' house, their friends in the second car didn't open their doors or get out right away. Ginny unbuckled Margie from her car seat and wiped her mouth from the constant drooling she was doing these days, trying to sop up some of the soak in her shirt collar as well. Myra pulled out the diaper bag. Finally Allie joined them, saying "Holy moly, this is not a neighborhood it'd ever be safe for me to take a jog through."
"I really appreciate you coming, Al" began Myra.
"I'm not here for you. Or Ginny. I'm here for this baby girl. Ain't that right, Margie?"
Margie stopped fretting when she heard Allie's tone of voice and reached for her.
"Sorry, honey, I need to be the one carrying you in" said Ginny, walking down the sidewalk with her. The others fell into line behind her, Chris dead last.
David opened the door before they got to it, giving a hearty hello and reaching for Margie. Margie let him take her, but began a low-level cry, with drool popping out the side of her mouth again. Myra handed him a wiping towel, whose function he didn't seem to know, tucking it into his suit pocket.
Cathy was the next stage of the gauntlet, and after she hugged everybody, she introduced Michael to Myra and Ginny's friends. She said her boys were in the backyard, throwing a football, and went to get them. As she did, Helen came out of the kitchen, pulling off an apron. Myra saw the look of horror that crossed briefly over her face at the assemblage in the living room. She pasted on a glassy smile and kept moving toward them, however. David, with Margie, was still near the door, behind everybody.
Ginny hugged Helen, then turned and said "Mother, these are our daughter's godmother and aunties. This is Allie, who will be acting as kvatterin during Margie's simchat bat. This is Sima, who is going to say bracha over the wine, and her partner Chris, who will say motsi over the challah afterward." Helen stayed glazed over at this mixture of faces, handshakes, and deviation from any Jewish protocol she'd ever seen. Ginny was on a roll, however. "And this -- this is our beloved, our daughter, Marjorie Rose Josong-Bates."
Myra thought David and Cathy must not have mentioned the hyphenated name to Helen, either. As David came forward, Helen cast a sideways glance at Myra, then immediately fixed on Margie with a look of dismay.
"Oh, no -- you didn't say what was wrong with her -- is that a birthmark?" She didn't reach for Margie, but instead stared at the bright smear of rash at the corner of Margie's mouth she'd developed from drooling over the last few days.
Ginny was suddenly speechless. Myra started to explain, but Allie stepped in front of Helen, took Margie from David's arms, and said "There not a thing wrong with her" in a tone of voice Myra had seldom heard. Allie wiped Margie's drool lovingly with her hand and walked toward the sliding doors into the yard, passing Cathy and her sons without a word.
Chris burst into laughter, and after a second, Myra joined her. Why the fuck not? Ginny finally found her voice and said "It's a rash, mother". Stupendous embarrassment made everybody else start laughing, even David -- but not Helen. She turned and went back into the kitchen.
Myra patted Ginny's arm and went after Allie in the yard. It took her ten minutes to persuade Allie to bring Margie back in. Finally Allie said "When you and Ginny asked me to be Margie's mama if something happened to the both of you, I -- well, I wasn't sure I should be the one. But I'm telling you now, I be damned if they ever get their hands on this precious child."
"We agree, Allie. That's why we asked you."
"Damn right. I don't mean offense, but that woman a bitch."
"In a word."
"And he didn't lift a finger to protect his own grandbaby. I mean, there's drunks and then there's the folks who don't do a goddamned thing about it."
"I know, Allie, I absolutely know."
"And I admit I have at times thought Ginny is what you'd call high-maintenance, and you two was a good fit for each other, but after five minutes in that house, I can't never complain again about how she go on, she's just fine, you know what I mean?"
Myra giggled. "I get your drift, yeah."
Allie's ranting was either so diverting that Margie had forgotten about her tooth misery or Allie was channeling for her -- Margie looked calmer than she had all day. The flight had been absolutely wretched for all concerned.
"Allie, you've made your point. You've drawn your lines, and Margie knows it. So I think we can go back in now. I mean, most of the people inside that house are on the same side as you and me and Margie."
Allie looked Margie in the eyes, wiped her face again and said "You game, sister? You ready to roll with Big Al?" Margie replied "Mama banana Allie momo." Momo was her word for milk. Myra wasn't sure what Margie was trying to say, but Allie replied "Right on" and headed back for the house, Myra right behind her.
Sima and Cathy had set up the candlesticks, nonalcoholic wine, and challah Ginny had brought from home. Chris and Michael were sitting on the couch and laughing hard with each other, and Ginny's nephews were eavedropping with grins on their faces. David was polishing wineglasses -- Myra looked twice to make sure he wasn't using Margie's drool rag. Ginny was nowhere in sight, and neither was Helen. Showdown in the kitchen, likely.
Myra grabbed the diaper bag and reached for Margie. "Let's get you changed for your big event, angel." They went into the guest bathroom. As Myra changed her diaper, she sang to Margie and kept saying "You are the finest being on earth, Marjorie Rose. You are the absolute center of our existence." She washed Margie's face, then put her into the sea-green velvet shirt and pants that Belva had made for her naming ceremony.
When they came back out, everyone exclaimed at how beautiful Margie was. She suddenly got shy, hiding her head in Myra's neck. That was a new one. Helen was standing beside David, who had put on tallit and tefillin. When she looked around, all the males in Ginny's family were similarly attired. Sima was handing out kippah.
Myra walked directly to Helen. "Margie -- Margie, look, it's your Bubbe." She handed Margie to Helen, who took her defiantly and kissed her forehead. Myra felt Ginny suddenly beside her, doing the Ginny back-you-up step. Helen said to Ginny "She looks exactly like you at this age." Myra felt Ginny press against her, and Myra said "See, Margie, your Bubbe agrees -- you are the most beautiful girl in the room."
Cathy pulled one white chair, which Ginny was calling Miriam's chair, into the middle of the room and placed a small table beside it with an ornate silver wine chalice which she filled with Ginny's wine. Chris set the video camera up facing this section of the room and put it on record. At this, everyone stood up and began arranging themselves for the ceremony. Ginny took Margie from Helen's arms and gave her to Allie, who walked up the stairs at the end of the room, just out of sight. Myra and Ginny joined hands and went to stand beside the white chair. On the other side stood Cathy and David.
Once the room was silently expectant, Allie walked slowly down the stairs, holding Margie outward so she was facing her family. Everyone began shouting "Baruch haba!", which made Margie dimple. And drool, of course. Allie brought her to Ginny, who shared holding her with Myra for a minute. They then passed Margie to every person in the room, who blessed her and kissed her forehead in turn. Margie was enjoying herself highly.
Once Margie was back in Ginny's arms, Ginny performed the birkat hagomel, the thanksgiving of deliverance, first in Hebrew, then in English with gender revisions: "Blessed are You, Lord our God, Queen of the Universe, Who bestows kindness upon the culpable for She has bestowed goodness to me." Immediately afterward, the members of her family responded "May She who has bestowed beneficence upon you always bestow every beneficence upon you."
Then Myra faced Margie and took her hands to recite the shir hashirim, the Song of Songs. She and Ginny had decided on a couple of verses as most appropriate for this occasion: "I am a rose of Sharon, a rose of the valleys. As a rose among the thorns, so is my beloved among the daughters....My dove, my perfect one, is but one; she one to her mothers, she is the pure one of she who bore her; daughters saw her and praised her, queens and concubines, and they lauded her." Ginny's eyes were full of joyous tears.
Cathy then stepped forward and gave a Mi Shebberach that Ginny and Myra had composed: "The one Who blessed our mothers, Sarah and Rivkah, Rachel and Leah, and the prophet Miriam and Abigail and Queen Esther, daughter of Abichayil -- may She bless this beloved girl and let her name in Israel be Rose bat Leah v Maryam ha-Kohein, with good luck and in a blessed hour; and may she grow up with good health, peace and tranquility; and her mothers see her joy and her heartsong, and justice, prosperity and honour; and may they be healthy into old age; and may this be the divine will, and say ye, Amen!"
An exuberant "Amen" was shouted out by everyone else. Margie jumped a little, but kept beaming. Cathy took a drop of the wine from Miriam's cup onto her forefinger and dabbed it on Margie's mouth. Margie licked it off and opened her eyes wide at the taste. Ginny was laughing and crying at the same time. Myra took the cup from Cathy and drank half the wine, then lifted it to Ginny's mouth so she could drink the rest. She leaned over and kissed Ginny, a winy kiss, and they both kissed Margie's cheeks.
David came to stand in front of Margie, taking her feet in his hands, to confer the birkat cohamin, the priestly blessing. This was done in Hebrew. When he was finished, there was another rousing "Amen!", and this time Margie tried to echo it with a shrieked "Ah!", bouncing herself in Ginny's arms.
Ginny and Myra crossed to the dining table in front of the candlesticks, and Helen joined them. She lit the candles, and Ginny leaned Margie forward toward her grandmother. At this point, Myra began crying. Then Sima said bracha over the wine and Chris blessed the bread, and everyone rushed the table for bread and wine. Allie plucked Margie from Ginny's arms and danced around the room with her. As Ginny pulled Myra into an extremely passionate kiss, Myra could hear Margie's peals of laughter.
Dinner was a typical Helen knockout. About halfway through her first glass of wine, Helen seemed to realize it was nonalcoholic, and when she went back into the kitchen for another course, she returned with her standard pale glass of orange juice over ice. Allie looked at the glass, then over at Myra. Myra raised her eyebrows.
Margie ate sitting in Allie's lap, and used her two new teeth to sample matzoh balls, carrots, roasted beets, and stewed apricots. Her drool became multicolored. Myra and Ginny, sitting across the table from her, could not look at anything else but her. She was exulting in their non-stop attention.
Sima found a lot to talk with Helen about, although Myra wasn't listening well enough to find out what on earth this could be. Chris continued yukking it up with Michael and the teenaged boys. Myra recalled how adored Chris was among her nephews. About halfway through the meal, Ginny slid her hand into Myra's and they ate one-handed, helping each other cut food when necessary. Myra kept remembering how Ginny held her hand their first night at Aux Delice.
After dinner, they went into the living room with coffee and tea. Ginny asked Allie "Does she need changing yet?" Sima said "Let me, you've hogged her all evening" and took Margie from Allie, grabbing the diaper bag and heading for the bathroom. Ginny down on the end of the couch and patted her lap, calling to Myra "Come here, girlfriend". Myra laughed at the expression on Michael's face and sat down on the floor directly in front of Ginny, leaning back between her legs. Ginny leaned forward and whispered in Myra's ear "Chicken", then gave her an unobtrusive lick. Chris sat in an easy chair facing the couch, but when Sima returned with Margie, now in regular play clothes, Chris stood up and offered her chair to Sima. After Sima sat down, Chris followed Myra's lead and sat on the floor in front of Sima, who began combing Chris's hair with her fingers and lightly braiding it.
Margie got put down on the floor with a handful of toys. She picked up a toy airplane and crawled directly over to Noah, her oldest cousin, saying something that sounded like "Falafel marmalade". He began playing with her, adroitly avoiding her drool.
As Allie plopped down in Miriam's chair, Cathy asked her "Now, how do you know Ginny? How do you all know each other?"
Allie grinned at Myra, who said "In the beginning...there was me and Allie."
"She was fresh from the sticks, come to Seattle to rouse rabble and chase -- girls" said Allie. "We met at a fundraiser for Yvonne Wanrow -- "
"I didn't know that" interjected Chris.
"Yup. Myra stepped on stage and read a couple of poems that made people get their blood up. I tracked her down afterward and introduced myself. After we talked for a while, she asked me if I knew any good beaches, since she had just moved to town. The next day I picked her up and took her to Alki."
"Coldest day on the water of my life" said Myra, laughing. "That night she took me out to a women's bar, and I got completely smashed on two beers."
"You kept singing that song by, who was it, Foghat?" said Allie.
Myra began singing "You're a rich girl / and you've gone too far / but you know it don't matter anyway -- "
"But all she knew was the chorus, no verses, so she just sang the chorus over and over again" Allie said to Ginny. "She'd just found out it was about Patty Hearst."
"Ah, the famous Tania obsession" nodded Ginny.
"I had to take her home and put her to bed, she made such a fool of herself" said Allie.
"And why, exactly, did you decide she was friend material?" teased Chris.
"My purity" retorted Myra. "My passion for justice, and my flashing brown eyes." Ginny leaned forward and kissed her neck.
"So then, a year later, Myra meets up with Chris" said Allie, laughing.
"Through mutual friends" said Chris, a little evasively.
"And if you thought Myra was a pistol, well, Chris was a howitzer" said Allie.
"But she was just getting clean and sober, and because of that, I started going to Al Anon" said Myra.
"I had another year of boozing it up still to go" said Allie. There was a momentary silence in the room. Sima jumped into the conversation, saying "So, around in here is when I met Myra, at Al Anon, right?"
"Yeah. You were still going to the Friday evening meeting that I attended. And one night Chris came to pick me up, and you two set eyes on each other" said Myra. "You know, it had crossed my mind to ask you out at some point, you were so dang cute -- "
"Oh, Myra, you were completely occupied at that point, with Annie whatsername" scoffed Sima.
"No, if that was 1980, it would have been either Karin or Judit" argued Myra.
"I distinctly remember Annie" said Sima.
"Oh, wait -- was it January of that year?" said Myra, remembering. "Then yeah, it was still Annie Gagliardi."
Ginny's family were listening intently, but Myra didn't notice. She looked over at Margie and said "She's ready to drop off." Before Myra could move, Chris reached out and scooped Margie in her arms. Myra handed her a drool rag to put on her shoulder. Chris leaned back against Sima again, cradling Margie, who said "Momo" but her eyelids were already fluttering shut.
"She ate a good dinner" said Ginny. "I'll get up at midnight and nurse her again, let her go to sleep now."
"So, anyhow" continued Myra, "With Chris and Sima it was instant fireworks, and all of a sudden Sima's switched to the Wednesday Al-Anon meeting, because Friday night became Date Night for those two."
"And then I finally saw the light and starting going to AA" said Allie. "And the four of us began hanging out together."
"Why were you going to Al Anon, Sima, if it was before you met Chris?" asked Cathy, trying to follow all this.
"My mother is a drunk" said Sima flatly. Again, there was a sudden silence in the room. This time, Ginny jumped in, not really planning what she was about to say.
"So that's how I came to met you at the Wednesday Al Anon meeting, then. And through you, I met Allie and became friends with her. And then, finally, six long years later, landed the elusive, the impossible, the fire-breathing Myra Josong." Ginny hugged Myra around her neck.
Helen, rattling her glass of orange juice and whatever, said a little irritably, "Why on earth were you going to Al Anon, Virginia?"
The silence that now hit was profound. Myra felt Ginny's arms tighten around her neck, then loosen again as Ginny sat back. Myra turned around to see Ginny's face. Ginny looked directly at Helen and said, in a very gentle voice, "Because I grew up with an alcoholic."
From the corner of her eye, Myra saw Allie's face light up. She waited for Chris's giggle and was not disappointed. Helen stared back at Ginny -- ah, the origin of that level stare, there it was -- then set down her glass, not on the coaster, and stood abruptly. "I need to wash those wine glasses by hand" she said, and walked toward the kitchen.
Ginny looked down at Myra, her face an enigma. Cathy leaned over and gave Ginny a high-five, which brought a wan smile to Ginny's face. But Ginny looked at Myra again and her smile faded.
Myra pulled her into a sideways hug. "It's okay. You did the right thing" whispered Myra. "She asked you, and there's no way you could lie."
"I want to get out of here" whispered Ginny urgently. "Can we go back to our room?"
Myra turned and looked at David, then Cathy. David was clearly unable to figure out what to do next. Cathy was flushed with excitement. Myra stood up and said "You know what? It's been a crazy long day for us. We should get this baby, this newly-named member of our lineage, into her bed."
Chris and Sima stood up swiftly. In another moment, everyone was on their feet. Cathy gave Ginny a long hug and whispered something to her, which brought a little bit of relief to Ginny's face. But she didn't come all the way back to normal color until David hugged her. He didn't say anything to her; still, the hug was enough. At least for now.
Helen did not re-emerge from the kitchen despite calls of goodbye and thank you to her. Cathy said "I'll deal with it, you go on". They trooped out to the cars, all of them, and Chris buckled Margie into her car seat. Myra drove them back to the B&B, with Ginny giving her directions. "Do you want to talk?" asked Myra.
"Not until we're alone, and Margie's down" said Ginny. But she put her hand on Myra's knee and kept it there.
At the B&B, everyone followed Myra and Ginny to their room. Margie woke up crankily on the walk in, and Ginny sat down to nurse her. Allie squeezed her shoulder and said "Hot damn, Ginny. You had your own naming ceremony tonight!"
Sima came over to kiss Ginny's forehead. "I am so proud of you" she said. Chris just kept giggling.
Myra pulled up the hassock, lifted Ginny's feet into her lap, took off her shoes and socks and began giving her a massage. Ginny closed her eyes, leaning back, and almost immediately, tears leaked out from underneath her lids.
"It won't make any difference" she whispered.
Myra said "Maybe not to her. But that was never your job. It will make a difference to you, though. And on down to our daughter."
Ginny let herself cry, then, really let go. Chris lay down on Myra's side of the bed and closed her eyes. In a moment, Sima joined her. Allie began assembling a bag of baby supplies, and whispered to Myra "Will you let me have Margie in my room for the night?"
"Are you sure? She's not sleeping through all the time. But you can give her some Children's Tylenol at night, if the pain is keeping her up."
"I'm sure. It would be an honor."
Myra nodded. "We'll keep the connecting door between us unlocked, in case you need anything."
When Ginny was finished crying and nursing Margie, she handed her over to Allie and got up to wash her face. Myra went to each of her friends in turn and gave them passionate hugs, murmuring her eternal gratitude.
"So what's on the agenda for tomorrow?" asked Chris, as Ginny came back in the room.
"I have no idea, now" said Myra.
Ginny said, with a hint of bitterness, "Depending on how much vodka was in that orange juice, she may not remember any of it. For sure we were invited to dinner tomorrow night. Let's check in after we're all up. But sleep in, if you want."
She kissed everyone goodnight, with a long embrace of Margie, who was dropping back off rapidly. Once she and Myra were alone in the room, she said "Let's get in each other's arms as fast as we can." Myra headed for the bathroom.
At 4:00 a.m., Myra woke up to Ginny shaking her. "Margie's crying" said Ginny, getting out of bed. "And it's not her teething cry."
They rushed into the room next door, where the lights were on and Allie was walking Margie, trying to comfort her. She said "She spiked a fever. I gave her some Tylenol, but it's not taking care of the pain, I guess."
Ginny pulled Margie into her arms and kissed her forehead. "Maybe a degree -- not high. Has she had diarrhea?"
"No. And she's willing to drink water, but not a lot of it."
Myra rooted through the baby bag. "Let's try some Pedialyte, just in case." As she stood back up, she saw Margie tug at her right ear. "Oh, look, Ginny -- it's her ears. She's got another ear infection. That damned plane flight."
"Please tell me we brought the extra amoxicillin" said Ginny, holding Margie close.
"I did, let me find it." Myra emerged from another search of the bag with a dropper bottle.
"Okay, Marjorie, my love, we're going to make it better. Mama's here" murmured Ginny. They dosed her and got her to drink a little Pedialyte. She quieted down again.
"I'd still like to keep her with me, if you want" offered Allie.
"She may not be able to sleep much" said Myra. "She'll need her temperature checked regularly, and push fluids."
"I know how to do that" said Allie. "I want you to get some sleep" she said to Ginny.
"Okay" said Ginny, surprising Myra. "Bless you, Allie. I'll have to get up and feed her at 6:00, anyhow, but I'm truly fried." She handed Margie back to Allie, who murmured "Baby girl, you are such a sweetpea."
Myra and Ginny went gratefully back to bed and dropped off right away. Myra was dimly aware of Ginny waking up to the alarm at 6:00, but wasn't able to actually come conscious. She didn't remember Ginny coming back to bed. At 9 a.m., she woke up on her own and felt like maybe she could handle what the day might demand of her. She got up quietly and went next door.
"How'd it go?" she asked Allie, who was sitting on the floor playing with Margie and a few toys.
"Not so bad. I think the Tylenol finally kicked in, or maybe it was the Pedialyte. She slept until Ginny came to nurse her, went back down for an hour after that, and we've been up since then."
"I'll take over. You can shower, get dressed. Maybe we should order room service, they offer it here."
"I'm going to knock on Chris's door first, see if they're up" said Allie.
In a few minutes, she returned with Sima and Chris. "Pull out the room service menu from the bedside drawer and let's get an order in while we can" suggested Myra. She ordered food for Ginny, as well, while Allie showered and got dressed. She gave Margie another dose of medicine and took her temperature, which was normal. Allie got some ice from the ice machine, and Myra wrapped a few pieces in a clean washcloth, then held it against Margie's gums while she read her a book. By the time room service arrived, Ginny had joined them, in a robe and groggy but with decent color in her face.
Ginny told them to start without her. She went back to her room to call Cathy, then her father. When she returned, she said "It's as if nothing happened. I said we'd be there for dinner at 7, but that's mandatory only for me and Myra, the rest of you can skip out, if you'd like. I'm sorry we're getting such a late start on the day, it means we probably can't do a day trip to the mountains."
"That's okay" said Allie. "The booklet in the desk says there a museum here dedicated to Black Americans in the West, you know about that?"
"Yeah, it's really good" said Ginny. "Also, the Denver Museum of Art is world class. And there's a museum of Judaica" she said, looking at Sima. "Unfortunately, nothing about Native Americans."
Chris snorted. "Course not, it's gold country."
"Well" said Myra, buttering another muffin. "I suggest you all go out and have a good time. I'm going to hole up here today with Margie the marvelous. If you'll express some milk, Ginny, we've got a fridge and a microwave in our room, I can keep her fed with that plus snacks and Pedialyte."
"Oh, no, Myra, I can't leave you on your own with a sick baby" said Ginny.
"Sure you can. Mothers do it all the time. And this is your home town, you need to show around our guests. Thanks to Allie, my fucking hero, I'm rested enough. Honestly, I'd love the down time. She will eventually sleep, she needs it too badly to go on forever."
Ginny kissed her and said "Okay. But from dinner on, I've got the Margie shift."
Ginny stashed milk in the minifridge, as well as cream cheese, fruit and muffins left over from breakfast. Myra was giving Margie a bath in the sink when all the aunties crowded in to say goodbye. Ginny leaned around Myra, holding Margie tightly, to give her a long kiss and say "Our American Express and the other car keys are on the dresser. I'll call in at least once."
"I'll leave you a message at the front desk if we go out for a walk" said Myra.
After Margie was dressed, they played Flying Baby, Where's Your Nose, Itsy Bitsy Spider, and Throw a Rock at the Pigs, switching from one room to the other when the maid arrived. Margie still had no temperature and her drooling actually seemed a little better. She let Myra examine her mouth, and Myra found that a molar had finally erupted on the back right. "Oh, good job, Margie, you got that sucker through the gum!" exclaimed Myra. "You're gonna feel better for a day or two, praise Isis." Margie nodded and said "Esolala brrrrmp".
"Interesting insight" replied Myra. "Are you thinking about writing that up for the MLA convention?"
They went on chatting as Myra got Margie a snack and a bottle. Then they walked to a nearby coffeeshop, where Myra had a midday steak -- "Gotta check out Denver beef" she confided to Margie -- and Margie reduced Myra's roll to molecules. Myra thought Margie's rash was also improving.
They went back to the room for a diaper change, another dose of medicine, and a short nap. After an hour, Myra dressed Margie in a cap over her ears, in addition to her corduroys, and packed a bag including diapers, Tylenol, Pedialyte, books, ground blanket, and a snack for squirrels and birds as well as them. She installed Margie in her snugli and they set out for a park the map showed was only two blocks away.
They managed to get lost, but pleasantly so. Finally rounding a corner and spotting the park, Myra called out "I spy" and was thrilled to hear Margie repeat it, letter perfect. "You are a genius, Margie Rose" Myra assured her. Margie burbled agreement.
Myra spread their blanket in a sunny spot near a wall of large round rocks. She put a spray of bird food on top of the wall and sat down facing it, Margie in her lap, pointing to the bird lure and whispering "Let's see who comes to eat our offering, eh?" She was more surprised than Margie, however, when the first visitor turned out to be a small, squirrel-ish creature who clambered lightly over the rocks and began shelling sunflowers with tiny hands. Margie shouted and clapped her hands, and the creature paused to eye her but didn't run away.
"By golly, my girl, I think that's a chipmunk!" said Myra. "I've never seen one in person. Now, do you suppose that's Chip, or Dale?"
After a while, a second chipmunk joined the first -- they squabbled for a moment, then settled at either end of the buffet to reluctantly share it. When most of the feast was gone, the original chipmunk sat back on her haunches and looked directly toward Myra, clearly asking "Please, sir, may I have some more?"
Unwilling to move Margie comfortably settled in her lap, Myra fished more seeds and toast remnants from her pack and tossed them in the direction of the wall. The second chipmunk ran for cover, at least temporarily, but the first one waited calmly, noting where the biggest pieces fell, then came down onto the grass and began harvesting. Some of the seeds had fallen on the corner of the blanket -- Myra had actually never been any good at Throw a Rock at the Pigs. She was intrigued to notice that Chip, or Dale as the case may be, was not deterred from proximity to humans in her quest for sunflower seeds. When this particular stash ran low, Myra pulled out more seeds and put them right next to her foot.
The chipmunk looked at her for a minute, seeming to give her a small rodenty warning on the order of "You want a piece of me?", then came on boldly to her foot and began crunching the seeds open. Margie was breathing excitedly. Myra took another few seeds and laid them carefully on her flattened knee. A minute later, the chipmunk scaled her pants leg, incredibly light in weight, and sat down on Myra's upper tibia, watching her casually, to eat shell seeds. From this distance, Myra could see that she was actually stashing the nut meat in her cheeks rather than eating it all.
Myra whispered to Margie "Now, we have to be very still. Don't move at all, Margie, and something magic will happen." She put a tempting handful of seeds in her palm and cupped it on her upper thigh, right next to Margie's bent knee. She was thrilled to feel Margie being as still as Myra was modeling. Slowly this time, her bravado starting to wear thin, the chipmunk walked on all fours up Myra's thigh. Her tiny hands on Myra's thumb were light as breath. But when Myra managed to not react, at all, the chipmunk settled in to slicing open shells like she was shucking oysters. Myra wished she could see Margie's face. She could feel the bottled excitement in Margie's body. When the chipmunk was done, she rifled through the husks in Myra's palm one last time, then zoomed back to the rock wall faster than Myra's eye could follow. Myra gave a cry of delight, and Margie screamed in reply, convulsing her entire body in a release of joy.
Myra turned so they could look each other in the eye. "Did you see that, Margie? The chipmunk came up and ate from our hand! You were so good, my angel, you didn't scare her a bit." She grabbed Margie into an ecstatic hug, and Margie squeezed her back.
When the chipmunk didn't return, they got up and practiced walking, Myra holding Margie's arms upright while Margie strolled drunkenly around the park on her tiptoes, laughing constantly at the promise of independent mobility which was maybe a month away. When Margie was finally worn out, Myra gathered a selection of acorns, leaves, twigs, and rocks, and Margie inspected them all as best she could with Myra restraining her from the ultimate taste test. Myra kept up a running commentary about how nature worked, the names of things, and responded appreciatively every time Margie spoke, whether it was understandable or not.
"We need more alone time, me and you" Myra said. "Margie and Mama dates. You are the best thing that ever happened to me, I hope you know that." Margie grinned up at Myra, looking so much like Ginny that Myra's heart flipped over.
"Who's your Mama, angel?"
Margie patted Myra's chest. "That is right, I'm your Mama. And who's my Margie?"
Margie paused for a moment, as if to tease Myra, then put her hand on her own nose. Myra exploded into approval "Bingo, you are the Margie of the universe!" They did this again a few more times, the funnest of quizzes, and Margie crawled into Myra's lap, saying "Momo?"
Myra pulled out the bottle of milk, room temperature now, and cradled Margie in her arms, crooning while she fed her: "Bye baby bunting, Mama's gone a-hunting, to find some silk a moth can spin, to write her baby bunting in." After eating, Margie was fighting dropping off, and Myra couldn't blame her. This high-altitude sunshine and the peace of this little park was hard to give up on. They read a couple of books instead. A woman walked by with a stroller, and her baby and Margie communed for a while. The woman said "She looks just like you" which strangers often said, despite it being patently untrue. Still, it always went straight to Myra's heart.
Eventually Myra made herself a little pillow from extra diapers and lay down, with Margie on her chest face-down. She began singing "Like a ship in the harbor, like a mother and child, like a light in the darkness, I'll stay here awhile..." They both went to sleep.
When Myra woke up, the afternoon light had shifted noticeably. The sound of traffic indicated rush hour was on. She packed them up, reluctantly, and put Margie in her snugli. "This is Denver, Margie" she explained. "This is where your Mama Ginny was born, and was a baby just like you, and grew up as a girl, and then became the woman she is now. She lived here. So it's a special, special place." Margie said "Mama?" Myra replied "We're going to find ourselves something for your dinner, and then go back to our room, and Mama will meet us there."
When Myra got back to the B&B, there was a message from Ginny who had called while they were out, saying she'd see them soon. But as Myra was putting a fresh shirt on Margie and washing her face and hands, the phone rang again. It was Ginny saying "Oh, Myra, we're running way late, we're on the other side of town. I hate being late to dinner, tonight of all nights -- "
"Don't worry, Margie's been fed, we're in good shape here. Listen, you want me to just meet you at your folks? Will that save you time?"
"God, yes, it would. Can you find your way there?"
"Yeah, I know the roads well enough now. You head that direction, and we'll meet you."
"Much better, and we just had the best afternoon of our lives."
"Great to hear. Can't wait to see you again."
Myra packed another baby bag of supplies, remarking "Thank god we decided on disposable diapers for this trip, is all I can say", and gave Margie more medicine. They headed out for Ginny's parents, Myra chatting with Margie as she drove about who they were going to see and reinforcing the sign language names for her enormous family. Every couple of names, Myra threw back in "And Ginny -- we're going to see Mama!", which made both their faces light up.
The other rental car was out front by the time they got there, and before Myra had Margie out of her car, Ginny was down the walk and pulling them both into a hug. "Here's a kiss for the neighbors" she told Myra, planting a juicy one on her, Margie squeezed between them. Then she looked keenly at Margie and said "She got some color. And her rash is better, isn't it?"
Myra told her about the molar as they walked in. "Plus no fever all day, a good appetite, and I haven't see her tug at her ear again."
Margie was mobbed by her aunties, including Cathy. They only had time to wash hands before dinner. At the table, Myra regaled them with the gentle story of their afternoon -- this time, David had claimed Margie as his dinner companion, and she declared the baked sole to be tasty.
After dessert, which included Margie's first taste of cheesecake, they all retired to the living room. Ginny pulled Myra down beside her on the couch and said, "We have a surprise for you." She handed her a paper bag, saying "We stopped by Book Garden, the women's bookstore, today. I found some poetry books I don't think you have, but that's not the big score. Take a look."
Myra took the large calendar for 1987 that Ginny handed her. It was titled "Photographs from the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival".
"Wow" said Myra. Chris was already giggling. Ginny's nephews had walked over to stand behind them, looking at the calendar over their shoulders. The first page showed total nudity, but Ginny didn't seem to care, so Myra decided not to worry about the boys. She flipped through the months, recognizing a lot of scenes, until she got to October.
"Oh my god, that's you!" she exclaimed. "And me! After we wallowed in the mud that afternoon! We're at the showers here, about to wash it all off. Remember how long it took to get the dried mud out of our hair?"
"And how freaking cold the water was!" said Ginny. "And look, across the clearing, that woman taking our photo from the other side?"
"Allie!" cried Myra. "I never saw the woman who was taking our picture from this angle, did you?"
"Nope. And she certainly didn't get us to sign a release, did she?" Ginny was grinning.
"I don't care, I'm thrilled to have this. What a find, you must've about passed out."
"I did, I yelled out loud. They had three in the remainders bin, it's two years out of date as a calendar, so I bought them all. Allie's claimed one already" said Ginny.
"So ... you're naked because you're about to take a shower?" said Nate, clearing his throat. His voice was boyishly high at the moment.
"No, we're naked the whole time there. Most of the women are" said Ginny, turning around to look at him.
"Why would you wallow in the mud?" said Cathy, a little shocked.
"It felt good" grinned Myra.
"Naked all day?" verified Nate.
"Yup. It's a protected environment. We put on clothes at night because it gets really cold, even though it's August" said Ginny.
"Okay, let me see" said Cathy finally. But she held it away from Michael, saying "Not for you". He grinned at Myra and Ginny, saying "Sounds like fun."
"Like Woodstock for lesbians" said Sima. "But with lots of food, and drug-free zones, and girls running safe and wild."
Helen had had enough, which Myra could understand. She changed the subject, and Ginny put the calendar back in its bag. Talk turned to the museums her friends had visited, and Margie's cousins got back on the floor to play with her. Myra taught them Flying Baby and Throw a Rock at the Pigs, which made Michael bark once in laughter. The boys gave Margie the most vigorous play session she'd ever had. When Ginny finally nursed her down, Margie went right to sleep.
Their goodbyes that night were final -- they were flying back to Seattle in the morning. Helen spent the entire evening playing the dutiful hostess, and managed to never have a moment alone with Ginny. Nor did David, Myra noticed.
On the ride back to the B&B, Ginny remarked at a stop light, "Margie's lacking for grandmothers but she sure has good women in her life."
"Mm-hm. Let's put her in with us tonight, I want to keep her on the mend."
"Okay, but before we go to sleep, we'll need to make her a pallet on the loveseat for a little while." Ginny's voice was salacious.
Myra looked at Ginny and grinned. "Was it the sight of me covered in mud or is the punch of having called your mama a drunk to her face finally catching up with you?"
"I just want you to fuck me. It's really an everyday thing, angel."
"Thank you, god, for that."
(Sweet Honey in the Rock, photo by Dwight Carter)
In mid October, Myra told Ginny "I've got an idea for a Halloween costume for Margie, but you'd need to make her a T-shirt, silkscreen, I guess." She shared it with Ginny, and Ginny's eyes sparkled. She answered "I'll make the T-shirt if you can come up with the buttons -- big size, so she can't swallow them. And put tape over the pins on the back, so she can't stick herself."
So it was that when their friends came over for dinner on Halloween night, they were treated to the sight of Margie toddling around the house in a pair of black baby jeans with a bright green T-shirt that had a women's liberation fist on the front and, in small letters across the back, "I am Kathy Power." A miniature black beret was affixed to Margie's hair with bobby pins, and when Myra prompted her with "Let's stop the grand jury in its tracks, honey", Margie would shove her little hands into her pockets and pull out buttons for their friends that likewise read "I am Kathy Power."
Everybody howled with laughter except Pat, who said "I don't get it." Myra explained "Katherine Ann Power -- the friend of Susan Saxe who's never been caught?" When Pat still looked blank, Patty jumped in. "She was the driver for a bank robbery in the 1970's, a black liberation revolutionary group. The FBI used the pretext of looking for her to attack lesbian communities, because she was believed to have gone underground in a women's commune or land collective. Dykes in Lexington, Kentucky went to jail rather than talk about her. But when the FBI tried to do the same in D.C., somebody overnight printed up and handed out hundreds of buttons like these, and every lesbian in town was wearing one."
Pat looked askance. "You made her the costume of a criminal? A terrorist?"
"A woman who stood up against the system and won" said Myra, definitely irritated.
Allie picked Margie up and said "Show me your black power salute, sistah!" Margie imitated Allie's fist in the air, delighted with the response it got. When Truitt echoed it, Pat looked upset. Ginny stepped in and said "Okay, let's all sing the witches song, okay?"
She and Myra led a chorus of:
Who were the witches, where did they come from
Maybe you great-great-great-grandma was one
Witches were wise, wise women they say
And there's a little witch in every woman today
This didn't seem to make Pat feel any better, so Patty suggested she be in charge of answering the door and handing out treats. Ginny had refused to give candy, and eventually Myra had agreed they could hand each child a shiny new quarter from rolls she picked up at the bank that afternoon. Pat got a kick out of going to the door with a bowl of jingling silver and the looks on kids' faces when she dispensed actual currency.
That Friday, Sweet Honey in the Rock performed at Red and Black. Allie bought tickets for the five friends plus Margie. They had an early dinner and put Margie back in her costume, but then had to cover the T-shirt with a sweater and jacket because it was cold out. When they got to the bookstore, Allie buckled the snugli on her and declared Margie was her date for the evening.
Margie was absolutely entranced by the acapella blend of voices. Allie sat at the very front, and Margie watched all the hand motions and rhythm instruments with big eyes and a wide grin showing two baby teeth in front. She bounced up and down in Allie's lap, keeping good time. Myra worked her way to the side and took a photograph of them both as Margie was listening to Bernice Johnson Reagon singing
Your children are not your children
They are the sons and the daughters
Of life longing for itself.
When Margie finally began tiring out, Allie turned her around in the snugli and rocked her to sleep on her shoulder.
On the way home, Myra said "Well, that put some magical grooves in her developing brain" with pride and satisfaction.
"And gave us a chance to be like girls on a date again" added Ginny.
"What are we going to do for her first birthday at the end of the month?" said Myra.
"I don't know, train dolphins to swim her up the Straits of Juan de Fuca?" laughed Ginny.
"I could make her a small pound cake and put it on a blanket on the floor, let her maul it to bits with her mouth and hands" said Myra. "My mom did that with me."
"I'll see if I can get my parents to fly in" said Ginny. "And she'll for sure want Truitt there."
"Her actual birthday is a Tuesday this year" said Myra. "If we have a party, we should make it early evening."
But Margie had a rotten cold on the 28th, and Ginny's mother couldn't make it anyhow, so they pushed her party to the following Saturday. Margie managed to get cake ground into floorboards all over the living and dining room, much to Juju's enjoyment. Myra also scattered balloons everywhere, and Margie discovered she could pop them with her new teeth. The first two explosions in her face made her wail, but she persisted and became addicted to the percussion. Myra had to follow her around to make sure she didn't eat the bits of rubber afterward.
They finished out the day by climbing into a tub, the three of them, breaking out the new fingerpaint soaps Sima had given her, painting each other until they were all used up, then rinsing, drying, and going to sleep in their big bed with Margie between them.
The next weekend, as they were eating lunch and taking turns feeding Margie, Myra said "She's starting to get food in her hair at every meal. Can you handle the idea of maybe cutting her hair?"
Ginny gave Margie an appraising look. "Yes. She's got my hair, it's going to be luscious whether it's short or long. And the easier it is to wash, the better."
"Well, we could collaborate on it. No buzzers, she'd freak, but we could give her a trim after lunch." Myra reached out to finger the clusters of curls at Margie's neck line.
"I think we should save those curls. Give them to her aunties and grandparents as holiday gifts" said Ginny.
"I want one, too. In a locket around my neck, with a photo of you and her both" said Myra.
Ginny dimpled at her. "How very Amy Lowellish of you. But it's a great idea, we could get a locket for my mother too, and maybe a pocket watch for Daddy. Engraved with her name, to Zayde."
"Well, then, pocket watches for her aunties, too" said Myra. "Do you know anybody who makes jewelry, or does engraving?"
"No, but I think Sima will" said Ginny.
They decided to wash Margie's hair first, which as usual sent her into shrieking protests. She loved bathing and swimming, but hated shampoo. Once she was dried off and draped with a towel, sitting back in her high chair, Myra combed her damp hair and then handed the scissors to Ginny, saying "I can't make the first cut."
Ginny, used to blank canvases, did not hesitate. She went after the curls first, folding each between waxed paper and moving them far down the table, away from Margie's grabs. Then she briskly held Margie's hair between her fingers pressed against her scalp and began clipping it all over. Myra said "Leave the front hairline for me", and Ginny combed that forward, then finished her portion. It didn't take long. Margie kept snatching at wisps of hair, trying of course to put them in her mouth, asking over and over "Wat are doin? Wat are doin?" Myra kept saying "We're cutting your hair" but it was not a sensible concept to Margie, apparently.
When it was Myra's turn, she looked for cowlicks along Margie's hairline and found none. Another advantage of having Ginny's genes. She asked Ginny "Do you want her to look more like Mo or Harriet?"
"Toni" said Ginny. So Myra left a dashing swirl at the center front of Margie's head, and little points in front of her ears. When they were done, Margie crowed at having the little hairs blown off her face, trying to blow back at her mothers and instead showering them with spit. Ginny and Myra kept cradling Margie's face in their hands and exclaiming at how gorgeous she was, until she got tired of it and demanded to be released from the high chair. Myra took her into the bathroom to wash the back of her neck while Ginny swept the floor.
That night, when Allie stopped by, she took one look at Margie and said "Oh, my god, look at the hearthrob!" Margie collapsed into rills of delight and patted Allie's cheek with her chubby palm, saying "Hartfrob!" over and over. Myra got out the camera and took photos of them.
The next day, Ginny discovered Margie at her art table trying to snip off her forelock with her plastic scissors which, fortunately, would not do the job. When Ginny pulled them away from her and said "No, Margie, you don't get to cut your own hair", Margie went into a screaming tantrum. After that, they had to be vigilant about never leaving scissors within eyesight or reach, because Margie was on a quest to maintain her hearthrob status.
Summer 1997 -- Margie is nine, Gillam is six
Two weeks after school was out, Margie and Gillam were invited for an overnighter at Truitt and Carly's. Ginny and Myra were thrilled to have the time off. Since Hannah was around that weekend, Ginny could not persuade Myra into a "nudity holiday" but they spent a lot of time in the hottub, plunging back into the pool when they got overheated. Myra was also able to get a great deal of work done on the rewrite of her second Skene novel.
Allie came over for supper with them and the just-returned kids on Sunday night. Myra made Swedish meatballs and a summertime ambrosia. During dinner, Margie remarked "Truitt says I have a father out there somewhere who might be missing me. Maybe he's looking for me. Maybe someday on the street a man will recognize me and tell me I am his long-lost daughter."
Myra and Ginny froze. Even Allie was not sure what to say. Into this silence, Margie added "He says you're not my real mother, you're not any real blood relation to me at all." She was looking at Myra.
Gillam burst out "She is too!"
Myra pushed her chair back from the table and stood up. Margie looked suddenly worried. Myra walked into the bathroom and shut the door. They heard the lock click. Ginny put her head in her hands for a moment.
Allie said "Truitt be wrong. One hundred percent, this time."
Gillam added "Truitt is a doodoo head."
Ginny said "Gillam -- language. Margie, after dinner we'll talk about your -- questions, okay? Let's finish eating."
"What about Mama?" asked Gillam.
"She'll be back when she's done in the bathroom" said Ginny.
Myra rejoined them a few minutes later, her face freshly washed. Ginny leaned over to put an extra meatball on her plate and said "We're having a talk after dinner."
"All right" said Myra. She said to Allie "This new character I've mentioned, the weaver from Sigrist Chine -- I'm imagining her as looking something like your ex J.T. but with green eyes. Could you draw her for me?"
"That would be interesting" said Allie. "Let me think on it a bit."
Ginny asked "What did J.T. look like?"
Myra motioned to Allie, saying "She was your girlfriend, you describe her."
"She was about three inches shorter than me, Whoopie black rather than Phylicia Rashad black. Straightened her hair but wore it short, with a part. Bubble ass, great legs, fleshy arms -- "
"Definitely put those fleshy arms on her" said Myra. Ginny gave her a look.
Allie continued "Wide nose, and the sweetest eyes..."
"She was one of the kindest women I ever met" said Myra. "I couldn't quite imagine her being in the Navy."
"Well, she had layers to her" grinned Allie. "She's teaching voc ed now, did I tell you that?"
"Yeah, in Atlanta, right? We'll have to go visit her when we visit Claire some time."
Margie said nothing else during dinner. Myra put the leftovers away but just stacked dishes in the sink. Ginny went into her studio and came back with a couple of volumes, asking the children to join her in the living room. Allie took the big chair, and Myra sat on the loveseat. Gillam pushed himself in beside her, and Margie settled uneasily next to Ginny on the sofa. Ginny passed over one of the books to Myra, then opened the second one to show Margie.
"These are your baby books" Ginny began. "We wrote down everything we could about how we got pregnant with you, what it was like when you were still in my uterus, what your birth was like, and the first couple of years after you were born. All three of us -- me, Mama, and Allie -- wrote things in these books. They are for you to have when you grow up."
Myra opened the book Ginny had given her and showed it to Gillam. He and Margie were fascinated.
Ginny went on. "As you both know, in order to make a new human being, you need an egg from a woman and sperm from a man. When your Mama and I decided we wanted children, we had half of those ingredients -- the eggs -- but we needed sperm from somewhere else. So we found a place that would let us pick out sperm to make you with. In the back of each book is a folder -- see? In that folder is the page that shows where we got your sperm."
Myra helped Gillam pull out this sheet.
Ginny said to Margie "You and Gillam have sperm from the same man. And you have eggs from the same woman, which is me. That means you and Gillam are full siblings in a biological way. Truitt and Carly were made with eggs from the same woman -- Patty -- but with sperm from two different men. This means that biologically, they are half-brothers."
Allie spoke up "But who you brother or sister is, who your Mama is -- that's not about biology. It's about love."
"Allie's right. Truitt and Carly as just as much brothers as Gillam is your brother, Margie. Just as much. And Myra is just as much your mother as I am. We both chose to have you, we both did a huge amount of work to get pregnant with you and bring you into this world, and raise you. Plus, Myra has adopted you both -- a copy of your adoptions by her are also in this folder, see? So legally, we are both equally your mothers."
"What about Allie?" asked Gillam.
Myra finally spoke. "Allie has not adopted you, but only because so far the law says there can only be two parents, not three. Instead, Allie is your legal guardian in case anything happens to me and Mama. And a copy of her guardianship papers are in here, too. Plus, she's been there, helping raise you, since you were born. Allie saw you, Margie, before either of us did, coming down Ginny's birth canal."
Margie looked at Allie, who grinned and said "Sure did. You were charging head-first into this world, and I knew right then you was going to be somethin'." Margie grinned back at her.
Ginny said "Myra's mama, Jo, was born to a man and woman who died when she was just a baby. So she was adopted by two new people, who loved her just as much. She grew up with those people as her mama and daddy, and they absolutely were her real parents. Lots and lots of people are adopted, or raised by somebody other than the woman or man who provided the egg and sperm -- "
"I was raised by my Nana" said Allie. "She was my real mama, and I thank god every day I was raised by her."
"So when you say something about who is your real mama" continued Ginny, "you will be wrong unless you are speaking about what's in your heart, who you love as your mama. And I know you didn't mean to say that you don't love Myra as your real mama, did you, Margie? But I could see how it hurt Myra, that maybe that's what you meant."
Margie stared at Ginny, stricken. Then she turned to look at Myra. Despite her best efforts, Myra had not been able to keep tears from filling her eyes. Margie dropped her baby book and leaped over to Myra, throwing herself into Myra's lap. Myra grabbed her and clutched her close.
"I didn't mean it" began Margie.
"I know, angel. I know you were just trying to sort out something confusing you'd heard" said Myra.
Gillam said "I wasn't confused." Ginny and Myra laughed.
"Well, it's okay to get confused and ask for help understanding things. I'll talk with Patty and make sure she helps Truitt with his confusion" said Ginny.
With Margie now in her lap, Myra was ready to do her share of explaining. "Now, as to your daddy...Who a daddy really is, is a man who has decided to raise a child. You both have fathers in the sense that a man gave his sperm to help us make you, because every human being has a mother and a father in that way. But you don't have a daddy. You don't have a man who is saying about you 'This is my child.' Instead, you have three mothers, two of whom you call Mama. Truitt and Carly also have no daddy and two mamas. You have friends who have two daddies and no mama. It can be almost any kind of arrangement -- what matters is that children have grownups who love them and want to be their parents."
Ginny jumped back in. "The man who gave his sperm to help us make you did that because he wanted to help women like us. We never met him, and we don't know his name. He was clear he just wanted to help women become mommies, but he did not want to be a daddy. So he is not looking for you. He doesn't know you were born. Everything we know about him is on this sheet here, where he told us a little bit about his health, his work, and he was interested in. Plus the fact that he was Jewish, and he had brown eyes and brown hair -- we got to choose his sperm because of things like that."
"So, Gillam, that's why you have brown eyes" said Myra. "We wanted you to have eyes like mine."
Gillam grinned at her so gratefully, her heart turned over.
"When you are grown up" said Myra, "If you really want to find out more about the man who donated his sperm to make you, you can get in touch with this company and they will ask him if he wants to be in contact with you. But that cannot happen until you are grown, because he made a choice not to be a daddy and we respect that choice."
"And if you feel the need to answer questions from other kids who are confused about how families can work in different ways" added Ginny, "you can say you have a father -- not a daddy, a father -- who lives in California and whom you have never met, may never meet unless you decide to do that when you are grown."
Allie said "Just because something is what seems like most people do don't mean it's what is normal. Most people in Seattle are white. Does that mean being black is wrong?"
Margie and Gillam were shocked. "No" said Gillam.
"So how you family look, it may be different but it normal" said Allie. Margie and Gillam took that in.
After a minute, Ginny asked "Any other questions?"
"Can I keep this book?" asked Margie. Ginny looked at Myra.
"Well, there are things in it we really don't want you to lose" said Ginny. "How about if I keep it on the shelf where it's been, but you can ask to look at it any time? And for right now, if you two want to sit here and read your books, take as long as you want."
"Will you read with me?" Gillam asked Myra.
"Sure. Let's move over on the couch" suggested Myra. Ginny stood up and said "I'm going to do the dishes." Allie said "I'll read with ya'll" and transferred to the couch as well.
Myra kissed Ginny before she left and whispered "Thank you."
Ginny whispered back "I'm just glad Truitt wasn't here, you looked murderous."
Myra giggled. "There was a moment there..."
(Refugee from 1927 Greenville, Mississippi Flood)
Day After Halloween 2002 -- for the section immediately proceeding this, read Ginny Bates on Halloween
Ginny re-emerged at 11 the next morning, wearing a robe and rubbing freshly-washed hair. She walked to the fridge, pulled out a quart of orange juice and began drinking straight from the bottle. Myra was a few steps behind her, tying the drawstring on her sweats. As Ginny gulped, the bottle held upright, Myra said "What I mean is, since the DNA they used was of her blood drawn after the queen had begun gestating in her, she definitely had alien hormones in her system and while we know about the process of reproduction, we don't know what they actually did when they -- "
Ginny put out a finger and touched the tip of Myra's nose, then pointed toward the dining room. Myra noticed Gillam and Carly at the dining table. Ginny drained the last of the bottle and lowered it with a satisfying belch.
Myra watched the boys eating cereal from a shared bowl. "Is that breakfast or lunch?" she said.
"Breakfast, I guess" said Gillam.
"Where are the others?" she asked.
Gillam said "I haven't seen the girls", then jerked a thumb into the living room. Truitt was sacked out on the couch.
"What time did you go to sleep?" asked Ginny.
"Drink a lot of water and go ride your bikes. You'll feel better" she suggested. She walked over and rumpled the hair on the tops of their heads. "Be excellent to one another" she said with a giggle.
Gillam grinned groggily. Ginny's phone cell rang, and she picked it up from the counter.
"Oh, hey, Edwina, no, we're just getting up...Thanks, I had the time of my life...You are? That's great, can I grab you for dinner then?...Come on over here, we'll cook. We have a houseful of pubescents, but you and I can go to my studio and talk after we eat...Myra is holding up six fingers, so either a crocodile bit off four during the night or she's saying come around 6:00...No, just yourself. See you, honey." She hung up and said unnecessarily "Edwina's coming for dinner." Then she said "Definitely a salmon night."
"I promised Gillam I'd make stroganoff for him and the boys. But we can do both."
Ginny sidled up to Myra and kissed her lingeringly for a minute. "We can do whatever we want" she said in a low voice. "We're grownups."
Carly found this entertaining.
"Do you need something more substantial to eat?" Myra asked the boys.
"Nah" said Gillam. "The bike ride thing actually sounds good to me. We watched 'Predator' last night, maybe we'll go to the conservatory in Volunteer if it's too cold out, set booby traps in the jungle foliage." He raised his eyebrows at Carly, who nodded. "We can grab a hot dog or something until dinner."
"Should I just leave Truitt until he wakes up?" asked Myra.
Carly said "He's awful grouchy, I would."
Myra gave each of the boys ten dollars and said "When you're out, if you see some nice flowers, buy 'em for the table tonight." She gave Gillam an extra ten. Then she began pulling packages out of the freezer to defrost. She added "Oh, and Gillam -- we need sour cream, that's the one thing I don't have."
"Okey-doke" he said, putting their bowl in the dishwasher and heading upstairs after Carly. Ginny was already setting things straight from the party and bagging up trash for Gillam to haul to their cans. Myra found the candy bowl in the living room with just organic jelly beans left in it; she threw them out before Ginny saw it.
Margie and Amy appeared an hour later, after the entire downstairs was picked up. Myra made them finger sandwiches and said "We're having Edwina for dinner. Your share of the chores is to either vacuum the downstairs or sweep the deck and clean the pool. You need to be here and ready by 6:00. Otherwise, we've got it covered."
Margie said, a little complaining, "We wanted to go to a matinee."
"Well, you have six hours in which to do half an hour of chores and be back by then. I think you can figure it out" said Myra. She gave each of them ten dollars; all she had left was a five and ten ones, which justice demanded she give to Truitt.
Margie said "We'll do the vacuuming. After the movie."
Truitt was starting to stir. Margie rolled her eyes at Amy and they scooted out of the front door before he was fully awake.
Myra finally had a chance to sit down at her computer and check e-mail. A few minutes later, Truitt trudged in, wearing a T-shirt and boxers, and collapsed on her daybed.
"Hey" he said.
"Hey back" she replied, eyes on her screen. "You sick or just wiped out?"
"Just wiped." He yawned extravagantly.
"Go sit in the hottub. Ginny says drink a lot of water. Edwina's coming back for dinner, which will be at 6:00. Carly and Gillam are out on their bikes, the girls are at a movie, so you're stuck with us. When you feel human again, the deck needs to be swept and pool could use vacuuming. Stroganoff for dinner."
"Plus salmon" Ginny said from around the corner.
"There are a couple of sandwiches in the fridge for when you get hungry. But the water thing is a smart idea."
"Okay" he said, slouching off. He drank down two glasses from the tap, ate his plate of food in a shockingly short amount of time, pulled an apple out of the bowl on the counter and went outside, still in his underwear, to get in the hottub.
Myra got up to straighten the living room and put away blankets and pillows. She checked both downstairs bathrooms for cleanliness and started a batch of rosemary bread. When she got back to her desk, after a minute she called around to Ginny "Hey. This is interesting."
"I just got an e-mail from Allie asking if she can come for dinner tonight."
Ginny showed up at her desk with a grin. "Tell her yes. But nothing else."
"They really liked talking with each other last night."
"Edwina -- if she lived in town she'd be my best friend. She's one of us, Myra, our people."
"Allie's offering to bring something."
Ginny grinned. "Tell her one of her signature sweet potato pies."
"It'll have to be two, with the eating machines we've got here at the moment."
Myra typed "Would love to have you. Lots of kids so bring two sweet potato pies. We're having stroganoff AND salmon. Eating around 6:00. Ginny says bring your portfolio. -- My. P.S. Thank you for Ripley's underwear."
At 5:45, Allie arrived with two sweet potato pies, a carton of whipping cream, and her large portfolio. She set her pies on the breakfast bar and said "I'll whip this later, I like it fresh" as she put the cream into the fridge. "Need any help?"
She had to raise her voice a little because Margie was vacuuming at the last minute. Carly and Gillam were setting the table, and Truitt was draining a large colander of spinach egg noodles. Myra looked around at Ginny, who was finishing a salad, and said "Nope, we've got it under control. You want some coffee?"
Just as Allie was about to answer, the doorbell rang. Myra said "You can answer that for us, if you will" with an enigmatic grin.
Allie stepped around Margie's wild passes with the vacuum and opened the front door. When she saw Edwina standing there, holding a bag of bright yellow lemons, her face registered a flooded mix of astonishment and pure joy. Edwina was also floored, and they stood there gaping at each other. Edwina said "Well, look who's here."
"They didn't tell me you were coming, either" said Allie. Then, with a glance behind her, she said in a lower voice "I suspect this is their ham-handed attempt at matchmaking."
Edwina laughed, a peal that loosened her ribs. She said "That's fine with me. How about you?"
Allie's grin traveled into another galaxy of delight. "Come right on in" she said as she stepped aside.
Edwina went into the kitchen to deliver her lemons and greet everyone, and Allie followed. Standing close behind her, unable to stop grinning, she said "Would you like some coffee? Espresso, iced, I even have cream to make a real latte if you want?"
"Double espresso, no sugar and -- do you have anything like Cremora?" asked Edwina.
Allie looked momentarily shocked. Myra said "We have some Coffeemate left over from a meeting."
"That's better than cream" said Edwina. "My foible, please forgive me if you're a purist."
Allie was clearly ready for any quirk at all. She made them coffee as Edwina chatted with Ginny. Myra was busy setting out a serving dish of stroganoff.
"Should I mix the noodles in?" asked Truitt.
"No, we each put a bed of noodles on our plates and pour sauce over it. Better flavor. But set all this on the table, will you?"
Myra plated the salmon as Ginny cut thin lemon slices to outline the platter. Ginny said "Go sit down, you two, with your coffee, we're right on your heels."
Edwina looked at the table uncertainly, and Allie pulled out the chair next to where Ginny sat at the head. "Will you sit next to me?" asked Edwina, and Allie said "Of course." Margie was done with her chore just in time to hear this and looked irritated -- this left her next to Myra and across from Truitt. She was tired of Truitt this weekend, and Amy had gone home. Furthermore, Allie hadn't even said hello to her yet.
Yet even after they held hands and had their moment of silence before beginning to eat, Allie didn't turn to her and check in like she always did. Her body was half turned toward Edwina. Myra said to the boys lined up in a row on one side of the table, "Only one helping of stroganoff to start off with. Take some salmon, too." Then she asked Edwina, "Now, your family, were they always in Chicago or did they migrate there from somewhere else?"
Before Edwina could answer, Allie jumped in with "Mississippi". Edwina flashed a smile at her.
"Oh, yeah? Allie's folks are just over the line in Alabama, anywhere near her people?" said Ginny.
"No, my mother's parents came from Greenville" said Edwina. "It's right on the river."
Myra looked at her keenly. "Did they migrate after the flood of '27?"
Edwina returned the keen expression. "They were refugees from the camps there."
Despite her irritation, this was new information for Margie. "What camps?" she demanded.
Edwina and Allie together explained the horrific events in the aftermath of that flood. Allie was her usual blunt with the children, and after watching her, Edwina followed her lead, not prettying up the account. Then Edwina asked Myra, "Have you read Alferdteen Harrison?"
"Eventually" said Myra. "I first stumbled across it reading Walker Percy, which led me, a little wackily I know, to Ellen Gilchrist. She has ancestry in Greenville. Finally I stopped coming at it back-asswards and began reading primary sources or accounts by the sharecroppers themselves."
Truitt said "Is there more of this bread somewhere?"
"On the kitchen counter. You'll have to slice it" said Myra. Focusing back on Edwina, she said "If you'd like me to trace any of your ancestry, I'm a dab hand at it."
Edwina looked slightly wary, and Ginny added "She means African-American, not just Southern white."
"Really?" said Edwina. "Can you show me how to get started with it?"
"Sure. We'll come down to Portland some weekend, they've got a decent research library there, and I'd be thrilled to show you the ropes" said Myra.
"She does mean thrilled" said Allie teasingly.
Edwina faced Allie, her whole body softening, and said "Has she researched your genealogy, then?"
"Uh...no. She's offered, but I've not taken her up on it" said Allie.
"Why not?" asked Margie.
There was a long silence. Myra said "Because Allie has enough work to do sorting out her family for herself without dealing with a white woman. even her best friend, coming at her with excited talk of bloodlines. Made even creepier by the fact that before 1860, it means tracing the lines of the folks who owned her ancestors."
Gillam looked suddenly nervous, but Myra and Allie both laughed hard, and Allie said "There ya go."
Gillam continued looking anxious, and Myra was watching him when he burst out "Don't you just hate them? Those Klan guys? I can't believe they got away with it."
He was still stuck in the Greenville flood story.
Edwina said "No, I don't hate them. Hate takes energy I can't afford to give them."
"Well, not hate, exactly" said Gillam. "I mean -- it's like, all of my family, on the Jewish side, were in America before the Holocaust. I mean, that I know about. But Zayde said we had hundreds or thousands of cousins who must've died in the camps. And every time I meet someone whose parents or grandparents came from Germany, and they're not Jewish, I think inside 'I wonder if your people killed my people.' I try not to act like it, but I think it, I don't know how to keep from thinking it."
Ginny looked stunned. Carly's cheeks were red, and he was staring down at his plate, not watching Gillam's face like he usually did when Gillam was talking. Myra found herself trying to figure out why. Carly was Jewish, too. Oh, but Pat's family -- Pat's grandparents on one side had come from Germany. Gentiles. Shit.
Allie said "I'm not letting Germans off the hook, Gillam, so don't hear it that way. But the people who ran the government and economy, the Nazis in power, didn't represent every German. Any more than our government represents us."
"They didn't stop the Nazis, though" argued Margie. "And when Jews were shipped off on trains, the German neighbors stole what they left behind without a second thought."
"It's complicated -- " began Myra.
"Oh, you always say that" retorted Margie, "But complicated doesn't make things all right. Somebody has to stop things. I need justice now, for this world, not just some examination of dialectics or whatever."
"No justice, no peace?" said Allie with a slight smile.
"Why not?" countered Margie. Myra suddenly realized Margie was furious about something, almost at her flash point. She switched her attention to trying to puzzle that out.
Edwina had put down her fork and leaned forward to look at Margie directly. "Would it be all right with you if I explained something that I believe? Even though it's more words and not taking to the streets instantly?" She was in earnest. Margie shruggled and said "I guess." Allie suddenly registered Margie's mood, too, Myra could tell.
Edwina said slowly "People who do terrible things, in groups, to other groups of people -- they never think to themselves 'Oh, I'm going to be oppressive today'. They see their actions as justified. They have a good reason for it, at least in their minds. And they see themselves as the good guys -- not that they're guys, excuse the language, I should say the good folks. Most of the time, their reasons are based on some belief that they themselves have been mistreated or misunderstood, and somehow the people they are acting out against are connected. The reasons are never true - never. All explanations for oppressions are tacked on after the oppression is institutionalized, and whether they ring partly true or not, they are never the real reasons for oppression. The roots of oppression is always earlier oppression. Lies and pain being handed down, generation after generation. And as young people, you get a double whammy: You get handed a world full of damage, and you get the lame excuses of the adults around you, your parents and their friends, about why things are still a mess."
Margie allowed herself a small grin. She liked what she was hearing. Gillam and Carly were also rapt. Truitt was sneaking pieces of stroganoff beef from the platter beside him.
"So, the strategy question is, how do you fix things?" said Edwina. "There are many answers, and a lot of them are right sometimes. But two things I know for sure: No group who participates in great evil, like Nazis, like the Klan, ever change because people tell them how bad they are. They can be stopped from doing their evil, and should be, of course, but changing their hearts and minds needs to begin with listening to them. Treating them like human beings who do want to change, who like you want to be good folk."
"Are you saying I should ask Germans how come they killed my cousins?" said Gillam, a little incredulous.
"No" said Edwina firmly. "Not you, not until you are grown and not even then if you don't earnestly want to listen. Because it will only work, that kind of transformation, if you really want to listen. But until the transformation takes place, the next generation is going to continue on the lies and damage in some form. The white men of Greenville who refused food and medical care to my family after the flood, the Klansmen who terrorized an entire community -- they were descendants of men who fought for the Confederacy, men who had lost and felt ashamed their entire lives. They deserved to lose that war, slavery had to be stopped. But healing didn't occur. It still hasn't occurred in the South, as I'm sure Allie growing up there has told you about. It hasn't occurred anywhere else in America, either. But maybe you could listen to the children of those Greensville Klansmen, and I could listen to the children of Nazis, and we could swap out the healing that way? Does that sound possible?'
Carly's face had come up and his gaze was locked on Edwina. He said hoarsely "I'd do that." There was a long silence.
Margie said "What's the other thing? You said two things you knew for sure." She wasn't quite belligerent, not quite.
Edwina looked at her again. "When the situation isn't between two individuals whose people have been in oppressor and victim roles -- "
Allie interrupted gently. "We use target and non-target for oppression."
Edwina's eyes grew wide. "I've heard of that. Will you tell me more later?"
"All right" continued Edwina, "When it's between two people whose ancestors were not target vs. non-target, then listening can create miraculous transformation. Because when you open up your heart and decide you want to hear whatever it is that other person needs to say, no matter what, without judgment or expectations, what you are doing is loaning them your soul for a while. For them to use however they need to use it. And wherever their soul has been damaged, your soul will not be damaged, so they can clean up a mess really fast, because they have double the resource. It's a simple act, but it -- I think it's what god means us to do with each other. And when it's somebody you care about, it binds you together."
Allie didn't seem to be breathing. Gillam asked "But you can't do that with somebody who's targeted you? I mean, or your family?"
Myra said "No, you can, honey. Every now and then, people do it even there."
"Have people done that with Nazis?" asked Carly.
"They have" said Ginny.
"And Klansmen" said Edwina. "I think Dr. King was capable of it."
After a pause, Margie said "Are there any beets left in that bowl, Mom?"
Jolted, Ginny passed the bowl down to Margie. Allie tried to get Margie to look at her when she handed her the bowl, but Margie either didn't notice or pretended she didn't.
Ginny said softly to Edwina "Thank you."
Edwina laughed. "I don't know if you remember, but when you were a sophomore, that first year I was a TA, you raised your hand every time I made what I thought was a great point in class and demanded to know where I'd gotten my information."
"Oh, shit, Edwina, did I really?" said Ginny.
"At first I thought you were a royal pain in the ass. But I began noticing you were reading all the sources I mentioned, and you were actually putting ideas together in your head. Your papers were amazing to read. And it made me a better teacher" said Edwina.
"I adored you, Edwina, from the outset, I can't believe I acted like that. I wanted to be just like you. And when I found out you were a lesbian, I was so thrilled because now I had a living role model for how to be a lesbian" said Ginny.
"You modeled yourself on me? Oh, girl, I hope that didn't lead you astray!" said Edwina.
"No wonder I liked you instantly" said Allie. Myra wasn't sure whether she was talking to Ginny or Edwina, but they both said "Thank you", then burst into laughter.
As the conversation progressed, Myra noticed more and more of Allie's real accent coming out of her, which was gorgeous and moving. Edwina's speech altered, too, in way Myra couldn't quite name but probably Edwina could if they had a videotape of it. Every time Allie and Edwina turned to say something to each other, their voices dropped to a soft blur, and the eye contact was intense. Myra found this so interesting, she stopped tracking Margie's increasing agitation.
When they were done with the main meal, Allie pushed back her chair and said to Edwina, "I'm going to make myself another cuppa jane. You want a refill?"
Edwina answered with a grin, "It's past my usual time. But tonight -- yes."
As Allie went into the kitchen, she said to Gillam "You wanna whip the cream for dessert?"
"Yeah!" said Gillam, jumping up to follow her, Carly in his wake. "Can I do it the Allie way, with vanilla extract and sugar?"
After Myra kicked his ankle, Truitt stood to began clearing the plates. It was Margie's night to help, but instead of joining him, she slid over into Allie's chair and began asking Edwina about the Goth scene in Portland. Edwina didn't really have answers, but that didn't stop Margie from chatting on about it. When Allie returned, she stood behind her chair and said "Okay, Margie, scoot back to your place."
"Well, actually" said Margie, smiling insincerely at Edwina, "You're in my usual seat, which I know nobody told you, so Allie, you can have your usual place next to Mama down there."
Ginny said sharply "Margie -- you're being rude. Move back to where you were."
Margie looked around at Allie for intervention, and Allie said "These cups are hot, do what you're told."
Margie's face turned red. She stood up and said "I'm full, I don't care to have any of your boring pie" and steamed up the stairs. Gillam, just handing over the whipping bowl to Carly, gaped after her.
Ginny began pushing back from the table, but Myra said "Hold off a bit. Give her time to realize what she's done."
Ginny replied "She's being incredibly immature."
"Well, she is immature" said Allie calmly, settling in beside Edwina.
"And she's had Allie all to herself ever since she was born" said Myra quietly. She and Allie looked at each other across the table for a long moment, then Myra added with a grin "As have we all."
Ginny put her hand over Edwina's, and after another long moment, Edwina said "I think, perhaps, I should be very honored here."
"No more than you deserve" said Ginny.
Gillam clearly didn't understand what was going on. He and Carly finished whipping the cream, and brought the pies to be cut by Myra. Allie took several sips of her coffee, then grabbed a piece of pie on a plate, added whipped cream, and said "I'm going to take her up a piece."
"Oh, no, Allie -- " began Ginny.
"Sometimes folks dig holes for themselves and think they got to hunker there" said Allie. "She being stupid, but I began this with her, I'll see it through." She looked down at Edwina and said "She my godchild. Save me some pie?"
"I'm not going anywhere" said Edwina. Carly suddenly giggled.
Allie was gone for ten minutes. Edwina drank her coffee but didn't touch her pie. When Allie returned, Margie was with her, swollen eyes and just-washed cheeks. Margie went awkwardly to Edwina and said "I was disrespectful, in more ways than I can count, and I feel just awful about it."
Edwina said "Apology accepted. How about if I move over a chair, so I can still sit next to Allie, but you can have this place while I eat my pie and you tell me about why I should get to know Allie?"
Myra was electrified by the adroitness of it. When Allie sat next to her, she turned almost facing Edwina. Edwina was likewise facing Margie. She put a forkfull of pie in her mouth, then held up a finger to stop Margie in mid word and swing around to look at Allie with an ecstatic expression on her face. "Oh my god, this is exactly how my grandma used to make it! I never got her recipe, will you share yours with me?"
Allie simply grinned. When Edwina turned back to resume listening to Margie, she leaned back lightly against Allie's shoulder. Gillam got a sudden look of comprehension on his face.
When there was no pie remaining, the boys got restless. Myra said they could go entertain themselves, and they headed upstairs. An hour later, Edwina glanced at her watch and said "I have an early train in the morning..."
Allie said quietly "I'll be glad to give you a ride back to your hotel."
Edwina looked at her steadily for several seconds, then said "I'd like that very much."
They stood up and Myra called the boys down to say goodbye. Gillam hugged Edwina sweetly, and asked Allie "When you come back, you wanna play poker with us?"
Margie said, almost neutrally, "I don't think she's coming back."
Allie smiled at her and said "Not tonight."
Myra noticed Allie's unopened portfolio and said "Oh, Al, we forgot to have you do an art show!"
Allie looped it over her shoulder and Edwina said "We'll have a private viewing." They went out the front door.
Myra and Ginny stood still, listening. When Allie's car started up, Ginny shoved her fist into the air and shouted "Yes!" triumphantly. Myra sat down heavily in her chair and tears welled in her eyes. She said "I haven't seen Allie look that happy since J.T."
"But Edwina lives in Portland" said Margie miserably. Ginny stared at her, then said "Allie will never move away from us. Not until you kids are grown and have left us behind on our own. You needn't worry about that."
Margie's face showed relief. Myra said "Let's clear the rest of the table, and I'll play poker with you all."
"So will I" said Ginny happily. "I feel especially lucky tonight."
Thanksgiving 2002 -- Margie turns 14
Thanksgiving this year fell on Margie's birthday. After exhaustive consideration of options, reined in by Ginny from time to time, she had decided to have a small gathering of friends and family on Thanksgiving evening. The following three days Allie had asked her to keep open for a special trip the two of them would make. Then, on Sunday evening, she was hosting a skating party for her social circle at an ice rink.
The evening before and the morning of Thanksgiving, as usual, the extended family made pies and dinner at the Indian tribal council kitchens. At 2:00 p.m., jolly and exhausted, they left to go home for showers and naps. Myra and Ginny got back up by 4:00 to start on Margie's birthday dinner, with a menu she had chosen.
By 5:00, Allie, Edwina, Chris, Sima, Pat, Patty, Carly, Truitt, and Ms. Schevitz were gathered in the living and dining rooms, where Margie was holding court. Pies and brownies lined the sideboard, the smell of two roasting geese filled the air, and Myra had just pulled out a tureen of scalloped potatoes to make room in the oven for Ginny's teriyaki tuna steaks to bake. Myra's one deviation from Margie's script was to try her hand at a plum pudding, which seemed to go with goose in all the Dickens' books but she had never even eaten one, much less tried to prepare it. She looked at it doubtfully on the oven rack before she closed the door again.
Allie passed by to the study saying, "I'm going to call Mama on your desk phone, all right?"
Allie's mother had been in a series of nursing homes and assisted living centers in Alabama for the past year, ever since she had, in the space of a week, been arrested for shoplifting, become born-again, and been diagnosed as borderline schizophrenic by a court-appointed shrink. Allie and Myra had flown to Alabama then to find her a supervised, reliable place to live. Unfortunately, Ms. Billups soon exhausted the patience of every residence Allie located for her. No combination of medication and counseling quelled her hyperreligiosity, and she seemed to seldom sleep, wandering the halls and disrupting the lives of other residents. Whenever the facility demanded Ms. Billups be put in soft restraints or she could not stay, Allie moved her to another place.
Allie called her every weekend, a mostly one-way conversation with Allie listening to endless preaching and ranting from her mother. She timed her call this day with the advent of dinner in 20 minutes -- it would be an excuse to get off the phone that her mother could understand.
However, Allie was back in ten minutes, her face grim. Myra pulled off her oven mitt and said "What happened?" Allie sat down at the table as Myra reached her.
"Mama -- they've locked her up in the State Hospital" said Allie with clenched jaw. At the far corner of the living room, Chris heard this somehow and headed their way. "She went completely off at noon -- there was supposed to be a preacher come before they ate, and he didn't show, and they couldn't calm her down. She apparently stabbed somebody with a fork. So they sedated her and took her to a locked ward at Bryce."
"Bryce!" hissed Chris.
"I know" said Allie. "I got to go get her."
"Right now?" said Myra in dismay. Chris looked at her flatly, and Myra said "You're right, it's just that travel is going to be all but impossible and -- well, you're gonna need lawyers and who knows what else kind of help, on a holiday weekend."
"I'll find a way" said Allie. By this time, Ginny, Sima and Edwina had joined them at the table. Margie was standing at the breakfast bar, silent and serious.
"But -- I can't go with you" said Myra in torment. "It's Margie's birthday, it wouldn't be fair -- "
"That's okay, Mama" said Margie. "Allie's mother comes first."
Allie turned and gave her a look, just a look, as both their eyes filled with tears.
Edwina said "I'll go with her."
Allie showed shock. "Don't you think it's too early -- it's a hell of a lot for me to take from you."
"It's your mother, and -- no, it's not too early, Allie. I want to go with you" said Edwina. She slid her hand over the table, and Allie took it.
Ginny stood up and got her billfold, pulling out their gold card and handing it to Allie, who silently placed it in her own wallet. Ms. Schevitz was in the kitchen, turning off the oven and burners, placing food on the counter. Pat and Patty, along with the boys, were now listening from the living room. Myra didn't notice any of them.
"Where are you going to take her?" she asked Allie. "I thought this was the last decent place in the state."
"It was" said Allie hoarsely. "And they were quite clear she can't return there. I'll have to bring her here."
"To Seattle?" said Ginny, startled.
"Yes. Chris can help me vet places and work around any mental health laws here" said Allie. But Chris looked extremely troubled. She said softly, "Once she's been committed involuntarily by any state -- the odds are against her. Most places are going to insist on a contract where they have the right to -- well, do things to her. I mean, of course I'll help. But -- is she continent?"
"No" said Allie briefly. After a long silence, Allie said "Then I'll move her in with me, if need be. I got that extra room, I can put my art table in my bedroom and hire help, won't be any more than what I'm paying now, I bet."
"No, Allie!" protested Myra. "You can't do that, it'll take over your life. You've spent decades undoing what happened to you at the hands of that woman, you can't let her derail you again."
Allie looked at Myra levelly and said "It's a last resort, but it might have to happen."
"But -- Allie, you wouldn't have let me take in my father, don't you hand me that 'She my mama' crap, you and I know what's owed and what isn't to some people. We know the borderlands of codependency." said Myra. Ginny saw Edwina react to the "She my mama" remark with a smile.
Allie took a deep breath, then said "She's a crazy, dope addict, diaper-wearing old black woman of no importance to anyone on earth besides me. She will be completely buried if I don't look out for her. It's not the same as your daddy."
Myra was silent for a minute, then said "Besides us. Of importance to anyone besides us."
Allie smiled and said "All right." She turned to Margie and said "Birthday girl, my present to you was to take us on a special salmon fishing trip along the Skykomish River. I've already rented two nights at this fabulous lodge, plus bought you a fly rod and waders. We was going to leave tomorrow around noon. So, I'll call and cancel it, but it won't come available again until the spring. We'll go then, I promise."
Margie's face was a mix of delight and sorrow. "That's okay, Aunt Allie. I mean, what a perfect gift, the best ever. But -- I can wait."
Chris spoke up and said "If you want, I'll take you."
Margie lit up. "Really? I mean, not if Aunt Allie would rather us both wait -- "
"No, that's a wonderful idea" said Allie. "It'll be something pleasurable to think about while I'm gone. I'll write down the details for you, Chris."
Margie was overjoyed. Allie said, "In that case, the raincheck I'll get from you is that we go white-water rafting in the spring, whenever it's safe to venture out on a class III river. But we'll take Gillam and whoever else wants to go, too."
Gillam said "Yeah!" and Carly high-fived him.
Pat spoke up nervously and said "How will you get her back? Your mother, I mean. If she's that out of control, the airlines may refuse to let her fly."
Allie sat back in her chair. "Hadn't gotten that far. I guess we'll rent a car, drive cross country." She smiled bleakly at Edwina.
"Or -- you can rent a private jet. Hire an attendant, if necessary" suggested Pat. "Very pricey, but quick and personal."
"Okay, thanks" said Allie. She stood up and said "I'm going back to your desk, to make reservations and write stuff down. Ya'll go ahead with dinner. I'll come eat a quick bite before I leave."
"Do you need me with you?" said Edwina.
"Not at the moment" said Allie, giving her a tender kiss.
Gillam and Carly scrambled to set the table while Myra carved the goose. Ginny made a plate of food for Allie and took it to her in the study before they all sat down. Edwina ate rapidly, and halfway through the meal, when Allie returned, Edwina was ready to leave with her. Allie handed the fishing trip information to Chris, and Edwina pulled a small wrapped present from her bag. She gave it to Margie, saying "Open it now, okay?"
It was a set of exquisite little fishing flies. "Me and Allie tied them ourselves" said Edwina. Margie got up to kiss her exuberantly, and to hug Allie for a long time while Allie whispered in her ear. Gillam got a similar long hug, then Myra and Ginny walked them to the door. "Call me on my cell, every chance you get" said Myra.
The party continued, not completely subdued. Ginny and Myra's gift to Margie was an offer to get up early with her the next morning, the obscenist shopping day of the year, and take her to the malls for a three-hour spree. Margie was beside herself, and it was easy to send her and Gillam to bed early as a result, after all the guests except Chris and Sima had left.
The four of them sat up talking for another hour. Chris told Ginny the reason why Bryce was one of the most infamous mental hospitals in the country, the Wyatt vs. Stickney case, and they all prayed silently for a while for Allie's mother, Myra gripping Chris's hand as tight as she could.
"We're gonna have Gillam and Carly all weekend, I'm sure" said Myra to Sima. "While Chris is bringing home salmon, you wanna come stay with us?"
"Maybe" said Sima. "I've got several pieces of second-hand jewelry I've bought at yard sales and the like which need to have their enamel replaced. Would you be interested in helping me learn how to do that, Ginny?"
Ginny's eyes sparkled. "Bring it on, girlfriend!"
"And can we watch movies at night? Both nights? I've got several saved up" said Sima.
"The boys will be thrilled" grinned Myra. She said to Chris, "Did Allie give you any money for the trip?"
"No, she said all the charges had already been made."
Myra sighed. "Not with Margie along. I'm thinking emergency room visits, etc. Would you rather have plastic or cash?"
Chris looked suddenly worried. "Hell, I'd forgotten about her crash and burn style. Plastic, then. And her medical insurance card. And -- can we take one of your cell phones?"
Ginny got her cell, charger and other cards for Chris. "If you have a chance to buy salmon beyond what you all catch, go for it" she whispered to Chris.
The next morning, after a brief breakfast of yogurt and fruit, Myra and Ginny hit the malls with their kids, the first time in their lives they had participated in this after-Thanksgiving madness. Gillam discovered a music store where CDs were three for ten dollars until 9 a.m., wooing Margie temporarily away from the clothing racks. In Nordstrom's, Myra was amazed to find the men's dress section had cotton and silk socks in rich, vibrant colors, and she placed a tall heap of these in their basket. By 10:00, they needed a second basket because Gillam kept finding as much as Margie that he swore he would wear. Ginny bought new towels and pillows at the last minute which had to be stacked precariously on top of each cart as they headed for check-out at 11:00, their deadline.
On the way home, they got Vietnamese takeout. They piled their bags in the living room because Margie had to eat fast and get ready for her trip with Chris. She insisted on separating out her CDs from Gillam's, though, and carted her clothes up to her room, stacking them on her loveseat to be gloated through later. Myra packed them snacks for the road as Chris sat at the breakfast bar, talking about what might have happened to Allie's mother overnight. Myra kept prompting her to say more, hoping that getting it out of her head and into words would help Chris ward off nightmares.
With Chris and Margie finally on the road, the house became noticeably calmer. There was a steady pounding beat coming from Gillam's room, but otherwise the stillness was glorious. Sima wasn't going to arrive until dinner, Chris had told them. Myra and Ginna sat in the hot tub for a while, resting achy feet. They then took a short nap on Myra's daybed, lights off. At 4:00 Gillam woke them up to ask if Carly could come spend the night, and Myra said sure, invite him for the weekend. Gillam literally skipped back to the phone in the kitchen.
Ginny went into her studio with Sima when she arrived and they began consulting books on enameling metal. Myra pulled out stew meat and made beef barley soup with veggie fritters for dinner. They still had pie left over from Margie's birthday dinner.
While Gillam was doing dishes and Carly was wiping down the table, Myra's cell rang. She walked with it to her daybed to answer, knowing it must be Allie or Chris.
"How's it going, pal?"
"Ahh, it's Alabama" said Allie tiredly. "We got her out this morning, with the help of a kick-ass lawyer, and checked her into a good hospital for 24 hour observation and to detox her from what looks like an overdose of sedatives or I don't know what-all shit they put in her. The lawyer is getting a subpoena for her records from there, so we'll know more tomorrow."
"How is she?"
"She recognized me, but that's about it. Not ranting, not much of anything at all. Under all the drugs, I think she's scared to death and waiting to see if this really is a rescue" said Allie.
"Makes sense. How'd she handle meeting Edwina, or did it register?"
"Funnily enough, I think it did register and was a little reassuring. I think another black face helped. Not to make you feel bad, My -- "
"It doesn't, I'm glad."
"And Edwina, she taking it all in stride. She may not have growd up in the South but she know how to talk and be, here." Allie's accent began flooding back.
"So what's the plan, stan?"
"Well, the lawyer knows a place in Memphis where we can settle her in for a couple of weeks or so with private attendants, a kinda assisted living place but for crazy rich folks. It's unbelievably expensive, designed for music stars, is my guess. But if I can put her in there with a qualified attendant, maybe we can get her in good enough shape to fly and that'll buy me some time to come back home and make arrangements" said Allie.
"Memphis, eh. Maybe it's where Elvis went when he was detoxing" said Myra.
Allie laughed. "Anyhow, I can give this lawyer a limited decision-making power and pay her through the nose to keep Mama's interests in clear sight, and that'll give me some breathing room."
"Way to go, Allie."
She heard a murmur on the other end of the line, and the soft sound of a kiss. Allie said "Edwina say hi, love to all of you, she's gonna go soak in a tub."
"All our love back to her, and bless her forever. Before I forget, tell me where you're at, I'll write it down."
After Allie recited the hotel number, her voice went down a notch and she said "My, she being so good to me. Edwina, I mean. It like we been together forever." Her voice had a slight quaver in it.
"I figured, Allie, if you're doing this well. 'Bout time."
There was a silence, then Allie said, her voice even lower, "It hard to take. I only done this with you for a long, long time now. I'm scared. I don't want this to be grooves we're digging out for ourselves that're gonna harden into ruts, you know what I mean?"
"Yeah, I get it." Myra sighed, then said "Al, I'm gonna let you in on a secret. About you, and how it is to be close to you. You ready for this?"
Allie said, warily, "Yeah, shoot."
"You're a piece of cake."
"You are not hard at all. By the time you get ready to ask somebody for help, or some listening, you've already done the work. You are a self-starter, and it's a picnic to be around for the last little bit you need assistance with. I know I've looked like a hero to you, but I'm really no Mother Fucking Teresa, and I sure wasn't at age 22 when we began this shindig. So, relax, will ya? If Edwina's making it look easy, too, I guess the results are in: You are not hard to be intimate with."
Allie laughed incredulously. "Then how come all those -- Oh, maybe they was just fucked up?"
"Yeah, and you were still not ready to believe the truth about yourself, so you made sure to pick women who'd reflect back your self image. You know how it works, Al."
"Huh" said Allie, a giddy note in her voice.
"You know, my memory of your Nana is that, except when there was work to be done, in which case it was strictly business, she was grinning all the time. She was funny, and sharp, and as kind as they come. Is that accurate, you think?"
Allie's voice was tender. "Yeah, that her. She got fierce about doing the right thing, but otherwise, life was play."
"Well, consider the possibility that you're just like her. Try it on for size. 'Cause our kids have known it from the get-go. You are happiness walking in the door. And that's what Edwina sees, not a pile of troubles, not hard work she has to help you with, but a joyous lover who just happens to need some assistance this particular weekend. Could you maybe believe that?"
Allie was laughing in a high, sweet voice. "Yeah. That piece fits all the margins."
They giggled together for a while. Allie said "Listen, I'd like to talk some of this over with Chris, once we get the records in hand, but I left the lodge number there, will you read it off to me?"
"Yeah, but also they have Ginny's cell, you can reach them directly that way, I bet."
After a little more talking, Allie said "I think I'm gonna join her in the tub."
"Excellent idea, I'll let you go. And don't fart in the water, I've told you a million times that's not funny."
They got off the line still laughing.
(Buster with two families and their four gay moms, image © WGBH and Cookie Jar Entertainment Inc)
14 July 2006
Myra got a call at noon from Gillam on his cell from his YMCA lifeguard training course. "I just got a message from Carly" he said. "He's taking the train up from Olympia and wants to spend the weekend with us. We need to figure out what to do about Israel attacking Lebanon."
Myra didn't let her smile enter her tone. "Well, we'd all like an answer to that one. When will he get in? Are we picking him up?"
"Around 6:30, I think, and yeah, will you drive us?" Gillam wouldn't get his license to drive without an adult for another six months.
"Okay. I'll make something re-heatable for dinner and we'll eat after he gets here."
"Ask Mom if it's okay if we start shabbos after he gets here, he wants to be there for prayers."
Myra felt a mild surprise. "Okay. Anything else?"
"We want to go to shacharit services tomorrow morning." There was a long pause, then he said "There's a demonstration downtown on Sunday. Against Israel."
"And you two want to go?"
"We've talked about it. They're using cluster bombs, Mama."
"I've heard that, too. Do Carly's parents know about the demonstration?"
"Patty does. She hasn't mentioned it to Pat yet."
"We'll talk at dinner, Gillam, all of us. Thanks for being open with me."
Another long pause. She wondered with a little apprehension what was coming next, but then he said "How about beef stew, do you have the stuff for that?"
She laughed. "I think I do."
"Gotta go, thanks, Mom."
By the time she hung up, Ginny was standing by her desk, looking at her quizzically.
"You know, Gin, you sure have selective tuning. You can ignore so much, but your radar always kicks when something important is going on" remarked Myra. She repeated her conversation with Gillam.
Ginny sat down on the daybed and looked at Myra, her brain clearly occupied. Finally she said "He's the same age I was when I got arrested protesting something Israel had done."
"That's crossed my mind."
"I don't know what to say about this, Myra."
"Me neither. Let's hear them out -- Carly's role surprises me, I have to say -- "
"You never fail to underestimate Carly. He's as much a Jew and bleeding heart as Gillam is."
"Nobody's like Gillam" argued Myra. "Anyhow, we'll find out what they think, probably you'll have to talk with Patty, and we can make a decision then. Do you imagine Margie's going to want to be part of this, too?"
Ginny smiled wryly. "She'll want to, but I don't know if she'll allow herself to do anything that so clearly marks her as a chip off my block."
"If we're going to plan civil disobedience, let's get some experts here with us for dinner" said Myra.
Ginny stood up and said "You call Allie and I'll call Sima. Then I have to make challah."
"What else besides beef stew?"
"We have all those tomatoes from the market. After I get the challah started, I could do a marinara."
"Cannelloni? With zucchini maybe?"
"We've got plenty of salad stuff. And a gallon of sherbet in the freezer."
"Tell 'em to come around 7:00."
After dinner was cleared away, they all sat back down around the table, Margie moving her chair between Edwina and Allie. Myra had her pad out.
"Okay -- who did you hear about this from?"
"I heard from a kid at the Y whose father was an organizer for some of the WTO stuff" said Gillam.
"What kind of organizer? What group?" asked Chris.
"I don't know" Gillam said.
Carly said "I heard from a friend who still lives here that some group at U-Dub was organizing it -- but no, I didn't get a name."
"Did you get a location?"
"Yeah, the offices at AIPAC, which is downtown on Third Street" said Gillam.
"Well, we have to know who's putting this together. For all we know, it could be a hate group" said Ginny.
"Oh, right, just shoot it down right away" said Gillam, his voice rising.
Myra looked at him. "You forget who you're talking to. First of all, she's your mother, and secondly, she's already been there done that. Show respect."
"I'm not shooting it down, Gillam. I just want information. If this demonstration has a rotten provenance, we'll come up with something else" said Ginny gently.
Allie said "I'd like to ask the younger members of our group: What would you like to accomplish with an action? What are all the goals you hope to accomplish?"
The teenagers were momentarily stumped. Then Gillam said "To express our feelings of outrage about the taking of innocent life."
Myra began writing. "To express your feelings, okay."
"To get more media coverage than the mainstream press is giving" said Margie. "They just parrot Bush."
"Bush is behind this" said Carly. "I don't know how yet, but he and his End Timers are all wetting their pants with anticipation."
"I think you're right" said Chris. "You got a map of the Middle East handy?"
Margie ran up to her room and came back in a minute with a detailed modern map.
"Check it out -- Iran, Iraq, Syria, the Saudis, Afghanistan -- it's all about territorial positioning and control of strategic oil reserves" said Chris. "Religion is just a tool. I think Cheney is not an End Timer, he and his cabal are like the conservatives in the German government in the 1930s who thought they could use Nazis to destroy the Communists, then they would rein in the Nazis. In this case, the End Timers are the fascists. Not that Cheney isn't also a fascist, but he's not a theocrat."
"So what does that make Israel, then?" said Sima. "A mindless boob?" She looked irritated.
"No. Terrified, as usual" said Ginny. "Their government in the hands of religious zealots who are manipulating the larger population through fear. Just like us."
"Back to the question for the younger folk" reminded Allie.
"I don't want to express my feelings at the expense of others" said Carly. "I'm mad but I don't want to trash anything."
Ginny gave Myra a poke under the table.
"If we're going to offer alternative information, you know, educate the masses, it has to be simple. Something memorable enough to stick in their reality-TV heads" said Margie.
"I want to change the energy, like with prayer. I want the action to go out into the universe with a raising of frequency" said Gillam.
Myra poked Ginny back.
"I want to meet others who think and feel like me. For future connections and work. Maybe there'll be someone there from Olympia" said Carly. Myra could suddenly hear the loneliness in his voice.
"And you know, what I just said about educating others -- the bigger point is, I'd like to learn something myself. I don't want to be the smartest person there" said Margie.
Myra realized how often that must be true for Margie. There was a long silence.
"Anything else?" said Allie. "Well, great to hear. Are you all in agreement with these goals?" The teenagers nodded their heads.
Edwina jumped in. "If the demonstration turns out to be either in accordance with your goals or close enough that you can make parts of it work for you, and if it's organized by a reasonable group -- what do you think would be the most effective way for you to achieve your goals?"
This met with blank faces. Finally Chris explained "Do you think a picket line will do it? Signs? Shouts and chants? Confrontation? Throwing blood on the door of a Jewish organization?"
Margie was completely shocked. "Hell, no! Sorry, language. Not anything hateful, that's the whole point here. Maybe chants and signs, I'm not sure."
"People get scared by chants and signs, right off the bat" said Carly. "It's an immediate turn-off."
"Who do you want to reach the most?" asked Sima. "The media, bystanders, people inside AIPAC, somebody else?"
Gillam and Carly looked at each other. Then Gillam said "Honestly? I'd like to reach Jews like my grandmother who gave money to Israel without once thinking about what it's used for. I want to reach Jews. I mean, the media thing is important, too, but I care most about my own people."
"So AIPAC, then" said Ginny, her voice full of emotion.
Carly and Margie were nodding.
Gillam went on "When I saw the news on TV that night, it just said numbers of Lebanese killed, and not even all of the stations identified them as innocent civilians -- Fox was like maybe they were all Hezbollah or something. No names or anything. So I went online and it took me a while to even find out who had died. Just anonymous people. But then I found names, and some pictures..." He began crying. Chris, who was next to him, put her arm over his shoulders and kissed his forehead. He leaned against her, trying to suck down his tears. Carly leaned forward, his arms on the table, staring into Gillam's face next to him. Myra couldn't see Carly's face.
"So..." Ginny was talking very slowly. "Don't let me put words in your mouth, but what I hear is, you'd like for your brother and sister Jews to feel what you've felt, that innocent human beings died because of Israeli aggression, and you'd like them to know the victim's names. Is that it?"
Gillam nodded. Carly lifted his head to look at her and nod also. His eyes were wet.
Margie said "Then a demonstration isn't -- how do you reach people like that with a demonstration?"
"Great question" said Edwina. "How do you?"
"The mainstream media was honest enough during the 70's to show things that were really going on, the war in Vietnam, cops here beating up college kids or turning dogs onto black marchers in Alabama -- they don't do that any more. The best you can hope for is to reach people on the scene" said Myra. "In my opinion."
"But that's enough" added Sima. "If you reach one person in AIPAC, it will be a lot."
"We have to not come across as judgmental" said Margie. "I mean, I am, but I'm beginning to see that won't work."
"We have to make it clear that we're Jews, too. Real Jews, good Jews. Worth listening to, even if we are kids" said Carly.
"If you manage that, the ripples will travel out farther than you'll ever know" said Allie.
There was another long silence that was full of hope and satisfaction.
"Okay, then" said Myra. "Good work, folks. I'll type up these notes and share them with you. I think the next step is to find out about the demo -- Gillam, when you go to services tomorrow, ask if anybody there has details, that's going to be a good chance at accurate information. Margie, e-mail people you know at Kadima and Kol HaNeshamah and see if they know anything. In the meantime, the three of you brainstorm ideas about how to achieve your goals. We can talk more when we have more to go on."
Ginny added "Carly, I talked with Patty. She said she's not willing for you to do something that could get you arrested, and she's left it up to me and Myra to make that call. But I'm hoping it won't come to that."
Gillam looked instantly furious. Chris, her arm still around him, patted his shoulder in commiseration.
Ginny said "We have strawberry sherbet with shaved dark chocolate sprinkles for dessert. How about if we go out onto the deck for the rest of this beautiful evening?"
Gillam and Carly opted to take their ice cream upstairs to talk. Margie asked if she could use Myra's PC for some online research. The adults went out to the deck. The conversation was wonderful, as always, but Myra found herself looking often through the glass wall at Margie, concentrating on the computer screen and printing out pages often. She wondered what was going on inside Margie's head.
After a while, Margie got up and went back into the kitchen for something to drink. She had a folder of print-outs with her. Myra needed to use the toilet and went to the bathroom off her study. Edwina had followed her in, heading for the kitchen, and after Myra was on the toilet, she realized she could hear Margie and Edwina through the shared wall between the kitchen and the bathroom. She could not make out anything they said except for one remark of Margie's, loud and amused: "Yes, he dates but not with any real effort. The thing is, if you take the standard description for a mama's boy and multiply that by four, you'll have Gillam and Carly. There is no girl on earth that will ever measure up for them."
Myra heard Edwina's long laugh. She didn't quite know what to make of Margie's analysis. She thought she probably ought to be worried about Gillam, but in fact, she felt a deep secret gladness. She also didn't know whether or not to share this comment with Ginny.
When she returned to the deck, Edwina was there again. Gillam and Carly had come back to the dining table with a notebook, and Margie was standing beside their chairs, opening her folder and talking with them animatedly. In a short time, everyone on the deck had given up on conversation in favor of watching the teenagers and speculating what they were planning.
"Are you going to services with them in the morning" Ginny asked Myra.
"Hell yes. Wouldn't miss it" said Myra.
"I'm coming too" said Sima. "Will you pick me up?"
"I want to go to the demonstration" said Allie.
"If we all go, will we overwhelm their autonomy and leadership?" said Chris.
"Not unless we wear matching T-shirts and act like a cadre" laughed Myra.
"Old lady bluejeans" said Ginny. They all laughed.
"If we did have T-shirts" said Sima "I know what I'd want mine to say: On the front, 'Bush Administration' then that does not equal sign like from new math, remember?, then 'American Values', then on the back 'Israeli Aggression does not equal Jewish Beliefs'. I don't know about a graphic, but them's the words".
Ginny and Allie turned and looked at each other.
"Well, I'll be damned" said Allie. "Can we go to your workspace without intruding on the next generation?"
Ginny simply stood up and headed into the house. Allie followed. Myra grinned at Sima and said "You are a fucking genius. Matching T-shirts, here we come. I'm going to go talk to the kids for a sec and make sure this isn't going to hack them off, especially Margie."
The rest of the women crowded into Ginny's studio, watching her and Allie make sketches and discuss typefaces, colors, and other details of what would be a silkscreen before dawn if Ginny had her way.
Because it was Sima's idea, Margie was delighted. "This totally supports what we're talking about" she said to Myra. "We're not done, so no more clues. But yes, make the T-shirts, be sure to use the colors of the Lebanese flag, and make extra for selling or giving away. You know my size, make me a couple." The boys wanted shirts, too.
Sima and Chris went home around midnight. The boys had gone to bed. Allie and Ginny worked on in her studio. Myra sat on the couch with Edwina's feet in her lap, Margie in the easy chair, and they put on a tape containing a few hours of last season's Grey's Anatomy that Myra had taped but never had time to watch. Edwina went to sleep by 2:00. Not long after that, Myra shooed Margie off to bed, covered Edwina with a light blanket, and turned in herself after taking the artists some tea and kissing them both goodnight. She came back out of the bedroom in a minute with one of her fat girl plain T-shirts and gave it to Ginny, saying "You can do a practice run on this one, if you want." Then she went to sleep and only dimly noticed Ginny crawling in behind her at first light.
Myra woke up at 8:00 a.m., not sure at first why she was up an hour early or why Ginny was still sleeping hard beside her. Slowly she remembered the night before. She kissed Ginny softly, wrote her a note saying "Keep sleeping, I'll wake you when we come home from shacharit" and left it on her pillow. She went into the kitchen and made a big pot of oatmeal with dried cranberries and lots of cream. She mixed orange juice from concentrate and hardboiled some eggs. Just as they were done, Carly and Gillam appeared from upstairs. Myra sent Gillam back up to tell Margie that breakfast was ready, if she wanted it. Margie came down with him.
As the children set the table and dished out their food, Myra walked back to her desk to check e-mails and found a newly silk-screened shirt on her daybed. She changed into it and walked back into the dining room. The effect was extremely gratifying. She sat down with them to eat as they talked T-shirts. She snagged a pad and pen from the breakfast bar to write a list of sizes and quantities.
At 9:30 she said "We need to hurry, I told Sima I'd pick her up. I can be dressed in five minutes. Leave the dishes for later."
"Is Mom going?" asked Margie.
"No, she and Allie were up till dawn, I think. She'll catch up with us after lunch."
Because Ginny wasn't there, Myra opted to not hear their plans until Ginny was awake. They made it to services just in time. Afterward, they were part of a large group discussing the planned demonstration. It was a joint effort by some activists from Kadima and a local peace group, and there were already rumblings of upset from one of the conservative temples in town. The main plan was to gather, hand out literature, talk with people on the street, hopefully get some press coverage, but not behave in an antagonistic manner toward AIPAC or anyone who engaged with them. The outreach was, so far, strictly word of mouth. Myra felt reassured about the low-key nature of the event.
When they got home, the boys began making sandwiches for everybody, half each of Mary Poppins and Annie Oakley. Margie loaded the dishwasher from breakfast. Myra woke up Ginny sweetly, feeling acutely how much she treasured every single thing this woman had brought into her life. They showered together, soaping and rinsing each other off with quiet passion, taking their time. After dressing, they joined the others at the dining table, who were finished with lunch but sitting there eating leftover sherbet.
Ginny got a glass of juice, took a bite of sandwich, then said "Okay. What's the scoop, Betty Boop?"
Margie began with a recounting of who was organizing the demo and what those individuals planned it to be. Ginny looked at Myra after this and Myra gave her a thumbs' up. Ginny said "Great, then. Carly and Gillam, you have a green light -- barring any unforeseen changes, of course."
Gillam, looking relieved, said "We settled, finally, on the thing that started it all up for us: The list of innocent dead and how anonymously they are being presented. We found their names, as many as we could, both Israeli and Lebanese. So...we thought some of us would just say the kaddish, not for show, not loudly, but as real prayers, and after every pause, one of us -- probably Margie -- would read a name or two of the dead, along with their age and city of residence. Alternating back and forth between Israeli and Lebanese."
"We'll just keep going, repeating the kaddish if need be" said Carly. "The point here is to actually pray for the dead, and also to indicate that all the dead are our dead."
"I think this will fit nicely with whatever peace information the others want to hand out" said Margie. "And I think it might be a shock to conservative Jews, but not actually offensive. They can join in, if they want, without betraying Israel."
Ginny's eyes were shining. "And if they do join in, you've persuaded them into behavior which treats Lebanon people as equally human. You've coaxed them over a line they really do want to cross."
She and Myra looked at each other with amazed expressions. Myra said "Perfect. Just perfect."
All three of the teenagers were struggling to be cool about this unconditional approval. Myra let them soak in it for a minute. Then she said "So -- T-shirts. Somebody needs to make a run to a supplier and pick up our order. And also whatever silk-screening ink Ginny needs."
She handed the T-shirt list to Ginny, who read it, still eating, then took a pencil and wrote in some additional items. Myra handed a credit card to Margie and said "Receipts are going to be important -- this may turn out to be a fundraiser".
Ginny said "It's going to take hours to do these; another late night, I'm afraid. You all need to plan on being helper elves."
"I was thinking about roasting both a pork loin and a duck for dinner" said Myra. "Plus a pan of polenta we can slice and spread with the last of your marinara. And a jar of our stewed apples."
"Add on a radicchio and endive salad -- the garden is full of it -- and I'll be happy" said Ginny. "Are we inviting the crew back over?"
"I'll drop them messages and leave it to them" said Myra. Ginny took the last half-sandwich from the platter and bit into it. Myra told the kids she'd deal with the dishes, so they pushed back chairs and got ready to go shopping.
As Myra was pulling things out of the freezer, she saw Gillam walk by toward the studio. His face looked intent. She set down her duck and followed him back to Ginny, openly listening.
"Mom -- Carly's return ticket is for tomorrow evening. But he wants to stay longer, and I want him to stay longer. The thing is...Patty is having a hard time being without Pat. Pat isn't -- she's hard to deal with. She's hard for Carly and Truitt to deal with. And Patty is lonely. I understand that, and Carly does, too. But he -- it's summer, and he doesn't want to just hang around the house all the time. Truitt has all kinds of excuses to do things. Anyhow, I miss Carly so much, you know, I miss him too. And -- will you try to get him off the hook with Patty? Will you get him to stay here for at least a week? Two weeks would be better, a month would be ideal. He knows I'm asking you this, by the way, but he's embarrassed about it."
Ginny took in a long breath and looked over at Myra. Myra wasn't sure she wanted Carly around for a month, but the tone in Gillam's voice overrode everything else. She nodded at Ginny. Gillam watched this silently. Ginny continued to think for a minute.
"I understand, Gillam, I do. Patty's trying to reassemble her family -- she hasn't just lost her lover, she's lost the other parent. And it's coming at a time when there's no hiring a nanny to help out, not with adolescents...Plus, she herself doesn't have the community she had here. It isn't just her leaning on Carly, I don't believe that. But..."
Ginny stopped to think again. "One thing you can do is go there and spend a week or two with him. I remind you of that."
"We've thought about that, and it's better than nothing. But his community is still here, and Seattle has a lot more to offer both of us. I don't mean to argue..." Gillam trailed off. Myra heard Margie and Carly go out the front door.
Myra stepped in "How about if we come up with a second reason for you both to be here?"
"Like what?" said Ginny.
"We have some major work that needs to be done soon around the house, I've been meaning to call our old contractor and get a recommendation. The decks, upper and lower, needs to be sanded down and refinished or else the wood is gonna rot. Ditto the wooden fencing around the back yard. It's hard manual labor, even with a power washer and sander which we could rent for you. We'd pay you wages, the same as we'd pay any other worker we'd hire. Plus bed and board " she grinned. "It would mean at least six hour days, I think -- you could still do your other activities, and swim, and see friends. But you wouldn't be sitting around watching TV."
Gillam said, almost to himself "I could save money toward a car." He looked at Myra, then Ginny in agreement. "I'll talk with Carly. Will you talk with Patty?"
"Yes" said Ginny. "Now go, Margie doesn't like to wait on you, you know that."
After he left, Myra said "I can't imagine what she's going through. Let's offer for her to come stay with us for an extended period of time, we've got room." She sat down on Ginny's daybed.
"I will" said Ginny. "I was going to see if Gillam wanted to go spend some time with Daddy, but I guess this is his preference."
"Well, if Patty turns us down, we can have David here" said Myra.
"I was hoping for a quiet end of summer" said Ginny. "Margie's leaving for that three-week Outward Bound thing, and Gillam's been busy during the day -- I was looking forward to a lessening of responsibility."
"More time to paint? That can still happen" said Myra.
"More time for me and you" said Ginny. "Just us alone in the house."
Myra looked at her keenly. "We're alone right now. It may only be an hour, but as Gillam said, it's better than nothing."
Ginny stood up, grinning. "Let's go to the bedroom, then."
"Why walk all that way?" Myra lay back on the daybed and waggled her eyebrows in what she hoped was a flirtacious manner. Ginny's face lit up completely. She pulled her shirt off over her head and dropped it on the floor. Later, as Myra lay naked with her head on Ginny's shoulder, Ginny's hand slowly scratching the itchy spots on Myra's shoulderblades, Myra said "I am so glad you insisted we buy these daybeds. Some of my best moments have been on one of them."
"When we get to be old ladies and have to get around on walkers" said Ginny, "We'll make sure we have a daybed in every room and hallway."
"Will you paint my walker for me?" said Myra. "Something metallic, with revolutionary slogans."
"You betcha" said Ginny.
Before and after dinner, Ginny turned the studio, part of Myra's study, and the dining room into a silkscreen production line. Allie and Edwina showed up to help. They all ate on the deck, ravenous and exhilirated by the beginning pile of shirts.
Ginny said "I talked with Patty. She's going to come next week, with Truitt, and stay here for several days. We're giving her the guest room, so we'll need to put the rollaway in your room, Gillam, for Truitt. After they leave, and Margie leaves, Daddy's going to come stay with us for a month so you'll have a chance to see him at the end of August, Margie. Carly can stay at least three weeks; if the work isn't done, he can stay until a few days more before school starts back up."
Gillam and Carly cheered. From the look on Carly's face, Myra was willing to bet somehow the work would not be done until he had to return to Olympia. Part of her brain began making a grocery list. Another part of her brain reminded her that if Patty was there for several days, Ginny would be occupied and the boys would be busy -- she could write for longer periods of the day. Once David arrived, Ginny would go into Painterland with him and Myra would be on duty for Ginny but still freed up. It would be good for her writing, not so good for her-and-Ginny-alone time. Well, at least they had each other at the end of every day.
The demo began at 2:00 on Sunday. When their cluster arrived at 1:45, the T-shirts caused a sensation. Margie had decided it would be strategic to hand them out free to whoever wanted to wear one, and every single one of the two dozen they brought with them were soon claimed. There was one reporter there, with just her hand-held recorder and a notebook. She made a cell phone call, however, after she took in the T-shirts, and half an hour later, a TV film truck pulled up across the street. Thus, the teenager's prayers made it onto the evening news. The reporter pronounced kaddish as kiddush, but otherwise did a decent job presenting the event.
They all went back to the house to celebrate. Myra had made turtle beans with mandarin orange slices and turkey sausage plus a large pan of chicken chipotle enchiladas. Ginny steamed artichokes and set out a platter of crudite with several of her herb dips. For dessert, Myra had pies made with pecans she ordered from a place in East Texas. As they were heating up the hot foods, Ginny caught Myra around the waist from behind and leaned against her for a minute. Myra said "Hey...are you crying?"
She turned around in Ginny's arms and looked into her face. "Good crying or sad crying, sweetheart?"
"I honestly don't know" said Ginny with a wet little laugh. "The sight of my children davening, on a public street..." She cried in earnest for a minute.
"Let's make sure we send a copy of that news broadcast footage to your family" said Myra, kissing Ginny's cheeks.
Sima came in to the kitchen. "Where's your digital camera? I want individual photos of everybody in their T-shirts for a future website" she said.
"Sizes from young kick-ass radical to big-as-a-house Cheney-haters" said Myra, giggling.
Two weeks after the demonstration, Myra was beginning to make dinner while listening to NPR when the lead news item made her rush to the sliding door and yell out to Gillam and Carly, power-sanding the back fence near the maple tree. "You two get in here immediately. Leave the tools, just get in here." As she almost ran to the living room, she yelled up the stairs where Ginny and David were repotting the upper deck plants, telling them to come right away. Seconds after she turned on the TV, everyone had joined her. They all stood in a group as the local news showed footage from the shooting at the Jewish Federation of Seattle. The man being led away by the police was identified as Palestinian.
Ginny turned to Margie, her face crazed. "Where's Margie?"
For a second Myra couldn't remember. Then she said "She and Amy went to a movie." Myra had to sit down, then, heavily thumping down onto the couch. Ginny joined her, and pulled the boys over to sit on the floor in front of her, putting her arms around both of them. They reeked of sweat and sawdust and old lacquer, and she breathed their smell into her lungs deeply.
A few minutes later, the phone rang. Myra went to answer it and talked with the caller for a few minutes. When she came back, she said "That was Sima. She knew the woman who got killed. She had children. Sima said she went to B'nai Torah. Sima's wild with grief and Chris isn't home. One of us needs to go get her."
Ginny stood up. "I'll go. Carly, call your mother, right now, before she hears this on the news."
"I'm going with you" said David. It was not a question. Ginny grabbed her keys and hustled out the door with David as Myra tossed Carly her cell and sat back down on the couch behind Gillam. The house line rang again a couple of minutes later, and Myra answered. It was Margie, just out of the movies where she had overhead some people talking out front. Myra said "Everybody in the immediate family is accounted for. Come on home; bring Amy, we'll all eat together."
Myra roasted chickens, mashed Yukon golds, made fresh peas with mint, steamed some baby carrots, and threw together a quick shortbread to go with raspberries. Comfort foods. Ginny and Sima were both so pale, she wanted to bundle them up in a comforter and somehow soothe away their fear. Dinner and a lengthy conversation afterward was interrupted frequently by calls coming in or going out, as information and rumor spread around the community. Chris arrived at 8:00 and joined them at the table; Myra served her a plate of food which Chris ate left-handed, her right arm tight around Sima's shoulders. At 8:30 Myra said "I just realized tonight is shabbos."
Everyone looked shocked, then mortified. Myra continued "It's okay. Let's go on. Gillam and Carly, you two go shower, quickly, and come back down. Margie and Amy, help me clean up the kitchen. Somebody needs to carry out the compost, it's full. Once the table is ready and we're all back here, we can light candles and pray and grieve. Then let's play a game and celebrate being together."
Ginny blinked at this array of instructions, but said "Good idea." Everyone stood up and began moving around. David went into his room and returned with several kippot. Ginny and Sima got out candlesticks and wine cups. Myra retrieved a loaf of Ginny's challah from the freezer in the storage room and defrosted it quickly in the microwave. Chris opened a bottle of sparkling grape juice, then pulled Sima into the study for a long kiss and hug, whispering in her ear steadily. Sima came back looking much better.
After everyone went to bed that night, late, it was Myra who fell apart, sobbing with terror in Ginny's arms.
"I know" murmured Ginny. "I know."
Copyright 2007 Maggie Jochild.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
("Yo Mama's Last Supper" by Renee Cox)