Monday, November 12, 2007


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

On this first trip to the coast, Allie has other commitments and does not accompany them. In Seattle, Ginny and Myra have a live-in nanny for the children, Hannah.

When Myra was a very young adult, she became comother to a child with another woman, Astrid. Five years later, when the child was six, Astrid broke up with Myra, became straight and a born-again Christian, and Myra was never allowed to see her daughter again.

1994 -- Margie is 5, Gillam is 3

In March, Ginny said suddenly "I want my children to love Galveston like I did. Let's go back there this summer."

"I don't think I can do a whole month, is that okay?"

"Yes. But at least a week. If we're going to get Daddy to go with us, I suppose we'll need to swing through Denver first, make nice to my mother."

"Cathy's grandchildren are of an age to play with our two, that will be good for them -- cousins. They need cousins."

Ginny had left Denver behind in her mind. "I wonder if that cottage on the coast is still available. I'll call Daddy and get the number for it."

They decided to go in June, while Texas was not quite heated up to blast furnace level. Three days in Denver -- "Two longer than I want to be there" said Ginny -- then hopping a plane to Houston where they would rent some kind of beach wagon and drive the rest of the way. The cottage would provide a fully outfitted kitchen and linens, but Ginny said they should take their own pillows and extra towels. Myra slipped her egg pan, whisk, her favorite olive oil, and a bundle of herbs from the garden into her bag. Ginny packed a big suitcase full of linen canvas, stretchers, gesso, a wet carrier, paints, palettes, knives and brushes. Myra took her poetry work-in-progress files but had a feeling she might not open them. Ginny kept walking around the house saying reverently "Vacation".

It was really good to see Cathy and Michael again. Myra tried in every way she could to convince them to come down to the beach with them, if only for a couple of days. They demurred but were obviously pleased to be wanted. Helen played with the children sweetly, though not with the kind of interest Myra was sure her own mother would have demonstrated. Her own mother would have almost gobbled them up whole.

Ginny was tight and fighting impatience until they were finally on the plane to Houston. Once the seatbelt sign went off, she heaved a giant sigh and turned to Myra on the aisle. "The promised land" she murmured. Gillam was glued to the window. Margie and David were in the row ahead, Margie also claiming a window. Myra thought David had a slight preference for girls. She thought, Well, if I'd had a daughter like Ginny, I probably would, too. She then realized with a jolt she did have a daughter like Ginny -- but Gillam was stiff competition.

They stopped at the first beach crap souvenir stand they came to, once they were on the Gulf road, and got water wings, buckets, shovels, and big coolers, as well as assorted plastic stuff the children kept bringing to Myra and saying "I need this". The gas-hog SUV they had finally agreed to rent -- "Nobody has station wagons any more" complained Ginny -- swallowed anything they put in the back without getting appreciably more crowded.

After going over the causeway, they stopped at Gaido's on the seawall for a late lunch. Ginny said it was tradition to eat there coming and going. Myra was thrilled to have the waitress ask her if she wanted sweet tea; it had been a long time.

Back in the car, the children dozed off. David was up front with Ginny, and they talked nonstop. Myra had her binoculars out, looking for laughing gulls, willets, curlews, and of course skimmers. She kept wanting to cry, it was so familiar here.

Ginny pulled into the parking lot of a little concrete block store in Jamaica Beach. "The freshest and best selection of seafood on the coast" she announced. David nodded. She left the car running so Myra and the sleeping children would have AC while she and David went in. They came back out with four heavy paper bags and set them in the back of the SUV. "The cottage has a freezer" said Ginny "For what we can't eat absolutely immediately. Still, we need ice."

David offered to stay with the kids while Myra and Ginny went to the grocery store nearby. This time it was Myra who tried to buy the place out. She spotted a hand-crank ice cream freezer on a back shelf and snagged it as well. They bought ten bags of ice. The produce was not up to West Coast standards, but Ginny assured her there was a fresh farm stand just outside of town. There were several, in fact. They got another big haul. By this time, the children were awake.

"Can we go swimming? Can we go right now?" asked Margie urgently.

Ginny looked at Myra. "I'll put perishables in the coolers with some ice" said Myra.

"Yes! It's vacation" said Ginny. They pulled off onto a beach -- no doing that in Washington, thought Myra -- and stripped the children naked. Ginny ran with them into the surf; she had cleverly put her swimsuit on under her clothes this morning before they left Denver. David rolled up his khakis, exposing legs painfully skinny and white, and ambled down to join them at the edge. Myra sorted out the food, then found a spot on a dune with her binoculars and set about starting a sunburn.

The cottage turned out to be a farmhouse built in the 1920s that had survived storms and rot with a little help along the way. It reminded Myra irresistably of the places her family had rented when they were not living in trailers. The paint was peeling, the linoleum was clean but old, the floors sagged just a little, and all the windows were loose in their frames. She fell in love with it instantly.

The front porch was deep and cool, and faced the ocean across a blacktop road. Two huge liveoaks shaded the front yard. On the side was a screened-in sleeping porch with a row of single iron beds. On the back porch was, as promised, an old but functioning freezer, and also a big sink for washing clothes. The kitchen stove was pre-1950s but working. The refrigerator was new. There was an old farm sink, a huge wooden table, and a small living area between the sleeping porch and the kitchen. At the back was a bathroom with a clawfoot tub and a small bedroom with two walls of casement windows. In the back yard was a pumphouse, some kind of shed, a clothesline, some fruit trees -- one lemon, one plum, and a non-bearing peach -- and a caved-in storm cellar. There was a small black-and-white TV and a phone, in case they wanted to check on the world outside for some reason. Myra couldn't imagine she would feel the need.

After everything got carried in, Ginny and Myra put away the food while David walked the children around outside. "Sandwiches for dinner?" said Ginny. "We could get in one more swim afterward, then build a fire on the beach and carry them home sleeping across the road."

"Sounds like you know exactly how that feels" said Myra. Ginny grinned. While Ginny was making sandwiches, Myra surveyed the trees out front, the grounds and the signs of wildlife. Coming back in, she asked Ginny "Is there a hardware store in Jamaica Beach?"

"Yes" answered Ginny. Myra said "I'm going to make a run there tomorrow." Ginny replied "I need turpentine, you know the kind I use. And linseed oil."

They called everybody in to eat and wash up. After the meal, while David did dishes, Ginny pushed all the chairs on the front porch over to one side. She pulled two collapsible easels from her big suitcase and set them up at the cleared end. When David came out, his eyes lit up.

At David's insistence, Ginny and Myra took the back bedroom. The bed was a double, not a queen. Myra whispered "There is no soundproofing at all here".

Ginny grinned. "We'll have to help each other be quiet, then, because this is a vacation, I plan to make the most of it."

David and the children took the small iron beds with squeaky springs on the sunporch. When Gillam realized he was supposed to sleep out here, with just a screen between him and the wilderness, he looked seriously frightened. Margie appeared ready to balk as well. Myra took them by the hand and led them out into the dusk.

At the edge of the bermuda grass, she knelt down and said in a low voice, "Now, I'm going to let you two in on a secret. Your mom and zayde know, but not everybody in the world. This place here, this farmhouse and the bit of land it's on? It's under a protective spell. It's got a force field around that has kept it from harm for all its life. Nothing on earth can get past the force field unless the house has been told to expect them, like we were expected. It kept your mama safe all her summers here when she was growing up. You can tell where the force field ends, if you try really hard. The line between the field and the outside will show a temperature difference -- it's cooler inside the force field, and warmer outside. See if you can walk forward with your hands out and your minds open -- it's just a little bit away -- and you'll feel the point where the force field begins."

With big eyes, they put out their hands, a little nervously, and took two slow steps forward. Gillam stopped and looked around at Myra, stunned. "I can feel it" he whispered. Margie inched up to where he was and said "Me, too."

"That goes all the way around the house, past the shed back there. This is a magical spot, here. You don't have to worry about a thing as long as we're here. There are sweet little critters who live here with us -- fireflies, sparrows, doodlebugs, maybe squirrels -- but they are under the protection, too."

"What are doodlebugs?" asked Margie.

"I'll show you tomorrow. They are way fun to play with."

They walked back into the house and got ready to go to the ocean.

Later, they put the children to bed covered in sand. "What are we going to do about how grotty their sheets will be?" said Myra, to which Ginny replied "Not a thing, they won't care". They turned on the big box fan that sat beside each bed -- the house's only form of cooling -- and then went to sit on the porch and listen to the distant surf. Myra brought out a pitcher of icewater, saying "Let's remind each other to keep hydrated." After a while, Ginny asked "What did you say to those two to make them okay with sleeping on the porch?"

Myra told her. David laughed hard, the ice tinkling in his glass. Ginny said, mostly joking "You and your magic. What happens when they figure out it's not true?"

"Who says it's not true?" replied Myra. "Magic, god, ancestors, the power of love -- we're surrounded by things we can't prove are there, but I feel 'em."

Ginny scooted her chair closer to Myra's so she could hold her hand. David shocked them both by saying "I felt Rosa here the minute I walked in."

"Really?" said Ginny.

"She was in the kitchen. I could almost see her. I could definitely smell her, that Camay powder she used to wear."

"I remember that" said Ginny quietly.

There was another long silence. David then said "Listen, Virginia, I've made some changes to my will since your children were born. Cathy's kids are grown, educated, and doing well. And I know, you two, that you have plenty for your children. It's not about need. But I have this money that Rosa left me, that's just gotten bigger despite my attempts to whittle it down and your mother's wish to spend it away. This country is sure set up to keep the rich getting richer...." He trailed off for a minute. "At any rate, my mother and her parents earned their stake here, right here on this coast, with a lifetime of saving and working land they loved. It's not just ironic but bitter, to me, that Rosa's financial security came through a harsh marriage and then having to sell that farm to people who destroyed it. I want to transform that money, turn it back into something as pure as the farm was. When I visited you two, after Gillam was born, your friend Allie was good enough to answer my prying questions about what you are doing with your money. Not living fancy, but giving it back. It's a thing Rosa understood. It's the way our people lived in Russia. And I want to do my bit."

"You already have" reminded Myra. "Your check paid for our two pregnancies."

He laughed. "I can't top that" he acknowledged. "But if I leave Rosa's money to Helen, she'll give it to Hadassah. Which is not the worst thing in the world, but not Rosa's way, I know for a fact. I've got a massive life insurance policy plus lots of investments, Helen will live in comfort and ostentation, even, if I die before her. But for Rosa's money -- you two seem to know something about foundations and trusts and finding people who can best use a hand. I'm wondering -- I'm asking, if I leave Rosa's money for a foundation in her name, would be all right if I named you two as the administrators?"

Ginny let go of Myra's hand and scooted her chair over to David's to hold his hand. After a moment, Myra followed suit on his other side. They didn't say anything, just held his hand and looked toward the ocean. Finally he said "Good, then....Did you hear that, Ma?"

Myra found herself not breathing, listening intently. She was relieved to not hear anything different in the night sounds around them.

Before going to bed, Ginny and Myra squatted in the tub and poured water over each other, rinsing away the salt and sand. Then they drew a fresh tub of cold water and soaped each other luxuriously, lingering in folds and crevices. By the time they got to bed, Ginny was at fever pitch. They made love twice, not succeeding in being very quiet, and finally went to sleep sweaty and tangled together on the small mattress.

A whippoorwill woke Myra up at dawn. She listened for a while, aching for the dead members of her family, then dozed back off. She woke up again an hour later to Margie's voice from the doorway saying "It is too early to swim yet?" Ginny got up and herded them into the kitchen. After a while, the racket from that room stopped and the screen door slammed. Bless Ginny forevermore, she was taking them to the beach.

Sleep was not a train she could catch again, however. She got up, took another douse in the tub, and pulled on shorts and a T-shirt. David was in the kitchen, making eggs that smelled a little burned. "Got enough for two" he offered. She said "Sure" and poured herself a glass of ice water. Eating the eggs with salsa on top made them go down and helped cool her off. After breakfast, she made the bed, swept the floors as best she could, and stood in front of the refrigerator, planning menus.

David was already on the front porch stretching canvas when the ocean party got back. Ginny didn't make it all the way into the house; Myra heard her say to David "Here, let me help you with that." Myra rinsed the children off in the tub -- how many feet of sand must this septic tank hold, she wondered -- and got them dressed. Giving them each a plastic bottle of water she'd put in the freezer to make slushy, she ordered them to drink it all, then went to the porch. Both easels were now set up with canvases.

"Gin -- the children are almost at their limit with regard to sun exposure. We need to up the SPF and apply it every 20 minutes or so."

Ginny was sorting paints onto the ledge around the porch. "Okay" she said a little distractedly.

"I'm going to run to the hardware store now, thought of anything else you need?"

Ginny shook her head. David said "Carmex. If you go to a place that's got it."

"I'm leaving the kids here. I know you want to get started, but the store will just frustrate them. I'll be back soon."

Ginny looked up then. "Okay, honey. I hear you. Do I need to get a jump on lunch?"

Myra laughed. "Ginny Bates, you leave the meals to me. I know how much getting to paint here means to you. And now you have the man who started it all, as your porch buddy. I'll feed you both. But I will ask, once the sun goes down, that you take the children for evening swims as well as handling the mornings."

"Deal" said Ginny. She came over and gave Myra the kind of kiss they usually didn't share in front of other adults. Vacation, thought Myra.

When she got back from Jamaica Beach, David had already gessoed his canvas. The children were in the kitchen, shirts off, daubing each other's chest and back with watercolors. Ginny kissed her cheek as she headed for the porch. The children saw Myra's bags and said "What did you get? Did you get something for us?"

"Wash out your brushes and we'll have a look" said Myra tantalizingly. Brush-washing came second only to hand-washing in their household.

When they were done, Myra poured the bags onto the table. There were two lengths of yellow nylon rope; a bundle of lathes; two big rolls of heavy-duty string; two 18-inch rounds of thick wood with a small hole in the middle of each round; a bottle of white glue; the local newspaper; a couple of hand trowels; six feet of heavy plastic sheeting; and two dozen packages of assorted Hot Wheels cars. Margie grabbed at the cars, but Myra said "Hold on. Those are for you both, yes, but all in good time. There are three days' worth of fun here. I think the most fun thing on the table will turn out not to be the toys. Let's see if you can guess what items go together."

Gillam and Margie set themselves to solving the puzzle. With Myra saying "You're getting warm -- nah, now you're cold again", they eventually had three piles on the table. One pile held the newspaper, the glue, the lathes, and the string. The second pile held the rounds and the rope. The third pile was the cars, the trowels, and the sheeting.

"Now, which one do you think we start with?" asked Myra. Margie and Gillam looked at each other. Gillam's hand reached yearningly toward the cars, but Margie shook her head. They fingered the items in the other two piles. Finally Margie touched the ropes. Myra said "Bingo! Good choice." She picked up one of the balls of string -- "We're going to temporarily borrow this one as well" -- and pulled a sharp knife out of the kitchen drawer. "You two grab the wood and the rope and follow me." She strode out into the front yard. Ginny had gessoed her canvas now. She and David were each sitting with charcoal and sketch pads, and did not look up.

Standing under the live oak trees, she said "We need to find a rock that is about yay big" -- she motioned with her hands -- "and more square than round." The children dropped what they held and went in opposite directions to look for rocks. Gillam was the one who finally came up with one acceptable to Myra. He just listens better thought Myra. We must be doing something right. So far.

Myra tied string around the rock several times until it was secure. She reeled a large spiral of string onto the ground underneath the thickest branch extending out from one of the trees, a branch about 15 feet off the ground. She told the children to stand back near the porch, then heaved the rock upward in an arc. It took five tries and she narrowly escaped being beaned by the rock, which the children found hilarious, but she finally had the string draped over the branch. She took one of the yellow ropes and tied a loop in its end, then tied the string to the loop. Pulling on the string, she snaked the rope over the branch and back down to the ground. Margie plainly marveled at this piece of engineering. Myra suddenly regretted showing it to her.

Myra motioned the children back to her so she could measure length from ground to top of thigh. She threaded the rope through one of the wooden rounds, tied a fat double knot snug under the wood, and cut the rest of the rope away. She put the knife back on the porch ledge, then scooped up Gillam and placed him on the wooden seat. As he realized what it was they had just created, she gave him a big swing. He shrieked with delight as he flew into the air. Ginny and David both looked out into the yard.

"Hey" said Ginny. "How clever you are!"

"My turn" said Margie, stepping in front of Gillam. Myra snatched her out of his trajectory just in time. "We have two trees" Myra told her. "Come over here to your swing tree. Would you like to try throwing the rock?"

This time a falling rock did connect with tender flesh, but it was on Margie's shoulder and she shrugged it off. Myra eventually got the rock over for her, and when the second swing was done, Myra was not able to take a rest because she had to dart back and forth between each swing, giving pushes. Finally she said "I gotta go drink something. Pump your legs and make yourselves go for a while."

She took the knife back in the house as she went. After drinking down a glass of water, she put a big pot of new potatoes on to boil. Thank god she had insisted Ginny get lobster that was already cooked and separated. She pulled out a bowl and whisk to make a triple batch of mayonnaise. After storing the finished product in the refrigerator, she had begun chopping cabbage when Ginny came in. "Getting more water for me and Dad" she said. "What's for lunch?"

"Lobster salad on french rolls, homemade potato salad, cole slaw, and some sliced Texas tomatoes. Plus there's a chilled watermelon in the bottom of the fridge."

"Holy fuck" said Ginny. "You are a wonder. Listen to the kids -- they're singing their hearts out and swinging themselves dizzy."

Myra stopped chopping. She heard Gillam's treble voice echo onto the porch: "Between us is the tie / Uterine empathy / V is your vagina, the virginal you --"

She was laughing so hard she missed the last few lines. Ginny was holding onto her, shaking with laughter also. "Wish I could see David's face right now" whispered Myra.

"He jumped at the chance to be here with us" said Ginny. "He never had it so good." She went back out with a pitcher of ice water and two extra glasses for the kids.

After lunch, the children were shocked to find out that midday naps were part of the schedule here. "It's too hot to do anything else" said Myra. "But you are getting to stay up later than you do at home, so you make up the time at the end of the evening with us on the beach." Margie grumbled until she lay down, with a freshly washed face, on the quilt next to the box fan. She closed her eyes and dropped off before Gillam did.

Myra thought she would use the time to write, but instead she lay down on her own bed -- just for a minute -- with the fan turned full blast. She woke up an hour later to the relentless, almost mechanical whine of katydids. Her body felt incredibly good, like muscles had thawed and flesh had ripened. She lay in the dark room, luxuriously idle and happy, for another half hour. When she heard Gillam giggle on the sleeping porch, she at last got up and helped the kids put on sneakers.

"Now we go looking for doodlebugs" she announced. They found a patch of sandy soil beside the house that was pocked with tiny ant lion craters. She showed them how to belly up to a hole, careful not to breathe on it, and imitate a struggling ant with a thread of grass. When the doodlebug snatched at her grass in a flurry of sand, they all screamed despite its miniscule size. Each child had a go at it, in different sand traps, and was triumphant.

Myra announced "Tomorrow we go on a hornytoad hunt. This week I hope we get to see a snake, a scorpion, maybe a tarantula, a katydid, a polecat, and if we are very very lucky, a coyote. We can also try to spot some of the bigger crabs in the dunes at sunset one day."

Gillam looked doubtful about this line-up. He said "Will this be here around the house or somewhere beyond the force field?"

"Some of it will be out yonder. But here's the thing: I am Texan going back six generations. Your mama is Texan going back four generations. This means you have Texan molecules and lineage all throughout you. So you and the animals here are gonna recognize each other as kinfolk. I'll be with you, you'll see how well it goes."

Dinner that evening was a crab boil with more new potatoes and fresh corn, grilled shark, more cole slaw and tomatoes, and canteloupe. Myra had found three gallon glass jars with lids in the shed, and after scrubbing them out, she made peppermint sun tea in one, red zinger tea in the second, and lemonade in the third. They sat on the top shelf of the refrigerator and were each drained on a rapid basis.

After dinner they tidied the house -- sweeping was turning out to be necessary several times a day -- and put the box fans in the window facing outwards to see if that would suck out all the hot air in the house. They changed into suits, grabbed a blanket to sit on, matches, marshmallows and sticks to roast them with, and headed for the beach.

Once the fire was roaring, Margie expressed her interest in roasting the entire bag of marshmallows, one by one. Myra said "If you do, then you won't have any for tomorrow night."

"We could go buy more" suggested Margie.

"We could, but that would mean somebody leaving the house during the day and driving into town. Are you willing to go along in the car for that trip?"


"Well, it's up to you and Gillam. If you want to eat them all tonight, it's vacation, you can. But you won't have them later in the week, is all I'm saying."

Leaving them with this tough choice, she stood up and offered a hand to Ginny. "Wanna take a dip?" she asked. Ginny shucked her flip-flops and walked hand-in-hand with Myra into the water. They got out chest height before Myra was too scared to go further.

The two melted into each other's arms, kissing and rubbing their legs together. Myra undid the tie behind Ginny's neck, pulling down the top of her suit so she could cup Ginny's breasts in her hands.

"Have you ever done it in the ocean?" murmured Ginny.

"Thought about it. But it's gritty, and there's the problem of keeping your balance against the waves, plus the fear of curious nibblers -- just diminishes the prospect for me."

"Show me how gritty, angel."

Myra glanced back toward the beach. Even with the big fire, the faces of their family were indistinct at this distance. She slid her right hand inside Ginny's billowy suit and spread her lips with two fingers, then used those fingers up and down her crevasse. Ginny moaned and lifted one thigh up around Myra's hips.

"Oh, god, Myra, I don't think it would take much, I really don't."

Myra said "Vacation" and kept going. The sand underneath her feet kept shifting, and she often staggered with the effort of keeping upright, especially after both of Ginny's thighs were around her and Ginny's torso was bobbing back and forth against her. She managed, however. The swells seemed to intensify Ginny's orgasm. Ginny cried a little in her arms afterward. Myra wiped tears from Ginny's face with a salty wet hand, and Ginny said "All those years, this place was my sanctuary, what I lived for all year -- I never knew it could be this much better. I hoped for love like this, but I have to admit, I didn't really know what it would be like."

When they got back to the fire, the marshmallow bag had six marshmallows left in it and was on the other side of Gillam on the blanket. Gillam said defensively "These are mine. I'm saving them for later."

"That's his share" said Margie generously. David was chuckling. Myra said "I can only imagine the chicanery and moral failure you've witnessed." He nodded, then added "Tomorrow night should be interesting, when some people pull out their stash and some people have none."

"Oh, my" said Ginny. "Grasshoppers can really throw tantrums."

Margie and Gillam were trying to follow this. Gillam said "Grasshoppers here have tantrums?"

"No" said Myra, "It's an allegory. Not alligator, allegory."

Myra sat down and Ginny stood over her, expectantly, until Myra spread her legs so Ginny could plop down in front of her. Leaning back against Myra with a contented sigh, Ginny said "What shall we sing?"

The next day, Gillam chose the stack of fun with the toy cars in it. Myra led them to a stretch of flat sandy ground beyond the shed and handed them each trowels. "We need to dig a lake that will be next to the town where the people in the cars live." After the lake was dug, Myra lined the hole with plastic and buried the folded-over edge in dirt on the shores of the lake. She ran the hose from the house to the lake and the children took turns filling it up. Then they used the heels of their hands to grade out roads and streets, making telephone poles of twigs and houses from rocks. The cars drove around town constantly, visiting the lake, the fire station, the hospital, the library, the school, and the lesbian community center.

At regular intervals, Myra took them in the back door, rinsed them off and reapplied sunscreen. She had T-shirts on them, but worried about their ears, their chubby calves, even the spaces between their toes. They left the hose on at a trickle, making a swamplands off to the side, and the children were always willing to go take a drink from the hose -- hot, rubbery-tasting, but somehow better than water from the house.

They stopped impatiently for lunch, then went right back to their town, which Margie was calling Crystal Lake and Gillam was calling Cherry Tree Lane. They bickered about why the other one's name was stupid without breaking into open battle -- they were too distracted by urban planning to actually fight.

Myra sat on the back porch, half-listening, half-dozing, with a big glass of red zinger tea. She kept trying to settle on how she wanted to cook the scallops for dinner -- grilled or sauteed. That was the only wrinkle in her mind. Before she could make a decision, she would drift off into memory of the night before, in bed with Ginny, and how Ginny had kept her right at the threshold of coming for longer than Myra would have believed possible. Day-dreaming about it was almost as arousing as living it had been.

After dinner, as they were gathering up things for the beach, Myra grabbed the marshmallows and then whispered to Ginny "What shall I take for Margie?"

Ginny looked at her with a bemused expression. "Margie ate all hers. And some of Gillam's."

"But she's gonna freak when he has a treat and she doesn't."

"Let her get her freak on" Ginny was firm.

"Funny, I would have thought you the middle class girl would be assuming my role of spoiling her a little" said Myra.

"I think this is the middle class role" said Ginny. "I think working class people have to see their kids suffer so much without having any control over it, that wherever they can cut a corner, they will."

Myra felt a surge of grief inside her. Ginny put her arm around Myra's neck and said into her ear "Our children are not suffering."

At the campfire, Margie's meltdown was spectacular. Gillam was so unnerved he started to reach into his bag and offer Margie a marshmallow, but Ginny gently interrupted him, which increased the volume of Margie's screams. She refused to allow either of her mothers to touch her, and instead crawled into the arms of David, who whispered to her in Hebrew. Margie didn't speak Hebrew, but assumed he was saying hateful things about her stinking brother and her evil mothers, and took comfort in it.

After they had been there an hour, the surf rolling in began to look different. Ginny stood up and squinted at it, then said "I think there's phosphorus in the water!" They all went down to the edge and squatted, looking at the flickers of luminescence whenever a new rill came in. David was able to explain the process well enough to allay the children's nervousness. Ginny and Myra carried the childen in to waist level, dripping streams of white-lit water on their legs and arms, the children shivering with delight and a touch of horror.

Lovemaking that night was explosive and brief. Myra awoke when Ginny got up with the kids and joined them for breakfast. After Ginny and David went to the front porch, Margie went to potty and Gillam went out back to check on Cherry Tree Lane. A minute later, Myra heard blood-curdling screams coming from Gillam. She bolted out the back door and saw him hopping up and down, wiping at his arms and legs, screaming non-stop. When she got to him, he had fire ants on all of his limbs and his torso. She pulled him several feet back toward the house and began wiping him down with her hands. The ants transferred their aggression to her, but she ignored it. Ginny had arrived and began pulling his pants off. There were ants inside his underwear. She ran for the hose, turning it on full blast, and began spraying him down. David arrived with Margie; when he saw what was happening, he picked her up and backed toward the porch.

Myra pulled the last several ants off Gillam by hand, crushing them between her fingers even as they bit her viciously. She was in a frenzy, could not stop examining his body, his hair, any scrap of him for an invader. Finally Ginny said "He's clean, honey". Gillam had stopped screaming but his crying was awful. Ginny picked him up and started toward the house. Myra realized, at that point, she still had ants on her own legs and arms. She killed every last one of them, then joined the rest in the house.

Ginny had a bottle of ammonia out and was daubing each bite on Gillam as he sat on the kitchen table. When she saw Myra, she poured some ammonia into a cup and said "Do your bites, the faster, the better. Neutralizes the formic acid in the bite." Myra began treating her bites. As her adrenaline dropped, she got lightheaded. David poured her and Gillam glasses of lemonade and urged them to drink.

Margie said "What happened to our town?" She started for the back door. Myra yelled "NO!" Then she said, "I'm so sorry. When I lived here as a child, we didn't have fire ants. I should have remembered, they're attracted to disturbed earth and to water."

"Where did the fire ants come from?" said Margie.

"From the fields beyond the house. And, originally, from South America. They are not native to Texas" said Ginny. She turned to David "In my toiletries bag is a tube of hydrocortisone cream and some Benadryl tablets, will you bring those to me?" He walked off rapidly.

Gillam was finally able to speak. "Did we build our town outside the force field?" he asked.

Myra felt terrible. She didn't know how to answer. "I guess so" Ginny finally said. "The ants saw your beautiful town and decided to live there for themselves."

"Let's kill them!" said Gillam. "Let's go out there and kill them all!"

Myra felt the same way. But Ginny said "It's pretty hard to do. Unless we dig up the hill and kill the queen, they'll just keep coming back. And if we try to dig up the hill, well, we'll have the whole colony attacking us. Not just the hundred or so that came after you and Myra, but a lot more. Just not a practical idea."

"I will get your cars back" Myra promised. David had the cream, and Ginny began applying it to each of Gillam's bites. They were already swollen and most of them had a small drop of pus at the head. Myra's had begun to itch. Oh, god, keeping him from scratching them was going to be impossible.

Ginny was on it. "Daddy, in his suitcase should be a pair of light cotton pajamas, with long sleeves. Let's get him into those after the cream dries." She looked at Myra. "I'm going to give him a big dose of Benadryl, partly to deal with the allergy, but it will also knock him out. I'd suggest the same for you. We can put him in our bed with you if you like. He's not showing signs of an extreme reaction, but for the next hour or so we need to watch him for delayed anaphylaxis."

Myra nodded. Her brain was finally starting to return to normal function, something besides blaze-red reaction.

She and Gillam slept through lunch and well into the afternoon. When she woke up, she got them some tuna salad and melon from the fridge. Gillam was dopey and miserable. She had to remind him every minute not to scratch. Ginny came in when she heard their voices and kissed them over and over. Margie was playing on the swing with David. By adding extra sugar to the lemonade, Myra got Gillam to drink two glasses of it -- a small anti-shock treatment. She took him to potty, then back to bed with another dose of Benadryl. She tried reading but fell back asleep herself.

Ginny made snapper with ginger for dinner, along with a corn salad and potato pancakes. Afterward, she pulled out the ice cream freezer. She began assembling ingredients on the table.

"What's that?" said Margie.

"It's what people from my era used to make ice cream" said David.

Gillam's face perked up.

Myra got the last of the farmstand peaches out and began cutting them up, sprinkling in a generous dollop of sugar to make them release their juice. Ginny mixed the cream and other things in the shiny cannister, added Myra's peaches, and then showed it to the children. "Next time we open this up, it'll be ice cream" said Ginny.

Myra poured in ice around the cannister, adding a layer of rock salt every inch or so. "This is salt" she explained. "Salt makes ice even colder. We need super-duper cold to make ice cream."

Ginny gave the first few cranks, to get it loosened up, then helped Margie and Gillam take turns. After that, Myra took over, relieved by David, then Ginny again. Margie kept asking if they could take off the lid and see what it looked like now, and kept getting the same explanation as to why not. Gillam, sitting on the edge of the table, kicked his legs back and forth and was not scratching as badly as he had earlier. Myra pulled up his shirt and looked at his bites. The swelling was down and the pus was gone.

They went out onto the front porch to eat dessert. Gillam said this was the best ice cream he'd ever tasted. Myra agreed.

The sun had set but there was a darker coloration on the horizon over the ocean. Myra looked at it for a while, then said "David -- does it look to you like something's blowing in?" He peered at the sky and said "Yes. There's a storm out over the Gulf, heading our way."

Ginny finished her ice cream, then got up to move easels and paints into the house. Margie and Gillam ate the last of the ice cream in the cannister with their fingers. Myra went to make sure the car windows were shut. After washing up, they all returned to the porch, where a solid breeze had kicked in.

"I'm going to turn on the TV and check the weather" said David. Myra settled into a chair on the porch and Gillam planted himself in her lap. Margie was lured inside by the TV. After a few minutes, David came back out and said "Just a regular coastal thunderstorm. We're going to get a good show tonight."

He sat down in a chair and Margie claimed his lap. Ginny had gone into the sleeping porch where they could hear her pulling the beds away from the screen wall. When she joined them, she scooted her chair right next to Myra's. She had the cortisone cream with her, and they treated Gillam's bites again. Then Ginny tenderly put cream in Myra's bites, which at last were beginning to not itch constantly. The worst had been the bites on the tips of her fingers. After she was done, Ginny leaned back and closed her eyes, holding Gillam's small foot in her right hand.

When the wind hit, the change in temperature was glorious. The rope swings looked as if someone invisible were in them, making them go in every direction. Margie pointed this out, and Myra felt Gillam stiffen slightly. "Could be fairies" said Myra. "They play at night, while we're asleep. I bet they love those swings." A few minutes later, Gillam said if he closed his eyes most of the way, he could see the reflection of the fairies' wings. Margie immediately said she could, too.

Booms were starting to come from the shore. Lightning began cracking the horizon. Gillam dug deep into Myra's lap and put his hand out to take Ginny's. Because of a giant series of lightning veins, they were actually able to see the advancing sheet of rain right before it hit, racing across the yard toward them. Ginny cried out "Ahhh!" It drove into the porch and hit their feet. It smelled incredibly good.

The downpour and thunder lasted almost an hour. There was little or no conversation, except at one point David said "This is going to wash all kinds of things ashore. If you little ones want me to get you up at first light, we can go hunting for treasure along the tideline." They both said yes enthusiastically. Before the storm dwindled, both children had fallen asleep. After putting them to bed, Myra walked into her bedroom and found it to be deliciously cool. She stripped naked and sat down in the tub, where Ginny joined her. They filled it as full as they could, adding some bubble bath, and spooned together peacefully. Then they dried each other off and lay in their dark bed, listening to the drip from the eaves and occasional thuds of retreating thunder. "Vacation" whispered Myra. "Um-hmm" said Ginny. They slept deeply.

Myra heard creaks and "sshhh" sounds from the kitchen while her room was still dark and cool. Ginny was beside her, so it must be David, true to his word. After the sound of spoons clanking against cereal bowls stopped, the front door slammed -- Margie she guessed -- and the house was theirs. She didn't know Ginny was awake until Ginny said "Ya wanna?"

After full light, the children returned with excited yells. Ginny was already up and dressed. They both went into the kitchen to meet the children. Margie shouted "We found treasure! Real pirate treasure!" She and Gillam held out their hands. In each palm was a very shiny silver dollar. "It was laying on the sand!" said Gillam. "There was shells and bottles and a dead turtle, and we walked and walked. And then on the way back, we found treasure." He was breathing heavily.

"We dug for a long time, but we didn't find any more" said Margie. "But look -- it's a piece of eight!"

"Mine is a doubloon" said Gillam "Because it's a later year, 1961."

Myra grinned at David, who was trying to be nonchalant. Ginny said "You know, when I was six years old, right after a storm on that very beach, I also found treasure when I went out for a walk the next morning with my daddy." Margie tugged at David's hand, saying "This daddy? This your daddy?"

"Same one" said Ginny. "He must be very lucky to go treasure-hunting with."

"Can we go back to the beach? Maybe more will wash up. Can we go swimming now?" said Margie.

"No, I need to eat some breakfast and I want to catch this amazing light. We'll take a dip in the middle of the day, when it's gotten hot again" said Ginny.

The children sat at the table with them, holding a palm of treasure in one hand and accepting morsels of food with the other. David carried the easels out to the porch and set up to paint again. After eating, Ginny joined him.

Myra looked over Gillam's bites. They were definitely healing. She put more cortisone cream on him and her. Then, with a grim mouth, she looked under the sink and found a can of ant spray. She set it on the counter and began filling a bucket with water and ammonia.

"What are you doing? Are you going to kill the ants?" said Gillam.

"I will have to kill some to get your cars back. But the goal is not anticide, no" said Myra.

She carried the bucket and a pair of barbecue tongs to the back porch. Standing in the yard, she sprayed the bottoms and sides of her sneakers heavily with the spray. Margie and Gillam came out on the steps. "You can watch from there" said Myra.

She walked warily over to the town, which had been damaged by the storm. Standing to one side and leaning over like a heron, she could see a few ants on the streets and sidewalks. She began picking up cars with the tongs and dropping them into the bucket. When she had retrieved all the toys, many dead ants floated in the bucket, but a few had gotten to the sides and were irritably crawling all over the lip and handle. She was starting to feel pissed again.

She looked all around the town for the hill, but couldn't find it. She was paranoid about getting ants on her legs, and kept glancing at her feet, shuffling them constantly. About to give up and come back into the house, she had a sudden thought. She took the tongs and fished around on the lake shore until she uncovered an edge of the plastic sheeting. Standing well to the side, she gave a heave and pulled the sheeting up, sending a flash flood into the swamplands.

"Aha!" she yelled.

"What?" said the children, standing right next to each other.

"I found the nest. They tunneled under the lake, the clever bastards. I can see the queen, and all the larva."

Ginny had come to the back door, hearing the yells.

Myra backed up several feet as soldiers poured out looking for the fiend who had unroofed their home. She called over to the back steps "Do you want me to carry you over here so you can see?"

Gillam shook his head fervently. "Just kill them" he said.

"I'm not going to do anything to them. I'll let nature take its course" said Myra.

Ginny stepped out into the yard. "No flip-flops" warned Myra. "Really, it's a war zone over here." Ginny got back on the porch.

"I want to see" said Margie. Myra walked in a circle around to the steps, made sure there were no ants on the tongs, and set them inside. Then she picked up Margie, who gripped her neck so hard Myra had to tell her to loosen up, she was choking. When Margie saw the roiling mass of ants under the lakebed, she shrieked and jerked forward. Myra had to lean back suddenly to keep them both from falling.

"Okay, I've had enough" she said. She took Margie back to the steps, where Margie began tormenting Gillam with lurid descriptions of what she'd seen. Myra took the hose and emptied out the bucket away from the house, rinsing each car thoroughly, then the bucket. She took them both into the house and washed everything with hot soapy water. She lined the cars up on the back porch ledge to dry. Margie and Gillam were swinging out front, pretending to be fairies in the storm.

She took flounder fillets out of the freezer for lunch. They were thin and would defrost fast. She sliced potatoes into wedges and put them in a pot of water to boil. After she floured the fillets, she'd put them on a baking sheet along with the cooked potatoes for a non-greasy version of fish and chips. She made more cole slaw, sliced more tomatoes, and made more tea. By this time the children had come looking for her, bored.

She cleared the table and pulled out the remaining stack of fun stuff. "Who can remember the last song in 'Mary Poppins'?" she asked.

Margie ran through several wrong guesses, while Gillam stood pulling at his lip. Finally his eyes lit up, and he looked at the items on the table. "Let's go fly a kite!" he shouted.

Myra bulls-eyed her forefinger on his nose. "Got it in one" she said. "We are going to make kites today."

She borrowed Ginny's Exacto knife to cut the lathes and showed the children how to use a piece of string, doubled, to find the center of the longer lathe on a kite's crossbraces. Once the cross was tied together, she spread out newspaper and cut out two pieces with a selvage that could be glued to the lathes. She went back to the porch and said "Gin, in the kid's art stuff that you packed, is there by chance anything brighter and thicker than watercolors?"

"There's four little cans of tempera you can mix with water." As Myra went looking for it, Ginny followed: Art supplies were her domain. She came up with sponge brushes as well. Ginny mixed the tempera while Myra stripped the children down for messy fun.

"This is your kite paper" she said, putting Margie in a chair at one end of the table, "and this is your kite paper" she told Gillam, putting him at the other end of the table. "You can each use two colors. I'll pick which colors. If you need to mix up a different color, use what you know about color combining and do it in these saucers."

Ginny could not pass this by. She went out to put her brush in linseed oil, then came back to sit with Gillam. Myra pulled up a chair beside Margie, but she needn't have bothered. The first time Margie asked a question, Ginny jumped up to show her. Finally Myra left Ginny shifting from end of the table to the other, art teacher in action, and went back to lunch preparation at the counter.

They set the kites to dry on the children's beds while everybody ate lunch. David, as always, did the dishes while Myra helped little fingers glue paper mostly to wood instead of hair and skin. She strung the kites for them and hung them up on the wall to admire. They really were beautiful. And she could have picked out which one was each child's from a mile away.

"We need to think about what to use for a tail" she said. "It's too hot and still to fly them right now; we need to wait for the late afternoon breeze. By that time, we can make tails."

Ginny said "Well, first, let's go get that dip I promised you, just enough to cool off but not long enough to get sunburn. Then a nap, and when you wake up, it will be time for kite flying."

The three of them scrambled into suits and walked across to the beach. David went back to his easel, and Myra drank another glass of lemonade, sitting on the porch. She was staring at the beach when she saw Ginny trying to run in the thick sand, carrying Gillam in her arms, Margie straggling behind her. Even from this distance, Myra could hear Gillam's screams. She dropped her glass and ran. As she got closer, she could see a livid weal across Gillam's back and a matching but smaller weal on Ginny's forearm. Margie was crying, too. Ginny gasped out "Portuguese man-of-war". Myra grabbed Gillam, who tried to push her away, screaming "Don't touch my back!" She ran with him toward the house, meeting David.

Once at the house, she realized she didn't know what to do. She turned back around. David had picked up Margie and Ginny was bent over in the front yard, catching her breath. "Ginny, I don't know how to treat this" she said frantically.

"I don't either" wheezed Ginny. "Oh my god, it hurts so bad. We have to get to a doctor."

"There's one in Jamaica Beach" said David. He gave them quick directions.

"I'll drive" said Myra. She started for the car, then realized she couldn't put Gillam with his back against a seat. She handed him to Ginny, ran in the house to grab keys, and walked Ginny and Gillam to the passenger's side, holding Gillam while Ginny got in and then handing him back to her so he could sit on her lap, facing her. He was not screaming now but was still crying in a terrible way.

"David -- stay with Margie" she said as she climbed in. Ginny was seatbelted but Gillam was not, so Myra forced herself to focus on her driving, go slow, lives were at stake. Ginny said "I was holding him at maybe waist level. I saw it at the last minute -- it wasn't even alive, just a piece of one floating in. I tried to turn away, but only made it part way. Oh, Myra, I can't stand how bad this hurts, how much it must be burning our baby's flesh."

Myra found the clinic and hopped out of the car to take Gillam from Ginny. Ginny had on her suit and nothing else. They burst into the clinic, startling an elderly man in the waiting room. The woman behind the counter looked up as Gillam's crying reached her. "Man-of-war stings" said Myra. "Please, please, can we see the doctor right away?"

The woman stood up and opened a door, motioning them into the hall. She showed them to a room and said "I'll get the doctor." Ginny sat down on the exam table and offered to take Gillam, but Myra said she'd hold him. He began shivering. "Are you cold, angel?" she asked him. The air conditioning was profound. He didn't answer. She was scared he was going into shock.

The doctor came, an older white man, thin and bald. He went to Gillam first, looking closely at the welt, then examined Ginny. He took Gillam's temperature and looked into his eyes with a light, then checked his blood pressure. "Is he in shock?" asked Myra.

"No" the doctor said. "And he's not blistering, so it's not a severe burn. What are these other marks on his back and extremities?"

"Fire ant bites. He tangled with a nest yesterday" said Ginny. "He had three doses of Benadryl yesterday but none today. He's not on any medication otherwise."

"Is he allergic to anything?"

"Not that we know of" said Myra. "No chronic illnesses, healthy as a horse. But this vacation has been rough on him."

"Where are you from?" asked the doctor, taking Ginny's temperature and blood pressure.

"Seattle" said Myra. "But I grew up in Texas -- I'm Myra, by the way, and this is Gillam, and that's Ginny -- and Ginny spent summers here as a child. That's why we're visiting here."

"He's been out in the sun a great deal" said the doctor. "Have you been putting sunscreen on him?"

"Religiously. And making him and his sister drink all the time. We know how to deal with the heat" said Ginny a little acerbically.

"Which one of you is the mother?" said the doctor.

"We both are" said Myra.

"That's not biologically possible" said the doctor, his face not at all friendly.

"I'm his biological mother, she's his adoptive mother. We have papers if you need them. We are both his legal guardians."

"We only need one parent for medical treatment" the doctor said. He clearly thought that was Ginny and Ginny alone. He addressed her: "How did he get the bluebottle sting?"

"I was holding him in the water, and it washed up on us. It was a piece of tentacle. It didn't stick" said Ginny.

"And the fire ants?"

"I'd made them a play town in the back yard with a little hole dug for a lake, so they could play with their Hot Wheels" said Myra. "The fire ants moved in overnight and he didn't know to run from them. We don't have fire ants in Seattle. They got me, too, when I ran to get him away from them." She lifted up her arm. She felt defensive, perverted, disregarded as a parent. She knew it was the wrong thing to feel in this situation, but she couldn't help it.

He still didn't look at her. "I'm going to write you a scrip for liquid Benadryl but don't use it unless he's having a clearly allergic reaction. Do you know how to recognize severe allergic reactions?"

Ginny nodded.

"If he exhibits any signs, call EMS, there's a beach unit at this number. I'm also going to give you some anesthetic spray to numb the area of injury. Don't dress the injury, don't rub it, don't clean it with alcohol. You can apply ice as tolerated. If he runs a fever or shows any signs of distress, come back here or to an emergency facility. Same for you." He handed Ginny sheets of paper and added "Try to watch him more closely."

Myra was trembling with a mix of feelings. She tried to just focus on the relief that Gillam seemed to be okay, or going to be okay. The doctor said "I'll get you a sample of the spray to apply right now until you can get to a pharmacy." He walked out of the room.

Ginny looked at Myra. Myra could tell she was furious. But they kept their cool and followed the doctor out into the hall. He was talking to the woman at reception, then turned and went into another room that looked like a tiny lab.

Myra said "My wallet -- it's in the car." She went outside, took a breath of the hot air, and got her wallet out of the car. Back at the desk, she fished out her insurance card. "I'm not sure we carry this insurance plan" said the woman disapprovingly.

"It's Blue Cross Blue Shield" said Myra. "How could not you carry that one?"

"And it would only cover the members of a family. Not...other people." She didn't look up at Myra. The doctor had talked to her then. Myra felt like leaning over and breathing into the woman's mouth, then saying "You're right, it's contagious and now you're going to crave pussy." Instead, she opened up her bill compartment. "I'll pay cash. You do take cash here, don't you?" She made sure the woman saw how many hundred dollar bills were lodged in her wallet as she paid. Then she thought As if that matters.

As the woman wrote out Myra's receipt, she insisted on a local address, saying it was office policy. Myra wasn't going to give it to her, but at Myra's pause, Ginny reeled off the number of the beach road. Ginny looked stretched to the limit. Myra walked protectively beside Ginny out to the car. Once inside, the heat was enough to stop Gillam's shivering. He was still snuffling, though. They sprayed the anesthetic on his back and then Ginny's arm. After a few seconds, Ginny said "Thank god. It's gone numb."

Myra left the AC off and the windows down, so her passengers in wet swimsuits could dry off. She found the pharmacy and ran in to fill the prescriptions. They had no problem with her insurance card. She guessed the gossip hadn't reached them yet.

When she got back to the car, Gillam had dozed off. She faced Ginny and said "My god, Gin. This has been brutal on him. I know the man-of-war was not your fault, absolutely not -- but is there something I'm doing wrong? Is there some way we're being bad parents?"

"That motherfucker got to you, I can tell" said Ginny.

"Well, I'm not the real mother, I have to work twice as hard". Myra was trying to joke, but it didn't come out that way.

"Let's go home. We're fine, we're just taking some risks. Let's deal with this later. I need to check in on Margie and Dad."

Myra drove them carefully home. Margie ran to her and jumped into her arms, which made Myra feel guilty all over again. They went into the kitchen and filled David in, talking around the unpleasantness with the doctor because of the children listening, but he pieced it together. His eyes flashed just like Ginny's. He turned to Myra. "Would you like to file suit against them for failing to accept your insurance? I'd be happy to take the case."

It actually got her to laugh. "Tempting. But no. I will call my insurance company when I get home, though, and lodge a complaint."

"Can we go fly kites now?" asked Margie.

"No" said Myra. "Gillam is hurt. We'll have to wait until he feels like running, because running is part of kite-flying."

"The fact is" said Ginny "It's time for naps. You and Gillam both need to lie down. And I do, too."

"Can we take a nap with you?" said Margie.

Ginny looked at Myra, who nodded. "Sure. We'll spread a quilt over the top so you sand crabs don't fill our bed with beach."

Myra helped get them settled, with ice packs for the welts and glasses of ice water nearby. She closed the bedroom door and went back to the front porch. She was completely drained. David sat down in a chair next to her and said "Whatever happened to us throughout the ages, they never denied our parenthood just because we were Jewish. It's a vile thing, what you have to face. I'm so sorry."

Myra felt like crying, but was too tired. "Bless you, David Bates. Thank god you've been here with us." Her voice trailed off. In a minute, she was asleep, her head lolled against the back of the chair.

David patted her arm lightly, then went back to painting. After half an hour, Myra woke up with the disturbing impression that she had just been snoring loudly. She looked around, but David had his back to her. She sat forward, cleared her head, and said "I think I'm going to run into town. We're low on some kinds of produce, but also a few things from the regular grocery store. Need anything?"

He turned around and laughed. "I've never been better fed in my life, and that's saying something, with my mother and Helen's cooking. No, I'm in good shape. If they wake up while you're gone, I'll tell them where you are."

Before Myra left, she stripped the beds on the sleeping porch, added towels to make a full load, and washed them in town. When she got back, the noise made carrying in her load from the car with David got Ginny up. "Look!" Myra said, "Five pounds of shrimp that this morning were living blamelessly in the Gulf. And a yellow-meated watermelon!"

"I see you got more marshmallows" said Ginny.

"Yeah, well, those are for all of us" said Myra. Ginny gave her a sweet kiss.

"How's your arm?" Myra said, looking closely at Ginny's welt.

"My elbow and wrist are aching, which he said they might. But the burning sensation is not bad enough to use the spray, at least for me. I'm going to keep putting it on Gillam, though. He's avoiding movement, says it hurts. That close to his spine, I bet any joint transference is really painful."

"So, quiet play today. Okay, I have something in mind."

Myra cooked the shrimp and drained them to chill for dinner. She had bought a big jar of cocktail sauce because she didn't really know how to make shrimp cocktail. She'd found crowder peas and long green beans at another farmstand, so she cooked those in separate pots, adding chopped Vidalias and lots of butter to the crowders. With that out of the way, she told Margie and Gillam "We need the floor of your room for something, so we have to pick up everything that's in the way." With endless direction, they helped her pick up laundry, put away toys on shelves, and finally set luggage onto stripped beds.

When the room was clear, Myra swept the concrete floor of the sleeping porch. Ginny was making cornbread, saying her arm joints were too stiff to paint or draw. When Myra asked her, Ginny went and got the sidewalk chalks from the childrens' art case. Myra dumped them all into a plastic bowl.

Myra retrieved the Hot Wheels from the back porch ledge and put them in a basket, setting it on Gillam's bed. She took a piece of chalk and drew a line down the middle of the room. Margie and Gillam were watching intently. "Now this half here" Myra said "is Cherry Tree Lane, and that half is Crystal Lake. You can use the chalk to draw your towns on the floor, roads, rivers, rails, trees, anything you can think of. There are only two rules -- are you listening, don't touch the chalk yet -- two rules: One, when you are done with a piece of chalk, put it back in the bowl as you get the next color you want; and two, no drawing anywhere except on the floor in your own city. You got that, mayors?" She made them repeat the rules back, then handed over the bowl of chalk.

"That will keep them busy for days" said Ginny.

"I'm hoping it will entice Gillam to move enough to keep from stiffening up, but at his own pace" said Myra.

David was standing in the front doorway. "How did you get these skills? This ability to keep children endlessly engaged in wonderful things?" he asked.

"I had a little brother" said Myra "and a mother who was overwhelmed, and no money for toys, really."

"Plus that one-of-a-kind imagination of yours" added Ginny.

"Not one-of-a-kind" retorted Myra, ruffling Ginny's hair. "Not in this room."

David said "Helen warned me that I was going to be driven mad by small children, that you'd use me as a baby-sitter and I wouldn't get any painting at all done. Which would have been fine with me. These children are a blessing I don't know if I deserve. But the fact is, I've gotten more painting time in than when I'm home with her."

"Myra's the best" said Ginny, pulling her into a hug. "We both breathe art, one form or another."

They heard Gillam saying "There's already sun coming in the window, you're not supposed to draw on the walls."

"Margie!" called out Ginny. "Floors only."

There was an unaudible phrase from the sleeping porch. Gillam crawled strategically down to the other end of his allotment to work on a mountainscape with elves and vampirates. David went back to the porch.

Myra pulled out the stack of postcards they'd bought in Galveston and sat down to write friends. After a few minutes fighting the urge to barge into the sleeping porch and grab chalk for herself, Ginny joined Myra. The late afternoon sun crept in through the back door. The children's voices were murmurs of narration. Sometimes Myra could hear the Tejano a-ha-ha of laughing gulls from the beach. When the cornbread got done, Ginny cut them each a slice, buttered and drizzled with honey, and put the plate on the table with two glasses of cold milk.

"I'm writing Helen a card" said Myra. "Good -- will you let me sign it, too?" said Ginny.

"Coward" whispered Myra. "But okay -- let's get the kids to put their scrawls on it, too."

Ginny kept whispering. "We should help them write a card to Daddy. About how much they've loved being here with him. We could mail it tomorrow, so maybe it would be waiting on him when he got back."

"Oh, fabulous" Ginny went to the sleeping porch, put her finger up to her lips, and got the children quietly into the kitchen. They dictated what they wanted to say, because their fingers were coated with chalk and Gillam's ability to form letters generally required volumes of space. But they did sign their names to the cards for their grandparents plus ones to Hannah, Allie, Chris and Sima, with much giggling and penetrating whispers.

When the kids went back to their towns, Myra sat there clicking her pen in and out for a bit. Ginny gathered up the postcards and stamped them, then stashed them in her pack. Looking at Myra speculatively, she pulled a small notebook out of her pack and set it on the table in front of Myra. Myra glanced up at her, then grinned and opened the notebook. "Primed the pump, didn't you?" said Ginny. Myra just nodded; she was already writing the first lines of a poem.

As Myra wrote at the table, Ginny made another batch of ice cream using strawberries from the farmstand. She did all the cranking herself, sitting on the floor out of the reach of the sun, going slow. It ached but she could feel her arm limbering up. She kept drinking water to flush the venom out of her tissues. When the ice cream was done, she spooned it into a plastic container and stored it in the freezer. The children were so preoccupied, they had missed the entire operation. Ice cream would be a total surprise tonight.

After dinner, Gillam said he didn't want to go to the beach. Ginny and Myra looked at each other. "I'm kinda off nighttime dips myself" said Ginny. "But, you know, back on the horse and all...I'll take them in the morning."

"I'll help" said David.

(Twirling in front of the curtain, photo by Liza Cowan, © 2007)

"Okay, then let's set the fans to blow out the house and we'll have some fun here" said Myra. She reached into the back of the refrigerator, behind a watermelon, and pulled out a six-pack of bottles of root beer. "We're in Texas. How's about we re-live some old-time Texas herstory?"

Margie cheered. Myra retrieved a bag from her room that she'd squirreled away after her shopping trip earlier. Setting it on the table, she slapped the wood and said in a hearty, thick Texas accent "This here is the bar of the famous Long Branch Saloon. I'm going to name off the cast of characters, and when you hear one you wanna be, just holler out. First is the owner of the Long Branch, Miss Kitty. She's a hooker with a heart of gold; she keeps her saloon in apple pie order, handling the rowdies and the scarlet ladies with a firm but good-natured hand, and everybody who's within riding distance hitches their cayoose outside the Long Branch. Now, who wants to be Miss Kitty?"

Gillam's arm shot up in the air. Margie, slower on the uptake, also raised her hand. Myra paused, then said "All, right, you my good fellow, you win the coveted Miss Kitty role. Here's your costume." She handed Gillam a hair comb with a feather in it, a gaudy garter, and a dishtowel. It took four doublings of the garter to get it to stay on his upper arm. The comb had to be stuck in the crown of his head to find hair thick enough to hold it. Myra got five small juice glasses from the cupboard and lined them up in front of Gillam. "You stand behind the bar and wipe down glasses in between serving your customers shots of whatever floats their boat." She opened two of the bottles of root beer and set them beside the glasses.

"Do I get to have root beer?" asked Gillam.

"Miss Kitty, you can drink anybody in the place under the table. But never drink alone, always in company." Gillam wasn't sure this was a yes, she could tell. She nodded at him.

"Now, the next player in this here horse opera is Sheriff Matt Dillon, fastest draw this side of the Mississippi, at least so far. He's a good man, our Sheriff, and don't go looking for trouble but trouble still seems to find him." Margie's hand was waving in the air. "All rightee then, we have our Sheriff. Here's your tin badge and your cowpoke hat." Myra helped Margie get into a plastic wide-brimmed hat decorated with daisies.

"Where's my six-gun?" said Margie. Ginny looked dismayed -- where did she pick up these things?

"Right here, pardner" said Myra, shaping her hand into a gun and holding it out to Margie. Margie put her hands on Myra's, then pulled her right hand away in a gun shape. "Now holster that, Sheriff Dillon, no use flaunting it." Margie stuck her hand into an imaginary holster.

"Sheriff Dillon has a deputy, a crusty, slightly goofy feller with a limp named Chester. Who wants to be Chester?" Ginny raised her hand. Myra gave her a straw hat and said "You don't get a star because there's only one real sheriff in town. You sit down at the main part of the bar with Mr. Dillon." Margie beamed.

"Every old West town on its way up needed a resident sawbones, and Dodge City is no exception" continued Myra. Ginny whispered to the children "Sawbones is a doctor".

"Our local bone-setter, teeth-puller, and bullet-fisher-outer is called Doc. He sure spends a lot of time at the Long Branch. Folks must be mighty healthy in these parts."

David raised his hand, laughing. Myra handed him a toy stethoscope, saying "Here's a newfangled thingamabob from Kansas City, fer listenin' to an hombre's dying heartbeats. Belly on up to the end of the bar here, Doc."

"And what are you, a dance hall girl?" said Ginny hopefully.

"Nope, I'm just passin' through, reprising a role I first began at the tender age of six." Myra slapped a hat on her own head and stuck a toothpick between her teeth. "I'm Jake the Gunslinger, and I'm up to noooo good."

She walked out onto the front porch, waited a minute, then strode back in slamming the screen door all the way to the wall with a loud whack. Both children jumped, their eyes huge. Myra stalked slowly over to the table, pulled up a chair to the bar facing backward, sat down on it with a swagger, and slammed her hand down onto the table. The children jumped again. Sheriff Dillon's six gun was clearly forgotten.

"I'm parched" she said in a horrible growl. "Gimme a shotta red-eye!" She slapped a nickel onto the table.

Gillam was frozen, staring at Myra, not even looking at the nickel. David leaned over and prompted him "You need to pour Jake some red-eye. Yes, root beer. Just a shot, less than half a glass. That's it. Now you can take the nickel." Gillam stuffed the nickel into his shorts pocket. Margie was about to protest, when Myra slung her head back, drained the glass, and slammed it back onto the table. She shook her head and said "Brrrr! Now, that's some good red-eye! Gimme another one, Miss Kitty." She shoved another nickel onto the table.

As David continued coaching Gillam "No, you don't take the payment until you've served the drink, otherwise you might get shot", Ginny was trying to help out Marshall Dillon. In a loony voice which drew the stares of both children, she said to Jake "You're new to these parts, aintcha, stranger?"

Jake growled at her "What's it to you?"

"Just bein' friendly" said Chester. "My name is Chester, I'm the Deputy here to Marshall Matt Dillon."

Marshall Dillon tried to hide behind Chester at this point. Jake roared "Sheriff, eh? I ain't askeered of no Sheriff. I'm Jake the Gunslinger. I've just rode in from Tombstone, and nobody better mess with me."

Miss Kitty served drinks all round after Doc gave her a quarter. Marshall Dillon was having a visibly hard time with all the silver flowing Miss Kitty's direction. Chester whispered in his ear for a while as Jake kept downing shots of red-eye. Finally the Marshall spoke up: "We don't allow nobody but the Sheriff to wear a piece -- that's a gun, right? -- wear a piece here in Dodge City. I'm afraid you're gonna have to turn over your gun to me." Finally getting in her role, Margie tried to sling root beer into her mouth but instead drenched her neck. Chester borrowed Miss Kitty's rag to wipe her down.

Jake stood up from the table in a single motion, sending his chair crashing backward onto the floor, as he roared at the Marshall. Marshall Dillon went pale. "If you want my gun, you'll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands!" Jake snarled, his hand hovering over his hip.

To everybody's shock, Miss Kitty's voice cut through this confrontation. "Now, Jake, that's not nice. You pick up that chair and sit down. You need to use your indoor voice in my saloon, this is a nice place." When they looked at Gillam, he had his hand pulled and aimed on Jake.

"Yee-haw!" said Doc, "Miss Kitty's armed!"

Jake struggled mightily to not collapse in laughter. He slowly laid his gun down in front of Miss Kitty, who hid it under the table. Doc bought everybody another round. Chester said to the Marshall, "Way to go, Mr. Dillon. I guess he knew his goose was cooked when he came into Dodge City, with you being the law here an' all. I hear there's a reward out on Jake the Gunslinger. I believe it's this much." Ginny pulled some change out of her pocket and set it in front of Margie. Vindicated, the Marshall pocketed his reward and drank some more red-eye.

After a while, they switched roles around. Whatever role Myra was, she managed to coax rootbeery-kisses on her cheek from Margie and Gillam, using lines that always made David laugh. When all six bottles were empty, they closed the bar and went out on the porch to sing in the night.

At bedtime, Myra and David sat with sleeping children as Ginny put clean sheets on their beds. They lay Gillam on his stomach -- "He used to sleep that way as a baby, remember?" said Myra -- and sprayed his bare back one last time. It was early by vacation standards, but the adults opted to go on to bed as well. Ginny had already bathed earlier so went into the bedroom while Myra rinsed off. When Myra came to bed, Ginny had her toiletries bag beside her.

"Myra -- you remember yesterday when I asked Daddy to come get that stuff from my bag?"

Myra nodded. Ginny's expression was highly embarrassed.

"Well, take a look at what was right next to the Benadryl."

In two ziplock bags at the bottom of the bag was a single and a double dildo. Myra fell back on the bed, trying to muffle her guffaws. "I didn't notice any reaction from him, did you?" asked Ginny.

"No, but we were both really busy at the time" said Myra. "Oh, this is rich, this really is."

Ginny lifted the dildos out of the bag. "Funny that we haven't used these yet. It's not for lack of opportunity."

"Well, we're inventive and, y'know, if we have the time and energy, I always prefer to get my face in it. I know as well as you do, the hole ain't where the nerve endings are" said Myra.

Ginny grinned at her with half-closed eyes. "I love it when you go all Cynthia Ozick on me, girlfriend." She began pulling the double dildo out of its ziplock. She said "This looks like about your size, Miss Kitty." She handed it and some Astroglide to Myra.

Myra got up to turn off the light. Ginny whispered in the dark "I don't want to rub the back of my arm against the sheets, I guess I just hold my arm up?"

"Or lie on your stomach. Lift your hips."

"Oh, yes" whispered Ginny.

A few hours later, in the dead of night, a small group of coyotes gave voice very close to the house -- Myra thought as close as the shed. At the end of the first howl, she and Ginny heard Margie's cry, then Gillam's, but before they could get up, they heard David's reassurances begin. Then, astoundingly, he began to howl, too. After a second, Myra joined him, yipping into a long croon. Ginny threw back her throat and added a third harmony. They could hear peals of laughter from the sleeping porch, then Gillam and Margie began howling as well.

The real coyotes went completely mute. "I think we maybe offended them" said Ginny.

"No telling what profanity or dementedness we're saying in coyote" agreed Myra. After a while, the children stopped howling. Then David's voice came drifting through, singing something Yiddish.

"What is that? I know that song, I think" said Myra.

Ginny was giggling. "It's Zog Nit Keynmol!" she cried.

"The Warsaw resistance fighters' song?"

"Yes, and a more bizarre choice I can't imagine. It's not a lullaby" said Ginny.

"I kinda get it" said Myra. "I mean, what are coyotes doing when they bay at the moon except saying 'We are here'?"

They went back to sleep as David sang.

In the morning Ginny got up early to take the children for a swim. She came right back into the bedroom, however, grabbing the camera from their dresser and waking Myra with "You have got to see this. But be quiet." Myra followed Ginny on tiptoe to the door of the sleeping porch. David was sleeping face down on his narrow bed, his left hip extending out into thin air. Margie was sleeping on his bed next to him on his right, sprawled and taking more than her share of leg room. Gillam was face down on David's back, his knee making a dent in David's ass and his open mouth dripping drool onto David's T-shirt shoulder. Ginny took a couple of photos, then rousted the children out of bed. She told David he could sleep in; he looked like he needed it. Since Myra was up, she helped with breakfast, then pulled on her suit and walked with them over to the beach.

The four of them walked along the foamy edge of surf for a while, looking for signs of menace in the water. Ginny showed them how to dig for tiny pink bivalves that stuck a frilly foot up in the shallowest water, sifting for scraps. Myra gave a little lesson on water-bird beak function. Finally, Ginny picked up Margie and Myra held Gillam at chest level while they all waded in.

Gillam's body was tense as iron, his thighs and hands clenched onto Myra. When she was at waist level, she sloshed over to Ginny and kissed her and Margie. Gillam bestowed kisses as well. Then Myra backed up a foot or two and used the heel of her hand to splash Ginny vigorously. Margie squealed and said "Splash her back, Mama!" A rousing water fight followed, and Gillam forgot about scanning the depths for monsters in favor of cheering Myra on. She didn't put him down into the water -- she didn't really want to submerge his back -- but when they got back to thigh-high for him, she set him down and they walked along the shore in the water, talking about the Karankawa and Jean Lafitte. The worst was over.

Back at the house, David was just getting out of the tub. Ginny made him some fruit salad and eggs. Myra took inventory of their food stock and said "Today is 'eat everything left' today."

"Why?" asked Margie.

"Because, and it pains me greatly to have to tell you, tomorrow is when we go home" replied Myra.

"No!" Margie shouted, and Gillam echoed her.

"I know. We need to make sure we come back here soon. This afternoon we'll have our kite-flying, and tonight on the beach we'll roast weinies, since we have these two packages of Hebrew Nationals. We'll go out with a bang."

"I think I can finish my painting by noon" said David. "I hope to get mine done today, too" said Ginny. They walked out to the porch together.

Myra sent the kids in to play for a while in their town, but Margie immediately wailed "Granddad dripped water on my river!"

Myra walked in there laughing. "Pretty silly, you crying about your river being wet" she said. Margie had to giggle. "It will dry, leaving some interesting wave marks" predicted Myra.

She began walking around the house, packing what would not be needed today or tomorrow. The children had one good set of clothes left for the plane; everything else they owned was encrusted with rime and sand. She packed them into a trash bag before putting it in a suitcase.

She boiled the last of the potatoes and tossed them with butter and parsley, leaving them on the stove for lunch. She made a final coleslaw while baking orange roughy in a coating of crushed cornflakes. They had the yellow-meated melon as well for lunch. Dinner would be hotdogs in the last of the french rolls, a rare treat of tortilla chips, stuffed tomatoes, and of course marshmallows. That left two eggs, a canteloupe, and a box of cereal for a quick breakfast. She boiled the eggs and deviled them; Ginny would eat them this afternoon while painting if Myra hand-fed them to her. She turned off the oven, leaving the roughy on the stovetop to cool, and washed her face at the kitchen sink. She went out to sit on the porch a minute. Ginny was whistling almost inaudibly between her teeth. She always hummed or whistled on the final stretch of a painting.

Myra was about to close her eyes and catch forty winks when she heard the crunch of tires on sand. A white car with red and blue lights, labeled Constable, pulled from the access road into their driveway. Myra stood up on high alert. She said to Ginny "I'll handle this. You stay here, near the children." Her voice was absolute. Myra walked out toward the cop car, putting on a big, quizzical smile and shielding her eyes with one hand in a way that she knew looked friendly.

The man climbing out of the car was wearing mirror sunglasses and a wrinkled grey uniform stretched over big belly, just like every movie depiction of small-town fuzz. He had on a gun and a Stetson. Myra stopped a few feet away and said "Morning, officer. Something we can do for you?"

He identified himself as Constable Womack and asked her name. She told him, and was going to turn and name those on the porch but realized David was right at her elbow. Despite his baggy Bermuda shorts and paint-stained T-shirt, David suddenly looked extremely professional and formidable. He stuck out his hand and introduced himself, saying he was Myra's father-in-law. He pointed to Ginny and said "That's my daughter Virginia."

The constable clearly hadn't heard there was a man on the premises. He looked at David and said "I'm here because I understand you have a child, a boy, who's encountered some suspicious injuries. By law I'm required to follow up on reports of possible child endangerment."

Myra sealed her rage deep, away from all access, in an instant. She forced Womack to look back at her by saying, in broad Texas tones, "That's my son, constable, Gillam. He's in the house playing with his sister. Obviously you must have spoken with the doctor we rushed him to yesterday when he was stung by a man-of-war while swimming in his mother's arms."

The mention of another mother, deliberate on Myra's part, did not elicit any surprise or confusion from the sheriff. So that was it. She heard Margie's voice on the porch, asking who that was. Without looking, she knew Ginny would have both of them in her arms.

David said "Have there been formal charges filed? If so, I'm should let you know I'm an attorney for the City of Denver and I'll be assuming defense of my daughters, advising them to not say another word."

Not just a man, but a lawyer. The constable didn't like this at all. His intimidation visit was not going as planned. He cleared his throat and said no, he was just looking into it.

Myra took the flank again, smiling genially and saying "Listen, I know you're doing your job. Ginny over there is an elementary school teacher" -- verb tense could be fudged at this moment -- "and I myself have spent my entire adult life looking out for the rights of children. So I appreciate you not just letting this slide. But as you can see, these children are fine and extremely happy. What exactly do you need from us to resolve this issue?" There are times when you go for the jugular, but this wasn't one of them.

Myra couldn't see Womack's eyes but she could follow the direction of his gaze as he did a sweep: The big new SUV in the driveway; the paintings on easels; Ginny with children clinging to her; David's Rolex on his wrist; back to Myra with her surprising Texan accent. Finally he said "I think I can shelve this for the time being. When are you folks leaving?"

"Day after tomorrow" said Myra. Give them a day's leeway; in case he wanted to come back, they'd be gone by noon tomorrow.

David pulled out his wallet and extracted one of his cards from it, handing it to Womack. Myra saw the glint of gold embossing. She also saw David turn over a second card and jot a number on the back -- Womack's badge number. He did it unobtrusively, but not furtively. Womack's mouth tightened even more.

"Well, you folks take care" he said. "Have a good trip back." He climbed back into his car with a creak of leather and backed slowly out, then drove away. Myra didn't move until she saw, through the inland sedge, the flicker of his car far on down the beach road heading back to town.

She turned to David. "God love you, David Bates" she said. That was all she could manage. She strode to the porch, touching Ginny briefly on her arm as she walked by, and went through the kitchen to her bedroom. She shut the door firmly behind her and then leaned against it as the shaking hit. She realized she had to get off her feet, so she lay face down on her bed. She fought hard not to pass out.

After a minute, she heard the click of a door latch over the roaring in her ears. Ginny sat down on the bed beside her. "I know you're not okay, but I'm not sure what all is wrong" Ginny said quietly.

Another infusion of adrenaline allowed Myra to sit up. "He came out here to threaten us" she said, at first in a normal voice. "To threaten me and you, and our children. I can fucking well GUARANTEE you that this county is riddled with kids who are living with alcoholics, molesters, men who beat them like rugs, kids who are so fucked up every single person in town wonders if they are going to live to grow up, and that COCKSUCKING SONOFABITCH just looks the OTHER GODDAMNED WAY because nobody wants to interfere with how boys run things. But that FUCKER OF A DOCTOR says there's two LESBIANS with children and somebody better do something about it -- not about Gillam, but about US BEING DYKES WITH KIDS! I am going to DRIVE INTO TOWN AND RIP HIS BALLS OFF WITH ONE TWIST AND SHOVE THEM UP HIS WORMY ASS WITH A BARBECUE FORK!" She was screaming so loud the blood in her eyes was pounding. She stood up, walked over to the pine paneling and kicked it as hard as she could.

Ginny got up and looked out the bedroom door. She shut it again, saying "Daddy's taken the kids to the beach."

"I'm telling you, Ginny Bates, if we had been in a trailer instead of a house, if we hadn't been driving a $35,000 car, if one of us GOD FUCKING FORBID had not been white, if I didn't know how to talk bubba and if David hadn't pulled out his dick and legally pissed on that MOTHERFUCKER'S STORMBOOTS, we'd be in his shitass car riding to the station right now. I can't stand it, Ginny. I can't stand not being a real mother, I can't stand the threat of losing another child. Not these two, not my babies. I can't live without them..." The tears finally came. She threw herself back down on the bed, screaming into a pillow.

Ginny lay down half on her, holding her and saying "You will never lose these children, I won't ever let that happen. I'm not Astrid, I'll never take your child away."

"But they might. Or what if you die? You can't promise your family won't take them away from me."

"We have all kinds of legal papers to stop that. And I can promise you Daddy would never do that. Mother maybe, but never Daddy, and he wouldn't let her."

Myra was still crying and shaking her head. "You don't know, you don't know that for sure. Nobody can say for sure, and it's me that has to live with the fear. Oh, god" she said, sitting up so suddenly she pushed Ginny off of her. She ran for the bathroom and hunched over the sink. Ginny followed, putting down the toilet seat and sitting on it.

"Go ahead and throw up, angel, if you need to" Ginny said.

"No" choked Myra, fighting heaves. After a long minute, she was successful at swallowing it down. Ginny wet a washcloth and tenderly washed Myra's face.

"I'm so glad to hear what it is you're dealing with, my love. I didn't know how bad it is. You do nothing but make sure this family is healthy and happy and intact, and underneath you're living on a fault line. We have to fix this, Myra. We can't leave you with this fear."

Myra turned and crumpled into Ginny's arms, crying anew. "We have to get you out from under this fear" Ginny kept murmuring. "We'll fix it, I've got your back, we'll do it together." Myra cried until she felt almost dehydrated. Ginny washed her face again and walked Myra into the kitchen, pouring her a glass of cold tea. She sat down on the edge of the table and pulled Myra's face into her belly.

"My god, but you were amazing. You and Daddy both, you double-teamed like pros. But you, in particular -- I never felt so protected in my life."

Myra grinned up at her weakly. "My granddad was a small town cop, did you know that?"

"Ah, well, comes the dawn." Ginny kissed her forehead, then a chuckle escaped from her.

"Up his wormy ass with a barbecue fork?" she repeated. Myra let out a whoop, and they both began laughing hysterically. They were still laughing when David and the children returned. Myra stood up and gave him a giant hug, then grabbed Gillam and Margie, squeezing them to her.

"Granddaddy said that man was not Marshall Dillon" said Margie.

"He most definitely was not" said Myra. "He was Unterfuhrer Tinymeat."

David choked, and Ginny said "Oh, for shit's sake, Myra, she's going to repeat that forever."

"Language" said Gillam.

"Point taken and appreciated. But -- merde, Myra!"

"Can we fly kites now?" said Margie. She and Gillam looked fine. David must really know how to reach them.

"No, we still need to wait for the late afternoon breeze. Is anybody hungry? Lunch is ready."

David and the children went to wash their hands. Myra was going to serve but Ginny ordered her to just sit and drink her tea, she'd done all the cooking. They laughed more at lunch than they had the whole trip. Ginny let Myra feed her eggs with her bare fingers. Afterward, Myra stripped down to a T-shirt and crawled into her bed with the fan on and a child on either side. They slept two hours, and she woke up with their smell on her skin.

"Let's go see how the painters are" she said, pulling on her shorts. When they streamed onto the porch, David and Ginny were sitting on the ledge, looking out at the yard. The canvases were lined up facing the wall. "Hey -- are you done?" said Myra.

David stood up and bowed, then said "May I present: Ever Tide." He pointed to his painting.

It was Margie and Gillam, running in the edge of the surf, brown and glossy-haired, laughing with their heads thrown back. Around each neck they wore real gold doubloons. They were running toward the morning sun on the left horizon. The colors were saturating, and the likenesses of the children were overwhelming. Myra sat down heavily on the ledge next to Ginny. Margie and Gillam rushed the painting. "Hey, it's me!" said Margie.

"And me, too" said Gillam. He turned to Ginny: "Zayde can paint as good as you!"

David was delighted. "That, my precious Gillam, is the highest compliment you can pay me." He turned to Myra and Ginny. "Since we only have one wet carrier, I'm sending this home with you. To remember this week forever."

Ginny protested, but David insisted. Ginny's eyes were full of tears. He stood beside her and whispered something, Myra couldn't hear what.

After a long viewing, Ginny finally stood up, rubbed her hands together, and turned her easel around.

The scene was of a large truck garden beside an old unpainted farmhouse, much like this one, on a coastal plain. Standing up from picking beans was a woman in a long skirt and long-sleeved shirt. You could tell she was short; her hips were wide, and her hands had thick knuckles. She had on a bonnet of faded chintz. The shirt was grey, and the skirt was a brown wool herringbone, a pattern that didn't look American. Her eyes were a smoky blue, and she was staring off at an angle to something or someone approaching. Her face was lined and bronzed, but even so, the anticipation in her eyes was staggeringly beautiful. One hand had relaxed, dropping a few beans onto the ground. Her other hand held a battered pail half-full of beans.

Every grain of earth in the garden, every shadow under leaves, every worn spot on the wool skirt, was vivid and seemed to stand up off the canvas. The colors were endless variations on brown, grey and white, except for the beans whose deep green almost crunched. It was the best thing Ginny had ever done, Myra was sure of that. David had buried his face in his hands. "Is this Rosa?" asked Myra. Ginny nodded. Myra bent down to the children and said "That's Zayde's Mama. She's your great-grandmama."

"I'm naming it 'Home'" said Ginny. She took David's hand and held it until he could look back up at the painting.

Myra jollied the children around the corner of the house to have one last go at the doodlebugs. Nearby, at the corner under an eave, she found a cluster of daddy longlegs and made the entire colony shiver in waves by banging gently on the drainpipe. They they walked out behind the shed to see if they could find any coyote sign. Gillam, of course, said he saw a line of tracks somehow on thick dunegrass and then Margie said she did, too.

They went in the back door and Myra pulled the kites off the wall. "We still need tails" she said, looking around the kitchen. Ginny and David were at the table. Ginny stood up and said "Use this, it's not worth saving." She pulled off the old T-shirt she had been wearing all week to paint in instead of her usual naked artist style. It was soaked through with sweat, and a mosaic of bright smears. Where had all these colors been in that painting, wondered Myra.

While Ginny went into the bathroom to wash and put on a new shirt, Myra pulled some rusty scissors from a kitchen drawer and cut up the shirt. She saved one sleeve, tucking it into her jeans: Some olfactory accretions were too special to be thrown away. She showed the children how to tie bows and make long dangling ballasts for each kite. Then she rolled each ball of twine onto a stick from the yard. They all headed for the beach.

Once in the sand, Myra realized her toes were hurting from kicking the wall. Ginny took the job of running the first kite while Myra balanced Gillam on her shoulders and he held his kite up above his head. When it jerked into the air, he screamed with excitement and almost fell off Myra. She lowered him down and he raced to Ginny. She encircled him in her arms, put the stick of twine into his small hands, and sat down on the sand to anchor him. He reeled the kite out so far, it was jerking his arms straight. Ginny took the twine, looped it around him twice, and gave him the stick again. David came over to relieve her so she and Myra could help Margie get her kite launched.

The children never tired of the feel of the wind, far above their heads, trying to pull them aloft. Myra showed them how to make a kite dip and dance. The sun began to set, and brown pelicans began flying west to roost for the night. David and Ginny went back to the house and returned laden with dinner, paper plates, a ground blanket, and a jar of icy lemonade. Myra hobbled around and collected firewood while Ginny helped the children stakes their kites to a big piece of driftwood away from where their evening's blaze would be.

After dinner, Margie meticulously counted out an equal share of marshmallows for everybody and they built the fire up higher than it had ever been. Even so, it had gotten too dark to see the kites. Every so often, one of the children would walk over and make sure the string was still taut. They sang and shared what poems or poetry scraps they could remember. Children moved from lap to lap, showing no signs of sleepiness.

Myra finally said to Ginny "What do we do about the kites? Will they last overnight, do you think?"

"I doubt it. I should think moisture rising from the water will eventually either weigh them down too much or cause them to disintegrate under the force of the wind." Ginny turned to the children. "Do you want to pull your kites in and leave them here for the next people in the cottage? Do you want to see if they are able to fly all night without getting too wet and crashing? Or would you like to cut them loose and let the wind have them?"

Margie argued against all of these choices, insisting she could find a way to fit the kite into her duffle and take it home. After a while, though, Gillam said "The wind wants mine; it's been asking all night. I want to give him to the wind." At which point, Margie decided that was what she wanted, too.

They walked over to the anchored kites and blew a kiss up each string, saying goodbye to the kites. Then Gillam took David's wickedly sharp pocketknife carefully in his hand -- Ginny had to close her eyes for a moment -- and snicked the string. It was gone in a flash. Gillam dropped the knife, thankfully not on his bare toes, and burst into tears. As Ginny comforted him, Myra held her hand loosely over Margie's as she released her kite, too. Margie cheered, raising her arms and almost stabbing Myra in the face with the blade. Ginny gasped, and David retrieved his knife, shaking his head.

The children were up this time to help pour sand on the fire. Then they all straggled back to the house. Myra put them to bed, telling a story about two footloose kites looking for adventure. Ginny and David began packing up art supplies and anything else still lying around. The adults gathered eventually on the porch to talk quietly and soak in one last drench of peace.

That night in bed, after bathing and drying each other, Myra went right to sleep. Ginny spooned her from behind, unwilling for a long time to let go of how good it felt just to have this woman all to herself. Myra rolled over to face her at one point -- this bed was very small for the two of them -- and kissed her without waking up, murmuring "Ginny Bates". Ginny finally slept after that.

They hit the morning at a breakneck pace. Myra fed the children while Ginny scrubbed down the kitchen. David swept the front and back porches while Ginny bathed and dressed the children. Myra scrubbed down the bathroom while David stripped the beds and bundled the linens on the back porch. Ginny emptied the refrigerator of perishables while Myra swept the sleeping porch and David began hauling things to the car. Margie and Gillam were told to swing and stay out of the dirt. Ginny swept the rest of the house while Myra mopped away the children's towns from the sleeping porch floor. David did a final walk-through and lock-up, arriving at the front porch with the Hot Wheels cars in a plastic bag. "You left these on the shelves" he said. They took one last group picture, balancing the camera on a porch chair, and then got slowly into the car.

"Can we come back every, every year?" said Margie. She or Gillam had already asked this a dozen times and been told yes every time.

"At least every year" said Ginny. "Maybe more often. Autumn?" she asked Myra.

"I'd love to" Myra said, starting the car. Ginny looked at David and he said "I'll try."

As they drove along the short stretch of dirt access road that led to the blacktop, an older blue Ford pickup missing its front bumper pulled onto the road heading their way. Myra scooted over to let it pass, and as she slowed down, the pickup stopped. The driver was a pudgy man around her age with long greasy hair the color her mother had always called dishwater blonde. He grinned at her and she rolled her window down. He was missing one right molar and one left bicuspid. "Howdy -- er yew Myra ar Ginny?" he said.

"I'm Myra" she answered. He said, "Ah'm Harm, nice to meecha."

This was the guy who rented the cottage out. She'd talked with him on the phone once, and wasn't sure if his name was Hiram, pronounced Harm in Texas, or maybe it was really was Harm, possibly short for something like Harmon. In person, she still couldn't tell. "Hi, Harm" she said. "We're just heading out."

"Well, Ah wanted to catcha and make sure everthang was okay fer yall outcheer."

"It was glorious, Harm" she replied. "That is one sweet farmhouse."

"It wuz mah Meemaw's" he said. "Mah mom growed up in it, too. When Meemaw died, she left it to me, god bless her, but ah already had uh place in town so Ah began rentin' it out."

Harm had turned off his engine. Myra followed suit.

"We left the keys where you said to. There are two new coolers on the back porch" she said. "And there's some tuna steaks we just couldn't get to in the freezer, for whoever's next in the house."

Harm grinned widely. "Well, that'll be me. Ah do love tuna, much obliged."

Myra was beginning to love this guy. He reminded her of her little brother.

"I gotta question for you, Harm. When I lived in Texas, years ago, we never had to deal with fire ants -- "

Harm interrupted her, distressed. "Did them little fuckers git into th' house? Pardon mah French."

Margie and Gillam said in unison from the back seat "Lang--" but Ginny turned swiftly and began explaining in a low voice that "Pardon my French" was Texas for "Point taken and appreciated." Myra tried to ignore this as she said "No, they didn't, and that's my question. We tangled with some out beyond the shed, but I don't understand why, as old and often empty as that place is, they haven't busted into the house."

Harm grinned again. "I pay Orkin a shitload to go out there ever month and spray the hell outta the foundation. That house is just flat on the goddamned ground, no pier and beam or nothin, so I tell my Orkin guy to use any fuckin' thang he's got. Used to be, all we had to worry about was termites, but far ants, them sonsabitches are Satan on six legs."

Myra could feel palpable waves of distress coming from the back seat. She had no idea how Ginny was keeping them silent.

"Well, I for one appreciate it. We'll be back as often as we can make it and you can let us have it. Oh, by the way, we built a couple of rope swings in the liveoaks out front."

Harm's grin was even wider. "Yeah, I heard you did. Thing is, ever summer somebody puts swings in them trees, they just cry out fer a swing. But over the winter they allus rot away. So they'll make the summer folks happy as a pig in shit."

The only person who'd been out at the house the whole time was Womack. If Harm knew about the swings...Before Myra could figure out how to proceed, Harm said "I hear tell you had a visit from the law." His grin was altered in a way that Myra couldn't quite decipher. It didn't raise her hackles, though.

He looked out his front windshield for a moment, then back at her. "That pissant doctor -- me and Gary drive all th'way to Galveston just so we don't have to use him. Gar says folks who cain't stop worrying about what other folks might be doing in bed are just showing the world how fucking bad their own sex lives are."

Well, fuck me running, thought Myra. Her grin now exactly matched Harm's. He went on "I hear yore kids are awful cute." He craned his neck up for a look, but the tinted windows of the SUV thwarted him.

"They are" said Myra. "They're the most beautiful children in the world."

"Me and Gar, we don't have any kids but mah sister's got a slew of 'em and they just about live at our place. Some of 'em are around the age of yours. Next time you're here, gimme a call and we'll have a fish fry, let 'em all run around the beach together."

Myra opened her door and got out. She walked over to Harm and stuck out her hand. "I will definitely do that, Harm" she said, shaking his hand. "It's a fucking honor to meet you."

His hand was calloused but the nails were clean.

"Same back atcha. Well, you all have a safe drive" he said, starting his pickup. Myra got back in and started her engine too.

"Say hey to Gary for us" she said.

He grinned. "Will do."

He eased off down the road toward the farmhouse.

As Myra put the SUV in gear, Gillam burst out with "That man sure said a lot of French."

"That man was one of us, my boy" said Myra. She turned to Ginny. "Did you catch all that?"

"I did" said Ginny. "That'll teach me to make assumptions."

"And it explains what happened" said Myra.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, a small town can absorb a couple of resident queers, especially if they are born and raised there, as Harm was and probably his Gar. But here we come in, staying at his place, not at all ashamed about who we are, and clearly breeding to boot -- well, it threw the nasty little self-righteous balance off kilter. Two fags and two dykes -- that was a critical mass, something had to be done."

As Ginny's face showed comprehension, Margie began one of her tuneless slow ditties that she made up as she went along:
"Two fags and two dykes
Had two bags and two bikes
They all went to the ocean
And sang show some emotion
Pieces of eight were on the beach
The ice cream was strawberry and peach
They howled with the coyotes...."

She trailed off, clearly unable to come up with a rhyme for coyotes. Myra saw David's look of concentration in the rearview mirror. She bet he was trying to come up with a rhyme for her. She wondered if, like her, he had considered "peyote" but had to throw it out as inappropriate.

Ginny took Myra's hand as they picked up speed on the blacktop. Gillam said "Zayde, what are we going to do about all them critters who are coming here and hurting people?"

Myra felt a thrill at the pronunciation of "critters" but also a wrinkle of worry at the xenophobic tone of the question. David said "You mean the fire ants?"

"Yes, and that thing in the water, Mama said it was Porgitese."

"Portugese man-of-war, yes." David chuckled. "Well, animals tend to live their lives and don't really want to hurt us, we just get in their way."

Gillam wasn't buying it. He still had pockmarks to prove otherwise. Ginny jumped in.

"One big difference between animals and people is that people, deep down, want to cooperate and be with each other. The only people who hurt other people are those who've been hurt really badly themselves and don't know how else to show it. It's possible to find a way to help them get better, so they don't hurt anyone else. But with animals, well, wild animals, it's not possible to get them to change. They don't want to change."

"Well, that's just stupid" said Margie. Myra wasn't sure which part she was referring to.

"So I think the answer to your question, Gillam" said David "is that we try to understand animals' limitations, stay out of their way as best we can, and if we get hurt by them, well, you can be mad about that."

"It's not nice to bite" said Gillam in an aggrieved tone.

"Every human culture on earth would agree with you, Gillam" said David solemnly.

"Can we stop at that store and buy more beach toys?" said Margie.

"No, we have to get on a plane and we don't have room for them. That's why we left your floats and stuff back at the house."

"What if somebody takes them while we're gone?"

"They almost surely will. But that's okay. We'll buy more when we come back. You can get different colors this time" said Ginny.

"I don't want different colors, I want exactly the same ones I had" said Margie. Both the kids were cranky. Goodbyes were hard.

When they got to Gaido's, Gillam said "I want a hamburger." Margie said "Me, too." Before Ginny could argue with them, David behind his menu said "You know, a ribeye sounds good."

Myra was thinking she need an infusion of Texas beef herself, but didn't say anything out loud yet because of Ginny's crestfallen face. When they ordered, Ginny said she couldn't decide between the oyster platter or the stuffed snapper; she waved Myra to go on ahead. Myra ordered a filet mignon and then added the oyster platter. Ginny looked around the menu at her. "You don't like oysters" she said. Myra grinned at her. Ginny folded up her menu and said happily "The snapper, then, for me."

Both children were restless. As soon as Margie had eaten enough to mollify Ginny, she slid one thigh off her chair and said "Can we go look at the pier? At that window over there?"

Myra said "Sure, both of you may." Gillam started to push off. "That will give me chance to eat my dessert." The children froze in place.

Myra asked David confidentially, "What do you think is the best dessert here?" He replied "You can't go wrong with the chocolate bread pudding. In fact, I'll share one with somebody, it's a big bowl."

Ginny said "I'll split one with you." Gillam, resting his chin on the edge of the table, said earnestly to Myra, "Would you like to split one with me, Mama?"

Myra didn't meet his eyes. "You know, Gillam, I think I want one all to myself. I guess you need to find someone else to share with you."

Gillam's head tilted violently sideways as Margie gave his shoulder a shove. He wheeled on her, doubling up his fist in fury, but she said "No!" and cupped her hand to whisper in his ear. He turned again to Myra and said "How about if me and Margie share one?"

Myra looked at him skeptically. "I don't know, buddy, sounds like that's a lot of sugar and chocolate. Are you sure you two can handle it?" Both heads were bobbing up and down. "Okay, drink some more water and we'll get the wait person back over here."

After lunch, Ginny took the children into the bathroom to potty and wash chocolate off their faces. Myra and David stood at the pier, looking out toward the horizon. He said "I don't know if Ginny told you, but we always visit the family plot right before we leave each year."

"She did. I'm a Southern girl, I wouldn't miss the chance to visit a graveyard.... Oh, hell, David, I didn't mean for that to come out so macabre."

He was laughing. When they went to the car, Myra offered to sit in back with the sugar bunnies. She had trouble buckling Gillam into his child's seat, he was so squirmy.

David reminded Ginny as she pulled onto Seawall Boulevard "If you go north as far as J Street, it's a main boulevard. Take that to 41st and come back a block to K, it's faster."

As they entered the Hebrew section, Myra explained to the children "This is where we bury our dead people when they don't need their bodies any more."

Gillam looked highly dubious. How could he not need his body any more?

"We make it beautiful, like an outdoor church, and so we need to use indoor voices even though it's outside. And we don't walk over a grave, just like we don't walk over someone's bed, because a grave is like someone's place to sleep."

Margie's voice had a thickening horror in it. "There are dead people sleeping under the ground? Right over there?"

Shit. "No, the spirits of all dead people are with god. But we are here to respect their memory, so we speak quietly as if they were asleep."

As David and Ginny reached the graves, they both pulled pebbles out of their pockets and placed them on the graves. Myra hadn't seem them pick anything up; she decided they had brought pebbles from the beach.

"Why are they putting rocks there?" asked Margie.

"It's a way of saying 'I came here to remember you' to the dead person's spirit. It's also a way of showing to others that someone has been here, that this person is not forgotten." said Myra. "That headstone in front of David, that's for his brother Sam who died in World War II. And the headstone by Ginny is for her bubbe Rosa, who was David's mama."

"The one in the painting?" asked Gillam.


"I can't read all of what it says" complained Margie.

"Some of the words are in Hebrew. You read Hebrew from right to left, instead of left to right."

David turned around and motioned the children over. He hunkered down and spelled out the letters for them, then let them trace the chiseled letters with their fingertips. He put his arms around both of the children and said it was time to pray. They closed their eyes as he swayed a little and spoke in Hebrew. Myra walked over to Ginny, whose eyes were closed but leaking tears. She held Ginny from behind lightly.

After a few minutes, David and Ginny exchanged places. Margie walked over to the two graves nearest Rosa, standing well away from any walking-on-the-dead-zone. She said "Some of those Hebrew words is the same as on Bubbe Rosa's headstone." David knelt down by her again and said "Show me." When she pointed them out, he said "This means 'Pay nun' which means 'Here is buried'. And that is the name Cohen, which was Rosa's name when she was a little girl before she married Ze'ev Bates. These are her parents, Louis and Lena Cohen, my zayde and bubbe. Cohen is one of the oldest names in Judaism. You come from the Cohanim, you and Gillam. It is a very good thing to be from the Cohanim." He looked up at Ginny. "You should put them in Hebrew school. I think they could read it in no time."

Ginny looked at Myra, who nodded. David watched this with an expression Myra couldn't translate.

He pushed himself back erect and came to stand by Myra. After a pause, he said "I want to tell know you are these children's mother to exactly the same degree as my daughter is. I will never doubt it, I will never allow anyone else to doubt it, I will never change in that belief no matter what circumstances may change."

Myra didn't want to need this reassurance, not from a man, not from Ginny's father, not from anyone. She wasn't sure what to say.

David continued "I loved my mother as much as any child has ever loved his mother. I can't imagine her being better to me. But I can imagine, if I had had two mothers such as my grandchildren have, it would have been even better."

Gillam and Margie had gone over to hold Ginny's hands. They were listening, though they weren't looking at David.

"My mother...I know she was afraid that Ze'ev would come and take me and Sam away. She walked a tightrope until we were grown. And the fifties, if a couple divorced, the father almost never got custody of his children."

Ginny reacted to that, her body stiffening slightly.

David continued. "I know it's not the same, I'm not arrogant enough to equate it with what you are going through. What you both must face, in your own way. But I do have some understanding. And I will fight for you, with everything I have. This next generation -- it's going to be different for them."

Myra had begun crying, in spite of herself. She looked at Rosa's and Sam's graves, side by side, and thought of her mother and her little brother, also side by side.

Ginny said to Gillam and Margie "Let's go find pebbles for you to put on our family's graves, shall we?" They walked off down the path.

David said "I had no idea Ginny could be so happy. I've never seen her this happy, day in and day out. And her painting -- do you know how good she really is? She's a genius, that's not just a father's pride saying that."

Myra said "I know."

"She says you are a brilliant writer as well, and I believe her. I...I cannot thank you enough for giving me this week with you all, especially your amazing children."

Myra didn't think before she said "We want more. Ginny wants more."

He looked suddenly defensive. "What do you want?"

"We want you in the children's lives, as much as we can get. That's one thing. Helen -- I don't know if she will ever change or budge. Alcoholics usually don't until they decide it for themselves." She noticed he flinched at the bald word, alcoholic. "But we don't want to wait on her. We will come back to Denver to visit you, and we'll have these vacations at the coast, but it would be even better if you came to our house, our city, where the children are growing up, and inserted yourself into their lives. Even causes trouble with Helen. I'm asking you to stand up for Ginny, and our children. You're not going to lose Ginny, you haven't lost her yet. But she needs you to consider...change in her direction. Our direction. I don't mean to sound ungrateful. I'm just kinda blunt."

He laughed. "You certainly are. And I like it...I think." He laughed again.

Ginny and the children returned. "Look, Mama, I found one with a ring around it!" shouted Margie. Myra put a finger to her lips, and Margie looked around her in embarrassment. Myra bent over and looked at the rock, which was tan on one side, a lovely maroon on the other, with a greenish ring separating the two. "This is really special, Margie. When I was growing up, we called this kind of rock a fairy stone."

Gillam unfurled his palm to reveal a thick piece of deep blue glass which had been tumbled in the surf until it was rounded and smooth. Myra thought it might have begun existence as a milk of magnesia bottle. "Mine's blue" he breathed.

"Oh, Gillam, that is so beautiful!" she marveled. Ginny walked them to Rosa's grave, where they gave up their pebbles, a trifle reluctantly.

As they walked back to the car, David said quietly to Myra "You got it." Not "I'll try". She grinned a dazzling grin and kissed him on his cheek.

In Houston, they returned the SUV and scrambled for their gate. They were flying together as far as DFW, where David would catch a leg to Denver and the rest would board a separate flight to Seattle. Ginny and David sat next to each other in the row ahead of Myra and the children. When they finally had to part, in the massive warren of DFW, everybody cried. Leaving David at his gate felt brutal. He looked suddenly old and a little frail. And carrying two crying childen, along with three packs and the wet carrier, added to their abrupt sense of much less resource.

On the plane, in first class, Myra sat with Margie on one side of the aisle and Ginny on the other with Gillam. Ginny said to Myra "You know, the dinner they give us will have some kind of dessert as well."

"Well, sh--scheisse" said Myra. "They just got calmed down."

"Vacation" grinned Ginny. "Maybe their blood sugar will plummet and they'll go to sleep."

"I know what scheisse is" said Margie. Myra looked at her in resignation. "We have some in the case at Montessori. It's a kind of rock that you can peel shiny flecks off of if teacher isn't watching."

"I need to potty" announced Gillam. Ginny unbuckled him and hustled him to the toilet; they were almost ready for take-off.

Ginny and Myra both gave their chocolate chip cookies to the children at dinner. This double load lead to near tears, then sudden slumber. Myra felt only partly guilty. She whispered to Ginny "Yours is easier to move without waking up." Ginny stood, got Gillam into her arms while Myra slid over to his window seat, and got him settled in against next to Margie. She covered them with blankets and sat down with a big sigh full against Myra's side. After a couple of kisses which no doubt violently upset the salesmen behind them, Ginny said "Spill. What did you and Daddy say to each other at the cemetery?"

"You have to promise not to blow a gasket."

"I won't make that promise, you know me better than that."

But when Myra told her, Ginny simply melted, laying her head on Myra's shoulder and saying "They tell you not to wait for rescue, but sometimes it does come along, you know." Myra put a pillow against the window so she could lean full on it, pulled Ginny likewise full against her, and they slept.

The cool, damp air of Seattle was completely disconcerting. They caught a shuttle and rode the crowded rush hour freeway in near silence. At one point, Margie said "The sky here is blue and the grass is green, but in Texas the sky is white and the grass is silver." Gillam replied knowingly "Force field."

But home looked like home. The children tumbled in the front door screaming Hannah's name and almost falling over a frenzied Juju. Allie appeared from Myra's study, and Myra grabbed her in a bear hug. Gillam began trying to open his suitcase so he could show the doubloon to Hannah, and Ginny said "Nuh-uh. All bags out onto the deck, where anything in them will be de-sanded before tracking it into the house." Hannah helped the children carry their bags to the deck.

Allie said "Did you get a good rest?"

Myra said "Yes. And no. Gillam got attacked twice by venomous wildlife, we ate every kind of seafood we could find, Ginny's father kept her company in Painterland, and the local lawman tried to run us in for being lesbian mothers."

Allie was completely alarmed. "Are you okay? Is Gillam okay?" She stared out the window at him on the deck.

"Come into the back and we'll tell all" said Myra. Gillam ran in through the sliding door with his doubloon. "Look, Allie, it's pirate treasure!" She examined it appreciatively, then looked him over much more closely. "You look kinda rough, boyfriend" she said, fingering the pocks on his arms, running her hand through his sunstreaked and dried-out hair. He turned around and pulled up his shirt: "That's where the octopus got me" he said.

Allie was horrified. "No, no, not an octopus, Gillam, a man-of-war" laughed Ginny. Which did little to reassure Allie. Ginny was setting up a second easel in her studio and saying "You missed it, Allie. Myra channeled good-old-boy and Daddy did Jew lawyer, and between them that constable had to slink away with his tail between his legs." Margie and Hannah had come back in by this time, and Margie jumped in: "His name was Unterfuhrer Tinymeat. I was Marshall Dillon, and Gillam was Miss Kitty."

After a moment's stunned silence, Allie and Hannah both lost it. "Start at the beginning" begged Allie.

"First, the art" said Ginny. "This is Daddy's." She placed David's painting on an easel. Hannah and Allie both crowded in for a look. "Oh, wow -- please tell me you get to keep this" said Allie.

"We do, but I'm going to make as good a print of it as I can and send it to him. Maybe one for Cathy, too. He should have this in his office."

"That's me" said Gillam.

"I can see that's you" said Hannah. "You look beautiful."

Myra picked up Alice, who had finally sidled in and was allowing Myra to apologize for her desertion.

"Show them Bubbe Rosa" said Margie. "We put rocks on her grave" she told Allie and Hannah "but Gillam's wasn't a real rock."

"It was too!" he flashed. "You -- you FIRE ANT!"

Hannah placed herself between them. Myra thought maybe they should give Hannah a raise right now, instead of waiting till the end of the year.

Ginny pulled her painting out of the carrier and set it on her easel. Allie didn't say a word, but felt for the daybed edge and sat down on it suddenly. "Yeah, I know" Myra said to her.

After a minute, Allie said "Ginny, you need another exhibition. A big one. It's past time. Call your contacts and get it started."

Ginny looked both exultant and a little frightened. "...Okay" she said.

After another minute, Myra said "Let's make tea, sit down and tell everything from the beginning, like Allie asked."

"Did the kids eat?" asked Hannah.

"Yes, on the plane, and way too much sugar today. But if they want something else healthy, that's fine. They need to be scoured down before they get into bed. Except Gillam's back -- don't rub the welt, even though it's almost gone."

"A pentacle stung me" he told Hannah. "It burned like lava, and Mama had to put icing on me to make it stop hurting." He and Margie started upstairs with Hannah. Myra put on the kettle, with Ginny and Allie sitting down at the dining table.

"Denver?" said Allie.

"Denver doesn't count" said Ginny. "It begins with landing in Texas..."

(Black skimmer)
Copyright 2007 by Maggie Jochild

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