Thursday, December 6, 2007

MORE FROM GINNY BATES: PAINTERLAND

(Roumanian Blouse Version 2, painted on glass by Liza Matisse, copyright Liza Cowan)

The following is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. If you are already a familiar reader, begin below. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, third time down, to get caught up.

June 1986 -- Right after Myra and Ginny have become a couple

When they had to turn over Ginny's house to the contractor, they took Juju and Ginny's easel to Myra's flat and set up housekeeping there. Myra shoved her living room chairs into the hall and lay down a dropcloth over the entire corner of the room next to the windows. Ginny pulled the curtains off the windows and declared it acceptable light. Myra's cat Alice spent every minute silently, relentlessly stalking Juju, who became so unnerved that she had to be carried from room to room like a child. If she wasn't in their laps or beside them on a piece of furniture, she shivered like she had the ague and moaned almost inaudibly. She had to be fed sitting in a chair with her bowl on the table, or else she could not relax enough to eat.

"This looks grim" said Myra.

"Give it time" said Ginny.

The second day in her flat, Myra woke up to find Juju curled beside her where Ginny should be. It was early dawn. She thought Ginny must be in the bathroom, but after a few minutes with no return, she went looking for her. Ginny was standing, stark naked, in front of the living room windows staring at a blank canvas she must have stretched that morning, because it was a different shape than any of those they had carried over. She had a paintbrush clenched between her teeth. Between the scowl her lips were forced into as a result and her fierce concentration on the canvas, she looked a bit terrifying.


"Ginny?" Myra got only a "Mmmm" in return.

"Are you up for the day?" She had to repeat this to get a nod from Ginny.

"Well, I'm going back to bed. Let me know when you want to eat breakfast."

But it was Juju who eventually got Myra up, not Ginny. She carried Juju to the back door, watched her pee, then toted her into the kitchen. Looking around the corner in the living room, she saw Ginny, still naked but now with daubs of paint on her chest and hips, leaning in to apply strokes onto the canvas.

"Hey!" Myra said. No reply. She put Juju on a chair, walked back to the bedroom, got an oversized T-shirt and went to the living room, holding it out to Ginny. Ginny finally looked up at her, confused.

"You're putting on a show for the neighbors. Slip into this."

Ginny looked around for a place to lie down her brush. Myra took it from her and held it while she pulled the shirt on over her head. There was a fine sheen of sweat on her face.

"Jeez, Gin, are you hot? I don't even have the furnace on. Are you running a fever?"

Ginny took the brush back and said, "I get this way. I get hot when I paint."

Her gaze returned to the canvas and she reached for her palette, lying on top of some of Myra's books.

"Can I look at what you're doing?"

Ginny shook her head vigorously. "Not until I'm done." She met Myra's eyes for a moment. "Really -- don't ever look until I'm done."

"Okay, I promise."

Ginny made a visible effort to say a few words. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. When the picture comes, I just can't think about anything else. I have to do this until I can't any more. It's like a tap gets turned on."

"I can relate. I'm that way with a poem. It's just that a poem doesn't last as long as a painting, I imagine."

But Ginny had already reached out with her brush and returned to Painterland.

Myra put some kibble in a bowl for Juju and set it before her at the table. Alice was top of the refrigerator, watching like a vulture. Myra made a couple of omelets and set one on a plate with a croissant, but Ginny shook her head at the offer.

Myra ate both omelets, got dressed, and drove over to Ginny's house to see how things were going. She was not sure Ginny had heard her goodbye. Juju acted like a new dog out on the street, friskily bounding home. "Ah, my friend, things are never as simple as they seem" Myra told her.

Ginny stayed in Painterland for the next two days. Myra would try to coax her to eat meals, have a chat, focus her vision on something further than two feet away, but Ginny barely took the time to say no. Myra brought out a fresh T-shirt every day and insisted Ginny change into it. Within an hour of putting it on, there would be wet half-moons on the shirt under her breasts and armpits.

She was not bathing, although she did use the toilet at least once a day. Myra took to following her into the bathroom, where she could get a hug and a few words out of Ginny as she sat on the john. Then Ginny would scrub her face, drink voluminously from the tap, and walk rapidly back to the easel. At night she would crawl in beside Myra long after Myra was asleep, and for a couple of hours her body cooled down as she curled into Myra and slept hard enough to snore. But she would be up again before first light.

Myra spent a lot of time watching the construction, walking Juju in the park, or sitting at a cafe to write. She would rather write at home, but she was feeling a little sorry for herself and did not want to seem like she was just waiting for Ginny to pay attention to her. Finally, on the evening of the second day, she stayed home, turned on her Selectric, and began some rewrites. By the time she went to bed, she felt balanced again, an artist in her own right.

The third morning, when Myra got up she found Ginny just standing in front of the easel, her arms crossed. No brush, and no paint mixed on the palette.

"Are you done?" asked Myra.

"No, I'm stuck. I can't get your hands right."

Myra was stopped in her tracks. There were many parts of that sentence to pursue. Finally she said, "You're painting me?"

"No peeking."

"I told you I wouldn't. I'm making breakfast, want some?"

"Hell yes." Myra scrambled eggs with cheese and made homefries while Ginny made four slices of toast and squeezed juice. At the last minute, Ginny got a melon from the crisper, scooped out the seeds, and drizzled yogurt on each half.

She ate like a fieldhand. She took three of the slices of toast and, after she had polished off the melon, she pointed at Myra's half slice of toast left and said, "You want that?"

"In fact, I do" said Myra.

Ginny stood up and opened the cupboard. "Oatmeal!" she declared. "Want some, I make awesome oatmeal."

"No, I'm good" replied Myra. She fed Juju a bit of her eggs.

Ginny set a pan of water on to boil, then went back to the cupboard. "You got any molass---aha, medjool dates! Okay if I eat these?"

"All my dates are yours" said Myra.

"Good one" pronounced Ginny.

"Do you always do this? Famine, then feast?" asked Myra. "I mean, I doubt it's good for you."

"Yeah, I simply can't stand to hold a fork when I've got a brush in my hand. I've tried things like setting an alarm to ring every so often, but I just turn it off without noticing."

"Are you dehydrated?"

"I think so. I have a headache. But it'll go away. Listen, I got a call from the designer, we have to pick out the flooring for my studio. It has to be some kind of linoleumy stuff, 'cause of the paint clean-up issue, but turns out there's some stain-resistant artificial thing that looks like stone and is truly beautiful. I want you to help me figure out which kind will go best right up next to the cherry parquet you want for your study. After brex, let's go to the store and pick it out. They have to order it today."

"Not much notice."

"Well, they called a few days ago but I forgot."

"Okay. I've been over there, Ginny, it's looking good."

"And we should go right after we finish eating, because my blood sugar is gonna crash and then I'll have to sleep for a big chunk of the day."

"Is that usual, too?"

"Yeah. And I'm still not done with this one, so when I wake up, maybe I'll know what to do with your hands -- shut up, you know what I mean -- and can finish it."

Myra pushed back from the table to go get dressed.

"But here's what's not usual. Before we go to sleep?" She grinned wickedly at Myra. "I am RAVENOUS, and this time I don't mean food."

Myra began hurrying.


1987

Whenever Myra was standing talking with someone she knew and Ginny came to join her, Ginny would stand with one hip behind Myra's hip, her leg pressing against Myra's all the way to the floor, where Ginny would place her foot at an angle behind Myra's heel, providing a backstop. They would both be facing the person they were conversing with, but Ginny's maneuver linked her and Myra together energetically in a way that seemed to be welcoming rather than intimidating to their conversational partner. In addition, Myra always had that sensation of someone covering her back. She began imitating the Ginny back-up, as she thought of it, doing it for Ginny at times, and found it was just as comforting in reverse.


The day of the Ginny's gallery opening in February, they had a very late lunch together. Ginny had been up until all hours the night before, hanging her work with Allie. Myra had sat in the long, narrow gallery, leaned against a wall out of the way, and written scraps of poetry, mostly just listening to the almost stream of consciousness narrative coming from Ginny as she focused on every detail.

Ginny had had trouble sleeping when they got home. After lunch, she and Myra dressed up in their finery. Ginny put on a blue-green satin suit with wide, sweeping pants and a toreador jacket. Her full cheeks were deep, almost plummy red, with excitement. They picked up Allie on the way and got to the gallery by 4:00. The opening was scheduled to begin at 5:00.

Myra was relegated to sitting and watching again, this time on a chair, as Ginny worried about everything she could as many times as she could. Allie followed her around, murmuring and nodding. Two young women were setting out platters of cheese and bottles of wine -- Ginny had insisted on a large stock of non-alcoholic beverages but could not persuade the gallery owner to forego wine altogether.

Sima and Chris arrived at 4:30, and shortly after that, Pat and Patty. Surrounded by her friends, Ginny suddenly looked for Myra and found her in the corner, watching. She came and pulled her by the hand into the bathroom.

"Okay, I know I've been ignoring you, but now is when I need you" said Ginny. Myra couldn't stop grinning like an idiot at how beautiful Ginny was.

"Tell me what to do" said Myra.

"You are my rock, my shadow, my best buddy tonight" said Ginny. "If I get weird, find a way to put me back on track. Make me stop and notice how much fun this is. Don't let me freak out about anything, the time for freaking out is over. Is that okay to ask of you?"

"You bet your Alice B. Toklas" said Myra, kissing her.

"You and I both know that my being a painter, and being able to do this show, is now because of your support. You are what's turned my engine over. This is me and you together, tonight. Even if I can't make it two-way until we get home."

"When we get home?" began Myra."

"Yes?"

"I'm pulling those satin pants off you with my teeth" she finished.

Ginny gave a peal of laughter and said "Now I'm distracted!"

They went back into the gallery and people were arriving. Ginny gave Myra one last kiss and walked forward to her public.

After a while, Myra gave up trying to literally shadow Ginny. She was being pulled from cluster to cluster -- a lot of people showed up, especially lesbians -- and she clearly didn't need Myra standing behind her.

Myra chatted with their friends a bit, then took some photos with the new camera. At 6:00, she was going back for a particularly tasty kind of soft cheese when she saw Jules Lefkowitz come in the front door with two women who were equally slinky, expensively dressed, and bored-looking. Myra searched for Ginny and found her in an animated clot of people facing away from the door. She couldn't get close to Ginny at the moment. Instead, she walked over to Chris and Sima and edged in between them, linking her arms through both of theirs.

"Jules Lefkowitz is here with those Siamese cats from Lady and the Tramp" she murmured.

Sima remembered that Jules was Ginny's ex, but Chris had to be reminded. She looked around casually and reported that they were all getting wine.

"Why the hell is she here?" hissed Myra.

"Go find out" said Sima. Myra replied "I can't make a scene."

"I'm not saying go punch her lights out, I'm saying go introduce yourself and ask them, politely, what brings them here" said Sima, her greeny-grey eyes bolder than ever.

"Huh" said Myra. She let go of their arms and turned to where Jules and her companions had begun making a circuit of the gallery. Two other people had come in behind them and were also standing in front of the same painting. Myra waited for these two people to move on before approaching Jules. She could hear Jules' languid voice over their shoulders.

"Now this one clearly shows the undue influence Kahlo has on her. She always believed Kahlo's mental instability was some kind of artistic vision instead of just an obvious cry for help. I could never get her to give up that romantic notion."

One of Jules' companions said "Did she ever go to a real art school, or study under somebody serious?"

"No, she's more of a primitive. Although it was entertaining, I have to say, to watch her paint. I'd stand behind her watching her work -- she had this affectation that she would only paint in the nude, if you can imagine -- and I'd try to point out flaws in her technique. She was grateful for my help, I'll give her that."

Myra couldn't hear anything after that. Ginny let Jules watch her paint? Let Jules stand behind her and tell her what she was doing wrong? When the group in front of the canvas drifted on to the next, Myra was left momentarily marooned. After a minute, she noticed she was standing frozen with a ring of clear space around her, and managed to take one step, then another. She headed for the door and started down the sidewalk. She could find a cab at the corner, maybe.

Allie's voice cut through the twilight and stopped her. "Where are you going?" said Allie, catching up with her.

"Home" said Myra.

"What the fuck?" said Allie. Myra faced her and told her what she had just overheard.

"That fucking prick!" said Allie. "Why the hell are you listening to what she says? You oughtta be going in there and tossing her out on her ass. If she really did harass Ginny like that, well, now you know why Ginny took charge of her painting space. You need to be in there when Ginny sees her, Myra. Stop being a victim because some upper-class girl got to do something you didn't."

Ginny had gone to the entrance area to get a program for someone she was talking with, and saw Allie and Myra on the sidewalk, Allie speaking forcefully with a furious expression on her face. She saw Myra seem to wake up as if from a daze, grip Allie's hand for a second, then walk back toward the door. She went to the door to greet Myra.

"What were you doing outside? Is something wrong?"

"No" said Myra, putting her arm around Ginny's waist. "Listen, Jules Lefkowitz is here, and she's being an asshole. Do you want me to escort her out of here?"

Ginny stiffened. "Asshole how?"

"I'll tell you later. It won't affect your show, I promise, it's just her and her rude friends. What do you want from me?"

Ginny put her arm through Myra's. "Stick to me from here on out."

"My pleasure."

As they turned and faced the length of the gallery, Ginny caught sight of Jules, halfway down the wall now. As she watched her for a moment, Allie moved in behind Jules and, casually, violated the American standard of proximity by standing just a fraction too close to her. When Jules became aware of it, she started to turn and say something, then caught a glimpe of Allie's face and turned back around. In the next few moments, Chris appeared on the other side of Jules, tall and broad, doing the same subtle invasion of territory that Allie had started. Ginny began giggling. So did Myra, she clearly had seen the same thing.

"Our friends" murmured Myra.

"Your friends, and now mine too" said Ginny.

As Chris and Allie maintained their remora dance on Jules, Ginny walked to the other end of the gallery where the owner was motioning to her. The owner introduced her to an arts columnist for the local paper. Ginny's face was incandescent as the columnist began asking her questions. She kept Myra's arm firmly pinned next to her body, and talked with charm and ease. Her answers were fascinating even to Myra, who knew most of what she had to say -- Ginny was definitely on a roll. The columnist was making a lot of notes, then finally said "And this -- is this your -- partner?"

Myra introduced herself and Ginny said "This is the love of my life, and the backbone of my art." Ginny was facing the columnist, away from the eddy of people coming up the back wall toward the last paintings. She didn't see that Jules and her friends, feeling herded by Allie and Chris, were within earshot behind her.

The columnist asked Myra what it was like to share her life with a painter. Myra grinned happily and said "It's the best thing that ever happened to me. Anybody who's not a moron can recognize Ginny has true genius, and the only intelligent response to that is to support it as best you can and keep your mitts off her process. She fulfills me in every way I can name, and her art is going to do that for the world as well."

Ginny leaned over and kissed her, a rather brazen kiss. The columnist smiled to herself, then asked another question. Jules walked a little stiffly toward the door, and her friends followed. Allie and Chris watched them leave, gave each other a handshake, then joined Myra and Ginny.

Myra's quote made it into the review, which was highly favorable. Ginny sold several of her paintings -- though not Self-Portrait with Madrone or Myra With Hands On Fire, which she had labeled as not for sale. She made a xerox of her first check and framed it for Myra's study, next to a photo Allie took of Myra kissing her in that satin suit.


A few days later, Ginny came home from errands with a drycleaning bag in her hand.

"What's that?" asked Myra. "We never do drycleaning."

"The suit I wore to the opening -- it was sweaty and, well, had other stains on it" grinned Ginny. "You went ape over it, so I wanted it in usable condition."

"It wasn't the suit" protested Myra, "it was how you looked in it."

Ginny looked a little puzzled. "But that's all there is to clothes, how you look in them. Aside from keeping you warm, I mean."

"But it was about your body, not the covering" insisted Myra. "I don't care about clothes, I don't much notice. Clothes are certainly not linked to my erotic sense."

"You mean if I wore dresses, you wouldn't care?" laughed Ginny.

"Yeah, I'd care, because they're garments designed to indicate our sexual availability to men and help reinforce our powerlessness. Which is why I don't find them attractive."

"Neither do I, but it's because I don't like wearing them, I don't like how they feel. It's personal. But there are clothes that turn me on, Myra, and I simply have a hard time believing you don't feel the same."

"Well, believe it, sister. I've worked through all that crap" said Myra.

Ginny didn't respond. She went into the bedroom to put away the suit. She was gone for a few minutes, and Myra went into her study. She was sitting at her desk when Ginny walked by, going to her studio.

"Hey -- hang on, lemme see what you've got on" called out Myra. Ginny stepped back around the corner and leaned against the wall, her arms folded. She was wearing faded button-fly jeans with lace-up army boots on her feet. Her undershirt was a black men's muscle type; over it she wore one of Myra's white men's dress shirts with the sleeves rolled up past her elbow, tucked into the jeans loosely, with the top four buttons open so the undershirt showed clearly.

"What's that for?" asked Myra, staring at her.

"This? These are just comfortable, functional clothes. I know we're going over to Allie's in a while to watch Cagney and Lacey, and I thought I'd dress casually." Ginny straightened up and headed back into her studio.

Myra sat at her desk for a minute, her hands gripping the arms of her chair. Finally she pushed herself up and walked around the corner. Ginny was lying propped up on one elbow on the daybed, grinning.

"Okay, I get that you're trying to make a point" said Myra. "You never dress in standard dyke androgeny, so it's just gotten my interest because it's different than usual, that's all."

Ginny rolled over on her back and stuck her hands behind her head, still grinning at Myra.

"Oh, hell" said Myra, suddenly lying down beside Ginny.

"We only have half an hour" Ginny laughed.

"You can keep the jeans on" said Myra, "they're roomy in the crotch."

Ginny pulled her into a kiss.


September 11, 2001

One Tuesday morning Ginny got up at dawn to paint. She heard the phone ring -- way too early for anything except an emergency -- but before she could get to it, the ringing stopped. Myra must have answered it in the bedroom. Ginny started for that end of the house.

Before she could get there, Myra raced out of the bedroom into the living room and picked up the remote. "Allie said somebody just bombed New York!" she yelled.

Ginny began running, then stopped as the screen showed a plane plowing at a cantilever angle into --- My god, was that the World Trade Center? Orange billows like jellyfish flew out of all four sides of the building. She burst into tears.

Myra was sitting on the hassock, immobile. "That's not a bomb, that's a plane crash. Oh my god, those poor people."

Ginny heaved herself down on the couch, crying hard. Myra reached out a hand toward her, then left it in midair: "Wait -- what are they saying? Terrorists?"

Ginny grabbed Myra's hand and pulled her over to the couch. Wrapped into one organism, they tried to sort out the confusion. The announcer didn't quite know how to report this.

"I've been there" wept Ginny. "I've been in that very building. That whole floor is on fire, look at it."

"How are they going to get out the people on the floors above? How tall is that thing, anyhow?"

"I'm not sure, maybe a hundred stories. There's a big platform on top, I bet they can land rescue helicopters on it."

The cuckoo clock Ginny's mother had inexplicably given them suddenly went off on the wall behind them, making them both jump. Myra wanted to tell it to SHUT UP as it cuckooed six times. Neither of them could look away from the TV. As they stared, the camera jerked a tiny bit, there was a flicker of motion in the air beside the other tower in their view, and then an explosion flew out of it, at a different level than the in the first tower but just as violent. The newscaster began yelling. The camera operator was having trouble trying to decide where to point, to close in or pull back. Myra and Ginny were having trouble believing they had just witnessed a second plane hit a second building.

"We are being bombed. Goddammit, Bush and his boys have pushed things too far, we're under attack!'

Myra stood up and headed for the stairs. "What are you doing?" asked Ginny.

"The kids. We have to get them up and dressed."

"I don't know" said Ginny. "We don't know what's happening yet, it's going to scare them to death."

"You're right, we don't know what's happening yet," said Myra. "That's why we have to all be together." She was taking the stairs two at a time.

The phone rang again. It was Allie calling back. "Come on over here" said Ginny. "Come be with us." When she hung up with Allie, she called Pat and Patty. They were up and watching but wanted to stay home for the time being. Chris and Sima were visiting Sima's cousin in Everett, so Ginny left a message on their machine.

Gillam was first down the stairs, in just pajama bottoms, his hair sticking up, his eyes wild. Ginny pulled him onto her lap and said "It's going to be okay, I promise. Bad stuff is happening but we are going to be okay."

Myra and Margie came down together and moved in beside the others on the couch. A few minutes later, Allie walked in the front door without knocking and sat down on the floor in front of Myra.

The explosions were played over and over. There was no word from the government, nothing but the guesses of broadcasters. The planes were commercial airliners, not military planes. They had been hijacked and were being flown directly into buildings. They flipped between channels; it was the same everywhere. At 6:40 a crawl appeared at the bottom of one screen saying the Pentagon had just been attacked, followed almost immediately by a live report. It was another commercial airliner.

"I have to get to work" said Allie suddenly.

"Call in sick" said Myra. Allie looked at her, and then Myra remembered Allie had an apprenticeship at the local newspaper in the graphics department. "Oh -- yes, you need to be there."

Ginny said "Hold on just one minute" and bounded into the kitchen. She made Allie a PBJ sandwich, threw it into a bag with an orange and a jar of applesauce. "I'll make you breakfast if you have time" she offered. Allie shook her head, kissed everybody very tenderly, and left saying "Anything I find out that isn't on TV yet, I'll call you."

"I'm making breakfast for us" said Ginny. "If something new happens, tell me." She pulled out bread, bananas, eggs and butter. This called for that once a month specialty, tribade toast. She put on the kettle for tea. Suddenly she was crying again. She looked into the living room; Myra was flanked by their children, Gillam's head tucked under her chin, Margie's hand laying over Myra's around her side. She said a Hebrew prayer she didn't know she remembered, and began melting butter in the skillet.

When she carried the tray into the living room, Margie said "Wow, confectioner's sugar?" Gillam looked, if possible, even more frightened at this unheard of treat. "To counteract the adrenaline" Ginny said calmly. "Drink all your milk; we are gong to deal with this chemically as well as rationally." This scrap of normalcy had an immediate effect on both kids. They dug in. Ginny had forgotten to bring napkins but was not willing to get up from sitting on the floor between Myra's legs, so she told Gillam he could wipe his hands on the sofa cushions, the couch was ready for the junkheap anyhow.

Myra was hand-feeding pieces of food to Ginny. Ginny curled one hand around the ankle of each child. When had their bones gotten so big? At that moment, the news said another plane had crashed, this time in a rural area of Pennsylvania. Gillam began choking, and Myra handed her plate roughly to Ginny so she could pound on his back. "Where?" he finally sputtered out. "Where in Pennsylvania?"

Hannah was in Philadelphia. "Someplace out in a field" Ginny said. "Not into a building, they're saying."

"What's the name of the place?" Margie demanded. Finally the newscaster said "Near Shanksville". Gillam raced to the study and came back with Myra's atlas. His hands were jittery as he thumbed through, finally finding the right page. Myra was looking over his shoulder. His voice full of tears, he said "Nowhere near Philadelphia."

Ginny squeezed his ankle. Margie was looking, too, and said quietly "But look how close it is to DC."

They sat there, as a group, for a few minutes. Ginny left briefly to get dressed, and when she was back, Myra did the same, bringing in a blanket for Gillam who kept having shaking fits. Ginny then went into the bathroom and came back with a brown stoppered bottle. "Rescue Remedy" she announced, and like feeding a nest of birds, she placed a dropper-ful into each open mouth, then her own.

She sat back down next to Margie and was about to say something to her when a scream from the TV turned her head. In complete shock, they watched as one of the towers appeared to self-implode, like films they had seen of casinos demolished in Las Vegas. A cloud of debris and smoke overwhelmed the camera crew on the ground. A few seconds later, another feed from another angle showed just some grey dust in the air where 100 stories had been. The second building was still on fire.

There was nothing to do but cry. They were still crying half an hour later when the second tower collapsed.

At times the phone rang and Ginny would answer it because she was closest. She invited any friend in town to come over, but they were already where they wanted to be. She talked to her parents briefly. She wanted to just be next to her family on the couch.

At noon, Ginny turned around and got Myra's eyes. "They are showing the same set of images over and over There's been no new development in several hours."

Myra said, "You think it's over?"

"Whether or not it is, we don't need to sit here and watch the same thing over and over. The power of images is something I know about. We need to activate another part of our brain." She stood up.

Myra said, "I don't think I can just shut off the news, not right now. I just can't."

"I'm not suggesting that. Let's go into the back part of the house, turn on NPR and get the news without fireballs in it."

Myra released her grip on Gillam and Margie, saying with relief, "Oh, yes, NPR." They all walked like an entourage behind Ginny into the study. Suddenly Margie said "Juju!" She broke and ran back upstairs, where now they could hear yelping. Margie back down with Juju in her arms, saying into her fur "I'm so sorry, we all left you and you couldn't get down the stairs, poor, poor baby." She took Juju outside briefly, then carried her back in. She squeezed onto the daybed next to Ginny, who had Gillam almost on her lap. Myra had turned on the stereo next to her desk and was in her desk chair, leaning into the radio.

An hour later, they were all meeting each other's eyes again, relaxing long muscles. A news report said Bush's whereabouts were unknown because he was being flown from secret place to secret place. Cheney was apparently issuing orders from a bunker somewhere. "Oh, god, Gunner Dick has his hand on the button" moaned Ginny.

"Don't it make you miss Clinton?" said Myra.

"He wouldn't be scurrying for a hidey-hole. He'd be down there in the debris, hugging people as they come out and saying 'Ah feel yore pain'."

They all laughed, shocked that they could still do so.

The radio said that evening Billy Collins was going to be on, and Myra said "Just the man I'd like to hear from."

"You know who I'd like to be hanging out with today? I mean, besides you all" said Ginny. "Karen Armstrong."

Myra nodded emphatically. "I change my vote, from Billy Collins to Karen Armstrong." Then she said, "Believe it or not, I'm getting hungry."

"It's been six hours since we last ate, nothing strange about hunger" said Ginny.

Myra stood up. "I'll make some kind of tapas. Kids, go get showered -- yes, a shower, it's part of the therapy -- and then dressed."

"Oh, shit" said Ginny. "Language" said Margie, heading out of the room still carrying Juju.

"Point taken and appreciated, but Myra, we forgot to call the schools and tell them the kids were out today."

"I"m willing to bet we are not the only ones. Go ahead and call 'em now, if you don't mind."

After lunch, which was only half-eaten but that was better than nothing, Ginny said "It's too cold to swim but I'm going to sit in the hottub a while."

"I'll go with you" said Margie.

"Will you come get us if there's anything on the radio?" asked Ginny, grabbing towels from their bathroom.

"Yeah. How about you, Gillam?"

"No, thanks" he said in a low voice.

"Well, the recycling is overdue for sorting and tomorrow is pick-up day" said Myra. "Why don't you do that? You'll still be in earshot."

A little incredulous at Myra's suggestion, Gillam went to the cupboard under the stairs and pulled out clanking bags of bottles and cans. Ginny gave Myra a long kiss on her way out to the deck. "Every day I thank god for you more" she whispered.

After the recycling was done, Myra enlisted Gillam's help in the back yard turning the compost pile. Then they got hand trowels and dug through the garden, looking for the last of the potatoes and carrots. Ginny remarked from the hot tub, "Looking up at the sky, I just realized I haven't heard a single plane go over all day. This may be the first time in my life that's been true."

After an hour, Gillam said "I have to hear the news again, can we go back in? Please?"

"Yes. Wash up in the kitchen sink. I'll put away the veggies."

Ginny and Margie came in too, dried off and dressed. "Now what?" said Margie. "Shall we go buy a cow and learn how to milk it?"

Ginny couldn't help but laugh. "Okay, I just don't want us to do nothing but listen. We need brain balance to process this in a healthy way. I've got an idea."

Myra's pulse always raced when Ginny had an idea. Ginny went on, "I've got a trunk full of art supplies and ideas for making holiday gifts. I squirreled it away for later in the year, but might as well pull it and start on it today. We can use the art table here in the study as our work space and keep the radio on."

Margie did a Rocky salute and said "Yes!

Ginny started for her studio cupboard, but Gillam stepped out in front of her. He was still a little short for his age, a small but sturdy 10-year-old boy with hair almost identical to hers. He looked up into her face, his lips pressed together. "What is it, honey?" Ginny said.

"I...I think it's a good idea, I would like to be doing something with my hands, you're right. But..."

Ginny put her hand on his shoulder.

"Mom, I really hate it when you into Painterland. I know Mama's here, she's always here for us, and when you get back you're double there to make up for it. But I miss you when you're gone. And I don't want you to leave me -- leave us today. You always leave when we do art. But I don't want to miss you today. Not today."

Ginny looked like he had punched her. Myra didn't know who to comfort. Margie had stopped breathing.

Ginny slowly reached out her other hand and put it on Gillam's other shoulder. Then, suddenly, she pulled him into her chest. She was working hard not to cry. "I won't leave you, Gillam. I won't ever leave again without asking you first. And I'll come back more often." Gillam was crying, really letting go, which was clearly what he needed. Ginny bent down to his ear and murmured "Bless you for telling me. You telling me was the biggest dose of love I've gotten all day."

Margie picked up Juju and held her tight. Myra just stood there. The world was blowing up around them, but in this room, everything was okay.

After Ginny pulled out her treasure trove and they settled around the table, snatching at what looked most fun to do, Myra found herself watching Ginny unobtrusively as she struggled with the siren call of art. It was a little like Sandra Bullock in "28 Days." When Billy Collins came on, Myra didn't much like what he had to say, after all. "Maybe poetry should not substitute for therapy, but it is cathartic. That's why it's been present in every people's revolution" she argued with the radio.

At dusk, Ginny looked out the windows, then said "Everybody go wash your hands and meet me in the dining room, please." When they got there, she had two white candles in holders on the table. She took the children's hands. Myra took Margie's other hand, wondering.

"Tonight, of all nights -- we say the kaddish." Even getting that much out, Ginny was fighting to not cry.

The last time Myra had heard the kaddish was at Gil's funeral. She scandalized the preacher and all her Baptist kin by saying the kaddish over Gil's casket. That was when she had finally understood, on a cellular level, the full meaning of this prayer which only praises god, exalts her goodness, with no mention of death or loss. The purpose was to give you something to say when inside you are sure god is a motherfucking sonofabitch with a heart of stone.

She was not sure she knew the words any more. But when Ginny started "Yisgadal v'yiskadash sh'meh rabba...", she found herself saying "Amein" and then joining in. When they were done, they stood swaying a minute, gazing into the candle flame. Finally she looked at Gillam. His color had returned to normal; the white splotches around his brown eyes were gone.

"You kids go back into the study for a minute, will ya?" she asked. In their brief bubble of privacy, she kissed Ginny passionately, who returned it. When they were wrapped around each, still swaying imperceptibly, she said "I'm not convinced of life after death. I wish I knew for sure, one way or the other."

Ginny whispered, "Gil and your mother are together and looking after you, whether you believe or not."

Myra said, "I think I'm cried out. Which, as Martha says, is a good thing."

When they went back into the study, she announced "I'm going to make my world famous Myra'n'Cheese."

"Hooray!" said Margie. "Will you put spinach in part of it?"

"Yessirree" said Myra. Gillam looked away from Ginny as he said "And bacon? Can we have bacon in part of it?"

Ginny goosed him, making him giggle, and said "Nitrates, coming up. Will you also put slices of tomato on top? There are one or two left from those I got at Pike."

"Honoring all special orders" said Myra. She went around the corner into the kitchen and put water in the pasta pot to boil. She began grating some tillamook, then stopped to put slices of bacon between paper towels on a plate and cook them at half the usual time so they would be partly done before they went into the casserole.

After a few minutes, Gillam joined her. "I ran out of fimo" he said. "Anything I can do in here?"

"Sure. Pop a frozen package of spinach into a colander and run enough hot water on it to break it apart. Should I put some onions in this, too?"

"Nah, Margie really hates 'em. But use a little bit of pepperoncino like you did that time."

"Mmmm. And what about dessert?"

Gillam glanced behind him into the study. "We had sugar for breakfast, you know."

"I was thinking something fruit-based. Nondairy so we don't completely clog up. Hey, I've got an idea, I saw something on Jacques Pepin I've never tried."

Gillam's face lit up. Myra and Jacques Pepin had never done him wrong.

Once the Myra'n'Cheese was assembled and placed into the oven, Myra said, "Okay. Still wanna help?"

"For dessert? Are you kidding? Just teach me as you go."

"Look in the freezer for that package of biscotti we keep for hot chocolate dunking. Get out, oh, maybe three of 'em. Put 'em in a ziplock bag with all the air squeezed out, wrap that in a clean dishtowel, and use the meat tenderizer to hammer the fuck out of it on the cutting board."

"Language."

"Got it. You want it mostly in crumbs but not completely." Myra had pulled an extra-large can of peach halves in heavy syrup from the pantry and was opening it. She kept the lid on it to drain the syrup into a non-stick skillet.

Gillam had fun pulverizing the frozen biscotti. Myra waited until he was done before going on. "Now, do you know was caramel is?"

"My favorite topping" he answered in anticipation. "How come you say caramel and Mama says carmel?"

"Because she's a sloppy reader and misses that extra syllable."

Ginny's voice came in from the study. "I heard that."

"Oops." Myra and Gillam giggled together. "Caramel is just sugar that's been cooked to the point where it's started turning brown. The chemical transformation changes not just the color but also gives it that heavenly flavor. The fluid fruit is packed in, if it's commercial packing, is mostly fruit sugars with a little water. So, we are going to turn peach juice into peach caramel." She turned on the burner to medium under the skillet.

"You have to be really careful about a couple of things. Cooking it too fast will burn it for sure. Stirring it too soon will interfere with the process. And if you spill hot caramel on your skin, it will burn like the acid blood from an Alien. While I'm doing this, look in the pantry and see what kind of nuts we've got."

Gillam reported from the pantry door "Cashews and pistachios."

"Okay, this is a very sweet fruit with a sweet caramel sauce on it. Which nut do you think will offer a better contrast?"

Gillam thought. "Pistachio."

"That's my boy. Are they already roasted?"

"Yes, and shelled."

"Then take a handful and mix them in with the biscotti. Now, come here and look, can you see the color starting to form?"

"Yes, and it smells so gooood."

"Caramel keeps cooking a while after you turn off the heat, so you have to stop the flame a minute or so before it reaches the color you want. Which I think is right about now." Myra stopped stirring and added the peach halves to the cooked syrup, spooning it over them as they warmed through.

"Go get bowls from the sideboard."

"What kind?" asked Gillam.

"Look at the color of this caramel and you decide what will set it off best."

"A Ginny test" he grinned. He returned with green Depression-ware dessert bowls.

"Well, you get an A from me" Myra said. She put two halves in each bowl and handed them to Gillam, who sprinkled them with his cookie and nut mix. Then they dished up the main course, leaving dessert on the breakfast bar to cool, and carried in dinner to the artists still at it. Allie showed up a while later, got herself a plate and told them all stories about the newsroom that day, which were fascinating and made them feel like somebody knew what was going on.

At 9:00, Ginny asked "What do you all think about school tomorrow?"

Margie said "Amy called and said she's going no matter what, her family is driving her crazy. I promised her I'd be there, too."

Gillam considered, then said "I'd like to hear what everybody else is thinking. I'd like to see my friends."

"Okay. Good. If you find out you need to leave early, just call us, we'll come get you. What about sleep tonight? It's your regular bedtime right now, you know."

"Can we stay up later? Can we watch Letterman?" begged Margie.

Ginny looked at Myra. "Yes, let's all watch Letterman together. Even if it's a rerun. Then, are you going to be able to sleep, do you think? I could make Sleepytime or something else to help."

Gillam paused. "Margie -- would you leave your door open so we can talk to each other if we need to?"

Margie patted the top of his head. "Good idea, little bro."

"Then I think I'll be okay" he said.

"Here's the deal -- anything comes up at all during the night, come get us" said Myra. "Allie, wanna bunk down here?"

"No, I need to feed my cat and get to work early. I'll stay for a while more, though."

Ginny turned to Gillam. "I was thinking about painting late tonight. I especially need to paint tonight. But I promise to snap right out of it for any reason. That okay with you kids?"

Gillam hugged her. "You go for it, Mom. Can't wait to see what comes out of you."

"In that case", said Myra, "I will be sleeping on your daybed." Ginny blew her a kiss.

"Okay. Sticky dishes that require scraping -- somebody take Juju out one last time -- I'll make lunches for tomorrow -- and then Letterman."

Everybody got up and went into the kitchen. Myra turned off NPR on the way.

3 comments:

Wuttisak said...

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Jesse Wendel said...

Oh Maggie, you've got me crying again.

Damn 9/11 stuff. Beautifully, wonderfully done. *sighs*

And as for you, wuttisak...

I am not Ms. Maggie the Wonderful and this isn't my blog in any way. But in my world, it is considered QUITE rude to pimp your blog.

It's one thing -- perhaps, maybe, possibly -- to be a regular & respected commenter of long-standing and let Maggie or any blog publisher come to you through your identity if she wishes to. Or in one of your many twenties or hundreds of comments on a specific blog, link one (and only one) of them to a very specific and on-point post at your blog, if and only if you have a history of linking in your blizzard of comments on that blog, to many different blogs, none of which have been yours, all of which have been useful.

But to just show up and say, "Yo, come check my shit out, yo" is what real bloggers call, pimping your shit.

Don't do that.

Pimping your shit is bad form -- here, there, every damn where.

Got it?

Good.

Maggie Jochild said...

Thx, Jesse. For both.

My guess is, he was just trolling through and won't return.