Wednesday, December 5, 2007


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

December 2000 -- Margie is 12 and in 7th grade, Gillam is 10

One Tuesday night, the children were being allowed to watch Roseanne -- Myra insisted it was the first damn show she'd ever seen on TV that had the kind of crappy couch her family had when she was growing up, like fat people with dirty clothes sat on it all day, and that was good enough for her. At the first commercial break, Margie wandered back into the study where Myra was working on an essay. Ginny was scraping down a failed start on a canvas. Margie sat on Myra's daybed and inspected her nails.

After Myra heard the show start back up, she looked over at Margie, who indicated no interest in returning to the living room. She waited another minute, then said "Something up?"

Margie said slowly, "I have to tell you something."

Myra heard Ginny set down the canvas in the next room. Suddenly in the doorway, she said "Myra only or the both of us?"

"I guess both" said Margie dully. Ginny chose the chair next to Myra's desk, not sure which way this was going to shake out.

"I have this note." Margie pulled it out of her back jeans pocket. "My teacher wants to meet with you."

Ginny leaned over and took it, read it, then passed it to Myra. "Tomorrow. Kinda short notice there."

"I...forgot to give it to you yesterday" mumbled Margie.

"What does she want to meet with us about?" asked Myra. Her stomach was starting to turn over.

"Well...A while ago we had an assignment to write something for my English class, something related to our cultural background. I turned in a poem."

Ginny looked at Myra, who shook her head. "Good for you. I didn't know you wrote poetry."

Margie still was not looking up at them. "The teacher really liked it. Without asking me, she gave it to the teacher who sponsors the school literary magazine. They want to print it. But I told them no."

"Why would you tell them no?" asked Ginny. "Is there something in the poem you don't want people to know?"

"It's not that" Margie said. "It's just...It was due on a Monday and that weekend was the big orienteering thing at Rainer?, and I forgot about the assignment until I was already in bed Sunday night. I've never not turned in an assignment. So...I copied a poem from somewhere else."

Myra's voice was very quiet. "You didn't turn in one of my poems, did you?"

Margie's face, what they could see of it, was shocked. "No, I'd never do that." Apparently she had standards in plagiarism. She sighed heavily. "I came down here and looked in that shelf of poetry books you have. I looked in all those itty-bitty books of women's poetry from the 70's, the ones you printed yourselves and nobody on earth knows about? I found a poem I kinda liked, and I did a Google search to see if it was on the web. The opening line of it was, so I changed the wording of that line, and I changed the mispelling of wimmin back to the real spelling" --

Myra felt a flash of anger.

--"and I took some of the middle out because it was just going on and on, mostly I kept the beginning and the end. And now it's gonna come out what I did, and I'll get failed for not just the paper but the whole semester, the school is really strict. And I'm ruined, ruined!" Margie began sniffling.

"What poem did you use?" said Myra coldly.

"Eat Rice Have Faith in Wimmin" cried Margie.

"By Fran WINANT?"

Margie nodded.

"Oh my fucking god" said Myra. "Do you have any fucking idea how important that poem is, was, to me and my friends?" She looked at Ginny in serious distress.

Ginny said "I remember, the first time I went over to your flat, you had written out the first lines on a piece of paper and glued it to your refrigerator. That wasn't the only place I saw it, either."

"Right next to 'An army of lovers cannot fail'" said Myra. "'The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house.'"

"The woman is your life is you" remembered Ginny. "You rock you toss me you are the rain."

Myra closed her eyes for a moment and said "The liar has many friends, and leads an existence of great loneliness." Ginny put her hand over Myra's.

Myra opened her eyes and said "And, of course, Monique Wittig." She and Ginny looked into each other eyes and said in unison "Remember, make an effort to remember, or failing that, invent."

Margie wiped her nose on her sleeve, wondering if they had forgotten about her. No such luck.

Myra turned to her and said with deadly calm "I'd like to see how you altered it, if you don't mind."

Margie fished a folded up piece of notebook paper from her other pocket and handed it over. Ginny noticed that both of their hands were shaking. Myra read it through twice, then gave it to Ginny.

"You thought 'Plant corn have faith in women' was an appropriate substitution for the original line" Myra said conversationally. "And all that stuff about how class differences get played out as people grow older, that was expendable."

Margie was scared down to her bones. "No, not expendable....It just wouldn't be believable that I could have written it."

"Ah. Good point." But Margie was sure Myra didn't really mean it.

Myra tucked her hands under her thighs and looked at Ginny. "I need some help here. My reaction is off the Richter scale."

"We should talk, then." Margie started to get up, but Myra said "Wait." She was still looking at Ginny. "I, for once, have an idea." Ginny listened.

"Clearly I have failed to get across to this child, at least, the significance of some of the most deeply held beliefs and world view of my generation. Not only that, but it's obvious only the reason she's telling us at all about this incident is because her teacher smelled a rat and called us in for a meeting. In that light, I'm wondering if more communication -- more open communication -- might not be the thing to do." When Myra got this precise and flat-toned in her speech, it made even Ginny nervous.

"What, specifically?" said Ginny.

"I propose we have the discussion we need to have, but with Margie here as witness. Not directed at her, and if I slip in that regard, please rein me in. But not sparing her, either, from the consequences of her decisions as it relates to us as parents, as adults responsible for her decisions -- you get my drift."

Ginny's eyes opened wide. "Just let it all hang out?"

"Not all" Myra's eyes glittered. "Not all. But enough so she has a full measure of the ramifications and a glimpse into..." Myra stopped herself.

"Okay. Let's try." Ginny turned to Margie. "You sit there and listen. Just listen. We are not going to talk to you, and you are not to talk to us. You are not to leave where you are sitting, no matter what. You can have any feelings you need to. Here's the kleenex box." Margie realized she was facing a firing squad, and it showed on her face. Ginny said to Myra, "What about Gillam?"

"He'll eavesdrop, he always does. He might learn something." Myra reached into her desk and pulled out a yellow legal pad and a pen. "Will you keep notes if we need them?"

Ginny scooted up to the desk so she could write.

Myra took a deep breath, then began. "Well, first off, it's quite likely she'll be expelled or suspended. If she is not, by some miracle, then this will remain on her record and possibly keep her out of the colleges she might have wanted to attend."

"Unless we have her repeat the class. I think they'll do that in this school" offered Ginny.

"That would save her ass. Which means she'll be in summer school, which means we won't get to go to Texas in June."

Margie began crying in earnest now. All of these ideas were hitting her like blows from nowhere. Her mothers ignored her.

"One of us could go and take Gillam, it's not fair to penalize him" said Ginny.

"Oh, I can't see that. Whoever is on the trip would miss the other one too much. And Gillam would be unhappy." Myra paused. "We don't have that many more years when we can take that trip as a family. I'm really sorry to lose one." Margie tried to muffle a wail.

"Out of our hands" said Ginny. "You know, her teachers, none of them, will ever quite trust her again. They are going to examine her work under a microscope. She will no longer be the prize student."

"I know. And the other kids, some of them, will pull away from her as well. We're going to have to get her counseling. I don't know anyone, do you?"

"No, but the school will be able to suggest some folks. Agreeing to counseling may help alleviate some of the punishment they are going to lay on her....Is Fran Winant still alive?"

Myra said, "I don't know. But if she is, a letter of apology will have to go out to her. Not just from Margie, but also from me, for having raised a child who can disrespect a poet in this way." Myra's voice broke, then. Ginny scooted over closer to her, farther away from Margie.

"This is pretty tough to bear" said Myra, starting to cry. "I don't know what I did wrong, but clearly I failed somewhere. I guess I failed her."

Ginny said "All parents fail their children. All parents do the best they can. I don't think this is irreparable."

Myra looked at her through tears. "Are you sure? I can't tell. This feels so personal to me, like she just took a shit on my soul."

"I'm sure it can be healed. But you're right, it may be some kind of an indirect attack on you. We'll take it to our therapists, you and I, and also get family counseling. If she is trying to hurt you, we need to get that out in the open. Or, maybe it's me she's angry at, and taking a swipe at you, or doing this kind of damage to herself, well, that's a good way to get at me." Ginny was ready to cry, too.

"Allie would say we need to not be taking this personally. The big Aquarius -- she'd say not 'Not everything in the world about you, you know.'" They both laughed a little.

"Okay, then. We'll have to use extra resource to get through our own block, so we can be there for her while she tries to dig herself out of this hole. And we all figure out how come she did this to herself" said Ginny.

"You know mistakes can happen, and it's just as well they do" sang Myra. Ginny finished it "My mama says I was one, and most likely so are you."

"It's ironic" said Myra. "When you think about it..."

"What?" said Ginny.

Myra rolled back to her shelves and found the chapbook labeled We Are All Lesbians. "Here's how the poem begins:
Eat rice have faith in wimmin
What I don't know now I can still learn
If I learn first, I will come back to teach you
If you learn first, I must believe
You will come back to teach me

Ginny said "Gives me chills."

Myra was trying hard to think instead of just being upset. "Mistakes are how we learn. If we weren't hard-wired to make them, we'd never grow. And it's critically important that she know, they both know, if they fuck up it can be turned into a learning experience."

Ginny giggled. "Have you seen that bumper sticker? 'Oh, god, not another learning experience'?"

"Exactly how I feel at the moment.... Okay, are we ready to see her teacher tomorrow? Unlike the Repubs, we admit our errors, express genuine remorse, and ask for direction in cleaning it up?"

"Yes, for a start." They both noticed, then, that the sound of the television in the living room had been off for a while.

Myra took a kleenex from the box near Margie and wiped her face, then blew her nose. She looked at Margie, at last, and said, "I appreciate how hard it was for you to tell us. At least when you finally did, you were honest about it, not trying to dodge it. I hope next time you can come to me sooner."

Margie said, "Can I just tell you something? Both of you?" Her face was tormented.

"Not tonight" said Ginny. "I know you need for us to talk, but since you shut us out until you got caught, we need room to deal with this ourselves. You go on to your room and get ready for tomorrow. If you need to call a friend, take my cell and use it as long as you need to." She hugged Margie, and Myra did too. Margie was sobbing as she walked off through the dining room.

"Gillam?" said Myra. He stepped out from the other side of the refrigerator. "Do you need to ask us anything or talk right now?" The skin around his eyes was very tight.

"Can I go to Margie's room with her?"

"You sure can" said Ginny. "That would be nice."

After he was gone, Myra said "Plant corn? What are we, an agricultural movement?"

"Don't ask me. Maybe it's just because corn is another carb, like rice."

"My hair is getting whiter by the day, Ginny."

"And it looks so bulldaggerish good on you. Which one of us, I wonder, should go later and tuck her in?"

Myrad sighed. "I think it has to be you. But I'll go up in a bit and disturb Hannah's peace by telling her what's happened, so she's ready at breakfast tomorrow."

They kissed, and Ginny went back to her studio. Myra sat there, looking at the gutted poem and the original.

The next day after meeting with Margie's teacher, Ginny was driving home while Myra ranted and Margie sat unusually subdued in the back seat.

"I mean, of course I'm glad she didn't get expelled, but I don't understand how she dodged every bullet. What kind of lesson is that, to just be told to re-do the original assignment and make it five pages long instead of one?"

"And the counseling. And the fact that she'll be under a microscope from here on out" reminded Ginny.

"But what's going to keep her from trying to do something similar in the future?"

Ginny, momentarily at a stop sign, gave a long stare at Myra. "What, indeed? Maybe the way we've raised her? Myra, you don't believe in the American criminal justice system, why are you advocating punishment as a means of instilling values for your own child?"

Myra was stumped. After a while she said "I just can't believe she did this."

"I know."

Margie's voice came from the back. "Will you please let me say something now?"

Myra sighed, and turned to face her. "Yes. I'd like to hear what you want to say."

"The reason why I chose that poem...I mean, yes, it was partly because I knew no one would have ever seen it. But -- I'd read it, more than once, and I liked it. I've read through all those poetry books, because the poems in them -- I could understand them even when I was really little, they talked about real things. Like your poems, Mom. And I'm kinda freaked out by how there's this whole world that you and friends talk about, and live in, and nobody else, I mean nobody I know, has a clue about. It's like we're a cult, some secret religion, you know? I don't want to be different from everybody all the time. And the stuff in your books, and the songs you sing, and the stuff you all talk about -- it's stuff that means a lot to me. So I thought I'd use a little bit of it for my own. I know it was stupid, and wrong. I know that. I just don't know how to talk about everything on my own." She was crying by the end of her speech. So was Myra. Ginny had to keep driving, or she would have, too.

Myra reached her hand back and grabbed Margie's. "Oh, baby. Oh my god. Thank you so much for telling me that. I've been -- oblivious. Or just caught up in how much the anti-feminist backlash has hurt me, not noticing the effect it's having on you and Gillam. We -- we need to deal with this as a family, I can see."

Margie was wailing now. "And I couldn't bear the idea of missing going to Texas in June, it would kill me not to go."

"You and me both, sugar" said Myra.

They pulled into their carport, and Myra got out swiftly so she could open Margie's door and pull her into a big hug. After a second, Ginny joined them. In a minute, the carport door opened and Gillam stood there, wide-eyed. "What happened?" he said.

They went in and told him and Hannah the developments. After getting a snack, Myra sat down with Margie in her study. Ginny was still in the kitchen, figuring out what to do for dinner.

"Do you have any ideas about what you want to write for your make-up assignment?" asked Myra gently.

"I have an idea, but I don't know if it will work" began Margie. At Myra's encouraging nod, she went on. "Well, yesterday when you and Mom were talking -- you said all these lines, things that were on your refrigerator, I guess. Were those lines from real things?"

"Yes -- several different things."

"Well, I wanted to know what they were. They were all interesting. The only one I recognized was the song. So...I was wondering if I read all the things they were from, along with the real poem I stole from...if I could maybe write an essay about how they're connected. If they are connected, I mean."

Myra sat back in her chair, stunned. "That's fucking brilliant, Margie."

Ginny said from around the corner in the kitchen "Language. And I agree."

"I cannot wait to see what you do with this" Myra said excitedly. She turned and began pulling books from her shelves. "Okay, let's see -- 'The Hand That Cradles The Rock'; here's the Fran Winant book; 'Les Guérillères--"

Ginny had come into the room and said "Thank god it's not 'The Lesbian Body'."

Myra laughed. "Instead of the May Swenson anthology, I'm going to give you the fabulous young adult book by her lover, R.R. Knudson, 'You Are The Rain', which has the whole poem in it but is also a great read by itself. Here's an Alix Dobkin CD with the song. The essay about the master's tools quote is by Audre Lorde, in This Bridge Called My Back. And -- here's the original chapbook for 'Women and Honor'. This one is quite rare, Margie, can you take care of it and not lose it?"

"Yes". Margie's hands were trembling.

"Either of us are available for help as you work on this. But if you don't want to be influenced by us, I understand" said Myra. "You write what you think, what you get from it, and don't worry about my reaction, you hear? Your reaction is what matters. I want to hear that, just that."


Ginny sat down next to Margie and put her arms around her, which was enough to send Margie back into tears. Ginny held her and rocked her, kissing her forehead and murmuring "I'm so, so proud of you, so glad you were born to us, my darling girl".

After Margie was calm and bright-eyed again, Myra helped wipe her face, then said "I've got one thing to add to your assignment. It's not a punishment, per se -- it's a lesson that I think will help you the rest of your life. This essay, by Adrienne Rich?" She tapped the chapbook. "I want you to memorize it. It's about eight pages, with mostly short paragraphs. But it may well be the single most important piece of writing to come out of feminism. I memorized it when I first got my hands on it, so I'm not asking you to do anything I haven't done. You have until New Year's Day -- after dinner that day, you can recite it to us. Or, better yet, you and I will recite it together."

Margie gulped. "Okay."

"Okay, sweetheart. What a day it's been, huh? Go do something completely different, something fun, take a load off. You can deal with any homework after dinner." Myra kissed her and pushed her, giggling, toward the front of the house.

Ginny came and sat in Myra's lap, resting her head against Myra's. They breathed together for a while. Gillam idled in and sprawled on the daybed. He was practicing making one particular sound over and over with his mouth, a sound that involved having a lot of spit in his cheeks. After about ten seconds, Myra was ready to scream at him. Instead, she said "Gillam? Do you have homework?"

He froze, as if caught in the sights of a rifle. "Kinda."

"What is it?"

"Geography. I'm supposed to make a multicolor relief map of South America. But it's not due until Friday" he temporized.

Myra felt Ginny's body quiver. She laughed and said "Sic 'em, girl."

Ginny laughed and stood up. "You'll get dinner? I set out some tempeh. We've got porcinis. Plus there's still a lot of basmati left from last night."

"Okay, I'll do a stir-fry. Is it okay with you if I make a dessert for Margie?"

Gillam uttered a small sound of protest.

"We'll all eat it, I didn't mean just for her" said Myra.

"There're frozen raspberries" said Ginny.

"A torte, then" said Myra. Ginny sent Gillam to get his notebook and went to her studio to assemble ingredients for modelling clay.

December 2001

The first week in December, Myra included a funny limerick she'd written for Kate Bean's three-year-old son Rafe in a letter to Kate. She decided to decorate the page it was on with illustrations, and she went into Ginny's studio to borrow a few of her colored pencils. Saying hello to Yoko and O'Keefe, she saw a new addition to the wall of their habitat. It was a miniature copy of the original "Meet the Beatles" poster from the 1960s, but gilt halos had been painted in around the heads of John Lennon and George Harrison. At the bottom, in tiny script, was written "Iguana Hold Your Hand."

Not long after Margie's thirteenth birthday, Myra called her into the kitchen one evening as she was about to begin dinner and said "Okay, time for cooking lessons. I mean complete menus and main dishes, not just the basics that you already have."

Margie frowned slightly. "I'm not -- no, thanks."

"It's a basic life skill, Margie, you need to learn how to cook" said Myra.

"But -- why? I can make salads, eggs and sandwiches, and most people, Mama, buy stuff that's easier to put together. Or eat out. It's the modern way" said Margie.

Ginny, who had been sorting recycling, stood up and joined Myra in staring at Margie.

"Yeah, and most people eat crap" replied Myra. "They have no control over what's going into their bodies."

"I'm not the control freak you are" said Margie. "And, besides, it could easily be that I wind up with someone who wants to cook for me, you don't know." Her expression was stubborn.

"Everybody in this house does their share -- " began Ginny.

"But not everybody shares equally in all the chores. I already make a lot of our salads, and beyond that, are you telling me -- " here Margie looked at Myra challengingly -- "That you're gonna give up running this kitchen? You don't want me to have equal share in the meal planning of this household, admit it."

Gillam, sitting at the dining table doing homework, cleared his throat. "I want to learn to cook, and shop, and plan menus" he offered.

Margie wheeled on him. "How can you breathe with your nose so far up her ass?" she hissed.

"That's offensive, Margie" said Myra. "You can insist on being different than him, but you don't get to assign a value to it. At the moment, I don't want to deal with you, so make yourself scarce."

"Gladly" said Margie, stomping upstairs.

Myra looked at Gillam. "Sucky timing, Gillam, suspiciously so -- there's no percentage in needling her that way."

His expression was bland.

"If you didn't really mean it, you can back out now with amnesty" said Myra. Gillam replied, "No, I've been wanting to ask you. I love cooking. I want you to teach me like your mother taught you."

She tried very hard to not melt on the spot. "Okay, then. Let me know when you're done with your homework, and I'll show you how to make soup from whatever's on hand."

His face looked genuinely excited as he bent back over his notebook. Myra turned and looked at Ginny, who said "It seems to be time to remind her we don't intend to leave her an inheritance, she's going to have to work for her living."

Myra giggled. "Are the boys her age learning how to cook?"

"Not that I've heard of. Her entire generation seems dependent on fast food or microwave meals. But I think this is a battle we choose to lose. She actually does prefer healthy food, we got that part instilled in her, and once she's on her own, maybe she'll change her mind. We have bigger struggles with her" said Ginny.

"Thank god she wasn't twins" muttered Myra.

Ginny made a Yiddish hand sign and went back to the recycling.

February 2002: Margie is 14, Gillam is 12

When the stove repair person wasn't there by 2:30, Myra turned to Ginny and said, "One of us going to have to wait for them and miss Gillam's baseball game."

"Flip you for it" said Ginny, pulling a quarter out of her jeans. She won the toss, gathered up her keys, and said "Margie's not supposed to be late today."

Margie and the repair guy arrived within a few minutes of each other an hour later. The guy buried his head inside their stove. Margie rummaged in the fridge for something, as she put it, not boring. Myra went into her bedroom to vacuum.

Margie wandered in and sat down on their bed, watching. She was eating an apricot. When she was finished, she tossed the pit toward a trashcan but missed. Myra, who was nearby, leaned over and put it in the can. She turned off the vacuum and said "How long has it been since you vacuumed your room?"

Margie evaded the question. She looked at her hands for a minute, then said "Mom?"

Since Myra was standing right there, she was not inclined to reply.

"I need to ask you something."


"Could you shut the door?"

Myra stepped over to the door and said to the repair guy "Come knock when you need to talk to me." He grunted a reply. She closed the door and sat down on the end of the bed. "Used to be, we could always find a woman to do repairs. What happened to all the women in the trades?"

Margie was not interested in this topic. She was checking her cuticles.

"What's up, Margie?"

"If you tell Mama about this, she'll go postal. This needs to be a private talk" she finally said.

Fuck. "Ginny and I don't keep secrets, as a general rule. If your well-being is at stake, I especially can't keep it from her. But if you need to just talk something over with me and not deal with her reaction to it, then I can field it for you. Best I can offer."

Margie sighed. More hand inspection. "Okay. She's just so -- ON me, you know?"

"You do get the bulk of her attention. It's because you're her favorite." Myra regretted it the minute it was out of her mouth."

"What?" said Margie, now looking at her.

"Don't you ever, ever repeat anything like this to Gillam. She loves him as much as she loves you, it's not that. I shouldn't have told you....But she's closer to you. You're the one she really gets." Myra remembers hearing her mother tell her that she, the daughter, was her favorite. It was a burden. Her brother Gil had not had another parent there for him, he just did without. Except for Myra, who tried to keep him alive.

Margie seemed to be having a mixed reaction to this piece of news.

"Well. Whatever." Back to her hands.

"Spit it out, Margie."

"Well...some of the girls I know...some of my friends...well, they're doing it. You know?"

Myrad wanted to ask what 'it" was but that would be transparently disingenous. The sudden change in her breathing made it clear she knew exactly what Margie was talking about. For a flash, she wished the repair guy would knock at the door.

"Okay." She took a breath. "Are you?"

"No". The slight disgust in Margie's voice was reassuring. "There are guys I like, but not enough to date. I don't want to date just to be like everyone else."

One thing you could count on with Margie, she had no problem not fitting in. Royalty never needed to fit in.

" am I going to know when it's time? How am I....I've had sex ed, sheesh, living in this house has been one long class. It's not the nuts and bolts. It's the -- feeling part. When did you change, or whatever, so it became really something you wanted to do?"

Myra's temple was throbbing. This was Ginny's daughter; try the whole truth.

"I don't think I can say." Margie looked like she didn't understand. "I...I was exposed to someone else's idea of sex when I was eight. I was...his sex object...until I was 12. I can, actually, remember what I felt like before that. How I felt about kissing, especially. I was able to use that memory to help clean up what was wiped on me. But not until I was in my late 20s. Right before I met your Mom."

Margie was very, very quiet.

"Before that, from 12 until almost 30, I was reacting to others. I had my first lover when I was your age, an older girl whom I thought I loved -- well, I did love her. And I thought she loved me, but she really did not. She used me as her object, too. The fact is, I was pretty good at attracting girls, women, who were willing to use me. It's all I knew, it's what was familiar. So it wasn't until very late that I got back to figuring out how I felt, just me, and then deciding what to do about it. I'm not the best person to give you advice here."

"But you know how now? Don't you?"

Myra was amazed at her matter of fact tone.

"Well, yes, I do, I'm good at it now. Your mom and I are good at it together."

Margie interrupted -- "No details about you and her."

"I wasn't going to. The thing is: Touching is a really great way to get to know somebody. It's not the best way, the best way is talking and sharing life together, but touching is another way of communicating that cuts through the limits of language if you can both be honest about it. You just have to find somebody who can be honest. Honest with you, but mostly honest with himself. Himself, right?"

"Yeah. I like boys, deal with it."

Myra laughed. "That's not an issue, trust me. So....I think you'll find out, you in particular, that you won't be able to settle for anything less than honesty. You' your expectations of others. And as long as you don't fall for the lie which says males, boys, are not able to do the kind of emotional work that women are -- as long as you don't believe they are inferior in terms of sensitivity and have to be nursed along -- then you'll find a boy who is your match and who you want to explore that with."

"How can you say that? You believe boys are stupider than girls. You have no slack at all for most guys."

Thank god Gillam was not in hearing range. "Not accurate. I believe boys are raised by parents who believe they cannot not be as emotionally responsible and adept as girls, and therefore they live up to those lowered expectations. I don't believe it's inherent. I --we, are doing our best to make sure Gillam gets all the training you get in managing relationships. You're right in that I don't cut much slack for people who won't do their half of the work -- disability aside, of course. And most men are terrified about trying to leave behind what they see at their comfort zone. Which is really just a prison cell -- privilege has a serious economic edge, I have no illusions about that, but it's a shitty way to live. And don't say language, I really do mean shit, a stinking waste-ridden smear of an existence. Both sides of the gender coin. And class, and race."

Myra stopped herself. She was about to go into a political harangue.

"My expectations of men and women, in terms of intimacy, I believe are basically the same. But I have yet to meet a man who wants to take on my expectations, even as a friend. Honestly, there are not that many women who want to, either."

"I'm not going to be like that."

"I believe you, Margie. You do it your way. On your own timetable. And here's something I want you to hear from me, Margie: I trust you. I completely trust you. I think you'll make yourself happy in the long run, and I think it will happen sooner for you than it did for me. But I'm really hoping you wait a few years, at least until you are 17. 17 is the golden age for starting things up, a prime number that ensures more success."

Margie was pleased with this.

"Now, in the meantime...You've had the nuts and bolts, as you put it. But here's...there's more."

Margie suddenly looked scared. Myra herself was blue with fear.

"Boys...part of the gender crap is that early on, they don't get touched as much as girls do. They get wrestled with, or palled around with, but not serious affection. Once they stop being toddlers, nobody much holds them in their lap or snuggles with them; dads tend to not kiss their sons like moms kiss their daughters."

"You do, you and Mama are both all over Gillam."

"It's a conscious choice we're making. Because we both believe boys are starving for human touch. They get desperate. By the time they are teenagers, they wlll do absolutely anything to get a little human contact. It's a basic physical need, touch. Babies die without it. And boys-- well, it's incredibly painful to me to watch how boys walk around like members of an untouchable cast. We are not going to let our son do without, no matter how different that makes us."

Margie's eyes were wet.

"So, the boys who are your friends, who may be at some point closer than friends? They are starving. Which does not mean you have to feed them, or make up for how they've been treated, because you can't. You can't fix how they have been hurt. They have to do that for themselves. But you can bear witness. And I want you to promise me you will never, ever tease a boy for how desperate he is. Observe your limits, make him respect you, yes, but you respect him in return. Promise?"

"I...Yes, I think I know how to do that."

"And the next thing is...boys are mixed up about their penises."

Margie looked back down at her hands.

"Part of it is how everybody is uptight about genitals, all genitals. Part of it is how it must feel to have everything hanging out there, in full view, and so vulnerable to getting hurt. I can't quite imagine, but I empathize. And then, when they hit puberty, not only do they have all kinds of hormones in their bloodstream causing all kinds of emotional swings, just like girls...but their penis takes on a life of its own."

"What are you talking about?"

"I mean erections. They get erections when they least expect them. Sometimes it's related to a feeling about someone else -- just imagine, if your body had a part that went through a visible change when you had certain thoughts -- but also they get erections for reasons that make no sense to them at all. It just springs into life, and if anybody is looking at you, they can tell. The other morning, Gillam was eating breakfast in his underwear and he got up to get some juice, and I said 'Hey, would you pour me a glass of milk?', just like that, absolutely like I talk every other time, and his face goes red and there's this bulge in his tightie-whities---"

Margie stuck her fingers in her ears. "I do NOT want to hear this about my BROTHER!" she shouted.

"Okay, right, over the line. Sorry. Gillam's head would explode, too, if he knew. Okay, to get back to my point, the boys you are hanging out with are only one or two years past where Gillam is right now. They are dealing with all this, trying to keep their privacy and dignity intact. And I think most of them are not convinced that any girl is ever really gong to even want to see their penis, much less touch it. They are fixated on it, because it's the elephant in the room, but they are terribly alone with it."

"They make jokes all the time, dick jokes."

"Humor helps relieve the stress but it's not the same as sharing. And, boys have a culture of cruelty that is brutal. They make fun of each other in ways that helps turn them into the numb, shut-down men who run this country. It's barbarism at its worst. And you actually don't see the worst of what happens."

Margie said "Is this happening to Gillam?"

"It's starting."

"What are you going to do?"

"The best we can. We can talk more about that another time, and maybe you can figure out ways to help. But off the topic of Gillam...Somebody who doesn't quite like his own body part and isn't sure you will ever like it, well, he's not going to be able to be very responsible about caring for it. You are going to have to be penis-smart."

Margie was red and laughing.

"This does NOT mean trying to take care of it for him. But since he's going to want to share it with you, whoever this future boy in your life is -- you have to make sure his penis does not cause you harm. I am specifically talked about diseases and pregnancy."

"I KNOW how to not get pregnant, Mom, I KNOW this part."

"I don't think you do. And god knows I'm no expert about procreation, but I do know about sexual stupidity, I'm the queen of that. So, I'm just going to say one word to you, Benjamin Braddock: "


"One word: Latex. Latex is our friend. Latex blocks the transmission of organic material."

Myra reached under the bed and pulled out a small blue duffel. She opened it at an angle, so Margie couldn't see inside, rummaged for a moment, then pulled out a dental dam.

"This is latex. Here, put it on your palm."

Margie obliged cautiously.

"Now, your palm is a very sensitive part of your body. I am going to touch your palm with latex on it. Can you feel that? Close your eyes and see if you can tell me what letter I am tracing."


"That's right. Latex blocks organic material but not sensation. You can still feel amazing things through latex. So don't believe the crap about how condoms or other barriers kill the pleasure. There's nothing pleasurable about being terrified of AIDS or getting knocked up."

Margie gave the dental dam back to Myra, glad to be rid of it.

"But boys, too many of them, are NOT going to be mature enough or confident enough about their penis to use a condom. They just want you to like them, and to maybe like them enough so their penis is sneaked into the picture. So, when you reach the point of thinking about sexual activity, you need to carry condoms with you. You need to pull them out when it's time for them, and you need to help him put a condom on his penis."

Margie had covered her face with her hands. What part of her face was showing was scarlet.

"And just like everything else involving motor skills, practice makes perfect. We don't have a boy to experiment on, but I do have a penis substitute." Myra reached back into the duffel and pulled out a large grey silicone dildo still in a plastic wrapper.

Margie took a peek, then screamed "Oh, my GOD, Mom. I can't take this!"

"If you can't take this, how are you ever going to make love with somebody?"

"That is different."

"I know you're wishing the earth would just open up and swallow you right now. But if you can survive the horror of this moment, you'll be stronger in ways you'll appreciate later on. This item has never been used, I promise you. Take it out of its wrapper. Go on, Margie, it's just silicone."

Margie was trying to unwrap it using only the tips of her fingers. Myra reached into the duffel and pulled out a handful of brightly-colored condoms.

"Now, I will demonstrate how to put a condom on. It's not completely realistic, of course, because this penis-substitute is not modeled to look like a real one except in general size and shape, it's detached and it's not sensitive to my blunders. The skin on boy's penises is exquisitely tender and can be torn by nails or by opposing pressure, so be gentle. Here's how you open a condom. Not quite as easy as opening a Jolly Rancher, but if you know the place to tear -- there we go. This kind, which is the kind you should always use, is lubricated. This does two things. One is that it helps eliminate friction on those fragile mucous membranes, his and yours. The second is that this lubricant has a substance in it that helps kill sperm, a spermicide. Thus reducing your changes of getting pregnant. Here, touch it."

Margie was still in fingertip mode. She had gone from being purple to an ashy pallor.

"As I think you know, when a boy ejaculates, semen comes from his penis. It comes out before that, too, so the condom needs to be on the whole time; but a big bunch of it comes out at once during ejaculation. If there is no place for it to go, it just might leak out the condom, and that would mean trouble with a capital T. But this part here" Myra pinched the tip of the condom "is a reservoir to hold the semen. So, you need to put on the condom with the reservoir left empty at the end. You roll it gently down with one hand, holding the reservoir off the tip of the penis with your other hand. There, that's on. Ready to rock and roll."

"Can I go now?"

"Well, no. You've just watched me. For you to have the ability to do this, you need to try it yourself. Here are five condoms. I want you to put each one on this penis. I promise you, you're going to make some boy some day extremely happy. You're going to be his dream come true."

"I cannot do this with you watching."

"I'll leave the room, then. But I'm going to check the condoms when you're done, so don't think you can fake it." Myra zipped up the duffel and stashed it away again.

As she opened the door, she saw the stove guy putting up his tools. She leaned back in and said, "The repair seems to be done. I'm going to pay him and let him out of the house."

Margie was sitting, stock still, with the dildo and condoms untouched on the bedspread in front of her.

After dealing with the stove guy and hearing his muffler-less truck take a while to get started in front of the house, she went to the kitchen and thought about what to make for dinner. She glanced at the clock. Ten minutes -- what was she doing in there?

She was looking in the pantry to see if they had brown rice left when the door to the carport opened and Ginny came in. She turned to say hi, and at that moment Margie came out of Ginny and Myra's bedroom with her cupped palms holding a Skittles-colored heap of stretched condoms.

Margie held her hands out to Myra and said in an aggrieved tone, "There. I used FIVE, just like you said." At that point she caught sight of Ginny, whose mouth was hanging open. Margie dropped her booty on the floor, turned and ran upstairs.

Ginny was staring at the items on the floor. Gillam came up behind her and said, "Hey, you're in the way, scooch over." Once past her, he said "Hi, Mom" to Myra without looking her way, then opened the door to the storage room and dropped his equipment bag inside. Pulling the door shut again, he had his jersey half over his head as he walked toward the deck. "I am so sweaty. I'm going for a swim before I do anything." He went out through the sliding door.

Ginny now looked up at Myra. "Is that...?"

Myra grinned. "The stove is fixed, cost us $185.00. I haven't started dinner yet. And, oh yeah, Margie decided to ask me about sex."

Ginny flung her bag at the couch. "And you gave her condoms? What was she doing in our bedroom? Is there somebody else in there?" She stalked over to the bedroom and shoved open the door. The dildo was still lying in the middle of their bedspread.

"Are you out of your fucking mind?" Ginny was livid. Myra felt her hackles rising.

"Do you want to hear what happened or just stay in your own righteous fantasyland a while longer?" Myra said in a controlled voice.

Ginny picked up the condoms angrily and crumpled them into the trash. She opened the stove door, looked inside as if there anything to see there, then let the door slam back shut. She walked over to the dining table and sat down hard in a chair, turning to look at Myra with a stony face. "Okay, tell me."

"She asked for a private conversation. She wanted me to say I wouldn't tell you--"

"What? Why couldn't she come to me with it?" Ginny yelled.

"Because she was worried about your reaction" Myra had the satisfaction of saying. "I told her I would not keep secrets from you but that I would act as her medium. So, number one, you do NOT get to go off on her about what I tell you. Go off on me, as if you haven't already started, but not on her. Capeesh?" Myra was trying really hard not to be as mad as Ginny.

Ginny reached out to put a foot up on another chair but knocked it over instead. She let it lie there.

"She said some of her friends were having sex, or at least messing around."

Ginny barged back in "Yeah, I can just imagine what that fucking Amy is up to. That girl is a whore."

Myra was genuinely shocked. "Ginny -- we have friends in COYOTE."

"So is that your career aspiration for our daughter, prostitution?"

Myra suddenly remembered the scene from Dances With Wolves where Kevin Costner is scampering around on all fours in the dirt trying to act out a buffalo for Graham Greene, and Graham says in Sioux to his friend, "His mind is gone." Ginny was not going to be fair at this moment.

"Gin...Margie asked me when she would know -- when she would feel like being sexual."

Myra saw that sink in. The clear implication was that Margie was not sexual yet.

"We had an extraordinarily frank conversation. I myself am still reeling from it. The short version is, I urged her to wait several years, I told her I trusted her no matter what--"

Ginny blew a raspberry.

"Which I do, Ginny Bates, and when you stop being a nutcase you will realize you do too. I talked to her about gender stuff, boys' terrible self-image and the roots of sexual compulsion, and then, while I had the chance because god knows I don't think she'll ever come to me again, I pulled out a dildo and taught her how to use a condom. I made her do it for herself. I used the big dildo that we've never wanted to use."

"Well, if she thinks they're all that size, she'll never want a boy near her."

"To be honest, that crossed my mind." Myra got Ginny to look at her, and Ginny laughed reluctantly. Then Ginny said, "I just can't believe she chose you over me."

Myra went still. "Why is that?"

"I figured it would be me talking with Margie, you with Gillam."

"I don't feel up to doing this ever again, so you are welcome to Gillam." Myra hesitated, then went on. "But is there another reason why, maybe, I'm not the person you want passing on sex ed to your daughter?"

Ginny did not comprehend immediately, but in a few seconds, Myra saw her make the connection. And then, agonizingly, she saw on Ginny's face that some of what she feared was true: Ginny did have a judgment of Myra that was not completely positive.

"Well, there we are" said Myra quietly. She put her hands on the counter and leaned on them heavily. "You know what? I'm exhausted. I'm tired and real fucking old right at this moment. Your daughter is upstairs, no telling what's going on for her, and could use your understanding. As could I, frankly. But I am going to join Gillam in the pool and challenge him to a race just so he can have the thrill of whipping my old ass."

Myra walked out to the deck. She pulled off her pants and shoes, left on her undershirt and panties, and dove into the pool on the other side of where Gillam was doing laps.

After one lap of her own, she could not stop herself from looking to see if Ginny was still at the dining room table. She was. Hell and damn. She put her head back into the water and started another lap.

When she was finally tired enough to need a rest, she pulled up onto the steps and glanced toward the house. No sign of Ginny. Gillam paddled over to her and she asked him "How did the game go?"

"We lost."


"Yeah, and Bush is still President." It was Gillam's best joke but she never got tired of it.

The sliding door opened and Ginny called out to her in a neutral voice, "Listen, I'm going over to hang out with Patty. Will you feed the kids?"

"Sure thing" said Myra. "Say hi for me."

Ginny was gone. Gillam's radar was pinging. Myra was determined not to give him something to worry about. She splashed water in his face, and they were off on a dunking contest.

Later, after swallowing water and hacking at the side of the pool a bit, she wiped her mouth and turned to Gillam. He said seriously, "Mom..."

She tried not to freeze at his tone.

"You know, I'm 12 now."

She cannot go through this again.

"And you always said I would have to be at least 12 before I could watch Alien. Do you think I'm old enough now?"

She was so relieved she lay back in the water. "Hell, yes" she said up to the sky. She waited to hear a water-muffled "Language" from him, but he was not able to get past the "yes".


"Yes. I have the DVD with extra features on it."

The sliding door opened again; it was Margie, looking ragged. "Where is Mom?"

"She went to Patty's."

Margie was relieved and disappointed at the same time. "What are we going to do about dinner?"

"Have it without her" said Myra.

"I mean...."

Myra stood up. "You know what? Let's order pizza."

Margie and Gillam were electrified. Margie said "Can I get some with pineapple on it?"

"Get whatever you want. In fact, call Piecora's and order one for yourself however you like it. And order a second one for me and Gillam with pepperoni AND Italian sausage."

Margie was ready to act on this before Myra came to her senses, but Myra stopped her "And you know what else? Get us some sodas. I want Coke."

Gillam yelled "Root beer for me!"

Right before the door shut, Myra called her back -- one concession to Ginny's rules. "Margie -- no diet drinks for you."

Margie didn't care. The night was full of promise.

Myra and Gillam went in. Myra gave Margie money for the pizza and tip, then went into her room to change. She put away the dildo and cleared up the condom wrappers. She was suddenly scared and still exhausted. In the living room, Gillam was already back down in sweats and had the DVD in his hands, staring at the cover.

"Will you watch with us?" Myra asked Margie with a little plead in her voice. Margie conceded and got in the arm chair. Gillam hopped onto the couch beside Myra, tucking his feet up underneath him.

Myra picked up the remote and started the movie. She just hoped the pizza got there before the face-hugger scene. With the opening graphic, she felt a comforting thrill. She had watched this movie so many times, she could recite whole sections of it by heart. Ellen Ripley was her alter ego.

Right before Kane found the eggs, the doorbell rang. Margie scrambled to the door while Gillam paused the movie. As Margie was paying and thanking the delivery boy in a most charming manner, Gillam got plates, cups and napkins from the kitchen. There were some perks to having your children get older.

Myra couldn't remember the last time she had delivery pizza. It was heavenly. The Coke went straight into her bloodstream. Margie had moved over beside them on the couch. Myra was starting on her second piece when the front door opened and all of them jumped.

Ginny stood for a moment, looking at the pizzas on the hassock, the soda bottles on the floor, the paused screen image of Ash poking at the alien embryo-planter with a medical instrument. Myra said, "You're back early. I'm glad."

Ginny sighed, crossed to the armchair, picked up a plate and looked at Margie's pizza. Margie said "It's pineapple, feta, and anchovy." Ginny controlled her expression well. She took a piece and bit into it. Her eyebrows raised. "Not bad, actually." She leaned back in the chair, then leaned forward again to pick up Margie's Sprite and take a swig from it. "Start the movie back up, I'm ready."

They all screamed, even Myra, when the baby alien burst out of Kane's stomach. Once it scooted out of sight, they all started laughing, hard. A few seconds later, Gillam said, "Oh, man, I gotta pee." Myra paused the movie as he ran for the guest bathroom downstairs. Margie went into the kitchen to get a fourth glass, since Ginny had taken over her Sprite. Ginny slid over to the couch and curled herself into Myra's side. Myra kissed her forehead lingeringly.

"Patty says I'm lucky to have you" Ginny said softly.

"Patty is right" said Myra. "But it goes two ways."

There was the sound of a flush and Gillam burst out of the bathroom, climbing onto the couch over the back. "I'm ready" he said.

Margie returned and looked at her place on the couch, now occupied by Ginny. Ginny uncurled herself from Myra and reached out a hand to Margie. "Come on, there's room. Let's all hunker down together on this broken-down couch one last time. Tomorrow I am going out and buying new living room furniture."

Margie squeezed in, saying "Leather! Red leather."

Gillam said "Let's get one of those L-shaped kind with a built-in recliner."

Ginny said, "I will be the one choosing the style and fabric. You will all see it when it gets delivered."

"Fair enough" said Myra, and she restarted the movie.

The next afternoon, Ginny refused to describe the furniture she'd just purchased, repeating they could all see it when it was delivered. Two days later, they marveled at the cobalt-blue leather with accent trim that exactly matched the wide pine flooring of the living room. Gillam and Margie put slide protectors under the foot of each piece and let Ginny order them around as she tried out different arrangements. There was a long, luxurious couch ("Long enough for even Allie to sack out on" said Ginny), a loveseat, a reclining easy chair, and a big hassock. In addition, Ginny went by Lawrence's thrift store and found a big square coffee table of pine that she could strip and refinish. It was the first brand-new living room suite Ginny or Myra had ever owned. The day after it arrived, Ginny made a trip to the pet store to buy a can of some spray-on substance intended to keep animals away from furniture.

That night, as the kids were doing homework, racing to be first done so they could claim the couch to watch a movie, Myra asked Ginny into her study for a quiet talk.

"I'm still upset with you for calling Amy a whore" Myra began.

"Oh, hell, you know I didn't mean that" protested Ginny.

"Then why did it come out of your mouth so easily?" asked Myra.

Ginny looked at her hard. "Are you really planning to bust my chops about respect for prostitutes?" she said, already defensive.

"Well -- yeah, among other things. But first, about Amy -- you know her mother is Vietnamese -- "

"Oh, for god's sake, Myra, I did not call Amy a whore because of racism, don't you dare imply that!"

"No, that's not where I'm headed. I've talked with her a lot, you know, at PTSA meetings and other times...Amy's father was in the war, that's where they met. But -- I'm pretty sure Doan Vien was a working girl. I think that's how they met."

"Fuck." Ginny's face paled a little.

"Yeah" said Myra, patting Ginny's shoulder. "I don't know what Margie knows, or Amy for that matter, but I never want either of them hear that term used disparagingly. Which, of course, you and I agree on."

"Of course" said Ginny, her voice subdued.

Myra went on. "But -- I mean, I use the word whore descriptively because I've had friends who do -- well, one of my exes, Fern, had been a dancer and did tricks. And -- there's Chris. So if they say whore, as well as prostitute, then I figure it's an okay word, it's all about the respect in your voice."

Ginny said "I still can't imagine Chris..."

"Oh, I can. I guess it helps to have known her right out of the hospital. Or -- maybe it's because I don't have a Hollywood version of prostitution."

"Nor do I, Myra. I'm perfectly well aware that the threat of being called a whore is used against all women in the same way that being called a dyke is, and that it's always an economic survival choice, at rock bottom. And that my ability to not make personal choices based on male approval or protection is a luxury, not because of moral superiority on my part."

"Yeah, Ginny, I'm not questioning your feminist smarts. But it still feels like there's some kind of distance in how you talk about it -- a distance that's not just because we're dykes and we've never had to suck cock to make it to the next day -- "

Ginny looked at Myra as Myra remembered that actually wasn't true for her. She felt that cold sickness in the pit of her stomach, momentary but it never failed to show up when she had to face the entirety of Myra's childhood. She slid over so the side of her body was pressed next to Myra. Myra rubbed her own forehead for a second, then went on.

"I mean, Ginny, in the trailer parks where I grew up, sometimes near the end of the month, red bulbs would go in porch lights to meet rent. One friend of mine, Roxanne, her mom did that and my Mama would have Roxanne stay with me for a sleepover. It was just -- ordinary. At least, that's what I picked up from Mama."

Ginny laughed drily. "Your Mama and mine, the only thing they had in common was a womb."

Myra re-gathered her thoughts, and said "So -- Amy and Margie, I think they are such natural friends not just because they're smarter than the other kids, and mouthy, and haven't been allowed to be fembots -- I think they also bond around being different in that children-of-sexual-outlaws sense. Plus the race stuff -- Margie's growing up in Allie and Chris's laps has made her not the same white as the other kids in her school."

"I'd thought of all that except the -- I didn't know about Doan Vien....Does this mean that Amy's brother Randy, who's so much older than her, is he -- ?"

"Have you seen him? He's clearly Roger's son. But yeah, from the dates, I think getting pregnant with him is why Roger married her. And they haven't been that happy together -- if Doan Vien hadn't gotten pregnant with Amy, I bet she would have left him as soon as Randy graduated high school. I think Amy hangs out here so much because there's tension at home."

"Oh, hell, Myra, why is all this about Margie's best friend such news to me? Am I just not paying attention?" Ginny leaned her head on Myra's shoulder, feeling like crap about herself.

"No, I think Margie holds stuff back from you. Because she's so much like you, and she has to make boundaries where she can. I did that with my mom when I was a teenager, and you know how crazy I was about her. You're a great mother, don't sweat it" said Myra sweetly.

Ginny kissed her cheek. "Thank god there's two of us."

"Well, three, plus two more a few nights a week. I can't imagine us pulling this off without all the help we've got."

"I'll watch my language, Myra. Time for an attitude adjustment."

"Maybe a tweak. But you know I love you the way you are." Myra grinned at Ginny.

"Except when you don't" Ginny grinned back.

August 2002

When Margie emerged from a solid hour of laps in the pool after lunch, a little breathless but her increasingly muscled body glistening and brown, Ginny said "We need to go clothes shopping before school starts, I imagine you're outgrowing things at a steady rate."

Margie, pouring herself a glass of milk, hesitated. Ginny said "What?"

"I do need clothes, Mom. But -- I'd rather shop for them myself." Margie's face was a mix of defiance and apology.

Myra watched Ginny go through several answers before she said "All right. I'll give you the credit card for this round, and from here on, we'll give you a clothing allowance of $100 a month. But you'll be buying all your own clothes out of that, except for high-end necessities like a winter coat or sports equipment." Margie's surprise was complete. She forgot to finish lifting the glass of milk to her lips.

Ginny pulled a card from her wallet and set it on the breakfast bar. "Don't lose that. No more than $250 for this back-to-school venture, including shoes." She was calm and friendly. Myra was cheering her on silently. Then Ginny said "And anything you come home with that I consider to be inappropriate, you won't be wearing back out of the house, so keep that in mind, please."

"How am I supposed to know what you'll think is inappropriate?" demanded Margie.

"Since you no longer need my company or my advice to shop, you'll just have to figure that out for yourself" said Ginny, finally letting a tone of hurt into her voice. She walked back to her study.

Myra heard Margie mutter something about paying for the sins of the mothers, but she drained her glass, rinsed it, picked up the card and went upstairs to change. When she came back down, ready to go out, Myra said "I can drop you somewhere if you want."

"Nah, I'm hooking up with Amy on Broadway, and we'll catch a bus from there" said Margie. "Can I bring her home for dinner?"

"Sure" said Myra. "Take your pager."

Margie stuck it in her pocket with only a merest hint of condescension and walked out the front door with a backward wave.

Myra went to find Ginny. "You did remarkably well" she said, putting her arms around Ginny's neck as Ginny sat at her worktable. Ginny swung her chair around, grinning.

"We spend an average of $150 a month on her clothes" she said smugly. "Her shoe size is hard to find, and expensive."

Myra began laughing. "The cost of independence is about to show up in her closet, eh?"

"At least until her birthday -- we can give her a big gift certificate then" answered Ginny.

"Gin, do you 'handle' me the way you do her?" asked Myra, beaming down at her.

"Never a need for that, angel. You're too smart to argue with me" said Ginny, tugging Myra down for a kiss.

(The next section is immediately after the Halloween party of 2002, described here, and Allie's dinner with Edwina, described in this post.)

When Myra and Ginny went to bed later, Ginny said "Are you going to call Allie in the morning and find out the details of her time with Edwina?"

"Nope" said Myra. "She'll talk to me when she wants to."

"Are you feeling any kind of -- jealousy pangs?" asked Ginny.

"No, and that's pretty amazing. I've wanted her to have somebody like this for what seems forever, and I wanted it so badly that I wanted to audition for the part. As you know. But thank god she was smart enough to know I was wrong for the job, thank god. 'Cause now we have each other forever, AND she's got a chance at other kinds of happiness."

"Here's where you add 'Like I found with you'" prompted Ginny softly.

Myra turned so she could see Ginny's face. "Like I found with you" she whispered.

The next day, midmorning Myra was sitting on her daybed with a fresh printout of new writing, about to mark it up for editing. Ginny was in her studio. Myra didn't hear the front door open, so she was startled to suddenly see Allie before her.

"Holy shit, Al, you really snuck up on me that time!" she exclaimed.

Allie stood there, not really smiling but not looking upset, either. Myra wasn't sure what to call Allie's expression. She heard Ginny coming to the door of her studio as Myra asked "Al? You all right?"

Allie said softly "That's exactly what I am. You was right, My. You said I'd get here."

As Ginny came into view, Myra dropped her pages and pen, holding out her arms to Allie. Ginny was astounded when Allie nimbly crawled into Myra's lap and burst into tears. Ginny sat down on the daybed beside Myra, saying "Oh god, Allie, what happened?"

But Myra made a shushing face at her, so Ginny leaned her face against Allie's back and held her around her waist silently. In more than 20 years of friendship, she'd never seen Allie let loose like this. It frightened her a little, mostly because she was confused.

Until Allie wound down and slid so she was sitting between Myra and Ginny, wiped her face with her palm, a beatific smile on her face. Ginny said "Edwina -- are you lovers?"

"Not yet" grinned Allie. "We got all the time in the world. We held each other and talked all night."

Myra just waited, Allie's fingers laced through her own. After several breaths, Allie said "No snares left in me. How can that be, after what I been through? But it true. I'm back to clean as a baby."

"You worked like a stevedore every single day to get here, Allie. It only looks miraculous because the lies obscure the view until every last one is hacked away" said Myra in a near whisper.

"You kept saying. You swore it to me on you honor. But I got to admit, My, I usually thought you was fulla shit." Allie and Myra laughed wildly together.

"I am, often, but not when it comes to your abilities" said Myra.

Allie took Ginny's hand as well and said "I gonna marry her. I know you two don't believe in marrying, but I do. We gonna jump over the broomstick. You just watch us."

"We will" said Ginny, her heart swollen to ribcage size.

"So..." said Allie, thinking. "I'm gonna be wearing out the road between here and Portland for who knows how long. She really don't travel, does she? Which means some things will have to give. But not the kids, not my time with them."

"Or your art" said Ginny. "Keep that intact."

"We'll help make up the slack" said Myra. "Not just getting to see you less ourselves, but also helping you keep your duckies in a row. Oh, Allie. She blew me away last night. And I think she might just know what a catch you are."

Allie have a long, happy sigh.

"You want some coffee?" asked Ginny.

"I do, but I need sleep a lot more. Could I just crash here, will I be in you way?" asked Allie.

Myra made a raspberry sound. "Silly girl. You want our bed, or the spare room, or what?"

"I meant here, right on this daybed" said Allie.

"Oh, sure. I'll turn off the lights, grab you a pillow from the closet. I can work at the dining table" said Myra.

"No, you sit at you desk, close by, that'd be nice" said Allie. "Just don't do that thing where you suck you teeth, go brush 'em if you haven't already."

Myra turned red and said "Okay. Wasn't aware of it."

"We'll turn off the phone, too" said Ginny. "Do you want us to wake you up for lunch?"

"Nah. Let me sleep until I wake up on my own. I just want to be here in the house where I met her. Ground zero" said Allie. Ginny again marveled at seeing Allie be goofy, another first for her.

At lunchtime, Myra quietly made chef salads for her and Ginny. Ginny joined her at the dining table and they whispered through the meal. Rainy weather had blown in and darkened the study shadows to near dusk appearance. Myra kept leaning around the corner to sneak a peek at Allie, stretched on her back in deep slumber, a soft yellow quilt all the way up to her collar. Myra couldn't remember what she had wished for during the ten seconds after midnight on Halloween, but whatever it had been, she thought god must have given her this instead.

That Friday afternoon, Allie hung out with Margie and Gillam for an hour after school but left before shabbos dinner to drive to Portland. She made a point of giving each child a card with Edwina's number on it, saying "You need to call me, don't think twice, just do it. You get her machine, talk into it, tell me it's you. Promise?"

The table felt empty without her. Margie was hollow-eyed, which was much harder on Myra than her anger. She said to Margie "Sucks. Not her being in love, because we all want that for her. But it sucks to miss her like this."

Margie glanced at her in commiseration. After dinner, Sima said "Do you know to do pedicures? If you teach me, we could do each other's feet." Margie raced upstairs for supplies, and Sima said "I should go wash my middle-aged dogs in your tub, they may reek."

Chris turned to Gillam and said "You got hot rollers? We could pile my hair up in a beehive." Which Gillam thought was hysterical. Myra brought out the Scrabble board and they played for hours, watching Sima and Margie progress from pedicures to clay masks, and finally raiding Margie's jewelry box for items that could be reset or restrung to make new-looking baubles. As Sima was showing Margie how to reset a stone with needlenose pliers, Gillam picked up the jar of clay and read the label.

"You wanna try that?" asked Myra. "It feels good, actually. I used to do it when I was younger, I'll put some on, too."

Gillam hesitated, but said "Okay, yeah."

Once their faces were transformed by stiffening green silt, they got out the Polaroid and took hilarious photos of each other, "to show Allie when she gets home" said Gillam. Chris had joined in, and Myra commented "We look like the opening act of Macbeth."

At 10:00, just as Ginny was about to send the kids up to bed, the phone rang. Margie looked at it for a second, then sprang to the breakfast bar to answer. After a second, she said "I knew it was gonna be you." Another pause, and she said happily "I miss the fuck out of you, too. How was the drive?" She settled onto a stool to chat. She eventually allowed Gillam a turn, but demanded "Give it back when you're done, I want to say bye to her at the end." And right before she hung up, she said "Please say hi to Aunt Edwina for me. I hope we see her again soon." Myra and Ginny looked at each other and hid their smiles.

The following Monday when Myra got up, Ginny was at the dining table, reading the paper and finishing her tea. Her eyes were red as if she had been crying.

"What's wrong, honey?" said Myra, sitting down next to her.

"Yoko died" said Ginny in a tremulous voice.

"Oh, shit, I'm so sorry to hear that. It -- wasn't a murder was it?"

Ginny stared at Myra. "Dinah, do you mean?"

"Dinah?" Myra was bewildered.

"Yoko Gecko" said Ginny, finally making the connection.

"Oh. Oh, honey, that's really sad. What was she, about ten?"

"I guess. I buried her near Alice."

Myra put her arms around Ginny and said "I'm sorry I wasn't up."

Ginny cried some more. "I think O'Keefe is a little freaked about it."

"When I get dressed, shall we go find her a new companion?"

"Oh, Myra, I feel guilty about even having them as pets. I mean, they should be living in the wild."

"Yes, but the wild here is not an option. And the ones already in the pet store, Ginny, they're bound for far less hospitable environments that what you can give them. Besides, you really love them. Yoko knew you loved her, I could tell."

"You're such a sap, Myra. I can't be sure if you believe that or are just being sweet to me."

"I'm your kind of sap, Ginny. Let me get some food inside me and we'll go a-geckoing."

Ginny named the new gecko Marisol. "I'm not familiar with that one" said Myra.

"Marisol Escobar. Venezuelan sculptor" said Ginny. "And look, O'Keefe is so relieved."

Myra could never see any expression at all on gecko faces, but she kept trying.

"She must be. That Marisol is a hottie -- look at how vivid her red spots are."

Ginny giggled and goosed Myra. "Now you're just making stuff up."

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