Thursday, December 13, 2007


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.

January 2004 -- Margie is 15, Gillam has just turned 15

On Monday, when Myra got up she had a couple of lines of poetry in her head. She bypassed breakfast, afraid any distraction would wipe her mind clean. Ginny didn't acknowledge her as she sat at her computer and turned it on. After two pages, she realized the poem needed to end much earlier -- maybe after two stanzas -- but she kept going, using it as some kind of purge. Near the end of the fifth page, her intensity dissipated and she stopped.

She hit print and stood up to go say hi to Ginny. She grabbed the pages on her way back to the kitchen, making toast and a quick omelet before she sat down to read through.

There was a poem in there, she was able to parse it out from the rest with her pencil. It was bleak and unsettled, but a poem. As she rinsed her dishes, she glanced sideways at Ginny; there was no sign Ginny had eaten. Some stubborn part of her decided to ignore it. She went to the freezer, got out a casserole and set it in the oven to bake. She went back to the storeroom, got out two of the small Cokes in bottles she kept hidden there, poured them into a large glass over ice, and carried this with her edited pages back to her desk.

When the timer went off, she came back from the world of her novel where she'd been buried for over an hour. A delicious smell was in the air, but she was also aware of a small, high sound. She traced it to the corner of Ginny's studio: Narnia in a cardboard box, whining for attention. Myra was appalled at having forgotten about the puppy, then had a surge of anger that Ginny had forgotten her, too. She took Narnia outside before going to the kitchen to pull out the casserole. She fed Narnia and played with her exuberantly for half an hour until the baby dog was exhausted. Myra put on an old over-sized sweatshirt, tucked up the bottom edge like a hammock, and carried Narnia in it back to the desk.

After another hour of work, Narnia woke up and Myra took her outside again. Leaving the puppy loose on the floor, she plated room-temperature casserole with a small salad and fed herself and Ginny alternating bites. Ginny came out of long enough to ask how she was.

"Writing" said Myra. She was gratified by the gladness on Ginny's face.

She carried Narnia with her when she went to pick up the kids and take Margie to her therapist. Gillam asked to go over to Carly's for dinner, and Myra said yes. She dropped them off, played with Narnia in a park until Margie was done. Back at home, she said the rest of the casserole and another salad was all she planned for dinner. Allie came to eat with them and went up to Margie's room with her afterward. Myra returned to her desk.

Tuesday was similar, except Carly came home with Gillam for dinner and Myra ordered Chinese food. Her novel already felt out of control, the characters stomping over her planned plot arc and heading off in different directions. She felt addicted to writing, but turned over her computer to Margie when Margie asked if she could use it for school research. Gillam and Carly holed up in Gillam's room; she could hear the bass thud anywhere in the house.

She let Margie watch a 10:00 documentary on PBS, not inviting the boys down, as she reclaimed her computer. She stopped long enough to say goodnight to Margie; she couldn't tell how Margie was doing, and she felt guilty about that. Right before she went to bed, she heard Ginny begin singing under her breath. She made a pair of avocado and cheese sandwiches the way Ginny liked them and put them in the fridge with a note.

On Wednesday morning, she got up when the alarm went off and fed the kids, driving them to school and stopping on the way back at a diner. She went to Pike and bought smoked chicken plus crab meat for enchiladas that night. She let Narnia roam the house unsupervised as she plunged back into writing, setting the alarm on her computer to ring every hour so she could check on the puppy.

Ginny got up at noon and began doing housework after she couldn't get much of a response from Myra. Myra didn't try very hard to leave her novel, and she felt a bit of perverse pleasure in her distance. It was short-lived. She had to stop at 1:00 to get ready for another meeting with the lawyer. She and Ginny talked about inconsequential things on the drive there. The lawyer was in a hurry, but her news was that Kevin's parents and lawyer were requesting a plea bargain. She outlined their options and excused herself, saying she was due in court.

Myra had taken notes but she still couldn't quite understand it all. They picked up Margie and Gillam, and Ginny refused Gillam's request for Carly to come over, saying they had some talking to do that evening. Neither she nor Myra felt like elaborating when the children demanded "What? Talking about what?"

"Later" Ginny said. At home, Gillam stomped upstairs and Margie went into the back yard with Narnia. Myra began assembling enchiladas and Ginny pulled out veggies, then stopped and said "I don't know what to say. About the plea bargain thing, I mean."

"Allie, Chris and Sima are all coming for dinner. I think we should just lay it out after we all eat, see if we can hash it out together" said Myra.

"With the kids?"

Myra paused, then said "Yeah. I guess so."

Ginny drained a jar of artichoke hearts to go with the rice and tomato salad, and they continued on in silence.

Once Allie was there, Myra's pull to go back to her desk lessened. She felt more awake than she had in a couple of days. Ginny showed her new painting before they all sat down to eat. Allie had brought apricot jam tarts, a rare mid-week dessert. As she made coffee and Sima made tea, Myra told Margie and Gillam they'd met with the lawyer and it was time for a family council.

She read through her notes, with lots of revisions and additions by Ginny. It was weird how confused they both were -- weird and frightening. Sima, however, was able to cut through the language and sum things up.

"If you and them can agree on a plea, Margie doesn't have to testify, right? The question is, what will make you feel justice has been reached here. Margie, what do you want?" Sima looked at her kindly.

"I -- it would be great not to have to go to court, yes. As far as punishment -- I don't know. I mean, what I really want is for him to admit what he did, to everybody, and to -- change, I guess. For me to be able to know he'll never do it again" said Margie slowly.

Ginny snorted. "That's a certainty we'll never have" she said with intense bitterness. "I think we have to settle for stopping him."

"But how can we do that?" asked Margie. "I mean -- forever?"

Myra closed her eyes against the solution that came into her head. When she opened them again, she saw Gillam looking at her.

Ginny said "He's 17, he can be tried as an adult and get a long sentence. The lawyer said Stephanie's parents are willing to testify that Margie didn't do anything provocative, and that when he got back to the party he was bragging about something with a few of the boys in the corner. They're horrified about what happened, and grateful to us for not suing them. We can rot his ass in jail."

The silence at the table was acute. Myra said "But -- what good will that do? To Margie, I mean. To us."

Ginny stared at her incredulously. "It will keep him from attacking other girls like he did Margie, that's what good. And maybe scare the shit out of his troglodyte buddies."

"Until he gets out. At which point he'll be a hardened criminal" said Myra.

"As if he's not already, Myra!" shouted Ginny. "You think this is the first time he's done this? He was way too practiced at it. He has to be stopped."

"I agree, Ginny. Except about how to stop him" said Myra.

"Oh, don't you dare suggest counseling -- you know as well as I do, no counseling program addresses the issues of masculinity and the patriachy, NONE of them take on what really causes fucked up maleness! Recidivism is just as high for the fuckers who get shrunk as those who go to prison!" Ginny was incensed.

"I read about one program that had a 60% success rate, and yes, they took on masculinity in all its perversion" said Myra.

"Where was this program, and what is their definition of success? And 60%, that's a fucking joke, Myra, we wouldn't accept that in car repairs!"

"I can't remember where, but I can find out -- " Myra began. Ginny wasn't listening any more.

"What the fuck has happened to you, Myra? Of all people, I should think you'd be opting for a solid line here. Seventeen is old enough to pay the piper -- your brother was 17 when he began raping you, wasn't he? Forcing you to put his dick in your mouth -- "

Myra swung her hand toward Ginny, planning to put it over Ginny's lips. Ginny jerked backward as if Myra had been trying to strike her. Allie said "Enough!" She stood up and pulled Myra to her feet, saying "You sit over here."

"I wasn't going to hit her -- " began Myra.

"I know, but you not tracking either. Siddown and take a few deep breaths" commanded Allie. She looked at Chris and said "Maybe we need to do this first without the kids."

"Nuh-uh!" burst out Gillam. "I'm not being shut out of this one, no more closed sessions while our lives get decided for us!"

"This isn't about you" said Allie.

"The hell it's not!" said Gillam, standing up to look her almost in the eye. "He's only four years older than me, I go to school with his siblings, this is my community more than it is yours! And -- you know, I really liked him, I thought he was a great guy. I -- me and Carly looked up to him, we useta talk about how nice -- " Gillam burst into sobs.

It took a couple of seconds before anyone could react. Sima reached Gillam first, wrapped her arms around his waist from behind and said "It's okay, honey, I get it." Chris stood up, too, and pulled Gillam to her chest. Myra and Ginny were both gaping at him.

Margie began crying after saying "I liked him, too, Gillam." Allie sat down beside her and put her arms around Margie.

Myra was fighting the need to vomit. She clamped her hands together and focused on the table in front of her. After a minute, she said, not looking at Ginny, "I don't know how to fix the kind of damage that turned him into what he is. But if I give up on the hope for that -- it affects everything I do. Everything I believe in."

"I just don't think that's our job, Myra" said Ginny, her tone not quite as hostile as it had been.

"It is now. He struck out, he struck our family, and we're being asked what to do about it" said Myra. "I mean, I'm going to support whatever Margie wants, and if Margie wants him in prison, then I'm all for it. But -- "

"I don't know what I want!" wailed Margie. "I don't understand how he could do that to me!"

Ginny wrapped herself around Margie on the other side. "Nobody does, angel, there's no rational explanation."

"There has to be" cried Margie. "He's a human being, he's not a freak of nature, something happened to make him be that way, or else you've both lied to me all my life!"

"He'll be raped in prison" said Gillam, lifting his head from Chris's shoulder, "Is that what you want to have happen? For him to get treated like he treated Margie?"

Yes thought Myra. A second later, she said out loud "He's already been treated that way, at least emotionally, or else he wouldn't have learned the behavior. So no, I don't think adding to his damage is what will make the world a better place." Gillam looked at her with the first glimmering of real connection they'd had in two days.

After a couple more minutes of crying, Sima got tissues for the children to blow their noses and Margie leaned against Ginny as Allie said "I think Margie has to make up her mind, without our pressure, and then we figure out how to make it happen for her."

Myra got Margie's gaze and said "You can take it to Sheila. And anyone else you want to. We have a couple of days to make a decision."

"Okay" said Margie, sucking in a breath. Gillam sat back down, Chris settling in beside him. Myra was picking up flakes of pastry from her tart with a moistened fingertip and eating them, not looking in Ginny's direction. Allie ran her hand over her head, appearing surprised at the length there -- she was growing her hair out to have dreads for the first time, probably at Edwina's suggestion.

After a long silence, Allie said to Ginny "Okay with you if we don't do the art thang tonight?"

Ginny's face didn't look pleased, but she said "Yeah. I'm kinda tapped out, myself."

"Well, I do have a suggestion for us all. Something to raise the energy, something fun" said Allie. "Gillam, will you go out to my truck and get a CD from the glovebox? It's by Marcia Griffiths, name Carousel."

Gillam raised his eyebrows but was rapidly out the door. Allie went into the living room, saying "Myra, come help me move this furniture back. We need a dance floor."

Myra wanted to argue about dancing, but she felt on crumbly ground at the moment and she wanted Allie to be on her side. Margie came to help them, her face looking animated as she said "What kind of dance?"

"Get you CD player, that big giant one, bring it down here" said Allie with a grin. She looked around at the three women still sitting at the table and said "Get you dancing shoes on or off, whatever you prefer."

When Gillam returned with the CD, Chris intercepted him and read the back. "Oho!" she said, her grin huge. "This the same one as those funky clubs you used to haul me to back in '83?" she asked Allie.

"Yep" said Allie. Margie had her CD player plugged in, and Allie programmed it to keep repeating track one. Pushing the pause button, she arranged everyone in two lines, three in front of three, and faced them to announce "We gonna learn The Electric. The original 22 step mama, not the disco white boy version. Myra, wipe that look off you face, this is a grapevine, even you can do this."

Allie was right. An hour later, they'd done the electric slide a dozen times, their faces were flushed, Myra had had to use her inhaler, and Margie couldn't stop laughing, deep belly laughs that set off everybody else. They stopped to drink ice water, take out Narnia, wipe their faces, and after ten minutes returned to the living room where Allie taught them variations. In addition to the slide they'd already mastered, they practiced turns (left, right, back), what Allie called a Charleston, and a kind of twirl. They lost track of time until suddenly Myra called out "My god, it's past your bedtimes!"

Margie and Gillam collected hugs all around, their cheeks flushed and shoulders loose, and went up the stairs together trying to do the Charleston without injuring themselves. Myra watched them, her blood running clean in her veins, until they were out of sight. Her friends had returned the living room to rights, and she sat down heavily on the loveseat. After a second, Ginny squeezed in beside her.

"I gotta say, you're a worthy opponent in a knock-down drag-out" Myra said to her, sliding her hand into Ginny's.

"You wouldn't have it any other way, trailer park girl" Ginny replied with a kiss on her cheek. They both turned to Allie and said, one after the other, "You completely fucking ROCK" and "Thank you with all my heart, Allie Billups".

Allie gave them a salute as she got another glass of ice water and returned to the couch. Sima joined her there, and Chris took the recliner.

"When does she see Sheila next?" Sima asked.

"Tomorrow" said Ginny. "And Gillam has said he'll consider seeing a counselor, but we're not sure who yet."

"He needs more than he's getting" said Chris. Myra felt Ginny tense beside her, and jumped in with "Got any suggestions?"

"I do" said Allie. "I got a friend might be willing to step in, act like a big brother. He'll have to audition for it, though, check out Gillam for himself."

"Who?" said Myra.

"Davonn" answered Allie.

Myra felt her guard come up. "Why would he do that? I mean, he's extremely busy with his work and his own circle of friends, isn't he?"

Allie looked at her blandly. "As a favor to me, for starters. But, like I say, he's only gonna say yeah if he gets a hit of how great Gillam is."

"What would they have in common? He's 10, 12 years older than Gillam" continued Myra. She didn't want to voice all her objections.

"Music, for one. Davonn could take him to some great clubs."

Now Ginny looked worried. "You mean where they serve alcohol?"

"There's music clubs not centered around drinkin' and druggin'" said Allie. She paused for a few long moments, looking at Myra and Ginny's faces, gave a sigh and said "I'm gonna break one of my rules here. Davonn is -- clean and sober. Never a relapse. Thing is -- I'm his sponsor, five years now."

Myra felt the enormity of it. Allie trusted him completely with Gillam, must be.

Ginny persisted briefly with "And isn't he gay?"

"Yeah. But not all his friends are. They's guys, a mixed group of guys" Allie said with emphasis. "And not chickenhawks."

"Jeez, Allie, you're like deux ex machina tonight" said Myra. Which got a big laugh out of Chris.

"Daddy's coming on Saturday" said Ginny. "How about if we all check in on Friday night with Margie and -- I guess -- have Davonn to dinner some time next week?"

"Don't tell Gillam anything about it" ordered Allie, "I'll just show up with him. And see if you can have Carly here, too, since for a while longer he and Gillam will be in each other's pockets."

They talked about other things half an hour until their guests left. Myra still felt a little awkwardness around Ginny. Ginny said "I'm going to jump in the pool for a couple of laps in lieu of a bath, you want to come, too?"

"Uh -- no, I'm going to grab a shower and look over what I wrote today, see if it's garbage or real" said Myra, a shade defensively. By the time she got to bed, Ginny was hard asleep but she pulled Myra into her arms and Myra relaxed there.

The next day Margie said she wanted to get to Sheila's on her own and would take a bus home. She was late for dinner. She said Sheila gave her a double session, but Myra noticed she also had a bag from a music store sticking out of her pack. She asked if Margie wanted to talk, and Margie said "Not yet". Her face looked normal, however.

After dinner, Margie lingered after dishes were done, finally asking "I'd like to ask Amy to come over for shabbos with us tomorrow."

"Well..." temporized Ginny. "It seems likely we're going to talk about the lawyer stuff, do you want her to be part of that?"

"Yeah, I do" said Margie. "And -- I'd also like Truitt and Carly to be here." Gillam looked up from scrubbing out the compost canister.

Ginny and Myra exchanged glances, and Myra said "What works for you, Margie, is right for us all. Why don't you call the guests?" Margie went upstairs to use her phone.

Myra had spent most of the afternoon doing research on rehabilitation programs for rapists, along with calls to Leesa, Pam, and professionals they recommended. She had a folder of papers on her desk, but she didn't feel like showing them to Ginny without someone else around to help in case they began fighting again.

The next day, Myra went to Pike and got the ingredients for jambalaya and coq au vin. She bought pralines and a gallon of vanilla ice cream, then once again hit the bakery for that weeks' bread instead of making her own. She was beginning to feel accustomed to how off kilter everything was.

When the kids got home, friends in tow, Ginny put them all to work cleaning house, not just for the dinner but also for David's arrival tomorrow. No one seemed to be expecting Helen to come, too. Ginny made challah, yogurt and cottage cheese, and after an hour in the kitchen together, she and Myra were talking easily again. Still, Myra felt a wave of relief seeing Chris fill the front doorway. Allie arrived not long after, saying she wasn't going to leave for Portland until the morning.

Having an equal number of teenagers and adults at the table gave Gillam and Margie a lot of permission to be loud and silly, which Ginny enjoyed as much as Myra. After the main meal was cleared away and everyone was crumbling pralines onto bowls of ice cream, Margie leaned back in her chair and said "I decided if there's any good to come from all this ... shit ... it will be me doing what I think is right. And the truth is, I don't believe in jails."

Myra's gaze as locked on Margie's face. Her cheeks were bright red, but her eyes were dark blue and proud, as she went on: "His life is ruined. It was ruined before he decided to attack me. I can't fix it, and I shouldn't have been put in his gunsights as someone who could make him feel less like a wreck. I'm fucking furious about that, and it's okay however long it takes me to get over being mad. But trying to make his life suck more will just feel awful to me, eventually. I'm tender-hearted and I want to stay that way. So -- I want something done, I want consequences, as you used to say, Mama, but I don't want prison. He hasn't earned my compassion, but I can't avoid feeling it." She paused, then said with a laugh "Believe me, I've tried." Amy turned and gave her a high five.

Myra put her hands over her face and began crying. After half a minute, she felt someone's arms come around her neck from behind, and when she realized it was Ginny, she let herself go completely, turning to push her face into Ginny's chest. Ginny was crying too, though not as hard. She counted on her friends taking care of the kids. When she could talk again, she looked up into Ginny's face and said "I hope you can see how much she's like you."

Ginny blew a raspberry and said "This is your doing, Myra. And thank god for it."

"Oh, give it up, both of you, I'm like me and this proves it more than ever!" Margie expostulated. Everybody laughed and Gillam grabbed the last praline, offering to split it with Margie.

Myra said "I have a folder of possible options on my desk, I'll go get -- "

But again Margie interrupted. "Listen, could we do that talk another time? Maybe this weekend after Zayde gets here? I've done enough on this today."

"Sure" said Myra, blinking.

Margie went to her pack by the stairs and pulled out the music bag. "I bought my own copy of "Electric Boogie" today, could we all do the slide again?"

Allie burst into laughter, and everybody got up to prepare for a night of dancing.

David's plane came in at 10 the following morning, and Ginny nervously asked to go pick him up alone -- "Just we can have the drive to talk". It didn't go down well with either Margie or Gillam, but they didn't argue. After Ginny left, Myra enlisted Gillam's help in preparing a stuffed baked salmon for lunch while Margie picked salad greens and other veggies from the garden. Narnia had on a new puppy collar, hot pink with rhinestones, which she found irritating, even while trotting after Margie in the back yard.

David was reassuringly himself and got cheerfully dragged around to see new paintings, room changes, and Narnia's non-existent tricks. After a late lunch, he went out to the Gap to shop with the kids, and at the last minute Ginny joined them. Myra immediately headed for her desk and jumped into her novel.

When everyone came back a few hours later, Carly was with them. Myra noticed, not for the first time, that Carly was as avid for David's attention as Gillam. They sang in havdallah and, at David's request, ordered pizza -- "I never get pizza at home" he pleaded.

They spent the evening playing and talking. When the kids finally went to bed, Ginny and David went to the living room and Myra returned to her desk. By the time she went to bed, Ginny was already asleep.

The next day after breakfast, Myra said she was going to Quaker Meeting. She half-hoped Gillam, at least, would accompany her, but nothing was going to tear him and Carly away from David right now. She couldn't find her way into meditation; every rustle and cough disturbed her concentration, and her thoughts kept drifting toward problem-solving. On the way home, she longed to stop at a diner for a few hours. At the house, Ginny had made caldo pollo with fresh tortillas and a sorrel salad. After they ate, Myra raided her freezer for a pot roast and a small turkey. It took her an hour to get these dishes cooking on their own. By the time she was done, Margie was sitting at the table, having finished her homework and looking antsy.

"Mom...I'm ready to have a look at that info you've got" Margie said as soon as Myra began wiping her hands.

"All right. Come back to my study, you can sit on the daybed with me."

Ginny and David were in her studio, looking at Ginny's latest gallery invitation, while Carly and Gillam hovered around, determined to keep easels from being broken out and put into use. When Ginny got wind of what Margie and Myra were doing, everyone crowded into the study and Ginny sat on the other side of Margie.

David turned out to be helpful in explaining legal terminology, weighing options, and reeling off recividism rates. It was all disheartening. At the very best, it looked as if half of all rapists would go on to rape again, no matter the circumstances.

"We can't fix how he was raised" said Myra. "And that's where he got the training and permission to rape."

Ginny leaned forward to look at her across Margie. "It's out there in the dominant culture, too, Myra, it's not just the parents."

"I know, Ginny, I didn't mean to minimize that. But lots of boys -- most boys -- grow up in the same culture and don't become rapists." To be honest, Myra wasn't sure about the "most boys" figure, but her son was in the room.

Sure enough, he spoke up from where he sat on the floor, leaned against Myra's bookshelves. "So then what kind of raising makes a rapist?"

Myra felt the white-hot glare of a spotlight. She reminded herself It's okay to not know. "Well...this is what I believe. I believe some children are not comforted in a normal way when they are upset, but have strange adult reactions come at them depending on what they're upset about. So girls, when they're mad, get cajoled out of it and pushed into a less forceful emotion, and if they're sad, they get a lot more room for that than boys. Boys are just plain shut up when they cry or express hurt or grief. But when they're mad, or frustrated, it's met with a mixture of admiration -- his boyness is equated with his ability to get pissed -- and, from the women around him, a rush to make things better. He's not seen as able to comfort himself when he's angry. So he gets the absolute idea that his anger is the responsibility of females, and, what Ginny said, most of the larger culture agrees with that notion."

Myra paused to take a breath. The expression on Carly's face was unreadable to her. She didn't want to look in David's direction.

"On top of that, which is garden-variety male conditioning...some families are really addicted to the idea of masculinity, especially the definition of masculinity as males being in charge and that being expressed in ways we, in this family, would see as violent. When a baby boy witnesses his father being violent toward his mother or his sisters, he has to try to make sense of it. The normal response is to empathize with the victims. I think it's inborn in us to identify with someone being hurt. But...empathy is trained out of boys, because it's seen as feminine. Only aloofness and self-absorption is rewarded in those families. Caring about others may be innate, but learning how to express it is, well, learned. And boys, some boys, are kept from that training. Instead, they're schooled in manipulation."

Gillam and Carly looked at each other and said "Jeff Massey." Gillam looked back at Myra and said "His favorite thing to call people is a 'tool'. And absolutely everything makes him think about fags."

"And yes" said Myra, "Part of how this starts getting expressed is sexual obsession, positive and negative. Except it's not really about sex, not about intimacy and connection. It's about controlling someone else, which is how sex gets portrayed in our culture. About power. Just like how god is about control, not love. So -- when he gets upset, it's the fault of some woman, she's supposed to fix it, and if some female doesn't leap forward to offer, then it's okay, in his mind, to force her because he can't see her as having real feelings -- his feelings are the only thing that really exists. And because he grew up watching men overpower women, likely with lots of violence aimed his way too by dad if he got out of line, then overpowering a female is the only route left available to express his anger and confusion." Myra looked at Margie now, whose eyes were wide.

Margie said slowly "Amy said the girl he'd been dating broke up with him two weeks ago. She started going out with some other guy, and they were both at the party. I didn't know about it until -- after."

Ginny, heat in her voice, said "I know that sounds like an explanation, but it's not, Margie. His inability to cope with his emotions is no excuse."

"Yeah, there's a difference between seeing the pattern of what's going on out there and thinking it's your role to deal with it" agreed Myra. "We get conditioned as females to take on healing the world -- and despite our lesbian-feminism, we have buttloads of that conditioning in this house. It's hard to winnow out basic altruism and compassion from female crap sometimes."

Margie was chewing this over. Myra suddenly realized that Margie's vantage point was likely to be much, much clearer than hers or Ginny's. This gave her a mixture of elation -- for Margie -- and resignation for her generation.

David startled them all by speaking. "Nu...if by this time in his life, he hasn't learned empathy, or impulse control, or what I think of as decency -- who is going to teach it to him? Not his parents. And not the courts -- I can say with conviction, courts do not correct that kind of deformity."

Myra said "Well, like the old joke, he has to want to change. And, as AA teaches us, nobody can create that in someone else. The best we can do is remove him from his family's influence and put him in an environment where his violence is interrupted but he's also surrounded by people who, just maybe, he'll come to respect and want to emulate. Which is not jail."

"But sociopaths know how to manipulate any environment, Myra, and if he gets in a treatment hospital that's overcrowded, which it will be, he's going to be able to lie his way out" argued Ginny.

"Yeah." Myra sighed. "Here's the thing, though -- there's one program here with that 60% success rate. Which I don't know if I believe, I mean, how can you test it when so many rapes go unreported? But -- theirs is the only process which mentions masculinity. Which is the toxin in the water, as far as I'm concerned. I know nothing about his family of origin, but if there's a chance of giving him another viewpoint, away from the soul-destroying mantra of masculinity in this country, well ... it's either that or locking him up. And again, Margie, I'm doing too much of the talking here, it's your decision to make."

Margie looked at David. "If we say it's this or jail, and he says no, then we have to go to court?"

"Yes" said David simply. "But I'll fly back and sit with you at the trial, with your lawyer. I'm looking forward to meeting her tomorrow. She's got a clarion reputation."

Ginny was reading the print-out for the program Myra had indicated. She said "They test them for ADHD as well as other disorders here, and put them on medication for that if they have it."

"Yeah, undiagnosed or untreated ADHD is linked to certain kinds of acting out" said Myra.

Margie reached for the folder and Ginny handed it over. "I'm going to read this by myself, and -- can I let you know tomorrow when we get to the lawyer's office? I want to at least sleep on it."

"Of course" said Ginny.

Margie stood up swiftly, saying "I need to take Narnia out for a minute." She left through the sliding door.

Myra watched her leave, then looked at Gillam and Carly. "You have any more questions or stuff you need to talk over?"

"No. But Zayde, you wanna go upstairs and try out the new Soloflex we got for Christmas? I can spot you" said Gillam.

"Sure" said David, squeezing Ginny's hand as he left.

Myra and Ginny, alone the daybed, left the gap between them where Margie had been. After a few moments, Ginny said "What's the plan for dinner?"

"Chris and Sima are coming. I thought maybe burgers on the grill, veggie and non, plus bakers with broccoli."

"Well, then, I'm going to look at slides on the lightbox and choose my line-up for the next show" said Ginny. She gave Myra a cheek kiss and went to her studio.

When Myra began work on her new novel, she realized nobody on earth knew what she was writing about, how this book was different from all the rest. It wasn't science fiction, or biography, at least not directly. It was about a ten-year-old girl who lived on the edge of a creek, trying to make sense of the world. Myra felt very alone with her creativity in a way she didn't remember ever feeling.

The next day, Margie let out a big breath at the lawyer's office and said she wanted to insist that Kevin be sentenced to the psychiatric program Myra had found. The lawyer wound up talking more with David and Ginny than Myra, and Myra let it go on without her. She was wondering what Margie would think about all this years from now, when she was grown -- was this really right for her. If it wasn't, Myra didn't think she could handle what it might do to Margie.

On Tuesday morning, Ginny started a new painting. David worked with her but stopped easily to make sandwiches for lunch or go pick up the kids. Again, Myra let him take up the slack, spend the evenings with Margie and Gillam, even go grocery shopping with them Thursday after school. Myra wrote obsessively, then slept for four-hour stretches. She missed Al Anon again and didn't schedule a session with Leesa.

Friday shabbos dinner was huge, with Edwina coming up from Portland to join Allie and Ms. Billups, Ms. Schevitz, Chris, Sima, Carly, Truitt, Amy, Alveisa and Petra. David taught the kids to make what he called Bates-Balls, a name that sent them into hysterics: tomato-y meatballs of beef or ground turkey, baked and then dished onto subs with marinara and cheese. Allie brought a chocolate cake and Ginny finished her painting in time to make salads. For the first time in years, Myra simply came when called and sat down at the table to a meal already assembled.

They had a rushed Feminist Fund meeting after dessert, while the kids and David went for a swim. Margie was wild to teach the electric slide to her grandfather, and all the guests stayed to join the lines of now rather smooth-looking dancers -- except Ms. Billups and Ms. Schevitz, who sat on the sofa against the wall and talked nonstop.

The next day was the arts circuit on Broadway, and Ginny took David on the rounds of galleries and museums. Myra begged off cautiously, and Ginny didn't seem to mind. Margie went for another kayaking lesson, Gillam hung out at Carly's, and Myra wrote until they all came home, downing three bottles of Coke.

Sunday was Ginny's 47th birthday. Myra got up early to make her breakfast, but before she could return to bed with a tray, Ginny was up and at the table with David. Allie and Edwina came over at noon to spend the rest of the day. Ginny opened gifts at dinner and exclaimed over the almond cake Myra made. Yet everything felt just half a beat off to Myra, and she couldn't tell if it was because things were really wrong with their family, because she was writing something she didn't quite understand, or if it was all in her head.

After David left on Monday, they returned to a routine where Myra's full set of responsibilities returned. She still felt tired a lot of the time. Ginny wasn't painting at the moment. Gillam had decided instead of going to see Nancy, he wanted to try a counselor at the Jewish Community Center and Ginny was all for it. Davonn had to go to Los Angeles for a couple of weeks, so he and Gillam had still not had a chance to connect. The meeting with Kevin and his lawyer was scheduled for the last week in February. Myra put off sessions with Leesa or a interview with Nancy for another week, although she did go to Al Anon.

February 13, 2004

After dinner, Myra walked back into Ginny's studio and said, "Can we talk for a minute? I'm worried about tomorrow and its effect on Margie."

Ginny looked blank. "What's happening tomorrow?"

"It's Valentine's Day."

"We don't celebrate Valentine's Day, we never have."

"I know, Ginny, but the rest of the world goes nuts about it. Especially high school kids."

"But Margie's never shown an interest in it, and she doesn't even have a boyfriend. I don't get what you're driving at." Ginny was beginning to sound irritated.

"It's just a gut thing I'm having. I know she's not dating. But that damned pool party was, in a way, her first venture out in that world. And look...what happened. Tomorrow at school there's going to be a lot of emphasis on bonding, on romance, and on sex, frankly. I don't know what it will be like for her to sort through all that."

"Oh, it's your gut again" said Ginny, with sarcasm. "The famous incest survivor gut that ignoramuses like me can't possibly understand. Now that Margie's in your club, you get to imagine problems headed our way and be the expert on it. Well, bond away. Just leave me out of it, you're good at that."

Myra was stunned. "Holy fuck, Ginny, what is going on here?"

"Oh, no, you don't get to analyze me. I'm not one of your projects."

"I'm trying to talk with you about our daughter."

"No, you're trying to make a big deal out of Valentine's Day. Which I don't give a rat's ass about, and neither will Margie unless you force it on her."

Myra sat silent, trying to absorb this and see if it was true. Ginny stood up and said "I'm going over to Patty's." She walked into the kitchen, picked up her keys, and was gone before Myra could manage to react.

After several minutes, she walked up to Margie's room and knocked. Margie was on her laptop doing instant messaging.

"Listen, Margie -- I was just wondering if you had plans for tomorrow evening, or wanted to make plans."

Margie's face shut closed. "I don't have plans, no."

Fuck. "Well, tell me know if I'm presuming, but would you like to schedule a session with Sheila after school?"

The little chime that meant a message had come in sounded from Margie's computer. She ignored it. Finally she sighed and said, "That would be okay."

"Do you want to call and schedule it, or shall I?"

"You do it, she does last minute stuff easier for you than me."

"I was also thinking about renting some movies, making a special dinner. Sound good?"

"What is this for? I thought we didn't do Valentine's Day." Margie was lightly scornful.

"We can call it anti-Valentine's Day. Just an excuse to hang out together. If you don't want to do it, you don't have to."

"Okay, I'll see" said Margie. She turned back to her computer.

Myra went downstairs and called Sheila's answering service, left a message. Gillam was in the kitchen, standing in front of the open refrigerator door. "We're out of cheese, the sandwich kind, I mean."

"Put it on the list. I'm thinking about renting some movies for tomorrow night -- do you have plans or will you be here?"

Gillam snorted. "My calendar is painfully empty. Please, no more James Bond, okay? They do not qualify as action movies, not beyond the opening sequence."

"All right." Myra went back to her desk, where Dinah was sleeping on a stack of papers. "Well, Dinah, you don't think I'm a complete moron, do you?" Dinah didn't even open her eyes. "Wrong person to ask." Myra clicked on the Doom icon on her desktop and started a game. "Time for God mode."

At 10:00 she had to pee and stood up, stiff and dazed. The entire house was quiet. She set the alarm for everything except the front door, turned off the lights, and went to bed. At 11:00, Ginny was still not home. She put down the advance copy she'd gotten of Annie Lamott's Plan B and clicked off the lamp. After another half-hour, she was able to sleep.

She was woken up at 7 a.m. by Gillam, knocking at her door. "Listen, can I get some lunch money from you?" he was saying. She sat up and looking around. "Where's Ginny?"

"Dunno, she didn't get up with us. Is she in the bathroom?" He knocked at the bathroom door; no reply.

Myra got up and walked through the house. Ginny was in the last room, on the daybed in her studio, sound asleep under a blanket. There was no canvas on the easel.

Myra went back into the kitchen, where Gillam was finishing his granola. She pulled her wallet out of her pack and handed him and Margie each $10. She was having trouble thinking.

"Did you eat something?" she asked Margie.

"Some fruit and yogurt." Margie looked revved up. She had on her black chinos and a black silk jersey: her ninja outfit, Ginny called it.

"I'll pick you at Sheila's. In fact -- " Myra turned to Gillam -- "I'll pick you up, too, if you want. I need to go by Horizon Books, I'm looking for something like 'faster than light for dummies'."

"Sure thing" said Gillam. He left his bowl on the counter and started for the door. Margie was right behind him. "Have a good day, you two." She got only partial syllables in reply.

She put dirty dishes in the sink, ran soapy water on top of them, then looked back toward the studio. She was drained. She drank some milk right from the carton, put kibble in Dinah's bowl because Dinah was yelling by her feet, and then went back to bed.

When she got up again at 10:00, Ginny was at a canvas. Myra felt relief -- it was a painting coming on, then. She made breakfast and tried to get Ginny to eat some, but Ginny finally said "I ate" without looking at Myra.

She did every piece of work on her to-do list that didn't involve actual creative thinking. Her brain was still not very responsive. Finally she lay down on her daybed and finished Plan B, sometimes stopping to listen to the small sounds of Ginny painting. After the book ended, she got up and ate the last tiny sliver of lasagna from two nights ago. She showered, dressed, and left a note on the counter for Ginny.

Gillam was at the school bus stop, switching from foot to foot, holding his pack down between his legs. "Cold out here" he said as he climbed in. "Sorry" she said, "I went by the video store on the way and it took longer than I thought it would."

"Whadja get?" he said, turning around to look for the bag in the back seat.

"It's a surprise" said Myra.

At the bookstore, he peeled away from Myra immediately. "We have 25 minutes, no more" she warned him. First she went to the magazine racks, got poetry journals she didn't have subcriptions for (yet). With a little feeling of dissonance, she picked up a Vogue for Margie. Then she went to the clerk who could always find what she needed.

When she got to the check-out counter, Gillam had a pile of books waiting for her. She added her stack and said "Don't haul yours upstairs right away when we get home, I wanna see what looks good" as she paid the bill. At the car, Gillam pulled one book from the sack before he got in -- Running With Scissors.

"I heard him interviewed on NPR" said Myra. "Let me know when you're done with that." Gillam said "Okay", opening to the first page.

They had to wait on Margie, but that was okay. She came out with better color in her face than she'd shown in a couple of days. When she climbed in the car, she said "Hi!" to Myra and tugged at Gillam's hair. He shrugged away. "I got you a Vogue" said Myra as she drove away from the curb.

Margie rifled excitedly through the bookstore bag. "Thanks, Mom."

Back home, Ginny was still painting. Myra and Gillam sniffed through each other's books as Margie sprawled on the sofa with her Vogue. After a while, Myra sent them both off to do homework and walked back to the studio, hugging Ginny from behind. Ginny was hot to the touch. She leaned back against Myra briefly, then resumed a piece of close-up work.

At 5:00, Myra saw Gillam go to the refrigerator. She intercepted him, said "I'm starting dinner anyhow."

"What're we having?" Margie had come downstairs and stood on the other side of the breakfast bar.

Myra picked up the video bag from a chair and said "I'll begin the menu with dessert." She pulled two videos from the bag: Bringing up Baby and A Fish Called Wanda. "Oldies but goodies" she said. Neither kid had seen them; score. Then she poured the rest of the bag onto the counter. Gillam whooped, and Margie began picking up each item, her eyes gleaming. "Sno-drops...candy corn...Junior Mints...Boston baked beans...Red Vines...and Reese's Pieces!"

Myra saw Ginny look up from her canvas, then begin cleaning her brush.

"So, since we're trashing our bodies at some point tonight, I thought we should have a big, everything-in-the-crisper salad for dinner."

Margie said, "I'll make it. I'm the queen of french-cut vegetables."

"Okay. Gillam, why don't you take the last half of that old Tuscan loaf and make croutons? I'll grill some chicken." Myra took four small filets from the fridge, rinsed and patted them dry with paper towels, then sprinkled each front and back with kosher salt and cracked pepper. Margie was washing veggies in a colander. Gillam set his loaf on the cutting board and Margie said, "Uh-uh, I'm gonna need that." Myra said "Grab the other board and take it to the table, Gillam, you have less to do. And use the bread knife."

She turned on the oven high for the croutons, then poured olive oil into a large skillet. She added minced garlic and a teaspoon of lime juice. As she lowered the filets into the skillet, she asked Margie "What kind of lettuce do we have that's still good?"

"Two different romaines and some baby bibb" said Margie.

"Yum" said Ginny, joining them. "What can I do?"

"How's about some of your famous salad dressing?" asked Myra. She leaned back for a kiss but Ginny didn't see her; she was inspecting the broccoli stalks that Margie was starting to peel.

"I know you'll want something with mayonnaise in it. What about you, Margie? Honey mustard?" said Ginny.

"As usual" said Margie. Ginny stepped out onto the deck to snip herbs. Gillam had his cubes of bread spread on a baking sheet and borrowed the olive oil to drizzle them, then grated parmesan over it. He squeezed in between Myra and Margie to put the tray in the oven. He set the timer and said "What else?"

"Look in the meat tray and see if we have any streaky bacon left" said Myra. He came up with a piece the size of a matchbox. "Cut that into strips and put it in the baby skillet. Salad toppers for you and me." He winked and started on it.

Margie looked at her vegetable array and said "Greens, cukes, brox, carrots...Bell pepper in a separate bowl for everybody but Myra...Something else." Ginny was back, whisking sauces in bowls at the table. Margie went to the cupboard and pulled out a small can of water chestnuts, a jar of olives and a jar of artichoke hearts. "I'll hold out the olives with the peppers, Mom, don't worry."

Myra said "I'd like green onions, too. Put them in a bowl for everybody but you, my darlin' daughter. Gillam, that bacon smells obscenely good."

Ginny said "Taste this" and held a spoon of dressing up to Margie's mouth. "Perfect" said Margie.

The chicken was done, so Myra cut it into strips and put it on a plate. Gillam pulled out the croutons and put them in a towel-lined bowl.

"We're about ready here" said Myra. "Grab a plate, utensils, and whatever you want to drink. Serve yourselves and we'll meet up in the living room."

Margie beat everyone to the couch, and Ginny sat down at the other end. Gillam grabbed the loveseat, and Myra took the overstuffed chair. Narnia sat desperately trying to make eye contact with Margie but not draw the attention of anyone else who might order her to leave the room. As Gillam put in the first movie, Dinah lightly jumped up onto the counter in the kitchen and helped herself to whatever smelled good.

After clearing their plates, Myra put the movie on pause, gathered up the dishes and went into the kitchen. "You better run!" she said to Dinah who was hotfooting it up the stairs. She poured all the candy except the Boston baked beans into a giant bowl and brought it back to the living room, setting it on the hassock.

Gillam and Margie both grabbed handfuls. "What about those?" said Gillam, indicating the box Myra was holding.

"These are mine" she said. Margie stretched out on the couch and put her feet in Ginny's lap as the movie resumed. Ginny took a red vine and chewed it slowly. When she was done, she began massaging Margie's feet.

At the break between movies, Margie checked the voice mail for messages. "None" she said with disgust. "Everybody I know is out on a date tonight."

Myra didn't look at Ginny as she said "Are you sorry you're not?"

"I don't know. I just hate how -- OC it all is" Margie said. She was picking the Junior Mints out of the bowl, one by one.

"By this time next year, it won't be quite so weird, and you'll be out on a date this night" said Myra.

"How do you know that? What are you, a fortune-teller?" challenged Margie.

Myra avoided the word gut. "Just a best guess. But I'm willing to put money on it."

"How much?" said Margie. "A hundred bucks?"

"Sure" said Myra. Margie's chin was jutted out; she wasn't quite smiling.

"Here" said Myra, pulling her small notebook and pen from her back pocket. She said out loud as she wrote "I, Myra Bates-Josong, do hereby swear that if Margie Josong-Bates does not have a date satisfactory to her definition thereof on February 14, 2005, I will pay her the sum of $100 in cash. Payable on February 15, 2005." She pulled the sheet from the notebook and handed it over to Margie. Margie read it carefully, then folded it away in her pocket. She was definitely smiling now. "Either way, I win, you doofus." she said.

"What about me?" said Gillam.

"What about you?" replied Myra. "Next year you'll be 14. That's still too young to go out on an alone date." This pleased Margie more than the wager had. Gillam pulled the candy away from her, saying "Quit hoggin' the mints."

Myra started A Fish Called Wanda. Ginny had picked up another red vine.

After the movie, Ginny shooed the children off to bed with hugs while Myra began cleaning up. Ginny came to help her. "Need to make a grocery run tomorrow" she said.

"Are you going back to your painting?" asked Myra.

"I can't tell."

"When did you get home last night? I was up until almost midnight."

"About then, I guess."

"Did Patty say you were lucky to have me?"

Ginny looked blank for a moment, then shook her head. "No. Listen, I need a shower. Can you do this last bit, start the dishwasher?"


Myra got the house ready for the night and carried her new books into the bedroom, piling them beside the bed. As she was looking through a poetry journal, Ginny came out of the bathroom and slipped on a long T-shirt. She got into bed beside Myra.

"I guess we need to talk" she began.

Myra put down her book. "I'd like that." She offered to put her arm around Ginny's shoulders. Ginny accepted and leaned back into her.

"I think we need more help than we're getting" Ginny said.

Myra felt a small tendril of fear, something she hadn't felt in years. "What kind of help?"

"I'm not even sure. I don't know all of what's up with me. But I'm not handling it. And I don't think it's just me. I think maybe we could all use more help than we're getting. Emotionally, for sure."

"Well...Margie's got Sheila, I've got Leesa whom you also see sometimes, you've got Nancy, Gillam has Dr. Shmuley or whatever his name is, you and I both go to Al Anon, we have a family acupuncturist we see as needed, plus all kinds of Western Medicine folks...We pay more each year for therapy than I ever used to earn as a salary. I'm not complaining, I'm just reviewing."

"I know. Even Narnia has to have that special medicine for her flea allergies." Ginny rolled over to face Myra. "I think I need a regular therapist of my own, like a shrink kind of therapist."

"Not Leesa?"

"No. I'm thinking about checking back in with the therapist I used when I was with Bonnie."

"Bonnie your last lover before me? The one who was also an incest survivor?" Myra wanted to look away from Ginny but forced herself not to.

"Yeah. She was really good with me."

"She helped you two break up" said Myra.

"We were going to break up anyhow. She just helped me get clear on why. And no, Myra, that's not why I want to see her. I'm not breaking up with you. But I need to get helped in some way Leesa isn't doing."

"Can you say what that way is?"

"No. The best I can come up with is the difference between going to AA and going to Al-Anon. I need to be in some kind of Al-Anon. Leesa is great for you, I can tell that."

"Jeez, Ginny. I'm so scared right at the moment, I'm numb."

"Myra...If I was in any way thinking about us not going on together, I'd find a fucking way to tell you. Directly." Ginny rolled Myra onto her back and lay on top of her, looking down into her face. "My best friend is moving out of town, your best friend is torn between her mother and her new lover, our son is having trouble with his gender role, our fucking nation just attacked another country for the hell of it, and our daughter has just gone through life-changing trauma -- we're being stretched thin and I think we need more resource. I know I do. I'm scared too. I'm scared...I've failed Margie. I'm scared I'm failing you. I have to do something different."

Myra could feel Ginny's whole body trembling. "Girl, sweet girl" she said. "Okay. You're not failing me, and not Margie, but whatever it takes for you to know what, let's get it." She kissed Ginny, gently, on the mouth. Ginny's return kiss was just as gentle. Myra realized they had not kissed for at least two days.

Ginny still did not relax. "I'm going to see Nancy alone but I would like for us to see Nancy together. If we have an energetic block of some kind, she can find it."

Myra laughed. "Well, in a way that's the most reassuring thing you've said. I know if we were breaking up, you'd keep Nancy all to yourself."

Ginny grabbed Myra's hands and lifted them above her head on the pillow. Her face was fierce. "I'm NOT leaving you. I will never leave you. I want to spend every second of the rest of my life with you. I love you more..." She started crying. "I love you more than I can tell you. You are my heart's desire." She lay her head down on the pillow next to Myra's. Myra wrapped her legs around Ginny's and held her close.

"I know that, Ginny Bates. I do know it. I'm sorry I got sidetracked for a second."

Ginny said into the pillow "Happens to all of us."

"I'll call Nancy tomorrow. You call -- whatever her name is, I can't remember."


"And I'll think, hard, about what other resource we could come up with. We're a team. We'll figure it out as we go."

"Proceed as the way opens" quoted Ginny.

"Exactly." They kissed again, a little more seriously. Then Ginny rolled off to the side and said, "I was so scared to tell you. I'm exhausted. Will you spoon me while I go to sleep? You can read after I'm out, it won't wake me up."


Myra made an appointment to see Nancy on Friday, February 20, for an initial assessment. The afternoon before, just as she was about to start making dinner, her cell rang and it was Allie.

"Can you come over here and help me with something?" said Allie in a tight voice. "Just you."

"Well -- yeah, sure. Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. But I mean it, just you, My" said Allie.

"Ginny's gone to pick up Margie from her counselor. I'll leave her a note" said Myra, now a little worried.

When she got to Allie's, her mother was sitting down to dinner with her daytime caregiver, Derrick. After Myra said hello to them all, Allie said "Mama, I'm going to go back to my bedroom and talk with Myra, okay? You eat without me. I'll see you in a bit."

Ms. Billups said "I'd beat some sense into 'em, that's what I'd do" as she cut up a chicken breast. Allie didn't answer. When Myra followed her into Allie's bedroom, she was stunned to see Carly and Gillam sitting on Allie's bed.

"What are you two doing he -- what the fuck is that on your eyebrow, Gillam David Bates-Josong?!!"

His brow was inflamed and swollen, and through the red epicenter, just where his brow angled back down, was a silver ring. Myra had a sudden impulse to rip it out of him, and closed her eyes against the urge. When she opened them again, she looked at Carly. He had a ring through the corner of his lower lip.

"Well aren't you a pair of perfect idiots" Myra said, her voice dripping scorn. "I bet you paid cash money to let some fucker mutilate you that way."

"It was a licensed place -- " began Gillam.

"Not for long. Not once I call Glo and ask her to start proceedings against them for piercing a minor without their parents' consent" said Myra. Gillam swallowed involuntarily.

"When did you manage to fit this into your schedule?" continued Myra. She was so angry, she had slid into her soft, reasonable voice that Gillam had never encountered but Allie recognized. Allie stood a little between Myra and the boys. "As I recall, you had a field trip today that meant you'd be getting off, oh, right about now."

Gillam said "We cut school at lunch." His voice sounded funny -- not concerned, but a little blurry.

"That was five hours ago. What else have you been up to?" asked Myra, almost conversationally.

"We went to my house for a while" said Carly. He giggled, and Gillam giggled too. It was so out of place, Myra turned and looked at Allie for confirmation.

Allie said "They got into Pat's liquor. Gillam's thrown up once." Myra suddenly realized Allie was furious, too. She stepped around Allie and reached for Gillam's face. He flinched backward and cupped his hand over his eyebrow, but she grabbed his chin instead and tilted his jaw up so she could sniff his breath.

"Whiskey" she said. "Plus life-destroying stupidity."

She stepped back again, putting him beyond her immediate reach. She asked Allie "How did you come to have them?"

"They showed up here, when Gillam got sick, begging for a place to hide out" said Allie. She looked at Gillam. "I got no truck with drunks or wannabe drunks" she said, in the harshest tone Myra had ever heard her use with any child. Then she looked back at Myra. "Ginny's head going to explode."

Myra hadn't gotten that far. She sat down abruptly at Allie's worktable. "Jesus Mary and Joseph" she said fervently. Gillam giggled again.

She looked at Allie. "I'll sell him to you, name the price" she said.

"No sale" said Allie.

Slowly, her brain began to work again.

"Did his vomit have any blood in it?" she asked Allie. Allie shook her head.

"How much did you drink?" she asked Gillam. He shrugged, but Carly said "Two jiggers mixed with a glass of root beer." She and Allie both stared at him in disbelief.

"Well, no wonder" said Allie. "Makes me queasy just to think about it."

"Have you done anything else you should tell me about now?" asked Myra.

They both shook their heads. She found she wasn't sure whether to believe them.

She said to Allie "I don't suppose there's any way to keep Ginny from ever finding out about this..."

"Well, my Mama won't keep her mouth shut, and you have to tell Carly's folks" said Allie.

"Yeah, that's what I thought" she sighed. "Okay, then. Into the valley of death rode the six hundred..." She stood up and gave Allie a hug. "Thanks for being there, Al. And especially for calling me."

"G'bye, Gillam" said Allie in a tone that held no sympathy. He and Carly shuffled after Myra. She didn't talk to them on the drive to Carly's house. Gillam's face in the rear-view mirror looked like he might be needing to throw up again, but it was up to him to ask her to stop. At Carly's house, she turned to Gillam and said "You stay in that seat, so help me god." Then she relented enough to say "You can roll down the window to hurl."

She let Carly use his key to gain entrance. Pat was in the living room with the TV on. She began standing when she saw Myra, then did a double take at Carly. Myra had decided if she heard one word from Pat about how this was her or Ginny's fault, she'd have to murder her, so she took the offensive.

"Carly and Gillam skipped out on their field trip today and instead came here to an untended house and helped themselves to whiskey which you apparently keep unlocked. They then went back out and got piercings. Gillam's is through his eyebrow. I will find the place that did it and they will be punished as severely as I can manage. When Gillam began puking, they sought refuge at a friend's house, who turned them in to me. They only had one drink. I am now taking Gillam home where Ginny is going to eviscerate him." Patty had come in from the hall and was standing, mute. Pat's jaw was working, but she didn't have anything to say yet, either. Myra looked at Carly and said "You've really disappointed me." She turned and left.

When she got back to the car, Gillam's window was down and it smelled rank inside. She rolled her own window down and drove home, still without a word. She walked behind him into the house, locking the door after them. Ginny stuck her head around from the kitchen, saying "I began sauteeing -- " before she saw Gillam's face. He was deathly pale. Myra pushed him into a dining chair and said "If you need to vomit again, you absolutely make it to the bathroom on time."

Margie came in from Myra's study, her face incredulous. Myra said "I'd appreciate it, Margie, if you went upstairs until this is over. We'll call you down for dinner."

Margie was clearly torn. She earnestly wanted to witness what was about to happen to Gillam, but instinct was warning her about shrapnel. After a moment's hesitation, she walked past Ginny and went upstairs.

Myra sat down at the other end of the table, putting distance between her and Gillam again, and told Ginny everything. Her rage had returned, rage that Gillam could screw himself this way. Ginny could hear it in her voice, and, miraculously, Myra occupying the machine gunner seat kept Ginny from blowing up. She looked at Gillam for a long while, then went into their bathroom and came back with hydrogen peroxide and cotton balls.

"If we remove this ring right now, it may form an abscess" said Ginny.

"Take him to the doctor tomorrow and let them deal with it" said Myra.

Ginny cleaned around the piercing gently. Gillam kept his eyes closed. She carried the used cotton balls to the trash and put water on for tea, then stuck two pieces of bread in the toaster. As the water heated, Myra said "Tell me the name and address of the place where you got this done."

Gillam told her. She wrote it down in her notebook and put it away again. Myra said to Ginny "Allie was completely disgusted. I've never seen her like that about someone she loves."

Gillam began crying then. Myra looked at him coldly. It was Ginny who went to him and pressed his face against her chest. Myra made tea when the water boiled, adding lots of sugar, and left the toast dry. She set it on the table near Gillam and returned to her seat.

Ginny coaxed a bite of toast into Gillam, then a sip of tea. She said "Alcohol is a depressant, so taking a stimulant should help a little. And the carbs will counteract the stomach acid. If you keep throwing up, we'll need to take you to the emergency room, so tell us right away. Or if your vomit gets pink, or has bile in it. You understand?" Her voice was kind.

He nodded, gazing at her gratefully. After he'd eaten one piece of toast and all of the tea, Ginny took his hand in hers and said "You come from alcoholics, Gillam. There's sound evidence that it is genetic, a disease for which you may well have a predisposition. You cannot afford to give drinking a try. Not if you value your well-being."
"Punching holes in his face is not the behavior of someone caring about himself" said Myra bitterly. But as she said it, she realized what it meant.

Ginny went on. "If you engage in self-destructive activity, then it's our job to intervene. I've been in Al Anon my entire adult life, Gillam. And I've learned if someone wants to drink, they are choosing to leave me. They're leaving themselves first, but they are also leaving me. And if you make that choice, I'll let you go."

Gillam began crying again. Myra got up and came to sit on the other side of him. Taking his other hand, she said quietly "Me, too." He lunged forward and buried his head on her shoulder, sobbing "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." She held him, her anger beginning to dissipate.

"Tomorrow afternoon, Gillam, I have an appointment with Nancy. I'm going to give it to you instead. You check out how it is to work with her. I don't think the guy you were seeing is right for you, not after this stunt. If Nancy's not the right one either, then we'll keep searching until we find someone who is. Okay?" said Myra.

"Okay" choked out Gillam.

"For the next week, you go to school or to see Nancy, and that's it. Nowhere else. And no visitors here" continued Myra. "Then we'll reassess."

He looked frantic but didn't argue. She reckoned the alcohol was mostly out of his system. She went on, "Tomorrow morning, one of us will get up early and take you to the drop-in clinic to check on your wound." She chose the word deliberately. "Then, when you get to school, you have to go to the principal's office and tell them what you did. Face the consequences."

"I'll take him" said Ginny. "Gillam, are you hungry? Can you eat more, or have some more tea?"

"I'd rather not" he whispered, his eyes still on Myra. "I think I can keep down what's in me."

"All right" said Ginny. "Get one of the big glasses from the cupboard and fill it with water, and take that upstairs with you. Drink it all before you go to bed, or two of them, if you can get it down. Alcohol dehydrates you, and replenishing your tissues will make you feel a lot better. And remember to not sleep on the left side of your face."

"Okay, Mama" he said. Myra kissed him on his forehead, just above the silver ring, and said "I love you. But I can't love you more than you love yourself."

He kissed her back, on her cheek, and said again "I'm really sorry."

"I hear you, Gillam. I believe you."

Ginny walked with him upstairs, reminding him if he began feeling bad in any way to come get them, or to eat if he got hungry. She collected Margie from her room and they came back down together. Myra was standing, looking at the vegetables Ginny had begun caramelizing in a sauce pan. She wasn't hungry, and didn't feel like cooking.

Ginny was telling Margie what had happened. Margie was exclaiming "No way" after every sentence. Myra turned and went to her study, sitting on the daybed and staring at her hands. In a minute, Ginny followed her, sitting down next to her.

"They were out on the streets intoxicated" said Myra hoarsely. "Anything could have happened to him. And his face, his beautiful gorgeous perfect face, he let someone -- "

She broke into sobs, a mixture of fear and all the anger that had been riding around inside her for the past hour. "I was so mad at them, Ginny. I think I threw Carly off the train, poor little dummy. But I don't know what to do here, Gin. Gillam must be so desperate, and I'm doing everything I can think of, but it's not enough, I don't know how to fix it!" She was screaming by the end. She could see Margie's shoes at the edge of the study -- she had never let it go like this in front of her children. But she couldn't stop it. Ginny held her and kept saying "I know, just let it come on out".

When she was finally done, she wiped her face on her sleeve and said, with a hoarse laugh, "Sometimes I fucking hate being a mom, you know?" She looked into Ginny's eyes. Ginny laughed with her and said "I hear ya." She could sense Margie's shock but didn't want to deal with her yet.

"If the doctor says the ring poses no threat, do we let him keep it in?" she asked Ginny.

"Yeah, as long as he wants it" said Ginny. "The damage is done."

"I can assure you Carly won't get to keep his lip ring" said Myra.

"That will dampen the glamour for Gillam as well" said Ginny, with a grin. "Go wash your face, and I'll make dinner."

"You get the hero award for today" said Myra.

Ginny liked that. "Mark it down in your notebook" she suggested, kissing Myra and standing. "C'mon, Margie, you can help me."

Myra returned to her daybed after going to the bathroom and read the latest New Yorker until dinner was ready. After dinner, she took the magazine with her and went to bed early. Half an hour later, Allie called and Myra answered. She filled Allie in, and Allie said "I'm going to drive to Portland late tomorrow night, instead of taking the train, so I can have dinner with ya'll."

"Oh, Allie -- I wouldn't blame you for skedaddling, I probably would -- but I'll be so glad to have you here."

"He's your boy, Myra, god help 'im, seems like when he fucks up, it's gonna be a doozy."

Myra laughed. "Some part of him knew you'd call me the instant he walked in your door, don't you think?"

"I think he was counting on it" said Allie.

"Sweet dreams, Allie" said Myra.

"You too."

The next afternoon, Ginny went to pick up Gillam from his counseling session: "Just call me the therapy taxi service" she said sardonically as she went out the door. Myra began dinner, and ten minutes later Chris and Sima arrived. She told them about the Gillam issues as she began welch rarebit and an onion frittata. Margie sat at the breakfast bar, theoretically making salad but in reality feasting on the discussion about Gillam's transgressions.

When Gillam and Ginny got home, Sima went to hug him and looked critically at the ring still in his eyebrow. "That's a really cheap stainless" she commented. "Which is fine while you're healing up, but once you're ready for real ornamentation, talk to me and I'll make you something suitable."

He smiled for the first time all day. "Thanks" he said, hugging her again. He sat down nervously at the dining table and pulled out his homework, glancing at Myra repeatedly.

"How'd it go with the mysterious Nancy?" asked Myra asked him.

He smiled again, less certainly, and said "Kinda good, actually. I'd like to go back."

Myra looked at Ginny, who gave her a thumbs up. "Great. I'll call her after dinner, to schedule you and reschedule me."

Chris set down the cheese she was grating and walked over to Gillam, inspecting his face with a wide grin. But Chris's grins came in various flavors, and this was not a comforting grin. She said, in a normal voice, "You know, some folks learn by hearing about the disasters that happen to people they love and avoiding those mistakes. But some folks don't. I'm not sure about you at the moment. If I hear that you've been drinking again, I'll know."

Gillam seemed to have stopped breathing.

"Know what?" he asked in a low voice.

"That you have to learn another way. And it'll be time for me to kick your ass" said Chris.

Ginny went as pale as Gillam. She looked at Myra, but Myra shook her head and the comment was allowed to sit on its own in the middle of the room for a while.

Finally Gillam said "Okay" and opened his notebook. Chris went back to her grating.

Myra got another appointment with Nancy on Wednesday afternoon. Ginny offered to drive her since she needed to pick up more canvas at the art store near Nancy's house. Myra would be done in time for them to get the children from school.

Both Nancy and her office looked reassuringly ordinary to Myra when she shook her hand and sat down on a futon couch. There was a mandala on the wall, but otherwise it was stuff that could have come from K-Mart. Nancy was round-faced, pale, with mousy brown hair cut passing mid-length and round grey eyes.

Her ability to listen, however, was anything but ordinary. Within 15 minutes, Myra was pouring out upset she'd been keeping bottled up for longer than she could say. Nancy suggested she lie down on the couch and close her eyes so she could "call in some help" to work with her. This turned out not to mean another body worker, but instead a murmured litany of imaginary friends, as Myra thought of it. Still, she had strong sensations of comfort, of security, and of stuck places shifting inside her as their hour progressed. Nancy spoke like someone in the laundromat telling you about what was on TV last night; it just happened to be that she was talking about chi and energy vortices.

Before she left, they came up with a goal: For Myra to feel in balance with Ginny and her children again. Nancy gave her some essential oil to rub on her forehead each morning and made another appointment with her.

As Ginny drove away from Nancy's place, she said "So? What did you think?"

"Well, the muscle testing -- that's what you call it, right, when she asks a question and pushes on a part of your body? -- it was odd but it kinda makes sense to me. Especially when I'd think my answer was definitely one way but it turned out to be the opposite. And the aromatherapy unleashed a regular firestorm of memories and associations inside me. She gave me a bottle of something to use on my pulse points, and I can't wait to see what it does for my writing" said Myra.

"Anything else you'd like to share?" asked Ginny, trying to keep the eagerness out of her voice.

"I will, Gin. I want to tell you the main dope. I just need to think about it a little more" said Myra with a squeeze to Ginny's knee. "But I have a question: Who is Dave?"

"Dave?" repeated Ginny.

"Yeah, when she called in her entities, as she referred to them, the first one was Dave. Something like Dave of Human Consciousness" said Myra. "I thought maybe it was some famous guru, or maybe someone in her past. Inside I just went 'Hey, Dave'. I knew I could ask you later."

Ginny began laughing so hard she pulled to the curb in front of a house and took the car out of gear. She was leaned over the steering wheel, helpless and looking at Myra sideways. Myra just grinned, waiting for the joke to be revealed. Finally Ginny could say "You mean the 'Overarching De of Human Consciousness'?"

Myra felt her cheeks going pink. "Oh, lord. Please don't tell her I thought it was Dave."

"You should tell her yourself, she'll get as big a kick out of it as I did. I'm always astonished at the obscure things you don't pick up on, Myra."

"So, did I hear right when she said the 'Great White Brotherhood'?" asked Myra. "I was a little scared that was like the Aryan Nation, but I didn't think somebody you'd go to would be invoking anything hinky. And the 'Green Healing Light of Nature' seemed pretty straightforward."

Ginny was laughing wildly again. "How on earth did you let go of your skepticism and just open up to what she was doing, with all your misunderstanding what she was saying?"

"'Cause you recommended her. And I got a good vibe from her. She's working class, you know."

Ginny looked surprised. "No, we've never discussed it."

"I asked her right off. She's gone hungry. And been molested. But mostly it was just that you've been getting help from her for so long, and that was good enough for me" said Myra.

In mid laugh, Ginny's eyes filled with tears. "You trust me that completely?" she whispered.

"Of course. I used to have old suspicious voices that came up about you, but you've never given me a single reason not to trust you, Ginny Bates, and those voices have been stilled."

Ginny let the tears flow down her cheeks, and leaned over to give Myra a tender kiss. Myra could tell that Ginny was shivering a little.

"S'okay, angel" whispered Myra. "Gonna be all right."

Ginny was still trembly when she put the car back in gear and started them for home.

"Listen, Gin, don't tell Chris, or Allie, about the Dave thing either" asked Myra.

"I won't, but I know you will, you can't resist a good joke about yourself" said Ginny. "Not when you can tell it to them, who adore you."

Myra grinned. "I'm definitely going back, Ginny. With you next time, and then as I need it on my own."

They were in real traffic now, and Ginny had to put all her attention on the road. Myra kept her hand on Ginny's knee and closed her eyes, enjoying the new kernel of peace inside her.