Friday, December 7, 2007


(Peregrine Diving on Starlings, photo by Manuel Presti)

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.

Christmas dinner 2002 -- Gillam is 12, Margie is 14; Allie's mother arrived to live with Allie the week before Christmas

Myra kept a watch out for Allie's car. When it pulled into the carport, she walked out front to greet their guests. It took a bit of engineering to get Ms. Billups out of the back seat and upright at her rolling walker. She headed the wrong way down the driveway and had to be gently herded back toward the sidewalk that led to the house. She looked much, much older than her 65 or so years. When she stopped to shake Myra's hand, she was already out of breath. Edwina was walking behind them, looking frazzled.

Myra could not see a single point of resemblance between Allie and her mother until Ms. Billups spoke. Her voice was more quavery, but had the same pitch and timbre as Allie. It was a little unsettling. When Myra had everybody in the house and seated in the living room, she went into the kitchen to make drinks. Ginny was doing last minute dinner things and said "I'll be right there, one more basting."

"Where are the kids?"

"Hiding on the landing would be my guess" said Ginny, wiping her hands. She walked back out with Myra, giving Edwina and Allie hearty kisses and bending over to shake Ms. Billups' hand. She helped Myra hand out glasses of mint tea to everybody.

Myra walked to the base of the stairs called up "Margie? Gillam?" There was a scuffling sound on the risers just out of sight, then Margie said "Coming right down." Myra waited on them and walked behind them. They didn't completely disgrace themselves, remembering to shake hands deferentially and say their own names. Gillam shoved his hands deep into his pockets and stood stiffly, a series of jutting, awkward angles that Myra wished Ginny would sketch at least once. Margie sat down in the chair nearest Allie and actually tried to join in the conversation.

But even Myra was having trouble finding a place to jump in.

Allie said "On the flight here, we flew over so much snow. More snow than Mama said she'd seen in her whole life."

"One of the things we do here in Seattle, if it's clear, is check to see whether Mount Rainier is 'out', as we call it, and how much snow is on the slope" offered Ginny.

Ms. Billups looked confused.

"Mount Rainer is the big mountain just outside of town, visible from almost any high place in Seattle." said Myra.

"I'm not from here" said Ms. Billups. "This tea tastes funny, is this Luzianne or Lipton's?"

"It's mint tea, Mama. Made from spearmint leaves."

"Oh. Well, I'm not sick, don't listen to what lies that woman told you, I don't need no medication."

"It's not a medicinal tea, it's refreshing" said Allie.

"I'm right in my body and I'm right with God, and all I want, Allie, is for you to get right with God so we can see each other in the hereafter, sitting in God's glory. If I have to spend all eternity knowing that you are suffering the everlasting torments of brimstone searing your flesh, well, please, honey, don't do that to me." Ms. Billups began crying in a thin voice.

Gillam's eyes were almost popping out of his head. Myra nodded at him sharply to sit down.

"We are going to eat in just a few minutes, Ms. Billups" said Ginny gently, putting a hand on the old lady's where it trembled against the leg of her walker. "We made turkey with the kind of dressing Allie said you liked. We have two kinds of cranberries, because my son likes the kind from a can and my daughter like the kind with real berries."

Ms. Billups looked up at that and said "These are your children? Good-looking children. Where's the daddy?"

Allie sighed and said to Myra "I've told her ten times."

Myra said "These children don't have a father, Ms. Billups. They have two mothers; I'm their other mother."

"Ain't right" she muttered. "Every child needs a father. I hope God forgives me for what I've done."

Margie jumped in suddenly. "You'd think having two mothers would mean I'd get a lot more clothes and make-up and stuff like that, with double the women, but it's just the opposite for me. I had to make a federal case to get just a lipstick."

This was not helping, but kudos to Margie for behaving normally.

Ginny stood up. "I need to pull out the turkey and let it sit a bit before we carve it. I could use one or two pairs of hands for other chores."

Myra looked at her and shook her head. Gillam jumped up and walked into the kitchen. Edwina put her hand on Ms. Billup's hand and said "I'm going to go help with the serving, Mama B."

After they left, Ms. Billups turned to Allie and said "That gal know you're a woman? You're not hiding anything under them man clothes, are you?"

Margie loved this, broke out in a giggle.

"She knows I'm a woman, Mama. That's why she chose me."

It was going to be a day of avoiding topics, Myra thought. She leaned in and said "Ms. Billups? What was Christmas Day like when you was a girl coming up?"

"Well, now, it wasn't about buying things and showing off, not like now. It was about observing the birthday of our Lord...." She was off. It had been so long since Myra heard this kind of spiel, she was actually ready to listen again. And it was a first time for Margie, who hung on every word. Sensing a genuine audience, Ms. Billups gave up some of the hectoring note in her voice and relaxed into storytelling that was frequently hilarious or poignant. When Ginny called them into dinner, Allie looked much better and Ms. Billups let Myra help her negotiate her walker.

They gave her a spot at the head of the table, with Allie and Edwina on either side. Ginny sat at the other end, for kitchen access. Myra snagged the chair at her right, waving away Margie, who rushed around to sit on Ginny's left, next to Allie. Gillam slid in between Myra and Edwina, the crowded side of the table.

As usual, before the meal they all took hands and sat in a moment of silence. It was just a moment, though. Head of the table privileges apparently included leading the prayer -- or maybe it was just her sense that nobody else was going to do it. "Jesus, look down on this table today..." Ms. Billups began. Gillam involuntarily squeezed Myra's hand, and she squeezed back.

It was as long a harangue as Myra remembered from her childhood. After she was done, with "In Jesus name, we pray", Ms. Billups dropped her hands into her lap. Everybody else, though, kissed the backs of the hands they were holding, tenderly, with eye contact. Ms. Billups watched in confusion, then reached out a trembling hand to Allie who took it and kissed it sweetly. Ms. Billups bent her head over and kissed her own hand. She was instantly flustered, and Margie laughed out loud. "I used to do that all the time, Mama B!" she cried. "It's hard to remember where you're supposed to kiss."

Myra tried to catch Margie's eyes and send her some signal about the Mama B name, that it was for Edwina, not them, but Margie wasn't looking her direction. And Ms. Billups didn't seem to notice one way or the other.

Myra had worked hard on some of the dishes, making them taste as Southern as she could manage. The difference was noticeable to Gillam, who dug in -- extra butter. Pork in some of the vegetables, the ones Ginny could live without. But the turkey was Ginny's alone, and it was spectacular. Eating together is one of the most ancient of human bonding rituals; feeding each other is a way of making peace and extending family. They fell back on it in gratitude.

After the edge of hunger had lessened somewhat, and everything had been tasted, conversation picked back up.

"Now, you -- " said Ms. Billups, pointing to Myra a little confusedly, as if she wasn't sure how to tell Myra and Ginny apart except Myra was fatter -- "You Allie's best friend, right?"

"Yes maam." Margie was tickled by the "maam", Myra could tell.

"You from Texas, that right?"

"Yes maam. But my people moved into Texas from all over the south, including a batch from Monroeville, Mississippi."

"Monroe County just over the state line from Red Bay" said Ms. Billups.

"Yes maam, I know" said Myra.

"What you people's name?" the old woman asked, her eyes sharpening.

"The ones from there were named Armstrong, Fuller, and Basinger" said Myra.

Basinger scored a hit. "I knew some Basingers" said Ms. Billlups. She didn't need to say white Basingers. "They had kin in Mississippi; the kin would come over to our area when I was a girl." Her voice had become very shuttered. She was looking only at her plate.

Myra looked to Allie, who had no answer. Myra reached under the table, took Ginny's hand, and said "From what I know, Ms. Billups, the Basingers in my line were not good people. From what I know, they was in the Klan. From what I can guess, if they traveled somewhere, it was not a good thing for the places they traveled to."

Gillam had stopped eating.

Ms. Billups looked at her, then. This was not a dinnertime topic, and yet it had arrived at the table with them. In an apparent nonsequitur, she asked "What church you belong to?"

"I was raised Southern Baptist, maam. But I left it behind when I was thirteen. I now consider myself a Jew." Myra skipped over the Quaker and Buddhist parts. On Christmas Day, with Ginny beside her, she was a Jew.

"A Jew?"

"Yes, maam. My partner here is a Jew, and we are raising our children as Jews."

Ms. Billups looked around the table. Not just outnumbered by white people, but white Jews.

Finally she said "Only Jews I ever met came through when I was a young woman, trying to get people registered. They came in on buses. We stayed away from 'em."

Myra looked at Margie and said "Freedom riders." Then said to Ms. Billups "Yes maam. Until I moved out of Texas, the only Jews I met were other lesbians. Then my cousin married a Jewish man and converted."

"So there's two Jews in your family of Baptists" said Ms. Billups.

"Well, more than that, now" said Myra. She wanted to add "We tend to spread" just to hear Ginny's laugh, but she knew it wouldn't work with Ms. Billups.

"Well...all right, then" said Ms. Billups. Myra was struck by how well this woman tracked. She was definitely not the raver Allie had been told she was. And she was holding her own in a very alien environment.

Except for the food. The food was homestyle. And Myra's accent, which had returned full-throttle without her noticing it. Margie was determined to try out every vowel and softened consonant later.

The children got up and cleared the table, bringing back dessert plates. Edwina put pies on the table, so many different kinds that each of them could have had one pie for their very own. Which Gillam clearly thought would have been fine by him.

After everyone was served, Ms. Billups began a little preaching: "I was saved the first time when I was very tiny, barely able to walk up to the front of the tent, but Jesus called me and I went. Then I lost my way for a long time. I was saved again on the 15 of July, 2001, and I am going to hang onto this line, this light, straight into heaven. Jesus is my personal savior, he died and was arisen to lead sinners like me on a direct line to God. I serve a risen savior..."

"I know that one!" exclaimed Myra. She brought all activity at the table to a halt by bursting in a fervent hymn:

"I serve a risen Savior, He's in this world today;
I know that he is living, whatever men may say;
I see his hand of mercy, I hear his voice of cheer,
And just the time I need him, he's always near."

When she got to the chorus, Ms. Billups joined her, singing not just the main lines but also a little back echo.

"He lives, (he lives), He lives, (he lives), Christ Jesus lives today.
He walks with me and talks with me along life's narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart.
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart."

The very high note on the final "lives" made Myra throw back her throat and spread out one arm. When they were done, Gillam could not have looked more astounded if Myra had sprouted tentacles. He was leaning a little away from her. Ginny was fighting hysterical giggles, and Margie was clearly trying to memorize some of the lyrics she'd just heard. Allie's forehead was laid in her hands, but she was grinning, as was Edwina. Ms. Billups had a beautiful flush on her face. She chortled and pointed her fork at Myra "Now he heard you sing that song!"

"It's a rousing hymn" agreed Mya. She went back to her pie.

Everybody was much more raucous after that. After dinner, Allie took her mother to Myra and Ginny's bathroom. In a minute, she poked her head out the door and motioned to Myra. "I left a bag in the back seat, it's got some things we need" she whispered. Myra scurried out and got it while everyone else was putting away food and cleaning up. Ginny was making plates to send home with Allie's family.

The bag contained adult diapers, Myra could see. When she knocked at the bathroom door, Allie reached one arm out and took the bag. Myra thought about how at the ends of our lives, other people have to deal with our shit for us. Perhaps the main argument for family. She felt a pang of empathy for the future Margie and Gillam, with her and Ginny as old women to contend with.

They were in the bathroom quite a while. Allie opened the door, finally, holding the liner from their wastebasket tied up into a bundle. Myra walked over, took it from her and said "I'll deal with this, you help your Mama." She walked it out to the can by the carport.

When she came back in, Allie and her mother were settled back on the sofa. Margie and Gillam had joined them -- she thought Gillam was there because they were talking about what TV show to watch. Myra went on into the kitchen to wash her hands at the sink.

"If I take Edwina back to my studio, are you going to feel abandoned?" asked Ginny.

"Not at all. She could use a break. I'd send Allie, too, if I could. I'm enjoying her mother."

"Clearly" said Ginny. She pushed her hips up against Myra, pushing her back against the counter, and said in a low voice "When you began singing about how Jesus lives in you? It got me really hot".

Myra was momentarily chilled, until she realized Ginny was kidding. She relaxed and giggled. "Gillam may never trust me again. It's like I had an alien erupt from my stomach."

Ginny began kissing her neck, murmuring "You're a Jew-lover, did you know that, you Jew-lover?" Myra returned the kisses until things got a little heated and they remembered Edwina standing nearby, looking away with a grin.

They pulled apart and Myra joined the TV crew, who had allowed Ms. Billups to choose her favorite show. Myra was relieved it wasn't a religious service. She sat down next to Gillam on the love seat and had trouble staying awake after only a few minutes. When she heard snores and looked around to see Ms. Billups slumped over sideways, sacked out, she put a cushion under Ms. Billup's head, then one under her own head and gave herself up to a nap.

Ginny woke them all up an hour later. "You tryptophan wusses" she said. "Shall we play a game? We have lots of board games."

Allie shook her head to clear it. "No, we need to go home. We got some things to deal with" she said. "But bless you for this dinner, and this gathering." Her voice was fervent.

"Edwina's got plates of food that will cover you for tonight and tomorrow" said Ginny. "Tomorrow afternoon we're having our annual Boxing Day tea." She said to Ms. Billups "The day after Christmas, all of our friends who are in town gather to drink hot tea and eat yummy pastries and talk, with the pressure of the holidays behind us. We'd love to have you here."

"Well, now..." said Ms. Billups. Myra said "You can let us know whenever, or just show up. It's very relaxed."

As she hugged Allie goodbye, Myra whispered "I think she just didn't have anybody who wanted to listen to her. If nobody's listening, you might as well talk to God."

"We'll see how it shakes out over time" said Allie. "But that hymn? You scored big with her."

"I'm surprised you didn't join in. If she knows the lyrics, you must too."

Allie grinned. "Edwina was already dealing with as much as she could handle."

As Myra stood in the doorway, Allie ahead of the walker to keep it from skittering down the driveway, she heard Ms. Billups say "Allene, did I thank the Jews?"

"You did, Mama" said Allie.

Myra shut the door, laughing, and went in to see what pie was left.

"Can we watch TV again?" said Gillam.

"Only if it's one of my holiday four" said Myra.

Margie groaned. "Please not 'It's a Wonderful Life'."

"Okay, that leaves 'Boystown', 'Meet Me in St. Louis', or 'White Christmas'" said Gillam, pulling the videos from the shelf.

(Scene from "Choreography" in White Christmas)

Ginny, walking in with milk for Myra, said "I vote for the latter. I love the 'Choreography' send-up." She bent over to kiss Myra and added in a whisper "And I know Rosemary Clooney has the same effect on you as Doris Day."

Myra said "Rosemary and Doris are both from Cincinnati, Ohio."

Laughing, Ginny settled in beside Myra, saying to Margie and Gillam "What are you waiting for? There's pie on the counter."

Early February 2003

After dinner was cleared and the dishes were done, Gillam and Margie disappeared upstairs while Allie had a last cup of coffee before she and Ginny went back to her studio to have their weekly art meeting. Allie whispered "I know it's not a dessert night, but I've got a sweet tooth -- you have anything handy?"

Myra went to the cupboard and came back with a pack of caramel McVitie's. "I can't use these for pie crust" she said, "Eat all you want."

"Ah, McVities" said Allie. "I remember when you discovered them -- or rather, was introduced to them. You ever hear from that gal?"

"Not in years" said Myra, a little nervous.

"Which ex was this?" said Ginny amiably.

"Kat. Kat Whitaker" answered Myra.

"I've not heard that name, does she still live in Seattle?" continued Ginny, still in an easy voice.

"Never did, she was from San Fran" said Myra.

"Summer of '78?" asked Ginny.

"Yeah. Right when I got there" answered Myra, stopping herself because she worried about offering too much information.

Ginny took a sip of tea, then said "Go ahead. I'd like to hear this story. I thought Mimosa was the summer of '78."

"Well, eventually" said Myra. "The first week we were there, though, we went to a performance by this theatre troupe of four short Jewish dykes -- can't remember the name of their group, can you, Al?"

"No, but I think it had 'short' in the title. They was something, though" said Allie.

"It was in a big room that I don't think was a real theater, just a clear space on one end and a buncha benches" said Myra. "And it was all original material. One of the performers -- now her name I do remember, Hillary Carlip -- she had a hobby of collecting shopping lists left behind in grocery store baskets. She'd create characters based on those lists, and it was simply amazing how much you can imagine about someone from what they write down to buy at the store. Plus, she was just a really good actor. My favorite was this woman with a severe pulled-back bun, high heels and a fancy beigy dress, someone who prolly didn't usually do her own grocery shopping. She came into the market at a clip, that kind of fast walk women can do in high heels, pushing her cart impatiently. And Hilary said the items out loud as she put them in the basket -- this woman's voice was prissy and tight-lipped. The entire list, with a big pause in-between, was 'Triscuits......Summer's Eve.' I simply lost it, as Hilary swung that cart around and staccato-strode to the check-out line."

Ginny had begun chuckling at Myra's imitation.

"I was laughing so hard, I slipped off my bench backwards, landing more or less in the lap of the dyke behind me. Very embarrassing. Allie hauled me back upright, and I turned to whisper my apology to whoever I'd landed on, and that was Kat. Short jet-black hair that stuck out straight all over, very pale blue eyes, and this wild lopsided grin. At the intermission, we chatted a bit -- well, she tapped me on the shoulder and talked my ear off -- and I didn't even have a phone number yet to give her. But after the show was over, when I picked up my pack, tucked into the loop at the top was a fold of paper with her number" said Myra.

Ginny was still completely relaxed. "As easy as that" she marveled.

"She called her that night from a pay phone" said Allie. "They went out for ice cream at Old Uncle Gaylord's, I remember because Myra said she'd bring me back two scoops of chocolate, only she didn't show."

Myra was beginning to blush. "Sorry about that. Here, have another McVitie."

Allie said to Ginny, "She was a smoker. Kat, I mean. Bisexual. And she wore dresses."

Now Ginny was startled. She focused on Myra and said "I thought you told me you'd never been with women who were sleeping with men."

"Well, I forgot about her" said Myra, nervous again. "As I remember it, that was when you were trying to find out if I coulda been exposed to AIDS. And in 1978, that wasn't an issue."

"But a smoker? And dresses? She must have been a knock-out" said Ginny.

"Well...yeah. She was an extremely considerate smoker, never in her own house, and she was very clean, washed her hair every day, so I never smelled the residue on her that usually makes me wheeze" Myra explained. "And it wasn't dresses, it was skirts. Funky big skirts, usually with baggy long underwear on beneath them, pushed up to the knees. With a political T-shirt stretched over her big breasts. She had chubby calves with a knot of muscle in the middle of each one, and she wore these old brown leather boots, soft and cracked, up to her ankle." Myra sighed in reminiscence. "She was quite the looker."

"So that was the attraction, her looks?" said Ginny, not quite casual.

"No, not the main thing. She was brilliant and extremely verbal, spoke several languages, I'll bet anything she was a Gemini" said Myra. "She was a year or two younger than me, and I was only 22, so you get the picture of how baby dyke we were. Sweet as hell. She already had a girlfriend, who was off at some CETA training for two weeks, but they were non-monog and she was up front with me about it all. When her girlfriend got back, she kinda freaked out -- we were actually clicking, me and Kat -- and Kat decided it was more important to her to deal with her girlfriend's feelings than to go on seeing me. Which I respect, and it's another indicator of what a goodie she was" said Myra.

There was a long silence, then Myra added "She was the first woman I was ever with who -- noticed when I blanked out. And tried to find out what was going on. She didn't know how, nor did I, so it wasn't -- effective, I guess you'd say. I didn't get a handle on it until way later..." She trailed off.

"Until Karin Barbaras" said Ginny gently.

Myra looked at her gratefully. "Yeah. But Kat, she cared about me more than the sex -- " Myra suddenly began crying, softly. "She's a good memory, you know? And yes, every time I eat a McVitie, I do think of her, and I hope you won't be weird about that because I don't have that many good memories, I'd like to hang onto that one."

Ginny scooted her chair next to Myra and hugged her, saying "Absolutely. In fact, now when I eat McVities, I'm going to remember Kat and send her out a bracha to wherever she is."

Myra sniffled a little more at that, leaning against Ginny. Ginny squeezed her again and said to Allie, "What were you doing while this was going on, not waiting at home for her, I hope?"

Allie cracked up. "Not hardly. I had an early morning job, short order -- Myra was frying doughnuts then, too -- and we was both making five bucks an hour. The room we found cost us $65 each in rent, including all utilities, and even though we was working 20 hours a week, we was rolling in money. I mean, do the math. They didn't take taxes out because it was part-time jobs. During the first week, I went to a performance at the Artemis Cafe that had Gwen Avery -- "

"Ahh" said Myra. Ginny looked at her, and Myra said "Both Gwen, who was a volcanic performer, and the Artemis, a woman-only space. They had a big bowl of corn chowder with half a bagette and a cup of tea for a buck fifty. I spent a lot of time there."

"Well, at that concert" continued Allie, "I met Donnie. She was a tilesetter, already in the union -- "

"Huge woman" said Myra appreciatively.

"And J.T. had said I could play the field while she was out on duty, 'long as I didn't get attached somewhere else. Which was easier said that done. Donnie plain stole my heart" said Allie reflectively.

"Nawlins dyke" Myra told Ginny. "Quieter than Al here, but talk about deep."

After a long appreciative silence between Myra and Allie, Ginny asked Myra "So, how did you come to be with Mimosa?"

"Well, after Kat and I stopped seeing each other, which was only two weeks later, me, Al and Donnie went out to SF State for a film festival on women authors because there was a black women writers documentary showcase. The only one I remember was Toni Morrison -- hadn't read anything by her yet, that's when I went out and got Sula. Damn, what a read that was. Anyhow, we were out front afterward talking and this woman in a manual chair zips by, rolling right over my foot. I sat down on the sidewalk, moaning in pain, and said something like 'Fuck, I think my big toe is broken.' The wheelchair dyke says 'Oh, gosh, that must hurt so bad' and I didn't think, I just glared up at her and said 'Yeah, how the fuck would you know?' There was this ghastly silence around us, and then Mimosa -- it was her, of course -- busted up laughing. She later told me she knew right then I'd treat her like a real person, not a fragile crip. Well, she insisted on giving us a ride home -- we'd taken public transpo because there's no parking out there, but she had a van with a lift -- and by the time we dropped off Allie and Donnie, I'd gotten interested enough to go out with her to this Chinese-run burger joint on Market, near where she lived."

"Happy Boy!" exclaimed Allie.

"That was the name of the burger joint" explained Myra to a confused Ginny. "Great cheeseburgers and fries."

"So, come the end of August, you two have to say goodbye to your new sweethearts and come back home?" prompted Ginny.

"No, before that" said Allie. "We had all this money saved up, we bought a camper shell for the back of my little Toyota pickup and headed off to Michigan right before Myra's birthday."

"I turned 23 in Avoca, Iowa" remembered Myra. "The entire town smelled of cowshit."

"We'd taken turns crying, heading west on 80, from the Bay Bridge to Donner Pass" said Allie. "It was kinda nuts, to leave two good wimmins like that behind. But, well, young and stupid covers it. Once we started coming down from the Sierras, though, the adventure took over. Michigan was another whole chapter -- Myra here hooked up with Skyrivers."

"Oh, god" moaned Myra. "I'd had two pieces of good luck in a row, I was due for a fall." She whispered to Ginny "When she came, she'd yell out 'Oh, mama, mama, please, mama', but then she denied she ever said it."

"Did she mean you, like that kind of mama, or her own actual mother?" whispered Ginny back.

"The second" answered Myra. "Plus, she didn't believe in killing anything, including mosquitoes or fleas that were biting her -- "

"Or bodily bacteria, from the smell of her" said Allie, waving her hand in front of her nose. They were all starting to laugh.

"I slithered away after just 24 hours and stuck close to Allie. When we got home, we still had money left over. I'd sublet my place and gotten someone to turn in my unemployment claims for me, so I had a nest-egg waiting on me. Allie crashed with me until she found a new place, and that's when I was able to buy my Honda" said Myra.

"Skyrivers gave you something, what was it again?" asked Allie.

"Giardia" said Myra ruefully.

Ginny glanced at the stairwell and said in a soft voice "If one of them is eavesdropping, they've just gotten enough to keep them gobsmacked for a while."

Myra said in a louder voice "And that's when I became Rajneesh for a year, walking around airports in orange clothes, trying to sell incense for a buck and persuade people to let me tell them about enlightenment."

Ginny giggled and shushed her. Myra said "Look, the McVities are all gone. I have some Penguins, should I break those out?"

Ginny shook her head, but Allie said "I'm making another cup of coffee, just tell me where you've got 'em hid."

12 March 2003, Wednesday

Sima and Chris came over for dinner on Wednesday, bringing two pounds of salmon and more yellow chard from Chris's sister. Myra had already started red beans and rice, so Chris broiled the salmon while Sima enlisted Gillam and Carly's help in pinching out tollhouse cookies. Myra steamed the chard with tabasco and a bit of vinegar added to the steam water, a trick Allie had taught her.

After dinner, Allie and Ginny headed back to her studio for their art meeting. The kids all went upstairs with handfuls of cookies to finish homework. Myra, Sima and Chris settled in the living room to talk.

"You look more panda-ish than usual" remarked Chris. Myra always had allergic shiners around her eyes, but they were sometimes pronounced.

"Not sleeping well" Myra admitted. "I can't believe they gave him the go-ahead. I'm worried sick."

"Yeah" said Chris, "There's no doubt at all that he's going to attack Iraq."

"Why can't they see he's lying? All that bunch left over from Reagan, they lie as easily as they breathe" said Sima.

"The Big Lie" said Myra. "I go back and forth between believing he's a moron who's being manipulated by Gunner Dick or he's just as evil as the rest of them."

"He's born again" said Chris. "That explains it. Don't need a brain when you believe Revelations is literally true."

"Well, god better help us all if they actually do believe we're on the brink of Armageddon, because we'll be the left-behinds. They'll use Israel to start the nukes flying, because it may be the Holy Land but anybody who hasn't converted will be going to hell anyhow" said Myra.

"The whole world is gonna rise up in protest if he just barges ahead" said Sima.

"Won't matter" answered Myra. "He's never listened to anybody -- he doesn't know how. He's not just dim, he lacks the social skills to interact except as a frat boy. My friends in Texas said he's incredibly vindictive -- you disagree with him and his goons will get you, one way or another. And hell, Molly Ivins warned the rest of the country. Despite his pretending to be a bubba, he's not -- he's pure owning class, the product of private schools and his daddy bailing him out endlessly. He doesn't even have nobless oblige. I don't make this comparison lightly, Sima, you know that, but I honestly think he's as dangerous as Hitler."

Sima looked at her with wide eyes. "Does Ginny share that opinion?" she asked.

"I don't know, I just now said it out loud for the first time." Myra lowered her voice a notch. "I'm so scared for my kids' future, I don't know what to do."

Chris leaned forward and said "You gotta give it up, Myra. More than you usually do. Give it to god."

"Well, first of all, Chris, that sounds a little too much like all the right-wing rhetoric being hurled around these days. And second, god doesn't always save the good folks. Maybe in the long run, but short-term, I'm the mommy."

After a pause, Chris said "We're all looking out for those kids, Myra. It's not just you, or you and Ginny."

"I know, but -- "

"You have to get sleep. It's bad, I know things are bad, Myra. But this kind of freakout? It's old, pal. It's an 8-year-old girl trying to fight off monsters in the dark." Chris put one hand on Myra's knee. "Tell Ginny. Talk with her before she goes to sleep. Or call me, I'll leave the ringer on. I'll pray with you."

Myra's eyes stung with tears. "Okay" she whispered. Her eyes kept burning, so she stood up to go in her bathroom and wash them out. As she entered the hall, she heard sock-clad feet surreptitiously move away from the upper landing of the stairs. Goddammit -- if Gillam had heard that conversation...But she wasn't up to confronting him at the moment.

The following Saturday, Carly was back over for the afternoon and Gillam came into her study to ask if he could use her computer for some research.

"School project?" she asked, getting up from her chair.

"Yeah" he said, not quite convincingly.

"What kind of search do you need?" she said casually, sitting on the daybed as Carly pulled up a chair next to Gillam. They glanced at each other, then Gillam said "We're trying to find local clay deposits. In the Capital Hill area, preferably."

"You mean like clay you can use in modeling?" said Myra. "Why don't you just ask your mom for some, she's got bags of it in there."

"No, it's not an art project like that" said Gillam. "I just need to know where it occurs -- "

"Organically" finished Carly.

Myra definitely smelled a rat. But she said "Try the U.S. Geological Survey, see if they have maps of the area."

"Okay" said Gillam. He didn't begin typing, however.

Myra wished Ginny was in her study so she could go confer with her. Instead, she stood up and said "I'm thinking chicken cannelloni for dinner, sound good?"

"Yum!" said Gillam. She didn't hear the click of the keyboard until she was around the corner.

Her brain kept toying with the riddle the next couple of hours as she made dinner, Ginny and Margie came home, and they ate. Gillam and Carly emerged from her study after a while with some printouts, rolled up so she couldn't get a glimpse of what they had. When she went back to her computer after dinner, she checked her cache and discovered Gillam had wiped his footprints. That really kicked her bloodhound sense into gear.

She helped Ginny drain the hottub so they could scrub it out the next day, and even as they chatted, the back of Myra's mind kept saying "local clay deposits". When the water level got down to just a few inches in the tub, Ginny said "Godamighty, look at all the schmutz in there. We need to do this more often." And the Yiddish word suddenly lit up Myra's forebrain.

"Can I leave the rest to you?" she asked Ginny. Ginny nodded, moving the drainage hose so it gave maximum benefit to the yard. Myra walked slowly upstairs and knocked at Gillam's door. When he called out "Come in", she stepped inside and shut the door behind her. Looking at Gillam, then Carly, and the closed notebook on the bed between them, she said slowly "Are you thinking about making a golem?"

Gillam gasped. Carly's pale face went paler. Myra walked over and sat down on the other bed.

("Golem" by Kazuya Akimoto)

"Is this to fight Bush?" she went on. Gillam wanted to deny, but he wasn't wired for lying. Staring at her, he nodded.

She didn't know where to go with this. After a long silence, finally she said "Did you find clay?"

"Not really" said Gillam. "But -- we have the Hebrew words, we think. Please, don't tell Mama."

"I don't keep things from Ginny -- " began Myra.

"Oh, please, it's not about her. I'd rather you not know, either, because it's supposed to be between us and god, you see? It's sacred, a sacred secret" said Gillam passionately.

Myra thought about Chris's offer to pray with her. Prayers takes many forms, she thought.

After another long silence, she said "I won't tell Ginny. But I do want to talk it over with Chris. Not as a parent -- but because she is my spiritual sister in a lot of ways. I'll make sure she doesn't tell anyone else. Would that be all right?"

Carly and Gillam looked at each other, silently conferring, and then Gillam nodded.

"Have you read all the stories about the golems in Eastern Europe? Sometimes things went wrong" said Myra quietly.

"We've talked about it" said Carly. "We're pure of heart. We have faith."

She wanted to cry, then, but held it back. "Okay, listen. Go get my cell phone from the breakfast bar and look for Mara Smith's number, call her. If there's anybody who knows about clay in this area, it's her" said Myra. Gillam's face lit up. "Tell her I know about your project but Ginny doesn't, and it's okay if you keep it secret. She can call me if she needs to confirm that. And -- I think she might know something about golems, in particular . I wouldn't be surprised if she does."

"Thanks, Mom" gushed Gillam, jumping up to hug her.

"If there's any problem at all, I want you to promise me you'll tell me, sooner rather than later" said Myra.

"I will" he said earnestly. "I can't believe you figured it out. I mean, that's unreal."

"We think very alike, me and you" Myra told him. She was gratified at how this pleased him. He was still 12; she wished he would stay in mind-meld with her through the coming years, but it was unlikely. Well, the wheel would come back around, it always did. She kissed his forehead, then Carly's, and whispered "Mazel" before she left.

Summer 2003

Ginny and Allie had been holed up in her studio for a couple of hours working on several different projects Allie was applying for, had been hired to do but needed to plan out, or had begun and needed feedback about. They were about to switch over and talk about gallery options for a couple of Ginny's paintings. Allie was leaned back in her chair, stretching. Myra was visible in the pool outside, swimming laps.

Ginny said "I want to ask you a very personal question."

Allie leaned forward and grinned. "Well, you can ask."

"Way back before Myra and I got together -- why did you kiss her, that day?"

Allie hadn't seen this one coming. She craned her neck around and made sure Myra was still outside, out of earshot. She looked back at Ginny and seemed to be thinking about refusing the question.

"What I tell you? -- never a word to Myra. I know that's asking something. But if she wants the answer to that question, she needs to get it herself."


"Well, Ginny...It took a long time to figure it out myself. I was not attracted to her, not in the way I define it. And I do trust my definition, it works for me. But I -- it's hard to describe how I love her. It's like we grew up together, you know? Although nothing could be further from the truth, our childhoods are not similar in key respects -- still, it's like I didn't have the ground to stand on to be an adult until I had her in my corner. She's who you want covering your back, you know? She's the best."

"I know. When it's time to get serious, she's the rock."

"So despite the racial divide -- and no matter how good she is, that gap is always painfully there for me, I think maybe you can understand it as a Jew -- "

"In some respects, I do."

"Despite how differently we come at things, we wind up at the same place. Which is the biggest wellspring of hope you can ask for. So, even with everything in me arguing with myself all the time, I got to where I just let myself count on her. She can be an idiot and she will mouth off when she ought had not, but ask her to back up and take a look, she will. She will never stop trying, and over time, she's got one hell of a success rate. So I realized, that day, I was really deeply involved with her. Like, forever. And it was a good feeling. Not romantic, not a bit romantic."

"I can see all that, Allie. But that doesn't explain kissing her."

"No. I'm getting there. The thing is -- I've seen all these women over the years who got a look at her and decided to have a go at her. And Myra thinks they were all just drawn to her being damaged, being boundaryless, being usable. That's true for more of them than it should be. But that wasn't all women were seeing. She's appallingly transparent, much more naked than she seems to know she is. And she's beautiful, you know? She's really something. So a lot of those women were seeing something in her that really was her. They might not have been able to deal with the situation, but their impulse was good."


"Karin was a gift from god. Don't mean to stick a knife in your heart, but she was."

"It's okay, I'm not jealous. Not once I met her."

"So Myra -- she's got some really good women having a try with her. And while I didn't feel that tingle, you know, that sexual thang, I was curious about her that way because there was such a lot of traffic in her neighborhood, you dig? And we were so solid, I forgot for a minute that line of bright red buttons on her dashboard. I just thought 'Wonder what they all experience kissing you, buddy' and I leaned over and kissed her. It was impulsive and brainless. I'm sorry for what it did to her, how much more work it created for her. But it's not a bad memory for me."

"She's a good kisser" said Ginny with a grin.

"Yes, she is" said Allie. "But don't you ever tell her I said so."

"I won't, and I'd rather you not dwell on the memory of it, either." Ginny was still grinning, but this was a real request.

"You got it.

"She's coming in now. Back to work?"

Allie cracked her knuckles and picked up her pencil with a wink.

In mid August, after dinner one night, Edwina pulled Ginny aside and said "Listen, Margie's asked me to take her shopping and I told her yes. Just wanted to let you know."

"Shopping for what?" asked Ginny. Myra, who had been eavesdropping, walked over to stand next to Ginny.

"Bras. She wants something besides a sports bra, and I'm going to help her figure out what she needs."

Ginny and Myra were both momentarily speechless. Then Ginny gave a strained chuckle.

"Well, obviously, that's not part of my skillset, underwear in general."

Myra interjected "But does she really need a brassiere kind of thing? I mean, we're not talking like underwire or whatever it is, right?"

Edwina looked at her. "You daughter is, pardon me for saying, stacked. She's got Ginny's rump but shoulders like Gillam, with muscles to match, and yes, she's full-breasted. She reminds me of Lena Horne in 'Stormy Weather'."

Allie had joined them for this last bit of conversation. Edwina began laughing and said "I wish you, Myra and Allie, could see the expressions on your faces. I never knew her in diapers, but she's grown up since then. Haven't you looked at her lately?"

"I guess not" mumbled Allie.

Ginny began laughing, too. "I'm glad she had the sense to go to you, Edwina. If you wind up paying for anything, let me know how much it is."

"No bustiers" said Myra.

Ginny snorted. Allie said "Now, when Gillam needs to buy a tailored suit, I'll help him with that."

"What about jockstraps?" asked Edwina.

Allie fought not to blush. "Yes, that too."

"It won't be long" said Ginny. "He's gotten pubic hair, and he's definitely getting bigger in the package area."

Myra was scandalized. "How on earth do you know that?"

Ginny gave her a look. "He often swims nude, Myra."

"But we're not supposed to look at him!" she protested.

"He's my son, of course I look" replied Ginny. She added "And you're right, Edwina, about Margie. Crewing has really paid off for her, I'm completely envious of her biceps."

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