Tuesday, December 25, 2007


As a little holiday treat, here's some out-of-sequence smallish episodes from my novel-in-progress Ginny Bates that I left out of previous excerpts. Regular installments will continue after the New Year. 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. And -- tug of the forelock to Liza for the lyrics to -- well, you'll see.

December 1988

When Margie was a week old, Pat and Patty arrived with Truitt. Allie, Sima and Chris were already there. The house was warmed up to tropical level, and Myra kept saying quietly to Allie "I don't know about this." But, at Ginny's request, she made a padded place for Ginny to sit on top of the toilet seat and filled their gleaming double-sized tub with baby-warm water. After Margie had a bowel movement, Myra cleaned her up and left her naked, wrapped in a towel.

Pat was giving last minute instructions to Ginny. "I've taught this for years, and never had a mishap yet" she said, glancing at Myra. "The epiglottis automatically closes over the trachea in babies up to one or one and a half years -- they literally cannot breathe in water. They're born this way so they don't breathe in the womb. It's the same thing as when you swallow food, closes off your windpipe. And she's gonna love how it feels -- not just cause it reminds her of how she's been living for nine months, but also because every muscle in her body will have freedom of movement. She'll be independent, physically, for the first time since she was born."

Ginny looked at Myra, who said "Yeah, I said I'm willing to try. As long as it will make her safer in the future."

Cathy had her arm linked through David's and her expression was highly dubious. Allie was as close to the tub as she could get without crowding out Myra and Ginny, and Sima was in the doorway to the hall -- ready to call EMS, Myra figured. Truitt in Patty's arms, now a year old, kept pleading "I swim? Baby swim? Mama?"

Myra leaned into Margie's face and said "We're going to teach you how to swim now, Margie. It's going to be way fun, and it's something we can do every day." She made the sign language for swim up close to Margie's face, so she could see it clearly. She kissed Margie and left her entirely in Ginny's hands. She put her left hand into her front pocket where she had stashed the baby nasal syringe, just in case.

"Go slow" said Pat. "Let her lower half get used to the water first."

As soon as Margie's body registered the sense of partial immersion, her face lit up -- she couldn't grin yet, at least not consciously, but it was still obvious she was delighted with the sensation. She began kicking her legs in an uncoordinated way and breathing exuberantly. At Pat's instruction, Ginny leaned into Margie's face and blew at her forcefully. Margie blinked and held her breath. In that moment, Ginny let her all the way down into the water and Margie's head went under.

Myra thought she might throw up. Allie was leaned over the side of the tub. But Margie held her breath, and began jerking her arms. Her entire body was in motion. They let her bob around for a few seconds, then Ginny picked her up again.

Margie appeared to be ecstatic. She was still thrashing, but opened her mouth wide and made a series of sounds that were definitely not distress. Ginny said "You want to go swim again?" and Myra repeated the sign for swim where Margie could see it. Ginny lowered her back into the tub, and Margie held her breath on her own this time, without a prompt. They gave her longer and longer periods of bobbing, up to 30 seconds at a time, and she maneuvered -- accidentally, but with great relish -- all over the tub. After 20 minutes, Pat said that was enough, it was all-out exercise. Ginny wrapped her snugly in the towel, crooning to her, and Margie immediately nuzzled for Ginny's breast.

"She'll need to eat after each session" said Pat. "It's hard work. And then she'll sleep. But it will become her favorite part of each day. I don't recommend either of you swimming with her alone, though, not for a long while. Never if she's got a cold, and not in the pool, even your heated pool, until it's a mild day outside."

It was as if everyone crammed into the bathroom suddenly started breathing normally again. Chris led the way to a buffet on the breakfast bar, and people ate as ravenously as Margie was. Myra sat with Ginny on their bed, trembling with more emotions than she could sort out, until Margie drifted into sleep. Ginny diapered her and put her back in a onesie. Myra took her, then, unable to leave her in the crib, and they went out to the living room to join everyone else.

January 1989

Right before Margie reached her sixth week of life, Ginny was changing her diaper and saying to her over and over in a delighted tone "Who's the pooper? Who's the pooper?" Myra was gathering dirty diapers out of the pail in the bathroom and laughing to herself, listen to Ginny's idiocy and Margie's non-syllabic response. Suddenly she heard Margie say "Oooo". She stood upright, immediately doubting her hearing. But Ginny called out "My! My, get in here!" She dropped the bag of diapers and rushed into the bedroom. Ginny was staring down at Margie in disbelief.

"She just tried to talk!" said Ginny. "That was a vowel sound!"

"I heard it" said Myra, her gaze fixed on Margie as well. Ginny began repeating "Who's the pooper? Who's my super-duper pooper?" Margie was looking from one face to the other, taking in the dual attention. Just as Ginny was thinking she should lay off the pressure, Margie again said "Oooo" and looked a little pleased with herself.

"Oh my fucking god, you're a genius!" screamed Ginny, sweeping Margie up into the air before clasping her to her chest. Margie immediately squawled, startled by the yell and the loft, but Ginny calmed her quickly.

"If she can do ooo, I bet she can do aaah" said Myra.

Ginny beamed at Myra. "And it's a short hop from aaah to mama."

"Let's get the video camera and see if we can get her to do it again" said Myra.

"Okay. Let me put a shirt on first, I want to send a copy to my family."

Two days later, after lunch and nursing Margie, Ginny announced "I canceled our dinner tonight with Sima and Chris. It's just me and you for the rest of the day."

"Okay -- how come?" asked Myra.

"Come with me while I put her down for a nap" said Ginny evasively. Once Margie dropped off, Ginny stripped off her shirt and climbed under the covers. "It's been six weeks" she said slyly.

"Six weeks since she was born? What am I missing here, honey?" asked Myra. Then she remembered. "Oh ... the deadline of so-called pelvic rest."

"I checked myself out this morning. Not a single twinge or problem area left" said Ginny.

Myra began pulling off her pants. "Do you have something particular in mind?" she asked, crowding in next to Ginny.

"Let's take the edge off with 69" said Ginny.

"You on top" said Myra.

An hour and two stages later, Ginny was saying "Help me pull off my strap-on, loosen that thing there...Okay, will you put your fingers inside me and see if I feel different?"

"How about just one finger -- I know it's not much, but -- "

Ginny laughed, "Myra, honey, your constant sense of inadequacy about your hands is just plain silly. The truth is, Dakin had much bigger hands, with long thick fingers, than either one of us and I never came one-tenth as hard with her as I do with you."

"Well, that sure gets me in the mood" said Myra. "Let's talk about Dakin's body some more, why don't we?"

"Myra -- you know what I mean. I have eyeball-rolling, breath-stopping, bone-rattling orgasms with you. Reliably."

Myra had to grin. "Now who's being a poet."

"Use two fingers, so you can go a little deeper. And tell me what you feel."

Myra first checked out the areas where Ginny had torn. The knit was complete, Ginny was right. Then she slid in with a gentle curve and explored, her eyes on Ginny's face.

"There's some new ... corrugations, I guess you'd call them. On both sides."

"What about my cervix?"

"I can't reach it, you're not turned on enough."

"Then, sweetheart, how's about you think of something to do that will persuade my cervix to yearn down your way?" said Ginny.

They both got distracted after that, and it wasn't until half an hour later, as Ginny lay resting in Myra's arms, that Myra could report on her cervix.

December 1990 -- Margie is two

Margie's dollhouse was in Myra's study at the entry to Ginny's studio, where Margie could see both her mothers and, as Ginny pointed out, where she could cause the most obstruction with scattered toys. After a clash of wills getting her dressed -- Myra was insisting on corduroy overalls and a long-sleeved shirt this chilly day while Margie wanted a pair of gold lame shorts and a scarf tied like a cape around her neck -- Myra dumped Margie in front of the dollhouse with a handful of small toys scooped from the bucket in her room. Margie settled down to create a story weaving the random items together.

Myra sat wearily at her desk and looked at a list of academic journals whose deadlines were approaching, comparing it to a list of her poems ready for submission. This was always a particularly stressful task, trying to figure out who might publish what. Editors said "Read our journal to find out what we're looking for" but Myra had subscribed to every damned one of them and it gave her no help at all -- it looked completely arbitrary to her. It was probably just who you knew, like everything else.

After only ten minutes, Margie stood up and said "I'm hungry."

"What do you want?" said Myra.

"PBJ" said Margie. It was always a PBJ.

Ginny appeared in the doorway, fetus first as she called it these days. "I'll feed her" she told Myra. Myra tried to refocus on the list. Dammit, what had she thought was right for Prairie Schooner?

A few minutes later, Margie's noon-whistle shriek erupted in the kitchen.

"What?" said Ginny. "I don't understand what you're asking." When the shrieking continued, Myra gave up and went into the kitchen.

A peanut butter and apple butter sandwich, cut in half, with carrot sticks and some cucumber slices, was on the plate in front of Margie. She was trying to push it away, screaming something that sounded like "Mary Poppins! Mary Poppins!"

Ginny looked at Myra and said "I have no fucking idea."

Myra got down on her haunches next to Margie's chair and said "Hey. Hey, you." When Margie kept yelling, Myra picked up the plate and carried it into the kitchen.

Margie's piercing yells stopped. She said to Myra's back "That's not Mary Poppins!"

"What's not Mary Poppins?" said Ginny. "The apples? The carrots? The sandwich?"

Margie nodded vehemently.

"The sandwich?" said Ginny. Her voice was starting to sound strained.

Margie nodded again.

"It's peanut butter and jelly, exactly what you asked for" said Ginny.

"But it's not Mary Poppins, it's Annie Oakley" said Margie, her voice heading back into wail zone.

Ginny turned and looked at Myra again, her face completely exasperated now. Myra held up her hand with spread fingers and said "Klaatu barada nikto!" Which made Ginny giggle, and then Margie laughed, too.

Myra walked over with the plate and said "Show me on the sandwich where it's Annie Oakley, Margie". Margie stuck out one finger and delicately traced the space between the two halves of the sandwich.

"Where the sandwich is cut? That's Annie Oakley?" asked Myra. Ginny was now beside her, staring at the plate. Margie nodded.

Myra pushed the two halves together and said "Okay, pretend like this is a whole sandwich. Now, show me what it would look like if it was Mary Poppins."

Margie traced a line from corner to corner, as if the sandwich was cut into two triangles.

"So when it's cut the way it is right now, it's Annie Oakley? And when it's cut diagonally, it's Mary Poppins?"

Margie nodded again vigorously.

"Where in the fuck?..." Myra said to Ginny, heading back into the kitchen with the plate.

"Well, she's watched Mary Poppins a few times, I guess it might be in there" said Ginny. "But Annie Oakley -- where did you hear about Annie Oakley, baby girl?"

"In a book" said Margie.

Myra made a second sandwich and cut it carefully corner to corner. She brought the plate back to Margie, who eagerly picked up a triangle and began eating.

"I'll be damned" said Ginny. She picked the rejected sandwich off the plate and sat down beside Margie, taking a bite of the Annie Oakley half. Myra poured them both glasses of milk and went back to her desk, grinning.

For one of her Hanukkah presents, Myra gave Margie a video of "Annie Get Your Gun". Ginny expressed voluble doubts about this gift -- she had not seen it before Myra handed it to Margie. The next night, when they all sat down with Allie after dinner to watch it, Ginny tried insisting they fast forward through any scene with a gun in it, which turned out to mean the movie would last three minutes. Myra kept saying "It's a musical, Ginny, it's from the fifties". Ginny retorted "Don't you dare try to act like the fifties were benign, you've written poems about the malignancy of that era."

Myra, going off on a tangent, said "Annie Oakley was a Leo, did you know that?"

Allie just grinned and kept pointing out to Margie how the few people of color were really white people with make-up.

The next day, Margie had her new Play-Doh Fun Factory at the art table, declaring this was "better" than Ginny's art clay and rejecting Ginny's offer to help her with color combining. After a long peaceful period of the three of them working at their own respective tasks, Margie keeping a running conversation with herself, Myra heard Margie begin singing:

If I went to battle
With someone's herd of cattle
You'd have steak when the job was done
But if I shot the herder
They'd holler 'bloody murder'
And you can't shoot a male
In the tail like a quail
Oh you cain't get a man with a gun

By the last line, Myra was bent over her desk in hysterics. She sensed, rather than saw, Ginny's appearance at her shoulder, which made her even less able to sober up. But when she was finally able to turn around and look at Ginny, Ginny was grinning. She whispered "She's a freak at memorizing, isn't she? And she is the daughter of a Texan, after all." She kissed Myra and added "But from now on -- all movies go through the Ginny censor first, you hear?" She went back to her studio singing "Oh you cain't get a man with a gun".

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