Saturday, December 1, 2007


I'll be honest with you: I don't care much about the "Sex on the City" scandal regarding Guiliani and his sex-related corruption. I mean, I'm not surprised, and really I don't think anyone else is except for that small percentage of Republicans who saw him as a possible contender if the foaming-at-the-mouth-haters failed to win the nomination. Perhaps I'm being naive, but there is NO WAY IN HELL one of these white boys jockeying for press attention and money (Rudy, Huckabee, Romney, Paul, Kucinich, McCain, Thompson, or Tancredo) is going to win the 2008 Presidency.

Not unless there's an overt or covert coup, involving vote-stealing techniques already used by the Republicans or new methods in the pipeline. Which is a separate issue from any so-called candidacy.

The will of the country is overwhelming and growing in one direction, a change away from the anti-Constitutional rot and working-class bloodletting that has marked Neocon tenure. If there was a way to subvert this will, the attack dogs would already be on it.

Which, indirectly, may be happening: All this publicity for right-wing minority views gives them a credence they don't deserve and a viability that exhausts our hope. This sounds like typical Rovian machinations, and may well be deliberate from a mainstream press in complete denial about its lack of objectivity or journalistic integrity. Aside from the obvious benefit of continually extracting every last dollar from the deluded class that Republicans can filch.

I was reminded of the disconnect between what the media (and far too many blogs) are obsessively reporting about and the issues that actually weigh on our minds out here in regular-how-to-pay-the-rent-land today when I read the Des Moines Register story (via HuffPo and Alternet) about the Heartland Presidential Forum in Des Moines yesterday. The article states "The people got more microphone time than the politicians" both as "person after person shared emotional stories of perceived injustice" and the crowd reacted volubly, mostly supportively to the stories they were hearing.

When "Billy Lawless, a Chicago immigrations rights organizer" asked Hillary Clinton "if she'd commit to giving undocumented workers a path to citizenship in her first 100 days as president" and she hedged on the question, despite his repeating it, Hillary was booed, "apparently upset that she wouldn't commit to a 100-days promise."

Wait -- aren't we being repeatedly told how much the common American OPPOSES a path to citizenship, especially in the Midwest?

The questions and stories raised by this crowd covered immigration raids that destroy families, SCHIP and insurance terrors, multinational corporate farming destroying small farms and the environment, and the oil-based debacle of invading Iraq. In other words, what's really on the minds of people who are living month to month and not waiting for Armageddon to blow the noon whistle.

So I'm getting pickier about what I choose to read or listen to, and I'm saving my commentary for what's actually going to determine this horse race. The herpes sores erupting on the faces of Republican candidates are irrelevant to me -- they are jokes who will be forgotten jokes in another year. (Dan Quayle, anyone?) And while it's possible that one of the remaining credible candidates (all Democrats) will self-destruct or has a skeleton not yet emerged from a closet, it won't matter because we have such a strong field from which to make our choices.

But I do want them to hear from us "We care about how far you'll go in cleaning up the mess". That's what really counts. And that means naming the mess, something the Republicans simply cannot do because its roots are entangled with their party ideology at this point.

We want our Constitution back. We want checks and balances. We want an economy based on shared prosperity. We want the rest of the world to respect us again. We want health care and education and secure jobs that pay enough to have a savings account. We want to be generous and good-natured, the kind of big kid that toddlers instinctively trust because they can tell we're not gonna push 'em around. We want feminism to stop making arrested adolescents snicker, and we want racism fucking stopped in its fucking tracks, for once and for all. We want god in our hearts but not running our government, because we know in our gut god is leaving the hard decisions up to us, that's what being a grown-up is all about. And we want a President who is up to the job of listening to us, changing and learning with responsibility.

Eyes on the prize, people. And don't forget to have some good clean fun every single day.



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

January 1993

Myra got up at 10 the Saturday following Gillam's second birthday. The children had reached the limit of cartoons Ginny would allow them to watch and had begun roaming around the house like ghosts in Ms. Pac-Man. Myra ate a quick bowl of oatmeal and took the reins from Ginny.

"Hey -- Boris and Natasha!" she called out to the children as they made another circuit around the kitchen-dining room-hall orbit. "There's a nasty sleet storm due in this afternoon. What say we go out for a walk while we still can?"

They cheered and ran for the front door. "Whoa!" yelled Myra. "It's colder'n a well-digger's ass out there. Go upstairs and put on -- are you listening, Margie?"

"Language" said Margie.

"What? Oh, okay, point taken and appreciated. A well-digger's posterior fleshy projections. Put on thick socks, both of you -- we'll get your wellies on down here. And Gillam, grab a flannel shirt to put on over your tutu. I'll help you button it when you get back down."

As they headed upstairs, Myra went into her room and bundled on layers. She grabbed a camera and then went into the kitchen to put together a bag of old bread, dried fruit, and sunflower seeds. At the last minute, she broke off three squares of baker's chocolate and wrapped them in foil to put in her coat pocket.

Margie slid downstairs on her posterior fleshy projections. Myra handed her a sweater, then her rainproof coat as Gillam arrived with a turquoise flannel shirt tucked into his pink tutu. Myra helped him into a cardigan and his coat as well. Booted, they called out goodbyes to Ginny, Myra adding "At least an hour, hopefully two."

The temperature outside was shockingly bitter. Myra forced herself to breathe deeply. "Okay, we're headed for the little park area beside Holy Names. This weather is very hard on birds, so once we've gotten warm from the walk, we can sit a little bit and spread some food out for our feathered friends, see who comes for a snack."

An hour and a half later, they returned home, Myra's face feeling icy to the touch. Ginny was in the kitchen checking a simmering soup when the children ran in, dropping coats, hats and gloves on the floor, clomping across the tile in boots.

"We went all the way to the top of Roy Street!" yelled Margie.

"And we had to walk like this going up the hill" said Gillam, leaning very far forward.

"And when we came back down, we had to go like this" said Margie, leaning her body precipitously backward. She fell almost instantly, the back of her head hitting the pine flooring with a sickening thunk.

Myra got to her first, as the wails began. She sat down on the floor and pulled Margie into her arms, Margie screaming into her ear. Ginny was there in the next instant, gently parting Margie's hair and looking for broken skin or bones. Finding none, she shook her head at Myra. Margie was completely consumed by sobs, clinging to Myra with both arms and legs. Ginny went back to the kitchen, filled a ziplock bag with ice, wrapped that in a clean dishtowel, and returned to hold it gently against Margie's head.

Gillam began crying too, the contagion tears of small children. Myra took the ice from Ginny so Ginny could pick him up. Ginny carried him back into the studio, murmuring to him that Margie had a booboo but was really, truly okay.

Myra sat with Margie until she was cried out. Gently, disturbing Margie as little as possible, she managed to slide out of her own coat and then stand up. Singing softly, she walked to her daybed: "When I was growing up / My best friend was a unicorn / The others used to laugh and call me cra-zee".

After the song was done, Margie looked up in Myra's face. Myra couldn't remember the last time Margie had been this quiet for so long. "My head hurts" she said.

"I know it must. It hit the floor very loudly. Does it hurt just where you hit it, or any other place, too?" asked Myra. She asked Margie a few questions about whether she could see clearly, if she felt sick to her stomach, checking for possible concussion symptoms. The damage seemed to be just the bump on her head. Margie didn't want to move much.

"How about if I tell you a story?" said Myra.

Margie used sign language for yes. Gillam appeared at the doorway into the studio. Myra motioned him over to sit beside them.

"In ancient times, magic used to rain down from the skies almost every day. Sometimes it came in the form of blue drops. Sometimes it came as white flecks. The proto-people and other creatures who lived then could go outside and drink the magic into their bodies. Everybody had some kind of special power.

"A proto-woman lived then named Djinni. Her special power was that she could grant others three wishes. She was very, very popular, as you can imagine. She lived with another proto-woman named Mirage. Mirage's special power was that she could make things appear and disappear, even while you were looking right at them. She was also popular, though not as popular as Djinni."

Ginny had appeared at the doorway and was leaning against the facing, grinning.

"They made sure to go outside every day and drink in magic, to keep their powers strong. They lived in a beautiful castle. In the upstairs of the castle was a long hallway the color of sunshine, and if you spent time in that hallway, you would get a tan on your skin like you had been out in the sun. Outside the hallway was a balcony filled with the kinds of plants you use in spells. These plants thrived from the hallway's sun coming through the glass and also the magic coming down from the sky. Djinni and Mirage used bits of the plant to make potions for anyone who needed help or comfort or healing. As a result, everybody around them was happy and healthy.

"To get up and down in their castle, you had to use a magic stairway. Only people with lots of magic in them could see the stairs. Other people would see just a blank wall. Outside of their castle was a sacred pond. If you stood at the edge of their pond, when it was very still, and you cleared your mind of all extraneous thought, you could see sometimes deep in the water what looked like a flickery, watery movie. This would be a vision of the future that was to come."

Gillam scooted to the edge of the daybed and stared out at the pool for a moment through the glass wall. Then he scooted back next to Myra.

""Every day, after drinking magic, Djinni and Mirage would go the the pond and try to see a bit of the future. Then Djinni would go to her room in the castle where she painted pictures of the future, and Mirage would go to her room in the castle where she imagined stories about the future. They were very, very happy.

"But, even so, something was missing from their lives. They thought and thought about what it was that they needed. They talked about it late at night. Finally Djinni said 'I feel lonesome for somebody. I don't know who it is, but there's somebody I love who isn't here yet.'

"Mirage said 'That's it, that's it exactly.' They decided to do a potion to bring this person to live with them.

"The next day, Djinni climbed a mountain and dug deep into the earth until she reached a vein of pure copper. This copper was so bright that you had to wear special goggles when you looked at it, or else the light would hurt your eyes. She dug out a big piece of copper, covered it with a velvet cloth, and took it back to the castle.

"Mirage took the copper and walked down into the valley, where there was a crack in the earth that bubbled out lava. At the edge of the lava was a boulder with a bowl-shaped depression in the top of it. Mirage put the copper into this bowl, and after a day and a night, the heat from the lava melted the copper until it was liquid. While it had been melting, Djinni had joined her and they carved a particular shape into the sand at the edge of a nearby river. When the copper was completely melted, they scooped it out into a scoop made of quartz and ran with it to the mold in the sand. They poured in the copper. It sizzled and popped when it hit the sand, cooling so fast it sent up a huge cloud of steam. When it was all cooled, they dug out the sand around it. They had made a special funnel, with a big wide spout, as big around as a plate, that went down into a small flask. They washed off this funnel and took it back to the castle.

"That night, under a full moon, Djinni went to pick something from the potion garden for their spell. She and Mirage talked about what it should be. Finally Djinni said it should be marjoram, because that was her favorite herb. She picked a few sprigs of marjoram and tucked them into the ribbon around her hat.

"The next morning, they got up early and went outside as magic began to fall from the sky. Djinni took the marjoram from her hatband, crushed it a little, and dropped it into the flask. Then Mirage held the funnel up to the sky. Magic poured into the flask from the funnel. When it was full, they went back inside.

"They said a prayer, and then Mirage poured the potion from the flask into her mouth. She let it sit there for a minute, collecting her power. Then she kissed Djinni on the mouth, letting the potion trickle into Djinni's mouth. When all the potion was in Djinni's mouth, she swallowed. She instantly felt something begin to grow inside her. It was the new being they wanted to have in their lives.

"In a very short time, much shorter than it takes now, this new being came out of Djinni. It was a girl with mysterious eyes and hair the color of mahogany. She could speak as soon as she was born, because she was more powerful than either one of her mothers. Mirage wanted to name her Majik, from what had rained down from the sky. Djinni wanted to name her Marjoram, because of the potion herb. But the girl, who had come to be their daughter, said her first words. She said 'My name is Margie.'"

Margie shifted in Myra's arms, heaving a sigh at the perfection of the name. What could be better? Myra went on.

"Now Margie had a special power no one else had ever seen. She could levitate -- she could just focus her energy and rise up from the floor. This meant she could fly. She could get the pots from the tallest shelves in the kitchen when her mothers were cooking. She could help get the cats down from the roof when they were stuck. She could clean the cobwebs from the high reaches of the bookshelves. But mostly she liked to fly with the birds.

"Some people were jealous of her ability. They wished they could fly, too. Eventually Margie figured out a way to help others not feel so bad. Every now and then, she would pretend to fall down, like you or I would do if we tried to fly. She would fall down hard, and cry, and then everybody would hold her and tell her she would be able to fly again, just wait. It made them feel better to comfort her, and it made her feel better to be comforted by them.

"And that's all the story I have right now. I'll do more another time. How's your head, honey?"

Margie said "It still hurts."

Ginny said "I'm going to call the triage nurse at the clinic, see if it's okay to give her some Tylenol." She walked over to the phone.

Gillam said "Was it just the three of them? For ever and ever, just three?"

Myra's heart gave a flip. "Oh, no, they needed one more to come and live with them. But that's another story. I'll tell it, I promise, buddy." She felt bad leaving him hanging, but she was tapped out, plot-wise.

After hanging up, Ginny got some Children's Tylenol and a glass of juice. Margie slid gingerly onto her lap to take it, then stayed leaned against Ginny. "I've got it from here" said Ginny.

Myra stood up and pulled Gillam onto her hip. "How's about we go eat some soup with crunchy, munchy toast?" she asked him. He clasped his hand around the collar of her shirt and nodded. As they went into the kitchen, she began whirling him about in a waltz, singing "So let's go dancing till the break of day / And if there's a piper, we can pay / 'Cause love is something if you give it away / You end up having more." He began laughing and kept singing as she put bread in the oven and stirred the soup. "Give it away, give it away, give it away, love is sumfin if you give it away, you end up having more."

By bedtime, Myra had had enough time to create a second installment to the Mirage and Djinni story, whereby they created a boy from the gill of a fish and fleece of a baby lamb whose magic power was the ability to swim deep under the ocean and never get cold. Gillamb, as this new being was called, traveled the wide seas with whales and dolphins, and when he got lonesome for his mothers, his flying sister would come get him and whisk him away home.

The next Monday, Hannah dropped them off at Montessori. When Myra was done with breakfast, she was just getting out of the shower when Ginny burst into the bathroom. "Get dressed, quick -- Margie's been hurt at school."

Myra was ready in two minutes flat. Ginny was waiting in the car.

"What did they say was wrong? It's not a delayed concussion, is it?" asked Myra, buckling her seat belt.

"They think it's a broken arm" said Ginny.

"Oh, fuck" said Myra.

Sure enough, when they rushed into the school director's office, Margie was sitting in a chair, cried out for the moment, with a visible S-bend in her left forearm. She was resting it on the edge of a desk, and when she saw Myra and Ginny, she said calmly, "Look, Mama, I bent my arm."

Ginny picked her up carefully, Myra kissing her cheeks, and Myra said "I might as well go get Gillam, we don't know how long we'll be at the emergency room." After she rejoined them at the car and got him in his car seat, Ginny began driving them to the hospital.

"I got the story of how it happened. A teacher saw the whole thing" said Ginny grimly.

The look on her face gave Myra a chill. "Some kid do this to her?" asked Myra.

"No. Margie climbed up to the highest part of the jungle gym, commanded the other children to come watch because she knew how to levitate, and then stepped off into empty space before the teacher could get there."

Myra looked at Ginny in horror. "Oh my god, it's my fault!" she whispered.

"Well, My, I wouldn't use the word fault. I mean, we both tell them stories all the time. But it might be a good idea, when you get a chance, to remind Gillam that he cannot actually breathe under water."

By the time they got home, lunch was overdue and Margie was in real pain. Ginny gave her a glass of juice and some of the Tylenol with codeine they'd been given, while Myra made a swift meal of fried egg and tomato sandwiches with carob milk as a treat. She and Ginny signed Margie's cast before Margie conked out on Ginny's daybed in a nest of blankets and stuffed animals.

Gillam was delighted to have the afternoon alone with his mothers. He and Ginny made papier mache beads for a couple of hours, and when those were set to dry in a low oven, he curled into Myra's lap while she read him Blueberries for Sal and Really Rosie. After Margie woke up, she helped Gillam paint his beads with bright acrylics, Margie working one-handed and Gillam singing over and over "In February it will be / my snowman's anniversary / Happy chicken soup with rice".

Two weeks later, they had to return to the hospital to have Margie's cast replaced because she ruptured it cracking walnuts with it.

The following Saturday, Myra got up with Ginny and offered to make flapjacks. Ginny set milk inoculated with acidophilus in the oven and used the last of the yogurt they had on hand in a blueberry spread for the stack Myra turned out. As Myra steamed milk for each child's mug, she sang:

When I make a batch of pancakes
And they don't come out all round and smooth and straight
I eat 'em anyway, why let 'em go to waste?
Take my word, it makes no difference in the taste

Well I wore a leather jacket one night
And later on, you're gettin' all uptight
Why should you care how I look?
Cause baby I eat what I cook.

After breakfast, Myra said "Okay, it's errand day: Library, pet store, Pike Market. Anybody who gets dressed appropriate to the weather all by themselves can go with me. Anybody who can't will be locked into the back bedroom while Mama paints."

Gillam giggled and raced for the stairs, but he was quickly overtaken by Margie. Ginny cleared the table, saying "Thanks" as she kissed Myra's forehead.

Margie came down in jeans, a sweater, and flipflops. Margie started her inspection with Gillam, saying "I see you've got on warm socks and sturdy shoes, that's a must for today. Now, let's check those pants -- "

Margie bolted back upstairs and returned in a few minutes wearing wool socks and her hiking boots which Myra had to tie for her. After they passed muster, Myra sent them to search the house for library books to be returned, as she pulled out canvas grocery bags and checked the produce crisper to see what they needed. She gave Juju a treat and apologized for having to leave her behind. "You guard Ginny, okay? You know how she gets when she paints" she murmured.

(Pike Place Market, Seattle in the 1940s)

They all returned three hours later, Margie racing to the dining table waving her casted arm recklessly and shouting "I got a lizard!"

Ginny was sitting drinking tea with Chris and Sima. She said "What did Myra do now?"

Myra set a battered 10-gallon fishtank on the breakfast bar and lifted a smaller plastic box from it. "Margie was extremely good at Pike and the library, so when she asked for a new pet, I said yes." She showed Ginny a small green jewel of a gecko in the box, nestled in some straw.

"Her name is Yoko Gecko, and I get to keep her in my room!" shouted Margie.

"Yoko Gecko?" said Ginny. "Isn't that a little disrespectful? I mean, the woman is a world-class artist and thinker -- "

"Margie came up with that name all on her own. I think it's probably an homage, actually" said Myra.

"I don't know what it eats, do you?" asked Ginny.

"Beatles" said Chris, and burst out laughing. Myra and Sima joined her, and then Ginny, reluctantly.

Myra held up an inflated plastic bag full of small clear insects. "Crickets, actually."

Margie said "She bites them, crunch!"

Gillam turned his head away. Ginny suddenly understood why the gecko was Margie's, not his.

"What about Gillam?" asked Ginny. "Did he get a pet?" She ran her fingers through his hair as he stood beside her.

"Gillam opted instead to get a toy at Goodwill, where we had to go in search of a terrarium for Yoko Gecko rather than paying the outrageous price at the pet store. Show her what you picked out, honey boy" said Myra.

He reached into the bag he was clutching and pulled out an oversized plastic microphone. He pushed a switch on its side and began singing into it "Liddul boxes on the hillside, liddul boxes mada ticky-tacky -- ". The sound came out very loud.

"Holy moly" said Chris, coming over to bend down next to him. "That's really cool, Gillam. You can be a music star now, huh?"

Gillam was grinning from ear to ear. He switched to "Billie Jean is not my lover -- "

"Okay, not in the dining room" said Ginny. Chris took his hand and walked with him to the stairs, where he could pretend that the landing was a stage and she sat on the step below him, his adoring audience. The sound bounced from the stairwell into the living room.

"Shit, Myra, the last thing these kids needed was amplification" said Ginny.

"On the contrary -- Margie is the loud one. Gillam is rather subdued" retorted Myra. "It's what he really wanted."

"Okay, you win. Is there food in the car to be hauled in?"

"Yes, in the trunk. And new library books. And pet food for Alice and Juju. I'm going to wash this tank and get it ready for Yoko. Margie, you go in the back yard and look for three rocks bigger than a walnut but smaller than a grapefruit to put in her new home."

Sima got up to help Ginny with unloading the car. As they walked to the door, Gillam broke into "The eyes of Texas are upon you, all the liblong day..."

Margie's interest in Yoko Gecko lasted only one week. When Ginny found the tank lid pushed off and one of Margie's discarded shirts draped over the side, a perfect escape route that Yoko had not yet discovered, she picked up the terrarium and carried it to her studio, setting it in the corner of her work table. A few crickets still lived a harrowing existence under one rock.

Ginny pulled small branches from several different trees and wove a jungle gym for Yoko to traverse with her little green fingers. She painted a Rousseau-like tropical scene on the back glass, and moved her desk lamp beside the tank to give Yoko light and warmth. Myra heard Ginny occasionally talking to Yoko in a conversational tone as she sat at her table, working on a project.

After six months, Ginny enlisted Chris's help in building a glass case that reached from the top of her worktable almost to the ceiling, two feet by two feet square. Ginny put a small live tree and several bamboo shafts in this expanded world, as well as a tiny pond and its own light source on a timer. The bottom was lined with a mesh over a removable tray; Ginny spread coconut fiber on the mesh as a substrate. A pair of misters tubed through the top were fed by a water source set on a timer next to the tank. Yoko began living large.

The next day, Ginny came home with a second gecko that she named O'Keefe, explaining that Yoko was terribly lonely. She also pointed out that day geckos could live up to 15 years, which shocked Myra and made her feel guilty about ever having given in to Margie's request.

Thus began decades of Ginny's communion with geckos. Alice, too, found them fascinating, a kind of cat TV that she never tired of watching. The background chirp of crickets became a familiar constant in Myra's study.

February 1994 -- Margie is 5, Gillam is 3

Myra had come down with a cruddy cold, given to her by one of the children who had both been clogged and whiny with it a few days before. She was worn out and worried about it going to her lungs; she got bronchitis too easily, and had had pneumonia several times as an adult. She stayed in bed with a heating pad on her chest, drinking all the tea Ginny brought her, too congested to lie down comfortably but too tired to read. She wanted Ginny to just lie next to her and tell her stories, but Ginny was busy making lunch for the children and helping Hannah keep them from barging into Myra's sickroom.

Myra managed to eat some chicken soup -- Ginny made amazing chicken soup, almost a garlic infusion -- and was lying on her side, on Ginny's side of the bed because it smelled like her, when she heard a tiny click of the door latch. She didn't look around. She didn't hear footsteps -- whoever it was, was creeping -- but then she picked up the sound of mouth-breathing and knew it must be Gillam. He was still producing mucus and speaking adenoidally. She kept her eyes closed as she sensed him come stealthily around the corner of the bed in view of her face. He stopped, then, no doubt wondering what to do next. Finally she cracked open one eye and looked at him.

He was standing on tiptoe, one hand lightly on the footboard. His whole body reacted with joy at the sight of her awake. He came quickly to stand beside her and say "Are you better, Mama?"

"No, sweetie boy, I'm not. I feel kinda bad" Myra croaked.

His face fell. He patted her cheek softly. At that moment, Myra heard Ginny saying "Where is your brother? Gillam!"

She rolled over and yelled "In here, Gin", then fell into a coughing fit that left her wheezing. Dammit to hell. She sat up, blew her nose, and tried to avoid using her inhaler; she was already overdoing it.

Ginny appeared in the doorway, looking crossly at Gillam who was trying to become one with the bedside table. Myra could see Margie peering around Ginny's hip.

"He just wanted to see if I was better" said Myra. "But I'm not, Ginny. I feel like maybe I'm getting worse." The crack in her voice brought Ginny to the bed, sitting beside Myra and feeling her forehead.

"You don't have a fever, that's good" said Ginny. "How about if we draw you a hot bath, steam up the bathroom and let you soak for a while?"

"I don't want to move at all" said Myra. Her voice was full of tears, but she dared not cry, not with her breathing like this. "I can't sleep, and I miss you."

"Hannah just left on an errand for an hour or so, I told her to go ahead" said Ginny with regret.

"We could read her a story" suggested Gillam, patting Myra's shoulder.

"We could" agreed Ginny. "But only if both of you are very quiet and still, don't jostle her on the bed and let her go to sleep if she can."

GIllam nodded, and after thinking about it, so did Margie.

Ginny said "Go to the bottom shelves in Mama's study and get one of the books there, one of her books, okay?"

Gillam and Margie took off at a run. Ginny sat against the headboard and pulled Myra against her side. Myra leaned her head on Ginny's shoulder with a huge sigh and said "Oh, god, that feels better already."

Margie returned with a Where's Waldo book tucked under her non-casted arm. Ginny started to say "Now I know you didn't find that on the shelf I told you -- " when Gillam staggered in with a massive leather-bound album.

"This one didn't have a name" he said. He managed to get it within reach of Ginny.

Myra laughed briefly, then began coughing again. Ginny held her head until she was done. Myra croaked "That's not a book, Gillam, that's my family photo album. But you know what? It would be nice to look at it, if Ginny will do all the talking."

"Okay, kids, you sit here on this side of me and I'll hold it on my lap" said Ginny. Margie had been through these photos a couple of years earlier, but they were new to Gillam. Ginny was able to name most of the people and places with only occasional prompting by Myra.

The children were utterly fascinated by the childhood snaps of Myra, impossibly skinny and short, especially the ones where she was with Gil. That she had had a brother, and their resemblance to Margie and Gillam, was commented on repeatedly. Ginny was able to tell a few stories about the shenanigans Gil and Myra had gotten up to -- the one about building a desert island hut in the front yard out of poisonous oleander branches, or the day they turned the living room into the Batcave, or the Christmas they heard Santa on the roof with jingling bells on the reindeer harnesses and ran so hard to the front door that Gil busted his lip open on the doorknob. Margie kept leaning over to peer at Myra over Ginny's lap as if to make sure she vouched for the authenticity of these tales, proving she once was not such a killjoy.

They lost a little interest when Ginny reached the early photos of Myra's mother, even with the reminder that this was the "Jo" of their name. Then Ginny told them that Jo had been orphaned by age three, raised by people who were not her first parents, and this plunged them into a thick silence. Myra wanted to see their faces, especially Gillam's. She worried about how hard this might be hitting them. But she couldn't move or open her eyes to check it out, not just yet. Ginny was on it, though. After half a minute, Gillam said "Can any Mama die?"

"Everybody who is ever born has to die eventually" Ginny said softly. "But most people live until they are old and then die when they are ready to do something else, in another kind of existence. Me and Myra plan to die when we are very, very old; by that time, you will be old, too. Until then, we want to be with you as much as you want us to be."

"I want to live with you forever" said Margie. "Me too" said Gillam.

"Okay then" said Ginny. "We all have a plan." She turned a page.

"Who is that?" said Margie with a new, interested tone in her voice.

"That is Jo's mother Hettie" said Ginny. "Hettie was Myra's bubbe, her mama's mama."

"She has on a suit like Zayde wears" observed Margie.

"Yes, she does. This is when she was going to college to become a teacher -- she was a teacher like I used to be. This is her and her friends at college, and this picture is just her showing off her outfit."

"All those women are dressed like men" said Margie.

Myra stirred, wanting to protest.

Ginny said "Well, it's true that at that time, only men were supposed to wear suits. But obviously women did, when they could. So if a woman wears a suit, then she's dressed like a woman, not like a man."

"What's in her hand there?" asked Gillam.

"A cigar" admitted Ginny.

"She's smoking? Smoking is bad" said Margie.

"Yes, but people didn't know it yet. If she had known it, she wouldn't have done it" said Ginny.

"Did she marry one of these other women?" asked Gillam. "Is our other grandma in this picture?"

Myra giggled and then coughed again.

"We don't know if she was lovers with any of these women. We do know that she was in love with her second cousin once removed, Nora. Here -- on this page is a picture of Nora, and a picture of Nora and Hettie together."

"Are they kissing?" asked Margie.

"They're about to" said Ginny. "The thing is -- in those days, it was not okay for two women to be together like Mama and I are. It was really hard to find a safe place to live if you were a woman who loved women. So finally Nora moved away to a big city, so she could earn her own money and live the way she wanted. But Hettie didn't think she could leave her family. She didn't move with Nora, and they didn't get to spend their lives together. Instead, Hettie married Gil, the first Gil, Myra's grandfather, and she had three children before she died young from tuberculosis."

There was a long pause. Then Gillam said "That's so sad." His voice was heartbroken.

"It really is. She didn't get to know Myra as Myra was growing up, and she sure would have loved having a granddaughter like Myra. But I think she's kept watch over Myra, protected her and helped bring good things into her life. Her and Jo both. And I think they are super-duper proud of her, and of you two children."

Myra opened her eyes to look at the blurry 1915 photo of Hettie and Nora in a passionate embrace. She couldn't see their faces -- obscured by Nora's hat -- but their bodies clearly knew each other. She sighed and pushed tight against Ginny. Ginny turned and kissed Myra's forehead, leaving her lips pressed against her for several seconds. Myra felt something inside her loosen up just a bit, and she slid down onto the stack of pillows, wondering if she could maybe go to sleep.

Ginny switched to the Where's Waldo book, but since both children knew instantly from long practice where to find Waldo on each page, she came up with new things for them to spot. Before they reached the end of the book, Myra dozed off. Ginny managed to get the children off the bed and out of the room without too much racket. When Hannah got home, Ginny turned them over to her and came back in with a fresh carafe of tea, coaxing another cup into Myra and then curling up with her for a long quiet nap. When Myra woke up again at dinner time, her chest tightness had disappeared and she was draining without wheezing. She whispered to Ginny "I think you're right about Hettie looking out for me. She got us together, I'm sure of it."

"I get to live with a third generation dyke, imagine that" said Ginny.

"Yeah, but I'm making up for all the woman love they had to do without" said Myra.

"Any assistance I can offer in that regard, just ask" grinned Ginny. "Finish that rice and juice, and I'll let you get up to watch TV for an hour."

Early October 1994 -- Gillam is 3, Margie is almost 6.

When Myra got up, the children were at the dining table making woven paper placements with Hannah. Myra toasted wheat-berry bread, added some cottage cheese, and sat down at the breakfast bar with a cup of tea. Ginny came in from the laundry room and kissed Myra on her back. Still not quite awake and not thinking about her surroundings, Myra said "I think you're gonna start your period today."

"It's a bit early -- why do you say that?"

Spreading honey on her toast, Myra said "You tasted like pennies last night."

Hannah went a slow red. Ginny said "For god's sake, Myra. Little pitchers...and their mortified nanny."

"Oh, hell" said Myra.

"Language" piped Gillam.

"Point taken and appreciated" said Myra. "Golly, Hannah, I'm really sorry."

Hannah smiled. "Point taken and appreciated."

Margie had gotten up from her chair. She walked over to Ginny and licked her arm in a canine fashion.

"Margie, what on earth are you doing?" Ginny protested, wiping her arm on Myra's shoulder.

"You don't taste like pennies to me" declared Margie.

"Here, let me try" said Gillam, starting to get out of his chair.

"NO!" said Ginny. She shook Myra gently. "See what you did."

She told Margie to go back to her placemats as she came into the kitchen.

"Anyhow, aren't you overdue?" she asked Myra.

"Oh, I've gone back to being very unpredictable" said Myra. "I always was until I met you; then we had a few years of being completely in sync before my natural irregularity reasserted itself. It may be another month or two before mine shows up."

"Your what?" said Gillam.

"My... rebate from the phone company" said Myra.

"That's one I never heard" said Hannah.

"Maybe you should go see Dr. Desai" said Ginny. She looked troubled.

"What for? I get a Pap every year at the Women's Clinic, I do breast self exams every month as well you know, I have no fertility issues, I'm not at risk for STDs -- let me stay out of the Western medicine loop as long as I can" argued Myra.

"What are STDs?" said Margie.

"....Strawberry...Triangle Doughnuts" said Myra.

"I want one!" said Margie.

"Me too" jumped in Gillam, "Mama will you give me an STD?"

Hannah burst out laughing. Ginny said "If Child Protective Services ever heard some of the conversations in this house..."

"I just said I don't have any STDs, you two. So wipe it from your minds" said Myra.

"Let me know if that works" said Hannah. She began teaching the kids how to use the same paper-weaving technique to make a little basket.

A month later, Myra came home with a cluster of shopping bags. She set them on the table and asked Ginny quietly "Where are the kids?"

"International Fountain with Hannah" said Ginny. "Whatcha got there?"

Myra pulled items out of three bags: A pastry bag with a filling tube attachment, a bottle of red food coloring, a box of crystal sugar, a pint of strawberries, a small pair of tin snips, and a length of copper flashing. "See if you can guess what I'm going to make."

Ginny fingered each item and thought hard. Finally she gave up.

"Strawberry Triangle Doughnuts! For Margie's birthday" said Myra with excitement.

"Oh, for shit's sake, Myra, she's going to spread it all over kindergarten that her Mom gave her STDs for her birthday" said Ginny.

"They've likely heard worse from her or Gillam" said Myra calmly.

"True enough" conceded Ginny. "What's the flashing for?"

"I'm hoping to make a dough cutter, a big triangle."

Ginny picked it up, began bending it experimentally. "How are you going to get a hole in the middle?"

"Maybe a second smaller triangle, making a second cut?" said Myra.

"Here, let me do it" said Ginny. She sat down and bent over the flashing and tin snips.

Myra grinned, then picked up the strawberries to go wash them.

A few days later, Ginny came home from afternoon shopping with two thick broomhandles and a bag of items from a leather crafts store.

"I'm a little nervous to ask what you have in mind" asked Myra.

"Hobbyhorses" said Ginny.

"Oh, excellent" said Myra. She watched for a while as Ginny painted one stick as a pinto, the other as an Appaloosa. At Myra's suggestion, she covered the bottom end of the stick, the part that would drag along the floor, with leather glued on tightly. As Ginny painted faces on the heads she'd cut of leather, Myra set up her sewing machine to make reins and a pair of flowing tails to staple-gun onto the lower third of each stick. She also seamed the head portions together when the paint dried, leaving a hole where Ginny inserted stuffing and positioned each head on a stick before stapling these down, also.

"Simply beautiful" said Myra when they were done. She hadn't gotten her writing time in, and now they heard the children clattering downstairs from where they had been playing with Hannah for the last two hours.

"I'll make dinner" offered Ginny. "They'll be completely absorbed in buckarooing, you can write at least an hour."

She gave the children their horses according to random coin toss, Margie getting the Appaloosa, Gillam the pinto. They went ape over them, retrieving their cowboy hats and galloping nonstop. Myra put on headphones and listened to Vollenweider so she could concentrate on her work. When Ginny tapped her to tell her dinner was ready, she jumped. She had gotten a section of solid rewrites done.

The horses were tied up to each child's chair for dinner.

"Mine is named Rob Roy" announced Margie, chewing with her mouth open.

"And mine is Body" said Gillam.

"Excuse me -- what name did you say?" asked Myra, leaning toward him.

"Body, my horse -- you know" said Gillam. Myra grinned in recognition.

Ginny looked at her, and after a moment said "Mary Oliver?"

"May Swenson" said Myra. Ginny nodded.

That Saturday, Carly and Truitt came over for the day. Margie galloped downstairs on Rob Roy, dragging Body behind her, and handed it to Truitt, saying carelessly "Let's go ride in the back yard." Gillam was screaming before Myra could even stand up.

"Whoa, whoa, buckaroos" she said, picking up Body herself. She looked down at Margie. "Listen, Miss Thang, you do NOT get to loan out Gillam's belongings without his permission."

"But we only have two horses!" whined Margie.

"So we share, but we all participate in the decision about sharing" said Myra severely. She squatted in front of Gillam.

"Are you willing to let Truitt ride Body?" she asked him. "Wait, wait, let me finish. I'll set a clock, and he and Margie get to ride for half an hour. THEN, both horses are given to you and Carly, and you two get to ride for half an hour. We can switch back and forth that way all day. And while they're riding, you two can sit the Long Branch bar here and drink red eye."

Gillam's face lit up. "Okay" he said. Myra handed him Body and said "You go share this with Truitt, then."

He handed it over prettily to Truitt. "You and Carly go upstairs and get dressed as cowpokes, use whatever you want from the dress-up box, while I get the saloon ready" said Myra. Margie, not completely pleased with the way things had shaken out, finally cantered to the sliding door and made a break for the badlands beyond the pool, Truitt in full pursuit. Myra set her Casio and pulled a jug of apple juice from the fridge, then began rinsing out two small bottles from recycling.

At Gillam's urging, Carly assumed the role of Miss Kitty and Gillam was Jake the Gunslinger. Myra was allowed to sit in as Doc. Myra was impressed at Carly going along with this, and decided it must be because Truitt was out of earshot. When her watch alarm went off, she told the boys to get ready and went to the deck, calling in Margie and Truitt. But Margie said she wasn't done yet.

"Nevertheless, the half hour is up, and it's Gillam and Carly's turn. Come over here and give me the horses, you'll get 'em back in another half hour."

Truitt obligingly started toward the deck. Margie, however, began trotting toward the side gate.

"Marjorie Rose, don't even think about it" said Myra. Margie did not slow down at all. When she reached the gate and lifted the latch, Myra began walking toward her, and Margie threw herself into high gear. However, it never occurred to her to stop riding her horse, so Myra was able to catch her a few steps down the alley. Grabbing her around the waist and taking the stickhorse in her other hand, Myra said "You are in so much trouble, Margie."

Hauling her back to the house, Myra gave Margie's horse to Carly. Gillam was standing, wide-eyed, with Body. Ginny had come out onto the deck. Myra carried Margie, who was now wailing, into the house and put her firmly into the second chair in her study. "Six minutes" she told Margie sternly. Ginny brought Truitt into her studio; she produced construction paper and Craypas, and asked him to draw a picture of himself on his horse.

Myra set her Casio for six minutes and tried to focus on something besides Margie. But Margie cried the entire time. She kept crying when Sima and Chris arrived for a visit. After getting filled in by Ginny, Sima went outside to play with Gillam and Carly, while Chris settled quietly on Myra's daybed. Margie was in her own world of misery, and when Myra's watch alarm went off, she didn't seem to hear that, either.

Myra reset her watch for another 24 minutes and picked Margie up. Margie clung to her, still sobbing. Myra sat down next to Chris and kissed the side of Margie's head, saying "I'm sorry it hurts so much, angel. Mama's here." Ginny came in from the studio and sat on the edge of the daybed, her hand on Margie's back.

After another few minutes, Margie could finally stop crying long enough to get out a few words.

"It's not fair!" she said.

"What's not fair, having to share?" asked Myra.

"No -- the boys! The boys get to do everything!" said Margie.

"What, honey? What do the boys get to do that you don't get to do?" asked Myra gently.

"Everything. Everybody likes boys better!" said Margie, beginning to cry again. Myra looked at Ginny with a stricken face.

Ginny scooted in close and whispered to Margie "I swear to you, Marjorie Rose, we do not like boys better than you. We love you and Gillam the same, but otherwise, we love you more than anyone else in the world."

This reassurance did not seem to sink in. Myra was tortured. She knew what Margie was feeling, the injustice of sexism, and somehow she had failed to keep this primal wound from her daughter. Margie stopped crying but didn't want to be coaxed into distraction. She crawled over into Chris's lap and leaned against her quietly. Chris began telling her a story about a wolfpack and some jackrabbits, and Myra finally got up, went into the kitchen and began rinsing out saloon glasses. Ginny followed her.

"I'll make two more hobbyhorses this week" she said. "I should have known to make four in the first place."

"That's not the real issue, though" said Myra.

"I know." Ginny hugged her. "We're doing everything we can, honey. I think this is one of those cases where she's sharing with us what's wrong but not actually blaming us -- except, of course, all children blame their parents for bringing them into a damaged world."

"As they should, Ginny" said Myra, closing her eyes and laying her head on Ginny's shoulder.

When Myra's watch alarm sounded again, Margie at first said she didn't care to ride any more. But Chris urged her outside, saying she would teach Margie and Truitt secret tricks about horses, and Margie's face finally became animated again. Carly and Gillam came back in for another round of drinking and flirting, with Sima joining them as Shoshanah the Peddlar Woman. She sold them revolution as well as trinkets, and Ginny laughed non-stop. Myra began making chicken enchiladas with green sauce.

The following week, as Ginny and Sima were making Friday night dinner, Chris pulled Myra into her study and said "I'd like to offer something for Margie. My cousin has horses at his place, about an hour and a half's drive from here. Once a month, I could take her riding for the day -- on Saturdays, maybe."

"Real horses?" asked Myra. When Chris laughed at her, Myra explained "I mean, full-sized ones, not ponies?"

Chris kept laughing. "Can you see me on a pony, Myra? Yeah, we'll be riding Appaloosas, without saddles."

"Is she -- old enough for that? I have to ask, for safety reasons."

Chris was beginning to look exasperated. "Would I offer if -- ?"

"Okay, never mind, Chris. Yes, it's an extraordinary opportunity, I can't say no. I'll have to talk it over with Ginny, of course."

"She'll say no" said Chris.

"At first. But she'll come around" said Myra.

"You get to do that bit of work with her" grinned Chris.

"And there's also the issue of Gillam. This offer is not extended to him, I gather."

Chris got serious. "I know. I just can't take care of two kids at once, not around horses. And I can't manage it more than once a month. Is it going to crush him?"

"Not if it's presented right, and there's an equally good alternative for him. I'll think about it."

The following day after lunch, Myra sat down on her daybed with Gillam and Margie.

"Margie, you've been offered a special treat by your Aunt Chris. She has family who has horses the two of you can go ride, one day a month. She's willing to drive you out there and teach you how to ride real horses, just you and her. Would you like that?"

Margie leaped to her feet and began yelling.

"Okay, we'll take that as a yes. You can go next Saturday with her." Myra turned to Gillam, who was very still and somber.

"So, honey boy -- since Aunt Chris can only take care of one child at a time, she asked that we come up with something just as wonderful for you. While Margie is gone for the day having fun with one adult, you get to select also having a day of fun once a month, with the adult of your choosing. You have any ideas of what you might like? The sky's the limit."

Margie stopped yelling and stared at him. His expression became suddenly smug. He said "I want to do sumfing wif you, Mama."

"Well, you don't have to choose me. It could be any one of your aunties" said Myra, struggling to be fair.

"No, you. I want to spend the day wif you. No Margie." Aha.

"Okay, Gillam, you got it. What would you like to do with me all day?"

He wrinkled his forehead, trying to think. "I don't know."

"We could go out for lunch together, just me and you, to any place you choose. That's one thing."

His face lit up. "No Mama, eivver?"

"Nope. And we could go to the bookstore and browse through every shelf you're interested in. We could -- go out to a matinee, if there's something suitable for you to see. Or the aquarium. Or other sights around Seattle." Myra could see in her peripheral vision that Margie was starting to get agitated. "And -- hey, I just remembered this: Every Saturday afternoon at U-Dub, there's a reading on the plaza of some famous writer's work, we could go to those readings."

"Could we dance?" This came out of the wild blue, and Myra heard Ginny snicker from the other side of the wall.

"Well, okay, if you want us to dance, we can do that. You mean here at the house, right?" Myra heard Ginny snicker again.

"Or contra dancing?" said Gillam. Fuck -- Patty had taken them all contra dancing once at the Jewish community center. Myra swallowed and said "Sure." Then, looking to head this off before she got asked to put on make-up and take him shopping for shoes, she said "So, you both have special dates for next Saturday, okay? Now, it's time for your to pick up your room -- all books back on shelves, all toys back in bins, all laundry in the basket. I'll give you half an hour and then come check. If you get it right the first time, you can have a fruit pop."

They raced off toward the stairs. Ginny appeared in the doorway.

"You'll go out dancing with the first guy who asks you, but your own sweetheart has to languish at home alone?" she teased.

"Fuck, Ginny. Maybe he'll forget about it."

"He won't" said Ginny. "And later, you can teach me your new moves." Still grinning, she went back into her studio.

1995. Margie is six and Gillam is four.

A national women artists' conference was to be held that weekend in Seattle, beginning on Friday evening and lasting until noon on Monday. It was a non-Hannah weekend, so Myra prepared in advanced for single parenthood, stockpiling games, juiceboxes, and scouring the paper for child-friendly events. Ginny got home at midnight on Saturday, but swore she would be back earlier on Sunday -- the evening events featured someone she didn't like.

By midday on Sunday, Myra was finding herself thinking about the children's Benadryl in their medicine cabinet. She was even tired of carrying Gillam. At 3 p.m. when Chris showed up for a visit, Myra grabbed her like a buoy.

"I would kill for a nap" she said. "Would you be the best friend ever and take these two under your wing for the next hour or so?"

Chris looked a little dismayed. "I've never had both of them alone. Should we do a puzzle maybe?"

"Done three already. Listen, just watch a video with them. They are boobtube addicts, never get enough and go into a trance when we turn it on. That shelf there on the bottom is all nature videos, just let them pick one and if it's short, then watch a second one. You're a pal." Myra all but bolted for her bedroom, where she pulled off shoes and lay down on the bed without getting under the covers. She was asleep immediately.

Almost two hours later, she woke up feeling like she had completed a REM cycle. She stretched and sat up, able to think again. When she walked out into the living room, on the couch facing her was Chris with both children huddled up against her in her lap. Their eyes were huge, and Gillam was sucking his thumb. As Myra began "What on earth--" she heard Roy Scheider say from the screen behind her, "We're gonna need a bigger boat." She wheeled in horror and saw Bruce the Shark lunge out of the water. The children moaned but did not look away. She leaped over and turned off the TV.

"Jaws? Holy fu---fudgesicle, Chris, you put on Jaws?"

"Well, I kinda wondered. But it was on that shelf you pointed to, and Margie said it was okay, so...." Chris trailed off.

Myra picked up Gillam, who clung to her. She took Margie's hand and pulled her toward the kitchen. Margie said "What happens to the men on the boat, Mama? Does the shark eat them too?"

"No. The shark gets blown to bits and the men go back to town where everybody has a big party. No shark ever hurts anyone ever again."

"The end?" said Margie.

"The end. We've got veggie pot pie for dinner. Can you two help me set the table?"

"Can we have fudgesicles for dessert?" asked Margie. Myra had to peel Gillam off her, telling him firmly "Get the placemats and napkins out of the drawer. Now, Gillam."

Chris stood up and said, "Well, I guess I'm gonna run along."

Myra turned around, said "Oh, Chris, I don't mean to dump on you. I really appreciate the nap, I desperately needed it. And Margie's a con artist. Stay and have dinner with us."

"Nah, I'm gonna head on home."

Myra realized Chris didn't want to be there when Ginny got home. Neither did she, really. She hugged Chris goodbye and got dinner on the table.

Ginny came in the front door before they were finished eating. Myra said, "Hey, just in time. There's a plate for you. Take a load off."

Ginny sat down, weary but with a big smile on her face. "Veggie pot pie, my fave."

"Mama said we can have fudgesicles for dessert!" said Margie.

"No, I did not. Anything interesting you want to tell me?" Myra was pouring hibiscus tea for Ginny.

"Aunt Chris came over and we watched a movie" said Gilllam in a low voice.

"You did?" said Ginny. "What did you watch?"

Myra cut in smoothly. "I was exhausted and she let me got catch some shut-eye while she sat with the kids."

"Good for her " said Ginny. "Good for you, too."

Gillam raised his voice a notch. "Jaws."

"What did you say, honey?" Ginny leaned toward him.

Myra began speaking rapidly. "I told her to pick from the videos on the nature shelf but some of them had gotten mixed up, wonder how" -- she shot an evil look at Margie -- "and, well, they wound up watching most of Jaws."

Ginny had stopped chewing. "The Jaws? You let my impressionable, sheltered children watch one of the most terrifying movies of all time?"

Myra noted the "my". "Technically, no, I didn't. But don't be mad at Chris, it was an honest error."

Ginny replied, "I am not mad at Chris."

Ginny's gaze was fixed on the children, as if she were searching for bite marks. "Gillam, is that all you've eaten?" She wheeled on Myra. "He's barely touched his dinner."

"That's his second helping, Gin. And even Margie ate all of what I put on her plate."

Margie chewed loudly, trying to show her teeth. Gillam turned away from her.

Ginny scooted her chair over between Gillam and Margie. "I'm so sorry, sweeties. It was just a movie, you know that, right? Just a made-up story."

"Nuh-uh" Gillam said. "It wasn't cartoons."

"And we didn't get to see the end but Mama told us the rest of it, how the shark got blowed up" added Margie.

Myra laid her head on the table.

Ginny said, "You are the one putting them to bed tonight. Think of something to read them that's an antidote."

Myra was relieved when they went to sleep as usual. She crawled in with Ginny who was already asleep but scooted back to spoon with her. No matter what, they held each other at night; thank god they agreed on that. Myra said "I'm glad tomorrow afternoon you'll be back home. Obviously I need you here."

Ginny laughed softly. "I have so much to tell you about this conference. If you get up with me early, we could talk over breakfast. Maybe you could drive me there and then pick me up at noon. We could go out to lunch, just the two of us, like we were dating again."

"Deal" said Myra.

The next morning they were ready to leave the house at 7:15 when Hannah came down the stairs with Gillam in her arms and Margie holding one hand. She said "Gillam woke up from a bad nightmare at about 2 a.m. I wasn't able to get out of him what it was about. And Margie said she was never going to swim in the pool again because something horrible lived in there."

Ginny said, "Myra let them watch Jaws yesterday", then walked on out to the car.

Hannah was hard to shock, but this one did it. "It was an accident" said Myra. "I'll explain more later. We'll be back before Zoom."

Autumn 1995

Sunday afternoon, Myra concocted a new bread recipe using pecan meal in addition to potato flour, whole wheat flour, butter and a dash of dried red pepper flakes. She was extremely pleased with how it came out -- dark, moist, a blend of flavors that read as savory to her tongue. She served it that night for dinner instead of another starch, along with a lovely tuna steak, steamed broccoli, and buttered carrots.

Margie took one bit of everything and then said "Why can't we ever have good bread in our house?"

Myra stared at her in shock. Margie waved her thick slice around disdainfully and said "At Truitt and Carly's house, they have bread that comes in a package with balloons on it, and it's so pretty, smooth and white, and it tastes great."

Myra looked at Ginny, still in disbelief. "Wonder Bread" she said hoarsely.

Gillam, for once, was missing his cues. He jumped in to add "And they have fish sticks, why don't we get to eat fish sticks at home?"

Ginny came out gunning from both hips. She took on Margie first: "White bread lets old rotten food gum up in your colon, until by the time you're around my age, your colon plugs up completely and they have to a cut a hole in your side and put in a tube, and that's the only way you can poop. And you stink all the time." Margie's face went blank with horror.

Turning on Gillam, Ginny said "And fish sticks are made of all the parts of fish that nobody else will eat, like heads and bones and fins, all ground up and squeezed out into a stick shape, then covered with a crunchy coating so you don't notice what's inside." He began going green. She finished with "Your Mama buys expensive, completely organic ingredients to make you the best meals in Seattle, by hand, full of her love and expertise. We eat like royalty in this house. If you want to eat something different, feel free to go elsewhere."

Ginny's impassioned speech was so full of distortions and ventures into classism and disablism that Myra didn't know where to begin. Plus, Ginny had suddenly become A Parent, and not in the groovy sense. But, for once, Margie wasn't arguing back with her. They ate their meal, a little subdued, and after a while Myra gave up on trying to formulate an answer. They talked of other things.

After dinner, as the children were going upstairs to get on their jammies, she heard Gillam ask Margie quietly "And why don't we ever have Kool-Aid?" She didn't hear Margie's reply. She was distracted by imagining the dinner conversation the next time her children ate at Pat and Patty's.

Autumn 1995

Myra and Ginny noticed that Margie's conversation became increasingly peppered with quotes from another girl in her class named Amy, or accounts of things Amy had done, or what Amy had worn to school that day. For Halloween, Margie insisted she wanted to go as Pocahontas, the Disney movie version, despite Myra enlisting Chris's help in trying to portray a more accurate picture of this spiritual leader. Myra finally gave in because Chris said "At least it's not fucking growing-up Skipper, she'll get something out of it".

Myra and Ginny took both kids to the Lowell Elementary Halloween carnival the weekend before Halloween, and not long after they arrived, another girl ran up to Margie, dressed in an identical Pocahontas costume, yelling "You finally got here!" Margie made no move to introduce her, chatting excitedly about all they planned to do, but Myra intervened and said "Hello, you must be Amy." Amy gave her a flat stare. Myra went on, "I'm Margie's mother, Myra, and this is her other mother, Ginny."

Amy didn't bat an eye at the two-mothers anomaly, which either meant Margie had filled her in or she just didn't think it was strange. Amy had long black hair and large black eyes with epicanthal folds, but a pug nose and a frame larger than Margie's. As Myra waited for her to at least say hello, a small Vietnamese woman came up behind Amy, saying in a cranky voice "Don't run off without telling me where you're going!"

Myra introduced herself again to Amy's mother, Doan Vien, who did have a flicker of surprise at Ginny as the other mother but not in a negative way, Myra felt. Amy and Doan Vien were at the carnival alone -- her father and grown brother were at home -- so they joined forces with Myra and Ginny's family to explore the fun together.

Amy was brash and silly but clearly extremely smart and used to not hiding it. Her mother tried to rein in her worst excesses without shaming her. Myra found herself liking them both a lot. When Ginny got pulled away into conversation with former colleagues at Lowell, and the three kids went into the fun house, Myra and Doan Vien sat down at the cakewalk across the way and swapped notes on their daughters. Myra wound up inviting Amy over the following Saturday to spend the afternoon and night with Margie. She got their address in South Seattle and said she'd chauffeur Amy back and forth.

Later, when she told Ginny of the plan, Ginny was not so pleased.

"I thought she was bratty" said Ginny, frowning.

"She's just like Margie" said Myra. "And she's Margie's friend, that can only be a good thing."

Ginny's expression indicated she did not agree, but she said only "You made the plan, you can be on duty."

When Myra and Margie went to pick up Amy, they met her father, a white man with Amy's pug nose and little interest in much beyond the television blaring in the living room. On the drive home, Margie sat in the back with Amy and they hardly seemed to pause for breath, talking through and over each other in some kind of communicative accord. She felt a jolt of impending loss, seeing Margie's easy connection to someone completely outside their family, but it was overridden by her enjoyment of a new vision of Margie the schmoozer.

She had mentioned to the aunties that Margie's new friend would be spending the night, so all three of them showed up casually for dinner. Myra put them to work, helping her set out bowls of ingredients for make-your-own individual pizzas and salads, followed by make-your-own ice cream sundaes. Amy was a hit with the adults -- except Ginny -- and scored big points with Myra when she enthused over all the children's books on their shelves, pointing out which ones she had read, a good percentage of them. Myra was not so pleased with how completely Amy ignored Gillam, but it wasn't meanness, she just didn't seem to have any experience with being around younger children. Myra found ways for Gillam to help her in making dinner, and he was glad for a chance to be her sidekick.

During dinner, every cell in Margie's body was focused on Amy, and to Myra's eye it seemed to be reciprocated. Amy clearly thought Margie was cool, and Margie basked in it. They didn't much participate in the general conversation, but were not disruptive, either. Sima and Allie were intrigued by Margie's sudden ditching of them, and kept eavesdropping on her exchanges with Amy. Ginny was unusually silent. In deference to company, she was completely clothed, in white sneakers, black drawstring pants, and a Belva-made tunic Myra thought of as her Jersey jersey, from a fabric covered in large black and white irregular blobs. The lack of color made Ginny look even more severe.

After dinner, Ginny cleaned up while Myra took the kids outside for a game of freeze tag. The aunties joined in, and the action got so raucous that after half an hour, Myra took a rest on the bench and used her inhaler. When Ginny was done in the kitchen, she came to sit by Myra instead of playing with the rest. Myra leaned companionably against her, and Ginny put her arm over Myra's shoulder.

"You all right?" asked Myra quietly.

"Yeah. I feel a little PMS-y" said Ginny. "I shouldn't have had any ice cream."

Myra remarked "If one of us actually could get the other one pregnant, I bet we'd have ten kids by now."

Ginny laughed gaily. "I know this is despicably PI, but I love the notion of keeping you full of my babies."

Grinning at each other, they kissed slowly. The Jersey jersey was very soft and cushy under Myra's hands.

Suddenly Margie's voice, quite nearby, came jeering at them "Ginny and Myra sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G, first comes looooove, then comes marriage -- "

Before she could finish, Ginny had broken away from Myra and was pointing her finger at Margie, a furious look on her face. Amy and Margie were standing with linked arms, gleeful and rocking from side to side in time to the chant.

Myra thought it was funny. So did the aunties. Sima said "I guess some things never go out of style." But Margie's expression slid into belligerance in the face of Ginny's glare, and Ginny flat ran out of slack.

"It's time for you two to start winding down" said Ginny coldly. "Go on up to your room and find something quiet to do there. I'll come tell you when it's bedtime."

Margie was outraged. She was trying to come up with an argument when Amy said to her, in a whisper that carried, "Good thing Juju doesn't have spots." Margie apparently understood instantly what this meant, because she fell into giggles. Amy turned them toward the door and as they walked into the house, they could hear Amy hum a snatch of melody and Margie's hysterics in response. Juju trailed along behind Margie.

After a second, Myra and Allie, who had watched 101 Dalmations much more often than Ginny, joined Margie in hysterics. Chris said "I don't get it."

"She was singing 'Cruella De Ville'" explained Allie, with an apologetic glance toward Ginny.

Gillam, now in on the joke, began laughing gaily. "Look what you got on, Mama" he said to Ginny. Then he started singing, with no intention of offense:

The glare in her look, the ice in her stare
You innocent children, you'd better beware
The world was such a wholesome place until
Cruella, Cruella de Ville

"Okay, that's enough" interjected Myra. She was afraid to look at Ginny's face. But suddenly she felt Ginny's body shaking, and realized Ginny was beginning to laugh.

"She really is just like Margie, isn't she? They're both at that chochem stage" chortled Ginny. "Well, good, I'm glad she likes herself so much she wants to clone herself."

She stood up and said "C'mon, Gillam, let's go find a quiet game we can enjoy with your sister and her friend. I don't want them to feel banished."

As she started off, Myra said "I'll give you anything you name if you finger Juju's fur upstairs and say to yourself 'It really would make a nice coat'." Ginny giggled and said "You're on."

Once she and Gillam were out of sight, the rest of them on the deck gave themselves up to laughter. Chris said "What would be the term for the lesbian version of a reverse Electra complex?"

"I'll let you know when I write a monograph on it" answered Myra. They went back inside to make tea and talk in the living room.

13 April 1996

Their battered tan Volvo wagon had five children in the back, ranging in age from Carly's last month of being 4 to Truitt's lofty 8, the boys in the back seat within reach plus Margie and Amy in the fold-down behind them. Myra had packed kites and water. But before they'd gotten a block away from Carly and Truitt's house, Truitt began repeating everything one of the other kids said. When Amy told him he was stupid, he switched to saying "I know you are but what am I?" Myra wanted to stop the car and dump him on the sidewalk. Instead, Ginny turned around in her seat and said "Hey. What's the percentage in being obnoxious?"

"What?" said Truitt.

"What good does it do you to piss off the people you're about to spend a sunny Saturday with? Does it make you feel better?"

Truitt clearly didn't know how to respond. "No" he finally muttered.

"Language" said Gillam.

Ginny had to think for a second. "Oh, yeah -- point taken, I should have said antagonize. Truitt, if something's bugging you, tell me and I'll help you figure out how to fix it" offered Ginny.

He remained mute, his eyes locked on watching the passing scenery. "Nothing's wrong" he said.

"Okay, well, let me know" said Ginny, turning back to the front. But within ten minutes, they heard Carly say "Ow!" and Truitt taunt "You're such a baby."

"He is not!" yelled Gillam.

Myra did pull over this time. Ginny got out and opened Truitt's door. "Get out" she ordered, "You're riding up front now." She slid in next to Carly, who was struggling not so valiantly to keeping from snickering. Myra helped Truitt get buckled in and put the car back in gear.

They stopped at Essential Baking Company and allowed each child to get one cookie. After a potty break, they drove their wolfpack to Gas Works Park and turned them loose. Finding a grassy spot to spread their blanket next to the sundial, overlooking the play barn and kite-flying hill, Myra and Ginny settled in next to each other. Myra forced irritation with Truitt out of her mind and began silently trying to name all the different kinds of watercraft she could see on Lake Union. "Messing about in boats" she murmured.

Ginny heard it and giggled. "Not to disturb your reverie, Mole -- " she began.

"Why am I Mole? Why do you get to be Ratty?"

"Because you came to live with me. Calm down, it's not role-playing" said Ginny. "So...I met with Alveisa yesterday, as you know, and signed off on our taxes. But we need to make some changes in our budget."

"Fewer cookie purchases?" grinned Myra.

"Yes, but that's not for financial reasons. No, the thing is, we're more than a decade into your lottery payout. We just paid off the loan you took out to send your father money, and the house is paid for, too. Alveisa suggested we start putting that money into an annuity, for when the lottery funds run out. For our crone years." Ginny pushed gently against Myra. Myra lifted her arm and put it around Ginny's shoulders.

"You know, Gin, I never ever used to imagine reaching an age where I'd need retirement" said Myra. "The reason I took the 25 year payout on the lottery is because I saw that as the rest of my life."

"Well, you get to jeep on with me" said Ginny.

"Set up a meeting next week, or whenever Alveisa's tax crunch season lessens, and we'll cover new ground" said Myra. "And, once again -- I can't thank you enough for bringing daylight to my brain in this area."

"My pleasure" said Ginny.

They sat in silence for a few more minutes. Myra called out "Margie, if you're doing to do cartwheels, make sure there's nobody in the zone you plan to catapult through."

Ginny said "I keep thinking about that pair of brick panels we drove by earlier, at Lake Union Center."

"The ones with the boats and planes?"

"And the fish. Myra, I want to meet the woman who did those."

"How do you know it's a woman?" asked Myra.

"The way those fish move, and the energy, the curves in square dimensions -- she's not just a woman, she's one of us" said Ginny.

"You can really tell she's a dyke just by how she did a mosaic?" asked Myra.

"It's not a mosaic, My. Those were wet bricks, not yet fired, when she carved them. She had to imagine it upright, with all the spacing of the grout, when she dug into the clay and made it three-dimensional. I can make two-dimensional into almost anything, but I can't do what she does" said Ginny. "And, honestly, I don't know many artists who can."

"Is there a signature on those panels?" asked Myra.

"Not that I can decipher, nor on the ones near Second and Lenora, nor the one near Aradia" said Ginny.

"Whoa -- she did all those?" said Myra.

Ginny looked at her as if she was a bit dim. "Of course, Myra, you think there's two artists here doing that rare kind of sculpting?"

Myra hadn't even known it was sculpture, but she kept quiet.

"I'll ask Allie" said Ginny. "And Sima, she knows a lot of artists."

Gillam and Carly were doing somersaults, while Truitt and the girls were playing some kind of tag. Myra was watching when Truitt, dodging the nimble Margie, ran into the swinging arc of Carly's legs and was felled instantly. Before Myra could get to them, Truitt had somehow stood himself back up and taken a punch at Carly, missing him by a millimeter. Myra grabbed Truitt from behind and carried him with her to their blanket.

He had trouble standing, clearly in pain. Carly's boots had hit him just above his knees.

"Truitt, honey, we need to look at your legs. We have to pull down your pants, so Ginny, will you make a screen for privacy?" asked Myra. They looked closely at Truitt's thighs. There were two broad weals that were going to be hellish bruises. Myra pressed the flesh tenderly, checking for broken bones, and Truitt winced away from her but she found no fracture. Pulling his jeans back up, she said "It must hurt so much, honey. It's okay to cry."

Gillam and Carly had arrived to stand nearby. Carly offered "Pat says after you start school, you're too old to cry." Truitt's face was unhealthily pale, and his jaw was clenched. Ginny sat down on the blanket and pulled Truitt gently into her lap.

"You're never too old to cry" she said softly. "Crying makes the hurties go away much, much faster."

That was enough. Truitt opened his mouth wide and just bawled. Myra held one of his hands, and with the other, he pressed against his own forehead in a way that nearly broke her heart. Gillam and Carly watched him with interest. He cried much longer than Margie or Gillam usually did, and with an urgency that made him choke a couple of times. But when he was done, his color returned to normal, and his whole body had relaxed, leaned back completely into Ginny.

Myra wiped his face with her bandana, and he said suddenly "I need to pee."

"I'll take you" said Ginny, standing up and holding him against her hip. He was a big boy, and it took some effort on her part.

"Don't come in with me, okay?" he begged.

"Okay, I'll stand just outside the door. Gillam and Carly, you come with us in case Truitt needs help in the bathroom" Ginny said. They trailed along after her.

Margie and Amy showed up, silent lookie-lous. Myra began pulling kites from her pack and said "When Truitt gets back, will one of you run his kite until it's in the air? Then he can fly it sitting on the grass, to keep his legs from hurting." They both volunteered eagerly, and helped Myra assemble the kites and string.

(Flying a kite at Gas Works Park, Seattle)

Half an hour later, five children were in a ragged circle on the hill, backs to one another, each with a kite making the points of an irregular star in the sky. Myra and Ginny returned to the blanket, a little winded.

"He'll be in a much better mood the rest of the day" said Myra. "No telling how long he's been backed up."

"You should have heard how sweet Carly and Gillam were with him in the bathroom. As if he'd never picked on either of them. Gillam even called him honey, in just your tone of voice" said Ginny. She and Myra looked at each other for a long minute, then returned to watching the children.

Myra pulled out her notebook and pen. After a couple of minutes, Ginny also retrieved her sketch pad and charcoals from the pack. Ginny was focused at first on Margie's face, with its wide, almost feral grin and exuberance. After one sketch, she turned to Gillam, who was serious and moving his string around methodically.

"What's he doing?" Ginny asked Myra. Myra looked up from her notebook, then said "I think he's trying to make the kite write something in the sky. Probably his name."

Ginny laughed in delight. "Here, trade places with me, Myra, so you don't jostle my arm" she said, standing up. Myra scooted over, taking note that Ginny did everything she could to stay in contact with her. We're symbiotes, is what we are thought Myra. As Ginny returned to sketching, Myra noticed her body temperature had gone up where she was touching Myra's side. A painting must be coming on.

By the time the kites were reeled in, it was 5:30. Suddenly everybody was ravenous. Myra picked up Truitt and said to Ginny "Let's take 'em back to Essential, get 'em beef stew or sandwiches there, instead of dealing with rush hour traffic and then having to cook."

All the children cheered, and they headed out of the park.

The next morning when Myra awoke, Ginny was gone and her side of the bed was cold. Myra got up and was instantly mobbed by her bored children. Ginny had fed them but went right back to the painting she'd started at dawn. As Myra began boiling eggs, she asked Margie "Did Mama eat with you two?"

"Just tea. And she only gave us cereal. Can I have some cinnamon toast?" said Margie.

Myra made extra eggs and cinnamon toast -- it was Sunday morning, after all -- and while the kids tucked into a second breakfast, she walked back with her plate and fed Ginny bites. Ginny had set up a second easel, and seemed to have two canvases going at once, something Myra had never seen her do. No telling how long this foray might last. When the plate was empty, Myra walked over to Ginny's work area to retrieve her teacup as well. She noticed a bright red strand of embroidery thread -- a single filament -- stretched tight at an angle down through the gecko habitat. At the bottom, it was tied to a twig. Next to it was a blue strand running up at a different angle. Bending over to look up at the top of the habitat, she saw the strings ended at two tiny jewels of kites flying against the sky Ginny had painting on the gecko's ceiling.

When Myra returned to the kitchen, Gillam said "What are we going to do now?" Their faces were expectant. Myra felt the urge to write like an ache in her chest. As she began rinsing dishes, she said slowly "I am seriously thinking about breaking one of my and Ginny's childrearing rules."

Margie said, with hope in her voice, "What rule?"

"The one about not using TV as a babysitter." Myra looked outside -- it was pouring.

"TV, TV, TV!" chanted Margie.

"Cartoons!" added Gillam.

Ginny glanced her way momentarily.

"No, not cartoons" said Myra, drying her hands. "I've got the entire series of 'The Living Planet' by David Attenborough. You can watch as many tapes as you want."

She set them up in the living room with juice and pillows. "Margie, when the tape needs changing, remember, don't force it, if it's in the slot the right way it'll go in by itself."

As she brushed her teeth, she argued with herself about not watching these documentaries with them. She was missing out on a shared memory. But once back in the hall, her desk called her like a new girlfriend.

Four hours later, she realized she had to pee. Standing up, the vertebra in her spine popped and her mouth felt dry. But there was an extremely gratifying stack of pages appearing in her printer.

Ginny was shiny with sweat. The rain had not let up. When Myra went in the living room, Gillam's fingers were wrinkled from where he'd had them in his mouth, and Margie's eyes were glazed like a zombie. They protested feebly when she turned off the VCR.

"You're getting cobwebs from just lying here. Hypnosis time is over. Go put on some clothes. After lunch, as long as we're breaking rules today, let's go hang out at the mall."

They were electrified: Trips to the mall were a twice-a-year, tightly policed event focused on specific shopping tasks only. They were up the stairs in a heartbeat.

Myra pulled out leftover cream of broccoli soup from yesterday's lunch and began reheating it. She opened a package of frozen corn and began mixing a batch of fritters. Gillam rejoined her quickly, and she had him set the table. Just as she was lifting the first fritters from the frying pan, Margie appeared wearing one of her nicest blouses and actual socks inside her shoes. She had persuaded a plastic butterfly barette to stay in her short hair. Myra asked, "How come you're dressing up?"

"It's the mall" breathed Margie, leaning against Myra's thigh.

Myra picked her up and set her on the breakfast bar, saying "You look just beautiful. And you know what? Aside from getting new sneakers, which you both need, and a birthday present for Carly next month -- I want you to find the outfit of your dreams, Margie Rose. Anything you pick out, I'll buy it for you. Because you are the daughter of my dreams, Margie. You are exactly who I wanted -- " Myra's voice choked.

Margie threw her arms around Myra and said in her ear "I chose you, too. There was a bunch of us, and we got to pick, and I was shoving my way to the front so I could come be with you and Mama. And there was this nice old lady, and she made room for me so I got to go to the front of the line. And that's how I got here."

Myra pulled back to look into Margie's dancing eyes, completely rattled by Margie's recital. "You -- where was this?"

"I don't know" said Margie. "But I could see you both."

"And this nice old lady, what did she look like?"

Margie hesitated. "She didn't look like anything. None of us did. But she reminded me of you."

Myra pulled Margie back against her, tight. Tears leaked down her face. She wanted this to be true, she wanted it with all her heart. Finally Margie said "Mama, I can't breathe." Myra let her go. Gillam was watching them, wide-eyed. Myra grinned at him and said "One more thing: After we're done shopping? We're going to have dinner at the Food Court."

The Food Court was a Shangri-La at the end of the mall that they had never even set foot in. Gillam and Margie both began shouting with joy. Myra prayed the menu had something that wouldn't give them indigestion. But these miraculous beings had chosen her, apparently, and were now old enough to be on the right course. The least she could do was give them cheap thrills today.

Myra served lunch and cautioned them to keep their clothes clean. She carried a bowl of soup and plate of fritters back to Ginny and fed herself and Ginny. On Ginny's palette was a striking deep green paste which had been mixed with flakes of iridescent purple. Myra wanted to ask what the material was, but didn't interrupt. Not then.

When she was dressed and ready to go, though, she went back and put her arm around Ginny, shaking her gently.

"Mm-hm?" said Ginny, not looking at her.

Myra reached out and turned Ginny's face to rest on her. Ginny's eyes registered recognition.

"We're going to the mall. We'll be back after dinner, and I'll feed you then."


"And Ginny -- thank you for giving birth to those children. Thank you every second of every day." The emotion in Myra's voice got through to Ginny, and she came all the way up to the surface. Her face broke into a grin, and she said "Couldn't do it without you, angel." She kissed Myra, a real kiss, and Myra left the house contented.

It was a long week. By Tuesday, Myra decided to blow off all chores except feeding her family, hanging out with the kids after Hannah went off the clock at 5:00, and squeezing in writing every other minute. She was actually producing a lot. Laundry piled up, the floors got grotty, and all the tubs and sinks had rings around them. She promised herself that when Ginny finished this dual-canvas binge and got some sleep, they'd have a serious spring cleaning.

On Wednesday morning when she got up, Ginny wasn't in the house. Hannah, leaving for a class, said Ginny had dropped the children off at school because she had to run an errand. Myra checked Ginny's studio -- her palette was still in use, so she wasn't done. The temptation to sneak a peak at the paintings was so strong, Myra forced herself to leave the back part of the house entirely and take a bath. She was drying off when she heard the front door open.

"Ginny? You back?" She came out of the bedroom still naked. But Ginny didn't notice. She had a bag from the art supply store in her hand and was heading for the study.

"Gin!" She stopped and looked at Myra then. "You run out of paint?"

"No, I needed something I've never used" said Ginny vaguely. Myra wondered if it was actually safe for Ginny to drive when she was this distracted. She went to her and kissed her, and Ginny kissed her back but not ardently. She didn't take the opportunity to touch Myra's bare skin.

"Are you in the home stretch?" asked Myra.

"I don't know, I can't tell" said Ginny. "I need to go do this, Myra." Myra got out of her way.

She wrote until past noon, then hunger pushed her to make sandwiches. They were almost out of bread, all the way out of milk and yogurt -- she'd have to restock on groceries. After feeding her and Ginny, she went to Pike and the Co-op, buying bread instead of making it this week.

That night, just as she and the kids were about to sit down to dinner, the phone rang and it was Allie looking for Ginny.

"Oh, wow, it's Wednesday" said Myra. She glanced back at the studio. "Ginny's on a jag, and she missed Al Anon as well as meeting with you. I don't think she has any idea what day it is."

"Well, hell. She's never done this before" said Allie.

"Yeah, this one is different. Come over here, I made tamale pie and we're all lonesome for your company" said Myra.

"Be there soon" said Allie. When she arrived, she had her portfolio with her. She set it in Myra's study and washed her hands before joining them at the table.

"She's got two easels up in there" said Allie, dishing up salad.

"That's what's new" said Myra.

"Allie, after supper, will you play in the pool with us?" asked Margie.

"You have to wait an hour after eating" said Myra.

"Is that really true?" asked Allie in a low voice.

"I'm not sure, but I'm not taking any chances" Myra whispered back.

Allie told the kids "After supper, give me an hour with your Mama, then yes, we'll play Marlo Pomo and whatever else you want." Myra added "I'll let you watch more of David Attenborough while you wait."

They cleared the table and went to Myra's study. Allie sat on the daybed and motioned for Myra to sit beside her. She looked solemn and nervous as she opened her portfolio and extracted five 14 x 20 pieces of bristol board, shielding them from Myra's view.

"I had this idea a while back..." she began tentatively.

"For some drawings? Lemme see" said Myra.

"Not just drawings" hedged Allie. "My Nana, she grew up in a tiny town that was all black folks. It was what was left from a plantation way back when. Anyhow, she told me lots of stories when I was little, about what it was like for her when she was little. A world that's gone now. So, I painted her as a girl -- her name was Sarilda. Here's that first painting." Allie handed Myra one of the boards almost shyly. Myra held it carefully by the edges.

It was a rich, stylized watercolor, dark tints that filled the frame from edge to edge. Myra found she was holding her breath. The image of the girl, who reminded her strongly of Allie, standing on the porch of a shack, leaning on an unpainted railing and looking out into nearby piny woods, released several different emotions in her at once. Her jaw muscle taut, Myra looked at Allie in awe and said "Did you time travel, or what?"

Allie flushed in relief. "I can't stop thinking about her" she said quietly.

"I can see why" answered Myra. "You got more there?" She turned to set the board on her desk, and noticed there was writing on the back in Allie's clean printing. She flipped it over and read "Sarilda couldn't wait inside the house no more."

Blood pounded in Myra's ears. She stared at Allie and said "It's not just a picture -- it's a story, isn't it, Al?"

Allie nodded, joy pushing her eyebrows up. "I think it's a children's book." She handed the next painting to Myra, who took it with trembling hands.

The place was called Podinqo. The people had tight bonds, lived in forgiveness and humor, didn't know how poor they were, and every single painting was as beautiful at the first. Each page had only one line of text, but the illustrations had worlds of narrative buried in them.

Myra didn't want there to be only five. "Where's the rest?" she demanded.

Allie was laughing giddily now. "I've not got to 'em yet. But here" -- she pulled a sketchpad from her portfolio -- "I've done a rough draft. It's 36 pages total." She leaned against Myra, her arm over Myra's shoulders, as Myra flipped slowly through the book.

When Myra was done, she used Allie's words: "God damn. I mean, god damn, Allene Billups."

Allie flexed her elbow around Myra's neck. "I know. This is it, this is my Color Purple."

"Exactly. Oh, my, god. You've broken loose from the traces, Allie. You've jumped the moon." They grinned exuberantly at each other. Myra added "We have to get you a book agent. I can ask my agents for recommendations, someone suited to your special gift."

"You not the only writer" said Allie.

"Never was. And Ginny's not the only painter. Only, you're doing both, you genius you."

Myra went back through the book outline, asking questions and relishing the happiness she could feel coming from Allie's body. They lost track of time, but Margie didn't. Right on the hour mark, she came into the study and said "Can we swim now?"

"Yes!" exclaimed Allie. She began putting away her work. Myra said suddenly, "Holy fuck, I forgot to feed Ginny dinner!"

"You wanna heat her up a plate while I go hang with the kids?" offered Allie.

"No -- I want to be with ya'll. I'll get something in her later, it's not as if she notices. Until her body just gives out, I mean." Myra stood up and began stripping off her clothes. "Gillam!" she called. He, of course, was right around the corner. "C'mon, last one in the pool is a Libertarian!" Myra shouted. Margie ripped off two buttons getting out of her shirt.

The children went to bed late that night because the four of them frolicked so long. Allie got the kids into their PJ's, teeth brushed, and read to them about the foolish villagers of Chelm until they dropped off. Myra fed Ginny, then got a wet washcloth and wiped her face, chest and back. She and Allie sat up even later, talking about Allie's new book and ideas for more stories she had in her head.

The next day at noon, Myra was working at her desk when she heard Ginny begin humming. She felt a little lightheaded with relief at what this portended. She decided to make bouillabaise for dinner, even though it meant she'd have to run out to the market for fresh seafood -- Ginny would probably be done with painting by dinner, and she adored bouillabaise.

Myra's guess was right. Ginny ate three bowls, with roasted new potatoes and baby peas on the side, but as soon as her hunger was slaked, she went pale and listless.

"Go sit in the hot tub for ten minutes" said Myra. "Here, take this water with you, drink it all. I'll come get you and put you to bed." Ginny obeyed.

Once Ginny was sacked out, Myra helped the children carve potato stamps and they decorated big sheets of newsprint with stamps dipped in tempera. Myra told them they could use it as wrapping paper. Gillam made a special sheet for Carly's birthday coming up, with a robot potato stamp. In between the multicolored robots, he drew with markers all the things that a robot could do for Carly -- make his bed, pick up his toys, fly him to kindergarten. Margie's sheets of paper, on the other hand, kept turning into maps.

Myra listened to them, a constant grin on her face. In just over an hour, she was going to slide into bed beside her Ginny, who was now back in their dimension. Tomorrow she'd get to see what on earth Ginny had painted. Tomorrow night, all their friends would be here to share a meal and hear Allie's news. The week was over, and the week was just beginning.

The following morning, Ginny make breakfast for the children and Hannah before they went to school. She came back to bed and woke Myra slowly, tantalizingly, thoroughly. While Myra showered and ate, Ginny tended her garden in front, upstairs and in the back yard, chatting to Juju the whole time. After filling the vases in their bedroom, the living room and her work table with fresh roses, she called to Myra "Are you ready yet?"

Myra came back to the studio and sat on the daybed. Ginny was fidgety and said "This is a two-stage viewing. First, with the lights on..."

She turned around both canvases. One was of Margie, one of Gillam.

Margie had on a leather loincloth and was astride a massive flying dragon whose hind legs were like a kangaroo. Behind them was a twilight sky. Margie was grinning fiercely, partly in profile, her asymmetrical eyebrows pushed high on her forehead, her thighs clamped into the dragon's flanks. In her left hand was a jangle of lightning bolts -- not the stylized zigzag icon of lightning bolts, but as they really looked in a storm, electrical and ephemeral. With her right hand, she was hurling a bolt downward. The dragon was both green and purple, a shimmer of scales whose color moved as Myra shifted position.

Gillam, too, was in partial profile, his left shoulder facing outward. The sky in his painting was twilight, also. He stood in the edge of surf, foam breaking mid-shin, wearing only ragged shorts, the voluptous muscles of his calves and back glinting with moisture. His left hand was spread on his chest, and his right arm and forefinger were extended toward a gigantic dark wave about to crash on nearby rocks. Curled within the wave were letters, words, that he was writing with the magic flowing from his fingertip. His face was illuminated by his concentration.

Myra, of course, wept. As she cried, she stood and leaned into each painting, trying to take in the detail. On Gillam's painting, she said "This is Hebrew, yes?"

"The first word is 'Ein sof', the last word is 'Tzimtzum', and in between is a fragment of the Kohenic prayer that our Bates men said at his naming ceremony" answered Ginny.

The scales of the dragon were, in fact, three-dimensional. Myra turned to Ginny and said "But you already had these flakes, I saw them, before that morning you went for something -- "

Ginny, dancing from one foot to the other, turned off the lights. It was a grey day outside, and that small darkness plus the fact that the canvases had their back to the windows helped with the sudden effect: Margie's lightning and Gillam's words glowed all on their own.

"Luminescent paint" said Ginny smugly. "And it was a bastard to work with."

Myra had to sit down again. "It's like you took snapshots of their souls" she whispered.

They spent the next hour on the daybed, talking about their children and about Ginny's technique. Finally Myra sat up and said "We have to find a place for these. Someplace where we'll see them all the time." But most of their walls were already full.

"I wonder if we could run wire down from the top of the glass wall in the dining room and hang them there" said Ginny, going to examine the wall. They talked it over and decided it could be done. Ginny put on pants and shoes and they left for the hardware store. In the car, Myra said "Allie has done something equal to your accomplishment. Which is saying a fuck of a lot. I'm not going to ruin it by telling you anything, she can show you tonight. But -- I need to get fresh catfish and chicken, cause I'm cooking Deep South tonight for all of us. Lots of greens, and honey cornbread, and a peach cobbler for dessert."

"I can't believe it's Friday already" said Ginny. "It was just Saturday. Listen, Myra, I know I've cheated the kids this week. How about if tomorrow I take them for the whole day -- if it's raining, we'll go to museums. You can write all day."

Myra grinned and said "You're on. And Sunday, let's farm 'em out to Pat and Patty after Quaker meeting and clean the house top to bottom. Put on some Aretha and Teresa Trull."

"We need a new mop head" said Ginny. "And -- will you make your vanilla ice cream to go with the cobbler?"

"Double sugar?" teased Myra.

"I'll mop it out of my system" said Ginny.

September 1996

Not long after school started, Myra and Ginny agreed to take Carly for a Saturday afternoon because Pat was coaching Truitt's Little League game and Patty had a seminar that kept her from attending. Ginny was busy swapping out the summer vegetable beds with new starts for the fall and winter. Margie had claimed the dining table for a giant map she was making of what she called Witches, Goblins and Ghoulland. Myra had started bread and yogurt, but in between tending to her yeast-y persuasions she let Margie entertain her with a running narrative about the locations on her map. Gillam and Carly had gone upstairs to play.

At one point, Ginny came in with a basket full of food from the retiring garden and began sorting it into the refrigerator. She commented "You kids have certainly made a dint in that bag of Clementines I brought home yesterday."

Margie looked at her blankly, then said "I haven't had any. Mama, do you spell hooligan with one N or two at the end?"

"One" Myra and Ginny said in unison. Myra, leaning over the back of Margie's chair, said "What's a Crookery?"

"A place where crooks hatch out" said Margie. Myra and Ginny grinned at each other, and Ginny began tying up bunches of herbs to dry on strings hung from the pan rack.

"I'm going to check on the boys, see if they want one of these cinnamon rolls that just came out" said Myra.

"I do!" said Margie.

"I figured. I'll get you a plate when I come back down."

Myra walked slowly up the stairs, scanning the bookshelves as she went for books that she could stand to give away in the twice-a-year cull Ginny demanded of her. They were always short on shelf space. When she got to the children's bedroom, the door was closed and she went on in without knocking.

Gillam and Carly wheeled to gape at her in shock. They had on plastic grass hula skirts from the dress-up box, their little briefs showing underneath. Gillam had a paisley scarf tied around his narrow chest, and Carly's scarf was lime green. Tucked underneath the scarves, spaced a little too far apart for authenticity, were breasts made of the missing Clementines. Both boys had bright red lips caked with inexpertly applied stage make-up, and the same color had been used as rouge for their cheeks. Carly's eye shadow, on both upper and lower lids, was purple, and Gillam's was yellow. Two of Margie's beloved barettes were in their hair.

Myra had to sit down in the floor, she was laughing so hard. Gillam wasn't sure what her hysteria meant and he just stood there uncomfortably. Ginny appeared at the top of the stairs, drawn by Myra's whoops, and looked around the corner at them. She, too, cracked up completely.

"We were being ladies" mumbled Gillam.

Which set Myra and Ginny off even more. Myra tried to say something, and the only intelligible words were "mining camp" but that was enough to make Ginny slap the wall and holler "Exactly!" When they finally calmed down, Ginny helped Myra up and Myra said "If you ladies would like some confections, please accompany us to the patisserie downstairs."

Gillam and Carly trailed behind them, still wary. Margie gaped at the boys, then demanded "How come they get to wear makeup when I don't?"

Still giggling, Myra said "If you want to dress up that way around the house, be my guest. The prohibition about makeup is in trying to look older than you are for school or other places."

When Gillam sat down, a gap in his scarf allowed one of the Clementines to drop out of its sling. Ginny pointed and said "Oh, dear, your left mammary seem to be rolling across the floor", which sent her and Myra off again. The children ate their cinnamon buns without conversation, watching the two women keep pushing each other back into laughter with incomprehensible comments.

Just as they were finishing the last sip of milk, a knock came at the front door but before anyone could respond, the door opened and Truitt burst in, still wearing his baseball uniform. Pat was behind him. When they caught sight of Carly, Truitt began giggling and pointing, but Pat's face was instantly furious.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" she asked. Myra wasn't sure who the question was intended for, but she answered "The boys were playing dress-up."

Pat strode to Carly and said "Get that crap off your face". She grabbed his napkin and began wiping his lips vigorously. He tried to pull away from her and her grip on him tightened so much he yelled "That hurts!"

Myra was in momentary shock, but managed to snag Gillam just as he launched himself at Pat. Ginny stood up and said "Pat!" Once she had her attention, she said "It won't come off that way, it's grease paint. I've got something in our bathroom that will clean it off easily, let me handle it." She picked up Carly and carried him firmly past Pat to their bathroom.

Pat was still scowling, and Gillam drew in a breath. Myra turned his face so his eyes met hers and said "Go help your Mama with Carly." When she released him, he ran to the bathroom.

Pat said "We're supposed to go meet Patty and go out to dinner, he can't go looking like that."

"Of course" said Myra, reminding herself to breathe. "Sit down, it's only take a couple of minutes. Truitt, do you want a tide-me-over? You and Pat can share a fresh-from-the-oven treat, I don't think it'll ruin your dinner." She made them a plate and poured more milk, and Pat slowly calmed down as she ate and Myra asked them questions about Truitt's game. The bedroom and bathroom door were both shut, and Myra knew the soundproofing was in their favor. She bought Ginny fifteen minutes.

When Ginny emerged, still carrying Carly, his face was flushed but pristine, and his eyes were bright red. He'd cried his head off. So had Gillam, from the looks of him -- yellow smears ran down his cheeks. Ginny carried Carly upstairs to get dressed in his regular clothes, Gillam shadowing them. By the time Carly left, Pat was almost apologetic and Carly looked himself again.

After the front door shut behind them, Ginny came and sat at the table, Gillam leaning against Myra.

"Pat was mean!' said Gillam.

"She sure was. She overreacted" said Ginny.

"Why?" asked Margie.

Ginny and Myra looked at each other. Myra took the ball. "Because it scared her to see Carly dressed like a girl."

"Why would that scare her?" asked Margie, intensely interested now.

"Because Carly is a boy, and the rules in the big world out there says that boys cannot ever dress like girls. When they do, some people treat them badly. We don't believe in those rules, and I know Patty doesn't either -- " began Ginny.

"Is that why you won't let me wear dresses?" said Margie.

Well, fuck. Myra said "No, we just don't like dresses very much. They don't keep your legs warm, and people think girls wearing dresses are weaker than girls wearing pants. So we want you to not get treated like you're weak when you're not."

"Is that why boys can't wear dresses, because it makes them look weak?" pursued Margie.

"Well...partly" said Ginny. They were on thin ice here, and Margie could smell it. "We're trying, the best we can, to give both of you a chance to not get stuck into certain roles."

"Rolls?" said Gillam. "Do you mean rules?"

"A role is like being a certain character in a play, only you have to do it all the time -- and yes, it's rules that tell you what role to play. But people are much more complicated and imaginative than just a single role, so it's hurtful to not be allowed to do a variety of things" said Myra.

"It hurts me to not get to wear dresses like the other girls" said Margie.

But Gillam was pushing his own agenda: "So Pat was mean because she didn't want Carly to break the rules?"

Taking the easier question, Myra said to Gillam "Pat was mean because she was scared about what other people might say to Carly if they saw him dressed that way. Sometimes when adults get scared, they act mean instead of just showing they are scared. Stupid, but that's what happens."

"I knew she didn't really want to be mean, so that's why I took Carly with me, away in the bathroom" said Ginny.

"And you told him he was beautiful, and he could be a lady any time he ever wanted to here" said Gillam. "And it made him cry."

"Yes" said Ginny.

Margie said "But what about me? When I grow up, I'm going to be a lady, a real lady."

Fuck and double fuck.

"First of all, we don't use the term lady for grown-up women. Have you not noticed that?" said Myra. "We use the word women, because it's more respectful. Lady means someone who is a certain kind of royalty, which means women who don't have as much money aren't considered as nice. Which is wrong. We also don't say lady because it implies that you are quiet and playing a certain kind of meek, submissive role, and we like women who don't play roles. So I sincerely hope you are NOT a lady when you grow up" said Myra.

"And -- anybody, boy or girl, can grow up be a real whatever they want to be. Whatever makes the most sense to them" added Ginny. "In the meantime, you can play and try on all different kinds of pretend personalities, as long as you don't be disrespectful or mean to someone else."

"Like Pat was" Gillam insisted.

"Yes, she was not respectful to Carly. She should have talked with him and found out what he was doing" said Myra.

Gillam fished the other Clementine out of his scarf. "I don't want to have this on anymore, will you help me wash my face?" he asked Ginny.

Myra and Ginny both hesitated. Myra asked "Are you stopping because you feel bad about dressing up? Because you looked really wonderful, and I don't want you to think you have to -- "

"No, it's just not fun without Carly" Gillam said. "And this lipstick tastes icky, even with a cinnamon roll."

"All right, Madame" said Ginny, picking him up and carrying him to the bathroom.

Myra began clearing the table so Margie could return to her map. As she bent over to pick up Gillam's runaway breast, she said "I hear what you're saying, Margie. Me and Ginny will talk about the dress thing; I don't want your feelings to be hurt."

The grin Margie flashed her made her heart thud in her chest. She put the Clementine back in the fridge and checked on the yogurt.

October 1996

When Myra woke up Sunday, the bed was Ginnyless, with a note on her pillow reminding "Hannah is still gone". There was a wonderful line drawing of two tornadoes looking amazingly like Margie and Gillam bearing down on a pair of buzz-haired women huddled in a spindly tree. She tucked it into her journal and got dressed.

As she walked into the kitchen, she blew the cavalry charge on an imaginary trumpet. The kids were at the breakfast bar and Margie was repeating, with a joyful cadence, "Whole wheat toast is worst the most". Gillam had almost cleaned his plate and was glancing over at Margie's poached egg, untouched. Myra hugged Ginny and said "If she gets hungry enough, she'll eat whatever we give her."

Ginny pointed to Margie's plate and insisted "One bite. One bite of each thing, or else no Zoom tomorrow."

"Way to listen" murmured Myra. Margie went off like a noon whistle. Myra looked in the poaching pan and found two eggs, still warm. "Mine?" she asked.

"Yes, I'm feeling a little puny. I think I'll stick with tea."

Myra put eggs on her plate, along with cold toast, some cream cheese, and the rest of the diced mango. As she walked by Gillam, she slid one egg onto his plate and pointed to the mango. He nodded, and she gave him half. He got down from his stool and carried his plate over to the table next to Myra. Margie was still making a racket.

"Ginny -- Go lie down, I've got it." Ginny did not even look back as she crossed to their bedroom.

As soon as Ginny was out of the room, Margie started to get down from her stool.

"Nuh-uh" said Myra. "You heard your mother. If you walk away from that plate, Gillam will watch Zoom alone with Hannah tomorrow after school."

Gillam was wriggling in silent delight. "Where would I be?" demanded Margie.

"In the dungeon with the alligators" said Myra.

"Alligators with silver knives for teeth!" contributed Gillam. Myra pointed at him and he resumed eating.

Margie took her spoon and carefully shaved the merest whisper from every item on her plate. She ate them with an affected smack of her lips and looked at Myra challengingly.

"Thank you for flying with American. We realize you had a choice in your behavior, and we acknowledge your compliance" said Myra. "Please put your plate here on the table."

Margie clearly wanted to ask what Myra had just said, but obeyed the part of it that made sense and then stood, stumped, without someone to torment.

"It's not raining right now" suggested Myra.

Margie headed upstairs for something. Myra said to Gillam, "Take your pick from her plate, unless you're full."

He scooped up her blueberry jam, which had not been put on his toast since he would eat his bread without enticement. Then he said "Done!"

"Go wash those sticky hands and purple teeth. And please remind your sister to do the same before she comes back down."

After she cleared up, she looked in on Ginny, who seemed to be asleep. Ginny never went to sleep that fast early in the day; either she was coming down with a bug or a painting was on its way. She gave a little prayer that it be the painting; a virus would mean the kids got sick.

Margie came back down wearing one of Myra's discarded oxford shirts, buttoned up wrong, and a pair of jellies. It was a little cold for that outfit, but whatever. She was carrying a plastic axe and a couple of Beanie Babies. Just as she went out onto the deck, the rain came back.

Myra raised her voice to be heard over the rain and Margie's howls: "The upstairs deck will be dry, go perform your executions there."

"I wanna be under the tree!"

"Well, up to you. If you want to pretend like you're at the Tower of London, the rain will add atmosphere."

Margie gave a look which indicated plainly Myra was far too flippant this morning. Gillam walked by into Myra's study with an armload of books and clambered onto her daybed. "Mom!" he called.

Myra mentally raced through lunch options, decided on tomato soup and grilled cheese which needed no advance work now, and went on into the study. Margie stopped in mid howl as her audience disappeared.

Myra didn't trust the silence. "Don't you go near our bedroom. If you want company, come in here and read with us."

Margie trailed in, dropping the Beanie Babies on the floor but keeping tight grip on that ax. "Narnia" she declared.

"I got dibs" said Gillam.

"He's right" said Myra, "It was his idea first. You can choose second. Now, let's see what you've selected -- 'Blew and the Death of the Mag', oh please no, not again and on a rainy day to boot, that book just bums me out, buddy; 'Trixie Belden and the Mysterious Code', okay, did I ever tell you about my crush on Honey?"

"All the time."

"And here's Edith Nesbit, the dragon book."

"Dragons!" shouted Margie.

"Please lower your voice indoors. Okay with you, Gillam? Which story to begin with?"

"The one where the dragon turns into a kitty" said Gillam. He glued himself into Myra's lap and sighed in joy. Margie chose to be a peripatetic listener, practicing lunges with her vorpal blade as Myra read until her voice got dry. She went into the kitchen, Gillam on her hip, to get a glass of water, and returned to find Margie taking up as much of the daybed as she could manage.

Distract, don't confront. "We're ready for Narnia now" Myra said. "Didn't we just begin 'The Horse and His Boy'? Where is it, by your bed?" Margie leaped up and galloped off toward the stairs.

"No, it's over there on your desk" said Gillam. "Why, so it is!" exclaimed Myra. Liar, liar, pants on fire. She snatched it and plopped down onto the daybed before Margie could get back.

At lunch, Margie said the tomato soup was full of blood and the cheese stunk. Myra had cut the sandwiches into soldiers which Gillam was gobbling head to toe. She said, "You're excused, then. You can go up to your room or the deck and play while we eat."

After she and Gillam were finished, she went in and woke Ginny, who accepted some soup and another cup of tea. When Myra kissed her forehead, there was no fever. Looked like a painting, then. Myra cleared the table except for one sandwich and a bunch of grapes on a plate, visible to anyone walking by.

Before settling back on the daybed, she pulled out her favorite poetry anthology. "Change of pace?" she asked Gillam. He nodded happily.

Ginny looked in from the hall as Myra reached the women who come and go, talking of Michelangelo. She whispered to Myra "He's asleep, you know."

"The snoring was a tip-off. I love reading this aloud, didn't want to stop yet."


"Upstairs. If you smell smoke, let me know. Otherwise, count your blessings."

Ginny ambled into her studio. Here we go, thought Myra. She adjusted Gillam beside her and fell asleep as well. She never had trouble napping during the day.

After an hour, Margie woke her up by trying to climb over her and Gillam. She had on her Wonder Woman leotard and wellies. "Are you reading 'The Highwayman'? she asked. Gillam woke up.

"No, Sherlock, the curious incidence of the dog in the night should have led you to deduce that we were, in fact, asleep. Do you want to hear 'The Highwayman'?" As if she needed to ask.

Gillam cried again, not much, just sniffling, when the highwayman died. After they were done, she pushed him upright and said, "You get your boots on, too. Margie, grab your slickers. We are going on a puddle hunt."

As they raced off, she looked around the corner. Ginny was naked and mixing paints. "Shall you and I come back as ghosts and haunt this room when Gingrich and his minions shoot us down?"

"What?" asked Ginny.

"We're going out into the rain. Maybe I'll pick up something from Aux Delice for dinner. I'm tired of balancing food groups."

"Okay" said Ginny. "Extra spicy for me."

Shrieking and stomping was just what the doctor ordered for Margie. She got soaked with mud. Gillam invented a splashing rhyme based on the duck poem from 'Wind in the Willows' that all three of them found endlessly entertaining. They sat on the bench outside Aux Delice as their order was prepared, rain thunking down on their wide-brimmed hats, tired and agreeable.

Ginny was completely in Painterland by the time they got back. Myra let the kids eat first, muddy and soaked, spreading trash bags underneath their chairs and over the padded seats. She noted without comment that the grilled cheese sandwich and grapes had disappeared. Margie was allowed to help herself from the take-out containers, and did a good job.

After dinner, Myra started a hot bath for them downstairs in her and Ginny's tub, with permission to use two handfuls of Ginny's bubbles, which would get translated into four by Margie. She made a giant plate of food, got bottles of water, and pulled her desk chair over beside Ginny. She fed herself and Ginny with alternate bites, and got a full bottle of water into Ginny because her food was so hot.

The kids came back in wearing towels like togas. She sent them upstairs to get on PJs, warding off protests by saying if they were all ready for bed, they could play right up to bedtime. Which could not come soon enough. They played Rivers, Rails and Roads for an hour. Then Myra heard the front door latch.

Margie and Gillam loped toward the living room, yelling "Hannah! Hannah!" Myra felt like running with them. She was beaming as Hannah came into the study, pulling off her jacket with a child hanging onto each leg.

"You're back early" said Myra.

"I heard the rain had caused some traffic problems, but I didn't hit any."

"There's Vietnamese food in the fridge. I'm going to get them to bed now since tomorrow is a school day" -- she had to raise her voice over the outbreak of resistance -- "and god bless you for coming back. God bless you every time you come back."

Hannah winked at her, knelt down to give the children good night kisses and to say "While you're going to sleep, think of something special for us to do tomorrow after school, okay?" and then went into the kitchen.

One thing about rainy nights, children drop off fast. Maybe it's the sound on the roof, maybe it's the reversal in ion charge. In the sudden silence and removal of responsibility, Myra wasn't sure what to do with herself. Ginny would only sleep a few hours tonight, after that nap and with a painting just started.

She lay down on her daybed, stacking the books on her floor. Margie's Beanie Babies were still by the entryway. She thought about what their bathroom must look like, with muddy clothes thrown on the floor and a ring around the tub. She closed her eyes. But within a few minutes, she got up and went over to her desk. She had, with Pat's help, programmed her computer to play the wav file of Ripley saying "Get away from her, you BITCH" from Aliens every time she booted up. It always made her heart leap. She could sleep in tomorrow as late as she wanted: Hannah was here. She started a new document and stared at it, listening to the rain.

January 2000 -- Margie is 11 and Gillam is 9

On New Year's Day, a large crowd came to the house to eat buffet style (including vegan and ham-laced versions of hoppin' john), sit around the fireplace and talk. Myra had done her best to recreate the recipe for Just Desserts' black bottom cupcakes, and when they were brought out, she warned the kids "Just one each, these are diabetes-inducing".

After a bite, Margie said to Amy "They kinda remind me of those little cakes we made that time in the EZ Bake oven."

Ginny said "When did you ever eat chazerai from an EZ Bake?"

"Not in this house" retorted Margie, and Amy added "I have one."

When everybody laughed, Margie turned to the adults and declared "Lesbian mothers love to go on and on about how they've expanded their daughter's horizons, but the truth is, there's all kinds of walls. I asked for an EZ Bake every birthday and Chanukah, and I never ever got one."

"It's not food that comes out of those things" said Myra, "I mean, it uses a light bulb to supposedly cook."

"But you got Gillam a snow cone machine" retorted Margie.

"I didn't participate in that purchase" said Ginny, and Myra, attacked from two sides, said "We didn't use the syrup that came with it, we used fruit juice on the shaved ice."

Behind Myra's back, Gillam stuck out his tongue in a grimace of distaste.

"The nutrition argument is not why I couldn't have an EZ Bake" said Margie. "You two were terrified it would suddenly turn me into a fembot."

"Every time she came over to my house" said Amy, "She wanted to play with my EZ Bake for hours. And my Barbie dream house. It was really sad.”

Now Ginny felt piled on, too. “You had a dollhouse, a lifestyles of the rich and vacuous thing big enough for us to live in!”

But Margie just looked at Amy and shook her head, and Amy patted her arm in sympathy. Pat and Patty roared.

A few days later, during a phone conversation with Chris, Myra brought it up again, saying “I can’t believe she’s doing the whole ‘I was deprived by humorless lesbians’ shtick. I’m tempted to go buy her a fucking EZ Bake.”

“Ginny would plotz” laughed Chris.

“Not if I got a used one. Like, one from ten years ago” said Myra. “Maybe at a real vintage toy store, instead of just Goodwill?”

“Try Ebay” advised Chris. “You can find anything there.”

“I’ve never gone to their website” said Myra. “Do you have to register or something?”

“Yeah, but it’s a snap” said Chris. “You and Ginny of all people should be checking out Ebay.”

That night, after dinner, Myra went to her computer and located Ebay online. She bypassed the instructions, just typing ‘EZ Bake’ into the search field and hitting enter. She was bowled over by the number of hits it brought up. There were EZ Bakes on sale that dated back to her own childhood.

She began looking through the offerings that had photos, and the third one was exactly like she remembered from when she was ten. She clicked on “Bid”, dealt hastily with registration, and then had to think hard for a minute about what her upper limit for a bid should be. Finally she decided it would be worth $35 to plunk an EZ Bake down in front of Margie -- she’d do it at a Friday night dinner -- and she entered that amount.

She went on searching, and found four other EZ Bakes, different models and eras, that she also bid $35 apiece on. After the fifth bid, she decided she’d covered her bases -- surely she would win on one of those. Satisfied with herself, she went back to the search field and thought for a minute. She typed in “Judy Grahn” just for grins and hit enter.

“Holy fuck!” she exclaimed. Someone had a first edition of Edward the Dyke for sale. Ginny poked her head around from her studio and said “Holy fuck what?”

“I’m shopping at Ebay, and you won’t believe what people are selling” said Myra. Ginny came to join her, and for a while they kept thinking of obscure items and checking to see if there was one for sale. Finally Ginny said “I want that pair of secateurs, Myra, they’re made in France and will last the rest of my lifetime.”

“Okay, use my ID and make a bid” said Myra. “All you have to do is click here and enter an amount.”

But Ginny read through the instructions, including the buyer’s agreement, and looked at Myra to say “What did you already bid on?”

Myra told her in a whisper. Ginny stared at her and said “You bid on five of them?”

“Yeah, but I’m only counting on getting one. I just wanted to be sure I’d get one of ‘em” said Myra.

“But -- “ Ginny couldn’t believe Myra didn’t understand. “You offered $35 for each one? That’s way more than they’re worth.”

“So I figure I’ll be high bidder on at least one” said Myra, a little condescendingly.

“You’ll be the high bidder on all of them, you moron” said Ginny, laughing. “Nobody is going to outbid you for old pieces of plastic and stamped tin.”

“I’ll just take the one I like best” said Myra.

“You can’t do that, Myra. A bid means if you win, you buy it.” Ginny began laughing hard at the look on Myra’s face.

“Oh, god -- can I take my bid back?” said Myra, clicking on the screen.

“Not without a penalty. Oh, this is too good to be true, you’re going to wind up with FIVE EZ Bakes!” crowed Ginny.

“Shhhh” said Myra. Then she began laughing too. “Don’t tell Allie and Chris” she begged Ginny, but she knew it was a hopeless request.

Two weeks later, the first of her five winning bids arrived. It was a turquoise EZ Bake from 1978, complete with an original package of brownie mix. They opened it in the bedroom, and Ginny said “You throw that mix away, now. Talk about toxic.”

“I’ll have to find some current mix, if they still make these things” said Myra. “Or, I know, maybe someone is selling fresh packages on Ebay!”

“Nuh-uh” said Ginny, “No unsupervised Ebay shopping for you, not for a while. Why don’t you go on line and see if someone’s posted a recipe, make your own mix for her?”

Myra’s face lit up. Ginny added “But My, just one batch. We don’t really want her and Gillam eating this crap.”

After all five of her purchases had arrived, Myra did have glorious fun presenting them to Margie at the next Friday night dinner, making sure Amy had been invited as well. She announced “Now you can’t claim we don’t listen to you!” Margie was, for once, speechless. But not Myra’s friends. They hooted about the Ebay binge off and on the rest of the evening.

Margie set up what she called a shrine to EZ Bake on her dresser. She was actually touched by Myra’s gesture, and often looked at her ovens as she going to sleep, grinning.

March 2000

On Saturday, Myra was leaving the house with Gillam and Carly when Chris and Sima pulled up out front. Myra said "We're heading for the hardware store, I have to rebuild some trellises for the garden. Wanna go with?"

"Sure" said Chris, and Sima said "We need duct tape. Plus a new doormat." They got in Myra's car with them.

At the hardware store, Myra placed an order for cedar lathes, then walked to the screws and fasteners aisle. The boys had rushed off on their own immediately, and Sima was in housewares. As Myra was debating screws vs. staples, wanting an excuse to buy a bigger staple gun, she saw Chris in the area beyond her aisle, looking at a caulk display.

After a couple of minutes, she heard Chris call out "Hey, Gillam -- you guys come over here and take a look at this." Myra watched as Gillam and Carly joined Chris. Chris pointed to something on the diplay, leaned in toward the boys, then walked rapidly away. After several seconds, both boys suddenly stood upright, laughing hysterically and covering their mouths. Myra wondered what on earth was so funny about caulk. When she was done with her selection, she strolled to the display -- Carly and Gillam were long gone by then -- and tried to see what had amused them, but could come up with nothing, even from the exceedingly silly vantage point of boys.

As Myra was looking for the power tool aisle, she saw Carly and Gillam sword-fighting with a couple of lengths of PVC pipe. She yelled to them "Knock that off", and after guiltily putting away the pipes, Gillam called back "Hey, Mama, come here and look at this for a second." As she began approaching, Carly was in barely controlled hysterics, hunched over and not looking at her. Gillam stood brushing against her, pointing to a shelf containing Teflon tape and pipe dope, then suddenly scampering away, Carly hot on his heels.

She looked after them, wondering for a moment, before the reek hit her nostrils: Gillam had passed gas, a particularly noxious emission, and it hung in the air where he had been seconds before. She suddenly realized what Chris had done to them, and, covering her nose, she walked away laughing. She could hear their shrieks of merriment two aisles over.

When they were all back in the car, heading home, Myra said to Gillam in the back "That stunt you pulled?" He was suddenly serious. She said "I'll pay you five bucks to do that with your Mom the next time ya'll are out in public somewhere." Gillam was momentarily incredulous, then Carly gave him a high-five and they collapsed into giggles again.

"What stunt?" said Sima beside her.

"For godsakes, don't tell Ginny where you learned it" Chris begged Gillam. At that, Sima said "Oh, never mind, I think I know."

September 2000

The week after school started, Ginny told Myra one evening "I'm taking Gillam to Target tomorrow after I pick them up, he needs socks badly and Margie's begging for a particular shirt. You need anything?"

"We're low on pool chemicals, if they have the environmentally-friendly kind."

"I'll check."

The next afternoon, Myra was starting dinner when they all got back home, the kids carrying bags and Ginny lugging a plastic jug of something heavy to the back deck. As Ginny grunted by, Myra said "How'd it go?"

Ginny said "Your son is -- well, he's your son" but didn't pause to elaborate.

Gillam waited until she was out of earshot, then said to Myra with gleeful grin "You owe me five bucks."

Myra started laughing and pulled a five from her pocket, then added a second five. "For all the yelling" she said.

"Totally worth it" he replied, pocketing the money.

Mid October 2000

At breakfast, Margie asked "Mama, can I go out with my friends alone to trick and treat? Without one of you tagging along?"

Myra wasn't sure who Margie was addressing, since she was focused on her plate. But Ginny jumped in: "Which friends? And just in our neighborhood?"

"Amy, Tifney and Dakota. And we want to for sure walk down Millionaire's Row, we hear their candy is like awesome."

"Don't count on it" said Myra. "In my experience, rich people can be awfully chintzy. Only the block nearest us, just that one block. And tell Amy to have her mother call me about this plan."

Margie scowled.

Gillam said "Me and Carly have decided to go as Lenny Krayzelburg and Ian Thorpe. Pat knows where she can get swimsuits and caps that look like the real Olympic kind."

"That's all you're wearing?" said Myra.

"And gold medals."

"You'll freeze" said Ginny.

"Oh, we'll have our trenchcoats for on the street, take 'em off right before we ring the doorbell" said Gillam.

"How about you?" Myra asked Margie, "Are you going as Jenny Thompson?"

Margie rolled her eyes scornfully. "No! I told you, I'm going as Hermione!"

"Oh, right, Belva is making you Gryffindor robes, I forgot" said Myra.

"But Amy, she was supposed to be Ginny Weasley or maybe one of the girls on the quidditch team, but now she says she's going to be Hermione, too!" Margie was outraged.

"Well, you can say its a duplication spell or something" offered Myra. Margie wasn't buying it.

Ginny spoke up "You can all go without us if you take a cell phone so we can reach you. And Gillam and Carly, too. And I better not hear of you, any of you, making them feel bad. They're good boys. If they tell me you tried to ditch them or put them down, I'll ground you for the next week. Got it?"

"May I be excused?" said Margie coldly.

"Yes, you may" said Ginny. Gillam stood up as well. "Your lunches are on the counter. Have a good day at school."

As they went out the front door, Myra gave in to the laughter she'd been fighting for several minutes. "Whatcha wanna bet Tifney and Dakota show up as Hermione, too?"

Ginny joined her. "Four Hermiones and two shrimpy boys flashing their Speedos, now that's going to be something to see."

Copyright 2007 Maggie Jochild.