Monday, January 28, 2008


(From Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi)

I'm returning to posting excerpts from my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. If you are already a familiar reader, begin below. The action in the story resumes immediately after my last post of two days ago. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.


The second weekend in March, Amy slept over one night and the next morning at breakfast Margie had a swath of green coloring in her hair that was just the hue of toxic pools at the Mars base in Doom, Myra thought. Ginny stared at her for a second, while Margie lifted her chin defiantly, then Ginny burst into hysterical laughter. Myra, relieved, said "I guess you're even with Gillam's eyebrow ring." The implication that she was competing with Gillam didn't please Margie.

After lunch, Ginny was borrowing Myra's stapler -- she would never get her own, said Myra's was close enough -- and remarked "You remember when Gillam was about a year and a half old and he got that case of diarrhea he couldn't shake? Some bug that went on for over a week?"

"God, yes. We had to put him back in diapers, and began rotating out his diet, you were convinced he had food allergies" said Myra.

"Remember how it began coming out as pure liquid? And the shade of green it was?" Ginny pointed her head toward the kitchen, where Margie was mopping the floor. This time it was Myra who laughed her ass off.

Two days later, Margie dyed her hair jet black overnight. She said it was the only way to cover the green, that or bleach it all white. This time Ginny didn't laugh. That weekend, Gillam announced he was growing his hair out long. He wasn't shampooing it regularly because he wanted the "natural oils" as he called it, and his pillows had become stained. Myra told him he had to start washing his pillows weekly with Clorox, and added "You wouldn't be breaking out on your face so much if you paid more attention to basic hygiene."

In bed that night, Myra said "He's got such a gorgeous face, and it's going to be covered with long strands of greasy hair now. If he dyes his black, too, I'll -- well, I'll simply have to glory in yours, I guess. The last of the Bates mahogany."

"Mine's not really mahogany any more, sweetheart" said Ginny sadly. "Frost is creeping in everywhere."

"Do they just want the reaction from us? I hope so, because one of us always rises to the bait" said Myra.

"They're doing okay" reminded Ginny. "Still getting something out of counseling, grades are good, no drugs."

I hope thought Myra. And we're still needing counseling, too. But she was able to go to sleep.

The following Saturday, Margie revealed a 2-inch square Band-Aid on her shoulder when she pulled off her jersey to swim in her tank top and shorts.

"What happened?" said Ginny. Margie froze, glancing down at her shoulder. Ginny advanced on her, and Margie covered the bandage protectively with her hand.

"Did you get injured?" asked Myra, getting up from her desk.

"I'm fine" said Margie. Gillam called in from the kitchen, "She got a tattoo."

"You what?" Ginny literally screamed. "You let them mark you up like you're headed for a fucking gas chamber?"

Margie's face drained of color. "Gin -- " began Myra. Ginny held up her hand like a stop sign and brushed by them all, stomping to her bedroom. Myra looked after her, but went to Margie instead.

"Where did you get this done?" she asked.

"A bonded place. Clean and reliable" said Margie, trying to keep her shoulder out of Myra's reach.

"I have to look at it" said Myra.

"It's not infected, but it's still in the crusty phase, you won't be able to tell what it's really like" argued Margie.

"I know about tattoos" said Myra in a firm voice. "Margie, now."

Margie finally let her lift the bandage. It was a flowing Star of David, in an intricate weave of colors that, Myra guessed, would turn out rather lovely. "I designed it myself" Margie said.

"Well, in that case, the smart thing to have done would be to consult her, us, and get our okay in advance" said Myra. "You are certainly wasting your capital these days. I like it, and Ginny will too. But you acted like a sneak -- "

"It's my body!" flared Margie.

"Your body, and our medical insurance" continued Myra. "So you're grounded for a week, and if you used your credit card to pay for this, Ginny's going to take it out of your clothing allowance until it's paid off, I hope you realize that."

As she went through the kitchen toward the bedroom, she said to Gillam "Tattling is immature, and don't you even think about a tattoo until you're at least her age and have our okay first."

April 2004.

Myra had just discovered Marjane Satrapi's books and was stretched out on her daybed, blanket over her legs, immersed in Persepolis. Ginny was in and out of the sliding door, putting tomato, eggplant and cucumber starts from the upstairs deck into raised beds out back. Her fingernails were encrusted with clean dirt, and she smelled loamy as she took a break by lying down next to Myra.

"Didn't I tell you it was not just a comic book?" said Ginny, looking at the page Myra had reached.

"Not that there's anything wrong with just a comic book" said Myra, "But yeah, this is amazing."

Ginny closed her eyes as she rested her head on Myra's shoulder. She slid her hand under Myra's shirt and spread it on Myra's drum of a belly, letting it ride up and down with Myra's breath. After a few minutes, she moved her hand slowly up to Myra's breast, the one farthest away, and began circling Myra's nipple slowly with her thumb. By her second revolution, the nipple was hard and there were slight goosepimples on the silky, dense flesh of Myra's breast. Myra sighed but kept reading. Ginny was just enjoying her, not trying to get her attention.

Ginny fought the urge to take a little nap, here in this cocoon of contact and warmth. She still had a lot to do before dark, before the children returned home. She opened her eyes to stay awake, and stared at the green wall next to the daybed. She had tried several mixtures before she found that particular color of paint, a tint which spoke to her of Myra. Myra had taken one look at it and said "Oh god, yes". It was a green of old growth, a fertility you could afford to relax into, what she thought of as a Western green. Myra called herself a Texan first, a Southerner second, but Ginny often thought of them both as Westerners. They and their extended family were perched here on the Western edge of the continent.

After several more minutes, Ginny having switched to Myra's other breast, she said "I think I should tell you something."

The tone was not urgent, but it still got through right away. Myra stuck her finger in the book and laid it by her side, tugging Ginny in tighter on her shoulder.


But Ginny pulled back so she could prop herself up on one elbow and look Myra in the face. Her eyes were deep, dark blue and serious. She said "I'm not sure if this is a change that's happened or if it's just that I've gotten more honest with myself." She paused, and Myra waited.

"I know that during lovemaking, you and I tell each other that we -- that we belong to one another. You tell me that you are mine. And, from the beginning, we understood, or at least I thought we understood, that it meant for that moment, that particular physical connection. It wasn't really a declaration of ownership or possession, not in the sense that the het world, the male-dominated world interprets it." Ginny looked at Myra for confirmation, and Myra nodded.

Ginny went on. "Back then, it mattered to me, completely mattered -- that while we were coupling, we still held onto our separate identities. A balance, which we've turned out to be remarkably good at." Ginny paused again, and Myra said "Yeah, but I don't take credit for it. I'm just not that smart, except I seem to know when to say yes to luck."

"Gamblers' smarts, maybe" suggested Ginny.

"Maybe" said Myra.

"But...." said Ginny, taking a long breath. "Things have shifted. I don't think it's from raising children together -- I mean, that's changed me utterly, changed us both. But I don't think that's the cause of my coming to see you as -- mine. I want you to be mine. For real, mine. And, even more, I want to be yours. I want you to know, I'll never choose anybody but you."

Myra said "I thought I already knew that, Ginny." Her voice sounded a little worried.

"Yes, of course. What am I trying to say?" Ginny's brow wrinkled in concentration. "Okay, it's like this -- it matters to me that I'm the one who landed you. Not just because I get to have a life with you, but also because you were the big unattainable Myra Josong out there in the community, the one girls fell for but could never quite have. Only Allie and Chris got to be inside your inner orbit, and then Sima -- but never a lover. And -- this wasn't conscious on my part, Myra, please believe me, but somewhere along the way, I wanted to be the one who cracked through and became the woman who wound up with you. That desire was there, mixed in with everything else." She looked at Myra steadily, earnestly. "If that's objectification, then I want to cop to it."

Myra kept her eyes on Ginny for a long while. Then: "I'm not sure what to say. Or think. I mean, it wasn't that way for me. Yes, that last year before we finally kissed, you were in my thoughts, at the back of my head a possibility that I couldn't afford to focus on yet. But it wasn't like I wanted you as a goal -- I wanted what you represented if I could just get there. You and I were both, it seems like, waiting on me to cross some line."

Ginny could tell she wasn't done, but she had to wait while more words came to her. Myra's hand stroked the soft buzz at the back of Ginny's head as she thought.

"So, Gin...I'm some kind of a conquest, I guess you're saying. It doesn't bother me. I'm not swept away by it, but I'm not upset, either. I mean, you feel like a prize to me, too. Except -- it's not exactly the same. I guess it can't be, nothing's every exactly equal. What matters is that you wanted me based on who I really was, which turned out to be an accurate knowledge of me, and that I wanted you to be the one to land me. I'm so glad it was you, Ginny Bates. I can't imagine it being anybody but you."

Ginny crawled on top of Myra and pressed her cheek against Myra's. Myra lost the place in her book as she wrapped her arms around Ginny.

"So, it's okay with you if I gloat sometimes?" whispered Ginny.

"Yes. You have the right stuff, might as well flaunt it" Myra whispered back.

They had not yet kissed when the front door opened and Gillam's voice called out "Hey, I'm home!"

Ginny sat up, grinning, and said "I'm going back to the garden."

Myra felt like her face was glowing. "Pick some basil and anything else Italiany, I'm making pasta for dinner." Ginny stood up to hug Gillam as he reached them, asking him "School okay today?"

"Not so much. I'm getting a zit in the middle of my forehead, and my history teacher wanted to give us the impression that dropping the A-bomb on Japan actually saved lives in the long run."

"Oh, no, Gillam" said Ginny. She sat back on the daybed and pulled him down between her and Myra who was now sitting bolt upright with indignation. He began telling them his story.

Mid April 2004

Edwina had nine days off for spring break and was spending them with Allie. Carly, likewise, seemed to be joined at the hip with Gillam. Amy was out of town with her family, so Margie spent hours each day at the new Soloflex machine in the upstairs hall, headphones on, eyes closed, pushing her body into high condition. Myra discreetly kept cashew butter, fresh chicken salad, Margie's favorite kinds of cheese, and crab or fish cakes at the front of the fridge every day, along with a big jug of green tea, as her contribution to Margie's regimen.

Surprising everybody, David announced he could come for Passover with them if he was invited. Ginny looked at Myra when they heard the message on the machine, and Myra said "Sure. But we're not changing the seder." David came two days early and helped with all the preparation, including hand-coloring the new haggadah that Ginny had created. When he wasn't assisting Myra or Ginny, he was out with Carly and Gillam. Myra was reluctant to give him any credit, however. Secretly she thought he might be unconsciously competing with Davonn to remain Gillam's male mentor.

On Friday afternoon, Margie and Ginny carried down Margie's art table from her room and adjusted the top to lie flat, extending the dining table so there was seating for 24 in total. In addition to Pat, Patty and Truitt, also coming were Jen, Poe and their six-year-old daughter Ava; Ms. Schevitz; Allie, Edwina, and Ms. Billups; Annie Gagliardi and her Jewish lover Lute; Alveisa and Petra; and Davonn with some unspecified friend of his who turned out to be a charming young man named Nayeem who had been raised by Black Panther parents and now identified as Muslim. Myra was suddenly gladder than ever that Ginny's new haggadah included the story of Hagar and Ishmael, with a calling out ceremony in the middle to restore ancient blood ties.

Sima and Chris came over early with home-made matzoh, a recipe using whole-wheat flour and biscuit root. The seder began late, at 6 p.m., and with the meal in the middle, was not over until 11 p.m. Allie had to leave immediately to get her mother home, still humming "Go Down Moses", and Margie walked Ms. Schevitz across the street. Clean-up took another hour. Myra was exhausted by the time she slid into bed. Ginny said "Well, Daddy rolled with all those punches pretty well, didn't he?"

"Mmh" said Myra. In the next minute, she was asleep.

The following morning, Ginny made pancakes with leftover tsimmes that were surprisingly good. David, Margie and the boys went to sacharit services at their temple, and Myra swam laps in the heated pool until whatever had been eating at her seemed dispelled. After lunch, Allie called to say she and Edwina would like to come for dinner. Myra called Sima and Chris to invite them as well; Chris said maybe for dessert, they were thinking about going out for dinner.

Myra pulled a turkey from the freezer, stuffed it with wild rice and apricots, and after it was roasting she made two chocolate cream pies. She told Ginny the rest of dinner was up to her and sat down at her computer. Ginny spent the afternoon on the upstairs deck and in the back yard, gardening with her father. Two poems rolled out of Myra before she settled in to working on her latest novel.

At 5:30, Ginny interrupted her to say she thought the turkey was done. Myra pulled it out and set it on a cutting board to cool. She excavated the dressing into a baking dish and put it back in the oven to stay hot. Ginny had sauteed winter squash with green onions left over from the seder, and also roasted yellow beets. She made sour cream from raw milk, and created a parsley salad dressing that Myra found vile, but it was fortunately on the side. Along with a large David-and-Margie-made salad and challah garlic bread, the meal was ready just as Allie and Edwina arrived. Allie carried in one of Macrina's famous Whisper Cakes, made with white chocolate, lemon curd and raspberry preserves, causing Gillam to say "How is this night different from all other nights? Two kinds of chocolate!"

After the main meal, as Allie was cutting the Macrina cake, she said to Myra sitting beside her, "I think we should have a family discussion." Myra looked at her, then at Edwina putting a carafe of coffee on the table, and said "All right. Any topic in particular?"

"Gillam's request to go to The Center School" said Allie. "Isn't the deadline for applying on Monday?"

Myra was instantly wary. "Yeah. But I thought we'd covered this already."

Gillam said hoarsely "You have? You didn't tell me you'd reached a decision."

"Well, we haven't finalized a decision" said Myra, reluctant to look at him, which he correctly interpreted as a no.

"Edwina and I been talking it over" said Allie, deftly inserting Edwina into the family in case anyone doubted her place there. David cleared his throat and said "Do you -- should I be here for this?"

Myra looked at Ginny, but Allie spoke up and said "I think so. I think the kids should be here, too, and Carly. It's time you see how things are done." She put a piece of cake in front of Myra and said "If that's okay with you."

Myra wasn't hungry any more. She said "Yeah. Let's give it a try."

Allie looked across the table diagonally at David, next to Ginny, and said "The Center School say it means to be a kind of magnet school for arts and humanities, downtown. But the fact is, the folks who dreamed it up and put their money to make it so are from white upper-class neighborhoods who want their kids to go to a public version of prep school. Away from gangbangers and Asian whizkids alike. It's a slick end run around integration. It's got only a few hundred kids, way more white than most other high schools, no sports program but shitloads of special equipment and arts opportunities that liberals think make them fit to rule the world."

David was startled at this blunt catalogue, and Gillam looked devastated. Margie was the only person at the table eating without hesitation.

Allie turned back to look Myra in the eyes and said "I think he should go. We think he should go."

A tiny croaking sound came from Gillam's direction, but Myra couldn't focus on anything but Allie's eyes. "Well, pardon my French, but what the fuck?"

Allie took a bite of pie, closed her eyes for half a second and said "This that Costa Rican cocoa beans you talked about?"

"Yeah" said Myra. She waited.

After savoring her swallow, Allie said "From what I hear Gillam saying, he scared about getting put on the boy-to-man treadmill at a giant school like Garfield. He don't care about team sports, he not rah-rah-be true to your school, and he be having to start from scratch, friend-wise. He want a little pond, and The Center School is the only one that ain't primarily special ed or Christian Right. He a brave kid. He push himself as hard as any of us, and if he say he need a break from the storm, I say give it to him. At least for a year."

"I agree with most of what you're saying, Allie" said Ginny. "He's tough enough, and beyond this point are monsters of dehumanization. But you can't sidestep the intent of The Center School. It's covert founding philosophy is going to permeate all its policy decisions. And the other kids who go there, they won't be from Gillam's antiracist and anticlassist background. He's going to have just as much to tackle with them as he will from the gender crap at Garfield, won't he?"

"Yeah, he'll be swimming upstream. And the gender crap may look different but it be just as strong anywhere he go. It so constant, most people don't even know it there" agreed Allie.

"So, then, why pick that place?" argued Myra.

"Because he think it what he can handle. And if he think he can, he will" said Allie.

"Just like that?" said Myra. "I mean, the field is littered with the husks of men who wanted to not be fuckers but have failed so abjectly, it's as if they didn't even try. I have no real slack for good intentions here, not this far along in the wavefront of feminism and civil rights. We're not even fucking treading water any more, if we ever were. There's a reason why Lawrence Britt's 14 Signs of Fascism are on the wall by my desk -- we're on the eve of 1933 all over again, and my son, my daughter, they are having to step out into that world." She had forgotten David was at the table.

"They my boy and my girl, too" said Allie softly.

"I know, Allie, I didn't mean it that way" began Myra.

Allie slid her hand inside Myra's and linked their fingers. "I met your brother Gil, you remember, Myra? He all but called me nigger to my face." Gillam and Margie both registered profound shock. "He was a terrible mess. Despite you trying to save him, and how much you Mama loved you all. He was already chewed up and spit out before he died. But he not Gillam. You not you Mama. Gillam already okay, he not waiting to be a good man, he fine now. He been fine since he could walk."

Myra was fighting tears. "I know that, Allie. I know how good he is, I never doubt it for an instant."

"If he say he can't do something, it don't mean he can't forever. It don't mean you failed him, or any of us failed him, or that he failing himself. It mean he need to stop and take a breath. He like you, Myra. He won't ever stop. But if we love him, we have to have faith in his path, including the byways and breaks."

Myra and Allie were staring intently into each other's eyes. After a long silence, Myra said softly "I would never have been right for you, would I?"

Allie breathed out. "No."

"Because of the race stuff? No matter how hard I worked?"

"No" said Allie gently.

"I know this is lesbian heresy, that how the subjection of women and children is supposed to be the great evil that keeps the world from peace and happiness, but in this country, I really do believe racism is rotting our soul from the ground up" said Myra.

Allie rapped on the table with her knuckles, her expression still serious.

"But we fucked with the man anyhow, we found the nooks and crannies where his poison can't reach, didn't we?" continued Myra.

"And Gillam, too. He a man who gonna brilliantly, cheerfully fuck the man. And Margie, and Carly. Not our way, but their way" said Allie.

Myra leaned over and kissed Allie's cheek. Allie turned and kissed Myra on the mouth, lightly. Margie glanced at Ginny, then Edwina.

Myra turned to look at Ginny. "What do you think?"

After a long pause, Ginny said "I think I'm lucky to have you both."

Margie said, "I don't understand what's going on here."

Gillam's face was flushed as he said "I do." He got Myra's gaze on him and whispered "I won't let you down, Mama."

"You never have, Gillam, not for a second since you first drew breath" answered Myra. She turned to Edwina and said "We cool?"

"Oh, yeah. She's mine first, you know" said Edwina.

Myra laughed hard. "Well, as long as we're clear about that." She began eating her cake.

"So, wait -- did something get decided?" said Margie in an irritated voice.

"Gillam's going to The Center School next year, if we can get him in. Although that's a foregone conclusion, with his grades and our money" said Ginny, a hint of sarcasm in her voice.

Margie looked incredulous. She leaned forward and said to Allie, "Have you ever argued for me like that?"

Allie burst out laughing, as did Ginny and Myra. "More than I can count" said Allie.

They were just finishing dessert when Chris and Sima walked in. Right behind them came Davonn and a few of his friends, asking if the teenagers wanted to go out to a dance club. Myra talked Davonn into a piece of pie first. As she went into the kitchen, Gillam followed her and melted into her arms.

"Is that true, what Allie said -- about Uncle Gil?" he asked.

"Yeah. I loved him completely, but he was an asshole" said Myra. "Listen, before you all leave -- could we have one round of the Electric Slide?"

His face lit up. "You bet!" He went to move back the living room furniture, with Carly and Margie's help.

Copyright Maggie Jochild 2008.

No comments: