Saturday, January 26, 2008


(Paper sculpture by Jen Stark)

Now that Skene has reached an end, I'm returning to posting excerpts from my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. If you are already a familiar reader, begin below. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up. The last post from Ginny Bates was The Electric Slide.

NOTE: For those of you who have read the first draft, this is a new section, just written.

Late February, 2004

The following Thursday, Davonn showed up for dinner with Allie. Carly and Truitt were both there as well, so it was trial by teenager for him, but he seemed completely at ease around them, sliding in between Carly and Truitt at the table and keeping them entertained with comments Gillam could apparently hear but not the adults across the table. Myra had a few moments of feeling rankled at being left out, then reminded herself "Allie's parenting is what's happening here" and let herself off the hook. She very much felt like being off the hook for an evening.

They got in a couple rounds of the electric slide before Davonn had to leave. He became very affected and bright-eyed, making everybody laugh non-stop, not just the kids. Allie walked him out to the car, and Myra looked at her questioningly when she came back in, but Allie just shrugged -- no decision yet on his part. Which Myra thought was maybe a good sign.

But the next day, as Allie was waiting for her train to Portland, she called Myra and said "Just talked with Davonn. He wants to ask your two, plus their friends, out on the town Saturday night. I gave him your number; he's going to call about curfew and other details before he talks to them."

Myra felt a mixture of relief and apprehension. "Okay, here we go. Why is he asking Margie, too?"

"Said it'd be rude not to include her the first time. Plus he thought she was a gas, quote unquote."

Myra smiled. Margie had been born a gas. "How're you and Edwina?"

"Oh, it's like a regularly interrupted honeymoon, with all the good and bad of that. Mostly good, except for how I miss her. I never understood how you and Ginny could spend all the time together you do, until now. Now..." Allie's voice trailed off, a desolate note in the last word.

"You're about to step off into her arms, hang on, pal" said Myra. "And you know, Ginny and I do leave each other regularly. We may be under the same roof, but how we do our art, it's hegira. I always have the sense of returning from a trip when one of us is done with a bout of creativity."

"They just called my train, but remind me -- the meeting with all the lawyers, the plea bargain thing, that's Tuesday?"

"Yeah, 2:00. Gillam wants to go, too, though neither he nor you can be in the meeting room, the lawyer says, legal parents and principles only, I'm really sorry -- "

"Don't sweat it, me and Gillam'll sit outside and spit on the steps." said Allie. "Gotta go, I'll call you when I get back if not before."

When Myra hung up, Ginny was at her shelf where she kept the dictionaries. "Whatcha looking up?" asked Myra.

Ginny found the word, read the entry silently, then looked at Myra with a grin. "Hegira. New one on me."

"Davonn's going to ask our kids out" said Myra.

"Okay. I'm going out front, something's attacking the roses."

Myra noticed Ginny didn't ask why Margie was included, instead of just Gillam. Once she heard the front door shut, she looked up the number of Margie's therapist, Sheila, and was startled to get Sheila directly instead of her machine.

"Oh, hi. This is Myra, Margie's mother. I'm calling -- I have a question for you, about her decision regarding the plea bargain."

Sheila's voice was wary. "I can't break confidentiality with Margie, even with a parent, I'm sure you understand -- "

"Of course, I'm not asking you to -- she's talked with us, I don't think she's holding back anything and if she, well, I don't want to pry. No, my question is...about your professional opinion, I guess you'd say. I...I support what she's doing, how she's thinking, and that's -- perversely, that's what I'm worried about. I want to be sure she's doing only what she thinks is right, and that she won't have second thoughts in five years, or feel like she was somehow pressured. And it would be pressure from me, Ginny and I are not entirely on the same page about this, I don't think."

There was a long pause. Sheila said "Nobody can guarantee freedom from second thoughts, no matter how well we're functioning."

Myra sighed. "I may sound dumb here, but I'm not. I know that. Let me word it differently. I -- right after it hap -- right after she was raped, she had some shame and guilt about it. Which is how it goes, I know. And I think I've seen that transform, lift, since she's been seeing you. But if she's choosing -- if there's any part of her that is choosing to go with counseling for that boy instead of prosecution because she feels like maybe she's partly to blame -- well, I want to know. Can you tell me if that's a possibility? Oh, hell, I really am asking you to break confidentiality, now that it's out of my mouth, I can hear myself."

After another long pause, Sheila said, her voice warmer, "I think you should trust your daughter."

"Well, you'd say that no matter what, wouldn't you? Listen, I'm sorry, I've crossed a line here" Myra began.

Sheila laughed briefly. "At least you see it yourself. That's not how it usually goes. And, I repeat: I think you should trust your daughter. Not just because that's what I ought to say, but in this instance, it's my heartfelt conviction."

"Oh. Okay. Oh, wow, thanks, Sheila. I'm going to a new therapist on Saturday, Ginny and I are going together, and this -- greases the skids for the work I need to do. I really appreciate it."

"Good luck" said Sheila.

At lunch on Saturday, Gillam took a long drink of water to clear his throat and said "I don't want to go to Garfield High School." His mothers and Margie all stared at him.

"Why not?" asked Ginny.

"It's huge. It's -- all divided up into cliques and territories, none of which have anything to do with actual learning" said Gillam.

"It's very highly regarded academically" argued Ginny.

"That's about statistics and averages" said Gillam, a touch of condescension in his tone. He didn't have Carly at his side today; his face was flushed.

"Where else would you go, then?" asked Myra.

"Well, I know some kids who're planning to go to The Center School" ventured Gillam.

Margie snorted. "That's a white kid's school."

"What?" said Myra and Ginny simultaneously.

"That's not true!" flared Gillam. "Just because it doesn't rely on busing to force numbers -- "

"I don't know anything about it" said Myra. "We'll have to look into it. Anyplace else?"

"Just -- not someplace with a football program" said Gillam. "A place where I could make cartoons, films maybe, at least photography, without being a freak."

Margie muttered something inaudible and Gillam's fingers gripped his fork tightly.

"Do you mean private schools?" asked Ginny, struggling to keep anything negative from her tone. Gillam looked up at her defiantly and said "I'd be open to that, yes, if it was the right place."

"Talk about this with Allie as well" said Myra. "And I'll do some research. Anything you can pass on to me would be helpful."

"I'm done, may I be excused?" said Margie in a clipped voice.

"Yes. We're leaving for Nancy's at 1:30, and while we're gone, you're in charge of the house" said Ginny.

"Perfect time for you to vacuum and mop all the common rooms" added Myra. Margie bit back something and carried her plate the kitchen on her way upstairs.

"You need to stick around home until we get back" Myra added to Gillam. "Your chores aren't done for this week, either." Gillam wouldn't forsake a meal to get away from them, she could tell, but his focus remained on his plate from then on.

While Ginny put away leftovers, Myra went to her computer and did a quick search for The Center School, printing out a couple of dozen pages and sliding them into her desk drawer that locked. She brushed her teeth and went out to the car where Ginny was already behind the steering wheel.

Myra's feelings seemed to be spread out as far as the horizon, scattered and treacherous. She wished they weren't needing to see Nancy, and was pretty sure she couldn't say anything like that to Ginny. She clenched the door handle and opened her mouth to see what would come out.

"Here's one thing I don't get, Ginny -- that whole 'copping a feel' thrill that men rag on about. I mean, where is the pleasure in brushing your hand against the breast of a woman who doesn't want you to touch her? I've never understood how there can be anything but self-loathing in that kind of theft." Myra was looking out the window, not at Ginny. Her voice grew in anger as she talked.

Ginny's eyes were side. "Well...I remember when I hadn't yet kissed a woman, I'd imagine what it was going to be like. That's a fantasy, I guess, about someone I wasn't sure wanted to kiss me. Is that the same thing?"

"No. First of all, thinking about it is at least one step away from pushing yourself on somebody. And -- well, who is this you're talking about, your first lover?" Myra glanced at Ginny.

"No, before her. My first year in college, this girl in my dorm, Terry. I was pretty sure she was flirting with me, and I went for about a week spending every spare minute thinking about kissing her, getting swoony every time I imagined it."

Myra now did look at Ginny. "Terry? You've never mentioned a Terry before."

"Yeah, she's not really an ex, I haven't thought about her, well, until now" said Ginny.

"Was she flirting with you?" asked Myra, a little aggression in her voice.

"Yep. I finally kissed her one Friday night, when she stopped by my room on some pretext. She kissed me right back, and it was, of course, totally different than how I had imagined it" said Ginny, a mixture of emotion on her face. She was focused on the road, passing through an intersection.

"Better or worse?" demanded Myra.

"Better at first. But then she -- it was my first time, Myra, I was decidedly unclear on the concept and about to pass out from the glory of it all, I just wanted to kiss lightly for a minute or two. But she tried to jump me, and when I pulled back, then pushed her away from my chest, she called me a dyke wanna-be, with this nasty laugh, and told me to not bother with big girls until I was ready to grow up, too."

Myra's incipient jealousy transformed instantly into defending Ginny's honor. "What a fucking tool, she isn't worthy of the dyke name!"

Ginny had a reminiscent grin on her face. "After she left, I lay on my bed and felt terrible for about half an hour. Then I got pissed -- I mean, part of the reason why I was with women was so I didn't have to deal with games, you know? At least, I thought that was how it worked at the time. So I steamed down the hall, knocked at her door, and her roommate answered, didn't let me all the way in, I guess I looked a little wild. I stood in her doorway, looking at her across the room at her desk, and I let her have it. I told her I had every right to set up the ground rules for how somebody touched me, that my body was mine, nobody else's, and if she couldn't handle that kind of balance then it was her who was immature, not me. I called her something like a menace to honest, good-hearted women everywhere. When I wheeled around to leave, I discovered my rant had drawn an audience -- most of that floor was at their doors, watching the show."

Myra laughed. "Did they applaud you?"

"Oh, god no, Myra, these were college kids. They thought I was a total loser after that" said Ginny with bitterness.

"I'm so sorry, honey" commiserated Myra. Then, "Have I told you that you are exactly the woman of my dreams?"

Ginny's reply was a bit perfunctory. "Many times. Same here."

Myra felt deflated. "Anyhow, Gin, that's not the same as what I meant. I was thinking of how guys rub against women on the bus, or stare at breasts, or imagine fucking pretty much every women they know, anybody over the age of 14 as long as she's not fat or hairy." Her voice was angry again. "And they just don't get that even considering such crap, much less trying to sneak contact, is on the same continuum as rape. It's the same idea, that the point of sex is territory."

Ginny was silent a minute. "You know, Myra, I'm all over you. Most of the time."

"Yeah. But, don't laugh, mostly it doesn't feel sexual to me. It's -- I don't know how to describe the intimacy we have. I mean, it's connected to sex, I don't have that same kind of physical knowledge of my friends, despite how affectionate we are. But the point isn't sex. It's -- don't take this the wrong way, but the kids are all over us too, or used to be, when they were little. It's like there was no real boundary between our bodies and theirs, remember? And I just plain ate it up. There wasn't a hint of sexuality in that, it was -- more than sex, if that makes sense. Biological. Like how I feel sometimes when I feed them. Or you. And how we touch during the day, unless we're kissing and that switch gets flipped, which usually seems deliberate to me, we look at each other and say 'Okay, let's get hot now' -- otherwise, it's like you're my best friend plus. And the charge is because I know you love my body as much as I love yours."

Ginny was nodding. "That's pretty much now it is for me, Myra. But it hasn't been with all my lovers. Well, any of them, actually. Either we were still in that honeymoon phase, or -- well, Jules was kinda like being with a guy, I can see now, and Bonnie was never comfortable with all the kinds of touching that you and I do."

Myra wanted to again say something about how perfect Ginny was for her. She still felt not quite appreciated from the last try, however. She took a new tack.

"I don't believe men, boys, are inherently programmed to be so fixated on sex as the ultimate kind of contact. I just don't buy that at puberty, something gets rewired and bingo, they're horn dogs now. But it's so universal out there they they're out of control; it's so accepted. I don't know how on earth Margie's going to deal with it. Much less Gillam, who must feel like the freak of the universe" said Myra.

"Either that, or he's having some of those same feelings and can't show them around us" said Ginny.

Myra's anger finally boiled over. "Why the fuck would you say that, do you really think he's a pig in hiding?"

"That's not what I meant" began Ginny. She backed the car into a spot and pulled up the emergency brake. "I'm just open to the idea that you and I might be rare exceptions to some pretty extreme conditioning, and our children, despite our best efforts, may not have been as lucky as us."

"You don't have to placate me, Ginny, I'm not going to leap out of the car into traffic" said Myra sarcastically, pointing to the ignition which Ginny had just turned off.

Ginny leveled her gaze on Myra. "We're here. At Nancy's."

"Oh." Myra took a long breath and got out of the car without looking at Ginny. She waited for Ginny on the steps, however, bumping her elbow to Ginny's and saying "I guess I got myself worked up for this session, huh?"

Ginny slid her arm through Myra's and said "You usually don't get pissed at me about other people's shit in the world. It stands out when you do. You jerk."

Myra was laughing when Nancy answered the door. Instead of leading them to her treatment room, with its massage table and shelf of tinctures and crystals, Nancy waved them into her sunny living room, saying no one else was home and would not be back for hours. She went to make them tea.

Myra sat down on the sofa, and Ginny, instead of sitting beside her, chose the love seat that was perpendicular. Myra found herself to be extremely nervous, and focused on a large statue of some Indian god (goddess? she wasn't sure, which was embarrassing, what would her mother say?) to distract herself. When Nancy came back with a tea tray, she sat on the sofa near Myra.

Nancy said "Let's begin with what your goals are for today."

Ginny was occupied with squeezing lemon into her tea without a seed dropping in. Myra said "I never know what to say when someone asks me to name my goals. I mean, that reeks of middle class to me." She hadn't meant to launch the day on a contentious note.

Nancy, however, laughed and said "All right. What's wrong, what needs fixing? What will get you your money's worth in the next two hours?"

Myra felt her shoulders relax a notch. "I'd like to know my kids are going to be okay. Eventually, if not soon. And -- something's wrong with me and Ginny, something I don't know about, it feels like. I want her back, all the way."

Ginny dropped the mug she had just picked up. It hit the wooden floor with a thud, not breaking but cascading hot tea in a spiky splash. Nancy rushed to the kitchen and returned with a roll of paper towels, which Ginny took from her, kneeling and mopping up with a steady stream of red-faced apology.

After a minute, Nancy left her to it and sat back down near Myra. Myra could see that Nancy's fingers were moving in the motion that accompanied her asking questions of the air, as Myra thought of it. When Ginny was settled again on the love seat, a fresh mug of tea but her cheeks still flushed, Nancy looked at her keenly and said "How about you?"

Ginny set her tea down carefully. "You mean, reacting to what Myra said?"

"No. What needs fixing for you?" There was a difference in Nancy's voice; Myra considered how long these two had been working together. Shiva she thought suddenly -- the statue across the room was of Shiva, with that crescent moon on his head and the matted hair. She remembered her mother saying They refer to him as Shiva the Destroyer but it's more accurate to think of what he does as transformation.

After a few seconds, Ginny said "I need my brain to be working right again. I feel like Myra's doing most of the work too much of the time, and it feels like it's my brain that's holding me back."

Myra was surprised, on several levels. She must have made a sound, because Nancy looked at her expectantly. Myra said "I think -- I've been worrying that maybe it's me that's the problem. All the way around."

To her horror, Myra discovered she was suddenly crying. Nancy scooted close beside her and handed her a kleenex, saying "Just let that come out, you don't have to explain yet."

But Myra kept going, choking out "I'm the one who talked to Margie about sex -- what if I did it wrong, what if I set her up for what happened to her? Maybe I wasn't proactive enough, I should have warned her more, maybe I'm so fucked up in this area I passed it on to the next generation in some way I still can't see! Oh, please forgive me, god, forgive me for what I've done to my only daughter!" She was screaming by the end. She felt Ginny squeeze in next to her, her arms around Myra's middle. Someone else, must be Nancy, was rubbing a thumb in the middle of her forehead, which was doing odd things inside her brain.

After half a minute, Myra not only stopped crying, it was as if someone had opened a window. There was a sense of fresh air. She opened her swollen eyes and looked first at Ginny, but then immediately at Nancy.

Nancy said "How old was your brother the first time he raped you?"

Myra sucked in a big breath. Nobody was ever this blunt with her, not even Leesa.

"Uh...Well, I was eight when the sexual stuff started, so...17." As she said it, she felt a click: That was the age of the boy who'd raped Margie.

"And can you tell me why on earth you would believe you were responsible for what another 17-year-old did to your daughter?" Nancy's voice was so matter of fact.

Myra burst into laughter, just as shocking as the crying had been.

"It's nuts, ain't it?" she said.

Nancy allowed herself a smile. "The first lesson they teach us is that we are the cause of their behavior. If it's bad behavior. If they do well, of course that's all their own doing."

After kissing Myra's cheek, Ginny went back to her loveseat. Nancy did muscle testing, had Myra look through some colored lenses, say a certain syllable a few times, put some drops under her tongue, then tested her again and declared her clear of that delusion.

Presto whammo thought Myra.

She turned around to look at Ginny. Ginny didn't look so good. Her face pale, her eyes clear, Ginny said "Myra, I had no idea you were -- I'm so sorry, angel, if there's any way I made you doubt yourself..."

Nancy interrupted, "Ginny, let's focus on what you've been feeling. Have you noticed a change in your connection with Myra?"

Ginny's face lost even more color as she fixed her gaze on Nancy. "Yes" she said hoarsely. Nancy leaned over to take both of Ginny's hands in hers and said, with great gentleness, "Can you tell us what's going on for you?"

Ginny seemed to be having trouble findings words. After a few false starts, she said "When Daddy was here, I noticed one thing. It used to be, the way Myra and I divided up parenting, it evened out over the course of a week or so. I mean, she feeds us, I grow our food, she goes out for the groceries, I go shopping for the rest of what we need, and, well, I still get more time for my art than she does for writing but she has more time with her friends...That's all more or less the same. But with the kids -- I used to have a direct line in to Margie, I was where she prefered to demand attention from, and that's changed. She's just not talking to me much any more. And Gillam, he's pulled back from me even more, though he's still having some conversations with Myra. I feel like I'm -- the dad, suddenly. To put it in conventional terms."

Myra began trying to see if this made sense. She was concentrating, looking at her hands, not at Ginny. Nancy stood and moved to the loveseat. Myra checked out Ginny's face and discovered Ginny was crying silently.

"Oh, Myra, I've been resenting you! I've felt like you were rubbing my face in what a crappy mother I am, but not directly so we could fight it out."

Myra was stunned. Nancy did her deft move with offering a kleenex again, and Ginny buried her face in Nancy's shoulder, saying "I've fucked things up beyond repair, I'm so scared I can't function any more!"

When Ginny was through most of her crying and had blown her nose, Myra said "I'm pretty tired of mothering. I mean, I adore them as people, but sometimes I find their endless growth and drama, well, boring. I'd like to have a good long break."

The blasphemy of it made Ginny giggle. "Same here. And just when things are heating up, what timing, eh?"

Nancy had a set of mumbo-jumbo for Ginny to do, also, that brought depth back to Ginny's blue eyes and stopped her hands from wringing each other ceaselessly. Nancy faced them both and said "Answer me honestly: Do either one of you actually believe the other one is responsible for the problems your family is having?"

"No" said Myra easily. Ginny cleared her throat and said "No, not me, either."

"Then I have two assignments for you until I see you next week. First, whatever you hear the other partner say, it is NEVER going to be blame for what's wrong. If that's what your brain is hearing, it's an error and you start there. Can you remember that?"

Myra and Ginny nodded, Ginny giggling again.

"Second, you are to set aside one night a week as date night. Let the kids feed themselves, do their own homework and chores, whatever. Either leave the house entirely or sequester yourselves so you don't hear them at all. Have fun without talking about them or thinking about them for several hours."

Myra looked at Nancy doubtfully. "I'm not sure we can do that, Margie is in the middle of -- We have some big decisions -- "

"You can still spare one night a week. Set it up so it doesn't conflict with your very real obligations right now, I'm not suggesting you abrogate your responsibility. But you need a planned break" said Nancy.

Myra looked at Ginny, who nodded. "Okay. I'll give it a try" Myra said.

"Your time's up. I can see you next Thursday afternoon, right after lunch, if that works for you" said Nancy, starting to carry the tea tray to her kitchen.

On the way home, they stopped at a thrift store neither of them had noticed before. Myra found a World Almanac for the year of her birth, and Ginny located a paint-by-number kit of horses in a pasture which had never been opened. "I'm sending this to Liza, she's collecting them" she told Myra.

At Myra's suggestion, they also stopped at the deli and got makings for dinner. At home, they walked into booming bass from upstairs and floors which had clearly not been cleaned.

"This house is starting to smell a little like Narnia" Myra remarked.

"They're not to go anywhere until their chores are done. That includes their outing with Davonn tonight if they don't come downstairs and get to it before dinner" said Ginny calmly. Myra agreed. They put away the food without trying to shout their return up the stairwell. Instead, they sat down together on Myra's daybed and read through the printouts from The Center School.

Myra said in dismay, "I hate to admit it, but it looks like Margie's assessment is right. I mean, yeah, there are kids of color in these brochure photos but they have that carefully placed, spread-out-to-look-like-they're-organic kind of appearance."

"What's the ratio of boys to girls?" asked Ginny.

"Doesn't say. I guess we'll have to go down there and look around for ourselves" said Myra. "Why would Gillam, of all people, find this appealing?"

"Was that remark about football a slam at Margie?" countered Ginny. "Because she used to love to go to the games."

"I don't know anymore" said Myra wearily. "If it was, it was a vile thing to say. But maybe he just means it, maybe he hates what football frenzy brings to a school. I always did."

"How about Monday as our date night?" said Ginny, not really changing the subject.

"You're on. Let's tell them tonight so they can have friends over or whatever."

"Hottub now? You can tell me about the book you're not writing enough on" said Ginny, standing and pulling Myra to her feet.

Copyright 2008 Maggie Jochild.


kat said...

more, more, more!

liza cowan said...

I love watching as Myra and Ginny figure out their relationship to each other and to the kids. At the beginning I thought, no, this is too good to be true. But as the novel progresses the difficulties of even the best relationships begin to emerge, and I find it fascinating.

And what a hoot it is to be a character in your book.

Whod'a thunk.