Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Continuing excerpt 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 post of yesterday. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.

June 2004

As Myra came into the waiting room, she saw her family clustered in chairs at the far end, David now with them. She made the OK symbol with her hand, walking toward them, and saw Margie's shoulders go down in relief. When she reached them, she filled them in.

"I want to go see her now" said Margie.

"Me too" said Ginny.

"Okay, but Margie? First of all, you need to be 18 for this, so act accordingly. Second -- Ginny will have to come back here, but if you want to stay with Allie and Edwina, here's my request. Edwina is in charge of decisions for Allie, and I think they'll honor that. But if there's any crap aimed her way, you're her ally. You know what that means? And you call us on my cell for any reason at all."

Margie nodded seriously. She and Ginny headed back the way Myra had come.

Half an hour later, Gillam was seen by a doctor who took blood and did a few tests, then declared him fine. Gillam had drunk down two bottles of Gatorade and needed to use the bathroom. Ginny returned and said Margie was going to stay with Edwina.

"I told them we were going to go find a motel and we'd call them when we were settled in, make plans for the evening to swap out being with Allie" Ginny said.

"Sounds good" said Myra. They found a Ramada Inn nearby, with a pool, and rented adjoining rooms, one with a small fridge and microwave. Myra asked the desk clerk for a good Chinese restaurant that would deliver, and once in their room, as Ginny called Margie and Edwina to give them their location, Myra ordered an array of dishes, enough for a second meal they could store in the fridge.

Gillam got into bed in the room he was sharing with Carly and David, while Carly turned on the TV and began exploring local cable. When the food arrived, Myra took them in plates, but Gillam was sound asleep and she left his on the bedside table.

Ginny called Patty to tell her what had happened, using the motel line. After she was off, Myra called Chris at work and talked to her for a while.

When she hung up, she glanced at her watch and said "It's only 4:30. It feels like midnight to me."

"I need a nap" said Ginny. She turned to David and said "If you want to rest in here, away from TV land in there, you're welcome to the second bed."

He accepted, and stripped down to T-shirt and boxers to get beneath the covers.

"AC" murmured Myra, as she and Ginny curled into each other.

"Is your cell plugged in?" asked Ginny suddenly.


"I'm going to check on Gillam one more time" said Ginny, sitting up.

"Okay, good idea" said Myra. But she was asleep by the time Ginny returned.

Some time later, Myra woke up because Ginny, spooned back into her, was jerking and making a strange high sound. Myra said "Ginny? Gin?" and finally shook her. Ginny went stiff, sat up on her elbow looking over at David's bed with the covers pulled down but him not in it, and then rolled over to face Myra, her face crumpling into a wail.

"Oh, god, I dreamed he never came back, we never found him, we lost him to the ocean!" she sobbed.

Myra felt a chill around her heart. She held Ginny tight and Ginny cried so fast and hard, she was having trouble drawing a complete breath. But Myra could tell it was all out release. Eventually Ginny rolled partly onto her back, wiping her face with the pillowcase and gasping in several deep gulps of air.

"I often wonder what on earth we'd do without Allie, but never more than today" she said. "And I'm scared sick about her, too. Diabetes is a killer, we have to make she's okay, Myra."

"I know."

"We've spread ourselves out so far, my heart belongs to so many now, the complete opposite of how I grew up" said Ginny with another small gasp. "I used to read books about families and long for lots of people. And when I was really little, I'd have a mother there in the middle, a real mother -- remember how in Peter Pan, Mrs. Darling doesn't want to leave, she knows there's something hanging around, maybe a danger to her kids? I wanted a mother who was connected to me like that. But by the time was ten or so, I'd begun imagining myself as the mother."

"You are that kind of mother, only way more" said Myra.

"But I don't think I could -- make it, if I lost him. Or Margie. I -- " Ginny slid into a few more sobs.

"I know, Ginny" said Myra, fighting bile in her throat. She remembered the day before, how scared she'd been about snakes. We never know where the real trouble will strike from, she thought.

"Why didn't my mother feel that way about me? I'll never understand it, will I, I'll never get an answer, at the end of every goddamned Al-Anon meeting I just have to choose letting go."

Ginny sat up and grabbed a kleenex to blow her nose. After the first long honk, they both jumped when they heard David's quiet voice from the corner of the room: "Excuse me."

He was sitting at the table, a solitaire spread in front of him, the deck in one hand.

"I didn't mean to eavesdrop, I didn't realize you weren't aware I was here until -- well, you were in the middle of crying, I didn't want to interrupt" he said apologetically.

"That's okay, Daddy" said Ginny, blowing again. "But you sure got an earful, huh?"

"I did. And I know exactly how you feel" he said, not smiling.

Myra felt some relief in having shared, however unwittingly, Ginny's fear with him. She sat up against the headboard and said "These summer trips to the coast...they seem to be the axis around which our family calendar year turns, in an emotional way."

"They are for me" said David. The restrained emphasis of his tone squeezed at Myra's heart.

"Oh, shit -- we've called everybody else, but not your mother" Myra said suddenly to Ginny. "Unless you've talked with her already" she added, nodding at David.

"No, I've not called her" he said, not elaborating.

"Come to think of it -- I don't remember you ever calling her during one of our visits here" remarked Myra. "Is that -- typical? For you two, I mean? I think I've seen you call her from Seattle."

David took a long breath, and set down his deck of cards.

"I call from Seattle if we've agreed ahead of time" he said.

Ginny looked at him searchingly. "You mean -- does she not want you to call sometimes?" Myra could tell Ginny was thinking about getting angry.

David was cleaning the fingernails of one hand with the forefinger nail of his other hand.

"Sometimes, our separation from each other is...a break" he said. "An agreed-upon on break."

"What does that mean?" demanded Ginny.

David finally looked at her. His blue eyes were dark. "Helen has someone she sees. When I come down here, and sometimes on other occasions. Always with prior -- notification."

"Sees?" hissed Ginny. "You don't mean -- like an affair?"

"I suppose that's an appropriate term for it" said David in a tired voice.

"You mean she's fucking another guy?" David flinched at Ginny's use "fucking", and Myra had a wild thought that maybe it wasn't a guy.

"They say they love each other. He's married, too, and neither of them are open to divorce. But -- they've been together a long time, in their own way" said David.

"Who is it?" said Ginny, standing up agitatedly.

"Someone you've met. In our social circle. Helen calls them our friends, though I -- would not" said David. "I'm not going to give you a name. I don't think you really care, not about her feelings in this matter."

"Damned right I don't care about her feelings, but you, Daddy -- how long is a long time?" Ginny was sitting down at the table.

"Since before you were born" David said. "And -- don't worry, you're my child."

"As if" snorted Ginny. "The only questionable biology is how I came from her." She was venomous. "Why on earth have you put up with this, Daddy? Why are you still with her?"

He looked exhausted. "That's a very good question, Virginia. And I suppose the answer would depend on when I was asked. When I first found out, you were four, Cathy was 12. And I -- didn't want to lose you. Either of you. She refused for us to talk to the rabbi at the Temple, because of the possible scandal. Finally I flew down here and talked with the old reb here in Galveston, retired by then but -- he helped. And I told Mama. She was afraid of losing her connection to you girls, too. So -- I went home, we got twin beds, and -- I began keeping a log."

"For when you could leave her" said Ginny in comprehension.

"Yes. Then Cathy got married, and it was just you. And you went off to college, and during that first semester, you wrote home and said you were -- lesbian. That you intended to live that way, and we could either deal with it or lose you. It was a hard letter to read, honey. You -- I understand it must have been difficult to write, but it came off as incredibly cold. And Helen's only response was to say that it was no surprise you hated men, with me as a father" he said gently.

Ginny took his hands in hers. "Oh, god, Daddy, I didn't mean to -- I was mostly freaking out about her reaction, you know? And I was terrified you'd take her side. And that I'd lose Bubbe, too. I just poured it down onto paper and mailed it before I could change my mind. I'm so sorry, Daddy -- "

"We both did the best we could" he said. "I -- I didn't know who to talk with, at first. Not Helen, of course. And -- well, finally I looked in the Yellow Pages and found what you'd call a shrink. Someone with a Jewish name but not in our Temple, I checked his name against the membership list. He turned out to be a lot younger than me, and not Freudian. I told him I wanted to understand how I'd turned into my own father, someone you'd center your life around rejecting. I went to him for a year, once every two weeks. Eventually, I was able to go visit Mama and talk with her about it -- one of her good friends had been gay, did you know that? Florence Ruben. And I also told Cathy and Michael. They weren't at all surprised, and were very supportive, so that helped enormously. But the biggest help was when the summer rolled around and you still wanted to come to Galveston. Helen said it was because of Mama, not you. But once we were down here, you talked to me the same -- you treated me like I still mattered in your life. It's been my annual proof that I'm your daddy, the one you wanted."

Ginny was cried out, or else she would have been weeping again, Myra could tell.

"Daddy, when I saw you again, you were so sweet. I had no idea it had been -- that you had to go get help -- "

"That's what parents do" he said. "As you well know, now. And seeing Dr. Shaver was a blessing in a lot of ways. With his help, I came to terms with -- Helen. I still didn't want to split up the marriage because -- well, I didn't want you to be ashamed of me. It took me a long time to not be ashamed of myself. By the time I did, Helen and I had a routine, a habit. It was just -- easier to go on as we had been. Plus, we had the grandkids. And -- I never told you this, but I began teaching myself about lesbianism. Or lesbian-feminism, I guess is more accurate. I asked you questions, and if you ever mentioned a name or a book, I went looking for it. The B. Dalton in downtown Denver, no telling what they thought of me; I was always ordering hard-to-find things, that they kept in brown paper wrappers. But I remember at some point reading an essay about non-monogamy in some small journal, really struggling to accept the ideas in it and thinking I'd need to get past my own betrayal about Helen in case you agreed with the idea that she should have -- more than one of us."

Myra was laughing, she couldn't help it. "Oh my god, David -- don't tell me this was from Diana Press!"

"It may have been, that name sounds familiar" he said, grinning now.

Ginny was so flabbergasted she couldn't find words.

"Anyhow, it was such a relief to me when I found out you and Myra were -- faithful, to use an old-fashioned patriarchal term" he said, laughing. "I go back and see Dr. Shaver a couple of times a year, just to come up with more goals and check how I'm doing. I never told Helen about him. And that's part of the reason I've not gone to Al Anon, Ginny, though I've thought about it countless times -- but it would mean a weekly commitment, at least, and there's no way I could keep that secret from her."

"Why should you keep it secret?" demanded Ginny. "She's the drunk, she's the one who should be worried about silence."

David was silent for a minute. "I don't know, Ginny. I'm going back to see him when I get home, I can tell you that. This trip, this last six months have been something else. It might be time for me to make a change. A real change."

"Move to Seattle" said Ginny impulsively. Myra felt her chest clench up -- she began praying that Ginny not offer him a place to live with them. But Ginny didn't go that far. "Live nearby, so you can see us all the time, eat with us, hang out with the kids as much as you want. We have a great reform Temple, and Cathy's kids are grown now, but we need you still." She was all but begging.

David looked her in the eyes. "I'll think about it. I'll talk everything over with Dr. Shaver. Seeing Allie and Edwina, the kind of risk they're taking each other -- maybe I can start over, too. Not marriage, I don't mean that, but -- there's all kinds of risks available to the brave man, aren't there?"

Ginny was breathing shallowly. Myra got up and came to her, kissing the top of her head. Ginny leaned back against her.

"Does Cathy know? About Mother?" asked Ginny suddenly.

"I think so. I think there's been gossip that's gotten back to her."

"I want to talk with her about it, is that all right with you?" she asked David.

"Yes. For that matter, if you want to bring it up with Helen, I don't see why not" said David with a challenge in his voice. "But -- not Margie and Gillam. Not yet."

Ginny looked around at Myra, who nodded. "Okay. We can understand that" she said.

Myra's cell phone rang at that moment. Myra hurried to answer it.

It was Edwina. "She's fine, doing steadily better" she said immediately. "They let her drink something, and she didn't bounce away or whatever they were worried about. I'm going to spend the night -- one nurse has said I could lie down on this second bed in her room to get some sleep, if my being next to Allie is bothering her. But I could use a few hours of just plain rest. Could you come now and let me drive back to your hotel, rest there until visiting hours are over?"

"You got it, Edwina, we'll spell you. Tell Margie if she wants to come back with you, she can either hang out with her Zayde and the boys or sleep in our bed" said Myra.

"I'll meet you out front, save you having to find parking" said Edwina.

As Myra put on pants and shoes, Ginny checked on Gillam and Carly.

"Gillam's completely awake, though still low energy, and Carly is tired of cable" she reported. "Daddy, will you see they all eat? And stay out of this room, so Edwina can sleep?"

"There's a coffee shop next door, we'll go there" he said. "Plus I've got these cards, I think we'll have a poker night in our room."

Myra said, "What are you doing to do for chips?"

"I'll buy a giant bag of M and M's" he grinned. "If they eat up their winnings, then I'll come out on top, won't I?"

"I'm leaving my cell with you" said Myra. She gave him a long hug, whispering "I wish I'd had a father as committed as you, and that's the truth, David Bates."

Once alone in the car, Ginny said "Wow. The waves just keep on coming in. I got a chance to clear some of it out, but you've not had a moment yet, have you, angel?"

"No. I'm on TCB mode at the moment. But I'm okay, I think. It actually helped to hear you lose it. And to hear that David has a shrink. Do you think he's going to leave Helen?"

Ginny snorted. "I have no fucking idea. I'm just trying to wrap my mind around the fact that some other man out there finds her desirable."

Myra began laughing. "Yeah, she's not warm and fuzzy, is she?"

Ginny put her hand on Myra's knee and kept it there. As they turned off toward the hospital, Ginny said "You know, don't you, when it's time for you to take a break, I've got you covered? Just say when."

"I know. Edwina needs a break, too, I'm guessing. I mean, more than a nap."

Ginny nodded. "Yeah, but she won't take it yet. Not until tomorrow or the next day, maybe not until Allie gets discharged. Then I bet she falls completely apart."

"We'll catch her. We'll catch 'em both. Just like they caught Gillam."

At the hospital, Edwina was slumped on a bench out front, her suitcase beside her. Margie was pacing up and down. She acted very glad to see her mothers.

"Are you okay?" asked Ginny, looking into her face.

"Yeah. I'm just -- everything's so weird, you know?" said Margie.

"I know. It'll be much easier tomorrow. If you can, get some rest" said Ginny. They swapped car keys for Ginny's cell and made their way to the ICU. Allie had been moved into a private room, and was sitting up in bed when they walked in.

"Wow, you look like a human being again" said Myra, relief flooding her. She sat down on the bed next to Allie. After chatting for a few minutes, Ginny said "I'm going to find a newstand, see if I can buy you something to read. And also get us dinner, Myra. Is it going to be all right if we eat in front of you, Allie?"

"Fine with me, I'm not hungry" she said.

When Ginny was gone, Myra lay down next to Allie and patted her own shoulder, saying "Lay your little punkin haid down here, sweetie pie." Allie accepted, with a sigh, curling into Myra's side.

"I can't believe it's only been one day since this morning" she breathed. "Edwina said I rode in a helicopter -- my first time, and I have no memory of it."

"When we bust you outta here, we'll put in a call to Wonder Woman and get a ride in her invisible plane, to make up for it" said Myra.

They breathed together for a while, Myra relishing the faint coconut still coming from Allie's hair, the softness of her cornrows against Myra's cheek. Eventually Myra said "Seems that everything good in my life, you've been there to either help me get it or make sure I keep it."

"BFF" said Allie. Another long pause, then Allie said "I'm worried about Edwina."

"How so?"

"Is she gonna be having second thoughts now, realizing she's hooked up with an old broke piece of work?" whispered Allie.

Myra laughed incredulously. "You mean the old broke piece of work who ran over a mile in the sand while her body was operating on no insulin whatsoever, swam out into the surf and carried in a teenaged boy? That 98-lb weakling?"

Allie said. "Well, but, I'm gonna be taking shots the rest of my life. And thinking 'bout 'Can I eat this?' Everytime I woke up, she was looked at me with this expression of -- I don't know, some kinda fear."

"We all start falling apart once our breeder capacity is over, that's the biological law. You're just adding on a new kind of recovery. And hell, Allie, of course she's scared shitless, but it's not about you being diabetic. We saw you lying all but dead on the sand, the same color as those crashed aliens they autopsied in Roswell. We didn't know but what you were gonna die on us. She's desperately in love with you, think about how scared you'd be if it had gone the other way."

Allie leaned back so she could see Myra's eyes. "She'll be okay?"

"Yeah. We'll take care of her until you get out of this joint. And then, when you do that usual Allie Billups trick of learning a new way of living lickety-split, you become Sistah Super-Needle and Ms. Carb-Exchange, she'll know what we already know -- they ain't no stopping you. TankDyke."

Allie let herself really laugh, and relaxed back onto Myra's shoulder, repeating "TankDyke."

When Ginny returned, both hands holding bags, Allie was sound asleep. Myra slid gently out from under her and placed a pillow instead of her shoulder. She and Ginny sat at the foot of the bed, where Ginny spread out their meal on a tray table.

"Pickings were a bit slim at the cafeteria" whispered Ginny. "The potatoes looked awful, and the bread was white flour colored with caramel, so I got you brown rice and some spinach. Plus what they called ground sirloin, and a giant fruit salad."

"Looks okay. Is that Sobe for me?"

"Yeah. And there's bottled water" said Ginny.

They ate in silence, stealing bites from each other. Before they were done, a nurse came in to change Allie's IV and give her more medication. The nurse, a broad black woman named Janelle, looked at Myra and said "You her sister?"

"Yes, ma'am" said Myra, wiping her hand so she could shake the nurse's. "This is my partner Ginny." Allie was awake and grinning at the "sister" line.

"You don't much resemble each other, except around the jaw" said Janelle, a little challengingly.

"We have different daddies" said Myra, honestly enough.

"Where's your wife? She's been glued to your side since you came in" Janelle said to Allie. Allie was startled, but Myra jumped in: "She took the car back to our motel for a few hours' sleep. She'll be back before bedtime to spend the night here."

"And that girl, the sweet one -- " Myra had never heard Margie described that way, although of course she was -- "She your daughter?" Janelle looked at Myra and Ginny.

"Yes" said Ginny, "But Allie was there when she was born and she's raised her as much as we have."

"What's her sugar?" asked Myra, looking at the Accu-Chek Janelle had just run.

"98. You know how to deal with diabetes?"

"Not really, but we're all about to learn. I cook for her a lot, I'll do it right" Myra said emphatically. Janelle looked finally ready to trust Myra. She turned back to Allie and said "They gonna feed you a little breakfast in the morning. If you have a good day tomorrow, they'll likely release you the day after. You caught this just in time. You don't appear to have any heart damage. You should get your eyes checked, though, soon as you get home."

"I will" said Allie, a wave of pure panic crossing her face.

After Janelle left, Allie said "Wife?"

"Edwina's told everybody she could that she's your wife. Don't you dare give her shit for it" said Myra.

"Wouldn't dream of it" said Allie, joy suffusing her face. "I told you all that first day, didn't I?"

"I remember" said Ginny.

"You wanna hear a secret?" said Allie. They moved their chairs back up close to her to listen. "You know all that hoo-ha in San Fran about gays and lesbians getting married there at City Hall? Well, I wrote to them before it got shut down by the court and I bought a marriage license. For me and Edwina. Just in case."

"Holy shit, Al, that's amazing. Did you tell her?"

"No, not yet. I mean, one of us has to ask the other one, right? But looks like maybe Edwina's taken the lead here" said Allie, her smile ecstatic.

"Can you still get married, though?

"So far. It's about to get reversed, from what I can tell, but as long as you got a license, you can go there and get hitched. Folks still doing it" said Allie. She prodded her IV site, frowning momentarily. "This hurts like the dickens."

"Listen, the magazine selection downstairs was challenging" said Ginny. She reached for the remaining bag on the floor. "But they did have Juxtapoz, big score, plus the latest New Yorker has a David Sedaris piece, and I got you Ebony, and check this out -- 'Gulf Coast Fisherman'." Allie was laughing again. "And -- " Ginny reached into the bottom of the bag -- "I found a blank book with decent paper for sketching, and some colored pencils!"

"Ahh, that's gonna make a huge difference!" said Allie. She immediately opened the book and the carton of pencils, and began testing the shades on a blank page. A few minutes later, she turned to a fresh page and started drawing in earnest. Myra picked up the New Yorker and Ginny went to clear away the remains of their dinner before sitting on the bed next to Allie and watching her with absorbed interest.

Half an hour later, Allie said "Our plane tickets here -- can they be changed to a different route?"

Myra was slow to respond. "I guess. Where you wanna go?"

"San Francisco" said Allie, still focused on her drawing. "Maybe."

Myra and Ginny looked at each other with wide eyes. They waited for Allie to say more, and after another minute she said "We'll have to get Chris and Sima to fly down from home. And I'll want to stay in a nice hotel. We'll want a few days to ourselves, after."

Myra leaped to her feet and gave a whoop.

"It ain't a done deal" said Allie, grinning at her. "I gots to ask, and we'll have to see about all kinds of details."

"You just let us know" said Ginny, kissing Allie's cheek.

Copyright 2008 Maggie Jochild.


letsdance said...

A roller coaster of a chapter!! With a warm and wonderful wrap-up.
Thanks, Maggie.

Maggie Jochild said...

2004 was quite the year for this family -- as it was for the nation. Wonder we all survived it.