Friday, February 1, 2008


Another 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.

After another couple of minutes of crying, Ginny sat up and wiped her face savagely. "Wow. You really are thrown."

Myra said flatly "I feel out of rope." Her chest didn't seem to be moving when she breathed.

Ginny said "Nancy told me our success hinged on the fact that we took turns. But sometimes we both want a turn at the same time, I guess."

Myra didn't answer.

"I'm scared at how often that seems to be happening" said Ginny, almost to herself. She licked her lips and looked at Myra with some fear still on her face, but less. "Myra, will you come sit here beside me? Can you do that much?"

Myra registered the shift in Ginny's tone, the increased softness. Feeling lightheaded, she crossed to the bed and sat down.

Ginny said "I remember how when things are this tough for you, touch can get through. So I'm going to put my arm around you, here. Let my warmth seep into you."

Myra didn't press against Ginny, but she didn't move away, either.

"You've been the Little Engine that Could the last coupla days, huh, sweetheart" continued Ginny. "Allie, and Gillam...And now I've done something that breaks all the rules, and I can't explain why. Great vacation you're getting."

Myra said woodenly "I know this is just plain female conditioning, we always internalize, but I keep trying to see what I've done to make things happen."

"We're both trying to land on that square" murmured Ginny. Then, shaking her shoulders out, she said "You got any theories you're working on? About how you single-handedly created all this difficulty, I mean?" She was smiling, now, but Myra still didn't look at her.

Myra said "My mother...Mama did her best, she tried to live up to the housewife and mother role of her generation, like most women after the war. But she was married to someone who was simply never going to assume real responsibility for others. And the thing is, she stayed married to him. I can, and do, understand that she didn't see an alternative. Still, there was an alternative and her failure to see it left us...well, dead and dying."

"You're not dying" said Ginny swiftly.

"We all are" whispered Myra. Ginny turned and put both arms around Myra, trying to match her breath to Myra's.

"Wow. That bad. And -- I think I can see it now, here I go off acting crazy about money, passing on horrific values to our daughter, after -- well, since the New Year it's just been one damned thing after another, hasn't it? So suddenly, maybe it really is true that I'm not there for you, not the woman you thought I was, and you're sticking around in a situation you need to leave, too? Is that it? Are you wondering if you need to leave me?" Ginny was doing her best to keep the dread out of her voice, as she voiced her worst nightmare.

Myra didn't answer.

"Okay, then. Well...It's not enough for me not to take a turn, I've gotta get creative here..." Ginny rested her forehead a minute on Myra's shoulder. "What would Allie do, I wonder?"

Myra stayed motionless, but a flicker passed over her face and Ginny saw it. She swallowed, pitched her voice lower, and in a spot-on mimicry of Allie, Ginny said "You not settling. She not you daddy."

Myra looked at her in momentary shock, then burst into crazed laughter. Ginny joined her, feeling blasphemous. They fell backward onto the bed, Myra turned toward Ginny as they went through waves of hysteria. Myra kept saying "I cannot beLIEVE you did that", and this eventually changed in tone. Myra's voice trailed off and she pulled back to look Ginny in the eyes. She said abruptly "He was alone, Gin. Out beyond any human reach, in the cold dark, fighting for his survival, and I didn't even know it was happening."

Finally, she cried, as Ginny had cried the day it happened. It was the lynchpin, and all the backlog behind it seemed much less formidable now that had been removed. Ginny pulled Myra onto her and listened.

Eventually they were both silent, close and calm again. Ginny whispered "I will figure out what's up with me, as fast as I can."

"I know that. I just forgot for a bit."

"One thing I know, in addition to everyone else, I'm worried about Daddy now."

"Yeah, me too, Ginny. Let's get him to come for another visit this summer, okay? In Seattle."

After another silence, Myra said "I know I should offer you a turn now, but I still feel whipped, Ginny. Physically, I mean, not emotionally."

"S'all right. I think I should call Nancy and see if I can get her to help me puzzle this out. I'll take my cell into Margie's room and you can get a little nap, maybe?"

"Bless you." They kissed, and Ginny left the room.

The next thing Myra knew, she was waking up with Gillam shaking her, saying "We brought you this most awesome pork curry dish, it's so hot it makes your eyes run." Everyone was in the room, including Ginny, who winked at Myra and said "Nancy was home."

Myra went to the table and sat beside Ginny to eat. As she opened her plastic tableware, she said "Listen, you kids, I have a special project for you later, after Allie and Edwina go to bed. It's a surprise."

Allie grinned and said "Wonder what it's for."

On the way to the airport, Edwina drove and Allie was in the front beside her. Margie squeezed in with Ginny and Myra rather than the boys, and once on the freeway, Margie said to Myra, "I heard Allie say something to Edwina clothes. How much they cost, and that you didn't know. Mom, I kept all the labels, I can take them back tomorrow and get something like the boys did -- "

Myra grabbed Margie's hand and said "No way Jose. That outfit was made for you, I want you to have it."

"But -- do we have the money, really? I mean -- "

"Margie, we have money coming out our ass" said Myra.

"But we give it to the Fund, and other places. Where will this come from? Not the chicken kitty, please tell me not that" said Margie earnestly.

Years earlier, Myra and Ginny had begun an annual donation to an international group which bought farm animals for poor people subsisting in rural areas of underdeveloped countries. They did this right before Christmas, and the children were an equal part of the decision-making, figuring out who got a cow, goats, ducks, or chickens. They'd begun calling it the chicken kitty. Two years ago, Margie had come home with news of a project that also funded water wells for areas which had no clean water, and they had allowed her to oversee this addition to the family budget.

"No" breathed Myra, "We'll never cut back on that. Most likely it'll come out of savings -- I mean, we won't put as much into savings this year. But it'll be fine, Margie, I promise."

Margie still looked worried. "But -- this trip has so many extra expenses, do you want me to maybe not do Outward Bound?"

Ginny leaned over and said "This is why we have savings, for special events like weddings and emergencies. Your education expenses are figured into the budget already. When we get home, I can show you the accounts, you can see dollars and cents, it's fine, Margie. It's what people do for extraordinary circumstances, and our Allie and Edwina getting married is about as extraordinary as it can get. You'll be dressed appropriate to the occasion, that's all."

Myra, squeezing her hand, said "I'm impressed as hell to hear you talking this way. I can remember when you hated us for not buying you everything ever made for Barbie and My Little Pony."

Margie finally grinned and said "Oh, that -- yeah, I still hate you for that."

Allie began chuckling, revealing she'd been eavesdropping.

It was enormously exciting to see Chris and Sima again, away from home. When they revealed they'd not had dinner, they all went out to the Bagdad Cafe where Sima raved about her turkey burger and Kennebeck fries, and Myra let the kids have carrot cake. Back at the hotel, Myra carried her Cliff bags into Gillam and Carly's room, waved Margie to follow her, and returned ten minutes later closing the door behind her. The six women talked for a couple of hours. When Allie and Edwina finally turned in, Chris barged into the boys' room to find out what the secret was.

"We're making a pair of decorated brooms for them to jump at their wedding!" said Margie, displaying her half of the project. Ginny immediately wanted to join in, but Myra tugged her back, saying "It's from the kids, not us."

The next day, as a big noisy cluster or sometimes splitting into smaller bands, they roller-bladed through Golden Gate Park, rowed boats at Stow Lake, visited the DeYoung Museum, rollicked around the Sutro bathhouse ruins, tried every machine at the Musée Mécanique, and crowded into the Camera Obscura. The latter held Ginny spellbound, and she said to Myra, "I wonder if we could put one of these on our roof. There's a section that doesn't have solar panels."

Myra began laughing as Chris squatted down to examine under the lens, seeing how it was constructed. "You've asked for it now" she told Ginny. Ginny hunkered down beside Chris and said "I'm serious, do you think we get glass ground in this parabola?"

They had a late dinner at the Hard Knox Cafe where Allie negotiated the soul food menu with her little booklet from the hospital. She checked her blood sugar at their table before ordering. Margie was fascinated with the process and kept asking Allie to let her give her one of her insulin shots. Ginny muttered "Every mother's dream, a kid who's proficient with syringes."

That night, alone in their room finally, Ginny and Myra had a good talk that left Ginny sleepy and Myra wired. "I'm going to sit over here at the desk and try writing, will the light bother you?" asked Myra.

"No" said Ginny, her eyes already closed.

Myra read through her notebook and began putting down ideas on a sheet of yellow paper. After two pages, she fished through her pocket for quarters, grabbed the room key and let herself out the door silently, heading for the alcove by the elevators where she'd seen a Coke machine earlier. As she rounded the corner from their hallway to the bigger artery bisecting the hotel, she was horrified to discover Carly and Gillam walking her direction, from the elevators. They froze in disbelief, the color draining from both their faces.

"What the fuck are you doing out of your room?" Myra hissed. They didn't seem to be able to speak.

"Have you been out of this hotel?" she demanded. Gillam said "No, I swear. We -- there's a fitness center that's open all night, we went to check it out."

"Get back to your room instantly" she ordered. She marched behind them. Closing the door, she said "No TV, lights out. Don't you dare leave this room again." She crossed to the adjoining door and returned to her and Ginny's room, leaving the door open.

She found her chest was heaving. Her adrenaline had spiked -- she didn't need caffeine now. She thought about waking up Ginny, but instead returned to the desk and, after a minute to calm down, began writing. The light from Gillam's room went out in another minute.

She didn't get to sleep until 1:00. Ginny woke her briefly, getting up to whisper an order for tea and fruit to room service. Their knock at the door woke her again, and this time, she was kept from drifting back off by Gillam and Carly coming nervously into their room, sitting at the table with Ginny.

"We wanted to talk with you about what happened" Carly said with a tight voice.

"What do you mean?" asked Ginny, holding her cup in mid air.

Myra sat up blearily. "I caught them roaming the halls last night."

"You what?" yelled Ginny.

"I just wanted to say, it was my idea, I'm the one who convinced Gillam to go look at the health club with me" began Carly.

Before Gillam could protest, Myra said "You needn't throw yourself under the bus for him, Carly, you're both in dire trouble."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Ginny said to Myra.

"You were asleep, and I had them under surveillance" said Myra, walking tiredly to the table.

"For shit's sake, Gillam, why would you go to the health club in the dead of night?" said Ginny, slapping at his hand as he nervously reached for a banana.

"We just wanted to see what it was like" he said. "There were people there working out, so we came on back." An evasive note in his voice made Myra suspect they didn't come directly back.

"Do you have any idea at all what kind of risk you took?" she said, resting her cheek on her fist. She took a sip of Ginny's tea.

Carly and Gillam shook their heads stiffly.

"This is a building full of nothing but strangers with bedrooms and soundproof walls. I know gay men have the rep of being child molesters, but the fact is, it's overwhelmingly straight men who prey on kids. Most of them are married or have girlfriends. It's not about the gender of who they go after, it's about the power imbalance. Still, the myth of queers being pedophiles does mean that real pedophiles out there are more likely to visit San Francisco, in hopes of coming across runaways and other vulnerable kids. And they're just as likely to be in this hotel as anywhere else, class stereotypes to the contrary. You were meat on the move in an environment full of carnivores." Tiredness made Myra more blunt than usual.

Carly, his cheeks like parchment, said again "But really, it was my idea. It's something Truitt and I always do, when my family stays at hotels. I didn't know..."

"Then we'll have to inform your mothers about your behavior" said Ginny.

"Please don't" begged Gillam. "We'll do anything, but don't tell them!"

Ginny was going to argue, when Carly said "Pat will go ballistic, she's all tough love now like she invented it, and she'll punish me by not letting Gillam come stay with me when we get back. And he's going to help me find friends, maybe, in Olympia..." Carly's voice broke.

Before Myra could process this, Ginny did an about-face. "All right, I won't tell them. But you have to swear to me you'll not do it again, ever, and make sure Truitt understands it as well. You idiots."

Gillam grabbed her hand, babbling "Thank you, Mama, you just don't know how -- "

"Go back to your room and pack, you two. Myra and I need to talk" said Ginny shortly.

After the door was shut, Myra said "I don't think they should get off that easily."

"We can still some up with something" said Ginny. "But I'm all out of slack for Pat Prewitt and her parenting style, I don't want Carly getting trounced the way she'll do it."

Myra finished Ginny's tea and poured a new cup, thinking. "You and Patty have really drifted apart, haven't you? Is it the move?"

"Oh, partly" said Ginny, irritation still in her voice. "Her acting like every straight woman I've ever known. Plus Edwina and I connect a lot more deeply -- shallow of me, I know, but friends do sometimes move on."

Myra wanted to drink Ginny's second cup of tea. Instead, she stood and said "I'm going to shower. Should I see if Margie's up first?"

"Might as well" said Ginny, picking up the banana she'd denied Gillam.

After they were dressed and in the process of packing, everyone else doing the same, Carly and Gillam returned to their room, carrying their bags.

"Did you do one last look for stuff you left behind?" asked Myra automatically. Gillam turned and went back to his room. Carly, hands shoved into his pockets, said "I really appreciate getting to be with you on this trip."

"Good to have you" said Myra distractedly. She wasn't sure how to carry the broomsticks in a concealed manner.

"It's the best time I've ever had" said Carly softly. Myra looked at him then. He went on, "I mean, when we go somewhere, my family, it's either lots of stuff like ski lessons and mini-golf and amusement parks, or it's in the room with TV and we're supposed to pipe down. But the beach, we just got to go, you know? See what there was to be seen, no schedule. Like at your house, but bigger."

"What do you mean, at our house?" said Myra.

"We're not second-class citizens there" said Carly. "I mean, even our chores matter, you know? You guys don't have a maid or anything, so everybody's work has to happen to keep things running. It's just -- I know Gillam says he's going to have a lot of kids, and I'm not sure yet if I will, but if I do, will you be their grandmas, too? My kids, I mean."

Myra sat down on the bed, staring at his face to make sure he was sincere. Ginny had abandoned the armoire and crossed to him, hugging him close from behind. "You betcha" she said fiercely.

"I'd be honored" said Myra. "And -- Carly, when I think back over all the times Gillam has misbehaved, done something dumb or out of bounds, pretty much every time he's been with you. It used to bug me, but I've come to understand it's a good thing. You are a good thing in his life, you bring him a chance to break out. I hope to keep both of you safe and sane as you have your escapades, and any help you can extend along that line would be much appreciated. Still, I want you to know, I get what you do for him."

Carly's grin was huge, and so was Gillam's when she turned and saw him. She added "But we're not done with the consequences for last night. Today, however, we have a wedding to attend."

They had a creole breakfast at Brenda's near the Civic Center. Watching Margie sprinkle powdered sugar on a plate of beignets, Myra whispered to Ginny "If she spills tabasco on that shirt, or tears her skirt, I'll..." She couldn't finish the sentence.

Ginny said "I'd warn her about it if it wouldn't just make it more likely to happen."

All of their finery was dazzling. Chris was wearing a crimson tunic, Myra's favorite color on her, and for this occasion she was displaying her elk-tooth necklace on the outside of her neckline. Myra couldn't decide if Sima's silk shirt was green or grey, it shifted in the light.

However, most eyes were drawn to Allie and Edwina. Allie's agbada was made of aso oke material, hand-loomed in a dark green trimmed with silver lace. Her damask cap was silver, and her pants went from balloon to a tight fit at the ankles. She had declared it the most comfortable clothes she'd ever worn.

Edwina's gbarie top was of kente cloth in ochre and deep purple. She had on a kofi cap of eggplant-colored kuba, and her pants were the same style as Allie's but in eggplant George fabric.

Gillam had the video camera, and at the last minute Margie had persuaded him to slip her Walkdyke into his jacket pocket, sans earphones.

"What do you need that for?" asked Ginny.

"You'll see" grinned Margie.

Carly was carrying a shopping bag with the broomsticks hidden in it. Margie kept asking the time of their ceremony, and Allie kept saying "11:20 Pacific Standard Time" with a laugh.

Copyright 2008 Maggie Jochild.

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