Tuesday, February 5, 2008


("Figures by a Lake", design for a screen by Vanessa Bell, 1911)

Another 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.

Late June 2004

Their session with Nancy went better than Myra had anticipated, even when Myra said it was Chris who had suggested separate bank accounts. Ginny didn't hate the idea, which made Myra uneasy. "We'd still need a joint account for like the house, and the kids" temporized Myra.

"I can imagine several joint accounts for different purposes, but each of us with our main private account" said Ginny. "Let's talk with Alveisa. Have you met with her about the gold purchase yet?"

Back in April, when Myra had brought her emergency fund idea to Leesa, she had been persuaded that there was no rational reason to keep it from her financial advisor or her friends. She finally agreed to tell Allie and Edwina, Chris and Sima, and Alveisa, as well as Nancy.

Allie's reaction had been immediate: "No way are you committing a felony to guard against a might-could-be" she said flatly. "No fake IDs or passports." When Myra argued with her, Allie said "Look, if your paranoia is accurate, then they're just waiting for you to actually made a stupid move like that. And it will implicate your family, no matter what. I'll be raising your kids while you rot in prison. Forget it, Myra."

Chris, sitting across the table, didn't comment. Since she was the pipeline that Myra had hoped to go through to make her undercover contacts, she resigned herself to dropping that piece of her plan.

To Ginny's shock, however, Chris thought the gold purchase was fine. "It's as stable or more so than all the other paper dreams you're invested in" she said. "If it makes you happy to sit on precious metals, I'll help you bury it in your backyard. But you need security upgrades, Narnia ain't gonna cut it."

Alveisa was noncommital except to say if it went through her, it had to be legal and reputable transactions, down on paper. Myra said "But they can trace that."

"You not Neo" said Allie. "Your little hoard will not be on their radar."

David was likewise noncommital about the farm and offshore account idea. "I'll have to research it, see if there's a way to do it without tax penalties leaving you bleeding in the dirt" he said.

At the time, Myra had sensed Ginny's disappointment at everybody not jumping on the "Myra you're nuts" bandwagon. She wondered now if Ginny's receptivity to separate accounts was to disentangle herself from Myra's class crap.

Nancy, looking at her keenly, said "Your aura just zipped into nothing. What's going on?"

Myra confessed her worry. Ginny said, with a small sigh, "Myra, I'm with you through thick and through thin. But I do think a shift in the dynamic might -- clear out some deadwood. At least bring it out in the open."

Nancy worked on Myra's chakras then, which Myra gave herself up to eagerly because it felt like her brain had suddenly clenced into a fist. Nancy then worked with Ginny on what Myra was thinking of as her obsession with cutting Helen out of the family which, as it turns out, was linked to her buying designer labels for Margie: A wish to prove how different she was from her mother in motivation, even if she did some of the same things.

At the end of the session, Nancy said "You need to keep coming back. You need to keep reminding each other that your children's shenanigans are growing pains and testing limits, not emergencies -- you can tell the difference, if you try. And you need to take calcium carbonate, buy it in powder form and start stirring spoonfuls into your juice or tea."

Myra and Ginny were both startled at the last. "Stress depletes vitamin C" said Nancy.

Myra spent much of Saturday at Chris and Sima's, helping change out brakepads on both their cars and making new living room curtains with Sima. Ginny showed up at dusk with two quarts of still-warm fresh marinara, shrimp and fettucini noodles. They made a collective dinner, often with long minutes of peaceful silence. Afterward, Ginny sat at Sima's jewelry table with her, discussing ideas, while Myra and Chris walked to a nearby ice cream place for take-out.

Chris strolled with her hands in her pockets, turning her face up to invisible stars, and commented "You know, in two years Margie'll be in college. In four, they'll both be gone."

Myra stopped walking for a beat. "I have such a mixed reaction to thinking about that" she said.

"You and Ginny can get matching pug dogs and dress 'em up each day in little outfits" Chris said. Myra kicked her gently in the ass and they walked on, laughing.

That night when they got home, Myra went to her desk. Ginny trailed after, settling on Myra's daybed instead of going to her studio. Myra looked at her quizzically and Ginny asked, "Just hypothetically, what are the reasons you'd leave me for?"

"I'm not going to leave you, Ginny" said Myra.

"I'm not looking for reassurance, I'm actually wanting information. Are there things I could do that would make you want to stop being partners with me, and if so, what are they?" Ginny rolled her ankles around, first one, then the other, as she looked Myra steadily in the eyes.

"Honestly, I can't think of anything you'd ever do. Not in this incarnation."

"What about things I wouldn't do? Don't you have any 'forget it, I'm outta here' criteria?" pressed Ginny.

"Oh. You really do mean hypothetical. Okay, well...if you went straight, obviously. If you stopped loving me. If you became abusive to me or the kids and refused to stop. Uh...If you murdered somebody I loved, on purpose." Myra grinned and half-joked "If you voted Republican."

Ginny smiled but in a still-serious voice said "What about infidelity?"

"If you fell in love with someone else, yeah. I mean, thinking about you just fucking around is more than I can stretch even as a hypothetical, Gin. Oh -- there is one more, that I'm a little ashamed of, but it's real: If you became a born-again."

The last finally made Ginny laugh. "You can somehow imagine that hypothetically but not that I'd sleep around?"

"Wacky, eh? So why do you need this information, Ginny, does this have something to do with your parents' possible split?"

Ginny considered. "Maybe. Do you need to hear a similar list from me?"

"Not unless you're burning to give it. I'd really rather not pick at possible sore sports this late at night. At the moment, I'm dead certain we're going to be together the rest of our days" said Myra. Ginny's face softened even more.

"Are you aware that we've not made love since before we left for Galveston?"

Myra was jolted. "That can't be right -- no, we just made out a bit a couple of times, oh, wow, is this the longest we've ever gone?"

"No. But it is interesting that neither of us noticed. Until tonight, when I was watching you walk ahead of me into the house, and I thought about your -- well, you can guess" said Ginny.

"Yet another indicator of how buried we've been" said Myra contemplatively. She waited half a minute, then said "Well, are you going to ask?"

Ginny said "You know, I'm just a little bit scared you'll say no. That's not typical, either."

Myra stood up and pulled Ginny to her feet but didn't move into her arms yet. "You remember when you kissed me the first time, right around the corner here? Were you scared then that I'd say no?"

"Not in the least" said Ginny. Her face showed an amazed expression, then she threw back her head and laughed as she stepped toward Myra. Suddenly Myra was on fire. She slipped her hands down to untie Ginny's drawstring, sliding her palms over Ginny's bare ass. Ginny made a small sound of longing in the back of her throat as their lips met.

The next morning, Myra woke up to the phone ringing. As she became conscious, she realized Ginny was in the shower. She rolled over and answered it groggily. Gillam whispered "Mama? Are you up yet?"

She came awake with a crash. "What's wrong? Where are you?"

"I'm in Carly's room, I'm trying to keep quiet. Everything's okay, I just need to ask if it would be all right if Carly came back with me tomorrow."

"Fine by me, but what do his moms say?"

"We haven't asked yet, we're going to at lunch."

"Gillam, I really don't think they're going to allow it, you shouldn't get your hopes up, we've pushed -- "

"No, Mom, we've developed this strategy and it's working, we think." Gillam sounded Bondish.

"What strategy?"

"Mom, I'm worried someone will hear" he protested sibilantly.

"I don't care, spill it, Gillam David."

When Ginny emerged from the bathroom, drying herself, Myra sitting up in bed said "Gillam called."

Ginny looked alarmed. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing. He wants to bring Carly back with him tomorrow."

"Have Pat and Patty given their okay to that, or is this just wishful thinking?" Amazing how our minds run alike sometimes, thought Myra.

"They plan to pop the question later today. They, Carly and Gillam, have been more less gas-lighting them." Ginny sat down to listen. "They made a list of all the stuff that most sets Pat off, like the trash not getting taken out before it gets full, or them sleeping late, and they're toeing the line completely in those areas. But -- and this bears much more discussion when he gets here -- he said Pat doesn't give a rat's ass about 'boys doing work that she thinks is for girls', so they're not helping clear the table, make meals, do laundry, clean the bathroom, etc. Which is wearing on Patty, but she won't say anything about it in front of Pat because they're on eggshells right now. The boys get the paper at breakfast every morning, while Pat is still there, and go through it talking over things they could do with a map of Olympia in front of them, but they act out this whole farce of worrying about neighborhoods, safety stuff, and inevitably decide on the one activity that costs the most money because 'it's in an area where there's responsible adults around'. Since, as Gillam put, Pat is really cheap and hates to shell out for entertainment for kids. When they get home at dinner, they loudly talk over the kids they've supposedly just met as possible acquaintances for Carly, but drop one comment about a behavior that Pat will hate and Carly says reluctantly 'Nah, not quite right for me, gotta keep lookin', I guess.'"

Ginny interrupted with "And nobody's calling them on this bullshit?"

"According to Gillam, Pat and Patty haven't a clue. After dinner, they vegetate in front of the TV, choosing shows they know Patty can't stand to sit through, so she goes to her bedroom and Pat goes to her computer. Anyhow, they think they can finagle at least a week here for Carly, since Truitt will be gone another month. Gillam said Carly could stay even longer if we agree to put them to work together on some project around here."

Ginny stared at Myra. "Between him and Margie..."

"I know. I just hope when they're grown, they use their powers for good rather than evil."

"He knows damned well we're not going to blow the whistle on them, not with the way things are" said Ginny.

"Let's remember, remind each other, of this level of subterfuge in the future, with him in particular. And I think we should absolutely work their conniving little butts off. Don't you need new trellises for the rhododendrons?"

Ginny grinned wide. "Yes, and the planks of my raised beds are all rotting out. Replacing them during growing season will be a tedious, piecemeal process, but hey, it's not my time that'll be sucked dry, is it?"

"The tile floors inside all need to be scrubbed thoroughly on hands and knees" said Myra.

"Ditto the hot tub and hey, we could drain the pool and have them scour it too, all of their incessant sunscreen usage has left it grotty" pointed out Ginny. She curled up beside Myra as they giggled.

"We'll see how long Carly toughs it out" said Myra.

Ginny sighed. "All summer, if we'll have him" she said, with a pang of empathy for him.

Myra kissed Ginny's almost dry hair and said "You smell heavenly."

"I feel so much better this morning" said Ginny, smiling up at her.

"Me, too." They kissed reminiscently.

"Okay, I'm up" said Myra. "Might as well grab my own shower. It would be good for me to go to Quaker Meeting, I think."

"You know what? I'll go with you. And in the meantime, I'll make you Ginny eggs" said Ginny, sliding out of bed.

"With chervil?"

"You got it."

At Meeting, they weren't actually in contact, sitting in separate chairs, but Myra still became aware of palpable heat emanating from Ginny's body. A painting coming on she thought. Well, she's overdue, and we do have a killer Visa bill on its way. Allie and Edwina were flying home in time for dinner, and they'd eat with her if Ginny was already in Painterland.

Sure enough, Patty called while Allie and Edwina were watching Gillam's wedding video to ask if Carly could come for a week, mentioning "you need some help around there, he said".

"I've got grunt work projects a mile long" said Myra. "Time to earn their keep." A hearty butchism she hoped Patty would pass on to Ward Cleaver.

Allie and Edwina spent Monday with Allie's mother, breaking the news about the wedding and Allie's diagnosis. Allie said it went rather well. Her mother was loving her access to constant attention at her assisted living center, and when she heard Allie planned to have a wedding reception, her mother immediately asked to bring a number of guests. She also blamed Allie's diabetes on her grandmother, who had somehow passed it on to both her mother and Allie herself in the womb.

Edwina looked exhausted. She explained it was all the flying and driving, which she loathed and for which she took medications to calm down. Plus the stress of moving. The rest of the week, she and Allie would be in Portland packing her apartment and preparing to be back in Allie's place by July 1.

Edwina and Allie intended to share Allie's mother's former room as a study/studio and had plans to repaint it. Ginny had offered to oversee this while they were gone. With her currently in Painterland, Myra hoped she emerged from it long enough to fulfill her commitment, but she only reminded Ginny of it once and let it go.

On the way back from the train station, Myra and the boys went to Homo Depot and filled the back of the Volvo wagon with supplies for the chores Myra had planned. She told them she wanted four hours of work from them a day -- they chose mornings -- and said she would pay them $2 an hour each if they farted off, $3 an hour if they only took two 15-minute breaks during that shift. Their eyes lit up like a Richie Rich cartoon. Gillam declared he wanted to buy a camera, "You know, an old-fashioned kind with film that you roll up".

Ginny finished her painting by Wednesday night, slept in and then spent the next two days almost non-stop at Allie's, getting the room done and her sweaty self home just in time for shabbos. "If it isn't aired out enough by the time you get home" she told Allie and Edwina cheerfully as she scrubbed her encrusted hands at the kitchen sink, "come back here and bunk in our spare room for the night."

"Nuh-uh" said Edwina. "Appreciate the offer, but I'm done with not feeling at home. We're gonna be in our bed tonight and from now on." The stress in her voice removed all trace of romance.

Ginny began another canvas on Sunday, but Myra was finding lots of time for her own writing, with the boys working diligently, then keeping themselves out and about each afternoon. She tried to keep meals regular for them. Still, the following Thursday, with Ginny's second canvas done and the four of them again at the table, once the chicken casserole was empty, Gillam said "I think I'm still hungry."

"I could make more salad" offered Ginny.

"Nah. Needs to be something else" said Gillam.

"Me, too" said Carly.

"I could make us grilled cheese sandwiches" offered Gillam. He and Carly headed into the kitchen, where Carly sliced bread and tomato for four sandwiches while Gillam grated edam.

Gillam had on a tank top, and Myra looked at the ropy muscles he'd begun acquiring in his upper arms and forearms. It was disconcerting, not at all like Margie's smooth bulges. I'm losing my little boy she thought, and he was such a delicious boy.

"Gillam, pull up your shirt a minute and let me look at you" she called out. "Please" she added at his expression.

He obliged her, revealing an incipient six-pack at his abdomen. But she could count his ribs, even from this distance. She glanced over at Carly, who said defensively, "I don't wanna show you my boobs."

Gillam cracked up. Myra and Ginny conferred quietly, however, on how to increase their nutrition without adding the wrong items. The next day, Myra made a triple batch of no-sugar whole-wheat fruit newtons and three loaves of zucchini-walnut bread, storing them for easy access in the fridge. Ginny began making a huge green salad and fruit salad each morning for day-long grazing. Myra created a distilled veggie stock she could add to a variety of dishes. She changed her main sandwich bread from honey whole wheat to 12-grain, and she made large meatloaves with organic beef and turkey three times a week so there were always leftovers. They encouraged the boys to eat frequent snacks, and the after-meal hunger disappeared.

A week later, Margie came home, strikingly weatherbeaten and happy-looking. They had a long reunion, watching the wedding video again and taking turns telling tales from the exotic life of Margo Batiz. She planned to take more kayaking lessons locally the rest of the summer, she said, and maybe start crewing as well. She eventually fell asleep on the sofa, her feet in Ginny's lap.

One afternoon in mid July, Myra was scrubbing out the vegetable bins in the refrigerator when she heard a small cry from Ginny's studio. She waited for further communication, but when none came, she finished her washing and returned the bins to their slots. After wiping her hands, she walked to Ginny's studio and saw Ginny sitting at her work table, her head on her arms.

"You okay back here?"

Ginny didn't look but mumbled through her arm "O'Keefe died."

"Oh, Ginny, why didn't you come get me?"

"What's the point, Myra? This is just the worst year ever."

Myra was chilled by the defeat in Ginny's voice. "Sweetheart -- the point is, I want to share whatever happens to you, to us. Come over here, lie down with me." She pulled Ginny to her feet and led her to the daybed. Ginny laid her head on Myra's shoulder and said "Change didn't used to seem so terrible to me. Am I just getting old?"

"I don't think getting older has to mean loss of hope or energy, Gin. You're -- we've had a lot to handle."

"We're luckier than most. Or we have been. I feel bad about feeling bad."

"Well, Ginny, you feel how you feel. You and O'Keefe have been in each other's lives for a long, long time. She was a grand old reptile."

Ginny giggled, then finally started crying. After a few minutes, she said "Will you bury her with me?"

"I'd be honored. Give me a sec, and I think I can find a poem by Octavio Paz to read at her funeral."

Ginny pulled out one of the plain wooden boxes she liked to paint and give away as gifts. She lined it with art paper and put O'Keefe in it tenderly. Myra, a book under her arm, walked with her outside, getting the shovel from the shed and joining her at the maple tree. They had a small service, attended by Narnia who had to be dragged away afterward to keep her from digging back up what they had just buried. They left a note for the children and went to the pet store where Ginny communed with each gecko before finding one whom she said asked to come home with her. She named her Rix after Ruth Rix. Myra sat with Ginny at the gecko habitat for an hour, watching Marisol and Rix check each other out.

"She's a lot shyer than O'Keefe was" said Ginny.

"Well, O'Keefe lived with Yoko all that time, and Yoko was kinda out there" said Myra.

Ginny looked at Myra for a long minute. "I can't imagine who I would be if I hadn't joined my world to yours" she said finally.

Myra met her gaze and didn't say anything.

With Carly still among them and the projects list whittled away, Myra went across the street and persuaded Ms. Schevitz to let the boys restore her long-neglected back yard to good shape. She admonished her to not pay them a dime -- "This is for their character, and I'm controlling the money" she said -- and sent big bags of snacks with them each morning, enough to share with Ms. Schevitz. She was delighted with the company. She turned out to have almost every Three Stooges episode ever made, on video, and during their work breaks they sat in her living room, gobbling fruit newtons and laughing like maniacs at the kind of brutal antics Ginny would not have been able to tolerate.

When her yard was tidy, Ms. Schevitz turned them loose on the back bedroom she'd used as an attic. She began filling boxes with items for Goodwill. Myra looked through them, however, and said "Much of this is vintage, worth way more than the tax write-off you'll get from a donation." She brought over her digital camera, took photos and posted a long list of items on EBay. She started a PayPal account for Ms. Schevitz that would drop money directly into her checking account. When the orders began pouring in, Myra taught the boys how to pack for shipping and they made two trips a day on their bikes to the nearest UPS store, sending sales out across the country.

Ms. Schevitz was bowled over by how much money it garnered. She had Gillam and Carly tackle her garage next, and then the rest of the closets. It was at the back of her dead husband's closet that Gillam found the stash of old comic books: Not huge, but with some rare finds. He rushed home for his laptop to show her how to estimate their approximate values. She insisted on giving Carly and Gillam each their top pick, carefully sleeved in Mylar, but the rest were sold. "Enough for a new refrigerator!" she crowed.

Finally, as July came to an end and Truitt was back in Olympia from his summer camp, Carly was summoned home on a permanent basis. Gillam didn't know what to do with himself. The first day Carly was gone, Gillam went over to eat lunch with Ms. Schevitz and watch more Three Stooges, but the thrill was not there, Myra could tell.

After dinner, Margie having gone to her room, he cleared his throat and said "Uh, Mom." He was looking at Ginny. "I'm wondering if I could re-do my room."

"What do you have in mind, new bed? Maybe a drafting table instead of that child's desk?"

His eyes showed a spark. "YEAH to the drafting table. But I kinda need a desk, too -- maybe a bigger one?"

"We can hit the thrift stores tomorrow" she said with relish.

"And my bed is too short. I'd rather have a double or a queen" he said, not meeting her eyes.

"Okay" she answered, ignoring Myra's expression.

"But...what I originally meant to ask was...I love the murals, you know I do, and I don't want them destroyed...is there any way I could cover my walls? 'Cause it's kinda babyish, you know" he said, deeply apologetic.

Myra watched Ginny's face. Ginny didn't miss a beat, however. "We ought to be able to figure out a method of draping fabric over them without causing damage. Is fabric what you meant, or would you rather have canvas panels you could paint?"

"Fabric would be awesome!" he breathed. "How do you think black would work?"

A frown forced its way onto Ginny's face. She took a long breath, then said "Maybe tomorrow we can go to yardage shops and get a wide selections of possibilities, bring them home and see what they look like in place."


Ginny said to Myra "Would you take detailed measurements of his walls tonight? Spaces between every facing, etc?"

"He can, and I'll supervise. And let's get Chris in on the constructing panels gig, I think she'll have some techniques we might not know about."

"I could have swags coming down from the ceiling to the sides, like in a Middle Eastern tent" Gillam mused. Or a bordello thought Myra. She went to the store room for her tape measure.

The next afternoon, Chris came over and filled pages of Myra's legal pad with sketches as she talked enthusiastically about biscuits, hinges, and flexible joints. Myra couldn't really understand Chris's drawings -- she was used to the three-dimensional color of Allie and Ginny's renderings, or the impractical nativism of Margie's maps. She nodded, though, when cued to do so: She'd put her trust in Chris for this one.

Before they were done, Ginny and Gillam came home with bags of yard-square samples in a dizzying array of hues and patterns. Gillam dumped them in a pile on the table and began combining swatches in matches that were setting Ginny's teeth on edge, Myra could tell. Finally Ginny said, gently enough, "The thing is, boyfriend, you're gonna be living inside this array, not looking at a little bit held up to the light. It has to be something you can go on appreciating every minute of the day for years. It has to give you a sense of well-being." She pulled the metallic grey sward splashed with lime splotches from his hands and added "I think pattern on one or maybe two walls, with solids on the others, would be a good place to start."

Gillam went silent. Ginny said "I don't want to rain on your parade. Listen, you keep brainstorming, I'll get out of your way. It's your room. Let me know when you want to talk concrete, okay?" She ruffled his hair with her hand and went to the kitchen to pour herself a glass of cold tea. When she went out to the deck, Myra and Chris followed, Chris beginning to talk her carpenter lingo to Ginny.

But Myra was watching Gillam through the glass wall, as he tried to hold up more than one yard at a time to enclose himself in a square. Ginny was apparently watching him, too, because when he draped one of the swatches over his head and sat there like an end table, his breath slightly moving the cloth in and out, they burst into laughter simultaneously.

"Maybe he's not as bright as we've believed all these years" said Myra quietly. Gillam went into the kitchen, rooted through a cupboard until he found the turkey roasting rack, and returned to the table, trying to coax it into a metal frame he could hang swatches from and place over his head. By this time, Chris was cackling, too.

Ginny said suddenly, "You know what, he's onto something". She went briskly into the house and called him to her studio, where she began pulling out foamboard. She pointed to Myra's study, and his face animated, he went to Myra's desk and got her Exacto knife from the right drawer without hesitation. The look of triumph on his face as he returned to Ginny's studio Myra thought she might be the only person on earth to fully comprehend.

Ginny stepped out to them and said "You need these measurements for the moment?" Without waiting for their answer, she snatched the pages and hurried back to her worktable, sitting Gillam beside her.

An hour later, Chris had gone home and Myra was starting dinner when Margie came in the front door. She rifled through the pile of fabric on the dining table and said "What's this for?"

"I found this adorable pattern for panties, and your mom got all that for us to make you a few dozen pairs" said Myra brightly. For a split second, Margie registered horror. Laughing, Myra said "Go back to the studio and talk with the model-makers, they'll fill you in."

Copyright 2008 Maggie Jochild.

1 comment:

kat said...

"sat there like an end table"???
fucking brilliant. again, I'm laughing my ass off!