Friday, February 22, 2008


(Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks, hand-colored block print by Kathleen Frugé-Brown, 2004, commission for the City of Kent, WA)

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


The first week in November, at dinner with Chris and Sima, Margie said through a mouthful of chicken scallopini "I have a request for my birthday."

"What is it this year, group skydiving?" laughed Ginny.

Myra saw the idea enter Margie's brain and get squirreled away there. Margie swallowed her bite and said "No, I mean for my main gift. It can be Hannukah, Solstice, and Christmas too." She paused, letting Myra soak in apprehension. "I desperately need a cell phone" she finished.

"Here we go again" said Ginny.

"Define need" challenged Myra. "Because you're always either at school with the very people you most want to call, or you're with them after school, or you're here where our main line seems to be entirely dominated by you already. You have a pager for emergencies and a laptop for e-mail -- "

"Just because you don't grok texting as a cultural phenomenon doesn't mean it's crap!" flared Margie, her sarcasm heavy on grok.

"Which only confirms my suspicion that the main reason you want a cell is so you can spend all your time sending ignoramus text messages to someone standing three feet away!" yelled Myra.

"Yeah, like you didn't coast through high school penning lines to all your backwoods crushes!" jeered Margie. "You and mom still leave each other notes all the time. Texting is just higher up on the technology ladder, is all, which is why it freaks you out!"

"'Backwoods' is a profoundly disrespectful term to use -- " began Ginny in an icy voice. But Sima held up her hands in a "time-out" gesture and yelled "Whoa!"

"Sorry, Sima" said Myra, after a moment of stunned silence. "We shouldn't have dragged you into this at dinner -- "

"No, that's not why I'm interrupting" said Sima. Looking Myra in the eyes, she said "So, is text messaging really the reason you don't want her to have a cell? You don't want her to be writing messages to her friends?"

Myra was avoiding the small voice at the back of her head that wanted to answer "It would be fine with me if I could control that." She said "No, that's ridiculous. My objections to a cell are (1) I see teenagers and even pre-teens everywhere oblivious to what's going on around them because they're obsessively texting, even at the dinner table -- "

Ginny jumped in "And we don't let the TV run during meals, we don't let people tune out with other electronic devices during family and conversation time, so we're not going to make an exception for cells, it's just obnoxious."

"And (2)" continued Myra seamlessly, "We all hear horror stories about the charges run up by young people on cells, not just for texting but also for endless talking just to be talking. Margie is an honor student, she has a wide range of interests, we want her to keep a balance in her life." She finished with a note of triumph.

Chris opened her mouth, and Myra waited for the sound of gunfire. "But Myra, you'll be paying the bills, right? Which means you'll control the account? Easy enough to close it down if Margie loses her balance."

"And the rules about not texting at the table or during conversation can be enforced by asking, nicely, instead of trying to keep a demon phone out of her hands" added Sima.

Margie couldn't resist running out to greet the cavalry. "I am the only person I know, in my entire set of friends, who doesn't have a cell" she said accusingly.

Ginny said, with a hint of humor, "Marjorie Rose, give me one example of when the argument 'but everybody else has one' has ever worked with us. I mean, learn from failure, honey."

Margie wanted to giggle, Myra could tell. Gillam was snickering, although he was heroically trying to hold it back.

"If she fucks up, she loses the service" said Chris pragmatically. "Better to learn those kinds of limits now instead of -- whenever it is you think she'll be ready, 35 or whatever."

Now Margie did laugh. Ginny looked at Myra and said "We trusted them to get online. Without those ludicrous filters."

"I want a plan that won't penalize you and me if she flames out" said Myra. Margie gave a "Yes!" punch in the air.

"Talk with Petra, she works for Sprint" suggested Ginny. "Not that we have to go with them, but she'll know about comparison plans."

"And one great thing about it is, we'll have a complete listing of every place she calls" said Myra, a little meanly. She didn't look Margie's direction but she could sense the horror coming from her. It was payback for Margie having deliberately introduced the topic with possible allies present.

Later, as the four older women sat in Myra's study and drank tea, Ginny remarked "I've noticed that she and Gillam both keep their pagers hidden. I think they really are ashamed of them."

Myra sighed. She didn't like it that it mattered to her, the popularity of her children in a shallow world -- but it did.

"This one is easy, Myra" said Chris. "This time next year she'll be wanting a car. She told me she's planning to take driver's ed next semester."

Myra felt her blood go watery. "Mother of god" she whispered. Ginny said "That's Allie's job, teaching her to drive. I don't want to be on the streets of Seattle when that girl is behind the wheel."

Chris and Sima were laughing heartily, as if it were a joke, but Myra knew Ginny meant it.

A week later, Myra came home with a treat she'd bought for Ginny, a bag of fruit-juice sweetened gumdrops. She went to Ginny's work table to leave them for her. A new tiny poster was up on the gecko's wall. She sat down in Ginny's chair and examined it closely. It was a full-color replica of Edward Munch's painting "The Scream", the one which had just been stolen, only instead of the thin man of the original, it was a gecko putting her spatulate fingers up along her wedge-shaped head as she opened her mouth to scream. A caption inked in at the bottom read "Four more years!" She was too depressed to laugh as she pushed herself wearily upright and left.

Gillam announced he was making enchiladas for dinner that night, both beef and shrimp. Myra stayed at her desk until the smell became too enticing. When she went into the kitchen, he was shredding lettuce and bobbing his head in time to whatever was coming through the earbuds on his Ipod. She got his attention and said "Need help?"

He grinned and pulled one bud out of his ear. "Nope, got it under control."

She still couldn't quite leave. "What're you listening to?"

"Eminem" he answered.

"Oh for god's sake, Gillam, that man is a poster child for misogyny" expostulated Myra.

"You're right that he's never gotten over his shit with his mama and he resists maturing around the issue" said Gillam easily. "But I can sort that out, get the rest of his message which, really, you should listen to at least once."

"Why waste my time on art that can't manage to cleanly deal with multiple issues at the same time?" said Myra. She noticed that Ginny, standing at her easel, was looking their way with interest.

"Well, Mom" said Gillam, picking up a tomato to slice it, "Tell me one single lyric on 'The Changer and The Changed' that addresses racism or classism."

She was stumped, and felt her face going red.

Gillam stuck the bud back in his ear, trying his best not to laugh, and began slicing. Ginny, on the other hand, gave herself over to loud cackles. Myra went back to her desk, grinning but not so Gillam could see it.

Second week in November 2004

Ginny was approached by her agent to serve as a "celebrity" judge for a series of regional gradeschool art exhibitions, and happily agreed.

She was not so pleased when she discovered she'd been assigned a viewing in Kent, 20 miles south of Seattle, on a Saturday morning. "I specifically asked them for a weekday" she complained. "And what is there in Kent?"

"The Earthworks" said Margie unexpectedly. "I've always wanted to see them; I'd love to set an orienteering course in that park."

Ginny looked hopeful. "If you go with us, we could visit the Earthworks afterward." Myra noticed how she was assumed to be accompanying Ginny, but Margie needed to be bribed.

Margie looked wary. "How early would I have to get up?"

Ginny was tempted to lie, Myra could tell. But she said "We would have to be on the road by 8 a.m."

Margie was shaking her head when Gillam said "I'll go. They have a Saturday market with unusual stuff, and I could photograph it for my school project. I want something that isn't what everyone else will do."

"They make Oberto Sausage in Kent" Myra said to him quietly. "We could stock up for the freezer."

Margie wasn't interested in the sausage, but she didn't want Gillam scoring an outing alone with his mothers when a market with unknown items for sale might be involved. "Can I take Narnia?" she said.

"Sure" said Ginny, trying to be nonchalant.

They had only tea before setting out because the elementary school paintings were being displayed in a Kent downtown coffeeshop famous for its breakfasts. As Myra got off Interstate 5, Ginny said "We're looking for Meeker Street. The place is called Margie's on Meekers."

Margie, stuporous and cranky in the back seat, looked up at that. Eventually, after getting mildly lost, they discovered Ginny had misread the directions -- it was Maggie's on Meekers. "Understandable mistake" she said defensively.

The place was crammed with excited kids and parents. Ginny was siphoned off by the contest planners, while Myra, Gillam and Margie squeezed into a two-person table at the back, the only one they could find. Myra ordered their chicken-fried steak while Ginny was out of earshot, while Gillam opted for the "Maggie's Mess", eggs, sausage and veggies over hashbrowns smothered in gravy. He and Myra cadged bites from each other. Margie ordered waffles covered in fruit and after one mouthful pronounced it "all right". Myra got a second plate of it for Ginny.

Ginny dropped by intermittently to swallow down what she could and complain to Myra. "They don't have enough categories for winners" she whispered, "I'm not going to be part of making kids feel bad about their art. I've made up a dozen specialty awards and the organizers are freaking, trying to figure out what to give them because they didn't bring extra ribbons."

At the table next to them sat a man around Myra's age who reminded her of Jeremy Piven with a trim beard. He was oblivious to the ruckus around them, typing on his laptop in deep concentration. A tall wooden walking stick with a leather loop at the top leaned against his table. Gillam nudged Myra and said, not quietly enough for her modesty, "Look, Mom, that guy's a writer like you." Myra nodded. Gillam said "Is that what you look like when you sneak off to write in a diner?"

Ginny, stealing one of Gillam's home fries that was free of gravy, said "Not quite as much facial hair but more caffeine." Which sent Margie into hysterics. Myra was on her second Coke but thought she had concealed the refill from Ginny. She said to Gillam "I can't shut out noise that way. I have a much harder time skipping out than Ginny does."

She hadn't meant it to come out as a complaint. Ginny, however, looked stung. She stood up with her notebook and left abruptly.

"Well, crap" said Myra. They'd intended to see Nancy today but had had to postpone it until next Tuesday because of this event. Not for the first time, she wondered what their relationship would be like if they'd had to work full-time jobs outside the house and not had money for all the help they received. Like everyone else in the world, she thought guiltily.

When Ginny hadn't returned by the end of the judging, Myra had her breakfast put in a to-go container and ordered a large OJ as well. She handed her folded napkin to Margie, saying "A bite of my steak for Narnia abandoned in the car." She waved the kids on as she paid and went to collect Ginny, standing with a cluster of excited parents. She linked her arm through Ginny's and said in her ear "I'm an ass."

"Agreed" murmured Ginny. Then, aloud, she said "Look at that blue and white wash on the wall by the window, Myra. Wouldn't you love to have that in our hallway?"

It was a striking painting. One parent nearby went stiff with pride. As Ginny made her goodbyes, Myra went to the car where Narnia sniffed her hands hopefully.

The market was new territory and diverting to them all. Ginny found a stall selling small organic pumpkins and squash. She bought two dozen of the pumpkins; Myra had recently discovered a veggie pot pie recipe using cooked pumpkin, and Ginny intended to make preserves of this lot for cooking all winter. Margie lingered a long time at a booth selling silver bracelets and rings, and Myra thought she was trying to choose something for Jaime without being observed. Narnia made dozens of easy new friends.

Gillam used up all his film and they had to backtrack into town looking for a place to find more of the kind he preferred. Myra bought 20 pounds of sausage and packed 10 lbs of ice on either side of it. At the Mill Creek Earthworks park, the kids finally took off in separate directions, Narnia tugging Margie toward the pond, Gillam holding up his light meter in various directions like a divining rod.

Alone, Ginny said "He studied with Kandinsky, you know. Herbert Bayer."

When Myra looked blank, Ginny said "The man who designed this park. He was part of the Bauhaus movement." That term, at least, Myra understood -- their house was Bauhaus.

Ginny said "I have this fantasy of, when the kids are both at college, you and me traveling around the world, staying in pensiones with beautiful light and fresh food, me painting and you writing all day."

"Paris?" asked Myra with a grin.

"Of course" said Ginny. "But also anywhere Margo Batiz might have family."

They laughed, and Myra added "Except Margo Batiz will be elsewhere. It'll just be me and you."

"Or just you, when I skip out on you" said Ginny with sudden pain in her voice.

"Oh, Gin. I'm so sorry. I really didn't mean it that way."

"You're the one who suggested we have more boundaries" said Ginny.

Myra wished they weren't about to have this talk. It was an enchanting spot, reminding her of a modern take on Moundbuilders, and the sun had just broken through the clouds. She saw a bench and made for it: Conversations while she was walking made her slightly short of breath.

"What bugs you, Ginny, about hearing that word?" she said, once seated.

"Boundaries?" Ginny considered. She rubbed her forehead. "I think about Daddy leaving for work in the morning, and Mother telling me to stay out of the kitchen, or the living room."

Her immediate honesty tugged at Myra's heart. She took a long breath and said "Yeah. When my dad did make it home for a weekend, they'd hole up in the bedroom for a day. I'd hear my mom laughing, something she didn't do a lot of with us. We had plenty to eat while he was home, too, even if it meant we'd run short after he left again. I never understood her -- choices."

They linked hands. Somewhere, out of sight, Myra heard Narnia barking excitedly.

"I'm really looking forward to what you and Gillam produce in the darkroom" Myra said, following a line of thought.

"Do you think either of them will chose art for their careers?" asked Ginny.

"I have no fucking idea" said Myra. "Most days I wonder if I ever knew them."

Ginny thought for a minute, then said "I know they have to -- make a break from us. And, seems like, it's also come time for you and me to reinvent us. But the way I feel under a microscope all the time, especially with Margie, I want you to reassure me, tell me I'm still the woman you fell for heart and soul. I want that rock."

Myra looked at her and said "Because it anchors your past too, huh. You know, Ginny, if I could time travel I honestly would go back and steal you as a baby. I know that means all kinds of impossible time paradoxes, but even if it meant I'd lose you as my lover now, I still think I'd try to keep you from what you grew up with. Or without, more to the point."

Ginny's grip was tight. "I had it easy, compared to you...or Allie."

"If that were the case, you'd not have this pain now. We're all the walking wounded, I don't know how to gauge ourselves against each other" said Myra tiredly.

"I'm sorry I referred to your facial hair in a joking way" said Ginny. Myra looked at her.

"You did, didn't you? Maybe that's why I got careless" she said, wondering.

"Remember when we sent to the Scablands, and we decided to assume we were on the same level from that point on -- to jeep on together?" asked Ginny. "That worked. How about if we take another leap of faith and assume our kids are going to be absolutely fine, that when this all shakes out they'll be happy adults and we'll have no regrets?"

Myra stared at her wide-eyed. "That would be, as Gillam says, awesome."

"I think the odds are in our favor. So let's jeep on there, too."

Myra leaned over to kiss her. "You're the smartest person I ever met, have I told you that?"

"Check the mirror, babe. And, I have another suggestion: One day a week, you leave the house and write at a diner of your choice. For as long as you want. No matter if I'm in Painterland."

Myra tried on this idea. "As long as it can be the day of my choosing" she agreed.

They leaned back against the bench, shoulders touching, peace settling in around them.

"You think Margie and Jaime are making out sometimes?" asked Ginny.

"Likely. He's got that bruised fruit look on his face often" said Myra.

After a pause, Ginny said "Well, I wish them joy." She gave a choked laugh at the end.

"Way to go, mama bear" said Myra. They saw Gillam headed their way. "Let's get him to take some photos of us together, we don't have enough of those."

"His face isn't broken out today: Maybe when Margie shows up, we could set the timer and get a family shot for mailing out?" suggested Ginny.

"The Batizes at Giza" said Myra in a haughty accent. Gillam reached them, saying "What's so funny?"

18 November 2004

Edwina and Allie were over for dinner. After clearing the table of plates, Myra asked the kids to come back and sit down.

"Dessert?" asked Gillam hopefully.

"No" said Ginny. She pulled a bag from the sideboard and said "Margie, tomorrow is the last day of school for a week, Thanksgiving week which leads into your birthday. So we decided to give you your main present early, because we knew you'd want to show your friends without having to wait."

She handed Margie a small gift box. Margie began screaming before she lifted the lid: It was a beautiful electric blue cell phone, kitted out with a headphone receiver and already set up for service. Margie immediately began dialing, and Myra interrupted her, saying "No way. Not in company, not at the table, not during family time."

Ginny began explaining the plan limits, most of which Margie was not taking in. She stood up and came to give all the grown women hugs. Edwina said "I suggested that color, I see you wearing it a lot lately."

"It's perfect!" said Margie. "What did they want to get -- wait, don't tell me, red, right?"

Myra laughed in embarrassment. Ginny said "We talked over the pink one for a long time, but our fingers just couldn't be persuaded to pick it up."

Gillam's silence was profound. Myra signaled to Ginny. As Ginny pulled a second box from the bag, Myra said "And since we clearly went too long in getting Margie a cell, we're possibly erring in the other direction by giving you a phone too, Gillam. The plan limits are the same for you -- "

But Gillam was on his feet, yelling. His phone was a glossy black, otherwise identical to Margie's. Margie watched his jubilation for a minute, then said in a chilly tone "I have so cleared the way for you, all your pampered life."

Without missing a beat, Gillam retorted "Yeah, cleared like a bull elephant charging through the brush, maybe."

Margie stood haughtily and began heading for the stairs. Gillam lifted his arm like a trunk at her retreating back and gave forth a long pachyderm bellow. Allie had begun laughing when Margie wheeled and charged Gillam in fury. They collided and were slapping at each other savagely, but their blows were rendered almost comical because each of them was holding their cell into the air with their other hands, out of harm's way.

Edwina began making baboon cries, followed promptly by Ginny doing chimpanzee shrieks and Myra doing the vague jungle bird heard in movie backgrounds. Margie and Gillam both stopped and looked at them incredulously. Ginny got up and began cavorting around the table, dragging her knuckles on the floor. Allie fashioned her long hands into a crocodile's jaws and snapped at Ginny.

Margie and Gillam finally joined in the hysteria. After the zoo calmed down, Myra stood and said "You two get to clean up before you go upstairs and waste a fourth of your allotted minutes this one night. I do advise you to learn the details of our plan limits before heartache sets in. Otherwise, have fun -- we're going to the living room to talk like normal people, in person."

"Normal is a setting on the dryer" said Gillam, audibly for once. Margie gave him a high five and put her cell in her pocket to start rinsing dishes.

Copyright 2008 Maggie Jochild.


Jesse Wendel said...

Ducks swim in the pond shown in the middle of the woodblock at Earthworks.

Once every year or two, the drainage at the bottom will get clogged up during a big storm, and the whole thing will fill up bigger and bigger and bigger!

Eventually the water gets to the emergency spillage overflow, not visible in the woodcut, a big metal cage which lets water through but not boards and logs. On the woodcut, it would be located near the bottom left corner, at the lowest part of the park, which is where the water drains under the ground by pipe under the main street, and keeps going past the park building (where dancing and other recreational uses take place) till the water dumps into the creek, taking a sharp turn 90 degrees to the right (to the north) and heading off eventually to join the Green River and head into Puget Sound where Green River divides West Seattle from Seattle.

The ducks love the water overflow, swimming around and around and around. The stoppages only happen during the coldest months of the year; the water would be in the 30s and 40s at the most. Brrrr. I feel very sorry for the City of Kent people who have to put on wet suits and go fix it.

Earthworks is a very popular park. People always park there. Kids make out there. Children run up and down the hills, rolling down them with joyous abandon. Groups of teenagers hang out and cops on bicycles break them up.

It's one of the places to be.

letsdance said...

Yum, Maggie. Ginny and Myra keep adjusting to the realities of their kids growing up.


kat said...

I love that Sima, who seems to me the quieter, calmer of the adults, is the one to to snap and yell at everyone to shut up. that's a really nice touch.

2004 sounds about right for the height of texting, too. I had a friend that year who would hold entire (morose & complicated) conversations via text.....considering that my plan charged per text, I was never very happy about this....