Thursday, February 21, 2008


(Feet, photo by Amar Khoday)

It's a shorter scrap of Ginny Bates, my novel-in-progress, tonight because there's a longer segment coming up tomorrow. 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.

24 September 2004

Carly had been allowed to come to Seattle Thursday night before Yom Kippur. He and Gillam planned to fast and attend services. Soon after he arrived, he told Myra and Ginny that he had to be back by Sunday supper-time and "the only train leaves at noon". His face was woebegone at the loss of three extra hours with Gillam.

"Then we'll drive you" said Myra impulsively. "We'll invite your family out to dinner."

Patty declined, however, saying they wanted a private family meal at the end of the weekend. When Margie heard that, she begged off the trip as well, and in the end, it was just Myra driving the boys on Sunday afternoon. She and Gillam stopped for chili dogs and shakes after parting from Carly. On the way home, Myra's careful questions got Gillam to open up a little about what a hard time Carly was having, still.

During the course of this conversation, it became clear that Gillam was managing much better. Several of the kids at the Center School came from lesbian or gay households, including two in Gillam's grade. Which I'm glad for Gillam's sake, but it doesn't say much about the class and race consciousness of my people, thought Myra.

That night she researched humor sites online, most of which she found appalling. She was able, by wading through misogyny and racial hate, to collect a cache of jokes which were smart, glib, and didn't put anyone down. She began texting one each morning to Carly. Maybe he could pass them off as his own; humor could find him a niche in a crowd of strangers. She signed each message "Love you, MISS you, Mom #743". It was all she could think of to do.

Another month of separation went by. Near the end of October, Olympia schools had a three-day weekend and Carly got permission to spend it with Gillam. He arrived Thursday right before dinner. As they were finishing eating, Carly said to Myra, "Um...Number 743? I have to produce a sestina by Monday for school, and I'm pretty stuck. Could I get a professional consultation?"

Ginny and Gillam both looked confused by the 743 remark. Myra said "You're on the clock. Follow me, we'll leave clean-up to the non-poets."

Settling Carly at her desk, she filled him in on the cultural underpinnings of sestinas, listened to the ideas he had and gave him a couple of nudges, pulled her rhyming dictionary and thesaurus from the shelf, and left him to it for a while.

Back in the kitchen, she asked Gillam "How's about you? Got any looming homework you'd like to clear off your decks for the weekend?"

Gillam sighed. "Yeah, I have a French essay that's not going well."

Myra looked at Ginny and said "I think that's your province, my crepe suzette."

"Mais oui" said Ginny.

Myra turned to Margie, who said swiftly and with a shade of condescension "I'm covered, thanks."

"In that case" said Myra, "I'm going to walk Narnia -- " Narnia stood up with a woof -- "down to Horizon Books and see if the new Laurie King is in."

"Oh" said Gillam, "I have a couple of things on order there, will you check under my name?"

"May wee" said Myra, picking up her keys and starting to dodge Narnia's frenzy.

By midweek, Ginny had been in Painterland for a day. Margie planned to go to Amy's after school and wouldn't be home until near bedtime. Myra had found a writing stride and was almost ready for a break when the phone rang. It was Gillam, saying he was borrowing a friend's cell, he wanted to bring a friend home for dinner, was that okay?

"Sure" said Myra. After she hung up, she went to the freezer, pulled out a spinach-barley casserole and four salmon steaks. She set the steaks in a marinade, put the casserole to bake in the oven, romped with Narnia for 15 minutes in the back yard, then returned to her writing.

Gillam was half an hour late. At the last minute, Myra yelled to Ginny "Hey, there's a guest about to arrive, you need to put on clothes. Gin? You hear me?"

"....Okay" said Ginny. Myra saw her go by toward the bedroom and return wearing sweatpants and one of Myra's old T-shirts, her brush in her hand both times. When Gillam arrived, his friend turned out to be a girl named Tamika, mixed race from the look of her, with braids sticking out all over on one side of her head and a sweep-pull-down sort of wave on the other. Her clothes looked expensive to Myra, but Margie is who would know for sure. She was avidly taking in every detail of Myra's study. Her gaze especially kept returning to the jumble of photos over the desk, and Myra finally looked where she was looking: Allie with the kids, Allie with Edwina.

"Who is that?" Tamika asked, when she saw Myra following her gaze.

"My godmother, kinda my third mother" said Gillam unself-consciously. "And her partner. And this -- " he pointed to a photo of Chris and Sima " -- are like moms number five and six."

"So it's all lesbians, all the time?" said Tamika, with some undercurrent Myra couldn't name.

"Not my sister" said Gillam swiftly.

"But you're the man of the house, right?" said Tamika.

"I guess" he said.

"And your mom over there, she's really famous, I've heard other kids talking about her" Tamika said, turning around to look in Ginny's direction. Ginny hadn't said hello or appeared to notice them. "What's she painting?"

"We don't know. We never look until she's done" said Gillam.

"Listen, dinner is under way but you need to go out and pull stuff for a salad" said Myra. "Margie's not eating with us, so whatever you like is fine."

He led Tamika outside. She stood to one side, refusing to take the tomatoes and cucumber he handed in her direction. He tucked up the hem of his shirt and used it as a collecting basket. She walked over to the glass wall and stared through it at Ginny's canvas. If Ginny turned around and caught her --

But Gillam apparently said something, because Tamika reluctantly came back to his vicinity. As they returned to the house, she waited for him to open the door for her, then cast a flirtacious look back over her shoulder. Aha, thought Myra.

Tamika perched herself on a stool at the breakfast bar and watched, chatting, as Gillam washed lettuce and made a salad. Myra left them alone and although she could not see Gillam's face, she could detect nothing different in his tone of voice. He called around the corner to her "How long till the casserole's done?"

"Fifteen minutes. You can grill the fish if you want" she called back. Ginny came out of her fog at that and gave them a fuzzy hello. Myra kept writing, or trying to.

When Gillam called "It's all ready", she joined them. Gillam was hurriedly setting the table, Tamika still only watching. Myra set salad dressings on the table and sliced a couple of lemons before sitting down between Gillam and Tamika.

"What about your 'other' mom?" said Tamika.

"She's working, she usually doesn't stop to eat" said Gillam. He took Myra's hand and reached across the table to Tamika, who took his hand with a giggle, then, a little reluctantly, closed the circle by putting her hand in Myra's. They observed their minute of silence, kissed the back of each other's hands, and dug in.

Well, Gillam and Myra dug in. Tamika ate a bite of the salmon and stopped. She pushed casserole around on her plate, then asked if they had bread. Gillam got up and sliced some for her, offering to toast it, which she accepted. She asked for margarine, and when told they only had butter, she sighed before accepting. She ate the croutons and lettuce in her salad but nothing else, filling up mostly on bread.

While they ate, they talked about school, Tamika frequently making jokes about other kids but failing to draw Gillam into character dissection. They were working on a science project together having to do with light refraction, and once he persuaded her onto that topic, it was evident the girl was truly brilliant. Myra was reassured. She missed Margie's presence, however. Margie would have an incisive assessment to offer later, if she'd been there.

After they finished, Myra stood and said "I didn't make dessert, Gillam, it being a school night, but you and your guest could get one of our homemade ice cream sandwiches from the freezer if you want. I'm going to leave clean-up to you two. Let me know if you need something from me."

She returned to her desk. Tamika sat at the breakfast bar again to eat her sugar while Gillam cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher. He didn't seem to mind it, but Myra felt irritated for his sake and tried to focus elsewhere. When he was finally done, she heard Tamika say "Let's go up to your room and watch TV."

"I don't have a TV in my room, the only one we have is in the living room" he said apologetically.

Myra came into the kitchen to refill her tea.

"What is it that you want to watch?" she asked.

"Whatever looks good" said Tamika.

"We don't watch just for the sake of watching, usually" said Myra. Looking at Gillam, she said "Is your homework done for tomorrow?"

"Yep" he said. He turned to Tamika and said "We could go swimming, it's a heated pool."

"I don't have a suit" she pointed out.

Myra looked at her and said "We could loan you one of Margie's from last year, it'll fit you fine, I think." Tamika was going to argue, but Gillam said "You can see my famous butterfly -- I'll race you!"

God help her, she thought he was finally flirting with her. "Okay" she answered. Myra went upstairs and raided the stuffed drawers that Margie kept refusing to clean out, coming up with two suits she had outgrown. She gave them to Tamika and directed her to the guest bathroom. Gillam was already in the pool by the time she emerged, tugging at the back of her two-piece.

Myra got herself an ice cream sandwich and returned to her desk. After an hour, she looked outside and saw Gillam churning laps, but there was no sign of Tamika in the water. Myra walked to the door and saw Tamika again staring at Ginny's canvas through the glass wall. Myra gave an irritated jerk of her hand, motioning Tamika away. She complied, but not hastily.

When they came back in, she insisted after they had changed that they settle at the dining table with a game or a project. She didn't want them holing up in Gillam's room, even if the door was left open. Gillam brought down his Leica, borrowed Myra's jewelery's tool kit from her desk, and they disassembled the camera to look at its lens. She earnestly hoped Gillam could get it back together in working order.

At 9:00, she returned to the dining room and said it was approaching Gillam's bedtime, what was Tamika's curfew? Tamika said her mother was still at the office, it was left up to her.

"Well, why don't you give her a call and tell her you're on your way home?" suggested Myra nicely.

Tamika pulled out her cell sullenly and punched in a text message, saying "She won't get this until she gets home, anyhow."

"What does your mother do?"

"She's a lawyer" said Tamika neutrally. Myra wanted to ask about a father but didn't want to push compulsive nuke fam on her. Clearly there wasn't a second mother.

"I'll give you a ride home" said Myra.

"That's okay, I have a bus pass" said Tamika, not moving from her chair.

"No way am I sending you out at this time of night to ride the bus" said Myra. "Gillam, you can go with us, and yes, Narnia, you heard the magic words." That finally got Tamika to her feet and following her to the car.

Gillam sat in the back with Narnia. Tamika turned out to live not very far away (Myra sighed inwardly), in a downtown high-rise. The clothes were expensive, then. Myra pulled into a no-parking zone and said "Here's my cell number, please give me a call when you're safely inside your home. It was nice meeting you."

Tamika stared at her. "I'm fine" she argued.

"Nevertheless, I want to know you're behind locked doors before I drive off" said Myra. Tamika looked back at Gillam and said "How about if you walk me up?"

"Sure" said Gillam, unbuckling his seatbelt and telling Narnia to stay. Myra called after him "Don't go in, I can't stay here at this curb long." They headed into the building -- no sign of security at the front to check people in or out. Myra wondered how well Gillam was going to negotiate saying goodbye to Tamika at her door. Tamika offered no thanks to Myra as she left.

Gillam was back in less than five minutes, whistling. He slid into the front beside Myra and said "Can we creep by Horizon on the way home, I want to see if that new Augustin Burroughs is in their window?" He seemed the same as usual.

As Myra drove, she tried out wording. Finally she said "So, how did you two wind up doing this science project together?"

"Ms. Rupert told us to pick somebody, and before I could think of who I wanted, there was Tamika, talking about prisms. She's a whizz at physics, Mom, like, best in the class."

"I'm not surprised" said Myra. "I'm going to ask you a personal question, and you can refuse to answer it if you want: Do you have a crush on her?"

"No" said Gillam in horror. "She's just a friend, okay?"

"All right. Forget I asked" said Myra. "I'm glad you brought her to dinner. Do it again, or anyone else at your school. Except maybe we should find out what she actually eats besides bread."

Gillam laughed, relieved. "I know. I saved that salmon, I'll eat it tomorrow for lunch." He was silent for a block, then said "Mom...she complained about how Margie's suit fit her, said the ass was all stretched out..."

"Thank god Margie wasn't there to hear it" said Myra fervently.

Gillam stalled for another minute. "I like how -- our family looks. you think I'm going to get a bubble-butt, too?"

God bless him. "Oh, no, Gillam, I seriously doubt it. This is one of the actual hormonal differences between males and females. If you've got a uterus and theoretically will be called upon to bear children, at puberty hormones kick in to lay down fat in areas where your body can easily convert it to use for a fetus. Like hips and bottoms. And breasts. But for males, the demands on them will be different, which is why your shoulders are widening, and the long bones of your arms and legs are growing again. I mean, yes, some men do get large asses, but David doesn't have one, so I don't think you will. Instead, you're losing fat and gaining muscle in your calves and forearms." Your chubby angel arms and legs are disappearing, she wanted to say. And she hoped she was not passing on some Desmond Morris bullshit she'd picked up along the way.

"Sometimes my bones ache" he complained. "Sometimes it's hard to go to sleep."

"Ah, sweetie. You went through a growth spurt when you were four or five when you said the same thing. Remember how I used to give you massages as I told you two stories?"

He was embarrassed, muttering "yeah".

"We could use some of Mom's arnica. And let's ask Nancy if there's herbs she could recommend" said Myra.

When they got home, Margie was there, her head in the refrigerator. "Your mother hasn't eaten yet" called out Myra, "so leave enough for her."

Margie shut the door and said "I don't know what I want."

"How's Amy?"

"Fine" said Margie. Monosyllabic mode was on.

"Well, I'm going to make a liar out of myself and suggest we watch a little TV just for the hell of it" said Myra.

Margie slumped into the easy chair, reaching for the remote but Myra grabbed it first. Gillam said, not looking at Myra, "Could I maybe get a foot massage?"

"You bet" said Myra.

"I'm going to wash my feet" said Gillam, blushing.

Myra turned on the TV, flipping through channels. When Gillam got back, his pants were rolled up to mid-calf and he had the arnica with him. He lay down on the couch and shyly put his feet in her lap.

Even with the washing, Myra could tell she'd need to scrub her hands later. Both her children now had body odor, when had that happened? Yet another change she hadn't signed off on.

She remembered reading something by Annie Dillard about how grotesque adult feet look to children. When their kids were little, Ginny had often cupped their feet in her hands, small and tender morsels that were now bony lengths itching to walk away from them.

Ten minutes later, she heard a raspy breath from Gillam and looked around at him. He was sound asleep, his head bent against the couch arm. Margie gave him a look of disgust and said "Please, can we change the channel, I could care less about what Jane Fonda thinks."

Myra tossed her the remote, saying "I went into your chest of drawers tonight. I loaned one of your old swimsuits to a friend of Gillam's who was here and wanted to swim."

Margie's face showed perfect outrage. "Which suit? And what friend?"

"The orange one, you haven't worn it in a year. And her name is Tamika."

Myra saw Margie mimic the name sarcastically but not out loud. She began channel-surfing.

Myra thought suddenly about blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos, how they lay two eggs but whichever chick emerges first gets the lion's share of the food, eventually becoming strong enough to push the second chick out of the nest, where it dies. This was explained as nature's way of guaranteeing one viable offspring each mating season. She pulled the afghan from the back of the couch and covered Gillam's feet protectively.

Copyright 2008 by Maggie Jochild.


letsdance said...

I don't think ANY of your writing can be called scrap, Maggie. Thanks for another chapter.

C. Diva said...

This is not a shortcut, but in case Myra gets tired of I5 to Olympia...,+WA+to:seattle&geocode=FbK9zQIdKa-s-ClpVSiuwcmRVDGDG4jil2EUTw%3BFX4jywIdely2-Ck7j8o_ZSORVDFdzr1lcqvy_w%3BFcJp1gIdWVy1-ClVM-iTLBCQVDGa1URpRmUlEA&hl=en&mra=ls&sll=47.116869,-122.266846&sspn=0.715839,1.766052&ie=UTF8&z=8

Maggie Jochild said...

Thanks, CD. I bet she uses it.