Saturday, March 8, 2008


(Quilt by Annie Mae Young of the Gee's Bend, Alabama quilters)

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 on February 25th. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.

NOTE: At the request of a Loyal Reader, I've numbered the Ginny Bates posts in more or less chronological order in the Labels section of the sidebar. Some posts were theme-based and covered several years, but if you want to read the novel with minimal confusion, follow the numbers in brackets. Thanks for the suggestion, Loyal Reader!

Early 2005.

Myra got up from her desk and walked into the kitchen. Gillam was just coming in the front door. His oversized pants were halfway down his hips; at least six inches of his boxers were showing.

Myra said with irritation, "You know what jailin' means, don't you? Why on earth do you choose to glorify the appearance of someone in the criminal justice system by dressing in a way that imitates their subjugation?"

Gillam, stopped in his tracks, looked her levelly in the eyes and, after a Ginny-like pause, said "Linda Evans. Leonard Peltier. Jane Alpert." He went on upstairs.

Myra heard a cackle from Ginny in her studio. She turned around to face her and Ginny called out "You're the one who let him start reading Lesbian Connection when he was four years old."

During the spring, Margie took an extension course in metallurgy and jewelry-making, along with Sima. When she wasn't busy with that or schoolwork, she was with Jaime. Gillam and Ginny spent a great deal of time taking photographs or playing in the darkroom. David called twice a week and had long conversations with first Ginny, then the kids. Allie was working on her new book, when she and Edwina weren't absorbed in researching both their lineages, now that Edwina had gotten hooked on the process. Myra spent one evening a week going out with Chris, as they had before Ginny came along. Otherwise, she had luxurious hours in which to write, and she was preparing another volume of poetry concurrently with working on her latest novel.

She and Ginny kept seeing Nancy, however. They found the talks on the drive to and from Nancy's place as illuminating sometimes as the sessions themselves -- the promise of help at hand gave them permission to take risks. On one drive, Ginny asked "Do you think Margie is falling in love?"

Myra made a turn as she considered. "I can't tell. I think Jaime adores her, but it looks like as much of a best friendship as them being, well, hot for each other."

"And that's a good thing" said Ginny emphatically. "She's calling him last thing at night, you know."

"No, I didn't know" said Myra.

"She's using the land line, after January's upset -- " in January, Margie had run out of cell phone minutes and been unable to persuade her mothers to share theirs with her. She'd been off her cell for two weeks, and there was daily drama about it. After that, she'd begun hoarding her cell time. Myra and Ginny grinned at each other, remembering this lesson learned. Ginny continued "Sometimes in the morning I find no dial tone, because she's gone to sleep with the phone off the hook."

"Well, that's not okay" expostulated Myra, "What if there's an emergency?"

"I talked to her about it. We'll see how she does. But I think she's attached enough to him to need to hear his voice as she goes to sleep" said Ginny.

"Oh...that sounds like she's fallen, then" said Myra, feeling empathy for her daughter. "If she's like me, she's going to wind up with a fractured heart. Because they're way too young for this to be it, you know."

"I know. But you're right, she won't" said Ginny.

During another commute to Nancy's, a couple of weeks later, Ginny said "I found a magazine in Gillam's room today with, shall we say, scantily clad women on the cover".

"Oh, god" said Myra. "Which one?"

"Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition" said Ginny. Myra was silent long enough for Ginny to say, "What's up?"

"Well, I'm trying to parse my reaction. My first thought was 'That's not so bad', and of course it is better than Hustler or something else. There really are levels of pornography, although all of it depends on objectification and dehumanization. And I asked myself if it was possible he was just interested in the sports, but -- don't worry -- I realized I was kidding myself right away. He's curious. He wants to look. Although he's not lacking for information about what naked women look like..."

"Ewwww, Myra. That's me you're talking about."

"And that's the point. He wants to see what quote real unquote women look like. And where is going to find those images? Not in porn, soft or hard. If I wanted to give him an accurate source, I'm not sure where I'd turn. Something published in Sweden, maybe."

"Myra, I don't think he's after strictly visual stimulation. Stimulation being the operative word, here."

"Oh, god" Myra said again. "Well...remember how Margie diddled with herself most of age four? We finally decided to make her wash her hands a lot and not do it at school or in public."

"Did you masturbate as a kid? Or teenager?"

"No" said Myra. "I was busy trying to avoid sex until I was 14, at which point my training kicked in to make it something another person did TO me. I didn't learn how to pleasure myself until Liberating Masturbation came out. What about you?"

A sly grin crossed Ginny's face. "I did. I was quite proficient by the time I was 14."

"Do you"

"No need" said Ginny. "You're as good as anything I can come up with myself, usually better."

"I'll take that as a compliment" said Myra. "You know, I had a subscription to Playboy when I was 18."

Ginny was astounded. "You, the WAVPM member?"

"This was before WAVPM, and before lesbian-feminism gave me other doorways to my sexuality, doorways not framed by male interpretations of female. I can't remember what I made of looking at the pictures, since I certainly wasn't getting off on them. Ginny, what were you doing in his room? Were you snooping?"

"No, I went up to grab that file of photos from Isla Bartolomeo, I wanted to use one of the images in something I was working on. The Sports Illustrated was lying on his desk, in plain sight."

"Well, do we bring it up? For that matter, don't we think Margie's been curious, too?"

"I have anatomy texts, from art class. Those are fairly real-looking people, in some of the photos. I could leave them on the coffee table" suggested Ginny.

"Let's be sure to warn our friends first, I can imagine how Chris will go off on it" said Myra. They giggled together.

One Saturday in early May, Myra was in the kitchen making a shopping list when Gillam got up at 10 a.m., late for him. With sleep still in his eyes, he looked through the pantry, rejected all the regular bowls, then finally pulled out a mixing bowl and emptied half a box of Oatios into it. He sliced a whole banana on top of that, threw in some currants, and used the last of the milk. Settling onto a stool, he starting shoving it into his mouth like a combine.

Myra added cereal, milk, bananas to her list, then said "You're still getting taller, Gillam. You're going to be a really big guy out there in the world some day".

"Huh" said Gillam, chewing with his mouth open. "You know, when I was little, I was pretty set on living here with you and Mom forever. That's all I wanted."

"Well, you can, if that's what you decide. You'll buy your own groceries, though" Myra grinned.

"No, I can tell I'm going to want something else. I just don't know what, yet."

"You have years still to figure that out. When I ask kids about their future, I never ask them what they're going be, as if they aren't anything right now. I ask them what interests them most, what kind of person they admire, that sort of thing."

There was a pause, then Myra added "Not that I'm saying you're a kid. Not anymore, really."

"You started writing when you were eight, right?"

"Nine. The same summer I realized I was a lesbian. But I didn't know I could live as a lesbian -- it was 1965, nobody I'd ever heard of was gay or lesbian. And I didn't think I could earn a living as a writer. I knew some people did, but those were people in cities, people from the upper classes, not people like my family."

"Well...Maybe it's none of my business, but do you earn your living as a writer? Now?"

Myra stopped what she is doing for a moment. "You can always ask questions about money, Gillam. Any detail at all, I'll tell you. To answer this question, yes, I think I am now. Maybe, if you don't count how much I pay for therapy kinds of stuff. The fact is, your mama pulled in way more money last year from her paintings than I did from my writing. We could live off of that without the lottery winnings."

"Wow, I had no idea."

"We've been so incredibly lucky. I don't mean to minimize her talent, or mine, because that's real enough. But the chance to develop it the way we have -- that's luck. Starting with the lottery, that allowed me to stop work and get tons of therapy. Working class people can't afford therapy, so we make do without it. But just like what happens when we don't fill our prescriptions when we get sick -- well, that's why my mother died young, she was constantly faced with the choice of feeding us or refilling her heart medication. So doing without help you need has life or death consequences."

"I hate it. I hate it that I didn't get to have a grandmother. Or the uncle I'm named for."

"You should hate it. It's a hateful thing."

"So the lottery got you therapy, and not having to work."

"Yes, me and Ginny both. But we made choices about our time. If we had not had kids, perhaps we'd have produced even more. Someone I knew used to say that every child a woman has is one book she won't write. Even with Hannah, even with all our financial security, I think that's true for me. Jane Austen was a fluke. If you want to read a really good book about those choices, as well as something that would mean a lot to you as a Jew, check out Tell Me A Riddle. It's by Tillie Olsen. Somewhere on my bookshelves."

Gillam mouthed the title to himself. Then he said, "Are you sorry you had kids?" He didn't seem worried about the answer.

Myra roughed up his hair. "One less book, but a million kajillion moments of joy and the deepest spiritual lessons I could ever have asked for? I got the good end of the deal."

"How about Mama? Are there paintings she's not done because of us?"

"Likely. But Ginny and I are different. I need space and time alone to write, yes, but if I get a few hours' chunk at a time, I can come and go from it without losing the thread of what I'm doing. Ginny used to have to work like that, in dribs and drabs, because she had a job, and, just between you and me, she had tight-ass girlfriends who took it personally when she went into Painterland. So she was almost never able to get into the deep zone that she does now."

"You never took it personally? I sure have."

"Yeah, and I'm sorry I never noticed how much it was affecting you and Margie. I got a little put out right at the beginning, but I'm an artist too and I really did understand what was happening, even though it was to a degree different from how it happened for me. And I was so in love with her, I am so in love with her, I just wanted her to do whatever she needed to do. I am thrilled that her work is out there in the world; it's my world, I want her art working its magic as much as I want my own out there."

"You've carried the load for her, as far as I can see" said Gillam. "I mean, when she comes out of her spells and has to sleep for a long time, the way you curl up with her, it's like you're her mother, too."

Myra was disturbed. "Oh, no, that's not right. I'm her sweetheart. I mean, yes, there are times I mother her, but not about art. With art, I'm feeding the beast. I have the beast inside me, too. You really have no idea how much Ginny has done for me, for you to say that. How much she keeps doing for me. She carried you kids in her body, then gave me equal access to you. She handled the finances, maybe you don't know that. I eat healthy because of her; she doesn't nag at me the way she does you, she never would, but she makes sure there's good stuff in the house all the time. And there's so much...I honestly think I might be dead by now if I hadn't met Ginny, or someone just like her."

"Okay" Gillam says. He reached the bottom of his bowl. "I hope I find something like what you two have. I don't know any other parents like you. I don't know how I'm going to find somebody."

"You know what, Gillam? You will. You in particular will, it's part of who you are. I am certain of that with you. And you can stay with us until she comes along and steals your heart away."

Gillam seemed to have taken this in. Then he said, "So, about the finances thing -- can I really ask you questions? Like about the cost of a car, and other stuff?

As she was answering "Yes, me or Ginny", Myra stepped over to look in the cupboard under the stairs. She fell backward in fright because there was a large shape huddled on the bottom stair. It was Ginny, pressed up against the wall, eavesdropping.

Myra clutched her chest and said "How long have you been there?"

Ginny pulled herself upright and says "Long enough." She leaned around the corner, smiled at Gillam and said "Ask me any time you want. We pay bills on Sundays after breakfast, come sit by the desk and look at the family books with us." Then she kissed Myra ever so lightly and whispered "They were tight-assed, and not in the good way." She went on back to her studio.

As summer approached, Margie took driver's ed the last six weeks of school. She lined up jobs for the summer, as a lifeguard, waiting tables at a cafe, and clerk at the downtown map store she'd haunted since she was eight. They were all part-time but would amount to 35 hours a week. She wanted to buy a car, she announced. Myra was impressed with her diligence, though a bit less so when she found out Jaime was spending half the summer with his father in California and the other half at what Margie dismissively called "space camp". In fact, it was a fellowship in aerodynamics that was only available to top students in the country.

When the time arrived for Jaime to leave, Margie wept wildly and went to bed for the day, calling in sick to her afternoon lifeguard duty. Myra and Ginny coaxed her down for dinner, and she managed to resume her schedule the next day, though she had dark rings around her eyes. Her exuberance of the spring did not entirely return. Her talk was peppered with plans for the week when Jaime would be back but school had not yet resumed. She clearly thought she'd have a car by then; Jaime had his license and she daydreamed about drives they could take outside the city.

In early August, Myra sat Margie down in front of a used car sales site on her computer and had her come up with a list of her top ten choices. Half an hour later, in the kitchen, she heard Margie crying and went to see what was wrong.

"I can't afford ANY of these" sobbed Margie. "Not even if I work all through the school year afternoons and evenings!"

"I know" said Myra gently. "We'll have to help you."

"Oh, will you? Will you really?" said Margie, her face making Myra's heart turn over.

"Of course. But we'll have to okay your choice. Keep going, sweetie, decide what you like and want, then we'll all talk."

Myra went to find Ginny gardening on the upstairs deck to let her know. An hour later, Margie had her list of ten cars. To Myra's delight, in her top three was a 1968 Volvo Amazon.

"I knew you'd zero in on that one" said Margie sarcastically, "Just because of the name."

"It's a fun name, but what excites me is that it's a very safe car. This one has been rebuilt in ways that matter, and I think it could be an excellent buy" said Myra. "Where is the seller? -- Lake City? Well, we can see if they're willing to let Sadie check it out."

Ginny was reading the details. "It has standard seatbelts, which surprises me, that far back. But no air bags."

She and Myra looked at each other. "I want air bags in her car" said Myra quietly.

"Call Sadie in the morning and see if they can rig 'em for this model" suggested Ginny. She looked at Margie. "It won't drive like the cars you've trained in."

"Well, then, maybe I should go with the Camaro" said Margie, "I like its color better anyhow."

Myra was not going to okay the Camaro. "Maybe we can get the Volvo repainted. If it turns out to be worthwhile, mechanically-speaking."

Margie's eyes danced. "I get to pick the color!" she declared.

"Of course" said Ginny evenly.

Thus, a week after Myra's birthday, Margie's new/old car began being parked out front. It was a pale, shiny pink, with oyster-grey upholstery and a new dashboard holding airbags. Gillam dubbed it the Cerebellum, because of its shape and color. Margie didn't find that at all funny, and insisted instead it was to be named Oyamel, which after a Google search Myra finally figured out was a forest in Michoacán where Jaime's family was from. However, to Margie's intense irritation, Cerebellum stuck as the name -- it was all Myra could think of when she looked at it.

When school had let out in June, Carly had joined them. He accompanied them to the Gulf Coast, and flew back with David and Gillam to spend a week in Denver with them. Upon his return, Myra had a long list of maintenance jobs around the house to keep them busy four hours a day most of the summer: resurfacing the carport, replacing grout in bathrooms and around windows, helping Ginny with canning and preserving, sanding down and restaining the deck, and upping their dinner-making responsibility to four nights a week.

Ginny had embarked on a new "period" of painting, with canvases that looked once again utterly different from anything she'd done previously. Almost every painting had some version of an iguana hidden in the scene. Myra found even more time to write.

Myra turned 50, and Ginny threw a big party for her. In addition to barbecue and a pie buffet, Ginny rented a set-up to make their own fountain Cokes, with syrup and seltzer. Margie gave her a silver bracelet she'd made herself, and Ginny collaborated with Gillam on an album of photographs they'd taken for the past six months. The gift that made Myra cry, however, was a quilt made by Annie Mae Young of Gee's Bend, Alabama: Not just a work of art, but a convocation of ancestors. Myra hung the quilt over her daybed.

Two weeks later, Jaime came home. His mother was picking him up from the airport, but he had promised to call as soon as he could. Margie hovered around the breakfast bar, her cell lying beside the land line, picking at fruit in the bowl and ignoring Narnia's body language suggesting a walk would be great right about now. Myra had come into the kitchen to pour a glass of iced tea for herself, and she almost dropped it when Margie suddenly screamed and bolted for the front door. A few seconds later, she heard the sound of Jaime's Vespa in their drive -- Margie's ears must be as good as Narnia's, she thought.

Ginny joined them in the living room to welcome Jaime. He looked jittery; Myra thought it was probably fairly intimidating to come back into Margie's orbit. As soon as Margie could, she dragged him upstairs. Myra wanted to remind her to keep her bedroom door open, but decided not to. She went back to her desk, and Ginny returned to the back yard -- tomatoes were ripening almost as you watched them.

Twenty minutes later Myra heard a door slam upstairs. She waited half a minute, then walked toward the front, just in time to see Jaime going out the front door. She heard his Vespa start. Wondering, she walked upstairs and saw that Margie's door was shut. She went toward it, and right before she knocked she could hear Margie wailing inside. She let herself in.

Margie was face down on her bed, sobbing into a pillow. She rolled over avidly when she heard Myra's footsteps, but when she saw Myra, disappointment flooded her face. She buried her face in the pillow again.

Myra sat beside her, putting her palm on Margie's heaving shoulder, and waited. She tried to think of what could have sparked a fight this big between them in such a brief amount of time. Margie responded to the contact by crying harder, as she had done since she was tiny. She was an expert at purging.

After five minutes, Ginny came into the room, saying "Oh my god, what's wrong?" She sat down next to Myra as Myra said "I don't know. Jaime left, I came up here and found her like this. She hasn't been ready to talk yet."

Ginny stroked the back of Margie's head. Her crying was slacking off, and she rolled over to look at them, her eyes red and stunned. She sucked mucus back into her head and said "He broke up with me!"

"What? I don't believe it -- why?" said Ginny.

"He met a boy at that fucking camp! He says he's gay!" Margie screamed.

Holy shit. Myra wanted it to be a mistake. Margie continued "I hope you're happy, all of you! You got another recruit for your fucking side!"

Ginny pulled Margie to her, and Margie didn't resist. "Oh, sweetheart, my side is wherever you are! Of course I'm not happy, I'm heartbroken for you. Did he say that, did he actually say he was gay?"

Margie's throat was thick with grief, though no more tears could come at the moment. "He did. He said he loved me, and he wants to be friends, but he's realized that I'm not -- he doesn't love me 'that way', is how he put it. I don't understand, Mama, how could it have changed? Was he just a big liar all along?"

"No" said Myra, "You wouldn't have come to love a liar. He didn't know himself. Oh, Margie, I'm so sorry. This is the hardest thing on earth to face, I know. Any change of heart is difficult, but when it excludes your basic identity..."

Margie looked at her, suspicion on her face. "Did you do this to someone? Leave them because they weren't built the way you decided was acceptable?"

"No. I never dated boys, and I've -- honestly, mostly I've been the one broken up with. Three of my exes went -- back in, I guess you'd say, returned to men from being lesbian. Two of them did it as cleanly as they could. But one -- she nearly killed me, with how mean she was about it. I -- it doesn't sound like Jaime was mean to you, was he?" asked Myra.

"He ruined me!" cried Margie. "I loved him, I'll never love anyone again like him!"

Myra wanted to argue, but Margie wouldn't hear it and, besides, she was right in a way: Your first love was never duplicated.

"I am fucking NOT going to be his fucking friend" said Margie with a vicious tone. "I'll make sure none of our other friends ever speak to him again, either."

Ginny spoke up. "You can't do that, Margie. You can't try to hurt him, no matter how bad you feel. You can't out him or talk trash about him. You just have to get through this. We'll help, we'll do everything we can. But you have to let him go without taking action. In the long run, you'll be glad of staying kind."

Margie began crying again, burying her face on Ginny's shoulder. A little guiltily, Myra wondered how Jaime was doing, if he had gotten home safely. She had really liked him. And she had some idea of what torment he must be experiencing as well. She thought he really had loved Margie. How could he not?

After a while, Margie was coaxed downstairs where Myra made her steamed milk and Ginny sat with her on Myra's daybed. They listened until she was talked out. Carly and Gillam came home, and Myra waved them off, saying she'd explain to them later. Gillam asked, in a whisper, if it would be okay for them to start making dinner. Myra nodded.

But their presence subdued Margie, or perhaps it was the shame of having to go public with her rejection. Ginny asked if she wanted Allie and Edwina to come over, and after considering it, Margie said yes. She reached for the phone herself to make the call. She had to leave a message.

While she was doing that, Myra went into the kitchen where Gillam was looking in a recipe book. "Which is easier, chicken kiev or roast chicken?" he asked her. She told him, then got between him and Carly to say in a low voice "Jaime got back today, came over, and he's broken up with Margie. He came out while he was away this summer, says he's gay now. She's torn to pieces over it."

Myra saw a flicker of something on Carly's face that wasn't surprise. Gillam, however, marched into the study and knelt in front of Margie, grabbing her hands and saying "Oh, sis, this is just awful. He's a dummy, a total dummy!" Carly was on his heels, and their combined sympathy was like a tonic for Margie, Myra could tell. After a few minutes, Gillam offered to make whatever Margie wanted. She said chicken would be fine, and something with avocados and artichoke hearts, too. He and Carly went back to the kitchen.

After dinner, Allie and Margie went up to her room and talked for an hour. When Allie and Edwina went home, Ginny asked Margie to bring her jewelry-making tools to her workbench and show her some of what she'd learned that spring. While Margie was gone, Ginny said "I'm going to offer for her to bunk with us tonight, is that all right? Being alone in her bed is going to make her miserable."

"Yeah. I'll sack out in the spare room, I think" said Myra. "Did you have any idea? About Jaime, I mean?"

"Not a clue. But -- I can understand her being his last hope at forcing himself to be het" said Ginny.

"I wonder if he's coming out to his mother as well" said Myra. They looked at each other, and Ginny voiced their shared doubt: "Not with the way Nadia is. Poor guy."

Margie suddenly had a week with no work and no Jaime. They got her in to see Nancy the next day, who mixed her a Bach Flower Remedy that Margie said helped. She made two appointments with Sheila. Ginny and Margie alternated spending the day with her, letting her drive them to hiking spots, farmer's markets, junkyards, any place that Margie thought was interesting. They had several near misses with her driving, not just because her emotions were high but simply because she was extraordinarily easily distracted behind the wheel. Myra instituted a rule that her cell phone had to be turned off before the ignition was turned on, and no channel changing or manipulating the CD player while the car was in motion. She promised dire consequences if these rules were violated, and said she would be checking up in sneaky ways.

Amy, whose friendship had been somewhat neglected the last several months, came over for dinner a couple of times and they went out to the movies afterward. When Carly was called back home, they all took him to Olympia, Margie getting to drive, and stopped at the outlet mall on the way back to shop for school clothes. But Gillam was visibly depressed at the end of summer, and Margie was clearly dreading having to go back to school and see Jaime in the halls.

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