Tuesday, March 18, 2008


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 March 10th. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.

May of 2006. Margie is 17, Gillam 15, Myra is 50, Ginny 49. Truitt is going to Evergreen in the fall.

When Myra came home from the grocery store one Saturday, there was a message on voice mail from Patty in Olympia. Her voice was odd as she asked for them to call her back.

"Did you hear this, Gin?" she asked, walking into her studio with the phone. "It's from Patty; sounds like something might be up."

"No, I had the ringer turned off. Kinda working here."

"Well, do you want to be the one to call her back?" Myra waggled the phone.

"No, go ahead. I'll get on if she needs to talk with me." Ginny still had not looked up.

Myra dialed Patty, and after exchanging hellos, Patty said "I wanted -- I needed to tell you two -- Pat and I have split up." She began crying.

"Oh, no, Patty, I am so sorry. Are you sure?"

Patty wept, "Oh, yeah. I left her. I'm done with it."

"Would you like to come stay with us for a while? Or us come down there?"

Ginny put down her brush and walked over. She motioned for Myra to give her the phone.

"Patty, Ginny wants to talk with you, okay? But I'm right here, any time. Ask for me back if you want." Myra handed the phone to Ginny.

With the phone pressed to her ear, Ginny settled in on her daybed. After a moment, Myra went to put away the groceries.

An hour later, Ginny came and found her.

"What happened?" said Myra.

"Pat was screwing around on her. As usual. Patty's finally had enough." Ginny sounded furious.

"As usual? I didn't know about Pat ever doing that."

"Pat was a pussyhound before they ever got together, and all of us who knew Patty back then -- well, we just hoped it would work out. Especially after they had the boys."

"But she's been having affairs all along? I mean, do you know who?" Myra was trying to reconcile this.

"I don't feel like gossiping about that" snapped Ginny. "Patty asked to take you up on your offer for us to come down there." Then she added, "I wish you would check with me before volunteering me for things."

Myra was nonplussed. "I just assumed -- I mean, Patty is an old friend, she was your friend long before me -- ..." Her voice trailed off.

"Of course I want to go, that's not the issue. It's just making decisions for me, that's all." Ginny was rooting through the vegetable bin in the refrigerator, seeing what was in all the new bags.


"So now we're committed for next weekend, we are going to miss that concert we'd talked about." Ginny began cutting up a cucumber into sticks with sharp whacks of the knife on the cutting board.

"That's okay. Ginny, what is up with you?"

Ginny's back was to her. Her shoulders flexed.

"Oh, Myra. I just have a hard time with break-ups, that's all. Scares the daylights out of me."

Myra embraced Ginny from behind. "Not gonna happen to us. Not."

Ginny leaned back against her, putting her cheek against Myra's. Myra could hear the crunch in her own ear bones as Ginny chewed cuke.

Ginny said, "I'm not a Randy Newman fan, but I always liked those lines in that one song: 'All the nickels and the dimes of my days'. About what it means to add on day after day together."

"Auden has a line like that, too. 'You were my working week and my Sunday rest'." Myra coaxes Ginny around to face her.

"'Were.' Past tense -- One of them took off?" Ginny was seriously agitated.

"Died. It's an elegy."

"Same thing." Ginny did not appear to be consolable at this moment

Myra tried anyhow. "We are rock solid. You do know that, don't you?"

"People die, you just said it. Things happen."

Myra thought this might be the rape coming back up.

"Yes, but at this moment we are both alive and we make good choices together."

"You're more the rock these days than I feel like I am." Ginny looked like she might cry. Instead, she bit off another chunk of cuke.

"We've always taken turns, Ginny Bates. Some turns are longer than others, but it comes back around. I feel even-steven with you."

"Good" Ginny said. She looked out the window, then said "What will we do with the kids? Next weekend? I'm sure Gillam will want to go see Carly, so I guess we take Margie, too?"

"Yeah, unless Patty asks otherwise. Since Margie seems to be set on going to Evergreen next year, maybe we can do a tour of the campus while we're there, maybe even check out local apartments."

"Oh, no, I want her in a dorm. One with a curfew." Ginny pulled away, put cucumber peelings in the trash. "She needs a focused environment."

Focused, or guarded? thought Myra. "If you imagine living in a tiny room with a stranger and a hallway full of music and sex-crazed freshman is going to help her focus -- I mean, where did you go to school, Ginny? I don't think they have curfews any more. And I'm willing to bet all the dorms at groovy Evergreen are coed."

"I can't talk about this right now, I really can't. I'm going back to work. Will you call Patty and fix the details? Let's definitely stay at a motel, I will need some down time. Separate room for us from Margie. And if I'm still painting when the kids get home, will you be the one to tell them? I have no slack for any kind of whining."

"Sure." Myra watched Ginny as she walked away.

They left for Olympia before rush hour on Friday, planning to stop for dinner along the way. Gillam called shotgun and sat up front next to Ginny. He fastened his seatbelt, then pulled a book out of his pack: The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Dyke. Myra said "Don't lose that" as she slid into the back with Margie. Margie put on ear buds before the car was even started. Myra leaned forward and tapped Gillam on the shoulders "What else of mine you got in that pack?"

He began pulling out books. "Uh...Dreams in Harrison Railroad Park; Giving Good Weight, that's a John McPhee; and The Wanderground by Sally Gearhart."

"It's pronounced GAIR-heart" said Myra. She thought I've been working on the railroad, then said "Pass me back the Nellie Wong poetry." Despite Ginny's timing, they hit traffic anyhow.

After an hour, Ginny finally gave up on finding anything along the highway except major chain restaurants and pulled into a Denny's wannabe, with puffy orange booths and purple carpeting. As they slid into their seats, Myra put on a manic expression and said to Ginny, "I love you, Hunny-Bunny."

Ginny immediately replied, "I love you too, Pumpkin." Then she stood back up, saying in a suspicious manner, "I'm going to case this joint" and walked toward the bathroom.

Gillam looked questioningly at Margie. She said scornfully, "I have no idea. Probably some 70's dyke thing."

Margie snickered behind her menu. After Ginny got back, Gillam asked, "Can I get a steak?" Ginny said "You had sausage for breakfast, meat boy." But Myra pointed to the inch of wrist sticking out from his shirt cuff, a shirt that had fit him perfectly six weeks ago, and said "Long bone growth."

Ginny blew out a breath and said, "Fine, whatever. Texans are always ready to kill another cow." Then she turned to Margie: "What are you getting?"

"I think just a salad."

"Don't you dare tell me you are dieting again."

Marjorie jeered "Okay, then I won't tell you."

Ginny pushed on. "If you get a salad, it has to be something besides a little dinner salad. Something with protein in it. Here, they've got a shrimp bonanza bowl, with real veggies instead of iceburg."

Margie refused to answer. Ginny looked over at Myra. "How about you?"

"Oh, if it was up to me I'd get pancakes every time I go to a diner. But that's like eating Snickers. What looks good to you?"

Ginny flipped back and forth in the menu a minute, then said "Scallops. With broccoli and, oh, the creamed spinach."

Myra said, "Perfect. Me too."

"Suck-up" said Marjorie under her breath. Ginny told Gillam to stop picking at his face.

When the waitress came, Ginny grilled her about whether the whole wheat rolls were in fact whole wheat or just white flour with caramel coloring added. The waitress clearly didn't understand the difference, kept saying "They are WHEAT rolls, ma'am." After she finally escaped with their order, Ginny slumped back in the booth. Myra looked over at her.

"Hunny-Bunny really could use a big old shotgun right about now."

Ginny managed a grin. "I didn't used to be such a prick when we traveled, I used to enjoy everything about it."

Myra replied, "It just occurred to me that two of us at this table are going through the mid to late stages of puberty and two of us are launched into menopause. We are all experiencing some version of hormone hell. No wonder we're so cranky."

Ginny laughed. "Picky."

Margie added "Snarky."

Everyone looked at Gillam. "What?" he demanded.

Myra said, "I think we're all choosing our names as members of the Four Hormonal Dwarfs. Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's round the bend we go."

"Then I guess you should call me Farty" said Gillam, with a voice crack adding volume to the last word just as the waitress returned with their drinks.

After eating, Ginny was in a better mood. When they got to Patty's house, Ginny and Patty retreated to Patty's office to talk, while Myra hung out with the teenagers. She said to Carly and Truitt "Well, you know my rep for touchy-feely, so to be in character, do you want to talk about what's going on with your moms? Vent, dump, ask me questions? Or would you rather jump at the chance to think about something else?"

Carly laughed and said "I vote for the jump." Truitt said fervently "Me, too."

"Well, then...we've got five here, perfect for poker. How about 25 cent limit, stud, draw or hold-em?" Carly went to get their cards and chips, while Truitt helped Myra pull out snacks of the sort Ginny would never have allowed in their pantry. They played with aggressive competition, or at least the semblance of such on Myra's part, though she made sure to always lose if Carly or Truitt seemed to have a good hand. Carly could bluff, but Truitt had a number of tells.

Casually, here and there, Myra asked questions about where Pat was, what things had been like, not gossiping but opening the door for comment. Both boys took advantage of it, expressing weariness and, on Carly's part, open irritation with Pat. Myra cracked slightly over-the-edge jokes that made them all laugh. By the end of the evening, she was down over four dollars and all the kids were completely relaxed.

Gillam of course stayed with Carly. Margie borrowed a campus map and the fall semester course catalogue from Truitt. When they got to the motel, she bought a newspaper from the lobby, took the Olympia map from the glovebox in, filching one of Myra's legal pads and sprawling on the bed in her room to make one of her unusual maps, using classified ads and other Margie-determined data to determine which neighborhoods near Evergreen would be where she'd hunt for housing next year.

Ginny was tight-lipped about this endeavor. She announced she was going to bed, Margie was not to leave the motel under any circumstances without them. Margie nodded distractedly, and Ginny closed the connecting door between their rooms without waiting for Myra to say goodnight to Margie. She went to brush her teeth and wash her face. Myra put on a T-shirt and sweats -- she didn't like to be naked in motels at night, in case of emergency -- and waited until Ginny was out of the bathroom before going in for her own ablutions.

When she came back out, Ginny was sitting up against the headboard, picking at her cuticles. They were going to talk, then. Myra slid in beside her and said "So? How's Patty?"

"Having to start over at a time of life when some people are ready to retire" said Ginny angrily. "Pat made 2/3 of their income, so the financial end is disastrous. Even if Pat settles for her share of what she's put in the house, Patty will have to take out a loan to cover that plus pick up the entire mortgage. The one bright spot is that Truitt's tuition is reduced because Patty works at Evergreen."

"Isn't Pat contributing toward the boys' sustenance?" asked Myra, shocked. "I mean, legally, she's off the hook, but -- "

"Oh, she says of course she will, but she's not offering to make anything official. It'll just be her mailing a check of her own volition every month. The woman she was screwing around with is not sure if she's going to break up with her own partner -- they have a son, too, who's in grade school -- so Pat has to get an apartment. She's offered for Truitt to come live with her when he starts college in the fall, which makes Patty scared that he'll take Pat's side and also that Pat will, at some point, use it as an excuse to not pay her share." Ginny was getting more furious, not less, as she talked.

"Truitt, but not Carly?" said Myra.

"Carly's balking at spending time with Pat. Says he's fed up. Of course, that's Patty's version" said Ginny.

"No, that fits with how he was tonight when we talked about it. Though we didn't get into it in depth" said Myra.

"And of course they had to move down here, for Pat's job, so all the friends they've managed to make are either from Pat's work circle, which means they're not calling Patty now, or they're friends with the couple that Pat is possibly splitting up, so they don't want anything to do with Patty simply from the contagion aspect. They should never have moved. Of course I didn't say that to her, but I did tell her she had to get a counselor, sooner rather than later. And I told her if Carly wanted to see Nancy, we'd make weekend appointments for him and pay for the sessions, is that okay with you?" said Ginny.

"Absolutely. You know...I mean, this is a little weird, but Carly feels like partly our responsibility, too, he's so blended into our family at this point...I'd like to offer her money, certainly for his schooling but anything else to do with his well-being..."

"I feel the same way, Myra. I'll find a way to broach it to her tomorrow." Ginny sighed tiredly. "I wish we were going home tomorrow evening, instead of staying through Sunday."

"Well, let's get them all out, do something in nature or in the community, as much as we can. Extended family kind of outing, so it's not just sitting in that house and dwelling on things" suggested Myra.

There was a silence, and Myra wondered if Ginny was ready to go to sleep. She certainly was. She said "Wanna lie down and spoon?"

Ginny didn't respond immediately. After another silence, she said "We'll need to retool when both our kids are in college. Even when Margie leaves, it'll be a huge adjustment. We're supposed to dedicate all our energy and attention to them, nonstop, until suddenly they walk out the front door and that's it, they'll never live with us again and we won't be first in their hearts. It's a kind of exploitation, you know."

"The human choice, an extended childhood so we can teach them more and more culture. Clearly there's an evolutionary advantage to it" mused Myra.

"Oh, don't go all anthropological on me" said Ginny irritably. "I'm talking about us, not some abstract."

"Well, what do you want me to say?" countered Myra. "That it sucks? Yeah, it does. But it will also be great to not have their nearly constant jabbing at us. I feel like I'm just coming into my own as a writer, I'll be thrilled to eat quick salads and live at my desk."

"You say that like I'm not in the picture" said Ginny.

"What the fuck is up with you, Gin? Of course you're in the picture, when I'm at my desk you're seldom more than a few feet away. But when you're painting, I could get struck by lightning and you might not notice" said Myra.

"So are you planning to ignore me in some kind of retaliation, is that what you're driving at?" said Ginny, her voice going up. "And quit asking me what's up with me, as if I'm some kind of badger in a hole."

"I'm a patient woman" began Myra. When Ginny snorted, Myra pushed back the covers and said "Make that WAS patient. If you need to pick a fight, you can start back in on Margie tomorrow, she's always ready to tangle with you. I'm going to sleep in the other bed." She chose the side farthest away from Ginny and lay down without looking at her. The sheets felt cold. There was no sound from Ginny. After a minute, the light went out and she heard the rustle of covers in the other bed as Ginny stretched out. Damn, damn, damn.

She thought she wouldn't be able to drop off now. She felt aggrieved and underappreciated. However, she could hear the faint sound of television from Margie's room and was distracted by that. After a few seconds, she recognized the music as the ditty they played on Letterman when they did their "Will It Float?" bit. She wondered what item they were tossing into the water this week, and as she mused over past attempts, she slid distractedly into exhausted sleep.

When she woke up again, the room was still dark. She had a moment of not knowing where she was, then remembered it was a motel. Ginny's arms were around her from behind and she could hear Ginny's breathing at her shoulder. She remembered the fight, and put her hand over Ginny's, pressing into her. Ginny pressed back slightly, even unconscious. Myra rolled over and kissed Ginny's forehead, and Ginny fitted herself onto Myra's shoulder blindly, never waking up. Myra went back to sleep.

In the morning, Margie woke them up, saying "Gillam called, he says they're hungry and want to meet us at some diner for breakfast, did you sleep through the alarm?" Myra opened her eyes but felt too sluggish to move anything else as Ginny sat up. She saw Margie eyeing the rumpled second bed. Ginny said "We forgot to set it. Guess we have to get dressed fast."

By the time Myra dragged herself out to the car, last to leave the room, she had a headache. She hoped a Coke would take care of it. Ginny was being nice to her, but there was caution in how they were treating each other. Just about the last thing on earth she wanted to do right now was be around someone going through a break-up plus four smart-aleck teenagers.

It was a long day, full of bickering between everybody but her and Ginny as they spent way too much time in stores. Myra begged for an early dinner and the others obliged her so they could go to a movie afterward, The DaVinci Code. Myra had read the book, found it a crappy plagiarism of other texts, and fell asleep during the middle, waking up violently when Margie jabbed her with an elbow and hissed "You're snoring!"

When they finally got back to the motel, Margie came into their room with them, saying "Can we watch SNL together?"

Ginny looked at her. Myra, too tired to censor, said to Ginny "I know we need to talk but we're seeing Nancy tomorrow, I can live with our truce until then. I'm sorry I left last night. Though you were being an asshole."

Ginny's lips tightened. In her peripheral vision, Myra saw Margie's eyes go wide. "Funny way to keep the truce" said Ginny evenly. "Still, I agree." She turned to Margie and said "I need to shower, you can start without me. You get your own bed, however."

Myra fell asleep before Ginny got out of the bathroom. When she woke up in the morning, she felt finally rested and physically connected to Ginny again. The TV was still on, though mercifully muted, and Margie was sprawled face down on their other bed. Ginny whispered "You up?"

"Yeah. You waiting on me?"

"No, I think -- when your breathing shifted, it woke me up" said Ginny. "Tell me that you love, Junie Moon."

They kissed lightly and Myra said "My bladder is pulsating, sorry" as she hustled to the bathroom.

When she got back, Margie was stirring. She showered and dressed as Ginny packed their bag and Margie complained about her hair. Finally Myra said to Margie "I have a pocket knife, want me to give you a definitely original style?" Margie got up, then, and stalked into her room as Ginny said "Remember that T-shirt, the first march we were on together?" They giggled.

After brunch and goodbyes, Myra began to feel giddy at the prospect of home and her computer. They did stop at a farm stand to buy a dozen ears of early corn and some peanut brittle. At the house, Myra said to Margie and Gillam "Dinner is up to you tonight. Plus laundry for the week, Gillam, and it's been two weeks since you mopped, Margie." As they both began complaining, she walked away, her desk a tractor beam pulling her along.

At their session with Nancy the following day, both of them cried torrents about crap so early Myra wasn't able to even come up with words for her end of things. They were calm afterward. Myra said "She's good, that Nancy" and Ginny said "Mmm-hm."

At home, Ginny called David to make plans for their trip to the coast. Margie wanted to take Amy as well, and Edwina's schedule was tight because she had to teach a summer session, but they finally figured out a six-day window. Ginny then called Patty to invite her, as well as Carly and Truitt, to accompany them. When she got off, she sighed and said "I don't understand her. I think there's some part of her that hopes Pat will beg her to take her back. Anyhow, Patty says no, Truitt's not interested, and Carly of course says yes but Patty says he has to come home afterward and not spend the whole summer here."

Myra raised her eyebrows. Ginny said "I think she's just insecure about her home at the moment. We'll keep talking. Anyhow, we can make the reservations now."

[NOTE: The next few sections of Ginny Bates are already posted online in other sections. You can find the section beginning 14 July 2006 and the kids' reaction to Israel bombing Lebanon here, and the August 2006 trip by Myra, Ginny, Allie and Edwina to the Michigan Women's Music Festival here.]

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.


Liza Cowan said...

That was great. Your writing gets better all the time.

Maggie Jochild said...

Coming from YOU, Lize...