Thursday, March 20, 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 yesterday. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.

14 December 2006

Myra called Margie at noon and left a message on her cell asking her to be sure Gillam came home with her -- another big storm was blowing in. Then she went out to lay in groceries and supplies, and it took so long, the kids were home by the time she got back. She backed into the carport and they unloaded the car together. Margie had already clamped down the cover on the hottub and stashed fly-away items in the shed out back. Gillam did their weeks' laundry a day early as Myra made dinner.

Once the wind picked up, Beebo was reluctant to go outside and kept walking back and forth near the pet door, meowing. Finally Margie put on a slicker and took Narnia into the yard, and reassured by their company, Beebo darted out, had a quick pee, and raced back in.

In the middle of the night, Gillam woke up Myra and Ginny, saying "I heard a huge crash. Too close." As they got up and put on clothes, Margie joined them with an agitated Narnia. Gillam had already checked the upstairs deck -- Ginny had brought in most of the plants -- so they trooped into the living room, peered out the front window, trying to figure out what was wrong. Finally Ginny said "There's no street lights. It's completely dark out there."

Myra went to the control panel in their storage room and called back "The generator's kicked in. We must have lost power." She came back into the living room and began putting on her raincoat and boots. "I need to go turn off the hot tub and the pool heater. We have to not overload the generator, so if you have computers, any kind of appliance, or unnecessary lights on, go turn 'em off now."

"What about the main appliances?" said Gillam.

"The kitchen, the freezer in the storage room, heat, hot water, and basic lights are all covered."

"What about Rix and Marisol's habitat?" asked Ginny.

"Geckos are covered, too" said Myra. Ginny was walking with her to the sliding door, but in as Myra flicked on the outside lights, they said in the same instant "Oh my god!" Margie and Gillam joined them, staring into the back yard. The Douglas fir in the back left corner had fallen, and lay sprawled across the length of the yard. It leaned on the opposite fence, fortunately just small branches at what had been the top of the tree, so the fence was not knocked down. The maple had been spared, and although the fir's upper branches were overlying some of Margie's ornamental cherry, her tree also was intact. The root system of the fir, however, had tilted underneath the back corner, destroying the fence in that area.

"Holy moly" said Gillam. They stood in silent shock for a minute. Then Ginny said "It could've been worse, could've landed on our house, or the Limons."

"Or on your garden beds" said Myra. "Well, we'll get someone to take it out for us when we can. Downed trees like this won't get attended to quickly, not this week. I'm going to go out there and do my chore. Gillam, you need to set up an emergency litter box for the cats, we'll have to shut the pet door because the back yard is no longer secure."

"Do you think there'll be school tomorrow?" said Margie.

"We won't know till the morning" said Ginny. "I'll make us all steamed milk, then let's try to get some more sleep."

The next morning, Myra got up with Ginny and they turned on TV right away. Both schools had power and was planning to hold classes, so they got the kids up and fed them. Myra called her friends and left messages inviting them over if they didn't have power. Then she went back to sleep for a couple of hours.

When she got up, Ginny said "Allie and Edwina are fine, but Chris and Sima are in the dark and are packing to spend the night here. The latest news doesn't have any indication of when power will come back on -- half a million people are affected, they say, and there's bad flooding in some places."

"Oh god -- Ms. Schevitz" said Myra suddenly. She set down her toast and went to put on shoes. Ginny began pulling on pants, saying "I feel so bad for forgetting her this long."

"Me, too" said Myra. "She can't make it up the stairs, we'll have to put her in the spare bedroom down here."

"What about Chris and Sima?"

"We'll ask Margie to give them her bed, and she can take the couch or one of the daybeds" said Myra.

It took a while for Ms. Schevitz to answer her door, long enough for Myra to start getting scared. But it was just the trials of getting around by walker. She had mittens and a wool hat on, and had been trying to boil water over a can of sterno. Ginny packed her a bag, following Ms. Schevitz's directions, while Myra gathered up her crocheting, her crosswords, and all the medications on her kitchen counter. They walked on either side of her as she laboriously crossed the street. Once back home, she had to rest a while on the first chair inside the door. Myra made her a pot of tea and an omelet while Ginny unpacked her things in the back bedroom.

"Oh, it's so blissfully warm in here" said Ms. Schevitz "When I was a girl in Somerville, it used to get bitter cold in the house because we couldn't afford much coal, and I was reminded of that this morning."

"After you eat, if you want to take a hot soak, the tub in the guest bathroom has grab bars and is easy to get into" said Myra.

"You girls are wonderful" said Ms. Schevitz. "Now, I want to help as much as I can."

"Okay. Ginny'll be making challah in a bit, you can help her with kneading and braiding, we'll set you up here at the table. And -- as we finish breakfast, tell me, is there anyone else on the block we should help out?"

"The Nguyens down the street, almost to the corner, they have a brand new baby" said Ms. Schevitz, chewing thoughtfully.

"They're the ones with the two-year-old, too?" said Myra. Ginny rejoined them and said "Yes, a very sweet little boy."

"And across the street from them, the Hoff-Munozes, they have a toddler, too, and she's pregnant again" said Ms. Schevitz.

At that moment, the front opened, and Margie and Gillam came in.

"They decided to cancel school" Margie explained. "Not enough students there. Hi, Ms. Schevitz."

Myra explained their need to check on neighbors. She pulled out her pad and began trying to make a plan.

"Okay -- if we need to take these folks in for a while, let's see how much room we have. The Nguyens, we could give them our bed, Ginny, and the whole family would fit in there." Ginny nodded her okay. "So, we have another family with a toddler, and the woman is pregnant -- Margie or Gillam's room for them?"

Ginny said "Either. But they might like the kitchenette. That means your bed, Margie, sorry, honey. We can put the old rollaway in there, too, for the little one, there's room."

"That means Sima and Chris are in Gillam's room" said Myra.

"What about us?" said Gillam.

"Margie can take one of the daybeds, Ginny and I will take the other one, and Gillam, you get the couch."

"Margie, if you want to share my queen bed, I'd be honored" said Ms. Schevitz. Margie hesitated, then said "Actually, yeah. I'm a little too tall for the daybeds any more."

"And I'd rather use an air mattress and sleeping bag on the floor" said Gillam. "Maybe at the end of the upstairs hall."

"Okay, whatever you prefer" said Myra. "I know I just gave away your beds, but I gave ours away first."

"S'okay" said Gillam. "You two can have the daybeds."

"All right. Which one of you wants to be the messenger to invite these families to join us?" asked Myra.

"I will" said Margie. "I can give Narnia a walk at the same time."

"If you see anybody else out and about, tell them we'll be serving hearty soup and fresh bread every day at noon and at six, they can just drop in. Or if they need to warm up or recharge something, come on by" added Myra.

"Gillam, let's haul that daybed up" said Ginny. "I just changed the sheets yesterday, but I need to check on towels, too."

"Good thing we have four bathrooms in this place" said Myra.

"The big plus is the generator, and that was your idea way back when" said Ginny, grinning at her.

"Oh, and the Limons" said Myra, looking out the rear window the house in back of them. "Well -- that's quirky. There are lights on upstairs at their place."

"Yeah, Mom" said Margie, pulling on her jacket. "Coming home, around the corner on down, they have power. It's just hit or miss, seems like."

"Okay, that's good, then. We're actually full up" said Myra.

When Chris and Sima arrived an hour later, the house was full of activity. Sima joined Ms. Schevitz making challah, while Myra had started brisket and roast chickens. Chris began grating potatoes in the food processor for latkes. Myra moved on to making doughnuts. Margie and Gillam were down the street, returning to help their neighbors carrying their bags and children along the icy sidewalk.

Once everybody was settled in, Myra explained the electricity rules and Ginny led the two toddlers into her studio to begin them on an art project. Tony Nguyen looked at the tree in their backyard and said "I have a chainsaw. I could start breaking that down for you."

"Do you really know how?" asked Myra.

"Sure." Mr. Munoz jumped in to help, and they went off to retrieve the chainsaw. Gillam said suddenly "Carly!"

"What about him?" asked Myra.

"He was going to try to catch a train up here tonight" said Gillam, reaching for the phone. He managed to get through to Carly on his cell -- Carly was already on the train headed their way.

"Well, it'll be good to see him, and the more the merrier" grinned Myra. "You can bunk him down with you in the hall. Chris, will you use your four-wheel drive to go pick him up at the train station?"

"Yep" said Chris, washing her hands "Take those out when the timer goes off."

Gillam headed out the door with Chris, and right after they left, Allie and Edwina arrived. As Sima made room in the oven for their four loaves of challah, Myra explained what was going on. Allie said to Sima "We can put you two up in our spare room, if you'd rather."

Sima said "We're here for tonight, and it's kinda fun. But we'll check in with you tomorrow."

Myra made introductions, and Allie went out back to watch the tree operation. She came back in right away to ask Myra if she had heavy gloves and goggles -- the men were planning to use the chainsaw without protective equipment. She and Myra rooted through the tool shelves in the storage room and came up with gear, Allie muttering about the stupidity of the male ego. Sima and Edwina went into Myra's study to chat, while Ms. Schevitz held the new baby and talked with the other neighbors.

After Chris and the boys returned, Myra called in Allie. The men accompanied her, thinking it was dinner time. Everybody washed their hands, and Ginny set out candles and grape juice. Sima put challah on the table and clipped a kippah on her head. As Carly and Gillam began putting on tallit, and Margie and Ginny put on kippot, the dining/living room went very silent. Ms. Schevitz spoke up: "It's shabbos, the beginning of Jewish sabbath. We pray to set aside the holy day. In addition, tonight is the beginning of Hannukah."

Myra took Ginny's hand, then Gillam's on her other side. He took Carly's hand, and Carly reached out to Ms. Schevitz. All their neighbors stepped in closer and awkwardly joined hands. Sima and Margie led the prayers. After they were done, Myra handed out pieces of bread and Ginny passed around glasses of juice. Then Carly and Gillam, standing on either side of Ms. Schevitz, lit the candle for the first night of Hanukkah and led the prayers for that. Edwina began singing "Hanukkah O Hanukkah" and soon everyone knew the words enough to join in. Myra gave out small bags of chocolate coins and promised the children they could eat them after dinner.

All 16 places at the table were occupied for dinner. There were no leftovers, and Myra realized she'd have to up her quantities. Allie took coffee requests while clean-up happened astonishingly fast. Ginny, Carly and Gillam began playing dreidel with the children. Mr. Munoz asked if they could turn on TV. Myra checked the circuit panel in the storage room and gave a thumbs up. To get away from the intrusion of the television, Myra settled down her daybed to talk with Chris for a while.

All their guests began going to bed at 10. Allie and Edwina stayed until 11, and they, plus Margie, Ginny, and Sima joined Myra and Chris in her study, settling in chairs or on the floor and talking in low voices.

Myra asked Margie to go upstairs and ask the boys to come down for a minute. When they had returned, she and Ginny gave everybody matching boxes wrapped in blue and silver paper. "Happy Hanukkah!" cried Ginny.

The gifts were BlackBerrys, complete with wireless phone accounts and Bluetooth headsets. "This was actually Myra's idea, if you can believe it" said Ginny. "She's moved into this century."

Myra said to the young people "I'm sorry you're getting these on a night when you can't charge them and begin using them."

"This is amazing" breathed Margie, lunging to hug Myra, then Ginny. After hugs all around, Ginny pulled out an envelope and handed it to Carly. "This is an extra present, from us to you, honey." Inside was a pass for 25 round-trip train tickets from Olympia to Seattle. "So you never have to worry about getting here" said Myra.

Carly's eyes filled with tears. He melted into Ginny's arms, and Ginny murmured "Easiest son I ever had." Gillam was speechless with emotion. Allie hooked her arm around his neck and said "You two hold down the outpost of maleness in this sea of estrogen, and you do it proud." Gillam scooted in next to her on the floor, then pulled Carly down to lean back against him, his face flushed.

Myra said "Margie, honey, you really don't have to sleep with Ms. Schevitz just to keep from hurting her feelings. The couch is free, or one of these daybeds -- me and Ginny often sleep on them, we'll be glommed in together."

"I like her" said Margie. "She's like a gramma I never had. She smells good, like eucalyptus."

Ginny laughed. "Instead of L'Air du Temps, I guess."

"Was that Helen's perfume of choice?" asked Myra. Ginny nodded.

Allie said "They did a good job with that tree. Looks to me like they'll have it done by tomorrow -- if Hector don't cut off his hand first, I could tell he was making Tony pretty nervous with his lack of chainsaw smarts."

Ginny looked at Myra. "Do not let Gillam or Carly go out there and have a try at it."

"I agree" said Myra. "But wood hauling, you bet. If we stack it and let it dry out, we'll have wood for the fireplace next year."

"We'll have to pick a new tree to go in that spot" said Ginny, a look of concentration on her face.

"You haven't reached menopause yet -- you could have one more baby and then we could plant a tree for that child" said Myra, trying to keep a straight face.

"I saw you mooning over that baby" grinned Ginny. "You want another one, you're on your own -- I'll start sleeping in the spare bedroom so you can have night feedings all to yourself."

They laughed, and began reminiscing about the children's babyhoods.

Myra woke up the next morning to a crying baby and the loud chatter of toddlers. Ginny was already up and in the kitchen. Myra peed and joined her, a little grumpy. She whispered "I shouldn't joke about more babies in the house, it's suddenly not funny any more." Ginny giggled.

Chris had made oatmeal for the masses, boiled eggs and bran muffins. As she sat down next to Myra, she said "We're gonna need more milk and eggs. Plus a few other things."

"Let's go shopping after I eat. See what it's like out there."

"I want to go, too" said Sima.

"We're going to try walking to the park with the kids" said Rhoda Hoff. "Ms. Schevitz said she'd sit with the baby for an hour."

Myra heard the chainsaw rev into life in the backyard. "Where's Gillam?" she asked suddenly.

"He and Carly aren't up yet" said Ginny. "I'll stay here with Ms. Schevitz and the baby. Margie went to the library -- she's got a paper to write and needs to use their computers for research."

After lunch, Mr. Munoz turned on the TV again and found a football game. To Myra's irritation, Carly and Gillam planted themselves in the living room with the men, glued to the screen. When Chris and Sima joined them, she went to her desk, put up the screen, and began editing her latest manuscript by hand. The TV noise was loud enough that she could not hear the crickets in Ginny's studio. She got up and went to the gecko habitat to make sure they were okay and had food. Ginny was at her worktable, sketching.

"Are they out of crickets?" asked Myra.

"Just ran out. But I put some fruit in there, and they'll be fine for a couple of days" said Ginny. She stood up and pulled Myra into a kiss. "I'm feeling crowded already, how about you?" she whispered.

"It's not like living in the collective" Myra whispered back. "I mean, these people have degrees and make Yuppie incomes, they must to own houses on this street, but apparently none of them recycle or read books. No wonder Bush got re-elected."

"Wanna bring your editing in here and snuggle up with me on the daybed? I can sit there to sketch just as well."


Two hours later, they heard loud yells and discussion which indicated the game must be over. Toilets began flushing. Ginny went into the living room, where the TV was still on. She said to Gillam and Carly "You don't get to sit here watching the boob tube all day. Go outside and get your blood flowing, it's the weekend."

Chris grinned and stood up. "You got a football, Gillam? Let's go out in the street and throw it around."

Tony stood up as well and said "We got a big lawn in back of our place, we could go there -- won't hurt as much when we fall down." He looked at Hector, who said with obvious reluctance, "Okay, for a little while." Ginny stepped over and turned off the TV.

Sima declined to join the football crew, which left them with uneven numbers but Tony said they could round up somebody else on the block. Ginny invited Sima back to the studio. Rhoda Hoff and Linda Nguyen offered to start dinner, and Myra, after a brief hesitation, said that would be great.

An hour later, Myra at her desk heard the front door open and Chris yelling her name urgently. She and Ginny reached the living room at the same time: Gillam stood stiff and wincing in obvious pain, held up by Carly and Chris. Tony and Hector were behind them, a little sheepish, Hector still holding a muddy football. Gillam and Carly were streaked with mud as well. Chris said "He's broken his collarbone, I think."

"Hell and damn" said Myra, turning to grab her keys and wallet. Ginny kissed Gillam on his cheek and said "Hang in there, honey boy", then asked Sima if she would hold down the fort while they went to the emergency room. Sima nodded, squeezing Chris's free hand before she and Carly walked Gillam out to Myra's car. Chris decided to stay home so Carly could go along.

The emergency room was swamped. When Myra found out the estimated wait would be at least two hours, which probably meant four hours, Ginny got very aggressive in persuading someone to give Gillam a pain medication. No one would oblige her, however. She took the keys from Myra and said she'd be back soon. When she returned, she had ibuprofen and a carton of milk for Gillam. He had trouble finding a comfortable position in any chair. Myra kept him and Carly distracted with word games, then quizzing them about lyrics to their favorite songs.

After two hours, Ginny called home to check in again and talked with Sima for a while. Sima said Tony was worried that they would sue him for the accident, demanding payment from his homeowner's policy. Gillam had described the accident to them -- he had fallen on his outstretched arm, and Carly had fallen on top of him -- so there was no blame to be attached anywhere. Ginny asked Sima to reassure Tony, they had good health coverage and he was not to worry about the cost. Sima also said she and Chris were going to pack up and go to Allie's for the night so Gillam would have his own bed to sleep in. They offered to stay until everybody got home, but Ginny said there was no guessing when that would be, they should go ahead and leave. Then she talked with Margie, who was now head of the household.

Gillam decided to try sitting on the floor at the edge of the waiting room, his back against the wall. When Carly sat next to him and Gillam could lean his good side on Carly, the stress was relieved enough that he began dropping off. Carly stayed awake and held him up -- he was shorter than Gillam, but very muscular.

After five hours, Gillam was finally seen and given an x-ray. A clavicle fracture was diagnosed, and he was placed in an arm sling, given a prescription for Percocet, and discharged. Myra got the name of an all-night pharmacy and drove there to have the prescription filled. At home, Margie was waiting up for them in the living room.

"How's it been here?" asked Ginny.

"Dinner was -- interesting. Not bad, actually. Then it was TV until bedtime" said Margie.

Carly and Myra went with Gillam upstairs to get him ready for bed. He needed a bath but said it had to wait until the morning. Ginny got two plates of food ready, along with the first Percocet, and carried it upstairs, where Myra fed Gillam while Carly wolfed his dinner. They left a bottle of juice and the rest of the Percocet on Gillam's nightstand and Myra impressed upon him that if he woke up with any pain, to take a pill at the recommended intervals -- being a hero was not a good idea. They kissed the boys goodnight and went back downstairs, exhausted beyond words.

Margie had heated up dinner for them as well. They all sat at the table together, talking in low voices. Margie said she was going to take the boys' air mattress for the night, because she needed a little buffer from people. Myra kept squeezing her hand and thanking her for all the help. Then she and Ginny washed up and brushed their teeth in the study bathroom. Ginny said "Do you want to take separate daybeds tonight, or crowd in together again? I can't decide which way will offer better sleep."

"Yeah, me neither. How about if we cuddle, 'cause I sure could use some comfort, but if one of us can't sleep, we'll go to the other daybed?"


In the end, they fell asleep rapidly and spooned motionlessly for the six hours that remained to them before noise woke them up. Not long after Myra was jolted into consciousness by a screaming child, the phone rang and Ginny got up to answer it in Myra's study. She leaned back around the corner and said "Allie and Edwina, plus Chris and Sima, are offering to come over and make us breakfast. They want to see how Gillam is."

"I'd love it" said Myra. She scooted herself under the comforter again. She hated sleeping with a shirt and pants on, not just because of the loss of skin-on-skin with Ginny but it also felt colder than sleeping naked with Ginny did. She was in a terrible mood, and decided not to get up until her friends arrived.

Ginny went in the kitchen and told Rhoda they were going to eat later, to not make breakfast for them. Rhoda said they were all going out to church -- Catholic and Methodist, respectively. Just as they were finishing eating, Allie walked in through the front door, followed by the rest of their friends. When she heard Myra wasn't up yet, she walked back to the studio and dangled a box from Macrina's tied up in string in front of Myra's nose. Myra's scowl turned into a grin, and she sat up blearily. She said "Go show that to Gillam, you'll make his day like you just made mine."

Allie helped Gillam downstairs, commenting "You got a funk on, boyfriend". Margie got up fifteen minutes later, looking as crabby as Myra felt. When the two guest families finally went noisily out the front door, Ginny locked her gaze on Myra's and said "Whew."

"You said it" agreed Myra fervently. Then she put her hand on Ms. Schevitz's shoulder and said "You, on the other hand, are a welcome addition to our family."

Myra reclaimed her ability to laugh over breakfast. After the meal, Ginny drew a hot bath for Gillam in the spare bathroom, the most accessible, but he refused to let anyone besides Carly help him undress and get in the tub.

Half an hour later, the lights flickered briefly. Myra, worried about the generator, walked through the carport to the side of the house to check on it. It was completely silent. She looked across the street and saw a light on in Ms. Schevitz's living room. When she came back in, she said "It's a Hanukkah miracle -- the power is back!" Everyone cheered lengthily. Myra went to the hot tub controls and turned it back on, thinking it might really help Gillam to soak later.

Margie walked over to Ms. Schevitz's house to make sure everything was in good shape and that her heat was back on. Myra insisted Ms. Schevitz stay with them through lunch before heading home, so her house would have time to warm up again. Their friends left -- Chris and Sima were eager to get back to their place. Myra made huge pots of vegetarian chili and chicken stew for a late lunch -- if their guests didn't want to eat with them, it could be frozen for later.

In the end, they did stay for lunch. The wives did all the packing, Myra noticed, while Ginny held the baby. Carly and Margie helped haul suitcases back down the block. Everybody was very glad to say goodbye, in as nice a way as possible. When Margie and Carly returned, they walked Ms. Schevitz home, leaving her soup and bread to heat up for dinner.

Myra and Ginny began stripping off sheets and cleaning bathrooms. When Myra saw the condition of their bathroom, she began cursing steadily. "I don't fucking believe it, they are fucking pigs, they make no fucking effort to aim in the toilet. It's all over the fucking tile -- if we splashed our menstrual blood around like this, their fucking heads would explode. It's all about territory, about spreading their piss and cum and spit and anything else they can think of over as large a territory as they can. And it's left to women to clean it up." She was in a white-hot rage as she pulled on rubber gloves and filled a bucket with ammonia and hot water.

The upstairs bathroom was in similar shape. But not the spare bathroom used by Ms. Schevitz, she pointed out loudly. Ginny found rings on the bedside stand where someone had set a glass without using the coaster which was right there. The capper came when Myra emptied the trash in Margie's room and found six empty beer cans.

She stripped off her gloves, put down the trash bag, and walked out on the upper deck. Ginny found her there ten minutes later, starting to shiver as she sat on a ice-cold metal chair.

"You wanna talk about it?" said Ginny.

"It'd just be preaching to the choir" said Myra, cooled down in every respect. "It's been almost four decades since feminism put forth some really basic ideas. I've devoted my life to challenging the cesspool of lies. And right at the moment, it feels like absolutely nothing has changed. They simply won't budge. Four hours of taking turns with a chainsaw equals the right to piss on my floor, never do a single dish or feed even themselves, and sneak beer into my daughter's bedroom. Maybe it is genetic. Maybe they are hopelessly retarded."

"Well, we have proof that's not true, sitting downstairs. He could use getting to watch TV or movies all evening, I think -- some kind of distraction while he's lying on the couch in pain. You calm enough for that?" said Ginny.

Myra smiled at her. "Anything at all for Gillam. Just tell me he won't behave like those guys once he gets married."

"He won't" said Ginny firmly. "Come on, let's go do art in peace."

A few days later, when Myra went to put Ginny's share of the mail on her work table, she saw that in addition to the miniature menorah Ginny set up each year next to the gecko habitat, a new addition was on their glass wall. It was a newspaper clipping which had been reduced down by photocopier until it was in a print so tiny Myra could barely read it. Bent over and peering at it, she read the article about Flora the Komodo Dragon who was about to give birth to parthenogenic young. Inked into the margin was the familiar women's liberation fist-within-a-woman's-symbol icon Myra remembered from the 70s, but the fingers of the fist were four, not five, and each finger was gecko-shaped. She stood upright, laughing, and went back to her study.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

1 comment:

letsdance said...

Excellent chapter, Maggie. Thanks for all your great writing.