Sunday, March 23, 2008


(The Reflection Pool, Bloedel Reserve, Bainbridge Island, Washington -- hat tip to Jesse for the link)

Oh what the hey. It's sitting here ready to go, I know some of you want to read it, and so I'm double-posting today.

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.

After a long silence, Dr. Desai said "Myra? Are you still there?"

Myra's eyes were locked on Ginny's. "Gin...I've got cancer." She handed the receiver to Ginny and closed her eyes. She heard Ginny's conversation with Dr. Desai only as words here and there, although Ginny was pushed up against her, her free arm clamped around Myra. At one point, Ginny whispered in Myra's ear "Breathe, sweetheart" and that did get through.

When Ginny hung up, she got Myra to her feet and over to the daybed, lying face to face with the soft old blanket over them. Myra was shivering violently and eventually she realized Ginny was too. "Don't let go of me" she whispered.

"Never" swore Ginny.

Myra couldn't look away from Ginny's smudgy blue eyes. It felt like her anchor to earth. After a few minutes, Ginny said "Do you want to know more? What Dr. Desai said?"

"Not yet" said Myra. She'd linked her breath to Ginny, which was a little slower than she usually moved her chest in and out, but it was a place to focus, the difference in rhythm. She stopped keeping track of time. She and Ginny both reacted, however, when they heard Narnia's woof and immediately afterward the front door open.

Margie's muffled voice exclaimed something, and as her footsteps headed in their direction, Myra began trying to sit up. As Margie came into the study, she said in an aggrieved voice "Mom? Narnia was chewing on this in the middle of the living room floor." She held out Ginny's wide brush, the one she liked to begin canvases with, its bristles full of wet Hansa Yellow and the wooden shaft mangled by Narnia's teeth. She went on "There's paint smears on the floor, and..." Her voice trailed off as she looked at Ginny's canvas, her palette dropped on the floor as well, and then her mothers side by side under the blanket. Her eyes fixed on their faces and she said, in a different tone, "What's wrong?"

The refrigerator door had opened in the kitchen. It shut and Gillam appeared next to Margie, a question on his face. Ginny reached out her hand toward her children. Margie, confused, handed Ginny the brush. Ginny put it on Myra's desk and reached for them again. This time, Margie took her hand and stepped toward them. Myra said "I've got cancer."

Gillam was rooted to his spot, the blood draining from his face. Margie said "What?"

"Dr. Desai called with the -- the results. I've got cancer" Myra repeated.

Margie dropped to her knees in front of Myra and said "No. No, you don't, you can't." It was as if she was arguing about her curfew. Myra looked full into her face and said "I'm afraid so, baby girl." As Margie burst into wails, Myra pulled her head onto her chest.

Ginny said "Gillam -- honey, come here, come sit with us." He followed her hand and sat down clumsily, Ginny wrapping around him from behind. "What kind of cancer?" he whispered.

"Uterine" said Ginny.

"No...I mean, is it a bad kind?" he asked.

Margie tried to stop her sobbing so she could hear. "All cancer is bad" said Ginny. "But, Dr. Desai thinks surgery may be able to catch it all. She thinks we found it so early, if your mama has a hysterectomy right away, it won't have spread and we'll be able to cut it all out."

"Scoop me out with a melon baller" said Myra a little crazily. Ginny kissed her neck and went on "That dream your mama had, it was a sign and we listened to it. It was her chance to get ahead of the cancer, and if the surgery works, she won't even have to have radiation or chemotherapy, she'll be good as new."

Myra could tell, without even looking at him, that Gillam was buying it. His belief in the power of his mothers was still that strong. Margie, on the other hand, lived by confrontation and she was studying Myra's face, looking for the lie.

Myra said "That's why it was Chris helping me, huh. 'Cause if it was you, it might have been about our relationship. But with Chris, I'd believe it was an omen and move on it."

"Exactly" said Ginny. Myra still wasn't convinced, but she saw Margie's relief.

"When are they going to operate?" asked Gillam.

"As soon as possible" said Ginny. "Either Tuesday or Wednesday, her scheduler is talking to the hospital and will call us back. Myra has to see a cancer doctor before then, and get some tests done, so Monday will be busy, too. But we've got the weekend. I should call Nancy..." Ginny looked at the phone. She wasn't ready to let go of Gillam yet.

"What about Aunt Allie? Does she know?" asked Margie.

"No, we only just found out ourselves" said Myra. She looked at the clock. "They'll all be here before long, I think I'd rather talk to them in person. And -- we've got dinner to make."

"We can order out" said Ginny.

"No...I'd really like to cook, for us to have a home-made shabbos meal. But, could we all cook together?" asked Myra. Her kids nodded vigorously. "Okay, well, I'm in the mood for comfort food. Meatloaf, and potatoes au gratin." She saw Margie and Gillam both smile, and her heart turned over. "And roasted beets. And kale. Margie, will you go pull what you can from the garden? And Gillam, put a pound each of ground beef and ground pork, plus two pounds of ground turkey, to defrost in the microwave. I want us to have leftovers."

They all stood. Ginny said "I have to clean my brush and I'll deal with the living room floor, too. Plus call Nancy. I'll meet you in the kitchen in a bit."

In the kitchen, Myra took every opportunity which presented itself to touch her children, brush against them, reach around them, kiss their shoulders, grin at them. Margie scrubbed beets, rubbed them with olive oil, sprinkled them with salt and pepper and put them in the oven to bake. Gillam had meat in two different bowls, and was chopping herbs, squeezing Ginny's stewed tomatoes from last summer into pulp, and beating eggs to add to the bowls. Myra was using the mandolin to slice potatoes into a bowl of cold water.

"When you were babies, each of you, I'd put you in your carrier and set you on the breakfast bar there while I cooked. And Gillam, the way you followed what I was doing, it really seemed like you were memorizing recipes even then."

"I remember" said Margie. "I mean, not when I was that little, but when Gillam was. You'd talk the whole time, about what you were donig and why."

Gillam said to Margie "Remember how she always had to comment on that she loved olive oil but hated olives?"

"And that lame riddle about albumin and yolks -- like, we were supposed to fall for it every time" responded Margie.

"Or she'd be singing to us. You always wanted to hear 'My Little Margie'" said Gillam, not quite teasing.

Margie broke into:
"Where have you been, Gilly boy, Gilly boy
O where have you been, darling Gilly?
I have been to see my wife
She's the joy of my life
She's a young thing
And cannot leave her mother"

Myra felt an ache in her chest, numb as she was. She remembered her own mother singing that to her brother Gil when he was a baby. After Margie and Gillam finished chuckling, Myra said "Don't get too past-tensy here, kids. I'm not leaving you." They both stilled, and she continued "I mean, someday, yes, I have to die. But it's not going to be soon." She looked at Gillam and added "I have miles to go before I sleep."

He pushed himself into her arms and began weeping, laying his face on her shoulder. She felt a wave of relief and wrapped both arms around him. After a minute, she heard the front door open but couldn't see who it was. She heard Margie say, in a choked voice, "Oh, Aunt Allie, I'm so glad you're here. Mama found out today she has cancer."

Half a minute later, Myra felt Allie press against her from behind. All the times they'd told each other that they had the other one's back, this was the most tangible reality of it she'd ever felt. She would have cried except it was Gillam's turn. Allie kissed the top of his head and he cried harder.

When he finally pulled back and reached blearily for a paper towel, Myra saw that Margie was being sandwiched by Edwina and Ginny. Gillam blew his nose and there was a distinct honk at the end, which made everybody laugh. As Myra turned to hug Allie, she heard the front door open again and Chris saying "We're here!"

Sima and Chris joined them. Sima said "We found kiwis on sale, so we got those whole-wheat organic graham crackers which taste like cardboard but make good crumbs, for a tart crust, and sugar-free strawberry jam to spread over the top."

"Classy" said Myra. Everyone else was silent, however, and Chris, looking at Allie, said "What's up?"

Ginny employed a teacher's trick she'd been using with the kids since they could talk. "Margie and Gillam, why don't you do the family honor of passing on our information to your aunties?" Not only did this make children feel an equal to the adults, it gave Ginny and Myra a chance to hear what their kids had taken in, what gaps remained in their comprehension.

Margie began, and Gillam joined her every other line or so. Chris immediately came to stand on the other side of Myra, sliding her hand into Myra's. Myra leaned against her slightly. Ginny was the only person in the room who wasn't taller than Myra, but these two women, her oldest friends, were the biggest of the bunch, and having them flanking her always made her feel snug.

At the end of the telling, Sima looked particularly rattled. Chris said "In your dream, did we find the carburetor?"

"I woke up before that point" said Myra.

"But did you feel hopeless about it or were we almost there?" persisted Chris.

" seemed like you were about to say 'Aha!'" remembered Myra.

"What does a carburetor do, exactly?" asked Ginny.

"It mixes fuel with air that then gets explosed inside a chamber to drive the pistons" answered Chris.

"I'm not sure I follow the symbolism" said Sima.

Myra said "Well, elements get mixed in a womb to make new life. That's the only analogy I've come up with." Chris nodded.

"And the back seat made Nancy shift focus, why?" asked Ginny.

"Bottom half of the car. If it was the top half, it would have been my lungs, mixing oxygen with blood" said Myra.

"Thank god it's not your lungs" said Allie. "Uterus is expendable. I mean -- are you okay with losing your womb?"

"I haven't even thought about it" said Myra, "So yeah, I guess. I'm more freaked about the going in through my abdomen part. You're sure Dr. Desai said a vaginal approach wasn't possible?" she asked Ginny.

"She said your vagina was long and tight. And she wants to do a visceral inspection" said Ginny, her face pinking a little, Myra could guess why.

"Okay, well...I'll have a scar to compare with Carly's" said Myra. She stopped and said "Oh, Carly -- one of us needs to call him, he's gonna freak, too."

"I'll call Patty, then talk to him" offered Ginny. "Gillam, you wanna come get on the extension?"

"If he wants to talk with me, I'm up for it" said Myra. She began molding Gillam's meat mixtures into loaf pans. Allie took over the potatoes, and Sima came into the kitchen to kiss Myra's cheek and start the tart. Chris helped Margie with the salad.

Myra still felt watery inside, as if her muscles weren't quite strong enough to do what she asked of them. She realized, briefly, that the period she'd just finished was the last she would ever have. She waited for a reaction to that, but none came. Her definition of womanhood rested elsewhere, then.

Ginny returned from the study and said "Carly and Gillam are still talking. Carly's grandmother had cervical cancer when he was a toddler and is doing fine, so he's not panicking." She looked at Myra, the two of them communicating at another level. She came to Myra and put her arm around her waist to add, "Dr. Desai's office called in the middle and I talked with the scheduler. Your surgery is set for Wednesday morning."

Again, Myra waited for a strong reaction. Nothing here, either. Without knowing what she was going to say, she opened her mouth: "I want it out of me. The sooner, the better."

Everyone went quiet. They could hear Gillam in the study say "Yeah?" and the jangle of Narnia's collar as she licked herself. Ginny broke the surface with "Good, then. How can I help with dinner?"

"You can do the kale" said Myra. "But not for an hour." Ginny went to pull challah from the freezer and set it out to defrost before sunset.

Myra's numbness lifted briefly during shabbos prayers, Gillam's hand tight in hers and his slight swaying telegraphed to her. She suddenly wanted to wail, as if standing at a stone wall, and pound on it with her fists. She swallowed the impulse down again.

While they were eating, a message came in over the machine on the breakfast bar from Nancy, saying she could see them the next morning at 9:00. Myra didn't get up to answer. She looked down the table at Ginny and said "She's putting us ahead of others, I bet."

"Can I go with you?" asked Margie. Gillam immediately said "Me, too." Myra and Ginny continued to look at each other. Ginny said "You need to release. You haven't cried yet."

"I know" said Myra. Gillam, his voice urgent, said "You can cry in front of me, you've done it all my life."

Not like this, thought Myra. Not with this kind of terror. She turned and looked at Allie, then Chris. Chris nodded. Myra said "All right. We'll do this together." Lucky, lucky, I know how lucky I am she prayed.

Allie said "I can be with you all day on Wednesday, but my agent has me set up to teach a workshop in Vancouver on Thursday and Friday, about drawing for children. I -- I can cancel it..."

"No, I know that workshop, it's a big deal, Al" said Myra. "I'll need you most the day of. By Saturday, I may be home so you can hang with me here on the weekend, afterward." Allie looked at Ginny, who nodded. Chris said "We've got you covered, Myra. I'm your carburetor buddy, anyhow." Myra grinned.

After dinner, they gathered in the living room with tart and tea. Gillam was shadowing Myra in a way he had not since he was half this age, claiming one side of her on the couch. Ginny settled in on the other side. Margie sat on the floor in front of Allie and Edwina on the love seat, leaning back against their legs and ignoring Narnia polishing her tart plate clean beside them.

They continued to talk about Everything But. Myra found herself getting sleepy, fast. After a few minutes, she said "Can I steal enough room from you two to lie down here? I could put my head in your lap, Gillam, and my feet in yours, Gin."

"Sure" said Ginny, scooting to the far end. Myra crammed herself into a fetal position, then stretched her legs out across Ginny. She closed her eyes with a sigh. A minute later, she was asleep.

"Wow" said Gillam softly, his hand on the top of Myra's head.

Allie began asking detailed questions about the surgery, recovery time, prognosis, and preparation. It reassured Ginny to share all this and see it land in the brains of her smart, competent friends. Myra's friends. The pinched muscles around Gillam's eyes had completely relaxed, and Margie was able to make a couple of irreverent jokes. Ginny held Myra's sock feet in her hands and tried to find reassurance for herself.

At 9:00, Ginny said to her kids "It's an early day tomorrow, you two need to begin heading for bed. Maybe after we see Nancy, we could all take a drive outside the city somewhere. It would be great for your mom -- if you're free."

They both nodded, although Ginny knew for a fact Margie had a crewing practice. She went on, "Myra's going to sleep solid all night. I, on the other hand, am not so sure. So I've got a favor to ask of you. If you wake up and can't get back to sleep, come open our door quietly and whisper my name. I'll welcome the chance to get up and talk for a bit."

Both kids said they would, kissing Ginny and Myra on their cheeks before making the round of hugs from aunties. Gillam slid a pillow under Myra's head. After they were upstairs, Sima said "We could make something to help you sleep."

"Oh, I'll be okay" said Ginny. "That was mostly to give them an escape hatch. Feeling like you're shut away from folks for the night makes it more likely that you won't be able to drop off. They'll be fine, now. Plus they both have cuddly young animals to lie in their arms."

They went on talking for a while longer. All four said they'd be back the following evening to help make dinner and hang out. Allie helped Ginny get Myra up and walked her to the bedroom. Edwina hugged Ginny for a long time and whispered "You haven't cried yet, either."

"I will" said Ginny.

She and Myra woke up early, kissed slowly, then made Ginny eggs and tribade toast. Myra assembled some meatloaf sandwiches and Ginny filled a bag with fruit for snacks. The kids were bleary but able to get out the door in time.

At Nancy's, it was as if a switch got flipped. Myra said "Don't let me go" and began crying torrents, as Nancy did her mystery finger-waving and whispered to Dave or the Brotherhood. Ginny sat between her kids, holding their hands while they cried intermittently, until Nancy made the rounds for them all and everybody got a turn to freak the fuck out, as Myra put it. She created different Bach Flower tinctures for each of them, wrote down goofy affirmations on slips of paper, and when they left, Myra said "We frankly don't pay her enough."

"Are you okay with her being gone to that Omega Institute thing next weekend?" asked Ginny.

"Yeah. We've got all the herbs and crap for me to take right afterward, and god knows I'd like to go to Hawaii in this kind of weather" said Myra. "She'll be back on Monday."

They spent the day at Bloedel Reserve. Myra showed Gillam the spot by the reflecting pool where she and Ginny had discussed his pending arrival to their family, her arm linked through his. She walked with Margie to the waterfall overlook, just the two of them, while Ginny and Gillam went to the Zen Garden. It was unceasingly cold and overcast, but Myra still felt filled with light and air by the time they sat in a line of cars to catch a ferry back.

They were home a little late, but Allie had made her famous slum gullion and Chris had roasted camas roots. After singing in havdallah, Chris said "I've got a friend east of here who can put together a small sweat by tomorrow afternoon. We can all go."

Myra looked uncertain. "Is this to try to heal me?"

Chris snorted. "The things you still don't know, Myra Josong. No, it's to sweat you. Give us some quiet contemplation time and flush our bodies of all the poisons we take in."

"I want to go to Quaker meeting tomorrow" said Myra. She felt Gillam shift nearby; he'd accompany her, she was sure.

"We can start around 3:00, be done in four or five hours" said Chris. "Slick and starving."

"Thanks, Chris" said Ginny earnestly. She made large jugs of herbal tea to take with them the following afternoon, which sat out in the cold air and were absolute nectar when they all emerged from the funky-smelling hide-covered mound into the new night. On the way home, they clattered into a diner where, as Ginny said, they wiped out all the cleansing they'd just experienced by ordering from the white flour/hydrogenized fat side of the menu. Myra said "Don't forget sugar" as she sucked at her chocolate shake.

The next day, after the kids left for school, Myra and Ginny spent three hours at the gynecologic oncologist's office, almost all of which time was in the waiting room with desperately worried people. Myra was in a fury by the time the doctor did a five minute exam and said if the surgery revealed metastasis, she'd recommend further treatment based on the staging then.

They had to rush to the hospital for an EKG, blood work, and meeting with the anesthesiologist, the latter at Myra's insistence. When the young black tech came in to take Myra's blood, she honestly did not look as old as Margie.

Myra's needle phobia overrode her mounting irritation. She saw the tech fumbling, having trouble even laying out her supplies, and she said "Uh, my name's Myra, what's yours, honey?"

Startled, the tech answered "Makayla."

"You see a lot of blood in the course of a day, huh, Makayla?"

The tech stared at her, and blurted "This my first time. On a real person, I mean."

Oh fucking hell. Myra didn't even want to think about what the alternative to a "real person" was. Ginny stood up and headed for the door. Myra stopped her by saying "Well, Makayla, I'm a tough old bird. You take your time, and we'll both remember this experience, okay?"

Makayla smiled gratefully. Myra looked away, counting the tiles on the floor, until it was over. She got it on the second try, which was better than Myra had hoped for. Once she'd left the room, Myra said "It's a teaching hospital. The trade-off for having the most modern equipment and best surgeons."

Ginny did jump in during the discussion with the anesthesiologist, when it became apparent that Myra's questions were making the doctor wonder about Myra's stability. She said "Look, she's been online reading about people who have traumatic experiences during surgery. So what we want from you is that you have some way of actually telling if she wakes up during the operation, and a promise that you'll talk to her like a human being whatever is going on, as if her mind can hear you and cooperate with you. Because we believe in the power of the unconscious in general, and in Myra's brain particularly."

He blinked but did as requested. After they left, Ginny said "I'm asking for a full set of your medical records when this is all over, and if he wrote anything about you being labile, I'll have his ass in a sling."

Myra giggled and said "Well, being a cog in the money-making machine known as health care in this country is over for another day and a half. I'm going to soak in the hottub and beg Gillam to make his green chili enchilaladas."

That night in bed, they made out with increasing intensity until Myra said "I -- I'm going to have to stop here."

"What's up?" said Ginny.

"'s knowing I have cancer in my womb. I don't want to -- mess with it. Anywhere near it" said Myra. "I know that's irrational, Ginny. But -- "

"S'okay, Myra, I think you've been doing extremely well. Letting that jittery girl come at you with needles has earned you bonus points for the day. Here, roll over and let me rub your back" said Ginny.

Myra said, her face a little muffled by pillow, "What if this operation changes how I feel about sex? You know, some women lose their libido when their ovaries are gone."

"I don't think your libido is linked to your hormones" said Ginny, gently knuckling her way down Myra's spine. "Not if Dr. Desai's diagnosis is right -- your hormones have been whack-a-mole since you were a teenager, but it doesn't match how you've approached sex, and changed over the years."

"Oh, god, there, Gin -- there's a knot down there, can you feel it?"

"Mm-hmm. Keep breathing, Myra."

A minute later, Myra said "But what if."

"Well...honestly, I'll feel grief at not being able to make you come. It's a major joy in my life. But being lovers with you is not defined solely by that, Myra. We'll go to Nancy and she'll give me a horny-be-gone oil to rub on my yoni, and I'll paint a series of tragic canvases to launch my Lesbian Bed Death Period, which will sell like gangbusters, and we'll be fine."

Myra was laughing unrestrainedly, the hardest she had laughed in days. "You're the one for me, Ginny Bates."

"I know."

The following afternoon, as Myra was marinating chicken thighs, the phone rang. It was Chris, who breathed out loudly and said "Sima's mother died this morning."

"Oh my god. What happened?"

"Massive coronary. No warning at all. Sima's on the other phone with her sister right now. We have to fly back, Myra, Sima's torn to shreds. The funeral's tomorrow."

"Of course you do. Oh, but I can't go with you, dammit to hell! Maybe I should postpone the surgery -- "

"Don't you dare, Myra. I'll take care of Sima, I promise. But -- "

"Well, I've got Allie and Ginny, and the kids. Dr. Desai's going on vacation right after the surgery, but she's got a replacement to fill in. And -- how long will be you be gone?"

"Not clear yet. Her mother's flat will have to be cleared out, and I'm willing to bet her finances are in a mess, she never quite took care of herself after Sima's father died" said Chris.

"You have the emergency credit card, right? This is what it's for. Put everything on it, Kash-Kash, I fucking mean it. We'll talk it out later, and I promise to listen then. But no skimping right now."

After a pause, Chris said "Okay."

"Are you flying out today?"

"In a few hours, yeah. Sima's off the phone now, you want to talk with her?"

"Yes. And Ginny's getting on the extension."

They were still talking to Sima when the kids got home. Gillam and Margie each expressed their shock and sorrow to Sima and Chris. When they finally hung up, Margie said "I want to go to the hospital with you tomorrow. I don't want to be sitting at school, wondering what's happening, I won't be able to bear it."

"Me either" said Gillam swiftly.

"Okay" Myra gave in. "You can stand in for Chris and Sima, help your mom with whatever she needs."

Allie and Edwina arrived an hour later, carrying an overnight bag. "We thought we'd snag the spare room" said Allie. "Edwina can take the car to work and I'll ride to the hospital with ya'll."

Myra felt relief. "We have to get up at fucking dawn, the surgery starts at 7 a.m."

"I don't hate early rising like you do, My" reminded Allie.

They played Cunning Linguist Scrabble after dinner until Ginny declared it an early bed night. She gave everyone drops from Nancy and offered to make a sleep-inducing tea for Myra. Myra said she'd take her chances. She was so exhausted from trying not to think about things, she just wanted to lie down right away. And with Ginny awake beside her, she did sleep.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

1 comment:

letsdance said...

Thank you for not making me wait for this installment, Maggie. Now I want to learn what happens with and following the surgery!! (impatient all my life, sorry)