Sunday, April 20, 2008


(London at Night, 2003, taken with a digital camera from the International Space Station)

All right, fans, here's another segment of my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. This occurs after my last post five days ago. If you are already a familiar reader, begin below. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.

June 2010 -- Heading from Brazil to London

They left Salvador right before dinner one evening. Ginny had stashed small red bananas, a variety of breads, and extra water her in carry-on, while Myra loaded up on dark Brazilian chocolate bars. By the time they changed planes in Sao Paolo, Myra was starting to feel congested. Over the next sixteen hours, she became progressively more ill, her chest thickening with phlegm and her appetite disappearing. Ginny funneled orange juice from a sympathetic flight attendant into her, and broke out her emergency medical kit to settle on decongestants and a broad-spectrum antibiotic for Myra. When a fever started, Ginny added aspirin and extra blankets to her care.

It was a wretched ordeal for all of them. When they got to Heathrow, a wheelchair was waiting and Gillam insisted on being the one to push her. Frances was at the gate, and although Margie was ecstatic to see her, Myra could only smile blearily and shake Frances' hand without saying much. Ginny hustled them to baggage claim, standing guard over Myra while Margie and Frances grabbed luggage from the carousel and Gillam went out front to snag a hack and keep it waiting.

Ginny gave the cabdriver the name of their hotel but also asked for a medical clinic where Myra could be seen without waiting. Possessor of The Knowledge, the cabbie came up with a small private office where Myra was led directly to an exam room. Ginny peeled off American tens and persuaded the cabbie to wait on them.

Myra was diagnosed with bronchitis, given a change in antibiotics plus a short course of prednisone, and the cabbie knew a place to get the prescriptions filled promptly. By the time they arrived at the hotel, all of them exhausted and Myra barely able to move, Ginny's tip to the man was enough to raise even his eyebrows. She said "You were a godsend, take it."

Myra leaned on Gillam through the lobby and in the elevator. Their room, though sumptuous, had a decided chill. Ginny demanded the valet get the heat turned up pronto. Margie helped Myra change into bedclothes and as Myra lay back in the bed, moaning with relief, Ginny was on the phone ordering soup and hot tea. She hung up before she realized the rest of them needed food, also, and had to call back.

"All I want to do is sleep" said Myra.

"After some hot liquids inside you" said Ginny. She smiled wearily at Frances and said "Sorry you're not getting our typical welcome; I'm very glad to meet you."

"Be glad you're not getting the typical welcome" said Margie, her arm around Frances, "It's otherwise known as the third degree."

"After I eat, all I want to do is sleep, too" said Gillam. "Is she going to be okay?"

"The drugs will kick in, and getting out of that pressurized cabin will make a huge difference" reassured Ginny. "I'm not budging for the rest of the day, however."

"We'll stick to the hotel, too" said Margie, not quite pulling it off without a lascivious glance at Frances, who promptly turned red.

The tea that arrived was nothing like even the American black version. Myra took one sip and raised her eyebrows. Ginny sighed, saying the last thing she needed right now was a jolt of caffeine. But she let Myra drink all she could.

They ate together and split for their respective rooms, Ginny promising to call for help if Myra got worse. Gillam knocked at their door around 11:00, waking up Ginny from a dead sleep, to say goodnight again, looking at Myra worriedly. Ginny said "She's already breathing better" and kissed him dopily. He said he would pass it on to Margie on his way back to his room.

The next morning, the young people had bounced back and were ready for breakfast early. Ginny sent them out on their own, saying they only had two days here, to make the most of it. She was staying with Myra and they'd order room service. Myra did look better, though she was still spiking an intermittent fever and coughing up nasty wads of stuff. Gillam said he'd be back for lunch, and after a pause, Margie said "Oh...yeah, we will too." She and Frances were never out of physical contact, and Frances didn't look at much of anything besides Margie's incandescent face.

After they left, Myra said "They're over the moon, aren't they?"

"Yep. I haven't gotten a chance to talk with her at all, but she looks sweet enough" said Ginny. "Do you want to try a long hot soak, maybe make some steam for your lungs?"

"After I eat" said Myra. "Though it already feels damp in here, even damper than home."

At noon, Gillam arrived with a paper bag full of heavenly fish and chips. Even Ginny chowed down on them. Margie and Frances arrived an hour later, claiming a missed bus connection. Margie said "Mama, there's a show at the Tate Modern you absolutely have to see!" She began talking about the exhibit, but Ginny held up her hand and said "Not without Myra. And she's bed-bound until we get back on another plane, which we won't be doing until she's recovered. We can't allow her to get pneumonia."

Gillam said "I'll stay with her, Mom. I'd like a chance to rest some more, and I can take care of her. You should see all the art you can."

He was adamant, and Ginny eventually looked at Myra, who said "I agree with the boychik. I'm fine about missing the Tate. Although if I do get well enough in time before our flight in two days, I want to see the Black Museum at Scotland Yard, I've want to visit that most of my life."

"Count me out for that" said Ginny. Margie said "We're planning to spend most of tomorrow at Harrod's." It was odd to hear Margie talking as part of a we. Gillam chewed at his lower lip, then said "I'll go see the murderers with you, Mom."

Myra said "We'll see if I make it."

Ginny wrote unnecessary instructions for Gillam, checked her cell twice to make sure it was charged, and finally left with Margie and Frances. Gillam settled into Ginny's warm spot on the bed and Myra said "It's fine with me if you watch TV. I tend to sleep better with it on, anyhow." She lay down on her side, facing away from him, and dropped off quickly. When she woke up some time later, she discovered she had scooted back so she was full against his side. She sat up and said "What time is it?"

"Tea time" grinned Gillam. He put his hand to her forehead and said "I think your fever has broken. I think I could tell when it did, you got super hot and then sweaty, and bingo, you cooled right off."

She tested her joints and said "I think you're right. No more ache. And I'm hungry again. Tea time, you said?" She grinned back at him. He picked up the room service menu and they settled on an order. At the last minute, Myra said "Double the amount of tea, in case they come back soon."

As they waited, she said "How was television?"

"From the ridiculous to the sublime" he said. "Though a lot of the English I had a hard time understanding, isn't that wacky? Listen, according to General Ginny, it's time for another round of pills and supplements. I need to show empty OJ bottles on her return."

The way he was paying attention to her had an edge to it that Myra finally recognized. As she downed what he handed her, she said "I'm not frail, Gillam. I have wonky lungs, yes, and leaving my home environment can whack my usual coping mechanism. But I'm not going to die young as a result. I'm not like my mother."

He breathed in with a slight tremor and said "You can't know when you'll die."

"No. None of us can. But if I thought I was in trouble, I'd do something about it -- I have the resource, plus I have Ginny. And -- you're old enough, if there was nothing I could do, I'd be honest with you about it. You can set aside the panic that's deep inside you. I know that panic, I grew up with it, and you really don't have to share it."

She saw his shoulders relax. "Okay."

After room service arrived, all gleaming silver and china on a cart, Myra said "I probably shouldn't be eating clotted cream right now, but I cannot pass this up. Hand me that lemon curd, will you?" They grazed until stuffed. Myra dutifully drank several cups of the mint tea Gillam had slyly ordered instead of the British Blend. She was just returning from the bathroom when Ginny, Margie and Frances came in the door.

Margie called out "We brought curry!" and Gillam groaned. Ginny looked at Myra, settling back on the bed, and said "You have frosting on your cheek."

Myra smiled and said "I'm feeling better, thanks. Come sit beside me and talk like a painter as you eat curry. I'll take two bites of whatever's hottest, just to clean my pipes."

During the meal, Margie kept stealing shrimp from Frances' plate. The third time she did, Frances reached out with her fingers and deftly retrieved the morsel from Margie's chopsticks before it reached her mouth. "Ask" she said in a soft but firm tone. Margie giggled but stopped her theft. Ginny raised one eyebrow at Myra.

After dinner, Gillam was persuaded out to a "retro-looking club" with Margie and Frances. Ginny inspected the tea tray cart before wheeling it to the hall.

"He did a great job" said Myra, forestalling any criticism of Gillam.

"He's a fine son" said Ginny agreeably. The change in Myra's color and breathing was enough for her.

The next morning, Myra decided to stay in because it was pouring rain. "I'm going to check e-mail and rest up for the outing to Scotland Yard this afternoon" she said.

Ginny looked torn. Myra said "Those art stores are calling out your name, Ginny. Go, buy, ship crates of stuff home. I haven't run a fever since yesterday."

"I'll stay with you again" said Gillam. Myra was going to argue, but after a look at his face, she kept quiet.

They ordered a classic English fry-up for breakfast, complete with black pudding. Myra commented that the fried tomatoes would horrify Ginny, and Gillam kept marveling over the thickness of the bacon. As Myra was scooping up the last of her beans and mushrooms with toast, she asked Gillam "Would you like to use my laptop first to check your own e-mail? See how Carly and Beebo are doing?"

There was a moment's hesitation before Gillam answered "Yeah, that'd be good." She left him in privacy, taking another hot bath and deciding it was safe to wash her hair. When she emerged from the bathroom, her head wrapped in towels, Gillam was standing by the window looking down at the street.

"How are the boys?" she asked as she put on wool socks.

"Huh? Oh, fine, I guess. Carly said he'd write me if anything came up" Gillam said, still at the window.

Myra couldn't remember Gillam having talked about communicating with Carly since he'd arrived in Brazil. She dug casually. "Is he insanely busy with his paramedics course, then?"

"He was before I left" said Gillam, unconsciously verifying Myra's suspicions of a silence between the two friends. She sat at her computer but didn't log in yet.

"I really miss him" she said. "It's tough enough without David, and my friends, but Carly not being here leaves a bigass gap."

He finally glanced at her, and came to sit in a chair near the desk. He folded his hands in his lap, then refolded them twice. Myra waited.

"We're having a hard time" he said.

"I was beginning to wonder. That must seriously suck for you" she said.

He examined his cuticles, then said "I dated somebody this spring, you know. A girl -- woman -- that started to get kinda serious. For me, at least."

"Shiloh" said Myra. She'd registered the name and comments about her, although had not met her.

"Shila" corrected GIllam. When he offered nothing more, Myra said "I noticed you used past tense."

"Yeah, we broke up a couple of weeks before I left." He trailed to a halt again. Myra wasn't sure how to maneuver this territory. The obvious question, "Why?", seemed clumsy.

Gillam cleared his throat and started again. "She broke up with me. Although it wasn't a total surprise. The fact is, she delivered an ultimatum about things I didn't even understand. Still don't. You know, Mom, I thought I was pretty good at talking stuff out and doing my share of the work..."

"You are good at it, Gillam. Very much so. But not everybody is matched in the ways they do things" said Myra.

"The thing is...." Gillam was looking at his hands again. Here comes the headline thought Myra. "Carly, he just hated her. I mean, with a purple passion."

"Oh, god" said Myra, not censoring. "How awful for you and him both. Was it jealousy?"

"There was some of that, yes" said Gillam, looking at her sideways. "But we could handle that. The hard part was -- he said she treated me like shit. He made fun of her, and not in a way that would make anybody laugh."

Myra suddenly realized she was filling in for David. Oh fucking hell she thought. Okay, you're NOT the mommy right now. You're an older confidante.

She said gently, "Was Carly right?"

He glanced at her again, reading her face in split-second takes. "I didn't think so at first. We fought about it. I mean, really fought, like we never have. I mean, sometimes when we were little we'd wale into each other over a toy..."

"But this went deep. I get it. I had a lover once that Allie despised. It was back when Allie was still drinking, and she could be cruel in the things she said then."

Gillam now looked directly at her, surprised. "Who was it?"

"Fern. You've never seen her. The fact is, Fern was abusive. She was a lot smaller than me, so I didn't believe she could be the one doing all the controlling in our relationship. It must have driven Allie nuts to watch how she bullied me. Then, one night, Fern punched me. Allie was at our house, in the kitchen with my roommate then who was a friend of hers. I don't know how she heard the blow, but she did. She boiled into my room, slamming my door open, and threw Fern out of the house. Literally grabbed her by the collar and shoved her out the front door."

"Holy crap" said Gillam.

"I was stupid enough to make up with Fern and see her a few weeks more. She spread lies all over the place about how Allie had attacked her, although it didn't stick, mostly, because I had this big shiner and -- well, anybody who'd known Fern for a while was aware of her personality. Eventually she broke up with me and immediately slept with another friend of mine. But I didn't care, by that time I was relieved to be done with her."

"How long were you together?" asked Gillam.

"Oh, at most a few months. My usual" said Myra. "Listen, that was me, it's not how you are. Why don't you tell me where Carly was maybe right and where he was wrong?"

Gillam put his hands on the chair arms and leaned back. His eye contact was steady now. "I might need to just think aloud."

"Sounds good" said Myra, relaxing her body as well but putting the tip of her foot against his foot: Keeping the circuit intact.

"Shila said her mother was a feminist, but there were definitely two sets of rules in her household, one for her and a different one for her two brothers. Not the same as when you were growing up, not that overt. It was more like, the girls were expected to be smart and the guys, including her father, always got a free pass when they complained things were too complicated. She was pissed about it, although she believed it was probably DNA -- she thinks women have more capacity to think emotionally, as she put it, and be field sensitive. Whereas guys have to have things made simple." Gillam's tone was becoming aggrieved.

"So when I showed I wasn't like that, when I asked for the complicated answer or offered to hear her feelings, you'd think she'd be happy about that, wouldn't you?" He didn't wait for Myra's answer. "And at first she said she was, but then she starting testing me, like how far could I go, and didn't see it at first. Carly...Carly said she was laying booby-traps. And sometimes I did have a limit, I mean, fuck, we all do in certain areas." He paused for a minute, and Myra ached to ask him what limits where, to find where she had failed him as a parent. But you're not the mommy right now she reminded herself.

"I told her I wanted to be her friend before all else, Mama. That led to our first fight. She said she wanted romance, a charge, and that could only happen with non-friends. I got pretty mad. I asked her how well that standard had worked out so far, and she -- well, she said she had more experience than I did, so I should shut up and learn. It was right after that -- what really ripped it for Carly was when she introduced me to one of her friends as her 'woman-hearted boyfriend'. Carly was there and heard it, and he left, he was so hacked off." Gillam stopped and leaned forward, saying "You know, I hope you know, it wasn't that he, or I, was insulted by being called woman anything. It isn't that."

"I get it, Gillam. She meant it as a put-down, right?"

"Exactly" he said in relief. "In her mind, there's this intrinsic difference between the hearts of men and women, and I was some kind of freak, maybe a good freak, but still not a manly man, you know? When I got home, Carly ranted for hours about how stupid she was for not welcoming the chance to step outside her own half-brained prison, is how he put it. And he kept asking what I got from her, if she saw me as weird enough that she had to warn her friends as soon as they met me."

"Did you have an answer for that question?" asked Myra.

"I did then. But after a while...Mom, I know there's no such thing as reverse sexism, I know where the power lies, but -- some stuff goes two ways. Disrespect can go both ways. And it's bad enough to have almost every other guy in the world looking at me like I was born without balls, excuse my language, but for women to buy into that..." He was close to crying, and Myra wasn't sure what was stopping him, residual anger or fear it would prove somehow he wasn't normal.

What would I do if this was Allie? she asked herself. She leaned forward and put her hand on his knee. "It's hard out here for a pimp" she said, and he barked in laughter. She went on "What would you rather have right now, my thinking on the subject, more room for you to share your thinking, or something else, like hormones and surgery?"

He laughed again, tears leaking from the corners of his eyes as he did so. "Maybe some of what you think. Just not a treatise."

"Well...I didn't see the two of you together, but based on how I know you, I'm certain in my own mind that she did glimpse and was drawn to the part of you that is so amazingly different. She wanted that opportunity. The tragedy is that she couldn't handle it."

He sucked back a sob: We all want to know we're not idiots in who we choose to love, she thought. She squeezed his knee and continued. "I think of your zayde, and how despite being raised in a decidedly male-centric era, he never stopped heading toward the light, towards a world where he could have his feelings and express himself and, well, be part of the collective. I think there must be millions of men like him, though maybe not with as much opportunity as he wound up having. And I think he'd tell you, you'll figure out through practice how to find folks who can walk along with you at your pace. You are male down to your chromosomes, and it's a glorious thing to be, but you're also living la vida revolutionaria. Time is on your side."

Gillam was crying now. "It's some of the stuff Carly said that really hurts, more than her."

"Of course. My guess is he got scared about watching you wade into the same strafe zone he has to face, and he wanted you to perform better. He's only four months younger than you, but sometimes he really is the kid brother, you know."

"I need him to say he's sorry" said Gillam, reaching for a tissue.

"He will. I bet he's wondering how the fuck to get out of the hole he dug himself into. He probably thinks you're having a blast, leaving his sorry ass behind with a glad heart, and he's too ashamed to write you. Did you send him a message when you checked your e-mail?"

"No" said Gillam after blowing his nose.

"Well, when you're ready to talk with him, he's going to piss himself in relief, I can guarantee you that" said Myra. She gave herself permission to be mommy enough to lean over and kiss his flushed, beautiful cheek. He leaned into it, then looked down at his watch. She pointed to her travel alarm, which showed dual readings for local time and Seattle time. It also could be used as a calculator and a currency converter -- Ginny had scoffed at her when she bought it for this trip, but they'd already used it endlessly.

"He'll be home by now" said Gillam.

"Use my cell, I budgeted international minutes" said Myra.

"I -- I'm going to take it to my room" he said apologetically.

"Go for it. I'm going to get snared in e-mail for a long while" she answered. Which turned out to be an accurate prediction. When she heard him coming back through the connecting door, she glanced at the clock and discovered over an hour had passed. She forced herself to not think about the phone bill. She grinned at his shining face and said "I hope you told him how much we miss him, too."

"I did. He sends ooey-gooey love to you all, his words. And Beebo has taken to searching the house for me around 4 a.m. every morning, with loud cries of distress."

"Oh, poor kitten" commiserated Myra. Gillam settled back in the chair and began telling her about Carly's training adventures.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.


Jesse Wendel said...

Ah, you got it right EXACTLY.

One of the major conversations I have to keep having with daughter #3, is how being the sanest kid she knows, is a GOOD thing.


There are times, at 18, when she'd just love to blend in more. Not that she isn't the most popular kid in her group, always, or that she isn't beloved. But there are times she'd just love to not know the right thing to do so damn much, or see so clearly what makes sense. It HURTS her to be so empathetic sometimes, to be the one leading, to feel so deeply.

Sometimes I have to be there for her, just like your mothers do, giving her permission to be herself.

You said it right. Good writer. *smiles* *hugs Maggie*

kat said...

There are a couple of British things that could be adjusting....Lemme know if you want the info.

Otherwise, it was really wonderful to get this glimpse into Gillam. I'm glad he opened up to Myra, and it gives me some perspective for what I know of his future. He's so well drawn that I wanted to reach into the screen and give him a hug!

Maggie Jochild said...

I DO want the info, Kat. This is a first draft, lots of rewriting and perhaps a completely different book will eventually emerge. I welcome ALL feedback.

Gillam is glorious to hug -- soft, muscular, open, and smells like vanilla (plus man, now).

kat said...

okey doke:
mostly just about meals. If you're getting tea from a hotel (by which I mean tea, the meal), it would probably be traditional afternoon tea. It would be scones and biscuits and that sort of thing. Normally scones and bangers wouldn't happen at the same meal.
"Mint tea they had ordered instead of earl grey"-->Why earl grey? Is that the family favorite? Rare in England, but a hotel dealing with tourists would prolly have it.

Okay, beast thing ever? Ready? a "cream tea." Take on british scone (more like an american biscuit, but lean, like a cream biscuit) and split it open. Butter it generously. Add cream (clotted or double) and jam. Listen to your arteries congeal.

For reference: in England, single cream is twice as thick as whipping cream. Double cream is twice as thick as's practically solid. And it goes on EVERYTHING! Well, that and custard, but that's a horror that I'd rather not consider right now...

Heat: unless the hotel is so posh that it has central heat (super rare in England), there will be radiators in each room. The modern british radiator is a marvel. I really miss it. They're wider (can sometimes take up almost a whole wall), and are much flatter than traditional tube-y radiators. They work really quickly and really well.

That's the one thing I miss about my english house.

Fish & Chips: hm...yes, you can find it in London, but heavenly would not be my first adjective....It's something that isn't really, really good unless you're in one of the seaside towns...

Just for my curiosity, the Tate Britain or the Tate Modern?

Maggie Jochild said...

All right, Kat! Let's just assume Myra and Gillam were having cream teas, 'cause of course they would. What kind of tea IS standard in England, then? Ceylon?

And yeah, I know scones are for tea, not brex, but I'm thinking Myra would try to special order them with her bangers. Would that be possible?

I've actually had scones with clotted cream and jam, several times. And it is the BEST and BEAST THING EVER! Damn, wish I had some right now.

Gotcha about the radiator. And the fish'n'chips. There used to be a place on Castro Street, half a block up from 19th, across from where the Patio Cafe was, that sold what they claimed were authentic Brit style fish'n'chips. I can't vouch for their claim, but it was fantastic fair -- thick, white, flaky fillets in a perfect light dough and hefty wedges of tender-inside/crunchy-outside potatoes, wrapped in newspaper and real malt vinegar splashed across. I ate them every chance I got. But it was considered lowbrow fare for that neighborhood, even then.

kat said...

Okay, so most people drink "regular" tea. It's black, and most brands (Tetley's, PG Tips, Typhoo) are a blend of stuff. Over there, Twinings calls it "British Blend."
There really isn't an equivalent here, because it's stronger and more flavorful than English Breakfast....Traditionally, there would be folks who only drank India tea (assam or whatever), and folks who only drank China tea. It was pretty divided along class lines. India was for servants or lower classes, China for posh folks.

If I send you the Cazalet books (I'll email, cuz it gets complicated), I'll throw in a packet of Typhoo tea. In my family's opinion, it's the only one worth drinking. Therefore, I splurge on imported boxes of it!

Sausages: bangers are a particular type of sausage. Breakfast sausages would be pretty much the same as ours. Bangers are bigger, and lighter in color....almost like a bockwurst.
I don't know how Myra and Gillam would feel about a full English Breakfast: fried eggs, sausages, beans (like the baked beans from a can...usually by Heinz), bacon, sauteed mushrooms, tomato (fried, of course), and black pudding. Oh, and toast. Bacon is really meaty, and kind of pork-chop shaped. I guess the closest equivalent would be back bacon, or something....

You could try to get scones for breakfast, but somehow I doubt the success.....

I wonder if that chip shop is still there...My dad's family had a place over near Clement street that they would go, but it's gone. And I've only ever found one place in all of the bay area that uses Haddock for fish and chips. It's far better, in my opinion, than cod.

Maggie Jochild said...

Okay, Kat, your information is so useful I just went back and rewrote portions of both "Back to Fog" and "City of Light" using your suggestions. Which will confuse readers coming to these comments late, until they reach this point (grin).

I REMEMBER a fish and chips place near Clement -- not far from Green Apple Books, right? I went there, too. There was also a hotdog place right across from Green Apple that I adored, I think called Bun'N'Burger. Not a chain, not like Doggie Diner. (Loved their roadside art but not the food.)

The class thing about the tea is fascinating. Was it about price and availability, or because India had been successfully conquered by the English while China was not? (You know, we respect those who stand up to our bullying more.) Or a combo of the two -- tea from a colonized place obviously being cheaper.

kat said...

I guess it was near Green Apple, but I was pretty young, so I don't remember too well.

I have no idea why the tea origin went along class lines. I would bet that price was a big factor, plus maybe the flavor? Assam tea is really strong and has a very distinctive taste, where as Chinese tea (at least the kind I've had) is more delicate.....don't really know....

I don't think that Brits have more respect for China, though. Remember that quote from Prince Philip? He didn't want Elizabeth to stay in China too long, in case she "went all slitty eyed".....yeah, that's some of the most spectacularly racist language I've ever heard!