Monday, April 7, 2008


(Limestone hills, Black Gap Wildlife Management Area, West Texas)

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 two days ago. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.

March 2008

Long after Gillam and David had retired for the night, just as Myra was getting ready to turn off her light and go to bed alone, her desk phone rang. She looked at the caller ID, and when she saw Margie's number, her heart skipped a beat. "Ginny!" she called out as she answered it.

"What's up? Are you okay?" she asked Margie.

"I know it's late, but I thought one of you would still be up." Margie's voice sounded a little congested -- she'd been crying.

"We both are." Ginny was at the extension now, saying "Hi, honey. What's wrong?" Ginny still had a wet brush in her other hand.

"Oh, god." Margie began crying out loud. "Tell me you're not gonna hate me."

"There's no way on earth I'd ever hate you, Marjorie Rose" declared Ginny vehemently, which made Margie cry a little harder. "Please, tell us what's going on."

"I'm late for my period. Like by five days" wailed Margie.

Ginny sat down abruptly on Myra's daybed. Myra leaned over her desk, cradling the phone in both hands. "Oh, Margie. You must be so scared, angel" said Myra.

They let Margie wail for a bit. When her sobs slacked off, Ginny said "We can get in the car and be there in no time."

"No, don't do that. I have to figure out what to do" said Margie.

"Not without us, you don't. I mean, yes, you make you own decisions, but we'll be backing you up in person" said Myra. "Have you told -- it's Rimbaud, right?"

"Yeah, I told him tonight. He's with me right now. He's being great, he really is." Margie continued to cry.

Aside from knocking you up, thought Myra grimly. As if Margie could read her mind, she said "It was a condom failure, Mama. We both noticed it -- after. And I've been worried sick ever since. We both have."

"Have you taken a home pregnancy test?" asked Ginny.

"No, I'm not sure it'll be accurate this soon" said Margie. "And -- well, we had to do some talking. What I'd rather do is come up there, and go to the doctor. That way, I won't be guessing."

"I'll get an appointment for you tomorrow" said Myra. "Drive up tonight, if you want. You and Rimbaud both." The last bit was hard to push out of her mouth, and she saw Ginny scowl.

"No, I'm going to try to sleep tonight. I haven't been sleeping very well, and maybe I will now. I'll come in the morning. I'm not sure if Rimbaud is coming -- he wants to, but I think he should just go to class. It's terrible circumstances for you all to get to know each other." Margie tried to laugh, but didn't make it.

"Do you feel -- well, you don't know what it's like to be pregnant" began Ginny. "Are you sick to your stomach, or repulsed by food? Are you feverish?"

"I haven't been eating much" said Margie, "but I'm not nauseated. I feel PMS-y, really, kinda bloated and emotionally way off kilter, but that could just be the stress."

"We'll figure it out" said Myra. "You get here, and we'll be a team. You're gonna be okay, darling girl, I promise you."

Margie said "Oh, god, I love you both so much. I know I don't tell you enough, but I really really do."

Myra began crying. Ginny said, "You show it constantly, you're the best thing that ever happened to our lives, honey."

"Mama" said Margie, beginning to cry hard again. "Mama -- I don't think I can have an abortion. I just don't think I can. I believe in the right to choose, I think it's up to every woman -- but I'm not sure when life begins, and I can't -- live with myself, not being sure."

Ginny was now crying too. "I understand, Margie. I'm the same way. There's plenty of room and love for any child in our family, however they get here. We'll figure it out."

"Okay" Margie blubbered "I knew you'd say that, but I'm so sorry to --"

"Don't you dare apologize to me, Margie" said Ginny. "Not for this. Not for sex, and not for an accident, and not for babies. You have not disappointed me. Get that through your head."

"Okay." Margie blew her nose, then came back and said "I'll see you both in the morning, then. Send me sweet dreams."

"We do, and call us right before you get on the road, will you?" said Myra.

They exchanged "I love yous" one more time, and hung up. Myra and Ginny stared at each other. Ginny said "Well, no more painting for me tonight" and stood up to go clean her brush. After a minute, Myra turned off her desk lamp and headed for their bedroom. Ginny joined her as she was washing her face.

"Do we need to talk this over tonight?" said Ginny.

"For once, no. I think we're in complete accord. And we need to know the facts before we can make plans. I want to just lie down in your arms and thank god for our children, our health, our financial security, and each other, not necessarily in that order" said Myra tiredly.

"Amen, sister" said Ginny, picking up her toothbrush.

When the phone rang the next morning at 7:30, Myra rolled over in bed and answered it before Ginny could get to the extension in the kitchen. Ginny poked her head in the bedroom in a minute and said "That Margie?"

"Yeah, she's already on her way." Myra sat up, still tired.

"David's taking Gillam to school. I told both of them. I can make eggs and toast, if you want to join me."

"Be right there." Myra put on clothes suitable for the doctor's office and went to eat with Ginny. When David returned, he sat at the table with them as well, drinking another cup of tea.

Ginny asked "Rimbaud coming with her?"

"I forgot to ask."

"Well, either way, I'll put fresh sheets on her bed" said Ginny.

"I left a message with Dr. Desai's service last night" said Myra. "They don't open until 9."

After a long pause, Ginny said "Are condoms enough? I mean, don't women use -- something else, too, like some kind of foam or jelly?"

"You're asking the wrong girl" said Myra wryly. She looked at David and said "What did you and Helen use -- I mean, condoms were around since World War II, right?"

He was clearly mortified, but refused to give in to embarrassment. "Between Cathy and Ginny -- we used what they called the rhythm method. Which, as it turns out, mostly relies on luck."

"Then how did you make it ten years without getting pregnant?" asked Myra. She was not awake enough to notice Ginny making faces at her.

"Well...we weren't very active" said David, finally.

"And -- wait, are you saying Ginny was an accident, too?" Myra finally realized she was maybe digging too deep. Ginny's sharp kick to her shin reinforced that realization.

David had the grace to laugh. "Unplanned, yes. Accident, not so much."

"Well, you have to say that, she's right here" Myra joked.

When Margie walked in the front door, they were all still at the table. She looked terrible, dark circles under her eyes, pale skin, her hair not washed recently. Ginny wrapped her arms around her and led her to the table, getting her a fresh cup of tea. Myra took her hand and said "You hungry?"

"Yeah, a little. Whatever that signifies. Maybe some yogurt, and toast?" said Margie.

"I'll get it for her" said David.

"I asked Rimbaud to stay there. I felt like I needed the drive alone" said Margie. "Have you made the appointment yet?"

Myra looked at the clock. "No, but I can get hold of the office directly now." She reached for the phone.

David brought over apple butter and a banana as well. Margie began eating apple butter directly from the jar. "I remember as a kid, I felt deprived by not having all the kinds of jelly and jams that other kids had at their houses -- it was almost always apple butter here. But since I've been away, I miss it when I run out of the stash you send me."

"We'll send more" said Ginny.

Myra hung up the phone and said "We can go in at 11, get the blood drawn, and she'll see you right before she leaves for lunch."

Margie's face registered a small degree of relief. She picked up a Mary Poppins triangle of toast and bit into it. "Have you told the aunties yet?"

"No" said Ginny. "Tonight's shabbos, you can tell them yourself if you want. Listen, you want eggs? I can make you Ginny Eggs."

"No -- wait, yes, I do. I seem to be ravenous. Is that a good sign?" said Margie. As Ginny got up to cook, she said "Hunger and the means to fulfill it are always good signs."

At their next meal, a belated lunch at Margie's favorite veggie place, she ate even more exuberantly, this time celebrating the fact that Dr. Desai had declared her Not Pregnant. She had called Rimbaud from the car and they had wept together before she went into the restaurant with her mothers. Halfway through the meal, they remembered David and Gillam, and called them as well.

"I do want your children filling up my house" said Ginny, "but timing is everything."

"Did you talk with Dr. Desai about -- other measures?" asked Myra.

Margie laughed a little crazily. "You two are from the Stone Age sometimes. Yes, I got a backup contraceptive. Plus, she gave me a scrip for Plan B. But -- right at the moment, I feel like I'll never have sex again."

Ginny laughed. "Yeah, well..."

The waiter came by with more fresh bread, and Margie paused until she was out of earshot.

"Don't pass out, you two, but I'd like to talk to you -- about sex. If you're up for it."

Ginny bit her tongue as she was chewing and yelped. "Don't mind me. Yes -- what, exactly, did you want to discuss?"

Margie was selecting her words. "I know the stuff about who's the man with lesbians of your generation is hogwash, and please do not try to give me a lesson in top/bottom dynamics -- but, how do you work out -- who does the asking? Or consenting, or whatever you call it?"

Ginny looked at Myra. Myra said "You mean about initiation and receptivity?"

"Yeah, that's it. But no details, please have mercy on me" said Margie, focused on buttering a roll.

"I don't know how much help we'll be. I think we're extremely atypical" said Myra.

"We're even-steven, most of the time" said Ginny. "Easy-peasy. Sometimes I ask, sometimes she does, and I can't remember the last time one of us said no. Except for -- " she stopped.

"Right after my hysterectomy, for six months, I was not interested" said Myra. "But we worked through that."

"Jesus" said Margie. "I asked for this, didn't I. Well -- does that mean it's all the time, which is what it looks like, or what?"

"It's often" said Myra. "On average more than twice a week, unless we're on vacation. But not on any kind of schedule. And, that brings up a point -- we don't ask if it's not a good time. We don't use sex to heal arguments, we don't try it if we're tired or sick or worried, and we have other means of keeping a strong emotional and physical connection. So sex is just sex, not the glue that keeps up going. Ironically, I think that's helped make it more frequent, without the legendary lesbian bed-death ever coming along for us."

"We've never talked about it this way, have we?" Ginny asked Myra.

"No, but I've thought about it. I mean, I only had one relationship before you that was longer than 18 months, so I wasn't an expert on that aspect of it -- " said Myra.

"And I had longer ones, but not the frequency you did -- " said Ginny.

Myra turned back to Margie. "I think we're mostly just incredibly lucky to be on the same page. I don't know anyone else who's had it this easy."

Margie blew air out through her lips. "Okay, then, not about you two -- about other relationships you've had -- what was it like when you weren't matched?"

"I don't mean to pry, honey, but there's so many different ways that could be defined. Are you talking about when one person just plain wants to make love more often than the other one does?" said Myra.

"Kinda. Okay, here's the skinny, but don't you ever, ever bring this up again, okay?" said Margie. Ginny and Myra nodded, both of them a little pink in the face.

"Rimbaud -- I want it as much as he does, it's not that. I think the frequency is pretty balanced for both of us. But -- it's like, I know he'll never say no. And it's not what you just said, that you don't ask each other unless it's a good time. I honestly feel like if he had lost just lost a finger and was bleeding all over the place, and I offered to go down on him, he'd say Sure, let me just clamp this artery between my teeth. It's like -- scratching an itch. Which isn't fair, because he does love me, he treats me like I'm a jewel. But, still -- I know I'll never have to do without. I guess it's not much to complain about..."

"No, I get it, I really do" said Myra. "It was that way with me and Judit. She wanted to have sex every single day, and although it was never routine, how we did it, still -- I chose her in part because she was compulsive and I wanted to try that on, find out what it was like to have an unlimited supply. And I found out I didn't like it. I want -- the communication of negotiation, is one way to put it."

Ginny was staring at her. "The things I keep learning about you."

Myra grinned at her, but continued talking to Margie. "And, in Judit's case at least, it came from insecurity. She wasn't completely convinced that anybody really wanted her. Plus, she became sexual very early, like at age 12, with boys until she came out at 18, so she got trained to be like in a tractor beam with desire. No fluidity. And all touch, all intimate touch, brought up sex for her. She was a lot like what I think guys are like in that regard. Or, I should say, what male conditioning does."

"Yeah, that's not Rimbaud exactly" argued Margie.

"Have you tried talking with him about it?" asked Ginny.

"Once. And, it was a real mood killer, because he asked if I -- felt the way I did because I'd been raised by lesbians. It wasn't an accusation, it was a real question on his part -- plus, he was raised outside the U.S., so there's that cultural gap, too, and the only way he can get around it is to ask awkward questions, sometimes." Margie sounded a little defensive; she didn't want her mothers to judge her boyfriend.

But Myra didn't. "You were raised with radically different values, Margie. In the short run, I can imagine they feel like an obstacle. In the long run, well, if you don't come back and thank us eventually, I'll enter a re-education camp and confess my sins."

Margie laughed in relief and said "I'll sign the commitment papers, if it comes to that."

The waiter appeared to ask if they wanted dessert. Margie looked at her mothers and said "Could we go out for frozen yogurt instead?"

"You bet" said Ginny. She handed the waiter a credit card and said "Are we done with what you want to talk about?"

"For now" said Margie. "When I get home, I'm going to sleep the rest of the afternoon."

"Yeah, I think I need a nap, too" said Myra.

Ginny looked across the table at her and said "Every day? You and Judit, really?"

"No more" warned Margie.

As they left the restaurant, Margie linked her arms between her mothers and began humming under her breath. Ginny said "Before you go to sleep, I'm making you some tea that'll bring on your period."

"Ah, no wonder I'm craving chocolate yogurt" said Margie in sudden comprehension.

April 2008

Myra got a call at noon from Gillam. She could hear the clamor of his school cafeteria in the background.

"Hey, Mom -- I have a big report I'm working on with a classmate, about the history of slavery in the South, and you've got that whole shelf of books on it. Could I bring him home tonight so we can dig through your library?"

"Sure. Lots of those books aren't available other places any more, and the internet hasn't caught up with library de-funding. Is he going to eat dinner with us?"

"If that's okay with you. He's not vegetarian." Myra thought Gillam was maybe hinting.

"I could do hot pastrami and a potato kugel -- David asked for it sometime."

"Awesome, Mom. And, listen, could we use your study, like, even your computer? It's so fast."

"Like, yeah" she laughed. "Your mom and I are, god help us, going through our closets and the storeroom after dinner. Time to donate to a garage sale."

"Oh, I got stuff, too. Okay, see you after school."

Gillam's friend was a thin sandy-haired boy with big lips and intelligent grey eyes named Isaac. Myra gave them a snack and had an extra chair set up at her desk for them. David was painting, and Ginny was transplanting seedlings from the mini-greenhouse on the upstairs deck into a raised bed she could cover in case of a late freeze. After dinner was under way, Myra made a pan of peanut butter brownies and frosted them with chocolate: In her experience, thin teenage boys ate the most.

Allie and Edwina dropped in for dinner, bringing a platter of fried catfish. Myra made a last-minute tartar sauce and, after they all sat down and began eating, Gillam started talking to Allie and Edwina about his paper. At first, Myra noticed, his friend Isaac was nervous about discussing slavery with two black women, but when Gillam grabbed a notepad from the breakfast bar to write down some of their suggested resources, Isaac joined the conversation enthusiastically.

"Isaac makes higher grades in history than I ever have" Gillam said at one point. "Which is pretty funny when you consider that his brother, also in our grade, just sucks at it."

"But Jonah is way good at physics, and I can't retain those equations worth a f--flip" Isaac said.

Gillam, shoveling noodles into his mouth, said "Have you guys ever like swapped places for a test, you know, have him take your physics exam for you?"

"Nah, we wear our hair too differently" said Isaac. He said to the rest of the table "We're twins, and identical, but we don't dress the same."

Something tickled Myra's mind, and she tried to track it down -- a memory, maybe? Deja vu?

Allie looked hard at Isaac for a minute, then said "I hope you won't think this is rude, but do you have lesbian mothers, too, Isaac?"

"Yeah" said Isaac.

That's when the torrent broke through the floodgates inside Myra. "Your mother -- is one of your mothers Karin Barbaras?"

Ginny froze. Isaac and Gillam both reacted to the sudden tension. Myra forced herself to smile as Isaac said "Yeah. My other mom is Claudia Koch."

Myra said, in a surprisingly normal tone of voice, "I used to know Karin. Tell her hi from me. You and Gillam once met each other at a Dyke March when you were babies."

Gillam punched Isaac on the shoulder, and Isaac laughed.

"Tell her hi from me, too" said Allie. "How she doing?"

Isaac's grin dimmed. Faltering a little, he said "She -- d'you know, she has cancer?"

Myra was now barely treading water. "Oh my god, no. I hadn't heard. What kind?"

"Breast. Two years now." Isaac wasn't eating any more.

Myra could tell that Ginny's gaze was fixed on her, but she couldn't look anywhere except at Isaac's bruised expression. "And -- how's it going, honey?"

Isaac didn't register surprise at the endearment, although Gillam did. "She's on salvage. It's -- spread to her hip."

Bone cancer, then. "The pain must be godawful." Myra didn't realize she'd said it out loud until Gillam turned a shocked face her way. "I'm sorry, Isaac, I don't mean to put you through this over dinner. Let us know if we can help in any way. I'm serious."

"Thanks" he said in a muffled tone.

The silence was appalling, but Myra didn't notice. She didn't notice anything or anyone at the table now. She ate mechanically. Edwina jumped in with a subject change, and both Allie and Ginny tried to re-engage Myra, but she really didn't hear them. The other adults covered well enough that Isaac returned to his previous chatter. As soon as the main meal was done, Myra excused herself and said she had to go make a phone call. She went into her and Ginny's bedroom and closed the door with a comforting click. She lay face down on the bed, in the dark, and let herself remember Karin's breasts.

After a few minutes, the door opened and closed again. She could tell from the tread across the pine flooring that it was Allie. Allie lay down beside her wordlessly and pulled Myra's head onto her shoulder. Myra let herself cry, then. At one point she said "He could be our son, you know."

"Well, no" said Allie. "You got a son who wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you choosing Ginny. And Isaac's here because Karin loved Claudia. We make our choices, right or wrong, and everything speeds away from us that's not on the one little path we walk."

"Thank god I have Gillam" cried Myra. "And Ginny, I wouldn't have it any other way. Except..."

"I know. I get it" said Allie.

After Myra felt better enough to sit up and blow her nose, she said "You smell like peanut butter."

"There won't be any of those brownies left by the time you go back out there" laughed Allie. "Edwina's in your study with the boys, talking to 'em about Sea Island culture, and they're typing one-handed so they can pinch off chunks of brownie with the other hand."

"That means my keyboard is going to be covered in crumbs and frosting" said Myra. "Won't be the first time."

"Remember when Margie melted her box of crayons in the toaster?" said Allie.

"Yeah. When I got the screws off the bottom and looked in at those coils, it was actually beautiful, a rainbow metal kind of sculpture" said Myra. "And then there's time she put her waffle in the VCR, and that horrifying moment I caught her coaxing Juju into the dryer." After a long pause, Myra said "The worst part is imagining what Karin is feeling, having to leave her children behind. Worse than dying."

"Yeah" said Allie softly.

"I hate to ask this of you, Al, but she won't talk with me -- will you call her, or Claudia, and find out if they need anything? Especially -- things that money can provide. If you think they won't take it from me, maybe you could say it's from you, as a board member or something -- "

"I won't lie to her, but yes, I'll call her" said Allie. "Now we should get back out there, Ginny holding down the fort."

They got up and Allie went into the kitchen where David was doing dishes, while Myra paused to wash her face. Ginny was just finishing making Gillam's lunch. She came over and gave Myra a long hug. "You okay?" she whispered.

"Yes, and no" said Myra. "Is Isaac all right, did I freak him out?"

"He's forgotten about you, I'm sure" said Ginny.

"Well, let's grab boxes and clean out closets" said Myra. "Just the therapy I need for tonight."

At the end of the evening, Allie and Edwina offered to drop Isaac home. After they were gone, Myra said "You get a good running start on your report?"

"I think we have a complete outline and biblio" said Gillam. "And it won't be anything anyone else has." He hesitated, then said "What happened to you?"

Myra stepped out from the store room and sat down in the big chair in the living room. He plopped down on the couch. David joined them, curious.

"Karin Barbaras was once the great love of my life. Next to your mom, of course, and the gap between the two is exponential. But I've never stopped loving her."

Gillam's eyes scooted toward Ginny, startled. She came to sit on the arm of Myra's chair and smiled at him reassuringly.

"I never heard you even mention her before" said Gillam.

"It was a painful breakup. Needlessly painful. I did things I'm deeply ashamed of, and she's never forgiven me" said Myra softly. Gillam was now thoroughly shocked.

"So, Gillam...Isaac's mom is probably dying. I doubt she has another six months, unless a miracle occurs. I don't know if he's aware of it or not, at least consciously. I want you to extend him every kindness and help. Go above and beyond. And we will do the same."

At the look on his face, Ginny got up and went to sit next to Gillam, taking his hand in hers. He was taller than her, now; she couldn't put his arm around his shoulders any more when they were sitting. He completely surprised Myra by asking "Does he look like her?"

She laughed and said "Claudia was the birth mom. But, funnily enough, he did remind me of her. The gentleness in his face was very like her."

"Could I bring them both home for dinner sometimes, him and Jonah? I really like them, and it's a kind of replacement for Carly, them having moms like ours."

"I would adore feeding them" said Myra.

Ginny said "I hid one brownie for you, by the way, Myra."

Myra blew her a kiss and said "Stick it in Gillam's lunch for tomorrow. That's a recipe I'll have to repeat soon."

"It is so freaky, trying to imagine you being lovers with anybody except Mom" said Gillam. "How could it be you if you weren't in love with Mom?"

David spoke up. "I know what you mean, Gillam. I think of Myra before Ginny as someone waiting to meet her, marching steadily in her direction to make my girl's world complete."

Ginny's face melted. Myra said "Well, that's really the truth of the matter." Ginny blew her another kiss, and Myra stood up, saying "One last set of shelves to go. Gillam, you need to hit the sack."

He kissed her on the cheek and galloped upstairs.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild


Anonymous said...

I had all of Margie's symtoms once, and went 11 weeks between periods.
I kept getting negative pregnancy tests, and had been using reliable protection.

Turned out later it was probably perimenopause, but the doctor didn't believe me when I told him I'd started hot flashes.

I was 28. It's not unheard of so early, Dr Susan Love says the ealiest she knew of was 19!

So if you or anyone you know has signs of meno, take them seriously no mattre how young she is.

Though to be fair I have to say I had a lot of symptoms Margie *doesn't* have as well.

am unlogged in gator
signs of

letsdance said...

Maggie, your writing is like the richest more wonderfully chocolate dessert in the heartwarming, so realistic.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!