Tuesday, April 8, 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 two days ago. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.

4 July 2008 (Friday)

Carly had driven up from Olympia with Rimbaud the night before. Margie was again spending the summer doing restoration work for the professor at UW, saying she could imagine spending her life in this kind of activity, which had caused Myra and Ginny to look at each other questioningly. Gillam had work as well as a waiter at the Mechanical Cafe, and he had just wangled a part-time job for Carly there the rest of the summer. Myra and Ginny were thrilled to have a full house, even though it meant most weekends Rimbaud showed up to sleep with Margie in her room and spend his days at the pool.

Myra had warm johnnycake in the oven, and as people straggled down for breakfast, she made omelets to order. Ginny had juiced strawberries and oranges, and into each glass before serving she dropped a few frozen blueberries. David was, as usual, giving Rimbaud the third degree. Myra wondered why she had escaped David's protectiveness toward Ginny; maybe it skipped a generation. Margie left Rimbaud on his own to deal with David as best he could.

After breakfast, everybody except Ginny and Myra left the house to attend various Fourth of July festivities around town. Ginny wanted to have an old-fashioned clambake for dinner that night, which required some advance preparation. Myra just wanted to avoid the crowds. They made a list of what needed to be done, then set it aside for the moment and went back to their work areas. Mail from the day before was still stacked on Myra's desk, unread. She sorted out Ginny's share and walked around the corner to give it to her. She noticed the gecko wall was sporting a tiny American flag with a black circle and slash inked across it. Underneath was a small paper banner she had to bend over to read: "I'd Rather Be Smashing Imperialism (and Eating Grubs)". Chuckling, she went back to her desk.

She was trying to make sense of the recent changes in their electric bill when Ginny came and suddenly sat down on her daybed. Her face was pale, and she held a creamy piece of folded bond in her hand. She looked at Myra with indecision on her face.

"What? What's that letter?" said Myra. She reached for it, but Ginny held it out of reach.

"I don't know what to think" said Ginny.

"Good news or bad?" asked Myra.

"I -- I'm not sure. Good, of course, but -- "

"You're not tracking, Ginny. Take a very deep breath and tell me" said Myra, moving over to sit next to Ginny. Ginny still held the letter out of view. She breathed in and out twice, then said "Someone from MOMA came to my show in Burlington, right after the opening."

"MOMA -- that's the Museum of Modern Art, right? In New York?"

"Yes" said Ginny, her nostrils noticeably flared.

"Did you know about it?"


Myra was having to pull this out of her phrase by phrase.

"That's a big honor, right?"

"The biggest." She looked into Myra's eyes, her own eyes showing a lot more white than usual. "The biggest in the U.S."

"I'm so happy for you, Ginny. And you deserve it" said Myra. "Did they write you about it, is that who the letter's from?"

"Yes." Ginny swallowed, then said "They want to buy one of my paintings."

"Holy fuck, Ginny, no kidding? To hang at the MOMA, one of your pieces?" Myra began pounding on the leather of the daybed.

"Not the MOMA, just MOMA" said Ginny, almost automatically. But Myra was wild with excitement and didn't care.

"This is just perfect, Ginny, it's immortality. And you so, so deserve it." Myra reached for the letter again, and still Ginny would not give it to her.

"I -- I don't think I can sell it to them, Myra" Ginny said in a tragic tone.

"Why on earth not?" demanded Myra.

"It's Hettie. They want to buy Hettie" said Ginny.

"Oh." Myra found herself having trouble thinking for a few moments. Hettie was their family heritage, and the most important symbol of their creative life together. She looked at it every time she was in the front part of the house, and had missed it acutely when it had been in Liza's gallery. But before she knew what she was saying, she spoke: "Of course you have to let them have it, Ginny. It'll be seen by the entire world there, it'll make your reputation permanent, and generations from now, our descendants can go look at it and be proud of you."

Ginny was trembling. "I don't know how to take this in" she whispered.

"Little bit at a time" murmured Myra, pulling Ginny into her arms.

They were still talking it over and marveling about it an hour later, when Allie and Edwina dropped by. Allie literally jumped up and down screaming, something Myra had never seen her do. They all went into the living room to stare at the painting and read the letter out loud over and over. Allie agreed with Myra, and Ginny was now leaning toward selling it.

Allie said "Call your agent, talk it over with her. And Liza -- I don't know if she's officially due a fee, since it was not listed as for sale, but you need to give her the same as you do for the other work you're selling there."

"God, yes. She's the reason why this happened" said Ginny.

"Part of the reason" reminded Myra.

5 August 2008

Ginny woke Myra up on her birthday by rolling over onto Myra's back and whispering in her ear "You're a prime number now, love of my life." They kissed for a while, until Myra's aging bladder demanded she go to the toilet. She was headed back for bed when a knock came at the bedroom door. She answered it to find Gillam and Carly standing there.

"What are you doing here?" she said to Carly in surprise. "It's midweek, I thought you weren't coming up from Olympia until Friday."

"I got permission to come early. I sneaked in last night, after taking the train" he said, his face delighted with his subterfuge. "Happy Birthday!"

"We made you breakfast" said Gillam.

"I can smell something incredible" said Myra, stepping to the hall to sniff.

"Get pants on and come sit at the place of honor" said Gillam.

As Myra got dressed, she asked Ginny "I presume you were in on this?"

"Yep" she said happily. "Margie's coming later. The rest of our friends will be here to eat dinner with us."

A huge bouquet of tulips and daffodils, in reds and yellows, was on the table in front of Myra's place. Ginny herded her to her chair, not allowing her to go invade the kitchen. David appeared, a dishtowel draped over his arm as if he were a maitre'd, and asked her in an atrocious French accent "Would madame care for ze finest libation of ze house?" He pulled from behind his back a frosty glass bottle of RC Cola, which he cradled in his hands as it if were a rare vintage. "Le Cola Royale, autumn of 2007" he intoned. He made a fuss about popping the cap, then poured a small amount in a crystal brandy snifter and offered it to Myra. Laughing nonstop, she went through the entire pantomime of rolling it around in the glass, sniffing, tasting and swishing it in her mouth before she declared it "bon" and he filled her glass. "Zere is more in ze kishen" he said and left with a turn of his heel.

In a minute, David, Carly and Gillam appeared laden with platters and bowls. Carly announced his dish: "Fruit salad with mangos and papayas, artistically sprinkled with Washington blueberries! Side dressing of yogurt ala Ginny Bates." David went next, presenting "Hash browns, almost but not quite tref, cooked according to the style of Allie Billups" along with a platter of Ginny eggs. Gillam was last: "Grilled boneless butterfly pork chops from free-range happy, happy pigs, cured with maple syrup. Side dish of honest-to-goodness Texas style cream gravy."

"Oh my god" said Myra. There were at least a dozen chops on the platter. Gillam kissed her cheek and said "Let's eat 'til we drop."

Ginny sat beside Myra instead of her usual place at the end, and Gillam was on her right hand. The meal was glorious. Halfway through, Myra said to Gillam "Why don't you just give up on the idea of college and stay home with us for the rest of your life? You can be my cook. You too, Carly. Once you're 18, they can't make you do anything you don't want to."

They were both delighted, and Gillam winked at her as he said "Now, what would your mama say if you didn't set me aloft the same way she sent you out into the world?'

Which is when Myra finally cried, just a brief burst of happy tears.

When they were done, only a dozen bones lay on the chop platter, which Myra said to freeze and save for Narnia. Finishing her second RC, she sat back and said "I hope your plans for today aren't too strenuous, because I'm having a little trouble breathing, I'm so full."

"We have a group present for you" said Ginny. "We'll present that later. For now, we have a few small things. Then you and I get to loll about in the hot tub, while elves clean the kitchen and do the prep for a big, beefalicious dinner tonight. We'll have lunch out at the place of your choosing, and at 2 p.m., we have a special date, the five of us, out at a place you'll never guess."

"For once, I'm happy to not be in the know" said Myra.

"Let me go first" begged David, reaching into the sideboard and pulling out a tissue-wrapped shirtbox. He handed it to Myra and said "It's time you had this."

Inside was a worn, very old tallit, with faded blue stripes and gold thread in a complicated pattern. Myra stared at David, who said quietly "Michael's brother is part of a group of rabbis who watch eBay for the sale of precious Judaica and make sure it falls into Jewish hands instead of some other market. When he saw this, how big the waist was, he told me about it and I got it for you. The seller was in Dallas, which may mean it was Texan for part of its life."

Myra stood up, a little dizzy, and put on the tallit over her shirt. It was a perfect fit. She closed her eyes and felt a rush of something new blow through her. She opened her eyes again and stared at David, then lunged to kiss him gratefully.

"Can I -- is it all right to sit down on the fringe?" she asked hoarsely.

"It's fine" he said, his chest stiff with pride. Ginny's eyes were leaking. Myra sat back down and fingered the fabric over her belly.

"Well, I'm done" she said finally. "I think if I get more one gift today, my head may explode."

Ginny cackled. "I surely hope not, what a mess for the boys to clean up" she said. She reached under her chair and pulled out a square box wrapped in stunning Ginny-made paper. Myra opened it meticulously -- she saved every scrap of Ginny's art. Inside was the CD-ROM set of the Oxford English Dictionary.

"No way" she breathed.

"Way" said Ginny, giggling. "Load it on your hard drive and put away that illuminated magnifying glass for our crone years, darling!"

Myra stood to head for her study, but Ginny snagged her. "Nuh-uh, once you begin you'll be there all day, hopping from word to word. You have to save it for when there aren't other demands on your time."

Reluctantly, Myra sat back down. She leaned over and gave Ginny a long, tender kiss.

"What will I do with those 20 volumes on my shelves in there?" she said. "They mean too much to me to sell, we bought those the first year we lived here."

Gillam cleared his throat. "I'll be in college next year..." he said leadingly.

"Really? You want to have them?" asked Myra.

"Heck, yeah" he averred.

"Okay, then, they're yours" she said gladly.

Gillam handed her a very small clay pot, the size of a pillbox, with a tiny recessed lid that lifted off. "This is from me and Carly both" he said.

She looked at the design on the outside and said "This was made by Mara, I can tell by the suns and -- hey, that's an armadillo!"

"Yeah, we commissioned it from her" said Carly.

Removing the lid, she saw a small curl of what at first appeared to be paper. Removing it with trembling fingers, she realized it was instead linen, encrusted with slip or clay dust. She was afraid to unroll it, but turning it from all angles, she could see bleed-through of the ink on one side and recognized the reverse of a Hebrew character. Her brain shoved the answer at her: Staring at Gillam, she breathed "This is the scroll from your golem, isn't it?"

She felt Ginny and David both startle. Gillam's brown eyes stayed fixed on hers, however, and he answered "Yes. It didn't work, I'm sorry to say, but we thought maybe in your hands..."

Myra looked at Carly and said "If your purity of heart was not enough, nobody's is". He flushed, his face beaming.

"You made a golem?" said Ginny incredulously.

"We tried" said Gillam. Myra jumped in: "When Bush invaded Iraq."

Ginny turned on her. "You knew about this and you didn't tell me? None of you told me?"

"They didn't tell me, either, Gin. I guessed it somehow. Or, more accurately, I think I read Gillam's mind. They said it was between them and god, and I agreed with that. I did send them to get help from Mara" said Myra.

David was looking at Gillam with a mixture of disbelief and reluctant pride. Ginny, still focused on Myra, said "I thought we didn't keep anything from each other."

"This is the one exception" said Myra. "I would have told you eventually, when Gillam was grown and I could ask his consent. But it was a point of honor, my honor as expressed to him, that I let him do this without us. I hope you can understand that."

Expressions traveled across Ginny's face, and something clicked in her eyes. She reached out for the curl of linen and said "May I -- is it all right if I touch it?"

"Yes, but don't unroll it" said Gillam, "It wants to fall apart."

Ginny held it in her palm lightly, then looked back at Myra and said "All right. I understand."

David said to Gillam "I need to talk with you both, later. And tomorrow we go to a mikvah."

Gillam looked uncomfortable, but said "Okay, Zayde."

That evening, after dinner, Myra's "big gift" turned out to be tickets for her, Ginny, Allie, Edwina, Sima and Chris to all attend the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival together. "We're flying out Thursday morning!" crowed Ginny. "Ferron and Bitch are playing that night!"

"And Holly Near later in the week, and Isle of Klezbos" said Sima.

"Plus Ubaka Hill two nights, and Jambalaya" added Allie.

"You're really going with?" Myra asked Chris, wide-eyed.

"Might as well find out what all the fuss is about" she grinned back. "We get our own Winnedyko."

Myra finally let herself scream with joy. After one yelp, she stopped and said "The kids?"

Margie snorted. "I don't need baby-sitting, you know."

David said "And I'll be here. It's cleared with Patty."

"Everything else is all arranged" said Ginny. "I've been planning for months!"

Myra resumed her celebration.

At Michigan, the parking spots they were assigned for their trio of Winnedykos was directly adjacent to woods, with a small clearing visible through the undergrowth. The first day, Chris found a group of Native women who came back to their enclave and set up a drumming/piping circle in the clearing. During most of the hours that Ginny painted, Myra and Edwina wrote, and Sima worked on jewelry in their shaded work zone between trailers, Chris and eventually Allie were drumming, sometimes missing the night concert to continue on. Myra had never seen the two of them in such sustained concentration, their faces smooth with happiness. Chris astonished her by wearing nothing at all except boots and her elk-tooth beads most of the time. And sweat. Myra sneaked her glances at Chris, sure that Ginny was watching her.

When they got home on the 11th, Gillam waited until the excited story-sharing by all of them had run its course before he said somberly, "Mom, I need to tell you...Jonah and Isaac's mother died on Friday. Her memorial service was yesterday."

Myra stood up and jammed her fingers into her hair, yelling "No! No, Karin! I never got to talk to you!" The instant devastation of her response surprised her as well as her friends. She bent over double at the waist as she began to cry.

She stayed a mess even when she ran out of tears. Eventually Ginny sent their friends home, saying it was time for rest and she'd be there for Myra. She carried their luggage into the bedroom as Myra silently got ready for bed. When Ginny joined her, Myra was still awake, lying on her side facing away, looking at the L-Power photo on the wall.

"Do you want to cry some more?" asked Ginny, putting her arms around her from behind.

"I...don't think so. I can't believe she never tried to call me, or even write me. She really meant it, I guess, when she said she never wanted to think about me again" said Myra numbly.

"I don't understand that, Myra. I wouldn't do that. Even with Jules, I'd send a card saying I was dying and telling her thanks for having been part of my life once" said Ginny.

Myra thought about that. After a while, she said "Yeah, I would too. I mean, not for absolutely everybody. But -- how could she hate me that much?"

"I'm not sure it's hate, Myra."

"Then it's indifference, which is worse."

"Myra...maybe she just never loved you as much as you loved her. It's not always returned, you know, our finest passions."

"Now I'll never know" said Myra, her voice cracking.

"You might. We figure things out without the dead sometimes, humans have done that for millenia. Haven't you reaching new understanding of your mother? And when you do, you'll find a way to write about it that allows you to let go. Now that there's no hope of her forgiving you directly." Ginny's voice was gentle, easing the pain of the words.

After a long enough silence that Ginny wondered if Myra had dropped off, Myra said "The thing is...I deserve forgiveness. I'm not that bad of a person. I never was."

"Glad to hear you figuring that out, sweetheart" said Ginny. Myra rolled over and fitted her body into Ginny's. They went to sleep.

At their next session with Nancy, Myra began with "There's something we have to talk over, and make a plan about. I've been afraid to bring it up."

Ginny's eyes went clear with fear. "All right."

"When I...had the brain fart, it could have been much worse, you know. And it could have been permanent. I mean, not just the way it is, but with me not being -- able to read, or write, or talk."

"I'm all too aware of that, Myra."

"That's my worst nightmare, Ginny. It has been since I was a teenager and I read about Auden having a stroke, how horrible it was for him. And now, having lived through a mild version of it, I can confirm, it really is a nightmare. I don't want to go through it again."

Ginny stared at her. "I'm not sure what you're saying."

"If I have something happen where I lose my brain function, Gin -- where I don't have the ability to communicate, or can't access my memories -- and there's no chance of meaningful recovery...I don't want to live. I don't want to go on without my brain. Any other disability, yes, I'll face that. But not losing my brain."

Ginny's face had dawning horror. "So, what -- you want someone to pull your plug?"

"I do. If I can't do it myself, and under those circumstances, I won't be able to. I need to find someone who'll do it for me, and I'm starting with you because I owe you the chance to say yes or no, but I'll understand if you can't handle it. I'll find someone else." Myra's calm voice indicated how much she'd thought this through.

Ginny seized on this. "You've already made a decision here, is what you're telling me. No discussion about what I might want or need." Anger was a place she could funnel her feelings.

"It's about my life, in the end, Ginny. Of course I care about your wants and needs, but I'm pretty sure you won't want me to stay breathing and wretched beyond endurance."

"You still could have put in the form of a question, you fucking jerk!" yelled Ginny. "I went through all that with you, talk about nightmare, you weren't the only one living it, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat, any time, but no, I don't get consulted, I just get told you can't do it again."

"I don't know how else to say it, Ginny. I really can't do it again."

"It was that bad?" challenged Ginny.

"It was. For me."

"Oh, god" said Ginny, beginning to wail. "Oh god, I'm glad I didn't know it then, but I was so scared you were in agony. And now I know you were, oh god."

Myra pulled Ginny into her arms and said "You were my constant comfort, the only light and hope I could feel, and you did everything anybody could. You got me out of it as fast as you could."

When Ginny stopped sobbing, Nancy did muscle testing of various statements, finally concluding "You're right, it really is a limit you can't get past."

"Well, I'm going to live in terror from this point on, then" said Ginny. "Because there's no fucking guarantees it won't happen again."

"No fucking guarantees" agreed Myra. "But we can have a plan about what to do. And I'll find some -- safety in that."

"Myra, I've wondered about my own limits. I mean, if it happened to me. And hearing you say dying would be preferable, it makes me think, okay, me too. I don't want to be a happy veg either. What a fucked thing to say, I know."

Myra squeezed her hand and said "We're not gods."

"Who would you get, if it's not me? Helping you check out, I mean" said Ginny, gazing at her keenly.

"Well, I'm pretty sure Chris would be able to manage it" said Myra, with a small grin.

"I can't believe how jealous that makes me" said Ginny. "Listen, if I agree to do it for you, will you do it for me?"

Myra's grin disappeared. "Oh, no, Gin, it can't be like that. First of all, if you want me to stand by you in that way, you've got it without any strings attached. No tit for tat here, it has to be something you want to do. And I want to be that committed person for you. So, you have to feel the same way to make that agreement for me, and if you don't, it says nothing at all about our love or connection. It's not a contest between you and Chris."

Nancy intervened again to work with Ginny. By the end of the session, they'd been able to make a clear agreement with each other. Nancy suggested they get a draft from their attorney of a specific Living Will and revised medical directive, and bring it back to her for final clearing.

On the way home, Ginny asked "Do we tell the kids? Or our friends?"

Myra, driving, glanced at her with a stricken expression. "My gut is no to the kids. They shouldn't have to think about it if it's not imminent, they're too young. And...I don't feel the need to share with Chris or Allie. If you need to talk it over with someone, though, that's fine, just tell me so I can deal with my end of it, too."

"You fucking better plan on living to 100 and dying peacefully in your sleep, you asshole" said Ginny savagely.

Myra giggled in spite of herself, and Ginny laughed reluctantly. "I love you too, honey" she said.

As Rosh Hoshanah began at the end of September, Myra chose to fast each day with Gillam and David. She spent the hours not occupied with meals sitting in her version of prayer, turning over the disappearance of Karin, the papers she and Ginny were drawing up, the shipping a week ago of Hettie to the Museum of Modern Art. She remembered in college learning one of Heisenberg's principles, she thought it was, that all of the universe was moving toward a state of entropy. Certainly loss seemed more constant than anything else.

For Halloween she fashioned an enormous cardboard box painted black into a costume that fit over her torso and head, with just her arms and legs sticking out. She covered the open side of the box with black gauze, through which she could see out dimly but nobody could see in. She stayed silent as Ginny explained she was Schrödinger's cat. Every now and then a small meow would emanate from the box, but never in response to any direct query. Gillam and Carly thought it was "awesome". Ginny, on the other hand, understood the bleakness behind it.

The first Saturday in November, Myra got up when Ginny did because Margie was there for breakfast, having driven up the night before. David had gone out early for schacharit services, and Gillam had not gotten up in time to go with him. Ginny made french toast with whole-grain cranberry bread, and Myra grilled some turkey sausages for her and Gillam. Gillam had already started the weekend laundry; there were piles in the wall outside the storage room. He was, if anything, taller than he had been a couple of months ago, though also lankier. He drank down one glass of milk before they even sat to eat. Myra decided to make a pot roast for Sunday.

Margie was hilarious, making them laugh endlessly with anecdotes about classes, imitations of professors, and clever intellectual plays on words. The house was loud again. Narnia was under Myra's feet, Beebo on the sideboard. Myra was pretty sure Gillam was sneaking bits of sausage to Beebo.

Myra said "My god it's lonely around here without you. I can't imagine how empty it will be with Gillam gone, too. I mean, Ginny is infinitely good company, but I'm think maybe when we retire, we'll need to turn this huge house into some kind of collective."

Ginny grinned at her and leaned toward her, saying "When we retire from what, honey?"

Myra was momentarily stumped. "Well, true enough, I'm not going to stop writing and you will paint until your arthritic old fingers can't hold a brush any more -- "

"Bite your tongue" said Ginny.

"But won't there be some kind of transition we'll go through? I mean, we've talked about eventually having more time for some things."

"Like what?" said Margie. "Travel?"

"We're already planning to start that next year. No, I meant time here, with more leisure to, you know..." Myra blushed suddenly. Ginny giggled; she remembered this conversation.

"Oh for pity's sake" said Margie. "Please tell me you are not somehow intimating you don't have enough time now for sex. Please, god, do not act like you aren't at it all the time." Her tone was thoroughly exasperated. Gillam began turning pink.

Margie stood up and walked into the kitchen, just to be moving, it appeared. "Do you two take some kind of exotic herbs we don't know about? I mean, aren't you ever going to slack off? Don't women your age, well, dry out or something?"

Myra was amused, but Ginny not so much.

"Dry out?" Ginny said.

Myra muttered "'We woulda stayed longer but we had other obligations; we were busy, very busy.'"

Margie had opened a cupboard, slammed it shut and strode back to the table. Leaning between Myra and Ginny, she said "Here's something to help you get rid of unwanted pubic hair." She slapped a toothpick down on the table next to Myra.

Gillam gave a shriek of laughter and literally fell backward in his chair. It hit the floor with a loud whack, and he lay there, still in the chair, chortling and occasionally going "ow".

Ginny stood up and looked over at him, deciding he was all right. She turned to face Margie, but Margie headed her off by saying "Listen, I'm going out to spend the day with Amy. I'll be back for dinner. Thanks for the french toast, Mom, it was yummy." Just like that, she was sweet and grinning again. She gave Ginny a hug and headed for the door, stepping over Gillam on the way.

"What was that all about?" said Ginny after the front door shut.

"Oh, embarassment. They're still just kids, Ginny. I once read something Mark Twain said, that when he had been a boy of 14, his father was the most ignorant man he'd ever met, but when he got to be 21, he was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years. Give it time."

Gillam had finally gotten himself up from the floor and seated at the table again. "You want those last two sausages?"

"No, you take 'em" said Myra.

"There's one slice of toast left, too" offered Ginny. Gillam nodded eagerly, then reached toward the toothpick still by Myra's plate. Myra snatched it up, however, and said "Uh-uh, I got plans for this." Which set Gillam off again. Eventually, Myra glued it to her laptop. She deliberately chewed on one end, just to give the children something to shake their heads about.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild


letsdance said...

Fantastic writing, Maggie! So much depth and culture. Love the toothpick!

Maggie Jochild said...

Jan, I actually received the toothpick with that line once in a greeting card (a commercial one, not homemade) from an ex -- the ex who is partly the basis for Judit Pereira.

Next segment of GB will have skipped a year ahead -- gap not written. But eventually it'll all be filled in, don't worry.