Thursday, April 10, 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.

This is the first of "skips" in the action, where a gap is left indicating sections of the novel not yet drafted. As requested, I'm leaving it to you to fill in missing story from context.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

That night at dinner, Myra again raised the possibility of buying a small deep fat fryer so she could make real doughnuts for Chanukah, instead of the baked version. They were having a large party on the eve of commencement, Saturday, and she argued the smell of doughnuts coming out of the fryer would be a great addition to the ambience. Ginny looked at Myra levelly and said "What will you do with all that oil, once it's been used?"

"I don't know, maybe pour it back into the jar for another time -- " faltered Myra. She had not thought that far ahead.

"Will you swear to me you won't use the fryer for anything but doughnuts this one night a year?" continued Ginny.

Myra looked at David for help. She should have waited until Gillam was home from college the following night. And Carly. Even Margie might be on her side. David grinned and said "I refuse to pick a dog in this fight."

"The smell of baked doughnuts the way you make them, with vanilla and then rolled in cinnamon sugar, fills the house just as enticingly" said Ginny, trying to be gracious in victory.

Myra silently resolved to buy twice as much brisket as usual, to send back with Gillam to college and also to have as leftovers. Her cholesterol was better than Ginny's, which drove Ginny nuts but there you have it.

"I heard from Nate this afternoon. The packages I sent for the girls got there, and he says Elyse is going to apportion them out one per night" David said. "Thanks for taking me to F.A.O. Schwartz" he added to Myra.

"I could get hooked on those miniature metal figurines they've got in that store" she said. "Maybe become a collector."

"Soldiers, you mean?" said Ginny scoffingly.

"Not all are soldiers" said Myra. "And, even some that are -- they had Amazons, Ginny."

"When we have grandchildren, she's going to go apeshit and abandon any standards she once had" Ginny predicted to David. He winked at Myra and said "Won't hurt 'em a bit."

After dinner, David walked creakily upstairs in Ginny's wake. They were preparing starts on the covered deck, using grow lights for sun replacement. Myra was glad when anybody these days were on the second floor. It felt like a heavy weight above her without their kids sleeping there at night. She even missed Gillam's bass percussion, which used to annoy her when she was trying to concentrate. Carly got to live with Gillam now, and Beebo, in their apartment near college.

She kept reminding herself to enjoy what they had at the moment -- once their kids graduated, they could move anywhere and she wouldn't see them even every month as she did now. But the pain of that idea never lessened, no matter how much she forced it on herself. Maybe she should find another tack to follow. She could ask Nancy about it.

Myra hauled laundry from their and David's bedroom to the washer and began a load. While she was in the storage room, she took out chickens for tomorrow night's dinner to put in the fridge. Between loads, she made a three-layer fudge cake with real raspberry filling, answered a backlog of e-mail, and prepared four sets of poems for submission. She had one load left and was frosting the cooled cake by the time David and Ginny returned, Ginny with a basketful of snipped herbs to stash in the fridge.

David began washing his hands at the kitchen sink and commented "That new broccoli we're trying is growing a lot faster than I remember the old variety doing."

"Yeah, though the potting mix is the same. I'm counting on the flavor being even richer" said Ginny. She looked at the cake and said "I hope you didn't use all the raspberries on that."

Myra rolled her eyes at David, who smothered his giggle. He said "I need to warm up. I think I'll sat at the workbench and paint a few more cards, until my fingers get loose again." He was following Ginny's lead and hand-making all his own holiday cards this year.

"I'll join you once I take out the compost" said Ginny. Myra put the cake under its glass hood on the breakfast bar, situated so Gillam would see it first thing when he came in the door tomorrow night. It was almost time for "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me". She returned to her desk, turned the radio on low, and signed her way through a carton of just-published copies of her novel while she listened. In the background was the murmur of Ginny and her father, mostly an earnest back and forth punctuated by frequent laughter. She imagined how happy she would be if her mother was still alive and part of their household. She remembered, suddenly, the cadence of her mother's speech. She pushed aside the book she was signing and wrote a line on her scrap pad. She sat for a moment, noticing the smell of chocolate and phosphate-free laundry detergent on her hands, and the second line came to her. Everything else around her vanished.

When the poem was finished, she felt suddenly very tired. She turned off the radio, picked up her latest Elizabeth George mystery, and went to kiss Ginny and David goodnight. She was asleep by the time Ginny joined her.

She awakened some indeterminate time later to Ginny shaking her in agitation, leaning into her face, saying urgently "Myra, Daddy won't wake up! He's not breathing!"

Myra leaped from bed and ran through the morning-lightened living room, down the hall to David's bedroom. David lay on his side, one hand tucked under his pillow, his mouth slightly open. When she touched his face, it was cold. Like stone, she thought. She felt the muscles in her legs going weak, and she backed up to sit down on the chair at his worktable -- the idea of sitting next to him on the bed filled her with fear.

Ginny had not followed her. When Myra noticed that, it was another blow -- oh, god, Ginny. Myra reached for the phone on David's bedside table and called 911. After she was told an ambulance was on the way, she got up, still unsteady, and went looking for Ginny.

Who was on the couch in the living room, her face begging Myra for hope. Myra began crying before she even reached Ginny. Ginny began screaming, "No, he's not, don't you tell me" as Myra put her arms around her. Her crying was absolute, mixed with horror, and the only words she ever said were "No" and "Daddy". She sobbed until the doorbell rang. Myra realized, then, she didn't have on clothes. She yelled out "We'll be right there" and dashed into her room, putting on sweats and T-shirt, before answering the door. Ginny had not moved. At least Ginny had on clothes.

The EMT crew, a man and a woman, went down the hall ahead of her. After one touch, they did not turn David on his back, just checked for a pulse. As they were turning to Myra, Ginny came into the room behind her. They heard the news together, and Ginny broke into screams again.

Myra helped her back to the couch and held her as she talked to the EMT man. He used her phone to call the coroner and other people. When he was done, she got her cell and came back to sit by Ginny, now silent and staring straight ahead, as she called Allie and Edwina, Chris and Sima, and asked them to come right over. Every time she said "David has died", she felt a jolt in Ginny's body next to her.

When the police arrived, she answered their questions. Then she asked Ginny, "Do you want to be the one to call Cathy, or can I do that for you?" Ginny stared at her, unable to comprehend the question. Just as the coroner arrived, so did Allie and Edwina. They sat down on either side of Ginny, and Myra went to her files to get a copy of David's birth certificate and insurance information.

Allie gave her place to Myra when the coroner came back into the living room. He said it appeared to be a sudden infarction, and asked about David's health history. Myra gave him the name of David's doctor, and pointed to his bottles of medication on the breakfast bar. He said they would need to do an autopsy, and Myra signed the form he gave her. Ginny still was not answering Myra's questions. Then he asked about funeral homes, and Myra drew a blank. Edwina stood up and said she'd find one, heading for Myra's desk. Myra did ask the coroner if they could bury David the next morning, because he was Jewish, and the coroner said he thought so.

Chris and Sima showed up as the coroner's crew was rolling a gurney down the hall. Ginny watched them through the glass wall, disbelief on her face. Myra pulled Ginny to her feet, then, and said "They are taking him away, darling. We'll get to see him again, at the funeral home, but if you want to say goodbye here..."

Ginny let Myra lead her down the hall. The plastic body bag was on the bed but, thank god, David was not in it yet. Ginny leaned all her weight on Myra as she reached out her hand and touched David's white shock of hair, flopped down over his eyes. Then she turned away, and Myra took her back to the living room.

Sima was helping Edwina talk to funeral homes. Chris had water for tea started. Allie sat with Ginny and Myra as David's body was wheeled out the front door. Ginny wasn't crying any more, and Myra was afraid she was in shock. She called out to Chris to put sugar in Ginny's tea. After they got a few sips into her, Edwina touched Myra's arm gently and said "They need some information from you, now", holding out the cordless. Myra gave her place to Edwina and went to get her wallet, plus other records.

When she returned, Ginny was no longer ghostly white. Edwina was putting socks on Ginny's bare feet and Allie said "What about Margie and Gillam?"

Myra began crying again, sitting down heavily in the easy chair, and Chris came to sit on the arm of the chair. "I have to tell them their Zayde is dead!" she wailed. Ginny began crying again, too, but this time the sobs were not frantic.

Allie said "I'll do it, if you want." Myra shook her head, "No, it has to be one of us. I think it should be me. Ginny, you have to call your sister."

Ginny wiped her face, drank the last of her tea, and took the phone. Myra sat beside her, holding her hand and listening, wishing she could wake up and it would not be true. Her friends were doing things, which she did not register or notice until Sima put a footstool next to the fireplace and climbed up it. Myra raised her eyes, then, and saw that Sima was covering the first painting Ginny had ever done of her with a sheet of black cloth. Irrationally, she wondered where Sima had gotten the cloth, and finally recognized it as leftover from a distant Halloween party. She looked around the room -- all the paintings were covered.

Chris brought her milky, sweet tea and toast, and stood over her until she consumed it. After Ginny hung up with Cathy, she cried on Myra's shoulder for just a minute, then let Allie feed her toast as well.

Myra asked, "Do you know when they're going to arrive?"

Ginny answered "No, they'll call back."

"How did she take it when you said he'd asked to be cremated?"

"She knew it already. She said she wanted some of his ashes."

"Of course" said Myra. She suddenly wished she had her own mother's ashes, instead of them sitting so far away in Texas.

Edwina asked "Is it all right if I go through your datebook and start calling people? At least the ones whose names I know?"

"That would be a blessing" said Myra. "What -- does that mean you have a time for the funeral?"

"Yes, tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. There will be a viewing tonight at 7:00, before the cremation. Rabbi Rachel will perform the funeral service, I talked to her already. She's coming over here this afternoon, to meet with you all" said Edwina.

"What day is it?" asked Ginny.

"Friday" said Edwina. "December 11th."

Myra asked Allie "Can you bring me the second cordless from our bedroom?" Allie went to get the phone, and Myra said to Edwina "Use my cell, or Ginny's, for your calls. They're on the breakfast bar, okay?"

Myra looked at her watch. It was almost 11:00. She had no idea how long anything had taken, or when Ginny had gotten her up. Margie would be out of her classes right now, heading for an early lunch. When Allie handed her the second phone, she dialed Margie's cell number and grabbed Ginny's hand tight with her other hand. Ginny clicked in on her phone.

Margie answered, a clatter of voices in the background. "Hey, Mom, what's up? You never call this early in the day."

"Honey -- where are you?" asked Myra.

Margie's voice instantly became worried. "I'm heading outside, where Rimbaud is supposed to be waiting for me so we can go eat. What's wrong? Is Mama okay?"

"I'm right here" said Ginny, her voice thick with grief. "Margie, go meet Rimbaud, find a quiet place to sit down with him and call us right back."

"No, I'm not getting off the line" said Margie. "I'm walking as fast as I can, you just wait on me."

"All right, angel. Don't rush, it's okay" said Myra.

In a minute, they heard her say to Rimbaud "Something's wrong at home, take my pack for me, will you?" and then Margie said "Tell me."

They told her. Margie wailed brokenheartedly, sounding very small again, and Myra felt a physical ache in her chest at not being with her that moment. Ginny was crying again, too. In the corner of her eyes, Myra saw Sima go down the side wall and return after a couple of minutes with an armload of sheets and blankets that she carried into the laundry room.

Once she could talk again, Margie said she and Rimbaud would be home as soon as they could make it. Myra said "Wait, honey -- we have to call Gillam and tell him. Do you know where he is at this moment?"

Margie thought, then said "In class. He gets out at noon. We'll walk over there, we'll be with him when you call him."

"Bless you, Margie. Then I want you to all come together, okay? And he'll want Carly with him, too."

"I'll message Carly right now on his cell" said Margie. "He can go with us to meet Gillam."

"Don't message that David died to Carly" said Myra. "Tell him in person. He loved David too much to hear it any other way."

"You're right. Okay. We'll talk with you in, I guess, half an hour" said Margie.

"I love you" wept Ginny. Margie began crying again. "I love you too, Mama. Both of you. So, so much."

Sima motioned to Allie, and they went back down the side hall. Chris had made eggs and fruit salad, and she brought a bowl of each to Myra and Ginny to share, along with more tea. Myra fed herself, then Ginny, bites neither one of them tasted. They were both watching the clock, waiting to call Gillam. Allie came back down the hall with two of David's suits on a hanger. Her cheeks were wet as she stood in front of Myra and Ginny to ask, in a soft voice, which one they wanted him to be buried in. Ginny burst out crying anew, but reached out one hand and fingered the sleeve of the silk navy, which had looked so handsome with his white hair and Ginny-blue eyes. Allie kissed Ginny's forehead, then went back to David's room. A few minutes later, she returned with a garment bag, a pair of shoes weighting down the bottom, and laid it over the back of the easy chair.

Five minutes past noon, their home phone rang and the caller ID showed Margie's cell number. Margie said "He's walking toward us now -- I'm going to hand you to him." Ginny got on the second phone as they heard Gillam's voice, high with concern, say "My god, what's going on?"

He reacted as Ginny had, saying "No, don't you say that, it can't be true", then "I just saw him last weekend, he was fine", and then finally weeping. After a few minutes, they heard Carly's voice in the background, and Rimbaud saying to someone else "It's all right, they've just found out their grandfather died." Then Gillam said "We're coming home, is he still there?"

"No, honey. He's at the funeral home. But we'll all go see him when you get here" said Myra.

Ginny, through tears, said "Gillam, none of you are to drive. You let Rimbaud drive, okay?"

"Okay" choked Gillam. "What -- what about clothes? And our pets?"

"Bring the animals. Don't sweat the clothes, I'm sure you either have something here or, if need be, someone will run out and get something. We'll do everything together once you get here" said Myra.

"Are the aunties there?" asked Gillam. "Are you two okay?"

"Everybody's here" said Ginny. "We just need you."

"All right, on our way" said Gillam.

After they hung up, they sat there holding onto each other for a while. Then Myra said, "Now what?" She felt cold at her bones.

Edwina said "Now you two go get bathed and dressed. We'll make a list, a schedule for the next day, and when you're ready, we'll go over it with you."

Myra looked around the faces of her friends, felt their presence actively for the first time, and gave herself up to grief. As she was sobbing, she said "We're the grown-ups now, the elders. We're all we have, now." She could hear Ginny wailing on Edwina's shoulder, as she pressed her own face into Allie's chest. When she had reached the point of no more tears, she felt weak but as if she could think again.

She stood up, with Allie's help, and walked with Ginny into their bedroom. They ran a hot bath and sat in the tub together, Ginny leaned back in her arms, then washed each other's hair and helped dry each other off. Every tiny kindness penetrated to what felt like her exposed soul. They conferred quietly on what to wear to the funeral, then what to wear today, and got dressed slowly, almost ritually.

Right before they walked out of the bedroom, Ginny turned and went into the bathroom. She pulled a pair of nail scissors from the medicine chest and looked at herself in the mirror for a minute, solemn and big-eyed. As Myra joined her, Ginny cut off the hair just before her ears on either side, the little points that gave her a pixie-ish look. It was just a snip, but the change was dramatic. She looked instantly older. She put the scissors away and they went out to the dining room.

Edwina was at Myra's desk, answering the phone as it rang and taking messages. Allie was gone to take David's suit to the funeral home and pick up some clothes for her and Edwina at their house. Chris and Sima were both in the backyard, praying. When Sima came back in, she sat down at the dining table with Myra and Ginny, one of Myra's yellow legal pad in her hands, and talked with them about the next day or two. She urged them both to prepare something to say at the funeral tomorrow, if they wanted.

At first, Ginny said she didn't think she would be able to speak. Then she said "But -- I should, for his sake. And for the children. I should do it for them." She took the legal pad and stared at it, leaving the pen on the table.

Myra got up and went to her desk, rifling through files in her current works area until she found a sheet of paper. When she came back, she said "I wrote this -- about him, last summer. I was going to give it to him for Chanukah." She sat down heavily, starting to cry. "I wish I hadn't waited. What do you think, Sima, would this be okay?"

Chris had come in, and leaned over Sima's shoulder to read it with her. When they were both done, their eyes were wet, and Chris just gave Myra a tight-lipped thumbs up. Myra was reaching for the sheet, to hand it to Ginny, when the front door opened and Narnia burst in, woofing with joy. Behind her were Margie and Gillam, then Carly carrying Beebo and Rimbaud with suitcases.

Myra and Ginny pulled their children down onto the couch between them, trying to hold them as if they weren't both much taller than their mothers. As they were all crying and holding each other, Myra saw Carly standing nearby, with hunched shoulders. She reached out and grabbed his hand, pulling him halfway on her lap, halfway on Gillam's. Her hand was across Gillam's shoulders and cradling the back of Margie's neck. They were still talking and wiping each other's faces when Edwina came toward them, holding the telephone. "It's the coroner's office" she said.

Ginny leaned forward to look at Myra, terror on her face, and shook her head. Myra took the phone and listened for a minute. They heard her say "Is there any way it could have been -- diagnosed, and prevented?" She listened some more, and said "Are you sure? He wouldn't have woken up?" As she listening once more, Allie came back, a different garment bag in her arms. She stopped in the foyer, looking around at the scene and absently petting Narnia, waiting for someone to fill her. Myra she fervently thanked whoever she was talking to and handed the phone back to Edwina.

"That was the coroner" she said to Allie. She looked at Ginny and said "He had an aneurysm, in his aorta. A weak spot in the lining of the blood vessel, that probably had been there for years, maybe decades. No way to know it's there unless you go looking for it, and David was too healthy to suspect it. It just burst, and when blood stopped going to his heart, it stopped beating. She said -- he wouldn't have felt it, not if he was asleep. They think it happened a little after midnight, while he was in a sound sleep. He just -- went to sleep and never woke up."

Gillam and Carly began sobbing, and she tried to pull them both into her lap, which wasn't possible. She could hear Margie's cries, and beyond her, Ginny. Ginny's crying sounded different than it had so far.

The phone rang again. Edwina answered it, and turned to Ginny saying "It's your sister." Ginny took the phone, this time, and told Cathy about the news they'd just gotten. Now Myra could see Ginny's face, and she could read relief on it. Thank god -- death without blame.

When Ginny hung up, she said "They're about to board a plane. Her, Michael, and Noah, but not the grandbaby or Noah's wife -- the baby is too little, they feel. Their flight gets here a little before 5:30. They have a call in to Nate at his job. I'm not sure..."

Sima said "One of us will drive you to pick them up, if you want to go, or just go get them. And I've already booked rooms at the same B&B you've used before."

"Cathy and Michael will probably stay longer" said Ginny. "Michael has offered to say the kaddish, is that okay with you all?" She looked at Sima, then Gillam and Margie. They each nodded.

Myra shook Carly's knee and asked "Did you eat? Any of you?"

Gillam looked at her, hollow-eyed. "No" he whispered.

"Well, much as you don't want to, it's necessary" she said, a little of her old briskness in her voice.

"I made soup" said Chris. "And cheese sandwiches." She started for the kitchen, and Sima followed her.

"We went and got our clothes after all" Margie told Ginny. "We wanted our tefillin, and we had to get the animals..."

"I haven't had a chance to put clean sheets on your beds" said Ginny.

"Don't worry, we'll do that" said Gillam, starting to look a little less pale. Having things to do always helped Gillam.

Carly stood and said "I'll help carry bags up" to Rimbaud. They both went up the stairs, and after a few seconds, Gillam stood and went to Allie, wrapping his arms around her. The set of his shoulders reminded Myra of David, and her throat felt tight again. She glanced at Ginny, but Ginny was looking at Margie's face. Plenty to go around, thought Myra.

They had just finished eating when the doorbell rang. It was Rabbi Rachel. They met with her and planned the service, which restored more color to the children's faces -- that, plus the soup. Before they were done, Allie left in Edwina's Cherokee to pick up the Denver family. Shortly after she departed, Jen and Poe showed up with fresh bread, roasted chicken and a pie. When Jen hugged Ginny, she touched the places where Ginny had cut her hair. Margie sucked in her breath, realizing then why Ginny looked different.

The next 24 hours, when Myra remembered them afterward, seemed to be in not completely connected fragments. Slips of conversation, of ritual interrupted by raw void. Myra had not made it home yet when her own mother had been cremated, and she hadn't realized the family was offered an option of viewing the body as it slid into the chamber. When Gillam and Ginny both said "yes", she of course went with them. It wasn't terrible -- no roar of flames, though there was perceptible heat before the door rumbled shut. Still, it was a memory she'd rather not have had associated with David. He looked so kind and familiar in his navy suit.

There was no graveside service, not yet -- he was being interred next to Helen. Well, part of him was. Ginny had asked Mara to make a small urn for her portion of his ashes, Cathy had some, and the remaining fourth would be taken to Galveston to rest at the family plot there. Divided four ways, wasn't that the story of David's life, thought Myra.

She did remember going to bed with Ginny the night after David died. She felt they pulled the darkness around them like covers, but she also had a sense of it making them closer to David's spirit. She said "When a Cohanim is buried on shabbos, is there is a special meaning to that?"

"I don't know" said Ginny, her body pushed against Myra tight. They breathed together for a minute, and Ginny whispered "This is what you've felt for almost 30 years? This kind of loss? Does it ever get better?"

Myra swallowed before answering. "No. But you get better at bearing it."

She waited for Ginny to cry. After a long silence, though, Ginny said "As we were hugging goodnight -- he always said 'I love you, Virginia', in this certain voice -- he told me he preferred fried doughnuts, too."

Myra laughed, despite trying not to. Ginny joined her. That's what Myra remembered most about going to sleep with Ginny, the laughing.

The next day was a blur except for the faces of her children, shocked and pale. Until they were all back home, sitting shiva with a lethargy that now made total sense to Myra: Death was in the building, best to move very slowly. People came and went. Food got put on plates and pushed around, though not tasted. When Gillam came and sat on the floor in front of her, leaning back into her arms, she kissed his mop of hair and smelled vanilla. That was the second time she cried for David, as hard as she could. Her body and brain were more responsive afterward.

That night she walked around the block with Margie and Narnia. They stopped to look at the GAMGEM sidewalk square, and Margie said hoarsely "Going back to the Gulf Coast will be agony."

"Like it must have been for Ginny after her bubbe died. But Rosa was there, you know. And I bet we feel David, too" said Myra.

Around the corner, they startled an indecently large urban raccoon laying waste to a garbage can's contents. Margie leaned backward to keep Narnia from lunging at the raccoon, who, after the initial jolt, gave them a casual sneer and continued on with its buffet. They crossed the street, dragging Narnia who could not believe their deranged abandonment of such a good chase.

Somebody drove Nate, Elyse, Elena, Navit and Noah to the airport. Somebody else cleaned the kitchen. When they lit the menorah, Carly slid his shoulder under Ginny's arm and seemed to be holding her up.

That night, in the dark, Ginny did cry, choking out "I don't know where he is. For the first time in my life, I don't have any way of finding him. What if he's scared? I need him, Myra, I'll never stop needing him."

"I know, I know" said Myra. She had no answers.

The next morning, Cathy and Michael arrived early while Myra and Ginny were still finishing their tea after breakfast. None of the children had emerged from upstairs. Cathy and Michael sat down for more tea with them, but declined breakfast, having eaten at the hotel. There was little conversation, and everyone seemed relieved to not have to talk. After the tea was gone, Ginny put her hand over Myra's and said "Cathy and I are going to -- sort through Daddy's things. In his room."

"Do you want me to help? Us, I mean?" Myra nodded toward Michael.

"No. It should be just us. But can I use the extra plastic storage boxes in our closet?"

"Of course. Let me know if I need to run out and get more" said Myra. Ginny stood up and kissed her forehead.

"Will you feed the children?" Ginny said, then laughed hollowly. "What a dumb question to ask you, of all people. And with all that food people brought in the refrigerator."

"You can't stop being a mom" said Myra. Which left a silence behind it.

When Ginny and Cathy disappeared behind the glass wall into David's room, Myra said to Michael "Your dad died before I met you, right? Are you still close with your siblings?"

"A brother and a sister, yes, both" said Michael. "Although Cathy does more of the work of keeping us connected than I do. I -- never acquired the skills, I guess."

Myra said "I miss my little brother every single day. And my mom. I wish I could just -- make that not happen for Ginny. And it's going to be so sad here, without him."

"I want you to know, I've never seem him happier than these last two years. I wish he'd had it sooner, but -- this household gave him utter peace" said Michael.

Myra fought back tears. "I'm really glad to hear that. But you know, Michael, I still got mad about how -- about the choices he made, with regard to Ginny and her growing up environment. I hope that's okay to say to you."

Michael didn't answer right away, playing with his spoon, and she got a little worried. Then he pursed his lips and said "I know what you mean. Cathy married me when she was 18, you know. I was still in college, and had law school to go. And -- well, there's lots of ways you and Ginny had it much easier than us."

Myra waited, then said "How so?"

"Well...For one thing, Ginny'd made her own life for what, a decade? So she wasn't escaping home into your arms. Not that I'm sorry Cathy did -- I was thrilled to make a new life with her. But it took her such a long time to let in that she mattered. She was always examining everything I said and did to make sure I meant it, or that it wasn't going to walk out the door. She didn't really relax until the boys were in school. Ten years later" said Michael, with sadness in his voice.

"Yeah...Ginny and I both know that we got together when it was time for it, right on the dot" said Myra.

"And -- see, you didn't have to leave the house every day and come back 8 or 10 hours later, and reassure her that all that time you were away, she still mattered to you. You got to be together. And -- well, you're a woman" said Michael.

"I'm not sure what that last part means to you" said Myra.

"You got the training in how to -- nurture, I guess is the word. I mean, I'm no slouch, not for my generation. And I'm a talker, in that lawyer way, and god knows the Bates are all chatty, I guess that comes from Ze'ev the salesman, maybe." He and Myra chuckled. "But merchant and litigator, we talked a lot but we didn't always connect. It took us a lot time to figure out how to talk to each other, really reach each other. We didn't stop trying, and that's been the making of us. But you and Ginny..."

"Yeah. We've -- mostly we've spoken the same language, you're right, Michael. And, yes, I'm a big-time nurturer" said Myra.

"Those girls -- they were starved. You know that look they can do, I've seen Ginny do it, that flat kind of stare?" said Michael.

"It's her trademark. Although I did notice Helen doing it, too, just with a frost on it that Ginny never has."

'Well, when I first started dating Cathy and met Ginny? She didn't have it yet. She acquired that during her teenage years, as armor, I guess. When I first met her, she was around eight, I guess, and she just looked -- wounded. Wary and wounded. Until David would come show up. And it about killed me, Myra. Both for her sake, and also because I could see that Cathy must have been that way. I did everything I could..." His voice trailed off. Myra was fighting back crying; she wanted to hear what else he might have to say. "It's funny, I leaned on my dad a lot. He was a rabbi, did you know that?"

Myra was surprised. "No -- I knew your brother was."

"Yeah, Pop was rebbe at a small temple in Milwaukee, and he seemed to understand Helen's background, why she, her whole family, really, treated children like -- functions, like not-so-beloved pets to be kept in line. I could talk to him about what I saw going on for Cathy, and keep from blowing up at Helen -- and David, both. And just let time do the trick."

"One thing I'll say for David, he never stopped heading in the direction of his daughters. Especially Ginny. And his grandkids -- I don't know how to ease their pain..." Myra did start crying then, a little.

Michael leaned forward and said "I'm staying in touch with Gillam, Myra. I'll be there for him, I'm the oldest man, now. I'll call him every week, just like I do my sons."

"I'll never forget that prayer you did at his naming ceremony" said Myra, taking Michael's hand.

He blushed but didn't pull away.

"Thank god for you, Michael. For you in Cathy's life, and your sons, and our lives" said Myra.

"Thank god for the Bates girls" answered Michael. Then, whispering, he said "Thank you, David."

Myra closed her eyes, suddenly remembering the slap of David's loafers across the floor as he ambled from one room to the next. She was startled as she heard footsteps, then realized they were coming down the stairs. Michael retrieved his hand from her and called out "Hey, guys" to Carly and Gillam. Gillam waved Myra back to her seat and began making breakfast for him and Carly. Carly sat down next to Myra and said "Where's Ginny?"

When Myra told him, she saw Gillam stop for a minute, bread in hand, eyes closed, before continuing on with making toast. She heard a flush from upstairs and told him "Margie will be here soon, put in some for her too, please."

The kids were done, picking at crumbs on plates, when Ginny and Cathy walked down the hall, visible through the glass, each carrying a box. Myra cleared the table quickly while Margie wiped it down.

Ginny lifted clothes from her carton. There were three men's suits in various fabrics and colors. "These were his favorites" she said hoarsely. "Aside from..." She didn't finish the sentence.

"He was so much taller than you, Gillam" continued Cathy. "But they were taken up originally, and we think there might be enough cuff to let down on the brown one."

"I want one, too" said Margie. Ginny said "Of course. Check the black one, honey, it's got some extra hem as well. And Carly, the baby blue one appears to be exactly right for you. If you want it, that is."

"I do" said Carly hollowly, sliding his wide shoulders into the jacket. Gillam said "What about Nate and Noah?"

"We have two set aside for them as well" said Cathy. "And he wasn't much for hats, but he did love this old tweed cap..."

Margie picked it up and put it on her head. "Oh, please, can I have this?"

Ginny nodded. "There are his lovely white shirts, in that expensive cotton he favored, you all pick what you want from the box. And his ties. We brought them all, even the old-fashioned ones..." Her voice broke a little. Margie put her arm around Ginny's waist as Cathy poured a gleaming heap of silk ties onto the table. After that sorting was done, with Myra, Ginny and Michael each claiming a tie, as well as setting some aside for the aunties, Nate and Noah, Cathy bent over her carton and said "He didn't have a great of jewelry. But what he had, he wore."

She looked at Gillam and Margie to say "He gave Helen's wedding ring to Noah, and they used the stones for their own marriage. But we still have Daddy's band, and another one that I'm fairly sure belonged to his grandfather Louis, plus Helen's engagement rings. I think you should have them, whether you marry or not."

Myra watched with interest as Margie and Gillam conferred with each other, pulling Carly into the process. Eventually, Gillam took Helen's rings, Margie slid Louis's band onto her middle finger, and Carly held David's ring in his palm, staring down at it.

"It's all right" said Ginny. "You're one of his grandsons, too. Put it on, honey." Carly began crying as he obeyed.

Michael took David's Rolex. Ginny took the battered silver pocket watch which had the initial ZB on the back. Cathy took Rosa's pearls. Tie pins and cufflinks were divided up between the grandchildren. Eventually, all that remained on the tiger maple table was a tiny gold star of David which had hung on a chain around his neck, seldom seen by anyone.

"I gave that to him for his birthday when I was ten years old" said Ginny. "Bubbe helped me pick it out. I didn't have enough to pay for real gold, and she made up the difference but insisted it was still a gift from just me. I don't think he ever took it off after that."

"Then it's yours" said Cathy, pushing it toward her. But Ginny looked at Myra and said "I think he'd like you to have it." With trembling hands, Myra tried to fasten it around her neck. She fumbled twice, and Ginny came behind her, her breath on Myra's neck, to fix the clasp together. It rested in the hollow of her throat, a direct symbol of Ginny's childhood. She reminded herself to breathe.

"We've both read his will" said Cathy, leaning back. "His lawyer is executor and we'll leave the rest to him. Daddy left Ginny in charge of what to do with his paintings and drawings."

"I'll make sure you all get an equal share of his work" said Ginny. Cathy patted her hand and said "I know. He's got so much he turned out in the last two years, because of living here. He finally got to live as the artist he was born to be."

They sat together in a long silence. After a minute, Narnia, at Margie's feet, woofed and looked pointedly at the door. Margie stood slowly and said "Right, past time for a walk."

Myra fingered the star around her neck and said quietly:

Life must go on,
Though good men die;
Life must go on;
I forget just why.

Margie placed her David cap back on her head as she followed Narnia out the door.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.


Jesse Wendel said...


Just sitting here, quietly in my office late at night, crying quietly.

letsdance said...

Somehow the Bates-Josong family has become my family..... My heart is heavy with the loss of David.

Maggie Jochild said...

I know this may sound nutty, but David's death didn't become entirely real to me until I posted it. I don't know what they'll do without him. Not just Ginny and Gillam, but also Myra, who had found in him the father she always needed.

At least he died well. David Myron Baetz/Bates, 11 July 1926 - 11 December 2009. Eighty-three years of doing his best, what more can we ask for?

Jan, I love it that you think of them as the Bates-Josongs. Myra and Gillam's surname.