Tuesday, April 22, 2008


(Wheatfields Under Thunderclouds, by Vincent Van Gogh, 1890 -- for your own chance to view it up close, go here at the Van Gogh Museum and click on enlarge)

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

July 2010

It was a relief to get off the train. Its unceasing rhythm had reduced Myra to speaking in meter, no matter how hard she tried not to. Amsterdam felt immediately like home to her, the mid-afternoon light almost something she could scoop into her hands. Ginny looked enraptured.

They checked in, and on the way up in the elevator, Gillam said "I'm hitting the pool soon as I can, I have to stretch out my long muscles."

"Oh, honey, I'm sorry -- this hotel doesn't have a pool. But they have an excellent variety of weight machines, and a sauna" said Myra. "Plus, we're in the Central District, we could rent bicycles for the week, I thought."

"Not me. I don't ride bikes" said Ginny.

"Why on earth not?"

Ginny waited until they were in the corridor, away from other people in the elevator, before answering "With this ass? No way."

Myra stared at her. "Ginny, you go to yoga classes where all of you are sticking your butts up in the air, you won't wear panties, and, honestly, you'd walk around naked on the streets if you wouldn't get arrested or attacked. Plus, my ass is bigger than yours."

"It looks different on a bicycle" Ginny insisted. Her cheeks were flaming. Myra thought We each of us deal with fat oppression in our way, I guess, and she gave up on her fantasy of riding two-wheelers along the canals with Ginny.

Gillam said "I'm hungry, too. I think I want to walk around, find something healthy to eat, come back and work out, then maybe that sauna."

"I'll go with you" said Ginny. All of them agreed. After stashing their luggage, and Myra doing a quick check for emergency e-mails, they strolled out onto brick avenues where no cars bothered them. Ginny immediately found a herring stand. Not only could Myra not abide the taste of it, she had a hard time watching Ginny swallowing the big chunks of fish, her head tilted back in gustatory delight. She and Gillam walked on and bought a giant cone of frites, which she was thrilled to discover came with mayonnaise instead of ketchup.

When they hooked back up with Margie, Frances and Ginny, the three of them still gobbling fishy treats, Ginny said "That's not a healthy meal, it's only fries."

"I know, but lookit how much there is of it" said Myra.

"There's a Moaz up ahead" said Frances, "They have salads and Asian foods. There should also be a spring roll stand around here soon."

They ate on the move, soaking in the clean air and subtle sound of nearby water. When they found the Puccini chocolate store, Myra's happiness was complete. She bought a stock to take back to the hotel, opting to forego eating any more until after she had worked out with Gillam.

After a steam and a nap, Myra felt better than she had since leaving Brazil. They walked to an open-air concert in a park, stopped for a late night fruit pancake, and went to sleep in luxurious beds.

The next morning, on the way to the Van Gogh Museum, they ducked into a shop to buy a Moleskin guide to Amsterdam. Myra discovered Moleskin also made small narrow reporter's notebooks with the same soft covers, and these immediately supplanted her Brazilian notebooks as her new favorites.

At the museum, Ginny insisted they not sign up for the audio or guided tour. "I can do as well as them" she said with unconscious arrogance, "and we need to set our own pace." For once, Myra took as long standing before a painting as Ginny did. Van Gogh was her favorite, next to Ginny, of course. Moving from one canvas to the next, she murmured to Gillam "His middle name was Willem, you know."

"I didn't" said Gillam. "One of the things I've enjoyed most about Europe is how my name seems normal here, what with Gillaume and the English recognition of it right away. No idiot fratboys calling me Gollem here."

She squeezed his arm in commiseration.

At the end of one wall, near the main hall, was a massive landscape of green wheat fields under blue thunderclouds. Ginny slowly moved in closer and closer, mesmerized by the thick licks of paint laid down in layers to create the impression of motion among the grasses and air. Within seconds, a burly man in a navy suit coat with the museum's insignia over the pocket had deftly inserted himself between her and the painting. He said something in Dutch which was clearly "Don't touch the work, ma'am."

Ginny's German was rusty. She said in English "I wasn't going to actually make contact with it, and I was holding my breath." The guard switched to English and said "Maintain diztants, pliz."

Myra could tell from the set of Ginny's back that she wanted to argue. The guard apparently could read it on her face as well, because he put up a flat hand, not touching her but persuading her back another step.

Another guard from the other end of the room began heading their way. Oh, shit, this is where we wind up in a Turkish prison, thought Myra. She said sharply "Ginny! Get back here."

Two more men in museum blazers converged from the main hallway. One of them, older but with hair still a yellow gleam despite heavy use of hair oil to keep each strand of it in place, said something in a low tone to the guard in front of the painting. The guard replied as Myra stepped forward and actually grabbed Ginny's arm.

Ginny held her ground and said to the second man, whose jacket was of silk, not gabardine, "I'm terribly sorry, I didn't mean to cause any trouble. I forgot myself. I'm a painter, and I just wanted to try to figure out how on earth he did that."

The older man looked at her keenly and said "You paint for a hobby?"

Margie laughed loudly, which drew all the guards' attention for a split second. Ginny, smiling, said "No, I paint for a living, I guess you'd say." She stuck out her hand and said "Ginny Josong-Bates, from Seattle, Washington."

Recognition turned the older man's brown eyes into pools of warmth. He took her hand and said "My god, of course, I know your work! I recognize you now from the article in Art Museum Network."

"You do?" pealed Ginny. Myra thought it was genuine. The older man flicked glances to either side, and the guards moved away quietly. The older man held onto Ginny's hand and said his name was Bas Korteweg, he was the museum director, could he be of some service?

Ginny pulled him to her side and linked her arm through his. She said "I don't know why this one stands out in terms of technique, can you tell me why the strokes are so compelling?" Myra could tell he was Ginny's, now. His smile was brilliant.

He turned and called across the hall to an assistant of some sort, issuing a string of sentences that sent the assistant into a scramble. When he faced Ginny again, he said "We have a look."

As they waited, Ginny introduced her family. He was polite, but his attention was on Ginny. He said "You are here in the Netherlands to paint, maybe?"

"I hope so" she said. "This is our first day."

Myra heard a rumble behind them. Two men in coveralls were pushing a rolling metal platform with steps and padded rails, which would lift anyone on it two feet off the ground. A pair of cartons were on the floor of the platform. Bas directed them to position it, with exquisite finesse, against the wall so it straddled the painting. He opened the cartons to reveal plastic hoods of the sort surgeons wore on television for splattery kinds of operations. He put one on his head and held the other out to Ginny. When she donned it, her mouth promptly fogged the plastic before it and Bas said to her "You must still breathe carefully."

From the bottom of each carton he pulled out two enormous metal-rimmed magnifying glasses, of a quality that Myra lusted after. "We use these to study" he said. Whether he meant it as a present-tense offer or an explanation of activities that went on in the museum after hours was not clear. Bas extended a hand to Ginny, to escort her up the steps onto the platform. She forgot her family existed.

They spent half an hour with their faces an inch away from every square millimeter of that painting, talking in voices too low for anyone else to hear. One of the assistants stood guard, waving other tourists on. Eventually, Myra said "My feet hurt from being in one place, let's go look at the second floor", and they left without saying anything to Ginny. She wouldn't have heard them.

When they returned after an hour, Ginny was still facing the canvas but the thrall was beginning to lessen. She had stepped back and lifted her visor, as had Bas, and they were talking earnestly. Gillam called out "Hey, Mom" and Ginny swung around with an unfocused gaze for a second, locating them. "Oh, hi" she said happily.

After another ten minutes of conversation, she finally pulled one of her cards from her pack and gave it to Bas, saying "This afternoon will manifest itself in my work from now on, you'll be able to see it." He almost wiggled in delight. Gillam stepped forward to help Ginny down from the platform. Ginny looked at them and sighed deeply. "I need to tell you what I saw in there" she said. She scanned them quickly and zeroed in on Margie, putting her arm through Margie's as she had with Bas and starting them on an amble toward the entrance.

The rest of them gaped after her, denied entrance to the exalted realms of art. After half a minute, where neither Ginny nor Margie looked back, Myra turned to Gillam and said "You there, urchin, fetch them trunks up to the castle, you 'ear?"

They all burst into laughter, even Bas. Myra thanked him effusively and the three of them trailed after Ginny and Margie. Because of Myra's teasing about the incident, after they got back to Seattle, Ginny painted an 8 x 12 oil of her and Bas hunched over the Van Gogh, not quite comical. She mailed it to him with a very nice letter. Myra said "He'll bore everyone to death with telling that story and showing them your painting, framed in a place of honor in his office."

"He was a mensch" said Ginny. "He took me around a bend in the river, and I won't forget that."

The next day they spent at the Rijksmuseum. When they got back to the hotel late that afternoon, Gillam checked his e-mail and then asked Myra "Can I borrow your cell again? Carly needs to have a talk with me."

"Sure. Say hi for me."

When Gillam returned, the rest of the family was waiting on him to go to dinner. Myra insisted they try an Indonesian restaurant instead of going back to a herring stand as Ginny wanted. Once they'd ordered, Myra said "Is he okay?"

"Carly? Yeah." Gillam paused, then said "Pat's driving him kinda nuts."

"How so?"

"Well, you know that woman she cheated on Patty with dumped her within a year. And she's had a string of affairs since then, none of 'em lasting long. She's -- not really the catch she thought she was. That's Carly's phrase, not mine. Anyhow...she's started drinking. A lot, Carly says."

"Oh, hell, that's terrible news" said Myra.

"She even called Patty at one point and asked to get back together" said Carly.

"How did Patty react?" said Ginny. She had gone very still.

"She said no. But Pat still calls Patty at odd hours of the night, at least once a week, drunk and crying. She's been doing that with Carly, too, that's what he needed to vent about. He said she's in this confessional mode, wants to talk about all the ways she's screwed up and get his forgiveness."

"Worse and worse" said Myra. "Has he suggested she get help?"

"Once. Mostly, now, he just unplugs his phone at night. He wanted to let me know, in case I tried to call. She's leaving messages on the machine, though. He thinks maybe she's in trouble at her job, which is really all she has left on earth" said Gillam.

"What about Truitt?" asked Myra. Ginny was still frozen, her face completely ashen. Drunks bring up that childhood horror, thought Myra. She reached over and took Ginny's hand, which was cold to the touch. Ginny wrapped her fingers around Myra's.

"Truitt either never answers the phone or, at least once, he's actually gone out to bars with her" said Gillam, disgust in his voice. "I mean, he's not Mr. Process, not Truitt."

"You know, my first semester at college, he made a pass at me" said Margie conversationally.

"He what?" said Myra.

"Yep. The moron. There were several times when we were teenagers when I think he thought about it. But one night, after pizza and a couple of beers, he finally made a move. And it was when Gary was there, had just gone to the bathroom for a minute. An utter moron" said Margie with a feral smile.

Myra didn't feel the need to ask how Margie had dealt with it.

"Pat's paying for Truitt's MBA program" continued Gillam, "So he's staying on good terms with her, but not in a helpful way."

"Do you think Carly would like to talk with me about it?" asked Myra. "I've been close to sloppy alkies, you know."

Margie looked shocked when she realized Myra was talking about Allie. Gillam said "Maybe. You could try."

Myra let go of Ginny's hand, which had still not warmed up, to resume eating. "Thanks for letting us know. Sheesh, makes me grateful for good choices I never knew were that good at the time."

Frances said to Margie, "He's dating Ashley Owens you know."

"Who, Truitt? She's a total candybrain" said Margie.

"She thinks she's going to be Mrs. Marchand. She rattles on about how blonde their children would be" said Frances scornfully.

"As if hers didn't come out of a bottle" responded Margie.

"Which reminds me, I love your hair color" Myra said to Frances. "Do you call it black or dark brown?"

"It's dark brown" Ginny answered for her, finding her voice again. "If we could blend your genes with Margie's when you two have children, they'd be gorgeous beyond words."

Margie stared at Ginny. "Children? Who said anything about us having kids?"

"Well, okay, I know I'm pushing things" said Ginny, a little rueful. "Mother's prerogative. I meant eventually."

"Nuh-uh" said Margie. "We're not having kids."

"Not ever?" Ginny's voice rose.

Margie's face looked mutinous. Myra didn't want her to lash out at Ginny, not with Ginny still pale as death. She said "Have you two talked it over, then?"

Margie leaned fractionally toward Frances, who looked uncomfortable but not contradictory. "Yes. We covered that early on. I don't want that particular set of responsibility, and neither does Franny. Her career will take up all our slack."

Myra was afraid to look in Ginny's direction. Her own stomach was turning over. She hadn't realized until this moment how much she'd counted on the Bates line continuing.

Gillam said softly "Well, I do want that particular responsibility, as you refer to it. I can't imagine being happy without it. I plan to have several children, whatever it takes to make that happen. Family will be my career as much as anything else."

Margie's face went dark with anger. She said venomously "And you have the nerve to cast judgment on Truitt being a suck-up, when you are the most two-faced whatever-Mama-wants --- "

Before Myra could stop her, Frances said "Arresti!" Her hand went around the back of Margie's neck and she shook her, extremely gently, but it was enough to turn Margie toward her. Frances said softly "Nothing to do with us." They stared into each other's eyes.

Gillam's face was as red as Ginny's was drained. At that moment, of course, the waiter appeared to ask if they needed anything else. Myra said "I'd like a Coke, please, a large one. And a refill of hot tea for the pot. Thanks."

The rest of the meal was quiet. Nobody felt like mending fences. When they were done, Gillam said he was going for a walk. Margie and Frances strode off in the opposite direction. Myra and Ginny went back to their room, where they took turns crying about the babies Margie would never have.

"She would loathe seeing us like this" said Myra at one point.

"Those eggs inside her, they were formed when she was still inside my womb, did you know what? I have a direct physical connection to those eggs" sobbed Ginny.

"Hers to flush away" said Myra, and Ginny wailed "I know, dammit."

They felt better afterward. Ginny leafed through their travel guide, making notes, while Myra washed out underwear and listened for the sound of Gillam returning. She relaxed when he poked his head in to say goodnight. She hugged him and whispered "I'm glad you spoke up."

"She's not the only Bates" he said succinctly.

When they all walked down for breakfast, they discovered it was pouring rain. The forecast said it would likely continue all day. After they ordered, Myra said "I think what I'd like to do, then, is take one of the canal tours. Maybe the architecture tour. They have covered glass canopies over the boats so you can stay dry and still see things. I'd like to learn more about how the city is put together."

"Or we could go back to the Rijksmuseum and look at the Rembrandts. We spent almost all our time there yesterday on Vermeer" said Ginny.

"Well, Vermeer was worth it. Ginny, I may scandalize you, but I'm not that wild about Rembrandt." Gillam and Margie both looked up, as if expecting gunfire.

Ginny thought about arguing, they could tell. But finally she just sighed and said "Whatever. If you'd rather take a Disneyland ride than see one of the most significant painters in the history of Europe, be my guest. Anybody else want to do the museum?"

Myra was stung, it was obvious. Gillam chose not to look her way as he said to Ginny "I would. I want to see the Hals too."

Frances was not about to open her mouth. But Margie knew Frances had been itching to get on the canal boats, so she said "We want to do the waterway route at least once here. We'll go with you, Mom."

They ate a while in tense silence, until Ginny offered Myra the last of her stroopwafel.

"You sure?" asked Myra.

"You'll need the extra carbs, doing all that difficult boat riding" grinned Ginny. She leaned over and kissed Myra, getting syrup on the front of her shirt. Myra had fun helping her wipe it off. When breakfast was over, everybody parted politely and agreed to meet back at the hotel before dinner.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.


letsdance said...

My vicarious travels.....

Jesse Wendel said...

What I like about it is, it's just a travelogue, but then suddenly, WHAM, it hits you smack between the eyes with both great stuff and deep conflict.

And have I mentioned how I love how Francis keeps her lover in check? Someone needed to. *smiles*

Maggie Jochild said...

Thanks, you two. It's my vicarious travels, too. (Although in 1985 I seriously considered moving to the Netherlands and began studying Dutch...)

Frances is simply not afraid of Margie's power. She comes from a family of loud, strong-willed people who don't fear each other, either. So when Margie starts to derail herself, Frances loves her too much to sit by and watch. Which is how she won Margie's heart.

I'm sure Myra and Ginny's fantasy of traveling with their grown children was just as unrealistic as all their other before-the-fact parenting fantasies were.

Okay, time for some frites with mayo...

kat said...

Maggie, there's a new place in Hayes Valley called Frjtz (yes, a "j" not an "i") devoted to big, thick Belgian fries and all the spicy and rich mayos and aiolis that go with them....yummm....