Wednesday, April 2, 2008


(Sea Star and Mollusk, Satonda Island, 2005, photo by Tim Laman)

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.

Spring 2007

They went on, Myra re-learning cooking from an increasingly confident Gillam, her physical condition becoming the best in her adult life under the bossy coaching of Margie. When Carly came for the weekend, he became the person who helped Myra re-learn the streets and neighborhoods of Seattle. Once Myra had revisited a place or route, it was solidly back in her memory.

They would begin by sitting at the table after breakfast on Saturday, Carly holding the Mapsco, while someone in the family made a suggestion like "How about driving to that putt-putt place where we went for my birthday that time, and the ice cream place afterward?" Ginny would give the address, Carly would locate it on the map, and off they'd go.

Gillam chafed at being left out of these excursions, but aside from Myra's need, it was also a chance for Carly to rack up driving time on his learner's permit. Additional conversation would have been distracting. For some reason, Myra found it much easier to stay calm with Carly at the wheel. They both quickly grew attached to their one-on-one time together.

Once a day, Myra sat down at her keyboard and wrote whatever came up onto a blank page. After her first time, she saved these efforts in a journal called Return from Ultima Thule, sorted by date. Most evenings, she read for an hour with Gillam on her daybed. After the first month, she did half the reading aloud. She also began answering her own e-mails and correspondence, with Ginny's frequent help. Ginny drove her to acupunture twice a week, Nancy once a week (where they both took treatment), and managed the household finances again mostly on her own.

Once a month, Chris took Myra to a sweat, often just the two of them among friends of Chris's from her new job on the tribal council. Allie and Ginny continued to meet once a week to support each other as artists, but Ginny's focus was now on her print and card line, plus magazine covers and illustrations. The canvas she had just begun when they got the news about Myra's cancer sat on the drying shelf above her work area, unscraped and unfinished. She sublimated her creativity into other areas, like making pieced-together covers for throw pillows or buying beads of plain wood and painting them into stunning creations. She refused to begin any art project that would take her more than two hours at a stretch, the most she'd allow herself to be absorbed away from Myra.

Two months after the surgery, during that week's visit with Nancy, Nancy turned to Myra and said "You've been medically released to have sex again, right?"

Myra and Ginny both became very still. Myra said "Yes. But we haven't."

Nancy waited silently. Myra looked at Ginny and said "I noticed the -- absence. I don't know what to tell you. I love you and want you in every other way, but the idea of lovemaking seems...strange."

"No desire at any time?" asked Nancy gently.

"Not erotic desire" said Myra. "Our physical intimacy is intact, except for that. And I can tell Ginny's feeling more, you've been a mensch about not sitting on my fence, honey -- I'm not NOT attracted, it's just -- vacant there."

Ginny tried to not show what a blow this was, that word "vacant". Nancy wasn't fooled and slid over to work with her. While Ginny was sobbing in both grief and humiliation, Nancy reminded Myra "It's all right, you're not hurting her."

A little later, Myra said "I can't tell if this is because of losing my ovaries or -- the brain stuff, or both, or something else."

"Would you like to know?" asked Nancy.

"Hell yes" said Myra. "I don't want to stay this way, if there's something I can do about it."

Nancy did her testing and muttering routine. Finally she said "It's not hormonal. It's the path you're on at the moment. You're re-collecting your identity, putting an unusual amount of trust in others at the moment, and for some reason sex is a risk. Does that seem right?"

Ginny and Myra looked at each other. Ginny said softly "I know it's always a choice with you, to meet me there."

"I'm so sorry, my darling Gin" said Myra.

"Stop that" said Ginny. "You didn't ask for this, and you haven't left me."

"And she won't stay in this spot" added Nancy. Myra grinned "One thing you can count on with me."

On the drive home, Myra giggled and said "When I was in college, I took a speech class where we had to memorize a monologue. I wound up doing a sequence as Blanche Dubois in 'A Streetcar Named Desire', if you can imagine."

"Barely" chuckled Ginny.

"I thought of it when Nancy was talking. You know -- 'Ah have always relied on the kindness of strangers'." Myra fluttered her eyelashes as she drawled this out. Ginny hooted.

A week after returning home from the hospital, Ginny and Myra had sent a collection of Myra's Skene books, signed by her, as well as Allie's best, also signed, to Velda care of the nurse's station. Myra printed out her favorite photo of the six of them, taken the year before at Thanksgiving, and slipped it into the front of the top book. They also gathered a basket of treats from Pike, smoked salmon, good cheeses, breads, pastries, fruit, and a jar of Ginny's apple butter, and had that delivered to the nurse's station for all to share.

During this process, Myra said she wanted to write individual thank-yous to Velda, "that other nurse" -- "Francine" Ginny had supplied -- Dr. Desai, Dr. Reading, and "the doctor who first figured it out".

Ginny took a breath and said "That would be Jules Lefkowitz."

"What?" said Myra, confused.

Ginny told her what she had done. She searched Myra's face for an expression of betrayal. Instead, Myra said slowly "You must have been at desperation's door, to ask her for help. My poor Ginny." Ginny wept in Myra's arms. Myra said, "Well, I can't believe I'm saying this, but let's ask her to dinner. Her and her partner. We'll cook for them, she can see me when I'm not a big turnip in a mechanical bed, and I can thank her personally."

Ginny wrote Jules a note on one of her hand-made cards with the invitation, and Myra signed it with her. When Myra told Allie about it, Allie said "I know there's this expectation that dykes stay friends with their exes, but I think it's fine to be picky about it. I mean, she's a good doctor but I don't know what you all will find to talk about."

"You never know" said Myra.

"Does this mean you gonna ask that wackjob Fern to come have Sunday dinner with us?" teased Allie. Myra punched her playfully. What was not play was how much she kept the little Ripley action figure close to her, wherever she was in the house. At one point, Chris had whispered to Allie "What's with the doll?"

Allie said "Ripley rescued her. I mean, of course it was Myra doing the rescuing, as usual, but you know how she thinks she's Ripley."

"Oh" said Chris. "You know, they made that forklift loader from the second movie as a toy, I think that figure would fit inside it. I bet it's on eBay."

"We'll buy it for her together for her birthday, how's that sound?"

A couple of weeks later, Ginny walked in looking through the mail. She sat down by Myra's desk, waving one envelope and saying "This is from Jules' office."

"An answer to our dinner invitation?" asked Myra as Ginny opened it.

Ginny snorted incredulously, then said "Well, I guess you could call it that." She tossed the paper over to Myra, who read it very slowly, then looked up at her and said "I don't mind her billing us for the consultation, but is this amount for real? What did she do, dip me by my heel in the River Styxby?"

"That's more than what we paid for the car Margie is driving" said Ginny, laughing in disbelief.

Myra pulled open a drawer and got her checkbook. "Let's pay it now. Get it out of my sight."

"Wait" said Ginny. "Use the joint account."

Myra opened the drawer again, got the big checkbook, grinning. "Just think, you could be Mrs. Asshole Doctor."

"Glad you're back, darlin'" said Ginny, and picked up the rest of the mail to read it.

At Friday night dinner that evening, Myra told her friends about the bill she'd gotten. Chris was especially incensed, and said "Why is that name so familiar? I mean, from way back when?"

Allie looked at Myra, who was struggling with her memory, and jumped in. "When the Lesbian Resource Center was having all that hoo-ha about racism, and we went to that community meeting there? She was one of their mouthpieces."

Chris's face registered recognition. "The bitch? Excuse me, kids."

Ginny cleared her throat and said "She wasn't one of their official mouthpieces. She wasn't on the board, didn't work there. She just inserted herself into all that controversy."

"On the wrong side" said Chris emphatically. Then, after a moment, she eyed Ginny and said "How do you know that?"

For once, Margie knew the answer to a question about her mothers' exes, and for once, she resisted the urge to rip off a scab. But Ginny said without defensiveness "We were lovers then."

The silence was extremely awkward. Finally Myra asked "And -- what was it like for you, during all that?"

Ginny served herself more gumbo as she answered. "Confusing. I mean, she and I were already -- fighting. And I knew Allie already, and liked her, was listening to what she had to say with a growing sense of...hunger, attraction, need -- I was ravenous for a community I had only just started to meet."

Myra's brain finally yielded a question. "Wait a minute -- were you there, at that meeting that night?"

"I sure was" said Ginny with a tight smile.

"Up at that table in the front, with all those white women in fancy clothes?" demanded Chris. Myra saw Sima nudge her.

"No, I did not sit with Jules, which I guarantee you she threw a fit about later. I was at the very back, with some of the women who were about to form Jews Against Zionism."

Myra was staring at Ginny. "Once again, there we were in the same place, and I never noticed you. It's so hard for me to believe."

"I remember you, Myra" said Ginny poignantly. "I remember all three of you, vividly. The meeting had already begun, and was already tense, but then the three of you trailed in late and found chairs at the side, near the front. And as you scooted past the women in that row, the whole room went quiet. The woman next to me said 'Holy shit, the big guns just arrived.'"

Chris suddenly giggled. "She called us the big guns?"

"Mm-huh. I knew Allie, and I'd already heard Myra's poetry and -- noticed her" said Ginny with a grin. "But you were new to me, Chris. So I asked her what she meant. And she whispered that if you three showed up at an event, well, then, it was the political event to be at. She said you scared the fucking hell out of the mainstream lesbian community, because you all had zero tolerance for classism or racism. She said to watch and see who spoke up first -- if it was Myra, then we'd hear a beautiful speech that would change women's hearts. If it was Allie, then it would be short and all the power would flow in one direction suddenly. And if it was Chris -- well, she said you almost never spoke up, but if you did, it would sound like a joke and yet somebody would start bleeding."

"You have got to be kidding me!" said Myra. "She really said all that?"

"Yeah, and the women around me agreed with her. You had quite the rep" said Ginny. Gillam, Carly and Margie were leaned forward in fascination, looking around at the women they were eating with. Edwina put her hand on the back of Allie's neck and left it there.

Sima said "This must have been right before I met you" and Chris said, "Yes, it was."

Myra kept looking at Ginny. "So what did you think when you heard all that?"

"Well, to be honest -- it made me wish I was sitting in your row, instead of at the back. And yes, Myra, you in particular -- I kept watching the back of your head, waiting for you to turn around."

"As I recall" said Allie, "Myra and I did both speak, but not Chris." She looked at Chris.

"Nope. Kept my mouth shut. Until we were outside."

Myra laughed. "Oho, that's right. Afterward, you went up to somebody and told her if she had trouble sleeping at night, you could help her find sweet oblivion -- I wasn't there, but you said she almost fainted from the threat in it."

Ginny gaped at Chris. "That was you?!!"

Chris grinned. "Yeah, I threatened your girlfriend."

Ginny cackled. "She came unglued over that, Chris. She kept bringing it up for weeks. But she couldn't charge you with anything because what you said could have meant more than one thing, and she said your voice was perfectly calm, with what she called a shit-eating grin on your face."

Myra leaned over and gave Chris a high five.

Allie asked Ginny "Why didn't you ever ask me about that meeting then, Ginny? Like the next time I saw you."

Ginny lost a little of her grin. "Well...I'm sorry, Myra, but the woman I was talking to had some other things to say. About you. And I didn't want to -- gossip about it, with anybody, especially not you, Allie."

Myra's face fell. "What did she -- I bet it wasn't about my politics, was it?"

"No" said Ginny gently.

After a pause, Myra asked "Who was this woman?"

"Blue Rosenthal."

Myra said "Oh." Chris giggled. Ginny saw Margie file this new name away.

Then Myra sighed and said "Still, that's one hell of a story, Ginny. Can't believe you never told me, or us, about it before."

Ginny kept looking at Myra steadily. Finally she said "You were the kind of dyke that epitomized the word, Myra. You were brilliant, fearless, ready to sweep the landscape clean and start over, and all in the name of loving women. You were one year older than me and one inch taller, and in my wildest dreams that night, I would never have imagined becoming the woman who got to go home with you. When I did finally become able to imagine it -- well, it's been the making of me. Look at where I am tonight, the table I'm sitting at, the people I'm among." Her voice cracked.

"Two of these people you're among, you created from your own body" said Myra with emotion.

"We all did that" said Ginny, looking at her friends.

Chris leaned over and kissed Sima exuberantly.

"We few, we happy few" said Carly, almost under his breath. Gillam and Myra caught the reference, and smiled at him.

In April, during her art meeting with Allie, Ginny had the idea of suggesting a gallery host a show exhibiting three generations of Bates artists: Canvases from her and her father, plus a few of Margie's maps and some of Gillam's photographs. Everyone was exuberant about the idea, and her favorite local gallery put it on the schedule for the following winter. A week later, Edwina talked with Myra and Ginny privately one evening.

"I have a colleague at the university who does rare book restoration. Some ephemera as well. She's looking for a summer intern to work at minimum wage on some less fragile projects, and I thought about recommending Margie. I know she's planning to work this summer, to earn extra cash before heading to college next fall. What do you think?"

Myra looked dubious. "Margie's -- she means well, but she can be so reckless."

Ginny demurred. "Not about everything. Have you seen the apple pie order she keeps her CD's in? And her map work, the detail, how she taught herself to apply gold leaf and make embossing -- she can be a perfectionist that way."

"That's what made me think of her, seeing all her maps out on the table last night as you two were talking over what she might want to exhibit. This could be something she'd love. And it would be a definite plus on her resume. It's a full-time job, though" said Edwina.

"I think you should ask her" said Ginny, and Myra agreed. Margie's face lit up when Edwina told her, and she said yes instantly. Edwina took her to meet her prospective employer -- Margie wore her designer outfit -- and the deal was sealed, due in some part to Edwina's influence.

When Margie found out she was expected to start work the day after school ended, however, she came to her mothers in dismay. "This means I can't spend a week with you on the Gulf Coast!" she cried. "And this may be -- " She didn't finish her sentence, but Ginny caught the meaning with a whiff of heartache. Next year, Margie might not want to go with them. Once she'd left home. The fact that Margie considered that a possibility was like a knife to Ginny's heart.

Myra said "Explain it to your boss as soon as you can. Ask for a long weekend, a Friday and a Monday. We'll fly you in and out separately."

Margie's powers of persuasion got her an exemption, and Ginny finally found a week in mid June that would work for eight busy people. Once again, she asked Patty to accompany them, and once again Patty refused. Myra asked Carly privately if his mother was dating yet, or thinking about it. He looked a little horrified at the idea and said no, she was having enough trouble making friends. "Like, normal friends" he said guilelessly.

The week before her 21st anniversary with Myra, Ginny approached Chris and Sima for their help with a special gift she wanted to make for Myra. A great deal of skulduggery ensued, with Allie covering for them. Chris rented the jackhammer and orange hazard cones, Sima found work overalls and hard hats to fit them at Goodwill, and Ginny made a realistic-looking city utilties sign to stick on Chris's truck.

On the night of their anniversary, Wednesday, everyone came over for dinner which was of course Myra's fried chicken, supplemented by Allie's catfish, Gillam's enchiladas, and Sima's kugel. Ginny had arranged for shipment of a particular chocolate cake from Just Desserts in San Francisco that was Myra's favorite. After stuffing themselves, Ginny announced "Now, we all have a viewing to attend. Please put on shoes, grab one of these flashlights, and follow me."

Everyone but the ringleaders were mystified. Narnia was beside herself with the thrill of her entire pack taking a walk together. She tugged at Margie's grip on her leash, plainly hoping they came across an elk -- there were enough of them to bring it down.

Instead, they ventured only around the corner before stopping on the sidewalk half a block north from Aux Delice. A piece of brightly-colored oilcloth lay over an entire square of sidewalk there. Ginny removed it with a flourish and "Voila!", shining her flash downward.

On the spot where she had first kissed Myra, the concrete had been removed and filled with a clear lucite material, into which had been embedded a collage of mementoes and symbols from their 21 years together: gecko artifacts, plastic animals who looked like Juju and Alice, one of the children's beloved Hot Wheels, a moon snail shell from Galveston, a miniature metal typewriter and artist's palette, a Star of David and a Texas Lone Star cast in fimo, dried roses, a photo of Doris Day, and much more. An eight-pointed compass rose was lightly etched into the clear overlay, and at each of the points were the letters G, A, M, S, C, G, E, and M.

"We're immortalized!" marveled Myra, her arms already around Ginny. They recreated their kiss, which embarrassed everyone else but especially the children. Ginny, Sima and Chris told the story of how they had destroyed public property and miffed the neighbor on the corner with after-dinner jackhammering, but managed to pull it off before someone called the cops.

Ginny danced from foot to foot in her exultation. Myra said "Gillam, you come photograph this tomorrow in case some mindless yahoo decides it's vandalism instead of art." But the installation, as Ginny called it, was left undisturbed. A year later, a local paper featured it as one of Seattle's unexplained oddities, calling it the "GAMGEM" altar, and the name stuck. People sometimes came by to kneel and peer at the contents, trying to make a story of them. Children were especially fond of it.

Back at the house, Myra handed a long, thin tissue-wrapped object to Ginny and said "This is my gift". When Ginny opened it, there was a new brush exactly the same type as the one Narnia had chewed up. As Ginny looked at Myra, her face still, Myra said "I need for you to start painting again. We've gone long enough without it in this house. I'll catch up with you, I promise."

Everyone else screamed for Ginny. She melted into Myra's arms and they shivered together, still amazed at what they had.

Carly was allowed to come spend most of the summer with them when Myra indicated in addition to needing his help for Gillam, she wanted to put them to paid work patching the roof with tar and repainting the exterior of the house. It was hard labor, occupying almost as much of their time as school. They dove into the pool, grimy and sweat-encrusted, at the end of each afternoon and frolicked loudly until clambering out to make dinner. Myra and Ginny paid them double minimum wage, and supplemented Margie's salary at her job to the same amount, to be fair.

A month later at breakfast Ginny said "Myra, honey, it's July in Seattle" as she lowered her newspaper.

"I'm able to keep track of the calendar, you know" said Myra mildly.

"I know that. I mean, this is the month when the local Gilbert and Sullivan Society does their annual big production" said Ginny.

"Oh. You're right, I had forgotten that. What it is this year?" Myra adored Gilbert and Sullivan, mostly for the patter and meter of the lyrics.

"Princess Ida. The P-I gave it a rave review. About a group of women who, well, become separatists. Of a sort" grinned Ginny. "Are you up to the demands of watching a frenzied performance?"

"I am. Let's see if anyone else wants to go and get us all tickets" said Myra.

The following Saturday, after an early dinner, a group including Carly and Gillam trooped off to Princess Ida and had a riotous time. Over late-night dessert, they recited scraps of lyrics and argued over what kinds of modern-day feminists matched the prototypes in the play. The next day, Myra noticed something on the glass of the gecko world. A realistic clay reproduction of a fortress wall complete with crenellation, merlons and embrasures was draped with a small banner which read "Castle Adamant". Along the bottom edge, in tiny script, was written "Man is Nature's sole mistake!"

Ginny spent the summer painting one canvas after another, a backlog pouring out of her. Myra's novel sat unfinished, but the week before her birthday she wrote a real poem, one worthy of sending out. She and Ginny had shelved the question of a lawsuit against the anesthesiologist until the impact of her work loss was quantifiable. Ginny did obtain a certified copy of Myra's medical record, however, which she filed with their attorney.

In August, Myra turned 52. They had the party out on the deck, with the faint smell of tar from roof patches still evident. The back of the house was primed but not yet painted. Carly and Gillam were thrilled to have the whole day off from labor.

Patty and Truitt came up from Olympia. Nancy brought her two teenagers. Allie and Edwina, Chris and Sima, Alveisa and Petra were there. Jen and Poe came with their 10-year-old daughter Ava. Kate Bean drove up from Portland with her 7-year-old Rafe. David had flown in from Denver and planned to stay until Margie left for college.

Gillam was in charge of the the grill, and it seemed like every dish had some of Ginny's homegrown tomatoes in it. Chris brought biscuit roots which she roasted in the ashes at the edge of the fire. Before eating, the younger folk were in and out of the pool. Myra sat on the chaise longue with Ginny lounged back against her and Narnia sitting where Myra's hand could reach her head. Life was unspeakably good.

The cake was a lemon Italian cream seven-layer miracle from Macrina's. A few bites into it, Allie leaned forward and said, "So. Are you back? Is the brain firing on all cylinders again?" Small conversation elsewhere died down.

"Mostly. I can still tell a difference. Once or twice a day, there's a misfire." Myra's tone was fighting to not be tragic.

"This means that instead of being ultra-freakazoid smart all the time, you sometimes are only freakazoid smart?" said Allie.

"Okay, yes." Myra gave up being pitiful. "Reminds me of that joke, the guy who asked his doctor, 'So, after my surgery will I be able to play the piano?'"

Everyone who knew the punchline laughed, with visible relief. Margie asked, "Is that the Marx brothers?"

Myra reached into her memory cupboard, but couldn't get it open. ".....I don't know." And promptly burst into tears. She was still crying very easily, at least by her standards.

Gillam hooked an arm around her neck affectionately and said in a stoner accent "Chill, dude, you're ruining the buzz for everybody." Then he said: "Got a Republican joke for you: What's the difference between Terry Schiavo and Italian eggplant? The egglant is a vegetable." Which made Myra laugh again. Roller-coaster Myra these days.

She opened presents, remembering and missing the days when the kids were little and couldn't bear to not help rip at the paper. She promptly put her Ripley into the forklift loader she got from Allie and Chris and played with it in enchantment, making the clamps flex and unflex.

The last gift, held back by Margie till the end, was clearly a small book. Ginny said, "It's from the three of us" and handed her the card to read first.

A Ginny original, it was an ink and wash drawing of their deck except on one side was a massive, ominous-looking apparatus with dials and oscillators, and on the other side was a platform facing a sky veined with lightning. Reaching to pull a giant lever on the machine was Ginny, laughing maniacally and clad in only a white lab coat, unbuttoned. Flanking her were two hunchback assistants with Gillam's and Margie's faces. One of them had a hump on the left, the other on the right. Gillam pointed and said "That's Igor and Eegor." On the platform, under a sheet except for her head, was Myra with bolts coming out of her temples and one lightning bolt just striking her between her eyes. There was a small plume of smoke coming from her third eye. The caption read "It's ALIVE!"

Myra laughed until someone had to get her a drink of water. She started laughing again listening to Patty try to explain what was so funny about it to Truitt.

She opened her present carefully, preserving the Ginny-decorated paper. It was a first-edition volume of the Collected Poems of Alfred Noyes, signed in spidery gall ink by the author. Ginny said, "It was Gillam's idea." Gillam jumped in "But Margie found it for us."

She opened it to "The Highwayman" and Ginny said, "Go, on read it." Myra began, thrilled to discover she barely had to look at the words -- they were back in her head. Even better, her family and friends began acting out the roles. Ginny claimed Bess the landlord's daughter, of course. Gillam and Margie squabbled over the highwayman, and when Margie won -- she was clearly the better swashbuckler -- Gillam took on Tim the ostler, doing him to deranged perfection. Allie led a company of Redcoats, composed of the rest of her friends. Margie persuaded Narnia to play dead on the path and be the hero, shot down like a dog on the highway. The sugary cake gave everyone except Narnia a heightened flair for drama.

Two weeks later, the house painting was completed and all the work materials had been cleared away. After breakfast, Myra and Ginny asked Carly and Gillam if they would take a ride with them, destination undeclared. David was in Ginny's studio, painting, and had previously said he wanted Myra and Ginny to have this fun without him. The boys climbed into the back of the old Volvo, wondering at the mystery. Ginny drove to a massive used car lot and pulled in near the office. Myra turned to the boys and said "I have your wages from the summer, but it's not nearly enough to buy a reliable used car. It is, however, enough to pay for insurance and operating expenses for a year. You two have been unbelievably helpful and sweet this summer, a joy to have around. So I don't want to get rid of you, but -- it's time you had your own wheels."

Unbridled joy was dawning on Gillam's face. Carly was not quite ready to believe it yet. Myra went on "Carly, we've talked with Patty and she's given her blessing. Truitt got a car from Pat, so we want to be the ones to give you your car. Now, both of you, get out and find two or three vehicles that make your hearts sing. Don't be extravagant or ridiculous in your choices, but do go for quality and what you really want. When you've got your selections, we'll get them vetted by Sadie Harvey or one of her mechanics. We'll go in and talk with the sales staff. You should definitely do test drives of all of your choices, and we'll clear that for you as well."

Gillam lunged forward and kissed both his mothers exuberantly. After a moment, Carly followed suit. Then they scrambled out of the car and, high-fiving each other, split up to trot through the rows of cars.

Ginny and Myra maneuvered, smiling, through the initial cluster of young white salesmen in bright shirts and scanned the big showroom for a woman. Finally spotting one at a desk on the phone, they approached her and waited until she finished her call.

"Are you a member of the sales staff?" asked Ginny. The woman said yes and stood up with alacrity, introducing herself.

"We're here to buy two cars for teenaged boys" Ginny said. "They're out looking over her stock right now. Here's our plan." She launched into discussion with the woman.

Myra's gaze was distracted by a silverish Honda in the showroom. It didn't look like the Hondas she was familiar with. Excusing herself, she wandered over and read its window sticker. It turned out to be an Accord Hybrid. She returned to the desk, where Ginny paused and looked at her questioningly.

"You've got a used hybrid for sale? I thought those were impossible to come by" remarked Myra.

"Just got turned in. That's a 2005" the clerk said smoothly.

Myra and Ginny communicated silently. "We'd like to test drive it" said Ginny.

As they drove out of the lot, Myra said "The Volvo got's another ten years on her, if we do whatever Sadie tells us to do. But the Honda is older than Margie and even with a third new engine, I don't think she's going to live much longer."

"A hybrid. I really like the idea of that for around town, and that's almost all of our driving most weeks" said Ginny. "I hate this color, though."

"That can be remedied, right?" said Myra.

"I could see if Sadie's body shop folks would let me apprentice with them..." mused Ginny. Myra knew in that instant the car was going to be theirs.

When they got back, Myra placed a call to Sadie and confirmed her earlier request for a visiting mechanic. Sadie said she'd come personally that afternoon and check out whatever three cars they indicated. Ginny initiated the first sales negotiation, for the Accord. Myra wandered off to the bathroom, then found a break room and bought herself a Coke -- she had not had one in weeks. She sat down at a table and picked up the newspaper lying there, turning to the crossword and bravely having a go at it. After an hour, Gillam found her, breathless with excitement. He and Carly had made their selections.

"You two need to get on line when we go home, or call my insurance broker, and find yourselves insurance. I think we can plan on picking up the cars tomorrow, and I want that in place before you drive anywhere" said Myra, walking with them back to the sales clerk who was now the focus of envious looks from her coworkers.

Myra spotted Sadie coming in the door, and went to greet her. They gave her the list of cars, two from Carly, three from Gillam, plus the Accord. As Sadie got keys from the sales clerk, Ginny talked with Myra about the price of the Accord.

They made their goodbyes and drove home, stopping for Chinese take-out along the way. Lunch was consumed with teenaged car talk. As soon as they were full, the boys sat at Myra's computer in the study and began researching insurance. Myra lay down on Ginny's daybed, listening with enjoyment to the conversation around the wall as Ginny sketched ideas for car murals and David painted intently.

An hour later, Gillam brought a pad of figures to Myra. She sat up so he could sit down next to her. Ginny scooted over in her chair and they called for Carly to come join them. He was still showing some embarrasment about the size of their gift.

Once insurance was squared away, Myra said to the boys "If we're going to trade in the Honda, it needs to be cleaned out and detailed. I'll pay you what we'd pay the service station if you two want to do it."

It was a welcome outlet for their excited energy. Carly and Gillam gathered up cleaning supplies and bustled out to the carport. Myra decided to swim laps in the pool. The artists continued their Bates imperative.

A couple of hours later, Sadie called with her assessment. "The hybrid is good to go, I can't find a thing wrong with it. On Gillam's list, the Toyota pick-up has a serious fuel pump issue. The Firebird has been used hard and frankly I just don't care for their engines, nothing majorly wrong but that's my opinion; but the little green Mini is okay except it needs new tires. For Carly, the Jetta has been in a wreck and the back chassis is bent; but the baby blue Miata is fine. Seven years old but it's been kept up."

Myra asked if Sadie could order the tires for the Mini and then gave her the okay. She told Ginny the results, and Ginny called the sales clerk to begin dickering for the other two cars. Myra kissed the back of Ginny's neck and went in to start dinner before the boys could chase her out.

Margie saved half of her summer earnings to pay for her own car and insurance costs. The other half was spent on a clothes-buying spree in the college kid stores around the university. Edwina and Sima went with her, and later Sima told Ginny "She was pinching those nickels hard. Makes a difference when you earn 'em yourself." After the inevitable fashion show to display all her new outfits, Allie commented "You not just stylin', you be a setter of trends, huh."

"Of course" grinned Margie.

When Margie moved to Olympia to begin classes at Evergreen, Myra, Ginny, Gillam and David all drove to Olympia, following Margie in the Cerebellum. They carried in boxes and let her order them around, unpacking and setting up her bedroom with its own mini-fridge and microwave, its drafting table, her laptop and a closet crammed with clothes. The room was stuffed by the time they were done. She had a few personal items to go into the common rooms, and one of her roommates, another girl, was moving in at the same time so they all met her. Finally they went out to dinner.

Afterward, back at Margie's flat, Myra wasn't sure she could actually bear to say goodbye. Margie kept bending over to hug Narnia and whisper into her fur -- she wasn't going to keep Narnia for a few weeks, until she "got a routine down", as she put it, so Narnia would be riding back home with them. Ginny looked like a ghost. Even Gillam was somber.

Finally Margie stood up and said "Who gets hugged bye first?" She began with David and ended with Ginny, and by that time, Ginny was sobbing. Margie's eyes were moist but she did not cry. Myra slipped five 20's into her pocket and helped Ginny out to the car. The first few minutes of driving, she kept reminding herself to focus on the road. Ginny stopped crying, leaned against her window staring ahead. Narnia whined intermittently in the back. Gillam had on his earbuds.

As they began entering the outskirts of Seattle, Ginny turned around and said to David "I am so sorry for what I put you through when I left home. I'll never make it up to you, I know now."

He smiled sadly. "You already have. You gave me these grandchildren."

The house was dark and felt empty. There was a message from Allie, saying to call when they got in and tell her how it went. Myra didn't feel like trying to express her desolation, however, and she left it to Ginny to call. She went to her desk and looked at the photos of her family, of Margie at every age. My god, how was she going to make sure Margie was ever safe again?

Gillam seemed to slide easily into being an only child. He took on Margie's vacuuming chore, and kept learning new dishes to cook with Myra. He talked more at meals than he ever had. When Carly came for weekends, Ginny would pump him for word of Margie, was she looking well, did she ever come to their house for dinner? Apparently not often, to the latter question. She seemed to be extremely busy.

Margie came home after four weeks, full of energy and new names and complaints about the work load. Narnia pissed on the living room floor when Margie appeared; she had clearly given her up for dead. When Margie left on Sunday, her back seat was piled with boxes of garden produce, loaves of bread, pastries, preserves, and all of Narnia's accoutrements. Narnia sat triumphantly in the front seat beside her. Seeing them drive off was a double blow.

Margie came home only once in October as well. Twice during the weekend she used the phrase "Me and Gary", covering it over each time with the addition of another name. As soon as they were alone, Ginny hissed to Myra "Who is this Gary?"

"Like I know. Let's just hope he's not way older than her, a drunk or a slimeball." But Myra wanted to hate him, too, for his access to her daughter when they were starving for the sight of her.

Margie did answer e-mails. Her replies were often one line, yet her personality came through. Whenever Myra opened her browser, she searched first for anything from MRJBYOWZA, the handle Margie had chosen at 14. If there was something, all she had to say was "Gin" and Ginny was there instantly, reading over her shoulder.

When November got off to a running start and they still had not been invited to come visit Margie, Ginny decided to push. Margie mentioned she was going to be crewing one Saturday afternoon in a small meet, and Ginny said "We'd love to come see you. What time is it?" She pried the information from Margie and, after they hung up, announced elatedly to Myra "Call Allie and Edwina, we're going to Olympia next weekend."

They got there right before the meet began and had to content themselves with looking at Margie through binoculars for a while. After it was over, everyone gathered in an open-air pavilion nearby. When they had spotted Margie and walked toward her, she had been standing close to a boy taller than her, around her age, muscled, black, with luxurious dreads and a beautiful smile. Margie left him abruptly and came toward them, greeting them happily enough, with wide-armed hugs and smacky cheek-kisses. She did not move to introduce them to anyone else, however, content to stand apart from the crowd of young people and chat with them for several minutes.

Myra stood with an ear cocked in the direction of the boy Margie had been with. He kept glancing their way, and eventually she heard one of the other kids call him Gary. She met Ginny's eyes and saw that Ginny had heard it, too. She thought about siccing Allie on him, then changed her mind.

When the event began breaking up, people leaving in small groups, Margie said "I need to go grab my gear, I'll meet you back here in a minute." She surreptitiously caught Gary's eye and as she moved toward the boathouse, he began ambling that direction as well. Ginny intercepted him neatly, however, sticking out her hand to shake and saying in a carrying voice, "Hola, mi nombre es Juanita Jose-Batiz. Quisiera investigar en cuanto a sus intenciones exactas con respecto a mi heredero y solamente hija."

Margie turned on a dime and began speeding toward Ginny and Gary. Myra said to Allie "We might as well join them, it'll be our only chance -- Margie won't let us come back for who knows how long."

It was Edwina who asked Gary to go eat with them. He did fairly well. He'd read the Podinqo books as a child and was more awed by Allie than anyone else. He was from Cincinnati, had a geography scholarship and was a year ahead of Margie. They weren't absolutely fixated on each other, which Myra was relieved to see. He came with them back to Margie's flat and sprawled comfortably on the couch while Narnia had hysterics about the arrival of the rest of her family.

Margie's room was littered with clothing and books. The communal kitchen was just plain nasty, and the bath Margie shared with another girl was not much better. But there were no take-out containers in Margie's room, no visible alcohol in the fridge or trash, and Narnia looked in good shape: As much as we could hope for, thought Myra.

It turned out that Margie thought they'd be leaving that evening after dinner. When Ginny indicated they had a motel for the night, Margie nervously explained she had a date with Gary, a dance that was just for college kids. Ginny said all right, they'd meet her the next morning for breakfast and a long visit then. Margie asked if it could be brunch instead, and Myra stepped in to say that would be fine.

Back at the motel, it was Allie, of all people, who needed to rant about Gary, how too-smooth he was, that he was willing to sneak around with Margie and not insist on meeting them, and what could Margie possibly know about him this early, anyhow. Her outburst let Myra and Ginny off the hook. After a minute of it, Gillam and Carly fled to the pool.

Margie brought Gary to brunch, which earned him reluctant points from Allie. Myra discovered he had taken a course with Zhang Er at Evergreen the year before, one of her favorite poets, and she picked his brains about her style and instruction. He did not excuse himself after brunch, either, choosing to go with them as Margie gave them a tour of the buildings where she had classes. This meant he and Margie were more than just occasional dates, then. They discussed it without satisfaction on the drive home until Gillam pulled down his ear buds and said "Can you just let her have a boyfriend?"

The day after Thanksgiving, after Myra got up and had cranberry pancakes, she sat at her desk and opened the drawer with her novel in it. Her hands trembled as she began reading her draft and notes. An hour later, Ginny came to check on her, saw what she was doing, and left again silently. She told the news to the kids as they came down for lunch. Gillam did a happy dance, and Margie used that moment to tell Ginny she was leaving the next morning, a day early, to go back to Olympia. Gary, no doubt. Ginny let it slide; at least Margie had come home for the holiday.

After making soup, Gillam poked his head around the corner and said "Mama, you want to eat?" Myra looked up at him in an unfocused way. "Or I could bring you a bowl in there" he offered, trying to not sound too eager.

She grinned and said "A bowl would be great. With bread, and -- get me one of the Cokes from the store room, will you?"

"It's happening, for real!" he whispered to Ginny and Margie at the dining table after taking a tray to Myra. She did stop for dinner, looked drained. She spent that evening socializing, letting Margie bully her through a work-out, and taking Narnia for a long walk. She really missed Narnia.

The first day of Chanukah, after breakfast Myra went to her desk and discovered a glossy black old-fashioned phone on a wooden base sitting there, with a silver bow attacked to the receiver. She picked it up and dialed Ginny's cell, which rang in the studio next door. When Ginny answered, Myra said "Watson, come here, I want you" and hung up.

Ginny came around the corner laughing. "The first phone call in history was a homoerotic declaration" she said.

"Is this from you?" asked Myra, noticing that despite looking vintage, the phone had a caller ID screen and the holes on the dial were really push buttons for numbers.

"Margie found it, and we all got it for you. Have you discovered the drawer in the base yet?" asked Ginny, very pleased with herself.

Myra looked on the side and found a disk drive sort of button. She pushed it and a mini-disk popped out. On the other side was a fold-down panel with control buttons.

"You can record any conversation" said Ginny. "For when you're interviewing folks about herstory or asking experts questions for your books."

"Holy moly" said Myra. "This is incredible. And what is this made of? It's really heavy, not like plastic."

"Bakelite. Like the dance floors that Fred and Ginger traipsed across" said Ginny.

"Oh, honey, it's fucking gorgeous -- and just perfect for me!" said Myra. "And look, there's a shoulder rest on the headset."

"Plus, you can plug in a handset on the back if you'd rather, for completely hands-free talking" said Ginny.

"Amazing" said Myra. "Okay, then, I'm giving you your gift now." She reached into one of her map drawers and pulled out a blueprint.

"What is it?" said Ginny, sitting down on the daybed and spreading the sheet of paper out beside her excitedly.

"You know that extra closet at the end of Margie's room, the one we use for storage? Well, I had our architect in here last week, while you were out, and she's drawn up a schematic to turn it into a climate- controlled, fire-proof, theft-proof vault for your canvases. Accessible from the hall upstairs -- the door into Margie's room will be sealed up."

Ginny looked up at Myra, her mouth a round O of astonishment. "Really? Really?"

"Yep. Work begins next week, and the contractor swore it would be done by Christmas. And the kids are in on this one, too."

Ginny scooted over to sit on the desk in front of Myra and kiss her passionately. Myra's libido had returned with her writing, and Ginny was making up for lost time. They were still kissing when the phone rang, a lovely old-fashioned ring that made them both laugh. Myra answered, and after a few seconds, her face went pink and she said "It's delightful to hear your voice, too." Ginny could not figure out who it was -- but Myra's pulse was clearly racing. After a few minutes, Myra handed her the phone, saying "It's Liza Cowan." Then she mouthed silently "Can I stay here and listen?"

Ginny nodded as she said "Hiya, Liza, Happy Chanukah!" She told Liza about Myra's gift to her, and held the receiver away from her mouth for a second to tell Myra "She says you're a mensch." Then, as she listened some more, she said "Absolutely, I can be ready by then. And when should I fly out there to go over the plans with you? Okay, can do." They talked a while more, then Ginny hung up and said "A show. At Pine Street Art Works. March through April." When Myra began screaming, Ginny joined her.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.


letsdance said...

Beautiful, wonderful chapter, Maggie. (did you know I'm hooked on reading Ginny Bates??)

shadocat said...

letsdance; trust me, it's an easy addiction to develop...