Thursday, April 24, 2008


All right, fans, here's another segment of my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. This occurs after my last post two days ago. 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.

Also, I just realized I've dated the last several entries wrong. This trip takes place during the summer of 2010, not 2009. I've gone back and corrected it, but wanted to let ya'll know.

Mid July 2010

The next morning, Myra was extremely apologetic to her children and Frances. They went to a small restaurant across the street to have breakfast, Myra holding Ginny's hand under the table. She seemed particularly concerned about Gillam, which he tried to shrug off.

"It's not the first time you've gone bonkers over me getting wasted" he said, making a joke which fell flat.

"Ginny tells me she gave you her version of my childhood" said Myra. "If you have any questions, now or later, you can ask them."

Margie was occupied with sorting through her fruit salad for the plump raisins she loved here. It wasn't until they returned to America that they found out these were commonly soaked in gin. Gillam cleared his throat and said "I got one."

"Spill it" said Myra.

"What's your older brother's name? Our uncle, I guess..." Gillam looked suddenly wretched, as if he had majorly transgressed.

Myra pulled her new Moleskine notebook from her back pocket and pushed it to Ginny. Ginny found a broad-nibbed drawing pen in her pack and, turning to a blank page, she wrote the name in her bold hand. Unable to leave it at that, she began adding shadows, highlighting, and a nearby scene with what was going to be a windmill before Myra reached out and stopped her.

"Thanks" said Gillam hoarsely.

Myra retrieved her notebook and gazed at it, torn. She wanted to rip out the page, but it had Ginny's work on it. Eventually, she folded it closed and returned it to her pocket. Ginny began drawing on her paper napkin with the nib, playing with how the ink soaked into the fiber.

Myra said "One more thing about yesterday...Ginny, you were going to start painting before left Paris. That was over a week ago, and still you haven't broken out a tube of color. That hatch of yours must be so crammed full, I'm worried about an explosion when we finally do loosen the cover."

Gillam and Margie went still. Frances watched with interest.

Ginny sighed and capped her pen. "You're right." Frances felt Margie relax beside her. "It's showing, isn't it, Myra?"


"Well, let's plan, or re-plan, the rest of our trip" said Ginny.

"There's the Anne Frank tour this afternoon" began Myra.

"Are you up for that?" asked Gillam, worried.

"Yes" said Myra firmly. "I'm calling Nancy as soon as we're done here, but even without that, I'm not missing Anne Frank. Tomorrow we're due at Stonehenge -- "

"I'm okay with missing that" said Margie. "If we stick around here while Mom paints, me and Frances want to go to the beaches and a few other places."

"I don't want to miss Stonehenge!" protested Gillam. "I've wanted to see it ever since Mama read us T.H. White when we were little."

Myra rolled with the disappointment she felt with Margie and the rescue of Gillam. "I don't want to miss it, either. But if Ginny would rather paint, she could stay here a few days while Gillam and I go to England for a hop, if, IF, Margie, you promise to keep Ginny in good shape while she goes into Painterland."

"Hang around all day, you mean?" said Margie in disbelief.

"No" interrupted Ginny. "Just come back at night and bring me dinner, that'll be enough."

"Also breakfast" said Myra. "Less than you'd have to do for Narnia." Her tone was sarcastic enough to push Margie, and Margie said "Yeah, whatever."

"How are we getting to England?" said Gillam, his face excited.

"We were going to rent a car and drive south, take the Chunnel, but Ginny's been doing the driving..." said Myra.

"You could hop a ferry" said Frances. "Overnight it's 12 hours or less from here to English ports. If you can get a sleeper, that is."

Ginny pulled out her guide and cell, handing them to Myra while she finished her meal. Myra negotiated for a few minutes, then covered the receiver to say "Only tickets that'll work are for tonight, leaving about 8:00, is that okay with everyone?" After nods all around, she made the reservation and returned to her eggs, now cold. With her mouth full, she said to Ginny "That'll give you two-and-a-half-days start before I get back. What then? You won't be done, sometimes you go five days on a canvas."

Margie had leaned back, her plate clean, and said "Uh, well, me and Frances have been talking about going to Italy. Milan and Rome, for sure, she's got cousins in both places."

Myra looked dismayed. "Another 20 hour train trip back through some of where we've already been? I mean, I want to see Italy, it's not that -- "

"Transavia flies there" said Margie. "Budget seats, no first class and no amenities, but it takes two hours and it's half the cost of the train."

"Flying cattle cars, you mean" said Myra.

"The thing is, we'd just as soon go ourselves" said Margie, triumphant at having played Myra well. "We could take our time, and be back to Seattle by your birthday."

Ginny's hand found Myra's under the table again. This was it, then. The family trip was all but over.

"All right" said Myra evenly. "We've had a grand time, and I can understand you two wanting Frances's homeland as a romantic getaway." Ginny's grip was on the edge of being painful.

Frances looked abashed, but Margie did not. "I'll get us tickets for the day after you and Gillam get back from England" said Margie happily.

Back at the hotel, Myra went into Gillam's room to call Nancy because Ginny and Gillam were spreading a drop cloth and setting up her easel in front of the largest window in her and Ginny's room. She didn't know where Margie and Frances were. Nancy answered and give Myra twenty minutes of across-the-miles oogie boogie, which made such a difference Myra could hardly believe it. I may be the biggest sucker who ever walked the earth she thought after she hung up.

Everyone cried after leaving the Anne Frank house, including Frances which Myra found interesting to watch. They sat in a park, comforted each other, but suddenly had to rush so Myra and Gillam could pack for their jaunt and catch a train to Hook where the ferry left. Ginny was stretching a canvas when Myra walked out the door with Gillam.

Making the ferry, they stashed their bags in their two-berth cabin and sat with crossed legs, slouched backward because of little head room, on the lower bunk to eat the cheese, bread and salad dinner they'd bought on the way to the dock. Myra decided to take an extra Dramamine once the ferry was underway, and Gillam swallowed the tablet she held out to him as well.

They went to the top deck and made an entire circuit, lingering for a long time by the stern because the wake was interesting. At the bow, enough people had gone indoors to leave them room at the railing. Myra remembered all the times she'd stood slightly behind little boy Gillam at a railing, doing the Ginny back-you-up maneuver. Now he did it for her, not having her bulk but enough height to make him, at least in his mind, the one who should be protective. It touched her deeply.

The moon was waning, and would be dark next week during the Solstice. It was overcast as well, so the ocean was black and relieved only by the occasional lights of other ships. Myra shoved her hands in her pockets and wished she had a cap against the chill. Gillam's cheeks, when she turned to look at him, were carmine.

He said "When I take a ferry, I think about Louis and Lena on a ship leaving Europe forever. Did Jews from that era have a sense of the Diaspora, or did they consider themselves eternally European, I wonder?"

"Well, they had to know about David and Moses" said Myra. "And education being a Jewish value, I imagine they had enough grasp of geography to know where one continent began and another ended. Still, it's an almost unimaginable step off into the unknown."

"Do you think the immigrant on your side, Captain Davis, thought he'd stay in Virginia or was he just going to make his fortune, then return to England?" asked Gillam.

"Likely the latter. But he's not who I think about. He's the anomaly. The vast majority of my people were poor Scots" said Myra. "Beginning with that original Gillam Ritchie."

Gillam grinned proudly. "Where was he from, exactly?"

"Dumfriesshire" said Myra, pointing to her right. "Southwest Scotland, on the Solway Firth. For five hundred years sacked, plundered and occupied by the English. Proud of being home to Robbie Burns and James Barrie."

"Why aren't we going there?" asked Gillam.

Myra grinned. "Ginny knew once I start doing family history, I'm vanished. Genealogyland rivals Painterland. And we wanted to share part of this holiday with you kids. So, we agreed to come back to do my ancestral research, and hers, too, in the Pale. Maybe next year."

"I wanna be part of that" protested Gillam. "Tell me more about the Ritchies."

"I can only speak in generalities so far. The Scots who gave up on their homeland to move to the sweltering, mosquito-ridden, still-controlled-by-the-fucking-English South brought with them hatred of government, clannishness, an ability to make a living from crappy upland soil, and the means to turn grain into liquor. Music, and pride, and, sometimes, a surprising openness to other cultures. Sometimes not. The Ritchies were of the open sort. They intermarried with Choctaw and probably Cherokee in the Carolinas. I've always believed my gift for language came from them. And my hunger for rabble-rousing."

"The 'Come and Take It' folks?" asked Gillam, surprising Myra.

"Unfortunately, yes. Also 'Don't Tread On Me' and the slaughter of Redcoats after their surrender at Kings Mountain" said Myra. Gillam's answering grin was venal in a way she usually only saw from Margie. "Won the Revolution for us, didn't they?" he said shortly.

"Aye, laddie, that they did" she replied.

"So, then, do we have any direct connection to the people around Stonehenge?" he asked.

"Yes, at least one line, the Marshalls. When you get far enough back, the only people who will appear in records are gentry, so it's the owning class from a later era, not necessarily the folks who might have hauled the stones and stood by as Merlin magicked them into place" she said, the latter part just to make him giggle.

They stood in silence for a few minutes, the cold starting to sink into her core. She wondered what Gillam was thinking about, and as if to answer her, he said "In the New World, we're all immigrants, aren't we?"

"Even Chris's people, in the beginning" she agreed. "Though how and why we got there makes a serious difference."

After another silence, he said "I'm getting blue, can we turn in?"

"Read my mind."

Gillam returned from the bathroom in sweats and clambered into the upper berth. Myra was already reminding herself she was not, in fact, claustrophobic as she lay in the lower berth. Gillam leaned over the edge and said "Will my reading light bother you?"

"Nope. What've you got?"

"I began Sarum two nights ago, in preparation, I'm almost done" he said.

"Oh, excellent, you can be my background guide tomorrow" she said. She had a new Martha Grimes mystery, which was in its own way also perfect material, but she decided to try closing her eyes first, to see if the ship motion was going to keep her awake. She listened to Gillam's open-mouthed breathing and occasional page-turning, which drew her attention more than the thrum of engines beneath her, and managed to drop off quickly.

In the morning she was queasy. She ate some saved cheese, drank a bottle of water and took a Dramamine before standing in line at the bathroom. When she returned, Gillam had them packed.

"We have time to grab something at the galley" he said. The pickings were doubtful. They settled on muesli, which was all right, and tea, which was watery. Gillam returned to the counter and returned with a dried sausage roll, packets of crackers, and several pints of orange juice. It filled them up, though they were teeth-clicking cold by the time their motorcoach pulled up to the dock to drive them the few hours to Wiltshire. The driver was chatty and immune to the brisk morning. After half an hour, Myra leaned against the side window and retreated into a fake nap, to get away from it all. She kept one eye open, though, because the passing scenery was too compelling. Gillam leaned forward and pelted the driver with questions, which made her feel guilty about her own avoidance. She really didn't deal well with being cold, however.

Their lodgings in Salisbury were right in the middle of the city, an upgraded inn with a double room reserved for them instead of the two rooms Myra had requested. Gillam said "It's fine, Mama" and offered her the bed closer to the shared bath. The radiators were on and Myra was glad to find they could be turned up. She stood over one until her blood felt liquid again.

"It is sunny out there" said Gillam, filling the small window.

"Let's finish warming up by walking around to find a place for lunch" said Myra. "Our tour leaves at what, 3:00?"

"Yes" he said excitedly. "Old Sarum, the Durrington Walls, and then after dusk -- La Henge!"

She was suddenly thrilled it was just him and her, not missing Ginny a whit. They filled Gillam's pack with all their essentials, turned the radiator back down, and left the room in anticipation.

It was more like full dark than dusk by the time the motorcoach, now one of three full of people who had paid extra for this access, pulled into the parking area distressingly close to Stonehenge. Gillam had loaded night film into his Leica and began taking pictures right away, while the tourguides herded everyone else into an orderly group.

They passed beyond the outer ring, marked by pits and a few hummocks. Myra was being very careful where she stepped, because the ground was often uneven. As they left the roadway behind them, silence created pockets here and there. Twice she heard odd echoes. Once they were inside the standing stones, the tourguide began talking. At the same moment, she heard a faint singing of voices in unison, in a language that she didn't know. She thought with dismay, Oh, please, don't let them have wired this place for sound from some cheesy PA system!

"Why do they call them bluestones?" whispered Gillam. "I mean, do they look blue to you?"

"Not that I can tell" answered Myra. "But I don't have Ginny's eye." After another half minute of listening to the guide, who was telling her nothing new, and becoming increasingly irritated by the attempted manipulation of the background music, she whispered again to Gillam "Even Deep Forest does a better job of conveying ambiance."

"Deep Forest?" he said.

"Yeah, they do those ethnomusic albums from around the world? This rendition is simply unintelligible, though."

He looked at her blankly. She whispered "The chanting or singing or whatever it is."

He stood stock still. A few seconds later, he said "I don't hear any singing. Where is it coming from?"

"All around us" said Myra, swinging her hand in an arc. Gillam turned around in place, and when he looked at her again, his face was solemn. "Honestly, Mama...nothing."

She felt a frisson of fear. She leaned toward him to whisper close in his ear and said "Do you smell the woodsmoke? Kinda peaty?"

He drew back to look her in the eyes, then lifting her nose, already half a foot higher than hers, to take a long sniff, followed by two more. He shook his head.

She closed her eyes and put out her hand to lean on his arm. The instant they made contact, the singing stopped. She choked off a gasp and pulled back from him. The chorus resumed. She looked down at her feet, then leaned her head all the way back to stare up into the cloudy sky.

Gillam leaned into her again, his shoulder touching hers. Silence returned. He said "You're not having me on?"

"No. I wish I was."

"What are they singing?"

"I don't know. It's not like anything I've ever heard." She kept her Patagonia pressed against his, and he responded, thinking she wanted comfort. He was only half wrong.

She whispered "Something like this happened when you were a baby...when I went to Hopiland with Chris. I really, really, really don't want to see anyone appear from the dark."

"Mama, they're waiting on us."

Terror seized all her muscles. "Who?"

"The tour. We need to walk on."

She sagged against him in relief. He put his arm around her and helped her along. Once they were on the other side, free of the inner circle, she stepped away from him for a second. Silence. The smoke smell lingered a few seconds, then dissipated as well. She slid her arm back through his, not needing his ground any more but welcoming his presence for its own sake.

They were silent all the way back to the coach and into town. They made polite goodbuys and walked through the central district for a block. Gillam said "Let's get some tea." He pointed to a pub, and Myra nodded.

It had a small front room which was not quite as foul with cigarette pong as the rest of it, and a settee was free. They sat down side by side, then Gillam stood again to go order. He returned with a pot of tea for Myra and a pint of Guinness for himself.

"They didn't card me" he said.

"I'm not surprised" answered Myra, glad for the business of squeezing lemon, spooning in sugar and milk. Her hands had stopped trembling. She took a long sip, nearly burning her mouth, and sat back with her hands wrapped around her mug.

"I'd like to hear what you can tell me" he said softly. There was a blare of TV from the main room, and a couple in this room with them sitting morosely uncommunicative. Myra pitched her voice to the same level as Gillam's and thought it would not carry more than a foot away. She told him the sequence of events. Then she told him about Hopiland.

He looked more interested than disturbed. She thought, He's still young enough to believe in his own invincibility. Or mine, perhaps.

He asked "Is this why you didn't go touch the Western Wall?"

She was startled. "Maybe. I had some sense of -- avoidance."

"Do you believe time is linear or, like some folks, that it all occurs simultaneously?" His brown eyes were incredibly intelligent.

"I can't quite comprehend the simultaneous theory, but it's what makes the most sense to my gut" she said. "Are you suggesting I tripped over some threshold?"

"You might have that ability, in sacred locations" he said. He was impressed with her, she finally registered. Or it could be that I'm prone to hallucination because I have lots of untouched damage, she thought.

"Were you scared?" he asked.

"Once I realized you didn't hear or smell anything, fuck yes" she said.

"But before that -- did you feel any threat? Was there any sense of familiarity to -- them, it was a group of people singing, right?"

She closed her eyes and sorted through the memory. "No threat. And I didn't recognize the language, but seemed friendly."

"I wish I'd heard them, too" he said.

She looked at him, the tea having a warming effort on her insides. "I'm actually surprised you didn't."

"You know, Mom, I feel as connected to this half of my heritage as the Jewish side. I mean, not just culturally, but like I'm a genetic descendant of these islands" he said earnestly. "I always have."

"Then you are" she said softly. "The human spirit and ability to connect trumps mere chromosomes."

They sat grinning at each other. His glass was nearly drained. She said "I've never tasted Guinness, can I try a sip?"

He handed it over gladly. "Wow. I could get to like that" she said, wiping her lips.

"We didn't have a real dinner, and there's a Chinese place across from our hotel, could we eat?" he asked.

"My wavelength exactly" she said, letting him help her to her feet.

By the time they got back to Amsterdam on the third day, Myra was done with water travel for a while and short on sleep. She didn't think Gillam had rested well, either; she'd seen him go to the bathroom twice and wondered if his stomach was wonky. She felt very ready to see Ginny.

When she unlocked the door to their hotel room, a familiar smell of linseed oil and the faint perfume of Ginny's sweat met her. Ginny turned around from the window and her face erupted in gladness, her smile comically extended by a thin streak of poppy paint upward across her cheek. She put down her palette and brush to hug them both repeatedly.

"Where's Margie and Frances?" asked Myra.

"Umm -- out, can't remember" said Ginny, waving toward the table. A note there indicated they were biking to a nearby tulip farm and would be back for dinner.

"Did they feed you breakfast?" asked Myra.

"Yes. And there's lunch in the cooler" said Ginny, pointing to the corner. "Tell me all about it."

Myra lay down and Ginny crawled in beside her, getting under the coverlet for modesty as she pulled Gillam to her other side. They took turns relating their adventure. It was rather a ripping good yarn, Myra thought, and they did it justice. She was glad they'd have a chance to repeat it to Margie and Frances later.

Ginny's eyes began looking droopy by the end. Myra asked "Did you sleep last night?"

"Not really" Ginny murmured. "It's going fabulously."

Myra pulled Ginny's head onto her shoulder and said "Go ahead and take a break now, then. I'll get you up in a couple of hours, I promise." Ginny rolled over, pushing her bottom toward Myra, and said "Do you have to go roam around, boychik, or do you want to nap, too?"

Gillam looked at Myra, then said "I'd love to stay here." They all settled back, in the wide warm sunny room, and slept until lunchtime.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

1 comment:

kat said...

My Stonehenge story:
1) I think the people who did the audio tour were massively stoned. There were weird sound effects in the background. the best one was:
"And as the winds of time...." backed up by what sounded like someone saying "Whhhoooooshhhhhhh"


I was there with my friend Ruth, who was about 7 months pregnant. We could tell it was getting close to lunch time when Ruth started eyeing the sheep in the adjacent field and licking her lips!!!

Old Sarum is awesome in a big way, and Salisbury is the cutest town in England, IMO....and that's saying something, seeing as I'm the least Anglophile british citizen that ever existed!