Sunday, April 13, 2008


(Casa Azul, childhood and final home of Frieda Kahlo, Mexico City, photo by Larry Walker)

Another excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. If you are already a familiar reader, begin below. The action in the story is after an unwritten gap of several months following my last post three days ago. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.

Mid April 2010

"We got a call from Belinda, it's in the voice mail. She says she's getting requests to rent the beachhouse for June, we need to pick which week we want and let her know" said Ginny.

There was a heavy silence. Myra felt unwilling to be the one to invoke David, not this time. She said "Well, I guess we could go for our anniversary. What's the last day of school for the kids?"

"Mid May" answered Ginny.

"The last time I talked with Carly, he was seriously considering taking a paramedics course this summer" said Myra.

"Really? Is he considering switching to premed?" asked Ginny.

"No, I thought about that too. I made it clear if it was a question of money, we'd cover it -- I said with so many of us old broads getting older, we could use having a doctor in the family" grinned Myra. "But he balks at the idea of that many more years of school, and he said even the idea of being a pediatrician or a family practice doc wasn't 'hands on' enough for him. He's drawn to emergency care, though."

Ginny looked thoughtful. "He'd be a good paramedic. He stays cool, he's brave, and he's smart as hell."

"Yeah. So, he may not be available. And I've not heard anything from Margie or Gillam about plans they may have, what about you?"

"No. I guess we should call them and ask, we're not who they tell first any more." Ginny sighed. "The idea of going without Daddy..."

"I know, sweetheart" rushed in Myra, suddenly contrite that she'd left it to Ginny to remember her father. "He'd hate us not going because of missing him."

"I miss him no matter where I am" said Ginny softly. "But maybe this one year..."

"We could go somewhere else" said Myra. "Hell, we're not bound to the summer, we can leave any time this spring. We can be gone for more than a week, or more than a month, for that matter. The kids and whoever else can join us when they're ready."

"You and me" said Ginny speculatively. The shift in her tone made Myra tingle a little. "I'd like to see Frieda Kahlo's house."

"Where is that, Oaxaca?" asked Myra.

"No, Mexico City" said Ginny.

"Well, they have the best-ever anthro museum in that city, too" said Myra. "Warm weather, great food..."

"Sunlight" said Ginny.

"Lots of places have sunlight" said Myra. "Like Paris." They were both grinning.

"Rome...Amsterdam" said Ginny.

"Brazil, and Stonehenge" said Myra.

"Israel" said Ginny. "We're talking about an extended tour."

"If Allie and Edwina are with us, Africa too" added Myra. "We can still walk and have all our teeth, we should go while the going's good." She pulled a legal pad from her desk. Ginny stepped over to the shelves and plucked a world atlas free, opening it in front of Myra and bending over Myra's back to view it with her.

11 May 2010

The second day in Mexico City, Myra woke up wheezing. She used her inhaler and it stopped, but two hours later, at breakfast, she was wheezing again. Her lips had a tinge of blue around them.

"I was afraid of this" she told Ginny. "The air pollution here is among the worst in the world."

Ginny was alarmed. "What do we do?"

"I think we go back to the hotel and ask the concierge to get me a doctor" she said sadly.

The doctor didn't have any medications to add to the list Myra had been taking for years. He suggested Myra consider using oxygen a portion of the day; he wrote a prescription that the concierge filled for them at a local farmacia, arriving at their room with a little green tank on wheels and a nasal cannula.

"Good thing we went to Frida's house yesterday" said Myra, adjusting the nasal cannula to fit her face. "Ick, this stuff feels weird."

"We're getting the fuck out of dodge" said Ginny emphatically.

"No, wait, Ginny" said Myra, her voice still a little breathy. "The national museum of anthropology here is to die for, floors of art and statues you, of all people, really need to see. You can't understand Frida if you don't go."

"I don't want to go without you" said Ginny.

"It'll be okay. The place is crawling with people, including the more intelligent and artistic tourists; there's a place to eat inside, so if you just catch a cab out front and then one back home, you won't need to get scared about being a woman on her own."

"I will be scared about that, cab or no cab" said Ginny. "I get scared about that anywhere."

"Okay, but you have to go. I'll feel terrible if you miss this, I know what you'll be missing."

"I don't feel okay leaving you on your own" said Ginny.

"I'll lie up here in air-conditioned comfort, watching telenovelas and ordering room service. You can have the staff check on me every hour" said Myra. From the expression Ginny's face, she realized Ginny would do exactly that. "If we're not going to spend three weeks here as we planned, then I need to get online and come up with some alternative itineraries for us. Something that won't throw a wrench in the kids' reservations. And maybe I'll even write. You know, I'm already starting to feel better. A little lightheaded, but my chest is easing up."

Ginny could see the relief on her face. "I'm not going anywhere without you today" she declared. "Just in case you go into a full-blown attack."

A sly look crossed Myra's face. "You know -- if this thing is giving me a constant flow of oxygen, it wouldn't matter if my face was completely blocked from the air..." she mused.

Ginny cackled with delight. "That's my girl, you are feeling better" she said.

"Let's find a map of Brazil and think about where we could go" she suggested.

Myra fired up her laptop. "Now, I definitely want to see Aracaju again, where I lived as a kid. But that's a small, rather pedestrian city, not much to do there once we've looked at the few things I remember. Ultimately we're headed for this island" -- she pointed to a dot in the ocean -- "which is part of the state of Pernambuco. And the capital of Pernambuco is Recife -- "

Ginny interrupted her -- "Why are you calling it Hayseefay?"

"The region we lived in pronounced some R's as H's, that's how I learned to say it. Anyhow, they say Recife is a gorgeous, gorgeous city, with canals and old hotels. We could go there and park ourselves in a grand old hotel, and you could begin painting. I can't vouch for the light, since I haven't been there, but..."

"What light could you vouch for?" asked Ginny.

Myra looked at her, remembering. "Rio. We stayed there a week, at the Hotel Gloria, which was right off Ipanema, with a view from our windows of Pão de Açúcar. The hotel shared a hillside with terraced homes, and every morning we ate breakfast at this outdoor restaurant where I would watch the light on the hillside, the tile fronts of the house, the reflections and shadows. I'd never seen anything quite like it."

"Then that's where we go" said Ginny.

"You know, it is perfect" agreed Myra. "Let's see if that hotel still exists. It had ceilings that were 12 feet high, with windows almost as tall that swung open to the air, and an old world feel to it. Oh, my god, yes, there it is! Let's check the prices, if they are too low, it's gone downhill. I mean, that's forty years ago -- nope, still mid priced. Must be the location. Plus it was built in the glory days of architecture. Okay, we need to think about how long we'll be here -- you need at least two days for the museum."

Ginny looked doubtful.

"You'll believe me when you get in there. And if we postpone the Aracaju leg until after the kids are with us, so they could see it too -- then we could fly direct from here to Rio. Or as direct as we can get, it's a hell of a long distance."

She bookmarked the Hotel Gloria site and her fingers were typing at a speed Ginny envied, checking out travel sites and options. After a while, she said "Okay. It will cost to change our tickets and those of the kids, to swing through Aracaju, but not that much. We could leave in three days for Rio, stay there 20 days, and on the 21st day, Margie and Gillam would arrive. We can spend a couple of days with them in Rio, then go to Recife and at least see it, then on to the island. Afterward, we could fly out of Recife to Aracaju, and the next day fly from Aracaju back to Bahia -- there are no international flights out of Aracaju. The itinerary from there is yet to be decided by the four of us. How does that sound?"

"Do you think the Hotel Gloria will let me spread a dropcloth and paint in the room?"

"With tips to the manager, all things are possible. Oh, god, this is going to be great!" Myra was excited, and yet her breathing remained clear. Ginny curled up beside her as Myra made reservations, first at the Hotel Gloria, then worked backwards to Mexico. The children's tickets were already set to go through Rio, so all she had to do was change the departure to Recife for a later date. Then she wrote each of them an e-mail explaining the change in plans.

Gillam must have been online. He wrote back immediately, saying "Are you really okay? How long will the oxygen last?"

She wrote back "I'm not trapped in a mine, there's more if I need it."

"Give the keyboard to Mom" he demanded.

She handed the laptop to Ginny, who wrote him "She is okay, but I'm sitting on her. Not literally, of course."

"Wouldn't put it past you" he replied. "If anything changes will you please let me know right away?"

"I promise" she wrote. "Here's the hotel number just in case. You're a good son. We'll write you before we leave here and then again once we're in Rio. It may take most of a day to get there."

"Okay. Eat some fish for me" he signed off.

"Now that's a good idea" said Myra. "I wonder if some of these renowned restaurants around here would be willing to deliver food to the hotel, for an appropriate fee, of course. Pull out the guide and show me the ones you marked, and we'll call downstairs to the concierge."

"Are you tipping him every time he does a favor for us?"

"Yes, generously, and I also made it clear I'd be leaving a final gratuity. It sucks to be tourists when our fucking government is bleeding the poorer parts of the world dry, but at least I can try to give some of the money back."

"You sound like your lungs are back to normal. Would you mind if I went out on the balcony with my sketchblock and spent the afternoon drawing what's down below?"

"Nope, now that my laptop is out, I've got the urge to write a bit. I'm going to go sit at that lovely empty desk where I can watch you when I can't think of a word."

"Let's order from this place, if we can." She pointed to a restaurant in the guide book. "You know what I like. More than one dish. And after dinner? -- we'll check out the diving capability of your new apparatus."

Myra was extremely restless by the day they flew out of DC and headed for Brazil. Her breathing was fine on the plane. She had insisted Ginny take the window seat, and leaned against her as the plane began descending to land. "That's Pão de Açúcar -- Sugarloaf -- and that over there is Corcovado, a giant concrete statue of Christ" --

"Oh, my god, I want a picture of me looking up at that to send to my sister!" said Ginny. "That is obscene."

"I should warn you, Gin -- the poverty here is indescribable. When we encounter it, I'm handing out money until my pockets are empty."

"Okay. I'm with you."

At the check-in desk, Ginny demanded a schematic of the hotel, considering light and times of day as she mulled over which room would be best.

"Don't forget, we're south of the equator -- the sun goes from west to eat down here" said Myra. For a split second, Ginny was suckered in.

"Ha, ha" she said, whacking Myra with the brochure. She turned back to the manager. Her Portugese was nonexistent, and Myra remembered only fragments from her childhood, but the manager was bridging the gap for them. To impress upon him Ginny's legitimacy as a painter, Myra was astounded to see Ginny pull out the catalogue from her exhibition in Los Angeles. She had never seen Ginny toot her own horn like that.

But it worked like a charm. He promised a plastic dropcloth would be delivered within the hour, and personally led them to a room that Ginny's map reading thought might be okay. After he swung open the door with a flourish and bowed them in, Ginny walked directly to the windows, pulled back the floor-to-ceiling damask drapes, and gasped. "Oh, sim, sim" she cried, turning to him. He looked proud -- as well he should, he knocked it out of the ball park, thought Myra. The results of the next three weeks were going to hit the art world with an audible percussion, she had no doubt. She shook his hand, slipping him a folded two hundred Real bill which he pocketed with a practiced motion. After he saw the denomination, he'd be even happier.

Ginny leaned on the sill, soaking in the look of the afternoon.

"I am ready for a real meal" said Myra. "Let's save unpacking for later and go down to the restaurant on the hillside."

It was as she remembered, only more vivid. The tables were covered with thick snowy cloths, the cutlery was real silver, and an icy bucket of bottled water was immediately brought to them. "We had to drink mineral water when I was a kid" she said "Because that was before Perrier and Evian. Mama wouldn't let us have Cokes or any kind of American soft drinks, she didn't think they were right for children. So after we kept complaining about the taste of the mineral water, she asked the waiter what a children's drink from Brazil would be. He brought me and Gil two tall bottles of a golden liquid called Guarana. It tasted absolutely wonderful, so we had Guarana several times a day. It wasn't until years later that I found out, it has more caffeine in one bottle than two Cokes. We were jiggered all the time, and when we went back to the states, Gil and I went through a sickening period of withdrawal."

Ginny was laughing and studying the menu. "This is like a blend of French and Spanish. I think I can decipher most of the items. What are you getting?"

"Guarana, for sure."

"No!" said Ginny, "You said it was a kid's drink!"

"So? I'm going for it. And what I remember from the menu, because we were allowed to order anything at all since Dad's company was paying the tab for the week, is the chateaubriand. Best steak I ever had. And look, it's still on the menu."

"You're getting a steak and a high-octane soda for your very first meal?" Ginny shook her head. "Well, at least you're not on oxygen any more."

"I should warn you, they're fond of a glace here -- ice cream -- made with prunes. It's grey and it tastes abominable."

"I'm going to live on fruit and fish" said Ginny.

"Good plan" said Myra. "But don't pass up the local bread, or the spicy street vendor dishes -- this is where I learned how to make those black bean cakes you love so much."

"Point 'em out when they appear" said Ginny.

She took a bite of Myra's steak and her eyes opened wide. "I see what you mean." She also took a sip of the guarana and grimaced. She shared her mango and papaya with Myra, but warned "Next time, order your own bowl of fruit."

Back in the room, someone had unpacked their clothing and hung everything neatly on two different sides of the armoire. Myra's laptop was on the desk, and Ginny's easel had been set up on a large blue plastic sheet in front of the window. The suitcase with all her paints and supplies had been opened and set on a lovely small table, near the easel. Myra got a towel from the bathroom and covered the table against Ginny's paint splashes. Ginny couldn't find her canvas and stretchers at first. They had been put tidily away in a bureau drawer. "Do you suppose they knew what this was?" she wondered.

Myra went back into the bathroom. "They even unpacked our toiletries -- " she began, then broke off and came back into the room, looking at Ginny in horror. "Where did you put the -- "

She didn't finish because Ginny had sat down in a chair, she was laughing so hard. "If you could see your face" she said. "I put everything in a ziplock and stuffed it between two pillows inside a single pillowcase. That's it over there on the bed."

Myra walked over and checked. "Whew" she said.

"How do we tip whoever it was that did all this unpacking for us?" asked Ginny.

"I don't know. Do I call down and ask the manager?"

At that moment, someone knocked on their door. When Myra answered it, a short, broad black woman in a maid uniform stood there with a stack of snowy towels. When she asked in Portugese if they needed more towels, Myra more or less understood her, saying "Sim, muito obrigado" and welcoming her in. She lacked the verbs to ask the woman if she was responsible for the condition of their room, but with she and Ginny miming themselves silly and repeating "Quem?" which was the only word Myra could recall from Portugese in the sentence "Who did all this for us?", the woman showed comprehension and indicated it was, in fact, her who had unpacked for them. After more pantomime, she gave her name as Suliadora and learned their names.

Myra knew there must be some kind of hierarchy among the staff, there were fucking hierachies everywhere. She was strongly tempted to give Suliadora another $100, but she might get frisked by the manager as soon as she back downstairs. Instead, she gave her 40 Reals and said "Mais amanhã , sim?" The woman nodded, grinning, so something of her bad Portugese made it through. If she gave the maid 40 Reals a day for 20 days, well, the manager never had to know, did he?

After the maid left, Ginny began stretching a canvas. She'd already pulled off her shoes, and now she stripped down to just a T-shirt. The fever was on her. She poured her paints out of the suitcase onto the table, and looked around for another small table to hold her palette. Finding one, Myra dragged it over to the other side of the easel and covered it as well with a towel.

"Ginny?" Myra's tone cut through Ginny's preoccupation. "Let's figure out how to do this here, which will be a little different from home."

"Okay." Ginny sat down beside Myra.

"I'm your tender, that goes without saying. I'll get up at my usual time, and if you haven't eaten, I'll order room service for both us with food that I can get into you. I'll try to keep a supply of cold bottled water in the bathroom as well. For lunch, I'm going down to that restaurant and having chateaubriand every day until I get sick of it, which may well not happen. I'll order something portable, mostly fruit, to bring back up to you. But for dinner, I'd like it if we went out at least twice a week, to someplace Brazilian and fantastically good. Can you manage that?"

"Yes, but more than twice a week. I want time with you as much as I want to paint, Myra. So eating dinner with you will be a given for me, unless I'm completely on a roll. And you know what hotel rooms bring out in me -- " she dimpled -- "so we are going to vacation it up, my love."

"Well, I am going to write. I started something in Mexico, and it looks good. I could use printing it out every day, though, for rewrites. Another call down to the desk, I guess."

"And we need to get to that beach, don't you think? And there are museums and galleries here. And a pool downstairs."

"So, you're saying you're not going to spend the whole three weeks in Painterland." Myra was relieved.

"Nope. Half in Painterland, half in loverland" grinned Ginny. "No kids, no responsibilities, no house to keep up. Just you and me and color." She pulled Myra down on the bed and kissed her exuberantly. "How about if we begin by working off some of that horrible soda you just guzzled?"

Myra extricated herself long enough to lock the door, then scurried back to Ginny's arms.

They fell into a luxurious routine. Myra got up at 9 a.m. and had mango-based fruit salad, fresh French bread and intense Brazilian cocoa for breakfast in the room with Ginny, who started painting as soon as light came in the windows. After a cool bath, Myra would write for several hours, letting in Suliadora at some point who cleaned around them and left with not only dirty linens but also their personal laundry -- the hotel had a laundry on the premises.

At 2 in the afternoon, Myra went out for lunch, carrying a sheaf of notes and bringing back a snack she would hand-feed to Ginny. Ginny was especially fond of the tiny red-skinned bananas Myra could find at a nearby corner stall, along with dried shrimp whose hotness brought tears to her eyes. By this time of day, Ginny was stripped down and shiny with sweat. Myra wrote again, her best work usually, until 6:00, when they would both go for a swim in the hotel pool, doing hard laps to loosen up muscles and re-enter the physical world completely. They would then go out for a leisurely dinner. Back in the room, which had a heady aroma of linseed oil and ripening bananas, they would often make love and fall asleep tangled together. On Saturdays, they both set aside work for the day and hit the town, visiting anything cultural or artistic they could find.

While Suliadora was in the room, Myra was too uncomfortable to go on writing, ignoring her as if she were not there. She began making small conversation with her limited Portugese, and Suliadora was very generous in helping bridge the communication gap. Eventually, she consented to sit down in the chair Myra pulled up, sharing a cool drink while avidly watching Ginny paint. Myra sat with her back to Ginny's canvas, as usual. Ginny was either oblivious to Suliadora's observation or had made a choice to allow it.

On the third day of their share break, Suliadora pointed to Ginny and said "She's very good, isn't she?" Myra nodded. "She's famous?" Myra nodded again. "Are you famous?" Myra waved her hand in the classic "more or less" sign.

There was a pause, then Suliadora said "É sua esposa, sim?"

Myra had a few split seconds to consider the risks of coming out, the choice of the word "wife" from a lesbian-feminist perspective as well as how it might translate culturally, but in the end, she simply chose the truth: "Sim. Eu sou muito feliz dizer que é minha esposa querida."

At that, Ginny looked around and grinned. "Querida means the same thing in Spanish. I'm happy you are mine as well."

Suliadora was pleased. "Quantos anos você foi casado?"

Myra said, "Gin, how many years do we say we've been married? What's our start date?"

"Use our anniversary, the night we went to Aux Delice, June 6, 1986."

Suliadora understood more English than they had suspected, because she jumped on this. "Ah, you anniversary soon! Twenty-free anos?"

Myra laughed. "Sim, e para cada daqueles anos eu fui a mulher a mais feliz na terra!"

Suliadora grinned and replied that if her husband Obano were still alive, she would have to argue with Myra and declare that in fact she, Suliadora, was the happiest woman on earth.

They had been married only a dozen years when he died in a work accident. They had three daughters, all of them now in high school. Myra expressed her sympathy, pointing to her mostly silver hair and indicating that before her children had become teenagers, she had had dark hair. They shared photographs. Suliadora's wages at the hotel, a very good job by her standards, enabled her to pay private Catholic school fees for her girls. She had hopes of being able to send one of them to university. Myra talked about how proud she was of Margie and Gillam, and that they would soon arrive here to travel on with their mothers. She asked Suliadora if it would be all right if she introduced her to her children. Suliadora was honored, she said, and perhaps her girls would also come by the hotel some time and meet these two famous women, if they would be so kind. Myra laughed and said only if she stopped calling them famous women, it made them sound like movie stars.

After that, Myra eagerly looked forward to her daily visit with Suliadora, and their conversations became increasingly deep and sharing. Ginny would occasionally drop into the talks as well. Ginny's ability to pick up languages swiftly enabled her to soon outstrip Myra in comprehension of Portugese. They also got on a first name basis with the manager, Joaquim, stopping to chat with him a bit every time they left or re-entered the hotel.

The second week, they had to venture out an locate an art supply store because Ginny was running low on some basic colors. She was excited to find shelves of local pigments and bought two of every kind. Nearby, Myra stopped in at a stationery shop and got stacks of odd-sized notebooks with grainy paper. She was coasting from one Guarana to the next. She remembered once hearing Dorothy Allison say that sometimes she kick-started a day of writing by drinking a two-liter bottle of Coca Cola. She hadn't produced this much since that stretch of days, long ago, when Hannah had taken the children out of town, the weekend Ginny had finished "Hettie".

She did keep up with e-mail to the children and other members of their close circle. She wrote a postcard filled with tiny handwriting every day to Allie, usually about either her conversations with Suliadora or about new childhood memories resurfacing here. It read a little like a travelogue. On Sunday afternoons she bought the New York Times, and she and Ginny would read it together over dinner, talking about the rest of the world they felt they had temporarily left behind.

The day before the children were due, Ginny said she needed to go back to the art supply store and buy some wet carriers she could convert into crates for shipping her canvases back to Allie. She had five new pieces of work. They lined them up on the chest of drawers, in the order she had completed them, as a private exhibition. Myra said "I can tell when you began using Brazilian pigments, but I can also see some other kind of progression. There's a fracturing of -- what is it, perspective? -- going on. Like, here, it's like looking at something reflected in a broken mirror. But it has to do with light, I think."

"Very good" said Ginny. "You can help me write my artist's statement for the next catalogue. I like that: broken mirror. But here's the big question: Is this better than what I've been doing?"

"Oh, Gin -- of course it is. Every painting is better than the last, because you never stop seeing. But also of course it isn't -- I can't meaningfully compare one of your pieces or approaches or periods to another in terms of quality. Everything stands on its own."

Ginny kissed her sweetly. "That's the right answer. I always kind of hang in the air until I hear what you think, you and the children and Allie. It doesn't affect how I create something, but once it's done, I crave your feedback."

"Yeah, I'm the same way. Especially about a poem."

"Let's leave these where they are, so Margie and Gillam can see them when they get here. I'll ship them overnight air to Allie after that."

Myra hesitated. "That's a small fortune on display, Ginny. I trust Suliadora, of course, but if anyone savvy to who you are is watching us, then breaking into this room while we are gone would not be hard. Before we leave for dinner tonight, I'd rather we slip these into carriers and stash them in the hotel safe."

Ginny reluctantly agreed. "I can never believe how much my canvasses sell for."

"I can" said Myra emphatically.

Myra called down to the desk and asked if Joaquim would come up, they had something they wanted to show him. When Myra opened their door to the knock a few minutes later, Joaquim was standing with folded hands, looking very serious, and behind him was Suliadora, looking worried.

Oh, no, they think we have a complaint thought Myra. She beckoned them in warmly, pulling up chairs facing the paintings, and said immediately "Because of your kindness and excellent care, I have written much of a book -- " she pointed at the manuscript on her desk -- "and Ginny has painted five works of art." She waved her hand at the paintings with a flourish.

Ginny said "Would you like to be the first people to view them?"

Joaquim clearly understood this was a genuine honor; he looked emotional. He walked over to them and examined each one with his hands behind his back. Suliadora, who knew them much better than even Myra did, pretended to follow suit. When they were done, Joaquim struggled to find the right English to express his appreciation.

After a pause, however, Suliadora went straight into Portugese: "The feeling I get when I look at them reminds me of when I have gone swimming in the ocean with my daughters, and I dive under the water, looking back up at the sky. I am looking up through a small wave, and I see the beautiful faces of my children, which makes my heart pound, but there is also a sadness because I can only see, I cannot hear their voices."

Ginny was stunned. Myra had grabbed a notebook and managed to catch most of this reaction on paper. She added her in parentheses for herself "Til human voices wake us / And we drown."

"That's one of the best critiques I've ever gotten" said Ginny, taking both of Suliadora's hands in her own, then impulsively hugging her. She said to them "When I write the catalogue for my next show, I will thank you both by name, and I will send you a copy."

Myra helped Ginny put the paintings in wet carriers and walked with her downstairs to the large hotel safe, where they were locked in and Joaquim wrote out a receipt in his ornate handwriting. Suliadora left before they were done, perhaps to go home -- this was late for her to be here. At dinner that night, Myra asked Ginny "Do you have any idea how much it might cost to attend four years of university here?" Ginny shook her head, looking at Myra speculatively. She said "I was thinking of that, too."

"Good. This the kind of help that makes sense to me. Three daughters all getting the education they want and deserve. Will you help me draw up the letter?" Ginny took Myra's hand and kissed it. She said "If the foundation doesn't have the funds at the moment, I'll donate the sale of enough of these paintings to cover it. Putting the money back into Brazil feels right."

"I want to do more. I want to set up a school in that favela we drove through, with an art program" said Myra. "I'll donate my income from this book."

The next morning Myra went to the desk and borrowed the use of their printer and a sheet of blank heavy hotel paper to print out her letter. She also took three envelopes. She stashed it upstairs in a drawer as Ginny finished getting dressed.

The children's flight was due in at 10:00 the next morning but was an hour late. Myra and Ginny had caught a cab to the airport and sat at the gate impatiently. When Ginny saw Gillam's head, easily topping most of the other passengers, she began shouting and waving her arms. He got shunted off into customs but waved back at her. Finally they saw Margie, a couple of people behind him.

The reunion was extremely happy all round. After collecting baggage and getting a cab, the four of them babbled nonstop on the way back to the hotel. Myra introduced their children proudly in the lobby to Joaquim and Suliadora. After formal handshakes, Myra asked Suliadora if it would be possible for them to meet her daughters some time in the next two days. Suliadora said the following afternoon, they could stop by after school. Joaquim had excused himself politely and disappeared into the back office, returning with Ginny's two wet carriers. He insisted in bringing them himself up to their room. All of the baggage was skinned from them by an adroit bellhop, and they filled the gold-trimmed elevator up to the seventh floor.

One room on either side of Myra and Ginny's room had been booked for the children. Margie spun around happily in her room, marveling at the expanse of plush carpet, the ceiling, the windows. After Joaquim left, Ginny told the children not to look as she set up her paintings.

When she allowed them to turn back around, they were silent at first. Stricken dumb, in fact. Margie, as usual, got up close enough to breathe on the still damp paint to examine each stroke. Gillam stood back a little, his arm draped over Ginny's shoulders, methodically ingesting one painting completely before he went on to the next.

"Stupendous" he finally said. "I mean, I've grown up with you, and I still don't believe you can make this kind of an image."

"I can't tell what you're doing differently" Margie expostulated. "It's driving me nuts, not being able to tell."

They sat down and talked for a while, Ginny pulling paintings into her lap at random to explain this or that. Eventually Margie turned to Myra and said "And you? Your e-mail said there was a new book coming out of you."

Myra turned and pointed to the stack of over 200 sheets on the desk next to her laptop. "Holy moly!" said Gillam. "All that since you got here?"

"A little from Mexico, the rest here."

"I don't suppose you'd let us read what you've got so far?" he asked, wheedling.

Myra shook her head. "Still too fragile to allow another's opinion. I'm sorry, honey, I really am."

As Ginny re-boxed her work, Gillam stepped into his room to use the bathroom. "Hey!" he yelled, "My suitcases are gone!"

Myra called back "Nope, Suliadora's been busy, is all. Check the drawers and the closet."

Margie got up to look in her room, too. "Same here" she said.

"If she shows up with extra towels, give her 40 Reals. Discreetly and appreciatively" instructed Myra. She handed a stack of various Real denominations to each of the children and explained the exchange rate, adding "The average income is less than $100 a month. Share our wealth."

After Gillam had changed and Margie had showered and changed, they all went down to the restaurant for lunch. "Let us order for you this one time" said Ginny. "Margie, I'll get seafood dishes you and I can share." Myra ordered Gillam a chateaubriand. They requested a large bowl of fruit salad and an assortment of breads to start with. Ginny reminded the children to only drink bottled water, and handed them each a bottle from the bucket on ice.

Once the order was placed and the waiter gone, Margie fiddled with her napkin, smiling at her lap, then said "I have something to tell you both. It's not new news -- it's been coming on slowly all year -- but I wanted to wait until -- well, until a certain point. And I wanted to tell you in person." She smiled joyously at her mothers. Gillam was grinning, too.

Ginny took Myra's hand under the table. "What?" she said.

"I'm in love. I'm totally in love, and this looks like the one!" cried Margie.

Ginny's hand was icy. Myra squeezed it and said, "Oh my god, Margie, I'm so happy for you. I'm over the moon! What's his name, have we met him?"

"No, you haven't met, and the name is Frances." Margie was giggling crazily.

Ginny looked at Gillam and said "You knew about this, didn't you? Do you know Francis?"

Gillam giggled too, nodding. "We all went to the airport together."

Ginny was starting to get warmth back in her hand. Her tone of voice, which had been borderline, also warmed up. "Tell all, honey." When Margie kept laughing too hard to talk, Ginny said to Gillam "You, then, what do you think of him? What's he like?"

Gillam looked at Margie, who was now simply guffawing, but she managed a nod. "Well," said Gillam, "Frankly -- I think she's totally hot!"

Myra could tell her mouth was open but couldn't manage to shut it. She stared at Margie, who was hugging herself in glee. Then she realized Ginny had burst into tears. "Oh my god, Ginny, what's wrong?"

"Nothing" sobbed Ginny. "It's incredible, isn't it?" She buried her face on Myra's shoulder. The waiter appeared, his face distressed.

"Nós somos muito bem, nós recebemos apenas a notícia do repouso, notícia boa" Myra reassured him, astounding her children. He discreetly laid an extra napkin on the table and moved away.

"She's a woman?" Ginny blubbered. "You're in love with a woman?"

"Yes" said Margie warily. "I thought you'd be thrilled about that part."

"What could be better?" cried Ginny, clutching Myra's shoulder again.

Margie looked in bewilderment at Myra, who said quietly "I don't know, I honestly don't. She'll tell us eventually. I am thrilled, honey pie. I have to admit, I'm more thrilled this way than if it had been -- another kind of Francis. But mostly I'm just happy you're in love. When you say you wanted to wait -- does that mean you've reached some kind of -- I'm not sure how to put this -- "

"I'm thrilled too" protested Ginny. "I am. I don't know why the fuck I'm crying." She grabbed the napkin from her lap and blew her nose loudly. She reached across Myra, grabbed her Guarana, and took a big slug. "Gaahhh!" she said, shaking her head.

"What is that stuff?" said Gillam.

Myra motioned to the waiter and ordered three more Guaranas. "A local soft drink that will put hair on your chest, no pansy FDA limits down here."

"Please, Margie, I'm so sorry for acting nuts. I really do want to hear all about it" said Ginny, gulping back any last tears. Margie looked dubious. The waiter arrived and served Guarana with a flourish. Gillam poured some from his bottle into a glass and took a cautious sip. His eyes widened. "Way, way different" he said. "Not bad."

"Wait till it kicks into your bloodstream" crowed Myra.

"This isn't alcoholic, is it?" said Margie in disbelief.

"No, no. Just a native herb. Go on, try it."

Margie took a drink as Ginny poured herself a glass. "Reminds of something, I don't know what" said Margie. "Okay. Well, we met through friends a year ago. I was still dating Rimbaud at that time, though we were definitely on the rocks and broke up a month later. She's a year ahead of me, so we didn't run into each other often, different circles. But when we talked, I just couldn't seem to stop telling her everything I'd ever thought or felt. It was like I knew her always, right from the start. I thought maybe it was because she was a lesbian, and it felt like home, you know. She graduated mid-year and immediately went into a culinary program -- she's a chef, or about to be one, wants to start her own restaurant eventually. She grew up in Los Angeles, from a huge Italian family. She's brilliant, and hilarious, and beautiful..." Margie began laughing again. "She's the most wonderful woman I've ever met!"

Ginny's hand found Myra's again under the table. Oho, thought Myra, getting an inkling.

"But I didn't know I was falling in love with her. She did, she says she knew from the first, but I went for months not knowing why I was so goofy all the time."

Myra grinned at Ginny and sang softly "Because she's a woman, I didn't think I loved her..."

"Then one night we sat up talking until nearly dawn, and when I saw the time I was bowled over. I got up and went to the window, and it was already getting light out. She got up, too, and walked up behind me. I turned around and said something like 'I've ruined your night's sleep', and she said 'It isn't the first time', and just from the way she was looking at me, I knew. And when I knew for her, then suddenly I knew for me. I mean, it makes no sense, but that's how it happened." Margie sighed ecstatically.

"So, from there?" said Myra, still trying to find out how they were defining themselves now.

"So I kissed her, then pulled her into bed, and we got up days later" said Margie challengingly. Gillam went beet red, and Myra felt her face doing the same.

"No! I mean, I wasn't asking for that kind of reporting" said Myra. She turned to Ginny. "Although if we ever had any doubts about her being your daughter -- "

"Me?" protested Ginny. "You are the one -- "

"TMI in all directions!" said Gillam, raising his voice. He turned to Margie. "They want to know are you married, are you going to get married, is she treating you right, all that jazz."

"Oh. Well, no, not married, at least not yet. But partners, yes, Mama" Margie said, grinning at Ginny. "She's out to her family and a couple of weekends ago she told them about me. We're talking about our future together, still, so I don't want to jump the gun. But this part is rock solid."

"Frances what?" asked Ginny.


"What sign is she?" asked Myra.

"Oh my god" said Margie. "You're not kidding, are you?" She looked at Gillam and rolled her eyes, then turned back to Myra. "She's a Sag like me."

"Oh, very good" said Myra.

The waiter arrived with their meal. Myra got up and switched sides with Margie so Margie could sit next to Ginny and share their orders with each other. Myra watched Gillam's face with high anticipation as he took his first bite of chateaubriand. His eyebrows shot up almost to his hairline. "Wow!" he said, immediately cutting another bite.

"That's what she's had for lunch every day since we got here" said Ginny, not quite exasperated. Gillam gave Myra a surreptitious thumbs-up signal below the sightline of the table.

"What's the altitude here?" said Margie suddenly.

"Close to sea level" said Myra. "I mean, look right over there, ocean. How come?"

"Maybe it's from the stress of telling you all, then. I'm a little lightheaded, but not in a bad way. Like, extra zippy."

Myra pointed to Margie's almost empty Guarana bottle. "Really?" said Margie.

Gillam picked his glass and took another long drink. "She's going through an uncounted number of those every day, too" said Ginny.

"You are such a snitch" said Myra. "And how many hours a day am I writing? And how lovingly attentive have I been to you for the last three weeks? And -- "

Ginny held up her hand. "I apologize, I didn't intend to snipe." She blew Myra a kiss.

Myra said to the kids, "It's been paradise, and I totally mean that." She motioned to the waiter for more Guaranas.

"This conch is one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth" said Margie. Ginny cut her own portion in half yet again and forked it onto Margie's plate. Margie leaned against her shoulder briefly, beaming.

Myra stopped at a bank on the way back to the hotel and pulled out enough cash to distress the teller until Myra assured her she had protection for the walk down the block. In the hotel room, she counted out currency. Margie asked "What is she doing?"

"Final tips" said Ginny. "What are you thinking, $500 for Joaquim?"

"Is that enough?" asked Myra. Ginny nodded. "And $50 for each of the other staff we've had regular contact with? Except Suliadora, of course."

"I think for her -- how about $1000 for each daughter?"

"I like your thinking." Myra wrote a note to Joaquim and handed it over to Ginny to add her sentiments. "It would mean something to him if you signed it as well" she said to Margie and Gillam, so they obliged.

Ginny wrote a personal letter to Suliadora, which the children also signed with her. They sealed the envelopes, added them to the envelope containing the notification of Suliadora's full four-year scholarship award for all three daughters, and finally hid them in the lumpy pillow on Myra's bed which had gone undisturbed by any staff all this time.

Myra gave everybody the equivalent of $100 in small Brazilian bills for the next day's outing. "We'll use the credit card whenever we can, but this is for giving away or small purchases. In this setting, if you spend it all I'll be really proud of you."

They went down an hour early to swim and lounge by the pool. Margie remarked "Now I see how you've become so beautifully brown." Gillam discovered you could order Guarana from a poolside table. His laps were a lovely thing to watch, and several of the waiters did.

They walked alongside Ipanema to find a place for dinner, each child arm in arm with a mother. Margie answered endless questions about Frances. Gillam filled Myra's head with reading theory. He was definite about going into Special Education.

The meal was wonderful, even the riskier dishes. They took a cab back to the hotel and sat on the mezzanine with its view of the bay, talking until Myra noticed Gillam was looking exhausted. "My god, Ginny, these children need to go to bed" she said, standing up. "I forgot what a long day, two days, it's been for you."

"I forgot, too" said Gillam, "until just now. I don't know if I've ever been away from you both for over a month before. I missed you so much."

Ginny tried to put her arm around his shoulders to lead him to the elevator, but could not quite reach. He was seven inches taller than her now. She linked her arm through his instead and they all traipsed upstairs, kissing goodnight in the hall and walking into cool, dark rooms separated again for the night.

Myra stripped and scooted up behind Ginny in the soft nest of their bed. "I'm glad we only had the two, but damned if they aren't so incredible, makes me sorry we didn't give the world a dozen like 'em" she said.

Ginny laughed "What's with the we? My uterus has hung out a permanent 'No Vacancy' sign."

"Is it willing to have neighbors throw a party?" asked Myra, coaxing Ginny around to face her. After one long kiss, though, she drew back and said "I forgot -- do we need to have a talk?"

"What about?"

"About you losing it when you found out Margie was in love, and with a woman to boot" said Myra questioningly.

Ginny looked distressed. "I still don't know how to sort that out yet. I will, I promise, and we can talk then. Okay?"

"Okay. Let me know."

They returned to kissing.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

1 comment:

letsdance said...

Yay, yum, wonderful reading, Maggie!