Monday, April 21, 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.

Late June 2010

They had a early afternoon flight from London to Tel Aviv. Ginny asked Myra several questions about her ability to travel. Myra said "The prednisone is making me feel more energy than I think is real, you're right about that. But my breathing is completely clear, and getting back to a desert climate will be good. And it's only five hours in the air. I'll rest as soon as I get there, I promise."

She felt light-headed and stuffy by the time they landed. After they checked in, she begged for one more outing before bed, to the small restaurant across the street from the hotel whose cooking smells had reached her nose as they were leaving their cab. Once they looked at the menu, she said to Ginny "I was right about this place. Look, they have cholent!"

"And hummus" said Gillam.

"Much better than that prime rib you two had last night" commented Ginny.

"Well, I had to try famous British beef" argued Myra. "But it really wasn't as good as chateaubriand. I intend to go on eating locally. Let's start here with a pitcher of Jaffa orange juice, shall we?"

The cholent helped her to sleep. Twelve hours later, she woke up ready for the day. After blintzes, they checked out and climbed into their rental car. Ginny had her international driver's license ready and the first hour on the road was tense, with her exclaiming frequently about the difference in traffic behavior here. Myra insisted they take a break at a farmstand, which she knew would help Ginny chill out. They stopped an hour later at a roadside crafts shop. By the time they reached Akko, they were ready for lunch.

An hour later, they were at the Ghetto Fighter's Museum. This had been Myra's number one choice to see in Israel. She began crying inside the front entry, when she first spied a photograph of Zivia Lubetkin. She stayed in physical contact with Ginny or one of her children for the entire time, as they toured the Yizkor Hall, the Warsaw Ghetto exhibit, and slowly made their way through the Art = Remembrance rooms. They were mostly silent. By the time they reached the observation deck, with its view of the Western Galilee, Myra's chest felt constricted again, though it was entirely grief, not asthma.

In the open air, Ginny turned to face her family and said "Let's give thanks to Louis and Lena, who got on a boat for some ridiculously named place called Nebraska, in hopes of the lives we get to lead."

Gillam closed his eyes and his lips moved in prayer. Margie shocked them all by shouting out into the surrounding hills, "We are here!" With a grin, she said "That's for all the kibbutzim and moshavim. I often feel like I grew up on a kind of kibbutz."

They headed south again, stopping for dinner in Haifa and reaching Hebron after dark. Myra felt exhausted once more. She thought if she wrote a poem, or cried her guts out, she might feel better. Instead, she went to sleep while Ginny sat up talking quietly with the children.

The following morning, they arrived at Masada. After checking in, Myra and Ginny decided to take a mud bath followed by a dip in the sulphur pool, while the younger set headed for the Dead Sea. When they all met up again for a late lunch, Myra felt purged. Margie took a sniff of her and said "You need to shower, Mama, you smell like rotten eggs."

"I did shower" protested Myra.

"Well, it didn't take" said Margie.

"We were thinking about walking to the David Stream" said Myra. "Maybe being in the waterfalls will do the trick."

"If you're up to it" said Ginny.

"I think part of what's going on with me is not enough activity" said Myra. "I mean, I usually swim or do housework every day."

Ginny looked at her speculatively. "We could start doing yoga together every morning" she offered.

"Let's" said Myra. Gillam said "Can I get in on that? Swimming at the Dead Sea was not what I'd call pleasurable." His eyes were bloodshot from contact with the salt water.

That night they were all more animated than they had been in days. Myra began actively pursuing knowledge of Frances. Whenever Frances began to look uncomfortable from all the attention, Myra would turn the talk back to cooking techniques, where they found easy common ground.

The next morning, after more amazing fruit, fresh eggs, and warm bread, they headed for the fortress. Ginny persuaded Myra to take the cablecar up the mountain -- "It's an infamous hike, honey, let's build you back up." By the time the kids arrived, they were shiny with sweat and swearing about the insanity of armored legions trying to take this height. Myra was glad of her restful ride up when it became clear the mosaics and astonishing art of the place was widely scattered, with long walks in between. Ginny filled all their digital memory cards with images, and Myra had to download them onto her laptop back at the hotel, then stash them online to preserve the memory on her computer as well.

That night was shabbos. The front desk clerk directed them to a small synagogue nearby, where they went to pray and light candles. The challah was chewy in a day Ginny found intriguing, and there was no non-alcoholic wine option, so they each drank half a glass and got tipsy from it.

The following morning, they drove into Jerusalem. It was extremely crowded, and parking at the hotel was an exorbitant extra but they had no choice. Margie and Frances peeled off to go shopping, despite Ginny's warning that a lot of the best places would be closed because of shabbos. "They just want some time alone" reminded Myra.

Ginny, Myra and Gillam headed for the Mahne Yehuda Market, where they browsed through the food stalls and bought quantities of fruit and nuts. Ginny was able to feel her way through transactions with the Yiddish-speaking sellers, which duly impressed Myra. Gillam had his Leica out and kept talking about the incredible light.

At 2:00, they met Margie and Frances back at the hotel, Frances with suspiciously just-shampooed black curls and Margie's cheeks flushed. Ginny flicked a grin at Myra, then went to her luggage to extract the small folded slips of paper she had been given by her sister's family and Sima before they left Seattle. Gillam likewise pocketed a tiny scrap of tissue paper, and when Myra asked "That from Carly?", he nodded.

Myra handed out kippot, and when she put on her tallis her eyes filled with tears at missing David. "He would so have treasured this experience" she said to Ginny, and Ginny's eyes filled as well, understanding instantly. Myra tucked her fringe underneath her gauze shirt, not wishing to offend Hasidic sensibilities. Margie, however, left hers hanging free over her slacks.

"To Ha-Kotel" said Ginny.

Upon recommendation of the front desk clerk, they caught a cab to the Western Wall. The crowds seemed impenetrable. The slanting rays of afternoon sun were full of dust, and over the hubbub were clear high wails. They were frisked swiftly and competently, and Myra hugged Gillam for a long minute before he peeled away to walk alone into the northern men's section of the plaza.

Halfway through the throngs, Myra came to a stop. Ginny noticed right away and turned back, saying "What's up?"

"I think...I need to stay here. I need"

"Myra -- you're welcome to touch the stones, everyone is, but especially you. You're one of us" said Ginny.

"I know that. I...can feel it from here, Ginny." Myra's heart was in her throat.

Ginny's face showed she didn't understand. After a few moments, however, she squeezed Myra's hand and moved off after Margie and Frances.

Myra found a chair where she had a view of the small clear space before the wall where Ginny was headed. She searched the masses to her left and discovered Gillam had moved as close to the barrier as he could. He was looking at her, and when she met his eyes, he nodded, then stepped to the wall and put his right hand against the stone. His head bent and his knees loosened. Myra found herself crying, hard.

She continued to cry as Ginny and Margie, side by side, began to pray. Margie's forehead was pressed against the wall. Ginny was sliding paper into the cracks, her cheeks wet and glistening. Frances kept looking sideways at Margie, her arms folded across her chest. Her kippot was not quite on the crown of her head.

Possibly at Masada, or Haifa, or all the terrain they had crossed thus far, one of Ginny's ancestors had trod. But beyond any doubt, someone in her lineage had been here to the temple, 2000 or more years ago. Maybe they had dark shiny hair like Ginny, or her full cheeks, or her wide hips. They had prayed here, and now her children had returned to take their place in this unbroken chain of humanity.

It was joy, more than any sense of loss, which pushed the muted sobs out of Myra. She felt blessed. Some 10,000 years before the temple, her people and Ginny had been the same, and after this unknowable gap, they had reconnected. She wiped her eyes and looked at Gillam again. He was kissing the fold of paper he'd pulled from his pocket before he gave it to the wall.

Their cab ride back to the hotel was silent. In their room, Ginny went to the bathroom, Gillam and Margie left for their rooms, and Frances was alone with Myra. Myra motioned for Frances to sit beside her on the couch.

"How was it?" asked Myra.

Frances swallowed, then said "I don't know much...about Judaism."

"You'll have to learn" said Myra gently. "Any questions, you can bring to me."

"I was raised Catholic, went to grade school with the nuns" said Frances. "But I'm not observant. I don't -- talk to Jesus."

"Jesus doesn't matter one way or the other in this family's culture" said Myra. "A non-player. It's about community, and ethics."

"And art?" asked Frances.

"With the Bates, yes" laughed Myra. "Plus good food, so you've got that in."

"She says she's not a lesbian" said Frances unexpectedly. "She says she's not straight, either, she has simply fallen in love with a woman."

"Can you live with that?" asked Myra.

"Yeah, I get it. I can hardly believe she finally noticed me" said Frances. "I mean, beyond being my friend."

"You're the luckiest woman on the planet" said Myra. "Next to me, of course."

That night, they ate at Ima, sampling Kurdish Iraqi cuisine. The children went out clubbing again, and Myra made love to Ginny with all the intensity she'd been storing for the past few days. As they were dropping off, Ginny murmured "What time is our flight to Greece tomorrow?"


"I'm starting to feel the need to paint."

"I'm not surprised. You've filled up that sketchbook, haven't you?"

"Yes, remind me to buy a new one tomorrow. How about you and writing?"

"The same. Overdue."

"Well, when we reach Paris. Four days from now. We have a week there. We can set the kids loose and hole up for a while" said Ginny.

"I bet Margie plans to buy out the couture stores" said Myra.

"I wish her joy with that. Her ass isn't going to fit into those Parisian fashions. Frances, yes, she's shockingly petite to be a chef. Margie will have to settle for dressing her girlfriend." They both laughed at the notion.

(Two days later, on the night ferry from Athens to Lesbos)

After standing at the railing of the ferry out of Piraeus for a while, Ginny began feeling queasy despite having taken Dramamine, so she announced she was going in to sit in the saloon. Myra went with her. They found a cozy bench seat without other people around and snuggled down side by side.

"How ya doin?" said Myra.

"A little better. I think I just need a break from stimulation. Athens was nuts."

"Yeah. Well, Lesbos should be a haven. And we have a sleeper upstairs, once it gets dark."

"We only have one night in Lesbos itself" said Ginny. "I do intend to make the most of it."

"The homeland, as it were" grinned Myra. "What did you have in mind?"

"I was thinking some kind of homage to Sappho. Perhaps a ceremonial recreation of anything we think she might have done that we still do today."

"Hmmm. You know, Gin, I doubt if there is much difference, given the constant of physiology. I can only come up with one thing we do that I don't think she and her cohorts did. I mean, they had no synthetic materials."

"Perhaps one of them carved and polished a nice piece of driftwood as a gift to their founder."


"I said polished, Myra."

"And I still say ow." Myra reached into her pocket and pulled out one of her little Brazilian notebooks, along with her pen. "Shall we make a list?"

Ginny put her head along Myra's to focus on the notebook with her and draped one arm around her back. "Let's."

"Well, the first is what we began with..." Myra wrote down K but was interrupted by Ginny said "My -- we have lots of customs searches ahead of us. How about if you don't write...explicitly?"

"Good idea. I'll use initials. Okay, so just K."

"The well we drink from all day long" said Ginny.

"What comes to mind next is MOL" --

"What's L? Oh, right. Well, that's really a twofer, L and C at the same time" pointed out Ginny.

"You're right." Myra changed the L to L/C.

"And then MOV" said Ginny. Myra wrote it as MOV/P.

"P? Oh, right, another twofer."

Myra grinned at Ginny. "You really love that one."

"I do? Oh, is that what you're doing when I get all --"


"Live and learn. I need to ask more questions. Well, I'll be checking out your stance on the subject when I get a chance."

"...'kay. And then, following a logical progress, MOa."

"Why the little a, Myra? Because we don't do it often?"

"Yeah. Less important. Oh, gosh, look what I left out." She squeezed in T between the first two at the top of the list.

"I have no idea what that is" said Ginny. Myra changed it to Tism.

"Oh, yeah. We've almost never done that, why not?"

"Speaking for myself only, I'm completely uninterested in pretending at the missionary position and also I've never been able to get off doing it."

"Then -- " Ginny took the pen from Myra and added a question mark after the word. "That one's a maybe, only in passing. What else?"

"FOL/C, I think" --

"Absolutely" said Ginny, writing down as Myra dictated.

"FOV/P, and FOa."

"That last one again rare because of the handwashing limitation afterward."

"Well, and it's too far from ground zero. It's the boys who are fixated on holes, any hole."

"And girls who wanna be boys."

"Sadly true."

"Okay, Myra, we've done the FOs, now we need to do the FIs. FIV, for sure."

"But you know what? There's more than one of those. There's FIVD" --

Ginny, writing fast, added "Plus FIVI&O, and then FIV -- what word would you use to indicate tracing the parameters of certain tissue?"

"Strategic, maybe?" said Myra. Ginny wrote FIVS.

"Which takes us to FIa. But there is no range of options there because we only like it one way, just a light, occasional residence."

"Here" said Myra, taking the pen back "Let's make a column on the right that's for definite no's." She wrote FIaD/I&O on the right side of the sheet and then crossed through it once.

"Oh my god, Myra, we forgot -- the Bs" said Ginny.

"So we did. MOB and HOB" She underlined them. "What does underlining mean?" said Ginny.

"It's like a roux, the basic sauce from which all dishes flow. Things we almost never leave out."

"In that case, underline K and these two" said Ginny, pointing.

"Now we're up to D. There isn't really a DO, is there? I mean, why use that when you have fingers for the O sensation?"

"Yeah. So it's DIVD, DIVS, and DIVI&O."

"Oh baby baby."

"But no DIa."

Myra put the second "no" item on the right and crossed through it as well.

"Is that it? I can't think of anything else."

Ginny concentrated. "Yes, there's our angle of approach."

"Leave it to the artist" said Myra, writing FFoB.

"And also our orientation to plane. Like, are we L, S or S?"

Myra added LSoS.

"Okay, I can't think of anything else, either. That's some list, Myra. Will we get to it all?"

"We'll have fun trying" said Myra, folding the notebook shut and putting it back in her pocket.

Decades later, when Margie ran across this notebook page in the Josong-Bates Archive, she was stumped for quite a while. She nailed down the date by looking at the pages before and after it, and deduced it must have been written during the Lesbos leg of their trip. The page had been headed Mytilene in a second ink, along with tiny tic marks next to all the items in the left-hand column in that same ink; she suspected that ink indicated it was added later. She tried to imagine what kind of a list her mothers would have collaborated on. It was only when she equated Mytilene with Lesbos that she got a glimmer. A few minutes later, when she finally cracked "Tism" she had it all solved.

She took it to Gillam and said "We need to decide if this can be released to researchers coming to the Archive."

He looked at it, bewildered. "What is this, code?"

"Just simple acronyms. They made it either before Lesbos or once we got there, and it's in both their handwriting. I'm pretty sure it's a list of what they meant to do in bed."

"Please tell me you're joking. What are the check marks for?" His face was pale.

"Exactly what you're afraid they're for" said Margie. She was enjoying this, he could tell.

"No one will ever be able to decipher this" he said. "It's not meaningful, so we can leave it--"

"I've deciphered it" said Margie. "It's fairly straightforward. And blunt as they always were."

Gillam's brow was furrowed as he went down the list.

No: FIaD/I&O, DIa


He said slowly "I guess K is kissing. And....down here, B is breasts? But what is MO -- Oh, hell." Once he realized MO meant mouth on, the meaning of MOL/C swam into his understanding. Too much of the rest fell into place. He set the notebook down after another minute and said "Why did they make a lower-case?"

"I think they were expressing either less preference or infrequency" said Margie.

"And the crossed out items? You mean there were things they actually wouldn't do? Hard to believe." He was mad at them even as he missed them terribly. "How can you put all this together when I can't?" he asked.

"First hand familiarity with the subject" she said. "So to speak. And -- it doesn't bother me."

"I don't really want other people reading this. You're right, it does bother me. But I have to be honest and admit if they were alive to be interviewed, they'd probably tell people this sort of thing."

"It's a fascinating glimpse of their most intimate life" said Margie.

"Maybe to you. And I guess to a researcher. Okay, let 'em have at the puzzle. Someone will get a Ph.D. thesis out of that damned little sheet of paper."

Margie decided not to remind him that one of the people intending to use the Archive to write a biography was his middle daughter.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild


kat said...

Margie decided not to remind him that one of the people intending to use the Archive to write a biography was his middle daughter....

ooh....can't wait for volume 2-through infinity....

Have you taken up my suggestion yet and read the Cazalet Chronicle??? You're going to force me to send them all to you, you know...

letsdance said...

Delicious reading, Maggie!

Maggie Jochild said...

I'd forgotten about the Cazalet Chronicle. Feel free to send, I don't get out much. (Understatement.)

Kat wrote me this as a private e-mail and I'm inserting it here, with her consent:

I saw Myra and Ginny at dinner last night! Circa whatever year they realize that their hair is all grey.....

It was in a chinese restaurant near Rockridge BART station.....I think I was staring....

Okay, one thing that made me doubt their true identities: both ordered beer. They didn't seem too knowledgeable, though, and were asking advice from the waitress.

Yes, I was evesdropping that completely....

How did I know:
-Ginny's "pixie"-ish haircut: super short, but framing her face so perfectly.
-Myra's open, welcoming face (as well as her hair cut in the way that I imagine it. I don't remember if you describe Myra's hair....doesn't she have a cowlick?)
-Myra's slight drawl
-Their incredibly warm manner with the waitress. Polite, smiling....
-->I noticed this particularly because the previous occupants of that table were complete and utter assholes. One dude actually stuck his hand in the waitresses face when she came by to do that "is everything ok" thing after she delivered their food. I guess he didn't want to be interrupted, but what a schmuck!
-The way that they were so comfortable with each other. Periods of contented silence that happen with long-time couples.
-From what I could see, "Ginny" had artist hands. Or, at least, hands that move in the way that artists', pianists', violinists' do.
-They were wearing polarfleece-like outerwear often seen on Seattle residents.

So there you go!
post away.....

There aren't any galleries in the vicinity, though....maybe they were going back to somewhere Myra ate when she was in the Bay Area (in your bay area time, this place was called "Eve's Hunan" and it's on College, just south of the Bart station. It's been renovated and is now "Becky's Chinese")....dunno...

Yes, Myra has a troublesome cowlick which is actually adorable but she doesn't think so. And they do wear polarfleece.

I REMEMBER that restaurant clearly, Kate, went there often -- it's on the same block, more or less, as where the Oedible Complex used to be? One of my best friends (and the main source of inspiration for the character Allie) lived right around the corner from there, next to the BART line, and we'd walk down to eat Chinese food there.

All of you, let me know if you spot Myra and Ginny out and about in your region. I can't always keep track of them.

kat said...

yes!! That's the one.
Oedible complex closed (probably when I was in middle school or high school) and is now a place called "Crepevine." It's a pun....not a very funny one, as it requires the mispronunciation of the word "crepe"....ugh....

Anyway, Becky's really yummy.
Did your friend live on Keith? Or the street on the other side of the Bart line? My mom's god-daughter and her family lived on Keith for years.

Maggie Jochild said...

It was, in fact, Keith. A white stucco two-story with red tile steps up to twin front doors, my friend lived on the right. There was a smallish living room in the middle, a big front room which was my friend's bedroom (lots of BART noise all the time when I slept over), and off the kitche in the back another small room which they used as a second bedroom for her roommate, who built a loft so she could exist in there. Back steps into a wonderful garden owned by the folks downstairs but we got to sit out there, too. And a window in the narrow bathroom which could be left open all the time, with a ledge and access for their cats.

What I remember best about the Oedible was their bagels, don't know why. Really good, I guess. We had a LOT of political meetings there, back in the day.

Gillam's middle daughter is named Leah Margaret. Yep, both her grandmothers' middle names.