Sunday, May 25, 2008


Here's another slightly out of sequence segment of my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. This will follow my post of 19 May and immediately precede my last post of 24 May.

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.

May 2012

Once her Anacortes pages were printed out -- clearly the ingredients of a short story -- she read through them with a red pencil and a yellow legal pad nearby to make notes. By the time she was done, she had five pages of notes for a 15-page story. This is not good, she thought.

She sat back and folded her arms, stumped. She was experienced enough to know when it was simply a question of pushing on through or if there was a structural problem that had to be addressed. It was the latter, but none of her usual remedies for divining the answer worked. She got up and went into the kitchen, filling a big glass with ice and pouring Coke over it. As she taking a long drink, the phone rang. She answered it at the breakfast bar.

"Hey, Mom" said Gillam.

"Hey back. Que paso?" Myra sat down on a stool.

"I'm...I just saw Courtney. She was coming out of Lab II and we stopped to talk for a minute." Gillam sounded raw.

"Tell me everything" said Myra. He did, not quite crying but not holding back, either. He and Courtney had been able to say to one another how much they missed each other.

"How can this be right?" asked Gillam passionately. "Would you tell me if you thought I was making a huge mistake?"

Myra paused. "I'm not sure. At this point, you really don't need to hear my judgment. Later on, yeah, when you've carved out more of your own territory. But that's moot. If you've having doubts, they are your doubts, not mine."

"I am having doubts" said Gillam. "I could be with her right now. We could keep growing together and see if our paths converged, isn't that another way to look at it?"

"Did you think of that option before you changed your relationship with her?" asked Myra.

"Yeah. Dammit, yes, and I decided it was just wishful thinking. But maybe it was some smart voice that I've drowned out" said Gillam. "Did you ever make a mistake that you were sure was right at the time, that turned out to change the course of your life, and not in a good way?"

Myra laughed briefly. "Absolutely. Here's the thing, though. Up to a certain watershed year, I made mistakes the way other people make movie decisions. I might have regrets, but not enough to learn from. Until finally my works gummed up and I had to go through a huge clearing out. Perhaps I'm biased, as a mother, but your personality seems very different from that. You seem to think things through in advance and learn in a different way. Your mistakes are fewer. Big, but fewer."

"Are you saying this is one of those rare big mistakes?" demanded Gillam.

"No, honey, I'm not going to provide you with an escape pod, here. Let's back up one more step: Why, do you think, are you the kind of person who considers in advance?"

"I dunno, mostly it feels like I was born that way" said Gillam.

"What if you weren't? What if this is not part of your DNA, but early conditioning? What kinds of messages were you getting that made you cautious?"

Myra heard a long silence. She said "Pretend I'm a friend, or Nancy, not your mother. If you can."

"Are you sure you're up for this?" he said, a hint of his anger returning.

"Promise" she said.

"Well...I need to think out loud. It still seems like some of it is really just who I am. It's been easy to be careful. I used to think Margie was completely nuts, I always felt that way. But...I was rewarded for how I did things. And I know she'd say she's had a hard battle with expectations, but -- I think she was rewarded for being a spitfire, too. As much as she got reined in. She got admiration from you all for how she was, and so did I for being a good boy." There was a faint emphasis on the word "boy".

Myra took a long drag of her Coke before saying "I agree. Go on."

There was another pause. "You sure?" he said, much more gently.

"It's time. Go, boychik."

"I wanted to be somebody's first choice, I can remember that. I don't mean just the favorite child -- I knew I was yours, I knew you thought about me first, always, as a mother. But I didn't come ahead of Mama. I suppose all children contend with this, some version of the Oedipal complex, right? And when I got up to around four or so, I had Carly. He and I were each other's first choices from then on. At the center. Please, Mama, don't take this as me complaining about how much you loved me, I think I was loved more than most kids -- "

"No, Gillam, I get it. And again, I agree. I felt the same way about my own mother."

"Huh" he said. "So...I still want to be somebody's first choice. That's not why I want kids. I want to be someone's first choice and add kids to our choice -- which may be fucked, I dunno. I'm getting off track here. To go back to your question: If I was cautious, and smart, and kind, I could tell how much it thrilled you. How it was some kind of proof that you weren't handing on your own damage. I knew that amazingly early. And I wanted to give you that proof. I longed to be your redemption. I don't see how it could have not had an influence on me."

There. It was out in the open. Gently done, in Gillam style, but still blunt.

Myra's Coke was gone. She crunched ice between her teeth, and broke their silence to say "I hear you, Gillam David. Bless you for saying it. Bless you for figuring it out, extremely fast as far as I can tell, and thank you for not hating me. Now, what I want from you is to clean up how my damage messed with you, rather than keep playing the role that gives me redemption. You know I want that, right?"

"I...think so."

"Whatever is right for you. And you get to ask for my help. It's only fair." She was, for the moment, nailing shut the door behind which her mind was wailing You messed him up, you made him pretend to be something he's not! Later she grimly told that spoiled child.

She couldn't see his face. Still, given his thoughtfulness, she was sure he was trying to do the right thing. She added "Back to Courtney. This is about you, and Courtney, not me."

"Okay...I guess one question, then, is am I doing this because I think it will earn me Mama points? Because being heteronormative or giving masculine prerogative a whirl would loose the hellhounds of lesbian mother disappointment?" There was humor in his tone, which did not mask the deadly serious nature of the meaning.

"What does your gut say?"

He sighed. "It says no. Fuck. I mean, I know you all liked Courtney, especially Mama, and you're trying to be all liberal about whether or not I actually breed, though we both know the fucking pressure is ON now. But -- that's not why I did what I did. It's why I shut you all out until I could make the decision without your direct influence, or your upbringing shoving me in this direction, either. She's...If she really was perfect, I'd know. I may be a wienie boy, but I'd still know and I'd damned well go for it." He began crying.

Myra heard Beebo's high mew near Gillam's receiver: Beebo tended to come check when someone wept, briefly, and then return to his business. She wondered what would constitute alarm for Beebo, and what would do if he was alarmed?

When Gillam had drained this particular upwelling of grief, and blown his nose, he said "You know, one way this is not like me is that I usually have the next thing in place before I start saying no to something. I usually have overlap, for safety."

"That's right, isn't it? You're out in the cold now" said Myra. "Pretty brave. I guess we didn't completely steal your stones."

He laughed. "Beebo says that's not a joking matter."

He blew his nose a second time and said "Okay. That really helped. Still leaves me alone, but..."


"What are you doing? Where's Mom?"

"She's painting. I've been writing, but I'm stuck like a hog in a knothole." That wasn't actually how she'd heard the phrase growing up -- the original was too crude, even for her new frankness with Gillam. "I really need a writing group."

"So form one. I'm sure you'd get takers, however you put the word out."

"Well, that's the problem, Gillam. I'd attract writers who are dazzled by me but not anywhere at the same level of discipline and production that I am. The writers who are my peers are either in groups of long-standing or they don't need one."

"What about Aunt Allie, she's a writer?"

"Yes, and extremely good. But the paddocks she occupies don't overlap with mine. She can tell me when something of mine is off, but usually not how. And Ginny is even less accurate. Great readers, both of them, just not editors." Myra saw Ginny briefly glance her way.

"Have you ever had a writing group?" Gillam asked.

"Yeah, well, one person. She moved to Santa Fe and, well, we had other stuff come between us." Myra realized in that instant that she blamed Ginny's jealousy for her failure to hang onto the relationship with Cuchilla. That probably wasn't fair. She'd have to think about it.

"So, e-mail it to me. I can edit your stuff I bet" Gillam said.

"I bet you could too. But don't you have a huge load right now?"

"I could fit it in -- "

"No, not today. Today you got other fish to fry" said Myra firmly.

"Then at least tell me what you're writing" said Gillam.

"It's a short story. It's got a lot of biographical elements in it, though no particular land mines that I can see" said Myra.

"Are you sure it's not supposed to be memoir?" asked Gillam astutely.

"Yeah, I thought about that. I also wondered if it's a book that I'm trying to condense into a story, and it's not that, either. It's just a short story that's too goddamned long."

"Too much exposition?"

"Not enough, actually, if you go by the notes I just made" said Myra.

"Okay..." Gillam was thinking hard. The fact was, of everyone she knew, he actually was her best editor. "Try imagining it as another genre, like a poem, or a play, travelogue, recipe, whatever. Write a one-sentence description of it as that other thing. And no cheating, no run-on sentences." They both laughed: He knew her failings. "Once you have that sentence, read it again and see what has to go."

"You know what? That might work" Myra was excited. She wanted to get back to her desk. Gillam, in his not-yet-outgrown-codependent-way, read her mind.

"I'll let you get to it, then. Thanks for listening, Mama."

"Back atcha. My love to Carly, and tell Beebo I miss him."

"You need another kitten, Mom." He paused, and added "One that can be trained to love travel at a moment's notice."

She roared, mostly with relief that he could joke about her recent escapade. They hung up chuckling.

When she returned to her story and tried his approach, she discovered one of the major characters and all her attendant demands were extraneous to the point of the story. She began excising her, brutally, with a song in her heart.

Dinner was late for both of them, because Myra didn't want to declare a stopping point. Finally, they both walked, slightly dazed and silent, into the kitchen. Ginny steamed squash while she made a salad of Bibb and paper-thin slices of red onion. Myra made a frittata with porcinis and salmon. They ate this with the last of the garlic-laced bread Myra had bought in Anacortes.

Once they were eating, Myra found her voice and told Ginny about her phone call with Gillam. She didn't edit out anything that might upset Ginny. After listening attentively, Ginny sopped salad dressing with a crust of bread and said slowly "I want to argue with you about Cuchilla. But I'm not. Not right now."

"You and Allie have each other, you know."

"I know. That weekly sharing, affirmation, adjustment -- it doesn't always seem that way, but it's probably why the two of us keep forging new ground" said Ginny.

"Well, besides prodigious talent, you mean" said Myra. Ginny smiled. Her mind was occupied, however.

After a minute she said, "What was it about Anacortes that felt so good?"

Myra sighed. "I'm not ready to try to explain, Gin. I don't know for myself yet. But there was a sense of liberation, I'll admit that. I'll come back to you when I can talk about it."

"Thank you" said Ginny softly.

"I talked with Nancy briefly, too. I'm set with her tomorrow afternoon at 2:00" added Myra. "Given that, I'm going to work tonight until I drop. I can sleep in."

"I'll go to bed when you do, then" said Ginny.

"I'm having ice cream, you want some?" asked Myra, standing with her plate.

"No. I'm being called back" said Ginny, coming to rinse her plate and help clean the kitchen before returning to her study.

At noon the next day, Myra made tortilla wraps full of egg, crab, and salad. She put one in Ginny's hand, replacing her palette. Ginny would nibble at it until it was gone, she'd learned. She returned to the breakfast bar to eat her own, with a print-out of her now-approaching-a-final-draft short story. Instead of reading it, however, she impulsively dialed Chris's cell.

Chris answered, saying "Well. You're still in town, I see."

"Easy enough to find that out if you returned my call" returned Myra. She instantly regretted it, remembering the 31 messages on her own cell which she had still not listened through.

But Chris laughed and said "How's the happy home?"

"Okay. I'm seeing Nancy this afternoon. How's yours?"

"Rocky" said Chris.

"Wanna talk about it?"

"I don't" said Chris.

"It didn't occur to me that you hadn't -- told Sima. I'm sorry for being part of that disclosure" said Myra.

"I don't think much was occurring to you. And I don't want to talk about how I should have told you about Allie, either. It was none of your business" said Chris.

Myra couldn't think of a response that wasn't trying to force the topic. She shifted gears. "If there are things you can talk with me about, I'd like to see you."

Chris paused. "I could have dinner with you. Out somewhere. But I only have two hours total."

Myra remembered that tonight was when Sima went to Al-Anon. "Okay. Shall I pick you up or meet you somewhere?"

"I'll be near the University. I'll meet you at Sunney's."

"Do they have anything besides Korean?" Myra had never been able to develop a liking for Korean cuisine.

"Teriyaki" said Chris. "5:30 all right?"

Myra finished her lunch and her editing in a good mood. She got Ginny's attention and told her she was going out with Chris after seeing Nancy, she'd be back around 8:00. A small frown came over Ginny's face, but all she said was "Have fun."

As Myra was hugging Nancy hello, she began crying, saying "My son, my baby boy". She worked on her sense of having failed both her children, on her sense of betrayal from her friends, and, belatedly, her tension with Ginny.

"I don't understand why we're not completely sure of each other by this point" said Myra.

"Are you not completely sure of her?" asked Nancy.

"Well...I guess I am, actually. But there are still times when I need space" said Myra.

"Is that leaving her, in your mind?"

Myra closed her eyes as memory swept over her. "When my mother couldn't handle what was coming at us -- like when the electricity got turned off, or we ran out of food, or the time my father took the TV with him for a month because the field trailer where he was staying didn't have one -- she'd go in her room and lock the door. Sometimes for days."

As usual, Myra was more in tune with the grief of how badly her mother must have been hurt to do that to her children, rather than her memory of being a child shut out in that manner. At the end of that clearance, Nancy began putting together a bottle of oil for Myra to rub on her wrists and forehead. She said "We're out of time, but I can see you again on Friday morning."

"Pencil me in. Maybe then I can work on why Ginny isn't completely sure of me" said Myra.

Nancy looked at her with a grin. "No -- that's Ginny's issue. We can work on why you think it's yours, perhaps."

Myra got to Sunney's early, ordered a Coke, and began writing a love poem to a woman named Anna Cortez. She meant it as a parody, but once she got into it, her tone shifted and it became real. And good. When she was done, she cut off the beginning and realized it was worth saving. Except, holy shit, how could she ever send it out for publication?

Chris sat down across for her and said "New poem? Can I read?"

Myra reflexively covered the page with her hand, then shook out her shoulders and passed over the notebook. Chris guffawed when she read the title. She was still smiling by the end, though her eyes were hard. Whatever comment she had was swallowed up in the waitress asking for their order.

Once the waitress left, Myra said "I know the topic of you and Sima is on the No Fly list, but I do fucking care about you both and normally this is when I'd ask how you each are. So, answer what you wish."

Chris sighed. "I'm a passive-aggressive, still-addicted, Scorpio butch wannabe. To collapse several conversations into one. There's not many clear trails out of that briar patch. What about you and Princess Leia?"

Chris's sometime nickname for Ginny always brought Myra up short, making her want to point out the implicit anti-semitism of calling any Jewish woman a "princess", until she'd remind herself that Chris was also partners with a Jewish woman.

"Nancy says we can work on why I think Ginny's limits are mine."

Chris laughed. "Well, if you manage that, you'll be a man, my son. And for that bit of insight you paid her, what, $150?"

It was more, but Myra ignored the question. "Listen, Chris, if there's anything I can do to help -- " She saw Chris starting to stiffen, and she finished with "Like, maybe we could give ya'll a spiral healing dance. I met Z. Budapest once."

It was a risky joke. And the fact was, Myra was comfortable with some aspects of goddess worship, but she knew how Chris and Sima felt about it.

Chris threw back her head and laughed. "Add in some Pentecostal snake-handling, and you got yourself a deal."

Their salads arrived. Once the waitress was gone again, Chris said "How's Margie?"

"Okay. I need to confess: I let her know you told me about Frances and Imani."

Chris looked at her in disbelief. "You fucking shithead, why in the hell -- "

"I don't think she's going to squeal on you. And it's not just because I suck with secrets, although that is part of it and you should've known that, Kash-Kash. The bigger picture is my relationship with my daughter. If I had participated in this we-know-but-we're-not-talking-about-it charade and she ever found out about it, it would erode her trust in my communication with her. The fact is, she looked happy that I knew. I suspect she'll find ways, now, to talk to both of us about it all."

"And so next you have to take it to Ginny, right? Because god knows she'll blow a gasket if you keep something from her" said Chris, still furious.

"Nope. That's different. My responsibility as a parent is not the same as my commitment to Ginny."

Chris muttered something that sounded very much to Myra like "Don't count on it."

Myra went on. "Since her graduation is so soon, we're going to see the boys only this weekend, go down at noon on Friday, some back on Sunday. We've got train reservations to Portland for all of us the day before Margie's commencement."

"I have more faith in her discretion than yours at this point" said Chris, resuming eating. "What's next, do you have a burning need to ask me what Allie's pussy tasted like?"

Myra was shocked still. Chris laughed at her and kept eating.

"If you're pissed at me, Chris, I'd rather you say so directly" began Myra.

"I just did. This is how working class people pass on information, or have you forgotten that?" said Chris.

"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?"

"You won the lottery what, 25 years ago? No, 26. And you're 55 now? That means you've been rich almost as long as you were ever poor. You're the big proponent of nurture over nature: At what point does one set of environmental conditioning get overtaken by a new set?" Chris accepted her main dish from the waitress. Myra's teriyaki was sizzling on its metal platter.

Myra didn't wait for them to be alone again. She said "So, what, you're calling me middle class now?"

"More like owning class, in terms of resource. Some of your values haven't changed, but a lot of them have, Myra. You've picked up Ginny's way of life. And that's not a slam, more of an observation. Allie said you pulled out a huge wad of cash before you ran for the hills. Let me ask you: What would the Myra of 1985 have done, if she hit that kind of a crisis and didn't have the money to finance a getaway?"

"I'd have gone home and sucked on the end of my .32, hoping for enough guts to pull the trigger" said Myra savagely. The waitress melted away. "And the Allie of that time might have bought a pint of I.W. Harper and ditched her sobriety. Having limited alternatives fucking kills, you asshole." Gil's face appeared in her memory. She wanted to turn over their table and stalk out of the restaurant. That would be appropriately working class.

"All I'm saying is, I'm still living la vida loca" said Chris, unperturbed. "Me and Sima both. We manage with what we got available. And the least you could do is remember that. I couldn't take off work to try to find you, or afford the gas driving around like Allie did. I had to assume you were okay, true to your word, and go on dealing with my partner."

Myra suddenly got a glimpse of how worried Chris had been. She wasn't going to let it soften her up, not right now.

"Just how am I expressing owning class values?"

"Remember when we went to see Six Degrees of Separation? You'd heard it was about race and class, that's why we checked it out. And you were so pissed afterward. You said 'A buncha over-articulate rich white people talking around the real elephants in the room, and every time they get a little whiff of dung, they all swoon and congratulate each other on how close they got to the masses. But nobody ever has a real problem to deal with.' You remember that?" Chris was talking with her mouth full.

"That kimshee smells like dung, speaking of which." Myra was channeling every bit of raised poor ethic she could find in herself.

Chris laughed. "Mmm-mmm. Well, the fact is, Myra, yes, your kids are hitting that part of coming into grown-up land where their decisions will have a permanent effect. And that's something to worry about, to be involved in. I'm not knocking that. But other than that, you really got no problems, My. You have a backpack of lies your parents told you, just like everybody else, and you have to find your way as an artist, which is more uncommon but not special." Chris pronounced the last word like the Church Lady used to. "You don't have to clock in anywhere, you got health care and a mansion and great food and good friends. You need to look at things through your eyes, not Ginny's."

Myra wanted to say "It's not a mansion." But in 1985, it would have looked that way to her. She and Chris would sometimes drive around Capitol Hill and point out the houses they wanted to have after the Revolution. For a collective household, of course.

Her rage drained away. She looked steadily at Chris and said "Are you and Sima going to be okay?"

"Yes" said Chris without hesitation. "We don't get much press, but me and Sima, we chose well."

Myra reached out her hand toward Chris. Chris reached as if to shake it, then at the last minute morphed her motion into a salute. An old prank, and it always made them laugh.

Myra signaled for the waitress, who came with alacrity. She ordered hae mul pa jun, a seafood pancake, to go, as well as a refill of her Coke. She also handed over a credit card, saying to Chris "It's my owning class way" over her protests.

Once they were alone again, Myra said softly "Do you and Sima have sex?"

Chris looked out the window, shaking her head in resignation. Finally she said "Yes. But not much. And before you go on, the reason why is me. But that's it, okay?"

"Okay." Myra drained her Coke. "We could stop by Mee Sum, on the way home, for some sesame balls."

"Let's walk it" said Chris. It was a clear night. Myra stashed Ginny's dinner in her car before they strolled south along the avenue. Chris said "We're coming into being elders, Myra. Our behavior needs to change when we make that change."

"I'm older than my mother ever lived to be. And I never met my grandmother on her side. I guess maybe I don't have a role model" said Myra.

"Just watch me, kiddo, I'm who you should be emulating" cracked Chris. As they were laughing, Myra realized that she did notice the difference in her and Chris's ages. Although Allie was a year older than Myra, she always felt like a peer. But Chris was more of a slightly older sister.

After a minute, Chris said "There's this guy on the council, Duwamish mostly...He's trying something. He thinks white culture is completely fucked up about sex."

"Got no argument from me" said Myra.

"So he's trying to sweat it out, so to speak. He decided to not allow himself to have sexual thoughts about anybody unless he had gotten their consent in advance."

"Wow" said Myra. "That would narrow it down."

"Since he's not involved with anyone, it's brought his fantasy life to a screeching halt. But he says it's working. It's restoring some landscape inside him." Chris was thoughtful.

"Are you considering it?" asked Myra.

"Well...I'll have to discuss it with Sima, and she's -- maybe next month" said Chris.

"It's a fascinating idea. I'd try it on, except I never think about anybody except Ginny and I already have her consent."

Chris looked at her sideways. "Really?"

Myra knew which part she was asking about. "Really."

Chris linked her arm through Myra's. They walked on.

Ginny finished her painting on Wednesday afternoon, earlier than usual. She said it had waited bottled up for several days and came out faster. Myra sent off her short story and began another writing project while Ginny slept fourteen hours.


Jesse Wendel said...


She's a GOOD Mom.

*does happy dance*

kat said...

I really like the abrupt shifts in this section. How the teriyaki was sizzling, right after the class bombshell. Also, at the end: uh....I can't find the other example. Oh well. I really like how you're using the contrasts in this section. Those little sentences about food or the atmosphere in the middle of the intense situations.

well done.