Saturday, May 10, 2008


Here's the next segment of my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates, hot off the word processor. Begins right after my post of a few 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.

2011, into spring

Margie stayed through the 3rd so she could celebrate Gillam's 20th birthday with them. He drove up from Olympia with Courtney, and after a whispered consultation, they were given the new futon in Margie's old room. Carly stayed in Gillam's room and Margie took the guest room. It felt odd all the way around, but the young folk seemed to be all right with it.

They didn't see Margie again for the next few months. Gillam's visits home decreased to once a month, though Carly still came every other weekend. Gillam was spending all his free time with Courtney, it appeared.

Ginny was asked to join Women Painters of Washington and, after accepting, was offered a few speaking gigs around the state. She was also tapped by the Washington State arts council to teach painting technique in conjunction with folk artists, and she accepted this also. Myra realized Ginny missed teaching -- she had sublimated her need for it with their children all these years.

Right before spring break, Ginny spent three days at the Japanese Arts Festival, where she was collaborating with a skilled practitioner of Shizuo Okawaha, a formal kind of banner painting. It was arduous and intense, and she came home weary but chatty each evening. Myra used her time alone to get ahead on her column commitment. She also created a logic puzzle based on Skene arcana for a sci-fi magazine, which took her almost six hours and allowed her to feel fine about the hefty check they mailed her in return.

On Friday, Myra dialed Gillam's cell for the third time in two days. When she got dumped immediately into voice mail, she hung up and called Carly, who answered.

"Hey, do you know if something's wrong with Gillam's phone? He's not been answering or returned my calls. For that matter, I haven't heard from either one of you about your spring break plans, I thought you were talking about coming up here for part of it" she said to Carly.

"Uh...I don't think he's answering" said Carly slowly.

"Well, is he there? Give him your phone, he can spare five minutes for his mother" said Myra, sorting the mail on her desk as she talked.

"He's in his room. He told me he doesn't want to talk to anybody. No exceptions" said Carly, sounding evasive.

Myra stopped sorting. "What's wrong? Is he sick?"

"I...don't think so. He's been holed up for three days, I've only seen him eat once and that was just some peanut butter" said Carly. His words became coming out fast. "He won't talk to me, either, I thought he was sleeping something off but now I'm not sure what to do. And yeah, we were planning to drive up but he just stared at me when I mentioned it, went back in his room and shut the door."

Myra reminded herself to breathe slowly. "Three days. Is it -- Courtney, do you think?"

"Maybe" said Carly. "She's not been around, or called, which is a first."

Myra looked at the clock. It was 2 p.m. "Okay, I'm coming down. You don't need to tell him that, but don't let him leave the house, if he tries. I shouldn't hit traffic if I leave right away."

"He'll be pissed at me for telling you" said Carly, but his voice was relieved.

"I'll take the heat. You did good" said Myra. When she hung up, she called Ginny's cell and left a message. Since she wasn't sure she'd be back in time to make shabbos dinner, she also left messages for Chris and Sima, Allie and Edwina. She pulled on shoes and left the house.

When she got to their apartment, Carly was out front in a deck chair. He gave her a hug and said "He's not emerged since I called you. Listen, I'm not ducking out but I promised to go see mom for a couple of hours, and I figure now is better than later. Call me if you need me."

"Say hi for me. We won't leave for Seattle without you" said Myra. She repeated "You did good."

When she went in the house, Beebo gave a chirrup and jumped down from the back of the couch to come say hello. He looked like he wasn't getting enough attention. She went to Gillam's bedroom door and knocked. There was no answer. She turned the knob, found it wasn't locked, and stepped in.

An immediate funk hit her, sour and yeasty. Gillam was sprawled on top of the bedspread, and rolled over when he heard her. His scowl changed to astonishment, then returned to a semi-frown.

"That fucker" he said. Beebo sprinted into the room and jumped up on the bed, rubbing his cheeks against Gillam's knee, one side, then the other. Gillam's hair was stringy with oil, and the sheets that were showing looked dingy. The blinds were drawn, throwing the room into shadow. Dirty laundry spotted the floor, and a stack of diet Coke cans were on the dresser.

Myra crossed to the bed and sat down on the edge. "From the looks of things, you've crashed and burned. That an accurate assessment?"

"I'm just trying to figure some shit out" he said angrily. "I don't need rescuing. I was planning to come up for shabbos dinner tomorrow."

"Today is shabbos" said Myra crisply. "I'm not rescuing, I'm being your family. As is Carly. You can figure out things on whatever timeline you want, but it's stupid to try to do it with altered body chemistry. Diet Coke and an occasional swallow of peanut butter is not adequate fuel. Plus you're ripe, you've got circles around your eyes that indicate lack of sleep, and you're not exercising either. All of which hammer your brain function. But I'm not telling you anything you don't know."

"I don't want to talk about it" he said.

"That's clear. Here's my deal: You get up, wash and put on clean clothes, and eat a real meal. I'll keep Ginny from throwing a net over you and setting up camp on that pillow beside you. Once you've restoked your boiler, you can tell me what I should do next." Her cell rang at that moment, and when she looked at the caller ID, she said "You've got two seconds, it's her."

"All right" he said, not quite sullen. He didn't move, though. Myra answered the phone and said "I'm here. He's okay, though headed into depression. No, I have no idea. I'm going to get food into him and we'll go from there. No, you need to stay put. Defrost a couple of casseroles and cook them, plus a blueberry pie. No, Ginny, I mean it, I've got it here. I'll call you again in a couple of hours, I promise. I will." She clicked off the phone and said "She loves you. Now move your carcass."

He was sluggish. He shuffled to the bathroom and she heard him peeing. She stripped his bed, gathered the rest of his laundry in one of the pillowcases, and headed for the complex's laundry room two doors down, stopping at her car to raid the console for coins. When she returned, she looked through the refrigerator. It was atypically scanty for them. Her options were another peanut butter sandwich, or some soup, or some leftover Chinese food. She sniffed of the Chinese food carton and scratched that from the list.

Gillam took his time. She had changed the wash to the dryer by the time he emerged from his bedroom in sweats and a T-shirt, his hair dripping and uncombed. She said "There's not much here. We can order something or go out, whatever you'd prefer."

"I'm getting a little hungry" he said. "Let's go out, just not a fancy place." He pulled on shoes without socks and flung his head to shake off some of the moisture in his hair. She wrote a quick note for Carly and pointed to a coat by the door as they left, which he grabbed and shrugged himself into.

She didn't want to settle for fast food. She drove to the diner where they'd had chili and cherry pie last year, finding it more easily than she thought she would. The booths were all claimed, so they took a table near the bathroom. He asked for a bowl of chili. She did the same, but added a large order of fries and a salad, hoping it was more than iceberg and rock-hard tomato wedges. Plus two glasses of milk and an orange juice.

His appetite increased as he ate. The salad was pathetic but he polished it off, along with most of the fries and the orange juice. She declined dessert for them both, saying "Let's take it slow." They had not said a word during the meal, and the silence extended all the back to his apartment. Carly's car was there, and Gillam said "I don't want to go in right away."

"Okay" she said, turning off the ignition and releasing her seatbelt so she could face him. He drummed on the door with his fingers and looked at himself in the visor mirror for a minute. Finally he said "I've got some major stuff to figure out. I don't even know how to say what it is."

"Well, you're at an age where glaciers appear to block the valleys. You're due" she said calmly.

He seemed to be waiting on her, and when she went silent again, he gave her a glance.

"It's not just about Courtney" he said. " is about her, some."

"I figured, since she's absent from the scene" said Myra.

"She's on her way to San Diego, I guess, it being Friday" he said with tired resignation.

Carly appeared at the door of the apartment and spotted them. Myra gave him a wave, which he returned before going back inside.

"I meant it, Mom, about not being able to talk about this yet" Gillam said. "Not even with Carly."

"I heard you" she said. "I accept it. But we have to figure out a way for you to get the space you need without getting sick."

He glanced at her again. "Are you playing me?"

"Nope. When I was a couple of years older than you are right now, I went home to see my mother. It was mid summer, I was between jobs, so I planned to stay a week. Gil was out of town and there was a free bedroom, and once I crawled into bed, I discovered I didn't want to get up. I wound up sleeping 20 hours a day for almost the whole week. I'd get up for a few hours to eat, talk to Mama, maybe watch a little TV, but I could hardly wait to go back to sleep. I was really sleeping, and dreaming my ass off. She got freaked out, of course, after a couple of days, wanted to know what was wrong. I couldn't tell her. It was just me and my dreams" said Myra.

"What were you dreaming about?" asked Gillam, the first time he'd shown any interest in her direction.

"I don't remember. I don't recall what was up for me, either, although I did write one poem during that week, about Machu Picchu. Whatever was going on, I needed the space and she was mostly able to give it. I'll do the same for you, if that's what you want."

He blew through his lips lightly. "What about Mama? And the rest of them?"

"Well...It'll be hard to keep them at bay if you are incommunicado down here. I can make a second deal with you: Come back to Seattle for your break, and I'll keep them off your back. But you have to eat, and exercise. No diet Cokes and no television. We'll have Carly, he can be our guinea pig for all the deflected mothering." She saw him smile, and closed her eyes briefly at the emotion it stirred in her.

He said "I have a couple more conditions. I want to sleep in the back bedroom, Zayde's room, not mine. And...I'd like to see Nancy, sooner rather than later."

Hosannas sang in her head. "I agree to your terms. Shall we get you packed? I have to retrieve your laundry."

In the house, he went into his room. She explained the arrangement with Carly, who looked glad at everything except the mention of Gillam using Zayde's room. He didn't argue, however. He began his own packing. Myra called Ginny and talked to her quietly, finally persuading her but then having to do the entire conversation again with Allie. By the time she was finished, Gillam's duffel was by the front door and Carly was helping him get Beebo into his carrier.

"Carly, you want to ride with us and borrow a car while you're there or take your own?" asked Myra. Carly glanced at Gillam's face and said "I'll drive mine. Will dinner be ready when we get there?"

"Yeah, but if you're empty, feel free to grab a snack. Blueberry pie for dessert" Myra said.

"See you there, I can't stay in caravan with you, you drive too slow" Carly said, kissing her cheek and carrying his bag out the door. Myra made sure everything was locked up and turned off before picking up the carrier and joining Gillam at her car.

Beebo was a seasoned traveler, but he still needed reassurance every quarter hour or so, a friendly word and rub of his head through the grill, or else he would begin complaining with increasing intensity. Gillam put in earbuds and leaned against his window with closed eyes, so it was up to Myra to see to Beebo's needs. She was itching to know was Gillam was listening to -- he had looked through most of his music list before settling on a selection. Whatever it was did not leak out through his earbuds enough for her to identify it.

When they got home, everyone was at the table and Carly was already halfway through his plate. Ginny had ignored Myra's instructions about the casseroles and instead poured her worry into cooking. She had roasted beets with shallots and big cloves of garlic in a layer of chicken stock. There was red lentil stew, long green beans, an endive salad, and a platter of crab cakes separated from a stack of grilled kielbasa. Gillam let Beebo loose, then, as an afterthought, walked around to give hugs before sitting down at his place. Myra was the only one who did not get a hug from him. She decided to take it as a good sign: He was accepting her word, no pretending with her.

Gillam piled sour cream onto his beets, smeared a slice of bread with roasted garlic, and when he got to the sausage, he looked at Ginny and said "Did you cook this?" When she nodded yes, he smiled in a pallid way and said "Wow." He didn't have anything else to say. Talk at the table went on without him, though Myra could only guess at the effort this took Ginny and her friends. Gillam asked to save his pie for later, picked up his bag and walked down the hall to the guest room, closing it tight behind him. Beebo watched but resumed washing himself: Myra had given him morsels of crab under the table, he was back in the promised land.

"He looks like yak shit" said Chris without preamble.

"You should've seen him when I got there" said Myra.

"Has that zoyne broken up with him?" demanded Ginny.

Myra hadn't heard this Yiddish term before, though from Sima's startled giggle, she guessed at its meaning. "I have no information at all to give you" she said. She looked at Carly and said "He knows we're talking about him and you're under the gun, if you have something to add, he won't be surprised."

Carly sighed and said "When she left, the last time she was over, I heard her say 'Let me know what you decide, then.' She hugged him for a long time."

"If she's given him some fucking ultimatum -- " began Ginny.

Carly said "It didn't sound like that. It sounded more like -- he was the one having...some kind of doubts."

"How are his classes? His grades slipping?" asked Allie.

"Okay as far as I know" said Carly.

Ginny said to Myra "Nancy's leaving for the weekend but she's made time to see him at 9 in the morning. She'll be back Monday afternoon."

"The fact that he's asked to see her says a lot" pointed out Myra. "Plus -- David's room has some kind of meaning."

"I never missed having Daddy here more" said Ginny. They sat in silence for a minute, and Chris put her arm over the back of Carly's chair.

Myra said to Carly, "Okay, you're our only friendly kid at the moment. What would you like to do during your break?"

He grinned. "Cook, work on the soloflex, sleep late and go out dancing with Davonn, for sure. Poker a couple of nights?" He looked at Chris and she said "Your money is as good as in my pocket already."

"We're thinking about repainting Margie's old room, you want to help with that?" asked Myra.

"Love to" he said, and she thought he meant it. Allie said "I'll come over during the week and help you change your oil, check the brake pads, do a service on your car. We'll track down why your mileage is off or, if we can't, get it in to Sadie's." He was beginning to look pink from all the attention. Myra stood and said to him "Come help me dish up pie."

They moved into the living room to eat and talk some more. Carly sprawled on the floor with a cushion and quickly dozed off. Myra guessed he'd been frantic for a couple of days. Beebo settled on the small of Carly's back and tucked in his paws, watching everyone contentedly. An hour later, Gillam emerged in swim trunks and said "I sure hope the pool heater is on."

"It is" said Ginny. She told him about the appointment with Nancy and he thanked her before heading outside.

"He's lost weight" she said when he was out of earshot. "And his back is broken out a little."

"Let's allow him one mistake and trust him to keep climbing out of whatever hole he's in at the moment" said Myra gently. "He'll come to us when he's ready."

They all sat mulling this over for a minute. Myra saw drool coming from Carly's mouth onto the cushion, which meant he was completely out.

Allie cleared her throat and said "I got this new idea for a book, only -- it's maybe too different."

"It's brilliant, is what it is" said Edwina, goosing her.

Allie grinned and explained. "You know my little girl Sarilda from the Podinqo books? Well, I got to imagining her grown up, maybe heading off to a city somewhere, part of the Great Migration. Thing is, she's about the right age to have been part of the Harlem Renaissance. I starting seeing her meet up with Langston, Zora, Marcus, Countee, and Bessie. A picture book, a graphic novel, but definitely for adults, about that part of black history. My hesitation is, the folks who most love her are kids, not grownups."

Sima said, "Oh, but that's not completely true. Those books have been out for 20 years, a lot of the children who grew up on them are young adults now, they'd adore seeing her their age again."

"And the parents who are still reading them aloud to their little ones, they'll jump at a new book on their level" said Myra. She turned to Edwina and said "You're right, it is brilliant."

"It would need to a different format than Ashante Alabama, wouldn't it?" asked Ginny, her brow creased in concentration. "That was more history than exposition."

"Yeah, it'd be a story, about a made-up gal around real folks. Creative nonfiction, is what they call it" said Allie, leaning forward with building excitement.

"You done any sketches yet?" asked Chris.

"Yeah, I have half a dozen storyboards already" said Allie. "Not with me, sorry. I wanted to run the basic kernel by ya'll first."

"Any idea you ever have is gold, Allene" said Myra. "You ought know that by now."

Edwina goosed her again, and Allie began laughing in delight. "I also had this notion of asking Margie to draw a map of Sarilda's journeys. I always regretted not insisting she be the one to do the charts for Ashante."

"She'll plotz" cried Ginny.

"Remember that schematic she made when she was nine or ten, about all the places Juju trotted to in the yard when she went outside first thing each morning?" said Chris. "Hilarious, and yet dead on."

"Simpatico is definitely closing for Easter, I got an e-mail from her today" said Edwina. "She says they'll be up that weekend. Frances wants to roast us a lamb."

"I love lamb" said Ginny, "but Myra doesn't so I've been deprived all these years."

"I never heard anything good about sheep in Texas" said Myra. "You enjoy your little baby baa-baa, I'll make a ham for the rest of us."

Gillam was back in half an hour, breathing hard and his cheeks finally showing color. He dripped water on the kitchen floor as he cut himself a piece of pie. He stood at the edge of the living room to take a first huge bite and nudged Carly with his big toe, waking him. When Carly looked groggily up at him, Gillam said "Thanks." Carly grinned and said "I get Beebo tonight."

Gillam waved his fork at the rest of them, calling out "Goodnight." He paused, then stepped over to Myra and kissed her cheek, whispering "I love you." She watched him walk back down the hall, eating pie in time to his graceful long steps.

Myra looked at Carly, who had also watched Gillam to the bedroom door. She said "He'll miss sacharit tomorrow, being with Nancy. You want me to go with you?"

He considered it, then said "No. But don't go buy paint without me, I want to be in on that. And Pike Market, too, I want to do half the menu planning this week." He pushed himself upright and gave a round of goodnight kisses. Beebo dashed up the stairs ahead of him.

Allie examined Myra's face and asked "How come you not more worried? You know somethin'?"

"I trust him. More than ever. He's grown up, more or less, and I keep thinking I have to treat him like he was you or Chris instead of that perfect little boy who dogged my steps all day" said Myra, surprising herself.

"Good enough for me" said Allie. She began standing, Edwina beside her. "I can get to sleep on that. But I'll be back for Sunday dinner, if not before."

"Bring your sketches" said Ginny. Sima and Chris were getting ready to leave as well. After last hugs, Ginny walked back to turn off lights and lock the sliding door while Myra started the dishwasher and made sure Beebo's water dish was full. They met again in bed.

"How bad was he?" asked Ginny, laying her head on Myra's chest.

"Not suicidal, I don't think. But immobilized. Smelly, and dehydrated" she said. "Not as bad as I've been at various times."

"I was that way once" said Ginny. "In this house, right after I moved in. Lonely in ways I don't usually care to remember."

Myra pulled her tight. "That's hard to hear. Are you ever lonely now? You can answer that honestly, I won't get weird."

Ginny craned her neck to look at Myra, what she could see of her through the room's dim light. "No, not what I'd call lonely. Alone, yes, often, but by choice and in ways that feel healthy."

Myra moved her gaze over Ginny's face. "I suddenly want to put my fingers inside you, and feel you pushing against me. But I'm pretty sure it's partly because I'm sad you were ever lonely. I want to make up for it, and of course I can't."

"As long as we're clear on that -- no reason not to go ahead" said Ginny, with no grin at all, just that shift in her expression which always made Myra's defenses drop away. Myra bent her mouth to Ginny's.

1 comment:

letsdance said...

I've always dreamed of going to Machu Picchu, Maggie. And, I love that this chapter ended with Ginny and Myra making love.