Monday, June 16, 2008

GINNY BATES: MEANS AND ENDS

(Philadelphia African-American neighborhood, 1985, after firebombing of police to drive out member of MOVE)

Here's another section of my novel-in-progress Ginny Bates. I still have not finished part 88-A, but this will follow what's in my post of two days ago and I might as well put it up.

Late September 2012

Two days after their return, Myra got an e-mail from Margie with a JPEG photograph of the Frances painting, very good quality. She called right away to compliment Margie on the photo.

"What does Mama think of it?" Margie asked.

"She's out shopping at the moment, I'll have her call you when she gets home. I want to remind you, though, to guard this image carefully, don't send it around out there. Ginny has to be protective of her copyright, even though this particular painting will never be made into a print or a card" said Myra.

"Oh. I have one hung over my desk at the lab" said Margie.

"Well, take it down. There are folks who would love to bootleg it" said Myra. "And while we're on the subject -- you have renter's insurance on your flat, yes?"

"Uh...We've talked about it but we haven't done it" said Margie. "I mean, there's my laptop and Frances' cooking tools, but otherwise we don't own much of worth."


"That's not accurate, Margie. Your maps are quite valuable, you need to go through them and appraise them at the same cost for those few you've told. Then go up 10% for insurance purposes. Same for the Frances painting, which, if it was me, I'd insure for 40 grand."

There was a stunned silence. Margie said "Honest to god?"

"Yes. If you can't afford the insurance, I'll cover it."

"No, we can do it. I'll get it in place this week." Margie fell silent again. Myra wondered what was going on in her head.

"How's Frances doing, being back at work?"

"All right, I guess...Mom, do you think Mama is disappointed in me for not being a full-time artist?"

"Disappointed is not the word I'd use. I don't think she understands a way of life that isn't consumed with art, but she doesn't judge it. At least, not your choices." Myra waited.

"I think I'm more like Zayde, you know, except I'm married to someone who loves me. But like him, I have more than one kind of ambition."

"You know, I miss David every day. Not just for my sake, and Gin's, and you kids, but for his. He would so love to see what each of us is doing, he'd be trying to learn how to make pasta, and riding the train to Portland every couple of weeks, and struggling to say Italian words with his Texas Jewboy accent." Myra felt her throat swelling with tears. "I agree with you, many of your best qualities are like David."

"Hey, Mom, Narnia's doing the dog equivalent of holding her crotch, I need to take her out. I'll call again soon, okay?"

"Have a good walk."

Myra looked at the receiver for a minute before hanging up. She checked the toner on her printer and dumped the JPEG into Photoshop for tweaking before printing it out. No doubt Ginny would re-do it to her more exacting specifications, but for now she wanted the portrait hanging over her desk.

A couple of afternoons later, Allie and Edwina stopped by. Myra and Allie were finalizing details for Myra's research trip to Philadelphia, with Allie as her companion. Ginny began trying to talk Edwina into flying there at least for the weekend. Myra suspected Ginny was doing this not so much for Allie but for herself: She'd feel okay about inviting herself along if Edwina was going, too. She thought Ginny wasn't fooling Allie, either.

Ginny's cell rang on the breakfast bar and, still persuading, she stepped over to look at the dial. "Oh, it's Margie" she said, and she answered it. "Hi, honey, good to hear from you. No, this is a fine time to talk. What's up?" She made apology motions to the others at the table and walked back to her studio.

They all eavesdropped for a minute, to make sure it wasn't an emergency. They drifted into a discussion of the 1985 police firebombing of MOVE residences, where cops and firefighters stood by and watched while 11 black people, including five children, burned to death and an entire neighborhood was destroyed. Myra began making a list of the most repressive and racist police departments in the country during the 1970s, while the three of them tried to decipher what impact that had on those cities' activist communities. At one point, Myra heard Ginny's voice raised, saying "I just don't think that's good enough for you, Margie", but nothing more was audible. Her stomach turned over, and she had to refocus on Allie and Edwina.

After half an hour, Ginny returning to the dining room. She put the cell phone down on the counter with a decided thump, sat down in her chair, crossed her arms over her chest and looked down the table at Myra.

"How long have you known?" she said in a furious voice.

There was no point in dissembling. "A few months" Myra said.

"Known what?" asked Edwina. Ginny turned to her and Allie to spit out "Frances is lovers with Imani on the side. But it's all fine because Margie gets to sleep around, too!"

Allie simply goggled. Myra said to Ginny "Is that the way Margie put it, 'lovers'?"

"No, she led me down the garden path of polyamory, but we all know that simply means permission to fuck around. I cannot BELIEVE you kept this from me, you have violated one of our most fundamental agreements about parenting." Ginny looked like she was lining up artillery at her end of the table.

"Margie told you, but not us?" said Allie, bewildered.

"No, she didn't tell me." Myra saw this catch Ginny off guard. "She told Sima only, because she needed somebody to talk to. Sima told Chris, and Chris told me. I don't think Margie would ever have told me, and she was pretty bent out of shape about me knowing at first. I've had to work my ass off to earn her trust."

"So basically everybody but us knew" yelled Ginny. "I should've known Chris had a hand in this."

A ringing came from Allie's pocket. She pulled out her cell, looked at it, and said "It Margie." As she answered it, Myra hissed down to Ginny "Did you tell Margie they were here and you were going to blab to them?"

But Ginny was listening to Allie, who said, "Hey, baby girl. I need to tell you, me and Edwina here with Myra and Ginny."

Myra heard Margie's cry of "Oh GOD."

"We talkin' about it. I'm glad you called me, that the right thing to do. But you need to let us do our thang here first. I'll call you later on." Allie listened for a minute and said "Okay, good to know. Everthin' going to be all right, Margie. I promise you." Another listen, and she finished with "I love you, too. I'll call soon as we done here."

As she hung up, she looked at Myra consideringly. "When did you find out? Is this connected to the Anacortes run?"

"Yeah" said Myra. "That's when. Now you have the final piece of what happened to me."

"Oh, and now a SECOND secret comes out!" said Ginny, slamming her hand down on the table.

"No, Ginny, it's just one secret. And it was Margie's to tell or not to tell, not mine." Myra didn't feel worried about Ginny's anger. She had done the right thing, she felt confident of it.

Allie was rewinding the past few months in her mind. She said slowly "I can't believe you...and Chris, for that matter...haven't kicked Frances' ass."

"I had fantasies, for a while, of screeching up to Simpatico's front door in Chris's pickup, leaving the motor running and the doors open as we boil into the place and bust up some tables." Myra grinned bleakly. "But -- did Margie tell you this arrangement was her idea in the first place?"

"What?!!" exclaimed Edwina, and Ginny said "She asked Frances to shtup Imani?"

"No. She requested she and Frances be quote nonexclusive unquote, and she kicked it off by sleeping with someone else. Right around the time they moved to Portland, I believe" said Myra.

"Who?" demanded Ginny. "Who did Margie sleep with?"

"I've never asked" Myra evaded.

"But you have an idea -- tell me, dammit!"

"I think it was Rimbaud."

Ginny lay her forehead on the table, saying "Oh for god's sake."

"This just makes no sense" said Edwina. "I thought they were crazy in love with each other."

"They are" said Myra. "I know Margie's completely gone on Frances. I've come to believe that's why she tossed in a -- loophole, for lack of a better word. She was unnerved by how much she wants Frances, and the option to be with others gave her a certain distance from those feelings. That's my nickel analysis, anyhow."

Ginny lifted head and looked at Myra, her anger starting to abate. "You're right, I bet. In fact, some part of her may have been testing Frances, the dimwit. Oh god, as if their young relationship didn't have enough obstacles to contend with."

"Frances called her bluff. Which is part of the reason why Margie wants her, the fact that Frances isn't intimated by her" said Myra.

Ginny said "Margie's hopped on a tiger's back, and now how will she ever get off?"

"I think if she asks Frances to change their arrangement, Frances'll do it" said Myra. "But Margie has to get to that point."

"This is hurting her" said Ginny. "It's hurting them both, whether they know it or not."

"Not just them" said Allie. "What is there for Imani in all this?"

"What do you mean?" demanded Ginny. "She's getting to sleep with Frances! Margie said it's not often, but still, the idea of her sitting home alone while -- "

"I don't want us to be demonizing Imani here" said Allie firmly. "You liked her just fine before you found out about this."

Ginny looked angry again. "She's interfering in a committed relationship."

"First of all, that not the story they all telling themselves and each other" said Allie. "We know better, but they don't. And it sound to me like Imani more or less a booty call. Far as I'm concerned, it Frances who got her head up her ass."

Edwina was nodding her head. "Imani is how much younger than Frances? Four years? That's a lot at that age. And she didn't go to college like Margie and Frances, she went into culinary training right out of high school. She's gifted enough to have landed this kitchen job without a big resume, but that just puts more pressure on her. And she's way down in rank from Frances. There's a serious power differential."

"Plus she black" said Allie. "A young black dyke in a field dominated by white men. She don't have nearly the doors open to her that even Frances have. I know Frances think she all groovy about understanding how racism work, she got all them POC friends, and for sure Margie think Frances is in the know, but this time, Frances' head up her ass."

"I've had moments of empathy for Imani" said Myra. "Followed by guilt at being disloyal to Margie."

Allie sighed, looking at Edwina. "It like the Obamabots. They was so relieved they had proof in they heart they wasn't racist, because they was voting for a black man as President, they couldn't shut up 'bout how cool he was, how good he looked, how smooth he talked. He never once reminded them of how black folk get gutted like fish by racism, 'cause he didn't show it, not like Sharpton or Jackson did. He was more than a Magical Negro, 'cause he never said 'Yasm Miss Daisy'. He didn't sound black at all. So all the white boys who didn't want to do the real work of digging out the septic tank, which once you clean it leads you to another layer on down, on and on all you adult life -- folks who wanted a hopskip around that kinda work, he they man. And Imani, she sposed to take care of herself here, 'cause Frances don't think of her as black, not like that."

After a long silence between them, Allie sighed again and said "I gonna have to talk with Frances."

"I'd love for you to do that, Allie, and I will too, but we have to clear it with Margie first" said Myra. "We have to let her be in charge of her relationship here. We can't go trying to fix this."

"I'm still wounded she didn't think she could talk to us about this long ago" said Ginny. "Especially after you knew, Myra, why not include me and Allie? Why didn't you push her to do that?"

"Fuck, Ginny, I did. Look, I know we had a deal where we told each other everything as parents, so we could have combined intelligence on problems and danger. And I know this is definitely a problem. But she's grown up now, and I -- Ginny, you know I love you most of all, but sometimes our kids come ahead of you. It's how it works, sometimes." Myra and Ginny looked steadily at each other.

Ginny said softly "I have to ask this, Myra: Did you kinda get off on being the one she could talk to?"

Edwina said "I don't think that's fair, Ginny."

Myra answered "I've appreciated getting closer to her, yes, despite the circumstances. But get off on it? No. It's been clear all along that the reason why she didn't want you and Allie to know is because you matter the most to her. She's confused and probably humiliated, and she didn't want the women who have always been her first choice as mothers to know about it." Myra did her best to keep her voice neutral, but there was a quaver on the word "first".

Nobody argued with her. Damn.

Ginny said "Then what, I wonder, changed her mind."

Myra said "I think it was that painting. The love and acceptance behind it. I'm willing to bet Frances talked it over with her and encouraged her to share."

Allie pushed back from the table. "Well, I need to call her back and I want to do that from home." As she stood, Ginny said "I'm going to call her back, too, I can imagine how she's schvitzing right now. I'll hang up in 20 minutes so you can get through."

Allie hugged Myra tightly. Myra said "One more thing -- Margie told Sima that she was the one who informed me, not Chris. To get Chris out of trouble. I don't like keeping that charade going, either, but I'm not interested in forcing disclosure on Chris."

After a few moments, Allie said "Okay." As she and Edwina left, Ginny said, with an effort, "Myra, I can call on the landline if you want to get on the extension."

"No. It's you she wants to connect with right now. But thanks for asking." Myra gathered together her papers and went to her desk as Ginny dialed her cell.


© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

3 comments:

Jesse Wendel said...

Well done.

Cowboy Diva said...

How interesting that you juxtapose MOVE with “obamabots”, especially as the mayor at the time of the police action was Wilson Goode, and Philadelphia was trying to live down the Frank Rizzo years.
I can still remember the lesbian couple I sang with in Philadelphia in the mid-‘90s (btw, if you want to talk lesbian culture of the late 20th century you should really talk to the choralista/GALA people you know; at one time if it wasn’t a bar for social outlet then it was the women’s choir or the softball league or both), who lived in Philly in 1987, having to choose between the bigot (Rizzo) or the man who bombed the city. They talked about looking at election results by ward (they lived in South Philly), and realizing their votes were 2 of the 5 in the entire ward for Goode.
You’re right about the reputation for the Philadelphia police, however. Even when I lived there a decade later, if you saw police interacting with someone on the street, especially in West Philly and you were white; it was a given that you just stopped whatever you were doing and watched because you knew there needed to be witnesses to keep the police honest.

Maggie Jochild said...

Wow, fascinating stuff, Cowboy Diva. Duly noted.

I think Myra's list is worth doing. Aside from the ever-present NY and LA PD's, I could add SF, Houston, Chicago and Miami just from memory. Not to mention most of Alabama and Mississippi. Anyone else want to nominate most racist/violent police forces during the 1970's?