Tuesday, June 10, 2008


(The Chess Game, by sixteenth century Italian painter Sofonisba Anguissola)

Here's the next (a little shorter) segment of my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. This will follow my post of June 6.

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.

July-August 2012

The first Saturday in July, Myra more or less scandalized Ginny by arranging for delivery from an organic farm of two gutted and headless carcasses, one pork, one beef. When Ginny found out Gillam and Carly were in on it, she stomped outside to work in the garden. Myra had bought a galvanized tub from the hardware store and filled it with ice to hold the pig, while she spread out every chopping board they had on the counter to hold the beeve. Gillam and Carly had already sharpened all the kitchen knives. The three of them propped open The Joy of Cooking on the breakfast bar and began carving, amid intense discussion about technique and what constituted a particular cut.

Two hours later, the freezer was filled with newly-wrapped roasts, ribs, and steaks, except for those Myra meant to take for the Fourth at Allie's and a huge bowl of "trim" they intended to grind into hamburger. Myra's giant stock pot was already simmering on the back burner. Ginny came back in and said immediately "It smells like an abattoir in here" with disgust. She noticed a sledgehammer and a shiny new saw had been added to the array of dismembering equipment.

"Yeah" Myra admitted. She pointed her cleaver toward Beebo, who had parked himself on the dining table in line of sight of all action and over the heady updraft from the pig on ice. "He hasn't budged once. He thinks if we're going to start bringing home kill, he needs to get bigger to help with the hunt itself."

"I want lunch, but I'm not cooking a goddamned thing in here until you scrub down every surface with disinfectant" said Ginny.

"I'm hungry, too" said Gillam, a little guiltily.

Ginny sighed. "I'll call in an order to someplace and go get it, if you want."

"The Honey Hole?" suggested Carly. Ginny consented: They had excellent soups and vegetarian options, as well as sandwiches. As she took down their orders, she noticed none of them were choosing a beef item. She smiled to herself.

Myra said "I like their Cobb salad, but I also want a side of fries. And two of their Thomas Kemper orange cream sodas. Two, Ginny, don't act like you forgot one."

"I'll be back soon" said Ginny.

By the time she returned, the pig carcass had been split and the halves segmented roughly into shoulder, loin, ribs, bacon, and hams. All three of the butchers looked tired and sweaty. They returned pig parts to the ice bed and headed for different bathrooms to scrub down, returning in clean clothes to eat on the deck with Ginny. Beebo elected to stand guard over the tub.

"My hands are aching" complained Myra as she ate fries hungrily.

"Then you shouldn't be handling a knife any more" said Ginny, giving her a firm look. "I don't want to be driving you to the emergency room while the boys search for a finger among all that carnage."

"This has been a learning experience" said Gillam, trying to come to Myra's defense. "It makes me look at meat very differently."

"But I don't want to do it again" said Myra, and her companions breathed out in relief. "I mean, I don't mind buying a small slab of bacon that I slice myself, maybe. Otherwise, it's worth it to pay someone else for the...dissection. Organic, though, I'm sold on it. That flesh still smells like food, even after all this overexposure."

Ginny noticed they dawdled over lunch. Finally, they dragged themselves back in, put on old shirts, and finished their chore in another three hours. The last hour was spent in grinding with the manual crank Myra had clamped to the counter, and skimming from now two stock pots.

A small saucer of "icky bits" was put on the deck for Beebo and the pet door closed against his attempts to bring them inside for play before consumption. Myra shooed the boys upstairs for their second shower, while she stripped down and used several buckets of bleach water to compulsively clean the kitchen. "If it's just me, I know what areas I've covered" she told them. "When you come back down, you can haul that tub into the yard and scour it."

By the Fourth, they had recovered from their weariness with the enterprise and bragged to all the guests about how they had personally carved these T-bones and spare ribs. Edwina asked Ginny if she was going to now bring home an entire sea bass to cut into filets. Ginny turned brightly to Myra, who held up her hands and said "I'm retired."

A week later, Myra used some of the new thick-sliced bacon to make a weekend lunch of Elvis Presley's favorite sandwich, on an entire Italian loaf slathered with butter, toasted, then spread with peanut butter, banana and crisp bacon before frying in a skillet. She let Gillam and Carly take a bite first before having a try -- she wasn't sure about the flavor combo. They all agreed it was extremely tasty, however. Ginny snorted at them.

"He died trying to crap out the tref he ate" she said, offering a carrot stick to Myra. Myra accepted, saying "Again, I think this is a one-time deal. I just wanted to know what it tasted like."

Two days after that, Myra made leblebi for breakfast, a Tunisian soup of chickpeas poured over stale bread, flavored with harissa (which she found in a specialty grocery, looking claret and combustible in its jar) and topped with a poached egg, lemon slices, and chunks of cooked tuna. This dish scored a big hit, and Ginny said "You should keep experimenting if you include efforts like this. I'll eat this any day."

Myra was sending a daily e-mail to Margie, who was too swamped with course work to even come for the Fourth. She called her once a week, and often she managed this while Ginny was out of the house. Myra always asked how things were going with Frances, and Margie was always ready to talk about it. At one point, Myra commented "Well, I may be an old fogey but I think too many cooks spoil the soup, if you get my drift." It made Margie laugh so hard that Myra began referring to Imani as the Extra Cook, and eventually this got shortened to EC. Occasionally Margie came up with a different two words for the acronym, using terms Myra would never have uttered but she laughed dutifully with Margie, who was trying hard to work through her "stuff" about Imani, as she put it.

After the Fourth, Ginny extracted an oath from Myra that she would not go onto the upper deck until her birthday. Myra could hear the buzz of power tools up there after dinner, and Chris frequently joined Gillam and Carly, so she assumed a gift construction project was underway.

Ginny took Myra's lead on home delivery from organic farms and two or three times a week now, flats of fruit or bushels of vegetables in profligate season would arrive before noon. Ginny did most of the preparation and canning herself, insisting Myra focus on The Epic. Myra conducted phone interviews with brilliant, verbose, frequently profane old dykes all round the country, with the sound of a pressure cooker in the distance and a heady aroma of raspberry jam or marinara or mango chutney making her hungry all the time. Once Ginny was satisfied the new galvanized tub had been sterilized, she found countless uses for it and finally Myra went down to buy a second, remarking "I wonder how we ever got along without these."

At dinner, conversations often focused on what Gillam was absorbing about reading theory or what Carly was learning about how minds and muscles worked in tandem. Myra was fascinated with both lines of thought. At one meal, when Chris and Sima were there, Gillam said the Read Right program worked in any dialect, and it was being used by small tribes in the Northwest to reinforce the teaching of disappearing native languages. It relied not on symbols, grammar, or phonics, but on understanding how the human brain dealt with abstraction and closure. More than one poem came from Myra after these intense, wondering discussions.

Margie did come for Myra's birthday, arriving at 10:00 a.m. with Frances who had slept in the Cerebellum all the way, Margie said. Narnia's cries of greeting sounded enough like wails that Margie got tears in her eyes. "She's not seen enough of even me this summer" she said guiltily. Once they all went to the deck to sit and drink iced tea, Myra pulled Narnia onto the chaise longue with her and, during lulls in the talk, she sang her the song they'd all invented during her puppyhood:

Narnia, Narnia
Favorite dog who was ever born-ia

Myra's birthday barbecue was more carnivorous than usual. Frances joined Gillam and Carly in the kitchen, while Ginny told Margie exaggerated but hilarious stories about The Day All Pigs Would Die, as she had nicknamed it. After their feast, and a seven-layer hazelnut cream cake hauled from Portland by Frances, Ginny said "Now, Myra. We have a present for you that every one of us helped plan and create."

"But you already gave me my present when we woke up" protested Myra. It was a digital camera with a special zoom lens and flash for copying indoor documents, on a collapsible stand -- for when archives would allow photographing ephemera and pages too fragile to xerox. "And Chris, that priceless poster -- " Chris had given Myra the 1991 campaign placard for Wilma Mankiller when she ran for re-election of Cherokee Nation.

But Allie and Gillam were already heading into the house. They returned with what was clearly a piece of furniture draped with a sheet and topped with a bow. This was set in front of Myra. She pulled away the sheet to reveal a large, oval coffee table of polished teak. Inset in the middle was a chessboard of dark purple and pale green tiles. Each tile was delicately incised with a different sea creature.

Around the edge of the table, built into the wood in some way, were all of Myra's favorite marine hardware items she had bought in Anacortes. The tiny brass hatch could be opened to show the floor underneath the table; every object's use was respected in its placement.

She couldn't find words. Allie nudged her and said "Open the drawer."

She had not noticed a drawer on the side. She pulled it open. Lined with padded velvet, it held 32 thick metal disks, half each of dazzling copper or burnished sterling silver. She picked one up to heft it, noting the ridges around the edge which would allow it to be "kinged" as a checker piece. She turned it over, and gasped.

Inside the lip on the reverse was a full-color rendering of Yoj, the main character from her Skene sci-fi novels. It had been painted by Allie on thin wood, coated with clear polyurethane, and affixed into the metal frame. Each piece held a different character. The pawns were all children from the books, and the other pieces made immediate sense to Myra. It was as if someone had read her mind.

She of course started crying. Allie hugged her from behind and Chris began setting up the chess board. When Myra stopped for breath, her family talked over each other to explain: Ginny found the table and stripped it, Chris refinished it, Carly and Gillam attached the hardware and lined the drawer, Frances and Margie designed the tiles and got a friend of theirs in Portland to fire them, Sima had cut and shaped the disks, Allie and Edwina had plotted the chess piece assignment, and while Allie painted the portraits, Edwina varnished them and glued them into their rightful places.

"Who do you want to play first?" grinned Ginny.

"I -- can't. I'm too overwhelmed" said Myra. "I just have to look at it."

"This wood and tile will hold up to the elements" said Chris. "You can leave it out here on the deck, under the overhang portion."

Myra looked doubtful. "This is a freakin' work of art" she declared.

"Can we play?" asked Margie. When Myra nodded, Gillam said "I'm going to cream your ass" and took the copper side, saying Margie would need the advantage of going first with silver. As they descended into aggressive combat, everyone watched and talked. Periodically Myra would pick up a piece to examine it again, tutting away her children's protest that she was disrupting their concentration. "Best gift ever" she said in a soft but fervent voice several times.

Before long, Frances was sitting on the arm of Margie's chair, whispering strategy into her ear, which brought Carly to the bench next to Gillam as advisor. Chris laughed derisively at every move either of them made. Sima remarked to Ginny "You'd think they were negotiating a re-do of birth order". When Myra noticed Narnia getting restless, she stood and said "I'm going to walk the dog, while I have the chance."

"I'll go with you" Ginny said instantly. Narnia galloped to the front door and licked Myra's hands over and over as Myra tried to put on her leash.

They went right and right again, to reach the spot where they had first kissed. They stopped to recreate the moment, despite Narnia's impatience. As they let her pull them on uphill, Myra said "An amazing convocation of intelligence and art, in that table. But the original idea was yours, yes?"


"A way of respectfully acknowledging the meaning of my trip to Anacortes?"

Ginny grinned at her. "Yes. But don't let it give you any ideas."

"Ah, but you want me having ideas. As many as I can."

They laughed in agreement.

"Margie looks exhausted" said Ginny.

"So does Frances" said Myra.

"Margie said if she does finish her Master's next summer, she'll work at restoration for a year and by that time, they think they'll have enough money to start the restaurant. She says it will lose money or maybe only break even for a long time, and they have to plan for that."

Myra said "Has she asked you for help with it?"

"Not yet. And, of course, if it's her own place, Frances will be busier than ever. Margie says they need to make a big splash with initial publicity, enough to attract the attention of foodies and people who write about cuisine. Frances hopes to get guest slots on cooking shows as the exciting new thing out there, and eventually wants to have a show of her own" said Ginny.

"Really? You know, she's got the looks and sparkle for it, if she doesn't freeze up on camera" said Myra knowledgeably. Cooking shows were her not-so-secret addiction.

"They also plan on a line of cookbooks. Margie hinted at me painting the cover for the first one" said Ginny.

"Maybe a portrait of Frances in the kitchen" mused Myra. "We don't have one of her on our walls yet."

After another block, Myra said "I wonder how exhausted we looked after Margie was born. Maybe they're happy being consumed by what they're doing."

"Remember that time I fell asleep at the table and my face dropped into my soup bowl?"

"You blew broth out your nostrils" giggled Myra. "I used to watch Margie nursing, how she'd grab the breast she wasn't sucking on as if to point out it belonged to her, too, with this ferocious look on her face."

"I don't know how these women having babies in their 40's are doing it" sighed Ginny. "GOOD dog. Oh, hell, I didn't bring a plastic bag, did you?"

"Uh...no. Well, I'll just kick it into the gutter, no one's around" said Myra.

The next morning after breakfast, Myra again stood to walk Narnia and this time Margie joined her. Before they even reached the corner, Myra asked "How're things with the E.C.?"

"Well, don't get all I told you so, but I think you're right about her hoping for the impossible with Frances. She asks Fran to do things like concerts and movies. Frances almost always says no, but that doesn't stop her. The only time she gets a yes if it's something to do with cooking, and usually in those instances, Frances mentions it to other coworkers and it turns into a crowd event. And if I'm free, I go along, too, and Frances is glued to me. Sometimes I catch this brief look of pain on Imani's face."

"Is she dating anyone else?"

"Frances says she thinks so, but I've seen no evidence of it. And, Mom, they're really good in the kitchen together, like two halves of the same organism. Frances says the sex arose more from an extension of that connection than any sudden spark, at least for her. Does that make sense to you?"

Myra thought a minute and said, "Yeah. Me and Annie were like that -- Annie Gagliardi. We were good friends, and then we became co-chairs for this big women's conference, so we were together all the time. We agreed easily, and had this long affection, and when we went to bed, it was simply not romantic" said Myra.

Margie was momentarily diverted. "I know Annie Gagliardi -- how long did you two...?"

"Just the length of the conference planning, if that" said Myra. "A brief blip in a good friendship."

"Well...I think Imani wants the blips to blossom. I sometimes wish...Don't you ever repeat this, but if I could wave a wand and have Francies not sleep with her, I would" said Margie, her voice low and intense. "But, you know, me and Frances were friends for two years before our spark happened, best friends the last year, and we have that bedrock. Passion is the layer above it. And...we want each other's good more than we want to possess each other. If you can relate to that."

"Totally, Margie. You can build a lifetime on it, I believe."

Margie squeezed Myra's arm. "Listen, in September Frances reaches her one-year mark at Simpatico and we want to take a vacation, for at least four days. We're thinking about going to the coast in Mexico where Aunt Allie and Edwina had such a good time. But I don't feel okay about leaving Narnia in a kennel, not right now. And we'd rather not add on three hours each way to our travel time by driving up here to leave her with you. Could you maybe coordinate your Portland book research to happen while we're gone and come house-sit for us?"

"I'd love to" said Myra. "I'll have to talk with Ginny, but I bet she'll come along. We can move your little dining table into the living room and set her easel up by those sliding doors at the back. Do you have dates yet?" It would mean completely re-doing the itinerary she and Ginny had already arranged, which was irrelevant, she thought.

"We can all pull out our calendars at the house. I don't care if I miss a little school, even, I'm wild to get away from cities, kitchen and books and be alone with Francesca" said Margie.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.


Jesse Wendel said...

I love what a good mother Myra is being to her daughter. How deeply in communication they are, especially after the years in which they weren't, especially. Or at least, after the years in which Maggie knew it all. Now she's talking to her Mom and listening. They're relating not as teenager/parent, but as young adult/adult, which is a much more wonderful place.

I also love the bit about the thick slabs of bacon. Remember the time they visited Maggie's on Meeker in the City of Kent?

Part of why I love going to Maggie's is because they have the best bacon in Puget Sound. It is SO good. Thick and delicious, it tastes like actual meat.

I'm wondering if the first word of the other version of EC is easy?

*smiles sweetly*

(I'm not wondering what the last word is.)

Part of what I love about GB is how it educates. For example, what appeared -- to me anyway, although you'd think by this point I'd damn well know better; *sighs* -- to be a throw-away line on the poster about the 1991 reelection campaign of Wilma Mankiller. Till you look her up and discover who she was and what she accomplished, and suddenly this sentence...

"And Chris, that priceless poster -- "

Inside of:

"And Chris, that priceless poster -- " Chris had given Myra the 1991 campaign placard for Wilma Mankiller when she ran for re-election of Cherokee Nation.

...you grasp why the poster was priceless, both from a historical artifact point of view, and from the POV of how much the poster would mean to Chris and what tangible evidence this gift is of Chris's love for Myra.

Absolutely none of which makes sense at all if you don't know who Ms. Mankiller is, if you skip over the sentence thinking "I got it" from context, or if you blazed by not even noticing or noticed but said "screw it."

I admit to at least two, maybe three of the four, on first reading. It was on second reading the sentence tickled me, and I looked Ms. Mankiller up.


(I should have known. After all, it has to do with Chris. Duh. But not my point.)

My point is, I love the way the best fiction is an education. In what happens behind the scenes, in how to do something, a world we don't know, or requiring us to expand who we are till we see the world through another's eyes, walk with another's feet or roll on another's wheels.

In GB the middle class and owning class, the white and the straight and the gay and pretty much everyone else as well, learn about classism and feminism and racism and all kinds of other -isms...

And oh yeah, we learn about dykes. Who they are. What it means to be one. How they feel, love, think, eat, make love, raise children, were raised, work, cook, earn livings. Ginny Bates is a book I refer to my friends who don't have a vocabulary in the domain, as "The Great American Lesbian Novel." In short, this is a book about dykes.

We get learned in GB.

And as the message never gets in the way of the story like some people (in the dictionary under "Message Fiction" is a photo of Ann Rand) I at least, never feel lectured to or threatened by what I'm learning. It's all, simply "what's so." Unlike, for example, Rand, which I remember as a teenager, turning ten-twelve pages at a time, as it was clearly not only a lecture, but a crappy one. *smiles*


I LOVE that Ginny had the idea to make the birthday gift gaming table. Of course everyone else would help. But it was Ginny who set it up, who married the objects (the symbols) from Myra's running away (with every object's use was respected in its placement), with the checker/chess pieces glazed with the art from her books/Aly's interpretation of it, all done artistically, in a place for the family to participate together over and over. *grins* And every family member participated in making it happen.

The table says symbolically, "No matter how bad life gets, together, as a family we will always transform the bad in to something beautiful which lasts, which ALL of us can participate in and have fun with as a FAMILY. The key is communication."

More bluntly the table says, "Stop this running and freaking out crap. We're a family, and families work things out together in their own unique way. Ours is art. But nothing happens without communication, so communicate, dammit."

VERY deep section.

Great fracking work.

Oh... I do have one more item.

Narnia, Narnia
Favorite dog who was ever born-ia

You're trying to kill all of us with cuteness, aren't you?


I am not suckered in by the dog, being sung to by Myra, on her lap, on the lounge, with the ah, it's so CUTE!

letsdance said...

I agree with Jesse: "the best fiction is an education".

May I never stop learning from you, Maggie.