Tuesday, June 17, 2008


All, at last I'm done with 88-A, the section between Myra's birthday and their visit to Portland to house sit for Margie and Frances. If you're new to my novel Ginny Bates, you can catch up by finding the box in the right column of this blog and reading background, then starting on the chapter in the labels under Ginny Bates which is followed by a [1].

Late August 2012

At breakfast not long after Myra's birthday, Gillam said he wouldn't be home for dinner. "Kyle's coming into town and we're going out. I'll be back late."

"You can invite her here, if you want" said Ginny.

"She's already made arrangements" said Gillam. "Her dad Jesse is coming with her, and he's going to talk with me about finding a men's group to join."

"A men's group?" said Myra. "You mean where you all paint your balls blue and sit around whining about how women ruin everything?"

Gillam looked at her coldly. "Yeah, Mom, that's precisely what I'm looking for." He drained his glass of milk and left the table. Carly was already in the shower.

Myra said to Ginny, "Well, fuck. I'm not entirely awake yet. Are there any support groups for men out there which haven't been infiltrated by MRA freaks?"

"I wouldn't know. But it does seem to me like reaction against conservatism in general and the Hillary hate-fest in particular has diluted the acceptability of misogyny as national pastime." Ginny picked up the nearly-empty jar of applesauce. "I'm going to finish this, unless you want it."

"What's on your agenda for today?" Myra took the last slice of watermelon.

"Corn. I've got five bushels being dropped off in an hour. I'll be shucking but not jiving for who knows how long."

"I'll help" offered Myra. "Until it's time to strip the cobs. After lunch I'm interviewing a black dyke named China Bear. She worked at one of the first West Coast Music Festivals, and in an altercation with Robin Tyler, Robin supposedly called her a nigger and she told Robin it was too bad the Holocaust didn't finish the job. Or something like that."

"Holy shit" said Ginny, genuinely shocked. "Who said what first?"

"Dunno. It caused a huge community upset in the Bay Area. They both apologized, of course, and I think there was some good dialogue and growth that came out of it. Anyhow, I hope to get her perspective on it. Robin's too, if she'll talk with me."

When Gillam got home that night, Myra had left him a note on the breakfast bar which read "My mouth she can be very big. I want to hear more. Fresh corn fritters in the fridge. If you do paint your balls, please use organic pigments. Love, Your favorite Mom."

The next morning when Myra got up, Gillam was frying sausages at the stove. More corn fritters were already on the table, along with a fruit salad and yogurt. Myra poured herself a glass of tea and said groggily in Gillam's direction, "How was last night?"

"Really good" he answered, bringing a plate of sausages to the table and setting it within her reach. Carly leaned over him to spear two at once. As Gillam sat down, he said "I've got a couple of questions for you and mom."

"Fire away" said Ginny.

"I'd like to have an end of training get-together here for all the folks in my Read Right course" Gillam said. "There's about 15 of us, and if they bring a guest, it could be as many as 30. Maybe do a buffet or barbecue."

"Hey, I was thinking about some kind of party for the folks in my class as well" said Carly. "Could we combine forces?"

"Sounds great" said Gillam. Myra added "Fine by me. Are you two going to handle the menu?"

"Yeah" said Carly.

"Settle on a date and let us know" said Ginny. "It'll be nice to meet some of the folks you've mentioned. What's the second thing?"

Gillam stood up and dropped his pants. His testicles were encrusted with indigo. "I'm worried this is more purple than blue, what do you think?"

Carly went into hysterics. Myra couldn't find her voice. Ginny, however, came immediately toward Gillam and bent over as if to examine him from inches away. Chuckling, he swiftly pulled back up his boxers and said "I should've known it wouldn't throw you."

Myra was able to laugh, now. Ginny said "I hope that's not tempera."

"Whatever was left in our old dress-up box" he said.

"Ah, Snazaroo" said Ginny, going back to her chair. "Shouldn't hurt you."

"Then I'm leaving it for the day. Maybe I can have some fun with it at school" he grinned.

"Just pray you don't have a car accident" said Myra, which sent Carly off again.

It took Gillam and Carly most of a week to plan the menu for their party and do advance shopping. The RSVP list was around two dozen. Ginny had not done a lot of painting this summer, but went on a jag and did two canvases in a row. Myra kept up with the garden, freezing zucchini bread and making her version of marinara when enough tomatoes were collected to preserve a quart or two. The compost pile needed turning every other day, with all the veggie trimmings going into it, but even so, it still seemed to be mostly corn husks.

Ginny's first painting was larger than anything she had ever done, six feet by three. Myra had for years admired the way Ginny would stop to stretch during her long sojourns in Painterland, with audible pops and clicks of her joints and spine as she loosened herself for another round of labor. During Ginny's last painting, Myra pulled out her digital and took two dozen shots of Ginny stretching in various poses, shiny from sweat, naked and besmirched by color, her concentration almost visible as an aura around her. Ginny did not really register Myra's activity.

Later, however, when Myra showed her the photos on her computer, Ginny had been fascinated. "That's what I look like now?" she asked in wonder. She demonstrated no upset about her sags and wrinkles, her increasingly snowy hair, or even the rippled texture of her ass. One pose showed her with her right arm, holding a brush, extended straight into the air and her left arm bent over her head to clasp her right elbow. Her right leg was holding all her weight, while the left was bent at the knee. She was 3/4 facing the camera, her expression intently focused on the canvas hidden by her easel. She printed this one out and said to Myra "Don't share these with anyone unless I say so. It's painter porn, in a way."

Myra had no intention of sharing them. This was her private world with Ginny.

But the life-size canvas she did next turned out to be based on that photo, with all fleshy failings shown and sometimes emphasized. She used green and blue for her body, a pinky-gold flame for her hair, and behind her, through the glass wall, were post-radiation giant tomato plants with ghostly globes of fruit and guardian geckos. It was magnificent, compelling, and profoundly disturbing. When the viewing was over, Ginny carried it into the living room and hung it where Hettie had been on the wall, saying "I'll frame it after it's dried and varnished."

Allie's reaction had been "Holy moly", then a long series of questions about technique and choices. Edwina had remarked to Sima "You can see more of Munchkin Land than you want to, don't you think?" Gillam had shook his head and muttered "Raised by wolves." Carly, however, got close to look at Ginny's thighs, then turned to her and said "If this is accurate, I bet you're having a lot of hamstring tightness and calf pain."

"I am" admitted Ginny, startled.

"I can recommend some exercises that would help" said Carly. Ginny adopted his routine. Myra also begin trying to convince Ginny to try painting while sitting in a rolling chair, with the easel lowered. "You're getting a bunion" she pointed out, "There's no reason you have to hurt to create art." Ginny said she'd think about it.

Since kittenhood, Beebo had a habit of putting his paw on someone's wrist or hand when spoken to in a certain kind of baby talk, which had always been endearing. By judicious use of crab meat as rewards, Myra managed to turn this into a trick Beebo could perform on command -- well, not exactly command, she said, more like an exchange. She showed her family at dinner by placing him in the chair next to her and saying in an dramatic way, "Oh, my, I'm feeling rawther faint! I wonder if my heart is racing?" She turned to Beebo and used the baby talk to say "How's about you take my pulse, gorgeous?" He obliged, with Myra's forearm conveniently in position. He looked startled at the explosion of applause this drew, but accepted his morsel and jumped under the table to eat it.

The day after finishing her second canvas -- which showed Edwina dressed as an old style aviator climbing into a biplane, Ginny saying she had no idea what it meant, it just came to her -- Ginny went out to Pike for a few items and came home with two enormous flats of clams.

"Whoa" said Myra. "Those aren't on the boys' menu, are they?"

"No, but they were incredibly cheap. Look, this flat is purple varnish clams, I never get enough of those. And the other is littlenecks. I want to freeze them. I'm not sure how fresh they are, though, so I think they have to get shucked first" said Ginny, running her hands over the shells like they were gold nuggets.

Myra sighed. "Get the galvanized tubs and let's put these in water. I'll help you shuck, otherwise you'll be all day at it."

Ginny kissed her cheek and said "Think about the fritters and chowder you'll produce with these."

Once again, Beebo became their shadow. Myra didn't like prying open mollusks, and despite taking less than half of the bounty, she still was not done by the time Ginny finished. Ginny rinsed her brimming bowls and began measuring them into freezer containers.

"I'm not going to identify all of these with a grease pencil" she decided. "I'll print out some of those labels you have."

"Go for it" said Myra. Ginny disappeared into the study. After a minute, she called back "Should I close this document you've got open? Looks like an outline."

"Save it as 'CR Groups' first" answered Myra.

A minute later, Ginny said "You've got an e-mail from Margie, headed 'Dates for trip to Mexico', can I read it?"

"Sure" said Myra, starting to loathe the smell of clam juice.

Five minutes later, Ginny returned with a sheet of labels and began sticking them to the lids of the containers.

"How's Margie?"

"Narnia had a run-in with a skunk somehow in the heart of Portland. Margie washed her first in tomato juice, then beer, but she said it just added wet dog to the reek. So she wrapped her in a blanket and hauled her to a groomers. She said Narnia was miserable, wondering why she was being tortured by endless baths" reported Ginny.

"Oh, poor puppy" said Myra, finally finishing. "Did the groomer get it out of her fur?"

"Margie said it was now tolerable. I wrote the dates she sent on your calendar, either will work for me. By the way, who's E.C.?"

Ginny was carrying an armload of plastic containers to the freezer in the storage room, so she didn't see Myra's face. Myra ran water in the sink to give herself a minute to think. As Ginny returned, Myra said "You know the head chef there who thinks he can maybe whip out a bestseller in between alfredo sauces, how hard can it be to write?"

"Yep. Oh, let me guess -- the C stands for Chef, that's obvious. Is E for Eager or Egomaniac?" Ginny laughed.

So did Myra. "I hadn't thought of Egomaniac, but that fits just as well. What did Margie say?" She hoped her voice sounded normal. She had not yet technically lied, but of course her innards disagreed with that parsing.

"Something about how EC's obsequiousness was making her wonder if she could last to their vacation. Is he giving Frances a hard time, you think?"

"Not that I've heard" said Myra. "Listen, will you finish cleaning and storing this bowl? I'm clammed out."

"You've been a jewel" said Ginny. "Here's a couple of lemon slices, they'll cut the odor on your hands. Then go write."

The Sunday of Carly and Gillam's party, Ginny vacuumed and mopped floors while Myra set out plates, bowls and silverware. Gillam filled both galvanized tubs with ice and an assortment of bottled water, juices, beer, and soft drinks. Myra filched a Coke with slush in its neck and drank it furtively at her desk. For lunch they had a salad, staying out of the kitchen otherwise. Myra did persuade Ginny to put "Self Portrait Stretching" in their bedroom for the party, reminding her if someone brushed against it, they might damage it at this stage.

Gillam was roasting pork loin, had three huge trays of enchiladas, and dishes of chicken breasts, jumbo shrimp, and various sliced veggies sat in marinades to go on the grill later. Carly baked brownies, individual fruit pies, and was turning out quarts of sorbet and ice cream as fast as the automatic maker could produce them. Salad, crudites, platters of bread, crackers, guacamole, chips, and cheeses were on the table by the time people began arriving around 3:00.

A few of the people from Gillam's Read Right program were, like him, special ed majors from Evergreen who had come to Seattle for the summer's training. About half of them were established teachers expanding their expertise, and a couple were as old as Myra and Ginny. None of them looked queer, although it was often hard to know with female teachers -- like librarians, you couldn't tell the difference between a Sapphic bent and an academic disdain for fripperies.

With Carly's guests, it was easier to spot at least the gay men. They were hunky but soft-voiced. The women had enviable muscles and crisp short hair, and pretty soon Myra decided anybody wearing a polo shirt was a PT/OT, anyone in a button-up shirt or blouse was a teacher.

As people arrived, got drinks, and began grazing, Ginny and Myra split up to schmooze, introducing themselves and relishing the grins they got from these people. Clearly, Carly and Gillam talked about them with affection. Carly sliced the cool pork and set out enchiladas while Gillam carried in platters from the grill. A buffet line immediately formed, and Myra reunited with Ginny to join it.

Ginny turned to Myra and murmured in her ear "I don't think they've ever had such a grown-up party here, doing it all themselves, have they? Either one?"

"Not that I recall" said Myra. She was enjoying the feel of Ginny pressed against her. She liked it when Ginny wore gauze shirts and there was a thin barrier between her flesh and Myra's hands.

A young blond woman at the head of the line said to Gillam "I'm driving back in the morning, do you need a ride?" Gillam, serving grill items, said "Uh, no, we're not coming back until Tuesday." Myra felt a jolt. She thought they were staying until Friday; they didn't have classes this week. But they did need to move into their new place and...She couldn't come up with enough to justify leaving three days early, not in her opinion.

The woman took a bite of her shrimp and exclaimed "My god, the flavor in this is incredible!" She looked around at Ginny, but Ginny nodded at Gillam and said "It's their recipe. They're quite the cooks."

Carly pointed his service spoon at Gillam and invoked "Culinarius!" Gillam used his tongs as a wand to respond "Nix flatulentum!" Everyone laughed, although in Myra's case it was perfunctory.

Once she had food, she dutifully sat in one cluster of guests, then another as they ate appreciatively and made conversation with her. At one point, Gillam appeared at her elbow with another cold Coke. He slung his arm around her shoulder and told the group "This is my cooking instructor, as well as the woman who made me fall in love with reading."

One of the older teachers in their cluster said "Hey, I've got that list you asked about, every school district in the country who might be hiring a Read Right instructor. Interestingly, there's a high concentration of them in Texas."

Gillam's eyes flashed interest. "Will you e-mail me a copy? Never hurts to make inquiries early." He smacked Myra on the cheek and left.

"Was he a charmer as a little boy, or a pain in the ass who's cleaned up his act?" asked the same blond woman who had offered him a ride.

"He was the most amazing child you could ever hope to know" said Myra passionately. She told about the first time they'd watched Dumbo, when Gillam was a toddler. During the scene where Dumbo's mother was locked in the cage wagon and Dumbo visited her at night, her only able to cradle him in her trunk through the bars as she sang "Baby of Mine", Gillam had collapsed into sobbing hysterics, shrieking "They took away his mama!" He could not be comforted until Myra fast-forwarded the video to show him how things got better.

This anecdote seemed to embarrass most of her group. And you're who will be caring for children? she thought bitterly. Conversation shifted to educational theory. After listening for a few minutes, Myra excused herself to crumble a brownie into a bowl, top it with Carly's hazelnut ice cream, and retreat to her study.

She and Ginny had placed her Skene screen across the doorway for privacy. She slipped past it and sat at her desk. A few minutes later, Ginny arrived with raspberry sorbet and yet another bottle of Coke. Myra took the Coke without mentioning it was her third. Ginny sat on the daybed, legs crossed, and dug into her sorbet. A few minutes later, music started up in the living room, something neither of them recognized or understood.

Ginny said "They're a decent set of friends, aren't they?"

"Not all of them" Myra said grimly. "One of those future molders of young minds went off into that bullshit about how public schools are too feminized and they're shriveling the manhood of boys by making them learn instead of pick on each other."

"Oh, no" said Ginny. "Was it that guy with the funny insignia on his shirt pocket? I wondered what that stood for."

"No, it was the fucking Valkyrie" said Myra. "The blond who was so surprised that men can cook."

"Jane, d'ya mean?" asked Ginny. "That surprises me. I had a chance to talk with her, and she seemed kinda radical, in a down-to-earth way. I mean, she does come from a Mennonite family -- "

"There you go, then" said Myra, her anger growing. "Her secret ambition is probably to be a Lebensborn breeder. I swear to god, Ginny, what chance do we have when the Right infiltrates our public schools? I'm not even sure we're treading water. And, honestly, we've raised kids who've chosen to be the middle class version of service providers, not leaders or pioneers. What happened to all the work we did?"

Ginny looked at the screen, wondering if Gillam or Carly were in earshot. She lowered her voice to a whisper and said "Is writing this history filling you with despair? Because no revolution turns out the way its initiators intended."

"I'm not despairing, I'm pissed off!" said Myra, thunking her empty bowl down on her desk. Beebo, who had been hiding out in his cubby, slid down from the shelf and ambled toward the bowl. After a long sniff, he decided it was edible and began licking daintily.

Ginny whispered "Lower your voice, honey." Myra did, though not enough, as she continued "Right at the moment, I'd rather be Tanya Harding than that whiny Katarina Witt. At least nobody's forgotten Tanya, and I bet people around her think twice before taking her for granted."

Ginny blinked at her. Myra drained her Coke, then lay her wrist next to Beebo and said "How about you, sweetie, you wanna take my pulse for me?"

Beebo flicked an ear but did not leave his bowl-cleaning. Myra pushed herself back in her chair, her face a mask of frustration. "At least he lives in the moment only. He'll never know that this summer here with us is his last, he'll never get to be here more than a day or two again before he dies."

Sudden comprehension flooded Ginny's face. She set her bowl on Myra's desk and whispered "Come over here, My. Sit next to me for a minute."

Myra looked mulish but complied. Ginny slid her hand into Myra's and said "I absolutely believe we're going to come up with a new kind of life for ourselves, angel. Hack through the undergrowth long enough, you always reach a clearing. Our kids will be happy, and so will we without them up those stairs. I'm sure of it. So...grow old along with me, the best is yet to be."

Myra began crying, pushing her face into Ginny's shoulder to muffle the sound. She choked out "I like them. I want to see their faces every day, it's not just maternal goo, I like who they are."

Ginny's eyes welled, too. "They're getting more interesting by the week, aren't they?" After an abbreviated cry, they went to the bathroom to watch their faces. Myra took a pee and said "Tomorrow let's get up early and go somewhere, the four of us. Somewhere on or near the water."

"Anacortes, perhaps?" ventured Ginny a little nervously.

"Perfect!" said Myra. "We can have a late dinner here for the aunties when we get back. You'll love the main street there, Gin."

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

1 comment:

kat said...


That's all I'm gonna say...