Wednesday, July 30, 2008


From YouTube: Cab Calloway with Fayard and Harold Nicholas in Stormy Weather, 1943. Fred Astaire said this sequence was the finest piece of tap dancing ever filmed. Damn right.

Another installment of my Great American Lesbian Novel (in progress), Ginny Bates. If you are new to reading GB, go to the section in the right-hand column labeled Ginny Bates to read background and find out how to catch up.

Thanksgiving 2012

They made pies for 250 people that night, 14 different varieties. With Myra and Ginny picking up the bill, no canned filling or pre-made crusts were used. Myra rolled dough until her forearms ached while the rest of the crew chopped fresh fruit or pumpkin and got the innards ready to fill crust after crust. As the pies baked in stages -- there weren't enough ovens to do all of them at once -- Myra went over the next day's plan with her crew.

After years of planning the menu and buying ingredients, the shelter's head cook had decreed Myra competent to run the holiday shifts on her own. A single shelter staff member showed up to deal with emergencies; otherwise, it was up to Myra and family to pull things off. Myra had created laminated task sheets and timelines which were now taped to the refrigerator door. She asked Nika and Jane to decide which area of responsibility they thought they would enjoy the most, and attach themselves to someone already doing that work.

"We all serve, in a line" she told them. "We cheerfully give extra or accommodate special requests, and we make enough for lots of seconds. Once they are all at tables, the rest of us can eat, except one person who has to stay behind the counter. We draw straws each year to see who that will be. A lot of these people are like friends, and they'll save places for us, so we don't all eat together, we spread out and eat with the folks we're feeding. Gillam and Carly, you be in charge of steering our greenhorns away from the one or two troublemakers -- some folks don't take their meds, or have sold them or can't afford them, and holidays exacerbate feelings of betrayal, so we never confront or condemn, we just get out of their way. If it gets hairy, the staff person will deal with it. Mostly, thought, it's a blast."

When they drew straws to see who had to stay behind the counter, it was Margie. Ginny immediately said "Oh, no you don't, not alone. I'll sit with you and we'll eat together back there." Margie's look of gratitude clutched at Myra's heart.

They got a head start by chopping and mixing what they could in advance for the next day's meal. At 10:30, the last of the pies were arrayed in the walk-in refrigerator and the kitchen was clean. They turned out the lights and split up to go home. They had to be back by 6 a.m.

At the house, Myra pulled out leftovers from lunch and her kids plus Jane and Nika nibbled tiredly. Margie said "I know I should just go to bed, but I really think a quarter hour in the hot tub would be divine. Why don't you stay here, Nika? Come soak with me and I'll loan you pajamas, plus clean clothes in the morning."

Nika wiped her shiny forehead and said "You know, I will."

Ginny said "Well, I'm grabbing a shower and hitting the sack. It's up to you kids to clear the table and set the alarm." She and Myra headed for their room, Myra saying "Can I shower with you?"

When the alarm went off at 5:15 and Ginny said "You have to listen this time, Myra, it's for you, too", she sat up in the dark and decided the only thing that would get her through the next two hours was a Coke. She pulled on the clothes she had laid out the night before and stumbled into the kitchen, where Ginny already had the kettle started. Myra began putting bread in the toaster as Ginny set out yogurt and cottage cheese. Carly came downstairs a few minutes later, his hair completely flat on one side.

"Did you knock on their door?" asked Myra, taking another gulp of Coke as she buttered toast and handed him a slice.

"Yeah" he mumbled. Myra went to the doorway to her study and turned on the light. She was surprised to find no Nika on either daybed. She walked around to the side hall and knocked on Margie's door, saying "You up in there?"

"We are" said Margie. "Nika's in the bathroom getting dressed." Myra decided not to look at Margie's face right now. Gillam and Jane came downstairs two minutes later, with grins and no visible fatigue.

When Margie and Nika emerged from the guest room room, Carly registered surprise and glanced at Myra. Myra said "Narnia's overdue for a W-A-L-K, I think."

Margie groaned. "Save me some breakfast, put it in a plastic container, okay?" She grabbed the leash and headed out the door. They were back in ten minutes, having run the entire time. Ginny had made Margie a thermal travel cup of tea as well. They divided into cars and headed for the shelter.

By 10:00, everything was under control and a small break was possible. Myra said "I have to drink another Coke, I'm heading for whatever I can find open. Anyone need anything?"

"Gel inserts for my shoes" said Margie.

"Come go with me" said Myra.

"I was just joking -- " began Margie, but Myra said "I know, but still, come with." Despite the cold, there were already a few people outside on the sidewalk, waiting for the doors to open at 11:00. Myra shook hands and promised an extra good meal this year. Once in the car, she drove off without waiting for the heater to get warm.

"Are you missing Frances? Have you called her?" she asked Margie.

"I have missed her here and there. It sucks that she's so into cooking and she doesn't share this tradition with us" said Margie. "I'll call her at 5:00, that's when I can be sure they're past the worst of it."

Myra pulled into the parking lot of a convenience store. She turned to Margie and said "I need Nika. I like her, but more than that, I need her. She's already made herself indispensable to the production of this book. Plus, I don't want Frances to think me or my household played any kind of a role in you sleeping with someone else."

Margie toyed with the idea of being outraged. In the end, she said "We only slept together. As in sleep."

"But you thought about the other, didn't you?"

Margie said "How did you get delegated to be the one to approach me about this?"

"I haven't discussed anything with anyone. This is me alone. Although, yes, I will talk to them later."

"The Fates" said Margie sarcastically. "Okay, yes, I thought about it and so did she. We talked it over. We both decided it would be a bad idea, and for the record, a big part of her reason for saying no was because your project means so much to her. She's definitely under your spell."

"I deserve her respect, Margie, and I return it to her. I don't much care for your tone at the moment."

Margie seemed to be too tired to fight. She stared out the front windshield, her hands shoved into her coat pockets, for a long minute. Finally she said "You know, she got right away that I'm not really available. She's known me what, two days, and that was obvious. And she said she thought she wouldn't be happy with that, with anybody -- she'd rather have the friendship. How come she can figure that out but Imani can't? Is it because Frances is not being as blunt as I am?"

"Nobody on earth is as blunt as you are except you mother" said Myra. "But -- I think it's possible Frances is erring on the side of what she thinks is kindness, and more importantly, Imani is hearing what she wants to hear. Plus she's two or three years younger than Nika. You think you're all equals in your early 20s but you're actually not. Well, for what it's worth, you were smart and it will pay off in the long run."

"Happy Thanksgiving" muttered Margie." After another long pause, she said "Stay here, I'll go get your Coke for you."

"They really might have gel-filled insoles in there. If they do, get me a pair, too" said Myra. As Margie opened the door, Myra asked "Are you going to tell Frances about Nika?"

Margie leaned back to grin at her "At 5:00. Let her have another night alone to think about it."

"Atta girl" said Myra.

Back at the shelter, Allie caught Myra's gaze and raised her eyebrows in question, slightly nodding her head at Margie. Myra tapped the middle of her chest once -- their signal for "I've got it covered" -- and pointed to her watch, which meant "Later". Ginny was watching and took this in. When Myra turned around, Gillam was looking at her as well. She winked at him, which was no information, really, but he grinned all the same.

With part of her attention freed up, Myra was able to notice more about how Jane and Gillam interacted. Despite their addictive need of new lovers to find a reason to be in physical contact, and a tremendous ease in conversation, it was clear there was still a great deal they did not yet know about each other. However, when they hit a gap, they both reacted with thrilled curiosity and tender listening. In particular, Myra could see no fear in Gillam at all, despite Jane's aura of power: He clearly felt they were equal, a match yet to be discovered.

My god, he's done it she thought to herself.

When the eleven of them finally got home, twelve hours after they'd walked out the front door, they were exhausted but with a sense of utter accomplishment. "Best year yet" said Allie, which she said every year. They claimed bathrooms and bedrooms to strip out of stained, sweaty attire and put on swimsuits, then headed for the heated pool and hot tub to let their bodies be held up by water for a while. Narnia stood at the lip, trying to find the nerve to join them, until Gillam and Margie started a water fight that sent her scuttling indoors.

Myra sat on the bottom step of the pool, water up to her chin, and Ginny settled in her lap, whispering "Is the Margie thing for me or all us crones to discuss later?"

"I'll start with you, e-mail the rest. Not a big deal" answered Myra. After half an hour, Ginny got out to order their habitual Thanksgiving eve dinner of Chinese food from the one place nearby that stayed open. She put ten big towels in the dryer and had them heated by the time the rest climbed out of the water and bolted through the frigid air for the house. When the food arrived, Ginny spread it buffet style on the breakfast bar and everybody served themselves, then found a place to sit in the living room. Margie shared every third bite with Narnia, making up for the family abandonment two days in a row.

As they were reading aloud fortune cookies to each other, Margie suddenly said "Oh hell and damn, Franny" and leaped to her feet, heading for the back bedroom where she had left her cell. Carly was lying flat on the floor, a couch cushion under his head. Nika scooted over and used his belly as her own pillow. Beebo was still shadowing Gillam.

They were mostly silent. At one point, Jane said "Why were there two cornbread dressings, in addition to the oyster and chestnut kind?"

"One had sausage, one didn't" said Gillam.

After half an hour, Nika sat up abruptly, saying "I dozed off."

"Go grab a daybed if you want" said Myra. "There's blankets and a pillow in the trundle underneath. Unless you're sick of us and want to be in your own space."

Nika grinned at her and shambled back to the study, turning off the light as she went in. Once she was out of earshot, Gillam said "You've managed to find a replacement kid, huh?"

"Not really. She's more mature than the three of you put together" said Myra teasingly. "She's my Etta Candy."

Gillam snorted. "I told Jane about how we play poker and Scrabble, but I think I'm too tired to manage it tonight."

"We got the rest of the weekend for me to win your money, college boy" said Chris.

"Except Margie" said Ginny. "She's going home either tomorrow night or the next morning, I think."

Carly sat up, his eyes red from where he had been rubbing them, and said "Okay, I can't hack it any more. I'm going to lie down and I probably won't get back up until it's daylight again." He made the "I love you" sign at them all and walked slowly upstairs. Beebo looked after him with indecision.

After a couple of minutes and signals passed between them that they thought were unobtrusive, Gillam and Jane also stood and said "We're going to nap, too."

"Catch you on the flip side" said Allie. Jane thanked them for the third time for including her, and accompanied Gillam upstairs, Beebo racing ahead of them. Myra called after Gillam "Let him in the room with you, I don't care what kind of a pest he is."

Allie, on the couch between Edwina and Myra, immediately turned to Myra and whispered "What's up with Margie? Are she and Frances in some new kind of trouble?"

Myra leaned forward and told them her conversation with Margie in barely audible sentences. Ginny said, a little too loudly, "Well for shit's sake, it never even crossed my mind."

"Sometimes, I'm not proud to say, our daughter is more like me than you" answered Myra. "Like me at her age, I mean."

"But check out the big brain on Nika" said Edwina.

"And Margie" said Myra loyally.

Chris giggled. "No wonder she's still on the phone. I'll bet you even money that Frances finds a way to come up here with her the next time she visits home."

No one took her bet. A little while later, Sima said "I simply don't want to stand up again. Could we watch something? Not regular TV, it'll all be dreadful."

"I could put on The Wizard of Oz and sync up the Dark Side of the Moon" said Myra, pulling it off enough that Ginny wheeled on her in disbelief until she saw Myra's face.

"A musical would be okay -- but no Doris Day" said Allie.

" about Stormy Weather?" said Myra, trying to remember what she had.

"The Nicholas Brothers" said Edwina with approval. Myra went to put in the DVD.

Margie didn't rejoin them until Fats Waller was making googoo eyes at the camera during "Ain't Misbehavin'". She sat down on a cushion in front of Ginny in the easy chair and said "Is this how you drove away all the folks my age?"

Myra put the movie on pause and said "They all pooped out. Got no stamina like us Amazons." When Margie didn't even smile, Myra said "Seriously, do we need to talk?"

"Talking is the last thing on earth I want to do at this moment" said Margie. "Is there any of that hot and sour soup left?"

"We haven't put anything away, help yourself" said Ginny. Myra added "Will you heat up that platter of pork buns and spring rolls, and bring that back with you?"

"I want more cashew chicken" said Sima, stirring herself. Slowly, they all got up and went to make small plates for themselves. Ginny put her arms around Margie from behind and whispered "If you want to sleep with your mom and me, you can."

Margie laughed, finally. "I don't know why that makes me feel better, but it does. I'm okay, honestly. Watching a movie sounds just right. Is this the one were those two guys make your groin muscles hurt just watching them?"

"Yep" said Myra. "We haven't gotten to that part yet. Are you dumping that Buddha's delight into your soup?"

"Instant veggie soup" said Margie. "I'm not going home until early Sunday, by the way."

"Lovely" said Ginny. "Do you need any furniture at your place? We could hit the thrift stores early in the morning and get it refinished by the time you leave, I bet."

Myra groaned and took her plate back to the living room, Narnia riding shotgun.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.


kat said...

Well done, Margie.

little gator said...

Nicholas Brothers: amazing.

especially the magic lift at about 4:12.

Jesse Wendel said...

Ouch. On every level.

On the other hand...

This is how the Pro's do it. On every level.

*smiles sweetly*