Monday, July 28, 2008


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.

October to November 2012

Carly left early Monday morning with a platter of salmon croquettes he had personally cooked. Myra and Ginny met with Nancy and Alveisa, but the last hour of the paperwork with Alveisa showed Ginny was distracted and needed second explanations of items, quite unlike her. On the way home, Myra said "Painting?"

"I'm sorry, yes. Another big canvas. I don't know why I've switched over to large format."

"It's fine, Gin. I'll check in with you as seeds arrive in the mail and get things planted. Otherwise, I'll be working my ass off this week as well."

On Sunday evening they caught a flight to Atlanta, leaving Nika as housesitter again. After three days of research, Myra slept 12 hours and had a long conference call with Allie and Chris, talking about what she had learned or was beginning to wonder about. The conversation eventually shifted to Chris's dictionary and Allie's final draft of her latest graphic history, and when Myra got off the phone, she said to Ginny, "I can't believe what all we are doing. Who'da thunk it?"

They visited two days with Claire and her new partner Leila. Claire made Myra laugh almost nonstop, and she had no asthma at all. On the third day, they rented a car and drove to Lexington, Kentucky, where Myra had several interviews lined up and a day-long visit to a private lesbian collection of material from the 1970s. They reassessed how things were going. Ginny felt a painting coming on, so their choice was to either immediately leave for home or try driving to Columbus for four days of research there. Myra opted for the latter, but asked they take the scenic route and stop at diners as if they were tourists instead of goal-oriented. Ginny swallowed her urgency and they initiated a search for the best Midwestern pie.

At the Columbus hotel, Ginny immediately went to work. Myra called Margie, Gillam, and Carly in turn, talking to each of them as long as they would stay on the line. She went to used bookstores on her usual hoovering expedition, but in addition to research-related acquisitions, she bought an omnibus of James Thurber and took herself on a guided tour of his life around town, stopping to read her favorites of his stories in small cafes where she laughed out loud. "The Nine Needles", as usual, made her almost hysterical. She returned to the hotel, had a long talk with Allie, and slept again before heading for the archives. This approach kept her relaxed and feeling well.

On the 11th day, they returned to Seattle, where two flats of new heirlooms needed transplanting and Ginny had a letter from a gallery in Washington, DC offering a major show at the end of February. Myra rested her mandatory two days, making bread and feeding her friends. Carly drove up from Olympia with Beebo that weekend, and this time Chris went shopping with him and Ginny on Saturday morning. They returned with a dresser whose drawers were all but painted shut with layers of hideous overcoats. On S-shaped swivels atop the dresser was an oval mirror whose reflection was blighted with clouds and distortions. Myra listened to two hours of a heated discussion about whether resilvering the mirror would destroy an antique and, if resilvering was to be done, what method should be used. Chris and Ginny seemed to be staking their entire furniture reputations on processes neither of them had ever seen but they declared was "the only way". Carly, meanwhile, began applying paint remover to the dresser itself, arrayed on a dropcloth in the carport.

At dinner that night, when Sima began weighing in on the merits of buying a silvering tank vs. having it professionally done, Edwina banned furniture talk. Into the resentful silence that followed, Myra said "My agent thinks I shouldn't plan on publishing the annotated index of women's publications as a book."

"Why the fuck not?" said Ginny, transferring her belligerence to this new conflict.

"She wants me to produce it as an interactive CD-ROM disk, one that can't be pirated or posted online without my consent and a licensing fee. She says it'll sell a lot more and enormously facilitate actual use as a reference" said Myra.

Nika, sitting next to Carly, said "I agree with her. It'll be searchable in a way even the best indexed volume won't. I think you need to do that for the timeline as well."

"Huh" said Allie, looking at Edwina, who nodded. "The only problem is that drive storage formats become obsolete so fast" said Edwina.

"Yeah, I thought about that" said Myra. "I'd want at least some in book form, because frankly, the written page has endured thousands of years, it's what will survive everything else."

Carly and Nika went out dancing with Davonn again. The next day, he declared the mirror was to be left as is, he liked its reflection. He also insisted the refinishing not be completed by Ginny and Chris after he returned to college, but saved for his next visit. Chris said she had to go to Pendleton, Oregon anyhow that week, for work on her dictionary. On Monday, Ginny had Myra help her carry Margie's old loveseat out to the deck, where she began reupholstering it herself. This was interrupted mid-week by a painting. Myra put a tarp over the eyesore and began preparation for their two-stage trip to Bloomington and Ann Arbor the following week.

By the time they had returned from another week's travels, it had been two months since they'd seen Gillam, longer than that for Margie. "I need to finish the loveseat, but I'm really missing them both, maybe we should take the train down for a quick visit, a day with each of them" said Ginny.

"Gillam is definitely coming for Thanksgiving in less than two weeks" pointed out Myra. "And the latter part of December will be eaten up by holidays, so the only research I can get in before the end of the year is the next ten days and the first two weeks in December. Let's call Margie and see what her plans are for the holidays, at least."

Margie said she and Frances had been talking about going to see Frances' parents in L.A. for Christmas, and, as usual, it looked like Frances would have to work Thanksgiving day plus the day after. "So why don't you come here for that holiday?" said Ginny.

There was a long silence. Margie said with a sigh "You know, I would if it meant she'd be alone for those two days. Isn't that awful? I resent not having her for major holidays, and if I can't share them with her, I don't want her being with anyone else, either."

Kudos for honesty, thought Myra. "When you say alone, do you mean her working with Imani or -- something besides that?"

"For sure the working together, that intense kind of kitchen camaraderie. And, well, can I really ask them not to hang out together after their shift if Frances doesn't have anyone to go home to?" said Margie.

Ginny scowled, but her voice was even as she said "I don't know, honey. Can you? If you want to, shouldn't you at least convey that to her?"

"Shit" said Margie. "This just isn't getting any smoother. But this is my chance to meet the famous Jane, right?"

"Not your last, I hope" said Myra. "But it's what will the main bill of fare, so to speak."

"Poor Gillam" giggled Margie without any real compassion. "Listen, I'll talk to Franny and call you back in a day or two."

Chris and Sima came for dinner, and after eating, despite it being a very cold night, Chris and Ginny set up spotlights on the deck and finished recovering the loveseat by 1 a.m. Sima went home at 10:00, and Chris was given the guest room for the night. In the morning, Myra got up and drove her to work. Chris was grumpy from lack of sleep.

"Ginny says she doesn't actually have a place to put the loveseat now" she said. "I wish she'd mentioned that before she picked out the fabric for it. Me and Sima are going to take it, but we'd have chosen a lighter color for ourselves."

"For Ginny, it's an art project. Other people's opinions don't arise for her in that context" said Myra. "You can put a good slipcover on it or reupholster it, you know."

"Are you defending her?" said Chris.

"Are you attacking her?" replied Myra. "I don't actually give a fuck about the loveseat. I was just passing on information about Ginny, basically agreeing with you, if you'll think about it."

"I need some coffee" said Chris.

Myra didn't point out she'd offered to make her some at the house. Instead, she pulled to the curb beside a doughnut shop and said "Get me two maple raised and a glass of milk, while you're in there."

That night Margie sent her an e-mail saying she was coming for Thanksgiving, that Frances was not going to sleep with Imani while she was gone, and they were fighting hammer and tong, as she put it. Myra shared the information with her friends. She and Ginny decided to go ahead with their trip to Chicago before blizzards set in. They left two days later and were gone for almost a week.

When they returned, Myra had bronchitis and was on antibiotics. "But it was the goddamned weather, not stress or anything else" she said, coughing. "Cornell will have to wait until spring is well under way. For the next few months, it's southern climes or no research at all."

"What about DC? We have reservations for the first week in December?" said Allie.

"I think of DC as part of the south" said Myra. "And yes, we're still on for that. Ginny's going to meet with the gallery there, hopefully before she gets sucked into a painting. We'll have five days of work -- well, I'll be working, you can hare off as you want to. Then Edwina comes for the weekend and we be tourists."

"I wouldn't call going to the Holocaust Memorial Museum being a tourist" said Allie with a faint smile.

Carly arrived the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and bundled up in thermal gear to work on his dresser in the carport. Once it reached the point of needing finish applied, Chris helped him carry it to the upstairs wall, where a fan was set up to blow the fumes upward into a vent -- Chris said otherwise the cold outside would screw up the polishes. Ginny of course was up there with them, and Myra was exasperated to note that when Nika took her breaks, she grabbed a drink and headed upstairs to the furniture zone.

Myra did like, however, that Carly persuaded Nika to join them for their Thanksgiving ritual of making pies the evening before and cooking/serving the holiday itself. She suspected that Nika had no place else to be. She offered Nika one of the daybeds to crash on -- the rest of the rooms would be occupied, she said apologetically. Nika said thanks but she'd rather make the drive home.

Gillam had told them he'd be there some time on Wednesday morning, but Margie beat him home, arriving with barking dog and exuberant yells of greeting. The furniture crew actually tore themselves away to come down and hug her. She put her bag in the guest room and, after a polite visit to the refinishing parlor, came back down to Myra's study, curling up on the daybed with Narnia and talking to Myra while Nika worked at the second table. Within a few minutes, Margie began interrupting Nika's work to ask her what she was doing. Nika showed her, and Margie eventually pulled in Ginny's rolling chair to sit beside Nika and keep the written log of what she was transferring -- an interest she had never shown in Myra's work when Myra was doing it.

Myra had started a pot roast that morning, along with Ginny's stuffed peppers, two roast ducks and a massive salmon cooked Chris-style. Sima, Allie and Edwina arrived at noon with more dishes and an immediate question from Allie of "He's not here yet? What the fuck are they doing?"

Myra said "I think one word of your sentence might answer you", and Allie looked away, embarrassed. Ginny came downstairs when she heard the voices, saying "Is that you, honey boy?" She scrubbed her hands and fidgeted around the kitchen, getting in Myra's way at times but still a welcome presence. Sima sat on the couch, looking out the window. Finally she yelled out "They're here!" and Myra suddenly was overcome with shyness, wanting to go hide in her study. A few moments later, Sima said "Mother of god, valkyrie was exactly the right description."

Jane's long flaxen hair was swept up into a gleaming French knot, and she had on a sea green cashmere top which showed deep cleavage. Her flared black slacks were also cashmere, and her patent leather boots added an inch to her height, making her virtually level with Gillam. He had rushed around to her side of the car, too late because she was already out. She grabbed her own bag, too, so Gillam got his own, catching up with her at the front walk.

Allie had come to stand near Myra and said "She reminds me of a KLM magazine ad, remember those?"

"Exactly" said Myra. "And look, he's got on an ironed shirt with a bowtie. Cute as the dickens."

Margie joined them, Nika standing uncertainly in the hall to the study. Margie said "Well, hell, why are we all huddling in the kitchen?" and strode to the front door as Jane opened it slowly. Narnia started woofing when she smelled Gillam, and Margie grabbed Jane's bag, using her other hand to shake Jane's and say "Hi, I'm his sister Margie, come on in to the Estrogen Palace."

Gillam didn't have a chance to do any introductions because everyone moved in on Jane themselves. She appeared to recognize everybody in advance, except for Nika, and handled all the hubbub with ease. Gillam had a goofy grin on his face that wouldn't quit, and he stood close to Jane in a reflexive way. Beebo had to stand up against his leg before Gillam noticed him and picked him up. Carly and Chris came downstairs, reeking of turpentine and dressed in old shirts. Finally Ginny said "Okay, clean up, those of you who need to. We need the table set for, how many? -- eleven. Somebody handle setting out drinks and glasses of ice, somebody else do the bread and salad, and Myra and I will arrange the dishes on the breakfast bar. We'll eat when everyone's ready to sit down."

Jane joined in the activity, though she did stop in front of the painting of Gillam as a boy to stare at it again. She turned and put her hand on Ginny's arm, looking at her and then Myra to say "Bless you for giving this man to the world." She added to Ginny, "After we eat, I want to see all your work on the walls and hear the stories behind it, if that's all right with you."

Ginny was radiant. Margie saved the chair between her and Edwina for Nika, leaving the chair between her and Ginny empty. Carly slid in between Sima and Chris on the other side, and Jane was fortunate to have Sima on one side, Gillam on the other. Jane scored more points by taking a giant helping of pot roast -- "Gillam's told me about this" she smiled at Myra -- and raving about Ginny's peppers with the first bite.

Her face was wide, like Gillam's, but with a thin nose. Her eyes were an extremely pale blue. She was solid, with strength and ease but definitely not the underweight standard of most college women. Her thigh was clearly against Gillam's under the table, and she knew how to eat while still answering the onslaught of questions coming her way. Beebo sat on the sideboard behind Gillam, offering to take his pulse repeatedly but Gillam never noticed. Finally Myra handed Gillam a sliver of duck and said "Your kitten is desperate for a manifestation of love". Gillam and Jane both swiveled to pass on the morsel to Beebo, Jane scratching him behind the ears as he gulped gratefully.

"So you're going to teach special ed like Gillam?" asked Edwina.

"I'm certified in special ed, but my major is a double in education and music. I hope to teach both, if there are any music programs left."

"What grade?" asked Sima.

"First and second is my preference" said Jane. "My mother taught first grade, and never got tired of it."

"Second generation teacher, like me" said Gillam with a sappy grin at Ginny. Margie rolled her eyes at Carly.

"Do any of your family live in Seattle?" asked Ginny. Allie grinned to herself.

"My older brother Thad lives in Queen Anne -- he's gay. And my next oldest sister, the one I'm closest to, lives in Tacoma with her husband" replied Jane. Myra and Ginny looked at each other with hope.

"And you're the youngest of eight?" said Edwina.

"Yes. The oldest is Bettie, though she'd kill me to hear me put it that way, she's 17 years older than me. Next is Paul, then Sophie, Dan, Thad, Willie, Lucy and me. Bettie lives in South Carolina, the rest besides who I've mentioned are still in California. I have eight nieces and nephews already" said Jane. "These sweet potatoes are the best I've ever had, who made them and how?"

Allie gave her recipe proudly. Jane said "I can do basics, but nothing like what's on this table. Gillam, though, everything he makes is delicious."

"He used to eat his buggers every chance he got and at night after we went to bed, he'd talk about how some were salty, some were -- " began Margie.

"Not at the table!" commanded Ginny, trying to kick her but hitting the table leg instead. Carly and Chris both howled, and Jane laughed too, with Gillam who, it looked like, would have to be swallowed by magma to be perturbed at the moment.

Talk eventually shifted to funny stories from past Thanksgiving cooking adventures. Once the spotlight was off her, Jane slid her hand into Gillam's and they each ate one-handed, Gillam fumbling with his left. They skipped dessert, since they would spend five hours that evening making pies and part of the tradition was taste-testing.

After clearing the table, Allie said "I want to talk with ya'll more, but we'll have more chances. We generally take a long nap now, because we'll be way short on sleep tonight. We'll meet you at the kitchen at 6:00, like usual?"

"Sounds good" said Myra. Sima pulled Chris away as well. Margie said "I'd rather have a swim. Nika, you want to join me?"

"I don't have a suit" said Nika uncertainly.

"I bet I have one that'll fit you in storage" said Margie. "If we didn't have boys here, we could just go au naturel." She led Nika to the guest room, whose wardrobe was used for extra clothes.

"I know I should sleep, but I really want to put on one more coat" said Carly, heading upstairs. Gillam said to Jane, "Nap, swim, or what?"

She dimpled at him, and he went bright red. She tried to cover by saying "Swim later, and, well, what are your moms doing?" as she turned to Myra and Ginny.

Myra said "I'm definitely going to sleep, I'm too old to rob the Sanddyke any more." Ginny looked torn, but finally said "Yeah, I'm going to lie down a while, too."

"Help yourselves to whatever you want, as usual" Myra said to Gillam, "and if we're not up by 5:00, wake us, okay?"

He kissed her cheek and whispered "Isn't she perfect?"

"Yep" said Myra. She looked forward to the chance to gossip with Ginny about the lunch, but they both fell asleep right away, under a warm comforter with pale winter light coming through the glass wall.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild