Friday, July 25, 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 2012

Eight days later, Chris met Ginny and Myra at SeaTac just past 2 a.m., waiting in her car at the baggage area Ginny had specified. Myra was pushed out to the curb in a wheelchair by airline personnel, an oxygen mask on her face and the tank in her lap. Ginny was right behind with a cart piled with their luggage. Chris helped Myra into the back seat, her face taut at how winded even this transfer left Myra. Ginny tipped their helper carelessly and got in the back seat with Myra.

Myra said, still breathless, "I'm so damned hot, can I please take off my coat now?"

Ginny helped her, then folded it to make a pillow against the window. She checked Myra's seatbelt and locked the door.

"Your plan still to go home or is it the ER?" asked Chris as she pulled into traffic.

"Home" said Myra urgently. Chris looked at Ginny in the mirror, who finally nodded. When Myra saw this, her shoulders relaxed a little. She lay her head against the pillow and closed her eyes. Ginny watched her and could tell a few minutes later that she had gone to sleep. She leaned forward to whisper "Bless you, Chris, for coming out at sudden notice."

"You said this came on today?" replied Chris.

"Yeah. This afternoon. I've been racking my brains trying to figure out what set off her asthma. We had a great week, Chris, one of the best. We stayed at a hotel in Park Slope near the Archives, and I began a painting the first day. Well, two at once, actually, because what was in my mind was a giant canvas but I knew I couldn't get it home on the plane, so I divided it into a diptych. Myra would order room service breakfast for us, which she loves beyond all reason. There was a deli on the same block as the hotel, so before she left for the day, she'd get us each lunch for later. She was at the Archives until closing, and they treated her like royalty. She was phenomenally productive. On the way back to the hotel, she'd pick up some version of world cuisine for dinner, getting to experiment all over the place. She was asleep every night by 9:00, getting at least ten hours of solid rest every night. I just don't think she got exhausted, she looked bright-eyed and deliriously happy." Ginny's voice was raw with fatigue and worry.

"On Friday night, we moved to a hotel on Manhattan, because I said we had to have fun, too, not just work. I insisted we hire a car and driver for the weekend, which turned out to be enormously helpful, and the driver was a young Boricua woman, sharp and hilarious. Saturday we had another fabulous breakfast out at this place that featured dishes from the Netherlands, which brought up good memories for both of us. Then we did a little gallery schmoozing, which I know is boring for her but she kept pulling out her notebook and writing what I think were poems, so she was okay. I hope. Then we went to MOMA, to see "Hettie", and they made a bit of a fuss over me, which tickled her pink. Later we went to a broadway show and had a late extravagant dinner. It was pure vacation. We slept in, checked out, and began going to rare and used bookstores, getting ferried to the door each time. She was on a buying spree. But when we got back in the car after the third store, I noticed she was wheezing, and she said her chest was tight. I asked the driver to cruise around Central Park for a while, and it just got steadily worse. That's when I called our doctor here, got past the service and persuaded them to call in prescriptions to the nearest pharmacy for some meds plus the oxygen. I didn't know if I should check us back in a hotel or risk the flight home, I didn't know what was setting her off, maybe the air in Manhattan..."

Chris asked, "So she's been on oxygen at least ten hours? And taken the drugs they ordered?"

"Yeah. I can tell she's a little better than she was by the time she started the oxygen, and that's with being in a goddamned pressurized cabin. Did I do the right thing, bringing her home? It's what she kept begging me to do" said Ginny. Without waiting for reassurance, she said "I thought last time it was exhaustion and the plane, that's why I set up a break afterward. I'm scared her immune system can't handle what it used to."

Chris was thinking hard. She said "Was there anything worrying her, like the kids or something you might not want to tell me about?"

"No. I've considered everything. And I'd tell you, at this point. Twice today, before she got sick, she mentioned calling you to see if you could come to dinner tomorrow night, she wanted to see you. I persuaded her to wait until we got home, I'm so sorry for that. Once she did get sick and we were on our way back, that's when I called you to meet us. I know this is wrecking your night's sleep, but I -- "

Chris said "I'm glad to be here, don't second guess yourself."

"What if it's this book, Chris? This is her magnum opus, she was born to write it, and I'm determined to do whatever it takes to help her through it, after all the years she's supported me..." Ginny came close to tears and halted.

Chris said slowly "I think it might be related to the book, but not that it's too much for her. She's writing the definitive history of a suppressed revolution. You know how she is, she probably feels responsible to every lesbian of our generation. She was in the thick of it, and now it's -- seemingly vanished. What she has left is the corner of community she managed to keep intact, which is us, her friends, plus you. I bet when she emerges from time travel, she needs a strong reminder that she made the right choices, that she has everything she needs, we're still here and life is good."

Ginny laid her forehead on the neck rest of the front seat. "I don't want her to go on any more of these trips without me or Allie, at least."

"I think that's a good idea. And we should set up a definite plan for her return -- two days off the clock, so to speak, with meals and family and fun only. Back here, where it's real."

Ginny put her hand on Chris's shoulder and said "I think you're right. There was one other thing -- she found a book in that last store, a good copy of the New Woman's Sourcebook, and inside the cover was written the name of one of her exes. Someone who had moved to the East Coast a long time ago."

"Who was it, do you remember?" asked Chris.

"It was a new name for me, hang on...Anna, that was it. Myra didn't want to talk about her, just showed me the name as she was buying the book" said Ginny.

"Anna was like a month or two the year before Myra won the lottery. And yeah, she moved back to Queens. I'm pretty sure -- she committed suicide a few years ago. I heard about it from somebody else, and finally decided to tell Myra. She didn't seem to be very upset at the time; she and Anna were not ever close, really." Chris looked at Ginny. Ginny said "But that, with the other, would be enough to rock her foundation, I bet."

Chris shifted sideways to look at Myra in the mirror. She was clearly asleep, her mouth open behind the plastic mask.

"She always feels safe when you're nearby" said Ginny, following her gaze. "She couldn't sleep on the plane, but once she's got you in sight..."

Chris was silent for a minute. "Before you two got together, she had major attacks three or four times a year. We were scared a lot for her. Her job was hard on her, and she lived in a dump, and the drugs she got weren't always good for her. But once she moved in with you, no more wheezing half the time, or worse, that kind of panting she does when her rib muscles are overextended. It's been almost 30 years of you keeping her healthy and happy, Ginny. You haven't failed her, she's simply venturing out into harder territory. She'll be okay. We'll all get her through this with you."

Ginny closed her eyes, squeezing Chris's shoulder. A tear leaked out from under one lid.

At the house, they walked Myra in between them, but Ginny thought it was less taxing than effort had been for Myra in 12 hours. Chris hauled in luggage while Ginny ran a hot bath at Myra's pleading that she had to get clean before going to bed. Chris joined them in bedroom as Myra sat on the edge of the bed so Ginny could remove her shoes and socks.

Chris said "I'm not going to stick around to watch you get nekkid, much as you secretly want me to." Myra grinned. "I'll call you during the day tomorrow, but count on me for dinner tomorrow night. We'll do something fun afterward. Sima too, if she's free." Myra's grin widened. Chris bent over and kissed her at the edge of her mouth. Myra said "You are the wind beneath my wings" and began laughing at her own soppiness. Chris, giggling with her, paused and then kissed Ginny the same way. She hurried out the door.

"Can you eat something?" said Ginny.

"I don't know. Tea would be good. I don't know what we have here" said Myra, coughing briefly.

"Take the oxygen with you into the bathroom. I'll be back soon as I can. I'll wash your hair for you" said Ginny.

"Eggs" said Myra suddenly. "Ginny eggs. With orange juice, plus the tea."

Ginny smiled, lines deep in her face. "You got it."

They slept until noon, and Myra's breathing was nearly normal when she got up. Ginny answered phone calls, hung her paintings to dry, and with Myra dozing on her daybed, finally left the house long enough to inspect her baby garden. Allie arrived at 4:00 with bags of groceries and two cooked rotisserie chickens. She answered the phone at the breakfast bar and told Nika she should stick to whatever schedule she had set up with Myra, but to ask no book-related questions of Myra for two days -- bring them to her or Ginny. When she hung up, Ginny said "You talked with Chris and heard her theory?"

"Sounds right to me" said Allie. "She'll be here by 5:00, Sima at 5:30, Edwina by 6:00."

On Thursday, Myra woke up fully recovered and itching to work. She was at her desk shortly after noon when the phone rang and the caller ID showed it was Gillam. She answered gladly. "Hey, boychik, you between classes?"

"Yeah. Thought I'd check up on you" said Gillam.

"I be fine. I'm back at it, and your mom is outside transplanting a twelve-pack of Danish Ballhead cabbage she found at the new nursery she's discovered."

"Green or red?" asked Gillam.

"Green and bolt resistant. I can't wait to see what they taste like" said Myra.

"So you're really off oxygen and not stressed any more?" asked Gillam.

"Promise" said Myra, with a sense of foreshadowing.

"Well, then, I've got some news for you. Good news" said Gillam, his voice softening into his happiest tone.

"Who is she?" asked Myra, a smile in her voice.

"How the fuck did you -- Oh, never mind, I don't care. You remember me telling you about the girl who has three classes with me this semester, the one who said Skene changed her life? It's her. I feel like I've been in a nonstop conversation for six weeks with her. We began officially dating a couple of weeks ago, I mean in addition to seeing each other every day on campus and...Last weekend I told her I was falling in love with her, and she said she felt the same way. I can't get enough of her, Mom." Gillam wasn't the least embarrassed, which was new, Myra thought.

"I am over the moon for you, honey. I knew this was on your event horizon, I did. So what's her name, what's her story?"

"Jane. She's Jane. And you actually met her, Mama, at that barbecue we had -- she wanted to talk with you more than she got to, she said, but you and Mom barricaded yourself in your study too soon" said Gillam.

Jane. Oh god no, not the fucking Valkyrie?!!! Myra went numb, her brain unable to find speech.

"Mama, you still there?" said Gillam.

"Uh...there's someone at the door, honey, I need to go answer it. Can I call you back in five minutes?"

"Sure. But my next class is in half an hour" said Gillam.

Myra hung up and walked outside. Ginny was mixing fish emulsion with water in a sprinkling can. She glanced at Myra, then took a longer look.

"Are you feeling bad again?" she asked.

"No. I mean...Gillam just called. He's in love, he says. He wants to tell us about it."

Ginny set down the can. "Is he on hold?"

"No, I said I'd call him back. Ginny -- it's Jane. He's in love with that Jane."

"Jane? Why is that name familiar?"

"She's the blond giantess at his party who..." Myra didn't know how to finish her sentence.

"Oh. Ohhh." Ginny came to Myra and put her hand on Myra's arm. "Well, I know she upset you but I rather liked her, you remember."

"What the fuck am I going to do, Ginny?"

"You're going to learn to like her, Myra. It's Gillam, if there's anybody on earth who knows what they need, it's him. Come on, let's not leave him hanging. I'll cover for you as much as I can, but you don't express any doubts to him at all, you understand?"

They returned to Myra's studio and Ginny plugged in the extension. She spoke first when Gillam answered.

"Hey, sweetie, Myra told me your news. We're both on the line, and I'm so happy for you. I liked meeting her at your party" said Ginny.

Gillam's voice burbled in enthusiasm. "She liked you, too, and get this -- she said I'd already caught her attention, all during Read Right, but when she saw that painting you did of me when I was about four, the Writing on Waves one? She said it made her nearly pass out with longing, and as she realized it was me, she said that's what did it for her. Just took me a while to catch up with her. So Mom's book Skene, and your painting, it's like it was meant to be, don't you think?"

Basheert, though Myra dully. She saw Ginny look at her, probably having the same thought.

"Tell us about her background" said Myra, in a voice that sounded remarkably normal.

"She's from Fresno, her family is farmers on both sides back forever, she thinks. But -- you're gonna love this, Mom -- her dad was raised Mennonite, not strict but still in the church and definitely anti-war. So when he was about to graduate from high school, the draft was gonna grab him and ship him to Vietnam, he knew. His parents and all the church folks were on him to get CO status, even though apparently Nixon was just as likely to put people in prison for refusing to serve, he says. But Anton was 18 and tired of listening to his parents, and he wanted a college education which they didn't really have the money to pay for. So he enlisted in the Navy. Which got him disowned before he even left basic training. Anton was in Vietnam for six months when the small boat he on got blown up, killed everybody on board except him. He came home in a wheelchair, pissed as hell and now a bona fide anti-war activist. He moved to San Fran, which is where he met Jane's mom, Jemima, who was also from Fresno but from Okies who moved there during the Dust Bowl. Jemima was a hippie chick, is how Jane puts it. They both got teaching degrees at SF State, and eventually they reconciled with Anton's family -- Jane says family is really important to them all -- and they moved back to Fresno when Anton got a job teaching physics at the junior college. But he stayed radical, and although they let the kids -- Jane's got seven brothers and sisters, she's the youngest -- the kids went to the Mennonite church once a month to be with the rest of the clan, otherwise they were raised in the Quaker Meeting there. Isn't that incredible?"

Ginny said, "Ah, thus your interest in the movie a couple of weeks ago."

Gillam giggled. "Yeah. I finally just asked Jane to fill me in. I can explain several hundred years of Anabaptist history to you at this point. But for now, she feels Quaker to me, though in a feisty way. And with her looks, and her German name, Leichty, she's always running into people who assume she's secretly Aryan Nation or some such bullshit. She has a lot of fun setting them straight. Can you believe how stupid people are?"

"I can, indeed" said Myra hoarsely.

"I think you missed the confrontation she had at the barbecue, but it sure made me take a look at her. There was this guy in Read Right, one of the already working teachers who we suspected was part of a fundamentalist home school network, he'd drop lines during discussions that weren't quite revelatory but kinda slimy, you know? So she pretended to be an advocate of some horseshit theory that the wingnuts have about education, and he came out from cover, began agreeing with her all bug-eyed because he thought she was one of the chosen, because of her looks. She slammed him hard, cited chapter and verse about why he was wrong. He left right afterward." Gillam was gleeful.

"I am sincerely sorry I missed that" said Myra.

"Ah, shit, I'm gonna have to run. I don't know when we can get up to see you again, it might not be until Thanksgiving but she wants to do our annual tradition with us, okay? And one more thing -- I made sure we had this conversation early, not gonna make the same mistake twice: She wants to have a big family." He chortled. "Anyhow, spread the word, I'll call in the next couple of days."

"I love you, son" said Myra.

When they hung up, Ginny's eyebrows were asymmetrical peaks in her brow. "He's already asked about children?" she said. "That's extremely fast."

"Well, Ginny, you're the one who said if there's anybody on earth who knows what they need, it's him" said Myra. "I feel like I've just experienced whiplash."

"I bet her family wants her to move back to Fresno" said Ginny with a small scowl.

"Let's wait on concrete data from here on out" suggested Myra. She walked into the dining room to look again at the Writing on Waves painting. If she's fallen in love with that boy, she's done it exactly right, thought Myra.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.