Sunday, August 17, 2008


View of Bangs Mountain above trees, looking west across river to cove at end of Chris's creek (View of Bangs Mountain above trees, looking west across river to cove at end of Chris's creek)

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.

January 2013

Allie, Chris and Sima didn't return until 7:00. Chris said "We ate some, the house was full of food. But me and Sima know a place here you're gonna love, even you, Ginny. All local and fresh ingredients. Plus pigs raised on apples from down the road, Allie."

As they went to the car, Allie murmured to Myra "We left when the drinking became continuous."

Chris led them south of town to Lovitt's, in a 1908 farmhouse overlooking Colville Valley. Ginny and Allie both had the maple-glazed salmon with squash cakes, Sima had lamb ribs, Chris had ham, and Myra and Edwina both ordered steaks. They shared soups and salads, and Ginny raved about everything, saying to Myra "We have to steal this squash recipe, can you decode it?"

On the way back to the hotel, Margie called and talked to everyone again, longest with Chris. Back in their room, Myra said suddenly "Oh, hell, I forgot to cancel with Nancy." Ginny said "I'll call her" and did, leaving a message. They then called Gillam, who was with Carly, and again all six of them talked with the young men.

"What would you two like now" Myra asked Chris and Sima after they hung up. Chris looked at Sima, who said "I'm exhausted. If you can sleep, that's my preference."

"If I can't, should I watch TV in another room?" said Chris.

"No" said Sima. "Just keep it low." They hugged their friends and departed. The four remaining talked for a while, Allie giving a report of the family gathering. She concluded by saying "And more to come tomorrow. I need down time." Edwina said "No TV in our room, please." Allie replied "Either sleep or sketching." Edwina stood to say "Then I'll come with you."

Finally alone, Myra said "I'm exhausted, too. I don't even want to shower before I hit the sack. How are you with all the scraps of sleeping you did today?"

"Off kilter but okay" said Ginny. "I want to unpack our bags, hang up things, and Allie's mention of sketching sounded good. I'll join you soon."

Myra pulled out her book but didn't get even a full page into it before dropping off.

The next morning they went to Debz Diner for breakfast, which satisfied Myra's lust for pancakes but Ginny found the fruit wanting. After a second cup of coffee, Chris said "The viewing begins at 4:00, and none of the kids offered where they'd be before then. I...Would you be interested in taking a drive out of town?"

Myra felt a small tingle. In all the times she'd come to Colville with Chris, they'd never ventured into the surrounding countryside, although she knew Margie had been at least once as a child. "Love to" she said.

They were in Sima's car, which had room for six. Sima, however, handed her keys to Myra and said "I'd rather not drive right now." Chris took the front passenger seat and directed Myra northwest toward Kettle Falls: "There's a bridge across the river at Sherman Pass."

Allie and Edwina were in the seat behind them, Ginny and Sima in the lift-up seat at the rear. Myra could hear the murmur of Sima's voice but not what she was saying. In the mirror, she could see Ginny's arm around Sima's shoulders. The rest of those in the car were silent. Occasionally Chris would point out a geographic feature and name it. The towns and clusters of houses they passed tended to be drab, lower working class. Everything else around them was spectacular, covered with a thick white blanket, mountains and meadows. The sky was overcast but there was no snow in the immediate forecast.

Across the river, they headed south again. Whenever a small waterway crossed the county road, Myra could look upstream and see at least one tiny ice-rimmed waterfall. A sign eventually told them they had entered the Colville Indian Reservation. Immediately there was a casino with cars in the lot, even at this time of a day, and a cafe. They drove on.

After half an hour, Chris leaned forward, studying landmarks. They kept passing small gravel roads which led off toward the mountains on their right or the river on their left. Just past one such intersection, Chris said "Oh, hell, that was it. Find a place to turn around, can you? It's so much more developed than how I remember it."

Myra reversed their direction and went back to where Chris pointed, a mushy gravel-and-mud road curving toward the mountains. They passed a few houses near a gas station/store. Chris said "That didn't used to be there. Would've been real handy if it had, at least for milk and bread."

Myra said "You lived out here, then?" She saw Ginny and Sima stop talking and pay attention.

"When I was little. From when I was a baby until I was eight. Mom had cousins nearby, though not near enough to walk to. Dad worked seasonally for the forest service, it was closer for him. He lost that job when I was in second grade, and we moved to Colville when he got on the city roads crew there." Chris was looking around her intently, her forehead creased. She hadn't tied back or braided her hair that morning, and its iron length blew in the fan from the heater.

They came to a T, and Chris said "Go left". Sima called from the back "Is this where you were living when Garnet was born?"

Chris turned around to look at her. "Yeah. We rented this house from the rez, though I think it's privately owned now." She faced front to point to a cinderblock square at ahead on the left. "I see a car in the drive. Damn. I was hoping nobody was there, we could look in the windows."

Myra slowed down to a crawl. The house was very small and utterly plain. There were no trees in the yard, no flower beds, just a gravel drive and a fence behind it facing a snow-laden meadow backed up to foothills. When Chris began talking, Myra stopped the car and put it in park.

"The front door goes into a living room which has a sliding door on the far side. On the right is the kitchen and behind that my bedroom, mine and Garnet's. On the left is my parent's bedroom and the bathroom. The dining table was by the sliding door. No fireplace, and it was fucking cold in the winter. But I was outside as much as I could. By the time I was five, I'd climbed Bangs Mountain by myself."

A face appeared at the window of what must be the kitchen, a white woman staring out at them. Myra put the car into gear and drove on, feeling shy about turning around in the driveway. Chris, however, said "Keep going till you reach the bridge."

After another mile, they reached a creek flowing down from Bangs Mountain toward the Columbia. A low concrete bridge without railings crossed it, and in the distance Myra could see a second house. On this side of the creek, however, a dirt road went in either direction. Chris pointed left again, and Myra began following the creek. Much of its edges were frozen, only the center still visibly flowing. They came to a dead end, and Chris unlatched her seatbelt, climbing out before Myra had the car turned off.

The rest of them followed Chris toward a jumble of massive boulders, grey-green beneath a sheen of frost. Another cluster of boulders across the creek narrowed the water here into a falls which looked carved from ice, though they could hear the water still moving underneath. Trees had a foothold here, too. Chris nimbly found her way through the rocks to a waterside perch where a sort of granite easy chair offered a perfect view of the falls and the waterway in either direction. She turned to her friends and said "I practically lived here as a kid. I caught little fish sometimes, and saw every kinda critter that lives around here. The last year, when Garnet was three and could walk, Mom made me bring her if I didn't sneak out of the house on my own, and she'd talk so much she scared everything off. But...things were still okay when we lived here. I needed this hiding place, but I was still okay."

It was a sacred space. Myra could feel it traveling up from the soles of her feet. She suddenly ached to have known Chris as a child. They'd have loved each other more passionately then than they ever had, she knew it. Sima went to Chris and put her arms around her as best they could manage in their bulky coats. They kissed, and Myra looked away. After a minute, Sima came back toward the rest, saying "Let's give her some alone time." They returned to the car and Myra backed as far as the bridge, turning around there to face the direction out.

Sima had gotten into the front seat. She turned to face Myra and said "You better leave the motor running and the heater on, no telling how long she'll be."

"You ever been here before?" asked Myra.

"I've never even heard her talk about it" said Sima. "Except generally, like 'One time I saw an eagle catch a fish' or 'I used to walk a mile in the snow to catch the school bus', nothing specific to this place."

"It makes sense of her" said Allie from behind them. Sima looked at her, then at Ginny leaned over the back seat. She said "When the doctor came out and told us about Garnet, Ricky -- he shouted no a few times, then he turned on Chris and screamed at her 'This is your fault, you killed her by making her do this. You never wanted her to be born, and now you've killed her."

"Oh god, no" said Myra, reaching for Sima's hand. But Sima pushed her entire body forward, falling into Myra's arms and bursting into chest-wrenching sobs.

Ginny got out of the back and came to Sima's door, squeezing in beside her enough to shut the door again. They held Sima between them, Allie's hand on Sima's shoulder from the back seat. After a couple of minutes, Sima said "It's so unfair. She's the reason Garnet was as -- untouched -- as she was."

"I know" said Myra.

"I hate her family. If I could go back in time, I'd kill her mother and father right after she was born and take her away from them, I don't have any fucking compassion for them at all, fuck them, I don't care what happened to them!" yelled Sima.

"I'm with you on that" said Ginny, startling Myra.

"And then those fuckers fried her brain to shut her up, so her's in pieces, it's linked to senses rather than...I don't know how to describe it. I can tell, she's being flooded by it right now, like that frozen water, she's tried to sort it out. I just wish she could stand to do it with me!" wailed Sima.

"She couldn't do it at all if you weren't in her life" said Myra. She wasn't sure Sima heard her.

"She's alone now, there's nobody who remembers her as a kid, at least that she's in touch with. She...those kids will only call her if they need something. Oh, god" said Sima, beginning to shake.

"Just us" agreed Myra. "We got it covered, we do, Sima my love. As terrible as it sounds, this will be a release for her, not just a loss."

Sima looked at her sharply and cried hard again. At the end of that spate, she sat up straighter and said "I better blow my nose, I'm about to drip."

Edwina handed up a clean bandana, and Sima blew vigorously. She said "It's amazing she brought us out here. That's a good sign, isn't it?"

"It's earth-shattering" said Edwina. "In the best way."

"Can you believe they let her wander around out here on her own?" said Sima with a tinge of disgust.

"Safer than in that damned house" said Allie. Myra thought Her ancestors could protect her out here, but she didn't feel safe saying it.

"Was Chris born in that house too?" asked Ginny. Sima said "I don't know, I'm learning as much as you are."

Ginny pulled maps from under the seat, saying "Myra buys topos like other people buy gum, I bet she's got one of the Colville region."

"I do" said Myra, "though I'm not sure if it extends this far." Eventually, however, they found a large one which included the creek nearby. They studied the terrain. Allie said "That cove where this empties into the Columbia, I'd love to go down there and pull some bigass salmon out of the water. Smoke 'em on the banks on a cold day like this, best eatin' I can imagine."

After an hour, Myra saw Chris walking down the road toward them. She looked stiff, her hands deep in her pockets. Myra put the car in gear, to go get her, but Chris sat down on a nearby rock and bent her face toward her chest. Sima said "Open the door, Ginny, let me out!" She reached Chris fast, pulling Chris's face into her chest.

Ginny said "Should we go, too?"

"No" said Edwina. "If Chris is unbuttoning, she'll bring it to us, too."

Edwina was right. A few minutes later, Chris stood and linked her arm with Sima's to reach the car. She slid into the back seat, between Edwina and Allie, and cried some more. Sima's face was wet again, and she settled on Ginny's lap to lean over the seat and hold Chris's hand.

When Chris was done, she wiped her face on her sleeve and said "I'm about frozen. Can I get back up front next to the heater vent?"

Ginny and Sima gave up their seat, returning to the back. Myra said "Where to next, the place where you emerged from the ground as a spirit being?" She heard Ginny's gasp, but Chris roared and said "In your dreams, Josong." She laughed as long as she had cried. Finally she said "I'm hungry again. Let's go back to town, to Lovitt's."

She turned around to look at Sima and said "I love you." Myra was starting down the road and didn't see Sima's face, but she could imagine her expression.

Chris's family were more subdued and sober for the viewing. Myra lost track of names and faces as they came and went, what would have been Chris's community if she had stayed here. She tried to imagine a Chris who hadn't gotten so hurt as a kid, who stayed in town after graduation without using drugs or alcohol, who maybe came out with a local girl, maybe another Nimipu girl, and lived here all these decades. She couldn't pull it off: Chris was a product of complicated forces and events.

The following morning, they went to a small Catholic church for the funeral. It was quieter than Baptist services, more comforting, Myra thought. Sleet had begun falling when they went to the cemetery. A bobcat had messily torn a hole in the earth, and even with artificial turf underneath and a plastic canopy overhead, the weather made everyone wretched from cold and wet. The burial was brief.

They returned to Garnet's house, where beer filled the refrigerator and casseroles lined the counters. In a back bedroom, Myra could hear the muted sound of a television, which was ostensibly for the children but most of the kids were running around in the main room; it was older men who disappeared. They mingled as best they could while nibbling from paper plates. Chris refused to take a plate, and when she whispered to Myra "I can't take much longer here. Let's stop at Lovitt's on the way home", Myra passed on the word to the rest.

Tina said she would clear out Garnet's house before the first of February and disperse her belongings. The day before, Chris had surreptitously carried albums and framed photos into a bedroom and taken everything she wanted. She showed the envelope to Tina and said "I'll get three copies of everything, I promise you." After a search, they found where Garnet kept her financial papers. There was no will, no order to her filing, and a fair amount of outstanding debt. Chris located the stash of family papers -- her parent's wedding license, birth certificates, and the like -- and added this to the bills, saying "I'll handle this. Don't worry about it." But she made sure to take Garnet's billfold from her purse as well. She left the car keys -- it would all go to the kids, let them fight it out among themselves.

The six from Seattle made their goodbyes after half an hour, citing the long drive in bad weather. When Chris hugged Ricky, he said "I didn't mean what I said. You know."

"I know" she replied. "I'm your mother now, and I'll kick your ass if you don't keep it clean." He smiled wanly.

After ordering their food at Lovitt's, Chris pulled out the family photos and papers, and they pored over them while eating. It was a complete release, in a way Myra couldn't describe but wanted to for a future poem. Chris and Sima were sitting close, laughing together with normal color in their faces again. They said goodbye in the parking lot, Sima driving and promising to be safe. They all agreed to have dinner together the following night at Myra and Ginny's. On the way home, Ginny drove and Edwina sat in front with her. Allie leaned sideways, draped her legs over Myra's thighs in the back seat and said "She like us now. How come we found each other, us meant to be the only ones left alive from our families?"

"Maybe that's why we're still alive, because we did find each other" said Myra.

"You hear any voices out there by that creek?" asked Allie.

Myra was surprised for a minute. She said "Well, I didn't actually touch any stone, that seems to be what kicks the circuit open. Shit, I'm so glad I didn't."

"We got Lake Quinault salmon in our freezer" said Allie. "If I bring it over tomorrow night, you wanna try making that maple glaze we just had?"

"I think there's chili pepper in it, too" said Myra, running her tongue over her lips. "I hope Chris keeps opening up to Sima from all this. They -- do you and Edwina still have sex often, or have you changed into simply companions like them?" She had forgotten where they were. Edwina turned around to stare at her, and Ginny was glaring in the rear-view mirror.

Allie burst into laughter. "We use bridles and mint jelly on Tuesdays -- " she began, before Edwina reached around to smack her on her arm.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.


kat said...

Interesting to see what grief does to's really timely.
Thanks, Maggs.

I don't want to know what I'll do if you ever actually, truly finish this book. Somehow I think it'll keep evolving for a long time. And I couldn't be happier about that.

Maggie Jochild said...

I think grief temporarily clears away clutter and reaffirms our priorities. We can't live there, but it provides guideposts.

I still would rather the people I love be immortal. I really would.

I think about you and your grandpa often, Kat.

Also, you are the one person on the planet who might recognize that little house near the creek, since you've read to the end of the original imcomplete draft. I can't say any more without giving things away.

kat said...

thanks for your thoughts Maggie. I finished the draft of the obituary, then sent it to my cousin, who added and edited, and then it was ok'd by "the elders" (our dads and their little brother). So far, "died" has stayed in. I'm glad.

I do recognize the little house....