Tuesday, August 12, 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.

December 30 and 31, 2012

After an hour, Myra went upstairs to strip the sheets from the bed used by the housekeeper. She saw Ginny still on the upper deck, but they didn't exchange glances. When Myra opened the door and went into what she now thought of as Carly's room, she cried out "Gaaahh!" Ginny appeared beside her in an instant.

"Smell this! That asshole was up here smoking, no wonder she fucking got sick!" yelled Myra. The room reeked of cigarettes. She strode to the bed and began ripping all the bedding from it, even the pillows, piling them into the comforter: It would all have to be washed. Ginny went into the kitchenette and said "There's dirty dishes left in the sink."

"I guess she really planned on us never having her back" said Myra between clenched teeth.

Ginny said, in an altered voice, "Did you open the door to the private deck here, off the kitchen?"

Myra turned and looked. The sliding door was wide open. "No. I bet she did, thinking it would suck out the smell of cigarettes."

Ginny went to the deck and looked out. "You can see this from the alley. Maybe he knew this door was open, that's why he was coming in at the side this time."

Myra sat down suddenly on the bed. She began wheezing. Ginny, coming back into the room, said "Get out of here, Myra, you're allergic to this kind of residue. I'll put the laundry in the washer, go on."

"What about the mattress, and Carly's new chair?" said Myra, standing.

"There's stuff I can spray on it that will actually break down the chemicals in the odor. I'll take care of it."

Myra went downstairs and waiting five minutes, but had to use her inhaler anyhow. She was coming out of the storage room with an armload of items from the freezer and shelves when Ginny came downstairs with a huge bundle of linens. "I'll wash Gillam's too, I can't remember if we did after the last time he was here" said Ginny.

"How are the baby plants?" asked Myra.

"Good. The dragon carrots are ready to set out, and lots more of the Mammoth Red Rock cabbage. The Romanesca broccoli didn't all come in, but I'm starting more. We have lots of baby lettuce for salad, too."

"Which kind?" asked Myra.

"The Tango. Oh, and I started some of those Carentan leeks." They were talking almost normally.

"Well, I know they'll all be pulling in after dinner but I bet they'll be hungry. I thought fried chicken would keep well, with baked potatoes and some version of a three-bean salad. Is there anything you want to add?"

"How about a quart of my shallots, in a cream sauce?" suggested Ginny.

"Maybe with frozen crab meat?" asked Myra.

"Mmm. What kind of pie is that?"

"Blackberry" said Myra.

"I'll come help with salad and tea once I get Carly's room cleaned and the transplants done" said Ginny.

Myra defrosted the fryer pieces, put them in a bowl of evaporated milk and set it in the refrigerator. She began the pie and potatoes baking simultaneously, then took a sheet of paper and started a list for the major shopping that needed to happen in the morning -- six or seven people per meal plus guests for every meal the next five days, plus the New Year's Eve food and Gillam's birthday. They'd be feeling the loss of the garden especially keenly. She'd have to use the mini-fridge in Carly's room to hold all the veggies they'd have to buy, to eke out the salads and side dishes.

When Ginny went outside to harvest what she could, Myra unpacked her bag from their trip. She put together two days' worth of clean clothes, toiletries, and a nightie, and stashed it in the bathroom off her study. She put her pillow and an extra blanket in the storage box under her daybed. She was back in the kitchen when Ginny returned.

"How about if I turn over the bean salad to you as well?" said Myra. "The pearl onion dish can be last minute, once they're thawed. I should make bread for the masses."

"Sounds good" said Ginny. Myra made three sponges, each enough for three loaves of different varieties plus two dozen rolls. After the first rise, she removed the pies and potatoes from the oven and let them cool on the sideboard. After the second rise, Ginny was done in the kitchen and started vacuuming the house as Myra coated the chicken and began frying.

Ginny mopped the wood floors as well, but said she'd leave the upstairs for one of the kids. She poured herself a glass of iced tea; her cheeks were dark red and her brow a little sweaty as she sat down at the breakfast bar to drink.

"This the grocery list? Yowzah. Why don't we just buy six little fishes and a loaf, and hope for a miracle?" she said.

"I keep thinking of more to add" said Myra, saying "Dammit" as a drop of flying grease hit her wrist.

"Eggs" said Ginny after a minute. "And olive oil, we're low. What are we going to give them in the morning, before we go shopping?"

"Oatmeal and dried fruit" said Myra.

"What kind of cake are you going to make for Gillam?"

"I'll ask Carly. And Jane" added Myra.

"He's going to love being fitted for a hand-tailored suit" said Ginny, grinning. "I can't wait to see what fabric and style he chooses. I hope that guy is as good as Belva said he is."

"The cufflinks Sima made are the piece d'resistance" said Myra. "You want some these of crunchies that I'm skimming out?"

"You know I do" said Ginny, taking the little plate Myra handed her. She popped one in her mouth, took a quick drink of tea, saying "Oops, too hot". Myra laughed, her back to Ginny as she put more thighs into the grease. After half a minute, Ginny said "I'm really sorry, Myra. I do not think you see my art as money in your pocket, not ever. That -- it was pure Helen coming out of me. I can't believe I have that inside me. That's bad enough, but to hurl it at you -- I can't figure out why I did. But I'm abjectly sorry."

Myra turned around, her face still a little wary. "Okay. I accept your apology."

They looked at each other for a minute. Ginny's gaze dropped to the skillet and she said "Oh, god, are those livers?"

"Yeah, there was a bundle in the package. I figured you'd polish those off before the kids got here" grinned Myra.

"I need sliced onion and a heel of bread" said Ginny, going to the refrigerator.

"From quoting about loaves and fishes to pure shtetl food" remarked Myra. "You're a woman of the world."

Ginny kissed her shoulder softly before returning to the breakfast bar. Myra pulled a neck from a small pot where it had been boiling and cut it into morsels. She set them in Beebo's bowl and placed it in the freezer to cool off quickly. He watched nearby with bright eyes.

Ginny made herself a quick lettuce-and-carrot salad to go with her pre-meal, and Myra took half of it with a small baked potato and a piece of chicken. They ate at the breakfast silently, Beebo crunching at his bowl. When they were done, they finished preparing the rest of the meal and put it in the refrigerator while the bread baked.

Ginny said "I'll remake the beds upstairs. I left the deck door open and a fan blowing outward from Carly's room. What are you up to?"

"Answering mail. Trying to get back into my book."

They separated and didn't talk again until nearly 8:00, when Myra set the table for them both and they began eating the second half of dinner. They'd been at it only a few minutes when the front door opened and the phone rang almost simultaneously. Laughing, Myra went to greet Gillam, Jane and Carly, while Ginny answered the phone. Beebo raced in from the study. As the newcomers used the bathroom, Ginny set out three more plates and said "That was Margie. She said they're leaving right after Frances' shift tonight, will be here some time in the wee hours, we shouldn't wait up."

"Frances is coming with her? I'm really glad" said Myra, reheating potatoes in the microwave.

After they all began eating, Ginny and Myra took turns telling the younger folks about the second attempted break-in and arrest. Before they were finished, Carly stood up, his face rigid, and walked out to the carport. After a few moments, Gillam followed him, then Myra, who leaned against the doorway and watched them pick up the broken fence boards and trace the damage with their hands. Carly turned to her and said "You repaired this today?"

Before she could answer, Gillam came to envelop her in a hug. "My god" he whispered. He pulled back to look at her and said "You're sure he was alone, didn't have any buddies still out there?"

"Aaron seems to be sure, and I don't think he fucks up often" said Myra. Over his shoulder she said to Carly "Yeah, I couldn't stand to leave a breach. I'm going to talk over modifications to the wiring with Aaron, though."

Back at the table, Ginny was talking with Jane about the trip to Lake Quinault Lodge. After pie, they had a viewing of the new painting. A little awkwardly, Ginny then said "Myra had a breakthrough with her book, too. You want to share the details with them, honey?"

Myra wasn't sure what to say. They couldn't do a "viewing" of ideas. She sat down at her desk, Gillam and Jane nestled onto the daybed, and Carly claimed the second chair as she started trying to discuss her draft introduction. Ginny leaned against the far wall, listening as if she hadn't heard any of this before -- which maybe she hadn't, thought Myra. Slowly her explanation became more fluid and excited, urged on by the comprehending expressions of her family. Finally Gillam said "I want to see these baskets."

They had already set aside and wrapped the one they wanted to give him for his birthday, so Myra led them into their bedroom where the rest of the baskets were stacked on the dresser. They marveled over them, Myra explaining what she could remember of function and technique -- which was a great deal. Intermittently Ginny jumped in additional information, proving she had paid attention to Lois, too.

After a third long yawn, Gillam said "I know it's early for me, but it's been one hell of a busy day. I need to go to sleep. Wake me for the trip to Pike, okay?"

"I want to be in on that too" said Carly. "We just don't have anything like it in Oly. I think of it as essential Seattle."

Jane elected to go upstairs with Gillam, though it didn't appear automatic to Myra, which she liked to see. Beebo stuck around for a minute, then thundered upstairs after them. Carly came back into the kitchen and picked up the list on the breakfast bar. "What's your menu plan?" he asked, reading it.

Myra told him, adding "Any changes you want to make, go for it. I meant to ask Jane, too -- what's Gillam's favorite cake at the moment?"

"Chocolate's never wrong" said Carly, grinning. "But, hey, Jane's been talking about a marble fudge she's known for, why don't we let her do that?"

"Will you get the ingredients from her before we shop tomorrow?" asked Myra.

"Sure. In fact, if you want to sleep in, you can leave the shopping to us" offered Carly.

"I want to go with you" said Ginny. "I want to see the produce for myself."

"Okay, I accept" said Myra.

Carly said "My room smells okay but it was pretty chilly from the airing out. I'd like to watch a movie, and we can make it Ginny-friendly."

Ginny looked torn. It felt like days since they'd gotten up at Lake Quinault. She said to Myra, with coded meaning, "Is it all right with you if I don't join you?"

"Yes. You need sleep, too. I'll get my extra in the morning." After a moment's hesitation, Myra crossed to Ginny and hugged her. Ginny squeezed her tight, then let go. Carly was at the DVD shelves and didn't notice the tension in their embrace.

"Don't laugh, but I kinda wanna see Oklahoma, I never have" he said to Myra as she joined him in the living room.

"Ah'm jest a gurl who cain't say no" she replied. He looked briefly confused as he loaded the DVD.

He headed up to bed a couple of hours later, after talking with Myra a while about how much he had enjoyed his trip back to Chicago with Patty. "She's way more happy than I remember her ever being. She didn't push me to go visit Pat's family, and on Christmas morning, it was just me, her and Thea. Really sweet" he said with satisfaction.

She looked at the color in his face as she said "I love you to bits, Carl Elijah. I really hope you have children, and that this world gets to have your descendants in it forever." He was frozen with embarrassed joy.

After making a hot steamed milk, Myra turned off the lights to everywhere but her study. She sat at her desk to drink her milk, missing Beebo, then Ginny. She began reading through her work earlier in the day and got caught up. It was 2:00 before she pulled off her pants and socks, lying down on the daybed without brushing her teeth. She was tired enough to drop off quickly, despite feeling bad about Ginny alone in their bedroom.

She woke up once in the morning, hearing the sounds of spoons clanking bowls and Carly singing "Pore Jud is daid" half to himself in the kitchen. When she woke up again, sun was in her eyes, Beebo was sprawled on her hip, and she needed to pee urgently. Once in the bathroom, she showered and dressed, scrubbing her teeth and tongue.

It was 10:30, and the house was very quiet. She went to the storage room and got a Coke from her stash, pouring it over ice in a glass and sipping at it as she made toast and sliced the last of the Edam with a couple of apples. Before she sat down, she heard a door open and two seconds later Narnia was glued to her shins, vibrating and warbling. Margie came dopily down the hall and gave her a bed-warmed hug.

Myra put half the cheese on a second plate, along with her toast and all the apple, and handed it to Margie. She began making more for herself. Margie said "Is there coffee?"

"No, but I'll make you a cup" offered Myra.

"I'll do it" said Margie swiftly. Myra said "We're out of real cream. Everyone else is on a grocery run, should be back any minute."

Margie put some of Edwina's Cremora in her espresso, grimacing before she even tasted it, and fed a crust of toast to Narnia under the table. "Frances was still wired up from work, so she drove and I sacked out in the car" she said. "She needs another couple of hours, at least."

Narnia had started for the pet door, but reversed herself abruptly and scrambled, paws sliding on the kitchen tile, toward the front of the house. The front door opened and Carly staggered in with two bulging canvas shopping bags on each arm.

Myra chose to finish her breakfast as the groceries were hauled in, sorted, and put away. Gillam set an almond danish on her plate from a bakery bag, and she declared "You just moved ahead in my will."

Ginny said "The milk folks were completely out. I bought commercial organic, including yogurt and ricotta."

"Hand me a carton, will you?" said Margie. "Plus one of those little bananas."

Gillam was unwrapping a large white paper package, which he set down on the table next to Myra. "Look at what I picked for my birthday dinner." There were two thick, massive tenderloins. "Grass-fed. Check how little marbling. I told 'em to leave all the fat on the edges."

"Beautiful. We're out of these steaks from our big meat cutting day, huh?"

"Yep. I also want oysters, raw and steamed, but I'll run back down the day of and grab those" said Gillam. He took the package to a cutting board for rendering into smaller steaks.

"What did ya'll settle on for tonight's meal?" asked Myra.

"More of that caramelized pork" said Carly, "but this time with polenta instead of rice."

"And they had an absolutely stupendous filet of tuna" said Ginny, hoisting another paper-wrapped heft into the air.

Narnia had come back in the house from the back yard, but instead of sniffing around the counters where meat was sitting, she went under the table and pushed against Margie's legs.

"What's wrong with you, doggie-o?" said Margie, looking down at her. "Her tail's between her legs, something's scared her."

"I bet she went in the side yard" Myra said to Ginny, raising her eyebrows. At Margie's blank look, Ginny began telling her the break-in news.

Margie stopped eating and became unusually pale. When Ginny was done, Margie said "Which house did he live in? The one with the dangling gutter, or the one with the old Fiat in the driveway?"

"The gutter, I think" said Ginny. She turned to Myra and said "I wonder if the gutter got damaged from the fucker climbing around on his roof trying to get a better look at us."

Frances emerged from the back bedroom, a long pillow crease in one cheek. She shambled to the table and sat down. Carly said "Latte?" Frances nodded mutely and Carly began making her a cup.

"Oh my god, Mama, you must be completely freaked out" Margie said to Ginny. She briefly filled in Frances, who now looked wide awake. Jane placed a plate of croissants and pastries on the table, along with a bowl of plums and grapes. Ginny pulled a tub from the cheese bag and set it on the table as well, saying "This is a port-flavored caciotta, haven't tried it yet." Frances began slowly assembling her own breakfast.

Margie said to Ginny, "Mama? That was a question I asked you."

Ginny took a long breath and sat down next to Margie. "I don't exactly know what I am. I mean, relieved. But -- I keep trying to remember if I knew him, and wondering why he focused on us."

"I remember him, if it's that same house. He always said hi to me when I walked by with Narnia, but there was something creepy about him" said Margie. To Frances she said "The guy with the bulgy eyes." Frances nodding knowingly.

Returning to Ginny, Margie said "A creep's a creep, Mom, you know that." She looked at Myra and said "Have you reminded her to not take on other people's difficulty, or are you still wallowing in your own guilt?"

"My guilt?" repeated Myra, shocked.

"Yeah, 'cause it's like your job to make sure all of us are safe, especially Mom. I mean, she looks after everything too, I don't mean to diss you, Mama, but the Maginot line is Myra. Do I need to start with you, tell you nothing bad happened here, your claymores worked?" She put her hand on Myra's.

Myra couldn't think clearly. She fixed on that glib reference to "Maginot line", wondering how on earth Margie knew about that. Her children's intelligence was limitless, it seemed.

Ginny said in a strange voice "We haven't talked about it all." Gillam, who had finished rewrapping his steaks and was washing his hands, looked over the sink at Myra. "Mom, did you fall asleep on your daybed accidentally last night?"

When Myra couldn't think how to answer, he came to the table, his hands still wet, and kneeled beside her, saying "What's going on?"

Carly had been about to carry extra produce upstairs. Instead, he returned the bag to the counter and came to sit on the other side of Myra. Frances suddenly looked like she wished she'd not gotten up. Jane stood uncertainly in the kitchen. Ginny broke the silence with "We're fighting."

"You don't sound like you're fighting" said Gillam.

"We fought at the Lodge. And on the way home. And then...I'm too upset to talk with her. I...the best I can manage is to not pull an Anacortes" said Myra, looking into Gillam's eyes.

"Holy shit, what is it?" demanded Margie. On her heels, Gillam said "Does Allie know about this?"

"She saw some of it" said Myra, glancing at Ginny.

Gillam sat down in a chair, then remembered Jane and looked around for her. "You might as well come in here, sit next to Frances and learn the Bates-Josong method" he said gently.

"Josong-Bates" corrected Margie. Carly smothered a smile.

Ginny said, in a rush, "That breakthrough Myra had with her novel, from spending time with the weaver, Lois? That whole time I was buried in a painting, and when I came out of it and found out what was going on, I got jealous. I was nasty and -- distracted."

"Jealous of who, the weaver?" said Margie. She looked at Myra. "Was there something going on?"

Myra's mind cleared as anger flooded back in. Before she could lash at Margie, however, Ginny said "No! Except that someone connected with her, I wasn't jealous in any rational way. But I kept on -- being stupid, and sometimes mean, and Myra -- she's run out of slack. And I have to fix it, without her help now, and I don't even begin to know how." She began crying, despite desperately trying to force it back into her chest. She began coughing right away.

"Nancy?" asked Gillam.

"Out of town" said Myra, feeling irritated at Ginny for crying and feeling guilty about that.

"So you're not sleeping together?" continued Gillam. Carly looked stunned. "Were you planning to cover it all up while we were here?"

"I don't have a plan" said Myra. "That's part of the problem."

Frances said, "Do you need us to clear out and give you some space?"

Margie glared across the table at her. "No, we're not leaving them alone with it, not if they're this stuck."

Jane's hands were folded in her lap and her face was very alert, but she didn't look apprehensive, Myra noticed. She said to Margie, "What did you mean, Maginot line?"

Carly spoke up. "You're the one who keeps guard, like, the security system is your responsibility. And chlorine in the hot tub, and answering the phone."

"Sitting up for curfews" said Margie reminiscently. "No driving with a cell phone on."

"Feeding Mom when she's in Painterland" said Gillam. "Feeding us all, and keeping us a family, while she's in Painterland. While she's naked and completely vulnerable."

Ginny burst into sobs. Myra noticed that Ginny's hands were shaking violently. Margie put her arm over Ginny's shoulders, and Ginny gasped "I've been so fucking scared, I couldn't stand to think about it. It wasn't until we got to the Lodge, or any hotel lately, that I felt safe to paint again. I know I'm not doing my share, Myra, but what if I can't? What if I have to choose between doing my share and painting?"

Now even Gillam looked stunned. Myra said softly "I'll never ask you to give up painting, Ginny Bates. You wouldn't be you without that."

"But I don't know how..." Ginny couldn't speak any more, she was crying so hard.

Myra said to Margie "Maybe I did feel guilty. I can't tell. I -- feel like it's Ginny, that she's the problem."

"Well, there's a big flashing clue" said Carly. "You usually think it's all your fault, whatever it is. If you've transferred it over onto her, then maybe you've simply flipped over the tortoise. Shells on both sides, you know."

Smart, smart kids thought Myra again.

Jane finally spoke. "If somebody could help, Ms. -- Myra, if you could imagine help being offered, what would you want?"

Myra thought. "I don't know. I have to think about it."

"Well, for starters, you need to be sleeping in the same bed, you're just fucking with yourselves by separating that way" said Margie vehemently. "Tonight is New Year's Eve, you can't start the new year like that."

Myra said slowly "We don't really think of it as the new year. I haven't, since I started celebrating Yom Kippur with Ginny..."

Ginny wiped her face on her sleeve, her voice congested as she said "If Myra needs room, that's the best thing to give her. I learned that a long time ago."

Myra picked up stray croissant crumbs from her plate with a moistened fingertip. She said "I'll keep thinking. And if I could talk with you kids, one-on-one, when I feel able to -- "

"Of course" said Gillam.

"Don't get all weird about this" asked Myra. "We're not splitting up, we're only fighting. I want to have a normal visit with you all."

"Same here" said Ginny. Margie tightened her arm around Ginny's shoulders and whispered "Any time you want to talk."

Myra finally met Ginny's eyes. Maginot line she thought.

Margie said "I have to get dressed so I can W-A-L-K you know who, stopping by that sonuvabitch's house to heave bricks through his windows."

"Not without me" said Frances, standing up. After a couple of seconds, Ginny said "Could I -- go with you? I want to look, but..."

"We'll flank you" said Margie. Gillam stood up as well and said "I need a hard swim."

Carly looked at Myra and said "So do you. Or a work-out, take your pick. I'll spot you."

"I'll take the work-out now, maybe a swim later" said Myra. She thought Gillam might want a chance to talk alone with Jane right now. She pulled him down to kiss his cheek, and he whispered "I'm calling Aunt Allie, too."

"I thought you might" said Myra. Carly was saying to Ginny "Leave all that on the counter, we'll have to begin the tamalada right after lunch, I'll get us set up."

Tamales thought Myra with pleasure. She followed Carly upstairs, pulling off her overshirt as she went.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

No comments: