Sunday, August 10, 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.

Late December 2012

At their house, Myra insisted on waiting for Chris to undo the ropes tying down the luggage on the car's roof so she could exit by the rear door instead of climbing over a seat. By the time she slid out, carrying her bag of baskets, the rest of her friends were clustered under the carport, staring silently at the jaggedly cut hole in their fence. She joined them, feeling a little as if someone had punched her in the gut.

Ginny carried her painting into the house, leaving the car door open and the small alarm pinging. After a minute, Allie squeezed Myra's hand and went to pull her key from the ignition, to stop the racket. Chris said "A half-sheet of plywood will cover that for the time being."

"I think I'd just as soon get replacement fencing, if I can, and replace the boards myself" said Myra. She kept waiting for Ginny to come back out. Instead, the housesitter joined them, saying "I never heard a thing. I had the TV on a lot, though, lying in bed and dozing."

Allie was carrying bags into the house. Edwina went to help her. Myra went to the carport door and entered the living room. Beebo was sitting on the stair landing in a crouch, his eyes very wide. Myra set down her bag of baskets and said "We're back, Beebie-Jeebie."

He suddenly galloped toward her, nearly tripping Edwina. He stood up against Myra's legs and Myra scooped him into her arms. He made rumbling sounds and pressed against her. "Bad week, huh, kitty o mine."

Chris came in and said "Do you want help with the fence?"

"No, I don't think so. Thanks for the offer, though" said Myra.

"What kind of fish should I put in your freezer?" said Allie.

"Oh, you take that home. If you want to make something at our house for a special meal, you can haul it back over. But ya'll worked hard for that catch, you get to glory in it" said Myra.

Edwina looked toward the studio and said "Is Ginny going to come back up here?"

"I have no idea" said Myra, irritation leaking into her voice. "If you want to get on home, please don't wait on her account." She lifted Beebo as if to set him down, but he extended his claws and gripped her shirt tightly. "Okay, buddy, I hear ya, no separation for a while" she assured him. She hugged her friends sideways and they trailed out the front door.

The housesitter came down the stairs with her own bags. Myra said "Let me pay you before you go."

"The service will bill you" the housesitter said. "I'm ready to go home to my own bed." She still sounded congested, and anxious to get away. Myra couldn't blame her.

"Thank you so much for your care of our place" Myra said. The housesitter rubbed Beebo's head, shook Myra's hand, and fled. After a minute, Myra locked both doors and walked back to her desk. Once she was in her chair, Beebo consented to unlatch from her and sit on the desk. He offered to take her pulse, and she accepted, saying "I got palpitations from missing you, handsome."

Ginny came around the doorway, looking toward the front of the house. "Where is everybody?"

"Gone home" said Myra. "The housesitter, too."

"I needed help getting my canvas out of the carrier, it was wedged pretty tight, but I finally managed on my own" Ginny said with complaint in her voice.

Myra pulled out a file drawer and located the fat folder which contained bills for house repairs. She started at the back, and found the receipt for their original fence, erected in 1986. She picked up the phone to call the company but Ginny interrupted, saying "What are you doing?"

"We have a fucking burglar-sized hole in our fucking fence, Ginny. I know nothing on earth matters like a wet painting, but seems like you could have retained that information from the drive home." Myra's voice was angrier than she meant it to be. She refused to look at Ginny. Into the thick silence, she dialed the number from the receipt. The person who answered was an individual and had no idea what company she asked for. She apologized, hung up, and looked at her phone number sheet on the wall to dial her favorite hardware and lumber center nearby. As she got connected to the fencing department, she heard Ginny walk to the carport door and go outside.

They no longer made the type of boards she needed; instead, it was a kind of MDF made with resin and recycled particles, stained to "match cedar exactly" the clerk said. She'd need to go measure the existing boards and bring that in, they could cut whatever she needed to spec and provide her with the proper attaching hardware.

She pulled a tape measure from her desk drawer and headed for the front, Beebo close on her heels. "I'm not going far, just outside for a couple of minutes" she told him. He didn't believe her. Ginny was leaned against the hood of their Volvo, looking rattled. Myra crossed to the hole in the fence and began taking measurements. She leaned inside the fence to check on damage to the cross boards: They were intact, the alarm wire running along the top and bottom left undisturbed. The fucker knew just what to do, she thought.

She repeated numbers under her breath to memorize them and headed back in the house, picking up Beebo at the doorway. She whispered the numbers to him and he purred briefly. Returning to her desk, she wrote them down and folded the receipt into her pocket with the measurements.

As she stood up, Ginny appeared, saying "Do you think they meant to go in the spare room window?"

"I have no idea" Myra said. "I expect the police may get it out of him. I'm going to buy stuff to repair the hole." Beebo reached entreatingly toward her wrist with his paw. She picked him up again, kissed his forehead, and said "I'll be back soon, I swear." She said to Ginny "He's pretty freaked." Ginny offered to take him and he allowed himself to be transferred. Ginny said "I gather you don't want me to go with you."

"The truth is, Ginny, I'm feeling thoroughly fed up with you. I think you're being not just nutty but oblivious in a way that, yes, makes me rather not be around you for a while."

Ginny's eyes flashed. "Oblivious? Is that your new replacement term for Painterland now?"

"Painterland is supposed to end when the canvas is done" said Myra, looking around for her daypack with her billfold. Must be in the living room.

"But when the check comes in and you get your share, you don't have a problem with my choices then, do you?" said Ginny.

Myra stared at her in disbelief. She walked around Ginny, avoiding brushing against her, and stalked to the living room where she found her pack. She slung it over her shoulder and slammed the front door behind her.

The lumber yard errand took far longer than it should have. By the time she left, boards tied to the top of the Volvo, she was in a worse mood than when she'd entered the store. She drove to Interbay, near where she had lived before partnering with Ginny, and walked into the Red Mill. She ordered a bleu cheese burger with bacon, onion rings, and a large Coke. She walked back outside to buy a P-I from the stand and read it slowly as she ate. By the time she was done, she decided to go home instead of spending the day at Allie's. She ordered a Verde Veg burger with more onion rings to go, a minor peace offering to Ginny.

When she parked in the carport, she noticed someone had neatly unscrewed the damaged boards from the fence. Inside, Beebo again came streaking to meet her, this time his nose becoming engaged when he got within range of her white to-go bag. She walked back to Ginny's studio and said "I brought you a treat", setting the bag on her work table and leaving without waiting for a reply. The new canvas was on the drying rack, and Ginny was hunched over a sleeve of slides.

Myra unloaded the car and stacked boards next to the fence. She went inside for the electric drill and her hammer; neither were in the toolbox. She walked back toward Ginny's studio and saw them sitting on her desk. Ginny came around the corner, eating an onion ring, and looked at her levelly.

"So much for pax" she said.

Myra said "I'm not crazy mad any more. But I can tell, it would be easy for me to get that way again. Nancy's out of town until next week, and there's a part of me that would be willing to fight with you from now until then."

"Bring it on" said Ginny.

"Finish your lunch. I'm going to repair our perimeter. After that -- okay."

She pulled a bottle of Coke from the back of the fridge and popped off the cap as she carried her tools outside. After half an hour, Ginny joined her, saying "I think this is a two-person job."

Myra sucked her skinned knuckles and said "It is. You want to hold or screw?"

After a second, they burst into crazed laughter. When it was done, they covered the hole with new boards which did not, in fact, look just like cedar. It went swiftly. Myra found herself on the inside of the fence. She said through a crack to Ginny "If you'll take those tools in, I'll carry these around the side." She walked through Ginny's jungle of rhododendrons and came in the back door, startling Beebo. While she was washing her hands at the sink, Allie came in the front door, nearly bumping into Ginny who was standing staring at her self-portrait in the foyer.

"What's going on over here?" said Allie. "You're not answering any of your phones."

"I haven't turned on my cell today" said Ginny. She walked to the breakfast bar and looked at the phone there. "And this one has the volume off, I guess the housesitter did that."

"My cell is in my pack. Maybe the battery is dead" said Myra. "Sorry, Al. I can see why you had to check on us."

Allie picked up the breakfast bar phone and dialed Edwina. "They fine, just got everthing turned off." She said to Myra "She asks you wanna come over and cook salmon with us?"

"We're about to have a long fight" said Myra calmly.

Allie stared at her. "What ya'll do, schedule 'em?"

"Nope. Just overdue."

Allie said to Edwina. "They busy...Yeah, that's what she said...You better believe it." She hung up and said "I'll catch you later."

"Thanks for stopping by" said Ginny with an oddly formal politeness. Allie was shaking her head as she left.

Myra dried her hands on the dishtowel and sat down at the dining table. After a few seconds, Ginny came to sit across from her.

"Shall I begin?" said Myra. When Ginny nodded, Myra said "I went elsewhere to find what I needed to begin writing my book. I didn't wait for you to be done painting, and I didn't simply stick to our friends. You didn't notice until finally you did, and then you got mad at me instead of being happy for me. You even had the fucking gall to act like there some kind of infidelity on my part. You've been zoning in and out ever since. Well, you better get used to it. I will do whatever I need to do to write, and if I'm not breaking a promise to you -- which I have not and will not -- you have no fucking right on earth to treat me like I'm doing something wrong." Her tone was heated but more measured than she had thought she could pull off.

"That woman did have a crush on you -- " began Ginny.

"Which is nothing to do with me or us. If I didn't return or encourage her feelings, I'm not responsible for hers" said Myra.

"So is your making a ritual of watching her weave part of what you meant about it being your turn, and I need to be there for you?" said Ginny scornfully.

"Absolutely. I never, not once, raise any complaint about all the galleries and museums you insist I accompany you to. You say all art is grist for your mill. Well, goes both ways" said Myra, her anger building.

"But now your resentment comes out?" demanded Ginny.

"No. I like seeing what you want to show me. But I'm goddamned well as much an artist as you are, Ginny Bates. I may not be able to sell paintings for big checks -- " Myra stopped herself. When she remembered Ginny's crack about the money, she wanted to pound on the table.

After half a minute, she said "You need to fucking apologize for implying that I only appreciate your art for the money."

Ginny had a mixture of regret and obstinacy on her face. She sat in silence for a minute. Myra pushed her chair back and said "I mean it, Ginny. We are at a crossroads. Things have to change."

"Don't give me ultimatums" warned Ginny.

Myra took a deep breath. "I am madder at you than I think I have ever been."

"Over what, exactly?" Ginny showed a sliver of anxiety.

"More than I can say. But I'll do my best to bring it out piece by piece. I want that apology. I want you to never again even think that I see your art primarily as money in my pocket. I want you to keep track of the support and make sure it's even, as close to even as we can get it. I've retired from active parenting, except for their visits home, and I'm not going to be on automatic pilot any more. I need to find something else to fill that purpose in me, and this book is what I've chosen. I want my fucking turn!" Her voice got frighteningly low.

"I'm doing my best, Myra -- "

"No, you are not. The shit you aimed at me the last few days is not your best. Getting in the car to come home was a fucking joke, Ginny. I'm ashamed our friends witnessed it."

"You mean that Chris saw it." The minute it was out of her mouth, Ginny wanted to take it back.

"I'm not going to leave you. But you have to clean this up. And I don't want to help you. I'll stay here in the house, I'll cook for us like always, I won't run away. Gillam and Jane, and Carly I guess, are coming tonight, Margie tomorrow. We'll have a New Year's gathering with our family, and then Gillam's birthday. I'll be kind to you. But not intimate. I won't sleep with you and I don't want to talk with you any more until you shift your ground somehow." Myra stood up.

"You mean you're not going to do your share" said Ginny, panic rising in her eyes.

"Call it whatever you want. I'm too mad to do more than what I've just said. If that changes, I'll tell you." Myra went to her study. In a minute, Ginny heard the first song on XX Alix. In another minute, Ginny went upstairs to plant seeds and harvest herbs. As she walked by the breakfast bar, she plugged in her cell phone and turned it on.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.


Liza Cowan said...

Very interesting. Can't wait to see where this goes.

I had to look up what was the first song on xx alix. On the internet! It's "Woman To Woman." I'm sorry to say I can't even remember the tune, but the first verse is:

Woman to woman
We're finding out
We're working out
We're making up better ways
Woman to woman
We've got a chance
to do it right
Why not start out right away.

In the Alix Dobkin Songbook Alix says about this song:

"It was written to bolster my self image at a time of intense personal conflict and upheaval, and was an effort to make a bad situation feel better.I just wanted to reaffirm my non-obliteration theory of confrontation"

Jesse Wendel said...

This is good.

This has been a long time coming. I'm glad to see it here.

I read GB because these are real people (and because it expands who I am with its amazing lessons on class, race, and women.) The transitions between events and people HAPPEN. They're unforced, almost as if you (the author) are simply a fly on the wall watching, dictating what you observe.

It's been clear for a while that the pressure has been building underneath between Myra and Ginny. I'm happy to see Myra's finally standing up for herself, starting to repair the imbalance in the relationship.

Maggie Jochild said...

Thanks SO MUCH for posting the lyrics, Liza, I couldn't remember the very beginning. I did remember that this song contains the lines "If she rubs you wrong / Just move along / Find your kind of Amazon"...

I, and my households, played different Alix album for specific moods. When I was pissed off and trying to think it through, I always put on XX Alix (which of course is why Myra does, too). It was so predictable that one roommate would knock on my door and ask if I needed to talk when she heard that album playing.

And yes, to some extend, I feel like I AM simply transcribing what I'm watching these characters do. My dreams for the past four days have been very troubled and full of anger. I finally realized I just needed to get it down on paper. Soon as I did, I slept long and sweetly. Myra's anger can be infectious.