Sunday, September 28, 2008


Here's 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 2014

Sunday morning after Gillam's birthday, Myra woke up late and found a red bowl of oatmeal in the fridge left for her by Ginny. She pried it out onto the bread board and began cutting it into slices. Ginny's oatmeal was bare bones, mostly grain and water with a dash of salt: Margie had once said it was like grazing on a field of oats during a rainstorm. Once it had been rendered from a solid mass, Myra returned it to the bowl with a tablespoonful of brown sugar, a cup of milk (they were out of cream), a pat of butter and a handful of blueberries. She put this in the microwave for two minutes, taking it out to stir every half minute, and it reconstituted into her version of oatmeal.

She carried this back to Ginny's daybed to eat. Ginny was at her worktable with blueprints and a chart she'd created comparing solar panels currently available. "How's it going?" she asked.

"Mmmm...Do you think it's wasteful to replace the solar unit we currently have with one that would not only deliver all the energy needs of this house but actually generate extra? I mean, we could find someone who wanted the old panels, right?" Ginny's brow showed a deep crease. She'd been working on this for hours, Myra could tell.

"Gin, we heat a fucking swimming pool so we can use it year round. I think waste is a relative term for us." Myra realized she was in a cranky mood as her own tone of voice reached her ears. Ginny blinked and said "Well, in a few months the issue of the pool will be Gillam and Jane's, not ours."

Myra ate two bites and interrupted Ginny's return to her chart by saying "I think every energy step forward is good. It creates jobs where they should be created, and who knows when the advances will level off. It may be that the panels we install now will still be state of the art in fifty years."

Ginny smiled at her. "You were restless last night. Did you have bad dreams?"

"Not that I remember. Listen, I think we need to talk."

Ginny put down her pencil and swiveled her chair around. "All right. Sounds a little ominous."

"Big but not ominous. Hang on a sec." Myra balanced her bowl on the daybed and went to her desk, pulling a legal pad from the neat stack of current work and returning to find Ginny on the daybed, taking a taste of her oatmeal.

"Gaaahh" said Ginny, handing the bowl to her. "Way too sweet."

Myra tore off the top yellow sheet of notes and handed the now clear pad to Ginny, saying "You need to keep notes." She resumed eating for a minute before saying "I'm tired of the epic I'm writing. I'm more than ready to be done with it."

"You always get that way with a book" said Ginny.

"Yeah, but this is different. It's a massive project, and I'm not finding it stimulating any more. If I work all out, I think I can be done with all the notes and editing, everything, in about a month. I'm hoping we can rearrange our division of labor around here so that's possible, so it doesn't drag on for three to four months. I'm ready to do other writing, the vacation showed me that. I'm backed up." Myra finished her oatmeal and put the bowl on the floor. As usual, she missed not having a pet who would appear to check out what she might have left.

Ginny chewed the end of her pencil. Hers were drawing pencils, never with erasers. "Well...define 'all out', to begin with. Are you going to stop cooking and shopping, stop Nancy sessions?"

"No. I'll need Nancy as much as ever, and making food is nurturing. Ha, I meant in a spiritual sense, but -- Anyhow, I also will do my share of regular chores, and if you paint, I'll make sure you don't slide away into oblivion. But no travel breaks, no special projects, no afternoons in the yard. I'd want you to get other people to do those things with you. If that's okay with you."

Ginny had written all this down and began to illustrate, putting a chugging train at the end of the travel line with a track which snaked back and turned into a vine of peas next to the yard line. She said slowly "It sounds fair. Honestly, I don't know how much painting I'll do, all my creative energy is going into house plans right now." She stopped, realizing where Myra was heading, and turned to look into Myra's eyes.

Myra said "Yes. I want to leave renovation of the new place up to you. At least for the next month, and by that time, you'll be the go-to person, you know how that works. When we did the redo of this place, it was turbulent and not much fun at the end. I know what I'm asking you to take on. Say no if you're going to resent it."

"Are you going to resent living in a place that represents my design more than yours?" asked Ginny.

"I have for 25 years. I like your design, and it's not where my imprint seeks expression. I rule the kitchen, like a good wife -- " They both grinned. "And my muse is verbal, not visual. I kinda need someone else to stimulate the other side of my brain. The environments you create have been ripe for me."

Ginny was deeply touched. "Back atcha. Well, angel, if I give up six months to this, we need to recalculate our income for this year, I guess."

"Not six months. I know contractors always lie about how long things take, and of course there are unexpected delays, but I need this to be done in half that time, Ginny. I want us -- well, you, let's be honest -- to find a company which has the proven reputation of delivering fast and on time. If it costs more, it will be worth it to us, the equivalent of six of your paintings. Not to mention the stress. I want our place livable and arranged well before our grandchild arrives. We can do the yard after we move in, and other interior things, we can make a list, I guess." Myra felt her crankiness starting to ease as she dove into what was bothering her.

Ginny chewed her lower lip for half a minute. "We need not just a contractor but also an architect, the one we used last time is not in the book any more. I need to call people and ask around. You know, that house on the corner, next to the Limons', there's an architect listed on the signboard out front."

"All I ever noticed was the chiropractor's office there" said Myra.

"Yeah, they have some kind of insurance in there, too. I could drop by and get an initial consult, I guess. I've wondered what that place looks like inside. Clearly it was somebody's home until that lot, including Aux Delice, got zoned semi-commercial" said Ginny.

"I bet the people around here fought that tooth and nail" said Myra.

"Maybe not. During the early 80s, this block was dying, everybody was moving elsewhere. Why I could afford this place" reminded Ginny. She had begun a list of renovation particulars and was making each B or A -- Myra guessed this stood for "before we move in" and "after we move in". She watched for a couple of minutes.

When Ginny ran dry, Myra said, "About the new place...I did some thinking, and here's what I know I want for myself. She held out her sheet of paper and read it aloud.

"Yes to a big kitchen, with four times the counter space I have now, plus an island in the middle. I want the biggest fucking fridge we can find, a two-drawer dishwasher, a convection oven in addition to the Empire and the microwave, and a deep farm sink with a half level split in the middle. Glass-fronted cabinets. Under-cabinet work lights. A walk-in pantry nearby, countertops where I never have to worry about cut marks or stains, and speakers so I can listen to music in there easily." Ginny pointed to one item and said "What does this mean, movable counters?"

"I know they make these" said Myra. "I want a long stretch of counter that will lower down or raise up with the push of a button. They have them for kitchens with wheel-chair users. I'd like to be able to use a rolling chair in there for cooking projects that take hours."

Ginny's eyes flooded with concern. "Of course. Let's make the sink accessible, too. I guess we can't do anything about the stove..."

"The island, too, while we're at it" said Myra. She felt embarrassed and moved on. "As for my study...I do want a bathroom right off it, but I'd like my work space to not be a through-way. Even for you and your studio, and especially not for other folks. I want it to be a cul-de-sac for me alone. But not small."

Ginny got her foamboard sketches and returned to sit even closer to Myra. "These dimensions are half-inch to a foot, honey. Which means this space for your study is about double what you have now."

"But your work space is about the same, looks like" objected Myra.

"No, it's not. I have an entire varnishing room separate, remember? And my window and light exposure will dramatically increase, what's most important to me. Don't worry, I'm not skimping myself" said Ginny. "Here -- let's plan on making a second entrance to the bathroom off your study, so anyone, including me, who needs to piss can go directly there without traipsing past your desk." She brutally drew in over her own watercolor, making Myra wince.

"Gin, another thing -- all those bookshelves we have on the stairs here" began Myra.

"I know, we need to find places to put shelves" said Ginny.

"If I have so much extra room in my study, I'd like to concentrate them there. An actual library as well as a study" said Myra. "Most of them are mine, anyhow. Except for the kids' books, which I'm planning to hand on to Jane and Gillam. Most of them" she amended. Ginny privately thought Myra would end up buying second copies for Jane and Gillam, keeping her vast collection of children's literature: After all, the grandchildren would want to read when visiting them, right?

"We can do floor to ceiling shelves, custom built" said Ginny. "Would you like a rolling ladder like in British movies?"

"I might" said Myra, laughing. "Listen: We are going to hire all the packing and moving to be done by independent hire, right? I get faint when I think about how much crap we have to haul out of this house."

"We are, indeed" said Ginny. "Except for the art. I think I have to do that myself. Or with the kids' help."

"Fuck, Gin, I just realized -- you've got a vault full of paintings upstairs. We can't risk those going into storage or an unfinished environment..."

"I've been thinking about that. You know the Corcoran in DC is itching to do a show with me, and Liza recommends the Obsolete in L.A. -- "

Myra interrupted. "Why don't you have your big comeback show at Liza's gallery?"

"I asked her. She said she's not large enough or located in a major city. She'll take a few pieces but she's urging me to go to an international gallery. Whichever I choose, if I can get a guarantee of silence beforehand and enough insurance, bonding, to cover losses, I could ship my work to the gallery in advance and let them sweat about storage" said Ginny.

"Which way are you leaning, Obsolete or Corcoran? And when?" asked Myra.

"Next fall. And I can't decide on the space. Corcoran is bigger exposure. I'll put out feelers and see what they offer. Plus, if your book generates a tour, that'll affect timing and geography of where I want to be" said Ginny. "Now, back to your list."

"Okay. We're losing the upper hall where I do my workouts. How would you feel about putting my equipment in a corner of our bedroom? Is it as spacious as it looks?" asked Myra.

"It is spacious. I don't know" said Ginny. "I need to figure out where I'll want to do yoga in the new space, maybe we could combine out work-out areas there." She made a note on her pad.

"Okay, well...Another thing. I want an area in our bathroom where we could heat up water for tea, have a small fridge and microwave, a little counter all its own" said Myra. "Like the kitchenette in Margie's old room, only smaller. Just for the mornings."

"In the bathroom?" said Ginny skeptically.

"Not next to the toilet and bidet" said Myra. "With it's own clean zone, maybe an alcove."

Ginny looked at her speculatively. "Is this so when I get up, I could make tea and toast and come right back to bed with you?"

Myra grinned ruefully. "Partly. It's also -- we might have other folks living with us again at some point. I don't want to have to go downstairs to a huge kitchen through kinds of public spaces to get a snack."

Ginny wrote it down. "When we're nonagenarians, this could be really handy. What else you got down there, something else about the bathroom? You want a place for your laptop while you're on the can?"

"No, but that's not a bad idea" returned Myra. "We're losing the hot tub as well as the pool. I mean, I know Gillam said we're welcome at any time, but we can't just barge in, not really. So I want us to have a massive deep tub with jacuzzi jets, where we can have private hot-tubbing in our own bathroom."

"Yeah, I'd thought of that, too" said Ginny. "Plus a shower big enough to roll in wheelchairs. This will be our retirement villa, girlfriend."

"And you've got a generator on your list, I see. What about one of those contraptions which provides instant hot water instead of a tank heater?" said Myra.

"I don't know the advantages and disadvantages of each" said Ginny. "You're the online researcher, why don't you -- Oh, wait. Okay, I'll check it out."

"While you're at it, find out if we could have a windmill in our yard" said Myra.

"You mean like for a cattle tank?" Ginny stared at her.

"No, the kinds that make electricity. I'm sure there must be city zoning against it, especially here on Capital Hill, but if not -- maybe we could create enough power to sell it" said Myra. Ginny stifled a laugh and wrote WINDMILL on her pad, no illustration beside it.

"And speaking of the yard" said Myra. "We need an outdoor grilling and sitting area, one that's covered partway, and I was thinking we should build it of brick instead of a wooden deck or even flagstone. I want the equivalent of an outdoor kitchen. Plus -- don't laugh -- I've always wanted a fish pond."

"I remember you wanted one here, but we decided there wasn't room" mused Ginny. "What kind of fish?"

"Mara Smith keeps severum. Not koi, I know that much. Deep and not completely round, a complete habitat. With benches beside it for sitting and thinking" said Myra. "The birds will love it."

"We can get Mara to design it!" said Ginny.

"Now you're talking. That's for after we've moved it, on down the road, but I wanted you to leave room in the yard for it" said Myra.

"Okay. What else?"

"That's it. I mean, we already agree on lighting, flooring, heating, security, stuff we did here, right?" said Myra.

"We do. Let me run one thing by you: Aside from your fishpond, I'd love to have an indoor tank with tropical fish" said Ginny.

"I'm not wild about caged animals, but -- up to you. It's a lot of work, you know" said Myra.

"I'm not eight" said Ginny. "I'll get grandkids to help me with upkeep."

"Oh, wow" said Myra, imagining it. "Speaking of which, those stairwells at either end of the Limon house, those are way too open. I don't know how they kept their kids from falling to their deaths."

"Yeah, I'll have to brainstorm about gates and enclosures without destroying light and air flow" said Ginny.

Myra took Ginny's hand and got Ginny to meet her eyes. "Thanks" she said meaningfully.

"I'll love doing it" said Ginny. "Most of the time, anyhow. You won't. Over the long haul, we always even out."

They kissed. Myra said "I'm going to my desk, make a mother plan for the coming month's work on my book. What about you?"

"I'm getting dressed and finding us an architect" said Ginny. "I can do the milk run for us later."

"Get creme fraiche if they have it, or extra whole milk so I can make some if they don't" said Myra. "I'm making empanadas tomorrow."

"Oh, and the realtor in Canada called this morning. They've gotten a bid on the farm" said Ginny.

"We need to go meet with our new finance woman this week, don't we?" said Myra.

"I'll make an appointment while I'm making other calls" said Ginny. "At the breakfast bar, I'll keep you out of hearing range."

"Thanks" said Myra again. Ginny picked up her bowl and walked toward the front of the house.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

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