Saturday, September 27, 2008


Giant sturgeon caught near Seattle
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.

December 2013

After dinner was cleared, Carly pulled out poker chips and everyone began buying in. Myra touched Gillam's arm and said "Could I talk with you privately for a few minutes?"

His eyes were still less than friendly, but he said okay. Ginny looked at Myra expectantly and Myra waved her off. She and Gillam walked back to her study. She sat on the daybed, and he chose to take her chair.

Myra didn't hesitate. "We did that badly. Well, I'll speak for myself at the moment. We did want to tell everybody, but we should have talked to you and Jane privately first."

He nodded.

"And -- I realized we didn't make it clear, you don't have to choose either of the houses in question. You and Jane can pick your own place, of course, and get exactly the same help from us. We'd have made that offer whether or not the Limons' came on the market, now that you're beginning a family. Which changes everything."

He squared his shoulders. He'd always had such wide, lovely shoulders. "It does change everything, Mom. I'm -- a little overwhelmed." He cut himself off. She waited a minute, then said "I know. I remember hitting this stage with our first pregnancy, once the euphoria wore off."

He looked at her. "I feel inadequate. Not just scared, but like -- even in moments of clarity, I can't do everything I'm supposed to do."

"Well, I agree with you, that's clarity" said Myra, startling him. "It takes a shitload of resource to raise a kid; as Hillary would say, a village. You know, Allie and I were always tight, but when Margie came along and Allie stepped in to do more than the share of a friend, that's when we all became family. I felt bad sometimes about her taking on our kid, but we seriously needed her and, well, she fell in love with Margie. And then you. You have many more people than we did standing in the wings, waiting to come help. We're tribal animals, it's how we're supposed to function, no shame in it."

"But..." He picked at his cuticle. "I need you not take this as gender shit -- I'm the main breadwinner, I'm the one who will be working full-time once Poppyseed is born -- "

When Myra reacted to the name, he grinned and said "We've been calling it Poppyseed in lieu of 'it' or another name. It won't be his or her real name, don't worry."

"Poppyseed. I love it" said Myra.

"Anyhow, the fact is, I took this job at Nova because it's where I really wanted to work, that alternative setting with kids in need, and I adore it, Mama. But it pays crappy. I could earn 50% more at even another public school, maybe double at a private school. The fact is, my income alone is not enough to buy a house, handle the $5000 health care deductible that will hit us next year and every year after that, and all the rest I can't even anticipate. Plus we need a new car. I have enough left in my trust fund maybe for the car, after we pay all the tuition to finish our Masters' degrees. But then we'll have no savings. So...your house offer means taxes and upkeep, and anything else -- I won't be able to swing it."

"Yeah. You won't be financially independent, not completely. And if that matters to you more than having a house, I'll respect that, Gillam. I really will."

He leaned back, rubbing his forehead. "I can't imagine being so proud as to turn this down. Don't take that as a yes, it's not. But...Choosing to on being dependent on your and Mom, not just for all the meals and the vacations and of course babysitting, but the roof over my head..."

"I hear you. Perhaps you should talk with Allie, she had a very hard time accepting the trust fund I set up for her when I won the lottery. We were both scared it would alter our relationship and not for the better."

"Yeah. I could do that. Still, this is different. I've been dependent, now I'm in a different stage of life, and you've been working hard on not being a parent in the same way, how will this affect you?"

Myra smiled wanly. "It'll take work on my part, too. Already begun. But that's what family does. And, I should have thought of this earlier: I could do with you what I did with Allie. I, well, Ginny and I, could set up an independent trust to pay for the house and taxes, upkeep, put it in your and Jane's name and walk away. You'd have complete control over it. Wow, even to me that sounds a fuck of a lot better."

His shoulders relaxed. "God, yes. That's a completely different animal. Okay, can I take that to Jane as a revised offer?"

"Yes. I know Ginny will love it."

"Are you two really going to be able to afford this? I mean, it's been years since I sat in on a family accounting meeting, how has the economic downturn hurt you?"

"Astonishingly little. Rich people want to buy art, like they buy gold and luxury items. And Ginny's name is prestigious, so she sells among the hoi polloi. Our retirement fund is solid because, well, two things, really. One is that I insisted we invest according to what I saw as lesbian-feminist principles, which means no making money off basic human needs. So no real estate, no agribusiness, no energy except renewable energy, and no big pharma or health care. All of which have been where most of the losses occurred. Plus no military, of course. We were able to choose low-yield, stable, human-interest-oriented stocks and investments. And Ginny's contribution was to insist that we never make a financial decision where fear or worry was somehow in the mix. People don't think clearly when they are scared, and in particular the Republicans feed off fear. If we couldn't think about a possibility without some loss of our internal power -- and we'd gut check each other -- then we didn't go down that road." Myra felt proud of herself and Ginny. Their collaboration had been cross class lines, she thought.

"But all that microcredit loaning you've done, you and also the Feminist Fund -- isn't that exploiting human need?" asked Gillam.

"Our personal microcredit portfolio began with a set amount and we've never retrieved that investment, we've put all profit back into the kitty so our ability to loan has doubled and quadrupled, all going back to people who control their own decisions about what they do with the money. We never will close it out, either. If the poor in the world stop needing microloans, we'll give it away elsewhere. In fact, we do give away 10% of it each year, right before the end of the year -- you can help us decide where in the next couple of weeks, if you want. Same with the Fund. Oh, and there's an idea -- If we put you on the board of the Feminist Fund and give you an actual job, something that won't take more than a few hours a month, we could cover you with our health insurance. Which has a very low deductible and excellent coverage. I'll have to bring this to the board, but hell, you're about to play poker with most of them, I think you'll be voted in. If you want the responsibility, that is. And it wouldn't kick in until after the first of the year, but it would certainly cover the birth."

Gillam stared at her. "There's no men on the board of the Feminist Fund."

"Will be now. We talked about it a long time ago, about how you'd probably be the first" said Myra. "And, if the others agree, I'd like to ask Carly and Margie as well."

"I need more information about what my work duties would be" said Gillam slowly.

"Of course. I didn't mean to dump more on you tonight. Listen, we can go join the game if you want. I just wanted to give you a chance to yell at me and hear me say I know what's up for you. Not gender crap at all -- parent crap. Me and Ginny had some looneytone blow-outs during her first pregnancy, sometime we'll tell you and Jane how nutty we got."

"Was Mama, how shall I say it, hormonal?"

"You have no idea. And it got worse after the birth. But I'll be there for you, don't worry" said Myra.

"Easy for you to say" muttered Gillam, standing. "Let's go play seven card stud. Is there beer in the store room fridge? I want a beer."

"Yes, Grolsch which doesn't bother Ginny as much because she gets to use the bottles afterward for salad dressings. Offer some to Carly and Eric, too."

He stopped to hug her. "The Limons' place, that was Mom's idea, wasn't it?"

"Yes. But I want it too, now."

"Jane has talked about how she'd decorate this house if it was hers, you know" he said in a whisper.

"Just don't paint over the mural in your room, that's all I ask. Everything else can go" said Myra.

"All right." When they returned to the dining room, Ginny looked at Myra sharply. Myra ignored the silent question and said "I need five bucks of chips, Carly."

"Coming up" he said with a grin. "I should initial 'em, because they'll all be mine by the end of the evening."

Over the next two weeks, Myra finished her holiday baking, got help decorating cookies, and sent out her usual Ginny-decorated tins. Ginny raced through two paintings, one of them an abstract that was based on Myra's PET scan. She named it "All Clear" and it was so gorgeously unidentifiable, Myra okayed it for sale. Jane and Gillam announced they would make a decision about houses on Gillam's birthday, and confirmed their decision to house-sit for Myra and Ginny while everyone else went to Lake Quinault Lodge. "Seeing what it's like without us in it" Ginny whispered to Myra.

The two of them squeezed in three more sessions with Nancy, and by the time they climbed into the far back of Edwina's car for the drive to the lodge the day after Christmas, Myra felt drained from processing. Ginny did not pack a wet carrier or canvas. Instead, she had a large watercolor block and a box of tube watercolors, plus a stack of books and magazines on house design ideas. She'd also scored copies of the Limon's original blueprints and had them reproduced a dozen times for "doodling on", she said.

Chris took the galleys of her dictionary on disk with her laptop, Sima had jewelry-making supplies, and both Allie and Edwina took work projects. Myra's book was on her laptop, but she packed a number of mysteries instead of any nonfiction. Carly and Eric brought fishing gear and joined the early morning trek to the lake each day. Myra slept until nearly dinner the first day, ate with everyone, and afterward opted out of Scrabble to sit near the fire and read. She went to bed with Ginny and fell asleep swiftly.

The next morning, she met up with Lois and sat with her, watching weaving and chatting for the first hour. As they both subsided into silence, Myra pulled out the Levenger Circa notebook Ginny had given her for Chanukah and began writing: Two poems, one after the other, then a silly rhyme which turned into the chatter of a little girl named Poppyseed talking about making bread with her Gramma. It was spare, funny, and not a voice Myra had ever heard come from inside herself. After lunch, she showed it to Ginny and Allie, who stared at one another wide-eyed. Allie said "I'll arm-wrassle you for it."

"I'll do the cover, I'm better with one-offs" said Ginny. "You do the story." Allie shook her hand.

"Just like that?" said Myra.

"It the most accomplished kid's thing you ever done" said Allie, her astonishment settling into a grin.

"Don't let them touch a line of it" said Ginny. She patted the chair next to her at the table and said "Would you like to daydream about energy usage and room arrangement?"

"I redecorate my own way" said Myra. "You go ahead. I'll say no when I need to. I got other fish to fry."

"Speaking of which" said Chris, who had been listening in, "You think that guy was pulling Carly's leg about the sturgeon?"

"His tackle was intended for something fuckin' huge" said Allie. "I know they can get to be ten feet long, easy, but I don't know about in this lake."

"There's a ten-foot fish out there?" said Ginny, diverted from her blueprints.

"They were claiming so" said Edwina.

"There's an ancient legend about a monster who used to live here. He was killed by a native man named Kwatee after the monster ate his brother. I wonder if the white boys have gotten that mixed up with somebody spotting a big chinook or something" said Chris.

"Lewis and Clark killed a ten-foot sturgeon, it's in their journals" offered Myra. "But I think that might have been on the Columbia."

Chris leaned over to Ginny and said in a soft voice "Can you make up a poster advertising a reward for the capture of a quote killer fish unquote? Say it's eaten dogs who've chased sticks into the lake and maybe attacked a person. Disguise your handwriting, and I'll post it by the cleaning dock."

Ginny began giggling. Allie said "Carly won't go out in his waders no more."

"Yes he will" Myra defended him. But she began giggling too and said "He'll wear a cup, though." When they all roared, Carly and Eric looked over at them suspiciously from their game of spades at a nearby table.

Myra took her notebook and current mystery to a giant soft chair sitting in a pool of light from the window. For the rest of the week, she read, wrote poems, watched weaving, and slept on Ginny's schedule. She didn't check e-mail or open her laptop once. One afternoon, she lay down on the couch where Allie was making sketches of Poppyseed and gently bickering with Ginny about skin tone, putting her head on Allie's thigh and dropping off within a minute. Allie woke her up an hour later, saying "I don't mind you drooling on my khakis but I gotta go take a whizz."

Ginny's dog-eating fish poster wound up in the local Sunday paper the day before they left. Lois had joined them for breakfast and brought a copy, saying "I suspect this stunt has your fingerprints on it." Ginny swore her to silence. That afternoon, Chris drove an hour to a small town where she bought an assortment of odds and ends at a convenience store to cover the purchase of a dog collar. She and Allie "mucked up" the collar to make it not look new any more, then wrote "Snowball" on the inside with indelible ink, sliced it jaggedly in two places with Allie's pocket-knife, and left it in the shallows next to the beach where people took their dogs for walks. Myra asked Lois to call them in Seattle if the collar got found and joined the news cycle.

Gillam's birthday fell on a Thursday that year, so they held his party on Friday. After he blew out his candles and cut cake for everyone, he said "We'll take the house. This one. But only in the form of a trust we manage ourselves. Alveisa is retiring but she recommended a guy we've hired as our financial adviser."

Everyone cheered. Jane waited a few minutes before she said to Ginny, "We're going to tear out the wall between your study and studio, make that one big family room again. Plus we're putting down carpeting and repainting all the walls in neutral shades."

Myra couldn't believe Ginny hadn't anticipated this, but clearly she had not. She didn't seem to be able to even move the muscles of her face. Gillam said blandly to Myra, "We'll want all our own appliances, too, so take whatever you want. As long as you're still determined to keep the stove, that is."

Ginny finally croaked out "What do you mean by neutral shades?"

Gillam said gently "I think of all people you know what that term means, Mama. Listen, we'd love to keep your roses out front and rhododendrons along the side -- is it possible for you to make cuttings, thin them each out and us share them that way?"

It was a sop, and Ginny accepted it. Myra knew she'd hear the blowback later. "Definitely" Ginny said. "We may have to move them for construction, I'm not sure what...else you have planned. But we'll deal with it. The Limon house will need a great deal of alteration, so we won't be out of here for months, you know."

"By May first, we're hoping" said Gillam.

"We'll do our best" said Myra. Sima proposed a toast, to "Fences and gates!" and they all clanked their glasses together.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

1 comment:

Jesse Wendel said...

"Neutral shades"

*cracks up*

Ah, too good.