Wednesday, September 10, 2008

GINNY BATES: MERCURY IN RETROGRADE

Original Lowell Elementary School, Capital Hill, Seattle, circa 1911
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.

October 2013

Two days later, Myra woke up in the motel in Anacortes because the phone on the nightstand was ringing. She managed to find it without opening her eyes and said thickly "Hello?"

"Hey" said Allie. "Once again, I can't get through on your cell, and of course Ginny's is turned off."

"What's wrong?" said Myra, opening her eyes wide.

"Nothing, everybody's okay. But I need to ask you a question about this foreword you've written, my editors want to send it on today" said Allie.

"I'm looking at my cell right here, it's plugged in and the power light is on. Let me check -- oh, damn, it's on vibrate. Ginny, that's the funny noise we kept hearing, my cell vibrating on this tray here" said Myra.


"Well, turn it to ring. Now listen, in what you wrote, you spelled god lower-case like you always do, but my editors are uptight about it, you got a problem with it having a capital G?"

"No problem at all. What else?"

"That's it. But you know how sometimes certain words make a statement for you, and I wasn't sure about this one" said Allie.

"What time is it?" asked Myra, looking at the drawn curtains.

"Just past 2 in the afternoon. Aren't you up yet? What have you -- oh, never mind" said Allie. "I reckon I'll let you two go, ya'll have fun." She hung up quickly.

Myra slid out of bed. Ginny said to her "You coming back after you pee?"

"I thought I'd get a shower, I'm sticky everywhere." Ginny could hear the grin without seeing Myra's face.

"Can I join you?"

"Come on. When we come back to bed, let's switch over to the other one with clean sheets" said Myra.

A week later, Ginny was on the phone with Cathy when Myra got up. She made toast, put some yogurt in a bowl with banana, and went to her desk to read e-mail. When Ginny was done, she came to Myra and said "Guess what? Cathy's coming here for Thanksgiving!"

"Fabulous. She knows the routine, right?"

"Yep. She'll fly in Tuesday night and leave Sunday afternoon. She requests a slot in the gravy making section, she said." Ginny's eyes were dancing.

Myra pulled down the calendar from her wall to mark this in. She stopped halfway through, however, saying "Uh-oh."

"What?"

"Margie's birthday this year is on Thanksgiving itself. And it's her 25th. But when I talked to her last week, she said Frances definitely had to work this Thanksgiving. Which means either Margie won't be with us on her birthday, or won't be with Frances, she'll have to choose." Myra looked at Ginny. "This year, of all years, without Narnia..."

Ginny sat down, dejected. "She won't want to leave Frances alone, I know her. Not with both of them grieving the way they have been."

"Is Margie still wearing Narnia's collar as a bracelet?"

"I don't know, I haven't asked her. Shit, Myra. And this is Eric's first year to do the whole extravaganza with us, he and Carly were talking about the holidays just the other day. Eric said his parents weren't big on Thanksgiving, so he was happy to be spending it with us -- they'll go to Spokane for Christmas instead."

"Well, I'm not leaving Margie alone on her birthday. You know what? I'll go down there, the day before. I'll carry our gifts and spend Thanksgiving with her. We can eat at Simpatico, so Frances can join us when she's free. I'll come back on Friday or Saturday so I get to spend time with Cathy" said Myra.

"It really should be me. But I can't abandon Cathy" said Ginny, utterly unconscious of how she was voicing Margie's likely preference. Myra didn't miss it, however. She said "And I can't volunteer Allie for it. So it's me. In fact, I'm going to call Margie right now, in case she's wondering about it all."

Ginny got on the extension. Half an hour later, as they hung up, Ginny said "That'll work out well. Frances having off Saturday and Sunday means they can stay until Monday morning -- you should book the train tickets now, for all of you, both ways."

Myra turned to her computer, but paused to say "Will you have the marker for Narnia's grave done by then?"

"Yes" said Ginny firmly. "Listen, next time you talk to Gillam, find out if they are going to be around for Christmas. If none of the kids are, let's go back to Lake Quinault Lodge."

"Or they could go with us" said Myra. "I have to talk to Chris and Allie first about that." With her back turned to Ginny, she said in a dreamy voice "And I get to see Lois the Weaver again."

Ginny laughed immediately, and so did Myra. Ginny left, but returned in a minute to say "If you're not going to be running the kitchen at Thanksgiving, you need to appoint a replacement honcho. Someone who understands how to organize a massive meal prep like that."

"Hmm" said Myra. "Well, I think either Sima or Gillam, don't you?"

"Sima" said Ginny. "Gillam is still too much in love to be all business-like for hours at a stretch, it's hard enough for him to go to work and classes each day."

"I can't believe Lowell hasn't once called Jane to sub over there" said Myra. "Her resume is excellent, and she says they are hiring others. She's pretty upset about it."

Ginny said "Yeah, I've got an idea about that." Myra's pulse picked up a little and she said "Care to share?"

"Not yet. I'll let you know."

Four days later they sat down to go over bills and household accounts. Myra said "Our food costs the last several months have almost doubled. Not that I'm complaining, but we'll have to budget differently."

"Speaking of which, we probably need to hold off on making this quarter's contribution to our retirement fund. Since I'm not selling paintings right now. Let's see how the furniture sales add up" said Ginny.

"Do you have an idea of what your inventory is at the moment? Because I should call our insurance agent and up the value of our policy to match what's in the upstairs vault" said Myra. Ginny looked at her appreciatively and said "Very astute of you. I'll work one up."

She hesitated for a long minute, then said "Speaking of income...I'm ready to talk over the idea I had that might help Jane get in the door at Lowell."

"Cool."

"Well, I discussed with my agent the possibility of my offering to paint a mural at Lowell. You know, as an ex-employee there and a former mother of students who went there. She said I could write off a chunk on my taxes if I don't charge them. I thought I could approach the person in their administration who's in charge of the facility, make my pitch, and indicate I wanted my daughter-in-law who has double degrees in education and music to be my assistant. It would give Jane a chance to become known to the teachers and staff over there. I think they're just insular, and a little protective because most of the students are either special ed or gifted, needing better than average subs. Once they got to know Jane, they'd realize she's a perfect fit." Ginny came to a halt and licked her lips.

"That's a brilliant idea, Gin. How long would it take, you think?"

"Oh, hard to say because I'll have to probably submit a proposed drawing and deal with bureacracy first. The painting part wouldn't be more than a week. I didn't want to mention it to Jane before I talked with you."

"Well, I say go for it. They'll jump at it, I'm sure." Myra could tell Ginny was holding something back.

"The thing is, the vice principal there who I'd be working with is Bonnie." Ginny's eyes were wide and a little pale.

"Bonnie Linehan? Well, even better, I bet she'll have a soft spot for Gillam's wife. She adored him when he was in her third grade, remember?"

"You won't mind?" said Ginny.

"Honey, you're welcome to look up all your exes and make plans with them, I wish you joy of it. Especially Jules" grinned Myra.

"No, thanks" said Ginny, grinning back at her. "I see her name from time to time on donor lists for arts organizations. Except now she's not listed as part of a couple with that other doctor, so I'm guessing they've broken up."

"Well, here's your chance. My lottery payout is gone, you could hook up with a successful prominent physician" teased Myra.

"Hush. I'm just grateful no enterprising reporter has decided to do a biography of me that includes digging in my past enough to turn up Jules and go interview her" said Ginny. "That would be awful."

"Yeah, no one's ever dredged up my string of messes either in a review" said Myra. "Probably none of my exes want to claim me."

"Then I'll talk to Jane the next time they're over for dinner, and if she wants to devote a week to sucking up at Lowell, I'll set the gears in motion." Ginny leaned over and kissed Myra's cheek.

In two weeks, Ginny's preliminary sketches had been approved by Bonnie without advance submission to the school board -- Bonnie said she was willing to assume responsibility for the go-ahead, they were lucky to have the offer. They settled on one wall of the entry hall, opposite the library, and a small network of pipes and electrical conduits were cleverly incorporated into the design by Ginny. When Gillam heard about the project, his eyes went luminous as he looked at Ginny with gratitude. He looked even more amazed when Ginny showed Jane the background sections she was willing to let Jane paint in herself.

"Has she ever collaborated like that with someone else?" he whispered to Myra.

"Well, the Skene map on my wall divider. But that was Allie" said Myra.

"I guess Jane is in" he said.

"Of course she's in" retorted Myra.

Once the work began, Gillam began going to Lowell after his own work day ended, he said to give Jane a ride home but since it was an easy walk, Myra guessed it was more that he wanted to see the daily progress. Jane spent a lot of time keeping small hands away from the wet wall, but she did this with charm and skill, making fast friendships with children and teachers alike.

On Thursday at noon, Myra walked in the front doors at Lowell to discover Ginny sitting on the floor, leaned against the un-muraled wall, at the feet of Bonnie in a chair. They were eating from a cafeteria tray balanced on Bonnie's lap.

"Hey, look who's here!" called out Ginny, waving Myra over.

"You left your lunch in the fridge, I was worried you'd be hungry" said Myra. She handed a thermal bag to Ginny, not sure if she should kiss her in the hall.

"Bonnie got me something from the cafeteria, bless her. But I can eat both, this painting with an audience leaves me ravenous" said Ginny. She unzipped the bag, grinning up at Bonnie "You gotta try these crab cakes, my own recipe. And the dipping sauce is mine too." Myra's pasta primavera was left in the bag.

"Where's Jane?" asked Myra.

"Oh, great news -- the music teacher called in sick and Jane's taking her classes for the day!" enthused Ginny. She turned back to Bonnie and said "See what I mean? Isn't that the best crab you ever tasted?"

Bonnie agreed with a little caution in her voice. Myra didn't think Bonnie had been fooled by Ginny's plan to insert Jane into the scene at Lowell, and had likely done her share to make it happen.

"Look, there's extra" said Ginny. "Push aside that cruddy meatloaf, we have a feast here." The extra, of course, had been in case Ginny could eat with Myra, but Ginny wasn't putting two and two together at the moment. "I grew these snowpeas, too."

"Well" said Myra, "I'm going to head out. Tell Jane congratulations for me."

"Where are you going, some greasy diner, I bet? Don't drink too much Coke. And, Myra -- aren't you going to comment on the mural?"

"Oh, yeah. It's strange seeing your work only partially done, I'm not used to it. Looking good. I like how the dragons are making a Celtic knot."

Ginny said to Bonnie, "See, I told you they were Celtic dragons!" Myra waved at them and left.

She decided a diner was, in fact, a great idea. She began driving toward Broadway when her cell rang. She managed to pull over and answer it before it went into messages.

"Myra?" It was Annie Gagliardi. "I hate to do this, but I need to ask you for a favor. My car has broken down, and I think I can fix it but where I am is a little off the beaten path. Could you pick up some spark plugs and come help me out?"

"Sure" said Myra. "Where are you?"

"Well, kinda far. A residential neighborhood in Kenmore. If you have pencil and paper, I can tell you more or less how to find me. I don't have triple-A right now and you're the only person I could think of who isn't at work -- "

"Don't sweat it, Annie, I'll be glad to see you." Myra pulled out her notebook and got directions plus the specs for the spark plugs. "Should I swing by home and get my tools?"

"No, I got tools" said Annie. "This is a big relief."

"I was about to grab some lunch, you hungry?" asked Myra.

"There's a good taco stand at the end of this street, I walked down here to call you, so if that's okay with you, I can recommend the carne asada" said Annie.

"Perfect" said Myra. "I'll see you whenever."

She headed for the local auto parts store. Once she made her purchase, she called home and left a message on the machine saying where she was and to not wait dinner on her. She got lost twice, but finally located Annie and munched on tacos while Annie talked diagnostics out loud. They replaced the plugs, which got Annie's Toyota started, running ragged with a strong smell of gas. They didn't have an idiot book, so they kept brainstorming new possibilities and tinkering. Myra offered twice to have Annie's car towed to her garage and pay for the repair, but they were actually having fun with the puzzle and voted to keep at it. The day was cool and clear, and every hour Myra would walk down to the taco stand and get another fountain Coke.

When it got full dark, some of the fun wore off, but they felt they were close so Myra held a flashlight while Annie worked on. They turned away three men who wanted badly to take over for them. Eventually, with a belch of flame under the carburetor cap, the engine roared and began running steadily. They danced a jig of triumph before wiping their hands and starting to pack away tools.

"I'd bring you home for dinner but I don't know what they made" said Myra. "How about instead we go to a cafe or diner of your choosing and eat a real meal, so I can follow you and make sure the fix is permanent?"

"You name the place, I'm buying" said Annie. Myra chose the diner she had considered earlier and they reunited there. Annie's car started again easily when they were done eating, and she insisted she could make it home without an escort.

"This has been a blast, Annie-O" said Myra, using the nickname she hadn't uttered in years. "I'd like to see more of you, just drop by any time."

"Okay" said Annie. "Give my love to everybody."

It was past 7:00 when Myra came in the front door, looking ruefully at a grease smear on her shirt that she was afraid might not come out. The house was full of people --Jane, Gillam, Eric, Carly, and Chris were in the living room, looking at her with sober faces. Ginny was at the breakfast bar on the phone. She said "Oh, hell, she just walked in. I'll talk to you later, Edwina" and hung up. She swung around and said "Where the hell have you been?"

"With Annie Gagliardi, fixing her car. Like I said in my message" said Myra.

"There was no note here" began Ginny.

"No, my phone message. Not your cell, the main machine on my desk, didn't you check it?"

"Twice" said Ginny. "And e-mail. And I called everyone we know."

"Well, not everybody or else you'd have gotten Annie" pointed out Myra, a little unwisely. She turned to the living room assemblage and said "Are you all here on search and rescue, or what?"

"Yeah" said Chris, standing. "Since you're alive, I'm heading home."

"We still on for lunch tomorrow?" asked Myra. She was not going to take on Ginny's worry, she had called and left a message.

Chris gave her a salute and went rapidly out the door. Myra went to her bathroom and scrubbed her hands. When she was done, she walked back to her desk, motioning Ginny to join her. She hit the playback button. There was a call that registered as no number on the caller ID and came through as static.

"Whoops" said Myra. "I guess I was in a dead zone."

"What the fuck took all this time?" demanded Ginny. "Why didn't you call back, or answer your cell?"

"I left the cell in my car. I didn't call back because I'd told you where I was. What are you so heated up about, Ginny? I'm only an hour or so late for dinner."

"I didn't know where you were, at all, and it's not like you to not make dinner without word" said Ginny. "Plus..."

"Plus what?"

"Well, I realized after you left that you probably had meant to eat with me, and I'd been a little oblivious" said Ginny, still too anxious to be actually apologetic.

"You were oblivious. Nothing new there. But that has nothing to do with my going to help Annie, and you need to believe me when I say I'm okay with something" said Myra.

"I know...I was, mostly" began Ginny.

"That crew out there doesn't speak to you being okay" said Myra calmly. "Why don't you go decompress with them, and leave me out of it."

"Aren't you hungry?" asked Ginny.

"No, we stopped on the way home and ate" said Myra. "But in my message, I told you not to hold dinner for me, before you say anything else."

Ginny looked irresolute. Myra gave her a friendly shove. "Go, calm the kids and let them calm you. I'm going to check my e-mail."


© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

2 comments:

Cowboy Diva said...

does mercury retrograde really have that effect?

(setting aside for the moment, the family response to potential runaway Myra. rrriight.)

Maggie Jochild said...

Well, you know how astrology works with self-fulfilling prophecy and all, CD. I certainly notice when I have a string of transportation/communication breakdowns and if I go see where Mercury is and it's in retrograde, I think "AHA!" But I don't check, of course, when things run smoothly.

Love your "rrriight". Sometimes the problem with change is that the folks around you who claim to want you behaving differently are not so thrilled when you do actually change. (sigh)