Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Elderly Narnia
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.

September 2013

When Margie had not called back by 11:00, Myra turned off all the lights in the back except for her desk lamp so Ginny could lie down to sleep on her daybed. Myra knew she couldn't get to sleep, and she was sure Margie would call when she could. The delay was not good news -- it must mean tests were being run and results awaited. She wrote a small piece about Narnia, all the best memories of her she could muster, but decided not to post it at her blog for now.

At almost midnight, the phone rang and Myra answered it before it rang again. "Where are you? How is she?" she said without asking who it was.

"I'm sitting in the Cerebellum in front of the vet's. Frances is here but she needs to drive her motorcycle home and I -- we -- thought I shouldn't make you wait any longer. Plus, I just wanted to talk with you." There was a long pause. Margie sounded colorless.

Ginny was forcing herself awake, her eyes showing a lot of white, her face puffy. She picked up the extension as Margie said "The kidney results were not good. It's not a total crash, but it's bad. Plus her glucose was high, and they're not sure which came first, like, what caused what. She's dehydrated but giving her fluids with bad kidneys is tricky. They're keeping her overnight. The best case scenario is that she had diabetes, which can be controlled and theoretically her kidneys will bounce back a little. They also think she has pretty severe arthritis and is in constant pain..." Margie began crying. "I can't believe I missed all this, I'm such a fucking bad parent!"

"No way, no way Marjorie Rose. If you missed it, we all missed it" said Myra. She could hear Frances saying something similar.

"But she's been hurting, and I didn't know it! And I've hardly been home, she must've given up on me!" Margie was in agony, Myra could tell.

Ginny said thickly "She didn't give up, that's crazy. If she'd given up, she'd be dead. The fact is, her life is so good that she pushed herself to keep going instead of staying in bed or giving other signs of what was going on. She wants to be with you, and she just proved it."

"Mama, I don't know if I can bear it if -- I don't think I can make it without her! I know that's awful for me to say, given that we've lost Zayde and Uncle Michael and I'm still hanging on, but this is different" Margie wailed.

"I understand" said Myra. "She's your familiar. Like Alice was for me. You'll find a way to bear it, when that time comes. I don't think it's right now, though. She's getting help and she's tough, she came from trailer trash, remember? She'll pull through."

Margie gave a single laugh in the middle of her sobs.

"We can come down tomorrow morning" said Ginny.

Margie said "Hang on" and they heard indistinct conversation between her and Frances. After a couple of minutes, Margie said "Wait until we know more. If it is diabetes, she'll have to get shots twice a day, I think. And probably a different feeding schedule. I may have to switch my work hours, go in early and be home by 5:00, so for most of the day me or Frances are with her. I wish I could take her to work with me, but a restoration clean environment and dog fur are simply incompatible. I'll call you in the morning after I come back and talk with the vet again."

"We can come stay as long as you need, to help work things out" Ginny said again.

"Okay. We may need that. Thank god I called you earlier, instead of just crashing in front of the TV" said Margie.

"Animals are very stoic. They accept hardship, including feeling like crap, without complaint" said Myra.

"Yeah, that's why we're supposed to pay better attention" said Margie, returning to her guilt.

"Listen, baby girl, can you leave Frances' bike there and drive home together? I'd feel better about both of you. She can pick it up tomorrow" said Ginny.

"Yeah...Okay. We should let you get some sleep, we'll be up early. I'll call, I promise. Will you pass on the news to everyone else?" said Margie.

"E-mail coming up" said Myra. "I love you. Narnia will fight to stay with you, for every right reason in the world."

"I love you, too" said Ginny. When they hung up, Myra slid over next to Ginny, who said "Are you really that optimistic?"

"I am for right now. But this is the beginning of the end, old age takes animals fast, and I swear, Ginny, I feel almost like Margie -- I love that dog more than I can hardly stand." Myra began crying, too. They curled together under the quilt, and Myra fell asleep a minute before Ginny did. They woke up early. Myra peed and went to their bedroom with its drawn shades, while Ginny, bleary, decided to stay up. She promised to get Myra when Margie called. Drinking her second cup of tea, she realized Myra had not sent out an e-mail and she went to the computer to draft one. She was heading back to the kitchen after this chore when the phone rang again.

"It's me, honey, what's the scoop?" she said, walking with the cordless to the bedroom door.

"She's doing better, they said. Her urine this morning was definitely improved. But they, both vets, agree it's diabetes. They're about to teach us both how to give injections. Then we're taking her home, and I'm going to work to talk with my supervisor about my schedule. I'll take the rest of the day off, or bring home one piece, actually, that I can do outside the lab. So, I don't know what to tell you yet about you coming down here."

Myra had picked up the phone and said in a froggy voice "That's okay, you figure it out and tell us where to plug in, and we will. Tell Narnia how much I love her, okay?"

"I will. But this will mean no more sneaking scraps from the table" said Margie.

"I'll rub her belly, that's as good as bacon" said Myra.

Margie laughed, a welcome sound to her mothers. "Okay, we'll talk later today. Wish I could sit down to some of your oatmeal right now."

"We have fresh cherries, we'll bring you some for your own oatmeal when we come" said Ginny.

Myra stayed up now with Ginny, pulling out a Coke to go with her fried egg sandwich. Ginny cleaned the sink, filled it with water and began washing cherries. When Myra was done, she took a bowl to the table to start pitting.

By the time they broke for lunch, they had 8 quarts ready for freezing. Ginny dug some potatoes and pulled greens while Myra sauteed two hake filets in black bean sauce and butter. They steamed the potatoes and topped them with the fish, sauce, and chopped scallions, surrounding it with salad on big plates. Both of them had fingers stained red to the first knuckle, and they entertained themselves by conjecturing lascivious causes for the coloration.

Margie called at 2:00 to ask if they could possibly come that evening and Narnia-sit for the next three days; she had managed to alter her schedule but her boss wanted her to start it the following Monday. Myra looked at the train card by her desk and said yes, they'd catch a cab to her house that night. When they hung up, she and Ginny went into overdrive. Nika was called and happily agreed to housesit. A group e-mail was sent to the rest of the family, and Myra made reservations both for the train and a hotel in Portland. Ginny, meanwhile, packed her painting gear plus triple-sealed bags of cherries and other recently preserved goodies. She asked to add her clothes to Myra's bag, and Myra agreed since it was likely they were going to spend most of their time in the hotel room during the day, only needing "outdoor" clothes for visits.

They just made the train. As they were pulling out of downtown, Allie called and said she wanted to see Margie and Frances, too.

"Hell" said Myra. "You can come in on tomorrow morning's train, we'll grab you a room."

"No, at this point I'll wait on Edwina, we'll come down together Friday evening. If ya'll are still gonna be there."

"We'll make a weekend of it" said Myra. "You can teach me how to give injections."

"I hope your entertainment plans offer more than that" said Allie.

As tired as they both were, they went to Margie's from the station and stayed two hours, holding Narnia across both their laps on the couch and watching Margie gobble vanilla gelato with cherries on top. When they finally checked into the hotel, Ginny let Myra unpack while she stretched a canvas and slathered on gesso. The easel and drop cloth were put in place. Myra pre-ordered breakfast from room service, intending to use that as a wake-up call. She fell asleep almost instantly, and never noticed four hours later when Ginny got up to pee and stayed up in front of the easel.

It was a small canvas, and Ginny was done by Friday evening, though not yet rested. Myra had been picking up Narnia each day at noon and bringing her back to the hotel along with take-out for herself and Ginny. She wrote at their desk for two hours at a stretch, took Narnia on a walk, and resumed, putting in eight-hour days until Narnia was returned to her own home, contented by constant company and being allowed to sleep on the divan in the hotel room.

The six of them had a grand visit, with lots of nature walks or sitting at outdoor cafes with Narnia. Myra suggested the older women leave on Sunday afternoon to give Margie and Frances a night alone, because from then on their schedules would only overlap on the weekends or during sleep hours. On the ride back, Myra said "If they lived in town, it would be so much easier to help 'em out."

Allie snorted. "You got two already in close orbit, count your blessings."

"It's not about that. Well, not completely about that. I'm worried about her and Frances spending even less time together than they already do" said Myra. "Plus, I don't want to lose that dog of dogs."

"She'll call us again if she needs help" said Ginny. "She pushes us away but she calls us back in when trouble strikes. They all do. Which is more than I consistently did with Daddy. I think we need to give ourselves an A and look in the catalogue for the next life lesson."

Myra looked at her for a long while. "Okay. I hear ya."

Edwina said, "Speaking of which...My brother's youngest daughter is graduating from high school next spring and she wrote me about the possibility of her coming out to attend Udub or Evergreen. If she does, and chooses Seattle, Allie and I are talking about offering for her to live with us in the spare room."

"Holy moly" said Myra. "A teenager in your very own house?"

"Yeah, and she a hard-ass" said Allie with a grin. "Talking about being a lawyer."

"Is this Alisha?" Ginny asked Edwina.

"Yes. Reminds me of myself at her age" said Edwina.

"We could use a young lawyer" said Myra. "Alveisa's talking about retiring in a year or three, and Glo's made noises about switching to some other kind of law where she'd be in a practice with low hours. We're going to outlive the careers of our helpers, seems like."

"I just need for Nancy to never retire" said Ginny.

"Hear, hear" echoed Myra. "By the way, Al, did Chris ever talk to you about her session with Nancy?"

"Like if she had, I could pass that on to you" said Allie. "No. Only that she went."

"I find it really hard to imagine" said Myra.

"I don't" said Ginny. "They both like blunt honesty, and they're both intensely spiritual."

Myra had to think about that for a minute. Allie broke into the silence to say, "Actually, me and Chris are facing losing our meeting."

"Your AA meeting, you mean?" said Myra, dismayed.

"Yep. The numbers have dwindled to only four regulars, and all of us there have moved beyond the need to deal with wanting to drink. Which I wish AA would just own up to, that long-standing meetings which aren't welcoming new members have transitioned to another level. You really can get over being a drunk. People who don't believe that stay in meetings where relapses and newcomers keep reinforcing the illness" said Allie.

"I wish they'd get over the line that if it doesn't work for you, it's because you didn't make it work" said Edwina. "Not every treatment is right for every single human being on the planet."

"What will ya'll do?" asked Myra, having a new thing to worry about.

"We talking about it" said Allie. "Maybe we'll form a support group led by Nancy." Myra didn't realize it was a joke until Ginny began laughing.

Allie bumped her knee against Myra's and said "I don't hear you talk much about you Al-Anon meeting, I don't think you going every week."

"No" said Myra with a tinge of guilt. "When I do, it's to see Sima, mostly. I get more actual internal movement from seeing Nancy. I guess I should talk about that with Sima, see if she's looking for a change as well."

Carly and Eric were at the train station to pick them up. They dropped off Allie and Edwina and went home, where Jane and Gillam were at the dining table, studying. A wonderful chicken stew was on the stove, with squash muffins to dip into its broth. Myra was deeply touched. She and Ginny filled wide bowls and ate tiredly. Just as they were rinsing their dishes, preparing to walk back to the easel so Ginny could show her new painting, the phone rang.

Myra answered.

"Mama? Mama, she just died in my arms" came Margie's voice, high and unearthly.


"Narnia." Margie began shrieking in sobs. "She had some kind of seizure -- they're saying it was a stroke -- and we rushed her here but she just died, Mama, she DIED."

"Oh no, no, no, no" Myra said. She slumped into a chair and began crying, too. Ginny grabbed the extension but Margie couldn't talk for several minutes. Carly and Gillam sat down on the couch together, crying as well. Eventually Frances got on the line, choked and stunned.

"I don't know what to do" she said.

"What about, sweetie?" asked Ginny.

"They're asking us...what do we do with her? I don't...our yard isn't really our yard...they say there's a cemetery, or cremation -- "

Ginny heard Margie's voice say "No, not that", then something else Ginny couldn't make out.

"She wants to bring here home, she says" Frances relayed. "To Seattle, I mean. She wants to bury her in your yard."

"Of course" said Ginny. "But I don't think you're safe to drive right now, should we come -- "

"No, I'm okay. I'll be okay" said Frances resolutely. "We -- I'm not going to work tomorrow, no way. And neither is Margie. We'd rather be there. We'll go get a bag and hit the road. They have her -- she's wrapped up in a blanket, the blanket we put around her. We'll -- the traffic won't be bad, this late."

Myra had stopped to blow her nose so she could talk. "Frances, honestly, stop at any point you get wonky in any way. Call us as you hit the freeway, will you? We'll be right here, waiting."

"I can't believe this" said Frances numbly.

"Frances, honey, you're in shock. Can you remember what to do for that? Get something with sugar or carbs in it, and a smidgen of protein, and take lots of deep breaths" said Ginny.

"Yeah. Okay" said Frances, sounding a little more connected. "I can do this. I'll be careful, I know I have to be extra careful."

Margie took the phone again and said "Will you wait up?"

"Of course we will" said Myra and Ginny together.

"I don't know how...I'll just get there, that's all I can manage" said Margie.

"That's all you have to do" said Ginny.

After they hung up, they all talked and wept some more. Gillam said "I want to stay here, see her and help -- bury Narnia." He broke down again.

"Me too" said Carly.

"I think that would be wonderful" said Myra. Jane offered to go home and get work clothes for Gillam, and Eric went with her to do the same for himself and Carly. After a few minutes, Carly said "We have to dig a hole. Let's do that for her."

He and Gillam turned on the floodlights outside and went to the shed for shovels. Myra made sure the sheets in the back bedroom were clean and left the door open to the hall. Ginny went out front to cut masses of roses, some of which she made into an arrangement for Margie and Frances' room, the rest of which she put in water to lay on the grave. After Frances called to say they were officially on their way, Myra and Ginny got on their cell phones to call Allie and Sima. Since the burial would be around 1 a.m., the aunties decided to stay home and come over for dinner the following evening.

After she hung up, Myra put on Pete Seeger and a chorus singing "The Water Is Wide". This restarted her grief, and she sat on her daybed crying with Ginny until the boys came in with dirt-stained hands to join them.

[NOTE: If you'd like to listen to the song Myra and Ginny did, click here and then play or download "The Water is Wide".]

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

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