Thursday, September 11, 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.

Late November 2013

Myra found it strange to ride the train to Portland alone. She was reminded, several times, of the trip she'd taken on this same train after Gil died, to visit Kate. She'd begun writing poetry again because of that train journey. Now Kate lived in Seattle with a new lover, her son Rafe was going to Udub, and she had trouble remembering what Gil's voice had sounded like unless she worked hard at it.

Loving Ginny had moved her into a parallel universe.

It wasn't just strange, it was devastating to knock at Margie's door and not hear Narnia's woof, her sniffing at the other side and then the warble which meant a member of her pack had arrived. Margie's glad face was antidote for Myra's burgeoning grief. She took Myra's bundles from her and dumped them carelessly on the couch, then hugged her for a long time. They both walked downstairs for Myra's bag.

"What's with the tire on Frances' motorcycle?" asked Myra.

"She needs to get a new one, but hasn't had time and neither have I. She's got the Cerebellum today because it's so cold out and supposed to rain at any moment. If you and I go out, we'll have to take the bus" said Margie, already nosing into the shopping bags.

"Anything with wrapping paper on it, you have to save until tomorrow. The rest is for your larder" said Myra. Margie put three presents on the table, the bread and jars on the counter, opening the quart of apricots immediately and eating one with her fingers. Myra was looking again at the portrait of Frances, hung in pride of place over the couch. It really was an extraordinary painting, one of Ginny's best.

"Listen, baby girl, the only seats I could get from here to Seattle on Saturday morning is the 8 a.m. train, all the rest were gone" said Myra. "I know that cuts into Frances' sleep from working the night before -- "

"It's okay, she can nap on the train. We'll put her next to the window with a pillow, she sleeps easily. I'll sit across from you and we can talk." Margie ate another two apricots, then recapped the jar and set it in the fridge. "What's this box?"

"I made you a dozen cupcakes and Ginny decorated them. I figured you'll have a real cake at Simpatico on your birthday, but you can spread these throughout the day, starting at breakfast" said Myra.

"Or right now?" asked Margie.

"Well, Ginny was already in labor with you at this point 25 years ago, so why not?" said Myra. She accepted one of them -- dark chocolate with a cream filling and raspberry frosting. Ginny had drawn a prickly pear on it with green icing and used red hots to make its ripe pears. Margie had taken one of the dolphin series. They wolfed them down and licked their fingers.

"Happy early birthday" said Myra with her mouth still full. "I brought your birth tape with me, we can watch it tomorrow when Frances gets up."

"You know, it makes her a little queasy" giggled Margie. "She can gut any kind of carcass and clean intestines for sausage, but me coming out of Mama makes her green. Anyhow, I'm planning to run in the Portland Zoo's annual Turkey Trot this year. It's a fundraiser and everyone at work is sponsoring me."

"How long a run is it?" asked Myra.

"Four miles, and it starts early. We can go out for breakfast afterward, me and you. Then come back here and meet up with Frances."

"Sounds great" said Myra. "As long as I have a Coke. And don't have to run myself, of course. What else do you have planned?"

"Well, Simpatico at 2-ish. And afterward, one of the art movie houses is showing classic horror movies until midnight, I thought we could catch one or maybe two if Frances isn't too beat. Then back here because she'll have begun work early. I don't have any plans for Friday, but I figured you'll want to check in at Powell's, right?"

Myra grinned. "I guess it's time to give you the big present from me and Ginny early: I'm taking you shopping at any mall you want for that insane day after Thanksgiving blow-out. Shop until you drop. So I need to be rested up, too, because I will not quit until you are ready."

Margie threw her arms around Myra. "Oh, Mama, that's the best ever! And I was just looking at ads in the paper before you came in, there's a dress I'd die for. And a sale on shoes at Nordy's -- bring your laptop and we'll set you up at a food court with fountain Cokes, I'll bring each purchase back to brag before heading for the next store, how's that sound?"

"Maybe later in the day. But I want to be with you for at least some of it, savor the Margie selection process" grinned Myra. Margie hugged her again.

"What shall we do now? You had lunch on the train, right?"

"Actually, no. It was so crowded I was reluctant to leave my seat. I'm definitely hungry, but we can either go out or I'll cook for you here, you pick" said Myra. "If you're low on groceries, we can shop first."

"We're never low on groceries, Frances is always bringing stuff home. But I want French -- remember that restaurant we went to with the profiteroles? Anyhow, there's a place here that's really good but expensive, so I've only been once. I better call and make sure they're open today."

They were, and Myra insisted on calling a cab instead of walking through the fresh downpour to the bus stop. At the bistro, Margie ordered mussels and shallots in creme fraiche with a baguette and the house salad. Myra got a croque madame with pommes frites. For dessert, neither of them got the profiteroles, after all -- Margie selected the almond butter cake with cinnamon raisin ice cream, and Myra went for the bittersweet chocolate cake with praline-coated vanilla ice cream. "A sugar bender" said Myra.

"That's what birthdays are for" replied Margie. "Besides, if we were in Seattle we'd be surrounded by pies and sneaking enough bites to equal what we're eating here."

"How's work? I mean, beyond just what you said about it going well?"

"They're trusting me with projects that are right at the edge of what I can handle" said Margie. "I asked for it, and I got it. I've been working on a manuscript from 850 A.D., fire damage that's affected some of the text. We're using a special light to bring up images on even charred surfaces, and there's chemicals now that can clean soot without lifting ink. It's like working in slo-mo, and at the end of the day, when I head back out into regular activity, I feel like I'm racing. I think by the end of the year, if they keep letting me, I'll know how to do anything in the place. And that's my goal. Eventually I want to be my own business."

"What kind of expense are you looking at, for equipment as an independent contractor in this field?" asked Myra.

"I've been making a list. Depends on my focus. I don't think I actually want to work on manuscripts, I'd rather do maps and paintings, drawings, images in general. And, of course, it depends on the market wherever we end up."

Myra concealed any change of expression she might have. New York, I bet she thought.

"How did the mural at Lowell turn out? I can't wait to see it -- how fun it would have been to have it on the wall when I went there" said Margie.

"It's spectacular. It's a dragon school playground, and at the edge you can see into the library where little dragons are reading fantastic books. Since Lowell has so many orthopedically challenged kids, Ginny put some of them in wheelchairs with flames shooting out the back or on wing-shaped crutches. The school is being swamped with visitors who want to take photos. Bonnie's having to lock the front doors and demand folks make appointments instead of strolling in."

"Bonnie, my teacher Bonnie?" asked Margie.

"Yep. She's the vice principal now. She and Ginny had a chance to reconnect during the project, and I think it was really good for both of them. They were friends first, you know" said Myra.

"I didn't. I actually know very little about Mom's earlier girlfriends. Maybe you could fill me in?" Margie winked at Myra.

"Well...I can't see why not." Myra told Margie everything she could except for specifics about sex. She discovered it gave her evil pleasure to make comments about Dakin and Jules. She didn't have a charge about Ginny's other two exes. She loved how Margie laughed with her conspiratorially.

Margie said "Was there ever a point in your relationship where one of you was attracted to someone else? I mean, I know you've been monogamous, but were you still like pining after Aunt Allie at the beginning, or what?"

"Good god, Margie, what if my answer was yes? You'd nearly faint from the shock" Myra laughed. "No, I was not like pining for Allie, if I had been I wouldn't have noticed Ginny. The Allie episode was mercifully brief. And, speaking for myself only, I've never felt an interest that I could call romantic or sexual in anyone else since Ginny entered my door. She takes up all the room I have, and then some. You know what, I can speak for her too -- if her attention had ever been drawn elsewhere, I think I'd know it. You can tell such things, if you're honest with yourself."

"Yeah. You can" said Margie, a little sadly. Myra immediately wished she could take her last sentence back. But Margie had introduced this topic, she must be needing to talk about it.

"Then -- have you or Mom ever had a talk about not being partners? Or considered it?" Margie's face was now deathly serious. Myra felt her maternal instinct kick in, her body wanted to respond to a threat aimed at her child -- but this wasn't a threat she could fix.

"We had a few fights in the beginning, negotiating terms, testing parameters, I think you know what I mean, where the stakes were high. Like, is this commitment one we can actually pull off, that question in the back of your head. But the answer was always 'yes' within an hour or so. And of course I got scared sometimes, more so in our early years, mostly that I couldn't keep up my end of the bargain. Then -- no doubts at all for a long time, until recently." She saw Margie register shock and she continued quickly. "Not doubts now, just the question as we transitioned into having no full-time parenting duties, who do we want to be now, as a couple? That question has to always include the option of not being a couple. But again, the answer up at the front of my brain was choosing Ginny."

"Did you tell her?" said Margie, still looking shocked. "I mean, about maybe not being a couple?"

"We were in session with Nancy at the time, so yes. It was good to air it, and answer it. I know I keep telling people this, but if I have a problem, I'll say so. I always give at least a hint when I'm approaching a brick wall, in terms of my limits" said Myra.

"Yeah, Mom, but the thing is, you let people push you a lot. You live on a lot of boundaries, you like living there, and you want us to keep things interesting. So you're giving 'wow that's scary' signals all the time. We can't always know when it's more serious than another time" said Margie.

Myra was struck silent. Out of the mouths of your children she thought. She memorized what Margie had just said, to repeat to Ginny, and focused back on Margie.

"So, is this about Frances and Imani?" she asked gently.

"Kinda. I mean, nothing's changed there. If anything, Frances sees her less, since...Narnia died. But I'm minding it more as times goes on. I went to a counselor, the week I got back from burying Narnia, and I kept seeing him. He's pretty good. Eventually we got to the polyamory stuff, and -- he's got me working on my relationship with you. You and Mom. It always come back to the mothers, I bet you'll say."

Myra smiled. "Actually, I would. It's certainly true for my life, and Ginny's. But we raised you without a single error, you can quote me on that. He'll have to look elsewhere for the source of your problems. Maybe Mark the Spark is to blame." It made Margie laugh, which she hoped it would.

"Caleb -- my therapist -- says early competition for the love of our parents is often the source of our insecurity. We want them to love us as passionately as they love each other." Margie didn't look at Myra when she said this.

"Well, speaking as a parent, I do love my children as passionately as I love Ginny. But it's a different kind of passion, you're right, and kids pick up on that. Kids want it all. As they should, really. It's a lesson we all have to learn. Certainly my own insecurity, as it has arisen around Ginny, can be traced to my childhood. My mother was deeply unhappy with my father, and she leaned on me emotionally in ways that were, shall we say, inappropriate."

Margie was startled again, and looked curious. But Myra wanted Margie to have the chance to stick to her own issues at the moment.

"I've read a lot about polyamory, Margie, which we called nonmonogamy, and of course I tried it for years. One big part of making it work is having a loving, trusting relationship between all the people involved. You and Imani aren't even really friends. That's a huge hurdle to overcome, maybe too huge. And, insecurity can be part of why someone needs more than one partner, not just an obstacle to it occurring without problems. It was for me; having more than one girlfriend kept me from getting in too deep with any of them."

Margie began chewing her thumbnail. "I don't think that's true for Frances; god, I hope it's not."

But what about you, sweetheart? Myra wanted to ask it, but it felt too invasive.

"I just -- I have these moments when I think 'What if you're not the one, after all?' And I get so scared I can hardly move, and I want her reassurance that instant. But I can't bring it up with her. I'm so scared she's having the same doubts."

"Is it better to worry than to know for sure, one way or the other?" asked Myra softly.

"For right now, yes, it is. I don't know how to even think about living without her" said Margie.

"Well, let me remind you: You're both very young, and learning as you go. Ginny and I were ten years older than you were when we began our relationship. Think about the difference between who you are now and who you were at 15, and imagine learning that much again before you start being part of a couple. You're having to get on-the-job training, with Frances as well as at work. It's just that the stakes are a lot higher with Frances." She was gratified to see this sink in. Margie met her eyes again, with a small smile on her face. She finished with "Doubts are the curse of an active imagination, not omen of trouble ahead." Not necessarily, she didn't add.

As Myra was paying the bill, Margie said "Now what shall we do? Honestly, Mom, I'd like to go to Powell's with you, there's a couple of books I've been meaning to get."

"You're sure? Okay, keep me to an hour there, okay? Well, make it an hour and a half." Myra called the cab service on her cell as they walked out into drizzle.

By the time Margie, Frances and Myra were met at the train station by Ginny in the Volvo, Myra was determined to ask for time alone with each of her children more often. She felt closer to Margie than she had ever been, and Ginny commented later on how good Margie looked. At the station, she raved about Margie's new outfit, which made Margie jig a couple of steps and say "It's from YOUR present, Mama! We shopped for six hours."

Ginny looked at Myra in commiseration, but Myra said "I loved it. I really did."

Back at the house, Gillam and Carly had prepared a mid-Saturday feast. Nika was there, along with Annie Gagliardi, Davonn, Alveisa, Petra, Poe, and Nancy. Plus of course the aunties. Margie lit up and made the rounds while the table was set with all its leaves. Eric produced goofy party hats which he and Ginny had made, and Ginny took the floor to read from the baby book exactly what Margie had done this date a quarter-century earlier, at two days old. Allie stopped her when she got to the poop description. "I told them not to put that in" she said to Margie, "but they was so excited you had a colon, I guess."

After Margie's second cake -- third, if you counted the cupcakes -- was lit, sung over, and eaten down to crumbs, she opened presents. Gillam had gone through the family albums and online stashes, retrieving every photo containing Narnia and printing them. These were compiled in a thick album hand-decorated by Allie, and a disc with all the photos was in the back sleeve. Margie and Frances both wept. Gillam cried, too.

Margie cried again when they went outside to look at the new headstone. Narnia was a row back from Juju, Alice, Dinah, and two geckos, and had the largest stone, a piece of highly-polished cinnabar painted with her portrait, dates, and under her name, "Margie's Soulmate."

When they all returned to the house, Margie said "Okay, you know what I want next." Everyone but Allie looked blank. Allie said "It's electric!" and Margie said "You got it." They danced the slide until Myra had to sit down, out of breath. Older women joined her in chairs while the younger folks continued. Ginny put the kettle back on and while waiting for it to boil, she leaned over Myra's chair and said "I notice you carried in a carton from Powell's."

"Yup. There's a present for you in there, so don't go snooping."

Ginny whispered "I missed you."

"Me, too. But I really liked seeing her alone, I want to do it at least once a year."

Ginny put pitchers of iced tea and lemonade on the table, with a stack of glasses, and the dancers turned off the stereo to take a break. Gillam drank down a glass without pausing, wiped his mouth, then rapped the side of his glass with his wedding ring until everyone turned to look at him.

"Jane and I have one more gift for Margie, in the form of a general announcement" he said. He made a flourish to Jane, who stepped forward with a vivid smile and said "We're pregnant. At the end of May or thereabouts, you'll become Aunt Margie."

Everyone erupted in shouts of joy, Margie leading the way. She was invited to touch Jane's belly and whisper to her future niece or nephew. Myra demanded from Gillam "How long have you known?"

"Two weeks for sure" he said, giddy. "But we decided to wait until Margie could be here before telling anybody, she deserved to hear it firsthand." He let some of the hubbub die down, and he took Margie by the hand to say "We want you and Carly to be godparents." Carly sucked in his breath and let out a sob.

Margie said "I accept. With honor." She was fighting tears herself. "My god, next Thanksgiving we'll have a baby among us, watching us roll pie crust and helping me dish out cranberry sauce from the serving counter."

Myra had to sit down again. Ginny crowded onto her lap and whispered "Here we go." Myra closed her eyes and breathed in Ginny's smell for a minute, until her heart slowed down again.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

1 comment:

Jesse Wendel said...

It's a BABY!

*does the Happy Dance*

Oh... This is so GRAND. *does Happy Dance* again! And yet again!!!