Sunday, September 21, 2008


Tara With Cherries by Liza Cowan (Tara With Cherries, by Liza Cowan)

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

After everyone left, Frances began cleaning the kitchen on autopilot. Ginny and Myra joined her for what little remained, while Margie drank tea and looked through her presents again. Myra finally shooed Frances out. Frances said "I need sleep" and hugged them goodnight. After a minute, Margie bundled up her gifts and followed Frances down the hall.

Ginny rinsed Margie's teacup and added it to the dishwasher already started. As she clicked the door shut and the faint whoosh began again, she said "Do we need to talk? How you doing, Grandma?"

"I don't know" said Myra, meeting Ginny's eyes. "I think -- I need to sleep on it, maybe."

"Well, then, sleep we shall. I'm heading for bed post haste. You?" Ginny looked at her hopefully. They had long ago accepted the difference in their cycles, that Ginny needed to sleep earlier in the night than Myra. They spent the first and last part of each bedsharing apart from each other, and they had come to relish the time alone they each day, at the end or beginning of the day. But Myra still wished, each morning, that she woke up to Ginny beside her, and Ginny still hoped, each night, that Myra would come lie down with her right away.

"Not yet" said Myra. Ginny kissed her without complaint, as she always did, and went to their bedroom.

Myra turned off lights front and back, checked the alarm, and went to her desk. She'd had an inkling, during one conversation that evening, about a chapter in her book, the one about lesbian-feminism as a movement of mothers, and she pulled out a blank legal pad to make notes. These lines turned into a paragraph, and an hour later, she'd written three pages. Good pages, she thought. She could go try to fit them into the chapter as it existed, but she was deeply tired, she could tell. She arranged the pad neatly in the middle of her desk, turned off her unused computer, and went to brush her teeth.

By the time she reached the bed, her chest felt tight and her mind confused. Some tripwire had been activated, either in what she wrote or just the release of heading for rest. She pulled off her clothes and laid them on the blanket chest for instant donning in case of emergency. She pulled back the covers gently -- Ginny tended to roll up in the comforter when she was on her own -- and slid her body near Ginny's.

As always, Ginny pushed herself in Myra's direction like a heat-seeking organism without coming close to consciousness. Once her length was alongside Myra, her breathing settled back into deep draughts, one hand splayed on Myra's hip. Myra waited for this connection to clear her chest. When it did not, she watched shadows on the ceiling for a minute, feeling acutely alone.

Finally she turned to face Ginny and said softly "Gin? Ginny? I need you to wake up."

Ginny's eyes opened wide and unfocused. "What? What's wrong?" Her voice sounded raw.

"Nothing's wrong. I mean, not anything...I'm upset. I need to talk, after all."

"Oh, god" said Ginny, closing her eyes again. "Can't it wait?"

"I know how much you hate being woke up like this, Ginny. I wouldn't ask if I could think of something else" said Myra.

"I do fucking hate it!" said Ginny, rolling onto her back in exasperation.

Myra turned and put her head on Ginny's shoulder. Ginny patted Myra's back automatically and licked her lips. "We got any water in here?" she said, not quite as cross.

Myra got the water bottle from her bedside table and handed it to Ginny, who drank half of it, sighed deeply, and said "Okay, I'm awake. What's up?"

"I'm not sure. I feel close to panic."

Ginny pulled Myra back onto her shoulder and said "Well, what's bumping around in your head?"

"Gillam. Mary Jo Risher losing her kids. I met her, you know. How I always wanted to walk the length of the Appalachian Trail but I won't ever get to, now. Phyllis Lyon having to go on without Del." Myra's voice broke a little on the last word.

"Shit, Myra, that's quite the hodge-podge" said Ginny. "What about Gillam, the pregnancy?"

"He's too young, Ginny. They both are. They're smart and strong and eager, but goddamnit, it's too soon. They'll be flying by the seat of their pants in no time, sleep deprived and aging fast" said Myra.

"No argument here" said Ginny. "But when is anybody ever really ready to become parents? I mean, even under ideal circumstances, it's a body blow of responsibility. And at least they're choosing it."

"How can you call it choice when they don't know fucking half of what's down the road? And they're making all kinds of unspoken assumptions" said Myra, her chest tightening more.

"Like what? Name one assumption" said Ginny.

"That I -- we'll be there to pick up the slack, for one" said Myra.

"I don't think that one is really unspoken" said Ginny. "I think we've been pretty vocal on that point."

"But...Once it's born -- she or he, 'it' sounds horrible, whatever -- we won't be able to travel like we have. I mean, I'll be guilty if I do. And hours of listening to crying, and sick babies, and putting everything in the house above hand level, and watching Gillam worry, always worried" said Myra.

"He won't any more than you did. I mean, yes, he'll carry more than his share of the weight. But you lived in joy when they were little, exhausted as you were, don't you remember? Every time you looked at either one of them, your face relaxed into pure joy" said Ginny. "He'll be just like you in that regard."

Myra was silent. Ginny continued "And yes, our schedule may change. But that's what we've been working on this year. I think we figure out what we really want to do and be, how much time we want to give in a week, say, and be blunt with them. Encourage them to get detailed with the aunties, too. Is this why you think you can't do the Appalachian Trail? Because if that's a life dream, we'll find a way for it to happen."

"Not just that. Also my joints, they're getting stiff. My muscles are fine, thanks to Carly's workout regimen, but it hurts to walk long distances now" said Myra.

"Have you talked to the doctor about it?" said Ginny, suddenly concerned.

"No. I don't want to take any more drugs than I already am" said Myra stubbornly.

"Then we'll ask Nancy" said Ginny, just as stubborn. "I bet there's supplements that could help."

"That's not the point, Ginny, don't go off on a detail." Myra was irritated.

"....Okay. What else did you say? Mary Jo Risher, that's children, and -- oh, Del Martin. Ah. Old age. Losing the ones we love" said Ginny in comprehension.

"Having a child is such a godawful risk" whispered Myra. "They don't know, until it's born and you realize...And even if they do have them all in a row, we'll be old, I mean really old, by the time they're just starting lives on their own. The grandkids, I mean. We may not see our great-grandchildren. Oh, god, I miss David and my mother and my Aunt Sarah, anyone older than me I could talk to."

Ginny's voice was thick with emotion as she whispered back "I miss Daddy, too. Achingly, sometimes."

"We're fifty years into this path, Ginny, there's no making a right turn or starting over."

"You sound scared, Myra."

"I'm terrified. So many things can go wrong, and some of them do. We're incredibly lucky, I know -- "

"That's your luck, Myra. You are blessed" said Ginny.

"I thought you always say I made my own luck?" said Myra, momentarily diverted.

"That, too. Both are true. I haven't slept enough and I declare both are true" said Ginny.

"All right" conceded Myra. "But either kind of luck isn't permanent."

"Nothing is permanent, and that's the point, isn't it?" said Ginny, hugging Myra close. "What's that quote over your desk, 'Grief is the price we pay for love'?"

"By Queen Elizabeth" murmured Myra. "I'm worried about the piper coming 'round."

"She was a formidable woman, Elizabeth Rex" began Ginny.

"No, not that Queen Elizabeth. The modern one is who said that. After 9/11" corrected Myra, irritation in her voice again.

"You need to cut me a little bit more slack than you are" said Ginny. "I'm operating on fumes here, you waker-upper."

Myra was silent.

"So, forget about Elizabeth" said Ginny. "Think about that friend of yours, the one who fell off the cliff above the Columbia."

"Why the fuck would you bring that up, it was a horrible way to die?" said Myra.

"Yes, and you were so torn up about it. You sat down with pencil and paper and calculated her rate of fall, remember, I had to help you with the math and the speed of gravity, until you knew exactly how many seconds there were between her going over the edge and landing on the rocks below. Then you counted out those seconds -- "

"Four point two" whispered Myra.

"You counted it out, feeling how long it was. And you decided that given who she was, how she lived, it was entirely possible she went through panic and disbelief to acceptance before she reached impact. All the stages of death lickety-split. Remember how comforting that was?" said Ginny.

"Chris thought it was nuts" said Myra.

"Chris doesn't live in the kind of fear you do. Her fear is different. Death only stalks you if you let it, Myra. Now, I think the only way you're going to feel better tonight is if you let yourself cry. Can you manage that or do I need to pull out an eyelash or something to get you started?" said Ginny. Fatigue was back in her voice.

Myra pushed as close as she could to Ginny and whispered "Don't ever leave me."

"I won't, never" said Ginny. The lie gave Myra permission to unlock her tears. They went to sleep five minutes later with Myra's face still wet.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.


Liza Cowan said...

Strange thing, Maggie. I just found that painting in the basement two days ago. I thought I'd lost it.

Maggie Jochild said...

Liza, we got cross-wiring, I swear. That image just rose up in my head and I went looking for it at your website. You know, it hangs in Myra and Ginny's bedroom, I bet I got the idea from one of them looking at it.