Friday, October 17, 2008


Madam Mim
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.

August-September 2014

Margie returned three weeks later for Labor Day weekend. After she called to announce her plan, Ginny remarked to Myra "We haven't seen this much of her in years. Mimi, right?"

"Yeah. The pull of genes, plus an extraordinary child who looks so much like her. But it's more than ego: She's seriously committed to that baby for Mimi's sake" said Myra.

"It's not too late for Margie to change her mind. About motherhood" said Ginny, trying to damper her own hope.

"Well, Frances is an unknown variable. I mean, she loves Mimi, but does she want parenthood?" wondered Myra.

"Does she want anything except her own restaurant" said Ginny flatly.

"And Margie. She wants Margie" countered Myra.

Ginny went into a near-frenzy of painting, producing five canvases between Myra's birthday and Labor Day. Myra was relieved for their bank account and used the time herself for prolonged periods of writing. She did, however, ask Chris away for a weekend. They drove back to near Colville, camping in a cabin along the river where Chris fished and roamed, Myra sat outside at a small table and wrote or daydreamed, mostly the latter. The first night, they fell asleep on the same bed, talking late, and when Myra woke up in the dark, she knew instantly it was Chris spooned back into her, by smell and shape. She wondered briefly what Ginny would have to say about it, but she slid her arm around Chris's waist and went contentedly back to sleep.

When Myra returned from her trip, an hour early because they'd had no traffic, Kip was in the kitchen with Ginny chopping onions. Myra greeted her cheerfully and pushed Ginny back against the counter, melting into her for a hello kiss. "You smell like woodsmoke and fish guts" said Ginny, laughing.

"You smell like -- pond, maybe?" Myra kissed her again. "Did you get the fish in, then?"

"Yes, you wanna see?" Ginny led her out to water's edge and told her about their adventures in fish acquisition.

"How big will those severum grow, in a pond this size?" asked Myra.

"Big enough to be a risk to anything small" said Ginny. "I'm hoping the dannios stake out territory and hold their own while the severum are still juvies. The loach may be a problem, too. But we determined there's definitely a frog colony established here."

"Yay, frogs!" cheered Myra. "What about turtles?"

"No visitors yet. And they'll be a threat to the fish if they do show up. Ditto herons and egrets, let's hope they don't notice our little smorgasbord on a flyover. The grotto will give smart fish a refuge, of course." Ginny was sunburned and felt extremely good under Myra's hands.

"How're things with Kip?" whispered Myra.

"Better. Oh, and Myra! Last night at dinner, Mimi said 'Allie', I swear to god. Jane disputes it, but I heard it plain as day. So did Allie."

"She must've come out of her chair!" said Myra. "This would be awfully early to be talking, though."

"Bates supremacy" smirked Ginny.

"We better go back in and make nice with Kip" said Myra. "What's the menu?"

"Garden salad with fried onions and grilled cheese sandwiches" said Ginny.

"Yum. I'm low on veggies at the moment" said Myra.

"How was your time with Chris?"

"Idyllic" answered Myra. "I'll tell you more later."

The next weekend, Margie came in time for shabbos dinner and asked to be the one to hold Mimi for candle-lighting. Myra, holding Carly's hand, felt her chest full with emotion as she watched her family. They played poker and Margie held Mimi in her lap, creating a voice for Mimi that was high but profane as she placed reckless baby bets and jeered at other's losses. They were all in stitches, and Mimi not only joined in the hilarity but accentuated it with a deep belly laugh which caused Gillam to pull out the video camera. Thad had gotten into the habit of joining them for at least holiday meals, and his presence gave Jane permission to be even more relaxed that she usually was.

Ginny and Myra experienced a jolt the day Jane and Gillam hung new blinds across all the glass walls at the back of their house. Ginny spotted it first and called Myra to come in a voice with such dread, Myra feared it was an injury. Ginny pointed furiously and said "That's clearly intended for us." Before Myra could say anything, Ginny picked up the phone and dialed Gillam. When he answered, she said "If you think we're sitting at our windows with binoculars trying to spy on you, it would be cheaper just to ask us to cease and desist. The fact is, I don't live to intrude on your lives."

"It's not about you, Mom" he said resignedly. "Not everybody is an exhibitionist." The latter phrase was exactly what Edwina said when Ginny told her about it. Myra privately agreed with Ginny that it was a boundary mostly aimed at them but, as she conceded, if they felt the need to set one, then everybody was better off for them doing so.

The morning after Margie came for her visit, she and Ginny were at her worktable collaborating on the artist's statement Ginny was placing in the catalogue for her upcoming show. As usual, Margie became peripatetic to foster her thought process, pacing up and down the hall, bringing her out-loud musings into louder and fainter range to Myra who was at her desk trying to write. In mid sentence, Margie broke off and sang "Look, look, see, see -- "

"What?" said Ginny. Myra turned in her chair. Margie was gazing out the window to the back of their yard.

"Here comes Scot, here comes Dot, here comes Chicken Jane" she sang. She started down the stairs.

"Who are you calling Chicken Jane?" said Ginny disapprovingly. She got up to check, however, and followed Margie to greet Gillam, Jane and Mimi. They had decided, since the day was clear, to walk Mimi in her stroller to Volunteer Park and feed the ducks. Margie immediately began putting on her shoes. Ginny and Myra looked at each other and Myra said "I could use the exercise." Gillam already had water packed in the stroller, along with his Leica; Myra added a bag of cracked corn from her birdfeeding stock. Ginny wrote a note where they were and left it by the phone.

As they headed west, Gillam said to Myra "Did you hear that Willie Nelson got struck by a car?"

"Oh god, no. What happened?"

"He was playing on the road again." Gillam cracked himself up as Myra thumped him on the shoulder. Hearing her daddy laugh, Mimi began chortling. Margie scooped her out of the stroller and began dancing along the sidewalk, singing the Madam Mim segment from The Sword In The Stone:

With only a touch
I have the power
Zim zabberim zim
To wither a flower
I find delight in the gruesome and grim
'Cause I'm the magnificent, marvelous, mad Madam Mim

Mimi was laughing so hard by the end she was breathless. Jane, grinning, said "It never occurred to me that her name might be linked to that character."

"Leave it to Margie" said Gillam. "She used to terrorize me at night with her version of Disney stories, making up new episodes full of horror and always involving children being eaten by monsters."

"What, when you shared a room?" said Myra, distressed.

"Yep. Soon as the light went out and it was just me and her. I'd hunker under my covers in the dark, trying not to listen. After Hannah came to be our nanny, she got wise to Margie and left the connecting door open. If she heard whispering, she'd yell at Margie to knock it off." Gillam wasn't entirely sanguine about this memory, it was clear.

"So that's why your nightmares stopped after Hannah had been there a few months" said Myra. Margie was still laughing with Mimi and ignored Myra's critical gaze. Ginny said to Gillam softly, "You're generous to share your daughter with her."

"Ah, she's changed. Besides, we're the ones who Mimi sleeps with" said Gillam complacently.

At the park, Ginny wandered away to poke through cattails and quieter sections of the main pond, assessing its ecosystem. When given corn, Mimi immediately tried to put it in her mouth, but when everyone stopped handing her any, she had a temper tantrum. Gillam walked her into the trees, comforting her. Myra and Jane gathered a large flock to their spot on the grass by the time Gillam and Mimi returned, where Mimi was allowed to sprawl on her blanket and make vain lunges at nearby waterfowl. Gillam put his head in Jane's lap and watched the clear sky.

When Ginny returned, she curled up behind Myra and said "Listen, you three, we'll buy you plane ticket to DC for mid October if you think you can make it to my show. I wouldn't travel with a baby this young but..."

"Nope, we're not going to, either" said Jane. "I'm really sorry to miss it, though. That article in the paper about you last week was pretty laudatory."

"Wait till they see the Myra PET scan abstracts. Those will throw them for a loop" giggled Ginny.

"Little do they know, the best stuff you ever do is in family hands. That one of Frances" said Margie.

"And our Mimi" added Gillam.

"I'm going to try, Mom, but I don't know for sure yet" said Margie.

"Well, I leave from there for a book tour of university towns in the east" said Myra. "Ginny's coming along for at least a week of it, maybe both weeks. Which means we won't be here to help pick up the slack for you" she said, nudging Gillam with her toe.

Gillam sighed. "I honestly don't know how I'm going to cope even with returning to full-time work next week. We've tried to figure out a way for me to work only half-time, but the job market isn't set up for parents in general, certainly not dads who want half a day with their kids." Margie was watching him, hearing the pain in his voice as if this was entirely new information.

"She won't forget you" said Myra.

"That's not the point. The point is she cannot possibly understand why I'm not around all day any more. You know how little ones interpret that, they decide it's their fault" said Gillam, sitting up and reaching out to touch Mimi's foot. She looked around at him and grinned.

"And it makes no sense for me to work half-time, because he would still lose his benefits, I wouldn't have any offered to me, and, well, I'm not done having children" said Jane.

"How soon are you going to try?" asked Ginny, shocking Myra with her bluntness.

"We'll leave it to Jane's body" said Gillam. "When it's ready go again, it will." Myra decided this meant they weren't using birth control at all now. Almost more than she wanted to know.

"I hope to breast feed for a year" said Jane. "I talked with my friend Veronica who had her baby last month, and we're going to get together two or three mornings a week for baby play and having two sets of hands available. When Seelah is old enough, we'll put them both in Gymboree."

Gillam looked even more pained at being shut out of this option. "It sucks, huh" said Margie to him softly. He looked at her gratefully.

They stopped for hot dogs on the way home. When nobody was watching, Mimi got her hands on a mustard squeeze bottle and did immediate damage to her jumper and Gillam's slacks. She was carried screaming to the restroom for clean-up.

"Remember the first time we fed Margie spaghetti?" said Myra.

"There was sauce deep inside her ears by the time that debacle was over" said Ginny. "She was a lot older than Mimi is now, so she had enough coordination to hurl stuff around the room, too."

After they returned to Myra and Ginny's house, Ginny went to the store room and returned with a shopping bag which she set on the table in front of Gillam and Jane.

"Here's my confession: I went to that recycled kid's clothing store yesterday where all the yuppies, or whatever you call 'em these days, turn in their designer duds after their darlings have worn them maybe twice. Mostly I was looking for little T-shirts and onesies to decorate and dye, but, well, it's been so long since I got to buy children's clothes. I went a little nuts. And I suspect the urge is not going to pass. So, I've got the money and I'm not really a shopping addict in other ways -- "

Unless it's old furniture or art supplies, Myra thought to herself.

"And thus I'm likely to go on finding carts full of things I'd like to get for Mimi. But you are the parents, and you get to decide what she wears. At least until she begins raising objections to your choices, which if she's like Margie will be as soon as she can speak." Margie grinned defiantly. "I know our tastes don't always overlap -- " Ginny smiled at her own understatement. "So...the deal I'm requesting is that you absolutely only accept what you actually like. I promise not to have hurt feelings or judgment. If you reject something I find too cute to pass up, I'll keep it here for when she needs a change of clothes on my premises. The rest of it I'll recycle back to them. Is that acceptable, or am I going too far?"

Jane was laughing and turning the bag upside down to empty it onto the table. Gillam, however, said only "Let's have a look". They began showing each other the tiny garments. Gillam said "These overalls are humongous, Mama."

"I know, I know. Maybe when she's three they'll fit. I'll put those aside. And here, let me take the plain white stuff that I want to dye." It still left a heap of brightly colored raiment. Myra came to sit at the table, drawn by the lure herself.

Both Jane and Gillam had strong opinions about some items, indifference to others. They negotiated with each other deftly -- anything that drew an "Oh god, no" was immediately set aside, no matter if the other loved it. By the end, there was a small pile of accepted clothes, three or four items which had drawn rave reviews, and a cap that Gillam had to instantly put on Mimi. Jane refolded the rest and pushed them back toward Ginny with a sincere thanks and a request to go along with her on the next shopping trip. "Me too" injected Gillam. He turned to Myra and said "That goes for you on your bookstore prowls, too, now that I have her books to look over."

Ginny was fingering a tiny vivid blue hoodie with whales cavorting on the back. Myra, too, could not believe it had been rejected. Ginny retrieved the pad from beside the phone and said "Well, let's discuss designs for the T-shirts I want to silkscreen for her, then."

"Oh, if it's from your hand, I'll adore it" said Jane. "Love makes it special."

Ginny looked gratified. Gillam, however, said "How about if I make a list of sayings and ideas that I find meaningful? For text on the shirts."

Ginny blinked. "Okay." She didn't look at Myra. "I should let you know, if a screen comes out really well in my opinion, I'm probably going to offer it for sale, on tees or cards. I'll have a separate account for Mimi-inspired sales, of course."

"I like that idea" said Gillam. "Only her image doesn't go out on anything. Not until she's old enough to consent."

"Of course" said Ginny, already doodling. Myra put the rejected items back into the bag -- there were several things she herself wanted to keep. They could put a trunk in the bottom of their closet; possible future grandchildren might not be so carefully monitored, she thought.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Between the Lions reference. It's good to know that show will still be on the air several years from now.

Maggie Jochild said...

I wondered if anyone else would know what on earth I was talking about. Myra did, Ginny didn't. I LOVE "Chicken Jane". Also "Cliff Hanger". But then, I learned to read with Dick and Jane.