Thursday, October 16, 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.

Summer 2014

On Monday, all visitors left except for Cathy, who stayed an extra day. Ginny said she saw Jane and Gillam in their yard and pool with Mimi, but otherwise they stayed to themselves. Ginny and Cathy spent all their time in conversation while gardening, cooking, or sitting over tea. Myra went to her desk and wrote, leaving only for meals with the two sisters.

Tuesday Myra invited Jane and Gillam to a meal, if they were ready to be with others again. They arrived at noon, wet-haired from a swim with Mimi, who was cranky and ravenous. Jane sat at the table and nursed her while Gillam helped Myra put the makings for lettuce wraps on the table, with smoked chicken and ripe avocados. Ginny had dropped Cathy at the airport that morning and had been sad until the arrival of the baby. After eating, they all went into the living room where Jane became so drowsy that Ginny insisted she take the long couch, bringing her a light quilt and a bed pillow. Jane fell asleep astonishingly fast. Gillam changed Mimi's diaper and leaned back in the recliner with throw pillows to prop her safely between the chair arm and his chest as she, too, dropped off. Despite a valiant attempt on his part, he joined his family in slumber. Ginny got another quilt for him, and she left the room with Myra.

"He gets up for the 1 a.m. feeding, using bottles Jane expressed earlier in the day" Myra said quietly to Ginny. "This lets her sleep sort of through until 5 a.m., when she nurses Mimi again and gets up so Gillam can catch a few more hours. But I bet neither of them are really ever getting more than four hours rest at a stretch."

"And this is the easy part of babyhood" observed Ginny.

"Don't tell them that."

Myra decided to roll out pie crusts for freezing against the bounty of summer fruit headed their way. After an hour, she heard small sounds from the living room that sounded like baby awake. Sure enough, Mimi was fidgeting. Gillam had not woke up entirely. Myra lifted Mimi from his arms and whispered "I've got your daughter, honeyboy, you keep sleeping." He relaxed again without achieving complete consciousness.

Myra took Mimi upstairs to her daybed and read to her, beginning with "The Highwayman". Ginny puttered in their vicinity through several poems, then said "My turn" and slipped Mimi into her Snugli. They went outside to the garden. As Ginny weeded, she kept up a rolling narrative about plants, tastes, and the "the circle of life". She rubbed lemon grass, garlic leaves, rosemary, and tomato foliage between her fingers, then held the odors up to Mimi's nose while telling her the names. Myra came out and watched for a while, took a few photos, and said "When you want a break, I'll be at my desk."

Two hours later, Mimi had a crying jag and Myra relieved Ginny automatically, taking Mimi into their sound-proofed bedroom to let her wail it out. Jane had left a bottle of her milk in the fridge, which Ginny warmed and brought to Myra. They took turns feeding Mimi, their first chance at this most elemental of bonds. Myra kept pointing to herself or Ginny and repeating "Bubbe...Grandma."

Shortly before 5:00, Gillam woke up and came into the kitchen, looking guilty. Ginny had Mimi in her carrier on the counter, explaining how to make her honey mustard dressing as Mimi mouthed a rattle. She said "Did you have a good nap?"

"Best in my life, feels like" he said. "How's my angel?" Mimi dropped her rattle in excitement and he picked her up.

"You can crash here all you want" said Ginny, filling him in on Mimi's alimentary activity for the afternoon. Jane got up twenty minutes later, and after declining an invitation to dinner, they walked home looking brighter all round. Ginny baked butterfish in Myra's black tea and brown sugar rub, cooked a pot of rice and assembled a salad. She brought a plate to Myra at her desk and they ate companionably in the study. Myra returned to writing and Ginny spent the evening answering mail.

Wednesday afternoon Gillam and Jane took Mimi for her check-up. After they got home, Gillam called Myra and said "I need to find us a different car. I don't feel safe with a baby in either of ours."

"You can borrow the Volvo any time" said Myra. "You might check with Sadie and see if she knows vehicles for sale."

"That's why I'm calling, I can't find her number on my cell."

That evening dinner guests included Sima and Chris, Mara Smith, Annie Gagliardi, and the pond woman whose name was Kip. Myra made King Ranch chicken, grilled sole, and asparagus-leek fettuccine. After the table was cleared, it was promptly covered again in sketchpads, graph paper, and drawing materials. Chris was as engrossed in the planning as Sima, so Myra left them to it, feeling the call of her memoir which was, she had started to realize, probably going to become more than one volume.

Ginny sat up late after all their other friends left talking with Kip. Even so, Myra came to bed after Ginny was asleep. On Thursday, Jane and Gillam repeated their come for lunch, stay for a nap routine. This time, Allie had dropped by and she stole Mimi for much of the afternoon, propping her up on Myra's daybed and playing with plastic rings, puppets, and baby-safe books. Myra found herself undistracted by this. Ginny began stretching a canvas. Edwina joined them for dinner, and Jane and Gillam stayed through the meal so Edwina could have her turn at holding Mimi. After everyone left, Ginny began painting and Myra memoired, as she put it.

Friday afternoon, Gillam and Jane bought a four-year-old Toyota Sienna, with "buttloads of airbags, great mileage, and room for eight passengers", Gillam enthused. They kept Gillam's Mini and traded in Jane's Ford. The car was a color Jane called "Blizzard Pearl". Ginny was too absorbed in her painting to offer to repaint it for them, which was just as well, Myra thought.

When the candles were lit, Myra was sure she saw anticipatory memory on Mimi's face as her head was covered in a shawl and she was leaned cautiously toward the flames. After eating, instead of poker they decided to watch a new movie in the living room. Ginny had bought two enormous padded mats, blue and olive, from a gym surplus store as floor coverings for baby play. These were being kept rolled up behind the couches, but were now spread out so Carly and Eric could get on Mimi's level during the movie. Gillam joined them and promptly went to sleep. Jane also dozed off in the recliner. Ginny left after half an hour, retreating upstairs to her canvas. Myra sat on the edge of the mat, leaned against Chris's legs, and watched Mimi take utterly for granted the vast host of adults at her disposal.

A routine emerged. At least three afternoons a week, Jane and Gillam came over for lunch and naps while Mimi soaked up her grandmothers. Allie came over at least two of these visits, and if Edwina didn't have a class to teach, she was there as well. Ginny was constantly consumed with either a painting, refinishing a piece of furniture, or landscaping, often all three in a single day. Myra wrote.

When a crew arrived to dig the pond, Kip seemed to live at their house. That afternoon, Gillam went outside to watch the backhoe and laborers, eventually peeling off his shirt and working alongside them in his jeans. Jane sat on the edge of the raised beds, holding Mimi and watching Gillam's brown muscles ripple across his back. Eventually she handed Mimi to Myra and walked home to get Gillam's Leica, taking photographs until he objected with embarrassment. Ginny was out that day with Kip, looking at model ponds around Seattle.

Gillam returned the following afternoon to be a grunt for the concrete crew. Myra kept a supply of sandwiches, cold drinks and fruit on hand at the back door, and joined Jane in watching the activity, especially the bending of rebar to reinforce the pond cavity lips. The planned underwater grotto looked huge and spooky, even empty as it was. The following day, Mara arrived with her mason and a couple of other workers to lay down the brick paths. The thumper used to level the sand base under the brick upset Mimi, and Jane had to go inside away from the reverberation to keep her from crying. Gillam continued to accumulate muscle and sweat. In compensation, during Mimi's swims pre-lunch Jane was leaving the baby to Gillam while she swam hard laps back and forth.

The bricks going down were a shade between crimson and dried blood, as Ginny put it, in a pattern which incorporated blue stones in the center of interlinking grids that suggested a star of David. It was a compelling interwoven configuration which still allowed rain to penetrate to the ground below. This flowed along the walkways and surrounded the pond, becoming as well the floor of the barbecue area. A standard steel portico was erected over the barbecue area, with a metal roof that Ginny intended to fit with more solar panels. In addition, Annie Gagliardi was going to create an iron vining scrollwork to wrap the pillars of the portico. Space was left for the grill set-up Myra had selected. The walls of the cook area and the benches, however, would be elaborately sculpted by Mara, and she left after the floors were down to work on this for the coming month. In addition, she would be carving the ends of wet bricks who would be turned at a vertical slant as edging for Ginny's flower beds. The designs they had finally selected were an art-deco-ish outline of Texas, a curved gecko, and a rose that morphed into a sunburst depending on how you looked at it.

Kip arrived one morning with hip waders for Ginny. They were heading to some wild wetlands to look at possible plants for the pond. Myra had not been able to tell if Kip was straight or not, and finally had asked Ginny. Ginny replied "She's one of those lesbians from our generation who went back to men for a decade or two, until it became clear the intelligent progression of feminism was what too many guys our age found repellent, at which point they become caricatures, not someone you want to be old with. So, she's back with women, as least nominally. She was involved with someone last year, and she brings it up often, at least to complain about her ex." Kip was beefy and competent, though not in the least interested in politics or art. Myra thought that must be a cleansing change for Ginny. All they ever seemed to discuss were ecosystems.

Margie returned the weekend of Mimi's one month birthday in June, bringing a swing chair which hung from a doorway and allowed Mimi to bounce herself up and down with her own leg power. Margie called it a baby bungee, and Mimi adored it. When Jane handed Mimi to Margie that day, Mimi showed definite signs of recognition, which brought tears to Margie's eyes. She referred to her constantly as "my goddaughter", and her billfold was crammed with baby photos.

Sunday morning, Margie even got up and went to Quaker Meeting with Jane, Gillam, Myra and Mimi. They picked up barbecue on the way home, where they found Ginny and Kip in the back yard. Kip had persuaded Ginny, while she waited on Mara's brick sculpture, to try crafting the stone waterfall at pond's end on their own. A load of blue-grey rounded stones from small to hernia-making had been dumped in the yard, and Ginny had bought a set of chisels, hammers, and a rock drill. The piping for the waterfall was already in place, channeled through the edge of the concrete lip to a pump in the deep end. Ginny wanted the waterfall to be mortarless, and fitting the stones together was her and Kip's current preoccupation. They came in briefly to eat, but soon returned to the puzzle.

Carly and Eric arrived late and ate their plates as the rest of them were cutting open early cantaloupes. After lunch, all the younger folks returned to Jane and Gillam's to hang out at the pool. Myra went to her memoir and didn't notice the passage of time until Allie called up the stairs, "Yo, you home?"

Myra walked to the railing and said "Yeah. My god, it's 5:00 already."

"We brought catfish to fry. Jane and Gillam at they house?"

Myra looked to the south and saw no one in that yard. In their own yard, Margie was now with Kip and Ginny. "I guess. They like to keep evenings for just them, especially after they've gotten a nap -- Gillam says it's their special time."

"Oh. Well, we still got Margie."

Myra came downstairs and offered her assistance with meal preparation, but was waved to a stool and observation status. Edwina was making her delectable veggie fritters to go with the catfish. They had leftover polenta, and Myra knew there was mango sorbet in the freezer for dessert. Edwina told stories from her Chicago childhood while they cooked.

When it got dark, Myra went to the back door and called "I'd rather you not play with chisels and power tools unless you set up some lights to work by. Dinner'll be ready in 15 minutes, anyhow."

"Be right there" called Ginny. They trooped in after tools were put away, pulling muddy shoes off at the back step. Margie greeted Allie and Edwina gladly and offered to slice tomatoes after she washed her hands. Myra was making drinks and asked Kip what she wanted, tea or water.

"Oh, I'm going to run on home" said Kip with a trace of unease.

"You're welcome to eat with us" said Myra.

"No, thanks, but I've got things to do." Kip turned to Ginny and said in a voice Myra could barely hear "Tomorrow, then?"

"Bright and early" returned Ginny. Kip hugged her and left by the front door. After she was gone, Myra said "She never will eat with us. Is it my cooking, or some kind of dietary restriction on her part?"

Margie snorted. "More like she doesn't want to be at the table with you, Mom, since you're apparently competition in her eyes." This was aimed at Myra, who laughed and said "What on earth are you talking about?"

"Seems clear to me she's got a woody for Mom" said Margie, pointing her head at Ginny. Myra continued laughing until she realized Ginny's face was tense, and Edwina had gone still.

"Have you not talked with her yet?" Edwina said to Ginny.

"Talked with who?" said Myra, feeling suddenly chilled.

After too many seconds, Ginny said "Kip. About whether she does have -- what I'd call an attraction." She glared at Margie.

"What the fuck? You think she's making a play for you?" Myra felt sandbagged and wished Chris were here. She looked at Allie and saw it was news to Allie, too. Which meant Edwina didn't tell her absolutely everything.

"If she were making a play, I'd have already said no, Myra" Ginny replied with a chill in her voice. "Clearly I'm not interested."

"Really? Because if it's so clear, why doesn't Kip know it yet? What more do you need, besides almost 30 years cohabitation and grandchildren?" Myra could feel anger building in her like a steam valve. She saw Margie glance her way.

"I have no way of knowing why someone else is deluded about my availability" said Ginny with a charge in her tone that set off all Myra's alarms. "I wasn't certain about her possible feelings for me."

"But you were suspicious enough to talk it over with Edwina? Edwina, but not me." Myra smelled something rotten.

"There was no point in stirring up trouble if I was wrong" said Ginny, facing Myra. "You like to imagine yourself as reason personified, but there are some areas where you can go nuts, Myra, and I have to tread lightly."

"Don't you dare imply that you needed to lie to me because my reaction is too much to handle" said Myra with cold calm. "If you imagine that's an excuse to lie, you've lost me already."

Ginny sat down abruptly, color draining from her face. "Are you threatening me, Myra?"

"Whoa" said Allie. "Just whoa." She came around the counter to stand near Myra. "First off, do you actually believe Ginny is attracted to Kip? Do you?"

Myra had to step completely around her anger to say "No. Not really."

"Then we be talking about Kip's feelings, which I agree with Ginny, not her responsibility. And yeah, she took it to her friend first. You ever done that, Myra?"

"Not about someone else wanting to be my girlfriend" said Myra virtuously.

"What about Cuchilla?" said Ginny. Margie's eyes flickered: New information.

"I didn't keep anything from you about Cuchilla -- " began Myra.

"No, you completely ignored her being in love with you until I had to point it out" said Ginny.

"And you went off the fucking deep end, too, as I recall" retorted Myra.

"Well, we are a lot older and more stable now" said Ginny. "I was of course going to talk with you about it if Kip confirmed my suspicions. Which she has not yet, by the way."

"Are you claiming Margie's impression is bullshit? What tipped you off, anyhow?" said Myra, turning to Margie.

"The way she looked at Mom" said Margie. "Pure goo. Butch goo." Her voice was scornful. Myra briefly wished Frances could hear this.

"No, I'm not discounting Margie's read" said Ginny, "Clumsily as she has tossed it out." Take that, you ungrateful child, her tone implied.

A burning smell reached Myra's nostrils.

"Ah, shit" said Allie, rushing back to the stove. She began turning over catfish fillets blackened on one side. Myra said to her, "That's okay, we'll call it Cajun style." With this joke, she realized she had decided to not indulge her anger.

She faced Ginny again. She took a long breath and said "This scares me. You spending so much time with someone who's decided that means you're fair game -- it scares me."

"It scares me too, Myra" said Ginny in a softer voice. "I -- hate it. I wanted...want her as a friend, absolutely nothing more. I'm not looking forward to the conversation we'll be having tomorrow."

Myra secretly hoped Kip would be so upset by refusal that she'd disappear and Myra wouldn't have to deal with her presence again. Out loud she said "Please keep me fully informed."

Ginny looked at her as if she could read Myra's thoughts. She stepped to Myra and wrapped her arms around Myra's waist. "I'm your girl, yours alone" she whispered.

Myra realized she was trembling as she leaned against Ginny. "I'm a grandmother and I still have this landmine" she whispered back.

"It goes how it goes" said Ginny. Myra sang "Like a river flows..." They hugged in recognition.

"So that's it?" said Margie loudly. "You done with this?"

"Nope. But we're not going to start breaking dishes" said Myra, beginning to wonder what stake Margie had in this confrontation. "Speaking of which, let's get the table set, looks like everything is ready to serve."

Myra went to bed with Ginny that night. As they curled together in the dark, Myra said "I kinda hate her now."

"I figured. I surely felt that way about Cuchilla" replied Ginny.

"You think all that complaining she's been doing about her recent ex was to get your sympathy, arouse your interest in her?" asked Myra.

Ginny thought for a minute. "I guess it could be. If so, it's a ridiculous tactic."

"Well, she's been with men for all those years that we spent maturing" said Myra, a little venom creeping into her voice. Ginny squeezed her and said "Have you talked with Margie about how things are going with her and Frances? Regarding Imani, I mean?"

"No. But after today, I'll make sure to do so before she leaves tomorrow" said Myra.

"I know I've been crazy busy lately. And I don't see a real let-up for months. Do you and I need to set aside some time for us?" said Ginny.

"I don't know. I'm obsessed with my book, as well. I feel more like I'm neglecting my friendships. Especially Chris, we haven't had alone time in six weeks."

Myra felt Ginny be still for a moment. "Well, if you want to make plans with her, I think you should. Take her to Anacortes."

Myra laughed. "That was extremely generous of you, Ginny Bates. Chris would rather go out in nature somewhere, not a motel near a hardware store. I'll talk to her about it. You and I will have some traveling together for your show, and my book tour."

"But that's in the fall. And we're not getting to go to the coast this summer, because of Mimi" pointed out Ginny.

"Well...let's get the yard done. Then maybe we could take off, the two of us." Myra felt reluctant to commit. She wanted the Kip issue dealt with first, was the truth of the matter.

The next morning when she got up, Ginny was in the back yard with Kip chipping at a big stone. Margie sat at the table with a cup of coffee.

"You eaten yet?" Myra asked.

"Some fruit and a piece of toast" said Margie. Myra began scrambling eggs, knowing Margie would want some of those.

"Well?" said Myra.

Margie grinned. "They were still having tea when I got up. Kip will come eat if you're not around. But it was tense this morning. Her shoulders were all hunchy, and she was being very formal. I guess Mom really did tell her 'hands off'." Margie sounded a little wistful.

"Will you cut me a bagel?" asked Myra. "When we both sit down, we can talk more."

Margie returned for the Fourth of July weekend, again on her own. She pushed Mimi in her stroller at their neighborhood parade, and that evening lit a sparkler to wave in Mimi's field of vision, cackling at the amazement on Mimi's face. The next Monday, Jane and Gillam both returned to graduate classes, staggering their schedule as much as possible but still with enough overlap that sometimes one or the other of them had to take Mimi to lectures. Gillam became extremely popular among the young women in his classes, a gorgeous father with a baby who looked just like him. He sat at the back of the lecture halls to avoid disruption when he had to take Mimi out for diaper changes or the occasional crying fit. Jane complained about how his behavior was seen as exemplary, even by the misogynist old fart professors, while Jane was treated with impatience when she had a baby in tow.

The pond was finished, barbecue area completed, and sod laid a couple of days before Myra's birthday. Kip overcome her stiffness enough to finish the work with Ginny, wading into the partially-filled basin to help plant water lilies and joining the family to celebrate when the waterfall was turned on the first time. However, she declined to be part of the flower-bed planning and installation. Instead, Eric came over after work to transfer tulip bulbs, rose cuttings, and garlic with Ginny. He chose a side bed for himself, and his white irises, ornamental grasses, and violets made Ginny whistle. Kip promised to return when the pond was balanced enough to add snails and fish. In the meantime, however, she seemed to vanish from Ginny's life. Which Myra did not mind at all, even for Ginny's sake.

Mara's brick sculptures were stunning. The curved benches were adorned with mermaids, sea horses, squid, conches, giant clams, and endless tropical fish in bas relief so vivid it was almost as if you could see their bright colors. The interior wall of the barbecue portico was filled with leaping dolphins and sinuous octopi, and the back wall sported a massive whale shark with spots whose concavities drew Myra's fingertips. "I want a bench back here" she told Ginny. "A small place to sit and meditate on the whale shark. We can put the bird feeding stations between here and the waterfall."

Below the top crest of the waterfall, Kip had carved a wide flattish stone into a basin which accepted the falls and, through a narrow gouge, sent the cataract onward to below. This was intended to be a bird bath, and was instantly discovered by every bird on Capitol Hill, Myra declared. Most of the water plants survived their new habitat, and at dusk a few frog chirps could be heard.

The extended family celebrated Myra's birthday with an outdoor barbecue. This time, Frances and Margie came together, Frances marveling at Mimi's new ability to hold up her own head, bring her hands together, and make imitative sounds, especially "eee". Myra had been buying children's videos on eBay in large lots, including an entire series run of "Dora the Explorer", against the day when Mimi was old enough to watch. For her birthday, Ginny gave her a home viewing system, large-screen, in a cabinet she promised to refinish. That night, after everyone left, Myra and Ginny inaugurated her gift by watching Show Me Love, pulling out one of the baby mats to finish their lovemaking which began on the couch.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

No comments: