Saturday, October 4, 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.

February 2014

The day after Ginny's birthday, Myra slept late. When she got up, an enormous wooden crate blocked the living room, and Ginny was methodically removing all the art, hers and others, from walls, wrapping the pieces in special padded boxes, then standing them on end in the crate. Myra helped her with a feeling of desolation at how the house already looked. Ginny packed fragile and rare items, like the pot Myra had brought her from Second Mesa, into a second compartmented crate, and they hammered the lids down. Late that afternoon, a crew came to take the crates for storage at a bonded warehouse with temperature control and high security.

Over the next two days, they sorted through all the items they'd possibly need for three to four months and packed what they could into boxes. Everything else going into storage would be left for the movers. Gillam and Jane wanted to keep the shelving in the store room, so the rows of preserves could be left. Ditto the contents of the freezer, and all of Ginny's plants on the upstairs deck. Gillam's bedroom furniture was moved into the upstairs hall and stacked. The mini-stove in Carly's kitchenette was given away, since Jane wanted to use that space for a stacking washer and dryer upstairs, an idea Myra wished she'd had decades earlier. Carly and Eric moved the furniture from his old room to their apartment.

Myra had difficulty determining which books she might want in the next quarter year. Finally Ginny said "Just pack the ones in your study that you've actually opened in the last six months. Everything else goes to storage." Carly and Eric came over a second evening to help with this, tackling the shelves on the stairs. Myra was clearing out the pantry and overheard part of a quiet conversation between them. Carly had said something about Gillam and a "balancing act".

"What is it with him and her? Were they always like this?" said Eric. As Myra wondered which "her" was meant, Carly said "Think Sarah Connor and John. That's a good comparison."

Eric giggled. "Lordy. Where does that leave you, then?"

"In the clear" said Carly cheerfully. Myra repeated this snippet later to Allie, who found it very entertaining.

"What else did they say?" she asked.

"Uh...I think they began making out then" said Myra, embarrassed.

On Friday morning, a large team of movers arrived with two trucks, one for storage and one to carry what they were taking to the new apartment. It was a hard day for Myra and Ginny both. The movers finished by 5:30, accepted cold drinks and snack boxes, then pulled off as Margie and Frances pulled up. "I've ordered Chinese food" announced Ginny, her voice echoing through the living and dining rooms. The fridge was gone, but they had a cooler still holding ice and drinks. When the food was delivered, with paper plates and plastic forks, Gillam and Jane arrived with Carly and Eric.

They ate every last scrap, sitting in a circle on the floor. After dinner, Margie said "Is your new apartment set up for you?"

"Not nearly" said Myra. "We've rented a motel room for the night. We got you one, too." She handed Margie a key.

"Why don't we tour Gillam and Jane's new house, now that it's cleared, and hear what they plan to do with it?" suggested Ginny. Jane looked at her gratefully.

It was eerie, how large the rooms seemed. Myra and Ginny stayed arm in arm as Gillam explained how they planned to arrange the new family room once the wall between the old study and studio came down, with his desk in a corner and Jane's piano at the end. He and Jane waved their hands as if magically spreading carpet on floors or paint on walls, mentioning colors like oatmeal, champagne, biscuit. Ginny kept squeezing Myra's arm unobtrusively.

They went upstairs to the mural room, still covered in the drapery panels Gillam had chosen as a teenager. "You should see these walls, Jane" he said. "Can we get these down without hurting the mural underneath?"

"They're screwed on at the corners" remembered Ginny. Frances pulled a Swiss Army knife from her pocket and extracted the screwdriver. Kicking off her shoes, she said "Gimme a boost" to Margie, who made a stirrup of her hands and lifted Frances to her shoulders. Frances balanced against the far wall of the bedroom and unscrewed the top corner of one panel, then walked with her hands as Margie carried her to the other corner, which she unscrewed as well. Sliding to the ground, she disconnected the bottom two corners, Gillam and Margie holding the panel in place until it was all loose . As they lowered it and placed it against the side wall, Jane gasped.

The river at Green Knowe flowed into the river in front of Ratty's house and Toad Hall, which emptied into a lake from Swallows and Amazons, which drained into the Everglades where a group of girls in fol boats were trying to outrace an approaching hurricane while in the swamp beyond them Mowgli was talking to Bagheera. On the shores, extending up into mountain ranges or nearby plains and forests, were Joan of Arc and Robin Hood, Charlotte in her web, the Would-Be-Goods, Harriet Tubman leading escaping slaves past a cheering Scout and Jem, Harriet the Spy taking notes on Buffalo Woman who in turn was trying to approach Misty of Chincoteague's wild pony parents, Justin making biscuits at a campfire nearby, and a small pond covered with water lilies adjoining Linnea in Monet's garden -- all were revealed in vivid color.

Gillam stepped over to put his arm around Jane's waist. "Wait until we take off the ceiling drapes. Peter and Wendy are flying up there, with Mary Poppins and Dragonwings -- "

"And Kiki running deliveries, which got added in after you were born -- " said Margie.

"Flying Monkeys and the Wicked Witch of the West" remembered Carly. Ginny gave Myra a nudge, grinning.

"Podkayne of Mars, in transit" continued Margie.

"Stuart Little in his airplane" added Gillam. "Wonder Woman in her invisible airplane, and Amelia Earhart over the Pacific. But no Ripley" he said, turning to Myra. "Why nothing from Alien, Mom?"

Myra nudged Ginny back, more forcefully. "I was defeated by the Hays Code" she replied.

"A whole new generation is going to fall asleep at night with these images in their heads" said Gillam, wonder in his voice. "In fact..." He looked at Jane, who finished his sentence for him.

"We were hoping you'd do a second mural in the other bedroom up here. A lot has happened in the world of children's books since I was born, and we plan to have two bedrooms full of kids."

Ginny's eyes were welling. "Of course we'll do it. I mean, I can't actually speak for Allie -- "

"But you know she will" said Myra.

"I'll help!" said Margie eagerly.

"Me, too" said Carly. "Can't paint but I can haul ladders, whatever lifting needs doing."

Gillam said "We'll need a whole wall just for Allie's Podinqo books".

"And Skene" said Ginny.

"And Maira Kalman" said Jane. "Max, Mrs. Kackleman, Grand Central -- "

"Hey Willie See The Pyramids" said Gillam, grinning at Margie.

"Calder's Circus" added Ginny. "Stay Up Late."

"We missed all the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings possibilities the first time around" said Myra. She mouthed at Gillam "And Ripley." Ginny pretended not to see.

"Arthur, D.W., and Buster making maple syrup with the lesbians" said Frances.

"Plus Lemony Snicket" said Jane. "All the Philip Pullman books. Olivia. And that train ride through the water in Spirited Away."

"And on the ceiling, Porco Rosso, Princess Nausicaä and Howl's Flying Castle" said Gillam, getting more and more excited. "And Catwings, and oh my god, a quidditch match!"

"Hermione!" breathed Margie.

They all stood still for a moment, imagining the room to come. Then Margie walked over to the closet and swung open the door.

"Come look at this" she said, motioning Frances to her. On the back side of the door were two painted lines marked off in one inch intervals, labeled "Margie" and "Gillam" in different colors. Their heights at each half-year gap were inked in. Jane and Frances were enchanted.

"Look, we stopped at 16" said Margie. She asked Myra "Got a pen in your back pocket?"

Giggling, Myra pulled it out. Margie backed up to her name and Gillam drew a line on the wood at the crest of her head, then she did the honors for him. They wrote down the date and their ages. "Now it's all done" said Gillam. "We'll have to find a new place for our children's progress."

Ginny was trembling. Myra kissed her cheek, and they started back downstairs.

Myra turned into their old bedroom, still linked with Ginny. As everyone filed in behind them, Ginny said to Gillam "That glass wall originally was like the other walls, with just two casement windows."

"Wow, hard to imagine" said Gillam.

"And our bed was over here against this wall" said Myra, walking to the spot. She looked at Ginny and said "The first time we ever made love was right here."

Ginny said softly "Remember how I couldn't wait?" Suddenly she recalled, vividly, Myra's expression as she looked down into her face and the feel of Myra's hand sliding between her legs for the first time. She closed her eyes momentarily, weak with desire.

Gillam turned and left the room. Myra, not noticing, pointed back to the spot in front of the glass wall and said "And both our children were conceived in that very bed."

"With eggs I'd carried my whole life, waiting to use for just that reason" said Ginny.

Gillam, discovering everyone else was still in the bedroom listening, came back and stood leaned against the doorway.

Margie said, "Well, as one of those eggs, I do most earnestly thank you."

Ginny laughed and pulled Margie in between her and Myra. "You spent your first nights home in that bed with us -- you, too, Gillam." She craned her neck around at him. Jane stepped over to Gillam and said to him "As will our babies, hmm?"

He beamed at her. Frances linked her arms between Carly and Eric and asked "How about you, boyfriends? Planning to reproduce?"

Carly was startled, then laughed and said "You offering a womb?"

Eric and Frances found this hilarious, as did Margie. Myra and Ginny smiled but did not laugh. Neither did Gillam.

Myra said "Well, to quote Annie Lamott: 'A hundred years from now? All new people.' So, let's bow to the inevitable, leave this house to Jane and Gillam, and I, for one, need to go to bed early tonight." They hugged Jane and Gillam goodnight and walked back to the living room, bagging trash and carrying the cooler to their car. When Margie and Frances joined them, they left for the motel. Myra refused to look back at the front door.

The following night, their first at the new apartment, Myra found herself awakened repeatedly by sounds from outside and the apartment upstairs. She was unable to sleep in, either. She dragged herself out of bed not long after Ginny got up and went with her to the renovation site of their new house, stopping for a Coke along the way. By lunch she was so cranky, she drove herself home for a nap instead of eating. She put in foam earplugs and slept for three hours. That night when she went to bed, she put in the earplugs again.

The third morning, she woke up before dawn feeling congested. Taking out the earplugs didn't help the swollen feeling in her head. She rummaged through the closet and finally located her breathing treatment machine. She took it into the living room and set it up on the end table next to their one easy chair. After having a treatment, she felt a little better and dropped off, but was awakened by neighbors getting up and going to work. By the time Ginny got up, Myra said she had an earache and was coughing up thick phlegm. Ginny took her temperature and found it was over 100.

Myra called her doctor's early hours nurse and finally persuaded her to not force an office visit on her. She was prescribed an antibiotic and a decongestant, which Ginny ran out to pick up for her, along with a gallon of orange juice. Back at the apartment, Ginny made a quick batch of garlicky chicken soup while Myra ate dry toast and drank OJ with her first round of drugs.

"Eat a bowl of this whenever you can" said Ginny. "I really have to go back to the work site, honey. But I'll have my cell -- "

"I'm going to hang out in the easy chair and watch movies all day, with breathing treatments every four hours" said Myra, coughing at the end.

"Uh...The movies are all in storage, I think" said Ginny.

"Oh, god. Daytime TV is depressing" said Myra.

"Make a list and I'll run to rent you some before I leave" said Ginny, feeling harried already. Myra asked for her laptop, which Ginny brought to her. Her list wound up with 24 titles on it.

"I'm not going to rent this many" objected Ginny.

"Ten. Get the top ten if they have them" said Myra. She looked mulish, and Ginny didn't argue.

"And Beebo, I want Beebo here for company" added Myra.

"The last thing you need is cat fur in your lungs" said Ginny.

"It's already on this chair, and I'll keep him out of the bedroom. I need him" said Myra. Ginny had to borrow Gillam and Jane's litter box, making two trips across the complex to set up Beebo with Myra. He was highly interested in their apartment and was still investigating when Ginny finally escaped, saying "No cheese, no milk, don't put those earplugs back in, and if you need something delivered, try Allie. I'll be home by 6:00 and feed you something else then."

When Ginny got home, a loud chase scene was blaring. Myra was leaned back in her chair asleep, Beebo at her shoulder. He woke up and looked at Ginny quizzically. The end of the dining table nearest Myra was littered with take-out boxes full of Thai dishes. Ginny looked for Coke bottles but found none; the orange juice was empty. When she turned off the TV, Myra woke up and gave a long belch before demanding the remote.

Ginny muttered to herself "I might as well have a husband" and began carrying take-out into the kitchen. Myra said "I ordered you a shrimp something. And I'm hungry again."

"How long have these been sitting out?" said Ginny.

"Two-three hours" said Myra. "It's so spicy, it won't have turned. And it really cleared my head. I want more of the yellow curry dish, it's got tofu and water chestnuts, you'll like it. And the crab wraps. And -- oh, some of everything, really."

Ginny made two plates, heated them in the microwave, and joined Myra at the table, insisting she sit up and eat like an adult.

"This that new place? It's extremely good" said Ginny.

"Mm-hm" said Myra, not mentioning the mango pudding and sticky rice buns with red bean paste she'd had for dessert earlier. Beebo's kibble looked untouched, and Ginny guessed he'd helped himself to the chicken soup in Myra's bowl on the floor or take-out cartoons all day. Gillam stopped by for a visit after dinner and took Beebo home with him. "Drop him off tomorrow on your way to work, please" called Myra after them.

"I want you to try sleeping in the bed tonight" said Ginny. "We'll put an extra pillow for you. Eventually you'll get used to the noise, Myra. Did you sleep any solid amounts today, or was it all movie-laden dozing?"

"Mostly the latter" said Myra. "I feel raw, still." She hadn't asked about how the renovation was going at all. Ginny felt drained herself. She mixed more juice and a carafe of herbal tea, and coaxed Myra into a shower with her, hoping the steam would help. They didn't have a tub in this apartment.

Myra slept in chunks but again got up before dawn to take a breathing treatment. Ginny found her watching another movie with the sound turned off and captioning on. "Didn't want to wake you" said Myra.

"Do you still have a fever?"

"Maybe when I first got up" said Myra. "Now I just feel achy. What the fuck are they wearing upstairs, wooden shoes with metal spikes?"

Ginny made them eggs and fruit. Gillam forgot about Beebo, so she had to go retrieve the cat again before leaving for the construction site, which was pure chaos. Jane rode with her to check on the progress of their own house. Because of Jane's needs, Ginny came home at 3:00 and found Myra eating a cheeseburger with Chris, watching some thriller from the summer before.

"I finished the chicken soup" said Myra, trying to appear virtuous. "And the solar panel folks called me three times, despite me giving them your cell number over and over, did they get hold of you?"

"Goddammit, no, and I kept leaving them messages" said Ginny. She sat down at the other end of the table with her notebook and phone. Beebo hopped up beside her and she pushed him onto the floor irritably. She wrangled with obtuse men on the phone, her voice loud because of the TV blare. When the movie ended, Chris picked up their food debris but came back to sit on cushions on the floor near Myra, showing no interest in leaving.

Ginny went into the kitchen and began constructing a salad. She wasn't quite done when Carly and Eric stopped by with fresh salmon and an offer to cook it with one of Eric's noodle dishes. Ginny gratefully accepted, and as they filled the small kitchen, she complained for half an hour nonstop about the trials of dealing with construction crews. Carly listened patiently, putting a small slice of salmon in Beebo's bowl atop the still undisturbed kibble.

Myra wasn't hungry again yet, so Ginny ate with Carly and Eric. When they were done, Carly methodically harassed Myra from her easy chair and into shoes for the walk to his and Eric's apartment. "You need to move your body, to clear out the infection" he insisted. "I'll put you through a routine on our machine and you'll sleep tonight as a result." Chris left with them, and Ginny relaxed into the sensation of having space and silence for a while.

Myra returned with color in her face again and sweat on her cheeks. Ginny asked her to go over some house questions, and Myra sat at the table with more attention she'd had in days. When Gillam walked over to pick up Beebo, Myra told him she wouldn't be at home all day the next day, so Beebo shouldn't plan on returning.

She did sleep better, but was still tired when Ginny woke up. They ate together and Myra said she needed to go slow, she'd come over to the work site at noon, bring Ginny lunch. She kept her word but didn't stay long because her wheezing recurred swiftly with all the dust in the air. She had her laptop with her, and instead of going back to the apartment, she went to a diner and sipped Cokes while reading e-mail and blog comments. She wrote a new post, then sat staring out the window for half an hour. Finally she opened a new document and began writing.

The only reason she noticed the time was because the diner had filled up. It was almost 5:00. She hurried home, Ginny calling her cell just as Myra was parking her car. She helped Ginny make a quick veggie pasta dish with the last of their salad greens as a side. After dinner, she opened her laptop and continued writing.

"Something new?" asked Ginny, looking over her shoulder.

"Yeah. Memoir, I guess you'd call it. Not sure what it's for" said Myra. She vanished back into her computer. Ginny sighed, looked through the cupboards until she found her favorite sketch block and pencils, and sat at the other end of the table to draw Myra. Anything but floor plans and design ideas.

Myra's sleep was normal that night, although she went to bed late, staying up writing. She didn't want to go with Ginny to the new house the next morning but forced herself. Once again, however, her wheezing flared. She left apologetically, going to Pike for groceries as penance and making clam fritters with roasted corn for Ginny's dinner. The rest of the time, she wrote, creating an outline for what she was now calling her Memoir with a capital letter. Allie and Edwina joined them for the meal, bringing mashed sweet potatoes and ripe kiwis. As they ate, Allie and Edwina talked about research trips they planned to make once Edwina had retired.

After clearing the table, they returned to drink tea and hear stories about Ginny's time at the job site, where she managed to turn her frustration into funny stories. When the wall behind the space where the elevator was to go had been broached, half a dozen frantic mice had poured out, making one burly guy scream and two younger man flee the room before they could stop themselves.

"What did you do, levitate?" grinned Allie.

"I happened to be on the stair landing, and I remained there until one guy with heavy boots stomped them into oblivion" said Ginny. "Thank god all that flooring is going to be replaced, is all I can say."

"You need to add finding an exterminator to the list of things to be done" Myra said to Ginny. Ginny gave her a look as Myra continued "Since I can't be around all that airborne crap and who knows when it's going to get better, I was thinking about going up to Anacortes for a few days. Check into my motel and write."

"You mean, without me along" said Ginny, deceptively calm.

"Well, somebody has to ride herd on 'em over there, and since you're clearly having fun with it -- " began Myra. Allie kicked her so hard under the table that Myra leaped in her chair, saying "Fucking OW, Billups, what the hell?"

"I can find worlds of fun you can share without being at the site" said Ginny, her jaw tight. "Like calling an exterminator, for one thing. You can still write, and go to diners during the day if that's beckoning you, but I need you to help keep this apartment our temporary home and to do your share now, Myra."

"Oh. Well, I wasn't trying to duck out on you or anything" said Myra. Allie snorted.

Ginny's eyes were wide and clear. "Are you under the impression that this house renovation is somehow more my responsibility than yours?" she continued.

"No, no. I just...Never mind. We'll go over the list tomorrow and divvy things up." Myra coughed, not deliberately but Edwina looked at her suspiciously.

"Well, I need to mosey on home. You can get some writing in tonight. Come to our place tomorrow night for shabbos" said Allie. "I'll make ribs. And chicken for you, boss" she said to Ginny, who laughed. After she and Edwina were gone, Myra asked Ginny "What are you going to do now?"

"Sit at my work table and read mail. Check my e-mail. Talk to the geckos" said Ginny.

"Are you mad at me?"

"Not quite. But get in gear, Myra. And listen, if you're up to hauling laundry tomorrow, we need some done."

Myra concealed her reaction. "That means getting quarters from somewhere, I guess."

"I've heard banks have them" said Ginny. She headed for the study/studio. Myra sent text messages to Gillam, Carly and Chris, telling them they were all eating at Allie and Edwina's the next night. She went into their bedroom to sort laundry, then finally gave herself permission to return to her laptop at the dining table.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

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