Friday, November 14, 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.

August 2015

Myra asked to have her birthday dinner at Carminati's, and a long row of tables at the back were pushed together to accommodate the clan because even the massive party booth, with its plush black leather, didn't have enough room. One of the other diners in the restaurant that night took surreptitious photos of the celebration which appeared on the internet within days. Myra was incensed because one of them was a clear close-up of Mimi.

Ginny spent the week before their trip to the Gulf Coast giving Mimi lessons in how to blow out her nose. Eventually Mimi got the hang of it, which would help not only in dealing with the air pressure pain on the flight but also with future colds. Jane thanked Ginny effusively and said “Wanna try your hand at potty training?”

“Sure” said Ginny, not realizing it was a joke. She bought potties for all their bathrooms and began asking Mimi at random moments if she thought she might need to “go”. Mimi didn't have a clue what she meant until Ginny began taking her to the bathroom with her when she went. They sat side by side on their respective thrones, Ginny describing how she relaxed her muscles. After three days, Mimi more or less accidentally peed while on her potty. Ginny leaped from her own toilet and began dancing a jig. Mimi immediately joined her, which necessitated a clean-up later, but the idea was planted.

Mimi began accompanying everyone around her to the bathroom when they went, pounding on the door frantically if it was shut. Intermittently she succeeded in her own voiding, and this meant she got to do “the potty dance”: She stuck her arms out on either side, bent down at the elbow in a sort of muscle-builder pose, and hopped from foot to foot with a deranged expression on her face. This was a hilarious hit, and the entire family got into the habit of doing the potty dance after a trip to the toilet when Mimi was around.

Hence, their flight to Houston was a mixed bag. Mimi was able to blow out her ears and enjoy gazing out the window. She went to the bathroom with Gillam and they did the potty dance in the aisle, to the entertainment of other passengers. David, however, despite being nursed by Jane, was clearly in deep pain and wailed not just through the flight but for an hour afterward. Myra kept apologizing to Jane, as if it were somehow her doing that the trip decision was made.

Once on the beach highway, David fell asleep and didn't rouse even during their stops for groceries, Margie's rental of a sea kayak, a trip to the tackle and bait shop, and Myra's indulgent foray with Mimi through the “beach crap” store. He did wake up when they sat down at the table in Gaido's, and he appeared not just back to baseline but actually more content than usual. Gillam speculated it was the “ocean ions”. Myra secretly thought it was his Texan ancestry coming to the fore.

At their beach place, Myra felt her usual pang at missing the old farmhouse but, for the first time, it was drowned out by the sensation of laying down memories for a new generation. Mimi was in sensory overload. Myra looked around the pure, inviting Ginny-colored walls of each room, the open tile floors and shafts of light pouring in every window, and fantasized about coming for longer than a week when Gillam's children were older – maybe a month or, dare she dream it, even the entire summer.

She especially loved the look of the great room, the egg-yolk tint of the walls, the soft sofas and chairs covered in blue-and-white marine canvas, the cook's choice kitchen with a 20 foot elevation view of the Gulf from the sink. The massive old square table Ginny had found in Galveston, big enough to seat four to a side, always held in its center a cluster of salt and pepper bowls, condiments, blue glass butter dish, green glass vase with flowers or grasses cut in the dunes, and a terra cotta plate heaped with shells and other beach gleanings. Once they settled in, the table also always held a bright red pitcher filled with ice and water, sweating onto plate, and often a matching container of tea or lemonade; a bread board with a fresh loaf under its glass dome; and a wide wooden bowl full of fruit.

Myra and Ginny took the “mother bedroom” automatically, with its pale green walls and king bed. Allie and Edwina took the other king bed in the back west bedroom with rose walls. Jane and Gillam moved themselves and the babies into the front west bedroom with two queen beds and aqua walls. Margie helped Eric and Carly push together two twin beds on the sun porch with its poppy red walls, and stashed her own gear next to a twin at the other end of the porch. She said she wasn't sure if she could take the heat out there, however – she might sleep on the couch in the central-air-cooled great room. At any rate, she added, when they needed “connubial privacy” she'd make herself scarce. Carly went brick red and Eric, laughing, said he would hang one of his giant socks on the doorknob, which made Carly turn away in mortification.

Even before Ginny set up her easel, sun screen and baby hats were applied for a family stroll on the beach. Mimi could not stop screaming with delight, and David looked like a white-haired Buddha in Gillam's arms. They found and stashed wood for that night's campfire. Gillam stripped down to boxers to carry Mimi in her diaper out to chest level. They could all hear her shrieks clearly over the surf. Jane, watching them, turned to Myra and said “I get it now. Look at him. He's still that little boy in the painting. We have to do this every year.”

Back at the house, Ginny and Allie began setting up the porch while Myra, Carly and Eric organized the kitchen and groceries. Edwina plugged her computer in at the desk in her bedroom, and Margie installed hooks to hang her kayak underneath the 12-foot clearance between the ground and the first floor of the house, between two of the concrete pillars which builders had promised would withstand any hurricane surge.

Gillam pulled out the inflatable plastic pool Myra had bought despite Ginny's comment that it was “ridiculous to buy a pool at the beach”. He blew it up and set it in the shade under the remaining live oak tree before filling it with water. He dumped all the toys Myra had bought into it, stripped to his boxers again and sat down in the cool clear water. Mimi, who had been tottering around the yard, stared at him in dawning delight.

“Come on in” he said. She clambered over the side, tried to float without much success, but once she discovered she could sit with water almost to her chin, she began an endless series of experiments with plastic containers. Jane stripped David to his diaper as well, applied what she called “SPF Mole People” all over him, adjusted his hat, and handed him to Gillam. Jane later said it was the first time she heard a clear laugh come from David. She went upstairs to sit on the porch with a book and a tall glass of ice water.

The kiddie pool became an ideal way to coax Mimi away from the beach proper and clean her of sand before naps or meals. She was equally enamored of the campfires, singing loudly in Jane's lap, making up words when she didn't know the lyrics. David, too, was transfixed by the firelight, the sunshine, the constant availability of several adults. Ginny set a bassinet beside her easel and she put him there for his naps, a small fan blowing across his bare skin. He went to sleep watching her paint.

“I should have done this with our two” she said to Myra. “No reason to keep them from seeing what I do up close and intimate.”

The next morning at dawn, Margie was packing a breakfast of biscuits, boiled eggs, and Texas Ruby Reds while Allie assembled fishing gear and Edwina filled a giant thermos with coffee. Gillam staggered out of his bedroom with Mimi, heading for the bathroom. When they came out, he said “She insisted she had to potty” as he did a stuporous version of the potty dance with her. He added “I think maybe she heard ya'll, though.”

“We tried to be quiet as we could” apologized Allie. Mimi said to Margie “Going? Where?”

“Fishing” said Margie. “We plan to catch fish in the ocean.” She turned to Gillam. “I'll take responsibility for her if you think it's okay for her to accompany us.”

He looked groggily at Mimi. Margie added “You and Jane could sleep in as long as David lets you.”

“Okay” said Gillam. “Let me get you clothes for her.” Margie added a bottle of milk and a banana to the breakfast bag. She shouldered it and Mimi once she was dressed, trailing after Allie with poles and Edwina with lawnchairs.

They returned just past 8:00. Ginny was already painting, and Myra was sitting down to biscuits and gravy. Allie said “Mimi done brought us beginner's luck, we got a haul.” Mimi, smelling a little of fish guts, was handed to Myra while Allie began battering and frying fillets and Margie put away gear.

Edwina made fresh coffee and elaborated. “She wanted to do whatever we were doing, a perfect little mimic. That simian DNA which serves babies in such good stead, I guess. She even took a sip of my coffee.”

“Don't tell Gillam” said Myra. “About the coffee, I mean.” Mimi reached her fist toward Edwina's cup and Myra laughed, offering her some juice instead.

“She got pissed when we wouldn't let her handle a knife during cleaning, but Allie gave her a head to play with for a couple of minutes. Until she tried to suck on it” said Edwina, giggling at Myra's grimace of revulsion.

“She one of us” said Allie, putting a sizzling piece of fish on Myra's plate. “We gonna take her every morning.”

Carly and Eric joined them in a few minutes, drawn by the aroma, Myra thought. Gillam and Jane didn't emerge until 9:30, looking rested and already sunned. Mimi, in the kiddie pool with Margie, yelled up to them “I catch fish!”

As a result of her early starts to the day, Mimi began sleeping through the afternoons, as did her baby brother. Jane and Gillam relished their down time, reading, taking walks, or Gillam stretched in the Adirondack chair on the porch listening with eyes close to Jane playing one of the pennywhistles she'd brought along. Carly and Eric swam and horsed around for hours, helping keep an eye on Margie in her kayak beyond the breakers. Margie later confessed to Myra she would have been reluctant to venture into those waters without a spotter. She said the dolphins were curious to the point of intrusion, and there were far more shark spottings than she would have guessed.

“So, no taking Mimi out kayaking with me when she's older. Not until she's way big” said Margie with tight lips. Myra mentally compared this with the reckless Margie they'd grown up with, and thought parenthood wasn't seasoning only Gillam.

At night, Gillam drained the kiddie pool and hung it on a pillar, avoiding its use as a biodome over a new fireant metropolis. Midweek, he and Jane made a kite with Mimi and they flew it on the beach. Carly, Eric and Margie joined them with home-made kites of their own. That afternoon, when Myra made a run to town for milk and supplies, she bought a cowpoke hat for Mimi. They didn't have a visit to the Long Branch Saloon that night – Mimi was still too young to appreciate it – but she knew it was somewhere in their future.

Myra discovered she could write at the table in the great room most of the time, no matter what bustle went on around her, with the exception of her grandchildren soliciting her for attention. She remembered reading that Jane Austen had written all her novels at a busy dining table in the midst of her demanding family, and for the first time she understood how that might have been possible.

It was more heartwrenching than usual when they had to pack and leave. Mimi cried and David joined her without actual comprehension of departure, Myra thought. After Gaido's and Mimi's first exposure to chocolate bread pudding, the trip to the cemetery left Myra sobbing at David's marker when Gillam knelt and put his baby son's hand over David's name.

After sharing a shuttle back to their neighborhood, Margie dumped her bags in Myra and Ginny's foyer and said “I'm going to see Frances at the store, I'll be back for these later” as she rushed out again. Myra felt a second grief when Jane, Gillam, and the babies left them for their own house. Carly and Eric had already been dropped off. Allie said “Well, I'll stick around a while. Our fridge is bare and I remember you got some barbecue from you birthday stashed in your freezer.”

“I'll go raid the garden” said Ginny. Edwina went into the kitchen to start a pot of rice, while Myra read the housesitter's note and tried to track down the odd smell in the living room.

They were sitting down to eat when Margie returned, slamming the front door.

“You hungry?” Myra called out, but her voice trailed off as she saw Margie's face. Margie threw herself into a chair and snapped “Imani's here.”

“What? A sneak visit?” said Edwina.

“More than that. Frances has hired her as her sous-chef” said Margie, picking up a stalk of celery and breaking it in half but not taking a bite. There was a white line of rage around her lips.

“Oh for shit's sake” said Ginny. “Without asking you?”

“She said Imani didn't tell her she was coming, but once she got here, it all came together. She decided she needed to tell me in person instead of over the phone.” Myra could tell Margie didn't believe this story.

“Well, she needed help bad. I mean, we all on vacation and she here working her ass off” said Allie calmly. Everyone turned to look at her reprovingly. Allie pointed her fork at Margie and said “Imani being in her kitchen ain't the issue, and you know it. If you want a different kinda set-up outside the kitchen, you better ask for it.”

For a few seconds, Myra thought Margie might pass out from a convergence of emotion. Eventually, she stood stiffly and said “I'll think about that, thanks so much for your support.” She strode to the front of the house. They heard bags thud against the door on her way out.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

To see the rebuilt beach house post Hurricane Ike, check here.

1 comment:

Jesse Wendel said...


Allie's right of course.

The girl HAS to learn. She made a good first step when she finally realized she needed to live with family, and asked -- ASKED -- to live in Seattle.

Now she needs to realize she is unwilling to put up with sexual games anymore and ask -- ASK -- that they be exclusive.

It's time to take control of her own life, and stop having a backdoor.

Children think they can leave all the doors open to everything. Young adults moving towards adulthood know that commitment opens possibilities which otherwise would never be possible.