Saturday, November 22, 2008


Lemon fusilli with shrimp
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.

Winter and Spring 2016

Myra set up the kitten box beside her desk, under the printer table, once they were back home. She was continually distracted by them, and except for nursing, Mother Courage increasingly left them to Myra's care.

The little black and white kitten had a smooth white forehead once the fur around her absent eyes grew back. Myra got used to her appearance. She tended to keep this kitten in her lap, sleeping in a hammock made of her shirt, or playing with her on the desk.

The first time Beebo came to visit, he was screamed at downstairs by Mother Courage and fled headlong up the stairs to Myra's study, only to discover it was kitten territory. He sniffed at them with wide eyes, looking nervously over his shoulder for Mother Courage. The little black one, the wildest of the bunch, bunched up her body and growled at him, but the rest invited him to play. He didn't like sharing Myra's desk area. Still, his basic nature was easy-going and he had his cubby, which was high enough that, for now, no kitten could reach it. He focused on staying clear of Mother Courage and otherwise made his patrols as usual.

They put a second foodbowl on the sideboard, where once Alice and then Dinah had had their bowls. Mother Courage took to hanging out in the dining room, and for all intents and purposes went into cat retirement. If her bowl ever reached empty, she came to Ginny or Myra and cried constantly until a handful of kibble was put back in the bowl. Even if she didn't need to eat at that moment, the bowl had to have food in it.

"I know how she feels" said Myra. "No problemo, Mother, it's an easy thing to offer."

Mimi and David were fixated on the kittens. They had to be watched carefully to keep them from squeezing the little bodies too hard. Mimi begged to give the kittens names, but Ginny, hard-assed, said "No. I want that power."

So one afternoon, when the kittens were five weeks old and starting to lunge at the walls of their box, itching for freedom, Myra and Ginny sat down on the study floor and selected identities.

The blind kitten was cradled in Myra's hands. She said “I've been thinking about naming her after Helen Keller" said Myra. “Would that be too PI?"

Ginny looked at her and said "I'm not giving a pet my mother's name."

"Well, not the Helen part, but how about Keller? She was a lesbian, you know."

Ginny grinned. "Keller is fine. Look, this orange one has fur the color of Jimmy Olson's hair, in the old Superman comics. And he's a boy. How about Olson for him?"

"Wonderful. I'm so glad you told Mimi, because inevitably these would have wound up something like Spotty and Ginger."

"Not to mention Blacky, Pinky and Grey-y" Ginny said, lifting the rest out of the box.

"Pinky reminds me of that Tracy and Hepburn movie, what was it, Adam's Rib? Where they had the same nickname for each other, Pinky, but with two spellings?" said Myra.

"I loved that" said Ginny. "This one is a boy, so shall we call him Spencer?"

"Such serious names for such little critters" said Myra, laughing.

"Yes, but they are going to live maybe 20 years with us, an intact family, and they'll grow into these names."

Myra was silent for a minute, thinking about that 20 year span. These may be the last cats I ever have.

"This sleek black one, the little spitfire, she looks like a panther" said Myra. "Makes me think of the Would-Be-Goods in Edith Nesbit's novels, the sister named Anthea they all called Panther."

"Anthea? That's a nice aloof name for her. I'd go for that" said Ginny.

"That leaves only your grey boy" said Myra. He had shown an early preference for Ginny, finding her in the studio whenever he was loosed from his cardboard cell. Ginny picked him up and set him on her shoulders, where he balanced himself a little shakily but looked about with bright interest.

"I know this is awful, but whenever I see a grey cat, I think about that line from Benjamin Franklin, I think it is, about how all cats are grey in the dark. Old school misogyny" said Ginny. She craned her face around to look the kitten in its eye. "Would you like to be called Franklin, little guy?"

He looked back at her and gave a small mew. "Okey-doke, he says yes" laughed Ginny.

"Cool." said Myra. "We have done the holy act of naming. How's about we let 'em run around the study on their own for a while?"

"Be careful with your rolling chair" said Ginny. "The baby gate across the top of the stairs isn't enough to stop these explorers, I'll rig something up with foamboard for the time being." She set down the kittens in her lap but stood with Franklin still on her shoulder. Using one hand to help him stay balanced, she walked into her studio.

A couple of weeks later, the kittens were a menace to ambulation and items on shelves everywhere. All except Keller, who explored only Myra's study and established her main domain on top of Myra's big rolltop desk. Keller would go downstairs twice a day, chirruping on each step, to eat and use the litter box. Otherwise, she hovered near Myra. She occupied Beebo's cubby when he wasn't there. When he did arrive, she'd cede it to him by taking Myra's lap.

Franklin likewise continued his claim on Ginny. He played with his siblings but came to Ginny for naps or to yowl at her until she placed him on her shoulder. He was able to lie down around her neck and loved to watch her paint. Every now and then, she'd hold the end of her brush up and let him pat at it.

Anthea was more solitary than the rest. She was the first to stop nursing, and prowled around the tops of cabinets and shelves. When the cat door to the outside was finally installed, after they were six months old, Anthea claimed the yard and after that only came inside at night or dinnertime.

At first Ginny locked Anthea in the house when Dink and Usagi came for a bunny garden visit. Eventually, however, she carefully introduced them to one another. Anthea was not the cooperative sort, and she seemed to stalk in the yard almost continuously, but she shied away from molesting the rabbits – perhaps because there were a pair of them, Ginny speculated.

Anthea did haunt the pond, cleverly finding an angle where she could look down into the depth via a shaft of light but be hidden herself in shadow. One of the severum had grown much larger than the rest. Ginny called it the Leviathan and swore it leaped from the surface after hummingbirds when they flew over. Anthea appeared to have her ambitions set on somehow angling this behemoth. Myra remarked it was just as likely the lev was using itself as bait to snatch Anthea from the edge.

Olson and Spencer, once they were neutered, became bachelor brothers who preferred to sleep their days away in the living room. Mother Courage kept her stake in the dining room and kitchen, and in this way, feline territory was evenly distributed throughout the house, as cats prefer. None were allowed to sleep with Myra and Ginny, which especially bothered Keller. In the mornings she would greet Myra beside the bedroom door, much more chatty than the rest, and escort her down to the kitchen for breakfast.

Myra had been diligent during the autumn about submitting poetry to various national journals. She told Ginny it was a way to keep her name out there as she worked on her memoir. During the new year, acceptances began rolling in, including poems appearing in both Atlantic and The New Yorker, which rounded out Myra's ambitious list of the top ten publications she wanted to print her work. In April she received an invitation to Breadloaf the following August.

“I dunno, Gin. I need to be with other writers, yes, but I'm not sure this is it” she said.

“They want you to speak, honey. It'll be good publicity, and I'm willing to bet you'll meet at least one other writer there who you can start a fruitful relationship with” said Ginny. Mai, Myra's agent, also urged her to accept. Allie was noncommittal. Finally Myra said yes, if only because she could visit Liza while she was in Vermont.

Jane's due date was mid June. Allie said to Myra at dinner one night “This means no trip to the Gulf this summer. She'll be too pregnant to travel before, and the baby will be too young even by the end of August.”

“Damn” said Myra. “Well, maybe we could hire help to do our cooking stint during Thanksgiving week and go then? It'll still be warmer there than here.”

“Let's ask Jane and Gillam” said Ginny. “You know, this is the first Bates generation in several that's had more than two children. They're breaking new territory.”

My mother had four thought Myra. But one died right away, and the rest of us barely made it to adulthood.

Ginny's Los Angeles show went well. She got consent from Edwina and Frances to display the portraits she'd done of them, and these drew the most attention. “People most desire what they cannot have” she commented. Her agent reported there were questions coming in about her being available to do portrait sittings. She talked it over with Myra.

“The rich and famous, no doubt, wanting the coup of having an original Ginny Bates all about them” she said witheringly.

“Likely. But what if the request came from someone you genuinely admire and find interesting?” said Myra.

Ginny grinned at her. “If I say yes to a select few, that will whip up the competition even more.”

“Not something you can control” Myra grinned back.

“It will mean a stranger in our house for hours at a time. Possibly even staying in our spare room, depending on how far I can push the sitting times” said Ginny.

“Plus you working with clothes on” said Myra. “I can adjust. I mean, if they make your cut, they'll probably make mine.”

“What if it was Annie Leibowitz?” mused Ginny, excitement in her voice. “Maybe she and I could trade my painting her for her photographing me!”

Myra decided not to consider feeling jealous unless the possibility actually arose. In the meantime, she thought her memoir had now strayed into its third volume, with revelations and commentary that would blow the roof off her family if and when she ever let them read it. She hid the document behind a password, kept the print-outs in a locked drawer, and worked on.

David became able to pull himself upright and cruise furniture for a few steps, which excited him more than anything they had seen affect him. They all began helping him walk around, growing his leg muscles. As his mobility increased, his tendency to cry decreased, and his attachment to Jane lessened as well. He still preferred sign language or single words for communication, leaving chatter to Mimi, but he began waving his arms and swaying during their song sessions. Carly said “He wants to dance!” and began waltzing with him, which sent David in squeals of pleasure. After that, everyone took turns as David's dance partner.

Jane said when she told her parents about the change in David, Anton had remarked “When I was a boy, I was in constant motion. I wasn't happy if I wasn't hopping from foot to foot, running, jumping – anything to move.”

Myra hadn't thought before she responded with “Oh my god, and he of all people ended up in a chair.”

Jane raised her eyebrows and said “He's still very mobile, you know. He's refused to get a power chair because that stripped down racing chair he uses can be muscled into most places by him.”

In mid March, on a Jane-and-Gillam date night when Allie and Edwina had taken the babies, Frances and Margie walked over before dinner with fusilli and shrimp, plus a platter of hand-made sausages for Myra. As they were setting the table, Margie said “We have something to talk over with you.”

They waited until all of them were sitting and passing around the salad bowl. Margie said “The house next door, with the realtor and chiropractor offices? It's about to go on the market.”

Ginny pointed through the glass wall. “There? Sharing our fence, and adjoining the store?”

“Yep” said Margie, beaming. “It's zoned mixed commercial and residential, which means I could have a business in it. Two stories, lots of space. But it's too expensive for us to find a loan to cover it, not with our credit extended as it is.”

“Next door?” said Myra stupidly. “You want to have the house next door to us?”

“Gillam's not blindingly unique, Mom” said Margie with a touch of reproval.

Ginny, however, had moved on to finance. “What are you asking, for us to cosign or loan you the money ourselves?”

“Whichever makes more economic sense” said Margie. “Up to you. And you can of course say no.”

As if thought Myra. Allie's jokes about Ginny's compound was coming true.

“Those tenants don't own the building? Are you using that realtor over there?” asked Ginny.

“No, it's owned by a corporation, and I heard about it from our realtor. Presumably they know about the proposed sale. I don't think they'll be happy about being evicted, however” said Margie. “We'd have to give them 90 days, under the terms of their leases.”

Ginny looked at Myra. Myra said “We just paid off the loan for the renovations and Gillam's maintenance fund. Are you thinking we borrow against our pension fund again?”

Margie looked alarmed. Ginny said “Well, I don't plan to stop painting any time soon.” She rapped the table for luck. “And whenever you finish your memoir, I'll betting it'll sell well.”

“Let's try to get credit life insurance on the loan” suggested Myra.

Ginny turned to Margie and said “Can you offer the restaurant as partial collateral?”

Margie suddenly looked evasive. “Uh, no. Frances doesn't really have much in the way of credit.”

“But you do, I've seen your standing” said Ginny.

“Yes, but...The restaurant is in Frances' name” said Margie, busying herself with buttering a roll.

What?” Ginny's voice rose an octave. “I thought you took out the loan to buy it in your name.”

“I did” said Margie. “But it was a direct loan against me, not as a co-owner.”

Ginny's voice was cold. “Why on earth are you not on the deed for the restaurant?” She had Frances in her line of sight as well. Myra couldn't find her voice.

“Because really, Mom, the value of the restaurant is Frances, her cooking ability, her creativity, her vision” said Margie. “Without her there is no Carminati's.”

“There's a building, a chunk of real estate” said Ginny. “A kitchen full of top-end new appliances.”

Not to mention an original Ginny Bates in the fucking dining room thought Myra.

“Do you draw a salary for all the managing hours you put in?” Ginny pressed on Margie.

“No. Most of the time, Frances herself doesn't draw her wages, either. We live off my restoration job checks. But we get to write our rent off taxes” said Margie.

“Not any more, you won't. You'll be deriving an income from renting the apartment to someone else, and whose account will that go into?” said Ginny.

“You're acting like we're not a couple, like we're not in this together” said Margie, beginning to shift from defensiveness to belligerence.

“Have you filed for a civil union? Are you legally married? Didn't think so. Thus, your only protection financially is with other forms of contracts. Honest to god, Margie, this is simply stupid on your part. Nothing to do with your trustworthiness, Frances, or all the phenomenal labor you've put in” Ginny added, as Margie's face grew angry.

Myra said “We'll give you the loan if you put the house in your name, Margie. Even it out between the two of you.”

All three heads whipped around to look at her. Ginny tried to dim her grin. Margie was utterly shocked, and Frances looked numb.

Margie said savagely “You're as much as admitting, then, that if we were married like your precious Gillam, you'd treat us differently about this. You talk a good line but you still think marriage is more honorable -- “

“Bullshit” said Myra, cutting her off. “We're not married, in case you've forgotten. But we've worked our asses off to deal with financial equality and class crap. It hasn't been like one of us gets to divide the piece of cake and the other gets first choice, it's been blood and sweat, a lot of the time. And absolutely, as people outside the legal protections offered by a male-dominated version of commitment, you have to think differently. You have to protect yourself and each other from worse case scenarios, unpleasant as it is to think about such things.”

Frances cleared her throat. “I think that would be fair. You own our house and I own our business. It doesn't have to change our process at all, not that I can see.”

If Margie could have grown her canines and used them to rip out Frances' throat in that moment, Myra thought she would have. She wondered what on earth Margie would do next. If Chris were here, she'd be laughing like a maniac.

Margie broke a stalk of celery in half with an emphatic crack. She took a noisy bite, then said with precise enunciation “Clearly we need to talk further. Perhaps we can postpone further discussion until some personal issues are resolved.”

She got that kind of retreat from me thought Myra with a sense of pride. Ginny turned to look at Myra, as if to confirm it.

“All right” said Myra. “I appreciate your frankness.” She leaned back in her chair and yelled upward “Down here, Keller. I hear you, I'm downstairs, come join us.” In a few seconds, they heard Keller thumping down the stairs, meowing every few steps.

“Why doesn't she just follow the sound of your voice?” asked Margie, welcoming the diversion.

“Because she wants to know I'm waiting for her. Otherwise, she's venturing off into an inconceivable void” said Myra. “Call and response. Some anthropologists think it was that kind of singing, harmonizing, which led to speech itself, back as we were becoming human beings.”

Frances smiled. “Like how Mimi has begun saying at the end of every sentence 'You know wat I mean?'”

“And wherever he is, David bobs his fist up and down in 'Yes, I grok you'” said Myra.

Grok” muttered Margie under her breath. Ginny turned to Frances and said “Did you use lemon or lime juice in this sauce, I can't tell.”

“Limoncello” said Frances. “But I burned off the alcohol.”

Myra lifted Keller onto the chair beside her, ignoring Ginny's glare. They could all hear Keller's purr start up.

“If I have a yard, I could get another dog” said Margie. Myra wondered how Frances felt about that singular pronoun. She slipped Keller a bit of sausage while Ginny wasn't looking.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild

1 comment:

Jesse Wendel said...

*cracks up*

I love the two young women.

As the father of three daughters, I'll tell you a secret... daughters are MUCH easier to raise than sons. However wow, can they be a pain in the ass sometimes.

At which times, one simply remembers that it is not one's job to be their friend, but to raise the little monsters to be useful and productive members of society, and that normally it is no kindness to remove a bandage slowly.

However sometimes, it makes more sense to force THEM to take the bandage off. That way they'll at least have a better sense of how much it hurts THEM, even if they haven't yet got to thinking of others and their pain, at first blush... that won't come as a first response for some kids till after they are parents. For one of mine, it's already there.

Kids are different, and you have to treat them as their own person. Unless it's getting them to bring you ice cream. Then all of them should be forced to, er, I mean, then all of them should help.