Thursday, November 13, 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.

June 2015

David was a striking-looking baby. His shock of white hair rapidly gave way to spun gossamer fuzz, but his eyes were Gillam's deep brown and his skin was Jane-pale except for the usual Bates red cheeks. He was short and narrow in build, but his arms and legs were wiry strong, much like his grandfather Anton. He was clingy to Jane and cried or fussed much more than Mimi had.

Mimi met him calmly and accepted her parents' explanations of who he was, then promptly forget it all and had to be reminded often. She was in one-year-old solipsism that left her agreeable and ready to exploit whatever adult resource was at hand, so demonstrations of jealousy were limited to her shock at seeing Jane nurse another baby. When she asked to nurse as well, Gillam explained in every way he could that David was limited only to breast milk, while Mimi in her advanced state got to eat pudding, pie, bananas, broccoli – he listed all her favorite comestibles, and asked if she wanted to give those up in order to return to only Mommy's milk. Mimi, quite logically, didn't see why she should have to choose between the two, but eventually was bribable. She still had bottle sessions in the arms of both parents, anyhow.

Gillam finished his teaching semester the week after David's birth, and had already turned in his thesis, so he was able to spend June with his babies. Jane was exhausted for weeks. After David's naming ceremony and the departure of Jane's parents, she began taking long naps every afternoon. Gillam would join her with David in the crib beside him, getting up when David awoke and began fretting.

Myra and Ginny would walk over and get Mimi right before Jane lay down, taking her back to their house for play and, eventually, a shorter nap of her own before dinner. Fortunately, Mimi seemed to interpret this as a special treat being offer to her rather than isolation from her parents because of David's new demands. At least one afternoon a week Margie showed up to have adventures with her. When Mimi went home with her parents and brother for dinner, she was full of new ideas and they were rested, a beneficial combination.

Tuesday nights became the family night to gather at Carminati's for dinner, because it was the restaurant's slowest night of the week. After tense back and forth between Frances and her mothers-in-law about whether or not the family meals would be comped, a deal was struck. Frances would charge the going rate, because otherwise her kin would feel inhibited about what they ordered and the wait staff would suffer in percentage tips. Desserts, however, would be free, and the restaurant's discount purchasing rate would be extended to Gillam, Myra, and Carly's menu planning. In addition, there was always some kind of leftover that Frances brought home and Margie shared around.

Margie dropped a hint to one of her friends who was an art critic, and a small article about Ginny in a local magazine mentioned that Tuesday nights, all of her talented family could be found living it up at Carminati's. This drew fans and curious foodies. Myra, Ginny, and Allie were generous with conversation and autographs.

In addition, Ginny had donated to the restaurant the long coastal scape which Frances said reminded her of Italy. It hung illuminated in pride of place in the center of the long dining room, protected by glass which frustrated amateur photographers. Eventually, Frances used a shot of the dining room in publicity which highlighted the painting, drawing even more clientele. She was working 12-hour days, but the place did well from the outset.

She had less luck with staff. Her family's fame was irrelevant to aspiring cooks, who hoped to shine up their own resumes by working with an established chef, which Frances was not yet. And despite the lavish tips given out by Myra and Ginny, waiters and pizza delivery personnel came and went. Seattle's food industry had a lot of good jobs to offer. Frances took off Sundays and Mondays, when the restaurant was closed, but spent much of Sunday in hard slumber and much of Monday going over accounts with Margie or talking to food sellers.

Margie, on the other hand, had endless energy. She resurrected friendships from high school and made happy new connections with coworkers at her University job. She threw herself into redecorating their apartment over the restaurant, asking Ginny to show her all the best second-hand stores. Ginny kept marveling about Margie's sense of style and design, telling Margie she was really teaching her mother new tricks.

One evening a week, Margie went to Allie and Edwina's for an alone dinner with them. She often went out dancing with Carly and Eric on Saturday nights, and she frequently had solo lunches with either Chris or Sima. When Ginny wasn't painting, Margie came over often around 9:00 in the evening on weeknights, bringing a dish from the restaurant that couldn't be served again. She and Ginny would create an extended “nosh”, as they called it, sitting at the table to pick morsels from various containers and talking in a steady stream about endless topics. Myra sometimes joined them, although this was her best writing time.

One night, she went downstairs to discovered they had keyed open lids on three different kinds of imported sardines and herrings. There was an assortment of olives and capers, a jar of marinated artichokes, thin slices of red onion (presumably for Ginny alone), a lilac bowl of baby radicchio, a pale blue bowl of grape tomatoes, and a breadboard littered with crumbs from roughly sliced pumpernickel. Both Margie and Ginny's faces glistened from sardine oil in the pool of light from overhead. Their matching grins and relish at talking over each other, with full mouths, made Myra's heart clutch. Now Margie was next door as well. They just needed to find a place for Carly.

Ginny reached out her hand to grab Myra's, pulling her to the chair beside her. “Want some nosh?” she asked.

“I think so. Have those greens been drizzled with fish oil?” asked Myra.

“Uh...yes” Ginny admitted. Myra got her plate, fetching mayo and leftover pork loin from the fridge. She made a half-sandwich, created a salad from tomatoes and artichoke hearts, and poured herself a cream soda. “My version of your Sebastopol feast” she said.

“My recalcitrant shiksa” Ginny said affectionately. “Listen, we were discussing whether or not it would be cruel to try to fly with the babies. We didn't get to the coast last year, and I don't feel right about leaving Gillam and Jane here while we go without them. David will be almost three months old the last week of August, and our rebuilt place has all the conveniences of home, plus air conditioning. Shall we pose it to the harried parents?”

Myra opened her sandwich again and put on a smear of Ginny's mustard, then took another bite as she thought about it. “Only if everyone else who might want to go can get the time off, too” she said.

“Well, we have to count Frances out no matter what” said Margie. “Until she gets a second-in-command who can reliably take over for her, she's shackled to the store.” Myra thought it was adorable how Margie and Frances referred to the restaurant as “the store”. It seemed very immigrant-ish of them.

“At the rate I'm going, I'll have enough canvases for another show near the end of the year” said Ginny. “Hopefully we can clear the checks before tax time.”

“I don't understand how you keep selling so well despite the radical shift in our economy” said Margie. “I mean, not to diss your work or anything -- “

“No, I get it” said Ginny, swallowing a sardine whole. Myra looked away. “It's because my stuff is pleasing to the eye, and people understand it. So it sells privately, to folks who have enough money to buy art but want it to have personal meaning for them. The bottom fell out of the commercial market, it's true, but I never sold well there anyhow.”

“A little too gritty, not fancy-farty enough” said Myra.

Ginny looked at her appreciatively. “Exactly. You've got mayo at the corner of your mouth. Other side. What about you, what's your prediction with the memoir?”

Myra sighed. “I'm up to 800 pages, which is definitely two volumes. Except – I probably need to edit them separately. But I'm not at a stopping point yet. Only up to the Bush years.”

“Which is also our adolescence” said Margie, a question on her face that Myra chose to ignore.

“Well, we've already broke even with the women's history trio, and my god, Poppyseed is all the rage” said Ginny.

“Yeah, if I just wrote kid's books, I'd do all right” grinned Myra. “Speaking of which – I have a rough draft of the Cottonseed book, could I show it to you and Allie next Wednesday when you get together?”

“Let me see it first” said Ginny. Myra understood it wasn't about literary review, it was simply to reinforce her role as Myra's main girl. Myra nodded.

“Mimi turned to me this afternoon and said, clear as a bell, 'I have a need, Aunt Marchi'. I almost fell over” said Margie.

Myra and Ginny cracked up. “And what was her royal need, then?” asked Ginny.

“We were walking up to the west, but she wanted to go back to the store, where we'd already visited Frances, because she was hankering for another of those little rounds of fontina that Frances gives her. She rolls them in hazelnuts that've been dusted with powdered sugar. Mimi literally gobbles them” said Margie.

“What did you tell her?” said Myra.

“I suggested we wait until later, perhaps another possibility would cross our path” said Margie. “And it did, though not edible: We found a small green lizard on a tree trunk; it was blowing out a red pouch on its neck.”

“Anole” said Ginny knowledgeably. “That's either a territorial or mating display. Listen, tomorrow if it's clear, I'm keeping her in the yard with me because I promised to keep Welsh as well for the afternoon.” Eric's rabbit had become a favorite visitor for Ginny, who funneled greens his way as she weeded and talked to him in a steady murmur.

The following afternoon, Ginny left for Eric and Carly's apartment to retrieve Welsh while Myra walked over to pick up Mimi after lunch. As they re-entered her yard, Myra heard the strains of “Garry Owen” from a loudspeaker on the street.

“Listen, Mimi, you know what that music is?” she asked. Mimi raised her dark eyebrows and said “Mommy?”

“No, but good guess. Come on, let's see if we can catch it.” Myra hustled them out the front gate and flagged down the ice cream truck at the corner. She showed Mimi all the confections painted on the side, then chose a fudgesicle for them to share. Mimi was extremely impressed with this new information about the world. They sat on the bench by the pond, trading licks, Myra insisting she hold onto the stick but allowing Mimi's chubby fists to clench over her own hand, already smeared.

Ginny came out the back door with carrier and set Welsh free before joining them. “Nothing for me?” she asked.

“Didn't know you'd be back in time” said Myra. “Here, you can have some of ours.”

“No, thanks” laughed Ginny. Mimi said “Here, ours” and tried to shove the fudgesicle toward Ginny. When that didn't work, she looked down at Welsh and said “Bunny? Ice cream?”

Myra leaned over to allow him a sniff at the fudgesicle. He declined to partake as well. Ginny went to check on the Ichiban pear tree which Carly and Eric had planted for David's birth. Myra and Mimi finished their ice cream, every third lick being offered to Welsh, who seemed to appreciate being kept in the loop. Or maybe he was staying close to the bench because there was a raptor in view. Myra tilted her head back to examine the sky above them, and Mimi followed suit, nearly toppling backwards.

“Let's wash your face and hands with the hose” said Myra. “Then we could sit on my meditation bench to air dry.”

Mimi loved what she referred to as “metating”, staring at the sculpted whale shark sailing the back wall of the barbecue area. She liked to lie with her head in Myra's lap, watching clouds and shadows, whispering an occasional thought or question. It frequently led to her drifting off, which Myra thought was especially likely today, once the sugar crash hit. Ginny ambled toward the veggie beds, and Welsh hopped after her.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

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