Sunday, November 16, 2008


Daucus carota, wild carrot
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-September 2015

After a long silence, Ginny said to Myra “I'm not sure if I should go after her.”

“If you're not sure, then don't” said Myra. She turned to Allie and said “You surprised me there. It's not that I disagree with you, I just feel like you're way ahead of me.”

“Happens” said Allie with a tired smile. “That particular game of chicken gone on long enough.”

“Care to say more?” nudged Myra.

Allie glanced at Edwina and said “Not right now. We gonna have lots of chances to deal with it. Thing is, we got the next set of travelers lined up on this family runway.”

Myra had a sudden visual of Mimi and David as chubby little planes, arms out like wings, sputtering above them. She giggled. In the next instant, she remembered Ginny's painting of Edwina as an old-fashioned aviator, and she turned to look at Ginny, considering.

Allie interrupted Myra's brain wave to ask “Do you know if Carly and Eric're planning to have kids?”

“I actually asked Carly about it in the kitchen this week” said Myra, startled. “I told him I wasn't trying to push, but if they needed help to launch a family, I'd be glad to offer. I think he'll make one hell of a daddy.”

“What did he say?” asked Ginny.

“He thinks yeah, at some point. First they want to get their PT/OT clinic off the ground, and be living some place other than where they are. And they'll have to adopt. As he put it, having a three-way parenting set-up with a woman who's the birth mother will add another wing to an already crammed family dynamic” said Myra.

Edwina tossed in “You know, Nika wants to give birth after she completes her Ph.D. If she doesn't have a partner by then, she says she'll try to persuade her sister to live in Seattle and be extended family with her.”

“I had no idea” said Myra, her eyes wide.

They talked on, discussing Mimi's precocious verbal abilities and why David might have been so much happier at the Gulf Coast. After Allie and Edwina went home, Ginny cleaned the kitchen while Myra piled dirty clothes by the washer. She took a long hot soak in the tub, and said yes when Ginny asked to join her. It was a chance to adjust to sudden solitude and quiet.

When they went to bed, Myra could tell Ginny wasn't dropping right off. Finally her voice came in the dark “I think Allie wanted to talk with Edwina before she talked to us. Which is fine, of course, but I always wonder if it's because of race stuff.”

“The same thought occurred to me” said Myra. “I mean, when Frances and Margie moved up here, all of us sort of silently understood this meant Imani was now removed as a threat to their relationship. But we didn't say it out loud, and after a while, I didn't like how it went down.”

“Because it was like deus ex machina instead of those two reaching a decision together?” said Ginny.

“Partly. But also because – with Frances leaving Simpatico's hierarchy, and Imani having been her protege, in a sense, what the fuck was going to happen to Imani's career? I didn't say anything because, I guess, it felt disloyal to Margie. But that;s what sucks about it all, that feeling of having to choose sides. When the fact is, Imani is a smart and ambitious young black dyke and why on earth wouldn't I be on her side, too? Perhaps not directly racist, but in effect, I bet it felt that way to her.”

They thought in silence for a few minutes. Ginny said “For her to come up here unannounced...she must have been a little desperate.”

“God, Ginny. I think so, too. Allie just saw it faster than we did, and – well, I know she loves Margie as much as we do.'s a race thing. How racism keeps me from seeing stuff I should see.” Myra felt an old sadness settle in her chest, something that was almost pre-verbal.

“If you set aside the sex stupidity, Frances is doing her version of sharing the wealth” said Ginny softly.

“And the sex stupidity is not as bad as what's in my own past” acknowledged Myra.

“One or both of us should talk with them” said Ginny. “It's been wonderful to see Margie be so much happier since the move, but I want Frances to have more time with us – I mean, if she wants it – and a life outside that kitchen.”

“She's happy there, Gin. Like you at your easel” reminded Myra.

“Not completely happy or she wouldn't have picked up on Imani” said Ginny. “I can at least ask her if there's something I could do to help her feed her dreams.”

“I'll talk to them together, I think” said Myra. “What bothers me most is that ordinarily I'd be asking Imani to all our family get-togethers, especially if she's moving here now. I want enough clarity in place for me to do that without it letting down Margie.”

“Is this meddling?” wondered Ginny. Myra thought and said “It's what I'd do with friends. So if it's meddling, it's not maternal-based snoopiness, at least.”

They shifted position together. Ginny said, her voice becoming drowsy at last, “When I went into Gillam's pack at the airport for a baby wipe, I saw condoms.”

“Oh, my. They've slowed down, then.”

“I'm going to teach Mimi the Hebrew alphabet at the same time I'm teaching her English” said Ginny dreamily.

“Well, then, let's add on Greek, might as well” said Myra. Ginny didn't answer, and Myra could tell she had drifted off.

On Sunday, after lunch, Myra walked up the stairs behind Carminati's and knocked on the apartment door. Margie answered, still in her pajamas.

“Are you up?” asked Myra, hesitating.

“Yes. Late breakfast and puttering around” said Margie. She led Myra to the kitchen, where Frances was at the table with cold coffee and a newspaper.

“You want tea?” asked Margie.

“Not at the moment. I'm hoping to talk with you. Both of you” said Myra.

Frances lay down her paper and looked wary. Margie leaned back and crossed her arms over her chest.

“I'm not here to tell you how to conduct your relationship” began Myra. “We're very different, what else is new, and I absolutely don't want to alter your dynamic, it works for you. But I need to say how I'm being affected in one area.”

Margie breathed out with a hint of exasperation, nothing more.

Myra looked at Frances. “I love you, Frances. I love you for how you are, I like having you as a second daughter, I adore how you love my child, and intensely respect how committed you are to your career. I've chosen, gladly, to make family with you.” Myra could tell both of them were caught off guard, waiting for the other shoe to fall. “Part of my definition of family is accepting and learning to appreciate your other choices. Taking your friends and family in as part of my extended family. I don't know another way to do it, not any sensible way, at least.”

Myra paused for a breath. “In moving Imani up here and making her second-in command at your restaurant, which is definitely YOUR restaurant but also part of this family's territory now, you've given a clear statement that Imani is a permanent part of your life. An intimate. Which means I need to welcome her into my circle as well. At least, that's what my conscience says.”

Frances was floored. Margie, on the other hand, locked her jaw.

“I've not done so before now because, well, it seemed disloyal to Margie. And I've been stupid to not bring it up, to ask for clarity with you both about what you're doing. I've acted in a befuddled way, and the fact is, if your relationship with Imani was not sexual, Frances, I'd have gone after her as someone I'd like to know. She's obviously a woman of power and depth. As I would expect you to choose.”

Margie's eyes were wide with disbelief.

“So, if she's going to be part of your inner circle, I don't feel right excluding her from our holiday gatherings or some of our family meals. Especially since she's new to Seattle, without other friends or family here. But that means I'd have to risk subjecting the precious feelings of my daughter, which I cherish, to grave hurt. Unless I have the go-ahead from her and from you, too, Frances. I'd like for you two to give me a clear idea of what you'd like from me about Imani. I don't want to go on ignoring the elephant in the room. She's a human being who deserves respect. She's a woman of color with no culinary degree, no financial resources except what she earns, whose career in Portland was ruptured by her affair with you and then your departure. Clearly you believe she's an extraordinary chef, or potentially one, or you wouldn't trust your restaurant to her. I've spent my adult life assisting women just like her around the obstacles of sexism and racism. Why shouldn't I do that here?”

Margie's breath was audible. Her arms were still over her chest, but loosely now. She cut a glance at Frances, who Myra thought might be fighting the urge to cry.

Myra stood up. “That's my piece. If I'm way out of line, I know one or both of you will show me how. And I'm speaking for myself alone, although of course all of us in Old Dyke Nation are in conversation about this, no getting around that. You let me know when you're ready to come back at me with what you think. I'll see you tonight at dinner.”

“Wait” said Frances. She stood and went to the fridge. “Leftover tortellini in leek sauce. Not enough for the potluck, and Margie won't eat it, so I thought you and Ginny might like it for lunch tomorrow.”

“Wowza, you bet” said Myra. Impulsively, Frances grabbed her for a hug. Myra hugged her back, then bent over and kissed Margie's forehead on her way out the door.

The last week of September, Myra went away again with Chris near Colville for several days. Ginny seemed to be irritated with the plan, but would only say it was because Myra would be gone on Yom Kippur.

“I thought that was a spiritually meaningful holiday to you” Ginny said with slight heat.

“It is. That's part of the reason I'd like to spend it with Chris out in nature” said Myra.

Ginny muttered something that Myra thought was “Both of you away from the Jews in your life” but she wasn't sure. She chose to ignore Ginny's mood, since Ginny didn't want to discuss it further. She packed their food with an eye toward her and Chris's plan to fast every day until sundown.

She got home late on Saturday night. Ginny didn't respond when Myra called out her name, and she couldn't find her upstairs, either. Then she noticed once of the torches lit by the pond, and through the glass wall saw Ginny sitting on the bench with a blanket over her shoulders. As Myra came out the back door, Ginny looked up and called to her gladly.

“What're you doing out here?” said Myra, accepting Ginny's offer of half the blanket.

“I saw tracks in wet earth of one of the beds that looked like little hands. I finally decided it might be a raccoon. I thought I'd see if I can catch them coming over the wall, to repair that entrance gap” said Ginny. “Plus, I got interested in the fact that the severum are still active this long after dark.”

“The torch is confusing them, I bet” said Myra, filling her nose with Ginny's warm smell. “And the pond heater helps.”

“Let's go in” said Ginny. “Are you hungry, I made squash soup.”

“Absolutely” said Myra.

“Your lips are chapped.”

“It was much colder there. We even had a light snow this morning” said Myra.

“Edwina told me that twice when she's been at the pond with Mimi, Mimi has asked her brightly 'We fish now?' If she had her way, we'd have cleared out the severum for breakfast a long time ago” said Ginny, putting on the kettle.

Myra was laughing. “She'd adore these trips with Chris. I have some amazing salmon in the cooler. I think I won't freeze it, if I cook it for tomorrow night's singing potluck I bet it will all get eaten.”

“Myra, what's that gash on your hand? It looks infected.”

“Yeah, it's tender. I think it was from a thorn on a tree while I was hiking. I didn't wash my hands for hours after that.”

Ginny examined it gently. “You're planning a long hot soak after you eat, yes? We'll get it opened up again and I'll pour in some hydrogen peroxide. Once it's clean, antibiotic ointment will do the trick.”

Myra spread garlic butter on the rolls she'd heated and handed one to Ginny, who was having a second bowl of soup to keep Myra company. “You know, when my mother was a child, during the Depression, going to the doctor was limited only to dire emergencies. If then – one of her uncles died from an abscess. Anyhow, when she was around four or five, she fell on a piece of farm machinery and cut her knee open from side to side. They couldn't stitch it up, so her father, who was an herbalist, made a poultice of turpentine and sugar over the wound, then bound it tightly. Can you imagine?”

“Must have hurt like blazes. Turpentine, I guess that was an antiseptic. But why sugar, I wonder?” said Ginny.

“It left a massive, jagged scar. I used to trace it with my fingers when I was little, sitting at her knee as she told us stories” said Myra.

Ginny joined Myra in the tub, sitting at the other end with her legs draped over Myra's. Myra leaned back with a loud sigh and said “There was no hot water. I had to sponge myself off by the fucking pump outside the cabin.”

“Have you noticed how much little David hates being dirty? He cries the hardest when his diaper needs changing or if his hands are mussed. I never saw a baby care like that” said Ginny.

“I guess fastidiousness is something you can be born with” said Myra. Her eyes were closed.

A while later, Ginny said “Myra? When you and Chris are alone, she does talk much?”

“Not the first day, usually. I think she's talking to everything around her, silently. But once she gets acclimatized, to so speak, she talks my head off. You'd be shocked.”

“I would” agreed Ginny.

“Listen, I have something I want to tell you.” Myra didn't see Ginny's face go still. “But I don't want to share it around generally, not yet, okay?”

“All right.”

“I had another – episode. Of hearing voices.” Ginny cupped the sole of her foot around Myra's hip, and Myra opened her eyes to look at Ginny. “We were back at that creek near where Chris lived as a kid, where we all went that time? Me and Chris always go back there at least once. Anyhow, she had wandered upstream and I was sitting on those rocks near the waterfall. It was wicked cold that morning, and I'd been wearing gloves. But my hand was hurting, this cut, and I pulled off my glove to check it out. And I put out my palm as I shifted position, coming into full contact with the boulder beside me. That's when it happened.” Myra shivered once despite being submerged in steamy water.

“What did you see?” asked Ginny.

“It wasn't visual, it was auditory. Over the stream I suddenly heard several voices. Closest to me were at least three women, talking to each other. Somewhere behind me were kids playing, and beyond them were at least two men, laughing.”

“What were they saying?”

“I don't know. It wasn't English. It was – beautiful, just a lovely series of human sounds unlike anything I can quite name. I wish you could have heard it, I'd love to know your impression. This time I wasn't scared. Startled a little, but I closed my eyes, kept my hand to the rock, and listened. It lasted over five minutes, then faded out. I heard one word more than once, and I was able to memorize it. Had long, drawn out vowels and an aspirate. Later, I told it to Chris and she – well, she got weird on me. Turns out it's the Nimipu word for a kind of wild carrot.” Myra took a long breath.

“What was it?”

“Tsa-weetkh.” Ginny practiced it with Myra until she could say it correctly. Then she asked “Weird, how?”

“She got distant for a while. I mean, why should I be the one having this – either vision, or ability to slip through time barriers, whatever it is? I can only imagine how much it would mean to her, to be able to hear her own ancestors like that.”

Ginny took Myra's hand to check her cut. “Did Chris discuss it with you later?”

“Yeah. We went looking for those carrots. Didn't find any, but we did collect some tiny wild onions which we roasted with that night's fish. Unbelievably good, they were. She said...Okay, you can't repeat this, all right? She said when her father got roaring drunk, he'd load his shotgun and sit in the front yard, waiting for white people. Her mother would get down on her knees inside the door, saying the rosary and praying nobody drove past. Chris would slip out the back and sidle up to her dad, josh him out of it.” Myra stopped abruptly.

“There's more” prompted Ginny.

“He...eventually, he interpreted her overtures as – flirtation. A come-on.”

Ginny's jaw went rock-hard. “No wonder her humor has knives buried in it.”

“We all have reasons” said Myra softly.

“Turn around and I'll wash your hair. Then let's get you doctored and in our warm bed” said Ginny.

As they lay down together, Ginny said “Oh, I forgot to tell you, Welsh is at the vet's. They think it's maybe his kidneys. He's better today than he was yesterday, Eric says. I went with him to visit bunny boo-boo today.”

“Oh, no. I'll call them – well, I'll be seeing them tomorrow anyhow” said Myra, sympathy flooding her. “Welsh must hate not being home.”

Ginny rolled on her side and tucked the shelf of her ass under Myra's belly behind her. With pressure, they could get a snug fit. She said “Did you and Chris sleep together?”

“Yes, if you mean sleeping” said Myra. “Does that bother you? I swear it's not sexual in any way.”

“I believe you. But yes, it does bother me. It's – intimacy. You sharing your body with another woman, in a way. Wouldn't it bother you if I did that?”

“Depends on the woman, I guess. I mean, you share your physical self with Margie, and the grandkids. And even Cathy.”

“What if it was Bonnie? Or Kip?” asked Ginny.

“Chris is not an ex, Ginny. Or someone with the not-so-secret hots for me” said Myra.

Ginny didn't respond. Myra said “Do we need to take this to Nancy?”

“...No. It doesn't bother me that much. I'm not going to keep it secret from Sima, though.”

“Nor would I” said Myra. They lay in silence for a while, Myra watching the shadows on the wall near the Tara With Cherries painting.

“How does your hand feel?” asked Ginny.

“Better. You know, to close tears in our skin takes vitamin C. Collagen is heavy with vitamin C. But humans can't make it ourselves, we're entirely dependent on getting it from our diet” said Myra. “As are cats, by the way.”

“Really? Cats don't eat citrus, or even veggies” remarked Ginny.

“It can be found in raw meat. Which is also how Inuit who are entirely carnivorous get their ascorbic acid. Anyhow, in the advanced stages of scurvy -- “

“I wondered where this was going” said Ginny.

“Scurvy being a disease you get only from either being trapped or under the influence of morons who won't listen to the lessons of others – which in the case of British polar explorers was a double whammy – in the later stages of scurvy, our bodies have to prioritize who gets what little C is available. It'll try to save brain function, heart, lungs, so all the C that ordinarily gets used daily in replacing dead collagen cells gets stopped, and scar tissue itself melts away. Your wounds reopen as if they had never been closed.”

“Shit, Myra. Did that really happen?”

“More than once.” Myra's hand around Ginny was tracing the large veins on Ginny's forearm and wrist, the backs of her hands, and palpating the ridges of muscle underneath, down to the top knuckle of each of Ginny's finger.

“There's powerful symbolism in that, Myra. I'm surprised you've never written a poem about it.”

“I've wanted to. A little too close to home, I guess” said Myra. She pushed the tip of her nose against the fuzz at the top of Ginny's neck.

“Cold” remarked Ginny. Myra didn't answer. After a minute, Ginny said “I know how you could warm that up.”

She felt Myra grin against her neck. “Why don't you roll over?” suggested Myra.

“No, you come find me” replied Ginny.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.


Jesse Wendel said...

The end of this piece is itself a poem.

Lovely; really lovely.

The entire piece has a peaceful feel, a coming home sensibility.

This time, much stronger than any other time to date, I sense where you're going with the being in touch with other worlds and times, with all worlds and times being bound up in one.

It's really wonderful. *smiles*

Has me wanting to go home to the mountains of Arizona and sit for a few days, or up onto Mt. Rainer.

Liza Cowan said...

I got a kick out of "old dyke nation." That we is.