Thursday, December 25, 2008


1930's Bakelite phone
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.


Charlie was robust and peaceful, but he needed something in his hands to be truly content. For Hanukkah Carly had given Myra a trio of “desk toys”, a small flat glass case on a pivot with a miniature slow-breaking wave of blue liquid inside; a set of six silver balls suspended by black strings in a row, which when pulled back singly, in twos or threes would smack back and forth in matching sets, demonstrating transference of energy; and a Plexiglas case inset with hundreds of dull pins in which one could push the shape of a hand, a face, or any other object. This latter toy kept Charlie captivated. Myra would sit at her desk with him tied in a sling in her lap, able to focus on her writing without interruption from him.

The interruptions came from Leah, who was reluctant to give up her place in Myra's lap. Every so often during play downstairs with Ginny, Leah would trundle over to the stairs and yell up “Gramma? Gramma!”

Myra would walk over and reply, “I'm here.” Leah would say “I need to see you.” Myra sent the elevator down, with the button set to return because Leah was too short to reach any of the buttons. A minute later, Leah would arrive joyously and ask “Read me something?”

She'd be given one of Myra's thighs to perch on, coexisting graciously with Charlie, as Myra pulled out a poetry book and selected a poem. Like all of the children, Leah was especially fond of “The Highwayman”. Ginny had pointed out that when Myra read the part where Bess found the trigger of the musket with her bound hands and stopped struggling, sitting upright at attention -- “The trigger at least was hers” -- Leah would get a deathly serious expression on her face, her back stiff, her forefinger curled as if cradling the trigger. Ginny said Gillam had done exactly the same thing as a toddler when Myra read him that poem.

Myra's memoir, Hand to Hand, was published in mid February. Allie's book Erasure came out five days after Myra's. They persuaded their agents to collaborate on a joined book tour for seven of Myra's 12 readings, beginning in Seattle and traveling down to Portland, SF and LA, then flying together to Atlanta, DC, Boston, and New York. Ginny and Edwina joined them on the East Coast. Myra and Ginny continued on alone to Chicago, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Denver, and Vancouver before returning home to grandchildren suffering an outbreak of ringworm and early spring colds.

MOMA had made an exchange with Ginny for the rights to use "Hettie" on Myra's book cover. In return, they wanted to license the image for reproduction on Flashbags.

"Those wonderful bags Liza sells?" asked Myra.

"She's a retailer for them, but it's not her company, it's a big national business now" said Ginny. "We'll get a tiny percentage of what MOMA gets."

"I think you should do it" said Margie. "In fact, I think you should contract with Flashbags directly for some of your other paintings. You two have no idea how much impact you have out there, how much the public is hungry for pictures and information about our tight little family here."

"Just because they're hungry, doesn't mean we should give it to them" objected Myra. "I mean, the fawning adoration I get at my blog is plain weird. People act like I can do no wrong, that everything I think and say is brilliant. I'll agree I'm smarter than the average bear, but there's an intimacy and longing to their assumptions about me, it's creepy."

"Like men ogling you on the street" agreed Ginny.

"So keep giving them real information" said Margie. "And make some money from it. I think you should offer "Myra With Hands On Fire", and one of Mom's self-portraits -- "

"No naked ones" said Myra.

Margie snorted. "Okay for display in your own windows, but not to sell as art? Whatever. Plus the ones of me and Gillam as kids. You could use the money for the educational trusts of the next generation." She knew that would make them pause.

"I get requests all the time for something of Daddy's" mused Ginny. "I could let them use the skimmers drawing, and give that money to Nate and Noah for their kids."

"Anything with a gecko in it would go over big, too. And the new Skene book, that map you've drawn, Mom? Release it in advance of the book and it'll generate sales back and forth" said Margie, who knew her market.

In April, for Heroic Quest Day Myra taught the story of Harriet Tubman and got permission from Jane to use their pool as the Ohio River. The children escaped from plantations all over Myra's yard. At one point, Margie's gate rattled and swung open, with Moon and Gidge racing gladly toward the children. Mimi and David ran screaming to hide, while Leah, taking her turn as Harriet, stood her ground but clung to Myra's knee with her fist.

Margie, following the dogs, said “What on earth?”

“They think you're the paddyrollers, hunting them down to return them to bondage” explained Myra.

“Oh” said Margie. “Nay, sistren and brethren, I am Marjorie Morningstar, a Quaker conductor on the underground railroad, here to help you. My companions here, uh, Obadiah and Charity, mean to throw off the scent and cover your escape.” She played for a few minutes before going on her walk.

Eventually the band made their way through the Cumberland Gap (Jane and Gillam's gate) into the Mountains of Kentuck. Ginny had Charlie in a sling, and when they got to Ohio, she magically appeared on the other side as an abolitionist receiving them in the dead of night. Myra helped the older children into an inflatable raft, giving them each an oar and telling them the dangers they had to dodge in the treacherous river. She let them do their own paddling, as best they could, and surreptitiously used her oar to drag down their crossing. By the time they reached Ginny, all three children were flushed and sweaty.

When Myra clambered, none too gracefully, from the raft, she was on her knees. She bent over to kiss the ground and say “Free at last, free at last, great god almighty, free at last.” To her complete surprise, she burst into tears.

Leah leaned over her back and began crying also. Mimi dropped to her knees to kiss the ground beside Myra, and David said “Godamighty.” They rested a while before Harriet returned south of the Mason-Dixon to bring more people to freedom.

On the following Dance Day, Ginny created a new dance, a kind of conga line to the tune of “Harriet Tubman” where each new pilgrim grabbed the hand of whoever was at the end as they sang “Come on up, I got a lifeline, come on up to this train of mine.” The children brought it to the next singing potluck and the whole family snaked through the house, traveling together to liberation.

By this time, Jane was five months pregnant. Her due date was in August, which made Myra giddy with the prospect of a Leo grandchild. Gillam reported, with a furious expression, that one of Jane's brothers had asked them if they were trying to be a Quiverfull family.

Birthday season was about to commence. Myra and Ginny decided to add on another festivity, a celebration of their 32nd anniversary. On Saturday in late April, Ginny was halfway through a painting while Myra began calling people to issue invitations for their party.

One call was cut short. Myra looked at her beloved Bakelite phone, puzzled and upset. She called out to Ginny.

"Gin? Ginny!"

Ginny stepped into the doorway, a small frown on her face. She had on a T-shirt because it was an unusually chilly day.

"I just had the weirdest call with Patty. I invited her to our dinner, and she said 'I never want to lay eyes on Ginny Bates again.' I thought she was joking, but her voice was strange, and hostile. I asked what on earth she was talking about, and she said to ask you. She said she needed to call Carly, and she hung up on me. Did you two have a fight?"

Ginny froze, completely motionless, for a long minute. Myra saw all the color drain from her face.

"Ginny, are you okay?"

Ginny walked over to Myra's daybed and sat down on the edge of it, not looking at Myra. She lay her brush on the floor without any sort of protection, something Myra had never seen her do. Her hands were trembling.

"My god, Ginny, what is wrong?" Myra scooted her chair toward Ginny.

Ginny finally raised her eyes and looked at Myra. Myra didn't recognize her eyes. Ginny said in a hollow voice "I have to tell you something."

"You're scaring the shit out of me, Ginny."

"I love you, Myra. Please -- please don't forget that." Ginny put one hand up to her forehead, then laid it back in her lap. "I had a sexual encounter with Pat Prewitt."

Myra gave a single laugh, but cut it off. "You -- what, sex? You and Pat?" Her stomach dropped out from under her. After a few seconds she said "Before she got together with Patty? Why didn't you ever tell me about it?"

Ginny didn't appear to be breathing. She said "Not then......In 2004."

Myra stopped breathing, too. "No. No, that's not possible. We were a couple then."

Ginny just looked at Myra, not speaking.

"You cheated on me? With Pat?"

At that moment, the Bakelite right beside Myra's elbow rang loudly. She glanced at it involuntarily; the caller ID showed Gillam's name. She looked back at Ginny, letting the phone ring.

"Tell me this is not true. Please, Ginny. Please."

"It's true, Myra. I've...I guess Patty just found out. Myra, I didn't mean it, it had nothing to do with how I love you -- "

"You cheated on me? And you never told me, all this time, what, fourteen years it's been? You had an affair and lied all this time?"

"Not an affair. It was just one time."

Myra stood up. Ginny was suddenly afraid.

"Get out" said Myra. "Get out of my sight."

Ginny stood up and said "Myra, talk to me -- "

"I said Get out." Myra's voice was vicious.

Ginny moved into the entryway, but kept facing Myra. "Myra, oh my god, please don't shut -- "

The phone rang again. Myra wheeled and grabbed up the entire phone, jerking it savagely from the wall. She pivoted violently, raising her arm and throwing the phone as hard as she could. It sailed by Ginny's face, missing by only a few inches, and hit the glass wall over the stairwell with resounding force. The thick window shattered outward, huge jagged pieces of glass arcing out and down into the yard, following the phone's trajectory. Another spray of glass and smaller shards came inward from the edges, scattering across Ginny's daybed and the stairs.

"Get out, get out, get out!" screamed Myra, her face scarlet.

Ginny turned and walked toward the head of the stairs. She stepped on a shard of glass that tore into her instep, but she didn't notice. She walked slowly, numbly down the stairs, leaving a bloody right footprint on every other tread. She went to the back door and walked out barefoot into the side yard. Just as she reached the phone, lying on the grass near the fishpond, the side gate opened and Margie said "Hey, Mom, I heard something -- "

Margie looked upward, at the gaping hole where the glass wall panel used to be. She pushed Moon and Gidge back into her yard, closing the gate against them. Then she looked at Ginny and her expressionless face the color of raw canvas. "What happened?"

Ginny picked up the phone and began winding the cord around it mechanically. "Myra threw the phone at me. I just told her that I had a sexual encounter with Pat when you were fifteen."

"Mom..." said Margie. "Mama -- you did? Are you -- come on, Mama, let's get you in the house."

Margie began leading Ginny by the arm. At the back door, she saw the blood on the steps and stopped Ginny, had her lift her foot. She pulled the glass out of Ginny's sole and then led her inside to the dining table.

"Sit here. I'm getting the first aid kit."

She came back with the kit and a wet washcloth which she used to gently wash Ginny's foot. Ginny was motionless and silent. Margie cleaned out the wound with hydrogen peroxide and wasn't sure if Ginny should have stitches or not. Finally she put a thick gauze bandage over the hole and taped it down. She kissed Ginny's forehead, noting that her skin was icy cold. She pulled two aspirin out of the first aid kit and went into the kitchen for a glass of water.

As she was at the tap, Myra came down the front stairs. She paused when she saw Margie, then Ginny sitting beyond her at the table. Ginny looked at her and said "I told her."

"Well aren't you the picture of honesty, fourteen fucking years too late" said Myra. The tone of her voice shocked Margie mute. Margie took the water to Ginny, who set it on the table without drinking. Her gaze was fixed on Myra. Her expression was haunted.

Myra walked into the kitchen to the corner of the counter where her car keys and billfold lay. As she picked these up, Ginny got to her feet suddenly and limped to end of the kitchen, where Myra would have to brush past her to get out. "Where are you going?" said Ginny urgently.

"None of your fucking business" said Myra. "You have no connection to my life any more."

Margie didn't know what to do. A flicker of motion in the back yard drew her attention, and she turned to see Gillam walking toward the back door. She went to meet him. As she opened the door, he was staring down at the bloody footsteps on the entry.

"What's happened here?" he said. "Nobody picked up the phone -- "

Margie took his arm and leaned into him. "Something terrible. Mama -- Ginny had an affair with Pat Prewitt when we were teenagers, and Myra just found out about it. Myra broke the glass wall upstairs throwing something at Ginny. She's leaving her, Gillam. They're breaking up. We have to stop them."

He could barely take this in. As he stared at her, they heard Myra's shout from the kitchen "Get out of my fucking way, you cunt!" Shock rang through his system. Margie said "We have to do something."

"What? What do we do?" he said, watching Ginny stand immobile, an unbelievably desperate expression on her face.

"We have to not leave them alone with this" said Margie, turning toward the kitchen. Then she said "Do you have your cell? Call Allie. Tell her it's an emergency."

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.


Liza said...

OH good grief. Myra...come on. Take a walk, cool down and come on home. It was a long time ago and it obviously didn't change your relationship.

Jesse Wendel said...

Ah, trust.

The question with trust is not so much, how to keep trust alive, although of course that is important.

More important however is how to rebuild trust once it is betrayed.

Even in the most intimate relationships, trust at some point, is likely to be betrayed. Indeed, it is ONLY inside our deepest most private relationships in which our hearts are extended and shared to their fullest, where all that we are can be betrayed by another.

It is HERE that we most desperately need competence, technique and ability at REBUILDING TRUST IN THE FACE OF ACTUAL BETRAYAL. I don't mean in the face of little things, although that's good practice, but in the face of whatever is the worst shit one can imagine: infidelities, crimes (and not small ones either, but crimes of a moral nature, say against people, or against animals or the ecology), financial misdealings or theft, concealment of something secret and wrong in one's past. These issues when suddenly come to light can WRECK the underlying trust in a relationship.

It is in these moments, more than at any other time, that people in a relationship, when ever reflex they have is SCREAMING "BETRAYED, RUN, LEAVE" and more blunt curse words, it is right then that the betrayed partner and the betraying partner must work together to save their relationship.

Standing in betrayal -- which is evidence of profound trust, which can only happen when trust is given deeply -- you do everything you do at any other time, and then some...

Communicate the lie completely. Every bit of it, holding nothing back, full disclosure. The infection can only be healed if the infected tissue is excised.

Get to the underlying cause of what it was with BOTH of you that allowed the communication to be withheld. Whom were you both being that allowed such a fundamental breach of integrity to occur? The betrayer to withhold such a communication, and to take such action? What happened? And what else is there? This may take years to clean up, incidentally, the full work. If it's a transition phase between say, young-adulthood and adulthood, or adulthood and elderhood. Those transitions typically take five to seven years each. But the communicating of the out integrity and finding where the trail leads, that can take days or more.

What about the betrayed partner? Whom was she being that the betrayer didn't communicate? Be clear up front we're not talking blame the victim here. We're talking two people in a relationship, fighting to rebuild trust. Both people get to take responsibility for the breakdown, not just the one who blew it, because both people are committed to the relationship. Any other way, and the power balance which gets set up leaves the betraying partner begging to get back into the relationship. The betrayed partner will end up with power forever, "I gave you a chance when I didn't have to, and now you do this! What kind of a person ARE you, anyway?"

NO! The only hope for the future of the relationship after the core of trust is shattered is for ALL partners in the relationship to work, together, regardless of who destroyed trust, to rebuild trust.

Executives do this all the time, especially executives who specialize in businesses in troubled financial times. If they are to be MORE than just slash and burn raiders -- and I'm talking about that kind of executive -- they must gain the trust of management and the work force, in the midst of everyone being concerned about their own survival and finances. That requires competence at speaking directly to people's ability to trust.

In short, this is a learned ability.

Trust is an assessment of competence and sincerity.

Competent and sincere = trustworthy. President Bill Clinton.

Incompetent yet sincere = Charming Jerk. President Ronald Reagan.

Competent and insincere = Criminal. President Nixon.

Incompetent and insincere = Criminal Jerk. President Bush (43).

We tend to make assessments of competence against specific domains of human action -- the ability to fly a plane, perform neurosurgery, write a poem -- yet make assessments of sincerity against a person's MORAL VIRTUES, that is, against the entire range and scope of a person's human values.

This collapses domains, confuses the various moral virtues with everything which constitutes being human in day to day practice, and makes it very difficult for any partnership to recover from a profound breach of trust.

Part of recovering from such a breach is realizing that the assessment of sincerity must be examined against specific moral virtues, in much the same way we normally examine competence.

Enough. This is a good starting point for our women.

Oh... Frankly that Myra committed assault and battery (domestic violence) on her partner, I consider VASTLY the larger issue than one act of infidelity withheld. The thrown object missed Ginny, barely. Had it struck her, Myra would be in jail (till she was bailed out.) And the entire future conversation would be against a very PUBLIC conversation of domestic violence, played out in the tabloids with photographers following them everywhere they go for MONTHS.

It is MYRA who just risked their entire relationship in a profoundly deeper way. Of course, from her POV, it's over right now. Heh. So whatever. But nothing, ever, excuses domestic violence. Myra needs to grow the fuck up, fast.

And, clearly, Ginny had better stop pleading for her place in this relationship and step up. It's time to get this shit sorted out. Enough.

Maggie Jochild said...

Thank the gods I have all of the next chapters written, so I know the reactions from the two of you (profoundly influential on me) is not dictating where I went with this section. Indeed, this has been written from almost the very start of this novel. It's where they have been headed all along, it's the core lesson of their relationship, and, as Jesse said, it's only in the closest connections that we betray one another to this extent.

I have laid down so much ground to get to this spot.

More to come.

Jesse Wendel said...

Hee hee.

This is fun.

Bring it the frack on, Maggie.

This is going to be goooooood. Enough of this nice, quiet character development. Now that you've sucked everyone in, time to unload.

Muwaahahahahaha.... I am The Count. How many major conflicts can we juggle? ONE major plot point. I see ONE major plot point. Oh... and what is this over here... that's TWO major plots points. TWO. And what's this over here? That's Muwahhahahahahahhaha.


kat said...

But the way I read it, Jesse, Myra didn't throw the phone AT Ginny. Yes, she threw it in anger, without considering who it might hit and what the consequences would be.
That, to me, is somewhat different than Myra throwing a phone at Ginny.

...but I say this as the child of someone who throws things when angry....never specifically AT anyone or anything, just thrown out into the universe in general....

Cowboy Diva said...

trying to figure out timeline and everything here;;; you've got about 2 years left per the intro, right?

That, and looking back at the stuff written about 2004 is...interesting.

sheesh. epic drama. all we need now are massive string sections and the valkyries. ;>

Maggie Jochild said...

Cowboy Diva, you're a sharp one. Yes, the original "End of Book" is in 2020, and that will be when I draw a close to this book. (Although, at 2700+ pages, it's more than A book, it's an epic.)

However, the grandchildren have inserted themselves into the story and I've already begun writing sections about them as they are older. I'm not sure how I will address going on, because while some characters will die, I'm not sure how many more of their deaths I can bear to write.

And, yeah, poor Ginny's been waving red flags for a long time now.

Maggie Jochild said...

And Kat, honey, you are the world expert on Ginny Bates. I can't figure out how to respond to you without Saying Too Much, you know? Because you KNOW things. (Which is a relief, trust me.)

Jesse Wendel said...

kat -

nice catch. No pun.

Going back, I agree with your reading.

Still, it wouldn't have made any damn difference if the phone had hit Ginny.

It's still domestic violence.

I don't care how fucking angry you are. Throwing something within the same room as another human being...Danger Will Robinson, Danger.

They are called accidents 'cause they're not planned. *smiles sweetly*

Thing is, an artery gets severed just as completely by an accident, when the glass comes crashing down from above, as on purpose, when the glass comes crashing down from above.


Jesse Wendel said...

Or said differently, there is only now.

Cowboy Diva said...

I just wanna take the opportunity to say I'd forgotten how long the Electric Slide chapter was.
and just how damn good a writer you are and continue to be.

kat said...

Yup, that's right, I KNOW things....

Yes, I realize that if something hits someone it doesn't matter if it was on purpose or by accident.

um....I have to tread lightly so as not to give things away, but I wanted to be sure that Myra's not villified in this chapter.