Monday, December 8, 2008


Bread Loaf Inn, built 1882, Middlebury College, Vermont (Bread Loaf Inn, built 1882, Middlebury College, Vermont; photo by origamidon)

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 2016

Gillam had enrolled for a three-week special ed training during mornings in August. To give Jane a break, they enrolled David and Mimi in a summer nursery school program through the reform temple. “It'll be a head start on Hebrew school and mostly give them a chance at socialization with other toddlers and babies” said Gillam. On the occasions when he and Jane stayed for dinner with Myra and Ginny, the young couple talked non-stop about the theories and applications Gillam was acquiring, and Ginny was an avid participant in the conversations as well. She told Myra the new comprehension of brain development was affecting how she approached her paintings. Myra was glad for them, but followed it all only imperfectly. She focused more on making sure Mimi ate something more than bread and “chicken nuggets”, or getting David to laugh – he had an angelic, whole-body laugh.

Myra's birthday was on shabbos this year. She asked for cupcakes, to please the kids, with of course a barbecue around the pond followed by a talent show indoors next to the fireplace. She was already packed for Bread Loaf; she had to leave the next morning at 5 a.m. Mimi and David exuberantly opened her presents for her while Leah sat in her lap, tiny fingers wrapped tight around Myra's forefinger.

When Myra heard the alarm go off before dawn, she forced herself to the bathroom and sat on the toilet with the small trash can in front of her, trying not to throw up. Ginny, joining her, asked “What's wrong, do you have food poisoning?”

“Just nerves, I think. I really, really don't want to go, Ginny. Please can I back out?”

“Not without letting down a lot of people. Myra, it'll be all right. You'll be fine once you get there, I promise. You need something different, and this is a big honor.”

“It doesn't feel like an honor, it feels like a chore.”

“I'll make you some tummy tea. And Ginny eggs. Wash your face, get dressed, and meet me in the kitchen.”

Her stomach remained iffy all the way to the airport. Ginny didn't see her to the gate, at Myra's insistence. “I'll route my bags through here at the front and go get a Coke, that'll help. Otherwise I'll spend the whole time trying to think of a way to persuade you to take me back home” said Myra.

“You have your tickets? Your cell? Turn it on – hell, Myra, did you forget to charge it? Well, plug it when you get to the gate area, recharge it before you take off. Call me whenever you can. Writers are fascinating, wonderful people, Myra, give them a chance. I certainly love them more than other kinds of folks.” But even this didn't draw a grin from Myra. Ginny drove off into morning light and growing traffic.

Sixteen hours later, it was almost 11:00 p.m. but Ginny was still up, waiting for an “I'm here” call from Myra. Margie had stopped by, and they were noshing on pickles and cheese as Margie complained about renovation problems at the new house. When the phone rang, Ginny literally leaped toward it, but her eye caught the caller ID and she stopped herself, saying out loud “Not bloody likely.”

“Who is it?” asked Margie.

“Someone who definitely doesn't want to talk to me” said Ginny, picking up the teapot to refill it with hot water. They both fell silent, waiting to hear the message machine.

When Myra's voice came out of the speaker, however, Ginny repeated her leap, saying “I didn't think it was you.”

“Yeah, not my cell number, huh?” said Myra cheerfully. “It's hammered, my phone, I mean. At first I thought it was the battery, but now I think there's a broken connection inside it or something. I don't know if there's a local place where I can get it fixed, I might have to buy a disposable one for the time being – but even that, I'm not sure about, I'll have to get a ride into the business district and most places may not be open tomorrow. So, listen, stuff to tell you, but the most fantastic news is, guess who's here at Bread Loaf too?”

“Cuchilla” said Ginny flatly.

“Whoa. How the fuck did you ever – oh, wait, did her name come up on the caller ID? Yeah, I'm borrowing her cell. Isn't this is a kick in the fucking pants? She got a fellowship here this year – remind me to come up with another goddamned term for fellowship, I'm so tired of crap like that going on forever – anyhow, it's almost 2 in the morning here but people are still arriving and we're at the check-in center, arranging for her to get transferred to my room. I've got two desks and two twin beds to myself, and she was not impressed with her roommate, so we're going to bunk up. I warned her I snore, but she says she gets up two or three times a night to pee, and we've both got earplugs, so we think we can tough it out. I'm so relieved to have a friend here, I could crap a brick.”

From the high excitement in her voice, Ginny thought it sounded like Myra was already trying to pass such an object.

“Anyhow, once she gets checked in, we'll schlepp her stuff to my room and probably crash, it was one hella day of travel and bureaucracy for me. But I wanted to give you her cell, in case of dire emergency, and remind you the number for Bread Loaf in general is on that sheet on my desk, and my e-mail is working, I tried it already, so I'll check that at least twice a day if you want to contact me there, too.”

Ginny heard the sounds of Myra using her inhaler. “Are you feeling all right?”

“Yeah. There's some young folks nearby smoking, I'm outside the admin building or whatever they call it. Plus just whacked and short of breath in general. It's nice here, though, the weather is dry and my room – our room – seems clean enough. I'll take a digital photo and send it tomorrow. So, do you want to write down Cuchilla's cell number?”

“It will be on the caller ID memory” said Ginny. “She didn't tell you in advance she would be there?”

“Well, no, it's a glorious surprise for both of us. I was just walking down here to see about rides into town and she climbed out of an airport shuttle in front of me. We began screaming out heads off. Not that anybody much noticed, nobody seems to be sleeping or have much attention for those outside their own little clique” said Myra, with a tinge of bitterness. “Anyhow, I don't want to run up her minutes. I'll let you know tomorrow about the cell situation. How're things there?”

“Fine. Margie's here's right now” said Ginny.

“Good, you've got company. Give her my love, and give yourself my extra special love. Hey, there she is, gonna run.”

Ginny turned off the phone carefully, turned and hurled the teapot against the big farmer sink Myra had taken two days to choose.

Margie came bolt upright, gaping at Ginny. “What on earth?” she said.

“Your mother is ecstatic because an old heartthrob is going to be sleeping two feet away for the next 11 days” said Ginny through clenched teeth. “Her cell is conveniently broken and she's up in the wee hours so she can set up house with Cuchilla the soulmate poet.”

Margie came into the kitchen and began picking out pieces of ceramic, putting them into a plastic bowl.

“Oh, throw it the fuck away, it's not worth fixing” said Ginny, opening the cupboard to find her second-favorite teapot.

“Are you implying Mama somehow arranged to have a get-away with Cuchilla?” asked Margie.

“No. I believe she didn't know she'd be there. But that fucking Cuchilla – Myra's name was all over the publicity, she's doing two reading/teaching things this week, and there's no way Cuchilla missed knowing in advance Myra would be there. She has her e-mail, they've stayed in touch – but she's acting like it's all a surprise to her, too. Which means she's a fucking liar.” Ginny put the second teapot on the counter. Her hands were shaking too much for her to fill it with boiling water at the moment.

“So, wait – were Mom and Cuchilla involved at some point? I thought they got close after I was born” said Margie.

“Myra -- “ Ginny stopped to take a deep breath. “Myra was not romantically interested in Cuchilla. She said so, and I believed her.” Then, thought Ginny. “But Cuchilla told Myra she was in love with her. They tried to keep close after that, despite Myra's limits, but there was always some tension. Then Cuchilla moved to New Mexico, and it got easy because of the imposed distance. However, I distinctly remember Myra telling me that Cuchilla has broken up with her long-term lover this past year.”

Margie had tossed the remnants in the trash and now leaned back against the counter, looking at Ginny. “Aha. So you think Cuchilla is hoping for a second chance with Mom? Well, so what? It takes two to tango.”

“They'll be living together, two dyke poets of a certain age bonding in a strange environment, in a place Myra was dreading.” Ginny closed her eyes.

“Again, so what? You can't honestly think circumstances are going to alter Mama's commitment to you” said Margie, derision creeping into her voice.

“Circumstances are what we make of them” said Ginny. “You have no idea what can happen when you think everything is settled, or what relationships contend with over time -- “

“I have more of an idea than you do, in some respects” interrupted Margie. “Particularly when it comes to monogamy and the pressures thereof. It just doesn't make sense to me, how your trust pops like a bubble sometimes. It's erratic, almost crazy, the place you go. I can't afford to let my head get stuck in those kinds of ruts, not with Frances.”

“Oh, give me a break, you have Frances bought and sold. And that goes in a literal sense, as well as emotionally” snapped Ginny.

Margie's eyes went very dark blue. “That's a vile thing to say. If you believe that, you must think Mama purchased you with her lottery money. Is that part of what's going on here, now that you're the main breadwinner – is she not acting properly obedient to your power as the earner of income?”

“You are so full of shit” began Ginny.

“No, you know what? When you get nutty, you will say absolutely anything that comes into your head, you start channeling Helen the drunk. And I promised my therapist to stop engaging in this dynamic with you. I'm not your partner, I don't have to take it.” Margie was breathing hard. “If you want to talk without taking swipes at me, call me.” She pushed past Ginny and was out the front door in seconds.

Ginny turned off the simmer under the teakettle and, leaving cheese and pickles on the table, went upstairs to Myra's computer. She wrote a five-page e-mail that, in the end, she didn't send. She saved a draft, turned off the lights upstairs, set the alarm, and went to bed. She was afraid she wouldn't get to sleep, but after a few minutes of imagining screaming at Myra, her adrenaline was depleted and she dropped off. She woke up every couple of hours, feeling cold and exhausted, and had to talk herself into sleep again each time by promising to go see Nancy as soon as she could get in.

Myra called back the next afternoon, while Ginny was outside gathering salad greens for the Sunday potluck. The message she left said “No luck on the cell phone yet,honey. Maybe tomorrow. In the meantime, I met a couple of folks I like, a lot more I don't like, and I wrote a poem right after I woke up. Cuchilla did, too. Thank god she's here, I'd be wretched without her. Everybody is either looking for sex, looking for influence, or both. Well, not quite everybody, but enough to make me nervous about even mealtime conversation. Cuchilla and I have gone over the schedule, and as much as possible we're going to avoid the ratrace, hole up in our room and write. She says it's time I publish a large volume of my selected poetry, and she's going to read over my work, make suggestions toward that end. She has her own volume coming out this year, and I'm going to help her with the final arrangement on that. Bliss, Ginny, absolute bliss. Except the food sucks and no grandkids. Tell Keller I really will be back. Love you, Ginny O.”

When Ginny came to the kitchen and saw the blinking light on the message machine, she looked at the caller ID first. Swearing steadily enough to send Mother Courage under the sideboard, Ginny listened to the message, pounded on the counter briefly, then dialed Cuchilla's cell number. Nobody answered, and she hung up as it rolled over into voice mail. She went to Myra's computer and checked her e-mail. There was a longish message from Myra, mostly full of description which at another time would have entertained her. She also included the new poem and a photo of her lodgings, with Cuchilla standing in a shaft of sunlight, looking smug, Ginny thought.

Keller had climbed into Ginny's lap while Ginny was examining the photo for any nefarious clues. Ginny wanted to shove her away. Instead, she rubbed Keller's head, talked to her a few minutes, and wrote a brief, entirely calm answer to Myra, urging her to buy any kind of cell phone she could as soon as possible. She also reminded her to make time to have dinner with Liza during the week, not just after her Bread Loaf stint was over. Since so far Myra had not said she was missing Ginny, Ginny refused to write that to Myra.

When she went back downstairs, Keller followed her. Ginny took one of Myra's pecan pies from the freezer and set it to bake before she began assembling a massive chef's salad with boiled eggs and spicy shrimp. Before she was finished, Allie and Edwina arrived with a platter of fajitas.

After hugging Ginny, Edwina said “I hear Cuchilla is at Bread Loaf.”

Ginny looked at her coldly. “Did you hear that from Myra or from Margie?”

“Both, actually. Allie got an e-mail from Myra, but Margie called us. She said you went off on her. Margie, I mean.”

Ginny pursed her lips. “It's a little difficult for me to take being lectured to about relationships by Margie. That's the gist of it.”

Edwina didn't try to hide her skepticism. “You want to talk about it?'

“No, clearly I'm not in appropriate control of my emotions. I'm planning to see Nancy tomorrow, she can deal with my irrationality.” Ginny couldn't leach all of the sarcasm from her voice.

Edwina shared a glance with Allie, which usually didn't irritate Ginny like it did today. Ginny packed the pie into a basket with a bootie Leah had lost earlier and a bouquet of roses for Jane and Gillam. She looped this over her arm and carried the giant wooden salad bowl in both hands as they walked next door together, talking of other things.

Monday was Margie and Frances' turn to take the children for Jane and Gillam's date night. After a solo dinner, Ginny went in the direction of kid's shrieks. Frances was in the pool with Mimi and David. It was a lovely warm night, and Ginny wished she could join them. She still felt too raw, however. Margie was in shorts and a tank top on the deck chair, giving Leah a bottle.

Ginny sat down next to her and said “I owe you an apology.”

“Yes. You do.” Margie smoothed a curl back from Leah's forehead. Leah's hazel eyes were fixed on Ginny.

“I saw Nancy today. I had no right to say any of what I said to you.”

“Did you root out why you're so gonzo about Cuchilla?” asked Margie bluntly.

“Some of it. Enough to feel very sorry. Though I do still think Cuchilla is lying and conniving” said Ginny.

“I hope not, for Mom's sake” said Margie. “Have you talked to her about this?”

“I haven't talked to her at all. She hasn't found a replacement phone, so I can't call her, and she keeps calling me at the precise moment I can't hear the ring. And no, I don't think she's avoiding me, it's just an accident. Or perhaps g*d punishing me for being insecure.” Ginny finally grinned, tightly, and Margie grinned back.

“Well, do you want to tell me what you've figured out so far?” asked Margie.

“Nope. I'll wait until it's clearer. Thanks for the offer, though.”

Margie lowered her voice. “I didn't tell Frances what you said. She might not forgive you.”

“Have you?”

Margie shrugged. “I will. Listen, I need to pee, you want to finish this bottle with her?”

“I do, very much” said Ginny. She wanted the redemption babies offer like gold dust falling from their fingertips.

By Friday, Ginny and Myra had still not had a direct conversation with each other, and Ginny was beginning to think her joke about g*d's punishment was maybe not a joke. Myra was writing her good letters at least once a day, and sending one or two new poems with each. Ginny could tell the poetry was stellar, and Myra was breathing writing with each waking moment. She reminded herself constantly “This is what you wanted for her. Whatever it took.”

At shabbos dinner, Gillam said “Have you been reading the work Mom is turning out? It's incredible, isn't it?”

“Yes, a torrent of poetry.”

“It's not just the quantity. I think these may be the best poems I've ever seen her write” said Gillam. Jane added “He was crying at his laptop this morning, sobbing away.”

“Which one set you off?” asked Carly.

“The Ishi one” said Gillam.

Ginny raised her eyebrows. “I guess I didn't get that one. Nothing by that title.”

“It's not in the title” said Gillam. “The one that begins with how to make a clear broth, why cloudy broths are dangerous to the spirit.”

“Oh, yes, I got that one. What makes you think it's about Ishi?” asked Ginny.

Chris said “That long section about how no one will ever know her name, because she cannot speak it out loud? And the reference to volcanic tunnels?”

Everyone else was nodding. Ginny felt stupid and, worse, unable to comprehend Myra's mind.

“I...I thought that was about the invisibility of class. About trying to pass around middle class people” confessed Ginny.

“It's not” said Chris with a grin that was not kind at all.

“The one that really got to me was the one with all the fabric names in it” said Edwina. “I counted at least six different ways she was using assonance, alliteration, and other techniques. It was simply flawless.”

“Yes, and the meter of those lines, plus the structure? It's identical to 'John Anderson My Jo', by Burns, you know. Took me a while to recognize it. Yet another clever way of telling us it was about her mother.” Gillam's tone was reverent.

Ginny had thought that poem was about Myra's first lover.

“I hope Cuchilla is including these latest in the 'best of Myra's poetry' volume she's helping her pull together” said Allie.

Ginny could tell Margie was looking at her. “I hope so, too. I'll mention it to her.”

The next day, at noon, she was desperate to have an actual verbal exchange with Myra. The schedule indicated there was a big reading with a writer Myra liked at the main building. Ginny decided to call the Bread Loaf main number and see if they could page Myra, bring her to the phone. The young woman who answered the phone was not particularly adept with either verbal skills or research. She clearly didn't recognize Myra's name, which made Ginny label her ignorant instantly. She could hear the moron fumbling with papers, and Ginny said “I don't need to find out if she's registered, she is, I know that for a fact, I want you to go find her at the reading -- “

“Yes, she's registered. But she checked out” said the moron.

“What do you mean, checked out? The conference isn't over until Tuesday” said Ginny.

“Checked out of her room. She's gone to a hotel in Burlington. She'll be here for a lecture tomorrow, it says. Do you want the hotel number?”

Ginny hung up without thinking. She sat down carefully and tried to figure out what to do next.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild


kat said...


Liza said...

Oh oh. A HOTEL in Burlington?? What's wrong with my house? She knows I have plenty of room. I'm guessing it's because she needs solitude to finish her poems, not a long late night gab fest with me.

Oooh, I love my cameo appearances in the novel.