Saturday, December 6, 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.

For the first month after Leah's birth, she stayed home with Gillam and Jane when the other two children came to spend afternoons with Myra and Ginny. She slept, mostly, and when she was awake, she was easy-going, seldom cried, intensely responsive and alert. When Myra did have a chance to spend time with Leah, she discovered this child reminded her strongly of Gillam in the way she pressed against whoever was holding her and made a strong effort to comprehend communication.

“None of the three have an overt resemblance to each other, but you can tell they're siblings, all the same” Myra remarked to Ginny.

“They all have hybrid vigor, I think” said Ginny.

“Leah's built like a bratwurst. I guess that's Jane's mother's side.”

“Well, Jane said she looked like that as a baby. She said Leah's hands and feet are large, she expects her to turn out tall” said Ginny.

“Big and smart. With Gillam's wide grin and broad brow.” Myra was very happy about the future of this child.

David was extremely interested in his new sister, in comparing her abilities to his own and seeking commentary on how advanced he was – feedback he lacked in comparison to Mimi. He was gentle in his usual David way. Mimi, on the other hand, had to be watched like a hawk to keep her from aiming aggression at Leah. Gillam and Jane were both distraught by Mimi's reaction.

“She wasn't that way with David, is it a gender competition thing or what?” Gillam worried to Myra.

“Oh, none of them are getting enough heavy gender training for that to be it” said Myra. “Not until they get out there in the world.”

“I think it's simply where Mimi is developmentally, a point where her ego is blooming and she wants all the focus to be on her” said Ginny. “David slipped in under the radar, she was only a year old when he came along.”

“She's at more or less the same place Margie was when you were born” pointed out Myra. Gillam looked alarmed. After they were alone, Ginny said to Myra “They're overreacting a tad, both of them. They're both the youngest in their sibling set and felt tormented by an older sib. Yelling at Mimi isn't working very well.”

“Well, Gin, we're not necessarily experts on it either, not with Gillam having the residue he does from how we handled things” said Myra with a pointed tone. Ginny frowned and didn't reply.

Later that afternoon, Ginny said "Dammit" as she began pulling challah from the oven. "I forgot to put parchment paper in the bottom of this pan."

"Looks alright to me" said Myra, coming to look. “Glossy and golden.”

"Check the bottom, it's charred. Well, I guess we can cut that off and make bread crumbs" said Ginny. "I have extra loaves, I was going to freeze some of this -- "

"Wait, let me have it, I want to try recreating Gaido's chocolate bread pudding and starting with challah would be a great idea" said Myra. She went to the pantry and returned with a tin of their best Dutch cocoa and a box of imported-from-Amsterdam semi-sweet baking chocolate. "I'm not sure which way I should go, the powered stuff or melted."

"Try both" suggested Ginny. "And don't forget the coffee flavor that's in there, I remember that."

"Should I make espresso and add it?" wondered Myra. "I'm worried about too much liquid, I know I need heavy cream for this, plus milk. Plus eggs."

"Use yolks instead of whole eggs, and -- espresso powder, that instant stuff Allie scoffed at" said Ginny, getting intrigued with the mystery.

Three batches later, they'd figured out how to soak the bread properly after toasting, that the challah should be cut into 1/2 inch cubes, and the obscene amount of eggs involved. The first two batches were definitely edible, and Myra saved them in the fridge for extra dessert. But the last attempt produced something she actually thought was superior to Gaido's.

"I'm going to call this Hole In The Dyke Bread Pudding" she said. "With a Y, not an I."

"Of course you are" said Ginny, washing her hands before going out to trim walkway edges and work off some of the sugar she'd ingested.

On Sunday, after sleeping in the armchair post-lunch with Leah on his chest, Gillam woke up from a nap when the two older children did. Ginny led them outside to fill a wading pool for Mimi and David to frolic in. Myra got to hold Leah, sitting on the bench in bright sunlight. After 20 minutes, Margie and Frances came through the side gate. Frances immediately pulled off her sandals and sat down in the wading pool with the kids, soaking her shorts.

Gillam grinned at their squeals, looked around at Myra and said “Not too much sun for her. Should I get her little hat?”

“Actually, I've been wanting to show something to you and Margie. Let's go inside for a few minutes.” Myra nodded at Ginny, who said “Go for it.”

Myra walked slowly upstairs with Leah, talking to her softly. In her study, she handed Leah to Gillam and kneeled by the bottom cupboard of her built-in shelves on the outer wall. She reached into the shadow where paper and office supplies were stacked and they heard a click. Margie and Gillam both gaped as the cupboard swung away, revealing a hidden compartment in the wall behind holding a large metal safe. Myra muscled it out and said “This is waterproof and fireproof. It used to be in the hollow beneath your garden shed, Gillam.”

“I had no idea this was here” said Margie.

“Yeah, well, time for some family secrets” said Myra, inserting a numeric code and turning the handle. She began lifting out a manila envelope and a heavy metal cash box.

She opened the cash box first. Gillam and Margie reacted again at the gleam of gold. “$10,000 in Krugerrands” said Myra. “Emergency stash.”

She pulled apart the clasp on the envelope and poured its contents onto her desk, four passports. She looked into each and handed one to Margie. She read its front page and was momentarily speechless, finally saying hoarsely “It's me. But the name and date of birth isn't – who's Alice Anderson?”

“That would have been you if we'd had to flee the U.S.” said Myra, enjoying herself. She held open Gillam's so he could read it.

“John Anderson” he said. “You picked the name, didn't you?”

“Yep. For an extra fee. I'm Polly Anderson, and Ginny is Sarah – we were sisters, according to these documents. Ginny is always on my ass to destroy these, because it's a felony to possess them and they're out of date now, useless. But I see them as a relic of the Bush years. A piece of history.”

“You really thought about running someplace else?” asked Margie in disbelief.

“We did. Your zayde was in on it, too. And of course the aunties, except Allie and Chris were pissed as hell about the passports. That's why we bought the place in Canada.”

Gillam was trying to digest it all. “But you sold that. To pay for our house, basically.”

“The need for a refuge is, thankfully, no longer pressing” said Myra. “Anyhow, the main piece of information I need to share with you is related: We have a pair of bank accounts in the Cayman Islands with a buttload of money shut away in them. We don't touch them – neither add or subtract, to keep from attracting notice to them. They just sit and accumulate interest. David started them, in mine and Ginny's names. If something happens to us, you'll need to find a way to get the money out of them. You can, of course, be legal and declare them as inheritance, pay the cost of that which will be considerable. Or, if it was me, after a suitable period of mourning you could take a vacation in the Caribbean and try to move the cash back to the U.S.” Myra's eyes were twinkling.

Margie wanted to ask how much was in the accounts, Myra could tell. She wasn't actually certain at the moment. Eventually, Margie said “Where's the account book?”

“Ah, well, that's the big secret. We don't have account books, only the access numbers which you'll need to withdraw money from them or, as we do, check the statements monthly online. I have the numbers memorized. But -- “

Myra took a legal pad and wrote “The Highwayman” on it. “You know that first edition you all gave me for my birthday right after my brain fart? Well, that book is on my poetry shelf, and if you open it to the last page, you'll find a small slip of paper with two strings of letters on it. These are the alphanumeric code for the accounts. Here's how it works: There are 10 letters that aren't repeated in these two words, 'The Highwayman', see – T, H, E, I, G, W, A, Y, M, and N. In the code, these stand for 0 through 9, in order. So to write 2016, it would be E-T-H-A.”

She checked their faces for comprehension. “So, to solve the code on that slip of paper, all you need to remember is the poem title. And, by the way, also the code for getting into this safe: It's five digits, beginning with right because Hebrew reads from right to left, and the way to remember it is G-I-N-N-Y. Which translates to 43997.”

Gillam burst out laughing. “You're diabolical.”

“If we'd had to figure this out on our own” began Margie, but she stopped and said, “You know what? I bet I would have cracked it, eventually.”

“I bet you would have too” said Myra. “However, now you don't have to. So, our most precious papers are in here, with copies in the safe deposit box at our bank. And the file right there, full of essential papers for quick emergency grab. “ She began putting the passports back in their envelope.

“Are you, uh, worried about something coming up? Is what why you told us now?” asked Gillam, a furrow in his brow.

“Nope. Just been meaning to for a while. Since you're both all grown-up now” said Myra. Margie bent to help her lift the safe back into its hiding place.

When they came back downstairs, Jane was sitting up on the couch, wiping her eyes. Gillam kissed her and Jane said “Is she hungry?”

“Probably. If you're ready.”

Myra said “By the way, what I just showed you is of course something you can share with your partners.” Jane looked at Gillam with raised eyebrows and he sat beside her as Myra and Margie went outside. Frances had gotten a plastic bucket and was in wild water fight against the team of David and Mimi. Anthea was hiding in the cherry tree, and Ginny was also out of range, weeding the roses. Margie and Myra looked at each other. Margie went to grab the hose, while Myra returned inside to set towels by the back door.

At the following Sunday dinner, Margie said “The last tenant is moving out next week. Renovation on our new house will begin your birthday week, Mama.”

With a dimple, Ginny said “Are you planning to put a gate between your back yard and ours?”

Allie and Chris were both laughing. Margie said “I bow to the inevitable. But we want our own set of controls for the security system. I already talked to Aaron about it. I need a different set-up, anyhow, for insurance bonding.”

She toyed with her salad fork and said quietly to Frances, “Are you ready?”

Frances squared her shoulders and said “Kick it off.”

“We have three pieces of news” said Margie. “The first is that when we move out of our apartment over the store, we want to offer it to you, Carly and Eric. At a bargain rent and a permanent lease. It's already zoned for business, so if you want to set up the second bedroom for PT clients, you could get a head start on your own clinic. There's even parking during the day.”

Carly's eyes locked on Eric's. A slow grin spread from one to the other, and Eric said “We accept. Joyously.”

Carly jumped up to hug Margie, and Ginny intercepted him for a little jig, shouting “Right next door! Right next door!”

“It like a tractor beam” said Allie so quietly that only Edwina and Myra heard her. Myra retorted “You keep resisting, I see.”

They all celebrated for a while. Margie told Carly he could repaint or decorate however he wanted. Ginny leaned to Eric and said “Bunny visits just got a whole lot easier.” Carly stole David from Jane's lap and said “I'll be right outside your gate, buddy boy. We can dance whenever you want.”

Eventually, Sima said “What's the other news? Not as good as this, of course.”

Margie giggled. Frances said “I signed the contract for my cookbook. It's a done deal, except...They want that painting you did of me, Ginny, for the front cover, not my portrait on the back. They want to name it 'Forged By Love: The Cuisine of Carminati's'.” She looked dubious about this development.

“I'll be thrilled to sign any release you need” said Ginny.

“Yes, but – It's not traditional for a cookbook to feature a first-time chef author instead of one of my signature dishes. The draw is supposed to be my food” said Frances, disappointment in her voice.

“Well, it will be” said Ginny. “No, wait, that's not completely accurate, is it? The truth is, a Ginny Bates on the cover will get your extra interest and sales. But your recipes will more than deliver, Frances, you know what. And from Margie says, most celebrity chefs take years to get the kind of face and name recognition you're getting a head start on. You deserve it, and you'll live up to the promise. You earned this by hard work.”

Frances breathed deeply, struggling to take this in, Myra could see. Margie said “I told her she needs to redesign the menus and pizza boxes, to show the book cover and play up her name even more. And then up her prices on the pizza.”

“We're already at capacity” protested Frances, “I can't make more product without expanding the ovens.”

“That's why we charge more for what we're already making” said Margie. “We'll prorate it for the in-store pizzas, so the teenagers don't suffer. But folks ordering delivery will be happy to pay for the prestige of a Carminati hand-tossed, brick-oven pie from the author of the biggest new cookbook of the year.”

Ginny gave Margie a high-five. They have no mixed feelings about making money thought Myra. She looked down into Leah's face, at her collarbone, and thought You be a poet like me, okay? I'll leave you enough to support you.

After a few minutes, Myra broke into the discussion to say “I've been counting how many books this table full of family is responsible for giving the world. I've got eight in print with my name alone on the cover, if you don't count the chapbooks, plus five kid's books with Allie and the two seed books with Allie and Ginny. Allie has seven more kid's books and the three graphic memoirs, so far. Chris has her massive tome, and Edwina, you've got four, right?”

“Five. But one's out of print.”

“And now Frances, that makes -- “ Myra was beginning the mental math but Frances, the numbers whiz, instantly said “32.”

“Hot damn” said Allie. Mimi immediately repeated “Hot damn.”

“Language” said Gillam.

“Point taken and appreciated” said Allie. “I should have said 'Hot diggity'.” Mimi got a mulish look on her face and refused to meet Gillam's eyes.

“And this time next year” said Ginny, “It could be at least five more. The new Cally Basa Seed book, plus Myra's memoir trilogy, and Allie's current effort.”

“Frances will have a second cookbook ready by then, too” said Margie.

No pressure thought Myra. And I have no idea how to shape my memoirs into publishable form.

Ginny was about to raise her glass for a toast, when Sima said “That still leaves one more announcement from you, Margie.”

“Yes, it does” said Margie, her face suddenly illuminated with glee. She tried for a casual tone as she said “We got civil unioned this week. Me and Franny.”

What?” roared Allie. “You mean, like married?”

“Civil unioned” said Margie, but laughter was bubbling out of her. “Frances asked me, and we just did it.”

Jane was on her feet, yelling “You did it, you did it!”

Myra met Ginny's eyes. They gave each other a thumb's up, and Margie saw it with pleasure.

“Way to go, pizza girl” Edwina said to Frances.

“Well, we were going through all these hoops, getting document after document to make things right between us, and I realized I didn't have the one piece of paper I wanted most, with both our names on it” said Frances. “I fall more in love with her every year. I wanted it recorded somewhere, how I feel about her.”

Myra felt tears burn her eyes, surprising her. She discovered she was on her feet, her glass in hand. “I don't know what to say, except to quote our darling Carly who remarked in this same room, many years ago: We few, we happy few. Although, thanks to Jane and Gillam, our numbers are not quite few any more.”

“We few, we happy few!” echoed Ginny, coming out of her chair. They all stood, toasting one another, Mimi splashing juice from her glass. When they sat again, Jane said to Margie “If you're not gonna have a wedding, you have at least let us throw you a reception.”

“After the house is ready!” said Margie jubilantly. “We can register for new stuff to furnish it.”

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.


Jesse Wendel said...



Jesse Wendel said...

I keep coming back, reading the last part, over and over again.

And then, over again some more. It is a goodness. *sighs*

I can't stop crying. Aaargh!