Saturday, December 13, 2008


Wave on Skene with leviathan in it
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.

September 2016

Myra spent the weekend catching up with family, baking, and creating a list of questions for interviewing a potential editor. After breakfast on Monday she began making calls, and this continued more or less all day since Ginny had Dance Class with the grandchildren and Leah was content to play with toys sitting in Myra's lap at her desk.

Allie stopped by at lunch and asked to read Myra's interview questions. The first one, “Did you ever vote for Reagan or one of the Bushes?”, made Allie snort.

“What that got to do with editing?” she asked.

“I can make allowance for someone having been delusional in the past, but not if it manifested in supporting an ideology whose intent, at baseline, was to shaft other people” said Myra. “I can't trust 'em with my writing, if they've given in that to impulse.”

“You was a born-again for a while as a kid” pointed out Allie.

“Kids don't vote” replied Myra. “I'd come to my senses by the time I reached a ballot box. You'd be surprised at how that question cuts through the chaff.”

“I see you asking 'em who they favorite writers is, and favorite poets” said Allie. “They got to agree with you?”

“Nope. But it has be writers whose style isn't antithetical to mine” said Myra. “I want them to potentially love my writing. I know how to critique and edit the work of writers I love, I can expect at least that much of an editor.”

“How come these two names crossed off you list with SP written beside it?” asked Allie. “What SP stand for?”

“Spelling. Their fucking resumes they faxed over had common spelling errors on them – the kind that spellcheck doesn't catch. Both of those applicants were also under 35, you'll notice. I'm not giving up on basic spelling skills, not yet.”

Allie was enjoying herself. She took the loaves of bread Myra had set out for her, however, and left to pursue her own work.

Myra was ready to schedule in-person interviews by Wednesday morning. One woman in her 40s sat down on Myra's daybed rather than the second rolling chair and scanned the study with a sharp eye. Myra said “Your name, Qiana, that's fairly unusual.”

“My parents were hippies” Qiana said. “Extremely well-educated hippies. Mom is Hawaiian, Pop is Jewish.” Ginny had been lurking in the doorway, and Myra saw her grin as she faded back into her studio.

“You said on the phone you've read a lot of my stuff. Give me your impression of whatever it is your familiar with” said Myra.

Qiana stopped perusing shelves and walls to focus on Myra. She said first, however, “Was that cat born without eyes or did she lose them?”

“We had to have them removed because of infection” said Myra. “Her name is Keller.”

Qiana laughed loudly. “Does she compensate with her other senses?”

“Yes. And she knows every millimeter of this room, her main territory. Here, watch this.”

Myra opened a small drawer and Keller instantly sat up, alert. Myra pulled out one of the throw toys she used with Beebo, made of soft plastic, without bells or much sound to it at all. She threw it in an random direction. Before it even landed, Keller leaped from the desk after it, pouncing on it before it had skidded to a halt. She carried it in her mouth with a single growl and hopped back up to the desk, dropping it in Myra's lap.

“Wow. She hears the slight rush of it going through the air?” asked Qiana.

“I think so. Plus she may be able to tell which direction I'm facing by the sound of my breathing or the squeak of the chair. She also knows instantly when I'm done writing for the night. I must make some body shift or sound unconsciously, but I've not been able to figure out what tips her off” said Myra with admiration in her tone.

“I have two cats” said Qiana. “Both with eyes. To answer your question, let's start with your poetry, since your biography usually identifies you as a poet first. It's accessible, which means you're deliberately writing to connect with the reader, not simply move them or educate them. I see that lack of didactism as your main strength, a strength not always present in your essays, for example. You let yourself tell a story, which most poets are afraid of doing, afraid of especially of the confessional label. The only drawback to it is when you are so fond of your own voice that you forget to be succinct – even good folktales know when to not always list three items, or get cute when charm has been established. I'd push you to find a say it the way your grandmother would have, but in less than a line – there no such thing as too many leaps asked of the reader in a good poem.”

It was at that point when Myra decided Qiana was The One. Ginny later said for her it had been the instant Qiana called her parents hippies without apology or scorn.

“Now, as for your science fiction books, or as I like to think of it, Hopi lesbians in space -- “ Qiana had to stop for a minute, because Myra was laughing so hard. “Your story-telling is given a free hand, and rightly so, you earn every reader you have in that genre. But I began thinking, around the end of the second Skene book, that you were dodging what you really wanted to write, which was the story of your life. You've tucked it into poetry, or short stories, or adventure tales, or blog posts. And you bought permission to focus on yourself by the trilogy of research about your beloved movement. But I'm glad to hear you've finally stepped up to the plate and are doing straight autobiography now. Pardon the hackneyed sports analogy, and any implication of you being straight.”

Myra was laughing again. She tapped the stack of six reams on her desk and said “I guess I had quite the backlog. This is the manuscript in question.”

“My god” said Qiana. “Well, clearly, that will never do. At most you can count on putting out two volumes right now.”

“Why not a trilogy?” said Myra.

“Because you've got another 15 or 20 years to go, you want to save the third volume for what else you'll have to say” explained Qiana. Myra heard a sound from Ginny's studio that she thought was a small cheer. “So, that –what is it, 3000 pages? -- will need to come down to 700. We can begin with deciding what your overriding narrative must be, boil that down to a few arcs, and cut without remorse. The extra material can be reshaped into short pieces which could get leaked out to major periodicals three or four times a year, juicy little morsels which will sustain an appetite for the world according to Myra.”

“Do you feel up to carving a glacier into ice cubes?” asked Myra, hope in her voice.

“Of course. But for a detailed plan, I'll have to read your overgrown pumpkin there first” said Qiana. “I'd prefer a paper copy for the first read-through. I like holding fiber in my hands.” She reached toward the desk, and for a wild moment Myra thought she was grabbing for the manuscript. Instead, Qiana snagged the cat toy. Keller's head swiveled, her ears pushed forward, following Qiana's arm motion and reacting to the throw with complete confidence. Qiana laughed loudly again as Keller started back with the toy and paused, considering who was a better bet for a continued game.

Myra finished the two interviews she had scheduled but it was simply a formality. The next day, Qiana came for dinner, meeting Chris and Sima, and left with a check and the manuscript after signing a three-page confidentiality agreement. Myra Fed-exed her newly compiled poetry volume to her agent and began outlining her new Skene book.

Friday morning, Ginny said “I don't mean to stop the writing freight train, but today is when Annie Gagliardi is coming to install the metal canopy she sculpted for the back corner, where we hope to plant an avocado tree. The company which manufactured the plastic awning that will go up and down for bad weather is also going to be here, because Annie may have to adjust her structure per their specs.”

Myra poured a glass of juice and said “When do they get here?”

“Annie any minute now. I thought you might want to put pants on.”

Myra got dressed and pulled on socks before adding boots. When she returned to the kitchen, Annie was leaning against the counter, eating a piece of toast while Ginny made her coffee. She gave Myra a one-armed hug and said “You're gonna plotz when you see how this came out.”

Myra made another two pieces of toast and put sliced sausage between them. She grabbed a Coke and walked outside to eat as two teenaged girls unloaded metal from a truck in the alley, through the side gate and onto a sorted pile in front of the shed.

“That copper is so beautiful” said Myra.

“Wait until you see the patina on it three years from now” said Annie.

“What are the shiny pieces?”

“Stainless. I had to use non-reacting stuff for certain elements, you'll see” said Annie. It took another hour for the crew to erect a scaffold. Myra went back inside to plan lunches for the workers that would be around all day. Ginny promised to call her once the actual canopy began coming together. After half an hour, the phone rang.

Jane said “The kids have spotted activity at your place and want to come over. Is there a safe viewing point?”

“Not outside. Wait – I'll pull one of the stair gates off and stretch it across the opening between our yards. They can stay in your yard but have a clear vantage point. You'd better lock up Beebo, though. We've shut all our cats inside. I'll come meet you at the gate.”

Myra took Leah from Jane and sat on the ground next to the gate. Mimi and David reached their hands through the mesh to lean on Myra's shoulders and bombard her with questions about the activity. Myra had to admit, it was fascinating. By noon, the basic structure was erected.

The uprights were double struts between which were three-dimensional carvings of every creature and craft mentioned in Myra's Skene books: Leviathans leaping from the deeps, the verminous shu, hnisa racing through waves, large katts, schools of fisk, gnarled olive trees, and elusive sakana. The cross braces, midway and at the top, were panoramas of the island archipelago, with lighters and sinners flying above, magma pouring into the sea off Yanja, ferries traversing the Morrie Vaseos on protected lagoons, and rice paddies climbing the terraces of Beras.

“Gramma, wat are doze things? I want to see, please can I go see?” asked Mimi.

“Not yet. When they're done, I promise to hold you up so you can look at each one, both of you. And I'll tell you the stories of what they are above. I've told you a couple of stories about Skene already, remember? About the children who fly kites and grow up to be pilots?”

“Can we go to Skene?” asked David.

“Only in our imagination. I dreamed it up” said Myra. “When your daddy was about the same age you are now, I wrote the first book.”

The scaffolding was moved so Annie could lie on her back and bolt into place the tempered glass which covered the slanting roof of the canopy. The runoff from this glass emptied into stainless steel gutters which, at a certain filling point, would spray the rain into the interior, insuring irrigation for whatever grew there. However, between the gutter and walls there would be no gap to allow in cold, once the heavy clear plastic awning was attached. In essence, Annie has created for them a unique, 20 foot high convertible greenhouse.

The scaffolding was moved once more so Annie could lie atop a ladder across the roof and attach the finial, a whirling weathervane whose four blades held cutouts of lunar phases. Skene had two moons, and knowing the tides there was a matter of life and death. When Annie slithered back to the ground, triumph radiated from her lanky body. She squatted before Myra, grinning hugely, and said “Plotzed yet?”

“Soaking in it” declared Myra. “You are a genius of an artist. That's the most glorious sculpture I've ever seen." She grabbed Annie's collar and pulled her in for a big smack of a kiss. Leah was able to get her small fingers clamped onto Annie's overall strap and she opened her mouth wide, angling for a kiss as well, which Annie was happy to accept.

“Me too” said David. Annie leaned over the gate and shared kisses with David and Mimi.

“Can we come climb it now?” asked Mimi.

“No” said Myra swiftly. “You cannot ever climb it, you'll damage it and damage yourselves and -- “

“Don't worry, I didn't leave space enough for feet to fit” said Annie. “Besides which, those copper edges will hurt if they try to put their weight on it.”

“There's another work crew coming in an hour to put on the covering” said Myra. “I need to go make lunch for us all. You go eat with Jane, and when you're done, you can come hang out in the house by the glass wall upstairs to watch from there, okay?” She handed Leah back and walked with Annie into the house. The teenagers followed shyly. Ginny was still busy studying technique and assemblage.

After soup and sandwiches, plus fruit bars and several pitchers of lemonade, the second team arrived. Myra spread a refreshed buffet on the dining table and walked back to get the kids from Jane as Ginny came in to eat hurriedly. When Myra returned, she noticed Anthea was haunting the area by the back door. She scooped her up, to Anthea's utter horror at being clamped next to a grabby baby against Myra's chest, and transported Anthea to the front bedroom for imprisonment until the back yard was secure again. Anthea would make a bolt for life on the streets if she could, Myra thought.

After an hour, even the bird's eye view of tedious detail installation palled for the little ones. The electricity had been turned off so the motors controlling the awning could be installed. Myra took them back down to the living room, lit candles by the fireplace, and taught them how to make shadow figures with her hands until they got tired enough to be cranky. She persuaded them to lie down with her on the mat and told quiet stories about Winnie the Pooh until they all dropped off, Myra included.

She woke up to Ginny nudging her, saying “You've been sacked out for two hours, their parents are going to kill you when it's bedtime and they can't go down.”

Myra sat up, noting Leah was overdue for a diaper change and a feeding as well, from the looks of it. Mimi was catapulting herself upright, saying “Can we go see now?”

“It's done” said Ginny. “I'll carry you, okay?”

“Me, me” clamored David. Annie said “I'll take you, if I may” and he didn't hesitate – he had really changed in the last year, thought Myra. She pulled out the diaper bag and said they'd be out later.

Gillam got home from work in time to join Jane for a demonstration of how the sides glided up and down, with an outdoor button but also controls added to the pond keypad inside the house. Myra said to Leah, “This means your birth tree will finally be planted. Uncle Carly and Uncle Eric are going to dig a hole for it on Sunday, and you'll be here to watch our new avocado tree go into the ground. In a few years, we'll be eating guacamole in honor of your birth.”

Mimi swung her fist at Leah's foot, yelling “That's not fair, I want a tree under here!”

“No hitting” said Gillam severely. Ginny said “Your tree is over there, and it's so big we made pies from its cherries this summer, remember?”

Mimi doubled up her fist again and Gillam said “That's it. Home for you.” He pulled her, beginning to scream in protest, through the back gate.

Jane took Leah from Myra and said to David “Come on, brother, we need to go get ready for shabbos.” Myra called after them “I'll see you soon.”

The teenagers were gone, but Annie came back into the house with Myra and Ginny. “Listen, I want to ask a favor: I've got a friend who's an arts reporter, I'd love for her to write a piece about this sculpture and take some photos, would that be all right?”

“Absolutely” said Myra. “Margie said she and Frances have asked you to make a special sign for the restaurant too, is that right?”

“Another challenging project” grinned Annie. “I'm meeting with them Sunday afternoon to go over sketches.”

“Well, join us for the tree planting” said Ginny. “And, if you want to wash up here and borrow a clean shirt before shabbos, feel free.”

“Be glad to” said Annie. Myra pulled out the platter of fried chicken she'd made the night before while Ginny garnished her bulgar salad with last-minute parsley. Annie carried a bottle of shabbos wine and the challah for them as they walked to the gate, looking to their left at the gorgeous new canopy the entire time.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

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