Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Gumbrecht's Green Pit Viper
Gumbrecht's Green Pit Viper (Trimeresurus gumprechti), recently discovered along the Mekong River in Cambodia as one of 1,000 previously unknown species.

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.

October 2016

Annie stayed for poker afterward as well, sitting between Sima and Chris, trying her best to wind up with more chips than Chris. Myra held Leah, who seemed to be absorbing Myra's steady murmur about what the card suits originally meant, how it was linked to the tarot, an ancient matriarchal form of divination that had been concealed in a game to keep it from the fires of Christianity.

At one point, Ginny said “So, next weekend, the hardy woodsfolk will be having their camping weekend, which means shabbos dinner at our house, unless someone else wants it at their place.”

“Uh, no, we'll be here” said Gillam. “Jane's Uncle Charles is coming for the weekend, so we postponing our outing for a week.”

“Uncle Charles, eh? Is this Anton or Jemima's brother?” Ginny asked Jane.

Jane giggled. “Neither. Technically, he's Mom's boyfriend. They've been together since her Deadhead days in San Fran, before she met and married Dad. He's a jazz musician, lives mostly out of his van, does enough sheetrock work to keep it running and buy some weed.”

Myra noticed the verb tenses and avoiding looking at Jane's face. She noticed Ginny had gone still as well. Annie asked “What instrument does he play?”

Jane gave her a “duh” look. “Bass, of course. Charles is his nickname, his real name is Bob. Anyhow, he's dying to meet the grandkids.”

Myra didn't understand the subtext of Jane's statements. Gillam said, in an equally explaining-the-obvious tone, “Charles Mingus, Mom.” Myra knew Mingus was a jazz reference, but that was all. Clearly he'd played bass, however. Gillam muttered to Carly “If it wasn't recorded by Olivia or Redwood -- “

Jane went on “He lives in Livermore, always came for Mom's birthday and usually our birthdays as well. He'd stay for a week or two, helping Dad with the bigger home projects and jamming with us all every night after dinner. Sunday Lucy is driving up with her fiddle and Thad is coming over with his clarinet, we'll have a session that may last till dawn.”

Later, when they were alone, Ginny said to Myra “Well, David is the image of Anton so we know Jane must be his child, not the groovy Charles'.”

“You know, Jemima had eight kids, and she's not the docile whatever hubby wants type. Maybe Charles helped take some of the sexual pressure off Anton” mused Myra. She and Ginny grinned at each other, following a matching train of thought about Jane. In the same breath, they said to each other “Gillam's your son.”

Charles turned out to be charming, helpful, and extremely popular with the children. Myra whispered to Chris “He reminds me so much of somebody, I can't think who.”

Chris, chuckling, said “Remember those brothers on the Newhart show, one named Larry and two of them named Darrell?”

“That's it!” exclaimed Myra. “He looks just like the second Darrell.”

Before the singing began in earnest, Ginny announced “The children have a performance they want to present.” Mimi and David excitedly came to stand next to each other facing the rest of the room. Ginny said, “Oh, da-- dang, I forget the disk with the music, be right back.”

“No need” said Jane, “I can play whatever it is.”

“Well, they especially want to perform it for you” began Ginny. Charles took the piano stool and said “I'll do it, then. What's the music?”

“It has to be exactly like the commercial version, that's what they've practiced do” said Ginny. Charles shrugged, and she whispered the name to him. He began laughing and put his hands on the keys. Myra moved her chair beside Mimi and David, so Leah could sit in her lap and join the line-up.

Their rendition of the macarena was flawless on David's part, energetic on Mimi's, and even Leah managed to wave her fists and turn her head from side to side. Jane and Gillam spent the first go-through in stitches, but joined their children for a second and third dance. The toddlers were almost crazed with success, and Jane suggested they all do a couple rounds of the Electric Slide to burn off energy before moving on to just plain music. Once again, Charles played accompaniment, and David, despite his short legs and nighttime diaper, managed to not miss a step.

Over the next month, the Cally Basa Seed children's book was published, Myra got a bid on her poetry volume, and she wrote two chapters of the first draft on the new Skene book. Ginny was planning a show in Boston for late January, and Frances had flown to L.A. to appear as guest chef on a Food Network series about regional and healthy cuisines. In private, Jane had told Gillam to put away his condoms, after three in a row she saw no point to slow down now.

Qiana had submitted an outline for editing Myra's memoirs. After a long discussion, Myra decided to set aside every Wednesday for meeting with Qiana to go over revisions and rewrites done the previous week. This meant Puppet Day with the grandkids had to be sacrificed. Ginny said she would take them either alone for the afternoon or with backup from Allie and Edwina, and renamed it Citizenship Day, with outings to learn such things as how to ride a bus, how to order at a restaurant, making change, and asking for directions. On bad weather Citizenship Days, they stayed home to write letters to the editor and practice general manners. In November, the day was moved to Tuesday so Gillam could rush on his lunch hour to meet them at their local polling place, and each child helped an adult cast their vote in the election. They went out for hot dogs and ice cream afterward to celebrate participatory democracy.

Myra was also spending most Saturdays immersed in writing. To make up for the loss of Puppet Day, however, she declared one Sunday afternoon a month to be Heroic Quest Day, when she and the grandchildren would dress in costume and act out myths in the backyard. These extended sagas were immediately popular, not just with the children but also with the rest of the family, who loved to eavesdrop on the declamations and melodramatic posturing as Joan declared herself the savior of France or David slew Goliath.

The week before Thanksgiving, Margie called one afternoon to say Annie was installing the new Carminati's sign and they should bring the children to see it turned on. They walked around the corner, meeting Jane in front of a raw iron facade featuring a rustic Italian fishing boat cutting through chop, accompanied by dolphins. In the depths below it were octopus, eels, lobsters, and crabs. Above was a rocky coastline and a village with lights in the windows. The sign was positioned over a pool. Once everyone was ready, Frances turned the switch which sent water cascading down from almost invisible spigots on the bottom of the boat, filling the lower half of the sign with a shimmery sheet.

Mimi insisted on plunging her hands into the cascade, and was allowed to do so while Annie explained how the iron would rust, complementing the ochers and dark shades of Carminati's interior design. David joined Mimi in the wet play, but was avoiding the rather scary-looking octopus at the bottom right corner. Frances said to him “Yeah, that creature has a sharp beak behind her tentacles, see?” She reached into the water, then screamed and drew her arm back. When she held it out a few seconds later, a smear of red covered the underside of her wrist as she cried “It bit me!”

David screamed and tried to climb Jane. Mimi backed up almost into the street but was stopped by Margie, who said “Franny -- “

Frances, with wide eyes, lifted her arm and took a long swipe of the gore with her tongue. As Myra tried to make sense of it, Frances grinned and said “Needs more garlic.”

Jane shoved David toward Ginny and managed to reach the curb before puking, bent over a newspaper box. “Oh my god” said Margie, coming to pat her back, “It's little tube of marinara she brought to fool the kids with, I'm so sorry!”

Frances rushed into the store and returned with a wet napkin and a glass of water, apologizing profusely. Mimi, however, said “Show me, Aunt Fran, show me how you did dat!” Margie took the tube from Frances and demonstrated for Mimi and David. Mimi wanted a smear on her arm, and once Margie complied, Mimi streaked down the sidewalk toward an approaching Gillam, shouting “Daddy, Daddy, I cut my arm on the new sign!”

Gillam went pale but figured out the trick before Mimi licked herself, mostly because Mimi said “It's not spaghetti sauce, it's really blood, you know.” He came to comfort Jane, who said “Caught me off guard, that's all.”

Ginny was looking at Jane keenly, and as they began filing into the restaurant for their family night out, she whispered something to Gillam. They claimed their booth and placed orders before Gillam said to Jane “She's asking.” Jane faced the table with a grin and said “Yep. Baby number four.”

“What baby?” demanded Mimi.

“Mommy is going to give us another brother or sister” said Gillam. Mimi immediately turned and smacked Leah on the cheek. As Leah began screaming, Gillam hauled Mimi from her seat and carried her under his arm to the front door. They returned five minutes later, Mimi's face ravaged by tears. She was seated on the other side of Ginny, and everyone treated her and Leah with equal care.

The following Saturday, Myra went through the side gate and knocked on Margie and Frances' new back door around 9:00 a.m., which is when they tended to eat breakfast, she knew. Margie let her in, wearing a long white T-shirt and fluffy pink slippers. Frances was at the table, eating, but when she greeted Myra she said “You want an omelet? It'll only take a minute.”

Myra had eaten cereal already. She hesitated, then said “I can't pass up one of your omelets.” She added “I read once that some famous chef or cooking school auditioned new chefs by giving them a single egg and asking them to cook it. Omelets are extremely easy, and yet the quality of how it comes out reflects utmost skill.”

Margie pushed the bread board toward Myra as she handed her a plate and fork. Myra cut herself a slice of the chewy rustic rounds Frances baked, spread it with some of the restaurant's lemon marmalade, and took a bite. Frances' omelet, filled with cheese and barely wilted speech, was slid onto her plate a minute later. Myra poured a glass of milk from the jug on the table and gave herself over to heaven as Frances made a second round of omelets for her and Margie.

“Whatcha got there?” asked Margie, pointing to the paper bag Myra had set on the table. With her mouth full, Myra said “I harvested all the herbs I could remember you use from the garden this morning, and put them in individual baggies with wet paper towels like Ginny does. I was up early, didn't sleep well.”

Ginny was on day four of a painting. When the restaurant was being planned, she had arranged to grow the herbs they needed, from seeds which in some cases she'd raised for generations, organic and thriving under her care. She now provided all they used daily, and took suggestions from Frances about changes in variety or seasonal shifts. Myra was happy to have done the harvest this morning.

Margie put the bag in their refrigerator. Back in her seat, she asked “How's the painting coming?”

“She began humming an hour ago. She'll be done by lunch, I think, and sleep until dinner” said Myra. “How goes the planning for your civil union reception?”

“We can't decide where to have it” said Margie. “If we use the restaurant, it means on a day when it's closed and paying staff overtime. If we do it at home, well, we need more furniture, our two guest rooms are still empty. Plus our back yard is still ugly from construction.”

Ginny and Myra had talked over the implications of Frances and Margie having those extra bedrooms, with no conclusion.

“You can of course use our house, but we've already made that clear. As have Jane and Gillam” said Myra. “If you want help getting the yard in shape and more furniture, Ginny and I will volunteer to do as much as you need, part of our gift to you. Under your direction, of course” she added with a grin.

“Part of the problem is lack of RSVP's” said Frances. “Except, get this, my Uncle Connie and his family are coming from New York, we just found out.”

“Is he a Carminati or Badoglio?” asked Myra.

“Dad's brother. He manages the original Bistro Veneto, the one my Nona started, although he's more interested in being a big shot than in keeping up quality, I think” said Frances, her dark eyes going a little hard.

“He's hinting around about changing the name of the restaurant to another Carminati's” said Margie. “Which of course is his last name, he's got the right, but Frances thinks, and I agree, the real reason is to ride on her jetstream, now that she's been on TV twice and her cookbook is selling so well.”

“I'm steamed about it” admitted Frances. “For the obvious reasons, but also because I deliberately stayed away from using the name Bistro Veneto, out of deference to him and Dad who had already had the East and West Coast versions of the family store. And now with Dad retiring, if Uncle Connie gives up the name, too, there won't be any left under the original family banner.”

Myra licked marmalade from her butter knife with her tongue as she thought. “Well, Frances...You've copyrighted the pizza franchise, right, because you want to open other branches here?”

“If I can rent that little place in Queen Anne, there'll be a second just-pizza store by January” said Frances.

“And you do catering here and there. Why don't you copyright the name Carminati's? Come up with a set of standards, guidelines, about what it means to operate under that name. And when the subject comes up, you can tell your uncle he's of course welcome to join you in using that name, but he has to abide by your business practices in order to not damage your trade” said Myra.

Margie smacked Frances' shoulder. “There you go, that will work. He won't want to give in to letting a girl tell him how to do things, but the rest of the family will back you up, I bet.” She said to Myra “You surprise me with how middle class connivy that idea was.”

“I have my moments” said Myra. “Plus, if he does give up the Bistro Veneto name, there's no reason you can't snag it for your next store, wherever that is.”

Frances was pleased. “I do like him, as an uncle, just not as a manager. And I'm touched by their flying out here, especially dragging along my cousin Marie. She's 14, an only kid and spoiled rotten. She hero worshipped me when she was little but she's treated me like old fish for a year now.”

Myra remembered what Margie was like at that age and silently commiserated. Although, considering Frances' personality, she was likely just as sullen and volatile a teenager as Margie had been.

Frances said, “Listen, once lunch is over, Imani and I are doing the week's production of ravioli this afternoon before dinner prep arrives. Would you like to join us, learn some of the secrets?”

“I'd love to” said Myra, her face lighting up.

Margie said to Frances, her voice masking some emotion, “So I guess you won't be free any time this afternoon to go look at – places, you know.”

“Not this afternoon, no” said Frances easily. “But feel free to do research without me.”

Myra's sonar was pinging. Margie explained “We're thinking about getting a dog . I'm not sure I'm up for the responsibility of a puppy. I mean, I already have babies out my ears thanks to Gillam. So when we started talking about getting a dog who's already grown, Frances suggested some of those animal rescue places, like dogs coming back from war.”

“Or retired greyhounds, or pit bulls needing rehab” said Frances.

Myra was alarmed. “You do remember, I hope, that this dog would have to be completely reliable around tiny children, and cats, and rabbits, for that matter?”

“Of course, Mama” said Margie. “These folks doing the placement, they vet the dogs thoroughly, they won't place them in a family like ours if they can't handle the demands we'll put on them.”

“Well, in that case, mazel tof. It's been plain wrong for you to not have a dog at your side” said Myra. “And Ginny will be over the moon.”

“I'll come over at dinner and talk to you both about the yard and furniture offer” said Margie.

“Expect ravioli” said Myra, standing to return home.

She made chicken salad and sauteed green beans in a mustard sauce against the point when Ginny emerged ravenous from Painterland. She rearranged items on her study wall to make room for the watercolor Allie had given her. The recently published Cally Basa book featured a garden visitor called the Warrum Arsenica, a deadly viridian viper whom everyone else finds terrifying. Little Cally Basa, however, befriends the serpent by feeding it fried potatoes. It agrees to give up biting any living thing in exchange for guarding their yard against incursions by vermin. At night, the Warrum would slither inside and sleep in one of Cally Basa's red wool socks. Allie had painted the snake coil peeking out from the sock, in a pool of candlelight, as the closing page of the book. Myra was enamored of the snake, now, creating new stories to tell the grandkids. Frances had gotten into the action by creating a recipe she called “The Warrum Antidote”, gnocci in an artichoke cream sauce.

Ginny was carrying a huge plate of food to the tub for a joint soak and feast when Myra left for her ravioli session. Later that night, when they went to bed, she described in detail for Ginny the deep harmony of Frances and Imani's bodies as they maneuvered the kitchen, their intuitive understanding of what needed to happen next, and the extreme satisfaction they shared in their job.

Ginny had startled Myra by asking “Did how they were remind you of what it's like to work with Cuchilla?”

“Uh...Well, not exactly. There's a physicality to their connection that we don't have” said Myra. “But – maybe in some ways.” She waited for any evidence of further jealousy from Ginny. None was forthcoming. Instead, Ginny switched to talking about Margie's surprise at dinner.

Myra had created three different veggie sauces for the walnut ravioli she'd brought home, and was about to drop the pillows into boiling salted water, when Margie's voice came from the back door, saying “Listen, is Keller downstairs right now?”

“Nope, up on my desk” said Myra, not looking around. Then she heard Ginny say “Oh my god, she's beautiful.”

Myra looked then. Margie had a brindle greyhound on a red leash, standing stiffly next to her thigh, reluctant to enter the house. Just as Myra realized a second leash, blue, trailed around the door frame to the right, a second greyhound came into view, this one sooty black with a white throat and one white sock on its back foot. Both dogs had laid-back ears and wide eyes.

“Come on. These are your grandmothers” Margie said coaxingly. She walked backward into the house and the dogs followed gingerly, looking around for danger while attempting to simultaneously keep an eye on Ginny and Myra in the kitchen. Margie shut the door and sat down on the floor, spreading her legs and pulling the brindle hound against her lap. Myra realized the dog was trembling, she could see it through the short fur.

Myra walked slowly toward them and sat down on the floor as well several feet away. She said “Are these loaners? What did you do this afternoon?”

“I started with the greyhound rescue folks, and, well, I fell in love” said Margie. “This is a brother and sister who they really wanted to place together, because they've not been separated since birth. This angel in my lap is the sister. They're two years old and already washed up from racing. They've been tested with kids and small animals, and the woman who's been fostering them they couldn't be gentler. Shy, in fact, but not in an edgy, about to freak out way.”

Ginny had come to sit next to Margie. Myra's gaze was on the black dog, who kept returning her look, then glancing away.

“What are their names?” asked Ginny. Margie winced. “Well, that's the one drawback. I don't feel good about changing them at this age, but – They've been called Gidget and Moondoggie.”

Myra laughed, trying to keep it quiet. The black brother, whom she surmised must be Moondoggie, looked at her hopefully. “Come here, Moon, old boy” she urged, reaching out a hand. He turned and communicated something with his sister. Margie said “It's all right” and clicked off his leash. After half a minute, he tottered toward Myra, stopping when her hand began scratching behind his ears.

“Come lean against me” said Myra, opening her arms wide. He took a deep breath, looked back at his sister again, and, very slowly, slid into Myra's embrace, his eyes showing a little white around the edges. Myra kissed the top of his head and murmured “Moondoggie...I happen to love that name. Oh, you're a sweetheart and a half, aren't you?”

He collapsed against her, his tail bobbing back and forth. “He's so soft” marveled Myra. “And talk about a tiny waist.”

“The woman said they get cold easily, and don't need as much exercise as you'd expect, though of course lots of walks like any dog” said Margie. “No overfeeding, and they're supposed to be fantastically loyal. Smart, and affectionate, and these two haven't barked yet.” Her hands had never stopped massaging Gidget, who now had her eyes half-closed.

“You could call her Gidge, and him Moon like Myra did” suggested Ginny. “I think it's great you have a pair, so they have each other to help make the adjustment.”

“She's the alpha” said Margie. “I haven't told Frances yet, though.”

“She'll be thrilled” asserted Ginny. “And this way, you each have a pup to be your special companion.”

“Gidge” whispered Margie in the brindle ear, betraying her preference. Moon didn't notice: He was soaking up Myra's adoration. Myra was a little distracted, however, by a strange sound which at first she thought was steam coming from the boiling pasta pot. It was to her right, thought, not from behind her. She looked around and saw Mother Courage atop the sideboard, fluffed out to amazing proportions, giving out a steady low hiss. In the sudden silence, Moon noticed Mother too, and clumsily turned his body away from her, trying to hide his face under Myra's arm. Gidge had spotted Mother as well, and silently looked at Margie for guidance.

“Oh my” said Margie, watching them. “Let's hope Anthea doesn't burst through the cat door right now.”

“It's a good sign that their reaction is to avoid confrontation” said Ginny.

“Yeah. Still, I'm going to take them home, this is enough trauma for one day. I have their beds from their foster place, I'll put them next to my desk for now and give them some dinner, then take a walk and – might as well – stop by the back door of the store to let Frances see what I've brought home.” When she stood, both dogs became very alert. Moon was compliant in being releashed. Myra said “Come back tomorrow, I'll have dog treats in stock by then”, with a final rub of Moon's head.

Margie said “We'll talk about stuff tomorrow, okay?”

“You bet” said Myra. “I hadn't gotten around to telling Ginny about it, anyhow. You want some salad to take with you?”

“No, I'll cadge a plate from Franny” said Margie. “Okay, back home, you ready?” Her corsairs glided through the door in her wake. After she was gone, Ginny said “I can't believe I'm saying this, tired as I am, but I'm positively going to have to paint that brindle fur.”

“Margie has dogs again” said Myra happily, dropping her ravioli into water.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.


Jesse Wendel said...


There are puppies in the house.

*smiles* This is a goodness. (Not that I want them in my house you understand. But I love them just fine, fictionally.)

C. Diva said...

Discrepancy, alas. As of this year, the entire state of Washington is vote by mail.