Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Willard Street Inn, Burlingon, Vermont
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

After a minute, Ginny called Nancy's number. She got voice mail and hung up again. She made a mental list: Edwina and Allie – no, not yet, she didn't want the over-the-line version of that look exchanged between them. Sima – no, she might get Chris and she could hear Chris's laugh already. Margie – nope, she hadn't redeemed herself yet there. Maybe Cathy?

Fact was, the person she most wanted to call for advice, for calm, was Myra herself. Her best friend. She tried to set aside all the screams of betrayal in her head and imagine what Myra might have to say, if Ginny were talking about the behavior of someone else. Within seconds, she heard Myra's gentle humor saying “Well, what would you do if you weren't making this absolutely all about you, Ginny Bates?”

She licked her lips, realizing her mouth was cotton dry. She could hear her pulse in her ears. Why would Myra have left Bread Loaf, if not to shack up with Cuchilla? She didn't have an answer to that question, but at least she could ask the question. All right, if not why, then where? Where in Burlington would she have gone? Why not Liza's house?

She and Myra had only stayed at one place in Burlington, the Willard Street Inn. If Myra had gone there to be with Cuchilla – no, set that aside for the moment. Just see if she could be located. Ginny picked up her cell and checked the crowded number log that Myra teased her about never clearing out. Yep, there was the number for Willard Street Inn. She pushed dial and when the desk clerk answered, she asked for Myra. Her mind began reeling again when the clerk said “Let me connect you.”

There were two rings, that much time to breathe in and out before she heard Myra's voice saying with obvious curiosity “Hello?”


Long silence. Then “My fucking god, Ginny, how in the hell did you just call me here? I've been there all of ten minutes. This is too freaky for words.”

What else but the truth? “I called Bread Loaf and they said you'd checked out, gone to Burlington. I thought it was worth a try.”

“I have to sit down, this is a jolt. Wow. But it's so good to hear your voice in person. Hang on a sec, willya?” She heard Myra say “It's Ginny, I don't know how long I'll be.” She could hear Cuchilla, though not clearly enough to know what she was saying. Myra's voice, a little removed, came back “Yeah, anything with real meat in it, preferably beef or pork. No tofu under any circumstances. And if they have actual salads with something besides iceberg, and veggies that are not old and yellow, I'd love it. Plus the biggest Coke they've got, or two if they're small. Just keep it, I'll come find you when I'm done.”

Myra's voice returned strong in her ear “Hey, Gin. Okay, it's just me and you now. I was about to call you anyhow. We got a ride suddenly from Middlebury and Cuchilla's cell was spotty on the road, so I'm sorry I didn't let you know about the change of location beforehand. Why are you calling, are you okay?”

I don't know, thought Ginny. “I – I just needed to talk with you.”

“Good, then. So, the story is, we got popular over there, individually and then as the cool old dyke poets, and literally every half hour someone was dropping in to visit. No work space could be had. Plus, this morning, the internet connection in my room went out. They said I could go to the library and use the computers there, they still had DSL, but fuck that, I needed to be able to reach home at any hour of the day or night. And, well, to be honest, Gin, I needed some solitude, not just from the acolytes but, well, it's been great with Cuchilla but I wanted a room of my own, like Ginny Wolfe said, you know? Which is why I chose a hotel instead of Liza's – this way I could pay for Cuchilla's room, pay for separate space, without it looking like rejection. I mean, I don't want to force her on Liza, whom I'm seeing for dinner later, by the way. Plus, I realized if I came here, you'd have a phone to reach me directly. So we packed in a rush and boom, here we are.”

Ginny did an internal dance over the fact that Cuchilla had her own room, separate from Myra's. She didn't know what to say next.

“Gin? You there?”

“The poetry you've been writing, angel – we were all talking about it, it's so beautiful. Gillam said it's the best you've ever done.” Ginny suddenly burst into tears, agonizing crying she had no hope of stopping.

“Ginny, oh sweetheart, what's wrong?”

“I missed you” Ginny choked out.

“I've missed you like billy-ho, too. So much has been going on inside, like my artist soul is being remapped, and there's no way to really convey that in an e-mail, you know? You can keep crying, I'm right here. I need to go rent a car before the place closes, but that give us at least an hour, so no rush.”

Ginny felt dishonest, but it did not seem possible to tell Myra over the phone all the doubts she had been having. It was too good just to have her within reach again, being tender and available. Finally she was able to say “Do you have a direct number in the room there, where I don't need to go through the switchboard?”

“Yeah, let me give that to you. Ginny, you sound pretty freaked out.”

“I have been.”

“Because of the phone thing?”

“Oh, more than that. We'll talk about it when you get back, okay? It's just – crap.”

“Well, you know, tu crappa es mi crappa.”

Ginny began laughing as hard as she had been crying.

“So what else do you want to say, Ginny?”

“Um...we found out today that the biggest food critic on the West Coast gave a rave to Carminati's. In particular, he talked about her dish Meglio del Mare Marjorita. Frances' publisher is trying to get that blurb onto her cookbook jacket now.”

“Fabulous. How goes the renovation?”

“Better than ours was, but Margie's in a constant dither about it.”

“Of course. And the babies?”

“Leah doesn't understand why you're not here, I can tell she's looking around for you. Mimi tried to put doll clothes on Franklin and got scratched pretty thoroughly. David picked the lock on the gate across the front stairs and was up half a flight before I caught him.”

“He's got very deft little fingers, that David. Listen, Ginny, there's something I should probably wait to tell you in person, but I want to do it now, are you up for a serious talk?”

Ginny's chest closed in again. “If you think it best, Myra.”

“I don't want to upset you. But...You know I've not been getting what I need. Not all of it. Talking with Cuchilla has made it really clear in my mind. So, I'm ready to make a decision. It will affect us, though – me and you.”

Ginny's mind was repeating please god, please god, please god. She managed to say “Okay.”

“My memoir...It's too much for me to know how to structure it, how to edit it. And it's too much to ask even Cuchilla to wade through. I mean, she's a writer, she has her own work which should be her primary focus. And in our family, well, maybe Gillam has the ability to do that kind of review but he has two full-time jobs as it is. So...I want to hire an editor. A professional, who's got tons of experience and can understand my kind of writing, who'll be able to push me without pissing me off. And someone not from the publisher, because those folks – they have other skills, not the ones I need. But it'll mean money, a big chunk of it, to hire this out. It may eat up all the income I make from the book, I don't know, depends on who I find. I can't rely on a graduate student for this. Does that make sense?”

Ginny had closed her eyes to keep from fainting in relief. “Yes” she croaked.

“Are you okay?”

Ginny cleared her throat. “Yeah, just – I need to get a drink of something. Go on.”

“Well, I made a couple of contacts here who suggested folks I might call. I can do the interviews when I get back, but I – I really want to find someone who's dedicated to my writing, who'll be a coach and – I'm sorry it's not you, Ginny, I hope you don't feel left out.”

“I'm sorry it's not me, either, Myra, but you have nothing to apologize for. Of course we'll get you what you need. Whatever it takes.”

“Hallelujah. I mean, I pretty much knew you'd say that, but it matters so much to me, Ginny, I've been antsy – I really want to get back and drop my book into capable hands. Plus, I didn't tell you this yet, night before last I had a couple of dreams and I've realized I have the plot for a fifth Skene book rattling around in my head.”

“No kidding?”

“Yeah, all my original characters are dead now, you know, and their kids are elderly, so this will be the adventures of the third generation. After the big migration, after all the cultural change, showing how they've coped with it. I'm ready to move on there, as well. Ginny, you were so right that I needed to come here and do this. The place itself didn't really offer me answers, but hooking up with Cuchilla plus the permission to be nothing but a writer, it busted down some doors for me.”

“I say hallelujah too, then.”

“Have you been painting, or working on furniture?”

“No. It's been – hard. But maybe I'll be able to now. You get back in four days, I could start a canvas and if I'm not done, I could stop it for a day when you get home” said Ginny.

“Or not. As long as we get to sleep together and catch up later. And I get to eat from your garden, I'm so spoiled, Ginny, I really hate veggies that come from commercial sources.”

They talked on for half an hour, and when Ginny hung up, she called Nancy to make another appointment before Myra returned. She made some tea, singing softly, and headed upstairs to stretch a canvas.

Myra's plane came from the East Coast arrived shortly after noon the next Friday. Ginny was at the gate to meet her. They made out a little when they reached the car in the parking lot, like teenagers, Myra said. Ginny was lightheaded, having been up all night painting and probably a little dehydrated as well. Myra drove them home, where they found Margie heating up a leftover sausage and artichoke pasta dish from last night's menu at the store.

“Mom has a salad for you in the fridge, but I thought you'd like this as well” said Margie.

“And you wanted to see me, didn't you, baby girl?” grinned Myra, hugging her tightly.

“I did. I have the afternoon off because I need to work all day tomorrow at the U lab in a joint project” said Margie. “I could hang out with you while you bake bread.”

Myra grinned even wider. “Ordinarily, I'd grab at it. But I was up before dawn, and apparently Ginny hasn't slept at all. We're heading off for a nap after eating. And no, that's not a euphemism for jumping each other.”

“Not necessarily” added Ginny. “Still, sit down, eat with us. Myra, you want tea?”

“Non-caffeinated” said Myra. “I'm going to detox now I'm back home.” Keller had come yowling down the stairs, and Myra scooped her into her lap, exclaiming hellos at the cat.

“How was Cuchilla?” asked Margie, not looking at Ginny.

“She had a blast. She's taking home a completely revamped poetry volume and reams of new work. I've got the same, plus.”

“And Liza, how's Liza?” asked Ginny.

“Oh, we had the best damned time night before last. I found these ham steaks in the Burlington farmer's market that are from free-range pigs, and I made dinner for us all, with mashed potatoes and some local green beans whose variety I wrote down, they were the best I ever had. And a chocolate cake. Then we watched the newest Aaron Sorkin drama, making hilarious comments throughout. We sat up talking till 2:00 a.m., even though I had a final reading the next morning. She sends her love to us all here, and says now you need to come for a solo visit with her, Ginny.”

“I'll take her up on that” said Ginny. They were now at the table, serving themselves. Myra peered out the glass wall and said “Looks like the new gate is all done. Will you take me on a tour of your house later?”

“After the work crew leaves” said Margie. “So I can rant about all the deadlines they've missed this week.” She fished a cherry tomato from her salad, ate it in one bite, then said “So...have you talked about all the drama while you were gone?”

“What drama?” said Myra. Ginny set down her fork and glared at Margie.

Margie said “Mom went ballistic because Cuchilla lied to you about not knowing you'd be at Bread Loaf and because she thought that somehow you'd fall prey to her tactics. When I told her that was stupid, she told me I could just shut the fuck up since I'd bought my partner with a house and business, what could I possibly know.”

After two incendiary seconds, Myra burst into laughter. “Good one, Margie. You went over the line or I'd have believed maybe part of it.”

But Ginny and Margie were not laughing, were not even smiling, their gaze locked on each other across the table. Myra stilled, and Ginny said “Well, she put that unmistakable Margo Batiz spin on it, but that's more or less an accurate account.”

Now Myra's gaze was fixed on Ginny. “You said that to Margie? About Frances?”

“I did, and I've already apologized for it.”

“But she's here, waiting for me to get home, to tell me about it before I can finish a meal. So it's burning a canker inside her” said Myra slowly. She turned to Margie and put both her hands over her daughter's. “I'm so sorry, darling. It's not true, and she knows it's not true. I promise you, on my honor.”

Margie's stony face dissolved as she lay her face forward onto the backs of Myra's hands and began crying. Ginny immediately came to hold her from behind, whispering “I'm so sorry, too, I did a terrible thing and there's no truth to it at all, I swear it to you, too.”

Myra let them reach out to one another. She drank her tea and sorted through her mind. When Ginny sat back in her chair and looked at Myra, Myra said “I ought to be pissed at you, saying such a thing like that to our daughter. If you were someone else, I'd be ready to boot you out the door.”

“Why aren't you, then?” asked Ginny, with a hint of challenge.

“It's been coming on for a while, I think. This whole mishegas.” Myra looked at Margie for a minute and said “We're about to have the kind of talk we usually do alone. I'm assuming, since you waded in here, you're ready to be part of it.”

Margie hadn't consciously made that decision, it was clear, but she wouldn't back out now. “Go ahead.”

Myra looked at Ginny again. “To back up a bit, a few days ago I was going through my notebook and noticed that a photograph of me was on the front of the Bread Loaf brochure this year. Which meant Cuchilla had to know I'd be there. So yes, she must have lied. Unlike you, however, I stopped to think about why she would lie, for something other than evil reasons. I've been as hard up as she's been this year, Ginny. Not in decades, but I still remember trying to find hope in impossible places. I had empathy for her, and the truth was, by that time we'd begun the work we were actually meant to do together, a connection that will wind up meaning more to her than if her romantic fantasy had come to pass. I love her, and respect her, and I let it slide because she showed up for the real connection after all.”

“All right” said Ginny, breathing deeply.

“I had a lot of room to think. One thing I noticed about most of the other writers there is that they are either single, moving from relationship to relationship without leaning a whole lot from it despite the reams of writing they do about it, or they're partnered with someone who has placed all their ambition in being the helpmeet of an artist. They've found their Alice B. Toklas, as it were. And they would gush on and on about how different from boring old home it was to be at a gathering like this, to talk with other artists who understood how special we are, blah, blah, blah, a lot of which was just snake oil to get into some young person's pants, you dig.” Myra stopped for another sip of tea.

Ginny said “I know exactly what you mean. I noticed that at Pilchuck, too, although I didn't put it into so many words.”

“But me and you, Gin, we live with another artist. We live by art, among art, and we've had to find a way to be equals. Not just because we're the same gender, but because for a brief blip of time, our gender decided to toss out all the horseshit about complementary opposites, all the dance-of-dominance masculine-feminine putrefaction, and live on the actual edge of the precipice, negotiating eye-to-eye in each new second. I mean, as best we could. And to not just be artists, but parents and citizens and save the world, too, when we could squeeze it in. You know how consciously we took that turn in the road, how we wake up each morning and choose it again. So why do you fall prey to the fear that what I really want is a wifey? Why do you see me as someone who could be seduced away from my heart's desire?”

Myra had leaned back in her chair to ask this question. Now she sat up straight again and resumed eating from her plate.

“I've been working on that question, Myra. I've seen Nancy twice.” Ginny stopped. “Before we go on in this direction, I just want to say to Margie, when you said how I attacked you was me channeling drunk Helen, you were absolutely right. I don't ever want to admit I'm like her, but I picked up some of her world view in spite of my best efforts, and it comes out at the ugliest moments.”

“Not just Helen” said Myra, crunching a crouton in her teeth.

“What do you mean?” said Ginny.

“It's David, too. And Rosa, I'm pretty sure, though I never met her” said Myra. She turned to Margie, “Anti-semitism gets picked up by Jews and non-Jews alike, you know. We all internalize shit about the groups we belong to.”

Addressing Ginny's shocked face, Myra said “I'm willing to bet your parents hurled accusations of using each other for financial security in their fights, both of them, not just Helen. And I bet Rosa made comments about how you had to be careful in choosing your friends and sweethearts, they'd be angling for money or influence from you if you didn't look sharp.”

“How in hell would you know what? I've never said that.” Ginny's face was staying pale.

“Because that's what upward mobility does to folks. Plus – whenever Rosa wanted to help you toward independence, she gave you money, not other forms of intervention. And David expressed his initial approval of me by giving us that check for 50 grand, not by coming to visit more or making Helen get off her goddamned throne. They were accustomed themselves to buying emotional loopholes, they certainly would expect it of other people” said Myra calmly. She said to Margie again “So, your mom doesn't really believe all that garbage, but it was shoved down her gullet at a tender age and sometimes it urps back up. Your job is to not hand it on. As best you can.”

She added, almost to herself:
“They fuck you up, your mum and dad
They may not mean to, but they do
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.”

Margie giggled abruptly. Her lunch had been eaten. She reached out with her fork and stole a slice of avocado Ginny had been saving at the side of her own plate.

Myra said to Ginny “She's all right now. She needed to know I didn't agree with you, and that you were working on your shit. You can leave it up to her from this point out.”

Ginny said quietly “We didn't have any way of knowing what kind of ballast we'd be for each other as parents, not really. We lucked out.”

“Maybe” said Myra. “I'm sleep-deprived and high on poetry at the moment, I kinda think maybe we were smarter than we give ourselves credit for. Anyhow, back to the elephant in the room...”

Ginny glanced in Margie's direction with a look of misgiving. Margie caught it and, after a couple of heartbeats, said “If you'd rather I not be here, it's okay.”

“No...” said Ginny unconvincingly. Myra patted Margie's hand again and said “It's fine if you stay. Really. She's my sweetheart, I'll be the one taking care of her.”

At these words, Ginny let her shoulders sag. “Oh, Myra. It's such a cesspool that I've uncovered.”

“They always are. Give me the main lie that flashes through your head when it hits.”

“I'm not your first choice. I've never been anybody's first choice. Until Margie was born, that is.” Ginny broke into sobs. Margie looked dumbfounded.

Ginny's word came out in a torrent. “The only reason I'm alive is because abortion was impossible to find in Denver in 1956, and yeah Daddy loved me but on the sly, by the time I'd given up on finding a way to make Mother notice me, Cathy was out of the house and – oh, why the fuck haven't I gotten over this? I didn't date, I didn't even let myself hope much, until I was grown, and then my first lover, I was just a baby dyke-wanna-be at a concert who somehow got her into bed, she had her main lover in Portland and others elsewhere, I wasn't even her second choice. And Jules, I thought she wanted me but she wanted my adoration, not me. And I'm the one who made the move on Dakin and Bonnie, too. So I waited on you, yes, Myra, a lot longer than you actually know, I met you while I was still in love with Jules but you caught my eye even then. I waited and waited, because this time, this goddamned time, I was going to have the satisfaction of someone turning to me and asking ME, choosing me. Only you took so long, and sometimes I remember how long it was, and it just crashes in on me, you know, what if I just happened to be there right when you were ready to do something different but I'm not really what would have been your first choice? What if you keep growing and you grow out of loving me, because I'm more a symbol of love than who you think you love?”

Myra's voice was light and dry. “Wow, that'd kinda suck, wouldn't it?”

Margie gaped at her, but Ginny began laughing hysterically even as she still wept. “Fuck you, Myra Josong. Fuck you for being so sure.”

“Can't help it.” Myra removed Keller from her lap, slid into the chair next to Ginny, and pulled Ginny onto her lap. “I wish I could fix that little girl's broken heart, though. I wish I was that powerful.”

“Fuck, I know, the only person who can fix it is me, god fucking dammit!” wailed Ginny.

“Well, you're doing a good job of it” said Myra.

“I have to get over this, Myra. I'm sick of this set of luggage!” ranted Ginny.

“Yep” said Myra. Ginny soaked her collar and eventually had to stop crying in order to breathe, blowing her nose on a napkin.

“Toss that on the floor if you're done with it” said Myra. “It goes straight to laundry.”

Ginny smiled blurrily at her. “I fucking missed you. More than you missed me, I think.”

“Well, why is it I can't leave this place without stuff falling apart?” teased Myra.

“Oh, shut up” said Ginny, laughing. “Wait till you see the painting I did.”

“Later” said Myra. “I'm down to my final ounces of fuel. I need to go sleep, and so do you, wacky girl.” She turned to Margie and said “We're not going to be able to bring a dish for shabbos, will you get something on our behalf from Frances? We'll pay later.”

Margie said “Of course. And go on to bed, I'll clear the table.” She stood to kiss Ginny's cheek, saying “You're a creampuff, if I could only remember that.”

Ginny stood and pulled Myra to her feet. “My calves ache” she said.

“C'mon, Keller, you can doss with us just this once” said Myra, starting up the stairs. As Ginny reached her side, Myra said “I need a new map of Skene from you, one that shows the town a hundred years later.”

“Sleep first” said Ginny. “Sleep in your arms.”


© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

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