Wednesday, December 31, 2008

GINNY BATES: THE WHALE SHARK

(Whale shark iron gate sculpture in Los Zacatitos, Baja California, Mexico by John Warren)

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.

4 May 2018

The following morning, just past sun-up, Margie and Ginny were at the table when Chris let herself out of the front bedroom. She came and sat with them, pouring a cup of coffee but declining a bowl of oatmeal.

“Well?” asked Margie.

Chris looked short on sleep. “I did my best. I saw it land, but it didn't sink in. Rolled off like rain on chaparral, I think.”

“What are you talking about?” said Ginny.

Margie turned to her. “Aunt Chris tried to bust through. Aunt Allie's trying, too.”

“Allie called her nuts” said Chris, with a grin. “Funny how my friends throw that word around.”

Ginny was staring at her. Chris tapped the table beside Ginny and said “So, how about you? Are you crazy, too?”

After several seconds, Ginny said quietly “Yes.” Margie was startled.

“Well, you're rich. We'll keep them away from you, out there. Listen, I need to run, I want to catch Sima before she leaves the house.” Chris carried her cup to the sink on her way out.



Margie played with her spoon for a couple of minutes, as Ginny stared into space – or maybe she was watching the front of the house. Finally Margie said “Tonight is shabbos again. Are you coming?”

Ginny looked dismayed at finding out how much time had passed. “No” she said hoarsely.

“Well, then, you're not just sitting here. You've eaten exactly one bite of the oatmeal, and I made it the way you do, like wheat paste. So put on some clean clothes, not those funky sweatpants again, and you're coming home with me. I want to see you refuse Frances' breakfast. Then – that rosebush you gave me, the Audrey Hepburn, it's got problems. You need to be in the sun for a couple of hours. After that, Edwina is taking you to her house until late afternoon. You can come hole back up here while the rest of us welcome the sabbath.”

Margie's voice wasn't irritated but it was final. Ginny trudged upstairs while Margie carried the oatmeal outside and dumped it on the bird feeding tray. She left a note for Myra, outlining the day's plans but with no appeals in it.

Myra emerged from her room around 11:00. She read the note, opened a Coke, and drank it down standing in the kitchen. Then she put on shoes and walked out to her meditation bench by the pond, Keller trailing after her. It was overcast but not imminently rainy.

After half an hour, Allie came in the front gate carrying a small paper bag. “I made you a ham sandwich, the way you like it” said Allie. “And there's a bottle of cranberry juice in there. I ain't leaving until you take at least two bites and drink all the juice.”

“So you get custody of me while Edwina sits with Ginny, is that how it works?” said Myra flatly. She unwrapped the sandwich and sniffed at it, then set it down. She opened the juice and took a couple of sips. Keller's nose was twitching. Myra picked up the sandwich again and took a small bite.

“My, I don't get why you won't go see Nancy. I know you freaked completely out, but it ain't like you to refuse help from the one place that always worked before. Are you trying to die or something?” asked Allie.

“I feel like I'm already dead” said Myra. “I'm just waiting for the dirt to drop on me.”

“That you plan, then? Wait to either die or for somebody to save you?” said Allie with a trace of anger in her voice.

“I don't have a plan. I have no fucking clue, except to stay away from any room where Ginny might be, since I'm trapped here” said Myra bitterly.

“It not Gitmo” said Allie.

“Don't you get it, asswipe?” burst out Myra. “I spent my entire adult life trying to clean up the residue from being raised by liars, by a man who never did anything but lie and a woman who covered for him at the expense of her own kids. And now I find out I chose as a soulmate another woman who is just as big a liar, just as willing to use me like toilet paper to keep from having to deal with the consequences of her own behavior. I'm too fucking old to clean this up. I'm ruined, every choice I've made is in the crapper.”

“Every choice?” said Allie.

“Oh, hell, I don't know. I can't figure how to sort it out” said Myra, putting down the sandwich.

“That why you need help” persisted Allie.

Myra leaned forward with her head in her hands. “Maybe I can move in with Margie and Frances. Or the back bedroom at Jane and Gillam's. I can't afford to buy Ginny out of this house, and I don't have any of my own money left, except for the pension. I guess I could start drawing on that. I don't want to lose access to the grandkids.”

“You trying to solve the wrong problems first” said Allie.

Myra looked up at her, her eyes flat. “You know what? If this is the best listening you can manage right now, I'd rather not have you around.”

Allie stood up stiffly, then bent over to press an imaginary crease in her jeans. When she righted herself again, she said “I'm not giving up on you. I'm just taking a little break. Or not, if you don't want even that.”

“I know you're not gonna walk on me, Billups. That much I do know” said Myra, putting her head back in her palms.

“Okay. Well, see you later” said Allie. Myra heard the gate click close. She lifted her head to look at the whale shark carving. In one of the concave spots on its back, near the head, was something brown – a fallen leaf, maybe. She stood tiredly to go pull it out. It would not dislodge, however. It was a solid small hump that left dust on her fingertips.

“I think it's some kind of cocoon, maybe a tiny wasp larva” said a voice beside her. Myra turned to see her mother standing there, vivid and opaque. Myra leaned her palm flat against the whale shark and closed her eyes. When she opened them again, her mother was still there. Keller had her head turned toward the space her mother occupied, her ears tilted forward.

“I should have known you'd appear one of these times” said Myra. “Or maybe this is an outright sign of my going off the deep end – I've never seen anyone before, only heard them.”

“I chose to come this time” said Jo. “You've never needed me this much.”

I most earnestly beg to differ Myra thought.

Jo laughed. “Of course you'll argue, you always did argue with me.”

“This proves I'm hallucinating” Myra said. “Because how could you read my thoughts...” Her voice trailed off. She felt very sick to her stomach.

“You're leading up to making the biggest mistake of your life, you little slack-jawed moonwit” her mother said in a conversational tone.

I haven't heard that phrase, or even thought of it, in decades thought Myra. Slack-jawed moonwit, she used that all the time. But I'm dredging up memory, it's no proof of anything.

Jo turned around and crooned to Keller “You are such a wonderful kitty, I'm glad to meet you.” Keller stood, preening. Jo bent over to pick her up, and Myra heard her mother distinctly break wind. Keller pushed against her mother's chest, with a purr Myra could also hear.

Myra had forgotten the details of what her mother looked like. She stared at Jo's brown eyes, the dark patches below them, the missing molar which showed when she smiled. Her pantsuit wasn't familiar to Myra, and she thought zanily “Is there a Lane Bryant in the afterlife?” She wanted to touch her, to melt into her mama's arms. But she was already going crazy. She stayed put.

As Jo stroked Keller's forehead, she said “Your Ginny: I didn't send her to you, you found her on your own. I did play a hand in those children of yours, but I was working with another old woman, on her side of the family. Which is why Margie came first, not Gillam; I didn't have seniority, as it were. Ginny is the right one for you, Myra. She always has been and remains so. You have to stop embracing confusion and weakness, and do this right.”

“Funny coming from you” emerged from Myra's mouth before she could stop herself.

“Baby girl, you have never been the kind of coward I was. Make your own legacy here.”

Myra heard another gate click and turned to look, lifting her hand from the whale shark. Her mother vanished, and Keller fell abruptly to the earth with a yowl. Margie was standing in her yard, staring at Myra.

“Who were you just talking to? And what happened to Keller?”

“I was talking – I was hallucinating, Margie. And Keller must have jumped down from my arms.”

Behind Margie, Gidg and Moon stood with huge eyes, heads lowered, looking around Myra's yard. They would not cross the threshold from their own property. Margie looked around also, saying “But there was another voice, where is she? She can't have moved that quickly.”

Myra swallowed. “You heard her?”

“Of course I heard her. What, are you saying – was that your hallucination?” said Margie.

“It was my mother. She came to tell me what to do” said Myra. Margie felt for the arm of the bench and sat down heavily. Keller jumped up beside her and began washing.

“What did you hear?” asked Myra hoarsely.

“First it was just two voices but I couldn't make out words, I was still by my back door. See, Gidg came and scratched at my work room, and when I came to see what was up, she growled with the hair standing up on her back. And Moon had his tail between his legs. So I thought there must be something scaring them in the yard. I came to the back stoop, and I could hear you, and I walked over. When I got to the gate -- “

Margie stopped and looked around at her dogs. “Come on, you two. Come in here.”

They balked. Myra bent over and held her fingers out to Moon, saying “It's okay. I'll look after you.” He slid through the gate, knees bent, and sidled up to Myra. She rubbed his head, kissed his forehead, and let him lick her cheek once. “You are so very loyal to us all” she murmured to him. “Your heart is true blue.” When she removed her hand, he hurried back to his own yard.

Margie caught Myra's gaze and, with her uncanny gift for mimicry, said in Jo's voice “Baby girl, you've never been the kind of coward I was. Make your own legacy here.”

Myra suddenly needed to sit down, too. Margie made room for her on the bench, picking up Keller to do so. She sniffed of Keller's fur and said “She smells like sauteed garlic and onions. And some kind of lady perfume.”

Myra had to close her eyes again. “Avon” she whispered.

“Mama, I'm telling you flat out, I am not hallucinating. I just heard my own gramma, I guess. She sounded – the way she said 'baby girl', it was exactly how you say it. God, I wish I'd been in time to see her” said Margie. “What else did she say?”

Myra kept her eyes closed. After several seconds, she said “I have to think this over. I can't talk about it with you right now.” She looked at Margie and said “I also need to ask you not to tell anybody else, not yet. Except Frances, I won't ask you to lie to your partner.”

Her face went stony. She stood and said “I need to go sort this out.” She strode toward the back door. Keller carefully skirted the pond, then raced across the grass to catch up. Margie watched Myra through the glass wall, heading to the front of the house. She picked up the sandwich and juice bottle, and returned to her own yard.

After closing the gate, she pulled the sandwich into pieces and tossed them to her dogs, saying “Thank you both so much for coming to get me.” She rinsed the bottle in her sink and put it in recycling. She looked at the clock and decided Frances could spare a 10-minute break right now. She shut the front door in her dogs' faces.

Gillam came through the gate after work, finding Ginny upstairs on Myra's daybed. “I brought chicken enchiladas” he said. “Do you have challah for us?”

“You'll have to get some out of the freezer” said Ginny tiredly.

“Are you napping?” he asked.

“Trying to” she answered. He kissed her forehead and went back downstairs. He knocked at Myra's door and let himself in without waiting.

“Shabbat shalom” he said. Myra was surprised. “What did you do today?” he asked.

Myra studied her fingernails a minute. “I need to tell you something” she said.

He sat down quickly.

“I – I had a thing today. A – like one of my sightings, only – I don't think this was real.” Her face is way too pale he thought.

“You never think they're real” he replied. “Where did this happen? Did you go out?”

Myra recounted the incident clumsily, not able to maintain a clear chronology. Gillam asked several questions, ending with “I don't see why you're claiming this isn't like your other visions.”

“Because...for one thing, those bricks in that wall are at most a few years old. My mother never stood on that earth or touched that wall. Plus...everybody's hammering on me, it's too convenient.”

“I'm not hammering on you” he said. “And you didn't touch Spider Woman rock, but that ancient on its top saw you all the same. That one was visual, not auditory, remember?”

“Dammit, Gillam, I'm trying to tell you – this is a sign of me losing it. And somehow I hypnotized Margie into it, too.”

“If you want evidence of you losing it, you can begin a week ago” he replied. “I don't believe you, or much of anybody, can coerce Margie mentally or emotionally. I was with you at Stonehenge, I saw your reaction, do you think I was being deceived by you, too?”

Myra didn't answer. Gillam said, with a small grin, “So she would have let me be the firstborn, huh. I like that. Who do you think the old woman who pulled rank on her was, Rosa?”

“I do think that, Gillam, but that's my point. It's all coming from my imagination, it's not real.”

“Did she mention my kids?” asked Gillam.

“No.”

Gillam thought for a minute, and began standing. “Okay. I'm going to talk it over with Margie.”

“No, I'd rather you didn't -- “

“I have to, Mama. Listen, have you forgotten that tomorrow is Jane's birthday?”

“Oh, god.”

“Lucy and Co are driving up, and the main party starts at 5:00.”

“Gillam...I can't. We have – Ginny found an antique music stand and refinished it, and I bought an old music sheet that has notes on it by Charles Mingus, it's framed and matted in the -- “

“You can give it to Jane when you come to see her” said Gillam. “You or Mom, whichever one of you pulls yourself together first.”

He stood a minute, looking at her. She avoided meeting his eyes. He said slowly “I think maybe part of why she came was actually for my kids. To keep this hopelessness from being passed on to another generation. Which I agree with her about. They don't need to see you like this.”

He left, then, not closing the door behind him. Myra heard him go into the storage room and open the freezer. Once the back door shut, she went to her bedroom door and closed it gently.

Ginny stayed on Myra's daybed, away from windows and any possible view of the house behind them. At midnight, she dragged herself downstairs and drank some tea. She looked at Gillam's enchiladas but her stomach rebelled. She could hear the TV from Myra's room. She carried an apple back upstairs and crawled under her quilt, setting the apple beside her pillow. The clock in her studio chimed away half-hours and hours.


© 2008 Maggie Jochild.

9 comments:

Jesse Wendel said...

I read this at Drinking Liberally about four hours ago. EVERYONE around me was fascinated by the giant Whale Shark.

Any chance of updating the credit to give us more info?

I especially love all the little fishies swim swim swimming around, and someone riding Ye Ha on top.

Ride 'em Bronco Willy the Whale Shark.

Andrew said...

These last sections aren't any easier or less emotional for me to read a second time through....('cept the new bits, which are intense)

I've been trying not to cry like a dork, since I'm staying at Boyfriend's sister's place, and we're all crammed into her teeny living room......

Cowboy Diva said...

ok, seriously. This silent treatment of Myra's is getting old. Who does Myra think she's punishing? Apparently, she's the one feeling captive, like she has to make all the decisions about future life without GB; why is that?
That, and I am fascinated by the group decision to leave Myra and GB in the house together, especially in thinking logic and strength of will can answer to Myra's grief.

Also, I am not used to serialized novels; it's stretching me. I feel like a New Yorker waiting for the ship from England to arrive with the latest AC Doyle chapter of Sherlock Holmes. "Did he survive Reichenbach Falls?" ;>

Jesse Wendel said...

Cowboy Diva -

You think you're stretched.

My favorite living Science Fiction novel has a book which he's been promising us for roughly 20 YEARS.

Ten years ago he let us see the first three chapters. Since then we've seen bits and pieces, and short stories set in the same universe but at other times.

We were told we'd be able to finally buy the book at Thanksgiving... which has now come and gone.

We're used to this.

My fear for a while has been I'd get in an accident and die, before finding out what happens to X, or if Y is true. Not that "I" would care, what with being dead and all. But from this side, I want to know what the frack happens and I want to know now, dammit.

An exercise is generating patience. *laughs*

*laughs some more*

Maggie Jochild said...

Okay, I'm working on it RIGHT NOW.

I had to change it all around because of your comments. No, not really. But I am altering a few things in what I had from almost two years ago because, in fact, the characters have grown and changed.

But I hear ya. I'll try to keep it coming more regularly.

Just for the record, I don't eat raw fish. But Ginny does.

P.S. What, no comments on how Gillam deftly told Myra she wasn't fit to be around his kids right now? Gillam has SO given up his habit of apology.

Maggie Jochild said...

P.S. The "Andrew" entry above is really from Kat, who's in Vancouver on a visit, I'm pretty sure. Location plus use of "Boyfriend" plus, mostly, the fact that she's the only person who has already read these sections (besides me). Hiya, Kat.

kat said...

Oops,
It was Kat, not "Andrew" yesterday. I didn't realize that Boyfriend was still logged on to google....

kat said...

yeah, you figured me out, Maggie.

I suppose it's useless to keep up the pseudo-anonymity of my 3rd half, now, huh?

Jesse Wendel said...

Raw fish is YUMMY.

I think I'll have some today. (Was meaning to have sushi the other day, and then got all busy and stuff. So perhaps today for lunch...

Salmon and avocado roll. Mmmmmm. Tasty deliciousness.