Saturday, February 23, 2008


My novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates, is crammed to the gills with references to lesbian-feminism and other subcultures that will not be noticed or make sense to a reader who "wasn't there, then". We existed in a world within your world, which you knew about only dimly, if at all, but which was extraordinarily rich and interconnected to us (as well as to Myra, Ginny and friends). Below I offer explanations of such possible asides that occur in the second section of the novel that I posted, entitled January 1990.

In this excerpt appears the first concrete references to AA and Al Anon. These organizations and the concept of "recovery" occur frequently in Ginny Bates, as the idea of recovery occurring simultaneously with revolutionary liberation on a societal scale is a key theme of the book.

The Clean and Sober movement swept through the lesbian community during the 1980s, fueled by adaptation of traditional 12-step models (big on g*d and hierarchy) to more egalitarian models and, especially, the book published by Jean Swallow in 1983 (Spinsters Ink), Out From Under: Sober Dykes and Our Friends. Jean was a friend of mine. I saw her weekly while she was writing this book, and while she hoped it would have a large impact, I don't think she knew it would help launch a movement. Jean was a few years older than me, and like me had come out early, at a time when going to bars in rural areas or small towns was the only hope you had of meeting other lesbians, but we also knew that in larger cities there was a political movement we could plug into. That version of "political lesbianism" I think provided an alternative to bar life which helped make it possible for lesbian alcoholics to be able to go into recovery without losing their access to community.

Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth Century America, by Lillian Faderman (1991), quotes Jean Swallow as stating that, circa 1983, 38% of all lesbians were alcoholics and another 30% were problem drinkers. I was not an alcoholic, but I had substance abusers up close and personal in my dyke life -- enough so that I chose to quit drinking in 1983, when Jean's book came out. I just couldn't think of a logical reason to consume alcohol any more, and a hundred reasons not to; but it was also an act of solidarity. I've broken that promise to myself a couple of times since then, to have a beer with a meal or, once, to get drunk at my father's third or fourth wedding (depending on how you count his marriages). It's not been worth it.

Faderman's book states that "Boston alone had eighty weekly AA meetings for lesbians in the late 80's. San Francisco had ninety such weekly meetings. Living Sober conventions that targeted the lesbian and gay community attracted large, rapidly growing numbers. The Living Sober contingents were the biggest in the Gay Pride parades at the end of the decade." This was certainly my memory of how things were in San Francisco.

Faderman goes on to say "A whole culture of sobriety developed to replace the bar culture that had been so pivotal to the lives of so many lesbians in the past. Women who, outside of the lesbian community, might not have identified themselves as being in need of 'recovery' found support for such identification within the community, and 'clean and sober' became a social movement for lesbians."

Concomittant with the clean and sober movement was the recovery movement, addressing not only the issues of being close to someone who is/was a substance abuse, but expanding to apply principles of dismantling codependency to all our relationships within the lesbian community. Theory grew to link this kind of recovery with feminism, with overthrowing the patriarchy, eliminating racism and classism, and undoing the effects of child abuse (especially child sexual abuse). This was a subculture within the larger lesbian community that, at least among the women I knew, seemed to encompass almost half the community. There seemed to be a "recovery" group for almost every kind of behavior, and even those of us who were in these groups or using some version of the model were often self-conscious about our fervor and focus. In my circle, at least, we made fun of ourselves, even as we recognized that we were each saving our own life.

The subject of recovery, and dependence on "therapy", has created divisions with the lesbian-feminist community that are well-addressed in this review of a book attacking "psychology" as not lesbian-feminist by Foxx Silveira at Feminist Reprise. It is true that some women I've known withdrew from activism when they went "into recovery" of one form or another. It's equally true that recovery enabled women to become MORE politically active, more effective, and (most important to me) leave behind suicidal or self-destructive behavior. I don't see why you have to choose between self-help and activism; it's a false dichotomy, as far as I'm concerned. And the key to success in both is to disavow hopelessness.

Also in this chapter Margie (as a toddler) quotes from the Judy Grahn poem "A Woman is Talking to Death". I have printed this poem in total on this blog here. The effect of this work on lesbian-feminism really cannot be overestimated.

(Judy Grahn 2007)

And -- for those of you who can get there, Judy Grahn will be reading (with Nickole Brown) in Santa Rosa, California as part of the Wordtemple Poetry Series on April 4, 2008. Never to be missed.



I realized today that what I really need to know about the two Democratic candidates is who they are going to choose as a running mate. That choice will tell me worlds, and will shove me solidly in one direction or the other. Theoretically, Hillary knows how to pick top-level staff for governing as opposed to campaigning -- Gore went on to win the election after Bill. One of the concerns I have about Barack is we don't know who he "runs" with, who will do the actual policy-making in his West Wing. Bill's Boys are who told him to go along with DOMA, dropped the ball with health care, and helped draft NAFTA. Who are Barack's troops? Is he insecure enough, like George Herbert, that he's going to pick a potatoe-brain for Veep so he looks even more Presidential in comparison? When will we find out?

My father was an intermittent Republican. He went from Goldwater in '60 and '64 to Nixon in '68 and '72 (splitting from my mother that year, who was ever after a Democrat), to venting his disillusionment over Watergate by voting for Carter instead of Ford. He was not a Reagan supporter, either, although it would have been hard for him to admit liking Reagan with me writing blazing broadsides from California and my mother's hatred of the man she referred to as "that B-movie actor". When Reagan won in 1980, I sent Mama an 8x12 black and white movie still from Bedtime for Bonzo. She had it framed and it sat on the endtable beside her throne, the easy chair, next to her Salem's and stash of Diet Dr. Peppers. Any new visitor to the house was directed to look at the picture of "that grinning subhuman -- and the chimp in his lap."

Daddy was seduced back to the GOP by the campaign of Bush the Elder. But he then voted for Clinton -- he liked Clinton, even though his favorite joke was "What do you get when you cross a draft-dodger with a lesbian? Chelsea" -- a little veiled woman-hating aimed my way. He had no use for Perot. He longed for a Dole presidency, either Bob or Liddy.

When Dubya ran for governor, Daddy was ambivalent about him. Daddy had worked in the oil industry all his life and was very familiar with company "directors" (especially West Texans) who lived off the profits others earned for them, self-serving creampuffs who were, as he put it, two Buds short of a six-pack. He remained ambivalent when Dubya started his Presidential campaign. (I can only imagine what Mama would have had to say about him -- like Molly Ivins, only much more profane.)

(And Mama would have loved Letterman's comment this week, regarding the resignation of Fidel Castro from office: "Experts predict that Fidel Castro will be succeeded either by his brother Raul or his idiot son Fidel W. Castro.")

Daddy's attitude toward Dubya changed dramatically, however, when Cheney was named as Vice President. Daddy had worked around Halliburton all his life. He knew them as crooks and manipulators, and anybody who'd been at their helm had no business in public office, he said. His disgust for Cheney turned to hatred when Cheney shot a fellow hunter in the face. Daddy was a gun collector and NRA member. He was outraged by the carelessness, the presence of alcohol, and the cover-up. He expected the NRA to issue a very public condemnation of the incident, and when they did not, he was extremely bitter.

I'm not bitter. I'd still rather have Bill in office, or Al, or Hillary, than anything which has ever leaned Republican. NONE of them are radical enough for me, bottom line. But having been asked to "trust me" once too often in the past, I'm more comfortable with the slicks I know than the slicks I don't. Tell me who your Veep is, and you get my vote.

(HTML stencil from Via

Kirk Watson was Mayor of Austin, Texas from 1997 to 2001. Currently he's a Texas State Senator for District 14, my district. He's a glib, pretty white boy trying hard to do the right thing. And he let himself get set up on MSNBC by not being able to say one damned thing about Barack's accomplishments, even as he declared himself an Obama supporter.

This is the problem, folks. This is the starry-eyed "hope" meme that makes so many of us nervous. But, I'm glad to say, it doesn't have to be that way.

Kirk himself has posted a "What I Should Have Said" apology at his website. Even better, Jack Turner at Jack and Jill Politics, a blog "that offers a Black Bourgeois perspective on American politics", has published a primer on Obama's accomplishments (and, very fairly, Hillary's) for those who can't reel them off yet, located at Obama's Experience: A Message for Supporters and Doubters. They provide excellent links, and compare not only Obama and Clinton against each other, but also against McCain. Study up, kids. As Jack says, "Know you ish."

(Vision Portal-Crocus by Lowry Bell)


Friday, February 22, 2008


Writer's Almanac informs us that today is the birthday of Edna St. Vincent Millay -- Vincent, as her friends knew her. She was the first woman to win a Pulitzer prize for poetry. Born in Rockland, Maine in 1892, the Almanac states:
"Her middle name came from a hospital - St. Vincent in New York - where one of her uncles was saved from death immediately before her birth.

"Her parents divorced when she was little and she and her two sisters moved constantly with their mother. Throughout their moves, her mother always carried along a trunk full of classic literature, including the works of Shakespeare and John Milton, which she often read aloud to her daughters.

"Edna was in high school when she entered a poetry contest and wrote a poem - 'Renascence' - which she recited at a poetry reading, and a woman in the audience was so impressed that she paid Edna's way to go to Vassar College.

"She was a rebellious student at Vassar, then moved to New York City, where she lived in Greenwich Village and had numerous love affairs with both women and men.

"In her poem 'First Fig' she wrote:
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!

"And in 'Second Fig,
"Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come see my shining palace built upon the sand!"

After the fold are some of my favorites of her poems. Light a candle (at both ends) for her today, then go speak your mind and sleep around in her honor!


Listen, children:
Your father is dead.
From his old coats
I'll make you little jackets;
I'll make you little trousers
From his old pants.
There'll be in his pockets
Things he used to put there,
Keys and pennies
Covered with tobacco;
Dan shall have the pennies
To save in his bank;
Anne shall have the keys
To make a pretty noise with.
Life must go on,
And the dead be forgotten;
Life must go on,
Though good men die;
Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine;
Life must go on;
I forget just why.


We were very tired, we were very merry--
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable--
But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.

We were very tired, we were very merry--
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold.
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.

We were very tired, we were very merry--
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
We hailed, "Good morrow, mother!" to a shawl-covered head,
And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;
And she wept, "God bless you!" for the apples and pears,
And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.


No matter what I say,
All that I really love
Is the rain that flattens on the bay,
And the eel-grass in the cove;
The jingle-shells that lie and bleach
At the tide-line, and the trace
Of higher tides along the beach:
Nothing in this place.


Let them bury your big eyes
In the secret earth securely,
Your thin fingers, and your fair,
Soft indefinite-coloured hair,--
All of these in some way, surely,
From the secret earth shall rise;
Not for these I sit and stare,
Broken and bereft completely:
Your young flesh that sat so neatly
On your little bones will sweetly
Blossom in the air.

But your voice . . . never the rushing
Of a river underground,
Not the rising of the wind
In the trees before the rain,
Not the woodcock's watery call,
Not the note the white-throat utters,
Not the feet of children pushing
Yellow leaves along the gutters
In the blue and bitter fall,
Shall content my musing mind
For the beauty of that sound
That in no new way at all
Ever will be heard again.

Sweetly through the sappy stalk
Of the vigourous weed,
Holding all it held before,
Cherished by the faithful sun,
On and on eternally
Shall your altered fluid run,
Bud and bloom and go to seed:
But your singing days are done;
But the music of your talk
Never shall the chemistry
Of the secret earth restore.
All your lovely words are spoken.
Once the ivory box is broken,
Beats the golden bird no more.


The railroad track is miles away,
and the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn't a train goes by day
But I hear its whistle shrieking.

All night there isn't a train goes by,
Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
And hear its engine steaming.

My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I'll not be knowing,
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,
No matter where it's going.


Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution's power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.


I shall die, but
that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,
business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle
while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself:
I will not give him a leg up.

Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where
the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabout of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man's door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me Shall you be overcome.


Silver bark of beech, and sallow
Bark of yellow birch and yellow
Twig of willow.

Stripe of green in moosewood maple,
Colour seen in leaf of apple,
Bark of popple.

Wood of popple pale as moonbeam,
Wood of oak for yoke and barn-beam,
Wood of hornbeam.

Silver bark of beech, and hollow
Stem of elder, tall and yellow
Twig of willow.


Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age
The child is grown, and puts away childish things.
Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.

Nobody that matters, that is. Distant relatives of course
Die, whom one never has seen or has seen for an hour,
And they gave one candy in a pink-and-green stripéd bag, or a
And went away, and cannot really be said to have lived at all.

And cats die. They lie on the floor and lash their tails,
And their reticent fur is suddenly all in motion
With fleas that one never knew were there,
Polished and brown, knowing all there is to know,
Trekking off into the living world.
You fetch a shoe-box, but it's much too small, because she won't
curl up now:
So you find a bigger box, and bury her in the yard, and weep.
But you do not wake up a month from then, two months
A year from then, two years, in the middle of the night
And weep, with your knuckles in your mouth, and say Oh, God!
Oh, God!
Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies that matters,
—mothers and fathers don't die.

And if you have said, "For heaven's sake, must you always be
kissing a person?"
Or, "I do wish to gracious you'd stop tapping on the window with
your thimble!"
Tomorrow, or even the day after tomorrow if you're busy having
Is plenty of time to say, "I'm sorry, mother."

To be grown up is to sit at the table with people who have died,
who neither listen nor speak;
Who do not drink their tea, though they always said
Tea was such a comfort.

Run down into the cellar and bring up the last jar of raspberries;
they are not tempted.
Flatter them, ask them what was it they said exactly
That time, to the bishop, or to the overseer, or to Mrs. Mason;
They are not taken in.
Shout at them, get red in the face, rise,
Drag them up out of their chairs by their stiff shoulders and shake
them and yell at them;
They are not startled, they are not even embarrassed; they slide
back into their chairs.

Your tea is cold now.
You drink it standing up,
And leave the house.

And, the one that brought her fame as a teenager and resulted in her receiving a scholarship to Vassar:


All I could see from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood;
I turned and looked another way,
And saw three islands in a bay.
So with my eyes I traced the line
Of the horizon, thin and fine,
Straight around till I was come
Back to where I'd started from;
And all I saw from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood.
Over these things I could not see;
These were the things that bounded me;
And I could touch them with my hand,
Almost, I thought, from where I stand.
And all at once things seemed so small
My breath came short, and scarce at all.
But, sure, the sky is big, I said;
Miles and miles above my head;
So here upon my back I'll lie
And look my fill into the sky.
And so I looked, and, after all,
The sky was not so very tall.
The sky, I said, must somewhere stop,
And--sure enough!--I see the top!
The sky, I thought, is not so grand;
I 'most could touch it with my hand
And reaching up my hand to try,
I screamed to feel it touch the sky.
I screamed, and--lo!--Infinity
Came down and settled over me;
Forced back my scream into my chest,
Bent back my arm upon my breast,
And, pressing of the Undefined
The definition on my mind,
Held up before my eyes a glass
Through which my shrinking sight did pass
Until it seemed I must behold
Immensity made manifold;
Whispered to me a word whose sound
Deafened the air for worlds around,
And brought unmuffled to my ears
The gossiping of friendly spheres,
The creaking of the tented sky,
The ticking of Eternity.
I saw and heard, and knew at last
The How and Why of all things, past,
And present, and forevermore.
The Universe, cleft to the core,
Lay open to my probing sense
That, sick'ning, I would fain pluck thence
But could not,--nay! But needs must suck
At the great wound, and could not pluck
My lips away till I had drawn
All venom out.--Ah, fearful pawn!
For my omniscience paid I toll
In infinite remorse of soul.
All sin was of my sinning, all
Atoning mine, and mine the gall
Of all regret. Mine was the weight
Of every brooded wrong, the hate
That stood behind each envious thrust,
Mine every greed, mine every lust.
And all the while for every grief,
Each suffering, I craved relief
With individual desire,--
Craved all in vain! And felt fierce fire
About a thousand people crawl;
Perished with each,--then mourned for all
A man was starving in Capri;
He moved his eyes and looked at me;
I felt his gaze, I heard his moan,
And knew his hunger as my own.
I saw at sea a great fog bank
Between two ships that struck and sank;
A thousand screams the heavens smote;
And every scream tore through my throat.
No hurt I did not feel, no death
That was not mine; mine each last breath
That, crying, met an answering cry
From the compassion that was I.
All suffering mine, and mine its rod;
Mine, pity like the pity of God.
Ah, awful weight! Infinity
Pressed down upon the finite Me
My anguished spirit, like a bird,
Beating against my lips I heard;
Yet lay the weight so close about
There was no room for it without.
And so beneath the weight lay I
And suffered death, but could not die.

Long had I lain thus, craving death,
When quietly the earth beneath
Gave way, and inch by inch, so great
At last had grown the crushing weight,
Into the earth I sank till I
Full six feet under ground did lie,
And sank no more,--there is no weight
Can follow here, however great.
From off my breast I felt it roll,
And as it went my tortured soul
Burst forth and fled in such a gust
That all about me swirled the dust.

Deep in the earth I rested now;
Cool is its hand upon the brow
And soft its breast beneath the head
Of one who is so gladly dead.
And all at once, and over all
The pitying rain began to fall;
I lay and heard each pattering hoof
Upon my lowly, thatched roof,
And seemed to love the sound far more
Than ever I had done before.
For rain it hath a friendly sound
To one who's six feet underground;
And scarce the friendly voice or face:
A grave is such a quiet place.

The rain, I said, is kind to come
And speak to me in my new home.
I would I were alive again
To kiss the fingers of the rain,
To drink into my eyes the shine
Of every slanting silver line,
To catch the freshened, fragrant breeze
From drenched and dripping apple-trees.
For soon the shower will be done,
And then the broad face of the sun
Will laugh above the rain-soaked earth
Until the world with answering mirth
Shakes joyously, and each round drop
Rolls, twinkling, from its grass-blade top.
How can I bear it; buried here,
While overhead the sky grows clear
And blue again after the storm?
O, multi-colored, multiform,
Beloved beauty over me,
That I shall never, never see
Again! Spring-silver, autumn-gold,
That I shall never more behold!
Sleeping your myriad magics through,
Close-sepulchred away from you!
O God, I cried, give me new birth,
And put me back upon the earth!
Upset each clouds gigantic gourd
And let the heavy rain, down-poured
In one big torrent, set me free,
Washing my grave away from me!

I ceased; and through the breathless hush
That answered me, the far-off rush
Of herald wings came whispering
Like music down the vibrant string
Of my ascending prayer, and--crash!
Before the wild wind's whistling lash
The startled storm-clouds reared on high
And plunged in terror down the sky,
And the big rain in one black wave
Fell from the sky and struck my grave.
I know not how such things can be;
I only know there came to me
A fragrance such as never clings
To aught save happy living things;
A sound as of some joyous elf
Singing sweet songs to please himself,
And, through and over everything,
A sense of glad awakening.
The grass, a-tiptoe at my ear,
Whispering to me I could hear;
I felt the rain's cool finger-tips
Brushed tenderly across my lips,
Laid gently on my sealed sight,
And all at once the heavy night
Fell from my eyes and I could see,--
A drenched and dripping apple-tree,
A last long line of silver rain,
A sky grown clear and blue again.
And as I looked a quickening gust
Of wind blew up to me and thrust
Into my face a miracle
Of orchard-breath, and with the smell,--
I know not how such things can be!--
I breathed my soul back into me.
Ah! Up then from the ground sprang I
And hailed the earth with such a cry
As is not heard save from a man
Who has been dead, and lives again.
About the trees my arms I wound;
Like one gone mad I hugged the ground;
I raised my quivering arms on high;
I laughed and laughed into the sky,
Till at my throat a strangling sob
Caught fiercely, and a great heart-throb
Sent instant tears into my eyes;
O God, I cried, no dark disguise
Can e'er hereafter hide from me
Thy radiant identity!
Thou canst not move across the grass
But my quick eyes will see Thee pass,
Nor speak, however silently,
But my hushed voice will answer Thee.
I know the path that tells Thy way
Through the cool eve of every day;
God, I can push the grass apart
And lay my finger on Thy heart!

The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky,--
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat--the sky
Will cave in on him by and by.



(Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks, hand-colored block print by Kathleen Frugé-Brown, 2004, commission for the City of Kent, WA)

Another excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. If you are already a familiar reader, begin below. The action in the story resumes immediately after my post yesterday. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.


The first week in November, at dinner with Chris and Sima, Margie said through a mouthful of chicken scallopini "I have a request for my birthday."

"What is it this year, group skydiving?" laughed Ginny.

Myra saw the idea enter Margie's brain and get squirreled away there. Margie swallowed her bite and said "No, I mean for my main gift. It can be Hannukah, Solstice, and Christmas too." She paused, letting Myra soak in apprehension. "I desperately need a cell phone" she finished.

"Here we go again" said Ginny.

"Define need" challenged Myra. "Because you're always either at school with the very people you most want to call, or you're with them after school, or you're here where our main line seems to be entirely dominated by you already. You have a pager for emergencies and a laptop for e-mail -- "

"Just because you don't grok texting as a cultural phenomenon doesn't mean it's crap!" flared Margie, her sarcasm heavy on grok.

"Which only confirms my suspicion that the main reason you want a cell is so you can spend all your time sending ignoramus text messages to someone standing three feet away!" yelled Myra.

"Yeah, like you didn't coast through high school penning lines to all your backwoods crushes!" jeered Margie. "You and mom still leave each other notes all the time. Texting is just higher up on the technology ladder, is all, which is why it freaks you out!"

"'Backwoods' is a profoundly disrespectful term to use -- " began Ginny in an icy voice. But Sima held up her hands in a "time-out" gesture and yelled "Whoa!"

"Sorry, Sima" said Myra, after a moment of stunned silence. "We shouldn't have dragged you into this at dinner -- "

"No, that's not why I'm interrupting" said Sima. Looking Myra in the eyes, she said "So, is text messaging really the reason you don't want her to have a cell? You don't want her to be writing messages to her friends?"

Myra was avoiding the small voice at the back of her head that wanted to answer "It would be fine with me if I could control that." She said "No, that's ridiculous. My objections to a cell are (1) I see teenagers and even pre-teens everywhere oblivious to what's going on around them because they're obsessively texting, even at the dinner table -- "

Ginny jumped in "And we don't let the TV run during meals, we don't let people tune out with other electronic devices during family and conversation time, so we're not going to make an exception for cells, it's just obnoxious."

"And (2)" continued Myra seamlessly, "We all hear horror stories about the charges run up by young people on cells, not just for texting but also for endless talking just to be talking. Margie is an honor student, she has a wide range of interests, we want her to keep a balance in her life." She finished with a note of triumph.

Chris opened her mouth, and Myra waited for the sound of gunfire. "But Myra, you'll be paying the bills, right? Which means you'll control the account? Easy enough to close it down if Margie loses her balance."

"And the rules about not texting at the table or during conversation can be enforced by asking, nicely, instead of trying to keep a demon phone out of her hands" added Sima.

Margie couldn't resist running out to greet the cavalry. "I am the only person I know, in my entire set of friends, who doesn't have a cell" she said accusingly.

Ginny said, with a hint of humor, "Marjorie Rose, give me one example of when the argument 'but everybody else has one' has ever worked with us. I mean, learn from failure, honey."

Margie wanted to giggle, Myra could tell. Gillam was snickering, although he was heroically trying to hold it back.

"If she fucks up, she loses the service" said Chris pragmatically. "Better to learn those kinds of limits now instead of -- whenever it is you think she'll be ready, 35 or whatever."

Now Margie did laugh. Ginny looked at Myra and said "We trusted them to get online. Without those ludicrous filters."

"I want a plan that won't penalize you and me if she flames out" said Myra. Margie gave a "Yes!" punch in the air.

"Talk with Petra, she works for Sprint" suggested Ginny. "Not that we have to go with them, but she'll know about comparison plans."

"And one great thing about it is, we'll have a complete listing of every place she calls" said Myra, a little meanly. She didn't look Margie's direction but she could sense the horror coming from her. It was payback for Margie having deliberately introduced the topic with possible allies present.

Later, as the four older women sat in Myra's study and drank tea, Ginny remarked "I've noticed that she and Gillam both keep their pagers hidden. I think they really are ashamed of them."

Myra sighed. She didn't like it that it mattered to her, the popularity of her children in a shallow world -- but it did.

"This one is easy, Myra" said Chris. "This time next year she'll be wanting a car. She told me she's planning to take driver's ed next semester."

Myra felt her blood go watery. "Mother of god" she whispered. Ginny said "That's Allie's job, teaching her to drive. I don't want to be on the streets of Seattle when that girl is behind the wheel."

Chris and Sima were laughing heartily, as if it were a joke, but Myra knew Ginny meant it.

A week later, Myra came home with a treat she'd bought for Ginny, a bag of fruit-juice sweetened gumdrops. She went to Ginny's work table to leave them for her. A new tiny poster was up on the gecko's wall. She sat down in Ginny's chair and examined it closely. It was a full-color replica of Edward Munch's painting "The Scream", the one which had just been stolen, only instead of the thin man of the original, it was a gecko putting her spatulate fingers up along her wedge-shaped head as she opened her mouth to scream. A caption inked in at the bottom read "Four more years!" She was too depressed to laugh as she pushed herself wearily upright and left.

Gillam announced he was making enchiladas for dinner that night, both beef and shrimp. Myra stayed at her desk until the smell became too enticing. When she went into the kitchen, he was shredding lettuce and bobbing his head in time to whatever was coming through the earbuds on his Ipod. She got his attention and said "Need help?"

He grinned and pulled one bud out of his ear. "Nope, got it under control."

She still couldn't quite leave. "What're you listening to?"

"Eminem" he answered.

"Oh for god's sake, Gillam, that man is a poster child for misogyny" expostulated Myra.

"You're right that he's never gotten over his shit with his mama and he resists maturing around the issue" said Gillam easily. "But I can sort that out, get the rest of his message which, really, you should listen to at least once."

"Why waste my time on art that can't manage to cleanly deal with multiple issues at the same time?" said Myra. She noticed that Ginny, standing at her easel, was looking their way with interest.

"Well, Mom" said Gillam, picking up a tomato to slice it, "Tell me one single lyric on 'The Changer and The Changed' that addresses racism or classism."

She was stumped, and felt her face going red.

Gillam stuck the bud back in his ear, trying his best not to laugh, and began slicing. Ginny, on the other hand, gave herself over to loud cackles. Myra went back to her desk, grinning but not so Gillam could see it.

Second week in November 2004

Ginny was approached by her agent to serve as a "celebrity" judge for a series of regional gradeschool art exhibitions, and happily agreed.

She was not so pleased when she discovered she'd been assigned a viewing in Kent, 20 miles south of Seattle, on a Saturday morning. "I specifically asked them for a weekday" she complained. "And what is there in Kent?"

"The Earthworks" said Margie unexpectedly. "I've always wanted to see them; I'd love to set an orienteering course in that park."

Ginny looked hopeful. "If you go with us, we could visit the Earthworks afterward." Myra noticed how she was assumed to be accompanying Ginny, but Margie needed to be bribed.

Margie looked wary. "How early would I have to get up?"

Ginny was tempted to lie, Myra could tell. But she said "We would have to be on the road by 8 a.m."

Margie was shaking her head when Gillam said "I'll go. They have a Saturday market with unusual stuff, and I could photograph it for my school project. I want something that isn't what everyone else will do."

"They make Oberto Sausage in Kent" Myra said to him quietly. "We could stock up for the freezer."

Margie wasn't interested in the sausage, but she didn't want Gillam scoring an outing alone with his mothers when a market with unknown items for sale might be involved. "Can I take Narnia?" she said.

"Sure" said Ginny, trying to be nonchalant.

They had only tea before setting out because the elementary school paintings were being displayed in a Kent downtown coffeeshop famous for its breakfasts. As Myra got off Interstate 5, Ginny said "We're looking for Meeker Street. The place is called Margie's on Meekers."

Margie, stuporous and cranky in the back seat, looked up at that. Eventually, after getting mildly lost, they discovered Ginny had misread the directions -- it was Maggie's on Meekers. "Understandable mistake" she said defensively.

The place was crammed with excited kids and parents. Ginny was siphoned off by the contest planners, while Myra, Gillam and Margie squeezed into a two-person table at the back, the only one they could find. Myra ordered their chicken-fried steak while Ginny was out of earshot, while Gillam opted for the "Maggie's Mess", eggs, sausage and veggies over hashbrowns smothered in gravy. He and Myra cadged bites from each other. Margie ordered waffles covered in fruit and after one mouthful pronounced it "all right". Myra got a second plate of it for Ginny.

Ginny dropped by intermittently to swallow down what she could and complain to Myra. "They don't have enough categories for winners" she whispered, "I'm not going to be part of making kids feel bad about their art. I've made up a dozen specialty awards and the organizers are freaking, trying to figure out what to give them because they didn't bring extra ribbons."

At the table next to them sat a man around Myra's age who reminded her of Jeremy Piven with a trim beard. He was oblivious to the ruckus around them, typing on his laptop in deep concentration. A tall wooden walking stick with a leather loop at the top leaned against his table. Gillam nudged Myra and said, not quietly enough for her modesty, "Look, Mom, that guy's a writer like you." Myra nodded. Gillam said "Is that what you look like when you sneak off to write in a diner?"

Ginny, stealing one of Gillam's home fries that was free of gravy, said "Not quite as much facial hair but more caffeine." Which sent Margie into hysterics. Myra was on her second Coke but thought she had concealed the refill from Ginny. She said to Gillam "I can't shut out noise that way. I have a much harder time skipping out than Ginny does."

She hadn't meant it to come out as a complaint. Ginny, however, looked stung. She stood up with her notebook and left abruptly.

"Well, crap" said Myra. They'd intended to see Nancy today but had had to postpone it until next Tuesday because of this event. Not for the first time, she wondered what their relationship would be like if they'd had to work full-time jobs outside the house and not had money for all the help they received. Like everyone else in the world, she thought guiltily.

When Ginny hadn't returned by the end of the judging, Myra had her breakfast put in a to-go container and ordered a large OJ as well. She handed her folded napkin to Margie, saying "A bite of my steak for Narnia abandoned in the car." She waved the kids on as she paid and went to collect Ginny, standing with a cluster of excited parents. She linked her arm through Ginny's and said in her ear "I'm an ass."

"Agreed" murmured Ginny. Then, aloud, she said "Look at that blue and white wash on the wall by the window, Myra. Wouldn't you love to have that in our hallway?"

It was a striking painting. One parent nearby went stiff with pride. As Ginny made her goodbyes, Myra went to the car where Narnia sniffed her hands hopefully.

The market was new territory and diverting to them all. Ginny found a stall selling small organic pumpkins and squash. She bought two dozen of the pumpkins; Myra had recently discovered a veggie pot pie recipe using cooked pumpkin, and Ginny intended to make preserves of this lot for cooking all winter. Margie lingered a long time at a booth selling silver bracelets and rings, and Myra thought she was trying to choose something for Jaime without being observed. Narnia made dozens of easy new friends.

Gillam used up all his film and they had to backtrack into town looking for a place to find more of the kind he preferred. Myra bought 20 pounds of sausage and packed 10 lbs of ice on either side of it. At the Mill Creek Earthworks park, the kids finally took off in separate directions, Narnia tugging Margie toward the pond, Gillam holding up his light meter in various directions like a divining rod.

Alone, Ginny said "He studied with Kandinsky, you know. Herbert Bayer."

When Myra looked blank, Ginny said "The man who designed this park. He was part of the Bauhaus movement." That term, at least, Myra understood -- their house was Bauhaus.

Ginny said "I have this fantasy of, when the kids are both at college, you and me traveling around the world, staying in pensiones with beautiful light and fresh food, me painting and you writing all day."

"Paris?" asked Myra with a grin.

"Of course" said Ginny. "But also anywhere Margo Batiz might have family."

They laughed, and Myra added "Except Margo Batiz will be elsewhere. It'll just be me and you."

"Or just you, when I skip out on you" said Ginny with sudden pain in her voice.

"Oh, Gin. I'm so sorry. I really didn't mean it that way."

"You're the one who suggested we have more boundaries" said Ginny.

Myra wished they weren't about to have this talk. It was an enchanting spot, reminding her of a modern take on Moundbuilders, and the sun had just broken through the clouds. She saw a bench and made for it: Conversations while she was walking made her slightly short of breath.

"What bugs you, Ginny, about hearing that word?" she said, once seated.

"Boundaries?" Ginny considered. She rubbed her forehead. "I think about Daddy leaving for work in the morning, and Mother telling me to stay out of the kitchen, or the living room."

Her immediate honesty tugged at Myra's heart. She took a long breath and said "Yeah. When my dad did make it home for a weekend, they'd hole up in the bedroom for a day. I'd hear my mom laughing, something she didn't do a lot of with us. We had plenty to eat while he was home, too, even if it meant we'd run short after he left again. I never understood her -- choices."

They linked hands. Somewhere, out of sight, Myra heard Narnia barking excitedly.

"I'm really looking forward to what you and Gillam produce in the darkroom" Myra said, following a line of thought.

"Do you think either of them will chose art for their careers?" asked Ginny.

"I have no fucking idea" said Myra. "Most days I wonder if I ever knew them."

Ginny thought for a minute, then said "I know they have to -- make a break from us. And, seems like, it's also come time for you and me to reinvent us. But the way I feel under a microscope all the time, especially with Margie, I want you to reassure me, tell me I'm still the woman you fell for heart and soul. I want that rock."

Myra looked at her and said "Because it anchors your past too, huh. You know, Ginny, if I could time travel I honestly would go back and steal you as a baby. I know that means all kinds of impossible time paradoxes, but even if it meant I'd lose you as my lover now, I still think I'd try to keep you from what you grew up with. Or without, more to the point."

Ginny's grip was tight. "I had it easy, compared to you...or Allie."

"If that were the case, you'd not have this pain now. We're all the walking wounded, I don't know how to gauge ourselves against each other" said Myra tiredly.

"I'm sorry I referred to your facial hair in a joking way" said Ginny. Myra looked at her.

"You did, didn't you? Maybe that's why I got careless" she said, wondering.

"Remember when we sent to the Scablands, and we decided to assume we were on the same level from that point on -- to jeep on together?" asked Ginny. "That worked. How about if we take another leap of faith and assume our kids are going to be absolutely fine, that when this all shakes out they'll be happy adults and we'll have no regrets?"

Myra stared at her wide-eyed. "That would be, as Gillam says, awesome."

"I think the odds are in our favor. So let's jeep on there, too."

Myra leaned over to kiss her. "You're the smartest person I ever met, have I told you that?"

"Check the mirror, babe. And, I have another suggestion: One day a week, you leave the house and write at a diner of your choice. For as long as you want. No matter if I'm in Painterland."

Myra tried on this idea. "As long as it can be the day of my choosing" she agreed.

They leaned back against the bench, shoulders touching, peace settling in around them.

"You think Margie and Jaime are making out sometimes?" asked Ginny.

"Likely. He's got that bruised fruit look on his face often" said Myra.

After a pause, Ginny said "Well, I wish them joy." She gave a choked laugh at the end.

"Way to go, mama bear" said Myra. They saw Gillam headed their way. "Let's get him to take some photos of us together, we don't have enough of those."

"His face isn't broken out today: Maybe when Margie shows up, we could set the timer and get a family shot for mailing out?" suggested Ginny.

"The Batizes at Giza" said Myra in a haughty accent. Gillam reached them, saying "What's so funny?"

18 November 2004

Edwina and Allie were over for dinner. After clearing the table of plates, Myra asked the kids to come back and sit down.

"Dessert?" asked Gillam hopefully.

"No" said Ginny. She pulled a bag from the sideboard and said "Margie, tomorrow is the last day of school for a week, Thanksgiving week which leads into your birthday. So we decided to give you your main present early, because we knew you'd want to show your friends without having to wait."

She handed Margie a small gift box. Margie began screaming before she lifted the lid: It was a beautiful electric blue cell phone, kitted out with a headphone receiver and already set up for service. Margie immediately began dialing, and Myra interrupted her, saying "No way. Not in company, not at the table, not during family time."

Ginny began explaining the plan limits, most of which Margie was not taking in. She stood up and came to give all the grown women hugs. Edwina said "I suggested that color, I see you wearing it a lot lately."

"It's perfect!" said Margie. "What did they want to get -- wait, don't tell me, red, right?"

Myra laughed in embarrassment. Ginny said "We talked over the pink one for a long time, but our fingers just couldn't be persuaded to pick it up."

Gillam's silence was profound. Myra signaled to Ginny. As Ginny pulled a second box from the bag, Myra said "And since we clearly went too long in getting Margie a cell, we're possibly erring in the other direction by giving you a phone too, Gillam. The plan limits are the same for you -- "

But Gillam was on his feet, yelling. His phone was a glossy black, otherwise identical to Margie's. Margie watched his jubilation for a minute, then said in a chilly tone "I have so cleared the way for you, all your pampered life."

Without missing a beat, Gillam retorted "Yeah, cleared like a bull elephant charging through the brush, maybe."

Margie stood haughtily and began heading for the stairs. Gillam lifted his arm like a trunk at her retreating back and gave forth a long pachyderm bellow. Allie had begun laughing when Margie wheeled and charged Gillam in fury. They collided and were slapping at each other savagely, but their blows were rendered almost comical because each of them was holding their cell into the air with their other hands, out of harm's way.

Edwina began making baboon cries, followed promptly by Ginny doing chimpanzee shrieks and Myra doing the vague jungle bird heard in movie backgrounds. Margie and Gillam both stopped and looked at them incredulously. Ginny got up and began cavorting around the table, dragging her knuckles on the floor. Allie fashioned her long hands into a crocodile's jaws and snapped at Ginny.

Margie and Gillam finally joined in the hysteria. After the zoo calmed down, Myra stood and said "You two get to clean up before you go upstairs and waste a fourth of your allotted minutes this one night. I do advise you to learn the details of our plan limits before heartache sets in. Otherwise, have fun -- we're going to the living room to talk like normal people, in person."

"Normal is a setting on the dryer" said Gillam, audibly for once. Margie gave him a high five and put her cell in her pocket to start rinsing dishes.

Copyright 2008 Maggie Jochild.


Thursday, February 21, 2008


Another excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. If you are already a familiar reader, begin below. The action in the story resumes immediately after my post yesterday. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.

Early October 2004

The following Monday, Myra was deep into writing when the kids got home after school. First to arrive was Margie, and Myra was vaguely aware that Margie came into the kitchen but couldn't stop writing long enough to turn around and say Hi. She heard footsteps go upstairs. A while later, Gillam got home, yelling out "Hey, Mom" from the hall. She did turn around then and wave distractedly; he too went upstairs to his room. This was Ginny's night to go to Al-Anon, she wouldn't be home until 5:30.

A little after 5:00, Myra hit a stopping point. She saved her day's work to her hard drive and her online briefcase, printed out the pages she'd just added, and leaned back with a pencil to read it over. She suddenly remembered she was supposed to ask Margie about the upcoming PTSA event. She set down her pages and went upstairs.

She had just come back downstairs a while later and was standing at the breakfast bar when Ginny came in the front door. Myra walked toward Ginny and motioned her into their bedroom. "I need to tell you something" she said.

She sat down on the bed and Ginny joined her.

"I just went upstairs and found Margie in her room kissing with Jaime." Jaime was a boy Margie had been talking a lot about; they had met him once at a school event.

Ginny immediately stood up and strode toward the bedroom door. With a speed Myra didn't know she still possessed, she managed to outrun Ginny and block the door.

"For shit's sake, Myra, get out of my way!" yelled Ginny.

"Can't we please just talk first?" said Myra. "Don't you even want to hear the whole story?"

Ginny glared at her, then stalked back to the bed and sat down. Myra thought her thigh muscles looked tensed for leaping up again. Myra sat down facing her.

"I went up to ask her something and I did that thing where you knock but don't really pause, just turn the knob and go on in? So as I swung the door open, they jerked apart. I was flustered, and I actually said 'Excuse me' and backed out, shutting the door again. Then I realized what I was doing, and I knocked on the door again, waiting this time. Margie said to come in, and when I opened the door, she was standing in the middle of the room, freaked. Jaime couldn't look at me. I asked Margie to come out into the hall, I needed to speak with her a minute. I took her well away from the door and I said 'I am truly sorry I didn't wait after knocking. I apologize. However, if you bring a boy home and want to take him up to your room, you need to tell me or Ginny about it."

"Damn right" said Ginny.

"She said I was too busy writing to notice her, and the fact is, she's right. I mean, I heard her come in but I didn't even register there were two sets of feet. She said when I didn't talk to her, she left us a note on the breakfast bar that Jaime was here."

"Did she?" demanded Ginny.

"Yeah, I was just reading it when you came in. So then I said I wasn't going to tell her she couldn't kiss someone in her room, but I needed us to agree on limits. I asked her if she could promise me that kissing is all they would do, absolutely all, even if things got -- charged -- or if the other person was trying to talk her into it. I said if she couldn't promise that, we'd have to come up with something else, but if she could promise me that, I'd be okay with it."

"You did what?!!" yelled Ginny. "You can't make that agreement without me!"

"I made it clear it was just what was okay with me, that she would have to make her own terms with you. She did promise me, Ginny. And I believe her."

"Well, you're an idiot, then" said Ginny.

Myra sighed. "Can I at least tell you why I believe her?"

"Because you were sexually active at her age and you think it's all wonderful" snapped Ginny.

"I was sexually active at her age, you're right, with someone who was exploiting me. I had no sense of my own worth or boundaries, and you know damned well I'm aware of that." Myra paused, trying to not go into a victim stance. "I would never use my own experience as a model for Margie."

She paused again. Her chest was hurting.

"Okay, Myra." Ginny's voice had ratcheted out the harshness. "I'm sorry."

"At some point, Ginny Bates, we need to have a serious discussion about that it's going to take for you to take my recovery at face value. I'm really ready to not hear your negative assumptions about me with regard to sex and intimacy. You need to let it go."

"Just like you've let go of being jealous of Jules Lefkowitz?" said Ginny, a mean tone returning to her voice.

"I don't bring her up two or three times a week. Anyhow, we'll have that discussion later. Back to Margie -- I don't think she's going to do what I did. I am incredibly grateful she still wants to try dating and kissing, this soon after the rape, and not in a compulsive way. Here's what I registered about what they were doing: They weren't on Margie's bed, they were on her loveseat, facing each other, holding hands sweetly. I think it's quite possible that she initiated the kiss. And it was just a lip on lip kiss, not frenching."

"Maybe you just interrupted them too soon" said Ginny.

"Maybe" agreed Maggie. "But Gillam says this boy is really nice to the kids Gillam's age, doesn't ever put them down -- Gillam said he was 'cool'. I know Jaime's the only child of a single mother, who works hard to support them, and he's a top student. He's not a total geek, but he's not part of the upper social set, either. I think he's likely amazed that a girl like Margie is paying attention to him, and from what I can tell, from what she's saying about him, he knows he's lucky. And -- when I was bringing a girl home, which looked completely innocent back then because what could two girls do -- we didn't ever have sex in my room. She was too canny for that. We'd go out for a drive and park somewhere on a back road. That's what rural kids do, I don't know what city kids do. But Margie didn't have her door locked, I doubt he's even capable of making a move on her, and it occurred to me that maybe she chose the spot because it was safe -- nothing beyond kissing was going to happen, and she counted on that. I'd like to support that choice. If she's able to think about taking a step with safeguards in place, then I'm thrilled."

"You're making a lot of assumptions" said Ginny. "You don't know what he's capable of."

"You're right, I don't. But after what Margie's been through, and the counseling and help she's gotten, I think maybe she can tell. And she wouldn't kiss anybody she didn't really trust. I don't think she's going to get burned again. Girls who get raped and don't get help with the healing, yes, they act out their damage over and over again. But honestly, Ginny, do you really think that describes Margie?"

Ginny thought for a minute. She blew out a breath and said "Okay, no, I don't. I do trust her. I just don't trust the boys."

"Well, at some point, we're going to have to. "

"I really don't like the idea of them being over our heads right now, kissing."

"I doubt he'll ever kiss her again. He's fucking terrified of us, Gin -- any boy in their right mind would be. But yeah, the idea of our children having a sex life in this house is creepy. What a hypocrite I am to even say that, but I am the mommy. I wish at least once every day that we could just skip their adolescence and fast-forward into, oh, around 26 or 28." Ginny laughed with her.

"Speaking of which..." Myra gave another big sigh. "When I told you that the sex talk with Gillam was your responsibility -- I wasn't kidding. I really don't think I can do it. If you can't or don't want to, then I guess we need to find somebody else -- maybe David."

"Why can't you talk with him, when you do so well with Margie?" Myra was gratified to hear that "so well".

"I'm not sure. I mean, he has a real penis, not a rubber one, and I am worried about making him feel bad for that. Because, deep down, I don't think a penis is anywhere near as good as our equipment. And also, he and I have been so close since he was born, physically close -- I don't want to lose our connection by bringing up sex. I'm sure this is all pathological and incest crap, I'm not defending it. I just don't think I can do it."

"It's nice to hear you have a limit" said Ginny.

"I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean" said Myra a little testily.

"It's not a put-down -- it's not meant to be." Ginny took Myra's hand. "You know what? I can do it. I'll use the oversized dildo like you did -- "

"Well, for god's sake, please impress upon him that penises are not meant to be that big" urged Myra.

"-- And I will tell him if he needs condoms and can't get them, we'll help. In fact, I'm going to go up now and get it over with. It's going to be a wretched evening here, anyhow, might as well have both of them embarrassed beyond endurance at the same time."

Myra chuckled. "When I was leaving the hall after talking to Margie, I noticed his bedroom room was a little bit ajar."

"He's quite the eavesdropper."

"One way of coping with a houseful of extremely powerful women. Anyhow, as I walked by I grabbed the knob and jerked it shut. I heard a muffled thud right on the other side of the door."

Ginny had reached under the bed, pulled out their duffel, got out the dildo and a handful of condoms, and now stood up, chuckling with Myra.

"Uh...Ginny? If you walk up the stairs with that and run into Margie and Jaime --"

They both burst out laughing. Ginny went into the bathroom, got a handtowel and wrapped her portable sex kit in it. Myra met her at the door and put her arms around Ginny's neck. "Thank god you are my partner" she said. Kissing Ginny's cheek, she added "You are the most amazing mother I've ever known."

Ginny's eyes filled. "You mean that? Even better than yours?"

"Hell, yeah. If I'd had you as a mother -- well, I wouldn't have wasted 30 years of my life." Myra looked a little sad. Ginny kissed her solidly and said "They weren't wasted years because they got you where you wanted to be. And thank god I'm not your mother, is all I can say."

"I get your drift. Listen, I'm going to start dinner. Shall we ask Jaime to join us? Set a precedent for hanging out here with us?"

"Yes. What are you making?"

"Something simple and wholesome. Veggie soup? And maybe grilled cheese sandwiches?"

"Mmm. There's some fresh collards in the crisper, will you put that in the soup at the end? And a bit of miso?"

"Yum." They kissed again and left the room.

The soup was simmering when Ginny came back down, holding the handtowel. She opened it and pulled out the dildo, saying "I believe we are officially done with this. Shall we put it in the garage sale box?"

Maggie laughed, opened up the trash can, and threw the dildo into it. She piled plastic wrappings from the cheese on top and closed the can. She began cutting thick slices of pumpernickel bread for the sandwiches. "How is he?" she asked Ginny.

"Shall I grate cheese?" said Ginny. She pulled out tillamook and the grater. "Well, it actually went okay at first. You know what a good listener he is, even in emotional situations, and he kept his eyes from meeting mine but he nodded at the right times. I demonstrated l'applicatione of l'condome, as they say, but I didn't make him take the instructional aid because, the fact is, he's got a better model. But when I gave him the extra condoms and told him I expected him to practice with them all the next time he got an erection, well -- he got a hard-on. Right on the spot."

Myra stopped slicing. "Oh, no -- god love him."

"I pretended not to notice. I wasn't sure what to do. I wanted to just kiss his sweet forehead and say 'It's all going to be okay' but I was afraid that would make things worse. So I made my escape after that. He's dealing with it, I suppose. And the only thing worse than having to cope with your children having sex lives is probably them knowing you know exactly what they are doing."

"Okay, stop, I don't want any visuals in my head."

"Myra, what is that other smell in here?"

"I put some of those Boque pears in to bake, with butter and cinnamon. No brown sugar on yours."

They heard steps on the stairs. Margie and Jaime arrived, with agonies of indecisive body language.

"Hey, Jaime" said Myra. "Would you like to eat dinner with us?"

He was momentarily struck dumb, then cleared his throat and said "Sure."

"Margie -- " began Ginny. Margie froze. "I had to go to Nordy's today, to return that ghastly birthday present your Bubbe sent me, and on the way out I saw the most beautiful sweater in the world. I bought it, but once I got in the car, I realized it's really much more you than it is me. Go look at it -- the bag is on the couch -- and if you want it, I can just barely stand to give it up."

Margie got the bag and pulled out the sweater, a silvery-blue pullover. She held it her face and said "Mom, it's cashmere!" She glanced at the price tag and looked at Ginny in disbelief. "This is how much it cost?"

Ginny was helping Myra melt sandwiches on the griddle. "Yup. Can you believe that piece of crap Helen sent to hang on the wall, with its malapportioned geese -- "

" -- And those dragonflies --" remembered Myra.

" -- That thing cost as much as this sweater? No wonder real artists aren't appreciated."

Margie threw her arms around Ginny. "It's gorgeous. Thank you so much, Mom." Ginny lingered in the hug. "I'm really proud of you, Margie" she whispered.

"Jaime" said Myra, startling him from his stare. "I got a question I'd like to run by you." He was stiff with apprehension. "Gillam tells me you're really into science. I don't know if you know this, but I write science fiction, among other things." She paused to turn over sandwiches.

Jaime blurted out "I've read your books."

Myra looked around at him. "Have you, now?"

"They're awesome" he said shyly.

Myra grinned. "Well, that is damned nice of you to say." He smiled, then, and it transformed his face. Myra realized in that instant how beautiful this boy was.

Ginny sent Margie to set the table as Myra continued with Jaime. "Have you ever read anything by C.J. Cherryh?"

"A couple of books" he said.

"Well, she sometimes writes about a part of space where there are planets of methane-breathing species, and I can't quite wrap my mind around that. So the question is: What do you think the chief physiological differences would have to exist in a body that was adapted to breathing methane instead of oxygen? You can just make guesses, it's all guesswork anyhow."

Jaime settled down happily onto a stool at the breakfast bar and launched into conversation. As he was walking, he pulled out a cellphone and punched in a text message. He said, as an aside, "I just wrote my mom saying where I was." Good boy thought Myra.

Myra was cutting the sandwiches into Mary Poppins halves and Ginny was pouring the soup into a tureen -- company for dinner -- when Gillam came slowly down the stairs. As he ventured in the kitchen, focusing on the floor, Myra said "Have you washed your hands yet?" The minute it was out of her mouth, she regretted the implications. He said dully "Yes."

"Jaime is eating with us, so will you get five glasses of water on the table?"

Gillam looked up in tremendous relief at the news that another teenaged boy would be at the table. Deliverance. He walked over and punched Jaime affectionately on the shoulder. "Hey, dude" he said.


When they sat down to eat, everybody looked relatively normal again. After holding hands and observing a minute of silence, they watched as the teenagers took enormous helpings and chatted cheerfully. Ginny kept winking at Myra, who found herself blushing.

When Margie and Gillam got up to clear, Myra said "How's the homework situation with everybody?"

"Done" -- "Done" -- "Don't have any tonight" came the replies.

"Great. I rented a movie I know you two haven't seen -- " she gestured at her own children -- "And if you want, we can watch it, though Ginny and I saw it in the theater: Fahrenheit 9/11."

"Count me in" said Gillam.

Jaime let Margie lead. Very good boy thought Myra. Margie said "That would be fun."

"If the three of you will clean up and put away, I can make lunches for tomorrow. What would you like, Gillam?"

"Do we still have that turkey left from last night?"

"Yes. Turkey on what, pumpernickel or wheatberry?"

"Either. With everything. And some of this cheese."

"How about you, Margie?"

"Turkey sandwich sounds good, but no mayo. Mary Poppins on pumpernickel."

Myra sighed. "How a child of mine could turn out not liking mayonnaise..." She turned to Jaime. "Shall I make you a lunch for school tomorrow? You could take it home with you."

Margie said "Oh, do! We can sit together in the cafeteria with matching lunches, and be all mysterious about it, not answer questions about why."

Jaime was thrilled. "Yes, please. Like Gillam's."

Myra and Ginny made sandwiches, assembled bags of baby carrots and broccoli florets, and opened some Terra sweet potato chips to make little packets of those as well. Myra poured the rest of the chips into a bowl for a movie snack.

"We only have one baked pear left, but there's also two brownies in the fridge -- who wants what?"

Gillam looked at Margie. "You guys take the brownies, I had an extra one last night."

Ginny glanced at him appraisingly. He was registering some kind of approval with that gesture.

After the lunches were bagged, labeled and set in a row on the refrigerator shelf, Ginny said "I'm going to bow out, if that's okay with you. I want to get back to the studio."

Myra pulled her in close and said "You go, girl." Ginny leaned in for a kiss that turned extremely passionate and long. After they parted, Myra whispered "You did that on purpose." Ginny whispered back "I always kiss you on purpose." Ginny walked toward the back of the house, and Myra turned for the living room, ignoring Jaime's belated attempt to not be caught watching them.

"What's your curfew, Jaime?"

"I need to be home by 10:00" he said. "But I have a Vespa, you don't need to drive me."

"It's the most beautiful deep pink" said Margie. "You can spot it anywhere."

"I like pink" said Jaime, trying not to be defensive.

As they went into the living room, Myra said "Did you know that prior to World War II, pink was considered a boy's color and baby blue was considered a girl's color?" Jaime was startled and pleased. "Just goes to show you about all that immutability of gender roles crap" Myra drawled.

She and Gillam grabbed the couch, leaving the loveseat for Jaime and Margie. They sat close but not glommed onto each other -- another point for Jaime. Halfway through the movie, Myra wished she could give the rest of it a pass and go back to where Ginny was. But that would leave Gillam alone with his sister and her maybe boyfriend -- not a good situation for any of them. She did ask for a pee break, though. After using the bathroom in her study, she found Ginny stretching canvas.

"Oh, no" she said.

"What?" said Ginny.

"I don't mean oh no, really -- it's just that you're probably going to start a painting tonight. Which means I won't get to sleep with you all night."

Ginny grinned at her wickedly. "I'll go to bed when you do. And I won't leave until you're sound asleep."

Myra grinned back, and said "You didn't really buy that sweater for you, did you? It's not your color."


"You're wising up about how to play Margie instead of butting heads with her. You can't win in a direct confrontation because she's so much like you in all your best aspects."

"That's the second extraordinarily nice thing you've said to me today."

"Well, I'm just glad there's at least one big difference between the two of you. I'm so glad you like girls." Myra kissed Ginny lightly and rejoined the movie crew.

Copyright 2008 Maggie Jochild.



(Feet, photo by Amar Khoday)

It's a shorter scrap of Ginny Bates, my novel-in-progress, tonight because there's a longer segment coming up tomorrow. If you are already a familiar reader, begin below. The action in the story resumes immediately after my post yesterday. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.

24 September 2004

Carly had been allowed to come to Seattle Thursday night before Yom Kippur. He and Gillam planned to fast and attend services. Soon after he arrived, he told Myra and Ginny that he had to be back by Sunday supper-time and "the only train leaves at noon". His face was woebegone at the loss of three extra hours with Gillam.

"Then we'll drive you" said Myra impulsively. "We'll invite your family out to dinner."

Patty declined, however, saying they wanted a private family meal at the end of the weekend. When Margie heard that, she begged off the trip as well, and in the end, it was just Myra driving the boys on Sunday afternoon. She and Gillam stopped for chili dogs and shakes after parting from Carly. On the way home, Myra's careful questions got Gillam to open up a little about what a hard time Carly was having, still.

During the course of this conversation, it became clear that Gillam was managing much better. Several of the kids at the Center School came from lesbian or gay households, including two in Gillam's grade. Which I'm glad for Gillam's sake, but it doesn't say much about the class and race consciousness of my people, thought Myra.

That night she researched humor sites online, most of which she found appalling. She was able, by wading through misogyny and racial hate, to collect a cache of jokes which were smart, glib, and didn't put anyone down. She began texting one each morning to Carly. Maybe he could pass them off as his own; humor could find him a niche in a crowd of strangers. She signed each message "Love you, MISS you, Mom #743". It was all she could think of to do.

Another month of separation went by. Near the end of October, Olympia schools had a three-day weekend and Carly got permission to spend it with Gillam. He arrived Thursday right before dinner. As they were finishing eating, Carly said to Myra, "Um...Number 743? I have to produce a sestina by Monday for school, and I'm pretty stuck. Could I get a professional consultation?"

Ginny and Gillam both looked confused by the 743 remark. Myra said "You're on the clock. Follow me, we'll leave clean-up to the non-poets."

Settling Carly at her desk, she filled him in on the cultural underpinnings of sestinas, listened to the ideas he had and gave him a couple of nudges, pulled her rhyming dictionary and thesaurus from the shelf, and left him to it for a while.

Back in the kitchen, she asked Gillam "How's about you? Got any looming homework you'd like to clear off your decks for the weekend?"

Gillam sighed. "Yeah, I have a French essay that's not going well."

Myra looked at Ginny and said "I think that's your province, my crepe suzette."

"Mais oui" said Ginny.

Myra turned to Margie, who said swiftly and with a shade of condescension "I'm covered, thanks."

"In that case" said Myra, "I'm going to walk Narnia -- " Narnia stood up with a woof -- "down to Horizon Books and see if the new Laurie King is in."

"Oh" said Gillam, "I have a couple of things on order there, will you check under my name?"

"May wee" said Myra, picking up her keys and starting to dodge Narnia's frenzy.

By midweek, Ginny had been in Painterland for a day. Margie planned to go to Amy's after school and wouldn't be home until near bedtime. Myra had found a writing stride and was almost ready for a break when the phone rang. It was Gillam, saying he was borrowing a friend's cell, he wanted to bring a friend home for dinner, was that okay?

"Sure" said Myra. After she hung up, she went to the freezer, pulled out a spinach-barley casserole and four salmon steaks. She set the steaks in a marinade, put the casserole to bake in the oven, romped with Narnia for 15 minutes in the back yard, then returned to her writing.

Gillam was half an hour late. At the last minute, Myra yelled to Ginny "Hey, there's a guest about to arrive, you need to put on clothes. Gin? You hear me?"

"....Okay" said Ginny. Myra saw her go by toward the bedroom and return wearing sweatpants and one of Myra's old T-shirts, her brush in her hand both times. When Gillam arrived, his friend turned out to be a girl named Tamika, mixed race from the look of her, with braids sticking out all over on one side of her head and a sweep-pull-down sort of wave on the other. Her clothes looked expensive to Myra, but Margie is who would know for sure. She was avidly taking in every detail of Myra's study. Her gaze especially kept returning to the jumble of photos over the desk, and Myra finally looked where she was looking: Allie with the kids, Allie with Edwina.

"Who is that?" Tamika asked, when she saw Myra following her gaze.

"My godmother, kinda my third mother" said Gillam unself-consciously. "And her partner. And this -- " he pointed to a photo of Chris and Sima " -- are like moms number five and six."

"So it's all lesbians, all the time?" said Tamika, with some undercurrent Myra couldn't name.

"Not my sister" said Gillam swiftly.

"But you're the man of the house, right?" said Tamika.

"I guess" he said.

"And your mom over there, she's really famous, I've heard other kids talking about her" Tamika said, turning around to look in Ginny's direction. Ginny hadn't said hello or appeared to notice them. "What's she painting?"

"We don't know. We never look until she's done" said Gillam.

"Listen, dinner is under way but you need to go out and pull stuff for a salad" said Myra. "Margie's not eating with us, so whatever you like is fine."

He led Tamika outside. She stood to one side, refusing to take the tomatoes and cucumber he handed in her direction. He tucked up the hem of his shirt and used it as a collecting basket. She walked over to the glass wall and stared through it at Ginny's canvas. If Ginny turned around and caught her --

But Gillam apparently said something, because Tamika reluctantly came back to his vicinity. As they returned to the house, she waited for him to open the door for her, then cast a flirtacious look back over her shoulder. Aha, thought Myra.

Tamika perched herself on a stool at the breakfast bar and watched, chatting, as Gillam washed lettuce and made a salad. Myra left them alone and although she could not see Gillam's face, she could detect nothing different in his tone of voice. He called around the corner to her "How long till the casserole's done?"

"Fifteen minutes. You can grill the fish if you want" she called back. Ginny came out of her fog at that and gave them a fuzzy hello. Myra kept writing, or trying to.

When Gillam called "It's all ready", she joined them. Gillam was hurriedly setting the table, Tamika still only watching. Myra set salad dressings on the table and sliced a couple of lemons before sitting down between Gillam and Tamika.

"What about your 'other' mom?" said Tamika.

"She's working, she usually doesn't stop to eat" said Gillam. He took Myra's hand and reached across the table to Tamika, who took his hand with a giggle, then, a little reluctantly, closed the circle by putting her hand in Myra's. They observed their minute of silence, kissed the back of each other's hands, and dug in.

Well, Gillam and Myra dug in. Tamika ate a bite of the salmon and stopped. She pushed casserole around on her plate, then asked if they had bread. Gillam got up and sliced some for her, offering to toast it, which she accepted. She asked for margarine, and when told they only had butter, she sighed before accepting. She ate the croutons and lettuce in her salad but nothing else, filling up mostly on bread.

While they ate, they talked about school, Tamika frequently making jokes about other kids but failing to draw Gillam into character dissection. They were working on a science project together having to do with light refraction, and once he persuaded her onto that topic, it was evident the girl was truly brilliant. Myra was reassured. She missed Margie's presence, however. Margie would have an incisive assessment to offer later, if she'd been there.

After they finished, Myra stood and said "I didn't make dessert, Gillam, it being a school night, but you and your guest could get one of our homemade ice cream sandwiches from the freezer if you want. I'm going to leave clean-up to you two. Let me know if you need something from me."

She returned to her desk. Tamika sat at the breakfast bar again to eat her sugar while Gillam cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher. He didn't seem to mind it, but Myra felt irritated for his sake and tried to focus elsewhere. When he was finally done, she heard Tamika say "Let's go up to your room and watch TV."

"I don't have a TV in my room, the only one we have is in the living room" he said apologetically.

Myra came into the kitchen to refill her tea.

"What is it that you want to watch?" she asked.

"Whatever looks good" said Tamika.

"We don't watch just for the sake of watching, usually" said Myra. Looking at Gillam, she said "Is your homework done for tomorrow?"

"Yep" he said. He turned to Tamika and said "We could go swimming, it's a heated pool."

"I don't have a suit" she pointed out.

Myra looked at her and said "We could loan you one of Margie's from last year, it'll fit you fine, I think." Tamika was going to argue, but Gillam said "You can see my famous butterfly -- I'll race you!"

God help her, she thought he was finally flirting with her. "Okay" she answered. Myra went upstairs and raided the stuffed drawers that Margie kept refusing to clean out, coming up with two suits she had outgrown. She gave them to Tamika and directed her to the guest bathroom. Gillam was already in the pool by the time she emerged, tugging at the back of her two-piece.

Myra got herself an ice cream sandwich and returned to her desk. After an hour, she looked outside and saw Gillam churning laps, but there was no sign of Tamika in the water. Myra walked to the door and saw Tamika again staring at Ginny's canvas through the glass wall. Myra gave an irritated jerk of her hand, motioning Tamika away. She complied, but not hastily.

When they came back in, she insisted after they had changed that they settle at the dining table with a game or a project. She didn't want them holing up in Gillam's room, even if the door was left open. Gillam brought down his Leica, borrowed Myra's jewelery's tool kit from her desk, and they disassembled the camera to look at its lens. She earnestly hoped Gillam could get it back together in working order.

At 9:00, she returned to the dining room and said it was approaching Gillam's bedtime, what was Tamika's curfew? Tamika said her mother was still at the office, it was left up to her.

"Well, why don't you give her a call and tell her you're on your way home?" suggested Myra nicely.

Tamika pulled out her cell sullenly and punched in a text message, saying "She won't get this until she gets home, anyhow."

"What does your mother do?"

"She's a lawyer" said Tamika neutrally. Myra wanted to ask about a father but didn't want to push compulsive nuke fam on her. Clearly there wasn't a second mother.

"I'll give you a ride home" said Myra.

"That's okay, I have a bus pass" said Tamika, not moving from her chair.

"No way am I sending you out at this time of night to ride the bus" said Myra. "Gillam, you can go with us, and yes, Narnia, you heard the magic words." That finally got Tamika to her feet and following her to the car.

Gillam sat in the back with Narnia. Tamika turned out to live not very far away (Myra sighed inwardly), in a downtown high-rise. The clothes were expensive, then. Myra pulled into a no-parking zone and said "Here's my cell number, please give me a call when you're safely inside your home. It was nice meeting you."

Tamika stared at her. "I'm fine" she argued.

"Nevertheless, I want to know you're behind locked doors before I drive off" said Myra. Tamika looked back at Gillam and said "How about if you walk me up?"

"Sure" said Gillam, unbuckling his seatbelt and telling Narnia to stay. Myra called after him "Don't go in, I can't stay here at this curb long." They headed into the building -- no sign of security at the front to check people in or out. Myra wondered how well Gillam was going to negotiate saying goodbye to Tamika at her door. Tamika offered no thanks to Myra as she left.

Gillam was back in less than five minutes, whistling. He slid into the front beside Myra and said "Can we creep by Horizon on the way home, I want to see if that new Augustin Burroughs is in their window?" He seemed the same as usual.

As Myra drove, she tried out wording. Finally she said "So, how did you two wind up doing this science project together?"

"Ms. Rupert told us to pick somebody, and before I could think of who I wanted, there was Tamika, talking about prisms. She's a whizz at physics, Mom, like, best in the class."

"I'm not surprised" said Myra. "I'm going to ask you a personal question, and you can refuse to answer it if you want: Do you have a crush on her?"

"No" said Gillam in horror. "She's just a friend, okay?"

"All right. Forget I asked" said Myra. "I'm glad you brought her to dinner. Do it again, or anyone else at your school. Except maybe we should find out what she actually eats besides bread."

Gillam laughed, relieved. "I know. I saved that salmon, I'll eat it tomorrow for lunch." He was silent for a block, then said "Mom...she complained about how Margie's suit fit her, said the ass was all stretched out..."

"Thank god Margie wasn't there to hear it" said Myra fervently.

Gillam stalled for another minute. "I like how -- our family looks. you think I'm going to get a bubble-butt, too?"

God bless him. "Oh, no, Gillam, I seriously doubt it. This is one of the actual hormonal differences between males and females. If you've got a uterus and theoretically will be called upon to bear children, at puberty hormones kick in to lay down fat in areas where your body can easily convert it to use for a fetus. Like hips and bottoms. And breasts. But for males, the demands on them will be different, which is why your shoulders are widening, and the long bones of your arms and legs are growing again. I mean, yes, some men do get large asses, but David doesn't have one, so I don't think you will. Instead, you're losing fat and gaining muscle in your calves and forearms." Your chubby angel arms and legs are disappearing, she wanted to say. And she hoped she was not passing on some Desmond Morris bullshit she'd picked up along the way.

"Sometimes my bones ache" he complained. "Sometimes it's hard to go to sleep."

"Ah, sweetie. You went through a growth spurt when you were four or five when you said the same thing. Remember how I used to give you massages as I told you two stories?"

He was embarrassed, muttering "yeah".

"We could use some of Mom's arnica. And let's ask Nancy if there's herbs she could recommend" said Myra.

When they got home, Margie was there, her head in the refrigerator. "Your mother hasn't eaten yet" called out Myra, "so leave enough for her."

Margie shut the door and said "I don't know what I want."

"How's Amy?"

"Fine" said Margie. Monosyllabic mode was on.

"Well, I'm going to make a liar out of myself and suggest we watch a little TV just for the hell of it" said Myra.

Margie slumped into the easy chair, reaching for the remote but Myra grabbed it first. Gillam said, not looking at Myra, "Could I maybe get a foot massage?"

"You bet" said Myra.

"I'm going to wash my feet" said Gillam, blushing.

Myra turned on the TV, flipping through channels. When Gillam got back, his pants were rolled up to mid-calf and he had the arnica with him. He lay down on the couch and shyly put his feet in her lap.

Even with the washing, Myra could tell she'd need to scrub her hands later. Both her children now had body odor, when had that happened? Yet another change she hadn't signed off on.

She remembered reading something by Annie Dillard about how grotesque adult feet look to children. When their kids were little, Ginny had often cupped their feet in her hands, small and tender morsels that were now bony lengths itching to walk away from them.

Ten minutes later, she heard a raspy breath from Gillam and looked around at him. He was sound asleep, his head bent against the couch arm. Margie gave him a look of disgust and said "Please, can we change the channel, I could care less about what Jane Fonda thinks."

Myra tossed her the remote, saying "I went into your chest of drawers tonight. I loaned one of your old swimsuits to a friend of Gillam's who was here and wanted to swim."

Margie's face showed perfect outrage. "Which suit? And what friend?"

"The orange one, you haven't worn it in a year. And her name is Tamika."

Myra saw Margie mimic the name sarcastically but not out loud. She began channel-surfing.

Myra thought suddenly about blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos, how they lay two eggs but whichever chick emerges first gets the lion's share of the food, eventually becoming strong enough to push the second chick out of the nest, where it dies. This was explained as nature's way of guaranteeing one viable offspring each mating season. She pulled the afghan from the back of the couch and covered Gillam's feet protectively.

Copyright 2008 by Maggie Jochild.