(Blueberry Pie and Bagettes, mosaic mural by Therese Desjardin)
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.
Though the renovations to Jane and Gillam's house were much less extensive, Jane was over there every day she was not called in to substitute teach. Gillam brought home a face mask for her to wear to filter out paint and other fumes. When Ginny saw it, she drove right down to the same store and bought a supply for Myra. They actually helped Myra stay on site more, giving Ginny half a day off at a stretch, which she usually spent in the garden at Jane's, as they had begun to call their old place.
A week later, Myra woke up with the inevitable "bowling tournament", as she called it, that seemed to be part of their upstairs neighbor's morning preparation for work. She noticed that Ginny felt very hot to the touch. Over breakfast, she asked "Are you feeling a painting coming on?"
"Fighting it" said Ginny tightly.
Myra thought for a minute. "Go ahead. I can handle it."
"Are you sure? It's the plumbers this week, and if that tile upstairs has to be replaced -- "
"I'll consult you about the design. Otherwise, I'll take my laptop and sit on the bench by the fireplace downstairs, that's a relatively calm spot. We need to put down a dropcloth in the studio here, though."
She helped Ginny get set up, made her lunch and set an alarm to go off at noon to remind Ginny, and drove to the new/old houses with Jane. She emptied a thick cardboard box of its sink and used that as a table for her laptop. The second day, she took in a large cooler of soft drinks and snacks which she handed out to crew, solidifying her position as the new go-to owner. After four days, Ginny had produced a spectacular portrait of Jane as a pregnant Valkyrie. After ten hours sleep, she woke up with a second painting nipping at her heels, and Myra waved her on.
Demolition finally came to an end at both sites. Myra's turf was filled with plumbers, electricians, and elevator installers. The solar panel folks were doing both roofs at once. The back corner of their yard was dug up to install the grey water tank and the rainwater collection cistern, tracking mud throughout every room. At Jane's, however, exterior painting and appliance installation began. Ginny's blue door was transformed to a rich brown, while the outside walls became ivory.
"Won't that show every spot of mildew? And reflect sun-based heat, instead of absorb it?" Myra asked Ginny at dinner that night.
"Yes indeedy" said Ginny shortly. "But the copper salmon will go back on our new blue door. And Jane is from California, remember."
Myra wasn't sure what that last part meant. However, all their decisions seemed to be made just as much by Gillam as Jane. She decided not to point that out to Ginny. Instead, she said "The wrong fixtures were delivered for the roll-in shower. It's called brushed nickel instead of the shiny stuff you ordered. I called but you didn't answer, and they said it would take another week to exchange things, so I went ahead with what we had."
"Well, shit" said Ginny. "Did they find that leak in the side wall?"
"No. But they decided to run pex there instead of using the old pipes anyhow, so it doesn't matter."
"How much extra is that going to cost?" demanded Ginny.
"I don't remember. It's got a 20 year guarantee, though. Look, Gin, we're doing well, relatively speaking. At least the space they made for the elevator actually appears to match the car it's designed for, let's count our blessings. Here, have my extra scallop."
By the first of April, Jane and Gillam's house was ready and they moved in, with a pizza dinner that night for the extended family. They had purchased a massive old table which Ginny was going to paint for them at some point in the indefinite future. It was battered and had more than one finish at the moment, but nobody cared: Getting to eat in the familiar yet utterly transformed dining room was a relief for everyone.
A few evenings later, Gillam walked over through the new gate and invited Myra and Ginny to come for dinner which he was cooking. After seeing off their work crew, Myra and Ginny approached the back door, hearing Jane at the piano and the recently uncovered hot tub bubbling again. Gillam let Myra make the gravy for his broiled chicken, and Ginny went upstairs to cut herbs. Afterward, they retired to a living room arranged in a way they'd never used with furniture they'd never have looked at twice.
When she needed to pee, Myra stood up from the chair which was more comfortable than it looked it would be and faced a quandary: The bathroom adjacent to the main bedroom was no longer "her" bathroom. Neither was the bedroom. After a moment's hesitation, she turned left and went to the guest bathroom next to what was, thank god, still a laundry and storage room.
After she came out, she went to the kitchen to refill her cup of tea. Ginny followed her, calling out to those in the living room "Shall I start another pot?"
"I'll do that" began Gillam in his host voice.
"No need to, if you want the same as before" said Ginny. He settled back down and said "Will you bring it in here when you're done? And pile more of those hazelnut bars on a plate, too."
"Their compost is overdue to be taken out" Ginny whispered to Myra.
"I'll do it" Myra offered, but Ginny said "No. It's their household, they'll run it the way they want." After a moment, she couldn't help but add "Sitting in that living room, though, is like being in an Ikea catalogue."
"They bought it themselves" said Myra, "That's what counts."
"Did he just hate all the color and solid old furniture growing up, then?" continued Ginny in her barely-breathed but still aggrieved tone.
"He adored it. But he did grow up. And he's sharing his world with someone else now. I gave up the idea of ever having my own soda fountain on this counter here because of you, remember Besides, the feel of this house is still as wonderful, don't you think?"
Ginny grudgingly agreed it was nice to be there. As if to argue with herself, she said "The biggest plus is the commute we had to get here."
"Exactly" grinned Myra.
"What are you two whispering about in there?" called Gillam. Ginny poked her head around the corner with a quizzical look and said "Uh, are these little brown mice new pets you didn't tell us about?"
Gillam was on his feet in horror before he realized Ginny was teasing him. They all laughed as she and Myra returned with a tray, Ginny saying "If I'd let you have that soda fountain, you'd be dead now of a heart attack."
Jane was now eight months pregnant and having trouble finding a comfortable position in which to sleep. Both she and Gillam looked tired all the time. Myra began doing their grocery shopping for them and persuaded Gillam to accept a cleaning service to come in once week for laundry, vacuuming, mopping, and other heavy labor. It was all he and Jane could do to keep up their classes and Gillam's job. They had both done extra class work all semester as a deal with their professors against the time when the baby would be delivered and miss at least a week for Gillam, more for Jane. Jane was going to take her final exam later in the summer. They were both such exceptional students, they were granted this leeway.
Myra also got into the habit of making lunch for Jane, walking over to their house through the gate and finding out what Jane's appetite was needing that day. She made enough extra to provide the young couple with dinner as well. Ginny was going over in the morning to have breakfast with Jane, who had stopped getting up with Gillam because she was short on sleep.
On Sunday, Myra and Ginny arrived with a large roast, two ducks, and enough side dishes to feed an army. Jane and Gillam were both crabby, and Myra said "We're just dropping these off. We plan to be next door, hashing out yard plans on graph paper, if you need us for anything." Neither of the young people urged them to stay. Once they out of earshot, Ginny said "I think they were fighting."
"Wouldn't surprise me" said Myra. "Is it safe for us to use the elevator yet?"
"I don't know and I'm not going to risk it. There's stuff we can do inside, since it's starting drizzling. I'm taking this broom upstairs." She vanished into what Myra was beginning to think of as an enormous house, especially compared to their cramped apartment.
An hour later, Gillam came in the back door. "I made a pie earlier, thought you'd like a piece" he said, holding out a plate with two wedges on it.
"I would, even though I'm full of my share of that roast" said Myra. She sat down on a lower step and offered him to join her. "Wow, this is tasty -- did you add almond juice to the blueberries, or what?"
"Or what" grinned Gillam. "Trade secret."
After two more bites, Myra said "So, how's it going?"
"We're squabbling over the baby's name" said Gillam dejectedly. "And I can't talk with you about it, don't try."
"Is she unyielding in a way you never noticed before?" asked Myra. "Petty? Humorless?"
"Yeah" said Gillam, surprised.
"It's not her. I mean, it is, but it's the final trimester hormones hitting her brain, too. Protect the fetus at all costs translates into some weird behavioral shifts" said Myra.
"Good to hear" he said. "I'm feeling pretty irrational myself, way too often."
"A little like watching a freight train bear down on you?" said Myra.
"I thought getting the house ready would help more than it has" said Gillam. "I guess there's no sanctuary from insane responsibility."
"You're up to it, boychik" said Myra. "If Poppyseed appeared overnight, you're ready. What's required is empathy, flexibility, and love, love, love. You're as good as they come in those departments."
"I get scared when I see her climb the stairs" he said. "I get scared when I feel the baby move under my hand. I'm scared now, being out of the house."
"I hear you" said Myra. "It gets better, once you have a routine of hands-on things that actually do make the baby safe and happy."
He rubbed his forehead. "Listen, I need to tell you something. You and Mom both."
"Should we get her down here, or you want to start with me?"
"I'll take the easy route" he said with a faint smile. "You know that Jane's parents are coming for the birth. And Lucy, if she can. They'll be staying at our house."
"Yes. We'll be on call to feed them or drive them around, if necessary."
"Yeah, Thad has offered, too. Well, the thing is...Jane wants her mother and Lucy in the room for the birth. And her dad, if he really wants to. Plus me. But nobody else." Gillam looked at her with not quite apology.
"Oh. Well, I guess -- I had hoped to see your child born, I'll be honest. But -- it's what the mother needs, Gillam, what the woman doing all the work that counts. And you, I don't mean to erase your role, but she's -- it's unbelievable, giving birth, Gillam. You have to be and do whatever Jane wants. You're her lifeline. Even the baby comes second, once labor is underway." She repeated what Patty had told her before Margie's birth.
"I don't think Mom is going to be so understanding" said Gillam.
"Don't underestimate her. She delivered both of you without anesthetic, she knows firsthand in a way I don't. And, if you asked us but not Allie, well that would be strange, and then what about Carly and Margie -- no, I think Jane's support system makes sense. We'll be on hand, out in the waiting room, when you need us." Myra was deeply disappointed and determined not to let any of it show.
"Jane says fuck pain, she's having an epidural" said Gillam.
"Good for her" laughed Myra.
"How about if you and Mom do all the arranging of the naming ceremony?" said Gillam. "At our house. And if Aunt Cathy is here, we want her to be the kvatterin. If not, then Aunt Allie, like she did for me."
"And Margie" said Myra happily. "Are you getting Rabbi Rachel to officiate?"
"No. Carly" said Gillam. His elbow was next to Myra's, and she suddenly realized he was trembling slightly. She put her arm around his shoulders and said "It's going to be okay, honeyboy. It's all going to be just fine."
He cried, as she hoped he would, leaning against her and letting his chest heave. Ginny appeared from above them and sat on his other side, stroking his back. When he was done, he wiped his face with the back of his hand and said "Whew. A little backed up, there."
"Come visit the gatekeeper anytime" said Myra. Ginny had picked up the pie plate and began eating.
"I should get home. Stop by again before you leave, okay?" he said, kissing them each on the cheek.
After he was gone, Myra filled Ginny in on the conversation. Ginny said "I'd wondered about the birth room thing. I don't blame her. The truth is, if Chris hadn't been phobic about hospitals, I'd not have wanted her and Sima in there with us, either."
"A month from now..." mused Myra. "And the contractor told you absolutely, we get this place finished in ten days?"
"He swore. For what it's worth" said Ginny.
The following Friday, shabbos was at Chris and Sima's. Chris's dictionary had been published by the Smithsonian and she had advance copies for them all to crow over. It was a jubilant meal.
Over dessert, Sima said "Guess who I ran into on the street this week? Yoshi Barton."
Myra looked instantly uncomfortable. Allie said "Yeah? She living here now?"
"Yes, she's moved back with her partner. She asked about you. She likes your books, she said."
Ginny said "I don't think I know her, do I?"
Sima answered "She's one of Allie's exes. They were together around the time I met Chris. She asked after you, too" she said to Chris.
Chris said "I bet she didn't ask after Myra." Her tone was provocative.
"Why wouldn't she?" said Gillam.
Myra didn't look up from her plate. Gillam couldn't tell if she was mad or embarrassed.
Allie said "Myra didn't like Yoshi. Was crazy jealous of her."
Myra did look up, then. Mad, Gillam decided. "You're right that I didn't like her. But it was not jealousy."
"What was it, then?" challenged Allie. Ginny realized this was an old, untouched wound.
"I don't think she was...ethical" said Myra.
Allie said to Edwina "We was together almost a year, and Myra never once hung out with the both of us."
"I don't remember you asking me to" retorted Myra. "And I'm sure she didn't."
"Did you have some sort of past relationship with her?" asked Ginny cautiously.
"No. I mean, I'd met her. Through Blue" said Myra. There was definite evasion coming from her, Ginny could tell.
"So you just magically knew she was wrong for me from the get-go and that was enough to not support me in the first big relationship I had during those years" said Allie. "But you can't explain why."
"Was I wrong about her?" replied Myra. "I mean, she dumped you for somebody else and never answered your calls."
"You never talk about her" said Edwina quietly.
"It's a sore subject" said Allie. "Matter of fact, let's drop it now."
There was a long, turgid silence. Myra could tell Edwina's hand was on Allie's knee. Finally Carly said "How 'bout them Seahawks?", which sent them all into relieved laughter.
Back at their apartment, as Ginny was heading for bed, she stopped and turned to Myra. "What's the story with that ex of Allie's -- Yoshi, was that her name?"
Myra put down her pencil and sighed. "I don't talk about it. I don't have anyone I can talk to about it. But I'd like to. You have to promise to never tell anyone, especially Allie."
Ginny sat down swiftly at her worktable. "I promise."
"She was a friend of Blue's, from Ithaca, where Blue lived before. She moved here with her lover, Wicca, after they'd traveled around in their camper for several months. They were crashing with Blue, and fighting nonstop because somewhere along the way, Wicca had slept with a woman they met. They were technically nonmonogamous, but it was one of those deals where neither of them ever acted on it, so they had all the political points without having to deal with actual other women. But Wicca had upset the applecart, and Yoshi couldn't get past it. So...I had some sort of rep as being good with mediation, helping dykes sort out stuff. I'd do it for groups or two women in conflict, usually for a simple barter. Blue asked me if I'd meet with them, and I agreed. Wicca was good at haircuts, so I traded a two hour mediation for two haircuts, I remember. I didn't tell Allie about it because, well, I felt like these sessions were confidential and shouldn't be part of community knowledge."
Myra stopped, rolling her pencil back and forth cross her desk.
"And?" prompted Ginny.
"Well, it did not go well, to say the least. They'd been together at least five years but you coulda fooled me, they had absolutely shitty communication skills. Wicca was apologetic, kept saying she'd never do it again, she'd take it back if she could, but that wasn't good enough for Yoshi. She wanted her beaten down and destroyed, seemed like. I finally confronted her and said 'What do you hope to get from this? Wicca can't apologize any more than she has. Either you believe her and move on, or you two won't be able to go on being lovers, is that what you want?' Wicca was wailing, saying 'Don't leave me!' Yoshi was so fucking cold, I couldn't believe it. She said 'We have to even up the score. The only way to do that is for me to fuck somebody else, too.' Wicca begins begging her not to, saying it'll make her crazy, which is just feeding Yoshi's lust for vengeance. Then Yoshi says 'And since you say this woman you were with didn't mean anything to you, I'll make that even, too. I'll pick somebody who's a nothing, a loser. I'll fuck her and we can talk then about starting over.'"
Ginny's face was horrified. "You're not saying..."
"Yep. They left, because Yoshi wouldn't budge and I said I couldn't help them any further. And six days later, not even a week, Allie calls me one morning before work to say she's got a new girlfriend. She was thrilled to bits, saying it had happened in a whirlwind, after one date. I had to get off the phone to throw up. I couldn't tell her, Ginny, you see that? I couldn't break confidence, but I also -- I just wanted it not to be true. And when Yoshi kept seeing her, I thought maybe it wasn't revenge, maybe she really had fallen for Allie, I mean, who wouldn't? Only then Wicca came over to give me a haircut and she said Yoshi had called her, they were talking about making up when Yoshi was 'done with her affair', and in the meantime they were sleeping together again. I was beside myself, Ginny. And I couldn't talk to anyone about it. After a few days, I called Yoshi and told her if she didn't stay away from Allie, I was going to beat the shit out of her. She laughed at me and hung up. And then she stayed with Allie for months and months, dragging her through all kinds of emotional games and lying hell. She never did get back with Wicca, she was jacking her along, too." Myra's face was miserable.
"And Allie never knew?"
"Not from me. But she stopped talking to me about her and Yoshi when she decided I was jealous of them and being irrational. It was -- it took everything we had to stay friends through that." Myra looked into Ginny's eyes. "I hate her, Gin. Yoshi, I mean. I think she is the scum of the earth."
"I can see why" said Ginny. "I think you should tell Allie now, though.'
"What, that she was so pathetic she was tagged as a loser by someone new to town, a woman she loved who used her as a pawn? I can't say that to Allie" said Myra.
"But it's a barrier between you. Listen, how about if I talk it over with Edwina? Allie doesn't see herself as a reject any more, not in any way. I think she'd be relieved to know you weren't an asshole in the way she thinks you are. You are vitally important to her, much more than even the memory of Yoshi is, I'm sure" said Ginny. "Secrets are toxic, Myra. In ways you can't control."
"I don't know" said Myra worriedly.
"Trust me, Myra. I think this as much for Allie's sake as for yours. Give me the okay to talk with Edwina, and if she disagrees with me, says don't tell Allie, then we won't. But if she thinks Allie would rather know, well, you'll trust her assessment, won't you?"
Myra chewed her lower lip. "Yeah. Okay. Especially since that fucking skank has moved back to town and I may have to run into her."
Ginny stood and kissed Myra. "I'm amazed you've kept this to yourself without imploding."
"Anything to not hurt Allie" said Myra. Ginny hugged her close and whispered "I know what you mean."
© 2008 Maggie Jochild
Saturday, October 4, 2008
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.
The day after Ginny's birthday, Myra slept late. When she got up, an enormous wooden crate blocked the living room, and Ginny was methodically removing all the art, hers and others, from walls, wrapping the pieces in special padded boxes, then standing them on end in the crate. Myra helped her with a feeling of desolation at how the house already looked. Ginny packed fragile and rare items, like the pot Myra had brought her from Second Mesa, into a second compartmented crate, and they hammered the lids down. Late that afternoon, a crew came to take the crates for storage at a bonded warehouse with temperature control and high security.
Over the next two days, they sorted through all the items they'd possibly need for three to four months and packed what they could into boxes. Everything else going into storage would be left for the movers. Gillam and Jane wanted to keep the shelving in the store room, so the rows of preserves could be left. Ditto the contents of the freezer, and all of Ginny's plants on the upstairs deck. Gillam's bedroom furniture was moved into the upstairs hall and stacked. The mini-stove in Carly's kitchenette was given away, since Jane wanted to use that space for a stacking washer and dryer upstairs, an idea Myra wished she'd had decades earlier. Carly and Eric moved the furniture from his old room to their apartment.
Myra had difficulty determining which books she might want in the next quarter year. Finally Ginny said "Just pack the ones in your study that you've actually opened in the last six months. Everything else goes to storage." Carly and Eric came over a second evening to help with this, tackling the shelves on the stairs. Myra was clearing out the pantry and overheard part of a quiet conversation between them. Carly had said something about Gillam and a "balancing act".
"What is it with him and her? Were they always like this?" said Eric. As Myra wondered which "her" was meant, Carly said "Think Sarah Connor and John. That's a good comparison."
Eric giggled. "Lordy. Where does that leave you, then?"
"In the clear" said Carly cheerfully. Myra repeated this snippet later to Allie, who found it very entertaining.
"What else did they say?" she asked.
"Uh...I think they began making out then" said Myra, embarrassed.
On Friday morning, a large team of movers arrived with two trucks, one for storage and one to carry what they were taking to the new apartment. It was a hard day for Myra and Ginny both. The movers finished by 5:30, accepted cold drinks and snack boxes, then pulled off as Margie and Frances pulled up. "I've ordered Chinese food" announced Ginny, her voice echoing through the living and dining rooms. The fridge was gone, but they had a cooler still holding ice and drinks. When the food was delivered, with paper plates and plastic forks, Gillam and Jane arrived with Carly and Eric.
They ate every last scrap, sitting in a circle on the floor. After dinner, Margie said "Is your new apartment set up for you?"
"Not nearly" said Myra. "We've rented a motel room for the night. We got you one, too." She handed Margie a key.
"Why don't we tour Gillam and Jane's new house, now that it's cleared, and hear what they plan to do with it?" suggested Ginny. Jane looked at her gratefully.
It was eerie, how large the rooms seemed. Myra and Ginny stayed arm in arm as Gillam explained how they planned to arrange the new family room once the wall between the old study and studio came down, with his desk in a corner and Jane's piano at the end. He and Jane waved their hands as if magically spreading carpet on floors or paint on walls, mentioning colors like oatmeal, champagne, biscuit. Ginny kept squeezing Myra's arm unobtrusively.
They went upstairs to the mural room, still covered in the drapery panels Gillam had chosen as a teenager. "You should see these walls, Jane" he said. "Can we get these down without hurting the mural underneath?"
"They're screwed on at the corners" remembered Ginny. Frances pulled a Swiss Army knife from her pocket and extracted the screwdriver. Kicking off her shoes, she said "Gimme a boost" to Margie, who made a stirrup of her hands and lifted Frances to her shoulders. Frances balanced against the far wall of the bedroom and unscrewed the top corner of one panel, then walked with her hands as Margie carried her to the other corner, which she unscrewed as well. Sliding to the ground, she disconnected the bottom two corners, Gillam and Margie holding the panel in place until it was all loose . As they lowered it and placed it against the side wall, Jane gasped.
The river at Green Knowe flowed into the river in front of Ratty's house and Toad Hall, which emptied into a lake from Swallows and Amazons, which drained into the Everglades where a group of girls in fol boats were trying to outrace an approaching hurricane while in the swamp beyond them Mowgli was talking to Bagheera. On the shores, extending up into mountain ranges or nearby plains and forests, were Joan of Arc and Robin Hood, Charlotte in her web, the Would-Be-Goods, Harriet Tubman leading escaping slaves past a cheering Scout and Jem, Harriet the Spy taking notes on Buffalo Woman who in turn was trying to approach Misty of Chincoteague's wild pony parents, Justin making biscuits at a campfire nearby, and a small pond covered with water lilies adjoining Linnea in Monet's garden -- all were revealed in vivid color.
Gillam stepped over to put his arm around Jane's waist. "Wait until we take off the ceiling drapes. Peter and Wendy are flying up there, with Mary Poppins and Dragonwings -- "
"And Kiki running deliveries, which got added in after you were born -- " said Margie.
"Flying Monkeys and the Wicked Witch of the West" remembered Carly. Ginny gave Myra a nudge, grinning.
"Podkayne of Mars, in transit" continued Margie.
"Stuart Little in his airplane" added Gillam. "Wonder Woman in her invisible airplane, and Amelia Earhart over the Pacific. But no Ripley" he said, turning to Myra. "Why nothing from Alien, Mom?"
Myra nudged Ginny back, more forcefully. "I was defeated by the Hays Code" she replied.
"A whole new generation is going to fall asleep at night with these images in their heads" said Gillam, wonder in his voice. "In fact..." He looked at Jane, who finished his sentence for him.
"We were hoping you'd do a second mural in the other bedroom up here. A lot has happened in the world of children's books since I was born, and we plan to have two bedrooms full of kids."
Ginny's eyes were welling. "Of course we'll do it. I mean, I can't actually speak for Allie -- "
"But you know she will" said Myra.
"I'll help!" said Margie eagerly.
"Me, too" said Carly. "Can't paint but I can haul ladders, whatever lifting needs doing."
Gillam said "We'll need a whole wall just for Allie's Podinqo books".
"And Skene" said Ginny.
"And Maira Kalman" said Jane. "Max, Mrs. Kackleman, Grand Central -- "
"Hey Willie See The Pyramids" said Gillam, grinning at Margie.
"Calder's Circus" added Ginny. "Stay Up Late."
"We missed all the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings possibilities the first time around" said Myra. She mouthed at Gillam "And Ripley." Ginny pretended not to see.
"Arthur, D.W., and Buster making maple syrup with the lesbians" said Frances.
"Plus Lemony Snicket" said Jane. "All the Philip Pullman books. Olivia. And that train ride through the water in Spirited Away."
"And on the ceiling, Porco Rosso, Princess Nausicaä and Howl's Flying Castle" said Gillam, getting more and more excited. "And Catwings, and oh my god, a quidditch match!"
"Hermione!" breathed Margie.
They all stood still for a moment, imagining the room to come. Then Margie walked over to the closet and swung open the door.
"Come look at this" she said, motioning Frances to her. On the back side of the door were two painted lines marked off in one inch intervals, labeled "Margie" and "Gillam" in different colors. Their heights at each half-year gap were inked in. Jane and Frances were enchanted.
"Look, we stopped at 16" said Margie. She asked Myra "Got a pen in your back pocket?"
Giggling, Myra pulled it out. Margie backed up to her name and Gillam drew a line on the wood at the crest of her head, then she did the honors for him. They wrote down the date and their ages. "Now it's all done" said Gillam. "We'll have to find a new place for our children's progress."
Ginny was trembling. Myra kissed her cheek, and they started back downstairs.
Myra turned into their old bedroom, still linked with Ginny. As everyone filed in behind them, Ginny said to Gillam "That glass wall originally was like the other walls, with just two casement windows."
"Wow, hard to imagine" said Gillam.
"And our bed was over here against this wall" said Myra, walking to the spot. She looked at Ginny and said "The first time we ever made love was right here."
Ginny said softly "Remember how I couldn't wait?" Suddenly she recalled, vividly, Myra's expression as she looked down into her face and the feel of Myra's hand sliding between her legs for the first time. She closed her eyes momentarily, weak with desire.
Gillam turned and left the room. Myra, not noticing, pointed back to the spot in front of the glass wall and said "And both our children were conceived in that very bed."
"With eggs I'd carried my whole life, waiting to use for just that reason" said Ginny.
Gillam, discovering everyone else was still in the bedroom listening, came back and stood leaned against the doorway.
Margie said, "Well, as one of those eggs, I do most earnestly thank you."
Ginny laughed and pulled Margie in between her and Myra. "You spent your first nights home in that bed with us -- you, too, Gillam." She craned her neck around at him. Jane stepped over to Gillam and said to him "As will our babies, hmm?"
He beamed at her. Frances linked her arms between Carly and Eric and asked "How about you, boyfriends? Planning to reproduce?"
Carly was startled, then laughed and said "You offering a womb?"
Eric and Frances found this hilarious, as did Margie. Myra and Ginny smiled but did not laugh. Neither did Gillam.
Myra said "Well, to quote Annie Lamott: 'A hundred years from now? All new people.' So, let's bow to the inevitable, leave this house to Jane and Gillam, and I, for one, need to go to bed early tonight." They hugged Jane and Gillam goodnight and walked back to the living room, bagging trash and carrying the cooler to their car. When Margie and Frances joined them, they left for the motel. Myra refused to look back at the front door.
The following night, their first at the new apartment, Myra found herself awakened repeatedly by sounds from outside and the apartment upstairs. She was unable to sleep in, either. She dragged herself out of bed not long after Ginny got up and went with her to the renovation site of their new house, stopping for a Coke along the way. By lunch she was so cranky, she drove herself home for a nap instead of eating. She put in foam earplugs and slept for three hours. That night when she went to bed, she put in the earplugs again.
The third morning, she woke up before dawn feeling congested. Taking out the earplugs didn't help the swollen feeling in her head. She rummaged through the closet and finally located her breathing treatment machine. She took it into the living room and set it up on the end table next to their one easy chair. After having a treatment, she felt a little better and dropped off, but was awakened by neighbors getting up and going to work. By the time Ginny got up, Myra said she had an earache and was coughing up thick phlegm. Ginny took her temperature and found it was over 100.
Myra called her doctor's early hours nurse and finally persuaded her to not force an office visit on her. She was prescribed an antibiotic and a decongestant, which Ginny ran out to pick up for her, along with a gallon of orange juice. Back at the apartment, Ginny made a quick batch of garlicky chicken soup while Myra ate dry toast and drank OJ with her first round of drugs.
"Eat a bowl of this whenever you can" said Ginny. "I really have to go back to the work site, honey. But I'll have my cell -- "
"I'm going to hang out in the easy chair and watch movies all day, with breathing treatments every four hours" said Myra, coughing at the end.
"Uh...The movies are all in storage, I think" said Ginny.
"Oh, god. Daytime TV is depressing" said Myra.
"Make a list and I'll run to rent you some before I leave" said Ginny, feeling harried already. Myra asked for her laptop, which Ginny brought to her. Her list wound up with 24 titles on it.
"I'm not going to rent this many" objected Ginny.
"Ten. Get the top ten if they have them" said Myra. She looked mulish, and Ginny didn't argue.
"And Beebo, I want Beebo here for company" added Myra.
"The last thing you need is cat fur in your lungs" said Ginny.
"It's already on this chair, and I'll keep him out of the bedroom. I need him" said Myra. Ginny had to borrow Gillam and Jane's litter box, making two trips across the complex to set up Beebo with Myra. He was highly interested in their apartment and was still investigating when Ginny finally escaped, saying "No cheese, no milk, don't put those earplugs back in, and if you need something delivered, try Allie. I'll be home by 6:00 and feed you something else then."
When Ginny got home, a loud chase scene was blaring. Myra was leaned back in her chair asleep, Beebo at her shoulder. He woke up and looked at Ginny quizzically. The end of the dining table nearest Myra was littered with take-out boxes full of Thai dishes. Ginny looked for Coke bottles but found none; the orange juice was empty. When she turned off the TV, Myra woke up and gave a long belch before demanding the remote.
Ginny muttered to herself "I might as well have a husband" and began carrying take-out into the kitchen. Myra said "I ordered you a shrimp something. And I'm hungry again."
"How long have these been sitting out?" said Ginny.
"Two-three hours" said Myra. "It's so spicy, it won't have turned. And it really cleared my head. I want more of the yellow curry dish, it's got tofu and water chestnuts, you'll like it. And the crab wraps. And -- oh, some of everything, really."
Ginny made two plates, heated them in the microwave, and joined Myra at the table, insisting she sit up and eat like an adult.
"This that new place? It's extremely good" said Ginny.
"Mm-hm" said Myra, not mentioning the mango pudding and sticky rice buns with red bean paste she'd had for dessert earlier. Beebo's kibble looked untouched, and Ginny guessed he'd helped himself to the chicken soup in Myra's bowl on the floor or take-out cartoons all day. Gillam stopped by for a visit after dinner and took Beebo home with him. "Drop him off tomorrow on your way to work, please" called Myra after them.
"I want you to try sleeping in the bed tonight" said Ginny. "We'll put an extra pillow for you. Eventually you'll get used to the noise, Myra. Did you sleep any solid amounts today, or was it all movie-laden dozing?"
"Mostly the latter" said Myra. "I feel raw, still." She hadn't asked about how the renovation was going at all. Ginny felt drained herself. She mixed more juice and a carafe of herbal tea, and coaxed Myra into a shower with her, hoping the steam would help. They didn't have a tub in this apartment.
Myra slept in chunks but again got up before dawn to take a breathing treatment. Ginny found her watching another movie with the sound turned off and captioning on. "Didn't want to wake you" said Myra.
"Do you still have a fever?"
"Maybe when I first got up" said Myra. "Now I just feel achy. What the fuck are they wearing upstairs, wooden shoes with metal spikes?"
Ginny made them eggs and fruit. Gillam forgot about Beebo, so she had to go retrieve the cat again before leaving for the construction site, which was pure chaos. Jane rode with her to check on the progress of their own house. Because of Jane's needs, Ginny came home at 3:00 and found Myra eating a cheeseburger with Chris, watching some thriller from the summer before.
"I finished the chicken soup" said Myra, trying to appear virtuous. "And the solar panel folks called me three times, despite me giving them your cell number over and over, did they get hold of you?"
"Goddammit, no, and I kept leaving them messages" said Ginny. She sat down at the other end of the table with her notebook and phone. Beebo hopped up beside her and she pushed him onto the floor irritably. She wrangled with obtuse men on the phone, her voice loud because of the TV blare. When the movie ended, Chris picked up their food debris but came back to sit on cushions on the floor near Myra, showing no interest in leaving.
Ginny went into the kitchen and began constructing a salad. She wasn't quite done when Carly and Eric stopped by with fresh salmon and an offer to cook it with one of Eric's noodle dishes. Ginny gratefully accepted, and as they filled the small kitchen, she complained for half an hour nonstop about the trials of dealing with construction crews. Carly listened patiently, putting a small slice of salmon in Beebo's bowl atop the still undisturbed kibble.
Myra wasn't hungry again yet, so Ginny ate with Carly and Eric. When they were done, Carly methodically harassed Myra from her easy chair and into shoes for the walk to his and Eric's apartment. "You need to move your body, to clear out the infection" he insisted. "I'll put you through a routine on our machine and you'll sleep tonight as a result." Chris left with them, and Ginny relaxed into the sensation of having space and silence for a while.
Myra returned with color in her face again and sweat on her cheeks. Ginny asked her to go over some house questions, and Myra sat at the table with more attention she'd had in days. When Gillam walked over to pick up Beebo, Myra told him she wouldn't be at home all day the next day, so Beebo shouldn't plan on returning.
She did sleep better, but was still tired when Ginny woke up. They ate together and Myra said she needed to go slow, she'd come over to the work site at noon, bring Ginny lunch. She kept her word but didn't stay long because her wheezing recurred swiftly with all the dust in the air. She had her laptop with her, and instead of going back to the apartment, she went to a diner and sipped Cokes while reading e-mail and blog comments. She wrote a new post, then sat staring out the window for half an hour. Finally she opened a new document and began writing.
The only reason she noticed the time was because the diner had filled up. It was almost 5:00. She hurried home, Ginny calling her cell just as Myra was parking her car. She helped Ginny make a quick veggie pasta dish with the last of their salad greens as a side. After dinner, she opened her laptop and continued writing.
"Something new?" asked Ginny, looking over her shoulder.
"Yeah. Memoir, I guess you'd call it. Not sure what it's for" said Myra. She vanished back into her computer. Ginny sighed, looked through the cupboards until she found her favorite sketch block and pencils, and sat at the other end of the table to draw Myra. Anything but floor plans and design ideas.
Myra's sleep was normal that night, although she went to bed late, staying up writing. She didn't want to go with Ginny to the new house the next morning but forced herself. Once again, however, her wheezing flared. She left apologetically, going to Pike for groceries as penance and making clam fritters with roasted corn for Ginny's dinner. The rest of the time, she wrote, creating an outline for what she was now calling her Memoir with a capital letter. Allie and Edwina joined them for the meal, bringing mashed sweet potatoes and ripe kiwis. As they ate, Allie and Edwina talked about research trips they planned to make once Edwina had retired.
After clearing the table, they returned to drink tea and hear stories about Ginny's time at the job site, where she managed to turn her frustration into funny stories. When the wall behind the space where the elevator was to go had been broached, half a dozen frantic mice had poured out, making one burly guy scream and two younger man flee the room before they could stop themselves.
"What did you do, levitate?" grinned Allie.
"I happened to be on the stair landing, and I remained there until one guy with heavy boots stomped them into oblivion" said Ginny. "Thank god all that flooring is going to be replaced, is all I can say."
"You need to add finding an exterminator to the list of things to be done" Myra said to Ginny. Ginny gave her a look as Myra continued "Since I can't be around all that airborne crap and who knows when it's going to get better, I was thinking about going up to Anacortes for a few days. Check into my motel and write."
"You mean, without me along" said Ginny, deceptively calm.
"Well, somebody has to ride herd on 'em over there, and since you're clearly having fun with it -- " began Myra. Allie kicked her so hard under the table that Myra leaped in her chair, saying "Fucking OW, Billups, what the hell?"
"I can find worlds of fun you can share without being at the site" said Ginny, her jaw tight. "Like calling an exterminator, for one thing. You can still write, and go to diners during the day if that's beckoning you, but I need you to help keep this apartment our temporary home and to do your share now, Myra."
"Oh. Well, I wasn't trying to duck out on you or anything" said Myra. Allie snorted.
Ginny's eyes were wide and clear. "Are you under the impression that this house renovation is somehow more my responsibility than yours?" she continued.
"No, no. I just...Never mind. We'll go over the list tomorrow and divvy things up." Myra coughed, not deliberately but Edwina looked at her suspiciously.
"Well, I need to mosey on home. You can get some writing in tonight. Come to our place tomorrow night for shabbos" said Allie. "I'll make ribs. And chicken for you, boss" she said to Ginny, who laughed. After she and Edwina were gone, Myra asked Ginny "What are you going to do now?"
"Sit at my work table and read mail. Check my e-mail. Talk to the geckos" said Ginny.
"Are you mad at me?"
"Not quite. But get in gear, Myra. And listen, if you're up to hauling laundry tomorrow, we need some done."
Myra concealed her reaction. "That means getting quarters from somewhere, I guess."
"I've heard banks have them" said Ginny. She headed for the study/studio. Myra sent text messages to Gillam, Carly and Chris, telling them they were all eating at Allie and Edwina's the next night. She went into their bedroom to sort laundry, then finally gave herself permission to return to her laptop at the dining table.
© 2008 Maggie Jochild.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
(Save My Ass Too, by TMNK, The Me Nobody Knows. Used by permission of the artist. Mixed media on canvas.)
(Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, 1933; photographer unknown.)
My grandfather Bill Atkins ran a gas station in a tiny Crosstimbers town ten miles from the Oklahoma border. He claimed to have once pumped gas for Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, giving them free soft drinks when he recognized them. He said they paid him with silver dollars that he was sure came from a recent heist. It's a good story, and certainly their route of coming and going did include that county. But I've never believed it. He was a great teller of tales, and Bonnie and Clyde were much admired in that part of Texas. They robbed banks, you know.
(Jesse and Frank James, Carolinda, Illinois, 1872. Photo from the collection of Phillip W. Steele.)
Bill's father, Joe Atkins, had been a blacksmith on the same block where Bill had his gas station. Joe claimed that around 1880, a couple of hard-looking men rode up on lathered horses. One of the horses had thrown a shoe, and as Joe fitted a new one, he realized they were the James brothers, Jesse and Frank. Joe said he didn't let on, and was glad to see them leave without incident: He did admire them, but people had a way of dying around them. Again, it's a possible event, but unlikely because of the mismatch of timing and geography. People in that community told the story about him, however, more than 60 years after he died. The James boys didn't just rob the hated banks, they often gave away some of the money to ordinary folks in need. Or so the legend goes.
When I was about to graduate from high school, I went to the man who had been in love with my mother all her growing-up years, Son, and asked for a job in his insurance office. I could type well and was the image of her, and he hired me almost before I could finish asking. I told him I needed to work and earn money to help me get through my first year of college. The truth is, I had a full scholarship but it wasn't enough. I needed money to buy my mother some clothes.
Two weeks before I graduated valedictorian, my father made the rounds of people in the small community where my mother and four generations before her had grown up and asked for "loans" to help buy me a car, so I could drive back and forth from college 70 miles away every week and help take care of my mother. As best I can tell from those who told me about it later, he assembled $500. He didn't ask me if I wanted a car, or what kind I preferred. He went to a shifty drunk in a nearby town and bought me a 1965 Pontiac Lemans, already 8 years old and with an engine which had been abused. It was a faded yellow with a black landau roof, bucket seats, and an 8-track tape player. On a list of automobiles I would have chosen for myself, it ranked near bottom.
He put down $50 on it, he said, and when he gave it to me, he said I'd have to come up with the rest of the $325 sale price. Over my mother's protests, he drove me into town in the car, showing me how it would go 100 miles per hour along the way, and escorted me into the local bank where the loan manager was Son's little brother, Kent, another man who had grown up with my mother. Kent knew about my summer job and college acceptance. He was uncomfortable, and so was I, but he gave me the loan, talked me through the process of repaying $30 a month for a year, and shook my hand when I left. He did not shake my father's hand.
I didn't like to speed. I had no 8-track tapes, only cassettes. And the monster ate oil. But it was the only car I was going to get. Later my friend Dale, who was Kent and Son's nephew, told me everybody knew the car's asking price was $175. The guy who sold it to Daddy gave him back $100 in cash from the loan check he received. There had never been a down payment. This means Daddy cleared at least $600 on the deal. I don't know what he did with the money. I saved enough to buy Mama some clothes. I bought myself a pair of persimmon-colored hip huggers which I discovered, once I was on campus, were totally out of fashion. The Pontiac died a year later, after I had paid off the loan without ever being late. It meant going hungry on my part. Kent may have been a banker but he was a friend of my mother's and wasn't about to let down her honor.
During my lifetime, the United States has become a society living by credit. Of course that can't go on forever, any more than the constant need for growth and expansion inherent to capitalism can exist indefinitely. (I'm sure we've all read the Edward Abbey quote, "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.") So when it comes time to find a different sort of financial system because this one has become dysfunctional beyond repair, well, I can imagine it looking very much like this week. It was all based on belief systems and emotion anyhow, and when white men panic (as they do with depressing frequency), they too often hold everyone but themselves responsible.
I refuse to worry. For one thing, it does no good, and persisting in behavior which does not help bring about a positive outcome is nuts.
But more to the point, we have for years now been in the grips of a government which controls us by the use of fear. They know damned well we, the masses, stop thinking when enough of us get scared, and then they can do any shitting thing they want. The shell game didn't work Monday, the market boys went all henny penny but got some single-malt-induced sleep and, what a surprise, the market bounced back Tuesday. The news cycle now is all about how well it didn't matter that the drop was so huge (what? that's not what you said MONDAY night), now it's all about how banks won't loan to each other. Doom, doom, doom.
And by the way, now it's not a bail-out, it's a rescue package. As if comparing it to feeding refugees or finding housing for the growing tent cities in major American cities will make us feel more willing to write checks for the people who have been earning their living from charging us interest on what we need to survive.
What happens if a culture designed to run on credit abruptly finds credit limited only to those who can afford to pay it back safely and promptly? Cut through all the doom talk and you realize the number one outcome will be that profit will have be derived from other sources. Diverse, imaginative sources. This could be extremely positive -- imagine FDR style programs set up to invent and build alternative energy resources, or community-run health care clinics, or rehabilitation for Iraq war vets. But another possible scenario, of course, is what happened in Spain when the church declared collecting interest on loans to be usury. Those who sought quick wealth unearned by actual labor decided the slave trade and looting the New World were their best bet. The route our current reinvention will take depends on who is in power and shapes the direction we go as a nation.
I choose not to listen to those who are being Very Serious in their dire warnings and insistence we have limited options. We have an entire fucking horizon of options, and the thinking which pulls us into a new way of being is simply not going to come from those who participated in dragging us into this mudhole. Here's a few excerpts I have enjoyed reading this week. The first Michael Moore's Bailout Plan (hat tip to The Littlest Gator for bringing us this.)
The second is from Digby, her support for a "millionaire surcharge" in an addendum to Dday's post yesterday Now That's Not Really What I'm Talking About:
"A millionaire can easily afford to help pay a little bit more for this economic debacle. I'm sorry if their portfolios are going down and their home values aren't what they'd expected. That's the way it goes. They're still doing just fine. I see no reason at this point to pretend that the Randian myth that they must be coddled so the rest of us can benefit from the crumbs that fall off their tables, is anything more than the silly plot of a bad Romance novel. There are no crumbs -- given the chance they eat it all and tell everyone else to go eat a Ding Dong."
The third is a statement by New York City Street artist The Me Nobody Knows, accompanying his painting currently up for auction entitled "Save My Ass Too":
"Some of the wealthiest, most powerful money brokers screw-up and you say you want to use my money to bail them out? They make millions, hundreds of millions, fly first class, live in mansions, and have yachts. Yet we, the poor-ass-struggling folks are about to loan them 770 billion dollars?
"I have a better solution. Let the greedy idiots who caused this mess take their lumps and lose everything. Then do for the American people what we do for developing third world nations, simply forgive our debts. Bail us out. Keep all of us from going bankrupt, and pay our bills, our homes off. After all we're the backbone of the nation, right? Good, for once let those at the top of the mess suffer the consequences.
"Now you've already wasted a bunch of my money looking for weapons of mass destruction, then starting a very expensive war, funded again with MY money. So the way I figure, if you really care about a nobody like me: Dear Uncle Sam, Save My Ass Too! Save My Ass Too"
There's another Atkins family story I want to share with you, about thieves and how we react to them. During the mid to late 1870s, Joe Atkins and four of his brothers were traveling from one part of Texas to another by horseback. They were Tom (b. 1842), John Brittin (b. 1845), Ira (b. 1847), Joe (b. 1856), and Robert Bell Atkins (b. 1858). The three eldest were veterans of the Confederacy, and the two youngest had served in their local militia during the war, including Robert Bell at age 12. They had to camp out overnight, had shot a couple of rabbits and begun a stew in a cast iron pot over the fire. They were in a clearing surrounded by scrubby brush, and darkness settled on them as they made camp. They had just put in biscuits to bake on top of the stew and were waiting for these to be done when, into the circle of firelight, stepped a Chiricahua. He was armed with a rifle but it was not aimed at them. He squatted down on his haunches and looked at them, alert.
Robert Bell Atkins is the hero of this story as it is told. He saw the visitor first, and as he alerted his brothers, he told them firmly "Don't pull your guns. He smells the stew, he's just hungry." He picked up a bowl and put stew in it, adding a biscuit, and held it out to the newcomer. As the offering was accepted, from the night around them, encircling them, appeared a dozen more warriors, armed to the teeth and moving in complete silence. The brothers realized in that instant if they had reacted to the first man with aggression, they would have been killed on the spot.
The brothers, almost of one accord, lay their weapons on the ground. Once these had been collected, a final five Chiricahua emerged from hiding. They settled in to eat all the stew and everything else the brothers had. They left an hour later with the Atkins horses, but the brothers were allowed to keep their boots, pistols, and lives. No attempt at communication was made. When the brothers straggled into the nearest settlement the following day, lame and hungry, they refused to participate in any attempt to go after the Chiricahua. The local sheriff told them it was Geronimo they had seen -- he had just escaped capture again and was known to be in the area. The Atkins felt like they had done well by themselves, and the story was enough.
(Goyaałé/Golah kah yeh, called Geronimo, Chiricahua Apache; full-length, kneeling with rifle, 1887. Photo by Department of Defense. Department of the Army. Office of the Chief Signal Officer, now in the National Archives.)
It is a good story, and different enough from the usual braggadocio that I've thought it might have some truth to it. When I heard it as a girl from various Atkins relatives, the tone in which it was told was rueful, humorous, and always included the line "After all, we'd stolen their land. We were lucky to not get killed." However, Minstrel Boy at Group News Blog points out "It would have been very unusual for Chiricahuas to be in any part of Texas. Mescaleros, Mimbrenos, Tewas, Lipan, and our close cousins, the Comanche would have been far more likely. although during his time on the run from the army, Geronimo and his band were documented in the mountains of Chihuahua and Sonora quite often."
Geronimo was a resistance fighter of the highest order. Minstrel Boy is one of his descendants ("He was my maternal great-great-great-great-grandfather Taza's brother-in-law") and has quoted him as saying "dano'ah selwigoh doo iis dah do'o iindii eedihii nanah daagon'iillka'ad" which translates as "All the free men are dead or still fighting". His given name was Golah kah yeh, which means "The Yawner". Minstrel Boy states "He got Geronimo by attacking a mexican garrison on the feast day of Saint Jeronimo. The Mexicans ran to the battle shouting 'Geronimo!' He figured they were calling out for him."
If we reward and continue enabling those who live by theft and usury, then yes, indeed, everything will collapse around us. If we refuse to listen to fear and instead stay flexible, open, and resistant to greed, we will walk out of this alive and with a chance to live differently. As Minstrel Boy wrote day before yesterday, Which side are you on?
[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
(Paul Newman with campers at a Hole In The Wall Gang Camp; all images in this post from their website)
When I worked at a cancer clinic here, one of the oncologists spent two weeks each summer as the on-site physician for one of Paul Newman's Hole In The Wall Gang Camps in Colorado. His example inspired other members of our staff to donate their vacation time as well to serve at the camp, and one of our extremely competent chemotherapy nurses, Mel, went every year. She was bristly and brisk most of the time: Her job was a hazmat position, and she didn't tolerate any short-cuts. (As you'd wish, in my opinion.) But the camp brought out her deeply tender heart, and I loved hearing her stories after she returned each summer.
The children who attended this camp were profoundly ill, many of them terminally so. They had spent much of their lives in medical settings, shut away from natural environments, spontaneity and risk-taking. The counselors did everything they could to make their two weeks at Hole In The Wall an antidote to the rest of their regimented existence, but sometimes it was a hard sell because the kids were far too used to being dependent and cautious.
There was a tradition that on the next to last night of camp, the most trusted counselor that year would persuade the kids into wrong-doing. A big dessert of some kind would be brought, with much public fanfare, into the cafeteria and stored for a party the next day. Once everyone had gone to bed, the counselor would go from cabin to cabin, rousting well-behaved campers into a raid on the kitchen.
One year it was Mel's turn to lead the raid, the prize being tubs of chocolate ice cream. It took much time to get everyone assembled and on the path to the kitchen, in chairs, on crutches, a few dragging IV poles. Mel said the racket was enormous despite their desperate attempts to proceed with stealth. Since the rest of the staff as in on it, however, no one emerged to demand what was going on.
Once in the kitchen, Mel insisted they operate in complete darkness, which added to the children's thrilled terror. She said it was at this point every year that they began to get into the spirit of it, to revel in their own daring and the denied rebellion of childhood.
They feasted like animals on the ice cream, constantly and vainly shushing one another as the sugar hit their bloodstream. At the peak of their exhilaration, as they were about to sneak triumphantly back to their cabins, Mel released the booby trap, a large pan of silverware which she unobtrusively dropped into the metal sink. The resultant clatter was stupendous.
Children ran in every direction, some of them screaming. As they almost reached their cabins, lights began coming on and other staff would yell to each other behind opening doors, "Did you hear that? Let's go investigate!" Miraculously, however, no child was ever captured. They reached the safety of their own beds and lay there, panting, pulses racing, muffling their own gleeful laughter at the sounds of staff running along the path and loudly repeating the discovery of ice cream theft.
At breakfast the next morning, the camp director would solemnly condemn the actions of thieves. Fortunately, there was a second batch of ice cream in another freezer, and he would conclude with a decision to not punish everyone for the misbehavior of the unknown miscreants. The gloat and shine on the children's faces at getting away with it made Mel suddenly weep as she talked about what it meant to see them having a few minutes of normalcy.
A good life lasts for generations.
[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]
(Me reading my poetry at the "Hot-Mouthed Texas Women" performance on the grounds of the state capital, Texas Book Fair, 1998)
In follow-up to my last post, about the role books played in my childhood and how reading was handed to me by my mother, here's a poem I wrote about it on the 20th anniversary of her death.
BE YOURS TO HOLD IT HIGH
When I was born, within a week
my eyes began to swell and ooze
They called it eczema and told
my mother to tie down my hands
to keep them from the dreadful itch
She bought the gauze to bind my wrists
but also brought home books of poems
And when I fretted she would read
The Highwayman or Flanders Fields
Jellico Cats and Sam McGee
Because I could not stop for death
Margaret, are you grieving
John Anderson my jo, John
We were very young, we were very merry
Until the wire of cadence shocked
my jellid brain and hissed it live
Aside from every cell I am, this flesh
that shows her womb-stamped sport
as well as face so much like hers --
Aside from that, the finest thing
she ever did was give me verse
© Maggie Jochild, written 24 April 2004, 12:15 p.m.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
(Traveler, image copyright by Houston photographer Cara Barer, shown at Pine Street Art Works)
When I was a child, I was home sick with asthma one school day out of five, mostly confined to my bed. Until age nine, this would be in a tiny trailer room with a vaporizer running. My mother was overwhelmed with my little brother, a household to run absent my father, my enraged and epileptic teenaged brother, not enough money, and her own serious health issues. If she made sure I had books, she could leave me on my own for most of the day.
She began reading to me the day after I was born. She'd bought a children's set of encyclopedias before my birth, during a time when money was more flush than usual, and sprinkled throughout each thick maroon volume were clusters of poetry deemed suitable for kids. Which, in the 1950s, was much more challenging literature than it might be now. Probably the first poem she ever recited into my newborn ears was "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes. I knew it by heart by the time I was five.
I vividly remember her voice expressively rendering "Wynken, Blynken and Nod", "The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat", "Solomon Grundy", "The Lady of Shalott", "In Flanders Fields", "Gunga Din", "Annabel Lee", "Casey at the Bat", "The Owl and the Pussycat", "O Captain My Captain", "The Swing", "Ozymandias", "Little Orphant Annie", "Stopping by Woods", "Sea Fever", "The Tyger", "Cremation of Sam Magee", and reams of Millay and Dickinson. For bedtime stories, she picked up A.A. Milne, the Villagers of Chelm, Lewis Carroll, Dorothy Parker's poetry, fairy tales, Just So Stories, or Shakespeare. No picture books or simple rhymes for me, I was already addicted to complex language.
When I reached school and the world of public libraries, I discovered horizons without end: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, Marguerite Henry, L.M. Montgomery, The Secret Garden, Harriet the Spy, Eleanor Estes, E.B. White, Beverly Cleary, Jim Kjelgaard, Wind in the Willows, Albert Payson Terhune, The Borrowers, plus thrilling series like Tom Swift, The Bobbsey Twins, Donna Parker, and those by Troy Nesbitt. We often moved three times a year, which meant a stream of new libraries to loot. Mama would go with me my first time to the library and, nearly always, persuade the librarian to allow me to check out as many books as grown-ups were allowed. Sometimes I had to audition for this access -- Mama would have me recite from adult literature, because memorization was a skill I had down cold. I'm sure the sight of a six-year-old declaiming with cynical passion these lines from MacBeth must have startled the old ladies who ruled the stacks in small West Texas or Louisiana towns:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
If a town had no library (which was common), if the school shelves were ill-stocked or I'd read everything on them (also common), I was allowed to raid Mama's stack beside her bed. I discovered Philip Wylie and Agatha Christie by age eight. The first gave me nightmares, the second introduced me to the permanent joy of mysteries. If those ran dry, I returned to the children's encyclopedia, not just to reread poetry which seemed to be how I had learned to think and speak, but also munching my way through the listings from aardvark to zyzygy. Books were my promise of a world where people had hope and beauty, enough to eat and communities who noticed them.
When I reached puberty, we had moved to a place where I began to make the first real friends of my life and I was able to plug into a rural culture where my mother's family had lived for generations before me. That school library was perhaps the sketchiest of any I ever saw, but a new town library plus the generosity of teachers enabled me to read more than ever. And to specialize in my reading. During the four years of high school, I covered the walls of my room with poetry by Auden, Millay, Whitman, Dickinson, Hart Crane, Rupert Brooke, Langston Hughes, Alan Seeger, and Rod McKuen. (Eclectic doesn't begin to describe it.) I read my way through the entire output of Mazo de la Roche, William Faulkner, Edna Ferber, Richard Halliburton, Willa Cather, James Thurber, and Mary Renault. Mama told me we were distant relatives of Patricia Highsmith and I discovered the immoral Mr. Ripley. I read To Kill A Mockingbird and Walden Pond over and over, with a copy of one of them always by my bed.
I came out to my friends, I became an anti-war activist, I began writing fiction and poetry in earnest, I won state in University Interscholastic League essay writing, I created a weekly column for the local paper, I rejected god, I discovered feminism, I became a mother. All before graduating high school. And the books I read were what enabled me to keep going, keep dreaming, despite bone-gnawing poverty and desperate family circumstances.
In the paragraph above, when I list the writers who shaped my adolescence, of those nineteen names, seventeen were lesbian, gay or bisexual. I absolutely did not know it then, did not even guess at it. I only discovered their personal identities, in one-by-one revelations, during my 20s and 30s. Yet somehow I gravitated toward their writing, finding an essence that fed me. And saved me.
In one of my favorite sonnets by Edna St. Vincent Millay, she writes:
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 cannot 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 need 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 may well be. I do not think I would.
I was intensely romantic as a teenager. Yet, even then, when I read this poem I often substituted the symbolism of books and all they contain for the word "love" in its lines. Books are the love of strangers handed on for centuries.
And anyone who would seek to keep you from this love, this light, this source of sustenance, is NEVER thinking about your well-being. Not in any honest way. They are trying to keep you from becoming that which they choose not to love, an independent mind and justice-hungry heart.
[Cross-posted at Group News Blog. To support Banned Books Weeks and the fight against censorship, go to the American Library Association link.]
Monday, September 29, 2008
(Fire-King "Manhattan" tilted pitcher in jadite, made by Hocking Glass, one of only three known)
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.
Ten days before Ginny's birthday, Myra got up at 11 a.m. Ginny met her in the kitchen, saying "I just finished constructing a green goddess salad, but I don't suppose you want that for breakfast."
"Not hardly. I feel really hungry, though, like I'm not getting some essential vitamin" said Myra, opening the fridge.
"I'll make you eggs if you want. How about some cranberry juice?" said Ginny.
"Make it a fried egg sandwich. I'll pour my juice. I'm not drinking Cokes, Ginny, you don't need to run interference. Do we have potatoes left still or did you eat them?"
"We do. You want me to fry them?"
Myra took her juice and sat down at the breakfast bar. "Just nuke 'em, I'll eat 'em plain with salt and pepper. How about avocado?"
"I used it all in the salad. You can have it later. But it sounds to me like you might need potassium, how about a banana?"
Myra took one from the fruit bowl and began eating it. "Not very good with the cranberry, but yeah, it's hitting a spot. What else do you advise?"
Ginny was pleased to be consulted. "I could steam you some squash in 15 minutes. Put some molasses on it -- yeah, I'm recommending a form of sugar. Plus, let me think -- how about some raw walnuts?"
"It all sounds extremely good, so my body is listening." Myra took the egg sandwich and began eating eagerly.
"Make some beans today, and let's stick to fish for your other protein. Except yogurt and milk, keep those going" said Ginny. "Uh...steamed spinach. You won't eat parsnips, or prunes -- but carrot juice would be good."
"Do we have carrot juice?" asked Myra.
Ginny eyed her. "I'll make some right now if you'll drink it, I could use a glass myself."
"I will" said Myra. Ginny began to look concerned.
"How late were you up last night?" she said as she handed potatoes to Myra.
"I came to bed shortly before 4:00. I'm sliding over into a vampire lifestyle. I lied, I do want something on these -- ketchup, maybe?"
Ginny stopped cutting squash into chunks long enough to get her home-made ketchup from the fridge. She pulled out carrots and milk at the same time.
"Are you having late night snacks of junk?" she asked.
"No. Occasionally I get a glass of milk, you're right, I'm craving it. But mostly I'm just too preoccupied. I'm hungry when I finally can't stay up any longer and I think about food as I drop off, but I'm too tired to cook that late."
"Let's leave a bowl of beans and rice, cooked veggies, things you can heat up in a minute, at the front of the fridge after dinner" suggested Ginny. "Plus I'll keep carrot juice handy."
"I haven't worked out in over a week, either. Once this is digested, if I'm encrusted to my desk again, will you remind me to go take a swim?" asked Myra.
"I'll take one with you, I'm spending too much time hunched over papers myself" said Ginny. "Which reminds me: Ray Limon, their lawyer kid, accepted our bid on the house. So we need to sign the loan."
Myra felt suddenly scared. "What if we don't make as much as we think we will from your show? Will our retirement fund have two million jerked from it?"
"No, we'll have the option of making payments with ungodly interest, remember?" Ginny handed Myra a glass of turbid orange liquid.
Myra asked "Did you cut this with anything? I mean, it's kinda thick."
"Add water, you can reach the sink from there" said Ginny, putting squash into the steamer. Myra drank a third of her glass with a mixture of slight repulsion at the gritty texture and gladness at the instant feeling of nourishment. After dilution, she drank down the rest of the glass, rinsed it and refilled it with milk, waiting on her final course.
"We have Nancy at 2:00, don't we?" asked Myra. "Damn, I won't get much done until after that."
"Then let's go by the bank before Nancy and get that out of the way. Did you look over the papers I gave you?"
"The contractors? Yes, I agree with your choice. And that preliminary sketch by the architect was not nearly as clear to me as yours are, but with the changes you put in the margin it has my okay. Why so many corrections?"
"Because he's not particularly good at listening" said Ginny, tight-lipped. "But he's available on short notice." She plunked down the molasses jar next to Myra's plate and said "Only a tablespoon of this."
"Walnuts" reminded Myra. "And butter for the squash, too." She felt like Margie, letting Ginny wait on her this way. She asked "Have you talked with Margie recently?"
"Mmm...no, not since we both did last weekend." Ginny joined Myra at the breakfast bar, digging into her salad. "Edwina called me this morning. She's definitely going to resign and go on part-time status at the end of this semester. She can get a full pension and still teach one class each term, plus do research."
"Won't being tied to a class keep her from some of the traveling she and Allie have discussed?" asked Myra. "Not that Edwina is really keen on the traveling, I guess."
"She said if it's a graduate course and she sets up virtual office hours, she can cut it back to less than once every two weeks in person. And she is keen on the Southern genealogy road trips. It'll be like what you and Allie did, several days in one county at a time. Plus it's her ancestors as well as Allie's, which is powerful incentive." Ginny filched a piece of Myra's squash without molasses on it.
"That painting Allie did of the Nat Turner rebellion -- Ginny, it's a work of art all by itself. I mean, it should be hanging in a museum, don't you think?"
"I do. I'll suggest a couple of places to her. Myra, we need to talk a couple more house items."
"Okay. I'm fed, I'm awake."
"We have a schedule problem. Jane needs this house to be finished and aired out at least six weeks before she's due, which means mid March, to be safe. But our place won't begin to be ready for us by then. I think we have to find an interim place to live by mid February." Ginny put her hand on Myra's to soften the blow.
"Ah, fuck. I should be done with my book and have it at the editors by them, but...This means most of what we own will be packed up and in storage, I guess?"
"I think so. I've settled on the Corcoran and they want the canvases early, so that's taken care of. Carly suggested a plastic canopy for the garden to keep debris out of it during the roof work here. The other stuff, new carpeting, painting, appliances, etc. won't threaten the yard, which means I can come over and keep the garden in good shape. I was wondering if we should try renting a one-bedroom in Carly and Gillam's complex for a few months."
"We'll be cramped. We need a two bedroom. We can share the second as a combined work space" said Myra.
"But we may not be able to have big family dinners there" said Ginny.
"Sure we can. I'll pack my kitchen and set it up there. We'll take the table and put it in the living room in lieu of a sofa, if need be. We mostly hang out around the table anyhow. I mean, yes, Chris or Allie can have more of our gatherings at their places if they want, but I'm not willing to give up feeding folks if they still care to eat with us" said Myra. "I don't want a second floor apartment, though."
"They have an elevator" reminded Ginny.
"Off to one side" argued Myra. "The ground floor units have patios, you can still put plant starts out there."
"All right. I'll call today" said Ginny. "Hold on, one more thing. If we're going to get new appliances or furniture, too, we should do that before moving stuff back and forth to storage."
Myra sighed. "Whatever is most energy efficient. I feel guilty not doing the research for us -- "
"It's okay, I'm going to Consumer Reports mostly" said Ginny. Myra decided not to argue about that. Ginny continued "And we need a new bed. Me and you, I mean. If we can squeeze in going to the store to lie on mattresses today, we should."
Myra couldn't say no, not with Ginny doing all the other leg work. "Fine. I'm going to shower and dress. I guess we'll leave when I'm ready?"
Ginny nodded, gathering dishes for the sink. When they got home, it was almost 6:00. Traffic, delays at every stop they made, and an extra-long, surprisingly contentious Nancy session had, in Myra's opinion, eaten up most of her daylight hours. As they turned onto their block, she said to Ginny "Can we order out? I want to swim before that downpour hits."
"We have the green goddess salad -- " Ginny began, but Myra said, "Oh, hell, Gillam's car is here." Ginny raised her eyebrows. Myra was definitely on a short fuse if Gillam's presence felt onerous, especially after all the release work Nancy had just done.
They walked in to a house smelling of grilled chicken. Gillam poked his head out of the kitchen and said "I saw your beans, and that astounding salad. So I made flautas and a calabasa soup."
"Perfect" said Ginny. "Myra, go swim, we'll wait." As Myra walked past the breakfast bar, she heard Ginny said in a low voice to Gillam "She needs the exercise." Myra stripped at poolside, not caring about Jane seeing her, and dove in. After twenty minutes, she was winded but loose in her bones and muscles. Ginny met her at poolside with a towel before going to cut a few garlic chives for garnish.
Jane had made limeade, but Myra instead went for the carrot juice carafe. She felt ravenous again, and remembered, belatedly, that intense spells of writing played hopscotch with her vitamin and mineral assimilation. She said to Ginny "I probably should be taking some supplements the next week, until I'm done. I should've asked Nancy for specifics."
"We had enough issues suddenly appear out of the woodwork today" said Ginny. "I could pull out what bottles we've got -- "
"Here" said Jane, reaching in her bag. "Have a prenatal vitamin. They're huge but pretty wonderful, at least for me."
Myra took it a little dubiously. Jane said "I'm having my 20 week ultrasound tomorrow."
"Yippee!" said Ginny. "More than halfway there, and this will give you better dates."
"Plus tell us if everything is all right" said Gillam, an undertone of fear in his voice.
"It is" said Myra. "I remember this ultrasound with you, your little tallywhacker in full view."
Jane laughed delightedly. Gillam cleared his throat and said "Uh...we're not going to tell anyone else the gender, if we find out."
"Why not?" asked Ginny, not quite demanding.
"Because, to quote the guru Bill Murray in Meatballs, it just doesn't matter" said Gillam. "We want Poppyseed to arrive with as little preconceived expectations as possible. I mean, Mom already made that name into a girl in her book. Not that I'm complaining, it's an amazing book. But if he's a he, I expect you to change the gender before you get it published so he doesn't feel any pressure one way or the other as a toddler."
"Lotsa luck with that" said Myra grimly. "But yes, I'll make Poppyseed a boy, if need be. Are you going to the ultrasound?"
"Taking a long lunch" said Gillam. Ginny began talking about the house exchange schedule and their idea of renting an apartment in the same complex for a few months. Myra stayed out of the discussion. She felt itchy to get to her desk and work at least six hours. If this kept up, she'd be going to bed as Ginny was rising.
After a few minutes, Gillam said "I have a favor to ask you both. Because of the imminent changes in my time, I want to have one last weekend out of the city before too much longer. Carly and Eric have expressed an interest in camping on Lake Quinault, tent camping with fishing each morning. I don't feel comfortable about leaving Jane alone for a weekend -- "
"I'll be fine, I'll have Thad spend Saturday night with me" interrupted Jane.
"I know, and that's good. But I want you to have back-up" said Gillam stubbornly. "So, will you two be on call?"
"Wait ten days and you've got it" said Myra. "Isn't it going to be bitterly cold out there, though?"
"I'm a manly man, I can take it" grinned Gillam.
"I'll give you another monster fish notice to post surreptiously" said Ginny.
"Yeah, Carly already has another dog collar decoy planned" said Gillam, shaking his head.
"Bring me some steelhead" said Ginny. She turned to Jane and said "How about Friday night when he's gone? You could stay here and we'll look through his baby clothes, see if there's anything you want."
"You still have his baby clothes?" said Jane.
"Only the most special garments" said Ginny.
"Can I see them tonight?" asked Jane.
Myra took a glass of limeade with her as she excused herself early at the end of the meal. At her desk, she heard Ginny saying "Let's put those leftover beans and chicken into a tortilla, she can heat it up as a snack later. Let's grate some carrots into it, too."
Myra finished her book the night before Ginny's birthday. Ginny was already in bed. Myra couldn't stop fingering the two reams of paper, bound with an expandable clip, lying neatly in the middle of her desk. Her pulse felt erratic. She felt completely sick of the book and simultaneously in desperate need of reassurance from someone else about its value. A swim would probably be good for her, but she didn't want to be in the yard alone when it was this dark. Finally she pushed the manuscript to one side, with the disk on top, and went into a drawer for the card she'd made Ginny. She borrowed one of Ginny's calligraphy pens to write in the love poem she'd written last month and kept hidden as a birthday surprise.
Her gift was already wrapped and hidden in her printer supply cabinet. She'd found a never-seen-before-by-her Fire-King tilted pitcher in jadite green for sale on eBay, with bids climbing through the stratosphere. It had taken frenzied finger-work at the end to make sure she wound up the winner. Ginny would probably be afraid to use it, this piece was so rare -- but maybe not, Ginny was of a mind to extract mileage from life despite risk. She put the card on the box and carried it to Ginny's work table. She'd found a miniature doll's house cake somewhere months earlier and now she taped it beside the gecko habitat with a tiny card reading "Happy Birthday to our Favorite Two-Legger!"
As she turned off the lights, she felt an immediate draining away of the last of her adrenaline. She opened the fridge and found Ginny's snack for her, leftover potatoes lyonnaise in her red bowl with grilled asparagus and a deviled egg. She ate the egg instantly and set the bowl into the microwave to heat. She opened a top cupboard and retrieved the small almond torte she'd made the day before when Ginny was at Al-Anon. She put this on Ginny's plate and left it on the breakfast bar. She poured a glass of milk and ate her snack standing up, afraid if she sat down she'd go to sleep in the chair. When she was done, she brushed her teeth and slid in beside Ginny with a moan of exhaustion. She had told Ginny to wake her up the next morning, no matter what time it was: Birthday rules. That looked to be about four hours from now, her final thought as she dropped off.
© 2008 Maggie Jochild.