Tuesday, January 27, 2009


(The Fallen Caryatid Carrying Her Stone, sculpture by Rodin circa 1880-1)

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.

Autumn 2018

Two days later, Ginny's concern about the underlying message of the Golden Horde Anthem seemed to be borne out when Leah flatly refused to do her chore of setting out silverware for the dinner table. She never had to do this unassisted, because it was deemed beyond her skill set yet, but she began crying when Jane told her to come carry sorted knives, spoons and forks to the table and set them by each plate. Jane let her cry a minute, then said “Do you need a time-out or are you going to be able to pull yourself together and do your share?”

“No!” shouted Leah, kicking at chair. Jane promptly carried her to the time-out step at the bottom of the stairs, told her “two minutes” and went to help Charlie count out placemats. Gillam muttered to Myra “I thought we were going to escape the terrible twos with her, but as she begins the second half toward three, she's getting into her stride”.

At the end of the time-out, Leah hugged Jane and apologized, but again refused to do the silverware. Jane said “If you don't do your share toward making family mealtime, then you won't get to eat with us. I'll put your plate in the other room and you can eat alone.”

Mimi was gloating, but looked amazed when Leah threw herself onto the floor in a melodramatic surge that Myra had never witnessed in this child, wailing and pounding on the parquet with her open hands. Jane stepped coldly over her and went into the kitchen. When all the other adults ignored her as well, Leah's heartbreaking sobs tapered off suspiciously quickly. David, whose chore currently was to carry condiments to the table, dawdled so much in order to stare at Leah that Gillam gave him a gentle shove and said “Focus, Trinity.”

Leah wandered into the family room where they heard her singing something made up on the spot, with a very accusatory tone. As bowls of food began to be dished up, Jane carried a placemat, plate, sippy cup, and silverware into the family room and set it at the low table the children used for projects. It took Leah a minute to notice it, and another minute to realize what it meant. Ginny was herding the other children to the bathroom for handwashing when Leah marched back to the dining table clutching a plate in one hand and a spoon in the other.

Jane intercepted her before she reached her chair. Leah flung her arm to the side, avoiding Jane's grab, and the plate sailed like a Frisbee through the air, narrowly missing a living room lamp and crashing against the fireplace. Fortunately, all the children's dinnerware was plastic, so while it made a startling crash, nothing was broken. Gillam retrieved it as Jane carried Leah back to the time-out step and set her down for another two minutes.

“It's that time” Jane said quietly to Gillam as he walked by her. Myra followed him into the family room and said “What time did she mean?”

“War. When they decide to fight until we force them. I hate this, but we've survived two of them so far. I hope it doesn't last as long with Leah as it did with David. Mimi gave in a lot quicker than he did” said Gillam.

“You'll be able to write books and give lectures by the time you and Jane are done” said Myra.

“We'll never be done” he said to himself.

After the time-out, Leah piteously begged to not be segregated for the meal. Gillam joined Jane to negotiate.

“We all do our chores” he said. “If we don't, we're letting down the family.”

“But I hate the sivilware! I don't want that chore any more!” she said, crying in a way that sounded to Myra more authentic pain than manipulation. Though she wasn't sure any more.

“Well, I suppose we could think of a different chore” said Jane.

“The plates?” asked Leah. This was Mimi's and involved choosing between colors and sizes for various family members. Mimi was already bristling, but Jane said “No, that's taken”, heading off her protest.

“What's wrong with the silverware?” asked Gillam.

“It's stoopid. No colors or names” she said. Meaning there was no creativity involved or thinking about who sat where translated Myra.

“Well, we could let you set out cups at each place. The cups have colors and are different for kids and adults” said Jane.

Leah nodded exuberantly. Currently cups and glasses were set out by adults.

“But you don't get to throw another fit and change chores again” warned Jane. “This is it. And, the fact is, you've done no chore to help get ready for this meal.” She looked at Gillam over Leah's head, warning him not to let her off, Myra thought.

“I can't think of one” he said to Jane.

“You can sweep the kitchen” said Jane. “All the food is on the counter. We'll sit at the table and wait for you to finish before we begin eating.”

Leah was stunned. Jane opened the cupboard and pulled out the smaller of their two brooms, plus the dustpan. She instructed Leah in how to cover territory, and Leah became interested in spite of herself. Everyone else sat down and Gillam began cutting up food for Charlie.

“She's strict” Eric mock-whispered to Carly.

“She has to be” said Chris. “She's a single parent much of the day and her partner has to work hard for a living.” Ginny glared across the table at Myra as Myra laughed along with Allie.

Leah was let off the hook after two minutes, having accomplished nearly nothing in cleaning the floor but you couldn't tell by the triumph on her face. When Ginny and Myra were walking home later, Ginny said “I'll have to buy a whole set of plastic tumblers for the adults now, I can't let her loose with my glassware collection.”

“We could ask Jane where she gets hers” said Myra. Ginny hated Jane and Gillam's choices in plates and glasses. Ginny goosed her and said “Shush.”

The following Monday, when Jane came to drop off the children, she said “I've been thinking about the anthem thing...”

Myra froze inside, ready for banishment. Jane went on “Mimi and David's preschool takes them out in the morning to see the flag raised, and they all put their hands over their chests to recite 'The Pledge of Allegiance'. Gillam hates it – not them learning it, but the mandatory enforcement of flag-swearing. We got to talking, and we decided we want them to learn patriotism at home, in the family.”

“We're patriotic” said Ginny. “I happen to believe that people who recognize flaws and work to help overcome them while holding onto love are demonstrating a deeper love than those with blind adoration.”

Jane grinned at her. “Almost word for word what Gillam said. And I agree, they're picking up, or will, the values we want them to have. But there's a culture out there with knee-jerk responses, and if they're going to hear the national anthem, for instance, I want them to have learned the words at home, with a chance for discussion and interpretation. So, we're going to add some patriotic songs to the Sunday roster.”

“The national anthem is a crappy song” said Ginny. Myra argued “Yeah, but I fucking hate to see Olympic athletes who've won a medal get up there and not know the lyrics.”

“So we do that one enough to learn the words, no more” said Jane. “We like 'My Country Tis Of Thee', especially some of the later verses, and Gillam said 'America the Beautiful' was written by a lesbian. I figured you might have requests to make.”

“'Finlandia'” said Ginny instantly. “It's a beautiful song of love, but not xenophobic.” She added to Myra “We sang it at Greenham Common a lot. Dakin taught me the Danish version.”

Myra was momentarily distracted. Jane said “Well, pass it on to the aunties. We can start next Sunday.” She handed over Lucia and left.

Leah tugged at Myra's hand, saying “What are doing for Science Day?”

“Today's lesson is about vacuums. Not the household appliance, but the principle upon which it operates” said Myra. “Everybody go put on their thinking caps.”

That night, Ginny went to bed ahead of Myra, and Myra found herself feeling pangs of jealousy over Dakin, the first woman to unleash Ginny's all-out passion. She told herself it was because she wasn't getting to experience that passion herself, but she couldn't entirely settle her heart. When she went to bed, Ginny rolled over and attached herself to Myra in her sleep. Myra could tell that while unconscious, Ginny had no memory of their current physical boundary, and several times she'd put her face in a position to kiss. She didn't wake up enough to notice when Myra held back. Myra wondered if she was doing the same thing with Ginny in the mornings when Ginny woke ahead of her and held her a while.

The next day, Myra went out for lunch with Chris at Malena's Taco Shop in the Queen Anne neighborhood. After ordering carne asada tacos with sides of pork tamales, Chris said "Well, I know it's out of character for me to ask, but I'm wondering how stuff is going with you and Ginny. Your Nancy sessions and all."

"Slow but steady. Enough to make there not be tension, most days, and create interesting poetry flowing into my head" said Myra.

Chris unwrapped a tamale, then said "I ran into Pat the other day."

"Fuck. Here, in Seattle?"

"Yeah, I think she was having some meeting at Microsoft. It was at a cafe near there. She waved and was going to come over to talk. I gave her the drop-dead-warbonnet stare and she screeched to a halt" said Chris.

Myra laughed bitterly and said "Thanks, pal."

"Listen, Myra, you are still looking tired all the time. Your asthma any better?"

"Only if I stay on top of the albuterol treatments. I need to go back in and see if there's some new drug that'll help me sleep without waking up short of breath at least once a night" said Myra. "And don't say anything about Keller -- she's staying with me."

"Well, then, I think you need to take some time off. Without kids and grandkids" said Chris. "You're as busy now as you were in your 20's."

"You wanna go back up to Colville?" said Myra, her face brightening.

"No -- I mean, yeah, sure, but in this case I was thinking it should be just you and Ginny. Not any of us with you."

Myra looked at her speculatively. "Is this an Allie idea she sent you in to pitch? Or maybe Ginny via Sima?"

Chris snorted. "No. I'm done with group handling of you. At least for this bout of nuttiness. No, it's just -- I can tell you and Ginny aren't making love. It's chewing her ass ragged, and it makes you a very dull boy, too."

Myra wanted to ask how Chris could tell, but didn't. "All right. I'll float the idea by her. What about you and Sima, how come you two don't ever take off alone like you used to?"

Chris shrugged. "If I need down time, I need it completely alone, I guess."

"Hey!" came a voice nearby. It was Allie. She put a hand on each of their shoulders and said "I needed a salsa fix. You two want privacy or can I join you?"

Chris scooted over in her booth. "You want the rest of my pollo crema while you're waiting to order? I'm going to switch to a chorizo burrito. The lack of sun today has me bleeding B vitamins, feels like."

"Okay, I'm in a rush. I need to go pick up Edwina from a meeting by 2:00." Allie waggled her fingers at the waiter.

"She still not driving herself around?" said Myra.

"I'm beginning to think she's ready to turn in her license for good" said Allie. "Which reminds me, I have an eye appointment on Friday and I shouldn't drive afterward, will one of you come get me and pick up 'Wina for shabbos dinner?"

"I will" said Myra. "What is it with her and transportation anyhow?"

Allie hesitated. Myra said "You don't have to tell, of course."

"No, I could use talking it over. But you" she pointed at Myra "You have to not tell Ginny. Because for some reason, Edwina hasn't shared it."

The waiter had appeared. Myra said to Allie "See if they've got sopapillas today, I want an order if they do."

After the waiter left, Allie dug into the refreshed chip basket and said "See, her mother had a car wreck when Edwina was two years old. There was another brother, an older one who was in first grade, and he got killed. Her mother never drove again after that."

"Shit" said Myra. "No wonder."

"Well, except that's 65 years ago, and this ain't Chicago in terms of public transportation" said Allie. "I want to goose her into getting some kind of help, getting past it."

"Why don't you?" said Chris.

Allie looked at the formica tabletop as she said "Seems like folks move through what they can, fast as they can. I don't ever feel comfortable trying to assign they lessons for them."

Myra and Chris looked at each other and burst into laughter. "Unless you think it's about damn time" said Myra. "Look, the worst that'll happen is she'll cry and say she can't."

Allie's chile relleno and bean tostada arrived. Myra began poking holes in her sopapillas and pouring in honey. Chris joined her. After two bites, Allie said "I got a check in this morning's mail for the last Seed book. I'll bring it on Friday."

"Means there's probably one waiting at home on me. Al, why are you going back to the eye doctor?"

"Things getting a little blurry again" she said uncomfortably. Myra looked at Allie's lunch: No pork, whole wheat tortillas, and water as her beverage. She suddenly felt bad about her sopapillas.

"I knew this blind guy back in Texas, when I was a teenager, who had his Rottweiler trained to be his seeing eye dog. That beast was named Cuisinart, 'cause of how he chewed things up. They cleared a path on the sidewalk when they went out" said Myra.

Allie laughed in relief. "Guess if it come to that, I'll get a German Shepherd, name it Nat Turner."

"Or Geronimo" offered Chris.

They kept laughing while eating. Myra had the feeling she'd had countless times, that she and these two beloved women had known each other since they were small children, not adults. She never had that feeling with Ginny, she didn't know why. Bring up the sex stuff now she urged herself.

Allie said “How them kids? Gillam got bruises from Jane working him over?”

“You know, Jane is direct and strong but when she's hurt, she just shows hurt. And this really got to her. I get the feeling there was some part of her that wanted to keep open the option of another baby, possibly. And he knew it or guessed it, and this was his end-run to keep from having to say no to her face” said Myra.

“Sounds like him” said Chris.

“Well, the old him. I thought he'd left it behind” said Myra.

“I don't know if anybody actually leaves their biggest demons behind, not if the right provocation arises” said Chris, picking up the last sopapilla.

There was a small silence. Myra avoided looking at Allie. Chris said “So what's he going to do, visit Nancy and ask for a rainbow patch?”

“It ain't rainbows for this, Kash, it's unicorns for guys” said Allie. She and Chris giggled together.

Myra wasn't the least perturbed. “No, I think he's found somebody in Quaker Meeting to talk with. Somebody who is also a Jew. I only talked to him for two minutes, the grandkids were in the other room.”

“I saw Thad give him the evil eye at singing the other night” said Allie. “Baby sis is on the line to family 'bout it.”

“Good for her, I say” said Myra. “I know Jane and Margie had a talk, Margie apologized and – oh, wow, I knew I was forgetting something! Frances got word back from Galveston, the county historic board has given her the go-ahead!”

“Hot damn” said Allie. “This the final step, then?”

“No, she has to submit those papers to the bank to get her loan. But they've told her already she's probably going to be approved.”

The summer before, when Frances and Margie had gone into Galveston to have lunch with Amy, Frances had noticed an old building in the historic district downtown which had remained empty since its first story was gutted by Hurricane Ike. She'd excused herself after eating, to give the two friends privacy, and walked over to inspect the building. A quartet of metal poles had kept the upper 1-1/2 stories from collapsing when two of the brick walls on the first story had been washed away by surge. She surveyed the neighborhood, then gone to the nearest large realty office and begun inquiries.

The parcel was protected from development and substantial change. “Aside from hurricanes” Frances had commented. A large water tank adjacent to it was also part of the property and had survived the storm well. Frances was late getting back to Margie and Amy because she was ordering old blueprints, a title search, and other documents from more than one agency.

Her idea was to not rebuild the lower story and instead cover it and the surrounding parcel with reclaimed historic brick paving, turning it into permeable paving. She'd add a small elevator to covered stairs up to the second story, which would hold the kitchen and a small indoor dining area. A spiral staircase would lead to the half story above, which would hold office, storage, and open onto a dining deck with one hell of a view, covered with a retractable portico.

The location was extremely desirable, now that Galveston was finally emerging from the decade-long slump after Ike and the recession. She found that the original establishment, in the 1870s, had been an Italian grocery store, and she was quite attached to reclaiming it. She sweet-talked the county historic board by promising not only to restore as close to original as could be determined, but also to make it hurricane-proof, bolstering the poles which had saved it from the last surge. She also agreed to restore the water tower and well which fed it, creating an emergency reservoir in the heart of downtown against future emergency. She planned to install generators on the third floor which could keep the place going in almost any trouble, and a small ice plant which she would share with the community if electricity failed elsewhere.

She planned to name it Margie's.

“That pizzeria of hers in Queen Anne must be doing great” said Allie. “I see her teenage delivery folk on bikes everywhere most evenings.”

“She's sharp – well, and Margie, she's got quite the business sense herself” said Myra. “The hitch now is Frances has to tell her parents, who were counting on her first foray out of Seattle being where they lived in L.A. Her dad expected to be named honorary manager. Frances has found a very remote cousin who lives in Houston and is in the biz, and she hopes enlisting that woman will help convince her parents that she's not turning her back on family. Their family, of course, which is the real family as far as they're concerned” said Myra.

“Yeah, like we don't have the same bias” said Chris.

“Anyhow, Frances is going to fly back to Texas maybe on Monday to sign papers and hire a contractor. Probably those kin of Harm's who did our renovation of the beach house, if they do commercial and historic” said Myra.

“I guess we'll be going there on our arrival and departure lunches now, instead of Gaido's” said Allie.

“I hadn't thought of that” said Myra. She felt bad about losing the Gaido's tradition.

“These grandkids, when they taking they grandkids back to the Gulf, it'll be all about going to Margie's and having Frances's tiramisu for dessert” said Allie. “Look at the time, I gotta bust outta here. I'll call you from the eye doctor's tomorrow when I'm done.”

“Okey-doke” said Myra. I still didn't talk to them she thought. She didn't feel like bringing it up alone with Chris, not at the moment.

Frances and Margie flew to Galveston for a crammed trip of decision-making and little sleep except on the plane. Myra and Ginny took the dogs for two days, which they both loved but Myra's wheezing grew even more pronounced. Ginny began hectoring her to wash her hands several times a day, cleaning it of animal dander.

On Saturday, Myra was hard at work writing her new Skene book when the phone rang. She didn't answer or look at the caller ID. However, when the message machine clicked on and she heard Cathy's voice, she picked up.

“Hey, sister o'mine, how you doin?” she asked.

“Old but not grey thanks to Clairol” said Cathy, her standard reply. They exchanged brief updates about family, then Myra said “You've missed Ginny, she's gone thrift-storing and I can't guess when she'll be back. Will I do as a conversationalist?”

Cathy hesitated, then said “Sure. I'm worried about Noah and Shana.”

“Worried in what way? Money, health, their marriage?”

“Well, two of the three, I guess. Noah's been out of work three times in eight years, and the money was so scarce, Shana had to go back to nursing full time. I think she likes it, but...I'm afraid Noah is having an affair. And I think it's because of feeling like crap.”

“Ah, fuck, Cathy. What are the signs?”

They talked it over for a while. At one point, Cathy said “I realize every day how lucky I was to have Michael.”

“And how did you find him, exactly? Have I heard this story?”

Cathy told about meeting him at a party of a friend when she was a high school junior and he was a college freshman. Eventually Cathy said “The thing I miss most is how much he touched me. He came from a family that hugged a lot, sat close to each other, kissed hello and goodbye. It was a whole new world for me, when we began living together and I realized I could have human contact, as much as I wanted. And it didn't have to be sex.”

Well, here goes thought Myra. “Can I ask – was there any sexual energy in your house, David and Helen's house, when you were growing up?”

“Zip. Mother didn't like 'off-color' jokes or stuff on TV, as she called it. Bubbe, now, she could be quite frank. Daddy said it was from being a farmer. And she was a hugger, too, Bubbe was. Daddy reverted when he was around her. But that wasn't enough. Not for us.” Cathy paused to think for a minute. “You know, when Ginny was born, they never kept her crib in their bedroom, not even for a day. She was immediately put into her own bedroom. And if she cried, Mother would check on her to see if she needed changing or a bottle. But if wasn't that, Mother would leave and shut the door.”

“You're kidding me. Ginny never told me this.”

“She probably doesn't remember it. If I could, I'd sneak in there and – well, I wasn't very adept at being around babies, so I didn't always pick her up, which is all she needed. But I'd entertain her as best I could. If Daddy was home, he'd pick her up, of course, and ignore all the snide comments Mother made about spoiled brats. Sometimes when I was in trying to comfort Ginny, Daddy would come in and whisper 'I've got it this time', picking her up and letting me get away before Mother found out.”

My god. Myra felt ice inside. “I can hardly bear this happened to her” she whispered.

“I know. It was just her and Helen in that house for eight hours a day. I – don't tell her I said this, but I always wondered if her shoulders are so narrow because she kept them hunched up, as if trying to ward off something bad coming at her.”

Myra began crying softly. “Oh, Myra, I'm sorry, I shouldn't be telling you all this --”

“You absolutely should, Cathy, I really really need to hear it. I want you to know, my not making love with her right now has nothing to do with how much I love her. I'm not leaving her and I'll find my way back. She doesn't deserve to have me saying no, I'm just – stuck. Temporarily stuck.”

Cathy sounded embarrassed as she replied “She's told me that, Myra, don't worry.”

Myra said “She's talked about her first-grade teacher, Ms. Williams, and how much it meant that whenever the kids were upset, they got to sit in her lap. Ginny said that's pretty much when she decided she was going to be a teacher. It never occurred to me until now that it wasn't just to follow in Ms. Williams' footsteps, it was because that simple affection might have helped save her life.”

“I remember Mrs. Williams” said Cathy, laughing. “She had one of those bras that made her breasts stick out like a B-52 bomber fusilage, you know? And pointy glasses with rhinestones on them.”

“Hey, Cathy, you're in luck, I hear Ginny opening the front door. Franklin is galloping down the stairs. I'll walk to her and hand you over. Bless you for this conversation, it's meant the world to me.”

As Myra reached the dining room where Ginny was stacking bags on the table, Ginny said “I picked up the milk and butter, it's still in the car, could you get it?”

“Yeah. It's your wonderful sister on the phone” said Myra.

Ginny's face lit up in a way that made Myra want to begin crying again. Instead of handing the phone over immediately, Myra leaned in for a hug and whispered “I love you with all my heart, Ginny Bates. And your sister, too.”

Ginny squeezed her, then leaned back to look at her inquiringly as she took the phone. “Cath? Yeah, I did score a haul. You remember that madras shirt Daddy had with the pleats in the back? Well, I found one exactly like it that I can get on my postmenopausal body. Okay, I'll take one and send it to you...”

Myra headed out the front door to bring in the dairy delivery. When Ginny got off the phone, she'd ask if they could take a vacation together as soon as possible, just the two of them. Nobody else needing their attention.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

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