Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Whale shark poster
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.

May 2018

The next morning, when Myra got up, the house was empty. A note from Ginny said she was on a walk with Margie and the dogs. Myra brushed maple syrup onto thick slices of bacon and set them to crisp in the microwave while she toasted a raspberry scone and made chai. At the last minute, she discovered deviled eggs and a banana/kiwi fruit salad Ginny had left for her on the second shelf of the fridge. She carried these to the table as well.

When the dogwalkers returned, Margie gave her a kiss, then teased “You got enough breakfast there, Mom?”

“I'm peckish. Help yourself.” Margie stole an egg and Ginny picked up a fork to select kiwis from Myra's bowl. Myra said to the dogs “You're the only ones not being goniffs, here” and gave them each a morsel of bacon.

“I'm not a goniff if you invite me” pointed out Margie, her mouth full. “Or is this more of the Myra double standard?”

“What does that mean?” asked Myra, looking at Ginny. Ginny shrugged and went to make a fresh pot of chai.

Margie changed the subject. “If you're really making stick horses for Mimi and the rest, I'd like to buy her a hat and boots for her birthday. The real deal, not a toystore version.”

“That's a great idea. But you may need to repeat it for each of the others as their birthdays roll in. Well, probably not Charlie, he's not competitively acquisitive yet” said Myra.

Margie nodded. “Listen, Frances says she's sending over seafood risotto with me for the dinner tonight. When we're ready to talk, if I text her, she says she can spare half an hour, maybe, and join us.”

“I'd be honored” said Ginny, meaning it. “I adore that woman of yours.”

Margie wriggled her shoulders in happiness. “Me too.”

“How's Carly?” asked Myra.

“You know, on some level he wasn't surprised. He's heading back to Oly on Saturday, to talk with Patty again. We all talked about how fucked up your generation is with regard to sex” said Margie. Ginny and Myra looked at each other, wanting to be offended but too aware of how well their children were handling things lately. “Anyhow, he and Eric are coming tonight, he said to tell you. They're bringing some kind of almond cake. And Gillam's bringing pigs in a blanket, because the kids will all eat it without complaint.”

“Well, with that sole dish, and a salad, and whatever the aunties bring, we'll be covered” mused Myra. “I need to go by Pike, get more fresh sole. How about if we ride together to Nancy's today?”

“All right” said Ginny, hiding some of her elation. “Let me go brush my teeth.”

Margie offered to clear the table so Myra could dress. She was there to wave them off, down the driveway.

At Nancy's, Myra sat on the same couch as Ginny, though at the other end. They updated Nancy individually – Ginny found Myra's nightmares intriguing in a dreadful sort of way. Nancy said, "So, what do you want from me today?"

Myra leaned forward. “I've got a couple of things.” She hesitated. “One is -- I need to root out and change whatever it is in me that -- let me throw the phone at Ginny. The violence response. I didn't know it was there." She stopped herself again and took a long breath. "The other is -- I feel like I can be affectionate with Ginny, and let her hug me. But – it's contradictory – I still feel desire for her but the idea of her touching me, or kissing me -- it makes me cold and numb to consider it."

Ginny looked almost attacked by these statements. Nancy closed her eyes and did some murmuring, her hand on Myra's pulse. When she opened her eyes, she said "They're from the same source. Nothing to do with Ginny, of course. We can work on it, but this is not a one-stage process. It will take you time, and several steps, to make these changes. It will alter you in major ways."

Now Myra looked as upset as Ginny. "Really? Shit, Nancy. Have I just been living with it all this time, or what?"

Nancy smiled. "It's been there, dormant. Congratulations on getting to a point where it got stirred up."

Myra didn't feel like celebrating. From the look on Ginny's face, neither did she. Nancy turned to Ginny. "How about you, Ginny? What's on your list?"

Ginny pulled a small manila envelope from her bag. "I...I have something to show you." She fished four black and white photographs from the envelope and put them on the coffee table in front of Nancy, arranging their order carefully. When Myra saw what they were, she leaned forward and said "Hey, those are my photos. From my family photo album. Your questions are supposed to be about you." Her voice was instantly angry.

Nancy looked at Ginny questioningly.

Ginny said, jutting out her jaw a little "I had a hunch. Actually, I've had it for a long time. And -- I'm not ready to hide things any more. I want to know what you see in those photos."

Myra was now furious. She reached out a hand, to grab the photos, but Nancy put up her palm to stop Myra and said "Let me check this out out."

Nancy looked from photo to photo, slowly and carefully. The first two were of Myra and her little brother Gil, standing side by side, arm in arm, the first when Myra was about 6, Gil 2, the second one about two years later. The children were extremely thin and dressed in shabby play clothes. In the first snapshot, their grins were big and sunny. In the second photo, the light in them had dimmed. In the third photograph, it was Myra and Gil again, but standing between them was their older brother, now a young man. Myra was about ten in this photo, and she was as far over to the edge of the shot as she could stand and still be in the picture. Gil looked nervous, Myra was stony; only the man in the middle was smiling. The fourth photograph was of Myra alone, looking over her shoulder at something behind her. She was about 12, with long hair streaming down her back and her body still bony. The expression on her face was one of loathing.

Nancy tapped the last photo and asked Myra "What are you looking at, here?"

Myra said through a clenched jaw "My brother. He'd just said something to me, and Mama snapped the photo accidentally."

Nancy paused for a moment, then said "And who took the other three photos? Your mother, also?"

"Yes, of course" Myra snapped. She turned to Ginny and said "You have no fucking right to go through my album."

"It's our family album, Myra, not just yours" retorted Ginny.

Nancy held up her hand again, stopping the exchange. She looked at Ginny and said "You wanted to know what I see? I see children in distress. I see fear, and pain, and an attempt to hide, but nothing is hidden."

"Well of course you can see that, I've told you all about my childhood, anybody can play psychic with the kind of background you've gotten" said Myra hotly.

Nancy looked at her kindly. "I'd see all that if I didn't know, Myra. It's extremely evident. The only way I could miss it is if I wanted to overlook it."

"So? Is there a fucking point to this?" said Myra.

"I'm just someone fifty years later, looking at what got captured a few instances on paper." Nancy's voice was very gentle. "But this is so obvious -- it must have been apparent to anyone who was there at the time." When Myra still looked blank, Nancy added "It was apparent to whoever took these photographs."

Myra stood up abruptly and wheeled on Ginny. "Don't you DARE try to pin this on my mother, you have no fucking idea what it she went through, your crap about mothers -- "

"Myra!" Nancy's voice stopped her.

But Ginny was not the same Ginny of last week. She'd been through the fire and survived it. She'd pulled out the album last night, after Myra went to bed alone, and lifted these photographs from their black corners to bring them in, knowing she was about to light a fuse. She faced Myra now and said, "We can't go on with me trying to make sure you never feel betrayed by me. There'll always be quicksand I can wade into as long as we have the real betrayal boxed away, the thing we can't talk about."

Myra gaped at her. She thought of five or six things to say in retaliation, things that would draw blood. She took another breath, then got down to basement level truth: "If we go here, Ginny, then I'm not going to be the mother you never had any more. If I lose my mother, you're gonna lose your replacement mother." She shocked herself with this sentence, and burst into tears.

Nancy couldn't stop grinning. She put her hands on Myra, helped her through this transition with whatever it was she did, and Myra just gave herself up to it. After Myra blew through a first obstruction, Nancy handed her a kleenex and turned to Ginny, who looked pale and shaken. She put one hand over Ginny's heart and said "You chose this. Some part of you believes you want it." Ginny cried, then, just as hard as Myra had.

After a while, in no time at all it seemed, Nancy said it was 11:30 and time for her next client. She gave them an appointment in two days and said to not expect progress any more rapid than this. Myra walked down the stairs ahead of Ginny, but when she got to the bottom, she turned and grabbed Ginny in her arms, swinging her down the last step exuberantly, saying "You are the bravest fucking woman on the planet."

Ginny wrapped both arms around Myra's neck and said "I better be, I hitched my wagon to your star, didn't I?" They laughed.

"Have you ever eaten at the Space Needle?" asked Myra.

"No -- all these decades, I never have."

"Me neither. Let's go have lunch."

"I'm sure it's incredibly expensive, and they probably require reservations" said Ginny.

"I have bribe money" said Myra. "We're getting lobster. And ahi, if they have it."

Ginny kept a tight hold on Myra, looking into her eyes. "You know I don't blame her, not really -- don't you?"

Myra got somber. "Good. She did the best she could."

"I know. But I want more than that, for you and for me."

Myra looked at Ginny for a long minute. Finally she said "You and me, Ginny Bates."

Ginny couldn't find voice. She took Myra's hand and they walked to the car.

That afternoon, Ginny was upstairs and called down to Myra “Here comes the Golden Horde. Mimi and David are racing for the gate – oh, crap, Leah just fell down.”

Myra rushed out the back door. When she opened the gate, Mimi literally fell forward onto her. Ginny was there and picked Mimi up as she screamed “Bubbe, bubbe, bubbe!” in an endless stream. David was crawling up Ginny's leg as well, so Myra went on to help Jane with Leah. Jane was squatting awkwardly, Charlie on one hip, Leah leaned against her bawling. Myra scooped up Leah and said “Did you get an owie?”

“It hurts, gramma, it hurts!” howled Leah.

“Where is it, your knee?”

“No, I missed you so much!” Leah sobbed onto her shoulder. Myra was stricken.

“Oh, baby girl, I missed you too. It's all better now, you just let it wash right out of you.” Myra eased next to Jane and transferred Charlie onto her own hip. He was looking at her wide-eyed, his hand in his mouth exactly as Gillam used to do.

“We got it from here” said Myra.

“Charlie had a vaccination this morning, he may run a fever” said Jane.

“Okay. We'll see you at dinner.”

At the gate, Myra hissed at Anthea who was considering a raid into Beebo's territory and closed the opening with one foot. Ginny and the other two were in the house. Myra set Charlie down inside the door and he trundled toward the living room, where Ginny was already at the stereo.

“Come dance with us, gramma!” called Mimi.

“In half an hour. I need to start a sponge so we can do some baking experiments later.”

Leah had stopped crying but said “I want you to dance wif me, gramma.”

“I will. Save Mah Na Vu for me, okay? Do the kinds of dance I'm not good at until I get there.” Leah consented to be set down and joined her siblings.

Myra had been afraid she would find the children draining, but instead energy flowed through her with every glance at their faces. By the end of Dance Class, Charlie had become bright red and a kiss on his forehead revealed him to be hotter than normal. As Myra set up the others at the table with floured boards and ingredients to knead into portions of dough, Ginny coaxed Charlie into her lap with a baby quilt and a fruit pop. He was cranky and got diarrhea. Finally she walked him up and down the hall until he fell asleep and she could tuck him onto the upstairs couch for a nap.

Allie and Edwina arrived early, with succotash and stuffed dates. Allie heard Charlie crying when he woke up and brought him to the kitchen, still feverish and tearful. She cradled him against her, standing against the counter where he could see everything that was going on, murmuring to him.

When Jane and Gillam walked in, David shouted “Daddy! Daddy, eat some of my bread! Mine has jelly beans and broccoli in it!”

Gillam didn't miss a beat. “I will certainly give it a taste test.”

Mimi and Leah were clamoring “Me, too.” Ginny whispered to Jane that she might want to give Leah's loaf a miss, the spice mixture could upset her stomach. As Gillam was herding kids to the bathroom for handwashing, Chris and Sima came in the front door with a green bean casserole and a gallon of Sima's seltzery orangeade. Myra was lifting crisp fillets of sole from a skillet onto brown paper to drain, but gladly leaned back into Chris's hug from behind.

Edwina helped Gillam remind the children how to set out placemats (David's chore), silverware (Mimi's chore), and this month's salt and pepper shakers from Ginny's collection of them (Leah's chore). It always took a lot more time to guide them through these actions than it would have been to do it themselves, but, as Gillam said, the point wasn't efficiency, the point was everybody contributing. As Ginny carried the massive wooden salad bowl to the table, Carly came in the back door, followed by Eric, Margie, and the dogs.

Ginny set down the bowl and hurried to Carly, hugging him around the cake carrier in his arms. Myra was there in the next second, kissing his cheek. Allie opted to keep Charlie in her lap instead of pulling out his high chair, but the rest of the children were seated with boosters and between adults. Jane said “After we get something solid into him, I think it's time for a dose of Tylenol” and Gillam nodded.

Holding hands for a moment of silence before eating was acutely sweet to Myra tonight. It had been so long since they were all together. She missed Frances but she'd be here soon. She had Leah on one side of her and Carly on the other. She was also aware of Moon under her chair, breaking Margie's rules but staying out of sight.

After almond cake, dates, and tea, Mimi voiced suspicion about being put in front of the television with adults staying in the dining room, but her siblings raced for a place on the mat. Myra set up a video while Ginny handed out quilts and pillows -- “Just to be comfortable, you don't have to go to bed yet” she reassured them. After Charlie was given his Tylenol and a bottle of warm milk, however, it seemed certain he would drop off again soon.

On the way back to the dining room, Myra said quietly to Ginny “Do you want me to sit next to you?”

Ginny stopped to think about it. “Yes, but I want Edwina on the other side.” Edwina overheard it and stood to switch chairs. They all settled in and Ginny licked her lips, then began talking.

Her account was nowhere near as coherent as Nancy's retelling had been. Myra put her arm over Ginny's shoulders a couple of minutes after she started, filled with still conflicting emotions but uppermost in her was awareness of Ginny's pain. Ginny leaned against her, and Myra closed her eyes for a moment at all the lost opportunities they had had.

Margie had to ask a few key questions to get the last details from Ginny. Margie and Gillam's faces were both tormented. Tears turned Carly's red cheeks wet and Eric was hugging him fiercely. Myra could feel Allie's fury and, reassuringly, also that of Chris. Before anyone could react, however, Frances slipped in the back door and slid into the chair next to Jane.

Allie said “You want some coffee?”

“No, I'm fine” said Frances. Her mocha chef's uniform had a dash of flour on one shoulder and spatters of what must be marinara near her left waist. She looked at Margie, who said “Mom's just told us all what happened, that's as far as we've gotten.”

Frances turned to Myra and Ginny and said “So, what would you like from us?” It was as if she was taking an order for food. Myra suddenly felt how enormously confident Frances was, and was glad for Margie.

Ginny shivered once. “Well...I'd rather none of you feel sorry for me. And likewise that you not think – I asked for it somehow. If you do feel those things, then tell me, let's clean it up.”

There was a long silence. Myra wasn't sure if Ginny's request included her. She decided to leave their difficulties for Nancy sessions. But as if to contradict her, Ginny said “Myra and I have a long row to hoe. This has brought up more than I can even comprehend at the moment. Turns out, the foundation of our relationship was based on some...misunderstandings.”

Edwina looked alarmed. “What do you mean?”

“Not about monogamy” began Ginny. “More about...How would you put it, Myra?”

“I think I've been secretly enamored of the fact that Ginny needed me in a way that she never got from her own mother” said Myra slowly. “I've interpreted that need as love because of – shit with my own mother.”

Chris laughed. “You just now seeing that one?”

“Through a glass darkly at the moment” said Myra.

“How about Ginny being hot for the idea that she was the only woman to get through to you? Has that come up, too?” continued Chris.

“It's probably related” said Myra, ignoring Jane's look of outrage and Sima's stillness.

There was a sudden yelp from the living room, sounding like Leah in protest.

“Mimi” Gillam called out in warning. No response. Moon appeared from under the table and drifted in the direction of the children.

“Go get 'em, Nana” Myra said softly. Ginny smiled at her in recognition.

Frances said, “Well, I'm here to talk with, either of you. You too, buddy boy” she said in Carly's direction.

“I'm okay” he said. “I don't want any of you to treat me differently, either.”

“Aside from our usual awestruck reverence for you, O Exalted Fartiness?” queried Eric. Carly goosed him and they began wrestling. David's voice came from the doorway, repeating “Ex Malted Fartiness?” in a delighted tone.

“Back to the dungeon with you” ordered Gillam, laughing. In a minute, they heard the three older children repeating “fartiness” with endless hilarity.

Frances said “I need to get back, but I've got a question for Allie. I want to know how come you insisted Myra stay in this house with Ginny. Honestly, if it had been me that freaked out, I'd have needed to go elsewhere and chill.”

Allie looked at Myra and said “Okay for me to dig into this?” Myra nodded.

“Well, I agree, for most folks, taking a break woulda been fine. But they was a few reasons why it would stink for Myra. First off, her family dealt with all they problems by just moving on down the road, packing the trailer and haulin' ass. She didn't learn much about keeping your nest clean, not till she was grown and, well, around decent folks like me.” Allie grinned at Myra, who was somber, taking in this picture of herself.

“Of all the wimmins Myra busted out from, they was only one who didn't let her move out, move on. That was Karin, who kept on living with her while Myra struck up with Judit. Karin waited on her six months before taking off. That was enough time for Myra to see what she'd done, to start noticing she was making a mistake. It was too late, that time, but I knew she'd come back to earth sooner this go-round.”

Ginny was staring at Myra. Myra felt some regret at giving Allie the okay to talk.

“Also, that whole hurlin' the phone thing: Myra was acting like Ginny was a physical threat, like she had a right to attack. You don't reward that by letting someone run. That just chicken shit.”

Chris was laughing and nodding.

“And, third – the great gift of this family, this hanging onto one another that we have somehow done, is that we get to see how we all love each other, up close and daily. Myra needed to see that we weren't going to ditch Ginny, because we want her. She needed a chance to begin missing Ginny, and she was more likely to do that here in the house than holed up in a motel. Myra's imagination can create whole alternate universes, she need steel cable sometimes to tie her down in a tempest.”

Myra said to Allie gently “How did you get to be so fucking smart about me?”

“Well, I by god ought to be after all this time. We the oldest relationship in the room” said Allie.

“I owe you one” said Myra.

“You do, and I'll collect” said Allie. “Now, I got a question for you. I wanna hear about you Mama poofing outta thin air out there by the whale shark. All the details.”

Frances gave Margie a swift kiss and left for the store as Myra began telling her story. After a couple of minutes, she noticed Leah trying to hide by the doorway. She stopped and called her name, waving Leah toward her lap. With that, Mimi and David arrived too. Allie held up a finger for Myra to wait and went to get Charlie, asleep but no longer feverish. Moon and Gidg accepted their moment of attention in Myra's story, as sentinels who had informed Margie of ghostly manifestation. Leah had her fingers wrapped tight around Myra's thumb, her eyes wide.

But it was Margie who took over, mimicking Jo's voice again and milking the episode's drama. “I wish I'd heard her” said Ginny enviously.

“Is she our guardian angel?” asked David. Myra was startled. Jane said apologetically “Lucy and Seth tell their boys they have guardian angels.”

“I believe she's looking out for us, yes” said Gillam. “Even before me and Margie were born, she was there.”

“Before I was born, too, Daddy?” asked Mimi.

“I would imagine so” he replied. Mimi considered for a minute, then said “So if I ask her for a pony, could she get me one?”

They all burst into laughter. Gillam swept Mimi into the air and said “Let's go home, we've got about half an hour left for play time before baths and bed. Tomorrow is a school day for me.”

After they left, the rest of the family moved into the living room, to keep talking about other things. Sima pulled Ginny down next to her on the couch and held her hand. Myra lay on the mat with a dog on either side of her. In minutes, she had fallen asleep. She woke up there the next morning, covered with a comforter, her pillow under her head, Keller at her hip.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

1 comment:

Jesse Wendel said...

Okay, absolutely no fair, making me cry at work.

Yes, once again, YOU are making ME. I have nothing to do with any of this.