Friday, January 9, 2009

GINNY BATES: SHARPER THAN A SERPENT'S TOOTH

Western diamondback rattlesnake
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.

June 2018

As it turned out, Myra and Ginny went for dinner on their 32nd anniversary to Carminati's, because it was a slow night there, because Myra loved how Frances made steak and Ginny wanted her cioppino, and because it was the same building where they had begun so long ago. On the walk home, they stopped at “their spot” and hugged, looking deep into each other's eyes but not kissing.


Two days later the entire clan, Frances included, left for the Gulf Coast on a chartered plane. Jane was seven weeks from her due date and wasn't sure a smaller plane would be easier on her nausea, but it definitely made handling four active children less of a nightmare.

Carly and Eric pushed two twin beds together at one end of the sleeping porch, Margie and Frances did the same at the other end, and in between a slightly wider twin was given to Mimi and David, who were thrilled to be allowed out in a perceived “adult” region. Charlie and Leah were put in the second queen bed in their parents' bedroom, which Charlie didn't mind and Leah did.

Margie rented two kayaks, for her and Frances. Their first morning, she got up in the dark with Allie and Edwina, coaxing Mimi and David awake with constant reminders to “shush” until they were in the kitchen. David was hardly drawing breath in his stream-of-consciousness commentary about being allowed to go fishing with the aunties this year.

Myra got up at 7:00 with Ginny and sleep-walked into the kitchen to begin making a monster stack of corncakes, while Ginny filled a watermelon hull with fruit salad and made enough tea and lemonade to get them all through the blistering day. Myra was still ladling cakes onto the griddle when she heard crying from the front stairs. Before she could move, Edwina came in the door carrying a wailing Mimi.

“What happened?” exclaimed Ginny, rushing to take Mimi in her arms.

“They killed them all, Bubbe!” yelped Mimi. “She hit them on the head, hard, and cut them with knives!”

“She lost it when Allie began cleaning the fish” said Edwina, wide-eyed. “We were doing it the same as always, no change -- “

“They were trying to get away, it was awful, Bubbe!” said Mimi, shaking a fist at Edwina. Ginny sat down with Mimi, cradling her face against her shoulder, and said “Yes, nothing wants to die. You're right. Fish have to die if we are to eat them.”

“I don't want to eat them, then” blubbered Mimi. “I don't want to kill anything.”

“Where's David?” Myra whispered to Edwina.

“With Margie. He's okay. I guess it's a developmental thing, comprehending death of other creatures” said Edwina. “I should go help Allie, we've got a big haul today.” Myra waved her on, setting out buttermilk and cornmeal on the counter, and putting oil in Allie's favorite cast-iron skillet.

Mimi cried less with Edwina gone, and said again “I don't want to kill things so I can eat them.”

“That's a choice you can make” said Ginny. “Is this only fish, or other animals too?”

“Like what?” said Mimi, sucking snot back into her nose.

“Well...chicken. And burgers come from cows. Bacon comes from pigs. By comes from, I mean those animals are killed and cut up to make our meat.” Ginny, blunt as usual. At least she wasn't mentioning lamb.

Mimi was dealing with a precipice, it was clear. She looked at Myra for confirmation, and Myra nodded with a regretful expression.

“Then I don't. None of them. No more killing.”

“We can do that, Meemers. You can get your protein from other sources. It means eating only veggies and fruit and grains, plus a few things like eggs and milk that we can get from animals without hurting them” said Myra. She remembered having this conversation with Gillam.

“I'm hungry” said Mimi abruptly, looking at the cakes Myra was lifting from the griddle.

“How many you want? And I could make you some eggs to go with it, since you won't be having fish.”

“Lots. And scrambled eggs, okay, Gramma?”

“You got it. Why don't you go wash your face and hands?” said Myra. As Mimi crossed the kitchen, Gillam appeared in the doorway to his bedroom, carrying Charlie and looking crabby.

“Did I hear crying?” he said, putting Charlie down. Charlie hurtled toward Ginny. From behind Gillam's hip appeared Leah, who also streaked for the kitchen in her pajamas.

“Mimi just figured out that cleaning fish kills them. She's decided to become a vegetarian” said Myra, swinging Leah up for a hug.

“Oh, god” groaned Gillam.

“Go back to bed, we've got 'em” said Ginny.

“Could I take some of those back to bed with me?” asked Gillam, scratching his balls through his boxers. Clearly not entirely awake.

Myra opened the warm oven, put a stack of cakes onto a plate and surrounded them with fruit salad as Gillam poured a giant glass of milk. He took the plate without thanks, shuffling back to his bedroom.

Ginny got Leah and Charlie dressed while Mimi ate. Allie came in the front door, looking a little cautious, with a foil-wrapped heap in a pan.

“You doing better, scout?” she asked Mimi. Mimi nodded, saying “I'm going to be a vegebalarian now.”

“Is that so?” said Allie. Margie and Edwina appeared, and all three of them went to clean up. Myra transferred fillets to buttermilk and turned on the burner under the skillet before returning to her corncake assembly line. Ginny had sippy cups filled with milk and fruit salad set before Leah and Charlie.

Half an hour later, the smell of frying fish pulled the sleeping porch folks out to eat and even persuaded Jane up, walking flat-footed back on her heels in a shapeless cotton shift. Gillam was the lone hold-out until 8:30. There was only one fillet left over for lunch. Myra put two cut-up chickens into a stock pot, to make broth plus picked chicken for lunch's salad. She filled a second stock pot with potatoes, and decided Mimi could eat pimento cheese for that meal's protein.

Allie, Ginny, and Edwina were already on the porch. Carly and Eric were doing clean-up, Margie and Frances were portaging kayaks toward the beach, and the children were impatiently waiting on Gillam to get dressed so they could go swim. Myra sat at the far end of the table and turned on her lap-top. Leah immediately came to crawl into her lap and say “Wat are you writing?”

“First, I'll answer some e-mails. Then a post for my blog, and then – I think maybe some more on my Skene book. One of the teenaged grandchildren reminds me a lot of you, maybe I'll write about her” said Myra.

“I wish we all lived together like this, all year” said Leah. “We could do that, your house is big enough.”

“Don't give her ideas” said Carly, laughing.

Leah's hazel hair was already looking gummy, Myra noticed. Leah insisted on wearing her hair long and femmy, messing up the good lines of her face, Myra thought. And David was constantly pushing his own flaxen hair back from his brown eyes, a maddening habit. At least Mimi wanted her glossy dark locks cropped. And Charlie's yellow waves had already had a trim, courtesy of his Uncle Carly, without any complaint on his part. But Charlie didn't complain much.

Gillam emerged from the bedroom in baggy shorts and sandals. “You have the sunblock?” he asked Jane.

“I've already given them all a coating” she said. “Turn around, I'll do your back, then you can do mine.”

“Where's my bucket?” yelled David. He kept repeating this, despite the fact that the bucket and shovel were right where he'd set them, five feet away. Myra said “Hey!” and pointed. When the beach crew finally headed out the door, she gave an audible sigh and Carly giggled.

“They could all move into your house and the little ones could all sleep with you and Ginny. Getting up early would be so much easier for you” he teased.

“What are you two doing?” she asked.

“Oiling our manly muscles and lying where a breeze can hit us while reading trashy magazines” he replied.

At 4:00 that afternoon, Myra had not been down long for a nap when Ginny opened the bedroom door and said “You need to come look at this, something's crawling up the bird feeder.”

The entire family was clustered on the back porch, children lifted into adult arms, exclaiming. Leah said “I think it's Warrum Arsenica!” and Ginny replied shortly “It is not.” Myra pushed to the front for a view. A long, sandy sinuousness was wrapped around the silver pole in the back yard which was topped by a large birdseed platform, with roof and suet compartments. As the climbing head slid onto the level at the apex, the tip of its tail angled around to their side. Myra could see rattles there.

The snake investigated the platform and lapped itself neatly behind one glass hopper. As it stilled, it became nearly invisible.

“Clever girl” breathed Myra, thinking of the scene with that line in Jurassic Park. She turned to Allie and said “The mockers and scrub jays will see it, I bet, but not the littler songbirds. It's found itself a buffet.”

“It's at least five feet long” said Allie, an undercurrent in her voice.

“I know. We have to deal with it” said Myra. She felt short on sleep at the moment.

“There's that pole we use to lift down the platform for refills” said Gillam. “Maybe we could -- “ He stopped.

“Yeah, anything we do is going to result in air full o'snake” said Myra.

“What do you mean, buffet?” asked Mimi. Jane said “It's gone there to catch birdies. Snakes eat birds, as well as mice and frogs, anything littler than them.”

Ginny was focused on the “air full o'snake” comment. “Let's call the wildlife service, they can handle it.”

“Services are stretched so thin around here” said Myra. “We're a house full of ten competent adults, I'd rather brainstorm about this first.”

Ginny glared at her. Margie said “That big canopy we have stretched over the wading pool, it's like a portable umbrella. We could hold that over our heads as we – what, lift the feeder down?”

Myra looked at Allie. “The umbrella is a good idea. But I want more control over it before we start moving things. Maybe I could rig a noose at the end of the pole.”

“Snare it snug before you bring it down” agreed Allie.

“We need wire, not rope” said Myra. “Like, a long length of baling wire.”

Allie chuckled. “Waal, now, head on down to the barn and look in the tack room, and while you're at it, grab me some axle grease and a razor strop.”

She and Myra giggled. David looked at them as if they had stopped speaking English.

Myra turned to Ginny and said “Flexible wire? Strong enough to not break, you have something like that?”

“Annealed wire for sculpture – yeah, I've got a roll or two in the art cupboard” she admitted. “But I think this is monumentally stupid.”

“I'm aware of that” said Myra. “I'd really rather not wait for a wild kingdom gulp-down in front of little eyes, however.” Mimi was looking at intently, trying to decipher that sentence.

“You're no Marlin Perkins” muttered Ginny, heading into the house for the wire. Myra said “I'm going down under the house for the pole, cover me, Ripley” to Allie. When she returned, Carly had gotten pliers and duct tape as well. “There's always a use for duct tape” he commented, eliciting wild giggles from Eric.

Myra began experimenting with wire loops. Allie said quietly “We gonna need something else.” Myra looked at her before comprehending. “Oh, yeah.”

“Well, you cover me now, I'll go to the shed” said Allie. She returned with a machete and took it into the kitchen, where one drawer held a whetstone. Mimi's eyes followed her suspiciously.

With Margie and Carly's bickering assistance, Myra was finally satisfied with a lasso contraption on the pole. She tried operating it a few times out into the space from the back porch. She turned to Allie and said “You wanna be the canopy holder?”

Allie glanced at Edwina, who looked grim. “Actually – I don't.”

“I'll do it” said Gillam immediately. Jane sucked in her breath and Ginny said “No way.” Gillam ignored her. “I need to gear up” he said, handing Leah to Eric and going into the house. Myra followed, changing her sneakers for boots over thick socks. Gillam emerged from his bedroom in long pants tucked into boots, a long-sleeved jacket, and one of Margie's kayaking helmets. He took the roll of duct tape from Carly and taped his pants cuffs to the boots. “Are there gloves in the store room?” he asked.

Myra laughed in spite of herself. “You're gonna roast in that get-up.”

“You need to do the same” said Ginny, and there was no give in her voice. Gillam handed her the other kayak helmet with a grin, and Myra went to her bedroom for more layers.

Once they were in the yard, approaching the pole, Myra whispered to Gillam “If I change my mind now, will I ever live it down?”

“Doesn't matter” he said tensely. “We can call for help.”

“No...I'm going to at least try” she said. “Where's the machete? Okay, leave it there, it's on a run path to the stairs. Listen, you holler 'snake' if you see it, that word, not anything else, got it?”

She turned to Allie, part of the rapt audience on the porch above them, and called “Give me a running commentary, will ya?”

“It ain't moved. Try banging on the pole first, with just the umbrella over you. Maybe it'll dive off.”

Myra exchanged her lasso for Gillam's canopy and approached the pole. She grabbed the machete and used its handle to clang against the metal three times, scuttling backward while resisting the urge to look up.

“What's it doing?” she yelled, once out of drop-on range.

“Not a damned thing” said Allie. “Like it an obelisque.”

“Okay” said Myra, trading with Gillam again. “I'll wave this around up in its face, see if it jumps for it. I like that idea better, somehow.”

“Stay under the edge here, Mom” he said in a high voice. “If Allie yells snake, don't you dare break out in the open.”

She took a deep breath and extended the aluminum lifter beyond the periphery of Gillam's canopy. She'd turned down gloves because it would impair her dexterity, and suddenly her hands felt incredibly vulnerable. She used the thick pole of the feeder as a compass point upward and yelled to Allie “Have I cleared the top yet?”

“Yeah, you about six inches above. You need more play, and go to you left. It still ain't moved.”

With Allie calling directions, and the children being steadily shushed, Myra blindly zeroed in on the snake. Suddenly Allie yelled “Whoa! It striking at the noose! There it goes again. Myra, it's raised up, you can get around it's neck easy right now. Move two inches to you right and rotate that stick maybe 90 degrees. No, back the other way a hair. I'm gonna yell 'yank' if it strikes again, you pull for all – yank, yank!”

Myra jerked the wire downward and felt a jolt travel down to her hands, a fleshy percussion which made her stomach turn over.

“Holy fucking god, you got it!” shouted Allie over the children's screams.

“Don't look up!” said Gillam.

“Keep it taut, keep it pulled tighter'n a miser's purse” yelled Allie. “Lean to you left and start lowering it.”

Myra felt the muscles in her arm rigid with strain as she slowly lowered her rod to the ground 15 feet away. As the end came into view under the canopy's edge, she heard Gillam gasp: The snake was partly wrapped around the rod but was heaving itself violently from side to side. The lasso wire was a few inches back from its gaping mouth. Once it was on the ground, she stood uncertainly for a minute. Her bladder needed emptying as soon as possible, she realized.

Allie appeared beside her. “You want me to do it, or give me that lariat?” she asked Myra.

“It needs to be me, I think” said Myra. As she painstakingly transferred the twist of wire from her hands to Allie's, she realized she was drenched in sweat, including her fingers. “It's slick” she warned.

Gillam had backed away to set aside the canopy, and now was heading up the stairs – to be with Mimi, Myra thought. She wiped her hands on the sides of her jeans and picked up the machete.

The snake's motions became wilder as she approached. She wished she knew a prayer that fit this occasion. She heard Mimi starting to yell “No!” as she lifted the blade and swung it at a point below where the snake's head was tethered to the rod by cruelly tight wire. It took three hacks before the severing was complete, partly because the rod was in the way at first. When it was done, the snake's body kept flopping around, and she stepped back, revolted.

Allie walked around her to the shed and returned with a shovel. Myra loosened the wire and pried it from the rod with the tip of the machete. Allie dug a deep hole, and Myra scraped the head and wire into it while Allie shoved in the body. As Allie covered everything with sandy earth, Myra was aware of silence from above. She looked and saw that everyone had gone inside.

Good she thought. She cleaned the machete, first in damp sand, then with water from the hose, before drying it on a rag in the shed and hanging it back on the wall. Allie joined her to put away the shovel. They walked back upstairs together, Myra shedding her drenched jacket and blouse, down to an undershirt.

When she came in the door, Mimi hurled at her “I hate you! You didn't have to kill it!”

“I did, though” said Myra. “I very much did not want to. But it had come to include this yard in its territory, which means none of your children would have been safe outside. Because it would bite you, if you surprised it, and as little as you are, a bite could kill you.”

“I don't care, don't you say it was for me!” shouted Mimi. She was quivering with rage.

“If she hadn't done it, I would have” said Allie quietly. Mimi was going to wheel on her, but Gillam said “Me, too.” Mimi stared at him in disbelief.

Myra looked at him. He was pale, his jaw set. Sucks to be a parent sometimes, she thought.

Ginny said to Myra “I want a search of every square inch tomorrow, when it's full light.” Which meant Myra and someone else doing the searching, Myra knew. Myra nodded.

Mimi wouldn't come near her the rest of the evening. Leah was clingier than ever, but Myra wondered if she was doing so partly to antagonize Mimi. Tension was finally relieved at the campfire, when Carly and Eric stood up and did a disco version of “It's raining snakes” that made them all helpless with laughter.


© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

2 comments:

kat said...

quite honestly, I had to skim this....I have a huge snake phobia!

Cowboy Diva said...

I'm beginning to think this should be published on disc or something rather than on paper; it would be great to link up all the texas gulf segments in chronological sequence, for example, just for the sake of seeing growth and development of the the site and how they used it over time.

Or, another example would be tagging all of the recipes to pull those out.

There's just so much information here, and indexing fiction just seems wrong. ;>