Sunday, January 18, 2009


Baby with smudgy blue eyes
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

Lucia was yet another version of the Bates imprint, like Ginny, Margie, and Mimi before her. She had the wide brow, dark glossy hair, and smudgy blue eyes that felt to Myra like the best looks in the world. Her shoulders were Gillam-squared, but her jaw came down into a heart shape.

However, she cried much more than any other baby Ginny and Myra had seen. She did not appear to be consolable. Nursing was especially trying for Jane. After a week, Chris observed that Lucia preferred not to have hands on her -- “She don't like to be grabbed” is how Chris put it. Which of course make caring for her problematic, but when the adults could hold her facing away from their chest, make diaper changes swift instead of sweet, and Jane could resist stroking Lucia's face while feeding her, Lucia seemed to be much calmer.

Gillam had to return to teaching three weeks after Lucia was born. He came to Myra's study at the end of his first week of work and broke down crying at how he had not had enough time with this baby. “Do you think she cries so much because she's being short-changed?” he asked.

“No” said Myra firmly. “Every child is different, you of all people know that.”

Jane contracted a bladder infection after delivery, which recurred a week later. On her second round of a new antibiotic, she developed lingering diarrhea and, as she expressed it, every day became a race for her to take in adequate nutrition before it roared back out of her.

Charlie was cheerfully resisting any progress toward toilet-training, Leah sprained her ankle badly enough to require wearing a brace, and Edwina had a wreck which didn't result in injury to her or Allie but did total her car. On the plus side, Mimi liked Lucia as much as she had Charlie.

Myra finished her final Seed children's book – well, if her agent had her way, it wouldn't actually be the last of them. The fifth child, Piñon, was painted by Ginny with silver bands spiraling up her arms and legs. When asked what that meant, Ginny said she didn't know, it's just what she saw.

Cathy came on September 12th to spend the rest of Rosh HaShanah with them. The second evening, Chris and Sima came over for dinner. Gillam, Jane, and the children walked over with a pineapple upside-down cake to share. After the children were revved up on sugar, Gillam inflated several balloons, invented a complicated game with them, and set the kids loose in the living room while the adults remained around the dining table. When he returned to his seat, he poured another cup of tea and said “My principal is really on my ass to sign up for at least one extra-curricular duty this semester. She says I need to be doing a lot more to advance my career.”

“You already direct the play every spring” objected Myra.

“Not enough. She especially wants me to help manage a sport. Problem is, there's no swimming pool at Nova and the only other sport I know really well, baseball, would mean practice and games that are hellishly long. I wouldn't make it home until the kids are asleep. I think I can put her off until next semester because I have a newborn, but after that...” He absentmindedly cut a sliver from the last remaining piece of cake and began eating it.

Ginny got up to clear her part of the table, which included the cake plate. She returned with a bowl of oranges. Myra grinned to herself.

Gillam licked his fork and said to Myra “She says her aunt knows you, by the way.”

“Who's her aunt?” asked Myra.

“I forgot to ask. But my principal is single, and her last name is Rosenthal, if that helps” said Gillam.

“Oh” said Myra and Ginny in one voice.

“Blue” giggled Chris. “She won't have had much good to say about you, huh. Seeing has how you wronged her twice, not just once.”

“What do you mean, twice?” asked Ginny.

“That's not how I'd put it” said Myra. “She severed contact with me both times.” She was a little embarrassed at this coming up in front of Cathy.

When Myra didn't answer her question, Ginny turned to Sima. “How so, twice?”

Sima glanced at Myra. “Uh...Well, they dated for a while back when – you know about that. Then, after Myra won the lottery, it looked like they might start back up. But – I did think you were the one to end it that time, Myra.”

Myra sighed. “I told her I needed to do some hard work. I wanted to keep seeing each other, only no sex and no romance. Simply getting to know each other – frankly, in a way we'd not ever actually done. She said, and I quote, 'If you don't fuck me, you don't see me.' And that was that.”

“I never knew about this” said Ginny in a voice she was trying hard to keep clear of accusation. “This was after our first potluck, or before?”

Myra wrinkled her brow, trying to remember. “After the first one, I guess. Because it was right before Gil died.”

“So, if she'd been willing to work with you, she might have wound up with you?” asked Ginny. She felt like smacking Chris, who wouldn't stop giggling.

“I cannot in any way imagine me having wound up with Blue Rosenthal” said Myra. “I was just trying to change my spots, and that was one kind of effort.”

“You said no to that woman in Portland, too, not long after that” reminded Chris. “When you took the train down there for a week.”

“Kate Bean?” said Ginny, her voice rising. “Kate Bean offered to be lovers with you, you said she absolutely -- “

“No, not Kate” interrupted Myra. “Emily something. A friend of Kate's; actually, someone Kate was interested in dating.”

“And you were flirting with her, or what?” said Ginny.

Myra faced her. “I did not flirt with her, I made an effort to get to know her because Kate had a crush on her and couldn't talk about anything else. She was fascinating, she had gorgeous soft black curls and a big hook nose and was brainy as hell, and I could easily see the attraction for Kate. We went out to dinner and she talked about seeing the Broadway version of Amadeus, how every time Salieri entered a scene all the extras would hiss his name in a barely audible sussuration of menace. I liked her a lot. But then Kate went to the bathroom, and Emily put her hand on my leg and asked me if I wrote letters. I didn't understand her at first. I said I actually loved to write letters. She handed me a piece of paper with her address on it and told me she'd hope to hear from me, she could visit Seattle any old time. That's when I realized she was, well, hitting on me.”

“What did you do?” said Gillam, interested in spite of Ginny's tension.

“I didn't tell Kate. I wrote Emily and said I liked her, I'd like to be friends, but if there was any part of her that wanted romance, I was not available. She didn't reply” said Myra.

“The old Myra would have changed her train ticket and shacked up with that woman secretly for a few days, praying not to run into Kate” said Chris.

“Why did you never tell me about any of this?” said Ginny.

“It didn't matter enough to me” said Myra. “The process I was in kinda overshadowed blips along the way.”

Ginny was a little mollified by that term “blips”. She realized this insecurity was what Nancy talked about as not having anything to do with Myra, and she began trying to track down where it lived inside her. Myra sensed the shift and leaned over to kiss Ginny's cheek.

“I know you don't do the male-female division” said Cathy, “but when I hear these stories about you, Myra, it reminds me of a guy. Like a dog of a guy.”

Gillam laughed. “Ballsy of you to say so, Aunt Cathy. We're never supposed to make that comparison, or imply anything to do with men and sex around the mother-world.”

“Oh, knock it off” said Ginny. “There's a difference between us having a redefined world view and you being censored somehow. Myra's not prohibitive – I mean, she has those erotic dreams about Rich Trethewey.”

“Who the hell is that?” said Sima. But Chris was chortling. She punched Myra on her shoulder and said “The fat bald guy from 'This Old House'? You have the hots for him?”

Myra scowled at Ginny. “No. I've had a series of dreams about him that, well, seem to have ambiguous symbolism, is all.” She began clearing the rest of the table. Everyone else came to help. As Myra bent over to lift the broiler pan from the oven, Chris whispered “You want to put some joint seal on my copper pipe here, Myra?”

“Stop it” commanded Myra. Ginny and Sima looked around at them, then at each other. That night Myra was asleep by the time Ginny came to bed.

Cathy's third day there, Ginny “woke up with a painting”, as Myra thought of it, and Cathy began spending mornings with Jane and the children, afternoons as a surrogate bubbe with Myra. Her quiet patience reminded Myra a great deal of David. At one point, Myra said to Cathy “David now has nine great-grandchildren. Not bad for the single Bates survivor.”

“And six of them are girls” said Cathy with a sad smile. “He'd like that percentage.”

Ginny finished her painting Thursday night but refused to sleep, instead sitting up with Cathy and talking after dinner until Cathy tactfully decided to go to bed early. The next afternoon, after Mystery Box, Myra made bread, Ginny made challah, Lucia sat in her carrier on the counter dozing amid the smell of yeast, and Cathy led the other children through endless rounds of “Let's Go Hunting”. Carly and Eric arrived at 4:00, leaving work early because of the holiday, and a few minutes later Gillam and Jane walked in the back door.

They were immediately besieged by their children. Lucia woke up and began crying, and Jane said “My breasts are bursting, I know she's got to be hungry”, but Lucia fought nursing. Gillam had changed Charlie's diaper and was trying to get his pants snapped back together, without any cooperation on Charlie's part. Cathy's cell rang and she went into the front foyer for enough quiet to talk. David stood beside Jane, yanking at her elbow and saying “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy” in an endless drone that made Myra think he'd forgotten what he wanted from her, he'd simply gotten sucked into the rhythm of whingeing. From the living room came Leah's voice yelling “Hey, that's mine, I was playing with that!”

Gillam turned away from Charlie to shout “Mimi, I swear to fucking god -- “. David and Charlie both went still. Cathy stepped back into the kitchen area with a pale face, saying “That was Elyse. They think Nate's had a heart attack.”

“Oh my god” said Ginny, rushing to put her arms around Cathy. “Is he all right?”

“They're doing cardiac catheterization. They think if they clear the arteries, and he got there in time, he might not have any residual damage” said Cathy numbly. “She's going to call me back in an hour, they'll be done by then.”

“He's what, 40-something?” said Gillam in a shocked voice.

“He turned 50 last June” said Cathy. “He's never had any symptoms, if he had he would have done something about it, I know it.”

“Well, Daddy didn't -- “ Ginny stopped herself, realizing that train of thought was terrible. But it had been launched. Jane took Gillam's hand and squeezed it tight, looking at him anxiously.

“Mommy” said David again. Carly swooped him up and carried him into the living room. After 30 seconds, Charlie went after them, his unsnapped pants legs flapping around his chubby knees like chaps. Lucia was still squalling.

“I'll make her a bottle” said Eric, standing.

“But I need to get rid of this milk” said Jane, still staring at Gillam's face.

“Go upstairs, take the pump” said Myra to her and Gillam. “Take a break, you two. We'll let you know when we hear more.” She took Lucia from Jane gently, holding Lucia facing outward. Her small body was rigid but her crying diminished slightly at the change.

Gillam went to Cathy and kissed her cheek before heading up the front stairs after Jane. Cathy said “I need to go to New York.”

“Come on” said Ginny. “We'll go to Myra's study and call the airline on that phone, keep your line free. I need to call Margie, too.”

When Lucia's bottle was ready, Myra put her in the carrier and held the bottle for her, and Lucia ate greedily, watching Myra with an intense expression.

Nate was in postop by the time they began dinner. They'd found major blockages of four arteries and cleared or stented them. Elyse said he'd be good as new. Still, Ginny turned to Gillam and said “You need a complete work-up. For that matter, I'll go in, too.”

They coaxed a meal into Cathy, then Ginny helped her pack and drove her to the airport with Margie. Poker was cancelled. Myra and Carly played Hi-Ho the Cherry-O with the children until bedtime, but Myra was so distracted that Mimi stole cherries from her basket and Myra didn't notice until Leah pointed it out to her. The next day, Cathy called to say Nate really did seem to be okay. Myra's worry went into simmer.

Two weeks later, Gillam took a Tuesday off to go to the doctor. That afternoon, Margie showed up at Myra and Ginny's as dance class was winding down.

“I just drove Gillam home” Margie said to Myra in the kitchen.

“He's been having tests all day?” said Myra. “Did they find something?”

“No. The tests were done by noon. Mom, he had a vasectomy today” said Margie in a whisper. “He added it on to avoid having to take another day off work.”

“Why are you whispering? For that matter, why didn't Gillam or Jane tell us about it?” said Myra.

“He didn't tell Jane he was having it done today” said Margie.

“He what?” said Myra. She saw Ginny look around the door facing in her direction.

“I mean, it's not a total secret, they'd agreed they would use a vasectomy for birth control after they hit five kids” said Margie, looking in the refrigerator.

“But...what are you saying, they had an agreement but he still lied about doing it? I don't understand.” Myra glanced at the back gate. “Is he all right?”

“Moving slow and looking for an ice pack” said Margie. “A little woozy from the sedation. They don't put them out, though, you know, not for that.”

“What's going on?” said Ginny, joining them. David was right behind her. Myra said to him “I need for you kids to go play for five minutes. We have to talk grown-up for that long. I'll call you when we're done, I promise.”

“What will we do?” he whined.

“Go make up a dance and teach the steps to your siblings” said Myra impatiently. When he trudged away, she filled Ginny in.

“Are you implying he went in for surgery without telling Jane about it first?” Ginny demanded.

“Uh...I guess” said Margie, starting to become wary about her mothers' reaction. “Look, what he told me is that he's made all the children he ever intends to father, no matter what. So it's like his body, right? He gets to draw the line.”

“That's not the point” said Myra. “The point is that he lied to Jane, essentially. Not about the big picture, but the timing -- “

“Oh, right, you're going to go off on him about dishonesty, aren't you?” said Margie.

“How we react to this isn't going to hold a candle to what Jane is going to do” said Ginny grimly. “In fact, even as we speak...” She mirrored Myra's glance at the back gate.

“I thought he was done with this kind of crap” Myra said to Ginny. "She's right at the six weeks mark, off of pelvic rest."

Ginny held back two or three different things she considered saying. Finally she said “We probably should take the kids for overnight. That all right with you?”

“Yes, except Lucia doesn't sleep well here. Maybe Jane could handle that much?”

“I'll call her and leave a message. Then I'll help you start dinner” said Ginny.

Myra said to Margie “I can't believe you went along with him on this. Jane's going to be royally pissed at you as well.”

Margie looked defensive. “It's his body.”

“He's a husband and father as well as a body” said Myra. “How would you feel if – okay, not sterilization, maybe, but if Frances decided to have breast reduction without telling you when she did it?”

Margie laughed at her incredulously. David's voice came from the doorway. “Is it time yet, Gramma?”

“Oh, hell. Yeah, David, you can all come in here and help me decide between meatballs or chicken nuggets for dinner. Mimi can have some of Ginny's batter-dipped tofu. Or maybe we'll all have that...” She forced her thoughts away from the fight going on in the house behind them.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

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