Thursday, January 29, 2009


(Waves in freshwater lagoon near Patrick's Point, Trinidad, California; photo by Easton D. Rankine)

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.

October 2018

The Monday after Rajaraja led her band to Brihadeshwara, Myra and Ginny boarded an early morning train heading south for a week's vacation. Ginny had found a small house for weekly rental outside the northern California coastal town of Trinidad, with internet access, no carpets, close communion with nature, and no real amenities to speak of. They rode the train for eight hours to Grants Pass, Oregon, where they had a rental car waiting. Because they weren't sure about the availability of non-commercial groceries in Trinidad, and they'd be arriving late, they went to a natural foods store in Oregon to stock up before heading down the Redwood Highway.

They arrived in Trinidad shortly before 8:00 p.m. and ate at the only real restaurant they could find open, the Larrupin' Cafe. Ginny declared the Dungeness crab to be excellent. Myra found her steak lacking in flavor, but she thought beef was generally not a strong point of California cuisine. After a few false starts, they found their rental, outside of town to the southwest, at the end of a dirt road. A quarter mile away was the Pacific, and backing up to the house was redwood forest. The overhanging roof line all the way round it spoke of frequent rain.

The small front porch opened onto a single room the width of the small house – basic kitchen to the right, long narrow dining table straight ahead, fireplace with couch to the right. But wide windows front and back would bring the outdoors in when it was light, Myra guessed. One pantry in the kitchen had been converted into a room with only a toilet. A set of narrow, steep stairs behind the fireplace wall led to the second story, which held one large bedroom and one small, both with windows on three sides. Between was a bathroom with a claw-footed tub, sink, toilet, and a gas heater. There were also gas heaters in the bedrooms which seemed to do nothing at all against the damp chill. However, the sheets on the large bedroom's queen bed were fresh and there was a good down comforter, so warm sleep would be had.

They unloaded the car. Myra found several traces of other life in the cupboards, so she stashed every food that wasn't canned or bottled in the refrigerator. She'd brought her own cutting board, knives, and a few other kitchen essentials. Ginny schlepped suitcases up the stairs, banging them against the narrow walls. After a few minutes Myra heard a new kind of banging, which turned out to be the pipes as Ginny turned on water to fill the tub for a hot soak. When she came back downstairs, she reported the tap ran light brown at first, but eventually the stream cleared. “Rust in the pipes, I guess” she said. “I shut the door so the bathroom will warm up from the heater. Okay if I go first?”

“Sure” said Myra, looking through the selection of local brochures and nature books left on a small table by the front window.

Ginny said “That small bedroom's light will probably be perfect for painting. I put my dropcloth and easel in there.” She opened the back door with a squeak of hinges and walked out onto the back porch, where she found a light and turned it on. Myra joined her. It was a dark night, approaching no moon at all, but they could still see a gloriously overgrown yard where someone had clearly gardened. It was surrounded by high deer fencing, with a lichen-covered shed in one back corner and a gate in the other.

“There was a photo of this on their website” said Ginny. “It's what settled the vote for me. I could go put on my wellies now -- “

“Your bath” Myra reminded.

“Oh, right. Well, in the morning, we'll explore, eh?”

While Ginny bathed, Myra set up one end of the central table with placemats and settings for her and Ginny, where they could both look out the back window. In the center of its expanse, she moved all the local attraction material from the small table plus her own set of books and maps she'd brought for this area. At the far end, she hunted out a few empty jars, baskets, and strainers from the kitchen: nature study.

All that now remained on the small table was a lamp. She set up her laptop there, deciding which of the dining chairs was most comfortable and appropriating it as her writing chair. She was in the process of sending a “We're here” e-mail to their family when Ginny came downstairs in a robe and wool socks, rubbing her hair with a towel. A waft of apricot came with her.

“How's the tub?” asked Myra.

“Comfy. There's quite a draft comes in from around the door, though. Are you going to work there?” asked Ginny as she started the pipes knocking to fill a teakettle.

“Mm...yeah” said Myra, distracted by comment left at her blog. She kept reading, formulating a reply. After a few minutes, the teakettle began whistling. When it continued, Myra looked around – Ginny must've gone back upstairs. She went to turn off the burner and pour water into a pot already prepared. Ginny appeared at the foot of the stairs loaded down with hastily folded dropcloth, easel, and her case of painting supplies. She began spreading the cloth beside Myra's writing table at the front window.

“Won't the light be crappy there part of the day?” asked Myra.

“I want to be where you are” said Ginny.

“Oh. That's nice.” Myra carried the pot the table with two mugs. “Somebody at my blog said I was still living a hardened separatist existence, I'd simply brainwashed young men who had limited alternatives into living under my rule.”

“MRA troll” snorted Ginny. “Delete it.”

Myra was going to argue that their signature was something-grrrl, then realized how silly that was. She went back to her computer, made note of the IP address for her “watch” file, and deleted all trace of the comment. Much more satisfactory.

Ginny pulled out small rolls of canvas and decided on a width, then began assembling stretchers, stopping to sip at her tea. Her robe was gapping open. Myra briefly considered Ginny's version of “being” where she was, then set it aside. They worked on until Ginny had a canvas gessoed and sitting on the easel.

“I'm not going to start this tonight” she said. “Are you coming to bed soon?”

“Uh...I guess so, I'm not finding my way into the Skene book. I want to take a bath, too, though.”

“I'll start your water for you” offered Ginny. “You want those rosemary salts in it?”

“Yeah. I'll lock up down here” said Myra, carrying her and Ginny's cup to the kitchen to rinse. She turned off lights, checked doors, and walked upstairs to still-knocking pipes. Those could get old fast she thought. Ginny had a candle burning on the edge of the sink, and another beside their bed. Myra bet by this time tomorrow the house would be full of jars of wildflowers.

When she dashed to bed across the cold linoleum floor of the bedroom, Ginny was already asleep. Myra rudely warmed her feet against the backs of Ginny's calves, but Ginny didn't complain. She thought she could hear the ocean over Ginny's breathing. The house creaked in unfamiliar ways as she drifted off.

The bedroom had no curtains at its windows, and morning came far too early. Even so, Ginny's side of the bed was empty and cold when Myra rolled over. She took a piss, pulled on warm clothes, and walked down the stairs putting her hands on either wall for balance.

Ginny wasn't in the main room, either, but Myra spotted her bent over in the back yard. She walked to the kitchen and discovered a pot of eggs which had boiled down until the shoulders of the eggs extended into air. She turned it off. They'll be rubbery she thought to herself. The teakettle had cooled, so she refilled it and turned on the burner under it. She walked to the back door: It wasn't as cold outside as it felt inside. The bright morning had already warmed things up. Autumn was a month or so behind Seattle here.

“Hey” she called to Ginny. Ginny stood with a huge grin. She'd put on faded brown sweats and a spaghetti-strap cotton shirt of marine blue. Her nipples were poking hard at the cotton. “I couldn't wait on you to root around out here!” she said.

“That's okay. I'm making breakfast, did you eat?”

“No, just tea. Oh, and I started some eggs for us.”

Myra nodded and went back in. She fished four of the eggs from the pan and put them into a bowl with cold water. She found the fruit bread she thought looked promising at the natural foods store and pulled out four slices. The toaster on the counter only held two at a time – their toaster at home would handle eight thick slices or bagels at one. As she waited to butter the first two, she remembered the toaster her grandparents had when she was very small, with sides that flipped down where you lay a slice of bread on each side, then closed it back up. You had to time it yourself or the toast burned. She considered how that might alter your relationship with that piece of toast, how mechanization affected our enjoyment of processes.

When the toast was ready, she peeled all four eggs and put them on a plate. She sliced them open and confirmed the thin green line of sulphur around each yolk, the ungiving texture of the albumin. She sprinkled them with salt and pepper, then a drizzle of olive oil, Frances's trick for food resuscitation. She added a banana and orange to each plate and put them on the table before going back to the door to call Ginny.

“Brex is ready.”

“Oh, why don't we eat out on the porch? There's two comfortable chairs, and it's so nice out.”

Myra added cups of tea and silverware to the plates and carried them out, meeting Ginny at the steps. Ginny set down a large basket already full of gatherings dappled with dew and wet soil clinging to the roots. Myra said to Ginny "Ya got mud on your face, ya big disgrace."

Ginny grinned and replied "Gonna be a big man someday." Myra never knew when Ginny would recognize pop culture references, and it pleased her when she did.

After they sat, Ginny took a huge bite of toast and said “Oh, you were so right about this bread.” A tiny chickadee landed on the porch railing in front of Myra, cocking its head hopefully. She pulled a morsel of crust from her toast, shredded it even further, and leaned forward to scatter crumbs on the railing. The chickadee hopped away a few feet but returned instantly. Within a minute, there were four other chickadees, a pair of nuthatches, and what Myra thought was a towhee all shoving each other around for food.

She added more crusts to her repast, as well as pinches of banana, egg, and orange. Ginny said “These Oregon eggs, though, are not nearly as good as what we get at home.” Myra didn't comment. Ginny began talking about what she'd found in the yard.

“There's chives which I believe are wild, kinda lemony in flavor, and incredible sage bushes. Most of the veggie garden has bolted or been mowed down by insects, but there's enough spinach to feed us a few times, tons of radishes, and it must not have had a hard freeze here yet because I'm still finding lovely little tomatoes on a long row of plants. That big tree there is apple, some variety I can't name but the flavor literally gave me a thrill, it was so delish. I'll need your help to pick that tree safely, though. There's wild morning glory, lilacs, calendula, lavender, even a little tearose that looks ancient.” Ginny was talking through a full mouth and a broad smile. Myra felt every cell in her body starting to relax.

When Ginny stopped for breath, Myra said “According to the topo map I bought for this scrap of land, there should be a creek to the left of us, not far. Between us and the main part of town.”

Ginny was eating her banana in rapid bites. The rest of her plate was clear. She picked up sections of orange peel and wiped them across her wrists, inside her elbows, the nape of her neck and behind her earlobes, a habit of hers. It left scent and an oil Myra's searching mouth sometimes discovered. Used to discover thought Myra.

“I don't have a compost spot picked out yet” she said, standing and offering to take Myra's plate.

“I'm not done yet” pointed out Myra.

“Well, when you are, put on your wellies. Apple-picking, then creek exploration, then down to the beach?” ventured Ginny.

“Sounds good. At some point, if you want fresh seafood, we should make a run into town and find a local market” said Myra. Ginny set her plate down at Myra's feet and went back into the yard with a new basket, heading for blackberry vines around the shed.

Myra had to agree about the singular taste of the apples. They leaned a rickety ladder against the tree-trunk and Myra held it tight while Ginny climbed to upper limbs, filling basket after basket of imperfect small yellow globes. Ginny would sit on a safe main limb while Myra carried each basket into the kitchen and emptied it into a trash bag, not able to find another container roomy enough to hold them all. Finally Myra insisted Ginny not go any higher.

They gathered field guides, collecting gear, camera and topo map, heading out the back gate to the right, skirting the woods. Two minutes later they found the creek, which was sandy and shallow, an isolated jewel. In one bank Ginny spotted a crisply outlined raccoon print, which she photographed, saying “We can e-mail this back to the grandkids and let them guess what animal it is.” She had not changed into a warmer shirt, staying so active she said she didn't need it. Myra thought the blue against her rosy skin was inexpressibly beautiful in the slanting October light.

On the way back from the creek, a strong musky odor hit them from the woods.

“Whew, skunk” exclaimed Ginny. “This must be skunk paradise around here.”

“And raccoon. But that isn't quite skunk, I don't think. Or maybe there's a bog in there, so it's skunk mixed with that” said Myra.

“Or maybe it's a different species of skunk” said Ginny. “Rank, whatever it is.”

They spent a couple of hours coring apples and starting the biggest pot in the kitchen cooking applesauce. Ginny made a salad from garden gleanings, and Myra cooked a cut-up chicken in boiling water, picking off the flesh for sandwiches and returning everything else to the pot for stock, along with assorted veggies. While apples and stock were simmering, they made a run into town, buying salmon, crab and cod from a fresh-air market and popping briefly into a local gallery.

Myra strained her stock and carried the leached-out remainders to a spot outside the fence where composting would fight with local wildlife for their scraps. Ginny emptied applesauce into ziplock bags for freezing and started a new batch of apples in the pot. Myra said “Why don't you put a lid on that and turn it off, so we don't have to rush back from the beach?”

Ginny complied, finally covered her lovely shirt with a hoodied sweatie, and they headed out the front door toward the sound of distant surf. It was a ten minute walk, winding here and there, often along a salt marsh that Myra thought was one of the most beautiful places she had ever seen. The beach had dark grey sand, and the small bay contained high rocks topped with soil, left-behinds which had once been part of the mainland. They spotted a few migrating California grey whales, gathered driftwood to take home for the grandchildren, and saw not another soul coming and going. They held hands along the way.

Ginny resumed her apple chores, singing Malvina Reynolds. Myra said “What should I make for dinner?”

“The crab, it won't last long.”

“Crab cakes, maybe? I'll put some of those red potatoes in to bake, but the cakes themselves will only take 15 minutes.” Myra occupied herself taking photos of their nature finds, composing puzzle e-mails to send the grandkids each day, and sneaking shots of Ginny, her cheeks flushed by apple steam. She thought The two of are never happier than when we're nesting.

After the third and last pot of apples went on the stove, Ginny said “We still have an hour before dinnertime. You want to explore the berryish looking clearing to the left of us?”

Myra was at her computer. “Uh...Will it be okay if I beg off? I've gotten snared here.”

Ginny kissed the back of her head. “It's fine and dandy. You know, I think this house is built over a geographic change zone – it's sandy on the road and up to the front steps, but the side yard becomes more loamy, and that clearing was probably once fields for crops. Then comes the woods.”

“Dark and deep” recited Myra.

“I'll be back to make the salad for dinner.”

She was back in half an hour, with an assortment of berries in her basket. "Myra, there's still stuff on the bushes, some of them I'm not sure about. Where's that Pacific Northwest field guide?"

"I put it back on the table there. Gin, don't eat anything until you know for sure -- ."

"I know, crush it and rub the liquid on my lips, wait to see if anything goes numb. But I know what rosehips look like, there's masses of them that I'm collecting to take home for tea. And I'm pretty sure these here are beach strawberries. This one looks like a huckleberry, mostly. Anyhow, I'll do ID."

"Check for pesticide residue too. They may spray the shit out of this place."

"Oh, that would be such a waste. I've already gathered a basket of miner's lettuce for dinner" said Ginny.

"Listen, where's the woodpile out there?" said Myra.

"Go right when you leave the back porch, it's on that side of the house. Looks spidery, though."

Myra walked up the narrow stairs to their bedroom to find her gloves. When she returned, Ginny had a purple smear on her bottom lip and said “It's gooseberries! Not enough to do much with, but try one, the flavor is intense.”

Myra obliged before she went out to bring in wood. After dinner, however, before Myra could light a fire, Ginny went to her canvas, stared at it for a while, then cleared a corner of the long table to grind pigments. Here we go thought Myra.

She opened her Skene manuscript, but felt unable to transport herself to that place and time. She sat staring out the window, thinking about the creek to the north of them. She'd looked on the topo map: It was named Migration Creek, and ran far back into the woods, originating in coastal mountains. She bet it was a torrent in the spring. That must be the high bridge they crossed right before the paved road turned into dirt.

Years earlier, she'd written a novel about a girl who grew up by a creek. It had been the least successful of all her works of fiction, Ginny said mostly because people didn't expect that kind of story from her. The publisher had insisted it not be titled Creek Girl, which is how she thought of it, and finally named it Crosstimbers. It hadn't failed, and got good critical reviews, but nobody loved it the way she did.

She began imagining that girl at her age, now, and suddenly realized there was was a story in it, at least. Creek Girl Part Deux she thought to herself with a grin. She started a new document and began typing.

They worked side by side until almost 11:00, when Ginny said “I've got to grab some sleep. You coming up?”

Myra was working on an outline, trying to decide if this was going to remain a short story or more than one story. She leaned back and realized she was long overdue for bladder relief.

“You know what, I will. I can come at it clearer in the light of day.” They locked up and took turns on the toilet or at the sink before lying down with a chaste kiss and a distant sound of waves.

Their second day at the house, Ginny made breakfast using a handful of the tiny beach strawberries crushed into pancake batter. It infused them with such extravagant flavor that she took one of the small bottles of expensive vinegar they'd bought and crushed a fourth cup of the berries into it, creating a strawberry vinaigrette unlike anything Myra had ever had. Ginny also took time away from painting to make tomato soup for their lunch. Otherwise, she was at her canvas, and Myra wrote.

Late afternoon, Myra was too stiff to sit any more. She stood and stretched, made a fire, but that was not enough. She said she was walking to the beach, did Ginny want to go?

“Mm...No, I'm...” She never finished the sentence. Myra put on her boots and pack, heading down the sandy trail. It cleared her head and got blood pumping, but she missed Ginny's silent company as she watched the sun sink into the horizon. She sent a kiss to Laksis, forever waiting for Umai's return out there in the World Beyond The World. Even though she started back soon, it had grown quite dark – no moon at all tonight, she thought – and she was worried about wandering off the trail into marsh. At one point, she smelled the skunk again, unbelievably offensive, and she earnestly hoped not to encounter it. Skunks were notorious for making folks go around them.

At last she made a turn and saw the warm light of the front windows up a slope, Ginny's back to her. She almost ran the last few steps with gladness, giving Ginny a cold-lipped buss on her cheek and saying “Salmon for dinner, plus fritters made with Jerusalem artichokes and Trinidad spinach, okay?”

“Hell yes” said Ginny. They worked until late again and went to sleep together.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


Cowboy Diva said...

is it really a skunk?

Maggie Jochild said...

You are way ahead of the curve, Cowboy Diva. (grin)

Or maybe it's where you live...

C. Diva said...