Saturday, February 21, 2009


Joe Pye weed in Gateway Red
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.

11 November 2019

Because it was her day off, Frances came over at 5:00 on Chris's birthday to help make the feast. Gillam and Jane were already there. Jane had staked out one counter in the kitchen to make two cakes, one of which would use cherries from Mimi's tree and be both gluten- and sugar-free.

Ginny, Margie and Eric were in the living room with the children, finalizing a song-and-dance performance the kids had created for Chris. Allie and Edwina sat at the breakfast bar, folding hats and napkins for the party. Gillam went out to harvest what he could from the vegetable beds in both yards before joining Myra in the kitchen.

Chris herself was out at the barbecue with Carly, heating the grill. The main dishes were whole roasted salmon and tenderloins of buffalo. Chris had explained to Mimi earlier about how and why the buffalo had died, in a Native setting as part of the annual tribal cull.

Imani arrived with a wide appetizer platter of prosciutto, olives, and artichoke hearts. This was placed on the table next to Edwina's crab-stuffed mushrooms and Ginny's bowl of grapes. Allie's cornbread was in the warming oven.

Myra was cutting firm tofu into squares to make crispy tofu in miso and butter. She planned to make this a main dish also, because at least half the family had begun eating some of Mimi's vegetarian alternatives when there was extra. Myra had told Mimi she was being a great influence on all of them, causing Mimi to swell with pride.

Frances was making a dish Chris loved, called wrinkled potatoes, cooked in brine and served with two kinds of hot sauce, which Frances did as a green tomatillo and a Sicilian red. She was clattering through the cabinets, and finally turned to Myra to ask “Where's the olive oil? The Italian kind, I mean.”

“Oh god, Frances, I ran out. I still have that bottle of Spanish, I thought that -- “

But Frances had already turned on her heel and started for the door. She didn't quite slam it after herself. Moon bolted through the pet door after her. Gidg stood in the dog bed by the fireplace, looked at Margie who was not going anywhere, and settled back down.

“Oops” said Myra, watching Frances steam toward her own house. “I thought since it was a Canary Island recipe originally...”

Imani laughed. “She's open to mixed cuisines but she feels strongly about the superiority of Italian olive oil.”

Leah wandered into the kitchen. She was always the first to get bored with dancing. “Where's Daddy?”

“In the garden. Would you go tell him we need a couple of bunches of flat-leaf parsley, if he hasn't already cut some?” said Myra. Leah was glad to hunt him down.

Frances returned with a massive square green bottle of oil. “You can keep this” she said to Myra shortly, resuming her mortar and pestle demolition of garlic and sea salt. Myra finished cutting eggplant, yams, asparagus, and beets to roast on the grill. She used the new olive oil to drizzle them. The meat and fish had been marinating for an hour already in their own pans.

Chris came in the back door and Myra heard the rehearsal come to an abrupt halt with loud whispers of “She's here.” Chris said “I'm here to get everyone's order for how they want their steak.” They heard the front door open and Annie Gagliardi appeared in the hall with a paper bag. Chris went to hug her and said “Whatcha got there?”

“Well, I didn't hear anyone talking about ice cream with the cake, so I brought three quarts. Coffee, vanilla, and a kiwi sorbet” said Annie.

“Let's use the freezer in the store room, this one's full” said Chris. Leah reappeared at Myra's side with an armful of parsley. As Myra took it from her, Leah said “I'm really hungry already, Gramma.”

“There are appetizers on the table. You can have one of anything, except for the grapes, you can have all you want of those.” The other children followed Leah and began helping themselves. Ginny picked up Lucia and leaned her over so she could nab a slice of prosciutto and a few grapes.

Chris said “I'm going to make a fire in the fireplace” and the children streamed after her to get in her way. Imani had joined Frances in the kitchen, and Ginny said “Let me know when you're done with the pestle, I'm going to make salad dressings.” Gillam came in the back door with a full basket. He started washing things in the sink and talking over what vegetables to prepare with Ginny, slouched against the counter beside him.

“Come sit by us” Allie said to Annie, “It's getting full in there.” Eric joined them as well. A few minutes later, Thad appeared in the hall with several bottles of sparkling cider. Jane helped him arrange them on the sideboard in a tub of ice, with a row of glasses nearby.

Jane pulled her cakes from the oven and carried them on racks into the store room to cool because counter space was at a premium. She finished her frostings and set them aside, chatting with Thad about how their brother Willie seemed headed for another divorce. Frances and Imani, their sauces done, horned in on Ginny's dressing making. Margie joined them to begin assembling salad.

Gillam was steaming broccoli with carrots, so Myra carried out the tray of grill veggies to Carly herself. “You warm enough out here?” she asked him, her breath blowing a small cloud. Eric had followed her. It was beginning to drizzle, and the dark sheen on the brick around the pond was beautiful with the torches lit.

“Yeah, it's nice being outside” Carly said.

“Well, I'd say we'll be ready to sit down in around 20 minutes. So time it however that works for you” said Myra. Carly immediately turned to the grill, and Eric moved in beside him.

Inside the house, the barstool crowd had shifted to start setting the table, weaving around the children doing their respective chores. Thad came in to help Lucia put the right number of placemats down. Myra stood by the plant table inside the back door, watching. Chris sidled up beside her and lanked her arm over Myra's shoulder.

“Those seedheads you cut earlier today, are they for those purple-and-white carrots you grew this fall?” asked Myra.

“Some. Plus brox, a few lettuces, and the black-eyed susans” said Chris.

“I think we should create a new bed by the whaleshark and fill it with nothing but your rudbeckia” called Ginny from the kitchen.

Chris said “I like that idea. Maybe with a border of Joe Pye weed.” She shifted uncomfortably and moved to one of the stools.

“Your hip still bothering you?” asked Allie.

“Every joint bothers me” said Chris. “But yeah, my right hip aches in the cold and damp.”

“You're not that old” said Annie with a grin. “We're the same age.”

“It's the weight loss” said Chris. “At least, that's what the bodyworker Myra dragged me to said. When you drop weight rapidly, it's mostly muscle at first. None of my tendons work like they did before. Carly's got me on a short regimen on Myra's machine, to build me back up.”

“How's your anemia?” continued Annie.

“I find out my latest lab results tomorrow, but I think it's better” said Chris. “I had one last bone scan a week ago, and now I'm hoping to get a year off from being zapped.”

All sixteen chairs were occupied at the table, so Chris invited Lucia to sit on her lap. Myra decided she really liked buffalo. It was a little disconcerting to her, though, how such a vast quantity of food could disappear in half an hour. Jane got up to decorate the cakes, using the crystallized violet and rose petals Myra and the children had made one Science Day last summer.

The salmon carcass was put in the barbecue portico for Anthea and whichever cat dared to approach her, at Chris's request. Steak scraps were given to the dogs, and the children got a spoonful of each flavor of ice cream on their slice of cake. Presents were then opened. Chris rollicked with laughter at the framed placard she got from the chemo suite nurses, which said “Don't TALK to me, you pale-faced morons”.

The children's performance, rendered high-octane by sugar and the Klieg-light intensity of so much adult attention, was full of mishaps and near fisticuffs at one point. Myra was glad she'd put the video camera on a tripod because she was laughing so much, it would have jiggled the taping. David kept performing encores until Jane told him he had to stop.

The party ended early because next day was a school day. Annie, Allie and Edwina stayed behind, sitting up talking for a while. Then Chris pulled out her flute and drums, Allie brought in her drum from the car, and they played until almost midnight, putting more logs on the fire. When Myra slid into bed with Chris, Chris said “She didn't call.”

“Did you think she would?”

“Not really” said Chris. Myra held her, wondering if Chris would cry. But instead she went right to sleep, the sharp edges of her newly-evident bones seeming to soften as she relaxed.

The next morning, after breakfast with Ginny, Myra drove Chris to her oncologist's office and went to the appointment with her. Afterward, when they reached the car, Myra said “You want to talk about it?”

“Not yet.”

Myra fastened her seat belt before asking “You know how much I love you, right?”

Chris looked at her, black eyes liquid. “I do.” She cupped Myra's cheek with her hand. “Home, Jeeves.”

They made the drive in silence. Myra hoped Margie would not be there, waiting on them, but of course she was, sitting at the table with Ginny, helping her shell fava beans. Her face turned to them like a dish.

Chris sat down in the first chair she reached, at the end of the table. She said, with some attempt at humor, “They're ba-a-a-ck.”

Ginny instantly comprehended the double meaning of this. Margie refused. Myra slid the folder of image print-outs down the table. Ginny carefully wiped her hands before pulling them from the sleeve and bending her head over them next to Margie's.

Amid all the fields of vivid hues looking like a colorform version of the human body, the small bright white spots drew their eye like twinkling Christmas lights. Or radioactive bumblebees in a meadow of innocent blooms thought Myra. Two on left-sided ribs, two on vertebrae, one on the inside of Chris's left thigh, and one on her right hip. Except the one on Chris's hip is more like an open-winged moth than a bumblebee.

Chris said conversationally “The word metastasis was originally used by the ancient Greeks to mean removal from one place to another. Basically it's colonization. The ultimate form of forced assimilation.”

Margie stared at her in shock. She said hoarsely “What do we do now?”

Chris didn't answer, so Myra said “They have two possible salvage regimens. One of them had a lot better percentage than the other. Plus there are some experimental drug trials she could enroll in.”

“Pay to be a guinea pig” said Chris without emotion.

“What kind of percentage?” asked Ginny.

“17%” said Myra.

“For the good one?” demanded Margie. Myra nodded.

Ginny was still focused on the images. “No wonder your hip aches” she said softly.

Margie wanted to shatter Chris's calm. “We'll get second opinions. And more acupuncture, and a herb specialist. We'll turn that 17% into 90%. Whatever it takes.”

“No, baby girl” said Chris quietly.

“What do you mean, no?”

“This race has been called. Time for me to concentrate elsewhere.”

“You're giving up?” Margie's voice was very high.

“That's not how I would put it” said Chris. Myra sat down next to her. She would never have admitted it, but she'd seen this coming.

“Don't you try to play semantics with me” shouted Margie, coming to her feet. “Don't you fucking 'baby girl' me. You all raised me to fight, no matter what. Fight for myself. Fight the lies, fight despair. What was that, more of your bullshit revolutionary rhetoric? You get to give up now because you've had a sucky year? Well, suck on this, you quitter.” Margie made a rude gesture that Myra was certain she'd learned from Frances. She slammed out the back door, catching the dogs off guard. Gidg was the first to recover, hurtling out the pet door after Margie. Moon gave them a glance of apologetic worry before he followed.

“That went well” said Chris. She looked at Myra. “You need to make your pitch now?”


Chris kept her eyes on Myra, letting them almost fill with tears.

“Maybe one of you should go after her. I don't like the idea of her crying this out alone” said Chris.

Ginny glanced at the clock. “Frances could spare half an hour right now, and they'd rather have each other. I'll call her at the store.”

Chris stood with an open wince. “I need some time alone. By the pond.” She went to her room and returned with her buffalo robe. Ginny was setting down the receiver on the kitchen phone. Myra said to Chris “Do you want to tell Allie?”

“Will you? Ask her to come over. I'll be back in when I'm ready.”

Myra kissed her and nodded. When Chris was out the door, Ginny said “Will you text the rest of the family, too?”

“Yes. Who are you dialing?”


© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

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