Friday, February 13, 2009


Royal Crown Derby paperweight of a walrus
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.

March 2019

Jane called on Monday to say they'd found a colleague in special ed who could test babies and was willing to interview Lucia that Thursday. Ginny said they'd take Leah and Charlie for the morning, so Jane and Gillam could go to the interview unencumbered. On Tuesday, Sima left a message with Chris saying she would eat lunch with her on Thursday as well. She said she was flying to Boston on Friday.

Chris was a ghost. Myra felt little more than one, herself. Ginny would get up early and make breakfast for herself and Chris, after which Chris went to sit by the pond. Allie took Chris out for lunch most days. During the time when the grandchildren weren't over, Chris kept working at repainting her rooms or planting starts for the garden, but her motions were slow and her attempts at conversation spotty.

Myra was relieved to hear that a few of Chris's Seven Drums elders had arranged a sweat for her that Saturday. Still, Thursday afternoon found her unable to focus or feel warm enough, waiting for either Chris or Gillam et al to return. She decided to set up the kids in the living room with old Dora the Explorer videos, and to order Carminati pizza for dinner. Ginny said “Good idea. I'll make a salad to go with it.”

Leah and Charlie were glued to the TV, barely moving. Ginny was mopping the front part of the house, so Myra went online to the Powell's website and researched cookbooks focusing on gluten-free diet. She created a wish list ready for quick ordering, if necessary. She sat at her desk, absent-mindedly twitching a pencil for Keller to chase, trying to keep her mind off what might be going on with those she loved.

At Dance Class on Monday, David had invented a new dance he said was based on a dream he had. He picked up one of the small beanbag chairs they kept in the living room for the little ones and managed to hoist it over his head, a bright blue plastic blob which he said was his walrus dance partner. He sashayed around the room making what he said were walrus sounds. The other three children imitated him, although Ginny had to help Charlie keep his walrus aloft, as they danced around David's imaginary iceberg. After a while, Chris appeared with a white chenille bedspread draped over her, crawling on all fours, and Ginny said “Uh-oh, the dance troupe is being stalked by a polar bear!” The pirouettes and sweeps became much more energetic, as the dancers worked to keep their beloved walruses from the polar bear.

Myra could imagine how Ginny might paint this scene, all of the children wearing furry black leggings and the Netflix-red shirt that David had on that day, massive blue walruses with long curved tusks hoisted against the twilight sky. Or, maybe it would be Allie's watercolor version, full of shadow and incomplete lines, hints of sastrugi behind which lurked deadly menace. She pulled her pencil back from Keller and turned to a fresh page on her legal pad to write “The Seed Family were very hot that spring, and there wasn't enough lemonade to refresh them. They decided to take a vacation where the sun never set but there was still lots and lots of snow. They wrote their cousins, the Blue Walrus Clan, and said they would be arriving by dogsled.”

She was on the second page when she heard a door open and shut downstairs. She walked down the back stairs, leaning heavily on the railing. Leah glanced at her briefly, but she and Charlie were where Myra had left them.

She found Chris lying on her couch inside the front door. Ginny came down the front stairs with a mop bucket as Myra sat down next to Chris. Chris was staring at the ceiling, her face a complete blank. Ginny put down her bucket and came to join them, smelling of Murphy's soap.

Myra took Chris's hand. It was alarmingly cold. Chris swallowed hard, then said “She kissed me. Kissed me goodbye. She began crying, saying I didn't know how hard it was for her.”

Not true thought Myra.

Chris said “I wish I could come up with a lie that would work. Or go crazy again. Or want to die. I don't want to live, but I don't want to die either.”

Myra squeezed her hand. “You'll find a way back to wanting life. Until you do, we've got you safe.”

Chris looked at her without belief. There was a scuff at the front door, and they all turned to look as Allie and Edwina came in.

“You back” said Allie softly, coming to kiss Chris's forehead. “The worst behind you now?”

“Nope. That'll be when her plane takes off tomorrow morning” said Chris. She tried to sit up, not quite making it the first try. “I need to pee, but I...I'm not sure how I drove here. I'm having trouble with my muscles.”

“C'mon” said Allie, sliding under Chris's shoulder to lift her. “I ain't gonna wipe you, though.”

Ginny stood and carried her bucket to the kitchen, saying “I'm making tea. And toast with cream cheese and jam.”

They were all at the dining table when Jane and Gillam walked in the back door, Gillam carrying Lucia who immediately pointed to the floor and began tuning up to cry. Gillam set her down carefully and she crawled away to the parquet frieze between the two rooms. She ignored her siblings in the living room, who in turn ignored both her and the other arrivals. Dora was quite the drug.

Myra stood to kiss the two young parents, their faces telling their news for them. Ginny got two more cups and plates. Gillam sat down heavily beside Edwina and said “'re right, they don't think it's severe. But she met the criteria.”

“Her IQ is well above average” said Jane. “And they recommended a pediatrician who's a specialist in this area, for a complete physical exam.”

“There's also a support group for parents” said Gillam tonelessly. Ginny handed him a plate with toast cut into soldiers. When he didn't look at it, she took one of the strips and put it in his hand. He looked at her then and took a bite.

“What are they watching?” asked Jane. Myra told her, and added “They stopped long enough to eat lunch. When Mimi and David get here, I'll take them outside and run them ragged, get the couch potato out of their systems.”

Gillam glanced at the clock. “All I want right now is some sleep, I was up half the night worrying. Can we leave them here for half an hour?”

“Go home, go to bed” said Ginny. “One of us will go pick up the others.”

“Wait” said Jane. She focused on Chris. “Oh, god, you saw her today, right?”

Chris nodded. Gillam snapped his attention on Chris as well.

“How was it?” he asked.

“A slow execution” she said. Gillam stood to hug her from behind. “You want to come take a nap with me?” he whispered. “I bet Charlie will loan you Jerry Bear.”

She closed her eyes briefly. “I remember holding you when you were Charlie's age as you fought going to sleep after dinner. You were all knees and elbows until you drifted off.”

“I love you. I love you all there is” he said. Chris opened her eyes, revealing a wet shine.

“Go sleep” she said. “I'm okay.”

After he and Jane walked out, Myra went into the living room to turn off the TV. “We need to go pick up your brother and sister” she said over the protests.

“I'll do it” said Ginny. “I'll go with you” said Edwina.

“You can leave Lucia here, then” said Myra. Chris stood and said “I need...I'm going to hole up in my room.”

“You want company?” asked Allie. Chris thought about it, then nodded.

“We're ordering pizza for dinner” said Myra. Leah and Charlie turned around to say “Yay” as they went out the front door with Ginny and Edwina. Myra picked up Lucia and said “Let's ride the elevator to the floor in my study, you like that pattern, too.”

After setting Lucia down again, she completed her order from Powell's before watching Lucia a while. Then she carefully took down her Gee's Bend quilt from the wall and spread it over a sheet on the floor. “Have a look at this, our little Bates wunderkind” she said. Lucia gave a sound of intense satisfaction as she began exploring the asymmetrical geometry of those genius quilters.

That night Myra stayed awake until she heard Chris drop off. She woke up some indeterminate time later when she felt Chris pull away to the side of the bed and begin crying. She pulled Chris on top of her and said “Don't hold back with me, I can hear whatever it is.” Neither of them slept much after that, although Chris said when she got up that it had helped. She refused breakfast, drinking only half a cup of tea, pulling on her buffalo robe and heading to the bench by the pond. She stayed there until 11:00 came and went. Myra called the airline to make sure Sima's flight had actually taken off. When she hung up, she went to Ginny and said “I knew her longer than you, but I didn't get a fucking goodbye. I don't know if I'll be able to forgive her. I don't know how to not take that personally.”

“Write her and tell her how you feel” said Ginny. Myra returned to her desk and poured out a letter. She put that in her “never sent” file and wrote a second one, and it was then she began crying. Chris came upstairs and found her still weeping at her desk, Ginny sitting on the floor beside her.

“I saw the leviathan” said Chris in a strange voice.

“You did? What was it doing?” asked Ginny.

“It rose up to the surface, near that float, and lay still. I think it was looking at me” said Chris. “I have a hard time believing it's a severum. Maybe you got a pike fingerling by mistake. It's maybe 30 inches long. It must terrorize everything else in that world.”

Myra blew her nose, watching Chris's face. Chris said “I'm going to make a BLT and then hang a couple of prints on that wall over the couch, now that the paint is dry. Plus, I have something for the Mystery Box today, the tail from a rattlesnake.”

“It'll scare the shit out of them” said Ginny.

“New gramma in the house” said Chris with a faint grin. Myra and Ginny walked downstairs with her, and Myra had a Coke with her lunch. She pulled out a pecan pie from the freezer for shabbos dinner, because it was Chris's favorite. Ginny helped Chris hang her prints. While bread was baking, Myra borrowed Gillam's underwater camera again and took another video of the pond, with the children crowding excitedly around her and Lucia watching from Chris's arms. The footage didn't reveal the leviathan, but it did show a glimpse of what Ginny swore was a turtle.

When Chris returned late Saturday night from her sweat, she looked better than she had since Sima had broken her news. Myra heard her playing her flute, warbling notes floating up the stairwell. She eventually placed the tune as a very slow rendition of “Shenandoah”, and she cried again. The next morning, she went to Quaker Meeting with Jane and Gillam. She felt moved to speak, although she wasn't sure what she was going to say until she was on her feet, reciting the last few lines of Edna St. Vincent Millay's “Lament”:

Life must go on,
And the dead be forgotten;
Life must go on,
Though good men die;
Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine;
Life must go on;
I forget just why.

They pushed through another week, Myra and Ginny becoming used to the sounds and rhythms of someone else in the house. Myra wrote her Dance of the Blue Walruses story and gave it to Ginny and Allie, who had to negotiate sharply over who got to draw which scenes. Chris spent Thursday night out, declining to give specifics of where she would be. Ginny woke up to a painting Friday morning, and Myra cheered her on.

Jane and Gillam wanted to attend a friend's wedding Saturday afternoon, so Myra took the grandchildren on her own – Ginny was still deep in Painterland and Chris had gone to lunch at Allie's house. Myra invented an outside romping game that involved whiffleballs, two towels, and rules that got made up as they went along. Lucia was content to trace the carving in the brick floor of the barbecue area, and Myra looked around every ten seconds to make sure she hadn't crawled over to the pond.

When Chris returned, she took over watching Lucia and Myra pushed the game into a frenzy. It looked like it might rain at any minute. Eventually a few drops fell, and Myra herded the flushed-cheek foursome inside for a potty break and glasses of water. As Myra was wiping Charlie, the phone rang. Chris answered it and said "It's Annie Gagliardi, for you." Her face looked pained again: Myra hadn't talked with Annie since Sima had broken up with Chris.

Annie's car had broken down. She had located a garage nearby which was towing it, but the next bus wouldn't run for over an hour and she wondered if Myra or somebody could come get her. Myra said "Hang on" and asked Chris if she felt up to looking after the kids for an hour or less. Chris said "Are they ready for some quiet time? We could string beads and tell a round robin story."

"Sounds great" said Myra. To Annie she said "I'll come fetch you, my dear, give me a location." She went upstairs to tell Ginny before she left, whispering "If you hear more than one of them crying or Chris sounding cranky, go help, she looks pale today."

Jane and Gillam left the wedding reception early and went to a dreamy little bistro for coffee and quiet couple time. As they were heading back to their car, Gillam called Myra and Ginny's to ask if they needed to pick up anything. Chris answered and said no, Myra was out and dinner wasn't started, they'd figure it out when everyone was back home. Jane put the car in gear and said "We could pick up pizza. I never get enough of Frances' pizza."

"They'll love that. But let's make sure Mom doesn't have something planned."

They parked in their own driveway and walked through the back yard. As they came through the gate, they were surprised to see all five of the kids standing in a row with their backs to the glass wall of the ground floor, craning their heads around to grin at their parents. Lucia was leaning against the glass to stay upright, and Charlie was wriggling in excitement. Chris was at the end facing them. She quickly turned her back and said something. Two seconds later, all six of them had dropped their pants, including Lucia's diaper with an assist from Chris. Gillam was now close enough to the house to hear Chris shout "Pressed ham!", and 12 buttocks of various sizes were mashed flat against the glass.

Jane was in hysterics. Gillam laughed, too, but he was still horrified at the implications of the Golden Horde learning this trick. And the sight of Chris's ass, which he hoped to be able to strike from his memory. Not all of his children pulled their pants back up before running to greet their parents, resulting in Leah falling down and crying, and a trail of feces from Lucia's diaper. Jane calmed down in time to help Chris clean up Lucia, wipe the floor and scrub the glass where she had deposited a brown smear.

Gillam issued ground rules about when "Pressed ham" could and could not be performed. The following Monday morning after Gillam left for work, the children reprised their stunt at their own house while Jane was outside with the Leica. This photo was eventually used for their holiday letter.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

1 comment:

kat said...

good god, chris, don't I get enough baby bums at work?????