Thursday, February 12, 2009


Parquet flooring pattern
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

Two days later, Ginny was finally able to persuade Sima to meet her for lunch. Sima insisted that she not be “ambushed”, as she put it, by having to deal with anyone but Ginny. When Ginny came home, Chris was sitting out by the pond – refusing to wait at the front of the house, Myra thought. Ginny took Myra's hand and walked with her to sit beside Chris, pushing up next to her and saying “I'm so sorry. She says she's going for a new kind of happiness. She says she means to call you before she leaves town.”

“Was that her wording, she 'means to'?” asked Chris, her shoulders caved in.

“Yes” said Ginny. “I noticed that, too.”

“What about the rest of us?” asked Myra.

“I told her about how much the grandchildren are asking after her, and that I think she owes a goodbye to our three. She said she would call Margie, that's as far as it went. She said --- she doesn't know how to do this any other way. I did get Susan's address from her.” Ginny pulled a slip of paper from her pocket and put it in Chris's palm, where Chris simply stared it. After a minute, Myra took it from her and said “I'll make sure this gets saved and shared.”

Chris said in a hollow voice “I checked our joint bank account, and savings. She's pulled out half of each.” She looked at Myra with shuttered eyes. “Promise me you'll never take away the pension you set up for her, no matter what she does.”

“I wouldn't even if I could” said Myra. “But hers, and yours, is your property now, entirely.”

“So she has that much independence” said Chris softly.

“She said she has a cousin in Boston” said Ginny. “Maybe that will be helpful to her.”

“Howard?” said Chris. “She hates him. Almost as much as she hated her mother. You know, she refused to stay in touch with her mother, let her sister do all the work. I should have taken note of that...”

“Bullshit” said Myra. “What you should be noticing is that she tossed out Howard's name to Ginny, even though she hates him. That means – somewhere deep inside, she has questions about what she's doing. Which means the real Sima is still alive in there.”

“But wrapped in a pod, is that what you're saying?” said Chris. “I don't think that's how I need to see it, Myra. I need to see it for what it is. I'm not of any value to her any more.”

Myra wanted to argue, wanted to point out how many people were currently gathering around Chris, loving her to pieces. But Chris had to find her own way to that knowledge. And she had moved in with them, kept saying yes – that was another sign to heed.

“I'd like to be alone for a bit” said Chris. “What's today with the grandkids?”

“Mystery Box and making bread” said Myra. “It's shabbos tonight.”

Chris winced. “I missed dinner with you last week, and she – she said she went out with a friend. Now I know who.”

Myra stood and kissed the top of Chris's head. She was not braiding her long white hair very often these days. Maybe it was something Sima had helped her with, or maybe it meant a kind of mourning for Chris. She'd ask later. She walked into the house ahead of Ginny. Once they were alone, she asked “How did she look?”

“Bright-eyed, but in that Liza Minnelli kind of way. She told me I was an idiot for moving Chris in here.” Myra couldn't tell if Ginny wanted to cry or scream.

“This shouldn't be happening at this time of her life, Gin. She had such a shitty childhood, we should be able to guarantee a peaceful old age.”

“She'll have it, Myra. Eventually. We know how to create that around us, and we've got her held close.” Myra could tell Ginny believed what she was saying. But Myra felt cold at her core.

The cold returned when it was time to light the shabbos candles, say prayers, drink wine and eat challah, without Sima there. She and Allie stood on either side of Chris, but what comfort could they offer? Myra excused herself after one bite of challah and walked outside to the bench by the sycamore tree. She put her face in her hands and let herself cry. She simultaneously missed Sima with a physical ache and felt like she was beginning to hate her. After a minute, she felt someone sit down beside her. She thought it was probably Carly or Gillam, but when she turned to look, through the blear she saw Chris.

“I can't stop it, Chris, I can't stop what's happening to you. You helped save me and Ginny, but I can't fix this.” She turned so she could put one leg on either side of Chris, pulling Chris's face to her shoulder. She felt relief when Chris's shoulders began shaking, the beginning of another round of letting go.

A few minutes later, Chris said “Leah and Mimi have both been held back from rushing out here. As I was sliding back the door, Leah was saying 'But she's crying, Daddy, I have to go see what's wrong!' They're popped right out of your mold, those kids.”

All of us. They have imprint from all of us. Did you hear Charlie call you Gramma while we were making bread?”

Chris wiped her face on her shirt as she nodded with a fragile grin.

On Sunday, Gillam and Jane walked over with a pot roast to share for lunch. Lucia began squalling and squirming as soon as they came in the door, saying her favorite word, “No, no!”

“What do you want?” Myra asked her as Jane held her. “Do you want one of us to hold you?”

“No, no” said Lucia, refusing to meet Myra's eyes.

“She likes to be down on the floor to crawl around” said Ginny, pulling a kugel from the oven.

“She never does at home” said Jane, bending over to see if Lucia did in fact want down. Lucia immediately crawled away to the area where the dining room parquet met the living room parquet, with an intricate shift in the pattern of the wood. She bent over and studied the floor closely.

“She does that all the time here” said Ginny. “But only where there's wood flooring.”

“No, I saw her in the front foyer on the tile there doing the same thing” said Chris. “You know, where the light comes in from the glass brick and that climbing rose bush reflects moving shadows everywhere.”

Ginny got down on the floor next to Lucia and said “Are you interested in the shapes, puddin' pop?”

Lucia immediately yelled “No!” Ginny said “Oops, sorry, I forgot you hate nicknames. I know your name is Lucia. Listen, Lucia, are you studying the pattern of the wood? And the shadows?”

Lucia didn't answer or look at her, but her silence seemed like a reply. Ginny put out a finger and traced a Greek key, and after a few seconds, Lucia balanced herself precariously on one hand to also trace with her finger.

“Well I'll be damned” said Gillam.

“Language!” crowed David.

“There's a subtle pattern in our carpeting” complained Jane. Myra didn't look at Ginny's face: Ginny more than once commented to her about how boring their carpeting was. Leah was tugging at her, saying “I made up anuvver poem, Gramma.”

“Okay, let's hear it, but then we have to set the table” said Myra. Leah's couplets were extraordinarily good, Myra felt, and she always wrote them down. When she had time, she put them on a computer screen and let Leah play with editing word placement, line length, color and size of font, before printing it out and putting it on the grandchildren's bragging wall.

After lunch was cleared away, Gillam and Jane settled in the living room for down time, possibly a nap. Chris and Myra took the older children outside for a game of freeze tag, but Ginny picked up Lucia and said “I've got something upstairs I think you might like.” Lucia didn't meet her eyes – in the last month, she always avoided meeting anyone's eyes – but she nodded.

When Myra brought in Charlie for a potty break, she found Ginny lying on the hall floor next to Lucia with hundreds of wallpaper samples Ginny had ripped from a bound book of them she'd squirreled away years ago. Lucia was rearranging the squares endlessly, her body rapt. Myra said “Bates genes coming to the surface, eh” and Ginny grinned at her ecstatically.

That night, Thad, Davonn, and Imani were all present for singing potluck. Lucia had been allowed to take her “patterns”, as Ginny called them, home with her and was engrossed in a corner of the family room, oblivious to even the loudest singing.

Thad asked Jane “How's the lactose-free diet working?”

“I really can't tell a difference” said Jane. “But I'm convinced there's something we need to do to help settled her digestive tract.”

“Peanut allergy, maybe?” ventured Imani.

Myra happened to be looking at Ginny and saw her face shift suddenly. She couldn't read the emotion Ginny was feeling as she said, in a quiet but serious voice, “Maybe she can't tolerate gluten.”

“That would be a royal pain in the ass” said Myra. “What makes you think that?”

But Ginny's eyes were fixed on Gillam, who suddenly paled and stiffened his shoulders as if to ward off a blow. “You don't think...” he cut himself off.

“Gaze avoidance, high intelligence, literal-mindedness, hates contact she doesn't initiate herself, and now, since she began eating something besides Jane's milk -- “ Ginny was ticking things off on her fingers. Now Myra saw the reaction spread to Jane, who stood up and walked to Lucia, grabbing her in a way guaranteed to send Lucia shrieking.

“No” said Jane. “No, that's not it.”

Lucia was furious, writhing and kicking. Jane kissed her three times, aggravating her temper to boiling, before she finally relented and set her back on the floor. She turned to meet Gillam and burst into tears on his shoulder. Myra was stunned to see that he was weeping as well. Everyone else in the room was gaping at them.

“It's not a tragedy” said Ginny. “She's landed in the best possible family on the globe, we'll work around it. It's only a problem when people are too stupid to accommodate it.”

“What? What is it?” said Myra.

Ginny looked around at her. “Aspberger's. I think she might have Aspberger's syndrome.”

Jane wailed at the word. Carly was the first to say “I don't know what that is.”

“It's a developmental disorder. Not as severe as autism, usually” said Ginny. Myra saw the entire family reel at the term. “Mostly problems in reading social cues, communication, sometimes physical development, although I don't see any of the latter in Lucia. We need to get her tested. We can work around this, you two know we can.” She had gone to Gillam and Jane, her arms around both of them.

“Oh, god, I drank coffee when I was pregnant with her!” cried Jane. “She's the only one, I just thought it was once a week, it wouldn't make a difference -- “

Before Myra could protest, Gillam said “Or maybe it was us having too many too fast, she only got the dregs.”

“Stop it” said Ginny, almost harshly. “Stop it right now. You didn't cause it, it's just a difference. Like Charlie prefers cooperation over confrontation, or David is short and agile – it makes her different but not less than. We have lots of oddities in this family, we like how individual we all are.”

Gillam was trying to listen. Lucia had gone back to her wallpaper samples, and Myra hoped she really wasn't taking in any of this.

“What's the gluten part, then?” asked Myra.

“A lot of Aspberger children have physical problems metabolizing gluten” said Ginny. “And you're right, it's in everything, seems like, but eliminating it tends to make a world of difference.”

“Whatever it takes” said Jane. “My angel, my angel baby.”

“We'll get her tested” said Ginny. “She's not delayed in any way that I can tell, so if she has it, it's mild. And teachable. If you want to blame anybody, Jane, blame me. My weirdo art fixation may be another form of it. In which case, it's a blessing for her, as long as she finds people to love her like you all love me. She'll be happy and contribute untold amounts to the beauty of this world.”

That got through, to both Jane and Gillam. Gillam said “I can't believe we didn't see it before now.”

“It because all you children special, and you don't never try to hammer 'em into a mold” said Allie, coming to hug him. For the rest of the evening, Myra saw people's gaze stray to Lucia and linger there. She began to feel irritated at Lucia losing her chance to be only temperamental instead of “diagnosed”.

On the walk home, Chris said “Your legendary luck isn't stretching to cover us all any more, huh, Josong.” Myra didn't answer. She had to sort this out. She was glad to be sleeping with Ginny tonight. They could talk once the lights were out and they were under the sheets together.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.<

1 comment:

Jesse Wendel said...


I didn't know that about the gluten.

Love how every member of the family is treated so uniquely that her issues have up till now occurred as simply one more child with her own idiosyncratic and specific ways of breathing and being, hearing, seeing and feeling.

Really well set up.

Also simply love how delicate and gentle the affection with Chris is. I'm left present to how fragile she is in this moment, from the color of her hair, how she isn't grooming it in the same way, to how she sits, to how she breathes and her relationship with the kids.

And what wonderful kids, insisting they must go outside where an adult is crying and see what is wrong. Fearless AND caring, trusting AND knowing for certain they matter (not for them the uncertainty and false steps of their parents and grandparents. They have a world and a set of values which WORKS.)

Ginny Bates (the book), Maggie, truly is a multi-generational character study of enormous depth and beauty, in addition to bringing forth the history and moral virtues of second wave lesbian feminism at their best. GB is named correctly... the Great American Lesbian Novel. *smiles*