Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Native American flutes
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

But Sima was not at her apartment, and not picking up her cell. Ginny wrote a note, and Margie borrowed a second sheet of paper to pen her own message. They left it inside the mail slot and drove home, dreading Chris's hopeful face.

Allie and Edwina stayed through dinner. Chris lay down on the living room couch with her eyes closed through much of the afternoon. Allie went in after a while, sat down at the end with Chris's feet in her lap, and closed her eyes as well. Myra thought she was probably praying.

Myra put fresh sheets and towels in the front downstairs bedroom, and Ginny filled a vase with roses to put on the dresser in there. After dinner, Gillam and Jane walked over with the children, who had collaborated on a card for Chris which drew a brittle grin from her. She sat in the recliner and accepted Lucia in her lap. The children had clearly not been told specifics, because David kept asking “Is Aunt Sima coming soon?” After half an hour, they were herded home, Myra whispering to Jane that she still wasn't sure about their availability the following afternoon, either.

Margie came over at 8:00 with two quarts of gelato in Chris's favorite flavors, saying Frances had made it somehow during the dinner rush. Chris had only picked at her dinner, but she ate a small bowl of the coffee ice cream while sitting on the bench by the pond with Margie. Margie carried out a throw and put it over both their shoulders.

Myra was making turkey meatballs for the next day's dinner and watched them through the kitchen window. She said to Ginny “I can't leave her alone tonight.”

“Of course. What...what if Sima goes on...I don't even know how to word it.”

“You mean, if Chris no longer has a home to go back to? God, Ginny. I guess we have to think about that possibility.”

“I can bet that Chris is” said Ginny. “Will she stay in Seattle?”

Myra looked panicked. “I hadn't thought that far ahead.”

“I know you want her to live here.” Ginny's voice was neutral.

Allie had come into the kitchen and said “We have an extra room and bath, she could stay with us.”

Ginny looked at her. “Have you talked that over with Edwina?”

“We just were, in the living room.” Allie nodded at Edwina, coming to join them.

“Well, it's up to Chris of course” said Myra. “I – it has to not come to that. I mean, I just can't believe Sima is...” She didn't finish the sentence.

Ginny took a long breath, then said “I'd like her here. I'd do the same for Sima, or any of you. If she was here, she'd have access to Margie and Gillam, and the grandchildren, which will help in the long run.”

Myra stared at Ginny. Ginny met her eyes and said “But you'll have to find a way to give her room, help her maintain her independence, even as you support her through a life-crushing change.”

Myra suddenly wished her hands weren't covered with raw meat. She felt queasy. “If it comes to that” she repeated.

After everyone left, Chris borrowed a T-shirt from Myra and took a long bath before heading for bed. Myra kissed Ginny goodnight and walked downstairs, sliding in behind Chris. Emotional exhaustion overtook her and she went to sleep long before Chris did. Once Myra was snoring gently behind her, Chris got up and went to the phone in the kitchen, trying Sima's cell one last time. When she came back to bed, Anthea was sitting in the hall, watching her. Chris left the bedroom door open, and ten minutes later she felt Anthea jump lightly onto the foot of the bed, settling in by her feet. She offered a silent apology to Myra and lay watching the shadows on the far wall.

Myra woke up early, before 8:00, to find herself alone in the bed. She went to the kitchen where Ginny was buttering toast.

“Where is she?” Myra asked.

“She's nursing a cup of coffee out by the pond. With Anthea” said Ginny, nodding at the window.

“Any word from -- “

“No. As soon as Margie gets here, we're heading back over there. Chris wants to go with us. Did she sleep?”

“Not that I noticed” said Myra.

“Will she go see Nancy?”

“I'll ask. But I think she'd rather use other community resources” said Myra.

“Speaking of Nancy...I've got a call in, for an appointment as soon as possible. For me or us together, up to you” said Ginny.

“I'd love to go” said Myra.

“We're going to need as much help as we can get” said Ginny. She was now gently scrambling eggs. Myra poured yogurt into a bowl and set it on the table next to the fruit salad Ginny had made. She came back to stand next to Ginny to say “If she does live with us, it could be permanent. I mean, unless you don't want that.”

“It would be an enormous change” said Ginny. “I'm not saying no, but we need to go over it with Nancy, I think.”

“Before we say yes?” said Myra.

Ginny scooped eggs into a bowl and added paprika. “I'm ready to say yes. As long as you'll do the work with me that will come up.”

Myra thought about the fact that Ginny was being so deliberate in her asking. After a minute, she said “I will.”

Ginny kissed her cheek and walked to the back door, calling “Chris? There's good food in here. Come join us, will you?”

Anthea scampered through the cat door before Chris reached the back step. Her eyes were sunken. Myra poured her a glass of juice as Ginny put molasses and cream cheese on the table – items Chris preferred for breakfast.

Ginny took one of Chris's hands and Myra took the other. They held tight with closed eyes for a minute before breaking apart to eat.

“If she's there, will you give us a chance to talk alone?” said Chris.

“Of course” said Myra.

“Chris, I know everything is up in the air. But Myra and I have talked, and I want to invite you to move in here. If you want. You can have that bedroom and bath as your own, and the front sitting area. You'll have to share a kitchen with us, but you can redecorate those rooms up front any way you want, I'll help you repaint any color you choose. Also, I'll give you one of the big veggie beds to plant with your preferences. You'll be a full roommate, with veto power equal to ours, and we'll renegotiate how people come and go here – except for the grandkids, they won't understand less access to us. But we can train them to give you privacy.” Ginny's voice was matter of fact.

Chris's eyes were locked on Ginny's face. “Did you hear – do you know something about Sima that I don't?”

“No. I've not heard a word. I'm just telling you what I'd like, giving you another set of options. I'd do the same for her. Truth is, I'm actually more worried about Sima than I am you” said Ginny. A small crack appeared in her voice.

After several seconds, Chris said “Good.” She took a bite of her eggs and visibly forced it down.

Margie arrived half an hour later and stole strawberries from the fruit salad as she waited, nervous. They rode in one car to Chris and Sima's apartment. Sima's car was at the curb, and Myra said “We'll drive around the corner, wait on you there. Don't rush.” Chris walked up the steps trying to square her shoulders.

Margie went in the corner store to buy a newspaper for them to share and another cup of coffee for herself. But just as she returned to the car, Chris came around the corner.

“Susan is there. She's helping Sima pack. She has to be back in Boston by mid March, and Sima says she's going with her.”

Ginny got out of the car, fury on her face. “Don't” said Chris.

“I'm not doing this for you, I'm doing it for Sima. And our friendship” said Ginny.

“I'll stay here with Chris” said Myra, a little uncertain. Ginny strode down the sidewalk.

“It doesn't matter what any of you do” said Chris, slumping in the back seat. Myra saw Margie's face in the rearview mirror: She was beginning to look overwhelmed. Myra turned to Chris and said “This is what it looks like when someone goes crazy, huh. For real crazy, not just acting out in ways the white boys don't like.”

Chris laughed bitterly. “She doesn't know a fucking soul in Boston. The air in there stinks of burning bridges.”

“She must have been pushed in ways I never recognized” said Myra without thinking. Chris's shoulders reacted as if from a blow, and Myra said “Oh, fuck, Chris, you know I'm not passing judgment on you.”

“I'm doing enough of that for all of us” said Chris. “And don't you dare tell me it's not my fault – you can't actually argue I have no role in this.”

“You're right, I can't argue that” said Myra. Margie looked shocked, but she saw Chris's shoulders relax a little. Sometimes reality, however awful, is the only lifeline we have thought Myra.

Ginny was back in half an hour. She sat down in the passenger seat, slammed her door, and burst into tears.

“Either I never knew her at all, or she's – Susan wouldn't fucking leave the room, said she was staying to be Sima's advocate. Oh, god, I have to not hate them both right now, I have to leave a door open for when it all collapses on her” said Ginny.

“You can hate Susan” said Chris conversationally. They all actually laughed for a moment.

“What now?” asked Myra.

“Your place” said Chris. “She said she'd be out of there by noon. I'll come back after lunch to deal with my stuff. Now that it's as bad as the worst case scenario in my head, maybe I can sleep a little.”

“We're coming with you” said Margie.

“I'll call Allie when we get home” said Myra. Chris shrugged, closing her eyes and leaning against the window.

At the house, Chris went to the kitchen and drank down a glass of water, then trudged up the back stairs. “Where's she going?” whispered Ginny.

“Ask her yourself” said Myra. She sat down at the counter to call Allie. Margie stood around looking unsure of herself. Myra talked a couple of minutes with Allie, who said she and Edwina would come around 11:30. When Myra hung up, she said to Margie “We're going to need moving boxes, tape, bubble wrap, all that kind of stuff. You want to take our Volvo and load it up?”

“Yes” said Margie gladly. Myra walked upstairs, where Ginny was opening mail at her worktable and Chris was asleep on Myra's daybed, or feigning sleep, her knees pulled up under a quilt. Myra felt her heart in her throat, looking at Chris's ravaged face. She walked back to Ginny, saying in a low voice “I need to be at my desk, hire movers, storage, using my computer – should I get my laptop and do it here instead, to keep from bothering her?”

“She chose your daybed because it felt like sanctuary. That includes having you in the room, I'm sure” said Ginny. Myra returned to her desk and began arranging for help.

When Allie and Edwina arrived, they had bags of bacalao tacos from Agua Verde, coconut-and-beer-battered cod fillets topped with a cabbage and tangy avocado sauce. Allie's cooler was filled with ice and various beverages, including 12 glass bottles of Hire's root beer, Chris's favorite. Margie was also back, announcing she was taking the afternoon off work to accompany them.

Chris leaned against the wall behind Myra's daybed and took a bite of taco at Edwina's urging. She said “It's funny what people think is food to serve at the end of the world.” Margie laughed and said “Can I have one of your root beers?”

Chris managed to finish her taco. She wiped her mouth on her sleeve, saying “I'm way overdue for clean clothes.” Then she said, seemingly unrelated, “I'm going to need a lawyer. The one we had do our wills and – everything – is Sima's friend.”

“You could use ours” said Margie. “He's anal-retentive and doesn't pad the bill.”

For some reason, this sent Chris off into a near-delirium of laughter. When she subsided, she opened a second root beer and said to Ginny “I accept your offer. But I want to set up a TV and stereo in that front sitting room, not my bedroom. And I want my own chest of drawers, I don't need that behemoth you've got. It will leave me room to set up a desk and a prayer space in there.”

Myra found she was holding her breath.

“All right. We can have the movers shift stuff around when they bring your things here” said Ginny.

“I'll take the behemoth” said Margie. “We need a dresser in our spare bedroom. Which I was going to ask you if you wanted, Aunt Chris, you could come live with us, but Mom beat me to it.”

“I'll let you all pass me around like a favorite old whore” said Chris, sending herself into another paroxysm of laughter. Myra suddenly remembered how much Chris laughed at odd things when she first out of the hospital. She refused to turn and look at Allie. What you could count on with Chris was that she retained her dignity, no matter what was happening.

She had to remind herself of that again when they got to Chris's apartment. It had been – no other word for it, Myra thought – ransacked and gutted. No effort made to clean up after cherry-picking through the accumulated belongings of decades. Chris sat down heavily at the kitchen table, littered with dishes, and stared into the living room.

Allie was cursing steadily under her breath. Margie stood in the doorway with an armload of unassembled boxes, not willing to come all the way into the hall. Ginny began pulling trash bags from a carton. Chris said slowly “She didn't take anything we bought together. Or that were gifts to the two of us. Only things she bought herself. She...I can see two or three things that were gifts from me to her.”

“Out of her mind” said Myra distinctly. She sat down next to Chris and said “I think you shouldn't do this. We can handle it. I won't throw away a single thing that's questionably not trash. Let us pack everything that's yours personally and bring it home for you, and the rest we'll put in storage. For when you want to sort it out. But not today. It's too much too fast.”

Chris slowly focused on her. “Maybe she was planning to come back, maybe she left it like this...”

“This is how her brain is working at the moment” said Myra. “Her brain on Susan.”

Chris picked up a plate and said “We picked these out together. A set of eight.” There were four stacked on the table. Split down the middle – I suppose she thought she was being fair thought Myra.

She didn't realize she had said it out loud until Chris looked at her, a sudden spark in her eyes. “I can be a stupid, shut-down fucker, but I don't deserve this” Chris said.

She stood and said “Where do I go?”

“With me” said Allie, who had been whispering with Edwina. “We going wherever you want. We'll see you all at dinner, back at you house.”

Chris was already halfway to the door. Allie gave Edwina a kiss and followed. Margie moved into the room to let them pass. When the door clicked shut behind them, Margie set down her boxes, finally, and said “Where should I begin?”

They organized the work, appointing Myra as supervisor because she knew Chris best. When the movers arrived in an hour, they had enough boxes already packed to allow them to begin. Myra's head began to ache from making quick decisions – home, storage for Chris, storage to be sorted later, throw away – and she drank two Cokes from the cooler in quick succession.

By 5:00, nothing but trash remained. Chris's clothes and more immediate personal belongs were packed in the Volvo and the trunk of Myra and Ginny's Honda. They walked out to the front steps and sat wearily, conscious of the scrutiny of curious neighbors. Ginny had borrowed Myra's pad and was writing “Cleaning service; mail change; landlord about deposit...”

Margie's cell rang and she looked at it, then answered, saying “Frances.” After a minute, she said to the others “Franny's offering us the big table at the store for dinner. Or she'll pack up a meal and sent it home with us, what do we prefer?”

“Call Allie and Chris, ask them” said Edwina. Margie did, then called Frances back to say they needed to eat at home tonight, since Chris might be unpacking.

Ginny said to Myra “She wants to repaint the front sitting room and her bathroom. I think we hire that out, so it goes fast, right?”

“Right” said Myra. “What colors?”

“I didn't ask” said Ginny. Which made Myra stare at her again. Ginny met her eyes and said “Thank you.”

“What for?”

“Not leaving me.”

“Gin...That would be unthinkable.”

“So is this. But here we are.”

Margie hugged them both from behind, a long arm linked around each neck. “I'm going to go take the driveway slot closest to the door, since the Volvo has the heaviest items. See you back there.”

“I'll ride with you” said Edwina. She handed Chris's keys to Ginny.

“What about dinner? Do we need to stop by the store and pick it up?” Myra asked Margie.

“Carly and Eric are going to carry it over. They're coming to help us anyhow” said Margie from the sidewalk, looking up at them. Myra suddenly realized she'd probably never sit on this stoop again, visit this place which had been a second home to her. She got up quickly and walked back inside before she began crying.

Ginny joined her, hugging her sideways as she wept, also. “The things that do us the most harm seem to be what we do to ourselves” she choked out.

“Ahh, Gin, even then, it's the result of damage we never asked for” said Myra.

By the time they got home, Chris and Allie were there as well. Allie was setting up Chris's entertainment center in the front living room with Chris's direction. Since Chris wasn't sure what was in many of the boxes, Margie was instructing which room to place them in. Carly and Eric were toting heavy loads with ease and humor.

As Allie said “One too many input and output choices to fucking make, here”, Chris turned to Ginny and said “There's a mountain of homestyle Italian food on the counters in there. Let's ask Gillam's family to join us.”

“You sure?” said Ginny.

Chris ignored her, returning to Allie's wiring confusion. Ginny pulled out her cell and dialed Jane's number.

Chris ate dinner with Lucia on her lap. Lucia was now eating solid food, and Chris patiently fed her from a separate small plate, ignoring the smears Lucia was leaving on her sleeves and shirtfront. For dessert, Frances had sent roasted figs with mascarpone. As Chris began mashing a fig for Lucia, Jane said “Uh, don't put any mascarpone on those for her. Or cream. No dairy at all right now.”

“Why not?” asked Ginny.

“Since she began eating solids, she's getting diarrhea several times a week. We've decided to rotate out lactose, see if that makes a different” said Jane. “Her crying bouts are more frequent too, have you noticed?”

“I think she's getting headaches” said Gillam.

Ginny looked at Myra, who said “Got it. I'll make sure her menu here changes.”

Chris put her fingers into the sugar bowl and sprinkled half a dozen grains into Lucia's fig. Mimi immediately began “Can I hav --”

“No” said Gillam. “You've got sugar in the topping already.” The expression on all the children's faces made it plain that sugar straight from the bowl trumped anything the mascarpone might contain. They watched Lucia enviously as Chris introduced her to figs. Lucia plainly approved.

After dinner, the kids were seriously underfoot but Chris asked Gillam to keep them around for a while. Myra warned Chris “They're sticky-fingered, literally and figuratively. All your fascinating new things will be irresistible to them.”

“I'll stay nearby” said Chris. “At least now I can just plain enjoy 'em, instead of having to keep my guard up because I'm the bitch who wouldn't let Sima adopt.”

The abrupt bitterness caused a brief silence in the room. Mimi opened her mouth and Jane said, heading her off, said “Language.”

Myra thought that wasn't going to be what Mimi had a question about. Chris, however, grinned ferally at Jane and said “Point taken and petard denied.”

This time Mimi got out “What's peetard?”

“A kind of sword, I think” said Myra. They were distracted by Frances' arrival, who said “The rush is over and I've left it to Imani. What did you think of that lemon sauce? Did you spot the secret ingredient?”

“I thought fennel, but Margie said that was too obvious” said Ginny.

“Coriander and a whisper of saffron” said Frances, delighted with herself. After hugging Chris, she led the four older children into the living room where they played the new game she'd invented, called Giant Squid and Whale Fighting On The Ocean Floor. This involved turning off the lights, wearing blindfolds, and much screaming as adversaries bumped into each other at the bottom of the Marianas Trench.

The children were sweaty and gibbering by the time Gillam said “Okay, time to go have baths and get ready for bed.”

“Hope I've worn 'em out for you” said Frances.

“When they crash, it'll be utter oblivion” assured Gillam. He whispered to the kids “Go hug Aunt Chris bye. Tell her how much you like it that she's living here now.”

Their departure seemed, as always, to make the house echo with silence. Margie broke into it by starting to collapse boxes. Chris sat down on her favorite old chair in the corner of her new room and said, almost to herself, “I don't know where she is right now. I've never not known where she is.”

Myra felt a stab in her chest. “If it's this hard for me to bear...”

“We'll get an address and phone number for you” said Edwina.

Anthea had edged into the room, now that the children were gone. Chris looked at her, then at the others and said “I think I'm ready to smudge this place. Have some time alone.”

“Okay” said Ginny, picking up a bag of trash. “I'm going to bed early myself.”

Chris went to each member of the family and gave them hugs. She whispered something in Margie's ear, and lingered a long minute in Allie's arms. When she got to Myra, she said “I'm okay alone tonight. Well, me and Anthea.”

“I guess you're her favorite old whore, too” dared Myra. She was gratified when Chris roared.

Carly and Eric left with Margie and Frances to help carry catering dishes back to the store. Allie and Edwina left not long afterward, going out the yard and the front gate to avoid passing through Chris's new territory at the front of the house. Myra looked in the fridge and said to Ginny “I need to cook those meatballs for lunch tomorrow, they shouldn't wait until dinner.”

“You coming to bed with me?” asked Ginny, wiping her hands.

“You bet.”

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

1 comment:

Jesse Wendel said...

You got me crying again, maggie jo.