Thursday, February 19, 2009


Magical Mystery Tour album cover

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.

July to October 2019

Chris's scans showed no new signal that could be interpreted as cancer. Her blood work was clean except for borderline anemia and low white blood cell count. Myra celebrated by making steaks for everybody who would eat them. She bought a supply of various cuts of steak as well for the freezer, and Chris willingly ate them. Ginny provided a B-vitamin counterpoint with spinach, other dark green leafy vegetables, and chicken liver. Chris retained her color from her week in the sun for a couple of weeks, until she began her second round of chemotherapy.

“The Dance of the Blue Walruses” was published on Myra's birthday, creating another occasion to celebrate. The official launch was that Friday, August 9th. The whole family attended Myra's reading at All For Kids and Music, with plans to have shabbos dinner afterward at Carminati's. Ginny and Allie both brought a few of their original illustrations to display. The highlight of the reading, however, was when the five grandchildren came up to the small dais and re-created their dance, complete with beanbag chairs. David was given credit as choreographer and he could not shut up afterward, reliving the event in repetitive verbal gush.

The day after Myra's birthday, Myra got up very late. As she shuffled into the kitchen from the elevator, she was humming “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64”, which Ginny and the family had sung to her more than once the night before. She was surprised to see Ginny and Chris still at the dining table: Most days they gardened until Myra got up, ate, and took Chris to her morning chemo.

Myra changed direction, heading straight for the table. Breakfast was waiting on her – a pork cutlet and toast, both cold but still edible. “Is the tea hot?” she asked. Ginny felt the pot and stood to go refill it. “While you're in there, I want a slice of that cake Jane made. I'm still birthdaying” she said.

She had taken a couple of bites by the time Ginny returned. As Ginny filled her cup, Chris tapped the stack of mail in the middle of the table. “You got some cards, looks like” she said.

“Lovely” said Myra, making no move to sort out hers from the stack. She took a bite of cake and said “Mm, never too much chocolate.”

Chris tapped the mail again. Myra realized Ginny was watching her as well. She set down her fork and began making four stacks for them plus automatic trash. When she got to the envelope from Boston in Sima's handwriting, she realized what they had been waiting on.

“I...I want to eat first. Seriously. But it's fine with me if one of you opens it and reads it.”

Chris leaned back in her chair as if recoiling from the envelope. “Not me” she said.

Ginny licked her lips and looked at Chris. “I don't know” she said.

Chris said “Do it.” Myra pushed the envelope toward Ginny before taking another bite of cake.

Ginny wiped the butter knife obsessively before using it to slit the end of the envelope. The card was not handmade but looked beautiful from Myra's vantage point. A folded piece of paper was inside, printed from a computer. Ginny read the card first, then said “Okay to read it out loud?”

Myra nodded and waited for Chris to give her okay.

“Just know that I'm thinking of you today, glad you were born and for the role you played in my life. I wish all of you the very best, and that we all have joy in our later years. Love, Sima”

Chris's face was stone. Myra suddenly found Jane's frosting a bit too rich. She drank some milk and considered her pork cutlet.

“Gin – go ahead and read that letter, if you want, but I don't want to hear it until I'm done eating” said Myra. Chris stood and said “I can wait, too.” She walked outside toward the vegetable beds. Myra stood as well and reheated her plate of food. By the time she returned to the table, Ginny had finished the letter, which covered both sides of the sheet of paper.

Ginny had her lips pressed tightly together. Myra said “Are you going to put up more tomatoes this afternoon? When is the corn from our organic place going to be delivered, tomorrow or the next day?”

Ginny said “I'll do tomatoes until the kids get here, then more after dinner. And yeah, the corn comes tomorrow.”

Myra finished her meal in silence. She drank the last of her tea and said “Let's have it.”

It was an answer to her letter of several months earlier. Many parts of it didn't sound to her like Sima at all, even with all the time she'd had to craft and polish her phrasing. Myra wondered how much Susan had had in this letter. She knew, better than most, how dishonest writing can be.

She read it through twice, then said “I think this is a sitting-by-the-pond discussion. Coming with?”

“Yep” said Ginny, leaving the table to the depredations of Mother Courage and Franklin. Chris sat at one end of the curved stone bench and read the letter very slowly. Myra stuck her hands under the waistband of her sweatpants, over her belly, and contemplated the glass float, wondering not for the first time if the fish below saw it as a celestial object.

When Chris finally refolded the letter and handed it to Ginny next to her, Myra said “We don't have to talk about it right now if you don't want to.”

Chris said “Fuck her. Fuck her to fucking hell.”

Or we can jump right in thought Myra.

“She's lying through her goddamned teeth for most of it. All that rationalization and plugged nickel analysis – how she was rendered second-class in our social circle because I always assumed the dominant spot and my version of things got the most credence, because you and Allie were the power duo and you both had hidden sexual charge for me – she would never have the fucking nerve to say such bilge in front of Allie.”

“Not to mention Edwina” said Ginny.

Chris chuckled grimly. “Edwina would knife her. You know, all she ever had to do was bring it up, ask one of us if it was true. I know I don't go digging around like you do, Myra, but I fucking stay in this processy bunch and I do my fucking share when called upon. And if she needed -- “ Her voice almost broke, and she swallowed hard, going silent.

“People who walk have to make it the fault of those they leave” said Ginny gently. “Nobody says 'I couldn't handle it', not right away.”

They heard a kind of burp from the pond and turned to look, seeing a bubble break the surface and ripples travel through the lily pad leaves. “The leviathan is listening” whispered Myra, which got them all to laugh.

Chris said “But the worst part is when she talks about the kids. About how she was never allowed to be a real parent, she was forced into a secondary role...You two had some shit but your kids picked who they wanted to love, and these grandkids are doing the same thing thanks to Jane and Gillam.” She turned to Myra. “You have to not let Margie read that letter. Or Gillam, or Carly, whom she leaves out entirely except to imply his parents were exploited by you.”

“Agreed” said Myra.

“She's spinning a whole new cloth” said Ginny. “That's the kindest way I can put it.”

Chris glanced at her. “I don't fucking feel like being kind at the moment.”

“You don't have to be” said Myra.

“Happy fucking birthday, huh” said Chris. “Can't wait to see what I get, when the time comes.”

“Oh, hell, Chris, look at the time. We have to get to chemo” said Myra suddenly.

“Perfect” muttered Chris. Myra rushed into the house to dress. Chris stood slowly and said to Ginny “Leave half those tomatoes for me for later, okay?”

In the chemo wing of the clinic, they always walked in to affectionate greetings from everybody who worked there. Half the nurses, it seemed like, were not just lesbians but butches -- Myra often wondered what drew them to oncology. They wore almost hazmat suit gear, designed to either protect immune-compromised patients from infection or the nurses themselves from the chemotherapeutic agents which carried bio hazard symbols on their labels. Even in this kind of get-up, however, the nurses made them feel like regulars in a neighborhood bar.

They'd saved Chris's preferred chair for her, one with a view of hills and water. A portable chair was pulled up next to it for Myra, opposite the infusion side.

Once the check-in was done and the line begun, Chris leaned her chair back and said "You listening or writing today?" Myra had bought Chris an Ipod with two jacks and helped Chris fill it with her favorite music, including a vast array of flute and drum music from numerous Native cultures. Sometimes Myra plugged her earbuds into the second jack and listened along with Chris; sometimes she opened her laptop on a tray table. Chris didn't like to talk during chemo, and the conversation from other patients around them agitated her.

Today Myra opted for the Ipod. Chris selected some Abenaki songs and closed her eyes. Myra slid her hand into Chris's as she recognized this song, about how Lake Champlain was formed. When they got home, they would have time for whatever lunch Chris and Zofran together could manage, before Chris took a short nap and the grandkids arrived.

Myra decided not to reply to Sima right away. She had her reading and kept working on the creek girl book, which was much slower going than other kinds of writing. Ginny began a new painting and finished it the following Monday. When she got up from sleeping it off, she was running a fever and had severe cramps. An hour later, she began throwing up. Her symptoms were called in to their doctor, who said a stomach flu was going around, to push fluids and wait it out.

Myra was instantly concerned about Chris, with her lowered immune status. She also worried about it spreading through the children. She increased handwashing on an obsessive scale, created soups for Ginny, and let Chris handle the tomato sauce making. On Tuesday, however, Chris had to go in to meet with her radiation oncologist for a final interview – they didn't want to repeat any treatment for the foreseeable future, but he wanted to give her future options if the need arose. Myra dropped her off and Chris said she'd call when she needed a ride home. Taking the bus with her current susceptibility was not recommended.

However, the wait in the clinic was outrageously long. Chris called as the grandchildren were arriving to say “I just got out of the fucking place. Should I take a cab?”

“No, they're germs on wheels. I'll pile them into the Volvo and we'll come get you. Maybe go out for a treat afterward.” She was drowned out by cheers around her.

“There's no bench out front of this building, just smokers. I'll wait up here, go to the parking garage below and buzz me on my cell when you're there, okay?”

Myra said bye to Ginny from the doorway, blocking the kids from pouring into their bedroom, and spent fifteen minutes getting car seats arranged in the back of the car. It always made her nervous to drive with all of the children at once, the most precious of loads in her hands. When they got to the parking garage, however, her cell wouldn't pick up a signal.

“Damn” she said. “Language” Leah got out ahead of her siblings.

“Point taken. But I can't let Aunt Chris know we're here. Come on, we'll have to all go in. We're on the buddy system, take the hands of your buddy. And this is a good-behavior kind of place.” She put Lucia on her hip and they entered the elevator, a fight breaking out over who got to push the button – which, it turned out, none of them could because the office was on the 22nd floor and no one but Myra could reach that high. Or Lucia – Myra leaned her over to reach the button, causing a brief storm of protest until Myra reminded “Good behavior. Or no treat.”

At the main lobby, several people got on. As the doors shut, Leah looked at Myra expectantly. Myra thought What the hell and, glancing at which buttons were lit, plagiarized for her first announcement while trying to kick-start free association in her brain “5th Floor: Corporation tee-shirts, elementary penguins, and models of the Eiffel Tower.”

The children's laughter was instantaneous. The suited man who got off at the 5th floor was not smiling, however. When the doors shut again, Myra was ready:

“14th Floor: Bad covers of disco tunes, leftover ceramics from the Southwestern craze, and the snows of yesteryear.” This time, someone besides the kids giggled, and a woman in scrubs grinned at her as she debarked.

“22nd Floor: Betty Dodson workbooks, do-it-yourself liposuction kits, and WPA posters in three-color lithography.” They got off with laughter at their backs and found Chris pacing the floor of the waiting room. As Myra explained to her, Mimi and Charlie had a shove-fest to see who pushed the down button. Chris took Lucia from Myra and said “Waste of time. I think they just wanted to be sure their bill got paid.”

Myra's brain was racing. Once back in the elevator, she announced to the car behind her “11th Floor: Bicycles, balaclavas, clavichords, and Balinese cichlids. Special today on angelfish, both arch and cherubim.”

There was a boy around age six or seven who was shushed by his mother after this utterance. Don't encourage the lunatics thought Myra. Lucia pointed to Myra and said in Chris's direction “Gramma” with a peal of laughter. That magic word, grandma, immediately eased the tension around them. Heteronormative acceptance thought Myra.

After the next exodus, she intoned “3rd Floor: Carburetors, carbuncles, and carbohydrates, processed. Otherwise known as exhaust, boils, and Twinkies.”

The little boy said “I want to go here, Mommy, I want Twinkies.” He was shushed again, and Leah explained to him “It's a game, not really Twinkies.”

However, once they were in the car and Myra said “Okay, what kind of treat are we in the mood for?”, two of the children requested Twinkies. Myra and Chris decided on the bookstore instead, where The Dance of the Blue Walruses was on gratifying display in the window.

In September, Leah began preschool with David, while Mimi went off to kindergarten by herself. Charlie was disconsolate until his older siblings returned home each day. He and Lucia were emotionally close but she was not much as a playmate yet.

The second week of school, when Gillam and Jane walked over to pick up the kids from Myra and Ginny, the adults were standing talking when from the living room they heard Mimi say “I don't like any kind of burger, but you know what kind I especially don't like?”

“ASS-burgers!” cried her and David and unison, collapsing into giggles. Gillam and Myra stared at each other in horror, but Ginny was on the move, descending on Mimi and David within seconds, grabbing them each by the arm and saying “How utterly vile you are, to ridicule your sister that way. I can't believe you would be so horrid. What if someone made fun of your long hair, David, or you being a vegetarian, Mimi? Would you think that was funny?” She dragged them to the stairs and pushed them onto steps far enough apart that they couldn't whisper, saying “Five minutes.”

David wanted to protest the extra minute but common sense kept his mouth shut. He was fighting tears, anyhow. Myra bet Ginny's hand on their arms had been clamped tight. Gillam walked over to where Lucia was playing with her wallpaper samples, by the fireplace, and squatted, saying “Did that bother you, Luch?”

She looked up at him briefly, and Myra recognized that “swimming into consciousness” expression from when she pulled Ginny out of Painterland. Lucia said “Take these home?”, pointed to her samples.

“Of course” said Gillam. “In a few minutes.” When he returned to Myra, she said “I honestly don't think she registered it.” Leah and Charlie were solemn and trying to appear holy.

“She must have picked that up at school” said Jane in a low voice.

“Which means she's talking about our family, to have passed on the term in the first place” said Gillam.

“She's got lots juicier tidbits than that, when she figures it out” said Myra. “Margie certainly did.”

Ginny had gone into the kitchen and returned with two quart jars of tomato sauce. “Take these home with you. Sorry I blew like that.”

“They'll think twice about it in the future, at least in front of us” said Jane reassuringly.

Kindergarten also exposed Mimi to a series of colds and viruses, which meant Chris's contact with the children was often abrogated. She lost more weight, despite steaks and spinach quiches when she did have an appetite. She finished her final round of chemo the first week in October with a massive sigh of relief.

Five days later, the new LA restaurant, Francesca's, opened but Myra and Ginny decided not to go because Chris was not yet up for travel. The rest of the family flew down for the weekend. Myra persuaded Gillam to save any trip to Disneyland for when she could be there. Instead, they took the kids to the La Brea Tar Pits and the Venice Boardwalk.

The following Friday after dinner they all gathered to watch Gillam's videos of the weekend. Chris already looked better, clustered in their midst, Myra thought. After the new videos, they watched some of Gillam, Carly and Margie when they were little, followed by (the children's request) the underwater pond footage. Then the lights were turned back up to sing the Golden Horde anthem and perform Moondoggie's song with dance accompaniment. Chris stood with the children to “wag her tail” and take a whizz on an imaginary fireplug.

Myra decided to not answer Sima until after Chris's birthday in November. She wanted to see what Sima did on that occasion.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

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