Sunday, February 15, 2009


Roasted plum tsimmes
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.

Spring 2019

Myra got a letter from Kate Bean in Portland announcing she was planning to move to Seattle at the end of the school year. She was retiring from her teaching job, and her son Rafe had been accepted at U-Dub, so she was going to relocate to be near him for the time being. Myra suspected it also had to do with Kate's break-up last year with her lover of several years. She said to Ginny “I think she was hoping to stay with us for a while as she looks for a new place to live.”

“Well...” said Ginny consideringly. “We still have a spare bedroom upstairs -- “

“No” said Myra. “We're stretched as far as we can go right now. I'll help her find a place, but our house is full.”

Ginny returned to a normal painting schedule and was also increasingly happy spending time working in the garden with Chris as company. When Chris went out to lunch with Allie, Myra and Ginny began locating each other right away and lying on a daybed, talking, kissing, and relishing the sensation of having the house to themselves for an hour or so.

Myra worked perhaps two hours a day on her Skene book. Chris would join her in her study to sit on Myra's daybed in the mornings, stringing beads or reading, and Myra found the company energizing. But in the evenings after dinner, when Ginny returned to her canvas, Myra was drawn to watching movies with Chris instead of working. The creek book was entirely shelved, though Myra felt guilty about it.

Frances and Imani went to the store early one Tuesday and working on gluten-free pasta and pizza crusts until they came up with a formula which satisfied their exacting standards. Frances complained that creating a work environment free of flour contamination was in itself a major issue. The next week, she and Imani came to her home kitchen to make huge batches of pizza crusts and various pastas out of alternative, gluten-free materials which were then carefully wrapped and frozen. Frances added both options to her restaurant and pizza menus, and was surprised at many requests began pouring in.

She was already talking with her parents about opening the next Carminati's in the Los Angeles area, and they were searching for a good location. She now told them she needed a place not only with a brick oven and separate dining room for the pizza branch, but also with a second small kitchen where she could produce gluten-free and vegan pizzas and pasta dishes fresh on a daily basis. She hoped to get this third restaurant off the ground by the following fall. She planned to name it Francesca's.

Myra made gluten-free bread and main dishes not just for Lucia but also Jane, who thought clearing it from her own diet would made a difference while she was still nursing Lucia. After two weeks, they could all see a difference in Lucia. Her gassiness and loose bowels resolved, she no longer held her forehead as if it ached, and her crying bouts virtually disappeared. Gillam and Jane began going to a once-a-week support group for parents of children with Aspberger's. Gillam said he didn't think he wanted it to be a permanent part of his life – he said he had five unique children, not just one, and he only wanted to solve existing problems, not fetishize Lucia's disability.

Myra sent her rewritten letter to Sima but got no reply. Margie received a postcard of the new Boston art museum and several lines about how wonderful it was to be living in New England again, in a town with a thriving Jewish community. She shared it with Chris, who read it without comment and went to her room, shutting the door quietly. Gillam got Sima's address from them because the children wanted to write her a letter and, despite his anger at her not saying goodbye to any of them, he said he would not get in their way of expressing themselves. Their card to her as well did not elicit a reply.

Jane decided to offer private music lessons for children three afternoons a week while her kids were with their grandmothers. Ginny asked her if it was to keep her hand in at teaching, and Jane said yes in hesitant voice. Ginny pressed, and Jane said she also wanted to add to their income. She and Gillam were spending every cent that came in, she confided, and she worried about not having savings.

Ginny immediately brought this to Myra, who said “Well. They don't pay rent or taxes, but their medical coverage is expensive and Gillam doesn't earn much. We feed them about half the time, we buy at least half the kids' clothes and toys and books, and we're making sure their education will be covered. I think if they were doing without something essential, Gillam would ask us for help. So, striving for independence and savings seems like a sensible thing for them to do. I'd rather not go rushing to him about this.”

Ginny looked at her in surprise. “All right. If you can take that line with Gillam, I certainly can.”

That same week, without hearing this piece of family gossip, Chris asked Myra and Ginny at breakfast to give her an amount she should contribute to household upkeep.

“Ah, Chris, I don't know how to figure that. We feed so many people here, I have no idea how to break that down” said Myra.

“And our utilities are low because of the solar panels, the rainwater collection, the energy-efficient stuff in this house” added Ginny.

Chris was stubborn. “I'm not paying rent, I don't want to freeload.”

Before Myra could object, Ginny said “Why don't you give us what you were paying as your share of the food with Sima, and half that for utilities? I think that will actually cover whatever you're using.”

Chris gave her a small grin. “More like it. I'll give you a check after we eat.”

A month after Sima left, Myra didn't know whether to mention the anniversary or not. Chris went out to lunch with Allie and when she came back, she had three live lobsters in a plastic bucket.

“Yippee!” said Ginny when she saw them. “Just for us, right? 'Cause I can always eat a whole one by myself.”

“I was thinking we could grill them outside” said Chris. “With ordinary butter and lemon. And blueberry pie for dessert.”

She saw Myra watching her and said “I know what day it is. I made it this far, I guess I'm going to survive.”

The lobster was excellent. Chris slipped one of the emptied claws under the table, and Myra saw Anthea carry it away down the hall.

The next day at lunch, Ginny was making a grocery list for a mid-week run to Pike. Chris said “I know we're not having a seder, but I'd still like to get some matzoh. Maybe you could make some of your excellent matzoh brie.”

“Mm, yes” said Myra. “And your mother's chicken liver.”

Ginny added to the list. “I want tsimmes. And maybe matzoh ball soup?”

“I'll make fresh stock if you buy some wings and necks in bulk” said Myra.

Ginny looked up at Chris and said "Is there something else we should have in the house to eat that you're not getting, Chris? You've really lost weight, even though it seems like you're eating."

"No. I mean, I put stuff on the list as I think of it, or just pick it up myself."

Myra remarked "You are thinner. You're looking like those high school photos of yours.”

“You mean when I was on speed, or before then?” said Chris, grinning but not joking.

“At least you're hanging onto that cute pot belly of yours."

Chris laughed then. "Yeah, nothing seems to affect that."

Ginny felt a small roil inside her, at Myra's easy familiarity with another woman's body. She started to write again, to distract herself. But her brain outran her emotions. She stopped and looked at Chris in her level way. "Is it getting bigger?"


"Your belly."

Chris looked a little defensive. "I'm not sure -- I mean, I'm shrinking around it, hard to tell."

Ginny said seriously "Will you let me see it? Stand up and pull up your shirt."

Chris stared at her, then at Myra. Myra was examining Ginny's face. Chris pushed back her chair and complied, her face stony. Ginny reached out a hand, looked at Chris for consent, and placed her palm on Chris hard, round belly. She felt gently around its bulge. Her eyes had gotten very clear.

She took a breath and said "How has it been since you had a GYN work-up?"

Myra said "What, Ginny? What?"

Chris sat back down. "A while. Over a year, more like two."

Ginny took both of Chris's hands in her own. "Do you feel bloated?"

"Yeah. I'm -- It's stress, Ginny." Chris was not smiling at all.

Myra suddenly knew what Ginny was asking. She looked at Chris's face, the way her color had never come completely back, the dark patches around her eyes. Her constant complaints of tiredness, despite sleeping normally now.

She said softly "Chris, darlin -- your ovaries. They left your ovaries, right?"

Chris put it together, then. She gripped Ginny's hands tight and looked down at her abdomen. Then she said "God fucking dammit.”

Myra stood, wild for action. “I'm calling Dr. Desai.”

“She's retired, Myra” reminded Ginny.

“She still makes referrals. And she can clear a fast path for us.”

The GYN Dr. Desai recommended appeared to be younger than Jane, but she examined Chris the following afternoon. Her nurse took blood and did a sonogram. Then Chris was given a light sedative and the new doctor did a biopsy. Myra and Chris were told the results would not be available until the next day.

That night in bed, when Myra pulled Chris back against her, Chris sighing and loosening all the muscles in her body, Myra's hands were newly aware of the mound of Chris's stomach. She tried to send energy through her palms into Chris's belly. Please god, she prayed. Please not this.

But the blood tests, and the biopsy, said it was. Stage IV. When they got home from the appointment and the stop at the hospital to schedule Chris's surgery, the three of them this time, Ginny said “I'm calling Sima.”

Chris looked at her for a long minute. Finally she said “All right.” She walked to her room and closed the door.

Myra didn't know what to do with herself. Ginny went upstairs to make the call from Myra's desk. She was surprised to hear Sima answer; usually Sima didn't pick up when Ginny called.

"Sima, I need to tell you something. About Chris."

There was a long silence. Sima said "Go ahead."

"She's got cancer, ovarian cancer. They're planned to take her ovaries and wherever it's spread next week, then radiation and chemo, but – the doctor thinks it's far advanced. It looks grim, Sima."

Another long silence. "Is she still living with you?"


"Does she know you're calling me?"

"I told her I was, but she's downstairs at the moment. Do you want me to get her?"

"No.... No, I can't do this, Ginny. We're not in each other's lives any more. I have -- other commitments now."

"Sima, you -- you'll regret it, Sima, I know you. Please, at least just talk with her. "

"I can't. I can't do this, Ginny. I know you don't understand, but I'm doing as much as I can."

“God help you, Sima. I...I love you.”

Sima hung up. Ginny sat looking at the receiver for a while. When she swung around in Myra's chair, Myra was standing with disbelief on her face. Ginny said “This will kill her.” Myra wasn't sure which of them she meant. Maybe both.

Ginny walked heavily downstairs and knocked at Chris's door. Myra, following her, heard Ginny flat-out lie in a way she could not remember Ginny ever doing. “I left a message on her machine, Chris. I told her the essentials.”

Chris's expression showed she didn't believe Ginny, but she just nodded.

Margie came for dinner that night, with Allie and Edwina, and asked Chris if she could spend the night with her. It caught Chris off guard. She said “You still kick like a mustang, the way you did when you were little?”

“Yeah, but I won't catch you in the ribs now, my legs are too long” said Margie with bravado.

Chris took a long breath. “I'd be honored, baby girl.”

That night in bed, Myra told Ginny "I need to get closer to her."

Ginny had her eyes shut, her face pressed against Myra's neck. Chris and Myra were already affectionate and touching in ways she'd never seen Myra do with another woman, the connection of two bodies who knew each other almost completely.

Ginny whispered "Do you mean -- lovers?"

"No. Not erotic. But -- some other category of friend. I need to dive into the wreck with her. I need to -- it's not just an attempt to save her, although that's there. But I want to go as far as I can with her on this road."

"I'm so scared, Myra."

"Me, too."

"I'm scared about what it will do to you. I don't want you to get sick, too."

"Cancer isn't contagious, Ginny."

"No, but ... Chris had no defenses left, and this found a way in."

"I'm intact, Ginny. I'll stay intact. I'm not leaving you."

"You can't promise that."

"Okay, not ultimately, you're right. But in every other way, I'm yours."

After another long silence, Ginny said "I'm yours, too. We'll do it together."

The following Tuesday, surgeons removed Chris's ovaries, a piece of her colon, a big chunk of omentum and one of her kidneys. The unexpected loss of a kidney affected how her chemo regimen could be administered. Ginny called Sima the morning of the surgery and after Chris was in recovery. She got only voice mail, and this time she did leave messages.

Chris was home in a wheelchair in time for Jane's birthday party on May 5th. The next day, a Monday, she began chemotherapy in the morning, followed by radiation set-up that afternoon. They created a daily schedule which involved Chris getting up early with Ginny, eating whatever breakfast she could keep down, then sitting in a metal chair by the garden bed and working with Ginny until 9:30. Myra took Chris to chemo or radiation by 10:00, getting home in time for a quick lunch before the grandchildren arrived. Chris slept most afternoons, although she always made an appearance to spend a few minutes with the kids.

Myra began keeping custards, puddings, pannetones, and homemade broths in the fridge all the time, food that Chris could bear to eat. Allie came over several evenings a week and hung out with Chris in her room or watched TV with her.

Mimi turned five, David turned four, and Leah turned three. Sima sent gifts for each of them, wonderful toys made in Germany or France. Ginny helped braid Chris's hair one last time and cut it off for her, saving it wrapped in foil. By Charlie's birthday, Chris's bald head was showing a growth of white fuzz, coming back in wavy instead of straight. Annie Gagliardi, who had become a frequent visitor, offered to dye it bright red for her, and Chris laughed harder than she had in a long time.

The oncologist decided Chris had to have a chemo vacation after six weeks. That night, Chris said “I could handle a private plane flight to the Gulf Coast. If the air conditioning there is really good as you say.”

Myra felt her heart climb into her throat. Ginny said “The folks who wanted to rent it over the Fourth of July weekend have backed out. We could be there for Lucia's first birthday.”

“Could we rent me a dunebuggy?” asked Chris. “And a shotgun for the snakes?”

“I think you should let 'em bite you, some folks think that's a remedy for what ails ya” said Myra.

Chris laughed loud and full again, no longer having to worry about the stitches in her belly. “Clear it with the legions” she said. “I always wanted to see that pissant home state of yours.”

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

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