Friday, March 27, 2009


Picking huckleberries in Columbia National Forest, ca 1936 (Picking huckleberries in Columbia National Forest, circa 1936; US Forest Service photo, no further identification given)

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.

Wednesday and Thursday, 4-5 December, 2019

The following morning, Myra decided sleeping in was not going to be possible here and she got up with Ginny. After breakfast, Chris began dressing in layers while Margie made a thermos of hot tea and asked Ginny if they could borrow her yoga pad.

“What for?”

“To put under Aunt Chris where she sits on that boulder by the creek” said Margie. “Keep her ass warm.” Ginny went to pull the rolled mat from the closet. Myra asked “Are you going to sit there with her?”

“No, I'll take another walk, get my blood flowing. Then I'll sit in the car with my laptop and wait on her” said Margie.

Myra lowered her voice. “What if she needs you? I don't like the idea of her crawling around boulders by herself right now, especially if they're icy.”

“Yeah, we figured that out. I get her situated and then she signals me when she's ready to go” said Margie. Chris had come back into the kitchen and said “There's a tree next to the boulder that sticks out over the dirt road where she parks. Margie slithered into it and tied her red scarf on a little branch where it hangs down. She tied string to the branch and ran it to a rock beside where I sit. All I have to do is jerk on the string until the bouncing red flag catches her eye, and she'll come help me to the car.”

“Well isn't that very low-tech creative of you” said Myra, enjoying their matching grins. “We'll see you whenever, then.”

Myra did dishes and started a soup for lunch as Ginny began painting. Shortly after 10:00 the phone rang and Myra answered.

“Hey Mama” said Gillam. “My class this period is watching a film so I stepped outside to call you, I'll have more time to chat now than at lunch. Give me the scoop.”

Myra filled him in on the doctor visit and Chris's family visit. It was good to talk it over with someone back home; she felt more of a lifeline between here and there.

“How are the kids doing?” she asked.

“Leah's just plain depressed at not seeing you, and Lucia is too quiet” he said. “We spent an hour at your house yesterday, and that helped them a little. Keller and Franklin especially appreciated it, even though we had Moon and Gidg with us. Anthea, though – she's meowing in a way I never heard her do.”

“Shit” said Myra. “Is the door to Chris's bedroom closed?”

“Yeah, we keep all the bedroom doors closed” he said.

“Well, open Chris's and let Anthea have that territory. Maybe that will help” said Myra.

“How are you doing?” he asked.

“Long as I stay on the tiger's back” she quipped. “Actually, that's a bit glib. It was good to be around Chris's family, and the doctor himself was better than I had hoped. It's a wrench living in such close quarters but I kinda like this house. It's pretty basic. And Chris is wading through the waters with her usual funky grace.”

“And Mom?”

“Just began a painting.”

“Wow. Can't wait to see what comes out of her with this one” he said with a whistle.

“You and me both, boychik.” Myra hesitated, then said “Actually...I kinda need to tell somebody something, somebody besides Ginny, I mean. And Allie is not a good candidate, and when they get back from the creek there's no chance of a private conversation here...but it might not be something you want to discuss with your mother.”

Ginny looked around the canvas in Myra's direction.

“I've got 15 minutes, and I have to say, I'm intrigued. Can I reserve the right to back out?” he said.

“Yep. Well, it's like this.” She told him about Ginny's offer from the morning before, her opening the door between Myra and Chris. She finished with “I feel like I can't think about it clearly, because there's so much else grabbing my attention. But I don't want to stuff it away, either.”

After half a minute, she said “Gillam? You still there? TMI?”

He cleared his throat. “No – I mean, yes, I'm here, and it's not – I'm just flabbergasted, is all. I didn't think you two ever – have you and Mom -- “

“No, this is a first. And believe me, it doesn't go both ways, not from my viewpoint.” She turned and winked at Ginny, who had stopped painting. Ginny grinned and refilled her brush with Titanium White.

“”Well, are you thinking about, with Aunt Chris – is this going to happen?” he asked awkwardly.

“Not planning on it. We're closer than I know how to describe, but it's – not erotic. Physical, but not erotic, if that makes any sense.”

“Actually, yeah, Mom, I do know what you mean” he said.

“Just getting to say it out loud is helping, Gillam. I guess I'm not confused, after all.” Myra took a deep breath. “I hope this doesn't turn into a burden for you, this knowledge.”

“I'm kinda honored, is how I feel. And I'm blown away by Mom. You can tell her that for me if you want” he said.

“I will. I'm blown away by her, too. But that's been a daily occurrence, more or less, for as long as I've known her” said Myra, her throat tightening.

“So...Is this a secret?” he asked.

“I won't request you keep it from Jane” she said. “Or, if you need to tell Carly, then him. Somehow I think it's won't weird him out, either. But I'm not telling Margie. You can quietly gloat about that if you want.”

He laughed and said “Thanks. Look, I gotta run, is this a good stopping point?”

“Yes, go make your difference in those kids' lives. Thank you, son.”

“Love you. Love to everybody there. We'll call again soon.”

When she hung up, Ginny said “How did he sound?”

“Fine. Absolutely fine.” She was going to say more, but the phone rang again. It was the home health nurse, Bernetta Fredrik, returning their call. Ginny came to handle it, opening her folder with insurance information and authorization codes. They made an appointment for a home visit the following afternoon.

Half an hour later, Allie and Edwina arrived with a huge bouquet of crimson tulips from a hothouse somewhere and two pounds of jamon serrano. Ginny sat with them for a few minutes while Myra gave a detailed account of the day before, but soon slid back to her painting. Allie snooped into every corner of the house, restless and asking more than once “She ain't swamped by residue here?” Myra thought Allie was about to put on her coat and head for the creek alone when the Volvo pulled up out front. Allie barreled out the front door, yelling “Hey!”

Lunch was happy and felt almost normal to Myra. Ginny asked Margie to bring back a set of folding chairs when she returned from Seattle -- “with padded seats, the good comfortable kind” she instructed. “And a set of folding tables that we could eat from at the couch.”

“Where will you store them?” said Margie, waving her arms at the small room.

“Under the futon” said Ginny.

“Speaking of which, I'm going to offer you my motel room, Aunt Allie. It's nice but I haven't slept in it and I think I'm going to stay here again tonight before driving back tomorrow” said Margie.

Chris took a long nap after lunch, and Margie drove Allie and Edwina to her motel, grabbing her bags and settling them in. Myra was writing when they returned.

“Are you online?” asked Edwina.

“No” said Myra. “Here, you can use the line for your computer if you want.” She scooted over. Allie went to sit near the fire with a sketchbook, and Margie took up the rest of the futon, headphones on while she read from a stack of glossy magazines. When Chris got up, she stood in her doorway a minute and said “Instant home, just add water, huh.”

Margie left the next morning after breakfast, with a promise to call when she got there safely. Allie insisted on being the one to accompany Chris for her creek sojourn, and Edwina shared the dining table with Myra. Ginny had not slept much. She was working with her small brushes, and some of the pigments she was mixing had glittering metal mixed in.

After lunch, Ginny and Edwina took the snow shovel from the jeep and walked to the rear of the meadow behind the house, trying to dig a hole in the frozen ground. Edwina had brought straw and a bag of manure from home, and they finally devised a compost area that Ginny thought might work.

At 2:00, a station wagon stopped out front and there was a knock at the door.
Myra opened it and said “Come on in, you must be Ms. Fredrick.”

“Call me Bernie” she said. She was in her 50s, thick-waisted, with strong arms and her long black hair rolled into a bun. She had on navy scrubs over a white turtleneck and white ankle-high nursing shoes.

“Can I get you some coffee?” asked Myra.

“Yes. Sugar and cream” said Bernie. Myra carried the pot to the table with a cup and saucer on a tray. Chris was introducing herself and settling at the table across from Bernie. Myra also served a plate of homemade pecan rolls. Ginny was making a pot of tea in the kitchen.

Chris turned around to Allie and Edwina and said “Come sit over here, too.” Allie pushed in the wheelchair from the kitchen and gave it to Edwina, standing behind her.

“Do you all live here?” asked Bernie, looking surprised. Chris explained and said “We're all from Seattle, but I came back here to die among my ancestors. Myra and Ginny are my, well, caregivers I guess is the term. As will be Allie and Edwina off and on.”

Bernie took them all in before focusing back on Chris. “Did you come from here, then?” she asked Chris.

“Lived in this house as a child, went to rez schools for a couple of years, then my family moved into Colville. Nez Perce” she said. “Are you Wenatchee?”

“Nespelem, but I spent a lot of years in Canada” said Bernie. “I moved back here when I got married.”

“You know Eddie William?” asked Chris.

“I know of him. He a friend of yours?” asked Bernice.

“I worked with him some. I worked several years for UIATF in Seattle, did a lot of traveling in this area for that and for a dictionary I compiled.”

Recognition flashed in Bernie's eyes. “I heard about the dictionary. That's you?”


They were silent a minute, sizing each other up in ways Myra would never understand.

“What relation are you all?” Bernie asked.

“Friends who've become family” said Chris. “Myra has my power of attorney, and Ginny will be overseeing my Advanced Directive decisions with her, as well as administering medications.”

“What about other – family?” said Bernie.

“Myra and Ginny's kids are like my own, but I never gave birth” said Chris. “Never married, though I was with a woman for almost 40 years. My niece and nephew live in Colville and will be here a lot. The people in charge, though, are Myra and Ginny.”

“What's your prognosis?” asked Bernie.

“Shitty. My liver is starting to fail, looks like that's how I'll go” said Chris. “I had colon involvement early on but right now there's no metastases to major organs, just bones.” She knocked on the wood of the table top.

“What kind of pain medication are you on?” asked Bernie.

“Nothing yet. I'm an ex-addict, I've been holding off as long as I can. But we've got scrips for – Ginny?” Ginny went to the kitchen cupboard and returned with an organized tray of medications.

“You filled all these already?” said Bernie. “That's enough narcotics worth robbing you for. You need to put this under lock and key.”

“All right” said Ginny. Bernie went through the bottles and vials, making notes.

“When I called Dr. Jhadav, he authorized me to do an intake and then come twice next week, depending on what you needed. He'll up the frequency as things progress” said Bernie. “You're outside the usual ambulance zone, your insurance will have to pay an extra fee if you need transport.”

“I won't be needing transport” said Chris. “I'm not going in to the hospital, no matter what.”

“Dr. Jhadav mentioned you were leaning that way” said Bernie, looking into Chris's eyes. “If you change your mind, let me know.”

“I won't” said Chris. She paused, then said “I got locked up in a mental hospital when I was a teenager. For drugs and acting out, mostly. I don't trust hospitals.”

“But you trust doctors?”

“Some of them” said Chris.

“Dr. Jhadav is good” said Bernie. “Okay, let's talk level of care and ADLs.”

“Me and Ginny do the cooking, and we can accommodate any dietary restriction” said Myra.

“At the moment, I can get to the bathroom on my own, bathe and dress myself fine” said Chris. “I have a bedside john that I've been using to piss in at night.”

“Have you had any incontinence?” asked Bernie. “Are you sitting or lying in one position for hours each day? Any early signs of skin breakdown?”

“Not yet” said Chris. “I'm having increasing trouble walking, but I'm still managing to get around. The wheelchair is mostly unused.”

“What about a walker?” said Bernie.

“I have one, a folding one, but -- “ Chris grinned. “I pretty much hate that idea.”

“You'll hate a broken bone much worse” said Bernie without any lecture in her voice. She finished her coffee and said “I'd like to see your bathroom, kitchen, where you're sleeping. Do you have any pets?”

“No” said Chris, struggling to her feet.

“You don't need to show me around” said Bernie. She began in the kitchen, and when she opened the refrigerator door, she turned and said “Who's the diabetic?”

“I am” said Allie.

Bernie did a swift but no doubt expert once-over of the entire house in less than ten minutes. Myra poured herself a glass of milk and had a pecan roll. Allie paced until Edwina stood and said “Sit here for a while”, bringing her an apple. When Bernie returned, she poured a second cup of coffee and finally accepted a cinnamon roll herself. I guess we pass the cleanliness inspection thought Myra.

“The air filters are a very good idea” said Bernie.

“Myra has asthma” volunteered Ginny.

“The rails in the bathroom are stable, and the heating is adequate to good” said Bernie. “This is a new paint job?”

“We had it done, after scrubbing the whole place down fanatically” said Ginny.

“What are all the cans of turpentine in the bedroom closet for?” asked Bernie.

“I'm a painter” said Ginny, pointing to the easel which Bernie had not gone behind to look at the canvas, scoring points with Myra. “We don't have a ventilation system here but I'm being extremely careful, I have decades of experience.”

“Any of you chronically ill? Any children in the household?”

“No infectious diseases” said Myra. “And our grandkids may visit, but not if they're contagious.”

“My niece has kids, I'll talk to her about it” said Chris.

Bernie took a second bite of her pecan roll with a look of appreciation crossing her face. “You'll need to wash dishes with a final scald. No washer and dryer here?”

“No, that's a drawback” said Myra.

“It'll be a big problem at some point. You need to buy extra sheets and towels, wash them in an industrial machine that will sterilize them, then seal them in plastic bags and store them for use as needed. I can bring you some hospital laps that are also sterilely sealed for wipe-ups. Seems like there's enough help to send someone out to do laundry?”

“Yes” said Ginny.

“I'd rather you move that plant on the bedside table” said Bernie, looking at her notes. “You can hang it at the other end of the room. No smoking in the house, and – you don't drink, do you?”

“All of us are clean and sober” said Chris. “Decades now.”

“As for diet, I'm assuming you've been given hand-outs on what to avoid?”

“Yes” said Chris. “We eat well, thanks to Myra and Ginny.”

“You need to drastically cut back on protein and fat, and up your complex carbohydrates” said Bernie. “What kind of tea is that you're drinking?”

“Ginny's herbal blend” said Chris with a grin.

“I'll draw blood, UAs, do cultures as Dr. Jhadav requests” said Bernie. “If we need x-rays, you'll have to drive into town for that, we don't have a portable unit at the moment. When you reach the point of needing an IV and a catheter, I'll start those but one of you will have to be responsible for her care most of the time.”

“That'll be me” said Ginny. “I've been practicing IVs on an orange, and I helped change Myra's catheter bags when she was ill at one point. I'm not faint-hearted.”

Bernie allowed herself to grin. “I imagine you're not.” She finished her pecan roll, folded her napkin neatly, and leaned back in her chair.

“This is going to be far more difficult than you realize if you haven't done it before. Take all the help you can get, and don't cover up things, that's my advice.” She looked at Chris. “My brother died of AIDS back before we had retrovirals. I helped his boyfriend take care of him, and after Lanny passed, I also took care of Rodney because – his family wanted nothing to do with him. I was a lot younger then, and with all my training, it was still the hardest thing I've had to do.”

“We're ready” said Myra softly. “Love will get us through.”

“All right” said Bernie. “Let's go in your room and do a blood draw. Have you done the hemoccult card you were given?”

“No” said Chris, letting Ginny help her stand.

“Then we'll go in the bathroom and do that as well as a urine catch” said Bernie. She shoved her shoulder under Chris's arm with strong competence and walked patiently in tandem with Chris. Once they were in the bathroom with the door shut, Myra whispered “Mary Poppins come to the rez”. Allie exploded into muffled laughter, more from release, Myra thought, than the humor warranted.

Myra packed half a dozen pecan rolls in foil and sent them home with Bernie when she left. Ginny had demonstrated her needle skills, and a folder of forms had been signed for insurance. Once she was gone, Chris said “They're damned lucky to have her around here.”

Myra looked at her keenly. “How you doing with all this?”

“That was actually reassuring” said Chris. “Well, except for the horror of watching someone wipe my shit on a piece of cardboard.”

Ginny put a glass of juice in front of Chris. “Drink that, you just lost some blood” she said.

“Two vials” scoffed Chris, but she drank.

“I think we should go over diet and a revised menu around here” said Ginny, sitting down next to Myra.

“Yeah, I've been doing research on liver-saving nutrition -- “ began Myra. Chris held up her hand to stop her.

“I want to focus on First Foods” said Chris. “Deer, elk, buffalo, roots, berries, and salmon. I know that sounds protein heavy but it's a way different kind of protein than we eat these days and, frankly, it's what my people have evolved as a physiological fit for millenia. I'm pretty sure we can get as much as I need through Ricky's friend plus that woman in Colville.”

“All right” said Myra slowly. “Although you'll have to talk me through how to prepare some of it.”

“Aside from that, I want to keep eating the kinds of meals you make. You two make. I'm not willing to give up that pleasure to buy a little time” said Chris.

Allie leaned forward with a scowl. “Now listen, Chris, if I can fucking watch my Ps and Qs three times a day, you can follow some guidelines -- “

“You controlling your blood sugar gives you a decade or more with Edwina where you're not blind or on a kidney machine” said Chris. “Me cutting out the kind of nitrite-free bacon that Myra makes will give me what, an extra four days hooked up to an IV? No thanks.”

Allie stayed tensed, as if she was considering leaping across the table and slapping some sense into Chris. After a minute, she said “I gonna sic Bernie on you.”

Chris hissed “Narc” at her, then burst out laughing. Allie began giggling with her, and they all dissolved into edgy laughter.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


kat said...

Wow, this chunk of the book has really grown since the draft I read....

Maggie Jochild said...

Kat -- And? Bettah/worse?

kat said...


Also, this section starts on what will be my 38th birthday....scary....