Thursday, March 12, 2009


Green tea ice cream
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.

November 16 and 17, 2009

Chris went to Allie and Edwina's for dinner Saturday night and stayed over with them. Margie had plans with friends, and even Carly and Eric didn't come by. Myra and Ginny ate a meal of leftovers and salad, then wondered what to do with themselves. Ginny lit candles all over Myra's study, turning off lights elsewhere. They made out a while on Myra's daybed, but were somehow not in the mood to move on to lovemaking.

After a while, Ginny said “I think you should write. You've not had nearly enough writing time this month.”

“What will you do?” Myra didn't want Ginny to begin another painting.

“I'll get my sketch block and sit here nearby. Maybe work on some projects, but I won't leave the room.” Ginny felt some small urge to reclaim Myra's daybed from Chris's frequent occupancy.

“That would be super” said Myra. They sat up late, listening to music and stopping to chat when Myra reached a breathing point in her writing. They went to bed at the same time, and when Myra got up the next morning, she felt rested for the first time in what seemed like weeks. Chris had called to say she was going out to brunch, so Ginny joined Myra at Quaker Meeting, sitting between her and Gillam, and holding both Charlie and Lucia when the children joined the silent worship for the last 15 minutes.

Since they had a critical mass of adults, they went to a cafeteria afterward for lunch. The children always asked for jello in the salad section, and Gillam always had to remind them “if you get jello, then no dessert when we reach the pies and cakes later on down the row”. Jello never won against Boston cream pie or strawberry shortcake. Eating out still could not be leisurely, not with toddler attention spans needing diversion once dessert had been inhaled. They went to Volunteer afterward, because the day was clear, feeding ducks at the pond and climbing to the top of the Water Tower before returning home.

Chris was on Myra's daybed with one of her boxes, Keller, Franklin, and Anthea occupying three of the four compass points around her. She had finished sanding all 21 of the boxes and was now rubbing several coats of oil into each. Ginny had found a compound to bring out the grain that was “as least toxic as can be bought, given what it basically is”, and Chris wore a bandanna over her mouth as she worked to keep from breathing in the fumes. She pulled it down to ask “Have either of you heard back from Sima?”

Ginny shook her head. Chris let her sadness show for a minute, then resumed her mask and replenished her polishing rag with oil. Ginny said “I'm going to call Cathy, I'll be in my studio” and left.

Myra checked her e-mail, then on a whim, googled “Susan Levy”. This turned up an alarming number of hits, and she modified it to include Ph.D. and then “Harvard”. She quickly turned up Susan's blog, which was mostly dedicated to promoting her books and speaking availability, but at the bottom of the page was a photograph of her at some event with Sima at her side, Sima's arm around Susan's waist, her hair in a new and trendy style.

Myra quickly clicked to another site before Chris saw. She glanced over at the daybed and found Chris immersed in her meditative polishing. Keller turned her head toward Myra, however, chirruped and hopped down, coming to join her at the desk.

“Did you hear my breathing change?” Myra murmured to her. She felt like her skin was tingling, and did not yet identify it as rage. She pulled toward her the fat folder of Chris's health records, sitting close at hand, and found the envelope of images from the last bone scan. She took the clearest of these to her scanner at the other table and copied it to her hard drive.

Back at her computer, she returned to Susan's site long enough to gather her e-mail address. She wrote a letter to Sima without pause, attaching the bone scan and sending a copy to Susan.

“Dear Sima,

“Chris got the necklace you made for her birthday and strung onto it the elk teeth you gave her at the beginning of your relationship. It means a great deal to her. She told us the story about going camping when you were new lovers and the bear walking around your tent, the terror she felt that kept her from being able to move.

“That terror looks like a walk in the park, right about now.

“The cancer has invaded her bones and her liver is on its last legs. I am counting every hour with her now as precious. Ginny is going for hospice training tomorrow. Chris is not on narcotics for the pain yet – she will hold off as long as she can because it will cream her liver, but it won't be delayed much, given how much it hurts her to walk or sit already.

“Human beings are not replaceable parts of existence. I thought you of all people knew that. There is nothing in your present life which will offer you what Chris gave you for 30 years. I'm sure of it. She came out of the most terrifying circumstances a human being can face without dying, figured out how to love herself and have a good life, and she chose you (out of quite an array of women who wanted her, let's be clear about that) as the one she wanted to share that good life.

“You have the right to change your mind and change your choices, but there is a price to pay for refusing to tell people what is going on or make clean transitions. It's hard for me to say this, because I am so unbelievably angry at you right now, but when you reach the point of having to pay that price, if there's a way I can help, please know you can come to me. I say this because I do love you, even though I don't much like you at the moment. And because I owe it to Chris as well as you – she chose you for all the right reasons.

“Chris has requested burial next to her mother and sister, and a service in Colville for her family, when the time comes. At some point after that, we'll have a memorial service here in town. I'll let you know when she's gone, and when the service will be in time for you to attend, if you have enough support from your current life to make that journey.

“Ginny painted her yesterday. It's glorious, of course. The canvas is still wet or else I'd send you a scan of that as well.

"The rest of us are all right as we can be with hearts that break more deeply every day. We have each other, and that makes it possible. Take care of yourself in every way you can.”

She pushed send without giving herself a chance to second-guess. After it was on its way, she reopened the letter and forwarded copies to Gillam, Margie, and Allie. She pushed back from her desk, belatedly realizing the surge in her body was dangerous fury, and went to Ginny's work station.

“I just wrote Sima” she whispered. “Maybe you better read it.”

Ginny's eyes widened. She followed Myra back to her desk and sat down to read the letter. Chris had looked up and was studying Myra.

“What's going on?” she asked.

“I...I wrote Sima. And that fucker Susan. I sent her a copy of your bone scan and...well, I guess you should read it, too.”

Chris switched her gaze to Ginny, who had finished the letter. Ginny said “It's all right, Myra. It's brutally honest but it's not mean. Well, except for that oblique reference to how little support she has in her current life, I guess you couldn't help that.”

Chris asking Ginny “Do I need to read it?”

Ginny thought for a minute. “Probably not. Unless you're curious.”

“I know what Myra thinks and how she speaks. Any move on my part to get involved in this will take away energy from – other places. I'll leave it to you and Sima.” Chris turned her box to another side, then looked at Myra once more to say “Thanks, kid.”

Ginny stood and kissed Myra before she said “I'd ask you to remind me never to piss you off, but I don't need that reminder.” She stepped over to kiss the top of Chris's head before returning to her studio.

Myra sat down at her computer and opened the current chapter she was working on, still the creek girl second book. She took a cleansing breath and began rereading the last few pages.

That night they had agreed to have a sushi-making potluck at Jane and Gillam's. Frances used her seafood purveyors to buy all the sashimi, “rrraw and wriggly” she said with a disturbing mimicry of Gollum. Myra had marinated a pork loin in teriyaki before roasting and cutting it into strips as an alternative ingredient, and Ginny was bringing avocados and dried tomatoes from last summer. Everyone in the family had been assigned an ingredient, coordinated by Frances and Ginny. Imani won points by showing up with a pot of creamy polenta as a replacement for rice. The first hour, they were all busy at the table and countertops, chopping, rolling, and making dips, handing out slivers of this and that to the hungry children.

When they finally sat down, it was “like a tsunami of sushi rolls”, as Eric put it, had washed over the table in front of them. The polenta, avocado, smoked tomato, and pecorino rolls were a big hit with Mimi. Lucia in her high chair kept demanding of Chris beside her “Wat's dat? Can I have dat?”

Once the first ten minutes of sampling and exclaiming were past, Margie said, with a mouth of crab roll, “Mom, I read that letter you sent Aunt Sima. 'Bout time, I say.”

Gillam was nodding his head, also, and Myra felt a small relief. Allie said quietly to Chris “What'd you think?” and Chris replied “I didn't read it. Doesn't matter.”

Myra felt a tingle return to her bones. Ginny, her eyes watering from wasabi, said “I was thinking about what you said, and I remembered when I went to Susan Levy's class with Sima, I didn't hear her have one good thing to say about our generation. She was snide at every opportunity about how we screwed up feminism for those who came after us.”

Chris and Myra both stared at her. Chris said “That's new information.”

“Yeah, I just remembered it” said Ginny apologetically. “When I was introduced to her, she said she'd read your book, Myra. But she didn't comment on it further.”

Myra said slowly “We had ten or fifteen years to come up with a counterweight against 4000 years of patriarchy, and we didn't pull it off. I am so fucking sick of their whining about how we weren't the perfect mothers, about how the questions we raised threatened their prospects of being able to get the boys' approval even if they were willing to pretend like slam-bam penetration was exactly how women want it.”

“Mama” said Gillam softly, nodding his head at Leah next to Myra. All the children had stopped eating and were looking at Myra intently. Leah said “Are you mad at somebody, Gramma?”

“She's mad because we're starting to drop in the desert without having gotten a glimpse of the promised land” answered Edwina gently.

Chris caught Myra's eyes and said, even more gently, “More to the point – she's mad at me for leaving her.”

“Where you going?” said Lucia as Myra rose from her chair, but her question was to Chris, not Myra. Myra headed for the back door, saying to Allie “Don't let her come after me, it's not fair for her to have to deal with this.”

As she slammed the sliding door shut, Leah slid from her chair, but Chris grabbed her and said “It needs to be me this time. No matter what she said. I'll make it better, you keep watch over my plate, okay?”

Myra was huddled on the bench under the sycamore, her knees pulled up to her forehead, sobbing. Chris said “Shove over so I can get behind you.”

“Don't go, Kash-Kash, I don't know how I'll ever be happy again without you!” wailed Myra.

“I know” said Chris, pulling Myra against her and letting her own tears come. “I fucking don't want to be without you, either.”

They wept for a while together. Then Chris wiped Myra's face with her sleeve and said “You're no good at being this noble. You have to bring some of this to me. It actually helps me to see your mess, it always has.”

“There is no balm in Gilead” whispered Myra.

“Well, you've lost me there, I was raised Catholic and that sounds pretty Baptist to me” said Chris, making them both laugh. “Listen, it's cold out here and I don't have my robe, are you ready to go back in?”

“What will I tell the kids?” said Myra.

“Jane and Gillam will have already handled that” said Chris. “But if they ask you, tell them the truth.”

Myra noticed Chris's teeth were chattering. “Fuck, come on” she said, pulling Chris to her feet and walking with her arm around her. Ginny had hot tea waiting on them. Leah crawled into Myra's lap and asked “You feel better now? You cry it out?”

“I didn't cry it all out, but yes, I'm better, thank you, my love” said Myra, kissing the top of Leah's glossy head with her eyes closed.

“Leah ate your teriyaki roll” said Mimi.

“That's all right, there's plenty. We always have plenty to eat at our family dinners, don't we? It's a blessing most of the world does not share” said Myra.

For dessert, Thad had brought green tea ice cream, which made Myra turn around and grin at Ginny. She said to Charlie, now on her lap, “The first time your Bubbe and I went to the restaurant that's now where Carminati's is, this is what we had for dessert. We were holding hands under the table, and I was falling in love with her. After we went out on the sidewalk, your Bubbe kissed me for the first time, and I could taste the ice cream on her lips.”

Charlie tilted his head to beam at her. “Taste like dis?”

“Kiss me and let's see” said Myra. He gave her a chaste peck on her mouth, and she smacked her lips, saying “Yummy, yummy.” He laughed delightedly.

They went into the family room for singing, Jane choosing her cello tonight and Thad taking the piano. They had to begin, of course, with the Golden Horde anthem, followed by one patriotic song and “Amazon ABC”, the children's ritual. Later on in the evening, they had moved into show tunes, and Thad struck up “Everything's Coming Up Roses.”

“What's that from, 'Damn Yankees'?” asked Carly. Over the chorus of children saying “Language!” to Carly, Thad replied “No, 'Gypsy'. That great American homage to ecdysiasis.”

As Mimi and David both switched to asking “What is that word?”, Chris said “Which reminds me, I never did get that stripper on my birthday”, grinning at Allie and Myra.

Allie said to Myra “I think we being dissed”. Myra stood and said “I may not be much of a dancer, but bump and grind, that I can do.” She began singing, and after the first bar, Thad jumped in to accompany her. She crossed to Chris and did a creditable series of provocative shimmies and thrusts, remaining clothed, as she breathily minced

When I'm feeling blue, all I have to do
Is take a look at you, then I'm not so blue
When you're close to me, I can feel your heart beat
I can hear you breathing in my ear

Wouldn't you agree, baby you and me,
We got a groovy kinda love

Any time you want to, you can turn me on to
Anything you want to, any time at all
When I'm in your arms, nothing seems to matter
If the world should shatter, I won't care

Wouldn't you agree, baby you and me,
We got a groovy kinda love
We got a groovy kinda love

Chris's face had gone a burgundy color by the end, and when Thad played his final chord, there was a stunned silence in the room. David, leaning against Jane, asked her in a stage whisper “Is Gramma being bad?”

Ginny reached over and swung him into her arms, saying “Most definitely not, honey boy. She's being uninhibited.” The tension among the adults diminished with Ginny's pronouncement, although Edwina gave a stern look to Allie.

On the way home that night, Ginny slid her arm through Chris's and said “You got the striptease, I need her in my bed tonight, okay?”

Chris laughed hard. “Deal.”

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

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