Sunday, March 8, 2009

GINNY BATES: FRAMING DOORS

White House Ruin at Canyon de Chelly by Ansel Adams
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.

Mid-November 2919

The next day, Myra, Ginny and Chris returned from the doctor visits in time for a late lunch, which was heated up veggie soup and turkey sandwiches. At 1:00, Allie and Edwina arrived. Allie began fidgeting with the salt shaker as soon as she sat at the table next to Chris.

“What'd they say?” she asked.

Chris wiped her mouth slowly before giving a succinct account of her options and new information. She finished with “I need to have a longer interview with the PA, but I think she'll be okay. Ginny's going for a hospice training all day on Monday.”

“That's it? He didn't argue with you?” Clearly this wasn't what Allie had wanted to hear.


Chris ate her final bite of sandwich and wiped her mouth again. She said “I'm out of steam.” Myra wondered which way she meant that. Chris stood and said “I have to sleep a while. But wake me up before Mystery Box, okay?”

Allie stood also and said “Can I go lie down with you?”

“Sure. But no talking. Not right now” said Chris.

After they left, Edwina said “I guess we're going to be here all afternoon. Okay if I use your second computer?”

“Yeah. I need to start bread. And figure out what to make for shabbos dinner. I think maybe it's a defrost lasagna night, I could really use a short nap myself before the kids come” said Myra. She looked at Ginny. “Are you going to make challah or should I pull out extra from the freezer as well?”

“I...Are you okay?”

“No. Not in the big scheme of things. But yeah, I'm hanging in.”

“I'm feeling driven about the painting. Can you handle this afternoon without me? You really can say no” said Ginny.

“No, I want to see your painting finished, too.” Ginny kissed her and cleared the table swiftly before going upstairs, Edwina on her heels. Myra put lasagnas in to bake, set out challah to thaw, and mixed her sponges. She turned off the downstairs phone and carried the kitchen timer with her in to the living room, where she went to sleep instantly on the couch, rousing after an hour feeling disoriented for a few minutes. She punched down her dough savagely and turned the phone back on.

Chris had found an old plumb bob at a thrift store and this Mystery Box item lead to extended play, using it as a fortune-telling device. She and Allie led the children around the yard, asking the plumb bob questions about events which once occurred or might happen in the future at various spots. Myra finished her loaves and found room for another 15 minute lie-down.

After lighting candles and partaking of bread and wine, everyone gathered around Gillam and Jane's dining table to hear the same news that Allie and Edwina had received earlier. Chris sat in the middle of the long side, Myra on one side of her, Allie on the other. Ginny and Edwina finished out the chairs on that side, a row of five women with white hair and an almost visible crackle of power.

We must look like the Furies lined up here thought Myra. No wonder the grandchildren are drawn like moths to a flame.

The meal was somber at first, but Charlie managed to turn over Eric's glass of tea next to him and then Mimi asked Margie “What's a cocksucker?”

“Where did you hear that word?” asked Jane severely.

“At school, Eddie called somebody that” said Mimi, swiftly shifting blame. Eddie seemed to get a lot of blame for things, Myra had noticed.

“It's a term that's used as a bad word, although technically it's not” said Gillam.

“So what is it, then?” tried Mimi again.

“I'll tell you after dinner” said Gillam. Myra hoped she was around to hear how he handled that one. Jane followed with “We don't use that word, understand?” looking directly at David.

Carly looked over at Chris and said “Did you hear about the gay whale who fell in love with a submarine?”

“Hey” said Gillam in a warning tone. To deflect the avalanche of questions every child was about to unleash, Myra asked “Did any of your plumb bob investigations today hint at where the Warrum Arsenica might hibernate during the winter?”

This gambit worked. Lucia eventually tried to slide from her high chair, saying “We go find out now”.

During dessert, Mimi said “When I get bigger, I get to have a bedroom all to myself.” David looked wounded and Leah was trying to come up with an argument, but Margie replied “Yeah, I remember how great it was when I didn't have to share a room with your daddy any more.”

“You had a room with Daddy?” asked Charlie.

“When we were little. We shared the room Mimi and David are in now, but then I moved into the room you share with Leah and Lucia” explained Margie.

“Where was Mommy?” pressed Charlie.

“I didn't know Daddy yet” said Jane. This was still hard for Charlie to imagine.

“I'll be in that room there” said Mimi, pointing to the spare bedroom. “And I get to paint it any color I want.”

“Who told you that?” asked Jane. Gillam looked guilty, but Edwina saved him by saying to Mimi “When your Daddy was little and lived here, every room in this house was a different color. Most of them very bright colors.”

“Really?” said Leah, looking envious. “Like, what was this room?”

“Cobalt blue” said Ginny.

“Same as your dining area now?” asked Thad.

“Almost” said Ginny. “I came up with a slightly different mix.”

He grinned at her. “You do all the color choices, I gather?”

“I'd rather live in Ginny's view than whatever I could come up with” said Myra, sound a little gallant. Chris snorted and said “Oh, don't act like you graciously bow to her will.”

Thank you” said Ginny, leaning around Myra to look at Chris.

Chris said to Allie “Remember how it took them three goddamned years to settle the sheets thing?”

“What sheets thing?” asked Margie and Carly almost in unison.

Allie sighed as Myra said, her voice rising, “When we first began sharing a bed, Ginny would take off the top sheet, wanting to have only a comforter. And since she usually got to bed first, I'd get there and have to remake it.”

“Oh” said Margie. “Well, I guess you won that one” she said to Ginny.

“No, she did NOT” objected Myra. “We finally came up with a compromise. We bought washable comforters that were soft as sheets that we could change out a couple of times a week, so I got to keep the feeling of not doing without a top sheet.”

“It made Myra feel like a trashy little poor girl” said Ginny confidentially to Margie.

“Yeah, well for you it was all about doing things that you knew Helen would find objectionable” retorted Myra.

“Here we go” said Allie softly to Edwina.

“And when we stay at hotels, we keep the top sheet on because their bedspreads are crawling with bodily fluids” continued Myra. “Unless we've brought our own comforter.”

That's why you travel with those” said Gillam. “I thought it might be some kind of temperature issue.”

“No, Myra keeps me toasty” said Ginny.

“She is a hotbox” agreed Chris. There was a slightly uncomfortable silence at the table, broken by Leah asking “Can I have another piece of cobbler?”

“Nope, we're all done” said Jane, standing and gathering plates. After the table was cleared, Ginny begged off from the poker game to return to her painting. Lucia sat in Chris's lap during the game, where Chris silently pointed to cards in her hand and Myra began to think Lucia might understand some of Chris's strategy. Eventually the children were taken, under protest, to bed, and the adults continued on until nearly midnight.

It was a very dark night and Myra held into Chris's arm as they walked through the two yards. Their own back porch light was off, as was everything in the house except the front room light giving some illumination down the hall. Myra said “I'd like to be with Ginny tonight, if you're okay.”

“I am. I'm not even going to bathe, I'm so tired.” Chris kissed her cheek and let Anthea lead the way to her bedroom.

When Myra walked out of the elevator, Franklin was sitting next to Ginny's daybed, staring at her. Returning his look, she saw that Ginny was sacked out on the daybed under a quilt. She had cupped her own cheek with one hand and wrapped the other arm around her waist, a sleeping position she only assumed if she dropped off alone. Myra thought it was because Ginny needed to be holding someone to sleep, even if it was just herself. She walked to the daybed, pulled off her shoes and pants, and slid in beside Ginny under the quilt. Ginny sighed and rolled over toward her, never waking. She smelled of linseed oil and lasagna. Myra whispered “I don't care what's on the bed, as long as you're in it” as she closed her eyes.

The next morning, Ginny got up when she heard Chris refilling the kettle in the kitchen directly below. They made breakfast together quietly, and decided to try planting the heirloom cabbage and kale sets that Chris had begun a few weeks earlier. Ginny had removable cold weather covers enough to protect two of the four raised veggie beds.

Chris pushed her wheelchair to beside her plot and sat in it under the buffalo robe to bend over and do her gardening. Ginny pulled the sets in the children's red wagon she commonly borrowed for yard use. Anthea came to sit sentry. The sun was weak and the earth chilled, but it still smelled good to be outside on a clear early winter day.

After several minutes, Chris asked "Did Sima tell you exactly why she left me?"

Ginny sat up, tines in hand, and looked at her. "You know why. For Susan Levy."

"No, I mean...She would not have given up on me if she was still in love with me like I think she once was."

"Chris, I really don't understand it. I didn't know things had -- shifted between you."

"Did she not tell you anything?"

Ginny looked into Chris's eyes. Her sclerae looked more ivory than white today, and she wondered what Myra would have her do. But she forced herself to sift through her memory. She swallowed and said "She told me you two didn't have the fairy tale version like me and Myra. She said you were -- always in recovery. Another time, she said something about getting to let completely go emotionally with Susan."

Chris closed her eyes. Ginny instantly second-guessed her own motivations. But Chris said, still with closed eyes, "Thanks for that. It helps to not just wonder."

After a bit, Chris opened her eyes and said "I saved dozens of seeds from those little yellow pear tomatoes, Ginny. They tasted like sunlight itself."

Ginny looked away, dodging the issue of who would plant them next spring. She said “Yet another miracle the native people of the Americas gave the rest of the world."

"You know, Marco Polo brought back noodles from China, and that fucker Columbus returned with tomatoes. Makes you wonder what Italians ate before that, doesn't it?" grinned Chris.

They laughed. Ginny handed Chris another baby cabbage.

Chris said "Do you get tired of Myra being in recovery? I mean, I know it's not the same. I was in the loonybin, that's a whole other degree of losing it."

"You were not locked up because you lost it" said Ginny fiercely. "You lost it because you were locked up. Right?"

Chris nodded.

"And, no, I don't get tired of Myra's recovery. I'm sick to death of the fact that she got hurt so much, that nobody helped her. But that's being sick of injustice, not of her. I wonder if Sima stopped being able to tell the difference."

"Ahh" said Chris. Ginny wasn't sure if she was just sighing or about to speak. After a long pause, Chris said "I haven't always been easy to be close to. I know you'll agree."

Ginny grinned. "I've often found you to be a pain in the fucking ass. But I'm pretty sure that impression went both ways."

Chris laughed hard. Then she said "I wish Sima had told me. I honestly don't remember her saying anything about it."

"You can't blame yourself for her decision" began Ginny.

"I can, and I do. Takes two to end a relationship" said Chris. "I knew, have known since I got out, that I couldn't just let go, as Sima put it. I've always had to be a little careful. Well – not always. It actually wasn't my nature...before. I was a lot like Margie as a kid. People have this stereotype about the quiet, thoughtful Indian, who speaks in parables -- Kalijah, and all that. Where the fuck that myth comes from -- they should have spent a Saturday night at my family's house, if they wanted to see drama and people not thinking before they opened their mouths."

Ginny laughed. "Yeah, like Jews are supposed to be loud and stomping all over each other's boundaries. But not in Helen Bates' house, no way."

After another long pause, Chris said "That's why I said no to Myra, you know."

Ginny got very still.

"It wasn't that I didn't want her. Because, in fact, I did. I'm not like Allie that way. I said no because Myra was all over the map, like me, and somebody had to be grounded. I needed somebody like Sima. I thought...I thought the deal we had was what she wanted, too." Tears began leaking out of Chris's eyes, although they were wide open and she was not overtly crying.

Ginny got up and knelt beside Chris, taking her hand. "If you're saying that I am the grounded one in my relationship with Myra, you're nuts. Pardon the expression."

Chris giggled. "No, you're both runaway mares, it's true. But you figured out how to take turns. And neither of you were scared off by prairie-fire passion."

"You have been Myra's rock all these years, Chris. Just as much as she's been yours. She needs you like nothing else on earth."

Chris squeezed Ginny's hand. "I'm glad we found a way. That we all did. I'm glad for what I did have with Sima. Sure could use her now, but, hey, them's the breaks."

It was patently manufactured bravado. It scared Ginny more than doctor's careful sentences or the numbers on blood test results.

As they were reaching the end of the last row, Myra appeared at the back door, still pantless. “Hey, how's the crops?" she called out.

"Clutching their goosepimples like you” replied Ginny. “We ate already.”

“I'm going to have that last piece of lasagna” said Myra. “It's in the microwave.”

“I finished the painting” said Ginny. “I'll show you when we come in.”

Myra ate quickly, and carried her tea with her upstairs to re-don her pants, waiting at Ginny's workbench and trying to locate both geckos in their mini jungle as she waited for the gardeners to wash their tools and hands before joining her.

Chris filled most of the right side of the canvas, big as life, turned to look out at the viewer with the expression on her face she had when considering an answer to a question. She wore the crimson tunic she'd dressed in for Allie and Edwina's wedding, and her hair was gleaming black, halfway down her back, as it had been in her 40s. Around her waist was her leather carpenter apron, full of her favorite tools. She was installing a door facing. Through the opening could be seen several other rooms with doors already in place and standing open, the vista curving to the left until only an edge of the final door was visible. Every room was different – some of them were not rooms as all, but outdoor spaces.

Myra felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up. Chris was completely silent. Ginny shifted from foot to foot, looking anxious, and said “I've always coveted having a carpenter's belt like that. But with my ass and hips, it would look like a dirndl on me.”

Chris finally turned and looked at her. “Thank you” she said hoarsely. She reached out and touched Ginny's hand lightly. She walked with a clear limp to the front stairs and went down them, leaning heavily on the railing.

“She's okay, right?” Ginny whispered to Myra.

“Overwhelmed. As am I.” Myra hoped Chris's more pronounced limp was from being outside in the cold for so long.

Ginny said “We haven't had a chance to talk, just you and me, since we all went to the doctors yesterday.”

“Let's go lie down in our room” said Myra, holding out her hand.


© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

4 comments:

Maggie Jochild said...

Cowboy Diva, I already had this outlined and partly written before your recent question in a comment about whether Ginny had ever painted Chris. Here's the answer.

And, to give the second half of Carly's interrupted joke at shabbos dinner (about the gay whale who fell in love with a submarine): He sucked out all the seamen.

kat said...

Good thing Carly didn't finish....imagine being the teacher who deals with THAT joke the next day at preschool....

little gator said...

what's long and hard and full of seamen?

a: A submarine.

b: Moby's dick.

C. Diva said...

Maggie Jochild,
I wasn't worried. It's rare for me to have the chance to interact with an author in the middle of working and I jumped at the opportunity. I really was just asking 'cause I couldn't find it already in their story. ;>
fwiw, it's similar to how I understand the gecko habitat; art is where Ginny Bates seems to "work things out" as it were, and so I wanted her perspective made more obvious for my poor brain.
Thanks for doing this work, and for sharing it all with us.