Monday, March 16, 2009


Veal milanesa
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 18-19, 2019

Myra had asked Ginny to wake her up the next morning when she got up for her hospice training. This turned out to be 6:30 a.m., and Myra was bleary as she joined Ginny in the kitchen. Ginny made them and Chris breakfast while Myra packed her a lunch, crab salad. She put a container of frozen grapes on top of the salad to keep it fresh as the grapes thawed. Ginny wrote down the questions that kept occurring to Chris as they ate. After she left, Myra piled dishes in the sink and said to Chris “I'm going back to bed. What're you doing?”

“The pond. Then working on my boxes, I think.”

“Is it like meditation, working on the boxes?” asked Myra.

“Sort of.” Chris grinned a little shyly. “Don't tell anyone, but when I first laid them out on my bed, I decided which box I wanted to give away to what friend. They're all individual to me now. As I've sanded or finished each box, I think constantly about that person, my favorite memories of them, what I love about them, that sort of thing. I'm instilling who they are to me into the wood itself, feels like.”

Myra blinked away hot tears. “Damn, Chris. That's – something.”

Chris grinned at her more widely. “Have I ever told you how much I love the way you say my name?”

“What – you mean how I say Kash-Kash?”

“No. I mean, yes, I like that too. But you say Chris with that Texas twang, like it's two syllables, Kree-yuss. Sometimes Gillam does too. It's so much friendlier than a single brief blip that begins with a hard consonant.”

Myra hugged her before going to her bedroom.

When Myra got up again not long after 9:00, as she went into her study Chris said “Jane called, she left a message saying David was upchucking and she needed to talk with you ASAP.”

Myra sat down and called Jane's cell. “Is he very sick?” she began.

“He's – well, you of all people don't want the details. The preschool made me come pick him up, and I took Leah as well because they said there's a terrible intestinal virus going around, they don't think it's just his glass stomach” said Jane, sounded exhausted.

“What a drag for you all” said Myra.

“Anyhow, Lucia's looking peaked, she says she's not feeling bad but she's hot, I'm pretty sure it's just a matter of time” said Jane. “I figure if it's this contagious, I needed to warn you.”

“Oh, hell” said Myra, looking at Chris. “You're right. Chris can't be exposed to this. Any more than she already has been, I guess. Which means no Dance Class today. David's going to flip out about that.”

“He'd invent some kind of hurling jig, wouldn't he?” said Jane with tired humor. “I'll cancel my plans for this afternoon, then.”

“Listen, Jane, I'll make jello and some other dish they can maybe keep down” said Myra. “And we'll bring some games and stuff to help keep them quietly occupied. I'll drop it on your back patio after while, okay?”

“That would be great” said Jane. “Margie's going to pick up Mimi from school and bring her home, so we'll be here.”

Chris stood when Myra did and said “How about if I raid the toy stash for puzzles and books?”

“Great. Things they'd rather share than fight over. And go through our videos, too, you know which ones we have that they don't.” Myra was thinking about soups that would stay on a queasy stomach as she put on a pot of boiling water for jello.

Chris rooted through the cupboard where Ginny stashed the toys and books they found at thrift stores and sales but didn't want to give the children right away. She made a package of one book, puzzle, and toy for each child, wrapped in a decorated paper bag with their name on it. There was also a large basket full of communal items. Myra loaded this into the red wagon with her food and hauled it quietly through the two back yards. The four younger children were all in the family room, laying on couches or pallets on the floor, with buckets next to Lucia and David. They all roused themselves and came to the glass wall, pressing their faces against it pathetically and signing “I love you” to Myra. She blew them kisses and left before longing overcame her.

Chris took a nap on Myra's daybed after lunch, Anthea joining her and growling away other cats. Myra wrote, getting into a deep groove that was eventually interrupted by a chime on her computer at 4:00. By that time, Chris had awakened and gone out to the garden.

Myra opened the back door and called “I'm going to get ready for our doctor visit, we have to leave in half an hour.”

“Be right in” said Chris. They met in Chris's front sitting area. They were picking up Ginny at her training before going to the office of the PA for a longer, more definitive planning session. Allie and Edwina were meeting them at the PA's office.

Ginny looked haggard when she got in the car. “I'm ravenous” she said, “Do you have anything to eat?”

“Uh, there's a Luna bar in my pack” said Myra. “Should we drop by somewhere -- “

“We don't have time” said Chris tensely. “There's a vending area at the medical building.”

Ginny inhaled the Luna bar along with a bottle of water. As they walked in, she linked her arm through Myra's and whispered “A hard fucking day.”

“I want to hear it all” said Myra.

“So do I” said Chris, eavesdropping.

The PA had scheduled them for the end of her day, she said, so they could take their time. Chris had two pages of notes, and she was wooden-faced but did not rush, Myra was glad to see. It was 7:30 before they reached their cars again.

“Dinner” said Ginny before they could start talking. “Dinner first.”

“At home or -- “ began Myra.

“No, whatever's closest and won't take forever. But not fast food” added Ginny needlessly.

“Siam is close by” said Allie. They separated, Chris riding with Allie and Edwina. Ginny and Myra were in the restaurant first and got a table. Ginny was ordering appetizers as the other three joined them: “The tod mun pla, two orders, plus both chicken and beef satay, right, Myra? And the fresh rolls.”

“Plus the fried spring rolls” added Myra.

“That's almost a meal's worth right there” said Edwina.

“Not as hungry as I am” said Ginny. “I'm moving on to either the squid or the scallops, not sure which yet.”

As they waited for the first plates to arrive, Myra told Ginny about the children's illness. Ginny got the edge off her hunger before she was able to begin telling them about her training. She looked at Chris and said “Should I be selective, or do you want the whole shebang?”

Chris snorted. “Yeah, I'd love to be kept in the dark about this, maybe it will all go away if I ignore it.”

Myra would later remember it as a singular meal, with extremely good food, their appetites in high gear, the five of them leaning toward another in intense connection and conversation, as they heard things which seemed almost impossible to face. Ginny kept slipping her hand into Myra's, her strong fingers and square palm feeling like an anchor. Allie was ashy, her eyes wide. When the meal was over and Ginny was insisting on paying for them all, Chris said softly to Allie “You need to be alone or would you like me to come stay with you two tonight?”

Allie grabbed at it. “Come on, I'll loan you a nightie and we have a spare toothbrush.”

Chris looked at Myra and unobtrusively winked. The jealousy that was already hitting Myra's bloodstream immediately vaporized. Ginny squeezed her hand even as she signed the credit card slip.

They drove home in near silence, Ginny leaned against the car door with her eyes closed as Myra negotiated wet streets; it had started raining during dinner. At the house, Ginny said “How about if we call the children on the speaker phone before I draw a hot bath?”

“I wrote all afternoon. I've got a new mystery to read, I'm going to bed when you do” said Myra.

The next morning when Myra got up, Ginny said “Jane called. Charlie got sick during the night. Are you feeling okay?”

“Yeah, so far” said Myra. “God I hope Chris doesn't get this, she's too thin as it is.”

“I told Jane we'd make them another care package, but we have the afternoon off. I woke up with another painting in my head” said Ginny.

“I'm worried about your energy level, too, going from that training right into Painterland” said Myra.

“I'm taking extra herbs and, well, I'll get sicker if I don't paint than if I do” reminded Ginny.

“True. Well, then, I'll make chicken soup for us all” said Myra.

“Make it with alphabet pasta and the kids will be pleased” said Ginny.

At 11:00, Frances walked over with Margie and a platter of veal steaks. “I know you don't eat this” she said, “but we ordered too much and since Margie's having dinner here tonight, I thought you might want to make parmigiana or milanesa with it.”

Myra took the platter as Ginny said to Margie “You're eating with us?”

“Aunt Chris called me this morning and asked me to come, didn't you know?” said Margie.

“Nope. But good” said Ginny, glancing at Myra. She went outside with Frances to harvest herbs for the restaurant and talk about varieties they might try next. Margie fidgeted around the kitchen before asking “How was it yesterday? The doctor visit, I mean?”

“We got all our questions answered, except for how on earth are we going to bear this” said Myra. “I'm thinking Chris asked you to dinner to fill you in completely.”

Margie breathed out in relief. “Oh, that sounds right. She said Allie and Edwina were coming, too.”

But not the boys? thought Myra. Even though she had just reassured Margie, she felt a tendril of unease herself.

After Frances and Margie left with the dogs, Ginny stretched her canvas – another big one, Myra noticed, but this time horizontal rather than vertical – and Myra began cooking. By the time she was done with the soup and custards, Chris was home and they ate lunch together. Ginny put on pants to carry a wagon load of goodies to the grandchildren, ate her soup standing in the kitchen as Myra pounded veal into paper thin steaks, and went right back to her painting. Myra finished her prep work while Chris was napping and went to her computer to create word puzzles for the children, but instead began writing again, seeking some kind of oblivion.

When Allie arrived that evening, Myra was stunned to see in her swollen face and red eyes evidence that she had been crying for a long time. She hugged her and whispered “Are you all right?”

“Are you?” rejoined Allie, pulling back to look at her in grief. “You stay with me, you hear me, Josong?”

It was an echo of what Ginny had said to her in bed last night. Myra nodded, wondering what they saw in her that she was not worried about. Margie was rattled when she saw Allie's face as well. They all gathered in the kitchen to finish and serve the meal. After they sat down and held hands for a moment of grateful silence, Chris said to Margie “I asked you here because, fact is, you're becoming part of the decision-making faction in this family. I don't mean to slight Gillam or Carly. Gillam's taken on a world of responsibility, and Carly is making folks' lives better every single day. But you, with Frances, have become a mainstay to this family. I couldn't be more proud of you, I want you to know what.”

Margie swallowed hard. “Thank you, Aunt Chris.”

“So. We have information we collected yesterday, Ginny and us, to talk over” said Chris. “But I've also done some thinking, and it's time for me to share it. Which one do we begin with?” She was still looking at Margie. It was Myra who answered, however, sitting with suddenly icy arms and legs: “I want to hear your thinking.”

Chris turned slowly to meet her eyes. “I thought you would.” She took a bite of her milanesa, chewed it appreciatively, and said “I don't want to die in this house.”

Myra couldn't find her voice. She wished she had Ginny's hand in hers right now. Margie said “Then come live with me and Frances, I'll take a leave of absence from work. If you're worried about your ghost coming back, I'd love to have you haunt me, please, Aunt Chris.”

Chris reached out and patted Margie's hand. “I don't want to die in your house, either, baby girl. I can't make a promise about the haunting idea, one way or the other.”

“You don't want to be in a hospice, do you?” asked Ginny in disbelief.

“No, I'm counting on you all to keep me out of any public institution. No, what I mean is, I don't want to be in Seattle, either. I talked with my niece this weekend, and she said the house where we lived when I was a child, that place by the creek outside of Colville – it's sitting empty and available to rent. I want to go back there. Full circle” said Chris. Her eyes were back on Myra, and Ginny's were as well.

“I don't understand” whispered Myra. Which was not really true.

“I don't want some childhood bug to be what carries me off” said Chris. “I don't want that risk hovering around their heads. And I need more nature than the pond and leviathan can offer me. I know what I'm asking you, Myra. I know it means splitting the family, pulling you and Ginny away from where you draw your strength and energy. You can say no. Allie is here to back me up in making sure you say no if you need to. I'll stay here if you can't handle going to Colville with me.”

No wonder Allie had been crying her guts out thought Myra.

“I can't say no” said Myra.

“Yes, you -- “ began Chris.

“No. I know how you feel. I made peace with the home I left behind, I said goodbye to my mother. And having children – it changes things. You completely relocate when they're born, home becomes wherever they are. But you – you need this. And I understand it” said Myra. “I want it for you. I – I don't know how I'm going to do any of what's ahead. But – Colville will make it both easier and harder.”

She turned to look at Ginny, who was crying. Ginny nodded at her. Myra looked at Ginny's face in wonder before she turned back to Chris and said “Okay. We'll figure out how to do it.”

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

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