Friday, March 6, 2009


(Bear painted on walls of Chauvet - Pont D'Arc Cave 30,000 years ago)

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 2019

Margie, Carly and Eric arrived for dinner, along with Allie and Edwina. Myra sent Carly and Eric out to the grill with burgers and tuna steaks, and had Margie cut up potatoes for oven fries. With a big salad, she thought that was enough: She was saving the rich beef soup for Chris. She did put in a couple of cherry pies to bake, however.

After dinner, Myra could tell Carly and Eric wanted to hang around. Ginny excused herself to go stretch a canvas, having delayed the onset of her new painting all day. Chris said “If you start a poker game, I'll join you later, but first – Myra, I bet you got all kinds of websites for amazing kids' toys and educational gizmos on your computer, right? Can I use it for a while?”

“Help yourself” said Myra. “And yeah, there's a folder of links labeled 'Kiddos', click on that.”

“What are you looking for?” asked Margie.

“Christmas gifts” said Chris. This caused a small silence. Myra bet everyone was wondering if this meant she knew she'd be with them still for Christmas. Chris grinned and said to Margie “You want to help me make my choices?”

Margie was on her feet instantly. Myra said to Allie and Edwina “You interested in poker?”

Edwina said “I'm going to go talk with Ginny before she goes into the zone.” Allie watched Chris and Margie climbing the stairs, then sighed and said “Yeah. Deal me in.”

Once the game was underway, Carly and Eric asked quiet questions about Chris's condition and plans. Carly said “Are you going to – will she stay here the whole time, rather than going into a hospice?”

“Yes” said Myra. “Come hell or high water. We'll hire private nurses if we have to.”

“When you have to” said Carly knowingly. “Listen, I know a PA who specializes in end-of-life care, I'll give you her name and number.”

Myra felt a headache coming on. Allie looked blank, but her mind wasn't on the game, either. They played without much competition for an hour. When Chris and Margie came back downstairs, they gladly folded the game and went into the living room to watch the video of Craven Raven's debut in the puppet realm. Allie sat close to Chris, her arm behind her on the couch. They laughed nonstop at the Raven's double meanings and the children's free-for-all imagination. Chris got up to heat a second piece of pie and top it with ice cream.

After the video, Allie and Chris began reminiscing about a camping trip they'd taken where everything that could go wrong seemed to have occurred, including being sprayed by a skunk who crept inside their tent that night.

Chris continued with “My most memorable experience was a time when I went up into the lower slopes of Rainier with Sima, not long after we got together. It was late summer, and the ranger who sold us our backpacking permit warned us the bears were in hyperphagia.”

“What's that?” asked Eric.

“They're eating everything in sight to get ready for hibernation” said Chris. “If they have access to it, they'll eat over 15,000 calories a day, and several gallons of water. We were warned to absolutely not have anything that smelled edible in our tent at night, and to tie our food high in a tree. Sima was nervous. I wasn't so much because I'd run into a lot of bears when I was a kid traipsing around near Colville, and as long as it wasn't a mother with little cubs – which was less likely at the onset of autumn – they don't mess with you. If you don't mess with them, or be stupid enough to run away, that is.”

She stopped for a minute, looking at her pie plate as if she was considering a third piece. She resumed “Our first night, it began snowing lightly as we were washing up from dinner. Absolutely gorgeous in the twilight. We decided against building up the fire because – well, we were eager to get into the tent.” She grinned to herself. “We were zealous about getting rid of any trace of food scent near our tent, and we chose a cache tree that was a hundred yards away. Sima asked me if I thought it was better for her to have brushed her teeth, to remove the smell of her last meal, or if the minty toothpaste might attract them.”

Chris laughed to herself again. “Anyhow...We zipped up our little two-person dome tent as if it was some kind of shelter. By the time we went to sleep, we were warmed up and ready for serious slumber. It had continued to snow, and when I woke up later, the first thing I noticed was that the moonlight which had been coming through the nylon roof was now dulled. I realized there was a layer of snow over the whole tent. Which was kinda comforting, and definitely insulating. We – we didn't have any clothes on, and I was facing the side of the tent, two inches away from me. I could feel the chill of the air on that side. Sima was spooned against me from the back, and that side of me was much warmer. I lay there for a minute, coming to consciousness. And then I realized what had woke me up.

“I saw a shadow pass by the tent wall in front of me. A massive, round shadow. Simultaneously, I heard footsteps on snow – soft steps, despite the crunch of new snow, but it was more than two footfalls. It was a four-footed tread. Then I heard it breathe out. It was circling the tent, snuffling at the corners every so often. I was paralyzed with fear. I mean, I could not move a muscle. I knew I needed to sit up, yell out, try to scare it away, at the very least to warn Sima who I could tell was sound asleep – but I could not move. I couldn't make a sound. I just lay there, listening to it check us out, helpless – have you ever seen a cat play with something that isn't dead yet but it's given up on getting away? That's how I felt. Blinding terror, and no connection any longer between my brain and my muscles. After a long time, I heard it pad away, in the direction of the cache tree. I kept waiting for my will to return, so I could roll over and warn Sima, we could get dressed and figure out what to do. Instead, I fell asleep again, and didn't wake up until morning, when I was stiff and aching from not having moved at all in my sleep.

“Sima was furious with me when I told her. She simply didn't understand that I'd had no choice. When we got dressed and went to investigate, the size of those tracks in the snow – I mean, they were probably exaggerated because the snow fall had gone on and so they were just hollows, not crisp any more, and looked bigger as a result – but it must have been a really big bruiser. And it had really tried to get at our food. There were massive muddy prints on the bark of that tree, way higher up than the top of my head, and on one side it had left four claw marks. Deep rifts in the bark that went to green wood, and oozed sap.

“That was it for Sima. We packed up without making breakfast and headed back down the trail to our car. She made me lead, and at every turn of the trail, I made a little noise so I wouldn't come up on something without giving it warning. We drove to the first cafe we found, ate as much as we could hold, and came on home.”

“You never told us about that” said Allie slowly.

“I was – ashamed, I guess, of how scared I got. I asked Sima not to talk about it, once she got over ragging on me about my cowardice. But I don't think it was cowardice now. I think it was – another way of seeing things. Another kind of intelligence.” Chris closed her eyes. Myra saw the stricken expressions on Margie and Carly's faces, and wished she knew what to say to make things better.

Chris opened her eyes again. “Anyhow...It was not long after that when I bought that bear claw necklace for myself. Trying to work my way past it. Sima thought it was funny, and that Christmas she gave me this elk tooth necklace instead. Said I was more of an elk than a bear.” Chris pulled the necklace out from her collar.

“You ever take that off?” asked Edwina.

“Nope. You need my DNA for some reason, I'm sure it's got decades' worth on it” said Chris, her grin returning. She turned to Myra. “I'm still hungry. Or maybe it's the memory making me want to eat.”

“There's lots of pie left” said Myra.

“I was thinking about that soup, maybe with some rice added in. We got cooked rice in the fridge, right?”

“We always have cooked rice” said Myra, starting to stand.

“No, I'll get it” said Chris. “You all decide on a movie, let's watch something.”

“How about “Grizzly Adams'?” said Carly, dodging the kick she aimed at him as she walked with almost a limp toward the kitchen.

It was a late night. Carly, Eric and Margie left together, walking out the back door. Allie and Edwina lingered until Edwina shepherded them toward home as well. Myra started the dishwasher as Chris went outside to check on the temperature inside the plant canopies. When she came back in, Myra said “You want to be alone or can I bunk with you tonight?”

“Come join me. But I'm going to take a long soak first.”

“I'll go say goodnight to Ginny. Maybe check my e-mail” said Myra.

“Just come whenever you're ready. If I'm asleep, don't turn on the light, okay?”

Myra wound up writing most of a poem at her desk, listening to Ginny whistling to herself as she ground pigments. The house was creaking more than usual – probably the cold snap they were having. When she finally went to Chris's bed, she warmed her hands in her armpits on the way so she wouldn't wake Chris with icy fingers as she pulled Chris back into the curve of her body.

The next morning, she woke up alone. Chris was in the kitchen, making toast. She said “Ginny went off to bed an hour ago. I got some hot cereal into her.”

“Thanks, Chris. I'm making eggs, you want some?”

“If you scramble them. You want toast?”

“Yeah. That date-walnut bread.”

Chris buttered her own two slices and said “Rain's due in before noon, but with it is a warm-up. What's on the hopper for Science Day?”

“Well, Ginny bought those make-your-own kaleidoscope kits, but I don't want to do that without her. And if it's raining, outside will be mucky. You got any ideas?”

Chris asked if Myra wanted butter or cream cheese on her toast before answering. “Let's pull out those Invisible Man and Woman models you have and go over the internal organs again.”

“They'll love that” said Myra. “Afterward, I could have a dough started, and we can make biscuits in the shape of kidneys and spleens.”

“Yum, over-kneaded viscera to go with our winter soups” said Chris. “Listen, I talked with Ricky. He called me before he left for work today.”

Myra turned to look at Chris. “How is he?”

“Numb. Wants me to come for a visit.”

“Say when, and I'll go with you” said Myra.

Chris sighed. “I've got a lot still to figure out.” They went to the table together. Myra looked at the yard. She could see where Chris had been sitting by the pond because the outline of her rump had melted the shine of ice found on the rest of the bench. She knew Chris had something else to say, and she waited.

“Myra...I'm not as smart as you think I am.”

“What do you mean?”

“I'm not a dummy, but you've always acted like I'm some kind of genius, and I'm not” said Chris.

“Well, you've been smarter than me more times than I can count, so that's genius enough for me” said Myra, grinning.

Chris laughed. “That's like the old joke, the medical definition of an alcoholic is anyone who drinks more than their doctor. But, no, my point is...I'm not going to have any parting wisdom. I'm not going to be handing out inspiration and Brian's Song kinds of lessons here.”

Myra forced herself to keep chewing. “Didn't expect you would. Not your style.” She corrected herself. “Fuck, Chris, no, you don't come at things like Gandhi-ji, but you actually do hand out inspiration. To me at least, all the time. You don't mean to, it just happens.”

“Whatever.” Chris looked irritated.

“The pressure is off, Kash-Kash, if that's what you want to hear” said Myra.

“Maybe you could spread the word?” said Chris.

“All right. Oh, shit, look at the clock. We've got an appointment with Nancy in an hour. I'll have to roust Ginny from sleep early, she'll be a zombie” said Myra.

“I'll make chai” said Chris, helping herself to more eggs as Myra began wolfing her food.

The work with Nancy was primal. Myra wouldn't have known how to describe it to Ginny if Ginny hadn't been there as witness. The one coherent sentence she got out was “I don't remember a time when I wasn't afraid that my mother was going to die”. Ginny's turn also seemed to come from ancient roots, though it wasn't about death, per se – more garden variety abandonment, thought Myra. Although death is the ultimate abandonment, I guess.

She felt clearer afterward but still weary. Sleeping with Chris fed some need in her, but also left her not quite restored in the morning. She was aware of pouring her essence into Chris while she was unconscious, or at least attempting that feat. She could not say whether it was working, whether Chris was accepting it from her.

Ginny ate lunch with them, then returned to her painting. It was another life-size canvas and Myra kept herself from looking at it because she wanted the shock that Ginny's final result always gave her. Especially since it was about Chris.

During Science Class, Mimi and Leah got into a pitched battle over possession of their model's kidneys. Myra had to put them at opposite ends of the coffee table they were all sitting around on the living room floor. She muttered to Chris “I hope this isn't a premonition of something that actually occurs when they're adults and one of them has renal failure.”

Chris found this hilarious, and Lucia kept asking “What so funny, Namesake?” A few minutes later, Myra noticed Chris had gone silent, fingering the small cluster of plastic intestines in her hand. She said quietly “Are you missing your innards? I sometimes wish I'd asked for my uterus, so I could bury it under Ginny's roses.”

“God no” said Chris. “I was – I'm eating a ton, Myra, but – it's not completely digesting. Just coming on out of me sometimes not much changed from how it went in.”

Myra could tell Leah was watching her, listening, and willed herself to not go pale. “Your oncology visit is tomorrow at 9:30, right?”

“Yeah. If we're done by 11:00, that person Carly recommended said we could drop by for 15 minutes. She's in the same general neighborhood.”

Myra reminded herself to make sure Ginny remembered these appointments; she thought Ginny would want to be in the room with them. Fifteen minutes to assess whether someone was who you wanted helping you shuffle off this mortal coil. She swallowed down the taste of bile in her mouth.

When Jane and Gillam came to get their children, the four adults had a logistical discussion about Thanksgiving, finally deciding it should be at Myra and Ginny's with extra tables set up for all the additional family: Jane's parents, Thad plus friend, Cathy, Annie Gagliardi, Imani, Nika and her new girlfriend, plus maybe Ricky. Chris said “I do want turkey and stuffing, all the usual, but I'd also like to unleash the cooks in this bunch to make their favorite non-Thanksgiving dishes.”

“Will you do camas root?” asked Gillam.

“Yep. And I want you to make those sour cream enchiladas of yours” said Chris.

Gillam pinked with pleasure. “And Jane, in addition to all the pies, will you do that butter pecan cake, the seven layer one?” continued Chris.

“My honor” said Jane. Leah began tugging at her hand, saying “For tonight? Are we having cake for tonight?”

“I have one more request” said Chris, her grin full on as she looked at Myra. “You remember that song you all made up on the land collective? The one you used to try to teach us sometimes as we made pies the night before Thanksgiving? To the tune of 'Over The River And Through The Woods'?”

“Oh my god” said Gillam. “I'd forgotten about that.”

“Well, I want you to teach it to these children” said Chris, starting to laugh.

“What song?” asked David. “Can we do it now?”

Gillam shrugged at Myra, saying to Jane “You won't believe this one.”

Myra thought for half a minute to be sure of the lyrics, then took David's hand and began:

Out of the city and into the woods
To lesbian land we go
Our truck tires have spikes
To carry the dykes
Through the mud and drifting sno-ow

Away from misogyny, commerce and mess
To wimmin's land we press
We'll cleanse our heads and share our beds
With thanks to Great Goddess

She could hear Jane and Gillam still giggling as they passed through the back gate.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

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