Saturday, March 28, 2009


Folding walkers
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.

5-8 December 2019

That night before bed, Myra broke up pemmican in a glass bowl and poured boiling water over it, then covered it and left it in the fridge. In the morning, as Allie made hash browns to go with eggs and jamon serrano, Myra sauteed minced shallots with shredded carrots and turnips. She added porcinis, dried blueberries, and wild rice to this, along with the broth from the pemmican, and let it simmer while they ate breakfast. She poured this soup into a thermos and sent it with Chris to the creek, along with her thermos of hot tea.

Allie had insisted on being the one to take Chris to her creek. While they were gone, Margie called from Seattle and talked over progress on secret plans with Myra. Ginny stayed at her easel, although she offered comments across the room. She had reached the humming stage – a smaller canvas, at least in this case, meant she was finishing her painting faster than usual.

After lunch, Ginny shared her new work. It was an abstract landscape, showing the meander of a river across a floodplain or marsh. The colors made it look solarized, with occasional metallic flares. Myra could not figure out why it looked so familiar until she realized it resembled the signal bursts of metastases on Chris's bone scan images. Chris figured it out first, turning to look at Ginny with wide eyes. She said “More than one way to do a portrait, I guess.” She hugged Ginny and said she needed a nap.

Myra thought the art world would go into a frenzy of interpretation about this new style of Ginny's, and the small canvas would probably sell as much or more as her larger efforts as a result. Once again, it made her yearn to, just once, be able to view the world from Ginny's kind of vision.

Ginny crashed into sleep as well, leaving their bedroom door open for the warmth. She said conversation was almost as audible through the wall and it wasn't going to wake her up anyhow. Myra, Edwina and Allie settled around the table to work at their projects in comfortable silence. Myra got up periodically to punch down dough.

When Chris got up, she sat in her chair by the fire and resumed rubbing finish into one of the three small wooden boxes that were still not completed. Myra had saved one sponge for biscuits, and the smell of these first to be baked filled the small cabin with mouth-watering aroma. She got up to pull them from the oven, and as she went into the kitchen she saw Chris setting down to her box to come eat at the table with them. In the next instant, she heard Allie yell “No, Chris!” and then a cry of pain from Chris.

Apparently Chris had lost her balance while trying to take a step and reached out her right hand to steady herself. Unfortunately, what was closest to hand was the glowing surface of the wood stove. Right before her palm closed onto the metal, Allie's warning caused Chris to jerk away, but that momentum sent her tumbling toward the futon. She twisted to land on the cushion instead of the edge. By the time Myra reached her, Allie was kneeling on the floor beside Chris on the futon, who was moaning in pain.

“Is it your hip?” asked Allie urgently. Chris tried to move and cried out again. “No, no” she said. “It's not bone, I don't think. Oh, fuck, it hurts.”

Ginny appeared beside them, her hair in all directions, her eyes bleary. “Your back? Did you wrench your back?”

“I don't know. It's – my side, over my ribs, I think” gasped Chris.

“Stay still” said Edwina. Ginny stumbled into the kitchen and returned with an ice pack.

“We need to get her to the ER” said Allie.

“No!” said Chris. “Not the hospital, they won't let me come back home.”

Myra said “Okay, Chris, we're not taking you anywhere without your consent. It's okay.” Ginny leaned over the back of the futon and said “Let me pull up your shirt, have a look. You stay still, let me do it.”

They could see no sign of injury, no bulge aside from her liver outline and the too-prominent ribs. Ginny felt gently along Chris's side, noting where she said it hurt. Myra remembered Ginny's expert knowledge of anatomy. Finally Ginny said “I think you pulled a muscle, or two. I feel no fractures. Of course, if it's a rib break, it won't show on x-ray.”

“I don't need an x-ray” said Chris defensively. Ginny settled the ice pack on Chris and pulled her shirt back down.

“We'll ice for half an hour, switch to heat, then see how it feels” said Ginny. “I think you should take a pain pill now.”

“Ibuprofen makes me constipated” said Chris. “And I can't have Tylenol, not with my liver.”

“I think tramadol” said Ginny.

“That's a narcotic” said Chris.

“A mild one. More analgesic than mood-altering. Let me give you half a dose, and if it's all right, in an hour you can take the rest. The thing is, it's better to stop the pain pathways from starting to fire at all than to try to treat it after the fact” said Ginny.

Chris put her hand on Allie's. “I don't want to get hooked again” she said urgently.

“I'm not going to let anybody fuck you up” said Allie.

Chris moved in slow motion to more comfortable position, breathing raggedly, and said “Half a dose. Okay.” Ginny went to get the pill and a glass of water. Myra sat down in Chris's chair and said “Pal, it's also time for you to begin using the walker. I promise you'll be just as sexy with it.”

Chris laughed briefly, but stopped abruptly with the pain it caused. Ginny had stuck a straw into the glass of water and bent it at an angle for Chris to drink. “Flexi straws and aluminum walkers” muttered Chris.

“I could paint it for you” said Ginny.

“What? The walker?”

“Yeah. If we scuff the metal with sanding, it'll take a primer and then I could use acrylics, paint whatever you want on it. Flames, maybe?” said Ginny.

Edwina helped slide a pillow under Chris's head as Chris considered this idea.

“Not flames. Could you – have you ever seen real-life pictographs, like those along the Rio Grande?” asked Chris.

“Yes” said Ginny.

“And those cave paintings from France...and Lakota story pictures on buffalo hide...” mused Chris.

“I can do anything you want” repeated Ginny. “I can begin right away, I have enough acrylic to start with.”

“Let's look at the walker” suggested Chris. Edwina retrieved it from her closet and unfolded it.

“I can't do the rubber arm grips or the plastic connectors, but all the metal could be covered” pointed out Ginny.

“It would be a work of art” said Chris, her breathing more steady. “Someone would mug me for it.” She and Ginny were looking at each other.

“Not with us around” said Allie.

“I have sandpaper on the shelf next to my boxes” said Chris.

“I'll do the sanding for now” said Edwina. She spread newspaper to cover the floor in front of Chris's chair, to catch the grit from her work. Allie sat down at the end of the futon, gingerly lifting Chris's feet into her lap. “You want a tootsie massage?” offered Allie.

Chris nodded, her eyes closing. Myra said “We've got some peppermint lotion Ginny uses for her feet and hands, I'll get it for you.” She said to Ginny “You can go back to sleep. We'll get you up if we need more help.”

Ginny didn't argue. She handed the bottle of tramadol to Myra and said “Follow the label.”

Chris drifted off to the sound of Edwina's sanding and the occasional pop of wood in the stove, Allie's strong hands focusing relaxation upward from her feet. After half an hour, she tried to turn her body and woke up with an “ow”. Then she said “It's better. It doesn't hurt as much. Must be the ice.”

Myra said “Time to switch to heat, actually”, and went for the heating pad. When she returned, Chris said “Okay. I'll take the other half of that pill. It's not making me goon out.”

“That's extremely good news” said Myra.

Chris went back to sleep, and eventually Allie got up to help Myra start dinner. By the time Ginny woke again, dinner was ready except for the cream gravy. Chris had gone to the bathroom using the stripped walker, with Allie hovering beside her, and she agreed to take a second dose of pain medication at the recommended interval rather than waiting for the full ache to return.

At sunset, Myra skyped Gillam as they had arranged and the entire family sang prayers together, lighting candles in two locations, breaking bread and drinking wine in unison if not in proximity. Myra stayed online with Leah for a few minutes longer, trying to give her personal attention as much as was possible. She had to sign off when Tina and Ricky arrived. Tina had arranged for her former mother-in-law to keep the children for the night, which disappointed Chris but Tina looked much happier for her freedom.

Ricky made fun of Chris's walker, and she responded with “I can swing it and split your head open, you know”, which made them both laugh merrily. Ricky also offered to take Chris horseback riding. “I got a friend with Appys” he said.

Edwina looked aghast at the suggestion, and Myra didn't think Chris could keep her seat on a horse, but Chris said “You tell him yes.” Before her friends could object, she added “I can't leave Margie out of this, seeing as how it was me who taught her to ride, so we'll have to set it up for when she can go with us. Middle of next week, maybe.” Her face was illuminated, and Myra kept silent. Margie would make sure Chris got her horse time without falling off.

After the table was cleared, Ginny brought out cards and chips. Ricky fished out his wallet and laid two 20s and a 10 on the table, “to start with”, he said. Allie stared at the money as Chris said to her friends “Oh, yeah. My family doesn't play with limits. We always joke, there's a reason our last name is Kash.”

Edwina smiled slightly and went for her billfold.

It was a ferociously competitive night, and Myra was glad there were no children as distraction. The Kash kin were ruthlessly good. By the end of the evening, Tina was ahead by $117 and Ricky also “cleaned my clock”, as Allie put it. They had all laughed raucously, and Chris's color was bright. Ricky promised they would come back the following Friday.

Allie and Edwina left with Tina and Ricky, asking him to stick with them until they found the motel in the dark. Myra gave Ginny a long hug and kiss before going to bed with Chris, who smelled of peppermint and accepted another tramadol before the lamp went off.

Several hours later, Myra woke up and realized Chris wasn't in bed with her, nor in the room. The bedroom door was open. She shambled toward the bathroom, but found Chris sitting in her chair, turned to face the sliding glass doors. Chris was staring out into the dark.

Myra felt a chill. “Are you keeping watch?” she whispered.

Chris whispered back “Not exactly. I am watching something. You didn't, by any compulsive chance, bring those night vision goggles with you?”

Sheer terror raced through Myra. She tried to remember if she had dead-bolted the front door. “I did bring it” she croaked. “What's out there?”

Chris caught the frisson in her voice and Myra could hear her grin as she replied “It's fourlegged, not two. Out by the compost pile.”

Myra was able to move, then, and get the goggles from their closet without waking Ginny. She handed them to Chris, who took a minute adjusting them before saying “Ah. Coyote, not wolf.” She sounded deeply disappointed.

Myra discovered she had to pee, urgently. By the time she returned, the coyote had left. Chris returned to bed with her, saying “No nightmares tonight. Maybe it's the drugs, I don't care. I woke up because I thought I heard a howl.” They returned to sleep easily.

The next morning, Ginny covered Chris's walker with black primer after they sat down to breakfast. “By the time you need to use it again, it'll be dry enough to not rub on your clothes” she said. After they ate, Ginny said “I need to order from Utrecht and have someone bring it out to me.” She had a piece of paper with notes on it.

“You want to do it online?” asked Myra. But Ginny was already dialing the phone.

Utrecht Art Supplies had a big crush on Ginny. She preferred them above all others in Seattle, always had, and right after her first major show, she'd dashed off a watercolor of the paint tube aisle there. She matted it and gave it to them, and as her fame increased, it had been placed at the front of the store with a declaration that this was the main supplier of the renowned Ginny Bates. Myra felt certain they gave Ginny a deep discount, although she'd never asked for it. She did ask, however, for special orders and regularly grilled the manager about “what was new”.

She knew their number by heart, and when she asked for Denis, she replied “Tell him it's Ginny”. No doubt heels are clicking and a mad search for Denis is on thought Myra. Ginny's voice was very recognizable.

“Hey, guy, how's it going?...I'm out of town but working, and I need to place an order for someone else to pick up and bring to me...I appreciate that, but it'll be quicker and I'm not sure if Fedex comes out here...Okay, first I need enough stretchers for, oh, six canvases that are 11 by 14...Yeah, it's a new format for me, we'll see how I like it...Yes, museum quality...Likewise, I need wet carriers for half a dozen of the same size, if you have a triple for 11x14 then two of them – no, it won't be going on a plane...I need packets of leaf, size doesn't matter but don't stint on the grade, for silver, gold, and throw in copper, plus gilt sealant...I won't need to insure the order, no, the delivery person will be family...”

By this, Myra guessed the leaf alone was going to run over a thousand dollars. And clearly Denis was fishing for clues as to where she was. The art world was very gossipy. He at least had the tidbit that she was trying out a small-size format.

“Okay, I'm running low on Maimeri dry pigments, I need more Cadmium red, both light and medium; Italian ochre; go ahead and give me the English red, too, and the quinacridone rose; green earth; viridian, cerulean, and ultramarine; no, I've got plenty of white and black, but – okay, both yellow ochre light and Naples yellow, you know the size I want...I also need a new set of detail brushes, Kolinsky red sable of course -- you know what, make that two sets...yeah, gilding brushes, too, two of each size and angle, I prefer squirrel...”

Myra had never heard Ginny refer to squirrel before. She wondered if it was descriptive of the brush shape or if it was actually made from squirrel fur.

“Two quarts of cleaner, and – let me ask you a question, I'm painting an aluminum surface, black gesso will work as a primer for that, right? I have a quart already but send me another quart...It's a secret, but I'll send you a photo when it's done...Yes, charge my card on file, no, just e-mail the receipt to me...So, what's new?...”

Ginny listened to him with occasional comments but did not add to her order. She never did act on his pitches immediately, she liked to talk with other painters or research new developments online. However, Denis' recommendations usually resulted in a trial on down the line.

When she hung up, Chris said “May I pry? How much of that was for my walker?”

“Oh, just one set of detail brushes, I'm already using a set for my own work. Plus the gesso.”

Myra met Chris's look, and they raised eyebrows at each other. Ginny was going to proceed in this new direction. Myra felt a brief scatter of goosebumps.

Allie again took Chris to the creek, but she and Edwina left for Seattle after lunch, saying they wanted the kids to at least have them for singing potluck. They intended to return on Tuesday; Margie would be coming on Monday and bring Ginny's Utrecht order then.

Right after they departed, the phone rang and was for Chris. It was a man named Leroy who was an elder in Seven Drums circles. He said a few of Chris's friends and colleagues in this spiritual community wanted to come out to spend the next day with her.

Chris put her hand over the receiver and asked if Myra and Ginny could clear out on such short notice. “We have errands in town, no problem” said Myra. Chris said yes to Leroy with relief in her voice.

On Sunday morning, Ginny was still getting dressed and Chris was in her room when Myra heard a knock at the front door. She answered it to find Leroy, a Chelan man she'd met through Chris a few times. He was fat and quiet, with a grey braid coming down from a gimme cap reading What would Smowhalla do?. She remembered to pronounce his name correctly, with an emphasis on Roy rather than Lee.

She then saw, with dismay, a shaggy mutt at his heels. She wasn't sure about letting that kind of bacterial load into their Chris-clean environment. Perhaps Leroy read this on her face. He wordlessly pointed at the icy stoop and the dog began circling before lying down on the bare concrete.

“Oh, no, it's too cold to leave him out here” protested Myra. “He can come into the kitchen – here boy, come on in.”

The dog waited for Leroy who, after a pause, pointed to the far corner of the kitchen. The dog made for the spot with swift relief and settled on the linoleum as if it was a pillow.

Chris had emerged from her room on her walker, saying “Hey. You want coffee?” She directed Leroy to the pot. Myra had already put muffins and sausage rolls on the counter. Ginny came out of their bedroom, got introduced, and then Myra and Ginny took their leave. The laundry and trash were already in the jeep.

They didn't pass anyone heading their way until they got to the Inchelium Highway.

“Leroy was early” commented Ginny. “I wonder what the difference is between Indian Time and CPT – if there is a difference.”

“We can asked Allie and Chris next time we're all together” said Myra.

“It's not a working class thing, then” wondered Ginny.

“Dunno. Not in my family. My dad absolutely freaked if we were late, said it made us look bad. Meaning made him look bad. He'd give us hell for it” said Myra.

They did laundry first, reading the local paper while they waited. They drove around until they found an untended dumpster to sneak in their trash. They then went out for a late breakfast and waited for stores to open.

They began with thrift stores, “Just to see what they have” said Ginny. Next was a small bookstore and a couple of art galleries. They then went to the grocery store in Kettle Falls. They were hungry as they entered, an error Myra tried to navigate by heading for the deli section first to order sandwiches and a shared salad.

Back in their car, Myra drove around until they found a wireless wi-fi spot outside a coffeehouse. Leaving the car running for warmth and power, they plugged in Myra's laptop and skyped home to join in singing potluck for a couple of hours. Occasionally a passerby stared at the two women singing loudly in their jeep, but the windows were frosted over and Myra didn't care.

By the time they arrived back at the cabin, it was past 9:00 and the only light they saw was in Chris's room. Coming in the door, however, the house was toasty and smelled of sweetgrass.

“Honey, I'm home!” called Myra in a Ricky Ricardo imitation.

“On my way” Chris answered. They heard the creak of her walker as Ginny hauled laundry to the couch and Myra set groceries on the counter.

The pot of beef stew Myra had left on the stove was empty and washed. When she opened the fridge to put away milk, she saw a plate of cornbread and a single haunch of rabbit beside it. Thank god Mimi isn't here thought Myra. There was also a small covered bowl of what, on inspection, turned out to be bright red salsa. As Chris lowered herself with a grunt into her kitchen wheelchair, Myra dipped a finger into the salsa and took a taste.

“Holy fuck!” she exclaimed. Ginny had joined them and asked “Spicy?”

“Try it” said Myra. Chris was grinning. Ginny cut a wedge of cornbread and dunked the tip immoderately into the salsa. After one chew, she began coughing. She knew enough not to try water. Instead, she took two more bites of cornbread to dampen the flame.

“Excelsior” she said hoarsely to Chris. “Only thing hotter is kerosene." Chris beamed.

“Or magma” said Myra. Ginny did another round, finishing her cornbread. With obvious reluctance, she re-covered the bowl and returned it to the fridge to save for Chris.

As Ginny and Myra put away groceries, they took turns with Chris telling about their day. Myra set her bag of books in Chris's lap while Ginny turned on the teakettle.

Ginny said “I don't know if its the salsa having scoured out my sinuses or what, but I smell something funky in here. Just this room.”

“Yeah, me too” said Myra. She opened the cabinet where they kept the garbage pail and took a sniff. “Nope, not trash.”

Chris giggled. “It's tear gas.”

What?” said Ginny. Myra waited for the joke, but Chris repeated “Tear Gas.”

Myra raised her eyebrows and Chris said “You know, Leroy's dog. He's got, shall we say, digestive tract issues. That's why we never let him in the house with us, but Leroy said you insisted.”

They collapsed into laughter. Ginny repeated “Tear Gas – best name ever.”

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

1 comment:

The Littlest Gator said...

Hi Maggie, I;ve missed your political writing at the GNB. How are you?

I am enjoying the novel updates tremendously.