Thursday, March 19, 2009


The cabin outside Colville in 2019 (Click on image to enlarge)

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 19 and 20, 2019

Allie lay down her fork and Myra thought she saw her begin trembling. Edwina said "You don't know if that house is actually habitable, especially for someone with a serious illness."

"True" said Ginny. She and Myra looked at each other. "One of us will have to go there and check it out, perhaps get it ready."

"I'll do it" said Margie. She raised her voice against their possible protests. "I want to do this, and I'm more than competent. I can leave tomorrow, I've already said I can take off work."

Ginny said quietly "I think that's an excellent idea, you'll do it as well as any of us would." Myra realized Margie's color was very high, as if she were feverish. They were all on the brink of hysteria, she thought. Except not Ginny. Ginny was solid as granite.

Myra said "We'll have to find out what kind of supportive services they have there, home nursing, hospice, everything we might need. We'll need referrals and records from your doctors here."

"Tomorrow" said Chris. She seemed stunned at Myra's change of gear.

Margie returned to the topic of the house. "How big is it, and how far outside of town?"

Chris said to Myra "You got a notebook handy?" But Ginny was already on her feet, grabbing the pad by the phone and pulling a state map from the trip drawer near the aquarium. Chris made a sketch, correcting it once and then starting over. Myra found the small highway out of Colville and showed it to Margie, eventually located a hairline of blue that must be the creek to the west of the house.

Finally Chris relinquished her map, pushing it toward Margie.

"Is that to scale?" said Allie.

"I don't have your ability" said Chris dryly. "But it's close."

"It's tiny" said Margie.

"I think it was a cabin originally" said Chris. "Listen, that bedroom by the kitchen, that's the one I want. It was mine and Garnet's when we were little. It's bigger than the other one, I'm sorry about that -- "

"Oh, hush" said Ginny. To Margie she said "The main thing is how clean it is, or cleanable. Scrub down to bare wood if you have to. No mold or bacterial colonies."

Margie nodded solemnly. "This may take me a while. Will you keep Moon and Gidg during the time Frances is at work? Give them walks and keep them company here?"

"Of course" said Myra, looking around at Moon, who had stood at the word "walks" in combination with his name. "Here, buddy, come try a taste of veal."

"Not at the table, Myra" reprimanded Ginny. "Oh, well, then give some to Gidg, don't make her feel left out."

For this reason, this sent Chris into gales of laughter. Moon decided to lie down at Myra's feet, his flank against her ankle. She was glad of the warmth.

"What if the house isn't okay?" persisted Edwina.

"Then we'll reconvene and come up with another plan" said Ginny. She was regarding Edwina with sympathy.

"Don't tell the boys yet" asked Chris. "Not for the next day, until Margie gives us a report."

Myra didn't like that, didn't like their exclusion, but Ginny said "All right." Chris finally resumed eating, and after half a minute, Allie followed suit. Between bites, Chris and Ginny filled in Margie on the possible course of Chris's illness and options for care.

After fruit salad, they gathered in the living room where Myra built a fire and Ginny filched one of her yellow legal pads to make notes for Margie's trip. Allie sat close to Chris, pushed back deep into the couch with closed eyes. Margie sat at Chris's feet, Gidg all but in her lap, sensing Margie's distress, Myra thought.

A thought occurred to her. "Sima told me once, when we were cooking, that you caught a salmon with your bare hands when you were little. Was it in that creek?"

Chris laughed. "Yeah, but it had finished spawning and about to die, anyhow. I mighta played it up a little for her benefit. I took it home and my mom refused to cook it, said it was wasted flesh."

Allie opened her eyes. "You told me once you got close to a sasquatch in those mountains, that another tall tale?" She looked at Myra challengingly.

Chris unobtrusively elbowed Allie, then sighed and said "Yeah, I did. I smelled it and I heard it moving away from me. I got just a glimpse. Dad's family called them a word which means Stick People, I never did understand why."

"Well, you'll protect me with your Kash-Kash mojo, right?" said Myra, trying for lightness.

"You don't need protecting from them" said Chris. "The only thing you need to worry about up there are teenaged boys in pickups. Including the 50-year-old versions."

There was a long silence. Chris broke it by saying to Allie "You got your drum in your car?"

Allie sat forward. "I do. A couple of them, in fact."

"I'll get mine" said Chris, standing with a heavy assist from the couch arm. Myra added fresh wood to the fire and sat down on the floor in front of Ginny's chair. She invited Moon to join her, stroking his head with one hand while curling her other around Ginny's ankle. When Chris handed her a rattle made from a gourd, she let go of Moon to accept it, but not Ginny.

By the time they all parted for the night, pulses were back to normal and Allie's goodbye hug to Myra held no recriminations in it. "I'd do the same for you" Myra whispered to her.

"I know" said Allie.

Once it was just the three of them, Myra moved into Chris's arms and said "I feel torn between you and Ginny tonight. I need to talk with her -- "

"Yeah, you do. And honestly, I need to be alone. I need to take this in without you" said Chris. "I'm okay, the drumming helped."

The phone rang, the house line. Ginny looked at the caller ID and said "It's Gillam" as she answered it. After a minute, she said "God, Jane, you must be at wit's end. I'm sure we do, we'll scour our medicine cabinets. If not, one of us will run out to a drugstore. I'm getting you a hired nurse for tomorrow, somebody who's good with kids. One of us will be over as soon as we can with supplies."

When she hung up, she said "Gillam's begun throwing up and having diarrhea at the same time. They're out of Lomotil and any other remedies, and she also wonders if we have anything like Gatorade. I could create something -- "

"I've got a gallon of Gatorade in the store room, for emergencies" said Myra. "You go find the medications, I'll package up the soup I was going to take them tomorrow. And those fruit pops we made."

"Give her my love" said Chris. "I'm heading for a bath."

Jane met them at the back door, looking wasted. "David's not puking any more, but he still has the runs" she reported. "Lucia cries every time she vomits, and I've put diapers back on both her and Charlie, although I'll need more tomorrow. At least Mimi and Leah are not catching it, although with the other three out of commission, they're squabbling like baboons."

"I left a message with a home nursing service to call me first thing in the morning" said Ginny. "We'll get you some serious help, and bring you more food and toys tomorrow." They went home and washed their hands thoroughly before going to bed.

As Myra pushed herself into the pool of Ginny's warmth under the comforter, her eyes not yet adjusted to the dark, she said "You've changed."

"I don't know what to say to that, Myra. Do you mean about how ready I am to take this on? Because I love her too, you know. We've gotten really close these last few months."

"I know. It's more -- well, the truth is, I always thought you were this strong. I guess those years of keeping a secret that ate away at our intimacy kept you off-kilter. You're not off-kilter any more." She felt Ginny's mouth close over hers and responded with slow passion -- not erotic, the kind of passion that made her want to weep in gratitude.

After a few minutes, Ginny said “I know you don't feel this right now, but I'm also still thinking about Sima, what Sima would need me to do. I have compassion for people who fuck up their own lives in a way they may never be able to recover from.”

Myra thought, then said “You know, David wound up with you and Cathy because of his errors. And later on all those grandchildren. He failed, but I wouldn't call him a fuck-up.”

“I wasn't thinking about Daddy's example” said Ginny. Myra opened her eyes wide, as if she could see Ginny's face in the dark. “Mother – she never chose love for herself. Not real love, not the love that was available. And she was wretched. I'm starting, finally, to feel sorry for her.”

“Well I'll be damned” said Myra.

“Myra, I am so lucky. You told me once that my job, as the recipient of privilege, was to stay aware of my luck, and I work at it. One thing I figured out in the last few years is that – the way I am loved, in particular the way you love me – most of the time, I think I deserve it. And that's the real difference between me and Sima. Her inability to see the love she had, her need to find it in an exciting new form, is really because she doesn't think she deserved what she had.”

Myra's brain was afire, even as her body insisted she go to sleep. “Whereas Chris – she keeps saying yes in ways she never did before.”

Right before Myra slid into sleep, as they spooned, Ginny said into Myra's neck "I'll tell you one thing. If we're in that little house at night and I hear a scream outside like that recording you played me, we're running for the car and heading to town, no arguments."

Myra laughed, but fell silent as she thought I wish that was the worst we'll have to encounter.

When Myra got up the next morning, nobody was downstairs. She cut a piece of the egg-and-potato pie keeping warm in the oven, decided it was a Coke day, and holding her breakfast in her hands, rode the elevator upstairs. Ginny was at her easel, had been working for hours from the look of her. She pulled herself out of her reverie to kiss Myra's cheek and say “I made an early run to the store, got them some toddler diapers and other things. There's a home care worker already over there. Margie ate with us and is on the road to Colville.”

“Wow. Where's Chris?”

“At your computer, researching and making calls. Myra, I gave her your platinum card, because I'd already handed mine over to Margie. At some point later, when we're alone, we need to have a money talk.” Myra nodded, and Ginny loaded her brush with paint again.

Myra poked her head around the corner and heard Chris say “I don't give a damn about a silk lining, it's not going to be an open casket ceremony. Tell me the price range that's one degree down from in the middle, enough to make my family feel good about how I got buried but no more.” The bite in her mouth turned to cardboard, and she retreated back to the kitchen.

She took frozen cherries from the freezer and pureed them with white grape juice in the blender to fill another set of fruit pop forms. She made more jello and put a batch of rice flour muffins in to bake. As she was dicing onions, Chris joined her.

“What're you making?”

“Two chowders, one seafood, one mostly corn and potatoes for the kids” said Myra.

“What seafood?”

“I hadn't decided yet. You want to pick whatever needs to get used from the freezer?” Myra could tell Chris was eyeing her, wondering about her distant tone of voice, but Chris didn't ask. She went to the store room and returned with heavy packages that thudded on the counter.

“Myra. I need to tell you something.”

Myra put down her knife and faced Chris.

“I know you don't believe in it, but this -- “ Chris pulled her elk tooth necklace from her shirt collar – “I want to be buried in this. Don't let anybody take it off me.”

“Okay.” Myra kept her face neutral.

“There's only one funeral home in the Colville area, the same place who handled Garnet and my mother's burial. It's all white boys but they of course know how to at least make the motions for people from the rez. I want my family, and my people, to prepare my body. I'm hoping that doesn't make you feel left out.” Chris's eyes were digging into hers.

“I...I'll be glad to leave that to others” said Myra faintly.

“I've asked for no prayers invoking Jesus at the funeral itself, but since I'm letting a priest do that part, at Tina's request, he won't be able to help himself. At the graveside, though, it will be native. Hang on until you reach that part, don't whip out your flamethrower when they start crossing themselves early on.”

Myra managed a stiff grin. “It's Ginny who has the flamethrower, you know.”

“That's one fucking big canvas she's got on the easel” said Chris, changing the subject. “She told me it was going to be really hard to pull this one off, will take her longer than usual.”

Of course it will thought Myra. She began sauteing her mound of onions in butter, in two dutch ovens.

“Shall I cut potatoes?” offered Chris.

“Yeah. Let's use some of that summer corn you and Ginny put up. Oh, I need celery and carrots for this, too.”

“I'll chop 'em, you keep stirring” said Chris. She bumped her hip against Myra's as she passed her.

Shortly before noon, Ginny put on pants and shoes to join Myra for the delivery to the house behind them. After playing sous chef, Chris had gotten out the video camera and made a playful documentary of Myra cooking, Ginny painting, Keller chatting, and a fake interview with the leviathan, all centered on the theme of how lonely it was without the grandchildren around. This was added to the basket of entertainment Chris selected for today.

At one point, Myra was reciting the “lav-lav-lavender” sickbed poem for each child when, as she said “My Leah, my dear”, the Coke she'd sucked down came up with a long, brash belch. She hadn't anticipated it, and the surprise on her face, combined with the loudness of the eruption, made Chris almost drop the camera. Gillam later told Myra this was the kids' favorite part of the video, which they rewound and played over and over, going into fits of giggles at “Gramma's giant burp”.

When they pulled the red wagon up to the glass wall next to Jane and Gillam's desk, they could see Gillam lying on the couch, pale and contending with children not only demanding his attention but literally crawling on him. “He's not getting any rest at all” said Ginny.

“Yeah, but I understand him not being willing to hide away and leave it to Jane” said Myra. When Charlie spotted them, they could hear the chorus of yells as the three still at home rushed the door. Ginny held it shut. Myra saw splatters on Lucia's pajama top and looked away.

Gillam stood and came unsteadily to the door, pressing his hand against the glass and saying “Bless you.”

Jane and a woman dressed in scrubs appeared from the direction of the bathroom. Each of the children were shouting through the glass, so Myra couldn't make out what Jane was saying to her. Gillam tottered back to his couch, and Jane yelled “Silence! For just one minute!”

Into the abrupt quiet, Jane said “Do you need the fruit pop handles from yesterday back? I scalded them. Well, Diana here did.”

“Yeah, we do” admitted Myra. Jane retrieved them from the kitchen and slid open the door only enough to pass them out, blocking Charlie's escape with her hip. David looked mostly back to normal, Myra thought.

“Hang in there” said Ginny. Jane grinned bleakly, then impulsively turned, pulled down her jeans and gave them a quick pressed ham. Myra could hear Gillam's burst of laughter before Jane began saying “No, no, NO, this is a Mommy only performance” as the children grabbed for their own waistbands. Diana the nurse didn't look fazed. Myra and Ginny waved bye and left. On the way home they went to Margie's and picked up Moon and Gidg, who were more than ready to accompany them.

Later that afternoon, Jane called from the quiet of her own bedroom where she was about to get a nap before going to pick up Mimi and Leah from school.

“She's a godsend. I mean, she did mess up at breakfast, giving Lucia some regular bread. Now Luch says her head hurts and her diarrhea is back at full force -- “

“Ah, fuck, Jane, I'm so sorry” said Myra.

“No, it's an honest mistake. This woman has been cleaning vile messes and she's a whiz at pouring medicine down the kids, plus, well, I'm getting a nap. If it's all right, we want her to come back tomorrow, but by Friday we should be okay on our own again.”

“Whatever you need” said Myra.

“How's things with you all? How is Chris?” asked Jane.

“We're making plans. We'll tell you all on Friday, all right?” said Myra, keeping her voice light. “Go sleep.”

As soon as she hung up, the phone rang again. It was Margie, and Myra said “Hang on, I'm going to put you on speaker and get the others here.” Chris was on her daybed, and Ginny came quickly.

“What's the scoop?” said Chris.

“The house is old and cold and dirty, but it can be cleaned” said Margie. “I think it will need repainting inside once I've scraped it down, so pick your colors.”

Ginny interrupted to say “You have to get paint without off-gases, Margie -- “

“I know, Mom, I know what to get. The floor is covered with a filthy carpet, which I have permission to pull out and replace with linoleum. The stove is fairly new but it's electric, Mama” said Margie.

“I'll cope” said Myra.

“The refrigerator is crappy, and there's no microwave” Margie continued, sounding as if she was reading from a list.

“Replace the fridge, and buy a microwave” ordered Myra swiftly.

“The bathroom is tiny but the plumbing's okay and there's good hot water. The cold, though, is an issue. There are electric baseboard heaters in the bedrooms that do nothing at all, as far as I can tell. There's an electric unit in the wall of the bathroom that is also mostly decorative. The main room has a wood stove that the owner says will heat the whole house if we leave the doors open” said Margie.

“But that means smoke, and no privacy” objected Ginny.

“Plus I need to get a load of wood delivered” said Margie.

“Buy pricey hardwoods that don't give off much smoke” said Ginny.

“Get HEPA filters for that main room” began Myra.

“One for each bedroom, too” overrode Ginny.

“And there's electric heaters that are like little closed oil radiators which work really well” continued Myra. “No fumes, and they have built-in thermostats. Get one for each bedroom and the bathroom.”

“What about rugs?” asked Margie.

Chris pushed in. “I'll bring a rug for my room.”

“Otherwise, no, they'll interfere with wheelchairs” said Myra.

“There's a new bed in the smaller bedroom which is not even a double, really, they called it a full” said Margie. “But that's all it can hold. Chris's room could hold a queen, but no chest of drawers except in the closet, maybe.”

“Buy her a new bed, best you can find” said Ginny.

“Garnet and I had stacked crates in the closet for our clothes” remembered Chris.

“Margie, if you have time and it's a fun errand, look around at antique stores and find dressers that will fit in the closets” said Ginny.

“You mean thrift stores” said Margie.

“No, antique stores. They'll have been cleaned and less likely to carry mold or toxins. Line them with antiseptic paper” said Ginny.

“Margie, how are you going to get all this work done and furniture delivered before Thanksgiving?” asked Chris.

“Well, I'm going to Sears and they have an option of expediting work if I pay a bribe. They call it some other kind of fee, but it's a bribe” said Margie. “I'm going to have them do the painting, too, once I've got it cleaned. I'm trying to find a cleaning service that can come out tomorrow to help me. The floor folks promise to have the carpet out by noon tomorrow. So, I've put down a deposit and paid two months' rent, I made that decision before I called you.”

“Good job, baby girl” said Chris.

“There's another drawback, though” said Margie. “I'm calling from town because there's no cell service out there. The phone can be reconnected in two days and the land line does have DSL, of course, but no cellular. And the TV reception blows, they said.”

“We'll cope” said Ginny. “Where are you staying?”

Margie gave her the name of her motel. “Tomorrow I'll check out what kind of groceries we can expect to find here. Oh, another thing – the road, the last mile of it, is gravel and they said sometimes it doesn't get plowed every day. You might want to rent some kind of jeepish vehicle instead of your old cars.”

“Got it” said Ginny, adding to her notes.

“I took photos on my phone and I'll download 'em when I get to the motel tonight, send them to you on my laptop. Pick out paint colors and e-mail me those, okay?” said Margie.

After they hung up, Chris said “I can't believe it's really happening. I forgot to ask Margie – never mind, I'll do it myself.”

“Do what?” asked Myra.

“Smudge the place” said Chris succinctly.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


Jesse Wendel said...

Smudge would be a good name for a dog.

Cowboy Diva said...

Danekas is good people, very respectful and incredibly helpful; Junior's son is about the same age as my daughter. Small towns... *laughing* That means he should be helping out in the family business by the time the crew makes the move from Seattle.

Also, there is an organic grocery in Kettle Falls, just up the road from Colville; Margie should check it out. *laughing again*

Maggie Jochild said...

Yeah, in my anal-retentive way, I actually researched the funeral homes in the Colville area before writing this section. I was going to mention them by name, but didn't want it to seem as if I was dissing them: My arguments about funeral practices are generic, not because of anything I think about this place.

My mother was an early fan of Jessica Mitford, who wrote the exposè The American Way of Death, and it changed her (and my) approach to burials forever. Didn't quite take on my dad, who followed some of Mama's wishes we buried her but then got taken in himself in later family funeral arrangements, including his own pre-burial plan.

Thanks for the tip about the organic grocery, will do.

kat said...

I saw an amazing documentary on PBS a few years ago about the home funeral movement. It really interesting and eye-opening

Cowboy Diva said...

You may be completely right about their practices, I really have no idea. I know the family as acquaintances, and then I've sung at a couple of funerals; that's it.
At this point, you probably know more about Colville than I do.
Of course, I just discovered yesterday that we are moving on in about 6 weeks, so I won't be around when the Seattle folks arrive. ah well.

kat said...

Good luck with your move, Cowboy!

Maggie Jochild said...

Oh wow, a move, with kids -- that's tough on you all, I'm sure. Whereabouts are y'all headed, same region or a whole new part of the country?

And what kind of singing do you do? Cowboy, I bet.

Cowboy Diva said...

if I had my 'druthers I would sing a capella and/or sacred actually, although I also like singing in stage productions because those are usually scored for high notes I get sing nowhere else.
we're on our way to another NPS area, although it will be in the same state, which is pretty rare.