Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Sustainable Seafood Guide available for download for your region and time of year from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Click 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.

23 December 2019

Coming home had never felt so conflicted for Myra. She was acutely aware of Sima in the seat ahead of her, what she might be feeling after having decided to move away for good, the circumstances of her return. She was also trying to outrun the haunting ache of a city that no longer held Chris, would never hold Chris again. She kept staring out the window, feeling like a stranger noticing unfamiliar details.

Until they arrived at their house, where the carport space nearest the door had thoughtfully been left for them. Ginny backed in, but before they could even get out of the car, the front door had opened and people were streaming out to welcome them, unload the burdened Jeep, and pour light from the entry into the cold night. Moon danced around Myra's legs, Leah blocked her way with a hug, and David flung himself onto Sima, saying “You live here again now? For real?”

They were shooed inside with the children and dogs while other arms did the work of hauling. Myra hurried through the front area, refusing to look at Chris's sitting area or the door to her bedroom, heading for the back where all lights were on and a blaze started in the fireplace. Frances and Imani were in the kitchen, a pile of multicolored produce on the chopping counter, the pasta machine out and Imani daubed with flour. Lucia pulled away from the child-pack to go watch Imani roll out dough. Myra thought Lucia's fascination with pasta-making was less the lure of forbidden, gluten-rich food and more curiosity about the shapes formed by deft hands.

Myra sat on a stool, looking into the kitchen and accepting a cup of tea from Ginny. “Thank god you're cooking” she said to Frances. “I want nothing more than whatever you make.”

Frances grinned and said “Even if I put fennel in some of it?”

Leah was climbing into Myra's lap and she paused to help her. Sima was standing in the hall, looking uncertain. Ginny handed her a mug of tea as well and said “Come sit, take your time.” Ginny turned to Margie, carrying in her wet carriers, and said “The big one goes in the living room, the rest up in my studio” before joining Myra and Sima on a stool. David claimed Sima's lap, talking a blue streak, and she focused on him, letting him ground her.

Frances said to Myra “Listen, we hired a good crew to cook Christmas dinner in our stead at the soup kitchen, and I ordered pies two weeks ago from a bakery, so that's all covered. I hope it's okay with you, I gave some of my staff extra work by letting them cater the nursing home gig, but we don't have all the pastries we need for that spread yet.”

Since Ms. Schevitz had died, Myra and Ginny had taken Christmas dinner and a glorious array of desserts, suitable for any dietary restriction, to the assisted living center where she had once lived. They also bought gifts for all the residents and staff, and after their own meal the last two years, the family had gone over there to sing carols and let the little ones spread their joy to elders without family on that lonely day.

Myra's first thought was Chris didn't make it to Christmas. I thought for sure we'd at least put this terrible year behind us together on New Year's Eve.

Ginny cut into her preoccupation by saying “Myra, have you bought presents for either group, the homeless folks or the nursing home folks?”

“No. I – I guess that just slipped my mind” said Myra, feeling a mixture of guilt and resentment.

“Well, we'll have to do it tomorrow. It'll be a madhouse, but it's the last chance before Christmas Eve. Tomorrow night starts Chanukah, as well.”

Myra felt another wave of disbelieving pain. No more lighting the menorah with Chris.

Ginny said to Frances “We'll get the desserts for the old folks, I'll call in the morning to get numbers and what the medical limits are. Bless you for doing all the rest. Don't you dare absorb this cost, we're paying for it.”

Carly had joined them by this time, with all unloading done in quick order. He stood next to Myra and said “Me and Eric got all the cookies and brownies made for the packages you send out.”

“And cake!” said Charlie.

“And cake. The tins are painted, so all that's left is packing them and wrapping them for mailing. If we get them to UPS by tomorrow early afternoon, they'll still arrive before Christmas Eve most places via overnight express” he said, letting Charlie stand on the tops of his shoes and hang onto his belt as they did a slow waltz.

“Should we do that tonight? I know the kids want to be the ones to lay out all the bonanza and decide what goes in each tin” said Ginny.

“Not tonight” said Myra. “How about in the morning, after breakfast? Or, rather, one of us can oversee that while the other goes shopping, I guess.” She felt exhausted just thinking about it.

Jane collected Lucia from the kitchen and said “Come on, time for you to put out placemats. Charlie, you too, it's time to set the table.”

Leah slid from Myra's lap as well. Myra stood and headed for the living room, where Allie and Edwina were sitting, talking with Gillam while Mimi eavesdropped. Ginny tugged Sima after her, and they claimed the second sofa. Mimi and David were called to do their share of tablesetting, and Frances called out “It'll be half an hour, the chicken was frozen and it won't be done before then.”

“Do we get to have dessert tonight, is it a dessert night?” they heard Charlie ask.

Jane turned to look at Gillam, then said “Only if the cooks have something to offer.”

“There's lots of ice cream in the freezer” Myra called to the kitchen. “We can put some of Ginny's preserved strawberries or apricots on it.”

Imani called back “Sounds good” as Myra plunged into memory of the day Ginny had put up flats of apricots. Chris had been sick to her stomach all day, but refused to stay away from the canning, insisting on sitting at the table and slicing beautiful bright globes into halves, her not-yet-gaunt hands adept with a small sharp knife.

All five children were herded to the bathroom by Gillam for handwashing. As they emerged one by one, Ginny stood and went to the large case beside the fireplace, unclasping the brass latches with loud clicks. She pulled out the dandelion painting, the portrait of the six friends, and stood on the brick ledge in front of the firescreen to lean the painting against the back of the mantle. It had not been framed yet, so she could not hang it.

As she came back to sit next to Sima, all eyes in the room were on the painting. Lucia stared hard, then turned to Ginny and said “Where is Chris?”

Again she said it Kree-yuss, without an “Aunt” in front.

Jane gave an apologetic look at Ginny and leaned toward Lucia, saying “I explained it to you, baby, remember? Aunt Chris has died, which means her spirit is free to go wherever she wants now.”

Lucia had the wide shoulders both Gillam and Margie displayed as little ones. A stubborn set came into them now, and she said “Is she here, then?”

“I don't know” said Ginny. “I hope so.”

Lucia almost looked at Ginny's face. The quiet in the room was palpable. Even David wasn't speaking. With the unerring ability children have of knowing adult weak spots, Lucia turned toward Myra, coming to stand before her knees and saying in an accusing voice “Maybe she can't come, because you put dirt on her.”

Myra had been the first to drop a handful of soil onto Chris's casket, getting it over with so she could go stand at the back of the canopy and not watch any more. She felt impaled by Lucia's anger now, the injustice of it.

“Luch, I did – I would have done anything on earth to keep Chris here with us, you have no idea -- “

“I need her, go find her!” Lucia yelled, the last two words coming out as a shriek. She pounded her small fists on Myra's knees. Myra recoiled, and Ginny picked up Lucia as she began to scream, holding her facing outward and avoiding her kicks. Lucia quickly subsided into sobs between cries of “Chris, I need Chris!”

Myra stared at her own knees, feeling her firmament rupture. Somebody should be looking after Sima, but she couldn't raise her eyes. She leaned forward, feeling like she might throw up. She put her hands over her mouth, and a gasp broke from her mouth. “I need her too!” she said, and at last, the tears came.

It was a torrent, a gibbering, wretched torrent of grief. After a minute, Ginny passed Lucia to Gillam and came to kneel in front of Myra so Myra could put her head on Ginny's shoulder. Myra had no ability to moderate what was coming out of her. She was blind with agony, fighting for breath and sometimes even consciousness.

Some time later, she was able to lean back and look into Ginny's face. Ginny was crying, too. She could hear sobbing beside her, and turned to see Sima in Margie's arms. Lucia had finished her outburst and was watching Myra with interest. All of the other children were in laps as well, and it seemed like every adult in the room had wet faces.

“You back now?” asked Allie. “You was looking pretty Dawn of the Dead-y there for a while.” She sucked in her breath at her own words, then burst into mortified laughter.

Myra heard Chris's guffaws in her head as they all joined in, laughing with as much release as they had wept. Even Lucia giggled, although Myra was sure she had no idea what Allie was referring to.

Ginny sat on the couch arm beside Myra and said “You went too far down the road with her. I knew you would, dammit, but there's no stopping you if you won't stop yourself.”

“Well...Yes, Allie, I'm back now” said Myra, without any regret. She suddenly noticed delicious smells coming from the kitchen. Frances was on the other end of the couch, squeezed in beside Margie. Myra scanned the room, seeing relief on all the beautiful faces around her.

“Shall we go eat?” she asked. Ginny said “I'm going to wash my face first, but put Lucia's high chair next to me, okay?”

It was one of the best meals Myra thought she'd ever had. She picked fennel from her salad and put it on Leah's plate beside her without complaint. Afterward, they cleared and washed dishes together. The children were allowed to pull games from the cupboard. Lucia set up a checkerboard on the ottoman next to Sima, who looked moved by Lucia's invitation. Gillam briefly explained how Lucia played checkers: All of the moves of chess pieces were available to any checker at any given time, but no identity stuck. Whenever a piece reached the other side, a second piece was stacked on top to “king it”, but no new powers resulted from this change, it was strictly cosmetic. As a piece of Lucia's reached this glorious goal, she would cry out “Me Queen!” It never stopped being funny.

Sima handled the chaos of Lucia Checkers with appreciative humor. She lost two games in a row despite doing her best, and before Lucia could reset the rows for a third, Ginny came to sit next to Sima and say quietly “Do you want to think about where you sleep tonight?”

Margie looked up from doing threesies in a game of jacks with Mimi. Ginny continued “You can have the second bedroom upstairs, which has the bath that's shared with Myra's study, or you can be in Chris's old space, whatever you need.”

Sima said “Can we go see how it feels?” She stood, and Myra and Ginny accompanied her. Gillam ordered his children back from following them. Sima went down the hall toward the front, where Chris's bedroom door stood open, though the light was off. She clicked on the light and stood in the doorway a minute.

Beyond her, Myra could see that Chris's chair had been returned to its corner, and the buffalo robe had been folded neatly on its seat. Curled up in the center of it was Anthea, looking at them with an expression that Myra would have identified as resigned.

Sima crossed to the bed and sat on the chest at its foot, gazing into every corner of the room. Myra found she could face it as well. She said softly “I'm so sorry, Anthea. We did everything we could.”

Anthea blinked but didn't move. Sima said “I think I'd rather be in here. But – could you give me a few minutes alone? Me and Anthea, I mean.”

“Of course” said Ginny. “Door shut or open?”

“Shut” said Sima. Anthea remained still as Ginny closed the door. Two steps down the hall, Ginny pulled Myra into the storage room and closed that door as well.

“Are you going be sleeping with her now? Because – I really need you, Myra, in our bed.”

Myra was caught off guard. “I – I want to be with you, Gin, I surely do. But I can't – given what she's contending with, I can't say no to her right now, if she asks.”

Ginny sighed in exasperation. “No, I won't ask you to do that. Still...”

Myra hugged for a long minute before they returned to the living room. Sima rejoined them after fifteen minutes, looking more centered than she had all evening.

Allie and Edwina were the first to leave, eager to return to their own home. Ten minutes later, Jane and Gillam dragged away the children, after Myra assured the kids they really would be there the next day and in fact they were all expected right after breakfast for holiday activity. Margie offered for Sima to stay with her and Frances any time, before they left with Imani, who had been house-sitting for the dogs the past couple of days.

Carly and Eric lingered, and Myra sat next to Carly on the couch, holding his strong hand with golden down on its knuckles, listening to news about his mother, his brother's divorce, and current events in a wider world which had gone on without her for a month. She drank in his smell and deep, laughter-filled voice. He and Eric would be leaving on Boxing Day to go to Spokane, staying with Eric's family for two days, then to Olympia for two more days, before returning for New Year's Eve. Jane's parents would be arriving on Boxing Day as well.

After the two men left, Sima said “I'm going to unpack a little before I get ready for bed. I think I'll be fine in there.”

“Do you -- “ Myra felt some hesitation about asking in front of Ginny.

“I'll be fine on my own” said Sima. “Would be all right, though, if I kept the buffalo robe on the bed tonight?”

“Absolutely” said Myra.

“Come wake one or both of us for any reason” said Ginny. “I mean that.”

“Okay.” Sima hugged them and headed down the hall. Anthea appeared from outside through the cat door and trotted after her.

“Well, I can't wait to get into that huge tub of ours, in a toasty room, and soak my old bones” Ginny said to Myra.

“Could I join you?”

“I was hoping you'd ask.”

Myra felt indecent pleasure at lying down in a spacious bed with their own linens, the room smelling like them and Ginny's roses. She closed her eyes and waited for the grief to return. It did, but it was bearable – just barely.

Ginny whispered “We have to start planning the memorial service tomorrow.”

“I need to see Nancy as soon as she's back to work, too” said Myra. “Get me up when you wake up, no matter how tired I look. We have to make a grocery list that will see us and this ravenous family through the next several days.”

“I have to check on the garden first” said Ginny.

Myra thought Ginny had fallen asleep when, a few minutes later, Ginny said “I can't do this with you, you know.”

Myra felt a chill. “Do what?”

“Help you die. I can handle it with anyone else, as terrible as it feels. I know I'll find a way. But not you. I can't go on without you.”

Myra breathed all the way out. “I shouldn't be relieved, but I am, Ginny. I can't manage this world without you, either. I don't even want to try.”

“Are you sure you're not just saying that? Because – well, I don't know how to change how I feel, so -- “

“I'm sure. Ginny, we'll have to make a plan. Worst case scenario.”

Ginny kissed her tenderly. “Me and you, Myra Josong.”

In the morning, after cereal eating while writing on two legal pads, the Golden Horde burst in the back door, followed by Gillam pulling the red wagon stacked with containers of Christmas baked goods. “I have to go back for the tins” he said. Ginny went to retrieve their address book, mailing labels, and packaging supplies while Myra lay waxed paper over the entire table and began setting out cookies.

“Can we have one of each, just one?” asked David.

“Nope. Not until we're all done, and even then, only one single item if there's leftovers” said Myra. “Tonight is Chanukah and we'll be making latkes with applesauce, plus doughnuts. You'll have plenty of rich food today.”

“And gelt!” shouted Mimi.

When Ginny returned, Myra said "Listen, girlfriend, this may seem like a sort of role reversal, but how about if you be the one to help the kids put together the cookie tins for mailing out, while I go shopping? Not just for groceries, but also all the gifts."

Ginny looked at Myra doubtfully. "It's going to be nuts out there in the stores, crowded, loud, and extremely commercial. You up for that?"

"I think I am. I want to do something not in my usual sphere, even if it exhausts me." Myra picked up the list they had cobbled together over breakfast and said "I can call you if I run out of ideas, right?"

"Yes. Actually, I'd love a chance to just be with the children. So, it's a deal."

Leah had been eavesdropping and now she put her hand on Myra's hip. "Gramma, please, can I go shopping with you?"

"Oh, Leah, it's not going to be fun. We're not going to any toy departments, all of the presents we're buying are grown-up stuff. And I'll be in a hurry, no time to explore or make up adventures today." Myra's explanation headed off Mimi and Charlie's imminent requests to tag along as well, she could tell.

But not Leah. "I don't care, I want to go with you. I'll help, I'll be good, I promise." Leah was pleading. Myra didn't believe Leah's energy would last through the upcoming endurance test. However, she was done with saying no to anybody in her family for the time being.

"All right. Go get the canvas grocery bags from the pantry, all of them, and put them in the rolling cart. Put on your pack as well, I may need to ask you to carry things." Leah raced away, and Ginny said quietly "If she gets to be too much, bring her home. Don't overextend right now."

"I hear you."

Leah was giddy in the back seat, chattering nonstop as Myra tried to find parking anywhere near Pike. Once they'd finished at the cheese shop, Myra stopped and said "Damn. My sustainable seafood chart is over a month old."

"Call Bubbe?" suggested Leah.

"Maybe. Or -- I'll just call up the website on my cell, I bet -- yep, I've got it in memory." Myra strained to read the Monterey Bay Aquarium guide on her tiny screen. "All right, Leah, I'm going to give you the names of three fish and you memorize them, all right? I need you to keep them in your mind as we go to the fish market. Ready? Albacore tuna from Hawaii only, farmed bay scallops, and dungeness crab. Repeat those back to me now."

Leah did so without stumbling over any words. She was the product of two generations of avid sushi eaters.

"Okay, let's go face the madness."

By the time they left Pike. Myra had two bulging canvas bags draped over her shoulders, Leah's backpack was stuffed with pastries, and the rolling cart was so laden Myra feared for its axle. At the car, she let Leah crawl over the back into her own carseat while Myra sorted perishables into a cooler. She checked on Leah's belt and said "Excellent job. Now deeper into the maelstrom, otherwise known as Target."

At the megastore, she put Leah in the cart seat and handed her the list. "Do you remember any of these people from the soup kitchen or the retirement center? If you do, be thinking about a nice present for them and call out if you see something we should buy as I go along."

Leah was very serious about her responsibility, and some of her suggestions were actually good. She did look incredulous when Myra turned away from the toy aisle, but she didn't raise an argument. It took two hours of split-second decisions and putting post-it notes with names on items as they went into the cart before Myra reached the end of her list. Her feet were throbbing and if she heard Eartha Kitt one more time, she'd ram something. Once the bags were in the back of the Jeep and Leah was again belted in, Myra sat for a minute, breathing in and out to calm herself.

She looked at Leah in the rearview mirrow. "You were an absolute treasure, Leah. You and I need to make more expeditions like this, except not so hectic, of course."

Leah lit up. "Okay. Are we going home now?"

"Hang on." Myra got out and went to the back, rummaging until she found the bag with marzipan in it. She broke off a chunk, split it in two, and handed some to Leah as she got back in the car.

"We're a little ahead of schedule, and I'm hungry for real food, not just candy" said Myra. "How about if we go get hot dogs, just me and you?"

Leah shouted "Yes!" Myra's favorite place happened to be near Casita, and she found a parking spot right in front of the store. They walked to the hot dog cart, run from the back of a pick-up, but returned to the Jeep to eat, because Myra was leery about leaving her car unattended for too long with all those tempting bags in sight. She let Leah sit in the front with her, so they could share cole slaw and look directly at each during mealtime conversation.

With a mouth full of a chorizo and cream cheese dog, Leah asked “Gramma, who is your favorite?”

“My favorite what?” said Myra with a sinking heart.

“Of us. The grandchildren. Which one of us do you love best?” Leah's hazel eyes were almost green with intensity.

“Oh, honey, that's a question I find impossible to answer. I love all of you each as much as the other, I really do.” Myra could see this was not what Leah wanted to hear. She thought about trying to use the analogy of how Leah didn't love one parent or grandmother more than another, but she suspected that wasn't true for Leah – she was clear about her own favorites.

Myra didn't want to feel like she was copping out, after this three-year-old had pushed herself to exceed all expectations. She regathered her thoughts and said “But you're right, Leah, sometimes people do have favorites. Sometimes people find their hearts match perfectly with another heart. The thing is, we parents and grandparents have this code of honor which makes us never say out loud that we love one child more than another. I can't break that code of honor, no matter what I feel.” Leah had stopped chewing and was listening with heart-breaking hope.

“However, we can use a technique spies sometimes employ, which is an indirect confirmation. What we could do is, you guess who is my favorite, and if you're wrong, I won't say anything at all. But if you're right, I'll start singing the Christmas carol I like the best. That way, you'll have an answer but I won't have to break the honor code. Do you understand?”

Leah nodded with a Gillam-like grin consuming her face. Myra wondered which way she'd go with the question, and was relieved to see that Leah's confidence was intact enough for her begin with “Am I your favorite?”

Myra took a sip of her soda for dramatic effect and began:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on, our troubles will be out of sight

Leah crowed, and a blob of mustard blew from her lips, landing on the beige leather seat beside her, instantly staining it. “Oh, dang!” she said in real distress.

“It's okay, it does not matter a whit. Swallow that bite and you can sing with me” said Myra, dabbing up the excess with a napkin.

When they were done with lunch, Myra said "Okay, one last spontaneous stop. Let's go into Casita and see if there's anything I absolutely have to buy Bubbe."

They found a metal lunchbox decorated with Frida Kahlo paintings for Ginny, plus a gold bracelet for Edwina, a silk blouse for Cathy, and a linen shirt in pink-and-white stripes that screamed out Eric's name. Myra bought tiny silver milagros to slip into everyone's stocking. Leah, however, discovered the major acquisition: "Look, Gramma, little shoes of lav-lav-lavender!"

At the end of the children's clothing aisle, there were lilac-colored slippers with button-up sides. The sizes were metric, but Myra was able to find a pair that she was certain would fit each child. "Now you have to keep this secret, Leah, until Christmas morning, even though one of these are for you. Can you do that?"

Leah's face glowed as she bobbed her head up and down. She was in high spirits the short drive home and ran into the house, yelling "We got it all done, and Gramma needs help hauling in the loot, she says."

Half an hour later, as Ginny was sorting through the fish and produce, she whispered to Myra "How did it go?"

"It was actually energizing to be with her. Perhaps she was desperate to please, but I'm definitely going to take her out alone on a regular basis."

"I bet they'd all like a chance at that, with one or the other of us" mused Ginny.

"If you'll put the rest of the groceries away, I'm going to get started with wrapping while I can still remember who gets what" said Myra.

"What's that Casita bag?" said Ginny.

"Uh, I'll show you later" said Myra, heading for the elevator to carry it upstairs.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

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