Monday, April 6, 2009


Cliff with spring at base
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.

Tuesday, 17 December 2009

Myra woke up during the night, hearing someone in the kitchen making tea, but from the footsteps she could tell it was Sima. She made herself stay in bed, seeking comfort by curling into Ginny. Still, it took her half an hour to get back to sleep. She woke up not entirely rested, cold and alone in the bed.

Chris was at the table eating toast and blueberries with yogurt. Her IV pole was beside her, and the buffalo robe was draped over her shoulders. There were dark circles under her eyes.

“How's the pain?” asked Myra.

“A dragon who demands tribute with vociferous breath” said Chris. Ginny from her easel said “High doses every three hours, to be specific”. Sima emerged from the bathroom, and Ginny added “Sima injected an early morning dose into the IV bag herself.”

“There's no need for both of us to wake up” said Sima. “I'm glad to leave it you during the day, Ginny, I'm not trying to take over who are you to Chris right now.”

Ginny held onto her muted irritation for half a minute, then said “All right. I just – There's no margin for experimentation right now.”

Chris said to Myra “My old wife and my new wife are squabbling over me.” She was thoroughly high, Myra could tell.

“If Ginny is your new wife, what does that make me?” asked Myra.

“My new boyfriend” said Chris, giggling. Imitating Cloris Leachman in Young Frankenstein, she hissed “Yes, she wass my boyfriend.” After giggling some more, she said “My hands and feet itch.”

“That could be the morphine” said Ginny. Myra decided she wanted something substantial for breakfast. She began mixing buckwheat batter. She set a saucepan of water on a burner to poach eggs as well. Chris called into the kitchen “Tina called, said Wayne is finally dragging his ass to town this weekend. Which means another mouth for Friday night dinner.”

“Good” said Myra. “You know, Saturday is the winter solstice. Shall we build a bonfire and howl at the moon?”

“We might get some answers close by” said Chris.

“What day does Chanukah begin this year?” asked Ginny. Sima answered “The 23rd. “Next Monday.”

“If I'm like I am now, I want Gillam and Jane to bring the kids here for Christmas” said Chris.

“I'm pretty sure they're planning on that” said Myra. She put the first pancakes on a plate, added butter, and set the plate in the warm oven.

Chris waved to get her attention, patted her robe, and said “I want you to have this. You'll have to get it cleaned. Call Donnalee at the UIATF, she's the one who gave it to me and she knows who can clean it right.”

There was a long silence. “Okay” Myra said finally. “Do you want pancakes or eggs?”

“No, I need to get to the creek” said Chris, trying to get her walker positioned without knocking over the IV pole.

“Let me help” said Sima. Myra turned on the kettle again to make a thermos of tea as they went into the bedroom to put on warm clothing. Just as they were leaving, Allie, Edwina and Margie pulled up out front. Margie said “I'm going with, okay?” Sima looked relieved. Ginny unclipped Chris's line from her wrist access and said “Don't get water or dirt on your hand.”

“Damn. I was going to hand-catch fish for dinner” said Chris. “I'll have to shoot 'em with my .22 instead.”

Myra wasn't laughing at Chris's jokes today, she wasn't sure why. After they left, she put a platter of pancakes on the table, along with a bowl of eggs, and said “There's yogurt and blueberries too. Did Margie eat breakfast?”

“Not that I saw” said Allie. “She had a cup of coffee from the in-room pot, is all.”

Ginny came to eat with them. Myra had a few bites in her when the phone rang. It was Carly, and Myra said “I want to talk with him, will that bother you all?”

“Go ahead” said Ginny. “Catch him up.”

Myra did, and Carly said “You know, severe itching is also a symptom of liver failure.”

“No, I didn't know that” said Myra, frowning at Ginny.

“I'm supposed to work until the end of the week, but – if she starts showing signs of encephalopathy, will you call me immediately? We'll come right away” said Carly.

“I don't know what that is” said Myra.

“Her mind starting to fail” said Carly. “Memory lapses, hallucinations, personality shift, could take a few different forms.”

“I'm not sure if it will be apparent right away” said Myra. Carly laughed, but Myra was serious. They talked another ten minutes. When Myra hung up, her eggs were cold and her appetite gone.

“Why did you say her itching was the morphine?” said Myra.

“I said it could be the morphine” answered Ginny.

“Carly says it's also a sign of liver failure. And he wants us to call him right away when her mind starts failing, which he seemed to expect. You need to keep me ahead of the curve here, Ginny.” Myra's hands were trembling.

“We covered all this more than once” said Ginny, trying not to be defensive. “With that nurse practitioner, and I know I read it to you from my notes at the hospice training.”

“I remember it” said Edwina, in a peacemaker voice.

“You mad at Ginny for seeing what you ain't? Or mad at Sima for moving into Chris's bed?” asked Allie.

“I'm just mad” said Myra. She drank some tea and said “I don't want to be fair any more. At least not today. She looks like crap. She had one good day after Sima came, and now she's worse than ever.” Myra knew Ginny wanted some sort of apology, and she didn't feel like making the effort. She resumed eating in silence.

Allie and Edwina let the silence stand. Ginny returned to her easel, and Edwina cleared the table, saying to Myra “Why don't you write?” Allie hauled in wood, scrubbed sweet potatoes to bake for lunch, then settled on the couch with a book. Edwina shared the table with Myra.

Chris returned with red cheeks but Myra thought her skin tone was noticeably more yellow underneath. She ate only a sweet potato with butter for lunch, complaining of the cold and drinking cup after cup of hot tea. She was about to go to her room for her nap when the phone rang. Myra reached back to answer it.

“Hey, Mom” said Gillam. “Listen, I've got a free hour and I'm in the counselor's office, she's not here. I want to skype in and talk to you all, but especially Aunt Sima, can you set that up?”

“Yeah. Give me five minutes and dial in here.” Margie helped, and they all sat around one end of the table, facing the monitors on the other end, as Gillam made connection.

“Hi, Aunt Sima” he said. “I'm so glad to see you again.” His face was somber.

“I know I owe you an apology, Gillam, for not saying goodbye properly” said Sima.

“Well, yes, I think you do” he said. He waited.

Sima, a little uncertainty in her voice, said “I am very sorry. I wasn't rational, but I know that's no excuse. I didn't mean to hurt you.”

“All right. I accept you apology for me. But I need to say – Aunt Allie told me that you are planning to move back. I – my kids never understood how you could just vanish from their lives. They missed you, and it caused them pain. Unnecessary pain, in my opinion. So I need to know that if you plan to re-enter their lives, you'll never do this to them again. Because if you can't make that promise, I'm going to ask you to – keep your distance from them.” There was no apology in his tone, although his eyes were kind.

Chris giggled. Sima was twisting a bracelet on her wrist around and around. She blew out her breath softly, took in more air, and said “That's only fair, Gillam. I owe them that respect. And you have my promise.”

“Good, then” he said, and his shoulders relaxed. Myra knew how much this had cost him. With a much lighter manner, he asked Chris how she was doing and talked with them all for another ten minutes. He said Mimi had discovered that kicking boys in the crotch provoked a profoundly different reaction than kicking girls did, and both David and Charlie were avoiding her.

“I'll call her later” offered Margie. He accepted.

After Chris and Sima went to lie down, Allie whispered to Myra “He one hell of a daddy.”

“His picture should be in the dictionary” agreed Myra. “Listen, I think part of what's going on with me is just fatigue. I'm going to take a nap myself, if that's all right with you.”

“Calling Nancy would also be a good idea” volunteered Ginny.

“Yes, except I'd have to drive somewhere to have privacy” said Myra. “Maybe tomorrow.” She shut the bedroom door, for what little measure of quiet that would provide. To her surprise, she dropped off instantly and slept hard for two hours. She woke up to the sound of the front door and Bernie's voice. Groggily, she pushed herself into the living room, where Ginny was knocking on Chris's door.

“Bernie's here” said Ginny. Sima said “Come on in” and Myra stood behind Allie, Edwina and Margie, looking into Chris's bedroom. Bernie said “I wanted to come talk with you about your urinalysis results.”

Chris looked at her blankly and said “I'm sorry – who are you?”

Ice flushed through Myra's veins. In an ordinary voice, Bernie said “I'm the home health nurse who's caring for you. I came out after you vomited and took a urine sample.”

“Oh. Right.” Myra wasn't sure Chris actually did remember, however.

“Your specific gravity was quite high, and there was considerable urobilinogen” said Bernie. “These are strong indicators of liver failure.”

“Well alert the press” said Chris.

“I'd like to take a blood draw” said Bernie. Chris held out her wrist. Myra decided to go make herself some steamed milk, anything to help return warmth to her body.

After Bernie left, Chris said “I need a bath. Can we put a plastic bag over this plug so I can bathe?”

Sima sat by the tub and assisted Chris, also washing her hair for her. Once Chris was dry and in sweats, she sat down in her chair next to the stove. She asked for it to be turned so she could look out the sliding glass doors at the sunset while Sima rubbed her hair gently dry, stopping to brush it between rubs. Chris kept sighing in release. After a few minutes, however, she twisted her head around and caught the eye of Allie, sitting on the couch behind her.

“It's coming back. My back and hip. Is it too early for another dose of morphine?”

“Never too early, Chris, you know that. The point is to keep you comfortable” said Allie, standing. Ginny looked around from the kitchen but Allie said “I'll do it, I'm good with syringes.”

Chris snorted, saying “Comfortable isn't really an option.”

Allie brought in the IV pole from the bedroom and reattached the bag and line to Chris's arm access. She then injected morphine into the bag. After disposing of the syringe, she pushed Chris's wheelchair beside Chris and sat in it, looking out at the snowy meadow with her.

After five minutes, Chris's sighs changed tenor. “Here it comes” she said mostly to herself. Her eyes fluttered closed and the lines in her forehead smoothed out. A few minutes later, she slid her hand over into Allie's and said “You know, I still remember what it was like to be with you. You were definitely hot, old friend. Don't tell Sima I said that. Or Myra, she gets so strange about sex with everybody except Ginny. I don't know Ginny found a way around her patch of locoweed, but thank god she did.”

“Amen” said Allie, trying to cover her embarrassment. Sima kept brushing Chris's hair with a smile. In the kitchen, Ginny poked Myra in the ribs and whispered “She always has sex stuff come up right after a shot, have you noticed?”

“Yeah. But she's right about the locoweed thing.”

After several more minutes, Chris said to Allie in a plaintive voice “I miss her so bad, Al. I don't know how much more I can hang on.”

Allie looked at her, stricken. Sima leaned around Chris, putting her face in view, and said gently “I'm here, sweetheart. I came to you, remember?”

Chris's face illuminated. “I didn't dream it, then.” Sima kissed her tenderly, whispering “Not a dream. Feel how real.” Allie stood up to take the brush and towel from Sima, giving her seat to Sima. Chris leaned against Sima and closed her eyes again as Allie continued brushing her hair.

“I walked to the source of the creek one day, did I ever tell you that?” said Chris.

“No. I thought it came from snow melt” said Sima.

“Well, some of it is. But I wanted to find out. It was after I started school, I remember because I had to go on a Saturday and I knew I'd be gone all day, and Dad would bust me if he was here. So I had to wait until he'd be out of the house. It was deer season. He left early, and I slipped out after breakfast. I dressed in cover, not blaze orange. It was better to risk taking a bullet than advertise me being a girl alone in the woods, I figured. Cause I figured hunters were like my Dad's friends, you know?”

Sima couldn't seem to find her voice. Allie said quietly behind Chris's head “I hear ya.”

“I kept having to cross back and forth, as room to walk petered out. I took some harebrained risks, I remember. But I had to keep going.” Chris opened her eyes and looked at Sima. “I had a compass, a beautiful silver thing. The year before, I broke into a cabin that wasn't used year round and I found the compass, plus a jackknife and other things I stole. There was a little magnifying glass, and this metal string with rings at each end that I finally figured out could be used to saw through wood. And a Boy Scout handbook, and a little can of Garrett's snuff. My granny used to dip snuff and I thought that was nasty, so instead I sniffed a pinch up my nose like I'd seen in some old movie. I wound up rolling around on the ground in agony, snot and tears streaming out of me. Didn't try that again. I used it for prayers and offerings, cause it was tobacco, you know. When it was all gone, I used the can to keep matches in. I made little fires to cook fish, if I could catch any, and to sit by in cold weather.”

Chris rubbed her hands together unconsciously. She closed her eyes again.

“I took an old Crisco can, cleaned out, and stashed my stuff in that under some rocks by the creek. If I brought it home, my Dad would find it, he went through everything in here. I kept other stuff in it, too. Bird feathers, some flint-knapped spearheads and a curved stone blade that I think was used to scrape skins; an old brass cartridge case from the 1800s; and a pack of cards I found in the glove compartment with pictures of naked ladies on them. And once in the creek I found three vertebrae, scoured completely clean, from some big animal. They fit together like a puzzle, and I could stick my fingers through the middles. I loved carrying them in my pocket when I hiked around.”

“What animal was it, you think?” asked Sima.

“I don't know. They looked about as big as a human's, but they weren't human, I don't think. When we moved into town, my Dad found the can in my clothes chest and took the knife and compass. Waled on me for stealing the cards, and threw the rest away.” Chris turned her head so Allie could reach the other side more easily, even though she seemed to have forgotten who was brushed her hair. It was dry now, but Allie didn't stop.

After a couple of minutes, Chris opened her eyes and said “What was I talking about?”

“The creek. Finding the source of the creek” said Sima.

“Oh, yeah. I got up past the foothills, the creek now only a trickle. I came into this little meadow, surrounded by trees. But at the end, facing me, was a cliff face. Beautiful grey stone going straight up, with striations in it, two sweeps here and here “ -- she motioned arcs in two directions -- “that looked for all the world like giant legs coming down to the jumble of boulders at the end of each, like boots. I used to imagine it was a giant frozen in mid stride. And between the two feet was a wet patch, with a hole in the rock where seep was coming out. It was a spring. I mean, I'd pass feeder streams along the way, so other water comes into the creek, but the first drops come from a spring that arises out of the cliff. That water is icy, even in the hottest summer, and it tastes better than anything I've had since. And where it seeped out was green lichen over the grey rock. The first time I looked into your eyes, that's what I thought of, the greeny-grey of my spring. I knew right then you were my source, I'd found you.”

Sima swallowed hard and took both of Chris's hands between hers.

“I'm sorry I didn't tell you, Sima, I – so many lies are told with words, I decided I would be honest with actions first. But that was a mistake, I should have said more -- “

Sima put her thumb across Chris's lips. “No. It wasn't your fault, remember, we agreed on that. My mistake, not yours.” They looked at each other for a while. Allie could hear Margie's breathing on the couch behind her.

“You know, Sima, I just realized that it was Myra who led me to you, and it was you and Allie who led her to Ginny, and it was Ginny and Myra who led Allie to Edwina. Isn't that funny? We all helped each other find our heart's desire.”

Allie heard Edwina get up from the table and go into the kitchen. Sima kissed Chris again. Chris said “I have to lie down, I'm getting dizzy.”

Allie helped Sima get Chris on her feet, but Sima took over then, supporting Chris into the bedroom. They shut the door. Allie blew a kiss to Margie, then went into the kitchen and put her arms around Edwina, Myra and Ginny all together. “Thank you” she whispered.

Myra was remembering the Saab she'd bought Chris when she first won the lottery, how Chris had asked for a green-grey color that reminded her of “some rocks near where I lived as a kid.” I had no idea...

Three animal vertebrae

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

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