Friday, April 17, 2009


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.

21 and 22 December, 2019

Myra woke to the feel of Ginny's palm on her cheek, Ginny's voice calling her name, but when she opened her eyes, it was Gillam's sleepy face inches from her own. Someone sat up behind her, and she was astounded to see it was Allie. Why was she in bed with Gillam and Allie, instead of Ginny or --


She closed her eyes again.

“Myra? Sweetheart, the coroner's people are here. They – they're going to take her away.”

Myra looked at Ginny. Allie said “Where, the funeral home? I promised her I'd be there with her.” She slid off the end of the bed awkwardly and began lacing her shoes.

Gillam sat up also and said “Let's go say goodbye.”

“I can't” whispered Myra.

“We'll be with you” said Ginny.

“No” repeated Myra. “I don't want to remember her – that way.”

Allie and Gillam looked at her uncertainly. Ginny said “All right, then I'll stay with you.” Gillam kissed Myra's cheek and headed for the bathroom. Allie, standing in the doorway, said “Me and Edwina, we'll be gone a while. I got her – the clothes she picked out.”

“Thanks, Allie” said Ginny, lying down beside Myra. After Allie left, Ginny said “You slept. I'm glad you slept.”

“Did you?” asked Myra. “What time is it, anyhow?”

“About half past eight. No, we all sat up, Margie, Carly, me and Edwina, with Sima. At dawn Mary Angeline and a couple of other women began washing her and – Myra, they painted her face red. They asked us if we wanted to help, and Margie and I -- “

“I don't want to hear about it right now” said Myra. Ginny went silent but pulled Myra's head onto her shoulder. After half a minute, Myra sat up abruptly and yelled “Allie!”

Allie appeared in the doorway, looking ashen. “Al, don't let them take off her necklace!”

“I remember. She also wanted to keep on that ring, the one of a set she and Sima got for each other. Sima say that fine with her” said Allie.

“You'll need authorization papers, they're in the file in the table drawer” said Ginny.

“We got it” said Allie. Myra lay back down, and Allie left. Myra tried not to listen to the rumble of the gurney and the scuff of furniture being moved to make room for its passage. Finally the front door shut, the sounds of men's voices faded, and three cars drove away.

“Was Bernie here?” asked Myra.

“Yes. But I think she just left.”

“”What about Tina and Ricky? Did Wayne ever show up?”

“Wayne came at dawn. He and Tina left together after an hour. Ricky stayed until the drummers left, about an hour ago. Are you ready to get up?”

“I don't know what else to do” said Myra tonelessly. Ginny helped her sit up, laying out clean clothes and running her fingers through Myra's hair, which had gotten a little shaggy over the past few weeks. She said “Go sit at the table and I'll make a fresh pot of tea.”

Myra at at the dining table with three older women, two of whom she thought were cousins of Chris's but she'd only met them this past week. The third was Mary Angeline, who was sewing beads onto a bracelet-sized piece of leather. She said hello, which was all the communication she knew how to muster. Her silence seemed okay here.

Ginny put her arm on Myra's shoulder and said "The boys are making eggs to order. What do you want?"

"Just tea" said Myra. "Where's Sima?"

"In -- the bedroom. She and Margie are -- sorting things" said Ginny. She was about to insist Myra eat at least toast when there was a crash from Chris's bedroom. What was Chris's bedroom. It sounded like the lamp on her bedside table had gone over. Ginny clicked her teeth and headed in that direction.

When Ginny returned, after taking a broom and dustpan to Margie, Myra was no longer at the table. She looked for her in the bathroom and glanced into their bedroom, but there was no sign of her. She stepped into the kitchen and asked Gillam at the stove "Where's your mother?"

He looked around and said "Dunno, she was at the table a minute ago."

Mary Angeline's voice came from behind Ginny. "She went outside. Front door."

Ginny walked out toward the fire circles. Only one was still going, and the only person in sight was Leroy, sitting on a camp stool poking at embers with a stick. Tear Gas was curled at his feet. Ginny hadn't slipped on a coat and the cold was intense until she got about three feet away from Leroy, when she entered a surprising zone of warmth.

"Leroy? I don't mean to interrupt -- "

He said "I'm not doing anything."

"Have you seen Myra?"

"Yeah, she walked down the road. That direction." He pointed toward the creek.

Of course. "Thanks. They're making breakfast inside. We can whip up something for the puppy, too" said Ginny, walking rapidly to the road. One part of her brain noticed a faint residual pong from Tear Gas and thought "What on earth does that dog eat?" But most of her mind was reaching out to Myra.

She found her squatting on the boulder near the grinding hole, one palm pressed flat against the stone below her. Ginny stopped to watch. Myra suddenly looked elderly to her. After a minute, Myra pulled her hand into her lap and pressed it between her thigh and belly. She didn't have on gloves or a coat, and Ginny didn't know if her own sudden shiver was physiological or empathy.

Ginny walked to the edge of the scatter of boulders and said "Myra?" as she found her footing over the lightly-iced dark grey surface. Myra looked around and stood with an effort. Ginny pushed her own mass against Myra's and whispered "Did you hear anything?"

"No. Those drums took her far away, the bastards" said Myra with exhausted fury.

Ginny thought about saying that was what Chris had asked for, but decided Myra needed unlimited patience right now. We all do. Instead, she asked "Are you ready to come back?"

"Where?" said Myra blankly.

"The cabin."

Myra turned to look at the road, then Ginny, and slid her arm into Ginny's. They walked back slowly. Ginny said "Bernie called. The coroner isn't going to ask for an autopsy. The cause of death will be listed as cardiac failure, but that's almost always what they write as the primary cause. Secondary cause will be liver failure due to carcinoma."

Myra didn't answer. Ginny switched tack. "Gillam is leaving soon to go pick up Jane and the kids. They'll be back in time for the viewing at the funeral home, but Gillam says since it's closed casket, Jane wants to stay at a hotel with the children. She says they won't understand why the adults can't talk or play with them."

"He's driving there and coming right back?" said Myra, concern breathing through in her tone.

"I know. But he doesn't want her doing it alone, he said."

"But Frances and Eric, aren't they coming? They can drive them" said Myra.

"He wants to be there when the children are told about Chris dying, he said."

"Oh. That makes sense" said Myra. "Still, he's had very little rest, and being in the car with those five is not restorative." She subsided into silence again. Her steps were very deliberate, as if she was thinking about each one she placed.

"Myra...Did you and Chris -- did you make love?"

Myra looked at her briefly. "No. We kissed, though."

"Before Sima came?"


Ginny didn't quite know her own footing right now.

"More than once?"

"Yes. Twice. And Ginny...I'm glad."

After several steps, Ginny said "So am I. Myra, I -- after this year, I understand now why you all fell so hard for her. I wish I'd gotten it a long time ago." She felt Myra's arm squeeze hers briefly.

They had reached the cabin. Carly was standing out front, a bulky fur cap on his head, his face worried. "You look blue with cold" he said. He followed them in, and brought them cups of tea where they stood by the woodstove. Leroy was sitting beside Mary Angeline, both eating eggs and potatoes. They were leaned forward, studying Margie's map, which she held for them safely away from food. Sima was in the kitchen with Gillam, and after a minute she put her head around the doorway to say "Gillam wants to know if you'd rather have scrambled or fried."

Sima looked ghastly. There were dark welts under her eyes as if she had been punched. Myra didn't know how to answer. Ginny said "Scrambled. With potatoes or toast, whichever is easier."

After a few minutes, Sima brought them plates. Myra sat down on the couch and motioned for Sima to sit between her and Ginny. She was not in the least hungry, but she ate two bites of everything, drank down her tea, and returned to finish her eggs. Gillam had Ginny's talent with eggs. She was focused on the sensation of Sima next to her, and Margie's conversation with Leroy and Mary Angeline behind them. Chris would want to hear what those two elders were saying, she thought.

Half an hour later, Gillam and Carly left together in Gillam's car. Myra felt stark fear at their departure. She shoved the fear down along with everything else. When Leroy, Mary Angeline, and the other two women left, Margie came to Sima and said “Do you think you could sleep?”

Sima glanced at Chris's bedroom and said “Not – in there.”

“Take our bed” said Ginny instantly.

Sima still hesitated, and Myra said “I'll lie down with you if you don't want to be alone.”

Sima looked at her gratefully and said “I'd like that.” They lay down together under the comforter, Sima shyly curling back into Myra. Sima's body was very different from Ginny's, her roundnesses in different places. This was the body Chris had slept with every night for decades. Myra closed her eyes and crashed into sleep. Sleep was the one thing she knew best how to do right now.

They had left the bedroom door open, but nothing woke her. Later she found out Ginny and Margie pulled out the futon and took a long nap themselves. Ginny woke Myra and Sima at 3:00 in the afternoon, offering soup. Myra felt like there was no room inside her, but sat obediently at the table. Sima picked up her spoon, then leaned her head forward on one hand, weeping. Margie scooted over to hold her hand. Myra envied her release, painful as it sounded.

With Ginny's urging, she ate half a bowl of soup, flecked with kale and swollen, buttery globes of rice. She had the idea of stashing pemmican in her coat pocket and heading up the creek, toward the mountains, but even after the soup, she felt too weak for that much effort.

“Maybe I'll take a shower” she said. She went to the bathroom and closed the door. She looked at herself in the mirror for a long time. She wished she knew, beyond any doubt, that there was life after this one. She wanted to know Chris was okay.

After a while, she rooted through Ginny's toiletries bag on the counter and found a pair of scissors. She took between her fingers the lock of silver hair at her left temple and cut it off cleanly with the scissors, dropping it into the sink. It felt unbelievably good, the first hint of action coming back into her. She went on cutting, trying to use her fingers as a length guide, until her entire head was trimmed down to about half an inch. It wasn't very even, but her head felt free. She gathered up all the hair from the sink and flushed it in the toilet, cleaning out the sink afterward. Then she pulled off her clothes and got in the shower, washing away the last traces of Chris and smoke on her skin.

Wrapped in a robe, she went to the bedroom and pulled out the hanging bag which held the funeral clothes she and Ginny had wordlessly packed what seemed like ages ago. When she came into the living room, in somber black, Ginny said "My god". Sima and Margie turned to stare at her. Sima began crying again. This time, Myra went to her and held her. Margie returned to packing up the kitchen.

Allie and Edwina had gone to their motel. At 5:00, those in the cabin went to the motel, then drove into town together. Myra found Colville alien without Chris among them. Ginny's cell rang during the commute, and it was Gillam, saying they were checked into Benny's, he would meet them at the funeral home for the sitting.

When they pulled into the funeral home parking lot, the Cerebellum was sitting there, incongruously pink, with Frances in a tailored black suit leaning against the side. Margie flung herself into Frances' arms and began wailing. They left them outside and went into the foyer, where Gillam was waiting. Carly and Eric were already sitting in the room at the end of the hall.

Myra fought nausea when she saw the gleaming wooden casket. She closed her eyes and let Ginny lead her to a chair. She reminded herself of listening to Chris argue with the funeral director about what casket she wanted, the sarcasm of Chris's voice cutting through her misery like lemon juice. Not Chris in that box she reminded herself. Chris would never have consented to have a lid clamped shut over her.

Chris's family arrived in two carloads, raw and still more adept at this than Myra felt she could summon. Tina brought Ruby and Jimjim, and Myra instantly wished Gillam's children were here. Jimjim ran amok, Tina not even bothering to admonish him, and finally Eric began following him to keep him away from egregiously offensive behavior. Ruby, big-eyed and withdrawn, sat in the lap of an older woman who was Tina's former mother-in-law. Myra thought she and Ruby must look much alike right now.

Eventually, stories began to be told, conversation became less stilted and formal, and Sima wept again. Visitors came and went. Myra couldn't remember the names of anyone to whom she was introduced. She did recognize Eunice, Chris's friend from school, when she came to them and expressed her condolences. Eunice clasped Sima's hand and said “I'm Eunice Carmody, used to be Eunice Moore. Or Whitley. I grew up with Christina, I don't know if she ever mentioned me -- “

Sima furrowed her brow. “I remember her talking about B.J. Moore, your sister, maybe?”

Myra distinctly heard Chris's giggle in her head, and closed her eyes at the dizziness she felt. Eunice said stiffly “Ah, that was a nickname I had. I hope what you heard was good.”

“Lots of raucous fun” said Sima, and Myra could tell she was lying but didn't think Eunice would know.

At 8:00, just as the sitting hours were over, Bernie arrived. Myra felt relief at seeing her and motioned her to come sit nearby. Bernie went to the casket first, crossed herself and said a prayer, before joining them.

“How are you all holding up?” she asked, putting an arm on Sima's shoulder.

“A chunk at a time” answered Ginny. She introduced Bernie to Frances and Eric.

Bernie leaned forward and said quietly “She went blessedly fast. I know it may not feel that way to you now, but trust me, folks who hang on have a much harder time of it. I've never seen someone as clear and smart about things as she was.”

“That's how Chris did everything, clear and smart” said Myra. Her family turned to look at her: She had not spoken a complete sentence since they arrived.

“She was blessed in her family and the people who loved her” said Bernie.

“She deserved us” replied Myra.

When the funeral director came to shut the doors, Gillam stood and said “Do you want to come back to the hotel, see Jane and the kids?”

Myra froze. She missed them terribly, but she didn't feel ready for their reality. Sima also did not respond. Ginny, watching them, said “Well, we've not had dinner. I think we should go somewhere and eat a bite before restaurants close.”

Gillam's face was drained. Allie said “After the burial tomorrow, we all be together.”

Carly said “We'll go back with you, order room service and play cards with them.”

Margie was torn, but after giving Gillam a long hug, she stuck with Sima. Frances followed her lead. They went to the pancake diner, drawing stares from other customers. Myra ordered from the breakfast menu, oatmeal and bacon. Once again, she heard Chris laugh in her head.

They finalized arrangements between themselves for the following day. Margie said she was sleeping at the motel that night with Frances, but they'd return early in the morning to help pack the rest of the cabin's personal belongings into the Jeep and Volvo. Carly and Eric were going to drive the Volvo home, carrying David in their back seat. Margie and Frances would take Mimi in the Cerebellum, and Allie and Edwina had Charlie.

Allie looked at Myra. “Leah would really like to have you for the ride home.”

Myra shook her head. “No. Just us and Sima.”

“How is Lucia doing?” Ginny asked Frances.

“Too subdued. Jane's keeping her close as Lucia will tolerate” said Frances.

The final drive to the cabin filled Myra with dread. They had not left on any lights, and the darkness seemed symbolic to her. Ginny went directly to the stove and stuffed in wood. Myra avoided even looking at the closed door to Chris's room. She pulled the night vision goggles from her closet and stood at the sliding doors, hoping for a coyote at the back of the meadow, but nothing was stirring.

“Where do you want to sleep?” Ginny asked Sima. Myra turned around, the light from the dining area blinding her until she wrenched off the goggles.

“Uh...Not alone” said Sima, apology in her voice.

“Then with me again” said Myra, and Sima nodded. Myra didn't look at Ginny's face. She knew she was not pulling her weight, not with her partner, her children, or her grandchildren. This is all I got she thought defensively. I have to look after Sima, for Chris's sake.

Sima decided to take a bath now instead of in the morning. She closed the door, and when they heard water running, Ginny turned to Myra.

"Are you all right?"

Myra looked at her. "No."

"I mean, are you -- have you gone over some edge?"

"I don't know."

"Are you going to be able to get through the funeral? Do we need to get you some help – call Nancy?'

Myra thought for a minute. "I can manage the funeral. I'm just – numb."

"Have you cried yet?"

"No. I don't think I can stand it."

Ginny looked at her for a moment. "Okay, let's get back home. When we're in home territory again, we can take the lid off."

"Ginny...Sima has to come home with us."

"I know."

Myra took off her clothes and hung them carefully for their second wearing tomorrow. She put on sweats and drank the warm tea Ginny offered her. Her breathing felt a little rapid, and she used her inhaler when Ginny wasn't looking. Before Sima emerged from the bathroom, Myra went into the bedroom and lay down, focusing on filling her lungs with air and clearing them again. Within a minute, she had fallen asleep. She woke up enough to spoon with Sima and notice that it was not Ginny, but sleep pulled her away again rapidly.

The next morning, she mostly watched as everyone else taped up boxes and filled vehicles. She looked away when the items from Chris's room were carried out. Thankfully, the portrait was in a carrier, so Chris's grinning face was not visible.

Margie said she'd ask the cleaners she'd hired before to come back out the next week to do the floors. Ginny said Chris's bed should be given to Goodwill and a new one bought in its place. Frances scraped out the woodstove and carried the bucket to the back yard.

Allie said out loud “Anyone want to go to the creek?”

Myra shook her head, and Margie said “No.”

“What about you scarf?”

Myra shuddered, imagining seeing it bobbing up and down when they went to retrieve it. Margie said “I'll leave it.”

Sima began wailing as they walked outside to the cars. It was a still cold day, under a granite blue sky. Allie and Edwina helped Sima walk to the Jeep. She sat in the front, next to Ginny. Myra got in the back. As they drove off, Myra saw a tiny spiral of ash blow up from the cold firepit nearest Chris's bedroom window.

They had not eaten breakfast, and stopped again at the pancake diner. Ginny asked Myra if she wanted a Coke, and Myra said no. Allie kept her arm around Sima all during the meal. Myra wondered if Allie felt about Sima's body the way she did now.

When they pulled into the funeral home parking lot, Myra saw children scampering on the manicured lawn out front. A man wearing a black fedora and a long, somber cashmere coat stood near them. When he turned to look their way, Myra realized it was Eric.

Her pulse began racing. She got out of the car and walked with new energy toward the children. Leah spotted her first, yelling "Gramma!" and running toward her. They mobbed her, and then Ginny as Ginny came up behind her. Eric accepted their offer to relieve him while they stayed with the children. He walked back inside.

The children had on thick coats, caps and mittens. They were dressed in wild colors and their cheeks were China red from the cold. They had been scuffing up dead leaves from the giant maples out front, trying make a pile big enough to jump in. Ginny suggested they dance instead, and began singing "I Fall To Pieces" in a twangy voice. Everybody paired up for the Texas two-step, Lucia grabbing a ride on Ginny's back so there were an even number of dancers. They continued on as people began arriving for the funeral. If Chris had been there, she would have joined them in the dance.

As Chris had requested, the service at the funeral home was Catholic for her family. Jesus's name was thrown around immoderately. Myra stayed occupied with helping Gillam and Jane keep the children from becoming too restless, and it was a distraction from the voids inside her.

The procession out to the cemetery took forever to organize, a blip to actually drive. In the distance, green carpet and a canopy did not mitigate the shocking sight of opened earth, soil glinting with ice crystals, and grader tracks nearby. Beside it was that damned box.

Myra stopped, unwilling to approach the grave yet, as children got sorted out to family members. Margie had Mimi, Jane had David, and Ginny picked up Lucia. Myra wondered if she should carry Leah, but Edwina did instead. Charlie was in Carly's arms. She heard a truck backfire and looked back at the line of people parking. Leroy was emerging from his battered black pickup, wearing a nice suit and a bolo tie. His gimme cap was on the dash of the truck, and he was carrying a hand-made drum.

As Myra looked, the head of a dog rose up from the passenger seat to watch Leroy walk away: Tear Gas. None of the windows were cracked open. Myra wondered what the cab of that pickup would smell like when Leroy returned. She grinned and turned to make a joke about it with Chris. Then she remembered.

She stumbled, though she was standing still, and Allie's arm came around her from behind. She walked with Allie toward the grave. She heard David ask “Where is Chris now?”, but Jane's answer was too low for her to make out.

A crescent-shaped line of drummers began forming near the casket. At the end of a row of seven was Mary Angeline, holding a bell. Myra didn't remember a bell from the night Chris died. Once the drumming began, she felt her body respond, come back into full attention. She reached for Leah and took her from Edwina, whispering “These people with their drums, they know how to talk to Aunt Chris's spirit. Listen with your heart, and maybe you'll know how, too.”

There was no hurry any more, no waiting, nothing to do but hold this beloved child, answer her occasional whispered question, and when Leah asked if she could go dance with David and Jimjim at the edge of the canopy, to join them.

Two hours later, they said goodbyes to Tina, Ricky, and Wayne, Leroy and Mary Angeline. Gillam said there was a McDonald's with a playscape about an hour down the highway, which is where they planned to get lunch so the children could romp, breaking up the drive for them. They all agreed to find lunch for themselves, and meet at Myra and Ginny's house that evening.

Once on the highway, Allie, Margie, and Carly pulled ahead. Gillam, however, stuck close to Ginny. The landscape was breathtakingly beautiful. Myra remembered the drive to Colville, only – my god, less than a month before. She pulled out her cell to find out what day it was: December 22nd. This meant Chris had died on the Solstice. She wrenched her thoughts back to surveying the rim of mountains, trying to remember fourth grade geology.

They stopped at the McDonald's with Gillam's family and Myra ate a Big Mac with fries. Ginny groused her way through a chicken salad. They bought Lucia a Happy Meal for the toy, though she could not eat everything in it.

A few hours later, coming down a long sweep of curving road, through a gap in the foothills they caught a glimpse of the city, glittering in a distant shimmer. Sima sucked in her breath and put her hand to the dash. Then she said "Oh, god. I don't know what I'm going to do."

Myra leaned forward and placed her hand on the back of Sima's neck. Sima was cold to the touch. Sima sucked in another breath and said "I was wrong. I made the most terrible mistake of my life, and there's no way to ever fix it now. I betrayed her, and I can't make it up to her!" She began screaming, one long scream after another. Ginny put on her turn signal and got in the right lane, heading for the next exit. Myra unbuckled her seat belt and scooted forward so she could put her arms around Sima from behind.

The exit led only to a small two-lane road that ran into the countryside. Ginny pulled off the road onto a gravel shoulder. As soon as the car was stopped, Myra got out and opened Sima's door. She sat on the edge of Sima's seat and pulled Sima into her arms. Sima was crying and screaming at the same time.

Gillam pulled up behind them and ran toward their car. Ginny intercepted him, told him what was going on. His face was so lined with worry, he looked old. Ginny reassured him, said they could handle it, and he should go on home. Reluctantly, he kissed her and left.

Sima cried for a long time. When she finally ran out of anything left in her, Myra handed her a kleenex and said "You came back. You were there with her when she died. I can't think of anything she needed more than that."

Ginny began "You didn't betray her" but Myra looked at Ginny and said, "Yes, she did." She looked back at Sima. "You did make a mistake. But I know for a fact she forgave you, and if she could manage it, then you'll have to find a way to forgive yourself, too. I certainly have. You come live with us, you find your way with us backing you. We're your family, and your home is with us. We'll all miss her together." She kissed Sima's forehead. Sima linked her fingers in Myra's hand and whispered "Okay."

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

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