Friday, April 3, 2009


Painting by Kicking Bear of the Battle of Little Big Horn [Painting of the Battle of Little Big Horn by Lakota man named Kicking Bear (Mato Wanartaka), circa 1898, watercolor on muslin; 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.

Thursday through Sunday, December 12-15, 2019

When Myra got up, Ginny had started a new painting, also small in size. As she ate the overdone eggs Margie made for her, Myra studied the crossbar on Chris's walker, which Ginny had finished and coated with a clear varnish since it was quick-drying acrylic.

The miniature but extraordinarily detailed scene began on the left with a herd of prehistoric deer and bison leaping across a cave wall, with two spear-carrying hunters behind them and one at the front to turn them. The proto-human at the front was not the minimalist rendering found in ancient cave drawings, but instead had the elongated limbs and bright coloring found on murals at Knossos. Beyond this figure, the scene morphed into bull-leaping, two young women and a man risking their lives by seizing the horns of a charging dappled bull and vaulting themselves onto its back. The woman who had already safely landed behind the bull, her bare feet kicked up a cloud of dust, found herself facing a fleeing cavalry officer. Behind him, to the end of the cross-bar, the soldier's cohort lay dead or dying while Lakota on beautifully muscled horses, Indians and equines alike in war paint, stopped a U.S. Attack on their village.

“Fucking A” remarked Chris, grinning at Myra. “She says one of the uprights is going to be a long stalk of corn with scenes from the history of Mexico and Central America peeking between each ripening ear.”

Two strips of wood had been nailed into the wall behind the dining table and Ginny's river scene, still wet, rested up there, away from possible damage.

Margie set a plate of dry toast on the table and Myra took a slice to butter. Chris had almost finished her breakfast. She said to Margie “You sit down and eat while I get on layers.”

“I didn't make eggs for Mom yet” said Margie, looking at Ginny by the easel.

“I'll feed her” said Myra. “Do you have soup for your thermos?”

“No, just tea. I'll take some pemmican with me” said Chris, struggling to her feet. “You can make us a hearty lunch because we're going riding with Ricky's friend this afternoon.”

Margie shoveled in her breakfast and was ready when Chris reappeared from her room. After they were gone, Myra made hot cereal laced with cream and berries, and Ginny came to eat with her, silent and distracted. Myra set Margie's egg pan into the sink to soak while she began a bean and vegetable stew. She planned to make corn fritters to accompany it at the last minute.

She took a quick bath, leaving the door open, and replenished the fire. She still had an hour of writing time before Chris and Margie returned.

Chris ate almost a normal amount. She had always adored Myra's fritters. She then walkered to the bathroom and back to her bedroom. She left the buffalo robe on her bed, donning instead her black leather jacket and a wool cap pulled down over her ears. “Look what I got” she said, holding out to Margie a battered leather bridle with silver buckles and bit.

“Oh my god” breathed Margie. “You still have it.” She turned to Myra. “This is the first bridle I ever used, and Chris made me put it on the horse I was going to ride. I was freaking terrified of those giant teeth.”

“That gelding was practically inert” said Chris. “Safe as houses.”

“Not your horse, though. I was scared to be within 20 feet of her” remembered Margie.

“Torquemada” said Chris with a laugh. “Can't believe I remember her name. Yeah, she was a handful.”

Myra wanted to lecture them both about safety, but forced herself to remain silent. Chris told Margie to “grab me a fritter for the road” and began clacking her walker out the front door. Myra heard her say to Margie “Wait tell they see what's painted on this thing” before the door shut. She watched the jeep drive away before opening her laptop again, leaving the dishes on the table since Ginny still had not come to eat lunch.

Myra had pulled a pan of roasted turkey breasts from the oven to rest by the time Margie and Chris returned. She drained the new potatoes and dumped butter into the pot before coming to the table to look at Chris. Her eyes were dancing, though her skin was not a normal color – or, more likely, her new normal color, thought Myra. She looked extremely fatigued and every movement made her wince.

“The tramadol wore off about an hour ago” Chris said. She sounded a little short of breath. Ginny appeared beside them and put her hand on Chris's forehead.

“Do you feel like you might have a fever?” she asked.

“No. I feel good, except for the fucking pain” said Chris, trying to grin.

“Oh, Mama, it was fabulous!” said Margie, lying Chris's bridle on the table. “After a couple of different tries, I rode behind Aunt Chris, like she used to ride behind me, and we galloped for miles.”

“How's your spine?” said Ginny, heading for the medicine cupboard.

“Starting to give me hell” said Chris.

“Well, how about if we try a fentanyl patch instead of the tramadol?” said Ginny. “I think it will take effect faster and maybe it will short-circuit the flare that's already begun.”

“Fine” said Chris, surprising Myra. She must be really hurting. Ginny unwrapped the patch and stuck it on Chris's upper back while Myra held down the collar of Chris's shirt. Ginny went to wash her hands. Chris said “It's cold.”

Myra poured tea for Chris and said “Dinner'll be ready in five minutes, I just need to dress the veggies.”

“I'll help” said Margie, starting to clear the table. Ginny sat down next to Chris and took her pulse, watching her face.

By the time they took each other's hands and observed silence before the meal, Chris's shoulders had relaxed. She mashed one of the potatoes, pour turkey gravy over it, took a bite, then said “That's good shit, Maynard.”

“The gravy?” said Margie.

“No. The dope.” Chris made an okay sign at Ginny.

“Is there a rush, are you light-headed or queasy?” asked Ginny.

“More of a rush than the tramadol, but right at this moment I don't care” said Chris. She and Margie regaled them with stories from their afternoon through the meal. Afterward, Margie took a long soak and Chris went to sleep almost instantly on the couch. Eventually Margie helped her to bed and curled up beside her with her DVD player and headphones. Chris was sleeping too soundly to be disturbed by the small blue screen.

Myra woke up when Ginny came to bed around midnight. She lay awake for a while, breathing in the smell of Ginny and wondering if Chris would have nightmares from going deeper into drug dependency. But everyone slept on until morning.

Margie left for Seattle, saying she'd probably pass Allie and Edwina on the way. Myra took Chris to the creek and kept writing in a steady flow while sitting in the running jeep. When Allie appeared at the car window and knocked suddenly, Myra jumped so hard she hit her head on the ceiling. Allie got in the passenger seat and they talked for half an hour, until Chris sent up her semaphore and Allie went to get her.

Myra got an e-mail that afternoon from Gillam, saying mail had arrived at their house for Chris which appeared to be her vehicle registration renewal. Right before Sima had left Chris, they'd bought a new Touareg together. Sima had walked away from it, and Chris had transferred it to her name, but it still had very few miles on it. It was now in Myra and Ginny's driveway. Chris had insisted that anyone in the family who needed to borrow it should do so, no need to ask, and left keys with Gillam. Myra wrote Gillam back and told him to send in the renewal, write a check on their house account, and promised they would call at sunset to light candles and say prayers.

That night Myra slept with Chris. She was awakened by the sound of retching, and clamped her hand over her own mouth before turning on the lamp. Chris had pulled the bedside toilet to her and as Myra watched, she vomited into the plastic bucket again. Myra turned her head, willing herself to not hurl. Chris finished, lay back on her side and gasped “I'm sorry, I didn't have enough warning to wake you or get to the bathroom.”

“It's all right, pal. Let me get you a washcloth.” Myra slid out the foot of the bed, an iron grip on her own stomach, and turned on lights as she went to the bathroom. Ginny had gone to bed but left the bedroom door open, and her confused voice came from the dark, saying “What's wrong? Myra, is that you?”

“Chris is vomiting” said Myra. She heard Ginny stumbling out of bed as Myra wet a washcloth and filled a cup with water.

“I'll do it” mumbled Ginny.

“No. I'll make it, Ginny, I will” said Myra. But Ginny followed her to the room where Chris had started retching again. Ginny took the washcloth from her and held it against Chris's forehead until the spasm passed.

“Oh, fuck, it hurts my back to do that” moaned Chris.

“Is this a reaction to the fentanyl, you think?” Myra asked Ginny.

“More than 24 hours later? Seems unlikely” said Ginny. “Listen, go get the Compazine, and call that 24 hour number for the doctor.”

The on-call nurse didn't return Myra's call for half an hour. By that time, Chris had stopped vomiting, taken a dose of Compazine and drank a cup of tea. She looked pale and listless, not quite dozing. The nurse said to take Chris to the ER if the vomiting persisted or Chris became unresponsive, but otherwise to push fluids and continue the anti-emetic.

Myra left a message on Bernie's service and reported to Ginny. Chris said “No ER”, opening her eyes in panic.

“No way” said Myra. “We got it, honey." She lay down beside Chris, who rolled over to put her head on Myra's shoulder. Ginny carried the bucket to the bathroom and cleaned it out. When she returned it, Chris was asleep again.

“You okay?” whispered Ginny.

“Yeah. Wish there was room for you on the other side of me” Myra replied. “Go get your sleep. Bernie will call us early, she'll have something useful to tell us.”

Bernie said it was probably not a reaction to the narcotic but rather a digestive issue. She promised to come out, despite it being Saturday, and take some labs plus look at Chris herself. She advised Chris to stay on clear liquids until she got there.

Myra hung up the phone, which had not awakened Ginny, and returned to bed with Chris. They were all asleep when Allie and Edwina came. Allie was instantly worried, and Myra put her to work making breakfast. Bernie came at 9:00, said Chris's vitals were normal, and okayed a small advance in diet. But Chris said her stomach felt fragile, and she stuck to tea and toast. Going to the creek was postponed for the day.

Myra made a potato and carrot broth for Chris's lunch, with no onions or seasoning except a little salt. She ate a cup of it, but got queasy and asked for another Compazine as well as a new pain patch. Chris's doctor called right before dinnertime to say her potassium was low and upped her oral dose. Chris ate more of the broth with toast at dinner and this time it didn't bother her stomach.

They sat around the fire, Ginny painting, and told stories. Chris's energy slowly improved, and by bedtime, she said she was sleepy but not wiped out. Myra lay down with her after Allie and Edwina left, and they got a solid eight hours of uninterrupted rest. Chris asked for eggs and rice at breakfast, and Myra allowed jubilation a small corner inside her chest. An hour later, after another dose of potassium but no need for Compazine, Chris said to Allie “You up for a creek run?”

“I am if you are” said Allie.

Chris was again red-cheeked and bright-eyed after returning from the creek. As they were eating lunch, Chris adding cooked chicken to her potato and carrot broth, the phone rang and Myra answered.

“Hey, Mom” said Margie, her voice loud and cheery. “I wanted to let you all know, I'm coming back today instead of in the morning.”

“Oh, honey, it's starting to snow here” said Myra. “Will you be here before dark?”

“No, I won't be leaving town until after 5:00” said Margie.

“Then why don't you wait?” said Myra.

“There's something I want to show you” said Margie, a lilt in her voice. Myra glanced at Ginny, trying to signal without Chris being able to read it. Their plan must have progressed much faster than they thought. But lawyers and title offices weren't open on Sundays. Maybe it had come though yesterday and she just found out about it, thought Myra.

“Well, give us a ring before you leave town, then” asked Myra.

“Do you need anything from the house?” asked Margie.

“Yes. Potato flour from the pantry, more yellow miso, and any frozen berries or pecans from the freezer” said Myra.

That night they skyped in to sing with the family for an hour. Margie wasn't at Jane and Gillam's but Frances said she still had not left for Colville. Margie didn't call to say she was leaving Seattle until almost 7:00.

“That means you won't be here until 11:00 or later” said Myra, worried.

“I know. And I'll be sleeping at the motel, ask Aunt Allie to make sure the heat is on in my room, there, all right? But I'll come to your place first” said Margie.

She never could postpone giving presents thought Myra. “Turn on the weather radio in the Volvo” said Myra. “It stopped snowing but...”

“I promise to be careful, Mom” said Margie. “Now more than ever.”

When Myra hung up, she realized Ginny had been humming for an hour and was now standing back, staring at her canvas and repeating “Okay. Okay.”

“Are you done?” asked Myra. “That was fast.”

Ginny let five seconds go by before saying “Yeah. I think I am.” She dropped her brush in a cleaning jar and hugged herself. “Stay there, I'll turn the easel around.”

It was a salmon in the process of being prepared for cooking, most of the head at the left side of the canvas, part of the tail on the right, and in between the body opened up top to bottom. It had been gutted but not deboned. The flesh was vivid and seemed to have actual oozes of moisture. After a minute, Myra realized the fish was lying on a dark grey boulder. Here and there were coppery glints of the now familiar metastatic bursts. It was exquisite and disturbing all at once.

“Jesus H. Christ” said Chris.

“I know” said Ginny, pushing herself against Myra's side. Myra said slowly “I wanted you to paint that breakfast we had beside the creek. I guess, in a way, I got my wish.”

Ginny said “Is there any of that onion pie left from dinner?”

“Go raid the larder” said Myra.

“Speaking of which, I'm going to move my bowels with gratitude” said Chris. “When I come back out, how about if we play a game – like maybe Scrabble?”

“I'll set up the board” said Edwina happily. Ginny ate ravenously and sat in for half an hour, then excused herself and went to bed. Allie and Edwina stayed until 10:00, and they all agreed to leave the filled Scrabble board on the table, to show it off to Margie. Chris was in good spirits, what she was calling fentanyl-phoria. Myra left the kitchen light on, to guide Margie, before she lay down with Chris.

She was not able to go sleep, worrying about her daughter driving through the mountain passes. Chris's breathing was deep and steady. Myra pushed her face into Chris's hair, smelling of the outdoors, still, and felt Chris unconsciously push back against her. She lay with her eyes open. When a car pulled into the driveway, an angle of light came in one of Chris's windows and reflected against the window on the perpendicular wall, so Myra should be able to catch a glint when Margie arrived.

The clock on Chris's nightstand reached 11:00 and passed it. Myra began trying to distract herself from waiting on Margie, but she couldn't come up with something to think about that didn't eventually lead back to her children. Finally, at 11:19, a flash of light along with a crunch of gravel allowed her to breathe out fully. She got up quietly and walked to the front door in her socks, standing in the open doorway and letting warm air eddy out.

Margie was already beside the car, lifting a pair of soft-sided bags. Myra was surprised to see another person coming around the front of the car. They were still in the shadow, but even in the dark Myra could tell they were too tall and wide to be Frances. And definitely not Carly or Eric.

As they stepped into the yellow box of light from the kitchen, Myra gasped. It was Sima.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

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