Sunday, April 5, 2009


Can of cocoa powder from Amsterdam
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.

Sunday-Monday, 15-16 December, 2019

Sima stopped when she saw the expression on Myra's face. After two heartbeats, Myra walked swiftly to Sima and pulled her into a tight hug. Sima shivered, and Myra said “Thank god you came.” She walked Sima into the house, her arm around her waist. Margie had gone in and was grinning from ear to ear.

“Some surprise, huh?” she said. But Sima was looking hungrily around the rooms in sight, and Myra said “In here. She's asleep.”

She turned on the bedside lamp and bent over Chris, murmuring “Darlin', you're gonna want to wake up. Have a look.”

Chris focused on Myra's face as Myra helped her sit up. Then her head slowly turned and she stopped breathing as her gaze locked onto Sima.

“Am I awake?” she whispered.

Myra wondered what Sima must be feeling, seeing Chris as she was now: Half the size she used to be, her face and hands gaunt, her white hair with streaks of yellow and in a near frizz around her head. At the corners of her eyes and mouth were hints of yellow as well. Myra looked at Sima, who had no expression on her face but her body seemed open. Sima glanced at the walker, the bedside toilet, the array of bottles and syringes on the nightstand, and then, for a long second, Ginny's portrait of the six of them, before returning to Chris's face.

Myra said “It's real.” Sima dropped her coat on the floor and crawled over the foot of the bed, lying down beside Chris with her thigh over Chris's. Chris said “Ow” and Sima pulled away in dismay, saying “Oh, no, did I hurt you?” After a second, Chris burst into crazy laughter as she answered “Fuck yeah you did.” After another second, Sima began laughing with her and Chris pulled her close.

Ginny's voice came from behind Margie in the doorway. “What's going on – oh my god.” Margie turned to her and said “Come on, Mama. Both of you. Let's leave them alone.”

Myra didn't move, scanning Sima's face to be sure Chris would be safe with her. Margie's hand closed around Myra's wrist and tugged at her. Once they were out of the room, Margie shut the door and said “Let's go to your room and talk.”

Margie scooted over their bed to lean against the far wall, then said “Damn, it's like ice back there” and leaned forward again. Ginny closed the door and sat on the other side of Margie from Myra, arranging the down comforter over the three of them before she said “How the hell did you pull this off?”

“It wasn't me” said Margie, looking as if she wished it had been. “I mean, I simply drove her here. She's been trying to call Chris for over a week, but apparently Chris isn't checking her cell. She's also been calling your house line, which Gillam thought you were calling in to listen to messages. She said she wanted to talk to Chris first, not one of us.”

Myra looked at Ginny, who said “Shit. I checked our cells but not the house line, I thought Jane and Gillam would be doing that, I guess.”

“Anyhow, when Chris didn't return her calls, she thought – well, she thought the worst, and she finally just got on a plane. Once she was in the air, she called me. I was the one she was least ashamed of asking for help, she said.” Margie's tone seemed to relay her uncertainty about her reaction to that distinction.

“So she flew in today?” asked Myra. “My god” Ginny said to herself.

“I called her back right away and told her what was going on. She begged me to just bring her to Chris first, not tell anybody. I decided that would be okay with Chris. And I knew it be okay with you two. I mean, Mom, I read that letter you wrote to her. Which I think is what probably shifted things for her” said Margie.

“What letter, the angry one?” Myra didn't see how that could have made a difference like this.

Margie, nodding, went on “I gave her a big talking to, I want you to know that. I said Aunt Chris was not, fucking NOT to be asked to deal with relationship stuff now, that Sima had to either be completely here for Chris or I wasn't bringing her to the cabin.” There was sudden steel in Margie's voice, and Myra's eyes welled.

Ginny said again “My god. I honestly didn't think she would ever come.”

“How long will she stay?” asked Myra, suddenly scared Sima would leave again in two days.

“She's not going back, she said. She didn't officially break up with Susan, but I gather there was an ultimatum that Sima violated.”

Ginny barked a laugh. “Who knew Sima had this streak of taking off like she has been?”

“Yeah, well, it's a habit she has to break as of now” said Myra. “So none of the rest of the family knows she came?”

“I picked her up on the way out of town” said Margie. “But I told Franny, of course. And I need to go back to the motel, wake up Aunt Allie and Edwina to tell them so they can talk it over before coming here tomorrow.”

“Edwina won't be happy” said Ginny softly.

“Allie will be” said Myra. “I mean, it's about what Chris wants and needs at this point. But we're gonna ride herd on Sima, I hope she knows that.”

“I thought you had news about the plans” said Ginny. “You know, the title transfers?”

“That guy Elliott still has not called me back” said Margie. “All I ever get is his voice mail. I left him a message about that point you made, Mama, about the grinding holes” -- she directed to Myra -- “So maybe that changed things for the better. But so far all we have is the one piece of property. I'm going to sleep in a little tomorrow, then use the motel phone to make more calls. I may not be here until lunch.”

“You are doing a heroic job” said Ginny, her voice resonant with pride.

“I need the experience” said Margie quietly. “Anyhow, I have to go, I'm beat. Frances sent cannelloni and some fresh swordfish, it's in the fridge.”

“Call us when you get to the motel” asked Myra. “In fact, take the jeep.”

“All right” said Margie. Myra and Ginny walked her to the door, added a new log to the stove, made tea and sat at the table in darkness until Margie called in. Sima's bags sat in the living room.

After wishing Margie sweet dreams, Myra lay down with Ginny curved behind her and pulled the comforter to her chin. “Tell me Chris is actually all right in there.”

“She's all right” said Ginny. “She's a very different woman than when Sima left, for one thing. And for another, Sima willingly walked back into unknown territory. She never lacked courage, our Sima. She just got very, very stupid for a while. Stupid is something you can recover from.”

After a few moments, Myra chuckled. “Plus there's that painting of us all looming over her head.”

A minute later, Ginny said “Did you see Chris's face? It was more alive than it's been in months. You know, sometimes...a cathartic event can turn around failing health.”

Don't go there, Ginny thought Myra. She stayed silent.

Ten minutes later, she heard sounds from the other end of the house: Someone was weeping. But she couldn't tell which of them it was – or maybe it was both. She strained to listen in the dark, worried about how she would know if her help was needed. Then, blindly, she realized it wasn't weeping, it was lovemaking she heard.

“Thank god” she said out loud. She felt Ginny's arm around her waist squeeze tightly, meaning she was still awake, too. She put her breathing in rhythm with Ginny's and was able to fall asleep quickly.

In the morning, despite it being full light out, Ginny was still there. They woke up together, faced the bitter cold of their room outside the blankets, and went to the kitchen where Allie was frying turkey sausages with sliced tomatoes and mushrooms. Edwina leaned against the counter beside her, sipping coffee.

“They been up yet?” Myra whispered.

“No” said Edwina. Ginny opened the fridge to inspect the swordfish steaks and said “I'm going to make a marinade for these, we can have them for dinner. Did you bring nuoc mam in your kitchen kit?”

“Uh, no” said Myra. She leaned against the counter next to Edwina and murmured “How are you with all this?”

“Chris first” said Edwina crisply. “Wherever that goes.”

“Aha, kochujang!” said Ginny, plucking a bottle from the door. Two limes and a can of coconut milk were already sitting beside the fish.

“I want those cannelloni with breakfast” said Allie. “She puts almond meal in the batter and candied ginger in the ricotta.”

They all froze when they heard Chris's bedroom room open. By the creak of the walker, they could tell Chris was coming out first. Ginny stepped into the dining area and said “Are you hungry?”

“After I use the bathroom” said Chris. Sima came into the kitchen, her face red but determined. Allie stepped over to hug her, and Edwina followed her with less warmth.

“Tea or coffee?” asked Myra.

“I'll make it” said Sima. She had on the clothes she'd been wearing the night before. She looked at Allie's griddle and said “Is that pork?”

“No” answered Ginny, squeezing limes. Sima added cream to her cup of coffee and went to stand beside Ginny, saying “That is one hell of a painting. I feel like I've been immortalized without my clothes on.”

“The Ginny effect” said Myra, setting the big teapot on the table. Allie whispered to her “That guy Elliott called Margie first thing. They was still talking when we left.” Sima could hear them but didn't ask any questions.

When Chris came to sit at the table, her face was vivid, her eyes dancing. She let out a long groan, however, shifting her position twice. Myra felt shy about asking if she'd exerted herself too much. Ginny said “Your patch still on?”

“Yeah, but – my vertebrae are throbbing, and there's a new pain in my gut” said Chris. “Pain, not nausea.”

“Where in your gut?” asked Ginny, abandoning her swordfish.

“My liver” said Chris. Sima had sat down beside her, her face going pale.

“How about if I call Bernie?” said Ginny.

“I'll do it” said Chris. Ginny handed her the phone and went to cover the marinating fish before setting it in the refrigerator. Chris got through to Bernie directly and told her what was up, including “My girlfriend came back to me last night. But I don't think that's related to the pain, it was starting before then.” Ginny looked at Myra, who shook her head: No, Chris hadn't mentioned it last night.

“All right” said Chris, handing the phone to Ginny. To the rest of them she said “She'll come by this afternoon, but she says it's breakthrough pain, it was a matter of time before this happened.”

After Ginny hung up, she said “She's recommending Dilaudid, is that okay with you?”

“No, but let's give it a try” said Chris. “I'll take one after I eat a bite of cannelloni.”

Allie set a platter of mixed grill on the table and Edwina set down the cannelloni. Allie stayed in the kitchen to run her Accuchek and decide a metformin would be enough. She joined them and they held hands, closing their eyes for a minute. As they began eating, Allie said to Chris “You better stay our sweetheart. Keep talking like you been. No disappearing into you room all the time with Sima.”

Chris laughed heartily. “Yes ma'am.”

Allie said to Sima “After breakfast she go sit by the creek and pretend she a buffalo. I wait on her in the car. You can go with me if you like.”

Chris laughed again. Sima grinned and said “Thanks. Do you, any of you, have questions you want answered?”

“Not in a group setting” Myra said, looking around the table. Edwina's jaw was chewing tightly. Ginny said “Your cell phone won't work out here, if you need to leave a number -- “

“I won't” said Sima. “But I do want to call Gillam and Carly.”

“If you need privacy, you'll have to drive to the motel or into town” said Ginny kindly. “I like your hair that way.”

“I don't” said Chris. “Distracts from the clear beauty of your face. But of course I'm one to talk, with my Lady Taxol style results.” Happiness surged from her in waves. She speared a second sausage from the platter with her fork. Before she cut into it, however, she took the dropper Ginny handed her and poured a small stream of Dilaudid into her mouth. “Tastes like chicken” she commented, with another laugh.

Fifteen minutes later, during a conversation about what was going on in Congress, Chris said “Hot damn. The midnight express has done arrived.”

Allie looked at her keenly. “Good or out of control?”

“Good. A little too good” said Chris, experimentally flexing her back. Myra got up and returned with a jar of prune juice. Chris said “Oh, gag me.”

“I know. If you'd rather use the Docusate -- “ said Ginny.

“No, Bernie says it plays havoc with potassium levels” said Chris. She opened the jar and drank directly from it, wiping her mouth with her sleeve afterward and saying “I'm guessing none of the rest of you are going to partake.”

“I can barely stand to watch you drink it” said Myra. “Please do not take a bite of cannelloni next, that would be sacrilege.”

By the end of the meal, it felt almost normal to have Sima sitting there with them again. She insisted on clearing the table before going to change clothes. They heard Chris saying “That bottom drawer is clear and you can move the drums on the closet shelf all the way over, if you want.”

Sima carried Chris's buffalo robe in her arms as Chris walkered to Allie's car. Once they were gone, Edwina sat down at the table and said “I'll get past this, I will. But it takes me time.”

“A jolt for all of us” said Myra.

Ginny picked up the phone and said “I'm calling our house machine and retrieving messages, I'll be a while.” Edwina looked at Myra and said “Can you and I both plug in while she's on the line?”

“You go ahead” said Myra. “I'm starting a soup for lunch, then putting laundry and trash in the Volvo. Maybe Margie will make a run today or tomorrow.”

“I'll do it this afternoon” said Edwina. “I need to pick up a few things anyhow.”

After lunch, Chris lay down with Sima for a nap while Allie drove into town with Edwina. Margie sat at the table with Myra, whispering about their project, and Ginny, listening in, stretched another small canvas and gessoed it before starting the decoration of an upright on Chris's walker.

Bernie came at 4:00. Myra woke up Chris, lying in Sima's arms, before taking Bernie into the room. While Bernie was taking her blood pressure, Chris suddenly said “Oh god, I'm going to be sick.” Bernie got the bucket in front of her before Chris emptied her stomach into it. Myra stayed in the living room, but Ginny stood in the doorway and said “Is this a reaction to the Dilaudid?”

Bernie was inspecting the contents of the bucket. “I think not. There's a great deal of bile in the emesis. Besides, the liquid form doesn't reach the liver until it's been absorbed by the bloodstream.”

Myra wasn't sure what that meant, but she saw Ginny's shoulders sag a little. Sima said “What is it, then? She only had vegetable soup for lunch.”

Chris began heaving again. Bernie waited five minutes, until Chris could lie down and sip at water, before emptying the bucket. She gave Chris a dose of Compazine and said “I'm not going to draw blood at the moment. If you can make water, though -- “

Chris sat up wearily and dropped her pants before sitting on the toilet in her room. Sima held the cup for her. Margie looked away. Bernie waited for Sima to return from washing her hands before saying to Chris “I need to talk with Dr. Jhadav, but I think this is the natural course of liver failure.”

“Red letter day” said Chris with a weak laugh.

“Dilaudid is stronger than morphine, but if we administer the morphine by IV, it'll even out” said Bernie. “You could use some hydration, I think. I can start the line if you're ready.”

Chris looked at Ginny before she looked at Sima. Myra went to sit on the foot of the bed as Bernie slid a needle into Chris's arm, taped it down, and connected the line to a bag full of clear liquid hanging from the IV pole Margie pulled out of the closet. Bernie talked over morphine dosages with Chris and Ginny.

Chris said “Can I tie this off or whatever to go outside for a while?”

“Yes. Up to you and your tolerance for being off the morphine” said Bernie. She made a call to the doctor, leaving a message, and accepted the last two cannelloni before she left.

Sima helped Chris get to her chair by the stove. Chris insisted she needed to sit up. Margie carried in the IV pole and placed it on the side away from the stove. Chris looked at the easel and said “Another one?”

“Not if it bothers you” said Ginny.

Chris snorted. “Better than TV” she said. Margie sat down at Chris's feet with Ginny's peppermint lotion and pulled off one sock to begin rubbing Chris's instep. Ginny began loading a palette with pigments.

Chris said “Okay, Sima. Tell us about Boston. Anything except Susan, I don't want to hear jack shit about Susan.”

Sima settled on the couch and began “Worst drivers in the world, and that includes New York in an ice storm.”

Allie and Edwina returned right before dinner was ready. Chris had asked for couscous to go with the swordfish, saying “I'm not giving up Ginny's swordfish, not at this point.” Myra filled in Allie and Edwina while they set the table. Allie took the chair next to Chris, and Chris said “You'll have to run for the bucket if I give you the high sign.”

After dinner, Chris sat in her wheelchair at the table and they played another long game of Scrabble. She was clearly high and her usual humor was there, along with an excruciating sweetness. She went to bed at 9:00. Sima tucked her in, then went into the bathroom for a shower.

Allie whispered to Myra “I'm not ready. I mean, I know that sounds crazy, like when would I ever be ready, right?”

“Not crazy to me” said Myra. “Listen, none of us called Gillam or Carly today. Will you do that from the motel? Tell them they can call us any time tomorrow.”

“Yeah” said Allie, standing and looking briefly like an old woman. “I need to go soak my bones.”

Margie said softly “I guess I don't get to sleep with her any more.”

“You can ask” said Ginny stoutly.

“Not tonight” said Margie. “I'll drive behind you, Aunt Allie.” They left after long hugs with Myra and Ginny.

When Sima came out of the bathroom, Ginny said from her easel “I'm going to bed in an hour. But wake me up for any reason, especially if she needs more pain medication.” Myra put her arms around Sima and said “Are you holding up as well as you appear to be?”

“I can hardly stand how awful this is for her” said Sima. “But it's way easier being here than it was not.”

“Glad you figured that out” said Myra. “She tends to wake up in the middle of the night, often with bad dreams. She likes Amsterdam cocoa and sitting at this window, watching coyotes out back with the night vision goggles.”

“I don't know how to thank you” began Sima.

“Then don't. Use your talents for Chris” said Myra. She kissed Sima's cheek and went to add more wood to the fire before lying down on Ginny's side of the bed so it would be warm for her when she came to join her.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

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