Saturday, May 23, 2009


Palette knives

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.

February to March 2020

On Sunday, finally Horde-less, Myra almost streaked to her desk and opened her manuscript while saying to Keller “Let's get some lines down, shall we?” Ten minutes later, she heard the sound of Ginny's big shears cutting through canvas. She sent a wish into the other room, that Ginny paint the floating candles on the pond with the children's faces reflected, before returning to an editing process which was picking up steam.

Ginny slept alone a few hours on her daybed. Myra got her up for breakfast, and Ginny only had time to eat, not shower, before they were due at Nancy's. Myra's oatmeal seemed to stop digesting as they climbed the steps to Nancy's door.

Nancy's face was unusually solemn when she began taking Myra's pulse. “Your aura is quite constricted” she commented.

“Myra's refusing her share of the responsibility in the sexual impasse between us” said Ginny.

Myra thought if Ginny was ever in a duel, she'd whirl around before taking the agreed-upon number of steps and begin shooting at the back of her opponent.

“Well, why don't you begin with telling me what your share of it is?” said Nancy with a slight smile. Myra was certain her pulse must have spiked at that point.

“I'm not sure. I've been working on it, talking it over with folks” said Ginny.

“What folks?” interrupted Myra.

“Margie -- “ began Ginny.

Margie?” demanded Myra.

“She asked me pointblank what was up with us. Wanted more than a platitude” said Ginny. “And she turned out to be helpful. What about you, whom have you included in your process?”

Myra's silence seemed to palpate briefly in the sunny room. She broke it by saying “Allie – she's had her sliding scale ratcheted upward to deal with what's going on in her feet, and Edwina's on that new osteoporosis drug – they're both scared to death, you know.”

“I know” said Ginny. “I talked with Edwina, too. Which means, by the way, she's told Allie and Allie must be aware you're not trusting her with this issue.”

Myra thought Ginny's tone was insufferably smug. She suddenly remembered what it felt like when she bolted to Anacortes, that first day when her phone was turned off and she had no connections in the world. She felt a nostalgia for that Myra, who acted impetuously in a way she could no longer consider. Then, just as suddenly, she recalled what had caused her to freak out: Finding out about Allie and Chris. The fact that they had lied to her, and about sex.

Well, shit.

She reluctantly asked Ginny what Edwina and Margie had had to say. Ginny looked briefly surprised. “Edwina's pretty negative about you and Chris having kissed. She thinks I must be madder about it than I'm admitting, and she asked me if I was spending time with Kip to make you jealous.”

“Are you?” said Myra.

Ginny leveled a clear blue look on her. “No. As I told her. I talked with Sima, too, who mostly focused on how she and Chris had screwed up through incomplete communication. I wound up listening to her tsurris. Which is understandable, at this point.”

Myra said “You mean you told her about me and Chris kissing?”

Ginny paused. “I don't think directly – I just assumed she knows, really. Why on earth would Chris have kept it from her?”

“You mean, what did she have to lose?” said Myra. “Sima had already left once?”

“No, I was thinking more about – Chris tended to face scary situations by testing those around her, to assess how reliable they were, whether they were seeing the whole picture, what the weak spots were. If she spotted a quagmire, she stayed clear until the risk was passed” offered Ginny.

“Are you calling her a coward? Because she fucking was NOT -- “ began Myra.

“Not a coward. But scared a lot of the time. You know I believe real courage comes from admitting your fear and doing the best you can anyhow” said Ginny.

Myra was rankled. She was relieved when Nancy picked up the thread. “You've still not answered my question about what you think your share of the current dynamic might be” she reminded Ginny.

“Oh, yeah. Well, Margie said she thinks we're operating on some kind of myth about how we got together. That you needed room and I gave it to you, proving my trustworthiness to you and proving to me that you chose me with a clarity you hadn't shown with any of your other lovers. She says it's a self-serving fairy tale. She kept repeating 'But you were the one who kissed her the first time, Mom', as if that altered what had gone on before. I think she's wrong, she wasn't there, after all. Still, I feel some confusion around it.”

Nancy began doing her hocus-pocus with Ginny then. Myra thought about what Ginny had said, and agreed Margie was in error. But she, too, felt a little niggle at the back of her brain, some hint she needed to think about it more deeply.

When Nancy switched to begin working with her, Myra said “Do you know what's going on with us? Like, what the problem is?”

Nancy grinned. “I think I have some comprehension of what you are each bringing to this blockage, yes.” Myra was silently delighted to hear that “each”.

“But you're not going to tell us, right?” she persisted.

“There's no urgency” said Nancy. “Every inch of the path is equally important, not simply the dramatic milestones.”

“I can really tell you're not a writer having to come up with plot arcs” remarked Myra.

“Or a painter” added Ginny. “Deciding on undercoats that will get covered over, and what gets excluded from the canvas perimeter entirely.” She and Myra looked at each other, then, the first long gaze they'd had in since the session began. Nancy smiled and began gathering up teacups.

That evening, Margie and Frances were taking the children for Jane and Gillam's date night. When they came over to pick up the kids, Frances had a small tray of ravioli whose recipe she said she was trying out for the restaurant.

“What's the filling? Should I make a butter sauce or something else?” asked Myra.

Frances glanced down at the children scuffling in the kitchen. “Uh...coniglio” she said. Myra was trying out Latin roots to come up with a translation, but Ginny of course beat her to the punch by saying “You have an organic source for rabbit?”

Mimi froze and repeated “Rabbit?” in a tone of horror. David looked at her, then turned and stared in the direction of Carly and Eric's house, as if Dink and Usagi might be in peril.

“Yeah” said Frances. “Farm-raised and free-range.” She began edging toward the door.

“You eat rabbits?” demanded Mimi, following her. “Do you eat cats and dogs, too?”

Charlie put his hand on Moon's back protectively.

Frances said “Dog isn't part of Italian cuisine. And I don't know any culture that eats cat.” Margie clicked her tongue and said sotto voce “They're going home with us, remember?”

“What are we having for dinner?” said Leah with a note of panic.

“Veggie pasta” said Margie. “With stewed apricots for afters.”

Lucia put her hand on Ginny's thigh and said “What are you going to eat?”

“Something out of the garden” said Ginny in semi-prevarication. Lucia observed “You mean rabbits who are stealing your carrots?”

“No, no” said Myra, interrupting the uproar about to emerge. “Listen, no animal any of us know is in danger, all right? It's time you went home with your aunties, I'm sure they've got fun planned for you all.”

Mimi took Margie's hand and said “Does that mean some people do eat dogs?” She whispered the last word because Gidg was flanking Margie's other side.

Margie launched into an anthropological discourse on indigenous locavore habits, full of words she knew the children probably didn't have even in their enriched vocabularies, as they herded their band out the back door. Once it shut behind them, Ginny said to Myra “It won't have a strong flavor, being farm-raised. I'd glaze onions and carrots first, with tons of garlic, and add tomatoes for a sauce.”

On Wednesday, Margie had to work all day at the university restoration lab. Myra and Ginny took the dogs for the afternoon. After lunch, Myra tackled rewriting the penultimate climax in her novel. She suddenly saw a way to thin it drastically, leaping from outcrop to outcrop like a mountain goat. She hit cut and paste keys with force, her breathing growing shallow, until finally it was ready for a read-through.

As she reached the final paragraph, she began crying. Though nothing in the book's action provided a link, she was flooded with the memory of watching the grandchildren sing the Golden Horde anthem with Chris, how Chris would make a farting sound with her palm on lips during the beginning, then pretend to wipe a bugger on Charlie's cheek, sending him into shrieking giggles. During the part where they flung poop, Chris would always swipe at her ass to collect an imaginary glob, then face Myra to hurl in her direction. Myra pushed her knuckles into her mouth as she convulsed, trying to ease the stabbing pain of missing Chris.

Keller hopped down from her cubby on the desk and sat facing Myra. She hated moisture on her fur, so she avoided actual contact when Myra cried, but she was willing to offer sympathy from a safe vantage. In the next instant, Myra felt arms that smelled of linseed oil come around her shoulders, and Ginny's voice said “Angel, what's wrong?”

“I've never written anything this good” sobbed Myra. “And Chris will never read it.”

Ginny pulled her over to the daybed and curled around her, letting her cry it out. She untied the bandanna from her neck to wipe Myra's face and offered it for a blow. When Myra was able to focus again, Ginny said “Is it really the best you've ever done?”

“Yeah. It's what I was born to write” said Myra. “I'm almost ready for someone else to see it.”

“Well, you know I'm panting at the end of my leash” said Ginny, extending her tongue and mimicking the dogs. Moon stood and came to the side of the daybed, looking at her with a question on his face.

“They need you-know-what” said Myra. “Sounds like a nice break.”

“I'll go with you” offered Ginny. “We have just enough time before the Horde gets here.”

That evening, Margie arrived to pick up the dogs at the same time as Gillam collecting his children. Carly and Eric were already there, helping Myra start dinner. They stood around the kitchen for a few minutes talking, as Ginny kept the kids in stitches by repeating bawdy nursery rhymes she'd learned as a child from Michael.

“Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow
With silver bells and cockle shells
And one goddamned sunflower”
recited Ginny.

All the children rushed to repeat “goddamned sunflower”, casting sideways glances at their father, who chose to ignore them.

“Margie, this strange thing happened when we were walking the dogs earlier. Gidg came to a stop and began growling. I mean, like she was about to attack, the hair was standing up on her back. But there was nothing near us, no animal or person that I could see” said Myra.

Margie looked alert and said “Where was this?”

“Do another one, Bubbe.”

“Okay: Jack and Jill went up the hill
Each had a dollar and quarter
When Jill came down, she had two and a half
You can bet they didn't go for water

The cascades of laughter were patently without comprehension, simply a reaction to Ginny's lascivious tone of voice.

“We'd gone north and west – you know that block where the spruce got hit by lightning? A house or two down from that” said Myra.

“A blue house with white trim?” asked Margie.

“Maybe. You know who lives there?”

“No, but she's done that before, stopping to look at that house as if it's a threat. I haven't heard her growl, though” said Margie.

“How many times has she done it?” asked Carly, attentive.

“Twice. Both times on night walks. It was creepy, actually. I couldn't tell if anyone was on the porch, it's overgrown with vines” said Margie.

“Have you felt like someone is following you?” asked Gillam. He and Carly exchanged glances. Myra felt a surge of tension in the room, which accelerated when Margie hesitated.

“Maybe” she admitted. “But I never saw anything.”

“Higgledy-piggledy, my fat hen
She lays eggs for the railroad men
Sometimes six, sometimes seven
Grease her little phhhtt and she'll lay eleven!”

All the children began imitating Ginny's lip-blowing sound. Gillam leaned in close to Margie and said “I don't want you going out alone at dark right now. Can you ask one of us to go with you?”

“Their last walk is after 11:00” objected Margie.

“That's all right” said Eric. “Call one of us.”

“In fact, we could take turns shadowing her” Carly said to Gillam. “See if we can spot anything.”

Margie moved to Carly's side and let his arm drape over her. “I think I'll call Aaron, too, run this by him” she said.

“Great idea” said Myra. “Give him that house address, let him find out who lives there.”

“What house?” asked Ginny, picking up on serious low voices.

“Tell you later” said Myra.

Saturday, Myra got up at dawn with Ginny to eat with her before Ginny left for a day with Kip. They were helping conduct a wetlands census two hours out of town. Ginny filled two large thermoses with soup and tea, while Myra made crab-avocado sandwiches, adding apples and oranges to Ginny's bag.

“Will you be stopping for dinner on the way home?”

“I don't know, it's up to Kip. I'll call you” said Ginny. She was visibly excited about her outing.

“Bring me back something interesting” asked Myra. She kissed Ginny's cheek. After she heard the car pull out, she finished cooking the rest of her blueberry waffle batter and stacked them on a plate in the warming oven for Sima.

She felt short on sleep but decided to stay up. She took her mug of tea out to the meditation bench. Rain was imminent. She hoped Ginny stayed warm, if not dry. Her thoughts drifted to Chris. She reminded herself to call Tina or Ricky this weekend and check in with them.

When she went back inside, Sima was sitting down to eat. Myra refilled her tea and kept her company. They discussed gift ideas for the round of grandchildren plus Jane birthdays which would arrive at the end of spring. Sima was already dressed for the day and told Myra she was going to Margie's garage, to set up her new work space. She would be eating lunch with Margie at the store, probably with Annie joining them, and she might not be back until after dinner.

Myra went upstairs while Sima did the breakfast dishes. She decided not to put on music, anticipating the rare silence of having the house to herself. A few minutes later, she heard the chime tones of Sima setting the alarm before she went out the back door.

She worked through lunch, making herself a quick egg salad with bruschetta that she ate at her desk, downing it with a cream soda. Later in the afternoon, she heard a small noise coming from Ginny's studio. She looked around – Franklin was not where he had been napping on her daybed.

“Franklin?” she called out. “You better not be trying to get in the side door of the gecko house.” There was a long silence, and she grinned. Franklin didn't like sharing his territory with Marisol and Hepworth.

A minute later, however, she heard another tiny clatter from the studio. “What do you think you're doing in there?” she called out again.

Lucia's voice answered “Nothing.”

Myra went around the corner in a run, discovering Lucia jabbing at a bucket of tile clay with one of Ginny's palette knives. Swearing under her breath, she grabbed Lucia's hand and carefully pulled the knife from it.

Lucia protested “I can come here to play, Bubbe said!”

“Where are your mommy and daddy?” asked Myra, putting the knife on a high shelf.

“Naptime for everybody” said Lucia. She was standing on one leg, and when Myra said “Come in here with me”, she saw Lucia limp badly on the other foot.

“What happened to your leg?” she asked, stopping to pick her up.

“It hurts” said Lucia. “I fell down.”

Myra switched direction, carrying Lucia to the elevator. In the kitchen, she set her on the counter and pulled up her pants leg to inspect for injury. Lucia's ankle was red and swelling. Myra probed it carefully as Lucia watched. She winced at extremes of motion but not in a way that Myra thought meant a break.

Noticing Lucia had on pajama bottoms and Charlie's beloved Batman hoodie, a garment he never shared, Myra suddenly realized she hadn't heard the alarm go off to indicate the door had opened without fingerprint access. In fact, Lucia had trouble turning the back door knob on her own. She looked over at it as she dialed Gillam's cell and asked “How did you get in the house, Luch?”

“Like Moon and Gidg” said Lucia, smiling to herself. Through the pet door? Myra measured it with her eyes and decided it was possible.

“But how did you get in the gate, then?” Lucia pressed her lips together tightly, and Myra was distracted by Gillam's voice mail kicking in. Myra hung up and dialed their house line instead. It, too, rang unanswered until the machine picked up. She pushed the button and was about to call Jane's cell when her phone rang in her hand.

“Mom?” said Gillam, sounding sleepy. “I couldn't get to it in time, what's up?”

“I have your youngest child here with me. She crawled in the pet door and was trying to hack into her clay with one of Ginny's big silver knives when I found her. She seems to have sprained her ankle somehow.”

“Son of a fucking bitch” said Gillam. She heard him say to Jane “Lucia is over at Mama's, see if the rest of them are still upstairs.” He said to Myra “I'll be right there.”

Myra warned Lucia to sit still as she went to the freezer for ice. She didn't have time to wrap it around Lucia's ankle before Gillam arrived, barefoot in sweats and a T-shirt, his hair mussed. He re-examined Lucia's leg, making sounds in his throat, before asking Myra “I don't know if I should take her to the ER or not, what do you think?”

But before waiting for a reply, he picked up the phone and called Jane “She's okay. Let 'em sleep. I'll be home in a couple.”

Myra said “I'd advise icing it and seeing how she walks on it. You can always take her in an hour if it gets worse.”

He took the ice from her and began tying it around Lucia's ankle with a dishtowel. “Luch” he said with an effort at calm, “Did you climb over the gate?”

Lucia might not offer much information but she had no skill at dissembling. She nodded, looking downward.

“How on earth?” said Myra.

“Jane's taken apart that metal etagiere she keeps plants on, to repaint it and get new glass shelves. She carried the metal frame out to the gravel at the edge of the playscape, so spray paint wouldn't hurt any grass. I found it dragged over to the gate. The scrollwork on the sides is small enough for little feet to use as a ladder, I guess. But, Lucia, how did you get through the cat wire at the top?”

Lucia said “I pushed my hands fru, like dis, and then my head. Like Batman.”

“Is that when you fell? Did you fall on the brick walk?” asked Myra, looking out the window. Six feet, at least. They needed to check for a concussion, then.

“I grabbed the blackberries, to swing like Tarzan. But it hurted my hands, and I fell on the grass” said Lucia.

Gillam swore and coaxed open her fisted hands. She had tears in the flesh of both palms, jagged but superficial.

“I'll get the first aid kit” said Myra.

“No!” yelled Lucia. “No spray!”

“We have to clean the booboos” said Gillam appeasingly. “I'll blow on it if it stings, and we'll use ointment, not the spray.”

After dressing her wounds, Gillam picked her up and leaned over to kiss Myra's forehead, saying “Thank god you were here.”

“Call me later to tell me how she's doing” Myra asked. She watched them go, Gillam talking softly to Lucia as she kept her arm stiff to hold herself as far away from his trunk as she could. She made a mental note to talk to Ginny: Lucia had never paid any attention to what she wore, but if she was starting to raid Charlie's closet for what she perceived as power garments, they should take her shopping on her own for clothes. She made a second mental note to ask Margie if Aaron had made any new security recommendations.

She pulled a turkey breast from the freezer and set it to thaw. She'd stuff it with wild rice and pine nuts for dinner. If nobody ate with her, the leftovers would do for lunch tomorrow.

On Sunday morning, Margie and Frances stopped by after walking the dogs. Myra was doing her best to make beignets, and Frances jumped in to collaborate: working with French-style dough was not either of them's forte. Margie sifted confectioner's sugar and grated dark chocolate for whatever emerged from their efforts. Ginny set a big pot of tea on the table just as Sima emerged from her bedroom.

"You're up late" remarked Ginny. "I don't remember hearing you come in last night."

Sima blushed, and they all stared at her. Ginny was the first to put the pieces together.

"You and Annie Gagliardi?" she said wonderingly.

"Well -- we sat up talking until 3. Which was -- is some indication" said Sima, pouring a cup of tea without meeting anyone's gaze.

Myra realized her surprise was not so much that Sima had already moved on, but that it was Annie. She'd always thought Annie had a sweet spot for Chris. Which didn't mean she couldn't also like Sima, she thought. She thought Margie and Frances were both waiting for her reaction. She gave a cry of gladness and dropped the round of dough she'd been shaping. Drifting flour behind her, she bustled over to Sima and gave her a giant hug from behind.

"Oh, Sima -- she's wonderful. And you are such a catch, girlfriend" enthused Myra.

"Don't make more of it than it is yet" cautioned Sima. "It's just -- well, I guess it's dating, as silly as that sounds at my age."

"Never too old to date" said Myra. "In fact, it's more fun at our age, I'd guess -- you must be pretty sure of yourself."

Sima finally looked at Myra and Ginny, her face alight. "A bolt from the blue -- but easy, and oh god it feels good."

"Well, I got only one warning for you, Sima" said Myra. "Don't you be thinking you're gonna relocate to Greenwood to be close to her. If anybody moves, she's moving in here. I'm not giving you away."

Sima laughed, a little shocked. "First of all, we're nowhere near talking about -- residential things. And secondly, even if Ginny was okay about it, I cannot imagine moving Annie in to live with us all."

Margie was giggling, and said to Frances "Annie was number five on the Myra roster if you don't count Michigan flings and the like."

Myra was scandalized. Trying to ignore Margie and Frances, she said to Sima "Then we'll buy another damned house, see if we can acquire the place across the alley from us. We'll need another place for the grandkids when they grow up, anyhow. Right, Ginny?"

Ginny only grinned at her, and said to Sima "I'm delighted for you. Whatever feels right to you, we'll support you and find a way."

Frances put a tray of beignets in to bake and said to Myra "How many more of these do we need?"

"I want to take a plate over to the grandkids, so as many as we can squeeze out." Myra returned to the kitchen to help Frances.

Margie leaned in close to Sima and whispered "Is she a good kisser? She's got a great mouth, all wide and curvy."

Sima was shocked again, but her smile deepened and she whispered back "She's to die for."

Ginny glanced at Myra, who had missed this exchange. She sipped her tea and kept silent.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

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