Friday, May 15, 2009


Life In Hell cartoon by Matt Groening
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.

Beginning 2020

They got through Christmas and Boxing Day, mostly coasting on habit and letting the children's holiday glee fill voids whenever possible. Ginny sat with Sima twice when she tried to call Susan in Boston, only getting the machine. Anton and Jemima arrived, and Myra was glad Gillam had the next week off because he looked more tired than ever.

Every morning when she woke up, she had a sensation of impending doom, as if the fire alarm had just sounded or someone had screamed. It took her several seconds, sometimes almost a minute, before she remembered that Chris was dead, forever dead. This felt different than losing her mother or Gil. This was worse, and easier – the easier part was because of how Chris had done it, had helped them all get ready. Myra didn't want it to be easier, it felt disloyal to Chris, but she wasn't sure how she could have born it otherwise.

They decided on the afternoon of Sunday, January 5th, for Chris's memorial service. Gillam insisted it be that weekend, while people were still off work, instead of waiting another week so it wouldn't be two days after his birthday. They had his party on Friday after lighting candles and eating together, a quiet gathering. He wore the scarf Chris had given him tied loosely around his neck.

For the memorial service, they had posted notices online and sent e-mails, made calls, rented the Quaker Meeting house. Frances found a caterer who could handle the menu they assembled. Ginny framed her life-size portrait of Chris building doors to place at the front of the room. She and Gillam assembled a photo display of Chris's life, and created a montage of several shots to be printed and handed out.

Tina came with her children, riding in Ricky's truck. A few cousins also drove in, and Myra was moved to see Bernie attend. The structure of the service was left to LeRoy and Mary Angeline, with Sima's input.

The family ate lunch together beforehand at Myra and Ginny's house. Gillam walked over wearing his grandfather's suit. Little David had on a new black suit as well with pegged legs and shiny dress shoes in which he kept doing pirouettes. Leah had on a new lavender dress, sprigged with lace, and matching velvet ribbons tying her long hair into braids. Mimi wore navy silk pants and a Chinese-collared jacket with muted gold thread. Charlie had on David's hand-me-downs but didn't seem to care because it was a dark green suede jacket with pleated black slacks that made him feel very Big Kid.

“Where's Jane?” asked Myra, persuading Charlie out of his jacket and into a bib before sitting down to eat.

“Battling with Lucia about attire” said Gillam. “She doesn't want to wear a dress, which is fine, but all of her good pants and shirts are stained, turns out, and we don't have time to go buy something new.”

Ginny set aside the pitcher she was using to brew tea and said to Myra “Do we have anything dressy that will fit her among her clothes here?”

“Maybe that red velvet tunic” ventured Myra. “But all her pants are jeans or corduroys, and battered at that.” Lucia was hard on her garments, harder than even Charlie. Maybe because almost everything she gets has come from an older sibling thought Myra.

Ginny was halfway up the stairs when Myra called out “Never mind, Gin, they're coming through the gate.” Lucia walked in with eyes swollen from crying but her face was aglow. She had on Charlie's grey flannel dress suit from the year before, one of his new white shirts too big on her but covered by vest and jacket. She had on his last-year dress shoes as well. Around her neck was the bear claw necklace.

Ginny bent over to exclaimed “You look stunning, Lucia!”

Lucia didn't quite meet her eyes as she replied “Will you polish my shoes, Bubbe?”

“Of course” said Ginny. “Climb into your chair and I'll do it as the table gets set.”

Jane grinned wryly at Gillam. She whispered “She's wearing a pair of his superhero briefs, too. He won't care about the suit, since he's got David's, but the underwear he'll squawk about.”

At the service, Myra was not numb like she had been for Chris's burial. She cried often, usually with a child hanging onto her hand or in her lap. When it was her turn to share, she told the story of first meeting Chris, how Chris had crossed the room at a friend's gathering to seemingly pick a fight with her. She then read a page from Chris's journal: The day she'd received her diagnosis of cancer. It was brief and sardonic, but she broke down before the end and Carly took the book from her to finish reading the last two lines.

They stayed at the Meeting House until 8:00, singing, telling stories, eating from the buffet, and eventually starting to drum. Allie played one of Chris's drums, big tears splashing down onto the worn leather top. They left only because the custodian came to clean up. Annie, Nika, and Chris's family returned with them to Myra and Ginny's house. Gillam and Jane left soon, because the next day was a return to school. Tina and her children were staying overnight in the guest room, and Ricky had been offered Margie's guest room but said he wanted to crash on the couch. They were driving back to Colville very early in the morning, so everyone went to bed by 10:00.

As she closed their bedroom door, Ginny said to Myra “Is Sima okay on her own?”

“I asked. She said she was better than she's been all week. Some sort of relief about re-entering her community here, I think” said Myra.

“The grandchildren were more somber today than at the funeral” said Ginny. “The mourning clothes, you think?”

“Maybe. Plus they've been with all of us as we let go, so they have some role models now” said Myra.

“Margie said Jane and Gillam are still arguing about whether or not they should have come to the cabin and seen Chris as she was dying” said Ginny, rehanging her black silk shirt. “I heard Jane say something to him like he needed to let his mothers fend for themselves, his primary responsibility was to his own children.”

“What does that mean?” said Myra, stilled.

“Maybe you can find out” said Ginny. “He'll tell you if you ask him outright.”

“Hell” Myra muttered to herself.

The next morning, she and Ginny got up to make breakfast for Chris's family before they left. Myra went back to bed for a couple of hours after they left. When she returned to the kitchen, Sima and Ginny were at the table, looking as if they hadn't moved an inch, although Myra could tell Ginny must have because a pile of herbs and still-damp kale from the garden was on the counter.

Myra made a smoothie and sat down with them. Sima refreshed her cup of tea and said "I think it's time we talked about my place here."

Myra spooned out a chunk of banana that hadn't blended well. "Okay. What do you want? You just ask."

Sima's sorrow was more visible this morning. "I remember Chris telling me stories about some Native people -- god forgive me, I can't remember who -- where if a married man died, one of his brothers would take in his widow as a second wife." She looked directly at Myra and said gently "You don't have to do that with me. You don't owe it to Chris, or to me."

Ginny reached across the table and took one of Sima's hands in her own.

"I want you here, and not because you're Chris's widow" said Ginny. "I've missed you terribly. You and I were friends before Myra ever took notice of me. I -- I couldn't believe you just left me like you did. I mean, I would have tried to understand, Sima, I did try and I'll do whatever -- "

Sima interrupted. "I know, Ginny. I always felt like I had an identity with you that wasn't mostly built around my relationship with Chris."

Into the silence that followed, Myra said slowly "But not me? I treated you like an appendage?"

"Not as cold as that" tempered Sima. "But you, and Allie, you were Chris's first. There were the three of you, and then I got added on, then Ginny. Then the kids. And then Edwina."

"That's how families grow" said Myra in a wounded, hollow voice.

"Don't take this as an accusation, Myra, because it's not. It's just -- the only place where I was someone's first choice, consistently, was with Chris. And...not even always with her." Sima looked at Myra challengingly, then at Ginny. "You've been jealous of Chris, but Ginny, you never had any doubt that you were Myra's heart's desire."

Ginny met Myra's eyes, then looked back at Sima. "Actually, I have had those doubts, Sima. About Allie, and about Chris, on a regular basis. Plus one or another of her exes, from time to time. Although not – not since my big secret got revealed, I guess you could put it." She paused, and added “I was helped a lot by conversations with Chris, actually."

Myra cleared her throat, then asked "So -- you wanted to be somebody's first choice, without any doubts? Is that what Susan represented to you?"

Sima nodded. "Part of it. Yes." She wasn't meeting Myra's eyes now.

Myra was struggling with conflicting emotions. Finally she said "I'm so sorry, Sima, that I failed to express how much you mean to me just for who you are. I'm so sorry I let you down."

Sima did look at Myra, then. Myra went on "I -- I just don't want you to leave us again, Sima. I need you, I honestly do. And my children need you, and my grandchildren need you. But I don't want you to do without love, either. So if you want us to help you mend your bridge to Susan -- if you need to move back to -- " Myra couldn't finish the sentence.

Sima began crying and got up to her arms around Myra from behind. "No, that's not what I'm saying. I don't have any solid clue about what to do with Susan, how I feel about her. I want to be with you all here, I do. I just can't believe -- how can it be that I only figured this out after Chris is dead? It's so unfair. I was so unfair to her, but it's unfair to me now, too." She was sobbing heavily. Ginny went to her and pulled her into her arms.

Myra leaned her head forward onto her own hands and wept, too. After a couple of minutes, she lifted her face and said "See, this is when we need Chris. She'd make some appalling joke and we'd all start feeling better." They laughed.

Sima pulled her chair next to Myra and sat down with her arm over Myra's shoulders. Ginny sat down on the other side of Sima.

Myra said "When Ginny and I were -- when I was determined to break up with Ginny, and nobody could even get me to talk about it, I think it was Chris who turned me around."

"I didn't know that" said Ginny in shock. "I assumed it was Allie. And your mother."

"No, it was the one person who I never expected to be your defender" said Myra wryly.

"I didn't know it either" said Sima. "I wish I had."

"Here's what she told me." Myra repeated, as best she could, the conversation she and Chris had that day. Sima began crying again before she was done.

"So, seems pretty clear to me that what she'd expect of us is not to see all this as mistakes. Not to hang onto it as tragedy. I'm not sure how to do that, but I'm gonna try" said Myra.

Ginny giggled unexpectedly. When they looked at her questioningly, she said "I guess I'm channeling Chris, but I just thought of a Life in Hell cartoon, from decades ago. It was a single frame, a full view of a room where one of the little rabbits had apparently turned over an ink well, and then freaked completely, because every single piece of furniture, lamps, paintings, windows, even the wall was either broken or had inky handprints on it, or both. It was a disaster zone. And there was a shadow of a grown-up rabbit standing in the doorway, with the little rabbit looking up at the grown-up. All he says is 'Mistakes were made.'"

They all lost it, laughing hysterically. Sima would repeat "Mistakes were made" and they'd surge into laughter again. Finally Myra had to use her inhaler, and Ginny got up to make more tea for them.

"So" said Myra, "You'll stay here? For now, at the very least?"

"Yes" said Sima, "But only if I can have sex with you sometimes."

The look on Myra's face sent Sima back into hysterics, and Ginny had to lean on the counter, she was laughing so hard. When she could talk again, she walked over to Sima and gave her a high five, saying "I have waited for decades for someone to pull that one on her."

Myra, giggling nervously, sucked at the last of her smoothie.

Sima said "I know you'll be talking this over with Allie. Tell her to come to me with any questions, okay?"

"You got it" said Myra. "In fact -- I won't talk stuff over with Ginny, either, that has to do about you without trying to discuss it with you first. Like a responsible collective member would. No couples privilege here."

Sima's face lit up. "I would really like that. So -- could I redecorate that front area and claim it as my own?"

"Go for it" said Myra.

"Are you thinking about repainting?" asked Ginny. Sima said “No. I like the colors Chris chose. But I want to hang some photos of her, and move the bed.”

“If you want to redecorate or put your things in the rest of the house, please do" said Myra. "Only restrictions are, don't take down Ginny's art anywhere without talking to us about it, and our work spaces are off limits to change."

"As if" said Sima. "Maybe I can think about ideas, and we can talk it over at dinner in a few days?"

Myra nodded, looking out the window at Margie coming through the side gate. Ginny got back up to pour a cup of tea for Margie.

"She hasn't eaten breakfast yet, either" said Myra.

"I'll make her some eg -- how do you know?" asked Ginny.
"The way she walks. I can always tell when she's hungry" said Myra.

Chris's big gifts to the grandchildren had been carried back to Jane and Gillam's house, except for Lucia's kiln and tile-making table. Ginny said Lucia needed complete adult supervision to work with clay safely, pointing out she was still a baby. Myra said under her breath “As long as that theremin is out of here, that's all I care about.”

On Wednesday, Leah got special permission to come over alone after dinner to work on a belated birthday card for her father. She lugged her printing press and type behind her in the little red wagon, dragging it (with muddy tracks) into the house and onto the elevator after Myra. Allie was there, having her art session with Ginny, and Edwina was at Myra's second computer. Myra spread a dropcloth around her desk, cleared its surface and covered it with a plastic tablecloth over it. She set up Leah's little hand-crank press there and borrowed a stool from the breakfast bar for Leah to sit on.

"Do you know what you want to say?" she asked Leah, settling back into her own chair.

"I wrote him a poem" said Leah proudly, fishing a scrap of paper from her pants.

"Okay, then. Put on your Science Class apron, to protect against spills" said Myra, handing it over. She began reciting "Before we use any power tools, let's take a moment to talk about shop safety."

With a wide grin, Leah joined her in the chant Myra loved to repeat when firing up the food processor or her computer: "Be sure to read, understand, and follow all the safety rules that come with your power tools. Knowing how to use your power tools properly will greatly reduce the risk of personal injury. And remember this: there is no more important safety rule than to wear these — safety glasses."

Myra could hear giggles coming from Ginny's studio. Edwina said wryly "If I didn't know better, I'd say you have a crush on that man."

It was close to bedtime before Leah had struck a print that satisfied her and decorated it with crayons. They made an envelope together, Leah having moved into Myra's lap.

“Grandma, could I spend the night here? Please? I know I have to go to Montessori tomorrow, but I'll make my own cereal and get dressed by myself, I can do that.”

Myra hesitated. “You'd have to sleep in the guest room or on a daybed, without a brother or sister nearby.”

“On your daybed, here?” Leah looked thrilled.

“Yes, I could make it up with sheets and a quilt for you. Actually, Keller and Franklin would probably both join you.” Myra could hear Ginny in the doorway at her back. She turned around to meet Ginny's eye. Ginny said “I'll call Gillam. You need to start getting some of that ink off her hands and face.”

Ginny made the bed for Leah and laid out school clothes for her as she washed and put on pajamas. Myra brought her a cup of steamed milk, and Allie sat with Edwina to tell Leah a story before the four of them tucked her in. After Allie and Edwina left, Myra returned to her desk, with only the brass banker lamp on. Leah was not yet asleep, stroking Keller tucked into her side.

“Are you going to write?” asked Leah.

“Yep. But no talking, it's sleepy-time for you.”

Myra heard the rumble of a canvas roll in Ginny's studio. This will be the first painting she's done since Chris died she thought. She opened the creek girl manuscript and re-read her outline. I have to change the whole damned thing. But this did not dismay her, and she decided to not wait until the first draft was finished. She'd start the revision now. It was a new year.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


C. Diva said...

My daughter and my wife sit down together on Sunday mornings to watch Norm. My wife did so with her father when she was a child.
My wife's mother and I have discussed it; we appreciate the puzzle aspects of the process, but that's about it.

kat said...

Bwah Hah Hah Hah!!!!
"...than these. Safety Glasses."

I love Norm!