Thursday, May 21, 2009


Xena holding her chakram
Here's another installment of my Great American Lesbian Novel (first draft nearing completion), 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 2020

Annie stayed late after most of the other guests left, helping Sima take down decorations and bag trash. Ginny put away leftovers while Myra set the chocolate fountain to soak. She looked at the kitchen and said “I'll straighten the rest up tomorrow. I'm going to release the cats and take a bath.”

Before she reached the elevator, Ginny said “Okay if I join you?”

“For the bath?” Myra tried not to hesitate. “Sure.” She called out goodnight to Annie and Sima, and held the elevator door for Ginny. They rode up in an not-quite, awkward silence. When cats bolted for liberation, Ginny said “You start the bathwater, I'll strip the bed and do a quick vacuum.”

“Thanks” said Myra. She added rosemary salts to the tub, and brought a fresh set of linens plus comforter to the bare bed, before pulling off her clothes, brushing her teeth, and settling back into the steamy water with a sigh.

Ginny came into the bathroom naked and said “I put the litter box in the hall. Will you deal with it in the morning?”

“Yeah” said Myra. Her eyes were closed. She felt Ginny step into the tub, then opened her eyes to see Ginny looking down at her.

“May I lean back against you?” asked Ginny.

Myra spread her arms and Ginny turned around to sit in front of Myra before closing the gap. She had a washcloth and used it to drizzle water over her and Myra's shoulders.

“Jared is 15 years younger than Jen” she said after a minute.

“I find that more shocking than Jen being with a guy” said Myra.

“She and Poe are usually very friendly when they wind up at the same event, but Poe stayed completely clear of Jen tonight, I noticed” said Ginny.

“Guys from our generation haven't aged well” said Myra. “I guess if you want someone who doesn't resist basic lessons about sexism, you need to troll younger waters. But I still can't imagine what they find to talk about. He was nice, and earnest. Not nearly as sharp as Gillam or Carly, though.”

Ginny leaned forward and began soaping herself. “Did Margie tell you, she's got an agent she likes? And there's a gallery in San Francisco that's offered to show her work in late July.”

“Hot damn! No, we didn't get much of a chance to talk. She's going to do it, right?”

“Yes. Check with her about publicity before you post it on your blog. She needs to line up a lithographer who meets her standards” said Ginny, rinsing the washcloth and handing it to Myra before leaning back again.

“Is she going to offer the Kash-Kash Creek map? Or is that restricted information under our agreement with the Nature Conservancy, I wonder” said Myra.

“Her map is her own intellectual property, to do with as she wishes” said Ginny. “I don't know the particulars of her selection yet.”

Myra had her eyes closed again. Her hip still hurt from her tumble to the dance floor.

In a minute, Ginny said “I felt you push against me. After voguing.”

Myra felt instantly exposed. “What if I did? You're the one who's closed the door on sex between us.”

“What the fuck, Myra? That's completely inaccurate, and you know better” said Ginny, sitting forward and turning to look at Myra.

“You're taking an all or nothing stance, that's an ultimatum, which is another way of closing doors” said Myra.

Ginny stood abruptly, slopping water over the edge before it subsided to a lower level. “Have you worked on things at all with Nancy?”

“I work all the fucking time on everything” said Myra. “I thought the point of your lofty distance was so you wouldn't be co-ing me about this.” She kept her eyes closed.

“I have a session with Nancy on Monday, but seems like I should change it so we can both go in” said Ginny in a voice as chilly as the air now hitting Myra's wet body. She had left the tub and was drying herself off angrily.

“Whatever you want” said Myra, sitting up to run more hot water into the tub. Ginny dropped her towel on the floor, something she never did, and left the room, closing the door behind her. When Myra finally went to bed, Ginny was asleep, curled near the edge on her side. She was under the comforter but not the top sheet. Myra slid under both sheet and comforter, facing the other direction, and put herself to sleep by trying to remember all the lines of “The Gashlycrumb Tinies.”

In the morning, Ginny's side of the bed was cold. Myra dressed and went downstairs. Ginny was on the pond bench with all the garden tools laying on newspaper around her. She was sharpening and oiling metal. Sima didn't seem to be home. Myra made herself a breakfast of leftover taquitos and fruit salad. They had agreed to take the grandchildren all afternoon and overnight so Gillam and Jane could have extended alone time. Myra decided to not think about dinner until the kids were here. She went to her desk to work until then.

She took a quick break when Ginny offered a salad of frisee with Lyonnaise dressing. Myra thanked her and decided not to make lardons for her bowl, instead adding a wedge of Edam. Myra said “I was a buttwipe last night.”

“You certainly were” said Ginny, but she glanced into Myra's eyes then.

“I guess we take it to Nancy.”

“It's a wonder she doesn't hate to see us coming” said Ginny.

“Our tempests are no grief to her” replied Myra. She could see this irritated Ginny and didn't know why. She said “I'm not avoiding you, I'm just working as much as I can before we do childcare.”

“All right” said Ginny, carrying her bowl upstairs. Myra returned to her desk. Myra was finishing answering her mail when Ginny called out "Here comes the Horde." Myra pushed her papers into a drawer and started downstairs while Ginny wiped her hands and pulled on a tunic. Myra met her grandchildren at the back door just as they poured in, noisy and excited. After bestowing kisses, the wave moved on to Ginny. Myra said to Jane "Tomorrow at 1:00 good with you? I'm taking 'em to Quaker meeting, and we thought we'd go out for burritos afterward."

"Wow, almost 24 hours to ourselves" beamed Jane. "Listen, David had diarrhea this morning. None since, and it's probably just a reaction to something he ate, you know how touchy his stomach is, but keep an eye on him."

"Will do. Give our love to Gillam" said Myra, closing the door after Jane, who was practically skipping as she headed back home.

She turned to the swirl of children around her and Ginny, asking "Now, what would you all like to do this afternoon? Any requests?"

The chorused reply came back "Swordfights!"

Ginny leveled her gaze on Myra. Myra shifted her own eyes away.

Two weeks before, Myra had found a stash of used toys at Goodwill that included soft plastic broadswords, battleaxes, shields, and a very battered ring which she recognized as a chakram from long-ago Xena days. She'd bought everything except a spear and a couple of rapiers. When she brought it home, Ginny had hit the roof.

"It's bad enough you've been letting them watch your old tapes of Xena" she began yelling, but Myra cut her off.

"I didn't let them, Gillam borrowed them and he made that decision, not me" she protested.

"So now they have this completely starry-eyed version of slaughter by hand, and you want to encourage it?" Ginny continued, unchecked.

"Every kid in the world plays these kinds of games" said Myra. "Our five have been picking up sticks in the yard and going at each other, I'd rather they use these, far less damage potential."

"It's just going to solidify aggression, you know that crap about how it releases tension is completely wrong!" said Ginny, slamming her hand down on the table.

"I do know it's crap. This is about play, and teaching them to not let anger come into it. Hands-on training" said Myra. "Plus a giant emphasis on not hurting each other."

"Yeah, well you better be on top of that, girlfriend, 'cause the first time one of 'em smacks a sibling with a sword, I'm having a plastic bonfire in the barbecue pit, PCPs be damned" said Ginny.

Myra washed the items, repaired handles on two of the shields, and laid down the ground rules to her wide-eyed band before allowing them to touch the toys: "Absolutely never swinging anything at someone else's face or belly. If you aren't laughing and having fun, we're stopping, instantly. No mean words. Whoever is older in any given swordfight is twice as responsible as the younger one. And if you screw this up, Bubbe is taking them away forever." She tilted her head meaningfully in Ginny's direction. She saw comprehension in all five pairs of eyes -- Ginny's threats were firmly enforced.

She taught them stylized parries and sidesteps, which David loved and turned into solo dances. She also trained them in ululating and banshee cries, and they would often stop mid battle to complete with voice. She rigorously enforced the groundrules, which she called the Horde Code of Honor. They were young and insulated enough to accept it without question.

Ginny had ceased to scowl nonstop every time the swords were brought out from the toybox. She'd even spent one afternoon helping the children paint symbols and made-up heraldry on their favorite blades and shields.

So this afternoon, when once again swordfighting was first on their agenda, Ginny gave Myra The Look but didn't argue. However, when Mimi said "We've come up with characters, and we need help making costumes", Ginny was all ears. "What kind of characters?" she asked.

"I'm Xena" said David. He was always Xena, which meant he got the chakram. Myra had spent alone time with him showing him how to use it without throwing it, and he had evolved a kind of capoeira with the chakram held tight in his fist. He continued "So I need a vest with fringes on it."

Ginny grinned at Myra. "But not a bustier, I'm guessing."

"A what?" asked David.

"Never mind. Who else?" asked Ginny.

Mimi was Boadicea, Leah was Robin Hood, Charlie was Peter Pan, and Lucia wanted to be the "Pink Pamfer".

Ginny's eyes were aglow. "Well, let's go to the dress-up box first, then we'll gather around the art table and create costumes" she said. Myra called after them "I need to make pies for later, I'll catch you in a while."

Leah turned around: "What kind of pies?"

"Strawberry-apricot." That drew a cheer.

An hour later, the smell of baking crust was starting to fill the kitchen when the group came downstairs, bedecked in face paint, masks, fringes, various colored sashes, headbands, and a pair of pink velvet ears plus tail for Lucia. Myra stood in the dining room and marveled over each persona. Lucia demonstrated her growl and pounced, which caused Myra to fall back in terror. Mother Courage, watching from the sideboard, was not taken in, however. She, and all the other cats, would vanish once the swords emerged.

"Will you play with us now too, Gramma?" asked Leah.

"Well...I'm planning to roast chickens for dinner, let me get those started and I can join you then" temporized Myra. They broke out the battle gear as Myra began rubbing down two large hens with garlic-laced cashew butter, her favorite choice for chicken marinade.

Shortly after she pulled out the pies to cool and put in the chickens to roast, the eddying battle of Horde against Ginny had reached the dining room again. David made a lunge at Ginny and actually touched her abdomen with the edge of his chakram. She fell onto the floor, shrieking "You've eviscerated me! My intestines are spilling out onto the ground around me, aaghh, aaghh, it hurts so bad!" She continued to scream and writhe in agony as David looked on in horror.

Myra sighed. Ginny had her own ways of teaching lessons.

Mimi, looking very much like Margie suddenly, turned and said to Myra "How about if you come play with us and let Bubbe have a rest while her guts heal back up?"

Ginny was trying to stifle her laughter as Myra ducked behind view of the breakfast bar. When she stood back up, she had a colander balanced on her head and the long wooden stirring spoon in her hand as a sword.

"It's Ripley!" yelled the children, rushing in her direction. She made a break for it into the living room. Leah reached her first, and Myra smacked her sword so hard with the spoon that it went flying across the floor. Leah screamed and dove after it. Myra was slowly outflanked and encircled, until finally she was standing on Chris's former couch, her back against the wall, when the front door opened to let in Sima and Annie, back from their matinee.

"Oh, dear" said Sima, "Is this the end of Ripley?"

"Never say I!" shouted Myra, using the distraction of their entrance to shimmy over the counter into the kitchen, narrowly missing the cooling pies. As the Horde streamed around the corner after her, she vaulted the breakfast bar -- well, vaulted is how she thought of it. In reality, it took two tries on her belly, with much grunting, to get up onto the flat surface, and then some undignified wriggling to get over to the other side.

The Horde made an about face, with multiple collisions and pratfalls which had Annie helpless with laughter. Finally sorted out, they tore after Myra, who took two steps up the back stairs and turned to face them, snarling.

Ginny's voice drifted down from her studio above them: "No fighting on the stairs."

"You heard your Bubbe, you can't get on the stairs" Myra jeered at the Horde.

"But you're on the stairs!" objected Lucia.

"She's not the the boss of me!" gloated Myra.

Ginny's voice said mildly "Myra."

"But -- Call, they've got me trapped" Myra pleaded upward.

"You'll think of something" answered Ginny.

Five faces looked at Myra expectantly, with more than a little apprehension. Myra was remarkably good at thinking under pressure, they knew.

Myra hissed at them "I'm going to spray you all with deadly poison gas". She wheeled, thrust her ass in their direction, and let loose a long vibrato of a fart. Her innards had been vigorously massaged by bellying over the counter, she was seeking release anyhow.

Lucia and David actually fell backward. Myra burst through the ranks and gained sanctuary of the living room, while Sima joined Annie in hysterics and Ginny's disembodied voice remonstrated "Oh for shit's sake, Myra!"

Myra was eventually run to ground in the living room. After she was stabbed none too gently in the thigh by Mimi, she fell down obligingly, then lifted herself on one elbow to gasp "If I should die, think only this of me, that there's some corner of a foreign field that is for ever the smelter at Fiorina 161" before collapsing into stillness.

The Horde began a victory dance, clacking swords together and accepting the applause of Sima and Annie, who had followed them into the family room. Suddenly David yelled "Watch out, the baby alien is about to bust outta her stomach!" This had happened before when Ripley was conquered. The Horde convulsed away from her, and the flat of Charlie's blade smacked Leah solidly across her face.

Leah promptly went into shrieking sobs. Sima got to her first and picked her up, while Myra pulled Charlie onto her lap because he, too, was crying loudly, saying "I didn't mean to do it, I swear!" Myra comforted him as she took a hit of her inhaler.

Ginny was there in seconds. She took Leah from Sima and sat down on the brick ledge next to the fireplace, inspecting her face, finding no damage, then murmuring "I know, it was a nasty shock, huh."

Sima picked up Lucia instead, keeping her from joining the weepers. Charlie bawled "Now we'll never get to play swords again!"

"Well, now -- did you deliberately hit your sister in the face?" asked Myra, looking at Ginny who nodded resignedly.

"No, no, I'd never hit her!" wailed Charlie.

"Then we're going to call it an accident. Only real accidents count, but we'll let this one slide by. Why don't you go tell Leah how sorry you are and how much you care about her?" suggested Myra.

Still sobbing, Charlie walked across the room with Myra and blubbered his apology to Leah, who accepted it rather well, Myra thought, considering the red welt on her cheek.

Once the crying was done, Mimi said "Can we play some more?"

"I've got to check on the chicken" said Myra. Lucia looked hopefully at Sima.

"I'll join you" offered Annie. "I'm going to be Bellona the Horrible." At Myra's questioning look, she explained "Roman goddess of war, predated Mars or Aries."

"Do tell" said Myra as she went to the kitchen, handing her colander helmet to Annie.

Ginny said to Sima, "Are you going to be Judith?"

"No, I feel more like Emily Landau today" said Sima. "Warsaw Ghetto Uprising -- a 17-year-old who tossed a grenade into a cluster of SS. Will one of you get us swords and shields, too?"

Ginny went outside to begin pulling items for a salad as the Horde took on ancient Rome and Mila 16. Half an hour later, Margie walked in the back door with a pot full of Frances's legendary marinara from the restaurant.

Annie was helping children put away swords for the night -- Myra had promised a new activity after dinner. She got hands and faces washed as Sima cut long strips of Tuscan bread, and rice buns for Lucia, to dip in the marinara. This was perhaps the children's favorite meal next to gnocchi they'd made themselves.

Over dinner, Ginny asked Margie "How's the plans going for a New York version of Carminati's?”

"Her cousin there has agreed to run it after the New Year, she's become available. And she's got some leads on locations. We're thinking about taking a couple of days at Thanksgiving to fly to New York and check it out" said Margie.

"Really?" said Ginny. "Myra and I were talking about a trip to look at Hettie in MOMA, and see the sights. Maybe take the whole gang. Do you want to be alone, you two, or would you like to join travels?"

"We have business to transact and Frances' family to see" said Margie, "But I'd adore getting to go with you all. Has to be at Thanksgiving, though."

"Let's check with Jane and Gillam." said Myra. "You too" she nodded at Annie and Sima. "We can meet more of your family, maybe, see where you grew up?"

Sima grinned.

Lucia asked "What we doing after dinner, Gramma?" Her face was smeared with chicken fat and marinara.

"It's a surprise. But should I give you a hint?" At the clamor of yeses, Myra said "It's the second half of a project we started one day last week."

You could almost hear small brains in gear, trying to remember last week. David and Mimi conferred, then Mimi said "When we painted those cans?"

"Bingo" said Myra, pointing her finger at Mimi. Myra had saved small cat food cans for a while, scrubbing them and sanding down rough edges, until she had a couple dozen. Last week, they'd sat at the art table to paint the cans with Ginny's waterproof acrylic, each child getting to design their own. The purpose of the cans had not yet been revealed.

"What we doing with the cans?" persisted Lucia.

"You have to wait. After dessert" said Myra.

Once the table was cleared, Myra gathered the bright array of cans into a basket with two boxes of tealights and a stove lighter while the children were sent to get a small quilt each from the linen cupboard. It was a clear, dry night, but would get damp and chilly fast.

They went to the fishpond, where Myra lay on her belly at the side, joined by children clustered on either side of her, faces over the lip of the pond, feet waving in the air. She helped each child light candles and let them adrift in their painted coracles, until the pond was ablaze with bobbing, flickering flames.

Everyone sang together for a while, Myra sitting up for better breath. The children stayed with hands outstretched over the pond, nudging their boats away from the side. The reflections on their faces filled her with emotions she couldn't sort out.

After one pause, she began singing softly:

Reflections on the water
Like echoes in my mind
Speak to me of passing days and nights
And passing time.
The falling leaves are whispering
That winter's on its way
I close my eyes, remembering
The warmth of yesterday
It seems a shame to see September
Swallowed by the wind
And more than that, it's oh so sad
To see the summer end
And though the changing colors
Are a lovely thing to see
If it were mine to make the change
I think I'd let it be-e-e-
But I don't remember hearing
Anybody asking me...

Ginny asked gently "Is that Gordon Lightfoot?"

"John Denver" said Myra, as David sat up with a keening sound and pushed himself into Myra's lap.

"It's so sad" he said, "That song was so sad. It makes me miss Auntie Chris. I still think about her every day!"

"Oh, honey boy" said Myra, "So do I." She sensed Ginny's arms going around Sima on the bench behind them.

"I don't understand why we don't get to see her any more. I mean, I know she's dead, but why?" he wept.

"It doesn't make sense to me, either" murmured Myra. "She surely didn't want to leave us, I know that for sure."

"I remember her" said Lucia. "She sang to me a lot."

Ginny slid to the ground to pick up Lucia. "She did, every chance she got."

"Are you going to die?" asked David, looking into Myra's face. "You and Bubbe?"

Myra felt her heart stop a beat. "Someday. Everyone who gets born also has to die. However, we plan to see you all grown up before that day comes."

"But you said Auntie Chris didn't want to die, but she did anyhow" said David.

Leah was now sitting up, pressing against Myra's side.

"We never know for sure" admitted Myra. "I hate it that that's the way things are set up. If I were Queen of the Universe, I'd make some people live forever."

"Like who?" said David, diverted.

"I bet you can come up with the same list of names I would" said Myra.

David began saying names, and all the children joined him. When they'd exhausted all the people they knew, Charlie added "And the cats. All cats."

Anthea, hunkered down across the pond watching the water for curious fish, blinked her appreciation at them.

Each child eventually found a lap, curled into their quilt and drifted off as the tealights blinked out one by one. The adults continued talking in whispers for a while, then carried sleeping children upstairs to bed. Myra took Charlie to the bathroom and persuaded him to pee, still mostly asleep. She put a plastic pad under the sheet on the guest bed where he was joining Mimi and Lucia -- he didn't have accidents often, but he was a heavy sleeper.

David and Leah were put on Ginny's daybed, and Franklin indicated he was inclined to join them -- sleeping children were no threat to cat dignity. Margie gathered the floating cans and put them on the barbecue brick wall to dry before going home.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


kat said...

there appears to be a big chunk of this episode missing.....

I got your message. LOVE! the song, and will consider teaching it to my beasts on the last day of school :)

That way, thy won't bug me with it!!

Maggie Jochild said...

It's not missing, it was just hidden behind the "Read More" after the fold feature. Which is a software tweak that occasionally does not work on Blogger. I took out the jump, making a long post but all viewable.

Kate, you have my permission to alter the lyrics of the Golden Horde anthem to make them less specific to the Bates-Josong Clan and more generic to the typical savagery of small children everywhere. As long as you keep in the flinging poop part, complete with hand motions...

For those who are wondering, after a long bout of writing wherein I was singing the Golden Horde Anthem to myself over and over while I worked -- yes, it has a tune, not just words -- I decided before going to bed, I needed to share the Real Song with somebody. So I called Kat's voice mail while she was at work and left it there.

She can probably blackmail me with it at some point in the future. I was full of gusto and missed notes.

kat said...

So the last line of the post is the Myra referring to Ginny's guts? The formatting confuzzed me...

Anyway, yes, I got home, listened to the song, laughed my ass off....Thanks Maggie!

It was especially timely, since earlier that day, one of my students, a little guy named Cole who's awfully toddler still (at 3 and a half), came waddling out of the bathroom with his pants around his ankles and poo smeared all over his butt.

He's so sensitive though, that when I screeched at him to stay in the bathroom stall, he started crying and demanded to know why I was mad at him.

The obvious answer of "Because we don't waddle around showing poo to everyone during lunch for fuck's sake!" obviously wouldn't have been a good one....

sorry to gross everyone out.

the funny part is that my boss thinks that crying children are the hardest part of my job. HA!!!!

Maggie Jochild said...

Hit refresh and see if the last line isn't about Margie putting the cans to dry in the barbecue area before heading home. If you still don't get the full post (or anybody else doesn't), let me know. It looks fine on my end.

When my daughter was five, she had diarrhea that was not discovered until I heard her crying in the bathroom. I went in to discover, in her difficulty wiping herself, she'd managed to get it EVERYWHERE. Like, five feet up on the shower curtain! On the mirror, on the air vent. Whenever I asked her how that happened, she cried harder. I had to put her in the tub to get her clean, and then scrub down the bathroom. I really don't think she did it on purpose, she wasn't that kind of kid. Just panicked and went berserk is my best guess.

Life with small kids is all about bodily processes and the substances produced thereby.

kat said...

tell me 'bout it. The next day a kid sneezed IN MY EYE!!!!!

kat said...

nope, haven't been able to find the rest of the chapter....

Maggie Jochild said...

Okay, I found the formatting error and fixed it. Pretty sure now. Let me know if I'm wrong.