Monday, May 18, 2009


(Coyote Self Portrait by John Nieto.)

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.

January 2020

When Myra got up, Ginny, Kip and Sima were eating a lunch of soup and salad. The back door was closed and there was no hose in the hall.

“How's the pond?” she asked. Ginny was chewing, and after a few seconds, Sima answered “Almost back to normal temperature. Kip located someone with a spare heater, and it's doing the trick.”

“Well, the real rescue was by Ginny. The ph isn't back to normal yet, we're probably going to see more die-off” added Kip.

Ginny reached out and squeezed Kip's hand. Kip turned bright red. Ginny said “You're welcome to hang out here today, if you're not busy. But I have to go back up and continue painting after I eat.”

“Maybe I'll sit in your studio and make calls, if that's all right with you” said Kip. She was one of the few people Myra knew who didn't have a cell phone. Myra looked at the soup, decided she was not in the mood for cabbage, and instead made a roast beef sandwich. She wordlessly carried it up to her study with a bottle of Coke.

When she heard Kip's voice from Ginny's studio, she put on headphones and listened to music, managing to immerse herself in her writing. She jumped violently some time later when Leah leaped onto her lap from the side. She pulled off her headphones, looking at the clock and saying “My god, it's that late already?”

“I called to you several times” Ginny yelled from the other room.

“What's our snack?” said Leah, trying to read the page up on the computer screen. Myra realized it was a graphic sex scene, one of three she'd written that day, and hurriedly closed her document.

“I didn't make anything yet” said Myra. “Go ask Bubbe” she added in an innocent voice. She went to the stairwell and called down “We've got 'em” to Jane, who waved and left. The children were clustered around Ginny, tracking paint smears from the floor all over the tile.

“There's leftover soup” Ginny said to Myra.

“It's too boring for them” said Myra. “Never mind, I'll do it. Are you going to keep painting?”

“If that's all right with you. It's Thriftstore Day, I know you like doing that with them.”

“Where's Kip?”

“She left a while ago.” Ginny turned and looked out the window toward the pond. “Damn, there's another floater. I'll go deal with it.”

“What's a floater?” asked Charlie. Myra hustled them all into the elevator and used the ride to explain what had happened with the pond. They were all stricken and rushed outside to stare at the belly-up severum Ginny was netting from the surface.

“You're not going to give that to the cats, are you?” demanded Mimi.

“No. I'm putting them in the compost, where they'll return to the earth” said Ginny.

“Did the leviathan die?” asked David.

“No, I'm pretty sure not. The biggest fish hunkered down at the bottom and managed to stay warm” said Ginny.

“Let's have a funeral” said Lucia. “I'll play drums.”

“No, no funeral” said Ginny. “The pond is having its own memorial service and we're not invited, because we don't know these fish personally.”

“I do” argued Charlie. “I talk to every one of them when we feed them.”

“But they don't talk back to you, do they?” said Ginny irritably. “Listen, it's been a bad day, let me deal with this on my own.”

“Come on” said Myra. “We'll go get wraps at Ozzie's before we hit Goodwill, okay?” They went out the front gate to the car.

Later, at dinner, Ginny reheated the soup and put the tureen on the table, along with a new salad and Myra's baked potatoes. Myra got the last of the roast beef and shredded it into her soup with a dollop of sour cream and a quantity of freshly-ground pepper. Margie, over for dinner, raised her eyebrows at Sima.

“What's the total loss on the pond front?” Sima asked.

“Sixteen” said Ginny. “Eleven danios, five severum. I'm just hoping none died in the grotto and are floating in there, out of sight.”

She was eating quickly, but between bites, she pushed Margie to call her agent and schedule a show of her maps. “You can sell lithographs, if you don't want to let go of the originals” she said.

“The people who come will be hoping for a Ginny Bates Junior” said Margie.

“Yes, at first they will” said Ginny, surprising Margie. “But your work speaks for itself. It's time you take this next step, creatively. Gallery shows teach you lessons nothing else will.”

Sima joined in with Ginny, and by the time Ginny headed back upstairs to her easel, Margie had said she'd discuss it with Frances, then call their own cookbook publisher for an agent recommendation.

After dinner, Myra began cleaning the kitchen. Margie said “We're going to take in a movie, you want to go?”

“No. I'm in a good place with the novel” said Myra. Her voice was crabby, however. Margie raised her eyebrows at Sima again and said “Well, then, we'll see you later.” Once they were out the side door, Margie said “What's up with them?”

“I don't know. Sounds like something with the pond. Maybe Kip coming over?” ventured Sima.

“Mom didn't even ask what movie we were going to watch” remarked Margie. “Go ahead to the car, I have to shut the dogs in the house.”

Annie Gagliardi immediately said yes to the idea of a shared studio with Sima, and they began planning renovation to insulate and upgrade the garage. They also began collaborating on designs for the metal canopy over Carly and Eric's stairs. Ginny finished her second painting, a portrait of Sima waltzing with David standing on the tops of her feet. She came to bed with Myra the second night, but they did not wake up or talk. After finishing her painting, she slept for 12 hours and got up before Myra did the following morning.

On Sunday, Allie and Edwina showed up before lunch with two rotisserie chickens and a large chair which needed refinishing and reupholstering. Ginny and Edwina put the chair in the carport and began the project, while Allie came to the kitchen to help Myra make the rest of their meal. After a few minutes, Sima joined the carport crowd.

Allie carried around a stool from the breakfast bar and set it before the counter where she was cutting vegetables.

“What's up with you?” asked Myra.

“My feet...they're swelling a lot. And sometimes I don't have much feeling in them” said Allie reluctantly.

Myra stopped stirring gravy and said “Fuck, Al. You been to the doctor?”

“I got an appointment next week.”

“Have you told Edwina?”

“Of course. She noticed I had a cut on the side of my heel that I hadn't felt happen” said Allie.

After a long pause, Myra said “You think it's diabetes?”

“Well, I saw Nana go through this” said Allie. “That's my worst fear. Next to losing my eyesight.”

“Fuck” said Myra again. “You want me to go to the doctor with you?”

“No, Edwina is. I haven't told anybody else yet” said Allie.

“You want to keep it under wraps until after you see the doc?”

“No, it's okay.” Allie looked up at Myra. “Truth is, you were the one I was afraid to tell.”

“Why on earth would you be afraid to tell me?”

“Because...I know how I'd feel if you was in trouble right now. Scared shitless” said Allie.

Just the two of us left thought Myra.

As if reading her mind, Allie said “I lean on you so much, I sometimes feel bad about it. But lately you been – sort of across the room, if you know what I mean.”

“Allie...if anybody does too much leaning, it's me on you” said Myra, meaning it. “And I haven't been talking to you about how much it hurts to not have Chris around because I know you're feeling as much as I do.”

“We could still share it” said Allie, her voice stubborn. “We always have faced everything together.”

Myra turned off the burner, feeling like she couldn't think entirely clearly because she was so swamped by emotion.

“Al...The smartest thing I ever did was deciding to do whatever it took to have you in my life. Everything else good has come from that choice” said Myra.

“Don't talk about it like it's over” said Allie. “Are you stepping back because you don't want to lose me, too?”

“I don't know what I'm doing” said Myra. “I didn't realize I was stepping back, as you describe it.” She suddenly remembered that Ginny had said something about it to her. She didn't want to give Ginny any credit at the moment, however.

“I hate it that the last year of her life was so fucking awful” said Allie. “She never complained about her breaks, but I'm seriously pissed off at god.”

Myra crossed to Allie and leaned her forehead against Allie's shoulder. In a few seconds, she realized the odd shaking she felt was Allie starting to cry. Myra slid her arms around Allie's waist and held her tight.

“I know you just about burnt yourself to a crisp with Chris, but I still need you, more than ever” choked out Allie. “I feel bad about it, but I do.”

“I need you, too, more than ever” replied Myra, letting her own grief land wherever it wanted inside her. Which, at this moment, was a stone in her stomach.

Allie wiped her face on her sleeve, though tears were still streaming down her cheeks, and asked “You reading her journals?”

“I dip in here and there. Not in any organized fashion, not yet. You want to take some of them and read?” said Myra, realizing she should have offered before now. And Sima, too.

“What I for us to write her story. I'll do the pictures, you figure out which parts of her journal to use, write the rest” said Allie, her eyes a little frightened.

“A graphic biography, you mean? Al, that would be fucking amazing” said Myra. “I say hell yes.”

Allie looked relieved. “I guess we oughta include Sima on it.”

Myra thought for a minute. “You know, Chris left her journals to me, not Sima. It wasn't punishment, I don't believe. Maybe she hoped I, we, would do something permanent with them.”

“I'm sure of that” said Allie.

“Well...we can consult Sima about privacy stuff and her feedback, but I'd rather do the nitty-gritty collaborating with you, buddy” said Myra.

Allie grinned and wiped her face again. “Good. But I have to finish my current book first.”

“Yeah, me too” said Myra. “Still, if you want to carry some of the journals home for reading, just grab 'em. They're on the shelf above my computer table, out of grandkid reach.”

She listened for a minute to make sure no one had come back into the house. “Listen, Allie, I need to tell you something. Before Sima got here, that week – me and Chris, we kissed some.”

Allie looked into her eyes. “I know. She told me.”

Myra was startled. After a minute, she said “Did you and her -- ?”

“No way” said Allie. “And I haven't told nobody.”

“Well, don't worry about Ginny, she knew, gave me the go-ahead” said Myra. Not that she meant it, apparently she thought to herself.

“Yeah, Chris said that too. I don't know how to say this, Myra, but I hope it ain't given you any old ideas about me and you” said Allie.

Myra laughed. “Nope. It wasn't that way with her, either. I – I don't know how to explain it. Here's the thing, though: I don't think she told Sima. But I can't figure out a way to ask Sima without spilling the beans.”

“Why do you need to know whether she told Sima?” asked Allie.

“Because...what if it comes out at some point? Will Sima feel betrayed all over again? I mean, don't I owe her complete honesty, especially after...” Myra trailed off for a minute. “It's too much like how Ginny didn't tell me about her and Pat.”

“It ain't nothing like the shit with Pat” said Allie forcefully. “For one thing, that wasn't consensual. For another, you and Ginny had a promise to tell each other everything, and she broke that promise. You got a similar agreement with Sima? No, you do not. What went on between her and Chris ain't none of your responsibility.”

“You mean, the dead have no rights” said Myra.

“That not what I mean, but yes, they don't, in fact. What I mean is, your feelings about it be your problem, not something you can fix by trotting it round to Sima.”

Myra once again felt reminded of something Ginny maybe had said, or what she imagined Ginny would say. I need to tell Allie all of what's up she thought. But she kept her silence, kissing Allie's cheek and returning to the stove.

Myra took the questions Allie had raised to her next solo session with Nancy, which helped. She and Ginny didn't have a couples session scheduled until early February. The physical distance between them was not noticed by their family, not in an identifiable way, and Myra poured herself into her book as much as Ginny kept doing one or two paintings a week. Sleeping together got easier.

The last weekend in January, Gillam and Jane took their children to the cabin in Colville for their monthly outdoor adventure. After their return, the kids were full of stories about hiking along the creek and trying to find Aunt Margie's mouse in the woodpile. Gillam told Myra and Ginny “We cleaned out the holes along the creek and made mush in them, like you did.”

“I saw a coyote” declared Lucia. Myra looked at Gillam, and he nodded. “She did, actually. It was standing in brush across the creek, watching us, and I'd have never spotted it. But Luch was staring in that direction, completely still, and that's what tipped me off. It was hard to separate out from the shadows, it was well-camouflaged. A biggish one. Once I was able to see it, it slowly melted away.”

“She was still there” said Lucia. “But she didn't like people looking at her, either.”

“We went to Aunt Chris's grave and put rocks from the creek on her headstone” said Mimi. Myra was still feeling chills from Lucia's sighting. She wanted to ask Lucia if she heard any voices at the creek. Ginny said “The headstone is up at the grave, then?”

“Yeah, looks just how she wanted it” confirmed Gillam. “We also stopped by to visit Tina and her kids.”

“Jimjim can spin around even faster than me” announced David. Conversation flowed on, and Myra's question was left behind.

On February 1, Ginny and Myra sent out invitations to family and friends on glossy cyan paper with a misshapen lime green heart embossed on the front. Across the heart was a hand-painted black slash. The text inside read:

"We owe to the Middle Ages the two worst inventions of humanity: Romantic love and gunpowder. -- Andre Maurois" -- Please come to our first annual Unvalentine's Day Party. Games, group dancing, non-aphrodisiac treats and optional re-education for all provided. You are welcome to bring an un-date. Anyone who wears red or hearts will be turned away at the door. Just so happens to be on February 14th, beginning at 6 p.m. RSVP which means tell us if you are coming, dammit.

A week later, Margie came over for dinner early, as Myra and Sima were beginning to cook.

"We got two calls today -- Jen is a maybe for the party, but Kate is definitely coming" Myra said, opening the cupboard next to the sink.

"Good. I'm sure glad she lives here now" said Ginny. Then, after a pause, she asked "Are you ever sorry she turned down your proposal, way back when?"

Myra was sorting through Calphalon, but said emphatically "Oh my god, no. I mean, can you imagine?" When she turned around, lasagna dish in hand, she saw Ginny beaming at her.

"I love how that just rolled up out of you" said Ginny.

Margie cleared her throat and asked "Kate Bean?"

Myra looked rueful. "Margie, since you've been born you've been angling for a list of everybody who went before, with regard to me and Ginny."

"Well, I have Ginny's list, it's short and sweet" laughed Margie.

"You want hers? Come into my studio, I've got it all pieced together" said Ginny. Myra gaped at her. Ginny said "Okay with you?"

"Why would you -- yeah, whatever" said Myra. Ginny and Margie strolled up the stairs, arm in arm.

Sima was laughing. "You were outnumbered as soon as Margie was conceived" she said.

"Until Gillam came along" said Myra defiantly.

When Allie and Edwina arrived early for the Unvalentine's Party, Sima and Ginny had just finished putting up streamers and balloons in lime green and cyan. The family room had been cleared for a dance floor, and a sound system was at one end. Myra was setting out platters of quesadillas, taquitos, and a huge bowl of guacamole. There was also antipasto, a lime cheesecake, and pale blue amaretti from Frances' restaurant. Pitchers of blue and pale green fruit punches sat on the kitchen counter, next to party glasses and bowls of ice. The main attraction, however, was a chocolate fountain flowing with dark Amsterdam chocolate, flanked by trays of cut-up fruit, bread, marshmallows and angel food cake ready to be stuck on a plastic straw and drenched in the brown elixir.

Cats were sequestered in the upstairs bedroom, a temporary litter box in the closet. Marisol and Hepworth's rainforest habitat had been decorated on the outside with Ginny-drawn cutouts of little blue lizards and green crickets. Ginny was wearing a lace-up buccaneer shirt of sea-blue lined with white polka-dots above dark blue velvet pants. Myra was having trouble keeping her hands off Ginny's cushy ass. Myra had on a boat-neck jersey in lime-and-white horizontal stripes ("Like Mo went to Cancun" she said when she saw it) and mango rayon clamdiggers. She had asked Ginny to pick her outfit for tonight, and once she had it on, she felt like Doris Day.

Myra, at the dining table, saw her back gate open and the Golden Horde rushing toward her house, so she opened the door for them. All of the grandchildren were attired in matching T-shirts emblazoned with red hearts. Myra could hear Allie laughing behind her -- "You gonna let 'em in, flaunting the dress code like that?" she called out. Myra ignored her and exclaimed over the shirts. Once inside, they were transfixed by the chocolate fountain, and she let Gillam and Jane find their own way as she began assisting children with dipping.

The house filled up rapidly. Jen brought her new boyfriend, Jared, and Margie immediately made her way to them and chatted them up. Mara Smith and her partner brought several friends, and arriving at the same time was Annie Gagliardi. Myra was too busy now to personally greet Annie, but Sima took over as hostess for the newcomers. Ginny relinquishd music to Margie and Frances, as she got caught up in a free-flowing conversation with Allie, Mara and several other artists there. Gillam was yukking it up with Davonn and Rafe Bean, while Carly started the outside grill with Nika to cook jumbo shrimp, marinated veggies, and satay. Jane, Edwina and Kate Bean were sitting in the corner, laughing hysterically every time Myra noticed them. Jen and Jared came to help Myra with her five chocolate-spotted grandchildren.

Margie and Frances had a lot of fun being DJs, arguing frequently over which music would best suit this particular crowd, both of them wrong more often than not. After an hour, Mimi went over to Margie and said "Could we put on Bubbe's dance CD?"

"The one she plays for dance lessons? Aren't you all tired of that?" said Margie.

"No, we never get tired of it" said Mimi.

"Let me see if I can find it" said Margie. When she did, Frances read the list of songs out loud in a dubious tone -- "Cotton-Eyed Joe by Nanci Griffith, Come On Eileen which I've never heard of, Cris Williamson, Abba, Cyndi Lauper, BeBe -- what is this name?"

"BeBe K'Roche" said Margie. "Look, there's 'You Cain't Get A Man With a Gun'!"

"Oh god, there's Madonna on here" said Frances with a groan.

"We've had a request, let's honor it" replied Margie, sliding the disk into the player.

It was like a magic spell. Within a minute, everybody in the room was dancing, including Margie and Frances. But the showstopper came when the music went still, with just a long high chord and the sound of snapping fingers. All the children froze. They put on intensely serious expressions, and Ginny and Myra joined them on the dance floor.

A techno beat began, and Madonna's breathy voice said "Strike the pose." Instantly all the children began striking poses, with arched backs, spread hands, and angled arms. There were amazingly proficient at it -- clearly, this was a song they danced to often. Everybody watched in fascination.

Ginny and Myra weaved in and out of the children, none of them smiling, all of them flouncing their heads and trying to out-vogue each other. Gillam was gobsmacked, and especially couldn't stop staring at David, who was head and shoulders better than everyone else. But then the music shifted to just a beat, and suddenly all the children stopped moving and began chanting in rapid unison:

Greta Garbo and Monroe
Dietrich and DiMaggio
Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean
On the cover of a magazine
Grace Kelly, Harlow, Jean
Picture of a beauty queen
Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire
Ginger Rogers, dance on ai
Even Lucia, not quite two, was not missing a single word. Gillam wondered what on earth she imagined she was saying.

They had style, they had grace
Rita Hayworth gave good face
Here, David drew both hands, one after another, across his face in a stylized motion that made Carly gasp.

Lauren, Katherine, Lana too
Bette Davis, we love you
All the children blew a kiss into the air with pouty lips. Charlie's stolid face doing this was adorable.

Ladies with an attitude
Fellows that were in the mood
Don't just stand there, let's get to it
Strike a pose, there's nothing to it
As the dancers moved on to the next stage of the song, the audience roared with approval, but the children didn't lose their concentration. Not until the end of the song, when the last snap died away, and suddenly they whooped together. Myra sat down abruptly on the floor, laughing zanily, and instantly Ginny was in her lap, pushing her backward and lying between her legs, laughing with her. Mimi flung herself onto Ginny's back, Charlie joined her, and within seconds all five children were dogpiled on their grandmothers. Ginny was looking down into Myra's face, an intense expression replacing her laughter. As the children wrigged and shrieked, Myra's hips lifted slightly to meet Ginny's directly, her laughter morphing into a lidded smile.

Jane and Gillam began grabbing the kids for hugs, and Margie joined them, then all the adults were pulling the dancers to their feet and whacking their backs in appreciation. Myra was the last to stand, a little breathless and rubbing her ass.

"This is what you do in Mama's dance class?" marveled Margie.

But before they could say more, the Eurythmics came on and all the children rushed to the middle of the floor again. Myra and Ginny sat this one out, sitting close to each other on a sofa. Jane kept going from child to child, trying to pick up their moves.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

1 comment:

kat said...

oh man! I want to put "Vogue" on the list for dance day with my class. Once a week, when we go to the gymnastics room, we do dance or movement adventures.....

I bet the golden horde would love one of our favs. It's kinda techno, but sounds a bit like bubbles. The lyrics are something like "Papa was kind of the Congo, Mama was queen of the mambo" I forget how the rest goes, but it's cool.