Wednesday, June 3, 2009


(Green flash at sunset, taken from Oregon by George Howard)

This is the penultimate post of the first draft 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.

April to early May 2020

The next morning at 11, Ginny came briskly downstairs in a T-shirt and said hello to Sima and to Margie who had stopped by to drop off African violet cuttings. Ginny opened the refrigerator and took out a bottle of cranberry juice. Setting this on the counter, she loaded a plate with bialys and cream cheese, balanced two glasses along with the juice in the other arm, and started back for the stairs.

"Breakfast in bed?" said Margie.

Ginny turned with an exultant expression on her face. "Actually, all meals in bed today." She turned back to the stairs.

"Have fun" said Margie.

Ginny waggled her ass at them briefly but didn't stop.

When she was out of earshot, Margie said to Sima "Well, then."

Sima replied "Thank god they had their bedroom thoroughly soundproofed."

"I hear that, sistah" said Margie. "There's a sale at Crate and Barrel, you wanna go be a consumer with me?"

"Let me get some shoes on" said Sima.

The following evening, after potluck but before singing, Jane said to the children “How about if we go put on costumes for tonight? Anything you want to wear is okay.” She followed them as they scrambled up the stairs.

Once they were out of the family room, Gillam turned to Margie, Frances, and his mothers to say “We have to tell you something.” Carly, Eric, Thad, and Allie moved to stand beside him.

Carly said “We found the guy who's been stalking you. He lives in that house where Gidg said he did.”

Margie instinctively put her hand down beside her, and Gidg stood to meet it. Frances took Margie's other hand.

Gillam continued “We told Aaron, who put him under legal surveillance and also did a little investigating.”

“I did more investigating on my own” said Thad. He worked in an office that had access to banking and credit records. “We compiled a complete dossier on him.”

Gillam said “He's got a record. He's trouble. We were going to bring it to all of you, but I talked with Allie first.”

“We decided to take care of it quiet” said Allie. “He live alone. We knocked on his door late – well, Carly did. Carly got that grin which make anybody trust him. Once he inside, the rest of us followed. We told that fucker what we had on him, that we'd hired a service to keep watch on him, and we spell out what we do if he ever come near you again, Margie. In fact, if anybody ever come near you again, he be toast.”

Frances gave a choked, incredulous laugh.

Gillam handed Margie a manila envelope. “All the information is in there. But you won't need it. He was so scared, he had to sit down. I imagine he'll probably move out of the area.”

“My fucking god” said Myra, finally finding her voice, “Are you out of your minds?”

Ginny said to Allie “You let them pull this stunt?”

“It my idea” said Allie. “I also supplied the guns we carried.”

Guns?” Ginny's voice went into the stratosphere.

“What if he files a complaint against you?” demanded Myra.

“With what evidence?” said Gillam, grinning. “He doesn't know who we are. We were a motley crew – Thad looks way butcher than he is, you know.”

Thad flexed his muscles playfully.

“I can't believe you -- “ Ginny's voice trailed off, but her look at Allie was tragically wounded.

“That why they come to me, because I believe what you can't” said Allie. “Ain't no way Margie gonna be a target again, not on our watch.”

Margie leaped to her feet and hugged Allie exuberantly, then the rest of her brothers and brothers-in-law. Frances joined her. Ginny looked around at Edwina, who was also grinning proudly. She said to Myra “I think we're outnumbered.”

“Let's just hope that schmuck feels the same way” said Myra. She was watching the relief and pride on Margie's face. Mimi raced back into the room, wearing plastic football pads, a clown wig, scarves wrapped around her legs, and a bunny tail strapped to her bottom. They could hear the other children clattering down the stairs. Thad crossed to the piano and opened the lid over the keys. Edwina leaned over to Ginny and said “Allie carried her shotgun with a polished nickel barrel. I took a photo of them all, if you want to see.”

The following Saturday, Jane was running a high fever and aching all over. Gillam fed her soup at lunch and kept checking the children for signs of them coming down with the same thing, but they were bursting with energy. The skies had opened up, so the yard was not available for play. They kept fighting with each other and crashing into the bedroom where Jane was trying to rest.

Finally, Gillam said to Jane “I'll take them out somewhere for a few hours. And get them dinner out, too, if you can wait on me feeding you until later.”

“I'm not hungry” said Jane. “Good idea.”

“Are you going to be okay here on your own? I can ask someone to come over.”

Jane thought about it. She sat up and said “Ask Myra if I could come lie on her daybed. It's quiet and warm up there.”

Gillam called while Mimi and David chanted “Chuck E Cheese, Chuck E Cheese” at his elbow. Ginny answered and said she'd come walk Jane over, carrying the big umbrella. Jane was settled in Myra's study with a quilt and a pot of fever tea. Myra left on her desk lamp but had turned off the music she'd been blasting. Beebo had accompanied them and decided to nap at Jane's feet instead of Myra's desk.

While Jane dozed off, Myra went downstairs to make custard to go along with Ginny's chicken soup. She returned to her desk and opted to proof part of her manuscript with pencil instead of on the computer. Half an hour later, Ginny came to whisper that she was going to get on the other computer to look at garden sites. A peaceful hour passed. When Jane woke up, she accepted Ginny's offer of soup and more tea.

She sat up to eat, leaning against the wall which held the Gee's Bend quilt. Beebo decided to move next to her knee, in case she felt like sharing a stray morsel of chicken.

Ginny returned to the computer and said “I'm going to try this purple cauliflower, Myra. And that new habanero hybrid, I think I can get it to grow under the big coldframe.”

“Whatever you plant does its best to grow for you, Ginny-O” replied Myra. “You've fed us all for 34 years.”

“Yes, well, we're a good team, because you've made most of the meals” replied Ginny.

Myra looked up. “Not quite accurate. You've mostly done breakfast and at least half the lunches. But even so, I did the math recently and estimated I've cooked at least 24,000 meals since we got together.”

“My god” said Jane.

“And that's nothing compared to women who are the only people in their families preparing food, from their teens until they drop dead of exhaustion” said Myra.

“Let me say here, thank you from the bottom of my heart for teaching Gillam to cook the way he does” said Jane. “I'd call him the perfect wife except for that big shiny cock of his.”

Myra and Ginny went mute with embarrassment. Jane was fishing for a pearl onion in her soup and didn't notice. Her cheeks were still flushed with fever. She continued “Speaking of which, he certainly gets jumpy when I call myself his wife. Is that something you instilled in him?”

Myra said “Well, it's not a term we use. It's got a crappy etymology and a worse herstory.”

Jane waved her hand dismissively. “Is that why you two have never married? I can't believe you're the only hold-outs.”

“Chris and Sima didn't get married” said Myra. “Nor have lots of the women from our generation.”

Ginny sang softly “I never will marry, I'll be no one's wife...”

“I know that song. But you haven't lived single all the rest of your life” argued Jane. “In fact, you're more coupled than any of us.”

“Coupling is not synonymous with marriage” said Ginny.

“Well what do you have against marriage, then?” said Jane, setting her empty bowl beside her so Beebo could lick it out. Keller heard the clank of his tag against the metal spoon and looked alertly in that direction. “Do you think me and Gillam shouldn't have married?”

Myra said diplomatically “It would have been fine with us if you had not. You'd be just as much part of our family either way. His commitment to you would be identical.”

“Nope” said Jane. “I don't believe that. Nor does he. He promised something particular when he swore his loyalty to me as a husband.”

“You can make that same promise without marriage” said Ginny. “It's a emotional promise, and I don't think the state should be in the business of regulating or rewarding it – not over other emotional promises.”

“The state is in the business of making sure parents fulfill their obligation to children” said Jane.

“Yes, because children have to have caretakers. But I need friends as much as I need a spouse, and the state doesn't give me a tax break for having Allie in my life” said Myra.

“In fact, marriage has a 50% failure rate, and when that happens, it's your friends who make sure you're okay” said Ginny. She stopped to remember that Sima was out of the house before adding “Like we did with Chris.”

“And that's part of what I find creepy about weddings” said Myra. “Two people get up in front of all their friends and family, usually with all those other people having paid for the experience, and say 'what we have together is way more special than what we have with any of you'. Even if they've just known each other two months. We play along, we act like it's sacred and singular, and in the meantime, the real network of relationships that makes us healthy and sane is taken for granted. Kids are taught to find a spouse but not how to make a family, not a real family.”

“I was taught both” said Jane stubbornly.

“You're an exception” said Ginny. “And your own parents are somewhat unconventional. I mean, with your Uncle Charlie and all.”

“I don't believe marriage is synonymous with monogamy, you're right about that” said Jane.

Myra didn't catch Ginny's glance at her because she was preparing what she wanted to say next. “The origins of marriage – not the emotional choice to couple and make family, but marriage as an institution – is all about insuring property rights. To enable a man to believe the children a particular woman has are his, to pass on land and titles, but especially to name that woman as property – the man's property. Women lost their freedom when marriage came on the scene. They passed from being their father's object to their husband's object. And this remained true, to some degree, until I was in high school. It's only very recently that women could keep their names after marriage, or have their own credit rating, or refuse sex to their husbands without being legally raped. My grandmother Hettie, the one in the painting, was only able to vote in one election before she died – every other woman in the country prior to that time lived her entire life without voting for those who decided infinite details about her life. Marriage is part of that history of government-sanctioned subjugation, and it's not worth rehabilitating, in my opinion, any more than indentured servitude can be made pretty. I can follow my heart just as effectively, and sometimes more so, without needing state approval.”

“My revolutionary” said Ginny fondly.

“I actually do believe that lesbians getting married fundamentally asks to alter the definition of marriage as it has traditionally existed, because it doesn't confer right of property and control on one of them – it can't because there is no husband” said Myra.

“So isn't that an argument FOR gay marriage rights, then?” said Jane. “If it's going to bollix up the whole meaning to give you the right to marriage, why don't you jump at it?”

“Not gay marriage” interjected Ginny. “We're not gays, we're lesbians.”

Myra went on, “The argument used to include us in the category of those allowed to be called married always falls back on 'we love the same as anyone else, we're just like everybody else'. But I don't think we necessarily love the same as anyone else. And we're certainly not like everybody else. As Carmen Vasquez points out, the only way that's true is if you erase looking at gender, race, class, and all the other categories that determine power in our culture. The goal should be respect for difference, not assimilating so we kinda sorta get a few human rights.”

“It's a daily choice we make” said Ginny, meeting Myra's gaze. “That's where the meaning lies. I never forget it.”

“Okay” said Jane, sounding tired. She lay back down.

Myra looked guilty. “Didn't mean to go off on you, honey. Do you want some more soup?”

Ginny came to feel Jane's forehead. “I think your fever is down some. I'll bring you more tea.”

“Okay” said Jane. “And did you mention custard?”

The following weekend, for Heroic Adventure Day Myra enlisted the help of Margie, who had just given Mimi a birthday present of her own 6-year-old sized kayak. Margie rented two more children's canoes and gave preliminary lessons in crewing and kayaking to all five on their family pool.

Eventually, Myra began telling them the story of Umai and the Light at the Edge of the World. One by one, each child assumed the role of Umai, who “magicked” a toy canoe and went down the Klamath from her Yurok village across the ocean to the edge of the world, following the green flash at sunset. Once they had all reached the shore of the World Beyond The World, they walked to the pond, where Ginny had set up a firepit and was ready to play the role of Laksis, the firebuilder who persuades Umai to come be her lover.

They roasted salmon, seaweed cakes, and acorn bread over the fire, eating it with blueberries and mint tea. The various Umais told stories of their home and family, until they became too homesick to stay away any longer and left for a visit, promising to return soon to Laksis. Laksis fervently vowed to always light a fire each sunset to guide Umai's return.

They paddled back home, where the entire village (Allie, Edwina, Carly, Eric, and their parents) waited to greet the five Umais with over-the-top relief that she was still alive. The celebration, with dancing and singing, lasted so long that night fell. Eventually Myra broke it to them that Umai in fact never returned to Laksis, which is why you can still sometimes see her fire on the western horizon of the ocean, as she vainly waits to be reunited with her love.

Leah cried for a long time, and Charlie kept trying to think of ways that Umai could be speedboated over to Laksis. Ginny promised on Monday they would make acorn shell rattles to tie around their legs before dancing. Margie hauled the rental canoes back to her garage, but left Mimi's kayak slung on its berth above the deck. In addition to monthly kayaking outings, she had begun taking Mimi and David on children's orienteering events. To ease the wait for the three younger children, Sima bought them each a silver compass and taught them how to use it.

The next Wednesday, Myra and Ginny flew to New York to prepare for Ginny's gallery show. On Friday afternoon, Sima, Allie and Edwina joined them. They ate a very early dinner with Liza before heading for the gallery. That night, Ginny's agent pulled her aside to whisper in electric tones “There's someone here from the Prado!”

Myra thought Ginny might pass out. Finally Ginny calmed herself down by deciding it was simply an accident, someone coming to the show as an individual, not representing the institution for which they worked. Four days later, however, a phone call sent Myra running down the stairs because Ginny was screaming in the kitchen. She had her finger down on the phone receiver but hadn't managed to hang up yet.

“It's them! That guy from the Prado! They want to buy the series I did at the cabin, what you call the metastases paintings. They want all three, and they're hoping I'll give consent even though the museum is in Europe, not very accessible to us visiting.”

Myra found she had to sit down. Sima had joined them, and Ginny looked at her with a dumbfounded face. “What do I do?” Ginny asked.

“You sell them. It's right they should be together. Chris would be over the moon” said Sima.

“What are they offering?” asked Myra. When Ginny told her, Myra said “So much for three such little paintings?”

Apiece, Myra” said Ginny. Myra closed her eyes. After a minute she said “Ginny, whatever you decide will be the right thing. Or ask Sima, Margie, get their advice. I can't quite take this in.”

“Museo del Prado” breathed out Ginny. “This means a trip to Madrid.”
Myra knew Ginny's decision then. Jamón Iberico de Bellota she thought. Valencia oranges, and fields of saffron. She grinned at Ginny and said “I sure picked the right girl.”

Note: The exact quote from Carmen Vasquez to which Myra refers is: "The color of your skin, your gender, your sexual orientation, and your wealth matter greatly to the pursuit and attainment of success in America. The complexities of race, class, gender, and where you sit on the economic ladder create differences among us, differences that place us on one side or the other of privilege and power. To say otherwise, to say, We are just like everybody else, has no meaning in a progressive context. The phrase, as used by queers in pursuit of mainstream 'respectability,' has enormous class and race bias attached to it. Which everybody else? ~~ Carmen Vazquez

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


little gator said...

We are all everybody else.

Maggie Jochild said...

You're right, little gator. And that's one of my sources of hope, because there's such strength in that difference.