Saturday, February 21, 2009


Joe Pye weed in Gateway Red
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.

11 November 2019

Because it was her day off, Frances came over at 5:00 on Chris's birthday to help make the feast. Gillam and Jane were already there. Jane had staked out one counter in the kitchen to make two cakes, one of which would use cherries from Mimi's tree and be both gluten- and sugar-free.

Ginny, Margie and Eric were in the living room with the children, finalizing a song-and-dance performance the kids had created for Chris. Allie and Edwina sat at the breakfast bar, folding hats and napkins for the party. Gillam went out to harvest what he could from the vegetable beds in both yards before joining Myra in the kitchen.

Chris herself was out at the barbecue with Carly, heating the grill. The main dishes were whole roasted salmon and tenderloins of buffalo. Chris had explained to Mimi earlier about how and why the buffalo had died, in a Native setting as part of the annual tribal cull.

Imani arrived with a wide appetizer platter of prosciutto, olives, and artichoke hearts. This was placed on the table next to Edwina's crab-stuffed mushrooms and Ginny's bowl of grapes. Allie's cornbread was in the warming oven.

Myra was cutting firm tofu into squares to make crispy tofu in miso and butter. She planned to make this a main dish also, because at least half the family had begun eating some of Mimi's vegetarian alternatives when there was extra. Myra had told Mimi she was being a great influence on all of them, causing Mimi to swell with pride.

Frances was making a dish Chris loved, called wrinkled potatoes, cooked in brine and served with two kinds of hot sauce, which Frances did as a green tomatillo and a Sicilian red. She was clattering through the cabinets, and finally turned to Myra to ask “Where's the olive oil? The Italian kind, I mean.”

“Oh god, Frances, I ran out. I still have that bottle of Spanish, I thought that -- “

But Frances had already turned on her heel and started for the door. She didn't quite slam it after herself. Moon bolted through the pet door after her. Gidg stood in the dog bed by the fireplace, looked at Margie who was not going anywhere, and settled back down.

“Oops” said Myra, watching Frances steam toward her own house. “I thought since it was a Canary Island recipe originally...”

Imani laughed. “She's open to mixed cuisines but she feels strongly about the superiority of Italian olive oil.”

Leah wandered into the kitchen. She was always the first to get bored with dancing. “Where's Daddy?”

“In the garden. Would you go tell him we need a couple of bunches of flat-leaf parsley, if he hasn't already cut some?” said Myra. Leah was glad to hunt him down.

Frances returned with a massive square green bottle of oil. “You can keep this” she said to Myra shortly, resuming her mortar and pestle demolition of garlic and sea salt. Myra finished cutting eggplant, yams, asparagus, and beets to roast on the grill. She used the new olive oil to drizzle them. The meat and fish had been marinating for an hour already in their own pans.

Chris came in the back door and Myra heard the rehearsal come to an abrupt halt with loud whispers of “She's here.” Chris said “I'm here to get everyone's order for how they want their steak.” They heard the front door open and Annie Gagliardi appeared in the hall with a paper bag. Chris went to hug her and said “Whatcha got there?”

“Well, I didn't hear anyone talking about ice cream with the cake, so I brought three quarts. Coffee, vanilla, and a kiwi sorbet” said Annie.

“Let's use the freezer in the store room, this one's full” said Chris. Leah reappeared at Myra's side with an armful of parsley. As Myra took it from her, Leah said “I'm really hungry already, Gramma.”

“There are appetizers on the table. You can have one of anything, except for the grapes, you can have all you want of those.” The other children followed Leah and began helping themselves. Ginny picked up Lucia and leaned her over so she could nab a slice of prosciutto and a few grapes.

Chris said “I'm going to make a fire in the fireplace” and the children streamed after her to get in her way. Imani had joined Frances in the kitchen, and Ginny said “Let me know when you're done with the pestle, I'm going to make salad dressings.” Gillam came in the back door with a full basket. He started washing things in the sink and talking over what vegetables to prepare with Ginny, slouched against the counter beside him.

“Come sit by us” Allie said to Annie, “It's getting full in there.” Eric joined them as well. A few minutes later, Thad appeared in the hall with several bottles of sparkling cider. Jane helped him arrange them on the sideboard in a tub of ice, with a row of glasses nearby.

Jane pulled her cakes from the oven and carried them on racks into the store room to cool because counter space was at a premium. She finished her frostings and set them aside, chatting with Thad about how their brother Willie seemed headed for another divorce. Frances and Imani, their sauces done, horned in on Ginny's dressing making. Margie joined them to begin assembling salad.

Gillam was steaming broccoli with carrots, so Myra carried out the tray of grill veggies to Carly herself. “You warm enough out here?” she asked him, her breath blowing a small cloud. Eric had followed her. It was beginning to drizzle, and the dark sheen on the brick around the pond was beautiful with the torches lit.

“Yeah, it's nice being outside” Carly said.

“Well, I'd say we'll be ready to sit down in around 20 minutes. So time it however that works for you” said Myra. Carly immediately turned to the grill, and Eric moved in beside him.

Inside the house, the barstool crowd had shifted to start setting the table, weaving around the children doing their respective chores. Thad came in to help Lucia put the right number of placemats down. Myra stood by the plant table inside the back door, watching. Chris sidled up beside her and lanked her arm over Myra's shoulder.

“Those seedheads you cut earlier today, are they for those purple-and-white carrots you grew this fall?” asked Myra.

“Some. Plus brox, a few lettuces, and the black-eyed susans” said Chris.

“I think we should create a new bed by the whaleshark and fill it with nothing but your rudbeckia” called Ginny from the kitchen.

Chris said “I like that idea. Maybe with a border of Joe Pye weed.” She shifted uncomfortably and moved to one of the stools.

“Your hip still bothering you?” asked Allie.

“Every joint bothers me” said Chris. “But yeah, my right hip aches in the cold and damp.”

“You're not that old” said Annie with a grin. “We're the same age.”

“It's the weight loss” said Chris. “At least, that's what the bodyworker Myra dragged me to said. When you drop weight rapidly, it's mostly muscle at first. None of my tendons work like they did before. Carly's got me on a short regimen on Myra's machine, to build me back up.”

“How's your anemia?” continued Annie.

“I find out my latest lab results tomorrow, but I think it's better” said Chris. “I had one last bone scan a week ago, and now I'm hoping to get a year off from being zapped.”

All sixteen chairs were occupied at the table, so Chris invited Lucia to sit on her lap. Myra decided she really liked buffalo. It was a little disconcerting to her, though, how such a vast quantity of food could disappear in half an hour. Jane got up to decorate the cakes, using the crystallized violet and rose petals Myra and the children had made one Science Day last summer.

The salmon carcass was put in the barbecue portico for Anthea and whichever cat dared to approach her, at Chris's request. Steak scraps were given to the dogs, and the children got a spoonful of each flavor of ice cream on their slice of cake. Presents were then opened. Chris rollicked with laughter at the framed placard she got from the chemo suite nurses, which said “Don't TALK to me, you pale-faced morons”.

The children's performance, rendered high-octane by sugar and the Klieg-light intensity of so much adult attention, was full of mishaps and near fisticuffs at one point. Myra was glad she'd put the video camera on a tripod because she was laughing so much, it would have jiggled the taping. David kept performing encores until Jane told him he had to stop.

The party ended early because next day was a school day. Annie, Allie and Edwina stayed behind, sitting up talking for a while. Then Chris pulled out her flute and drums, Allie brought in her drum from the car, and they played until almost midnight, putting more logs on the fire. When Myra slid into bed with Chris, Chris said “She didn't call.”

“Did you think she would?”

“Not really” said Chris. Myra held her, wondering if Chris would cry. But instead she went right to sleep, the sharp edges of her newly-evident bones seeming to soften as she relaxed.

The next morning, after breakfast with Ginny, Myra drove Chris to her oncologist's office and went to the appointment with her. Afterward, when they reached the car, Myra said “You want to talk about it?”

“Not yet.”

Myra fastened her seat belt before asking “You know how much I love you, right?”

Chris looked at her, black eyes liquid. “I do.” She cupped Myra's cheek with her hand. “Home, Jeeves.”

They made the drive in silence. Myra hoped Margie would not be there, waiting on them, but of course she was, sitting at the table with Ginny, helping her shell fava beans. Her face turned to them like a dish.

Chris sat down in the first chair she reached, at the end of the table. She said, with some attempt at humor, “They're ba-a-a-ck.”

Ginny instantly comprehended the double meaning of this. Margie refused. Myra slid the folder of image print-outs down the table. Ginny carefully wiped her hands before pulling them from the sleeve and bending her head over them next to Margie's.

Amid all the fields of vivid hues looking like a colorform version of the human body, the small bright white spots drew their eye like twinkling Christmas lights. Or radioactive bumblebees in a meadow of innocent blooms thought Myra. Two on left-sided ribs, two on vertebrae, one on the inside of Chris's left thigh, and one on her right hip. Except the one on Chris's hip is more like an open-winged moth than a bumblebee.

Chris said conversationally “The word metastasis was originally used by the ancient Greeks to mean removal from one place to another. Basically it's colonization. The ultimate form of forced assimilation.”

Margie stared at her in shock. She said hoarsely “What do we do now?”

Chris didn't answer, so Myra said “They have two possible salvage regimens. One of them had a lot better percentage than the other. Plus there are some experimental drug trials she could enroll in.”

“Pay to be a guinea pig” said Chris without emotion.

“What kind of percentage?” asked Ginny.

“17%” said Myra.

“For the good one?” demanded Margie. Myra nodded.

Ginny was still focused on the images. “No wonder your hip aches” she said softly.

Margie wanted to shatter Chris's calm. “We'll get second opinions. And more acupuncture, and a herb specialist. We'll turn that 17% into 90%. Whatever it takes.”

“No, baby girl” said Chris quietly.

“What do you mean, no?”

“This race has been called. Time for me to concentrate elsewhere.”

“You're giving up?” Margie's voice was very high.

“That's not how I would put it” said Chris. Myra sat down next to her. She would never have admitted it, but she'd seen this coming.

“Don't you try to play semantics with me” shouted Margie, coming to her feet. “Don't you fucking 'baby girl' me. You all raised me to fight, no matter what. Fight for myself. Fight the lies, fight despair. What was that, more of your bullshit revolutionary rhetoric? You get to give up now because you've had a sucky year? Well, suck on this, you quitter.” Margie made a rude gesture that Myra was certain she'd learned from Frances. She slammed out the back door, catching the dogs off guard. Gidg was the first to recover, hurtling out the pet door after Margie. Moon gave them a glance of apologetic worry before he followed.

“That went well” said Chris. She looked at Myra. “You need to make your pitch now?”


Chris kept her eyes on Myra, letting them almost fill with tears.

“Maybe one of you should go after her. I don't like the idea of her crying this out alone” said Chris.

Ginny glanced at the clock. “Frances could spare half an hour right now, and they'd rather have each other. I'll call her at the store.”

Chris stood with an open wince. “I need some time alone. By the pond.” She went to her room and returned with her buffalo robe. Ginny was setting down the receiver on the kitchen phone. Myra said to Chris “Do you want to tell Allie?”

“Will you? Ask her to come over. I'll be back in when I'm ready.”

Myra kissed her and nodded. When Chris was out the door, Ginny said “Will you text the rest of the family, too?”

“Yes. Who are you dialing?”


© 2009 Maggie Jochild.



Moulding silhouettes
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.

October-November 2019

On Wednesdays Myra and Ginny began taking Charlie and Luca half an hour early because Jane had a music student at 2:30. They'd go together to pick up Leah and David, then Mimi at school.

On this Wednesday in late October, after eating apples and walnuts from a produce stand, Ginny said “Oh, pull into that Homo Depot, I need to run in for a sec.”

“Chris's sandpaper?” asked Myra.

A month earlier, Chris had gone out thrift-storing with Ginny and Margie, and discovered a stash of small wooden boxes which seemed to have been used to store some sort of small metal parts in an industrial warehouse. They were battered and had oil stains on the insides, but they were sweetly made of good wood and had never been painted. Chris bought all 21 of them and was slowly refinishing each by hand.

In the evenings after dinner, while Myra was writing and Ginny painting, Chris sat cross-legged on Myra's daybed with a towel in her lap, lovingly sanding the small boxes through a series of progressive grits. Myra had come to find the susurration of this background sound as comforting as Ginny's murmur to her geckos or occasional exhortations to the canvas she was transforming.

When Myra mentioned to Chris her liking this sound, comparing it to wind in grass or gently flowing water, Chris grinned and said “Well, I know now how Keller seems to read your mind about what you're going to do next. You have tells.”

Myra raised her eyebrows. “You mean aside from the chime when I open my e-mail?”

“Yeah, your breathing. When you come out of your writing fugue state. You breathe slowly and shallowly while you write. Every so often you catch up with almost a gasp. But when you are about to shift to another activity, you suck in deep and then blow out with a soft 'hah'. It's clear as a bell.”

Now, in the Homo Depot parking lot, Ginny said “Oh, that's right, her sandpaper. Yes, but also -- “ She turned to glare into the back seat -- “Somebody decided to tug at the loose molding in the downstairs bathroom and broke it off from the wall.” Leah and David both found excuses not to meet Ginny's eyes. “So now I have to try to match it and repair the damage.”

Mimi, guilt-free, said “Can we go in with you? Please, Bubbe – Mommy and Daddy never let us go in this store, we always have to wait in the car.”

Myra thought there was probably a stellar reason for this ban, but Ginny said “All right. Buddy system. Stay with us at all times. And we're not buying anything extra.”

Myra held back her snort at this last sentence. They shepherded their squadron across the nerve-wracking parking lot and through the fun of automatic doors. Ginny, with Lucia on her hip, led them far back to the right, where a wall of decorative moulding came into view.

Lucia was instantly transfixed. She leaned toward the display yearningly, both hands extended, and made a sound deep in her throat. Ginny walked her within reach and watched Lucia's small fat fingers trace the pattern on a complicated scroll.

“It's 3-D, isn't it, Lucia?” Ginny said softly. She looked around at Myra, her eyes very smudgy. “We're going to be a while. Maybe a long while.”

“I guess we could go find the sandpaper -- “ ventured Myra.

“No, I can get that, it's right over there” said Ginny, shifting so Lucia could finger another row of ornate wood. “Go explore. I'll buzz you on your cell when we're ready for checkout.”

Art out of its cage thought Myra. “Okay.” She lifted Charlie to her hip – exploration was risky with his poor impulse control – and took Leah's hand as she asked her posse “Where shall we go first, plumbing, power tools, or gardening?”

She got four different answers, with Charlie suggesting “Toys?”

Myra sighed. “I think we better get a cart.” David pushed his fist into the air and said “Yesss!”

It was over an hour later when Myra's cell rang and Ginny said “I need help carrying, we're still where we were.”

“Be right there.”

Ginny was by the table saw used to trim wood to size. Behind her was a huge mound of moulding segments, in every design possible, cut into four-inch lengths. A young clerk exuding impatience was writing out a charge slip with a multitude of SKU numbers and cut fees.

“Oh, look at those darling plastic cartons you've got!” said Ginny. “The red one with the handles will be perfect to hold these.”

Myra had wanted the red one for her study, but she could come back later. “Where's the sandpaper?”

“Oops.” Ginny scooped Charlie from the cart set, dropped Lucia into his place, and rushed to a nearby aisle. Myra grabbed Charlie's collar to keep him from following Ginny and used her other hand to give the clerk the red box, saying “Will you put all those pieces of wood in here?”

He began transferring them by the fistful, Lucia watching him intently. “What is she, a designer?” he asked, glancing in Ginny's direction.

“That, my good sir, is the world-famous artist Ginny Bates” said Myra. The grandchildren paused in their restless eddy around Myra to listen. “And this is her granddaughter Lucia, who will use your help today to launch training for her own artistic career. She'll be as renowned as Ginny in 20 years, so remember her name, Lucia Bates-Josong. You can brag about it then.”

He looked utterly unconvinced.

Myra later thought he would have changed his mind if he could have seen what Lucia did with those scraps of moulding. Once home, Ginny swiftly assembled a 4 foot square of stretcher and lay it flat on the floor of the living room as a frame, sitting the red box next to it. Lucia was already toddling in her direction and did not hesitate. She began grabbing wood pieces and weaving together an intricate puzzle of raised patterns within the frame.

Ginny lay down on her stomach beside Lucia to watch. Chris, too, settled onto the nearest chair. Myra dumped the trash can full of assorted Lincoln logs onto bare floor at the other end of the living room for the rest of the kids, then got their video camera to film Lucia.

The rest of the world vanished for Lucia, Myra was sure of it. She sucked her lower lip but her face was smooth and seemed lit from within. When she finally stopped rearranging and allowed her creation to sit on its own, she pushed herself upright and looked directly at Ginny.

“I see” said Ginny. Lucia laughed exuberantly. Myra felt a thrill travel up her spine.

“You need a still photo of that” said Chris.

“Digital's in the cupboard by the vacuum” said Ginny. She took the camera from Chris and composed the photos herself, asking Lucia's consent and even persuading her to pose next to the frame for one shot. That photograph, Lucia gazing upward into the lens, her grin from ear to ear but her eyes still a little unfocused, behind her the network of wood patterns seeming chaotic and yet clearly originating from the spark of a human mind – that photo would help define Lucia for the rest of her life.

Gillam wept when he saw the picture. By that time, Lucia had gleefully scattered her assemblage and started over. Chris filmed the later efforts so Myra could focus on the architectural competition of the other children.

Gillam and Jane watched half an hour of the video before asking to take the tape home for copying. Gillam said “Now I know how Zayde felt.”

Myra thought You've got him beat by a mile. But she was glad to have kept silent when Ginny's eyes filled with tears and she turned to melt into her son's arms.

Lucia's red box became the item which accompanied her from house to house, like Charlie's Jerry Bear. Eventually, under Lucia's direction, Ginny stained some of the wooden segments to bring out the grain. Lucia always allowed photos to be made of her final result but resisted any idea of creating a permanent work, even when Ginny explained they would replace any moulding with new pieces.

On Halloween, Myra gave out Butterfingers, Three Musketeers, and Bit-O'Honey miniatures, all of which were on a list of gluten-free candy she'd found. The baby potato costume was folded away in a box, and the children created their own personas from the dress-up box. Except Lucia, who balked at deception.

Once again, Myra pitched a tent by the pet cemetery, lit candles all over the yard, and slept out with the children, this year including Lucia. At close to midnight, Chris crawled up to the tent flap with her buffalo robe over her back and a monster head over her face. The screaming was so intense that Myra was surprised none of the neighbors called the police.

Chris was slowly but steadily regaining her energy and appetite. She was still very thin, and her white hair kept its wave, fanning out from her head in a do that reminded Myra (secretly) of Phyllis Diller. Chris continued her afternoon naps, though they were shorter. Often when she got up, she'd invite Lucia to go “meditate” with her. Lucia would sit on Chris's lap under the buffalo robe, contemplating the whale shark while Chris sang softly in Nimipu. Every so often, Lucia would say “Can I touch?” Chris would stand and carry Lucia to the whale shark, where she'd push her little fingers into every indentation for a while, before they resumed sitting.

Francesca's was doing well in L.A. after a splashy start. Frances wasn't thrilled with her father's management style there, and flew down twice in two weeks to iron out policy, as well as tape a guest chef spot with Ming Tsai. The following Tuesday, Margie came to dinner with Allie and Edwina. During a lull in the conversation, Margie rested her fork on her plate and said “I'd like to talk with you all about Frances and Imani.”

Myra heard Ginny draw in her breath. Margie caught Chris's stone face and said “No, it's not that. They're – the sex part really is over. The fact is, Imani is her right hand, picks up enough slack that Frances can open new places and fly around and take time off with us. And Imani loves how much Frances leans on her. But Franny says she's good enough now, she should be in charge of her own place. She doesn't have the money or influence yet to get one, except...well, wherever Frances decides to open the next store, either one in this area, or San Fran, or New York, she could give it to Imani to plan and staff, be the head chef, and it would solidify Imani's career. Frances says she deserves it.”

“Wow. High praise from Frances” said Allie.

“Yeah. The hitch is that if Imani peels off, then Frances will have to move someone else up into that slot, and the next in line at the store here isn't up to snuff, not for that level of trust. She could bring in someone new, if she can find them, but that will mean months of training and – well, the deal is that if Imani goes, Frances' free time will diminish. Or maybe vanish.”

“Ah” said Edwina. “So does Frances do what's best for Imani or best for Frances?”

“In a nutshell. She asked me what I thought and I said I had to think it over. Honestly, I don't feel – pressure, I guess you'd call it, about Imani any more. She's really good for Frances. I kinda don't want her to go. But I know that's selfish.” Margie resumed eating.

Ginny was looking at her speculatively.

“You could say just that to Frances. In the end, it's her decision” said Myra. “I bet she simply wants to know where your emotions reside around it all now.”

Margie nodded, considering this.

“If she opened up a second store in this area, where would it be?” asked Allie. “I mean, she's got the pizza franchise in my neighborhood.”

“She's thought about Bainbridge, for a high-end clientele. Or going to Olympia, for the same kind of mix she's got here. She's actually hired a research firm, we'll be able to use that data when it comes in to make a better decision” said Margie.

“When does the Ming Tsai show air?” asked Myra, feeling eager.

“Not till the spring. She created a glaze for Arctic char of a pomegranate reduction with Spanish pimenton, she said it made his eyes roll back in his head. That recipe's going on the menu at the store. Check it out next time you're in there” said Margie.

“You bet I will” said Ginny.

The next day, while the grandchildren were over, disaster struck. Margie had an appointment in the morning and no time to come home for lunch and dog-walking, so Moon and Gidg were spending the day with Myra and Ginny. The children worked in the garden a while with Ginny, and when they came back in, they discovered that Jerry Bear, left on the floor by Charlie despite repeated warnings, had been reduced to fragments by Moon. In fact, Moon was still chewing on one of Jerry's ears.

Charlie went into hysterics. Chris held him and rocked him while Myra swept up the remains of Jerry Bear, saving his button eyes and the scrap that held his nose in a drawer. Charlie didn't want to play with the other children, even after he stopped crying. He went through another bout of wild weeping when Jane and Gillam came to lead them home, but there was no Jerry Bear to accompany him.

“Where did Thad get it, do you know?” Myra whispered to Jane. Thad had given each of the children a special plush animal companion at their birth – an elephant for Mimi, a giraffe for David, Leah's purple pig, and Lucia's cheetah, in addition to Jerry Bear.

“I'm not sure. I think he ordered them from some specialty shop online” said Jane.

As they left, Charlie turned and aimed a kick at Moon, suddenly screaming “Bad dog!” Gillam scooped Charlie up and said “No, we don't yell at creatures who can't understand. He didn't know it was wrong to chew up a toy left on the floor.” Charlie sobbed his fury onto Gillam's shoulder. They could hear him even after the gate was closed.

“Tough lesson” commented Chris. Moon was rattled and leaning his neck against Myra's knee. She rubbed his ears and said “S'all right, you're still indispensable to our pack.”

That Sunday, Jane and Gillam brought the kids for lunch after Quaker Meeting. Allie and Edwina were there as well. Margie and Frances stopped by with the dogs, but didn't stay to eat because they had plans with friends. Charlie gave Moon the evil eye, and Moon was glad to depart.

After the children had done their share of clean-up and scattered into the rest of the house, Mimi returned to the kitchen and said to Myra “Gramma, one of the dogs pooped in the living room.”

“Oh, no” said Myra, grabbed a handful of paper towels. Jane was emerging from the bathroom off the living room with Lucia, who was just starting to learn the potty dance, and she looked at where Mimi was pointing to Myra. She said 'Hang on.” She turned and yelled ominously “Charlie Gillam Bates-Josong! Come here this instant!”

Ginny later said Charlie froze in his tracks and couldn't seem to move. She leaned over and whispered “Come on, I'll walk with you”, accompanying him to where Jane stood next to the small pile of turds.

“Charlie, who crapped here?” Jane demanded.

“Moon” he said, eyes wide.

“I don't think so. In fact, I happen to know that's your crap. So not only did you dump in your grandmothers' living room, you tried to lie to me about it. Is that about right?” Jane's voice was hard as diamonds.

“It's Moon's fault” he tried again. Jane took the paper towels from Myra's hand and said “Zip it, Charlie. You are going to clean this up, and then you're going to apologize to your grandmothers, and then you're going to sit in time-out.”

He began crying, but she was relentless. The clean-up process got him smeared with feces as well, and after she scrubbed his hands, he was marched to Myra, Ginny, and Chris in turn to say he was sorry, that he would never do it again. He was still crying softly when she plopped him onto the stairs and glanced at the clock.

When she returned to the kitchen, Ginny whispered “I only had two kids, but I could never have told their poop apart like that. You have quite the eye.”

“I caught him sneaking Cheetos in the pantry this morning” confided Jane. “There were bright orange chunks in that mess, it was a giveaway. Otherwise, no, I'm not a magic shit detector.”

Allie and Chris roared. When Charlie's punishment time was up, Allie asked if she could be the one to relieve him and Jane nodded. They walked outside, Charlie pressed against Allie's chest, as Allie asked him if he was trying to get Moon in trouble on purpose.

“He was bad, Aunt Allie. He killed Jerry Bear, and nobody punished him” said Charlie in still-raw outrage.

“He honestly didn't know what he was doing was bad” said Allie.

“I miss Jerry Bear so much” said Charlie, starting to cry again. Allie said “You know what? I'm not much on a sewing machine, but your Grandma Myra is, and I think we could maybe make another Jerry Bear. How's about if you and me go to the fabric store, look for a pattern and the right kind of fur, and help Myra bring Jerry Bear back to life?”

It became the afternoon project. Allie and Chris cut out plush pieces and helped stuff arms and legs. Ginny painted a label with indelible markers which read “Jerry Bear, returned to life 10 November 2019, soulmate of Charlie G.B-J”. Edwina sewed this onto the bottom of the new Jerry's foot. At the end, Myra pulled the previous Jerry eyes and nose from the drawer and attached them to his new incarnation, declaring “Now he can see you again!”

Charlie's face was worth all the effort. That night, Chris glued together a small chair from slats they used as garden stakes, painting it a glossy green. When Charlie and Jerry Bear arrived the next afternoon, Chris set the chair on a shelf out of dog reach and said “When you're not holding Jerry Bear, he wants to sit in his chair, where he can watch what's going on and be safe from any danger.” With a few reminders, Charlie learned to keep Jerry in his new digs.

That night, Chris said “Pretty devious. That plot against Moon.”

“Yeah. Gives a new dimension to Charlie, don't it?” agreed Myra.

The following day was Chris's birthday. She asked to have her party that night instead of on the weekend. Myra thought this was probably to keep herself surrounded on the day when she'd be missing Sima the most. That morning at breakfast, Chris said to Myra and Ginny “I wrote her.”

“Who? Sima?”

“Yeah. I mailed it on Friday. She'll get it tomorrow or the next day. I decided I didn't want to give her the power any more. I didn't want to wait on what she might or might not have to say to me, especially after that letter you got, Myra. And, hey, she's the one complaining about how stuff never got talked about, so I did some talking.” Chris was grinning her bloodthirsty grin.

Myra and Ginny looked at each other wide-eyed.

“What...Can I ask what you said to her?” ventured Ginny.

“I told her I'd read her letter to you, Myra, and that I thought it reeked of catshit. I told her if there really had been all this hidden sexual agenda between me and whoever, I'd have acted on it a long time ago. I told her I chose her and stuck by her, no matter what, and she'd kicked me in my teeth without giving me a fucking clue she was about to do it, that was the real secret sexual agenda which had occurred. I said she was breaking the hearts of three young people who had loved her without reservation, and that each of the grandkids are still, even now, asking where she is, when she's coming back. I told her if she gets cancer or breaks a hip or anything at all seriously bad happens to her, her professor will find a nice academic excuse to shuck her like a threadbare coat and she will nowhere to turn. Except that of course you two will take her back, not without repouring a foundation and a lot of spackle work, but you'd never desert her the way she deserted us. And I said I still loved her as much as I ever had, but between the chemo and the scalpel and the atomic waves, big chunks of me were gone and maybe, in time, that would include missing how much she'd been a part of my life.”

Chris's eyes burned black in her face for a minute, then welled over. She lay her face in her broad hands and said “I meant every word” as she fought against crying. “When I woke up alone this morning, I felt like dying all over again.”

“You should have let me sleep with you, I really wanted to” said Myra with a wrench in her chest.

“I needed to find out what was there” said Chris. “You can sleep with me tonight, though, that's for damned sure.”

Myra sat on one side of her, Ginny on the other, patting her back and hair as they talked over the day's plans.

“You're a prime number this year, Kash-Kash” said Myra.

“Wonder why the mail hasn't come yet?” said Chris.

Ginny said gently “It's Veteran's Day this year. No mail until tomorrow.”

Chris tried to hide her disappointment. “Well, as long as you all hired a stripper for the party tonight.”

Myra kissed her, laughing. “Actually, I'm going to do the honors.”

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


Thursday, February 19, 2009


Magical Mystery Tour album cover

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.

July to October 2019

Chris's scans showed no new signal that could be interpreted as cancer. Her blood work was clean except for borderline anemia and low white blood cell count. Myra celebrated by making steaks for everybody who would eat them. She bought a supply of various cuts of steak as well for the freezer, and Chris willingly ate them. Ginny provided a B-vitamin counterpoint with spinach, other dark green leafy vegetables, and chicken liver. Chris retained her color from her week in the sun for a couple of weeks, until she began her second round of chemotherapy.

“The Dance of the Blue Walruses” was published on Myra's birthday, creating another occasion to celebrate. The official launch was that Friday, August 9th. The whole family attended Myra's reading at All For Kids and Music, with plans to have shabbos dinner afterward at Carminati's. Ginny and Allie both brought a few of their original illustrations to display. The highlight of the reading, however, was when the five grandchildren came up to the small dais and re-created their dance, complete with beanbag chairs. David was given credit as choreographer and he could not shut up afterward, reliving the event in repetitive verbal gush.

The day after Myra's birthday, Myra got up very late. As she shuffled into the kitchen from the elevator, she was humming “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64”, which Ginny and the family had sung to her more than once the night before. She was surprised to see Ginny and Chris still at the dining table: Most days they gardened until Myra got up, ate, and took Chris to her morning chemo.

Myra changed direction, heading straight for the table. Breakfast was waiting on her – a pork cutlet and toast, both cold but still edible. “Is the tea hot?” she asked. Ginny felt the pot and stood to go refill it. “While you're in there, I want a slice of that cake Jane made. I'm still birthdaying” she said.

She had taken a couple of bites by the time Ginny returned. As Ginny filled her cup, Chris tapped the stack of mail in the middle of the table. “You got some cards, looks like” she said.

“Lovely” said Myra, making no move to sort out hers from the stack. She took a bite of cake and said “Mm, never too much chocolate.”

Chris tapped the mail again. Myra realized Ginny was watching her as well. She set down her fork and began making four stacks for them plus automatic trash. When she got to the envelope from Boston in Sima's handwriting, she realized what they had been waiting on.

“I...I want to eat first. Seriously. But it's fine with me if one of you opens it and reads it.”

Chris leaned back in her chair as if recoiling from the envelope. “Not me” she said.

Ginny licked her lips and looked at Chris. “I don't know” she said.

Chris said “Do it.” Myra pushed the envelope toward Ginny before taking another bite of cake.

Ginny wiped the butter knife obsessively before using it to slit the end of the envelope. The card was not handmade but looked beautiful from Myra's vantage point. A folded piece of paper was inside, printed from a computer. Ginny read the card first, then said “Okay to read it out loud?”

Myra nodded and waited for Chris to give her okay.

“Just know that I'm thinking of you today, glad you were born and for the role you played in my life. I wish all of you the very best, and that we all have joy in our later years. Love, Sima”

Chris's face was stone. Myra suddenly found Jane's frosting a bit too rich. She drank some milk and considered her pork cutlet.

“Gin – go ahead and read that letter, if you want, but I don't want to hear it until I'm done eating” said Myra. Chris stood and said “I can wait, too.” She walked outside toward the vegetable beds. Myra stood as well and reheated her plate of food. By the time she returned to the table, Ginny had finished the letter, which covered both sides of the sheet of paper.

Ginny had her lips pressed tightly together. Myra said “Are you going to put up more tomatoes this afternoon? When is the corn from our organic place going to be delivered, tomorrow or the next day?”

Ginny said “I'll do tomatoes until the kids get here, then more after dinner. And yeah, the corn comes tomorrow.”

Myra finished her meal in silence. She drank the last of her tea and said “Let's have it.”

It was an answer to her letter of several months earlier. Many parts of it didn't sound to her like Sima at all, even with all the time she'd had to craft and polish her phrasing. Myra wondered how much Susan had had in this letter. She knew, better than most, how dishonest writing can be.

She read it through twice, then said “I think this is a sitting-by-the-pond discussion. Coming with?”

“Yep” said Ginny, leaving the table to the depredations of Mother Courage and Franklin. Chris sat at one end of the curved stone bench and read the letter very slowly. Myra stuck her hands under the waistband of her sweatpants, over her belly, and contemplated the glass float, wondering not for the first time if the fish below saw it as a celestial object.

When Chris finally refolded the letter and handed it to Ginny next to her, Myra said “We don't have to talk about it right now if you don't want to.”

Chris said “Fuck her. Fuck her to fucking hell.”

Or we can jump right in thought Myra.

“She's lying through her goddamned teeth for most of it. All that rationalization and plugged nickel analysis – how she was rendered second-class in our social circle because I always assumed the dominant spot and my version of things got the most credence, because you and Allie were the power duo and you both had hidden sexual charge for me – she would never have the fucking nerve to say such bilge in front of Allie.”

“Not to mention Edwina” said Ginny.

Chris chuckled grimly. “Edwina would knife her. You know, all she ever had to do was bring it up, ask one of us if it was true. I know I don't go digging around like you do, Myra, but I fucking stay in this processy bunch and I do my fucking share when called upon. And if she needed -- “ Her voice almost broke, and she swallowed hard, going silent.

“People who walk have to make it the fault of those they leave” said Ginny gently. “Nobody says 'I couldn't handle it', not right away.”

They heard a kind of burp from the pond and turned to look, seeing a bubble break the surface and ripples travel through the lily pad leaves. “The leviathan is listening” whispered Myra, which got them all to laugh.

Chris said “But the worst part is when she talks about the kids. About how she was never allowed to be a real parent, she was forced into a secondary role...You two had some shit but your kids picked who they wanted to love, and these grandkids are doing the same thing thanks to Jane and Gillam.” She turned to Myra. “You have to not let Margie read that letter. Or Gillam, or Carly, whom she leaves out entirely except to imply his parents were exploited by you.”

“Agreed” said Myra.

“She's spinning a whole new cloth” said Ginny. “That's the kindest way I can put it.”

Chris glanced at her. “I don't fucking feel like being kind at the moment.”

“You don't have to be” said Myra.

“Happy fucking birthday, huh” said Chris. “Can't wait to see what I get, when the time comes.”

“Oh, hell, Chris, look at the time. We have to get to chemo” said Myra suddenly.

“Perfect” muttered Chris. Myra rushed into the house to dress. Chris stood slowly and said to Ginny “Leave half those tomatoes for me for later, okay?”

In the chemo wing of the clinic, they always walked in to affectionate greetings from everybody who worked there. Half the nurses, it seemed like, were not just lesbians but butches -- Myra often wondered what drew them to oncology. They wore almost hazmat suit gear, designed to either protect immune-compromised patients from infection or the nurses themselves from the chemotherapeutic agents which carried bio hazard symbols on their labels. Even in this kind of get-up, however, the nurses made them feel like regulars in a neighborhood bar.

They'd saved Chris's preferred chair for her, one with a view of hills and water. A portable chair was pulled up next to it for Myra, opposite the infusion side.

Once the check-in was done and the line begun, Chris leaned her chair back and said "You listening or writing today?" Myra had bought Chris an Ipod with two jacks and helped Chris fill it with her favorite music, including a vast array of flute and drum music from numerous Native cultures. Sometimes Myra plugged her earbuds into the second jack and listened along with Chris; sometimes she opened her laptop on a tray table. Chris didn't like to talk during chemo, and the conversation from other patients around them agitated her.

Today Myra opted for the Ipod. Chris selected some Abenaki songs and closed her eyes. Myra slid her hand into Chris's as she recognized this song, about how Lake Champlain was formed. When they got home, they would have time for whatever lunch Chris and Zofran together could manage, before Chris took a short nap and the grandkids arrived.

Myra decided not to reply to Sima right away. She had her reading and kept working on the creek girl book, which was much slower going than other kinds of writing. Ginny began a new painting and finished it the following Monday. When she got up from sleeping it off, she was running a fever and had severe cramps. An hour later, she began throwing up. Her symptoms were called in to their doctor, who said a stomach flu was going around, to push fluids and wait it out.

Myra was instantly concerned about Chris, with her lowered immune status. She also worried about it spreading through the children. She increased handwashing on an obsessive scale, created soups for Ginny, and let Chris handle the tomato sauce making. On Tuesday, however, Chris had to go in to meet with her radiation oncologist for a final interview – they didn't want to repeat any treatment for the foreseeable future, but he wanted to give her future options if the need arose. Myra dropped her off and Chris said she'd call when she needed a ride home. Taking the bus with her current susceptibility was not recommended.

However, the wait in the clinic was outrageously long. Chris called as the grandchildren were arriving to say “I just got out of the fucking place. Should I take a cab?”

“No, they're germs on wheels. I'll pile them into the Volvo and we'll come get you. Maybe go out for a treat afterward.” She was drowned out by cheers around her.

“There's no bench out front of this building, just smokers. I'll wait up here, go to the parking garage below and buzz me on my cell when you're there, okay?”

Myra said bye to Ginny from the doorway, blocking the kids from pouring into their bedroom, and spent fifteen minutes getting car seats arranged in the back of the car. It always made her nervous to drive with all of the children at once, the most precious of loads in her hands. When they got to the parking garage, however, her cell wouldn't pick up a signal.

“Damn” she said. “Language” Leah got out ahead of her siblings.

“Point taken. But I can't let Aunt Chris know we're here. Come on, we'll have to all go in. We're on the buddy system, take the hands of your buddy. And this is a good-behavior kind of place.” She put Lucia on her hip and they entered the elevator, a fight breaking out over who got to push the button – which, it turned out, none of them could because the office was on the 22nd floor and no one but Myra could reach that high. Or Lucia – Myra leaned her over to reach the button, causing a brief storm of protest until Myra reminded “Good behavior. Or no treat.”

At the main lobby, several people got on. As the doors shut, Leah looked at Myra expectantly. Myra thought What the hell and, glancing at which buttons were lit, plagiarized for her first announcement while trying to kick-start free association in her brain “5th Floor: Corporation tee-shirts, elementary penguins, and models of the Eiffel Tower.”

The children's laughter was instantaneous. The suited man who got off at the 5th floor was not smiling, however. When the doors shut again, Myra was ready:

“14th Floor: Bad covers of disco tunes, leftover ceramics from the Southwestern craze, and the snows of yesteryear.” This time, someone besides the kids giggled, and a woman in scrubs grinned at her as she debarked.

“22nd Floor: Betty Dodson workbooks, do-it-yourself liposuction kits, and WPA posters in three-color lithography.” They got off with laughter at their backs and found Chris pacing the floor of the waiting room. As Myra explained to her, Mimi and Charlie had a shove-fest to see who pushed the down button. Chris took Lucia from Myra and said “Waste of time. I think they just wanted to be sure their bill got paid.”

Myra's brain was racing. Once back in the elevator, she announced to the car behind her “11th Floor: Bicycles, balaclavas, clavichords, and Balinese cichlids. Special today on angelfish, both arch and cherubim.”

There was a boy around age six or seven who was shushed by his mother after this utterance. Don't encourage the lunatics thought Myra. Lucia pointed to Myra and said in Chris's direction “Gramma” with a peal of laughter. That magic word, grandma, immediately eased the tension around them. Heteronormative acceptance thought Myra.

After the next exodus, she intoned “3rd Floor: Carburetors, carbuncles, and carbohydrates, processed. Otherwise known as exhaust, boils, and Twinkies.”

The little boy said “I want to go here, Mommy, I want Twinkies.” He was shushed again, and Leah explained to him “It's a game, not really Twinkies.”

However, once they were in the car and Myra said “Okay, what kind of treat are we in the mood for?”, two of the children requested Twinkies. Myra and Chris decided on the bookstore instead, where The Dance of the Blue Walruses was on gratifying display in the window.

In September, Leah began preschool with David, while Mimi went off to kindergarten by herself. Charlie was disconsolate until his older siblings returned home each day. He and Lucia were emotionally close but she was not much as a playmate yet.

The second week of school, when Gillam and Jane walked over to pick up the kids from Myra and Ginny, the adults were standing talking when from the living room they heard Mimi say “I don't like any kind of burger, but you know what kind I especially don't like?”

“ASS-burgers!” cried her and David and unison, collapsing into giggles. Gillam and Myra stared at each other in horror, but Ginny was on the move, descending on Mimi and David within seconds, grabbing them each by the arm and saying “How utterly vile you are, to ridicule your sister that way. I can't believe you would be so horrid. What if someone made fun of your long hair, David, or you being a vegetarian, Mimi? Would you think that was funny?” She dragged them to the stairs and pushed them onto steps far enough apart that they couldn't whisper, saying “Five minutes.”

David wanted to protest the extra minute but common sense kept his mouth shut. He was fighting tears, anyhow. Myra bet Ginny's hand on their arms had been clamped tight. Gillam walked over to where Lucia was playing with her wallpaper samples, by the fireplace, and squatted, saying “Did that bother you, Luch?”

She looked up at him briefly, and Myra recognized that “swimming into consciousness” expression from when she pulled Ginny out of Painterland. Lucia said “Take these home?”, pointed to her samples.

“Of course” said Gillam. “In a few minutes.” When he returned to Myra, she said “I honestly don't think she registered it.” Leah and Charlie were solemn and trying to appear holy.

“She must have picked that up at school” said Jane in a low voice.

“Which means she's talking about our family, to have passed on the term in the first place” said Gillam.

“She's got lots juicier tidbits than that, when she figures it out” said Myra. “Margie certainly did.”

Ginny had gone into the kitchen and returned with two quart jars of tomato sauce. “Take these home with you. Sorry I blew like that.”

“They'll think twice about it in the future, at least in front of us” said Jane reassuringly.

Kindergarten also exposed Mimi to a series of colds and viruses, which meant Chris's contact with the children was often abrogated. She lost more weight, despite steaks and spinach quiches when she did have an appetite. She finished her final round of chemo the first week in October with a massive sigh of relief.

Five days later, the new LA restaurant, Francesca's, opened but Myra and Ginny decided not to go because Chris was not yet up for travel. The rest of the family flew down for the weekend. Myra persuaded Gillam to save any trip to Disneyland for when she could be there. Instead, they took the kids to the La Brea Tar Pits and the Venice Boardwalk.

The following Friday after dinner they all gathered to watch Gillam's videos of the weekend. Chris already looked better, clustered in their midst, Myra thought. After the new videos, they watched some of Gillam, Carly and Margie when they were little, followed by (the children's request) the underwater pond footage. Then the lights were turned back up to sing the Golden Horde anthem and perform Moondoggie's song with dance accompaniment. Chris stood with the children to “wag her tail” and take a whizz on an imaginary fireplug.

Myra decided to not answer Sima until after Chris's birthday in November. She wanted to see what Sima did on that occasion.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.



Sean Delonas cartoon depicting shooting by cops of chimp as stand-in for Barack Obama (Cartoon by Sean Delonas for New York Post, Wednesday, February 18, 2009)

It is, to deliberately use the phrase, as simple as black and white.

When you refer to African-Americans as simians, you are being racist. When you refer to European-Americans in the same way, it's not.

For at least a thousand years, people from Africa were denied inclusion in the human family by the cultural, religious, and political institutions of Europe. Insisting Africans were "not entirely human" but some kind of ape-being was not the cause of racism. Racism, like all other oppressions, begins with power imbalance based on perceived survival struggle which eventually becomes widespread enough to infect every system of the human cultures where it is found. At that point, justifications and rationalizations are created to "explain" the lie. The portrayal of black people as monkeys is an ancient attempt to excuse treating them like animals.

Follow the power. If a man is compared to a barnyard animal, it may be offensive but it doesn't threaten the power flow because there is no institutionalized lie which implies it might be true. If a woman is compared to a barnyard animal, it is an attack backed by possible denial of access to power. Which is why I don't use bitch, chick, sow, or cow as terms for women, any more than I would use buck, junglebunny, rat, or vermin to refer to various non-white groups. There is, in my opinion, no "reclaiming" of such terminology while the power structure remains intact, no "subverting" the fact that we are all raised to think of the lie -- and the hate behind it -- first when we hear it used.

The association is there, whether we admit it or not. Even the depiction of two white police officers shooting a chimp (although, in this case, the drawing looks more like a gorilla, which I believe is deliberate because gorillas are more intimidating) would have an underlay of recognizable racism, because a solid percentage of the American population will think "black" when they see that ape. It's an easy, cheap association.

But when the line "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill" is the caption -- with the clear knowledge that our President wrote the current stimulus bill, and in fact a photograph of him doing so appears on the previous page of the same newspaper in which this so-called cartoon appeared -- then there is no arguing the intent of this drawing. The intent is to encourage feelings and thoughts of homicide against our President because he is an African-American daring to break free of his "animal" category, daring to assume economic leadership. Over white people.

I recommend reading BAGNewsNotes, who of course has their finger directly on the pulse. Also recommended is Jack and Jill Politics analysis in "The Connection Between Blacks As Apes And Police Brutality".

I also encourage us to think long-term about what this blatant display means. Pam Spaulding at Pam's House Blend does a consummate job of listing all the racism employed by Republicans and the Right during this last election cycle in her post The New York Post Makes Its Case For a Post-Racial America. It's true that this is business as usual for that crowd. But is also true that as the delusion of their supposed majority is revealed, and as they lose access to power, they will not go gentle in that good night. Their racism is, as Orcinus and Sara Robinson have repeatedly warned, becoming a daily danger, beyond even the threat of violence and death at the hands of cops that every person of color in this country knows on a gut level.

We cannot "nice" and hope this away. We cannot educate infected individuals and leave the system intact. This is not an issue of semantics or artistic freedom. This is a clarion clear call to war. We do not (and I hope will not) accept their terms of battle, but we must pay attention: When a major newspaper in our largest city prints a cartoon advocating the murder of "whoever wrote the stimulus bill", reducing him to an ape out of control, we are facing cultural revolution.

Something's happening here...

[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]


Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Thunderhead over Gulf Coast bay
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.

July 2019

With great regret, Frances decided she could not spare the time off to go with them to the Gulf Coast for the Fourth of July week: She had too many out-of-town trips scheduled for planning the new restaurant in L.A. in the next few months. Thus, landing in Houston were ten adults and five children. They rented two minivans and a car to hold all the children's car seats plus luggage. Lucia had nursed during take-off and then spent the flight at a window, enraptured by the patterns of the earth below them.

Their charter had lifted them out of Seattle before dawn, so they arrived at Margie's in Galveston still before noon. Tables were being set up for the free meal at noon in the covered parking area under the restaurant. In the open air part of the lot, a Latina in her 40s was leading a tai chi class for an assorted group of folks, some of them clearly folks who lived entirely on the streets. The shade under the water tower held a nursery and kindergarten group of homeless children, and parked in the side lot was a mobile clinic van. Epifanio was downstairs and came to hug Margie when the family began pouring from their vehicles.

Margie introduced him as "the guy who keeps everything running". He was short, slight, and in his 50s, implacably calm and eloquent as he gave them a tour of the busy site. He said the medical van came twice a week, a bookmobile came once a week, and there was always at least one support group meeting in the mornings before the lunch hour -- for vets, anger management, AA/NA, adult education, art, anything somebody wanted to lead or teach for free. The work of setting up and breaking down for lunch, plus keeping the place clean, was hired out to homeless people at twice minimum wage, by Frances' edict. He pointed out the new bathrooms at the side, plus a public shower available in time slots for women, men, or those who didn't want to worry about gender. The fence around the site was opened at 7 a.m. and everyone had to leave by 2 p.m., because the upstairs restaurant -- "for the folks with money" he said with a grin -- began operating at 3:00.

At first, merchants in this historic district of Galveston had been vociferously opposed to Frances' dual use of her property, claiming that attracting the "indigent" would drive away paying customers and damage property. Epifanio, however, had lived here all his life and refused admission to anyone drinking, using drugs, or people who could not yet control their outbursts or tendencies to violence. "Other crazies are welcome" he said. The refuge was now also kept intact by the folks who were able to make use of it, especially women and mothers. Eventually, the hoi polloi of Galveston decided Margie's was trendy, a way to do good without any real effort, and the upstairs restaurant was constantly booked, the donation jar stuffed by middle-class guilt.

Epifanio said "You're welcome to eat down here, but it's a fixed menu and Frances called in a cook early to feed you whatever you want up in the air conditioning." Myra said "Some of us need the cool air" and regretfully led the children to the elevator with Chris, while everyone else climbed the spiral staircase. When the elevator doors shut, the children looked at her expectantly, but Chris interrupted any possible scenario by saying "I thought Frances' cousin Renata was in charge of this place."

"She runs the kitchen" said Myra. "Frances caused family discord when she hired Epifanio at a matching salary and gave him half the power, but she obviously knew what she was doing."

They sat at a long table in front with a bright view of the ocean. Children were strategically separated between adults and their water glasses were pushed out of reach, contents poured into sippy cups produced from Jane's voluminous shoulder bag. Margie insisted Epifanio sit with them, and he agreed to stay a few minutes, but said he had to get back downstairs before dessert.

Myra always found it interesting to eat Frances' recipes which had been prepared by hands other than hers: Her imprint was there, but the difference could be tasted. There was one gluten-free dish ready for Lucia, who wasn't particularly hungry and preferred to sit in Chris's lap staring out the window at the breakers. Epifanio told Margie the latest development, the contracting with a local bus company to make five buses automatically available in the event of another hurricane landfall in Galveston.

"Five buses?" said Ginny. "Not just for employees, then."

"Nope. No more poor folks left behind to drown" he said quietly. Into the silence that followed, he turned to Chris and said something to her in rapid Spanish. She grinned and answered in what Myra recognized as Nimipu, although she couldn't translate any of the words. His face registered the first surprise Myra had seen on it, and he said "You're not mestiza?"

"Native, but 2000 miles from here" she replied.

"Ah. My bad" he said.

After he went back downstairs, Chris leaned over to Myra and asked "What did he say to me?"

"The only word I caught was 'santos'" said Myra. Ginny filled in with "He asked you if you were new to this congregation of saints or if you were one of the grand old dames who began the miracles." The other grand old dames beamed at each other.

Five minutes before they were due to leave, Myra borrowed the keys and went to each vehicle, turning on the ignition and the air conditioning, so Chris and the children would be spared the blast furnace effect of closed cars at noon on a Texas July day. They drove the half hour to Jamaica Beach, putting off the kids' every-two-minute request to go to the beach now, and there Jane and Gillam peeled off their brood to go immediately toward the ocean. Ginny, Myra, and Chris took the car to the fish store and produce stand, while the remaining adults hit the supermarket.

Belinda, Harm's niece who managed the property for them now, was at the beach house when they arrived. The air conditioning had been on a couple of hours, clean sheets were on all the beds, and she was sweeping the front stairs when they filled the sandy driveway. Gillam immediately went to get the portable canopy from the shed in back while Jane began blowing up the three wading pools they'd bought this time to line up in the canopy's shade. Chris went upstairs to explore while everyone else filled the open-air lift at the side of the porch with luggage and groceries, saving endless trips up and down the stairs.

Allie and Edwina had insisted on taking the sleeper sofa in the living room, pointing out they got up before everyone else anyhow for fishing. They gave their room to Chris, who in turn insisted on sharing it with Margie. Myra told Allie that she and Edwina could have her and Ginny's bedroom for their afternoon naps. All five children were going to be on the sleeping porch this year, which they found exciting in a tribal sort of way. Jane and Gillam were sharing their bedroom with Carly and Eric, and jokes had passed among them about socks being hung on the doorknob which Myra tried to ignore.

Before Belinda left, she said to Gillam “I did a thorough check, and didn't find a one. The stuff they use really works.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Ginny.

“He calls me every year now to make sure there are no fire ants in the yard here” said Belinda with a bemused grin.

Gillam said, a little defensive, “I'm willing for the kids to learn how to deal with scorpions, tarantulas, snakes, and prickly pear, but fire ants are just plain evil.” Mimi was listening and looked at the ground around her with a worried scowl.

In the third wading pool, instead of water Jane shoveled clean sand sifted through a window screen. This took her quite a while, and the other children had been splashing and squirting each other with the trickling hose for half an hour before Jane finally put Lucia in her sand pit with a plastic fork and a strainer from the kitchen. Lucia immediately began drawing in the space Jane smoothed for her. Gillam, his face shining with sweat, stripped down to boxers and sat in one of the wading pools, inviting his kids to “turn that hose on me, go for it”. Jane said “Sunscreen check again in an hour” and he nodded as she went upstairs to change.

By that time, the groceries had been unpacked and ice stowed in the freezer. Carly was making lemonade and tea, Allie and Ginny had their art corners set up on the porch, and Eric was in one of the showers. Chris emerged from her bedroom in a T-shirt and shorts, announcing “I'm going to sit out in the sun.”

“You should put on a swimsuit, then” said Margie.

“The one I had is too big for me now” said Chris. “I'll roll up the sleeves and belly on this -- “

“I've got the two-piece I used for kayaking, it oughta fit you” offered Margie. “Except in the ass.”

Chris looked dubious and Margie said “An athletic two-piece, not a bikini. Come on.” When Chris came back to the kitchen, Carly gave a whistle which embarrassed Myra as much as Chris. It was not a provocative garment, but still revealed more of Chris than any of them usually saw. Her surgery scars on her belly were still red and angry-looking.

She put on sunglasses, tucked a magazine under her arm, picked up the glass of lemonade Myra offered her with one hand and a folding lounge with the other, and headed down the front stairs, sitting on the other side of Lucia. Gillam called to her “Don't you need some sunblock?”

“Melanoma is very low on my list of concerns” she replied. She didn't open the magazine, instead leaning the lounge back and, it appeared, dozing off rapidly.

After an hour, fighting broke out among the four older children and kept erupting no matter what Gillam did. He stood up abruptly, his boxers sheer and clinging to his frame. There was silence in the wading pool.

“Time for naps” he said shortly. Only David and Mimi found the gumption to argue, and he said “You were up before dawn and you'll be up late tonight, even with the time zone change you're short on sleep. Naps now.”

Jane stood from her Adirondack chair on the porch above and called “Come up here, kids, I'll towel you off and put you in dry shorts.” They dragged their heels but Gillam herded them ahead of him, carrying a wailing Lucia. Once they were all inside, Margie said “Whew.”

Myra came out a few minutes later carrying the lemonade pitcher. She refilled everyone's glasses, then walked downstairs and did the same for Chris.

“You're gonna burn” she said. “Sit up, I'll start on your back.” Chris shifted sleepily and Myra slathered sunscreen on her back and shoulders, handing her the tube and saying “You can get the rest. A burn will ruin two days of your vacation.”

Back on the porch, Ginny said “Where're the boys?”

“Napping. As is Edwina in our room. Jane's lying down with Lucia, and I saw Gillam drop onto the couch. It's siesta season all around.”

“What are you doing?”

“I boiled a big pot of chicken and picked off the meat for salad tomorrow, now the stock is simmering. For tonight I thought we'd have that snapper, potato salad, sliced tomatoes, three-bean salad which will come from cans, and there's two watermelons chilling down. All I really have to do is boil the potatoes and broil the snapper at the last minute. So I've been writing up some of the poems and songs I tell the kids. I think maybe I could make an anthology of those plus a few stories that we haven't ever published, make Mai happy.”

Ginny grinned. “Not to mention ill-mannered children everywhere.”

“Hey, will you double the potatoes?” asked Allie. “I'll use the rest for hash browns in the morning.”

“Deal” said Myra. “Don't let her go more than another hour out there” she said softly to Allie, “She's not used to the sun here.”

“I can hear you” drifted up Chris's voice.

At 5:00 Ginny came inside to help with dinner and discovered Carly and Eric were already on the job. Gillam's snoring came from the living room, and the sunporch door was still peacefully shut.

“Hey, lend me your brain” said Myra. “I'm trying to think of one more verse for my lav-lav-lavender poem, for Lucia, and I'm really stumped. There's just not many one syllable words in English for basic body parts that have a rhyming word for a current article of clothing.”

Decades earlier, Myra had dredged up a poem she'd read somewhere as a child and reworded it as a ditty she'd say when either Margie or Gillam was sick. The two original verses had gone:

My Margie, my dear
Had a pain in her throat
A kind woman gave her
A button-up coat
And little shoes of lavender
And little shoes of lavender
To keep her from the cold.

My Gillam, my dear
Had a pain in his chest
A kind woman gave him
A button-up vest
And little shoes of lavender
And little shoes of lavender
To keep him from the cold.

As the grandchildren had come along, she'd reworked these first two substituting Mimi and David's names. For Leah she'd come up with “nape and cape”, which had thrown Mimi into an uproar because she wanted the cape for herself. It had taken Myra a long period of digging through a thesaurus before Charlie's verse became “back and mack”, which Myra said was borderline because they generally said raincoat instead of mackintosh.

Ginny sat down and looked at the notes on Myra's legal pad. She cracked up over “rear and brassiere”.

“Does it really have to be one syllable?” she asked.

“Maybe not” said Myra.

“Well, how about 'belly' and 'wellies'?” asked Ginny.

“But the shoes are of lavender, she wouldn't be wearing both shoes and wellies” said Myra.

“So make her wear socks of lav-lav-lavender” said Ginny, filching a tomato from the plate already on the table.

“Done” said Myra. “I'll print this out and give it to you and Allie to fight over.”

“I've started a big canvas” complained Ginny. “She'll take all the good illustrations for herself before I'm done.”

“Up to you and her” insisted Myra, standing to carry her laptop over to the printer on the shelves by the door. She almost ran into Chris, stumbling in blind from the bright light outside.

“I cannot fucking believe how loud the cicadas are here” said Chris. “And the mosquitoes have arrived with the first hint of sunset.” She looked in good spirits, however. She walked flat-footed to the table, refilled her glass with icy lemonade, and said “I'm going to shower before dinner.”

“Yes, mah-dahm” answered Myra, handing her print-out to Ginny, adding “There's two copies, Gin, give one to Allie.”

After dinner, Carly and Eric took one of the vehicles to go scout wood for their evening campfires along the shore. Gillam rubbed mosquito repellent into preschool flesh and covered their little torsos with bright gauzy shirts while Margie and Edwina washed the dishes and Allie pulled fishing tackle from the locked closet in the back storeroom. Ginny carried in painting gear past Myra and Chris, side by side on the porch. Chris's eyes were focused on the distant line between ocean and sky, a shifting demarcation. She said languidly “I'm sorry I never did this with you all before now. It's luscious here.”

“How you feeling, Kash-Kash?”

“Sucked dry. But...better. I feel like maybe it worked. Don't go to town with that, now” she added.

Too late. Myra's heart was thudding hard in her chest. As soon as she and Ginny were alone in bed, smelling of smoke and Bullfrog, she repeated what Chris had said. Ginny squeezed her and they lay in silence until sleep arrived swiftly.

Chris of course accompanied the fisher-folk, carrying Lucia and a small pack with diapers, a bottle, and the strainer for making sugary sandheaps. Their second day, after a breakfast feast of fried fish, hash browns, and grapefruit, Myra and Carly excused themselves mysteriously, driving away in one of the minivans. When they returned, they had a rental ATV from a place in Jamaica Beach, complete with an expandable ramp to wheel it down from the back of the van. The children ran as a pack toward them, but Myra said the unbelievable, that it was not for them to play with: It was for Aunt Chris.

“I was joking” said Chris, flapping to Myra's side in her thongs.

“I know. But it's a great idea. You can go for miles up and down the coast on this. We've got an extra five gallons of gas here in a can.”

“Oh, puh-leeze, Aunt Chris -- “ began Mimi desperately.

“I'll be glad to take each of you for short rides on level ground” said Chris, “but only if it's okay with your parents.” She grinned at Gillam and said “No wheelies, no drag races, I promise.”

Jane and Gillam looked at each other. Jane said “Uh...Could I take it for a spin, too?”

“Absolutely” said Chris. “In fact, you can go right now, I need to go upstairs and let that last cup of coffee do its thang.”

Gillam and Jane took turns driving children across the road and onto the beach, carefully timing them so war did not break out among the troops. Gillam, the last to return, parked it under the house and said to Chris “It's alarmingly tipsy. But you can feel the horsepower.”

Chris settled into her lounge chair with her sunglasses and said “After while, when I've worked up a sweat and need a breeze to dry off.”

“Then can I?” asked Margie, not even waiting for Chris's nod. Myra, watching from the porch, wanted to yell down “Be careful” to Margie and managed to stop herself. She caught a glimpse of her beyond the south dunes a few minutes later, going entirely too fast and kicking up a line of spray in the edge of the water. She breathed out in relief when Margie returned intact, avoiding the wounded expression on Mimi's face.

“Goys and their toys” muttered Ginny.

On the Fourth of July, Harm and Gary drove in from Houston where they still shared a home despite having broken up years earlier. Gary brought his new lover with him, a much younger man who flirted with Carly. Belinda also came with her two sons, now 10 and 12, who were swarmed by the grandchildren as exotic beings almost within their grasp. David tried repeatedly to persuade one of the boys, Cody and Travis, to join in his made-up dances. They stared at him blankly for a long time. Suddenly the 10-year-old, Travis, broke into a frenzied modern hip-hop derivative, and within a minute his brother was scratching, making percussion with his mouth, while David hurled himself into enraptured imitation of everything Travis did. Eventually even Lucia tottered to her feet and tiptoed around in the sand, waving her arms and giving her extravagant grin at anyone who didn't meet her eyes.

The visitors had brought crab, hogfish, two kinds of bass, and an enormous slab of spareribs. They grilled these with corn, new potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, eggplant, and cherry tomatoes. Dessert was homemade ice cream in blueberry, strawberry, and vanilla. After eating, they sat around, stuffed, until it was full dark, then walked to the beach to set off fireworks. It took five adults to keep the younger children from peril as they tagged after the older boys, risking life and limb with explosives, as Ginny put it. Eventually, having missed their nap, meltdowns overtook the little ones en masse, and the visitors tactfully took their leave as weeping exhaustion was brushed free of sand and put to bed.

The next day was Lucia's first birthday. Myra made a German chocolate gluten-free cake and Lucia was taken for several rides with Aunt Chris. They heard her laughter over the drone of the ATV engine. At the campfire that night they sang “Santa Lucia”, whose out of season appearance didn't confuse her in the least: It was her song, after all.

Myra found herself this year in a fever of desire for Ginny. She had made love to her every night since they arrived, and this night she woke again at 4:00 when she heard the toilet flush – one of the fishers, starting their day. She rolled over to face Ginny and whispered “You awake?”

“Mmm” said Ginny, not moving. Myra kissed her cheek near her ear slowly, then stopped to see if Ginny would awaken further. After a minute, Ginny said “You want to go a second round?”

“I do. I can't get enough of you.”

“I know exactly how you feel.” Several minutes later, Myra said “Oh god, Ginny, I'm dying to have your hands on me.”

Ginny went still. “Same here.”

“Maybe you could just kiss my breast, see how that goes.”

Ginny pulled Myra to her and tried not to devour her. A minute later, Myra said “No, no – it's too much. I'm shutting down. Goddamnit, goddamnit it to hell.” She rolled to her back, gasping.

“I fucking hate them all” said Ginny passionately.


“All of them who left you with this.” Ginny began crying. Myra wrapped around her and cried a little, too. They went back to sleep, finally, grabbing a couple more hour of their abrogated intimacy before it was time to make biscuits and squeeze juice for breakfast.

The next afternoon, magnificant thunderheads began to gather over the bay behind them, and a dark line was visible on the southern horizon. Gillam kept the children's naps short, saying “It's gonna blow tonight.” Carly and Eric offered to move onto the sleeping porch of the weather was severe, freeing up their bed for three of the children. Myra and Ginny said they'd take the other two in their king-size bed.

The canopy was taken down and put in the shed, along with the wading pools, well before dinner. Painters' gear was brought inside and Margie checked to see if car windows were up. The downpour hit while they were eating, and the lights flickered briefly a few minutes later. Ginny went to check on the generator, but it had not kicked in, they were still on local electricity. Because of the sudden drop in temperature, melons were left in the fridge tonight and instead Myra brought out her stash of Texas pralines, passed around while they sat in a huddle of chairs on the front porch, blown by stray rain as lighting crackled nearby. Lucia was deep in Chris's lap, and Ginny, beside them, had one of Lucia's feet cradled in her hand.

Myra, feeling the presence of David and Rosa, said during a brief lull, “You know, this kind of wave and wind is going to dig up all kinds of things from the deeps. A lot of Spanish treasure ships, and pirate ships, are sunk out there off this coast. If we go walk along the beach in the morning, no telling what we might find.”

She felt Leah quiver in her lap, and Mimi said “Instead of fishing?”

“No, you all can go fishing” said Ginny. “Me and Gramma will get up earlier than we usually do, though, and meet you to go beachcombing.” She looked tenderly at Myra.

Margie said “You know, when I was about your age, Mimi, my zayde David took me and your Daddy for a walk after a storm and I found a Spanish doubloon, a big silver coin.”

“And I found a piece of eight” said Gillam.

“I wanna go!” said Charlie.

“Then a treasure-seeking we shall go” said Ginny. Gillam said quietly “I still have mine in a drawer.”

“Can I see it?” asked David.

“When we get home” said Gillam.

“I don't want to go home” said Leah. “I want to live here forever.”

After a long, contented silence, Jane began singing “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and the rest joined in. Once the storm broke, the children dropped off almost simultaneously – negative ions, Edwina proclaimed. They were put on the sleeping porch after all, which was now cool and fresh. Myra and Ginny retrieved the stash of large old coins from the around the world they had locked in the storage room, chose five of different shapes and metals, and polished them with Brasso until they gleamed. None of them were particularly valuable but “they do look treasure-ish” said Myra.

They found the fishing enclave by 7:00 the next morning and peeled off the children, Ginny carrying Lucia. Myra let them amble on ahead and dug holes in the glossy strand with her toes at intervals, dropping in the treasure and covering each partly with sand. After the fifth was deposited, she called out “Hey, I think there's something washed in back here!”

Mimi reached her first and began overturning seaweed, until Myra said “I saw a glint there” and pointed. The only one of the children who didn't have to be led directly to X marks the spot was Lucia, who spied her copper octagon immediately. Ginny and Myra marveled endlessly, declaring the finds to be a piece of eight, a doubloon, a real, a ducado, and an escudo. David and Mimi continued digging relentlessly, while Leah tried to read the Tamil markings on her coin and Charlie kept burying his and re-discovering it. When Ginny wouldn't let Lucia suck on her coin, Lucia thrust it at her and ambled off wobbily to squat and draw on the silky taut skin of the permeated sand with her fat finger.

On Sunday, Myra opened her creek girl file and re-read the book she'd begun months earlier. She began writing and worked all day, leaving meals and childcare to whoever else was available. Ginny finished her painting that afternoon, and Chris went out kayaking with Margie, a demonstrable return of some of her old energy. They all were heavy-hearted when it was time to leave on Monday, sweeping the porch one last time and returning the ATV in Jamaica Beach. Even chocolate bread pudding at Margie's didn't cheer them up.

Ginny wept hard at David's memorial headstone, next to Rosa's, and again made her children promise they'd place markers here for her and Myra when the time came. Lucia wanted to steal some of the pebbles on David's grave, and Ginny told Gillam “Let her. It means more to her than putting one there will at this age.”

It was raining when they landed in Seattle, but it smelled like rich loamy rain, and the children began talking about how glad Beebo would be to see them.

“And Frances” said Margie with hunger. “And the dogs.”

“And an avalanche of cats” said Myra.

“And the leviathan” said Chris. Leah looked at her with interest.

In the airport shuttle, Allie sat next to Chris and said “You bloodwork is tomorrow, right?”

“Yep. And a PET scan.”

“You sure you don't need me to go with?”

“Myra's on it like a duck on a junebug” said Chris. “But I would like you to come with me when I go back to get the results.”

Allie dropped her arm over Chris's shoulder. “We'll go out dancing afterward” she said.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.



Here's the weekly best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there. As usual, those from little gator lead the pack.


Sunday, February 15, 2009


Vice President Biden introduces Kareem Dale at Special Olympics Vice President Joseph Biden announces that Kareem Dale, 3rd from left, has been appointed Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy during the Winter Special Olympics site at Boise State University Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009 in Boise, Idaho. White House photo by Sharon Farmer.

On Thursday our new administration took another huge step forward in appointing a Special Assistant to the President on Disability Policy. Vice President Joe Biden named Kareem Dale to the new position, stating he will have "direct access" to the President. Biden went on to declare the impetus to secure equal rights for people with disabilities a "civil rights movement", elaborating with "This is about to change the attitude, change the attitude of governments, change the attitude of individuals....This is a movement to make sure that we guarantee that all peoples in the world have the opportunity to succeed to the degree they are capable."

Once again, reality has a well-known liberal -- and deeply human -- bias. Smell the common sense.

[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]



Roasted plum tsimmes
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.

Spring 2019

Myra got a letter from Kate Bean in Portland announcing she was planning to move to Seattle at the end of the school year. She was retiring from her teaching job, and her son Rafe had been accepted at U-Dub, so she was going to relocate to be near him for the time being. Myra suspected it also had to do with Kate's break-up last year with her lover of several years. She said to Ginny “I think she was hoping to stay with us for a while as she looks for a new place to live.”

“Well...” said Ginny consideringly. “We still have a spare bedroom upstairs -- “

“No” said Myra. “We're stretched as far as we can go right now. I'll help her find a place, but our house is full.”

Ginny returned to a normal painting schedule and was also increasingly happy spending time working in the garden with Chris as company. When Chris went out to lunch with Allie, Myra and Ginny began locating each other right away and lying on a daybed, talking, kissing, and relishing the sensation of having the house to themselves for an hour or so.

Myra worked perhaps two hours a day on her Skene book. Chris would join her in her study to sit on Myra's daybed in the mornings, stringing beads or reading, and Myra found the company energizing. But in the evenings after dinner, when Ginny returned to her canvas, Myra was drawn to watching movies with Chris instead of working. The creek book was entirely shelved, though Myra felt guilty about it.

Frances and Imani went to the store early one Tuesday and working on gluten-free pasta and pizza crusts until they came up with a formula which satisfied their exacting standards. Frances complained that creating a work environment free of flour contamination was in itself a major issue. The next week, she and Imani came to her home kitchen to make huge batches of pizza crusts and various pastas out of alternative, gluten-free materials which were then carefully wrapped and frozen. Frances added both options to her restaurant and pizza menus, and was surprised at many requests began pouring in.

She was already talking with her parents about opening the next Carminati's in the Los Angeles area, and they were searching for a good location. She now told them she needed a place not only with a brick oven and separate dining room for the pizza branch, but also with a second small kitchen where she could produce gluten-free and vegan pizzas and pasta dishes fresh on a daily basis. She hoped to get this third restaurant off the ground by the following fall. She planned to name it Francesca's.

Myra made gluten-free bread and main dishes not just for Lucia but also Jane, who thought clearing it from her own diet would made a difference while she was still nursing Lucia. After two weeks, they could all see a difference in Lucia. Her gassiness and loose bowels resolved, she no longer held her forehead as if it ached, and her crying bouts virtually disappeared. Gillam and Jane began going to a once-a-week support group for parents of children with Aspberger's. Gillam said he didn't think he wanted it to be a permanent part of his life – he said he had five unique children, not just one, and he only wanted to solve existing problems, not fetishize Lucia's disability.

Myra sent her rewritten letter to Sima but got no reply. Margie received a postcard of the new Boston art museum and several lines about how wonderful it was to be living in New England again, in a town with a thriving Jewish community. She shared it with Chris, who read it without comment and went to her room, shutting the door quietly. Gillam got Sima's address from them because the children wanted to write her a letter and, despite his anger at her not saying goodbye to any of them, he said he would not get in their way of expressing themselves. Their card to her as well did not elicit a reply.

Jane decided to offer private music lessons for children three afternoons a week while her kids were with their grandmothers. Ginny asked her if it was to keep her hand in at teaching, and Jane said yes in hesitant voice. Ginny pressed, and Jane said she also wanted to add to their income. She and Gillam were spending every cent that came in, she confided, and she worried about not having savings.

Ginny immediately brought this to Myra, who said “Well. They don't pay rent or taxes, but their medical coverage is expensive and Gillam doesn't earn much. We feed them about half the time, we buy at least half the kids' clothes and toys and books, and we're making sure their education will be covered. I think if they were doing without something essential, Gillam would ask us for help. So, striving for independence and savings seems like a sensible thing for them to do. I'd rather not go rushing to him about this.”

Ginny looked at her in surprise. “All right. If you can take that line with Gillam, I certainly can.”

That same week, without hearing this piece of family gossip, Chris asked Myra and Ginny at breakfast to give her an amount she should contribute to household upkeep.

“Ah, Chris, I don't know how to figure that. We feed so many people here, I have no idea how to break that down” said Myra.

“And our utilities are low because of the solar panels, the rainwater collection, the energy-efficient stuff in this house” added Ginny.

Chris was stubborn. “I'm not paying rent, I don't want to freeload.”

Before Myra could object, Ginny said “Why don't you give us what you were paying as your share of the food with Sima, and half that for utilities? I think that will actually cover whatever you're using.”

Chris gave her a small grin. “More like it. I'll give you a check after we eat.”

A month after Sima left, Myra didn't know whether to mention the anniversary or not. Chris went out to lunch with Allie and when she came back, she had three live lobsters in a plastic bucket.

“Yippee!” said Ginny when she saw them. “Just for us, right? 'Cause I can always eat a whole one by myself.”

“I was thinking we could grill them outside” said Chris. “With ordinary butter and lemon. And blueberry pie for dessert.”

She saw Myra watching her and said “I know what day it is. I made it this far, I guess I'm going to survive.”

The lobster was excellent. Chris slipped one of the emptied claws under the table, and Myra saw Anthea carry it away down the hall.

The next day at lunch, Ginny was making a grocery list for a mid-week run to Pike. Chris said “I know we're not having a seder, but I'd still like to get some matzoh. Maybe you could make some of your excellent matzoh brie.”

“Mm, yes” said Myra. “And your mother's chicken liver.”

Ginny added to the list. “I want tsimmes. And maybe matzoh ball soup?”

“I'll make fresh stock if you buy some wings and necks in bulk” said Myra.

Ginny looked up at Chris and said "Is there something else we should have in the house to eat that you're not getting, Chris? You've really lost weight, even though it seems like you're eating."

"No. I mean, I put stuff on the list as I think of it, or just pick it up myself."

Myra remarked "You are thinner. You're looking like those high school photos of yours.”

“You mean when I was on speed, or before then?” said Chris, grinning but not joking.

“At least you're hanging onto that cute pot belly of yours."

Chris laughed then. "Yeah, nothing seems to affect that."

Ginny felt a small roil inside her, at Myra's easy familiarity with another woman's body. She started to write again, to distract herself. But her brain outran her emotions. She stopped and looked at Chris in her level way. "Is it getting bigger?"


"Your belly."

Chris looked a little defensive. "I'm not sure -- I mean, I'm shrinking around it, hard to tell."

Ginny said seriously "Will you let me see it? Stand up and pull up your shirt."

Chris stared at her, then at Myra. Myra was examining Ginny's face. Chris pushed back her chair and complied, her face stony. Ginny reached out a hand, looked at Chris for consent, and placed her palm on Chris hard, round belly. She felt gently around its bulge. Her eyes had gotten very clear.

She took a breath and said "How has it been since you had a GYN work-up?"

Myra said "What, Ginny? What?"

Chris sat back down. "A while. Over a year, more like two."

Ginny took both of Chris's hands in her own. "Do you feel bloated?"

"Yeah. I'm -- It's stress, Ginny." Chris was not smiling at all.

Myra suddenly knew what Ginny was asking. She looked at Chris's face, the way her color had never come completely back, the dark patches around her eyes. Her constant complaints of tiredness, despite sleeping normally now.

She said softly "Chris, darlin -- your ovaries. They left your ovaries, right?"

Chris put it together, then. She gripped Ginny's hands tight and looked down at her abdomen. Then she said "God fucking dammit.”

Myra stood, wild for action. “I'm calling Dr. Desai.”

“She's retired, Myra” reminded Ginny.

“She still makes referrals. And she can clear a fast path for us.”

The GYN Dr. Desai recommended appeared to be younger than Jane, but she examined Chris the following afternoon. Her nurse took blood and did a sonogram. Then Chris was given a light sedative and the new doctor did a biopsy. Myra and Chris were told the results would not be available until the next day.

That night in bed, when Myra pulled Chris back against her, Chris sighing and loosening all the muscles in her body, Myra's hands were newly aware of the mound of Chris's stomach. She tried to send energy through her palms into Chris's belly. Please god, she prayed. Please not this.

But the blood tests, and the biopsy, said it was. Stage IV. When they got home from the appointment and the stop at the hospital to schedule Chris's surgery, the three of them this time, Ginny said “I'm calling Sima.”

Chris looked at her for a long minute. Finally she said “All right.” She walked to her room and closed the door.

Myra didn't know what to do with herself. Ginny went upstairs to make the call from Myra's desk. She was surprised to hear Sima answer; usually Sima didn't pick up when Ginny called.

"Sima, I need to tell you something. About Chris."

There was a long silence. Sima said "Go ahead."

"She's got cancer, ovarian cancer. They're planned to take her ovaries and wherever it's spread next week, then radiation and chemo, but – the doctor thinks it's far advanced. It looks grim, Sima."

Another long silence. "Is she still living with you?"


"Does she know you're calling me?"

"I told her I was, but she's downstairs at the moment. Do you want me to get her?"

"No.... No, I can't do this, Ginny. We're not in each other's lives any more. I have -- other commitments now."

"Sima, you -- you'll regret it, Sima, I know you. Please, at least just talk with her. "

"I can't. I can't do this, Ginny. I know you don't understand, but I'm doing as much as I can."

“God help you, Sima. I...I love you.”

Sima hung up. Ginny sat looking at the receiver for a while. When she swung around in Myra's chair, Myra was standing with disbelief on her face. Ginny said “This will kill her.” Myra wasn't sure which of them she meant. Maybe both.

Ginny walked heavily downstairs and knocked at Chris's door. Myra, following her, heard Ginny flat-out lie in a way she could not remember Ginny ever doing. “I left a message on her machine, Chris. I told her the essentials.”

Chris's expression showed she didn't believe Ginny, but she just nodded.

Margie came for dinner that night, with Allie and Edwina, and asked Chris if she could spend the night with her. It caught Chris off guard. She said “You still kick like a mustang, the way you did when you were little?”

“Yeah, but I won't catch you in the ribs now, my legs are too long” said Margie with bravado.

Chris took a long breath. “I'd be honored, baby girl.”

That night in bed, Myra told Ginny "I need to get closer to her."

Ginny had her eyes shut, her face pressed against Myra's neck. Chris and Myra were already affectionate and touching in ways she'd never seen Myra do with another woman, the connection of two bodies who knew each other almost completely.

Ginny whispered "Do you mean -- lovers?"

"No. Not erotic. But -- some other category of friend. I need to dive into the wreck with her. I need to -- it's not just an attempt to save her, although that's there. But I want to go as far as I can with her on this road."

"I'm so scared, Myra."

"Me, too."

"I'm scared about what it will do to you. I don't want you to get sick, too."

"Cancer isn't contagious, Ginny."

"No, but ... Chris had no defenses left, and this found a way in."

"I'm intact, Ginny. I'll stay intact. I'm not leaving you."

"You can't promise that."

"Okay, not ultimately, you're right. But in every other way, I'm yours."

After another long silence, Ginny said "I'm yours, too. We'll do it together."

The following Tuesday, surgeons removed Chris's ovaries, a piece of her colon, a big chunk of omentum and one of her kidneys. The unexpected loss of a kidney affected how her chemo regimen could be administered. Ginny called Sima the morning of the surgery and after Chris was in recovery. She got only voice mail, and this time she did leave messages.

Chris was home in a wheelchair in time for Jane's birthday party on May 5th. The next day, a Monday, she began chemotherapy in the morning, followed by radiation set-up that afternoon. They created a daily schedule which involved Chris getting up early with Ginny, eating whatever breakfast she could keep down, then sitting in a metal chair by the garden bed and working with Ginny until 9:30. Myra took Chris to chemo or radiation by 10:00, getting home in time for a quick lunch before the grandchildren arrived. Chris slept most afternoons, although she always made an appearance to spend a few minutes with the kids.

Myra began keeping custards, puddings, pannetones, and homemade broths in the fridge all the time, food that Chris could bear to eat. Allie came over several evenings a week and hung out with Chris in her room or watched TV with her.

Mimi turned five, David turned four, and Leah turned three. Sima sent gifts for each of them, wonderful toys made in Germany or France. Ginny helped braid Chris's hair one last time and cut it off for her, saving it wrapped in foil. By Charlie's birthday, Chris's bald head was showing a growth of white fuzz, coming back in wavy instead of straight. Annie Gagliardi, who had become a frequent visitor, offered to dye it bright red for her, and Chris laughed harder than she had in a long time.

The oncologist decided Chris had to have a chemo vacation after six weeks. That night, Chris said “I could handle a private plane flight to the Gulf Coast. If the air conditioning there is really good as you say.”

Myra felt her heart climb into her throat. Ginny said “The folks who wanted to rent it over the Fourth of July weekend have backed out. We could be there for Lucia's first birthday.”

“Could we rent me a dunebuggy?” asked Chris. “And a shotgun for the snakes?”

“I think you should let 'em bite you, some folks think that's a remedy for what ails ya” said Myra.

Chris laughed loud and full again, no longer having to worry about the stitches in her belly. “Clear it with the legions” she said. “I always wanted to see that pissant home state of yours.”

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.