Friday, February 27, 2009


(Raven puppet created by Paul Jomain.)

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.

After breakfast, Allie said “What's your plan for today?”

“I have to call Tina and Ricky” said Chris. “Ricky will be at work, but I can reach Tina. I don't have a current phone number for my other nephew, he's in Couer d'Alene on a new job, but he's not much for phone conversation anyhow. And – I need to talk with you all about money.”

Myra put down the napkins she was folding and said slowly “If you seriously try to say something about paying us back, Kash-Kash, cancer or not, I might have to kick your ass.”

Edwina was startled, but Chris laughed almost normally. “You think you can maybe take me now, huh? No, I've given up on settling our accounts. I'm going to assume even-steven from here on out.”

Which made Myra's stomach clench up again. She saw Allie get very still.

“No, I mean about what I'll be leaving behind. I already changed my will, before the surgery, cutting Sima out and leaving my insurance to Tina and the boys. It's a good amount. But, now that I'm not going to use the trust fund you all set up for my old age, well, that's a big chunk of silver. And – well, let me begin with, if Sima winds up out on her ass, which she will be eventually, are you going to make sure she doesn't fall through the cracks?”

Edwina's mouth looked like it was ready to throw Sima to the wolves. Ginny, however, immediately said “I won't let her wind up homeless or in an institution, you can count on that.”

“I don't feel like leaving her money” said Chris. “Not when my gut says part of what appealed to her about the professor was all that middle-class stability. We polished nickels together, me and Sima. I don't appreciate having that experience discarded once I'd finally retired.”

Myra was suddenly very glad Chris had written the letter she had to Sima, no matter what its current repercussions.

After swallowing a couple of times, Chris said “I'm thinking about transferring my trust to Lucia.”

Myra was startled. “She's – we've got her education covered, Chris. All of their education, no matter where they want to go or what kind of degrees they seek. And her health care is also guaranteed. Gillam's job doesn't pay much but his benefits plan is great.”

“I mean after she's grown. I have the feeling she may not ever really be able to work for a living. Or that she'd find it very difficult. If I set it up to kick in when she's out on her own, say in her early 20s, by that time it will have accumulated another 20 years of interest. I haven't done the math, but I bet it will cover her for decades. In addition to whatever comes from the rest of the family, of course – I know none of you will leave her hard up. I'd like to be the one who gives her a chance to just study patterns or whatever when she's independent. I'd like her to know I did that for her.”

Myra thought if she tried to speak, she'd cry. Ginny said in a husky voice “You're right, it will mean something in particular to her, coming from you. But I know there are other places that could use money -- “

“I want a personal legacy” said Chris.

“My god, you've got one already, in triplicate” burst out Allie.

“I want this one” argued Chris. She turned her eyes on Myra.

“I get it” said Myra. “We should do it right away, before doctors and health care weasels try to suck you dry as you go.” Chris laughed again.

“The other thing I wanted to talk with you all about is Thanksgiving. I don't really want to face those folks and try to explain about – everything. I'm wondering if, this year, we could pay the shelter to hire folks to do all the cooking and serving we usually do. And we can just stay home. Would that be disappointing to you?”

“Not in the least” said Edwina. “It'll mean a lot more time to rest and to be with each other.” Everyone else nodded. Ginny said “Cathy's already got a flight booked, she was planning to spend four days with us.”

“Great” said Chris. “I'd like to invite my niece and nephews as well.”

“Go for it” said Myra. “We'll get B&B rooms in the neighborhood if they don't want to crash in one of our houses.”

Chris leaned back in her chair. “I'm tired again. I think for now I want to go sit by the pond. Then I'll come in and make calls, appointments, TCB. What is it today, Wednesday? That's Puppet Day, right?”

“Or it could be Goodwill Day, since we missed it yesterday” said Ginny. “I can take them out of the house if you need to rest -- “

“No, I want to see 'em” said Chris. “Can we concoct a raven puppet, you think? Out of a black sock, maybe?”

“I have some silk feathers we can dye black with shoe polish” said Ginny, her eyes lighting up. “And we could make a beak out of PVC, paint it, too.”

“You going to perform one of your Craven Raven stories?” said Allie, leaning forward.

“I thought I might.”

Allie looked at Myra. “You need to videotape it. Chris, I keep telling you, those tales would make one hell of a book, and...” Her voice trailed off.

Chris grinned in a brittle way. “Better preserve it while we can, huh. All right, I won't give you shit about that.”

Edwina said quietly to Allie, “Honey, I need to go home for a part of today, I've got calls -- “

Allie looked torn. Ginny said “Come back for dinner. We can show the puppet video after.”

“Don't you start making Craven Raven sketches without me” Allie said to Ginny.

“Well, I can't control what my charcoal does, you know that” Ginny replied, not entirely joking.

Chris stood, retrieving her buffalo robe from the nearby cupboard. “See you later” she said, easing herself down the step outside the back door by leaning on the facing.

“There's ice on the grass out there” said Edwina. “I worry about her and pneumonia.”

“That robe is unbelievably warm” said Allie. “She and Sima didn't go in much for heated rooms, either.”

Myra looked at Ginny. “Are you going to call Sima back, give her more info?”

“I'll wait on her” said Ginny “She made a move, sending that necklace. She'll call eventually.”

Every hour counts now thought Myra. She stood and said “Well, I'm doing laundry and starting a soup with shin bones. Then maybe a nap before the Horde arrives. I didn't sleep well.”

Allie and Edwina hugged her tightly before leaving. Ginny said “We have an appointment tomorrow at 10:00 with Nancy, she left a message.”

“Praise Ishtar” said Myra. She leaned her head briefly on Ginny's shoulder before going to strip bed linen.

When she returned to the kitchen, Ginny was making a broccoli rice casserole. She asked Myra “Does Chris eat prunes, I can't remember.”

“I don't know. I hate them” said Myra. “You're not putting them in that dish, are you?”

“No, it's just for future reference.” Myra made the connection, then. Chris was missing a section of bowel, and narcotics were notoriously constipating. She didn't want to think about it for a while. She focused on setting the frozen shin bones to thaw in a mix of red wine, lemon juice, and beef stock.

“Myra...I woke up with a painting in my head” said Ginny.

“Good for you. I guess I can handle Puppet Day on my own” said Myra, feeling weary already.

“No, I want to do that with them, and Chris. In fact, if you want to bow out -- “ said Ginny.

“I feel overwhelmed, Ginny” said Myra.

“I can tell. We have to do this a piece of a day at a time, honey. But about the painting – it's of Chris. Do you think I need to ask her consent?”

“Why now? You've never painted her before, have you?” said Myra. She wanted to ask what Ginny saw in her head.

“No, just a few sketches here and there. You're right, I shouldn't make an exception to my usual process. I just don't want her to feel -- “

“Memorialized before she's dead?” There, that word was out in the open. A long silence hung in the room as Ginny chopped broccoli.

“Edwina told me that Allie is pretty bad with the issue of death and dying” said Ginny. “She said she freezes up and can't access her emotions, then starts acting out.”

Myra turned to look at Ginny. “Really? I wouldn't have thought – well, she did go off the deep end when her father suicided, but I assumed that was other stuff. And she did okay when her mom died -- “

“Edwina said they had to get a lot of therapy, together and Allie on her own, to get through that period. Right near the beginning of their relationship. She said Chris knows this isn't Allie's strong suit. That's why she's counting on you, mostly. But it won't be you alone, Myra, not ever. I'll be right beside you. You keep that in mind” said Ginny.

“What if – what if we have to give her a shot, or pull a plug?” said Myra, faltering. “I'm not sure -- “

“I'll do it, then” said Ginny, coming to put her arms around Myra. “If you don't want to be that person, honestly, I will. I love her in a different way than you do.”

“I can't really imagine how I'm going to do any of this. Except you're right, one step at a time.” Myra let her body shake a few minutes in Ginny's embrace. They pulled apart when they heard the back door latch.

Chris's cheeks were bright red. “Smells like snow out there” she said happily.

“We sure do come from different parallels of latitude” said Myra. She touched Chris's face and said “Do we need to turn on the heaters under the avocado and herb canopies?”

“I just did it” said Chris. “I fed the fish early, too. Listen, Ginny, instead of PVC for the raven beak, how about bamboo?” They began discussing puppet-making. Myra went to transfer a load of wet sheets to a dryer before heading for her desk to do research on end-of-life questions.

At 3:00, the Horde arrived with their usual chaos. Jane left immediately because she had a music student waiting at her piano. Myra stopped Lucia in a dash across the room and said “Hold on, your shoe's untied.” She swung Lucia up to the counter and swiftly tied her shoe without a lesson this time, then said “All right, bobs yer uncle” as she lifted Lucia back to the floor.

“No!” Lucia shouted at her.

“No what? You don't want to get back on the floor?”

“No Uncle Bob!” Lucia's face was becoming red with fury.

“What are you – oh. What I said doesn't mean you have an uncle named Bob, it -- “

“Take it back!” screamed Lucia. “You lie, Bob is not my uncle!”

“I wasn't lying, Luch, it – all right, all right, I take it back” Myra retreated. Ginny appeared and squatted in front of Lucia, saying “Remember how we talked about lies, jokes, and slang? How to tell the difference?” She embarked on a patient explanation.

Myra walked away, remarking to Chris “Literal Lucia.” She saw Lucia glaring at her and said “That's not a nickname, it's an adjective.” In a lower voice she said to Chris “She never bitches when you call her 'Namesake'.”

“She knows what namesake means. It's a honor” said Chris.

“I have five names” said Lucia over Ginny's attempted discussion, aiming it at Myra's back. “Lucia Christina Allene Rebekah Rose. I named for five aunts.”

“How come she gets named for all those aunts?” asked Charlie jealously.

“You all got named for people your parents loved and respected” said Myra. “Charlie, you're named not just for an uncle but also your father, a major honor. Mimi has her mother and grandmother's name, David has his grandfathers' names, and Leah -- “

Leah interrupted smugly “I got the best, I'm named for you and Bubbe.”

“Nobody's is the best” countered Myra. “You all received equally strong, important family names, but your mommy and daddy cleverly figured out how to make sure what you got called is unique, so when we say Charlie or Leah, we think of you first, not who you might be named after.”

Lucia said stubbornly “I have five names, and a song.”

Myra threw up her hands. “Fine, duke it out, wiseacres.” She went to the elevator and pushed the “Door Close” button before any child could appear for a ride up with her. But as she walked to her study, she heard Leah calling up the airwell “Gramma? Gramma, can I come read with you?”

Myra leaned over the railing to look down into her lovely face. “Not right now, sweetie. I need some time to think.” Leah looked like Myra had spit on her. She heard Ginny saying “All right, everyone, grab the puppets you want to use today”, and Leah moved dejectedly out of view.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009


(From one of my favorite sci-fi series of all time, the Chanur saga by C.J. Cherryh. The character on this cover is Pyanfar, captain of a merchanter which gets involved in political intrigue in a multispecies pocket of space; she is Hani, from a planet of matriarchal feline sentients, a brilliant hera.)

An update to my recent post, This Week in Maggieland:

Dinah is doing better. She began eating kitty treats if I crumbled them up and praised her as she did so. From that she moved on to dry kibble if I did ditto. Today she's eating kibble without persuasion, although she's still hitting me up for treats. (No fool, Dinah.)

I'm even more relieved at how she's back to chatting at me from various corners of the house, waiting for my reply, and accompanying me from room to room. She's still thin, though gaining it back -- she's always been slender and not focused on food. I keep her kibble out all the time. She never had a period of hunger in her life, and that makes the difference. When I've had cats who spent any amount of time in the streets, they have been prone to eating everything in the bowl, whether they're hungry or not. Then puking it up if they were already full. I guess once that fear settles into their bones, it doesn't dislodge easily.

I made a deal with Dinah a couple of days ago: I told her I would pet her as much as she wanted, in the way she liked, if she'd keep coming to me for contact instead of hiding away. I don't actually think she understood me, at least not linguistically. Dinah's vocabulary is smaller than most cats I've lived with because she just doesn't care about communicating on my level. She is Feline to the core. Alice had the largest animal vocabulary I've ever witnessed, comprehension of words that honestly I think went beyond inflection. Dinah chooses to comprehend "No", "Treat", her name, and "e-mail", as in when I say "I should check my e-mail", whereupon she rises and heads for her perch beside my computer.

But my promise was backed up by behavior, and she's responded enthusiastically. She doesn't want to be touching me when I pet her, unless there's a comforter or two between us. She likes to be at arm's reach, so I cannot possibly grab her and hug her or (even more icky) kiss her. Even then, she will periodically jerk away and/or swing around to take a nip at my hand. So petting her is tiring on my arm and not very emotionally gratifying: It's clearly me being of service, not a shared pleasure. She almost never purrs. Still, now that I made my vow, she's coming four and five times a day to allow me to stroke her back and occasionally rub her ears (where the risk of being bitten is highest) until she wears out.

It's worth it. It really is.

Someone suggested she ate a bug that had been killed by pesticides and it made her sick. The thing is, she doesn't eat bugs. She kills them, or disables them, but leaves them for me to clean up. Maybe she tangled with a venomous spider and got bitten, that seems possible. Or maybe it is little gator's cat Lydia, who has been sacrificing catnip mice to Bast on Dinah's behalf, that turned the tide.

I try to find some sort of meaning in the reality that at this point in my life, when my ability (and incentive) to connect with other forms of life is at its apex, I am living with a cat who is stand-offish. I'm glad to have her, as she is. (I have enormous respect for the Catness of cats.) And I'm glad she has me. She would not last long Out There. I do find it ironic, however. And if it's another goddamned life lesson, well, can I please just drop out of school for a while?


Liza asked a great question in reply to my post. She said

"I'm more concerned about you and your loss when Diana chases the great catnip in the sky.

Other than Jesse's subscriptions, what do you need from us? Not a kitten, I imagine.

'Cause we need you. Love, Liza."

First of all, Dinah wants to point out you misspelled her name, u humin mowron u. That's from her, not me.

Second, well, part of what I needed is in the message above: To know that I'm needed. That I haven't vanished from the web of humanity because of this isolation. That I make a difference.

A couple of other requests come to mind -- aside from the subscriptions. (Money may not be able to buy happiness but it does buy health and peace of mind.)

The place where I've reached in my novel (Ginny Bates) is really tough, ya'll. I'm writing under duress. I don't want things to be going the way they are, but my characters insist I cannot play deux ex machina here and "fix" things. I'm heartbroken and trying to do right by them all. I wonder if you readers are mad at me for the plot turn, or disheartened and not reading at all. I could use some feedback. Especially if it includes love for my characters, who sincerely feel separate from me.

Also -- I've noticed several folks appear to be reading Skene as well. Feedback there would also be nice to get, though I'm not as emotionally invested in those characters.

The other thing is that I feel backed up, emotionally, from worry and stress. But when I talk about what's going on in my life, I mean openly without any censorship, well, folks who love me have a hard time hearing it. I understand worrying about me -- I'm worried, too. Still, I could use some space to cry, freak out, just be a mess without then having to hear you give advice, problem-solve, or reassure me. I can reach reassurance if I can simply get the feelings out of my way. I'm smart and competent, and I'll accept (or ask) for help when I need it. But lots of time, all I need is to get my brain back in gear.

For instance, my young friend who died this week -- she was found by another poet I know with her asthma inhaler in one hand and her cell phone in the other. The call to 911 had not finished being dialed. She was a mother of a little boy, and if you're a parent, you know this is your worst nightmare, dying and leaving your kid on their own. Especially lesbian mothers. I can hardly bear this happening to her and her son. I don't know where to take those feelings.

And how could she have an attack so rapid that she couldn't call for help? She would have, I know she would have if she could. You can see where it might hit me where I live. Literally.

I know few people can actually offer this kind of listening, especially when it involves hearing about poverty, physical pain, and loss. Still, I thought I'd put it out there. It's the worst part of the isolation, the feeling I have that I can't tell the whole truth because people can't stand to hear it. (True for all of us, I'm sure.)

Okay, that's as much update as I can handle at the moment. Time to go lie down and avoid the network news. Thanks for being out there.

Thurber dog reading a book P.S. Speaking of animal communication, there's a wonderful essay by J.R. Carpenter up at Geist called "Words Dogs Know" -- check it out.



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.


Monday, February 23, 2009


Elk tooth necklace
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.

November 2019

Myra decided she wanted to hear Ginny's conversation with Sima first. She sat down on a stool and looked at Ginny across the counter. Ginny faced her, eyes pale blue and clear. She mouthed at Myra “Voice mail” before saying “Sima, it's Ginny. Listen, honey, I have some urgent news for you. Please call me back, at home or on my cell, when you get this. I appreciate it.”

When she hung up, Myra said “I don't want to have to tell Allie.”

“You want me -- “

“No, it has to be me. I just don't want to.”

“I'll call Jane, tell her we can't take the kids today” said Ginny.

As she did that, Myra dialed Carly, getting his voice mail also. She left a message asking him to call. She hung up and listened to end the of Ginny's talk with Jane. After Ginny hung up, too, she said “Jane's going to call Gillam on his lunch hour, tell him herself.”

“Everyone else we can text, then” said Myra. “Ginny, we -- “

She stopped because she heard the front door open. She called out “Margie, that you?” and leaned to the side for a view. But it was Allie.

Ginny said “Hey. Where's Edwina?”

“I dropped her off on Broadway. She's shopping for shoes. Not my thing and she takes forever, so I thought I'd pop in here. Chris back from the doctor?” Allie's smile began fading as she took in Ginny and Myra's faces. “What happened?”

Myra swallowed but her throat still felt blocked. Ginny said “It's metastasized all over her, Allie. It's in her bones.”

“No” said Allie. “No, I was sure she'd licked it. In her bones? Isn't that pretty bad?”

Myra finally found her voice. “As bad as it can be. Except the bone part isn't the worst.” Ginny now turned to look at Myra with the same expression Allie had.

“What's the worst?” asked Ginny.

“Her liver. It's a sliver away from being shot. And – well, that's part of the reason she's refusing further chemotherapy. She can't qualify for a liver transplant, and more drugs in her system are going to do her in anyhow. But – with bone cancer, the pain becomes unbearable a long time before it kills you. The only way to handle it is narcotics, lots of them. But that's going to blow up her liver, too.” Myra was putting into plain English what had taken her many repetitions by the doctor in medicalese for her to comprehend.

“She's refusing chemotherapy?” said Allie, her voice high and thready.

“She says this is it. She's out by the pond, trying to – I don't know what she's doing. She asked for you, says she'll come in to talk with us when she's ready.”

Allie actually staggered on her feet, and Ginny reached her swiftly, putting her arms around her and walking her to a chair. Myra got her a glass of orange juice, which Allie set down on the table without drinking. Her gaze was fixed on Chris through the window.

Myra looked, too. Anthea was sitting on Chris's shoulder, something she never did with any other human. She was hunched in a stalk pose. Myra thought it likely that Anthea could see motion under the water's surface from that vantage point. She noticed Chris's lips were moving: Was she talking to Anthea or praying? Or singing to the leviathan, maybe.

Allie turned to meet Myra's eyes. “What are we going to do?” she whispered.

“I don't know. I don't know how to do this” said Myra.

Ginny came to put her hand on Myra's shoulder. “Allie, does Edwina have her cell?”

“Yeah.” Allie's glazed expression shifted. “I need to call her, go get her.”

“I'll do it, if you want” said Ginny.

Allie looked out the window again. “All right. I want to stay here.” She said, after a minute, “What about the kids?”

“Margie was here when we got back and blew up at Chris because Margie thinks she's not fighting” said Ginny, dialing her cell. “Edwina? Listen, Chris got a bad diagnosis today, I need to come get you so you can be part of our talk. Yeah, Allie's fine. Where are you? Okay, be there in five.”

Allie is not fine thought Myra. Allie may never be fine again. She said “Jane is going to tell Gillam. I have a call in to Carly. Frances is with Margie at the moment.” She leaned up for Ginny's goodbye kiss. “Be careful” she whispered.

As the front door clicked shut, Allie turned to look at Myra, a frown on her face. “Sima” she said.

“Ginny left a message. If the phone rings here, I'll be getting it” said Myra.

Allie said again “I thought – the way she played her flute last night, it sounded like she was truly okay. I really thought – she's so strong, you know, she's indestructible.”

This comment sat in the air like it was almost visible. After a couple of minutes, Allie said “I met her once before she went in the hospital, you know.”

“Fuck. No, I didn't know that. How -- “

“She came to a party at a friend's house, a friend I had who danced in a titty bar. She was high and loud, tweaking, you know. I didn't remember it was her, but she remembered me” said Allie. “Told me I made it plain I was avoiding her. I tried to apologize but she laughed and said she'd have avoided someone like her, too.”

“I can't quite imagine her like that” said Myra.

Allie put her forehead in her palm for a minute. “We'll see her high again, won't we? Strung out on – what do they give 'em, morphine?”

“It won't be the same” said Myra. “We'll make sure of that.”

Her cell rang. She looked at the caller ID and saw it was Carly. She answered and told him the news. He began crying. “Oh, sweet boy, I'm so sorry to dump this on you at work” Myra said.

“I'm meeting Eric for lunch” choked out Carly. “What – can we come over after work?”

“Of course. We'll all be here, you come crawl right into our laps” said Myra.

He gave a brief, congested giggle. They talked a few more minutes before he had to go.

Allie had gotten up to pace. “I wish the hell she'd get her ass in here” she said to Myra, looking out at Chris. A few seconds later, as if she'd heard them, Chris looked at the house and saw Allie. She started to stand, remembered Anthea, and eased her off onto the bench. By the time she reached the back step, Allie was outside, sliding her arms around Chris under the robe.

Myra couldn't remember the last time she'd been jealous of the connection between Allie and Chris, but she felt a pang now. Because there's no longer unlimited Chris to go around she thought.

Still, it was only a pang. She didn't know where most of her emotion had gone, disappeared in the doctor's office. As Allie and Chris came inside, she heard the front door latch and simultaneously saw the side gate start to open, with Gidg and Moon pushing through. Behind them were Frances and Margie, both of them red-eyed and puffy-faced.

Chris said “I'm fucking freezing.”

“Come in the living room, I'll start a fire” said Myra. Allie sat with Chris on the couch, sliding under the robe to add body heart. Edwina claimed Chris's other side. That's my spot thought Myra, but she kept building a fire. She said to Ginny “She's cold” and Ginny went to the kitchen to make tea. Margie squatted at Chris's knee, beginning to say “I'm so sorry -- “

“Can it” said Chris. She bent forward and kissed Margie's forehead, then Frances's. “You need more information, for starters.” She looked at Myra and said “Will you bring Allie those pictures?”

Myra obliged. Allie held them gingerly, as if they might be toxic. “That's the bone involvement” said Chris. “But it's permeated my lymph system. And the thing is, since my last scan was clear, it spread this fast while I was on chemo, has to be. Plus...”

She told them about the liver problems and consequences. Her tone was so matter of fact, Myra wondered where Chris was getting her calm, until suddenly Chris's voice broke and she said “I...I don't want to be the first of us to check out of here. I don't – I don't see myself as expendable.” She sucked in a full lung of air, then began sobbing.

Allie more or less pulled Chris onto her lap, Chris's legs across Allie's, her forehead against Allie's temple. Allie was crying too, saying “I don't know what I'll do without you.”

“I'm so fucking scared!” Chris cried. Ginny set a tea tray on the table and came to Myra, motionless by the fireplace. Margie was now in Frances's arms, weeping again. Ginny whispered “Did we get any calls while I was gone?”

“Carly” said Myra in a normal voice. “He and Eric are coming after work.”

Ginny poured a cup of tea, added honey and milk, and handed it to Edwina for Chris. She made a second cup for Myra and did the Ginny back-me-up step as she held it to Myra's lips. After one sip, Myra realized she was deeply cold inside, too. She sat down on the brick ledge directly in front of the fire, watching Chris and Allie, as Ginny settled beside her and kept sharing tea with her.

After Chris blew her nose on a cloth napkin from the tea tray, she accepted her cup from Edwina and said “Did I hear you say Carly and Eric are coming?”

“Later. I'm sure Jane and Gillam will be here, too” said Myra. “And the little ones.”

“What are we going to tell them?” asked Chris. “The little ones.”

“I think we leave that to Jane and Gillam” said Myra.

Chris took a few more sips before saying “I have a lot of people to contact. All the folks who did that sweat for me last weekend, to begin with.” She looked at Myra again, hesitating, and Myra said “Ginny called her. Left a message.”

Chris's gaze stayed locked on Myra. She blew on her tea, then said “You're my power of attorney. Including for medical decisions. You might want to rethink that now.”

“No, I knew what I was in for when I agreed to it last spring” said Myra slowly. “I'll go every inch of the way with you.”

Margie looked around at Myra, comprehension flooding her face. In the sudden silence, the flames behind Myra felt very loud.

Ginny said “Will you eat something, Chris? Scrambled eggs, maybe?”

Chris considered it. “I feel too nauseous. The tea is good for now. Mostly, what I'd like more than anything, is to sleep. I don't know if I can, though.”

“I'll lie down with you” offered Allie. “If you can't, we'll figure out something else. A tub soak, maybe.”

“All right” said Chris. She put her cup on the table to stand, then leaned on Allie, saying “Funny how the pain in my hip suddenly seems much worse.” They walked down the hall together.

Myra wanted to tell Frances to take Margie home and keep her there, away from this house of loss. But Margie, and Gillam and Carly, would need the lessons they were about to learn. She didn't know how to shield them from the inevitable.

“We're making orzo with porcini at the store tonight” said Frances. “I'll do enough extra to send over a pan.”

“I'd planned to roast chickens, easy to add more” said Myra. Ginny said “I'll make creamed spinach, she loves that.”

“What about the fava beans?” asked Myra.

“Soup for lunch tomorrow. Speaking of lunch -- “ said Ginny.

Frances stood and said “I'm coming for dinner tonight, so I need to go back to the store for now.” She whispered something to Margie, who said “I want to stay here. But I'll call you.”

Myra went to the freezer, lifting out chickens, adding two pecan pies to her armload – Chris's favorite. Ginny said, as the entered the kitchen, “Fried egg and avocado sandwiches for lunch? With endive salad?”

“Sounds good” said Myra, lying to herself. Nothing sounded really edible at the moment. “Leave the eggs on the counter, I'm going to make more individual custards to keep in the fridge.”

Margie and Edwina joined them in the kitchen, finding the motions of making lunch together a welcome distraction. Margie made the salad while Edwina toasted bread and cut pears into slices before sprinkling them with almonds and sliding them under the broiler for a quick heat-through. Ginny made plates for Allie and Chris, covered them with wrap and put them away from cat reach.

At the table, Myra said “I've got a list in my e-mail of all the women we knew from way back when. Not all of the addresses will be current, but I'll send out a mass letter this afternoon.”

“It's started raining” said Margie, looking out the window. “I don't think I can handle work. Maybe I'll go grab the kids and take them on a rain walk with the dogs.”

“That would really help out Jane” said Ginny.

After a few minutes of silence, Margie asked Myra “How long? Did the doctor say how long?”

“Well, not clearly. For one thing, Chris hadn't told him her decision yet. And he kept hedging, saying any number even with salvage chemo would be guess work. But finally he said six months would be optimistic.”

The color drained from Margie's face. “Yesterday was her last birthday, then” she said tonelessly.

“We have to not do this” said Myra with sudden force. “We have to stop counting hours and days, thinking about the end. She'll hate it. I mean, she's going to be doing that, if we take up space focusing on it, we won't leave enough grieving room for her.”

“So what are you suggesting, just shove it down deep?” demanded Margie.

“Scrub it out once a day, like the compost canister” said Ginny. “In the midst of life we are in death. It's true all the time, has been every day we've lived.”

Myra looked at her. “Remind me to call Nancy.”

Ginny said to Margie and Edwina “We'll make appointments for you, too, if you'd like.”

Margie said “Yeah. I could use her help. As well as my guy.”

Edwina said to Ginny “Did you tell Sima what had happened, in your message?”

“No” said Ginny.

“If she doesn't come for this, she'll have damned herself for all time” said Edwina. “But if she does come, won't it add to Chris's burden? Trying to deal with whatever their relationship drama is as she's -- “ Edwina couldn't say the word.

“I don't believe in damned for all time” said Ginny softly. Edwina gave her a hard glance. After a minute, they began talking about Allie's latest review as her book moved into paperback.

Chris slept for two hours. Allie got up after an hour, saying her blood sugar was talking to her. She ate a quick lunch, ran an Accucheck, and had to take some insulin, which caused Edwina's jaw to tighten. Allie then let herself quietly back into Chris's bedroom.

Carly and Eric arrived together as the smell of roasting chicken began to make itself known. Chris had settled on Myra's daybed with one of her boxes to sand. Edwina was at Myra's other computer table, and Allie was in with Ginny, going through sketches.

Carly and Eric settled on either side of Chris for a while, their arms around her, telling her funny stories from their work, until she said “Okay, I want to finish this one part.” Carly asked Myra if there was something he could do for dinner.

“You can take the foil off the chicken, turn the over to 350, and put in the pies” said Myra. Eric opted to stay on the daybed, leaned against the wall with his eyes closed.

Half an hour later, the sound of high voices poured in the back door. Leah was yelling “Gramma! Gramma, we're here!” Myra went to the airwell and said “I'm coming down in the elevator.” The motor rumbled down and the noise dissipated as the doors shut again. A few seconds later, those upstairs heard distant shrieks from the direction of the elevator as it started upward.

“Wonder what she was this time” Eric said to Chris, his eyes still closed.

The children flooded Chris, making further sanding impossible. Gillam and Jane walked upstairs, Gillam wrapping himself around Chris, his eyes full of tears. After several minutes, Gillam said “Okay, kiddos, will you please go downstairs and hang out with Uncle Carly for a while? We need to have a grown-up talk with the elders.”

“What about?” said Mimi. Eric stood and said “The federal reserve bank” and picked up Lucia to carry her. “Come on, I'll take you down in the elevator. Do any of you happen to have astronaut masks on?” he asked. The other four streamed after him.

Ginny and Allie came into Myra's study with Ginny's rolling chairs and sat facing Gillam and Jane. Chris filled them in, passing around her images. Gillam's hands were trembling as he held them to better light.

He said “Where's Margie?”

“She and Frances are coming any minute now for dinner” said Myra.

“Well...we need to get some advice” said Gillam. “Jane and I – we don't agree on what to tell the kids.”

“We definitely do not” said Jane acerbically. “Gillam wants to dump it all on them, tell them Chris is going to die.”

Myra thought We're all going to die. That's not new information.

“But I don't think any of them, even Mimi, is developmentally ready for the whole ball of wax” continued Jane. “They expect us as adults to provide them with a safe world. They expect us to deal with things. And if we say 'Look, your beloved Aunt Chris is dying and we can't do a thing about it', it's going to shatter their security.”

“So it's better to lie to them?” said Gillam heatedly. “Talk about an assault on their security -- “

“Not lie, just don't give them more information than they can handle” interrupted Jane. “You talk about how you were given too much details sometimes, and here you are repeating it with your own kids.”

Myra and Ginny looked at each other. Gillam's face was going red. “This isn't optional information” he said, his voice raising. “They're going to see all of us in grief every fucking day. If we lie about what's going on, that will do a lot more damage to their trust than any kind of honest conversation.”

“One of them is going to ask immediately if we're going to die, too” said Jane. “They're not old enough to suddenly face the possible loss of every adult they love and need. They're not ready to encounter the helplessness of mortality.”

Myra wanted to tell them both to shut up, do this elsewhere, it wasn't what Chris needed to be hearing right now. But after looking at Chris's face, which had become animated, she changed her mind.

Chris said “Gillam's right about one thing. Sooner or later, I will die, and if you've danced around that with your children, they'll wonder how reliable your version of the world really is. And Mimi's a vegetarian because she's figured out that animals die when she eats meat. I bet she's not the only one who understands the basics about what death means.”

“Watching a fish gasp its last is not the same as...” Jane finally stopped herself. They're in shock thought Myra suddenly. They're not coping any better than they claim the kids can.

“I don't want them there at the end” said Chris. “If they were older, maybe.'s not going to be pretty.”

Gillam's face lost its florid hue in a matter of seconds. He put his arm through Chris's. Jane looked abashed.

“It's not true that there's nothing you can do, nothing you will be doing. This family is going to give me a good death” said Chris. “We're going to stick together and talk about what's happening. Only yes, Jane, only as much concrete information in front of them as they are really asking for and can process. It won't damage them to see their mommy and daddy have broken hearts, but they need to not feel responsible for mending those hearts. And Gillam, you will have to guard against letting them try. In a way Myra didn't quite pull off with you.”

Gillam looked at Myra then. She nodded, thinking This is why you're indispensable, Kash-Kash.

“So. You two keep talking, you'll agree on the fundamentals. Let's go put dinner on the table, and clean up, and then we'll all talk with the kids. If that's okay with you” she said to Gillam and Jane in turn.

Allie slept with Chris that night, and Edwina stayed over in the spare bedroom. When Myra joined Ginny in the warmth of their bed, she finally let go, crying for almost an hour. The next morning at breakfast, Ginny said “I want to go to the next doctor visit with you all.”

“Okay” said Chris.

“Someone has to get trained in placing IVs, how to give medication, all the stuff that makes folks have to go to a hospital” said Ginny. “I want to be that person. I can handle it.”

She and Chris stared at each other. Chris said quietly “I'd like that.”

They went on eating. When the doorbell rang, Ginny went to answer it and returned with a small package. “It's for you” she said to Chris in a hollow voice. Myra could see the handwriting was Sima's.

Chris looked at the postmark first. “Mailed last week. Before my letter could reach her” she commented. She looked up at Ginny and said “She ever call you back?”

“Not yet” said Ginny.

“She's gotten my letter, you'll have to bust through her anger” said Chris. She opened the box carefully, not ripping through the address. Inside was a handmade silver necklace in tightly wrapped spirals. Engraved on the end of each spiral was a miniscule sunburst. Chris reached into her neckline and pulled out the elk tooth necklace she never removed from her body. She slipped it over her head and tried to loosen the knot on its leather strand. After watching a minute, Allie pulled her pocketknife from her khakis and handed it to Chris. Chris cut the cord and slowly beaded the elk teeth and wooden discs over the silver, in the same order as they came from the leather.

“Perfect fit” she whispered. Myra stood to hook the clasp behind Chris's neck. She left it outside her shirt.

“No card?” asked Edwina.

“No need for one” said Chris. She saved the paper containing the address and returned Allie's knife to her. She turned to Ginny and said “Will you take a photo of me in this? I'd like to send it to her. Not right now. Let me finish my bacon.”

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


Sunday, February 22, 2009


Dinah 2005 (Dinah on the OED over my desk, May 2005)

Here's the roots: I had Rusk, the original cat of cats, for 17 years. A red Abyssinian, he was the constant for all of my young adulthood, moving to California with me and back again. When he became ill at the end of his life, in what was eventually diagnosed as diabetes, I was not in a stable emotional place anyhow and the idea of losing him was unthinkable. So when he stopped eating (as cats often will when they are seriously ill or terminal), I persuaded the vet to teach me how to force-feed him.

He died anyhow, badly, but with never a loss of patience for how I tried to cling to him. It was a devastating lesson.

At that time, I had a second cat, Bella, who had belonged to my mother for 11 years and was taken in by me when Mama died. She had multiple health problems and never emotionally rebounded from Mama's death, although she did become attached to me after a while. When Bella was 16, not long after Rusk died, a kitten adopted me in the parking lot of my apartment complex. This was Alice, the ultimate Cat of Cats, a brilliant Manx who did everything she could to communicate across the species barrier. She became the great love of my life.

Alice 1997 (Alice 1997)

Bella did not care for the kitten, but then, Bella didn't like most living things. She was old and in pain, and Alice simply stayed away from her. Every time Bella became seriously ill, I'd haul her to the vet, we'd patch her up, and she resumed her cranky existence. She found some pleasure out of life, it was clear. Until the end, when she manifestly gave up. By this time, I'd learned to listen to the cues. I took her in to the vet. She didn't have a vigorous enough vein for them to inject her with the euthanasia, so I held her in my arms, comforting her, as they injected it directly into her chest. I felt her die -- peacefully, but it's still a horrible thing.

Alice really hated it when I was away from her, as I was eight hours a day, so for her first birthday I gave her a kitten, another Manx named Susan Gilbert. They immediately bonded in a way I've not seen other cats do. It was like one brain and two cats sometimes. The problem was that as Susan matured, she manifested a problem common to Manxes (why they should not be bred, in my opinion), gastrointestinal tract malfunction. This can run to either chronic diarrhea or chronic constipation. It was the latter in Susan's instance. No matter what I fed her, no matter who much Petromalt and other elixirs I gave her, several times a year I had to take her in to the vet to have a fecal impaction removed. She lived for five years, but finally she required major surgery, during which she died.

Alice was heartbroken, looked for her several times a day for weeks, calling the little chirrup they used to talk with each other. I let it be known I was in the market for a second cat, and was persuaded to take the grown, nearly blind Siamese mix of a family member, Nando. He was easily terrified and not especially bright, but I thought he'd become palatable to Alice in time since she was so very alpha. However, he lost weight steadily and six weeks after I got him, a trip to the vet revealed he had FIP. Probably had had it for months. He was too far gone to save.

I held him, too, as he was put down. I then had Alice tested, in a panic, and we discovered she had not contracted it. I cleaned my house top to bottom and waited a few months before locating another kitten, another male named Oliver.

This time it clicked for Alice. Not like Susan, of course, but she was maternal by this time and Oliver loved to play with her. In fact, he regarded her as the only companion he really needed. I was just the one who provided food and competed with him for Alice's attention.

Alice and Oliver 2001 (Alice and Oliver, March 2001)

During these Alice years, here's what else occurred in my life: Three friends with whom I had once been very close (one of them my former best friends) committed suicide without warning. Another friend, my oldest friend in San Francisco, died of cancer. My beloved Aunt Sarah and Aunt Lee died. My father's third wife died. I became progressively disabled, started living in terrific pain and limitation. I lost two jobs, in both instances being fired for disability (but they found a legal loophole around it -- this was George Bush's Texas). One job even tried to deny me unemployment, but with the help of a great feminist lawyer, I fought that all the way to a hearing of the Unemployment Commission, two out of three members of which were Republicans, and won. My friendship circle began shrinking. I went through a nasty break-up. I began living without any kind of safety net except I did still have health insurance. One of my close friends went crazy and I moved heaven and earth to get her through it without being institutionalized (successfully). I finally had my knee replaced, suffered anoxia during the surgery, and went through a year of trying to regain full cognitive function -- while unemployed and unable to look for new work. During that time, my little brother Bill died in a devastating manner.

Less than three months after his death, I came home one day from a brand new job to discover Alice lying on the floor by the front door. I rushed her to the vet, where she was diagnosed at first with diabetes, which was changed to unexplained kidney failure. She hated the hospital, freaked at being left there by me, but I had no choice. I went by every day before and after work, holding her for an hour, singing to her, convincing her to eat. She seemed to be doing better. The third day, I arrived after work to find she had gone into convulsions half an hour earlier and died.

An old friend in California told me, on hearing this news, that she was afraid for me, afraid I couldn't take any more. I was afraid, too. Oliver wouldn't have anything to do with me: I'd taken Alice out of the house and she had never returned. He eventually went to live with a friend whom he preferred to me.

A month after Alice died, I did something I never had before: I got a replacement cat for myself. I went through a feral cat network here in Austin and brought home a kitten of a captured feral mother. Dinah was six weeks old and despite socialization from birth, she's remained not especially fond of human contact. She and I are very bonded, however, since I've chosen to meet her on her terms.

For months at a time, she is the only other living thing I see or have interaction with.

So now, this week, she's been ill, refusing to eat, hiding from me in places I cannot reach. I myself had a back injury that kept me in bed an entire day, and it was only at the end of that time I realized she hadn't been coming around asking to play the way she usually does. It took me over an hour to find her, and even then, she would not come to me. I couldn't sleep; I kept imagining finding her dead.

I didn't have the money to get help for her. I don't have a car or a way to take her to the vet, and the person who does errands for me was unavailable.

Finally, the second day, I called a friend who said "I'll pay for an exam." By the next morning, however, Dinah had started eating a little. (She's always refused to eat anything but dry kibble, won't touch wet food or people food, which is a real problem at times like this.) More importantly, she's back to seeking my company, asking to play, letting me pet her a while before she recoils or tries to bite me. But she's not eating enough, and I'm not sure what to do. Taking her to the vet will traumatize her -- she hates other people, hates being in the car, hates contact. I mean, HATES it, more than any cat I've ever known. And I'll have to hand her over to a stranger for the trip.

I keep having thoughts that I don't deserve to have a cat any more. I'm too disabled, I'm too isolated and poor. I'm likely to wind up in a nursing home anyhow, maybe this is the Universe's way of telling me it's time. I try to argue with these messages, but they hit when I lie down to sleep.

During the last few days, as I cope with this and try to think it through, here's what else occurred:

I ran out of my asthma inhaler and the replacement got lost in the mail, so I eventually had to order an emergency one at a local pharmacy and pay someone to deliver it, cleaning out my bank account
I have new physical problems that make me less able to get around than ever
I have major issues regarding the aftermath of my father's death which require urgent attention (during daylight hours, when I usually sleep)
The novel I've been writing for two years has reached the most difficult, emotionally draining section and
I got a call telling me that another old friend, someone not yet 40 years old, had died in California of an asthma attack.

So, that's what's up with me at the moment. I'll sort it out and survive it all, I always do. But I thought I'd take the unusual step of letting the readers of this blog know the backstage events on a current-time basis.

Dinah 2001 (Dinah as a kitten, November 2001)