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.
Monday, 2 December, 2019
The vehicle Myra wound up renting was a Jeep Patriot, a name which caused her to grimace every time she heard it. It got better mileage than most of the behemoths which would handle rough terrain, and she liked being able to plug in her laptop from either the front or rear seat. She opted for the moonroof and a metallic green color. When she brought it home and Ginny came out to look at it, Ginny said “I guess we really are jeeping on.”
Myra remembered how that phrase had entered their private vocabulary, and felt a small shiver at the way time unravels itself.
Ginny drove Cathy to Sea-Tac just past dawn in the Volvo while Myra and Margie loaded the Jeep. It was raining, of course, adding to the misery of the morning. Allie had decided she couldn't bear to see them off. She and Edwina would be coming to Colville in a few days to stay for an indefinite time.
Chris made breakfast, feeding tidbits to Anthea whom she had allowed on the counter, much to the disgust of Margie's dogs. At 7:00, when Ginny had returned, they sat down to eat together. Margie had her bags in the hall. She was driving the Volvo behind them, planning to return once she got them settled in and commute back and forth every few days.
As they were washing the dishes and making one last check of the house, Gillam showed up with all five children. Their cheerful “Bye, we'll see you for Christmas” cries of the little ones helped Chris, if no one else. She hugged them and whispered in each ear. She also whispered something to Anthea. But Gillam broke down crying when she wrapped herself around him.
“What's wrong, Daddy?” said Charlie, tugging at his hand. “Why are you sad?”
“I'm going to miss Aunt Chris so much, it hurts me bad” he said. Suddenly all the small faces slid toward grief. Gillam said “Come on, we'll be late for school” and he mushed them out the back door, giving one last wave to Chris.
Margie walked her dogs home and met them in the carport. Chris lifted her fingers to the mezuzah on their front door facing and then kissed those fingers with closed eyes before settling in the front seat beside Myra. Ginny felt torn and finally whispered to Myra “I'm worried about Margie, but I want to be there for you, too.”
“Ride with her” said Myra. “I promise, if I start fading emotionally, I'll pull over.”
The back of the Jeep was crammed. Ginny put the cooler on the half of the back seat that was free, within read of Chris, and kissed them both before getting in beside Margie. Margie called out to Myra “Please, for god's sake, drive at least the speed limit, since I have to follow you.”
An hour outside of town, the highway made a wide curve on itself that gave a side view of Seattle, a blur of lights this time of day, framed by growing hills and a hint of the Sound beyond. Chris sucked in her breath and Myra realized she was crying.
“I'll pull over” offered Myra.
“No” choked out Chris. “No. I have to keep going.”
By the time they stopped for lunch just south of Colville, Myra felt utterly fatigued despite two Cokes handed to her by Chris from the cooler. She stretched beside the car a minute before following the others into the restaurant. After ordering, she leaned back in the booth and closed her eyes. That plus food helped. They filled their gas tanks and drove on through town. They had enough provisions for a couple of days, and Chris's appointment with the local oncologist who would oversee her hospice care wasn't until the following afternoon.
The small two-lane on the far side of the Columbia was dark but not shiny with ice, and a plow had been through here. After the turn-off, the road got progressively narrow until the last mile, there was only room for one vehicle. The gravel had washed out in places, leaving frosty slush. Myra kept one eye on her rearview mirror, making sure Margie didn't get bogged down in one of the mudholes. She backed into the yard up to the front stoop – there was nothing planted here, anyhow, and the driveway was barely distinguishable from the rest of the land around it.
When they walked into the house, the cold seemed deeper than outside. Myra could see her breath, and Ginny said to Chris “Where's your buffalo robe?”
“That duffel on top in the back seat” said Chris. Margie said “I left the woodbin stocked in here, we can get a fire started right away.”
“Let me do that” said Myra. “You turn on all the electric heaters, then start unloading, okay? Be careful of your step.”
Chris walked around with an expressionless face, touching walls and examining every cupboard, every corner. The fire caught easily and Myra pulled off her driving gloves to check that heat was actually emerging from the metal. Ginny had gone to help Margie once she draped Chris's robe over her shoulders, and Myra resumed her gloves to join them.
It didn't warm up much with the front door being open for the unloading, but even so, with boxes stacked against the walls and their body heat from exertion, it began to feel more habitable. Chris said to Margie “You did an amazing job. It looks way better than I could have imagined.”
“You picked the colors” said Margie, but she was pleased with herself. New sheets were on the beds, new towels on the shelf over the toilet, and the dining chairs around the butcher block table were of bright blond wood with wide, inviting seats. Ginny had packed three flowering house plants, and she put the African violet in the middle of the table. Chris took a second from her, a red begonia, and carried it into her bedroom to put on the nightstand.
Myra pushed Chris's chair near the stove and said “Sit down, supervise us, why doncha?” Chris grinned, a big grin, and said “Okay.” Ginny opened the carton labeled “Kitchen Immediate Use”, found the teakettle and filled it with water before putting it on the stove.
Margie opened the massive wet carrier which had ridden in the Volvo back seat and said “I'm going to hang this, okay?” It was the portrait of the six friends that Ginny had completed ten days earlier. Chris had asked to take it with them. Chris said “In my room, please. On the wall across from the window.” Ginny had to trail after Margie to make sure it was done properly.
Myra said “Do you want your room set up first, or should I do the kitchen?”
“Do the kitchen” said Chris. “I'm going to let Margie unpack my stuff.” She looked warm enough but her color was off, Myra thought. Myra asked “Are you feeling bad?”
“Memories” said Chris. “Plus my hip.”
One the painting was hung, Ginny unpacked her and Myra's personal belongings into the other bedroom. She put the third plant on their single nightstand, a forced yellow amaryllis. Chris stood stiffly and walked into her bedroom, finally deciding to sit on the portable toilet with its lid down as she directed Margie where to put her possessions. Margie's happy voice carried easily to Myra, trying to organize the kitchen. They would be on top of each other here.
She made a pot of tea first and carried mugs to the others. She took the large container of chicken stew she'd made the day before from the cooler and set it on the stove to slowly thaw. She unpacked the rest of the cooler, then didn't know what to do with it. Finally she carried it, along with two of the cartons already emptied, out to the Jeep. The cartons would serve as containers for bags of trash and of laundry, which they'd have to carry elsewhere.
Re-entering the cabin, it felt warm and like it could become familiar to her. She heard Margie say “What is this, in here?” and Chris reply “Don't open that. Give it to me.”
“My god, Aunt Chris, please tell me it's not a sex toy” said Margie, trying to cover her embarrassment with intrusive humor.
“It's not a sex toy” said Chris in an amused voice. “But it is private.” Myra heard a drawer open and shut.
Ginny came to the kitchen to refill her mug and said “That bed is as small as the one we had at first in the beach house. We'll be keeping each other warm from up close.”
Myra lowered her voice to say “I'll be sleeping with Chris as much as she wants me to, you know.”
“I know” said Ginny, trying to keep her smile but not quite succeeding. “Well, those electric heaters are starting to take some chill off the surfaces around them.”
“What should we do about compost?” asked Myra.
“I don't know. When I'm done with the bedroom, I guess I'll wander into that field out back and see if I can find a spot to dig up the ground and make something besides a lure for wild animals” said Ginny. “I should have brought straw or mulch.”
“We can get some when we go into town tomorrow” said Myra as Ginny left the kitchen.
An hour later, everything had found a place, and the other boxes plus luggage had to be stored in the Jeep as well. One end of the table had a clever shelf arrangement underneath, and Myra stashed her laptop there, plugging it into the outlet. A wall phone hung behind it with a splitter to accept her computer link.
Ginny had, at Myra's insistence, brought her folding easel and a suitcase full of painting gear. Chris emerged from her bedroom to sit by the stove again and said “You should put your easel in front of the sliding doors here, if the light's good there.”
“It'll block us going in and out by that door” said Ginny.
“Well, I won't mind if you don't” said Chris. Ginny erected her easel, then claimed the last empty kitchen cupboard for her painting supplies. Myra silently rearranged another cupboard, stacking plates and bowls, so she'd have room to stock a pantry once they went shopping.
They all jumped when the phone rang, loud and with a different tone that theirs at home. Margie answered it and carried the receiver to Chris on its long cord, saying “It's your niece.” Myra tried not to eavesdrop, but noticed the gladness in Chris's voice as she talked to Tina. She invited them out for dinner the following evening. Myra heard her say “Tell Ricky, we won't have any beer here” and listened to her long laugh at whatever Tina said in reply.
Margie hung up the phone for her and said “What shall we do now?”
Myra thought Chris could use a nap, but Chris said “I know we packed cards, does anybody know where they are?”
“In the kitchen, there's a cupboard with household items. Cards and chips both” said Myra.
“Just the cards” said Chris. “Let's play Hearts.” Chris was a menace at Hearts, always sticking someone else with the queen of spades.
“Let me make popcorn first” said Myra. She loaded it with butter and brewer's yeast, and carried napkins to the table with the bowl. The windows now had a sheen of condensation on the inside. It was getting warm enough to turn down the damper on the stove, she thought. But Chris had not yet her robe, so Myra would wait for that sign. She pulled off her Patagonia overshirt, down to just a long-sleeved jersey.
As they played, Chris intermittently lifted out comments from what was running through her head and shared them.
“The table we had was square, not a rectangle like this. Formica. It was more in the corner, and that wall by the door, there was a little shelf where Dad put his keys. Over it was the gun rack, with a knob for his hat.”
“Goddammit Margie, where did you pull that three of clubs from, I swear you're manufacturing cards!” said Ginny.
“Ma had a chair in the kitchen, and she'd sit there to shell beans or shuck corn. She had a radio on the counter she listened to all the time. Mostly religious stations. I used to love to listen to Paul Harvey, but if you hung out with her, you had to be doing something, cleaning or stirring. Something with your hands.”
“What kind of beans?” asked Myra.
“A lot of lima beans” said Chris.
“You don't like lima beans” pointed out Myra, grinning.
“I still eat fried bologna, though” said Chris. “One of the first things I made by myself at the stove, a fried bologna sandwich. On white bread with Miracle Whip.”
“With Kool-Aid?” asked Myra.
“Shasta root beer, if I was lucky” said Chris. “Except on my birthday, I could ask for real root beer, Hires, instead of Shasta.”
“It's a miracle either of you still have teeth in your heads” said Ginny. “Myra, it's your lead.”
“Those sliding doors at the back were there then, too, which was a novelty back then. Ma complained about how they let in the cold. But I used to spend a lot of time sitting more or less where you are Myra, keeping watch.”
Myra waited half a minute before prodding. “Keeping watch for what?”
“Dad chopped wood back there. In the winter, snow'd be up three feet high around the place he kept clear, the chopping block and the stacked cords. He'd fill a coffee can with beer -- you remember Arbuckle Coffee, My?”
“Mama used to joke about having the Arbuckle thumps” laughed Myra.
“I remember those yellow labels, with the flying angel. Anyhow, he'd fill a can two-thirds with beer and then drop in five shotglasses of whiskey. Homemade boilermakers. He carried that out to a snowdrift beside the wood and push it down into the snow – nature's cooler. He'd pull out a big log, split it into quarters, then split each of those, gather the kindling in a bucket, and go to the coffee can, scooping out a dipper of drink. He had one of those folding metal dippers, you know, like Boy Scouts carry. He drank it down in one gulp, picked up his axe, and did another log. After half an hour, he'd strip off everything on top until he was bare-chested, but even so, you could see the sweat on his back.” Chris paused, then added “It's weird, to remember him as young. Younger than Margie here.”
Card play had slowed to a crawl. As Chris stared at her hand, trying to make sense of it, Myra asked again “Keep watch for what?”
“When he reached the end of the can. He'd lift it out of the snow and pour the last cupful. That's when I was supposed to tell Ma. She'd get a second one ready and carry it out. Originally, I was supposed to take it to him, but I tripped once and spilled it. He broke my arm. After that, when Ma took out the second can, I'd put on my coat and cap and sneak out the front door, disappear for a couple of hours.”
Into the silence that followed, Chris said “Dad kept pemmican on the counter, I wonder if we can find that around here?” Her eyes were intense, suddenly focused on Myra.
“What kind of meat was it?”
“Buffalo or beef. With dried huckleberries. I'd hook a couple of strips and put them in my coat pocket when I headed out” said Chris.
“We'll look for it” said Myra.
“It won't be at the health food store” grinned Chris. “I'll ask Tina.” Her niece was assistant manager at the local supermarket.
Margie had put a handful of popcorn into her mouth and was meticulously wiping her fingers. “Aunt Chris...your arm. Did it hurt?”
“Well, yeah” said Chris.
“Did you get a cast?”
“Yup. And that drive in to the hospital was pretty tense, let me tell you. But I'd already learned the rule, that I was never to talk to white people in charge. Keep my mouth absolutely shut, or else. Dad would tell 'em I was a tomboy, with a roll of his eyes that always got a laugh from other men. And he said I didn't talk much.” She turned to Myra. “Nobody ever compared notes, like you wrote in that poem of yours. I mean, once I got to school, I was always in trouble because I talked during class, I made jokes and comments, they couldn't shut me up. The worst that happened there was maybe a little paddling, and being funny got me friends. So clearly I wasn't this mute little Indian girl who couldn't pull off being a boy. But I was under the radar, you know?”
“I know my version of it” said Myra. She was watching Margie's face, and was briefly confused by the spasm of irritation she read there, until she realized Chris must have once again passed her the queen of spades in their three-card exchange.
“Chris, you wanna add Hires to the grocery list?” said Myra, ignoring Ginny's sudden glare.
“Ah. Maybe one. But no, it's not on the hepatic enrichment program” said Chris. “I used to like to pretend root beer was like real beer, that I could get drunk from it. I wanted to be old enough to get drunk. I could get enough sips from Dad and his friends to get pretty smashed. But I wanted my own bottle of beer.”
Ginny's face had an expression of reminiscence that startled Myra. “I remember once pretending my water was gin” she said. “What did getting to be drunk mean for you?”
“Everyone would be afraid of me and not mess with me” said Chris.
“Yeah” said Ginny softly.
“You really want to scare the shit out of white people, though, be 5 foot eleven by age 16, with shoulders like a linebacker and enough speed on board to make your hair crackle” said Chris with a giggle.
“I wouldn't have been scared of you” said Margie with a break in her voice that embarrassed her.
Yes, you would thought Myra.
Chris considered her hand again. “The other thing I liked to pretend was that someday I'd have a real family. Maybe I'd find out I was adopted. And a group of strangers would claim me, love me, give me a new name. That one came true. And here I am, in this house with you. It's better than my best fantasy.”
It was for Margie's benefit, Myra knew, but it hit her too like a hammer blow. She reeled again when Ginny said “My real mother's name was Gwendolyn. In my daydream, I mean. She had loved my father but couldn't keep me, so I went to live with him and his wife, my evil stepmother Helen. Gwendolyn looked just like me, and sometimes she was a movie star, sometimes a stewardess who traveled around the world.”
“Stewardess?” said Margie in disbelief.
“It was exotic then” said Ginny, and Myra nodded. Ginny played a six of spades, forcing Margie to eat her queen, and another spasm of irritation crossed Margie's face.
“I used to pretend my mother worked at the make-up counter at Nordstrom's” said Margie. Myra noted that single “mother”. “She would pick me up from school after work and we'd drive through McDonalds for dinner, eating fries and McNuggets in front of the TV. She wore dresses and dated guys who played golf.”
Ginny burst out laughing. “You got so screwed, you poor little thing” she cackled.
Chris had finally shucked her robe, pushing it over the back of her chair. They all jumped again as the phone rang. Ginny reached back and answered it.
“Hey, Allie. Yeah, we're all settled in, playing cards and telling stories.” She held the phone away from her mouth a minute to say to Margie “You listed this phone in your own name?”
“I had to present ID and they wouldn't – it's a long story” said Margie.
Ginny handed the phone over to Chris, who carried it back to her chair by the stove. Myra said to Margie “Speaking of chopping wood, is that something we'll need to do?”
“No, I got it already split” said Margie. “But I should go carry in another load. It's already starting to get dark.”
“I was thinking I'd steam that broccoli to go with the stew for dinner” said Ginny.
“And hot rolls, it's a hot bread kind of evening” said Myra, returning the cards to their box.
“I'll do it” said Ginny. “Why don't you fire up your laptop and see how well it works here.”
They all went to bed early. Myra offered to sleep with Chris but she said she wanted to see what it was like to be in her childhood bedroom alone. Margie decided to stay on the futon rather than go to her motel. Myra noticed she'd brought a portable DVD player with her and had it plugged into an extension cord next to her pillow.
“Are you going to take a bath?” Myra asked Ginny.
“Not yet. I'd rather do it in the morning, when I can warm up as I dry by the fire” said Ginny.
“Oh. Good idea. I'll wait, too.” They shut the bedroom door, Ginny commenting “As if it will block any sound. I just hope that little heater is up to the task.”
“Remember how cold it was at the house near Trinity?” said Myra.
“We kept warm” said Ginny with a grin. “We have that same down comforter with us.”
They kissed but Myra didn't want to make love to Ginny, not with Margie a few feet away. They slept quickly. Some time later, Myra woke up and had a long minute trying to figure out where she was. Her hand, outside the comforter, was uncomfortably chilled and she thought perhaps that was what had awakened her. Then she heard a sound from what must be the kitchen, the clank of metal on metal. She slid gently from Ginny's side, shivering at the air which hit her skin, and dressed quickly in sweats and wool socks.
When she opened the bedroom door, blessed heat rolled in at her and she left the door open. Margie was sprawled on her back, headphones still on, the DVD screen bright blue. Myra reached over to turn off the DVD as she edged around the futon. The light over the stove was on, and she could see Chris standing in front of the kitchen window.
Myra put her hand on Chris's shoulder, covered by buffalo robe, and whispered “Can't sleep?”
“Nightmare” said Chris briefly. “You want some hot chocolate?”
“Yes” said Myra, turning to stir the pan of milk on the stove before it scalded.
“I miss her like this fucking ache in my bones” said Chris, not moving from the window. “She should be here, she should be hearing all this. I never told her enough.”
“Why not?” asked Myra. She put back the Hershey's Chris had set on the counter and got out the tin of Amsterdam cocoa. She found her whisk and began adding sugar as Chris answered.
“I can't figure it out. It felt sorta like I was asking so much of her anyhow, putting up with my – shit, that I couldn't ask her to hear about where it all began. I think now that was probably a shit stupid way to do things” said Chris. She finally turned to face Myra. “Do you think Allie tells Edwina everything?”
“I know she does” said Myra. “But they were 20 years older than you and Sima when they got together. Maturity has some serious advantages.”
“I thought about calling her tonight” said Chris.
Myra whisked in the cocoa, the aroma plunging her into a memory of biking with Gillam, stopping at a tiny cafe for chocolate and a rest.
“You think I should call her?” asked Chris.
“I think whatever you do with her is right” said Myra. “I'm not just shining you on, I really mean it. Your gut is firing on all cylinders these days.”
“As opposed to when?” said Chris with a grin at last. “Was I that clueless before cancer made me come to my senses?”
Myra grinned back, handing her a mug. “Don't ask for marshmallows, I don't believe in 'em. Unless you're Leah.”
“Let's go to my room” said Chris. Myra left the pan on the stove. They shut the door and leaned against the wall, their legs under the comforter. The wall felt like ice against Myra's back. Probably sheetrock over a log core she thought.
By the time they finished their mugs, Myra was drowsy again. Chris slid down into the bed and said “You can stay if you want.” Myra put her mug next to the begonia and felt a twinge about Ginny – but at least the door was open, she'd stay warm. She dropped off as Chris's arm came around her waist.
© 2009 Maggie Jochild.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Friday, March 20, 2009
(Dandelions, photo by Roberto Pagani)
Late November 2009
Allie and Edwina came for dinner. Chris had printed out copies of the photos Margie sent and during the meal she pored over them with Allie, telling stories of her childhood that ranged from mundane to hair-raising. Ginny joined them only long enough to eat, her face that mixture of intensity and edge-of-being-drained which was typical of Painterland.
After dinner, Chris said she wanted to begin sorting her belongings for the move, and asked Allie and Edwina to join her. Allie looked like she wanted to refuse, but with Edwina's company, she followed Chris to the front of the house. Myra sat at her desk, making her own list of what she would want to take, especially for the kitchen. She had looked over Chris's photos and noted the lack of counter space, at a time where the nutrition of what she prepared would be the most important she had ever faced.
She took the dogs out for a walk at 11:00, right after Allie and Edwina left, and began with a visit to the back door of the store, Margie's ritual. Frances came out to cool down, frolic with the dogs, and give them a treat before Myra went on with them. After a good work-out, she took them back home, dried them with a towel, and promised Frances would be home soon.
At her own house, Ginny was still painting. Myra left a quart of water by her easel and kissed her goodnight before taking a quick shower and sliding into bed behind Chris. There were partly filled cartons in the corner of Chris's room. Myra found she could not sleep right away, worried about the sick grandchildren, about Margie being alone in a strange motel, about Gillam and Carly's reaction to the new plan – anything but the big cloud on the horizon. Finally, when Chris turned to her in her sleep and put her head on Myra's shoulder, Myra was able to drop off.
With a couple of hours of sleep here and there, Ginny worked through until late Friday morning. Myra heard her plinking her brushes down into a large of turpentine before she headed downstairs, and Myra followed. Ginny was standing in front of the open refrigerator, a wedge of cabbage in her hand that she was eating as is while considering her options.
“I'll make you a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich, and there's leftover white bean soup in that container” said Myra, reaching around Ginny.
Ginny pulled out a bowl of blueberries with her free hand and said “Do we have ricotta?”
“Here” said Myra, dumping two tablespoons onto the blueberries. The teakettle was already on. Ginny walked to the table and sat down with a groan, still eating the raw cabbage between bites from her bowl. Myra said over the breakfast bar “I can't wait to see this one.”
“Wait until I get back up. As soon as I have food in me, I'm crashing” said Ginny. “I feel almost sick.”
Myra looked at her flushed cheeks, but that was common after she finished a painting. She rushed the meal preparation and sat down with Ginny, who moaned as she bit into the sandwich. Chris came in from outside and joined them for the end of the meal. Ginny stood and said “Can I owe you for the dishes?”
“Go lie down” said Myra. She noticed Ginny rode the elevator up – at her end of strength, for sure. Chris, helping Myra clear the table, said “Did you see it yet?”
“No, she asked me to wait. You can go look, though.”
“No, I want her there, too. I guess she won't be making challah this afternoon. I'd offer to fill in but I don't know how to do the prayer part.”
“We have some in the freezer we can thaw. You can make bread with me, if you're so inclined” said Myra. They started a sponge before having their own lunch, listening to the radio. In between risings, Myra set up her video camera and read aloud from one the stack of “five children” books that were popular with the grandchildren, creating tapes for when she would be away. These books included the entire Five Little Peppers series, several of Edith Nesbit's books, and the series from her own childhood about the Tuckers.
Margie called and gave a report to Chris, who relayed that work was proceeding and Margie had found an organic food store in Kettle Falls. Margie also said the living room space was too small for a regular sleeper sofa, that it would have to be a futon.
“Ginny won't like that, she hates them” said Myra.
“I want to take the chair from my room” said Chris, reminding Myra that decorating wasn't really up to Ginny.
Gillam had dragged himself back to work that morning, on the assurance of the home nurse that contagion was past for their family. David had returned to nursery school as well. Jane kept Lucia in diapers, but said otherwise the freedom from actual vomiting made her feel like she was on holiday.
At 4:30, Chris put on her coat, telling Myra she had asked Gillam and Carly to meet with her privately before shabbos, at Carly's house.
“Oh” said Myra. “You're going to tell them yourself, then.”
“Of course” said Chris. Allie and Edwina arrived shortly after she went out the back door.
“Jane and Gillam are going to have a really hard time without your help” said Edwina.
“I know. On top of all the loss Gillam will be feeling. Plus, I bet Margie won't be spending much time in Seattle” said Myra.
“She called me today, said she'd found a motel between the house and town that was clean and comfortable, with a decent cafe nearby. We'll be renting rooms there next to her” said Allie.
“But we'll come and go” said Edwina, an edge to her voice. Myra wasn't sure if it was her dread of all the commuting or whatever was up between her and Allie right now. Myra asked Edwina if she'd go wake up Ginny, so Ginny could take a bath before dinner. When Edwina was out of earshot, Myra said to Allie “You two okay?”
“I'm – not sleeping much. My blood sugar is all over the place” said Allie.
“Well, that's not okay” said Myra.
“I fucking hate it that she's leaving town” said Allie. “I think this is a stupid idea. The last thing she needs to do is try to deal with her childhood demons right now.”
“Apparently it is the last thing she needs to do” said Myra quietly. She removed three chickens from the rotisserie and set them on a cutting board to rest. Allie didn't respond.
Myra continued assembling a salad, and Allie took half the veggies to her own cutting board to chop. After a minute, Myra told her about hearing Chris ordering her casket and what Chris had said about her funeral.
“How can she just plow ahead like this, be all cool and business-like?” burst out Allie. “What happened to her fear?”
“It's there” said Myra. “I think it's a relief for her to get all the business, as you put it, out of the way. She's always been like that, get the hard part done first.”
“But that ain't the hard part” replied Allie.
“No” said Myra. “Maybe she's planning to fall apart. Maybe – I don't know what she's thinking will happen. Maybe she's hoping for a miracle.”
“Nothing wrong with that” said Allie under her breath. Edwina rejoined them, saying “She's getting dressed. She wants everyone to come over here and look at the painting before we eat at Jane and Gillam's. I'll make the calls.”
“Thanks” said Myra. Five minutes later, the grandchildren burst through her back door and threw themselves on her, then Ginny when she came downstairs. Myra fervently hoped they really were past the infectious stage.
Once everyone had arrived, including Gillam and Carly with tear-stained faces that drew an anxious look from Jane, Ginny said “Up to the studio, follow me.” Myra said “I'm riding the elevator, any takers?” The grandchildren raced ahead of her, and Chris joined Myra as she followed. As soon as the doors closed, Chris burst into an ear-splitting war cry and began dancing, singing and chanting in a small shuffling circle. Myra didn't know the words but imitated it as best she could, shrieking when Chris did. By the time the doors opened again, all the children were dancing and singing as well, reluctant to stop.
Allie grinned at them as they emerged. “I'm sorry I missed that one” she said.
Ginny had the easel facing the window, with everyone arrayed behind it. Now she turned it around and stepped back to link her arm nervously through Myra's.
It was a group portrait. In the middle was Allie, standing with one arm lanked around the neck of Chris beside her, both of them staring out with their different grins at the viewer. Allie's other arm was over the shoulder of Edwina, whose head was leaned toward Allie. On Edwina's left side was Ginny, in three-quarter view, looking toward – who? Chris? Allie? Or beyond them, to Myra, who stood with her arm around Chris's waist, a solemn expression on her face. To the right of Myra, an obvious gap between them, was Sima, not looking outward but instead resting her gaze on the other five with a mixture of anger and longing. Perhaps that was whose eye Ginny was trying to catch.
It was exquisite, each of them perfectly captured. They stood in an open field with grasses almost to their knees, ferns and wildflowers in a riot around them. Their tread had disturbed a clot of dandelions, and the fuzz flew everywhere around their heads. Myra had an instant of wondering how on earth Ginny could paint herself so knowledgeably before she burst into tears.
She missed some of the response from others, although she did hear Frances said “Margie's going to kick herself for not seeing this with us.” It was Allie who, leaned in close to examine the brush work, found the secret.
“Holy moly” she said, pointed to a spiral of dandelion fluff. “That's Carly!”
And so it was, a mere suggestion of Carly's face somehow imprinted into the gauze tendrils and seed. Everybody now crowded in, children clamoring to be picked up, and eventually the likenesses of all three children, their partners, and the five grandchildren were found in the flying dandelion scatter.
Myra thumped Ginny's back, saying “Goddamn, Ginny Bates, you did it this time.”
“You missed a couple” said Ginny, thrilled with herself. She pointed to two curled fiddlehead ferns at the feet of the six main figures. One concealed the visage of David Bates, and one was Myra's mother. Myra felt tears revisiting her cheeks.
“I hate to stop this, but I have to go check my oven” said Jane.
“Let's all go” declared Ginny. Gillam stopped by their kitchen to help carry their dishes, giving Myra a long hug. The way he looked into her eyes made Myra suddenly wonder what Chris had said about her to these sons.
As they were finalizing getting dinner on the table, Gillam and Carly disappeared for a few minutes with Jane and Eric. When they all returned, Eric looked frozen with grief and Jane looked even more worn out. Myra insisted Jane sit down and not do one more thing for the rest of the evening. The children's excitement at getting to be with the whole family again slowly overcame the hip-deep grief in the room. Myra briefly got the hiccups, which reminded Leah of the burp video and they began beseeching her to do it again. She had never been any good at belching on demand, but Chris produced one that sent everyone into laughter.
“No more at the table” said Gillam. “I'm nervous about playing around with esophagus action, after what I've seen this week.”
Carly turned to Charlie and said “Here, pull my finger.”
“Hey” objected Gillam, but he was chuckling with Carly. Charlie kept tugging at Carly's finger, saying “Why did you ask that, Uncle Carly?”
Frances had left after lighting candles and a quick glass of wine, but she returned at 9:30 with the dogs, saying “Imani's going to finish out tonight. She's taking off tomorrow night in exchange.” They dealt her into the poker game, which Eric was winning at the moment. When they finally called it at night at 11:00, Eric and Carly went with Frances for the last dog walk around the block.
On Saturday afternoon, Margie walked in the back door, surprising Myra who was disinfecting her cutting boards. “Nobody was willing to work on the weekend” she said, “and I decided it was worth eight hours of driving to spend a day at home.” Ginny heard her voice and came to the landing, saying “Come look, I can't wait for you to see this one.”
Margie very nearly cried as well. She said “I'll arm wrestle you for it.” Ginny laughed, shaking her head, and Margie said “At least put it over the dining table or the fireplace, someplace where it's the main attraction.” Chris had come out of her room by that time, and Margie turned to her, saying “You wanna go pick out dressers at antique stores with me? Plus whatever else you might want.”
“I was going to hang out with Annie, okay if she joins us?” said Chris. Myra could tell Ginny really wanted to horn in as well, but she kept quiet and Margie didn't invite her. Chris and Margie returned right before dinner with a long, low three-drawer dresser of gleaming old cherry. Myra went out to help them haul it in. Ginny had been working in the yard for hours, preparing it for her absence.
Margie walked home to get the dogs, having invited herself for dinner and the evening. While she was gone, Chris said “There was a sleigh bed there that she went ape over. I managed to slip away from her long enough to buy it – her birthday is next week, you know. They're going to deliver it to her house on Tuesday, one of us can go let them in.”
“We bought her a gift certificate to Conservation Resources International, the place where she likes to order all her work equipment and supplies” said Myra. “What she does is so advanced now, even Ginny wasn't sure what she needed.”
“We also went by Ikea and got modular units for the other bedroom's closet, plus a futon, kitchen table and chairs she says she can assemble while the painters finish" said Chris. "She's going to swing by and pick it up Monday morning on her way out of town.”
“She must be planning to borrow the Volvo to carry it all” said Myra.
“No, she wants you to go lease a 4-wheel drive monster this weekend for her to use” said Chris. “She said she hit an icy pass on the way home today that scared her.”
Myra felt a chill. If it scared Margie, it must have been bad. “Will do” she said, heading for her computer to look up rental agencies. After dinner she returned to her desk, leaving Margie, Ginny and Chris to talk about the new house. She was glad Chris showed such anticipation, but deep down, she agreed with Allie: She'd rather not face the cabin and all it implied.
She decided to finish her holiday shopping and cruised websites for a couple of hours, having everything shipped by two-day delivery. It put her in a better mood to buy gifts for the people she loved. She was able to go back to her novel and turn out some good work before bedtime.
Margie and Frances didn't appear from their house all day Sunday until it was time for singing potluck. Ginny and Chris had created a menu of all the dishes Chris liked most from various people and handed out copies at the potluck, planning for Thanksgiving in four days. Frances said she was making Margie's birthday cake. Cathy would be arriving on Tuesday and had put in a bid to make Helen's chopped liver. Myra planned to enlist the children on Wednesday to help each make their own pie, so they too would have dishes to claim for this dinner.
“When is Aunt Cathy going back to Denver?” asked Gillam.
“Monday at some unholy early hour” said Ginny. “We're thinking about dropping her off on our way out of town.”
Conversation came to an abrupt halt except for Leah saying “Why can't I have gravy on my green beans?”
“So...singing potluck next week will be...” Gillam couldn't finish his sentence.
“We'll be back for Christmas” said Myra. “Margie's insisted we lease a vehicle that can drive through any storm.”
The mention of Christmas launched the children on a discussion of what they wanted from Santa, as well as what they might get at Hanukkah. Carly interrupted their greed to say “How about this year, me and Uncle Eric help you make the cookies and cakes that we mail out to family and friends? After work two nights a week, all through December?”
Myra looked at him with welling gratitude. Leah said “But what about Gramma and Bubbe?”
“Remember, they're going away with Aunt Chris to look after her for a while” said Gillam.
“But what about all your cookie cutters?” said David anxiously.
“We'll make sure you have them, and all the sprinkles and frostings, too” said Myra.
“You know, the first time we made holiday cookies was when your Daddy was just two years old, and Margie was five. Uncle Carly and his brother Truitt came over, and we didn't know Carly was feeding red-colored dough to our little dog Juju under the table until we saw her a while later and got scared because it looked like her mouth was bleeding” said Ginny.
“I'm two years old” announced Charlie.
“And on Thanksgiving Day, guess how old Aunt Margie is going to be?” Frances asked him.
“Seven?” he ventured.
“31!” said Margie in a tone of pride. All the children looked amazed, even Lucia. Leah, however, said suspiciously “But last year your birthday wasn't on Thanksgiving.”
Jane began explaining calendar gimcrackery to the children, who weren't quite buying it. It seemed more likely to them that Margie simply moved around her birthday at will. Which, Myra had to admit, was quite in Margie's character.
When they retired to the family room for singing, Myra noticed a bedspread covering the cushions of one couch. Gillam whispered to her “You might want to sit on a chair, until we get that cleaned.” She didn't ask more, and let Gillam claim that sofa with Carly and Eric.
They progressed through the usual songs to the stage where each of them got to suggest a particular favorite and lead it or teach it. After one lull, with Jane looking around expectantly from the piano, Myra stood and began
Emma, she's calling you out
Can you hear her?
Emma, she's calling you out
You're not alone today
You were young, and you suffered abuse
At the hands of those who said they loved you
So you ran...
By this time, Allie had reached Myra's side, linking her arm around Myra's waist as they finished the verse and repeated the chorus, both of them looking at Chris. Chris was utterly still, and so was Lucia on her lap.
You were scared
You tried taking your life
But your life refused to yield to anger
You hid around a corner of your mind
Where you thought no one could find you
But Emma, I'm calling you out
Can you hear me?
Emma, I'm calling you out
You're not alone today
Gillam and Margie both began crying. Gillam said “It's been years since I heard that one.” But Myra's attention was focused on Chris, who had her big hand held out flat in front of her, palm up. Lucia was tracing the lines of her palm with a delicate finger. When Lucia finished her touch and pulled her fingers back into a fist at her side, Chris looked up at her friends and whispered “Thank you.”
Thursday, March 19, 2009
(Click on image to enlarge)
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 19 and 20, 2019
Allie lay down her fork and Myra thought she saw her begin trembling. Edwina said "You don't know if that house is actually habitable, especially for someone with a serious illness."
"True" said Ginny. She and Myra looked at each other. "One of us will have to go there and check it out, perhaps get it ready."
"I'll do it" said Margie. She raised her voice against their possible protests. "I want to do this, and I'm more than competent. I can leave tomorrow, I've already said I can take off work."
Ginny said quietly "I think that's an excellent idea, you'll do it as well as any of us would." Myra realized Margie's color was very high, as if she were feverish. They were all on the brink of hysteria, she thought. Except not Ginny. Ginny was solid as granite.
Myra said "We'll have to find out what kind of supportive services they have there, home nursing, hospice, everything we might need. We'll need referrals and records from your doctors here."
"Tomorrow" said Chris. She seemed stunned at Myra's change of gear.
Margie returned to the topic of the house. "How big is it, and how far outside of town?"
Chris said to Myra "You got a notebook handy?" But Ginny was already on her feet, grabbing the pad by the phone and pulling a state map from the trip drawer near the aquarium. Chris made a sketch, correcting it once and then starting over. Myra found the small highway out of Colville and showed it to Margie, eventually located a hairline of blue that must be the creek to the west of the house.
Finally Chris relinquished her map, pushing it toward Margie.
"Is that to scale?" said Allie.
"I don't have your ability" said Chris dryly. "But it's close."
"It's tiny" said Margie.
"I think it was a cabin originally" said Chris. "Listen, that bedroom by the kitchen, that's the one I want. It was mine and Garnet's when we were little. It's bigger than the other one, I'm sorry about that -- "
"Oh, hush" said Ginny. To Margie she said "The main thing is how clean it is, or cleanable. Scrub down to bare wood if you have to. No mold or bacterial colonies."
Margie nodded solemnly. "This may take me a while. Will you keep Moon and Gidg during the time Frances is at work? Give them walks and keep them company here?"
"Of course" said Myra, looking around at Moon, who had stood at the word "walks" in combination with his name. "Here, buddy, come try a taste of veal."
"Not at the table, Myra" reprimanded Ginny. "Oh, well, then give some to Gidg, don't make her feel left out."
For this reason, this sent Chris into gales of laughter. Moon decided to lie down at Myra's feet, his flank against her ankle. She was glad of the warmth.
"What if the house isn't okay?" persisted Edwina.
"Then we'll reconvene and come up with another plan" said Ginny. She was regarding Edwina with sympathy.
"Don't tell the boys yet" asked Chris. "Not for the next day, until Margie gives us a report."
Myra didn't like that, didn't like their exclusion, but Ginny said "All right." Chris finally resumed eating, and after half a minute, Allie followed suit. Between bites, Chris and Ginny filled in Margie on the possible course of Chris's illness and options for care.
After fruit salad, they gathered in the living room where Myra built a fire and Ginny filched one of her yellow legal pads to make notes for Margie's trip. Allie sat close to Chris, pushed back deep into the couch with closed eyes. Margie sat at Chris's feet, Gidg all but in her lap, sensing Margie's distress, Myra thought.
A thought occurred to her. "Sima told me once, when we were cooking, that you caught a salmon with your bare hands when you were little. Was it in that creek?"
Chris laughed. "Yeah, but it had finished spawning and about to die, anyhow. I mighta played it up a little for her benefit. I took it home and my mom refused to cook it, said it was wasted flesh."
Allie opened her eyes. "You told me once you got close to a sasquatch in those mountains, that another tall tale?" She looked at Myra challengingly.
Chris unobtrusively elbowed Allie, then sighed and said "Yeah, I did. I smelled it and I heard it moving away from me. I got just a glimpse. Dad's family called them a word which means Stick People, I never did understand why."
"Well, you'll protect me with your Kash-Kash mojo, right?" said Myra, trying for lightness.
"You don't need protecting from them" said Chris. "The only thing you need to worry about up there are teenaged boys in pickups. Including the 50-year-old versions."
There was a long silence. Chris broke it by saying to Allie "You got your drum in your car?"
Allie sat forward. "I do. A couple of them, in fact."
"I'll get mine" said Chris, standing with a heavy assist from the couch arm. Myra added fresh wood to the fire and sat down on the floor in front of Ginny's chair. She invited Moon to join her, stroking his head with one hand while curling her other around Ginny's ankle. When Chris handed her a rattle made from a gourd, she let go of Moon to accept it, but not Ginny.
By the time they all parted for the night, pulses were back to normal and Allie's goodbye hug to Myra held no recriminations in it. "I'd do the same for you" Myra whispered to her.
"I know" said Allie.
Once it was just the three of them, Myra moved into Chris's arms and said "I feel torn between you and Ginny tonight. I need to talk with her -- "
"Yeah, you do. And honestly, I need to be alone. I need to take this in without you" said Chris. "I'm okay, the drumming helped."
The phone rang, the house line. Ginny looked at the caller ID and said "It's Gillam" as she answered it. After a minute, she said "God, Jane, you must be at wit's end. I'm sure we do, we'll scour our medicine cabinets. If not, one of us will run out to a drugstore. I'm getting you a hired nurse for tomorrow, somebody who's good with kids. One of us will be over as soon as we can with supplies."
When she hung up, she said "Gillam's begun throwing up and having diarrhea at the same time. They're out of Lomotil and any other remedies, and she also wonders if we have anything like Gatorade. I could create something -- "
"I've got a gallon of Gatorade in the store room, for emergencies" said Myra. "You go find the medications, I'll package up the soup I was going to take them tomorrow. And those fruit pops we made."
"Give her my love" said Chris. "I'm heading for a bath."
Jane met them at the back door, looking wasted. "David's not puking any more, but he still has the runs" she reported. "Lucia cries every time she vomits, and I've put diapers back on both her and Charlie, although I'll need more tomorrow. At least Mimi and Leah are not catching it, although with the other three out of commission, they're squabbling like baboons."
"I left a message with a home nursing service to call me first thing in the morning" said Ginny. "We'll get you some serious help, and bring you more food and toys tomorrow." They went home and washed their hands thoroughly before going to bed.
As Myra pushed herself into the pool of Ginny's warmth under the comforter, her eyes not yet adjusted to the dark, she said "You've changed."
"I don't know what to say to that, Myra. Do you mean about how ready I am to take this on? Because I love her too, you know. We've gotten really close these last few months."
"I know. It's more -- well, the truth is, I always thought you were this strong. I guess those years of keeping a secret that ate away at our intimacy kept you off-kilter. You're not off-kilter any more." She felt Ginny's mouth close over hers and responded with slow passion -- not erotic, the kind of passion that made her want to weep in gratitude.
After a few minutes, Ginny said “I know you don't feel this right now, but I'm also still thinking about Sima, what Sima would need me to do. I have compassion for people who fuck up their own lives in a way they may never be able to recover from.”
Myra thought, then said “You know, David wound up with you and Cathy because of his errors. And later on all those grandchildren. He failed, but I wouldn't call him a fuck-up.”
“I wasn't thinking about Daddy's example” said Ginny. Myra opened her eyes wide, as if she could see Ginny's face in the dark. “Mother – she never chose love for herself. Not real love, not the love that was available. And she was wretched. I'm starting, finally, to feel sorry for her.”
“Well I'll be damned” said Myra.
“Myra, I am so lucky. You told me once that my job, as the recipient of privilege, was to stay aware of my luck, and I work at it. One thing I figured out in the last few years is that – the way I am loved, in particular the way you love me – most of the time, I think I deserve it. And that's the real difference between me and Sima. Her inability to see the love she had, her need to find it in an exciting new form, is really because she doesn't think she deserved what she had.”
Myra's brain was afire, even as her body insisted she go to sleep. “Whereas Chris – she keeps saying yes in ways she never did before.”
Right before Myra slid into sleep, as they spooned, Ginny said into Myra's neck "I'll tell you one thing. If we're in that little house at night and I hear a scream outside like that recording you played me, we're running for the car and heading to town, no arguments."
Myra laughed, but fell silent as she thought I wish that was the worst we'll have to encounter.
When Myra got up the next morning, nobody was downstairs. She cut a piece of the egg-and-potato pie keeping warm in the oven, decided it was a Coke day, and holding her breakfast in her hands, rode the elevator upstairs. Ginny was at her easel, had been working for hours from the look of her. She pulled herself out of her reverie to kiss Myra's cheek and say “I made an early run to the store, got them some toddler diapers and other things. There's a home care worker already over there. Margie ate with us and is on the road to Colville.”
“Wow. Where's Chris?”
“At your computer, researching and making calls. Myra, I gave her your platinum card, because I'd already handed mine over to Margie. At some point later, when we're alone, we need to have a money talk.” Myra nodded, and Ginny loaded her brush with paint again.
Myra poked her head around the corner and heard Chris say “I don't give a damn about a silk lining, it's not going to be an open casket ceremony. Tell me the price range that's one degree down from in the middle, enough to make my family feel good about how I got buried but no more.” The bite in her mouth turned to cardboard, and she retreated back to the kitchen.
She took frozen cherries from the freezer and pureed them with white grape juice in the blender to fill another set of fruit pop forms. She made more jello and put a batch of rice flour muffins in to bake. As she was dicing onions, Chris joined her.
“What're you making?”
“Two chowders, one seafood, one mostly corn and potatoes for the kids” said Myra.
“I hadn't decided yet. You want to pick whatever needs to get used from the freezer?” Myra could tell Chris was eyeing her, wondering about her distant tone of voice, but Chris didn't ask. She went to the store room and returned with heavy packages that thudded on the counter.
“Myra. I need to tell you something.”
Myra put down her knife and faced Chris.
“I know you don't believe in it, but this -- “ Chris pulled her elk tooth necklace from her shirt collar – “I want to be buried in this. Don't let anybody take it off me.”
“Okay.” Myra kept her face neutral.
“There's only one funeral home in the Colville area, the same place who handled Garnet and my mother's burial. It's all white boys but they of course know how to at least make the motions for people from the rez. I want my family, and my people, to prepare my body. I'm hoping that doesn't make you feel left out.” Chris's eyes were digging into hers.
“I...I'll be glad to leave that to others” said Myra faintly.
“I've asked for no prayers invoking Jesus at the funeral itself, but since I'm letting a priest do that part, at Tina's request, he won't be able to help himself. At the graveside, though, it will be native. Hang on until you reach that part, don't whip out your flamethrower when they start crossing themselves early on.”
Myra managed a stiff grin. “It's Ginny who has the flamethrower, you know.”
“That's one fucking big canvas she's got on the easel” said Chris, changing the subject. “She told me it was going to be really hard to pull this one off, will take her longer than usual.”
Of course it will thought Myra. She began sauteing her mound of onions in butter, in two dutch ovens.
“Shall I cut potatoes?” offered Chris.
“Yeah. Let's use some of that summer corn you and Ginny put up. Oh, I need celery and carrots for this, too.”
“I'll chop 'em, you keep stirring” said Chris. She bumped her hip against Myra's as she passed her.
Shortly before noon, Ginny put on pants and shoes to join Myra for the delivery to the house behind them. After playing sous chef, Chris had gotten out the video camera and made a playful documentary of Myra cooking, Ginny painting, Keller chatting, and a fake interview with the leviathan, all centered on the theme of how lonely it was without the grandchildren around. This was added to the basket of entertainment Chris selected for today.
At one point, Myra was reciting the “lav-lav-lavender” sickbed poem for each child when, as she said “My Leah, my dear”, the Coke she'd sucked down came up with a long, brash belch. She hadn't anticipated it, and the surprise on her face, combined with the loudness of the eruption, made Chris almost drop the camera. Gillam later told Myra this was the kids' favorite part of the video, which they rewound and played over and over, going into fits of giggles at “Gramma's giant burp”.
When they pulled the red wagon up to the glass wall next to Jane and Gillam's desk, they could see Gillam lying on the couch, pale and contending with children not only demanding his attention but literally crawling on him. “He's not getting any rest at all” said Ginny.
“Yeah, but I understand him not being willing to hide away and leave it to Jane” said Myra. When Charlie spotted them, they could hear the chorus of yells as the three still at home rushed the door. Ginny held it shut. Myra saw splatters on Lucia's pajama top and looked away.
Gillam stood and came unsteadily to the door, pressing his hand against the glass and saying “Bless you.”
Jane and a woman dressed in scrubs appeared from the direction of the bathroom. Each of the children were shouting through the glass, so Myra couldn't make out what Jane was saying to her. Gillam tottered back to his couch, and Jane yelled “Silence! For just one minute!”
Into the abrupt quiet, Jane said “Do you need the fruit pop handles from yesterday back? I scalded them. Well, Diana here did.”
“Yeah, we do” admitted Myra. Jane retrieved them from the kitchen and slid open the door only enough to pass them out, blocking Charlie's escape with her hip. David looked mostly back to normal, Myra thought.
“Hang in there” said Ginny. Jane grinned bleakly, then impulsively turned, pulled down her jeans and gave them a quick pressed ham. Myra could hear Gillam's burst of laughter before Jane began saying “No, no, NO, this is a Mommy only performance” as the children grabbed for their own waistbands. Diana the nurse didn't look fazed. Myra and Ginny waved bye and left. On the way home they went to Margie's and picked up Moon and Gidg, who were more than ready to accompany them.
Later that afternoon, Jane called from the quiet of her own bedroom where she was about to get a nap before going to pick up Mimi and Leah from school.
“She's a godsend. I mean, she did mess up at breakfast, giving Lucia some regular bread. Now Luch says her head hurts and her diarrhea is back at full force -- “
“Ah, fuck, Jane, I'm so sorry” said Myra.
“No, it's an honest mistake. This woman has been cleaning vile messes and she's a whiz at pouring medicine down the kids, plus, well, I'm getting a nap. If it's all right, we want her to come back tomorrow, but by Friday we should be okay on our own again.”
“Whatever you need” said Myra.
“How's things with you all? How is Chris?” asked Jane.
“We're making plans. We'll tell you all on Friday, all right?” said Myra, keeping her voice light. “Go sleep.”
As soon as she hung up, the phone rang again. It was Margie, and Myra said “Hang on, I'm going to put you on speaker and get the others here.” Chris was on her daybed, and Ginny came quickly.
“What's the scoop?” said Chris.
“The house is old and cold and dirty, but it can be cleaned” said Margie. “I think it will need repainting inside once I've scraped it down, so pick your colors.”
Ginny interrupted to say “You have to get paint without off-gases, Margie -- “
“I know, Mom, I know what to get. The floor is covered with a filthy carpet, which I have permission to pull out and replace with linoleum. The stove is fairly new but it's electric, Mama” said Margie.
“I'll cope” said Myra.
“The refrigerator is crappy, and there's no microwave” Margie continued, sounding as if she was reading from a list.
“Replace the fridge, and buy a microwave” ordered Myra swiftly.
“The bathroom is tiny but the plumbing's okay and there's good hot water. The cold, though, is an issue. There are electric baseboard heaters in the bedrooms that do nothing at all, as far as I can tell. There's an electric unit in the wall of the bathroom that is also mostly decorative. The main room has a wood stove that the owner says will heat the whole house if we leave the doors open” said Margie.
“But that means smoke, and no privacy” objected Ginny.
“Plus I need to get a load of wood delivered” said Margie.
“Buy pricey hardwoods that don't give off much smoke” said Ginny.
“Get HEPA filters for that main room” began Myra.
“One for each bedroom, too” overrode Ginny.
“And there's electric heaters that are like little closed oil radiators which work really well” continued Myra. “No fumes, and they have built-in thermostats. Get one for each bedroom and the bathroom.”
“What about rugs?” asked Margie.
Chris pushed in. “I'll bring a rug for my room.”
“Otherwise, no, they'll interfere with wheelchairs” said Myra.
“There's a new bed in the smaller bedroom which is not even a double, really, they called it a full” said Margie. “But that's all it can hold. Chris's room could hold a queen, but no chest of drawers except in the closet, maybe.”
“Buy her a new bed, best you can find” said Ginny.
“Garnet and I had stacked crates in the closet for our clothes” remembered Chris.
“Margie, if you have time and it's a fun errand, look around at antique stores and find dressers that will fit in the closets” said Ginny.
“You mean thrift stores” said Margie.
“No, antique stores. They'll have been cleaned and less likely to carry mold or toxins. Line them with antiseptic paper” said Ginny.
“Margie, how are you going to get all this work done and furniture delivered before Thanksgiving?” asked Chris.
“Well, I'm going to Sears and they have an option of expediting work if I pay a bribe. They call it some other kind of fee, but it's a bribe” said Margie. “I'm going to have them do the painting, too, once I've got it cleaned. I'm trying to find a cleaning service that can come out tomorrow to help me. The floor folks promise to have the carpet out by noon tomorrow. So, I've put down a deposit and paid two months' rent, I made that decision before I called you.”
“Good job, baby girl” said Chris.
“There's another drawback, though” said Margie. “I'm calling from town because there's no cell service out there. The phone can be reconnected in two days and the land line does have DSL, of course, but no cellular. And the TV reception blows, they said.”
“We'll cope” said Ginny. “Where are you staying?”
Margie gave her the name of her motel. “Tomorrow I'll check out what kind of groceries we can expect to find here. Oh, another thing – the road, the last mile of it, is gravel and they said sometimes it doesn't get plowed every day. You might want to rent some kind of jeepish vehicle instead of your old cars.”
“Got it” said Ginny, adding to her notes.
“I took photos on my phone and I'll download 'em when I get to the motel tonight, send them to you on my laptop. Pick out paint colors and e-mail me those, okay?” said Margie.
After they hung up, Chris said “I can't believe it's really happening. I forgot to ask Margie – never mind, I'll do it myself.”
“Do what?” asked Myra.
“Smudge the place” said Chris succinctly.
© 2009 Maggie Jochild.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
I had no corned beef in the house so I made kielbasa with mashed potatoes, and carrots from Massachusetts. Very satisfying.
I used to celebrate March 17 as an anniversary, but had forgotten about it and remembered it only as I was waking up today. On this day in 1985, I made a decision to explore intimacy (didn't think it would be lovers at the time) with my Ex. The Big Ex. The Ex from whom I've never gone on to actually commit to someone else as a partner, though I've been in love and made many commitments since then.
In a profound way, my novel Ginny Bates is a rewrite of that 1985 decision. My character Myra also decides to step outside of being an abuse survivor into a new territory, and chooses someone who "didn't fit the previous pattern" to partner with. However, Myra has either luck or better judgment on her side than I did. My choice was more or less catastrophic. I know sometimes the way we must learn our life lessons involves catastrophic judgment, and this is particularly true if you are damaged. Of course, I wasn't aware of the damage at the time (who is?) and I thought it was the best decision I'd ever made.
Don't worry, my Ex doesn't read this blog. She's absolutely incurious about anyone she hasn't hooked into her narcissism, and once I smartened up, it's as if I never existed in her world. She is the anti-Ginny.
I was in the first honors program that my university attempted, a hand-picked group of 25 who took innovative courses together for two years. In one of them, we were team-taught by a physicist (with a strong background in astronomy), a biologist, and a chemist for four hour chunks three times a week. It was in that class that I learned, from Dr. Krishnamurthy, both the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and about entropy. I drove home after class, a 70 minute commute to the trailer where my mother lived out in the boonies, to do her weekly grocery shopping, laundry, and other chores -- because going off to college didn't mean there was anyone else to help her. I remember that drive home, trying to come to grips with entropy, that my universe was slowly dissolving around me, moving from matter to energy. I had to pull over at one point, next to an isolated creek, and cry for a while. I have six planets in Leo: change was not yet something I could relinquish to the vagaries of g*d.
To be honest, I still have issues with g*d in that regard. But, as Myra quotes Voltaire in my novel, "G*d is a comedian playing to an audience too terrified to laugh."
It was that same college semester, perhaps that same week since they are so linked in my mind, that I walked past graffiti on a wall which read "PHILOSOPHY 101 FINAL EXAM: (1) Define universe. (2) Give two examples."
I was planning, in this post, to talk about the reunion of original characters on ER and a few other things. But I think I won't now. Instead, I'm going to go write and will leave you with this poem by Denise Levertov that I love so much I once made stationary from it:
There is no savor
more sweet, more salt
than to be glad to be
and who, myself,
I am, a shadow
that grows longer as the sun
moves, drawn out
on a thread of wonder.
If I bear burdens
they begin to be remembered
as gifts, goods, a basket
of bread that hurts
my shoulders but closes me
in fragrance. I can
eat as I go.
Monday, March 16, 2009
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 18-19, 2019
Myra had asked Ginny to wake her up the next morning when she got up for her hospice training. This turned out to be 6:30 a.m., and Myra was bleary as she joined Ginny in the kitchen. Ginny made them and Chris breakfast while Myra packed her a lunch, crab salad. She put a container of frozen grapes on top of the salad to keep it fresh as the grapes thawed. Ginny wrote down the questions that kept occurring to Chris as they ate. After she left, Myra piled dishes in the sink and said to Chris “I'm going back to bed. What're you doing?”
“The pond. Then working on my boxes, I think.”
“Is it like meditation, working on the boxes?” asked Myra.
“Sort of.” Chris grinned a little shyly. “Don't tell anyone, but when I first laid them out on my bed, I decided which box I wanted to give away to what friend. They're all individual to me now. As I've sanded or finished each box, I think constantly about that person, my favorite memories of them, what I love about them, that sort of thing. I'm instilling who they are to me into the wood itself, feels like.”
Myra blinked away hot tears. “Damn, Chris. That's – something.”
Chris grinned at her more widely. “Have I ever told you how much I love the way you say my name?”
“What – you mean how I say Kash-Kash?”
“No. I mean, yes, I like that too. But you say Chris with that Texas twang, like it's two syllables, Kree-yuss. Sometimes Gillam does too. It's so much friendlier than a single brief blip that begins with a hard consonant.”
Myra hugged her before going to her bedroom.
When Myra got up again not long after 9:00, as she went into her study Chris said “Jane called, she left a message saying David was upchucking and she needed to talk with you ASAP.”
Myra sat down and called Jane's cell. “Is he very sick?” she began.
“He's – well, you of all people don't want the details. The preschool made me come pick him up, and I took Leah as well because they said there's a terrible intestinal virus going around, they don't think it's just his glass stomach” said Jane, sounded exhausted.
“What a drag for you all” said Myra.
“Anyhow, Lucia's looking peaked, she says she's not feeling bad but she's hot, I'm pretty sure it's just a matter of time” said Jane. “I figure if it's this contagious, I needed to warn you.”
“Oh, hell” said Myra, looking at Chris. “You're right. Chris can't be exposed to this. Any more than she already has been, I guess. Which means no Dance Class today. David's going to flip out about that.”
“He'd invent some kind of hurling jig, wouldn't he?” said Jane with tired humor. “I'll cancel my plans for this afternoon, then.”
“Listen, Jane, I'll make jello and some other dish they can maybe keep down” said Myra. “And we'll bring some games and stuff to help keep them quietly occupied. I'll drop it on your back patio after while, okay?”
“That would be great” said Jane. “Margie's going to pick up Mimi from school and bring her home, so we'll be here.”
Chris stood when Myra did and said “How about if I raid the toy stash for puzzles and books?”
“Great. Things they'd rather share than fight over. And go through our videos, too, you know which ones we have that they don't.” Myra was thinking about soups that would stay on a queasy stomach as she put on a pot of boiling water for jello.
Chris rooted through the cupboard where Ginny stashed the toys and books they found at thrift stores and sales but didn't want to give the children right away. She made a package of one book, puzzle, and toy for each child, wrapped in a decorated paper bag with their name on it. There was also a large basket full of communal items. Myra loaded this into the red wagon with her food and hauled it quietly through the two back yards. The four younger children were all in the family room, laying on couches or pallets on the floor, with buckets next to Lucia and David. They all roused themselves and came to the glass wall, pressing their faces against it pathetically and signing “I love you” to Myra. She blew them kisses and left before longing overcame her.
Chris took a nap on Myra's daybed after lunch, Anthea joining her and growling away other cats. Myra wrote, getting into a deep groove that was eventually interrupted by a chime on her computer at 4:00. By that time, Chris had awakened and gone out to the garden.
Myra opened the back door and called “I'm going to get ready for our doctor visit, we have to leave in half an hour.”
“Be right in” said Chris. They met in Chris's front sitting area. They were picking up Ginny at her training before going to the office of the PA for a longer, more definitive planning session. Allie and Edwina were meeting them at the PA's office.
Ginny looked haggard when she got in the car. “I'm ravenous” she said, “Do you have anything to eat?”
“Uh, there's a Luna bar in my pack” said Myra. “Should we drop by somewhere -- “
“We don't have time” said Chris tensely. “There's a vending area at the medical building.”
Ginny inhaled the Luna bar along with a bottle of water. As they walked in, she linked her arm through Myra's and whispered “A hard fucking day.”
“I want to hear it all” said Myra.
“So do I” said Chris, eavesdropping.
The PA had scheduled them for the end of her day, she said, so they could take their time. Chris had two pages of notes, and she was wooden-faced but did not rush, Myra was glad to see. It was 7:30 before they reached their cars again.
“Dinner” said Ginny before they could start talking. “Dinner first.”
“At home or -- “ began Myra.
“No, whatever's closest and won't take forever. But not fast food” added Ginny needlessly.
“Siam is close by” said Allie. They separated, Chris riding with Allie and Edwina. Ginny and Myra were in the restaurant first and got a table. Ginny was ordering appetizers as the other three joined them: “The tod mun pla, two orders, plus both chicken and beef satay, right, Myra? And the fresh rolls.”
“Plus the fried spring rolls” added Myra.
“That's almost a meal's worth right there” said Edwina.
“Not as hungry as I am” said Ginny. “I'm moving on to either the squid or the scallops, not sure which yet.”
As they waited for the first plates to arrive, Myra told Ginny about the children's illness. Ginny got the edge off her hunger before she was able to begin telling them about her training. She looked at Chris and said “Should I be selective, or do you want the whole shebang?”
Chris snorted. “Yeah, I'd love to be kept in the dark about this, maybe it will all go away if I ignore it.”
Myra would later remember it as a singular meal, with extremely good food, their appetites in high gear, the five of them leaning toward another in intense connection and conversation, as they heard things which seemed almost impossible to face. Ginny kept slipping her hand into Myra's, her strong fingers and square palm feeling like an anchor. Allie was ashy, her eyes wide. When the meal was over and Ginny was insisting on paying for them all, Chris said softly to Allie “You need to be alone or would you like me to come stay with you two tonight?”
Allie grabbed at it. “Come on, I'll loan you a nightie and we have a spare toothbrush.”
Chris looked at Myra and unobtrusively winked. The jealousy that was already hitting Myra's bloodstream immediately vaporized. Ginny squeezed her hand even as she signed the credit card slip.
They drove home in near silence, Ginny leaned against the car door with her eyes closed as Myra negotiated wet streets; it had started raining during dinner. At the house, Ginny said “How about if we call the children on the speaker phone before I draw a hot bath?”
“I wrote all afternoon. I've got a new mystery to read, I'm going to bed when you do” said Myra.
The next morning when Myra got up, Ginny said “Jane called. Charlie got sick during the night. Are you feeling okay?”
“Yeah, so far” said Myra. “God I hope Chris doesn't get this, she's too thin as it is.”
“I told Jane we'd make them another care package, but we have the afternoon off. I woke up with another painting in my head” said Ginny.
“I'm worried about your energy level, too, going from that training right into Painterland” said Myra.
“I'm taking extra herbs and, well, I'll get sicker if I don't paint than if I do” reminded Ginny.
“True. Well, then, I'll make chicken soup for us all” said Myra.
“Make it with alphabet pasta and the kids will be pleased” said Ginny.
At 11:00, Frances walked over with Margie and a platter of veal steaks. “I know you don't eat this” she said, “but we ordered too much and since Margie's having dinner here tonight, I thought you might want to make parmigiana or milanesa with it.”
Myra took the platter as Ginny said to Margie “You're eating with us?”
“Aunt Chris called me this morning and asked me to come, didn't you know?” said Margie.
“Nope. But good” said Ginny, glancing at Myra. She went outside with Frances to harvest herbs for the restaurant and talk about varieties they might try next. Margie fidgeted around the kitchen before asking “How was it yesterday? The doctor visit, I mean?”
“We got all our questions answered, except for how on earth are we going to bear this” said Myra. “I'm thinking Chris asked you to dinner to fill you in completely.”
Margie breathed out in relief. “Oh, that sounds right. She said Allie and Edwina were coming, too.”
But not the boys? thought Myra. Even though she had just reassured Margie, she felt a tendril of unease herself.
After Frances and Margie left with the dogs, Ginny stretched her canvas – another big one, Myra noticed, but this time horizontal rather than vertical – and Myra began cooking. By the time she was done with the soup and custards, Chris was home and they ate lunch together. Ginny put on pants to carry a wagon load of goodies to the grandchildren, ate her soup standing in the kitchen as Myra pounded veal into paper thin steaks, and went right back to her painting. Myra finished her prep work while Chris was napping and went to her computer to create word puzzles for the children, but instead began writing again, seeking some kind of oblivion.
When Allie arrived that evening, Myra was stunned to see in her swollen face and red eyes evidence that she had been crying for a long time. She hugged her and whispered “Are you all right?”
“Are you?” rejoined Allie, pulling back to look at her in grief. “You stay with me, you hear me, Josong?”
It was an echo of what Ginny had said to her in bed last night. Myra nodded, wondering what they saw in her that she was not worried about. Margie was rattled when she saw Allie's face as well. They all gathered in the kitchen to finish and serve the meal. After they sat down and held hands for a moment of grateful silence, Chris said to Margie “I asked you here because, fact is, you're becoming part of the decision-making faction in this family. I don't mean to slight Gillam or Carly. Gillam's taken on a world of responsibility, and Carly is making folks' lives better every single day. But you, with Frances, have become a mainstay to this family. I couldn't be more proud of you, I want you to know what.”
Margie swallowed hard. “Thank you, Aunt Chris.”
“So. We have information we collected yesterday, Ginny and us, to talk over” said Chris. “But I've also done some thinking, and it's time for me to share it. Which one do we begin with?” She was still looking at Margie. It was Myra who answered, however, sitting with suddenly icy arms and legs: “I want to hear your thinking.”
Chris turned slowly to meet her eyes. “I thought you would.” She took a bite of her milanesa, chewed it appreciatively, and said “I don't want to die in this house.”
Myra couldn't find her voice. She wished she had Ginny's hand in hers right now. Margie said “Then come live with me and Frances, I'll take a leave of absence from work. If you're worried about your ghost coming back, I'd love to have you haunt me, please, Aunt Chris.”
Chris reached out and patted Margie's hand. “I don't want to die in your house, either, baby girl. I can't make a promise about the haunting idea, one way or the other.”
“You don't want to be in a hospice, do you?” asked Ginny in disbelief.
“No, I'm counting on you all to keep me out of any public institution. No, what I mean is, I don't want to be in Seattle, either. I talked with my niece this weekend, and she said the house where we lived when I was a child, that place by the creek outside of Colville – it's sitting empty and available to rent. I want to go back there. Full circle” said Chris. Her eyes were back on Myra, and Ginny's were as well.
“I don't understand” whispered Myra. Which was not really true.
“I don't want some childhood bug to be what carries me off” said Chris. “I don't want that risk hovering around their heads. And I need more nature than the pond and leviathan can offer me. I know what I'm asking you, Myra. I know it means splitting the family, pulling you and Ginny away from where you draw your strength and energy. You can say no. Allie is here to back me up in making sure you say no if you need to. I'll stay here if you can't handle going to Colville with me.”
No wonder Allie had been crying her guts out thought Myra.
“I can't say no” said Myra.
“Yes, you -- “ began Chris.
“No. I know how you feel. I made peace with the home I left behind, I said goodbye to my mother. And having children – it changes things. You completely relocate when they're born, home becomes wherever they are. But you – you need this. And I understand it” said Myra. “I want it for you. I – I don't know how I'm going to do any of what's ahead. But – Colville will make it both easier and harder.”
She turned to look at Ginny, who was crying. Ginny nodded at her. Myra looked at Ginny's face in wonder before she turned back to Chris and said “Okay. We'll figure out how to do it.”
© 2009 Maggie Jochild.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
I forgot to take my Zyrtec before I went to sleep this morning, so I woke up half an hour ago with a dull headache. I took a tablet belatedly (it's a 24-hour effect) and now will try to write my way through both the headache and the pill's drowsiness.
Dinah watched me leave the bedroom from her Cabe. She will be joining me soon, to request her daily treat and to try to find SOMETHING to do in this boring place. She is back entirely to her old self, which means mostly if I reach out to pet her without her having come to interrupt me and demand it, she recoils as if I have ricin on my hands.
I just got an e-mail from Barbara, the person who does such a fabulous job grocery shopping for me, that she is sick this week and cannot get to my list until next weekend. She's reliable and extremely good, so mostly I'm just feeling sympathy for her. And I'll be okay waiting. I'm low on cat treats but can ration them out, and have drank the last of my Coky-Cola so will go through withdrawal, but as I periodically try to quit my 10 oz daily habit anyhow, I'm familiar with the withdrawal. (More headaches.)
I'm in good shape because, the highlight of my week, I got a care package from Little Gator. (Never sure if I should capitalize these cyber handles or not.) It was chock full of things I LOVE to eat, including whole wheat Barilla penne, tuna in water, canned chicken, pure canned pumpkin, the kind of bath soap I use, a few other things I can't recall at this still-not-entirely-awake instant, and a jar of handmade tomato sauce from Sicily. PLUS: A batch of Deep Shit cookies made by Little Gator herself. These are rolled cookies which look like cat turds -- if they are the variety with coconut flakes in them, then they look like cat turds with tapeworm segments. I'd heard of them but never tasted one. There are two versions, chocolate and ginger, and I actually ate them all the first day they arrived. Extraordinarily good. Dinah watched me with disbelief. Little Gator was also kind enough to send me the recipe, but I cannot share it with you because it appears to be a closely guarded secret.
This is the first food I've eaten that was made by someone else's hands in months and months.
Dinah still has not arrived at my desk. It's early in the day for me, and she hates it when I go off schedule. Perhaps she's gone back to sleep. If I'm in the same room, I can tell when she's deep in sleep because she snores softly.
Today is the last day of my free trial with Netflix. I've been on a viewing orgy. I went through two entire seasons of Weeds (the only two available) in two sittings, gorging myself. I have things to say about it later on. I watched almost half of the final Pirates of the Caribbean movie before becoming too bored and clicking off. The afterlife surreal scenes with Johnny Depp were fun, but otherwise it was predictable. I watched 21, about card counters, mostly for glimpses of math -- not a movie I'd recommend. (Amanda, if you're reading this, I know you're probably thinking "What did I expect with a Kevin Spacey movie?")
I watched several episodes of Good Neighbors, noting that the three supporting actors in the early series (Felicity Kendal, Penelope Keith and Paul Eddington) all went on to more fame than the billed star, Richard Briers. At least from this side of the pond. I adored Paul Eddington in Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister. Not to mention Nigel Hawthorne, of course. And I'm currently enjoying a much older (and tastier) Felicity Kendal in Rosemary and Thyme on our local PBS station.
I rewatched an episode of Dead Like Me in mourning for where this incredible series could have gone (like Firefly). I checked out Mythbusters and found it entertaining. I also rewatched several Kolchak: The Night Stalker episodes -- Chris Carter said this was his main inspiration for The X-Files. I watched one episode of Walking With Dinosaurs but got tired of CGI gore. I watched several episodes of Terry Jones' Medieval Lives and found it extremely good -- Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones of the Pythons taking a mostly straightforward historical look at what life was actually like for various segments of the population during the Middle Ages. This is a series worth having on DVD, I think -- along with Terry Jones' examination of the origins of zero that was on PBS last year.
Speaking of Python alums, I won't have time to take in Michael Palin's Pole to Pole, but I caught a lot of this series on PBS. I do want to sample The Human Face with John Cleese before my deadline arrives. And perhaps check out Ripping Yarns.
I will not have time to view Elizabeth R or U-571 or My Kid Could Paint That, dammit. But I will make sure I watch Persepolis before midnight.
One thing I squeezed in during daylight hours earlier this week was the Ancient Mysteries episode on sasquatch. I gave a morbid fear of sasquatch to one of the main characters in my novel Ginny Bates, and it's based on my own paranoia. I thought I'd seen all the documentaries out there about this perhaps mythical creature, but this one was new to me and actually quite good, taking a hard look at the science, pro and con, without sensationalism. I watched it eight hours before bedtime, worried it would set off another wave of bigfoot nightmares, but I was fine. And that's even with another aggravating factor arriving unexpectedly last week.
The new computer game I've been playing in rationed chunks (no more than an hour a day), Westward, had a "disaster quest" that plopped my hero down in a Western desert and scrub woodland landscape with three gunslingers and told her she had to round up three dangerous wild animals to holding pens without killing them or being killed: a bighorn sheep, a grizzly bear, and a sasquatch. It took me five restarts to succeed. The gunslingers were no help at all, I had to squirrel them away in a side canyon because every time they laid eyes on one of the critters, they whipped out rifles and began firing until the animals were dead. (Realistic enough, I suppose.) I had to get right behind the beasts until they wheeled on me, then run like hell across the entire fucking map until I, hopefully, zipped through the holding pen ahead of them and the gate swung shut. The sasquatch, however, was able to keep up with me and I had to keep circling back around and galloping through the pen again. I was sweaty and short of breath, sitting here in my chair, by the time I finished this quest. My reward was being given sheep for my ranches.
There's a sort of Easter Egg with this game where, if you build ten flowerboxes for your little town, you can then build beehives, and if you build three beehives, you get honey for your general store PLUS a grizzly bear shows up to join your team of gunslingers and deputies. The grizzly bear does major damage on bandits, but will not go to every level with you. Apparently if you play the Sandbox version of the game (which I've not done yet), you can acquire your own sasquatch who will also be a companion on adventures. Might be therapeutic for me, ya think?
I also watched a mini-documentary titled Betrayal at Little Big Horn which was poorly done. Much less information in it than, say, Evan S. Connell's book Son of the Morning Star. Mostly it was tubby white men obsessing about ways Custer could have not died, which holds no interest for me at all. Custer fucking deserved to die, preferably before Little Washita. Here's a thought for you: How come the genocidal war on the Plains Indians was carried out by the same heroes who supposedly fought the Civil War to free black people from slavery?
If you're going to make documentaries about events for which descendants from both sides are still alive, you better interview experts from both sides equally. At least Evan S. Connell made an effort. For both Little Big Horn and the Alamo, we should be reading the accounts of the folks who whupped our asses instead of the excuse-makers, ¿claro?
Four nights ago as I was working I was hearing a strange sibilant sound I couldn't place. I kept pulling off my headphones to listen, and accusing Dinah of mischief. It took me half an hour to identify it as rain. It's been that long since it rained here. It rained two or three times since, though not nearly enough to rescue this season's wildflowers or, more significantly, farmers. The same week PRick Perry, our leftover Governor from the Bush era, announced he was rejecting half a billion dollars in stimulus funds for unemployment. I was so angry I had to stop thinking about it. I earnestly hope this is political suicide for him, that no Texan forgets this single act -- because it will affect every Texan in the state in a decidedly negative way.
For the past two weeks, I've had more work available at my online job, which will mean a little more money in three weeks (though not enough to cover what's coming down the pike, but hey, every little bit helps), and my energy has been focused there ahead of writing. Well, work first, basic quality of life second, then either writing or play and this week play has won out. Which also includes reading a couple of used mysteries I'd not picked up before, by Laurie R. King and Martha Grimes. I'm a major reader of mysteries whose form is, essentially, that of the novel. Here's my favorite mystery writers, not in order: Martha Grimes, Laurie R. King, Nevada Barr, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Rex Stout, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Sara Paretsky, Ruth Rendell, P.D. James, Elizabeth George, Ellis Peters, Tony Hillerman, Frances and Richard Lockridge, Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall, Elizabeth Peters, Carolyn Heilbrun/Amanda Cross, Patricia Cornwell, Janet Evanovich, Marcia Muller, Josephine Tey, Elmore Leonard, and of course Patricia Highsmith, a distant relative of mine.
Seguing from writing back to Weeds: I can easily see why this series keeps accumulating Emmys and Golden Globes. It's got extremely good writing and plotting, stellar performances, and it addresses, in a comprehensive but not always obvious fashion, the major American cultural trait of addiction. The imaginary suburb in which it is set, Agrestic, is full of addicts because the very definition of suburbs lends itself to addiction, a means of escaping reality, emotion, the messy demands of human connection.
Not that these characters' lives aren't messy. It's one poor decision after another in this series. But believable, in-character self-destruction, often with humor and empathy elicited despite the unsavory aspects of their personalities fully evident. That's great writing and acting for you.
I appreciated how interwoven examinations of race and class are integral to the plot. I wish the same were true of gender, but the cast is male-heavy and male-worshipping, and the writers are clearly either male or of the "post-feminist" female headset ("We don't have to think about real equality because it just makes us boring to the boys.) Except for the lead, Mary-Louise Parker, the stunning Tonye Patano, and intermittently Elizabeth Perkins (mostly by dint of her break-through acting), the girls and women in Agrestic are mostly foils for male fantasy and utility.
Children are pushed into addiction early, with either no adult attention available or it arriving through seriously fucked-up filters (Uncle Andy the woman-hater should be kept miles away from any boy you care about). They are encouraged to be fixated on possessions, status, violence, sugar, caffeine, heteronormativity, stimulation, and sex without intimacy -- in other words, prepared for adulthood in Agrestic. Pot becomes a way of "mellowing out" from the jagged highs of the other addictions.
Anne Wilson Schaef's writings, popular among those who attend 12-step programs, repeatedly urge us to view America as an owning class, addicted empire, where even if you are neither owning class nor a substance abuser, in terms of your relationship to the rest of the globe you need to be in active recovery or else you are in denial. Addiction is how we fueled our conquest of the continent. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark very deliberately ensured they had enough daily rations of alcohol to give their "Corps of Discovery" until they were past the point of turning back -- because without liquor to blur the boundaries, you cannot reliably persuade human beings to do the work of empire. Similarly, last century's British polar explorers might run out of fuel or ascorbic acid, but they made sure they had rations of alcohol and chocolate to the bitter end.
While Weeds' take on the lives of its African-American characters is not completely spot-on, it offers far more complicated and interesting roles than almost anything else on TV. Heylia James voices bitter commentary but not Magical Negro wisdom, because her own flaws are evident. (Although her line "White people get soda pop, n*****s get bullets" is one of the great analyses of all time.)
The sex in Weeds is unremittingly pornified. So much so that I began to wonder if it was not a subtle statement on the use of sex as avoidance but instead, perhaps, the writers couldn't imagine "hot" sex without a pornographic overlay. (You know, pornography is to good sex as McDonald's is to good food.) It quickly palled for me and I began fast-forwarding through those parts, the only places where I wasn't riveted on the characters' acting.
I also was distracted by the enormous sums of money these characters had at their disposal. I have no way of knowing how accurately this reflects a 2005-ish suburban California lifestyle, but I have grave suspicions. I remember after the remade Father of the Bride movie came out (the one with Steve Martin and Diane Keaton), some major magazine did an analysis of how distorted the class messages were in this film, one of whose plot points was the "humor" of a father being talked into spending extravagantly on his daughter's wedding. The father supposedly owned a running shoe factory. The magazine article pointed out that the set for the kitchen in the home of this character contained items whose net value ran into the hundreds of thousands and would mean, if the rest of the house followed its example, that his home was worth exponentially more than his alleged small business. It was beyond product placement, it's the Hollywood subliminal "this is what successful REAL people own" that is a major class lie.
The larger point, though, is that good writing and good art should generate these kinds of questions within us. Raise the energy (to quote Sharon Bridgforth) and engage the dormant parts of our brains. And with that, I'll leave you to hopefully create some of my own examples. Dinah is now here and requests a game before I open the Ginny Bates file. She says her needs are not addiction, they are basic biological imperative.