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.
5-8 December 2019
That night before bed, Myra broke up pemmican in a glass bowl and poured boiling water over it, then covered it and left it in the fridge. In the morning, as Allie made hash browns to go with eggs and jamon serrano, Myra sauteed minced shallots with shredded carrots and turnips. She added porcinis, dried blueberries, and wild rice to this, along with the broth from the pemmican, and let it simmer while they ate breakfast. She poured this soup into a thermos and sent it with Chris to the creek, along with her thermos of hot tea.
Allie had insisted on being the one to take Chris to her creek. While they were gone, Margie called from Seattle and talked over progress on secret plans with Myra. Ginny stayed at her easel, although she offered comments across the room. She had reached the humming stage – a smaller canvas, at least in this case, meant she was finishing her painting faster than usual.
After lunch, Ginny shared her new work. It was an abstract landscape, showing the meander of a river across a floodplain or marsh. The colors made it look solarized, with occasional metallic flares. Myra could not figure out why it looked so familiar until she realized it resembled the signal bursts of metastases on Chris's bone scan images. Chris figured it out first, turning to look at Ginny with wide eyes. She said “More than one way to do a portrait, I guess.” She hugged Ginny and said she needed a nap.
Myra thought the art world would go into a frenzy of interpretation about this new style of Ginny's, and the small canvas would probably sell as much or more as her larger efforts as a result. Once again, it made her yearn to, just once, be able to view the world from Ginny's kind of vision.
Ginny crashed into sleep as well, leaving their bedroom door open for the warmth. She said conversation was almost as audible through the wall and it wasn't going to wake her up anyhow. Myra, Edwina and Allie settled around the table to work at their projects in comfortable silence. Myra got up periodically to punch down dough.
When Chris got up, she sat in her chair by the fire and resumed rubbing finish into one of the three small wooden boxes that were still not completed. Myra had saved one sponge for biscuits, and the smell of these first to be baked filled the small cabin with mouth-watering aroma. She got up to pull them from the oven, and as she went into the kitchen she saw Chris setting down to her box to come eat at the table with them. In the next instant, she heard Allie yell “No, Chris!” and then a cry of pain from Chris.
Apparently Chris had lost her balance while trying to take a step and reached out her right hand to steady herself. Unfortunately, what was closest to hand was the glowing surface of the wood stove. Right before her palm closed onto the metal, Allie's warning caused Chris to jerk away, but that momentum sent her tumbling toward the futon. She twisted to land on the cushion instead of the edge. By the time Myra reached her, Allie was kneeling on the floor beside Chris on the futon, who was moaning in pain.
“Is it your hip?” asked Allie urgently. Chris tried to move and cried out again. “No, no” she said. “It's not bone, I don't think. Oh, fuck, it hurts.”
Ginny appeared beside them, her hair in all directions, her eyes bleary. “Your back? Did you wrench your back?”
“I don't know. It's – my side, over my ribs, I think” gasped Chris.
“Stay still” said Edwina. Ginny stumbled into the kitchen and returned with an ice pack.
“We need to get her to the ER” said Allie.
“No!” said Chris. “Not the hospital, they won't let me come back home.”
Myra said “Okay, Chris, we're not taking you anywhere without your consent. It's okay.” Ginny leaned over the back of the futon and said “Let me pull up your shirt, have a look. You stay still, let me do it.”
They could see no sign of injury, no bulge aside from her liver outline and the too-prominent ribs. Ginny felt gently along Chris's side, noting where she said it hurt. Myra remembered Ginny's expert knowledge of anatomy. Finally Ginny said “I think you pulled a muscle, or two. I feel no fractures. Of course, if it's a rib break, it won't show on x-ray.”
“I don't need an x-ray” said Chris defensively. Ginny settled the ice pack on Chris and pulled her shirt back down.
“We'll ice for half an hour, switch to heat, then see how it feels” said Ginny. “I think you should take a pain pill now.”
“Ibuprofen makes me constipated” said Chris. “And I can't have Tylenol, not with my liver.”
“I think tramadol” said Ginny.
“That's a narcotic” said Chris.
“A mild one. More analgesic than mood-altering. Let me give you half a dose, and if it's all right, in an hour you can take the rest. The thing is, it's better to stop the pain pathways from starting to fire at all than to try to treat it after the fact” said Ginny.
Chris put her hand on Allie's. “I don't want to get hooked again” she said urgently.
“I'm not going to let anybody fuck you up” said Allie.
Chris moved in slow motion to more comfortable position, breathing raggedly, and said “Half a dose. Okay.” Ginny went to get the pill and a glass of water. Myra sat down in Chris's chair and said “Pal, it's also time for you to begin using the walker. I promise you'll be just as sexy with it.”
Chris laughed briefly, but stopped abruptly with the pain it caused. Ginny had stuck a straw into the glass of water and bent it at an angle for Chris to drink. “Flexi straws and aluminum walkers” muttered Chris.
“I could paint it for you” said Ginny.
“What? The walker?”
“Yeah. If we scuff the metal with sanding, it'll take a primer and then I could use acrylics, paint whatever you want on it. Flames, maybe?” said Ginny.
Edwina helped slide a pillow under Chris's head as Chris considered this idea.
“Not flames. Could you – have you ever seen real-life pictographs, like those along the Rio Grande?” asked Chris.
“Yes” said Ginny.
“And those cave paintings from France...and Lakota story pictures on buffalo hide...” mused Chris.
“I can do anything you want” repeated Ginny. “I can begin right away, I have enough acrylic to start with.”
“Let's look at the walker” suggested Chris. Edwina retrieved it from her closet and unfolded it.
“I can't do the rubber arm grips or the plastic connectors, but all the metal could be covered” pointed out Ginny.
“It would be a work of art” said Chris, her breathing more steady. “Someone would mug me for it.” She and Ginny were looking at each other.
“Not with us around” said Allie.
“I have sandpaper on the shelf next to my boxes” said Chris.
“I'll do the sanding for now” said Edwina. She spread newspaper to cover the floor in front of Chris's chair, to catch the grit from her work. Allie sat down at the end of the futon, gingerly lifting Chris's feet into her lap. “You want a tootsie massage?” offered Allie.
Chris nodded, her eyes closing. Myra said “We've got some peppermint lotion Ginny uses for her feet and hands, I'll get it for you.” She said to Ginny “You can go back to sleep. We'll get you up if we need more help.”
Ginny didn't argue. She handed the bottle of tramadol to Myra and said “Follow the label.”
Chris drifted off to the sound of Edwina's sanding and the occasional pop of wood in the stove, Allie's strong hands focusing relaxation upward from her feet. After half an hour, she tried to turn her body and woke up with an “ow”. Then she said “It's better. It doesn't hurt as much. Must be the ice.”
Myra said “Time to switch to heat, actually”, and went for the heating pad. When she returned, Chris said “Okay. I'll take the other half of that pill. It's not making me goon out.”
“That's extremely good news” said Myra.
Chris went back to sleep, and eventually Allie got up to help Myra start dinner. By the time Ginny woke again, dinner was ready except for the cream gravy. Chris had gone to the bathroom using the stripped walker, with Allie hovering beside her, and she agreed to take a second dose of pain medication at the recommended interval rather than waiting for the full ache to return.
At sunset, Myra skyped Gillam as they had arranged and the entire family sang prayers together, lighting candles in two locations, breaking bread and drinking wine in unison if not in proximity. Myra stayed online with Leah for a few minutes longer, trying to give her personal attention as much as was possible. She had to sign off when Tina and Ricky arrived. Tina had arranged for her former mother-in-law to keep the children for the night, which disappointed Chris but Tina looked much happier for her freedom.
Ricky made fun of Chris's walker, and she responded with “I can swing it and split your head open, you know”, which made them both laugh merrily. Ricky also offered to take Chris horseback riding. “I got a friend with Appys” he said.
Edwina looked aghast at the suggestion, and Myra didn't think Chris could keep her seat on a horse, but Chris said “You tell him yes.” Before her friends could object, she added “I can't leave Margie out of this, seeing as how it was me who taught her to ride, so we'll have to set it up for when she can go with us. Middle of next week, maybe.” Her face was illuminated, and Myra kept silent. Margie would make sure Chris got her horse time without falling off.
After the table was cleared, Ginny brought out cards and chips. Ricky fished out his wallet and laid two 20s and a 10 on the table, “to start with”, he said. Allie stared at the money as Chris said to her friends “Oh, yeah. My family doesn't play with limits. We always joke, there's a reason our last name is Kash.”
Edwina smiled slightly and went for her billfold.
It was a ferociously competitive night, and Myra was glad there were no children as distraction. The Kash kin were ruthlessly good. By the end of the evening, Tina was ahead by $117 and Ricky also “cleaned my clock”, as Allie put it. They had all laughed raucously, and Chris's color was bright. Ricky promised they would come back the following Friday.
Allie and Edwina left with Tina and Ricky, asking him to stick with them until they found the motel in the dark. Myra gave Ginny a long hug and kiss before going to bed with Chris, who smelled of peppermint and accepted another tramadol before the lamp went off.
Several hours later, Myra woke up and realized Chris wasn't in bed with her, nor in the room. The bedroom door was open. She shambled toward the bathroom, but found Chris sitting in her chair, turned to face the sliding glass doors. Chris was staring out into the dark.
Myra felt a chill. “Are you keeping watch?” she whispered.
Chris whispered back “Not exactly. I am watching something. You didn't, by any compulsive chance, bring those night vision goggles with you?”
Sheer terror raced through Myra. She tried to remember if she had dead-bolted the front door. “I did bring it” she croaked. “What's out there?”
Chris caught the frisson in her voice and Myra could hear her grin as she replied “It's fourlegged, not two. Out by the compost pile.”
Myra was able to move, then, and get the goggles from their closet without waking Ginny. She handed them to Chris, who took a minute adjusting them before saying “Ah. Coyote, not wolf.” She sounded deeply disappointed.
Myra discovered she had to pee, urgently. By the time she returned, the coyote had left. Chris returned to bed with her, saying “No nightmares tonight. Maybe it's the drugs, I don't care. I woke up because I thought I heard a howl.” They returned to sleep easily.
The next morning, Ginny covered Chris's walker with black primer after they sat down to breakfast. “By the time you need to use it again, it'll be dry enough to not rub on your clothes” she said. After they ate, Ginny said “I need to order from Utrecht and have someone bring it out to me.” She had a piece of paper with notes on it.
“You want to do it online?” asked Myra. But Ginny was already dialing the phone.
Utrecht Art Supplies had a big crush on Ginny. She preferred them above all others in Seattle, always had, and right after her first major show, she'd dashed off a watercolor of the paint tube aisle there. She matted it and gave it to them, and as her fame increased, it had been placed at the front of the store with a declaration that this was the main supplier of the renowned Ginny Bates. Myra felt certain they gave Ginny a deep discount, although she'd never asked for it. She did ask, however, for special orders and regularly grilled the manager about “what was new”.
She knew their number by heart, and when she asked for Denis, she replied “Tell him it's Ginny”. No doubt heels are clicking and a mad search for Denis is on thought Myra. Ginny's voice was very recognizable.
“Hey, guy, how's it going?...I'm out of town but working, and I need to place an order for someone else to pick up and bring to me...I appreciate that, but it'll be quicker and I'm not sure if Fedex comes out here...Okay, first I need enough stretchers for, oh, six canvases that are 11 by 14...Yeah, it's a new format for me, we'll see how I like it...Yes, museum quality...Likewise, I need wet carriers for half a dozen of the same size, if you have a triple for 11x14 then two of them – no, it won't be going on a plane...I need packets of leaf, size doesn't matter but don't stint on the grade, for silver, gold, and throw in copper, plus gilt sealant...I won't need to insure the order, no, the delivery person will be family...”
By this, Myra guessed the leaf alone was going to run over a thousand dollars. And clearly Denis was fishing for clues as to where she was. The art world was very gossipy. He at least had the tidbit that she was trying out a small-size format.
“Okay, I'm running low on Maimeri dry pigments, I need more Cadmium red, both light and medium; Italian ochre; go ahead and give me the English red, too, and the quinacridone rose; green earth; viridian, cerulean, and ultramarine; no, I've got plenty of white and black, but – okay, both yellow ochre light and Naples yellow, you know the size I want...I also need a new set of detail brushes, Kolinsky red sable of course -- you know what, make that two sets...yeah, gilding brushes, too, two of each size and angle, I prefer squirrel...”
Myra had never heard Ginny refer to squirrel before. She wondered if it was descriptive of the brush shape or if it was actually made from squirrel fur.
“Two quarts of cleaner, and – let me ask you a question, I'm painting an aluminum surface, black gesso will work as a primer for that, right? I have a quart already but send me another quart...It's a secret, but I'll send you a photo when it's done...Yes, charge my card on file, no, just e-mail the receipt to me...So, what's new?...”
Ginny listened to him with occasional comments but did not add to her order. She never did act on his pitches immediately, she liked to talk with other painters or research new developments online. However, Denis' recommendations usually resulted in a trial on down the line.
When she hung up, Chris said “May I pry? How much of that was for my walker?”
“Oh, just one set of detail brushes, I'm already using a set for my own work. Plus the gesso.”
Myra met Chris's look, and they raised eyebrows at each other. Ginny was going to proceed in this new direction. Myra felt a brief scatter of goosebumps.
Allie again took Chris to the creek, but she and Edwina left for Seattle after lunch, saying they wanted the kids to at least have them for singing potluck. They intended to return on Tuesday; Margie would be coming on Monday and bring Ginny's Utrecht order then.
Right after they departed, the phone rang and was for Chris. It was a man named Leroy who was an elder in Seven Drums circles. He said a few of Chris's friends and colleagues in this spiritual community wanted to come out to spend the next day with her.
Chris put her hand over the receiver and asked if Myra and Ginny could clear out on such short notice. “We have errands in town, no problem” said Myra. Chris said yes to Leroy with relief in her voice.
On Sunday morning, Ginny was still getting dressed and Chris was in her room when Myra heard a knock at the front door. She answered it to find Leroy, a Chelan man she'd met through Chris a few times. He was fat and quiet, with a grey braid coming down from a gimme cap reading What would Smowhalla do?. She remembered to pronounce his name correctly, with an emphasis on Roy rather than Lee.
She then saw, with dismay, a shaggy mutt at his heels. She wasn't sure about letting that kind of bacterial load into their Chris-clean environment. Perhaps Leroy read this on her face. He wordlessly pointed at the icy stoop and the dog began circling before lying down on the bare concrete.
“Oh, no, it's too cold to leave him out here” protested Myra. “He can come into the kitchen – here boy, come on in.”
The dog waited for Leroy who, after a pause, pointed to the far corner of the kitchen. The dog made for the spot with swift relief and settled on the linoleum as if it was a pillow.
Chris had emerged from her room on her walker, saying “Hey. You want coffee?” She directed Leroy to the pot. Myra had already put muffins and sausage rolls on the counter. Ginny came out of their bedroom, got introduced, and then Myra and Ginny took their leave. The laundry and trash were already in the jeep.
They didn't pass anyone heading their way until they got to the Inchelium Highway.
“Leroy was early” commented Ginny. “I wonder what the difference is between Indian Time and CPT – if there is a difference.”
“We can asked Allie and Chris next time we're all together” said Myra.
“It's not a working class thing, then” wondered Ginny.
“Dunno. Not in my family. My dad absolutely freaked if we were late, said it made us look bad. Meaning made him look bad. He'd give us hell for it” said Myra.
They did laundry first, reading the local paper while they waited. They drove around until they found an untended dumpster to sneak in their trash. They then went out for a late breakfast and waited for stores to open.
They began with thrift stores, “Just to see what they have” said Ginny. Next was a small bookstore and a couple of art galleries. They then went to the grocery store in Kettle Falls. They were hungry as they entered, an error Myra tried to navigate by heading for the deli section first to order sandwiches and a shared salad.
Back in their car, Myra drove around until they found a wireless wi-fi spot outside a coffeehouse. Leaving the car running for warmth and power, they plugged in Myra's laptop and skyped home to join in singing potluck for a couple of hours. Occasionally a passerby stared at the two women singing loudly in their jeep, but the windows were frosted over and Myra didn't care.
By the time they arrived back at the cabin, it was past 9:00 and the only light they saw was in Chris's room. Coming in the door, however, the house was toasty and smelled of sweetgrass.
“Honey, I'm home!” called Myra in a Ricky Ricardo imitation.
“On my way” Chris answered. They heard the creak of her walker as Ginny hauled laundry to the couch and Myra set groceries on the counter.
The pot of beef stew Myra had left on the stove was empty and washed. When she opened the fridge to put away milk, she saw a plate of cornbread and a single haunch of rabbit beside it. Thank god Mimi isn't here thought Myra. There was also a small covered bowl of what, on inspection, turned out to be bright red salsa. As Chris lowered herself with a grunt into her kitchen wheelchair, Myra dipped a finger into the salsa and took a taste.
“Holy fuck!” she exclaimed. Ginny had joined them and asked “Spicy?”
“Try it” said Myra. Chris was grinning. Ginny cut a wedge of cornbread and dunked the tip immoderately into the salsa. After one chew, she began coughing. She knew enough not to try water. Instead, she took two more bites of cornbread to dampen the flame.
“Excelsior” she said hoarsely to Chris. “Only thing hotter is kerosene." Chris beamed.
“Or magma” said Myra. Ginny did another round, finishing her cornbread. With obvious reluctance, she re-covered the bowl and returned it to the fridge to save for Chris.
As Ginny and Myra put away groceries, they took turns with Chris telling about their day. Myra set her bag of books in Chris's lap while Ginny turned on the teakettle.
Ginny said “I don't know if its the salsa having scoured out my sinuses or what, but I smell something funky in here. Just this room.”
“Yeah, me too” said Myra. She opened the cabinet where they kept the garbage pail and took a sniff. “Nope, not trash.”
Chris giggled. “It's tear gas.”
“What?” said Ginny. Myra waited for the joke, but Chris repeated “Tear Gas.”
Myra raised her eyebrows and Chris said “You know, Leroy's dog. He's got, shall we say, digestive tract issues. That's why we never let him in the house with us, but Leroy said you insisted.”
They collapsed into laughter. Ginny repeated “Tear Gas – best name ever.”
© 2009 Maggie Jochild.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Friday, March 27, 2009
(Picking huckleberries in Columbia National Forest, circa 1936; US Forest Service photo, no further identification given)
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.
Wednesday and Thursday, 4-5 December, 2019
The following morning, Myra decided sleeping in was not going to be possible here and she got up with Ginny. After breakfast, Chris began dressing in layers while Margie made a thermos of hot tea and asked Ginny if they could borrow her yoga pad.
“To put under Aunt Chris where she sits on that boulder by the creek” said Margie. “Keep her ass warm.” Ginny went to pull the rolled mat from the closet. Myra asked “Are you going to sit there with her?”
“No, I'll take another walk, get my blood flowing. Then I'll sit in the car with my laptop and wait on her” said Margie.
Myra lowered her voice. “What if she needs you? I don't like the idea of her crawling around boulders by herself right now, especially if they're icy.”
“Yeah, we figured that out. I get her situated and then she signals me when she's ready to go” said Margie. Chris had come back into the kitchen and said “There's a tree next to the boulder that sticks out over the dirt road where she parks. Margie slithered into it and tied her red scarf on a little branch where it hangs down. She tied string to the branch and ran it to a rock beside where I sit. All I have to do is jerk on the string until the bouncing red flag catches her eye, and she'll come help me to the car.”
“Well isn't that very low-tech creative of you” said Myra, enjoying their matching grins. “We'll see you whenever, then.”
Myra did dishes and started a soup for lunch as Ginny began painting. Shortly after 10:00 the phone rang and Myra answered.
“Hey Mama” said Gillam. “My class this period is watching a film so I stepped outside to call you, I'll have more time to chat now than at lunch. Give me the scoop.”
Myra filled him in on the doctor visit and Chris's family visit. It was good to talk it over with someone back home; she felt more of a lifeline between here and there.
“How are the kids doing?” she asked.
“Leah's just plain depressed at not seeing you, and Lucia is too quiet” he said. “We spent an hour at your house yesterday, and that helped them a little. Keller and Franklin especially appreciated it, even though we had Moon and Gidg with us. Anthea, though – she's meowing in a way I never heard her do.”
“Shit” said Myra. “Is the door to Chris's bedroom closed?”
“Yeah, we keep all the bedroom doors closed” he said.
“Well, open Chris's and let Anthea have that territory. Maybe that will help” said Myra.
“How are you doing?” he asked.
“Long as I stay on the tiger's back” she quipped. “Actually, that's a bit glib. It was good to be around Chris's family, and the doctor himself was better than I had hoped. It's a wrench living in such close quarters but I kinda like this house. It's pretty basic. And Chris is wading through the waters with her usual funky grace.”
“Just began a painting.”
“Wow. Can't wait to see what comes out of her with this one” he said with a whistle.
“You and me both, boychik.” Myra hesitated, then said “Actually...I kinda need to tell somebody something, somebody besides Ginny, I mean. And Allie is not a good candidate, and when they get back from the creek there's no chance of a private conversation here...but it might not be something you want to discuss with your mother.”
Ginny looked around the canvas in Myra's direction.
“I've got 15 minutes, and I have to say, I'm intrigued. Can I reserve the right to back out?” he said.
“Yep. Well, it's like this.” She told him about Ginny's offer from the morning before, her opening the door between Myra and Chris. She finished with “I feel like I can't think about it clearly, because there's so much else grabbing my attention. But I don't want to stuff it away, either.”
After half a minute, she said “Gillam? You still there? TMI?”
He cleared his throat. “No – I mean, yes, I'm here, and it's not – I'm just flabbergasted, is all. I didn't think you two ever – have you and Mom -- “
“No, this is a first. And believe me, it doesn't go both ways, not from my viewpoint.” She turned and winked at Ginny, who had stopped painting. Ginny grinned and refilled her brush with Titanium White.
“”Well, are you thinking about, with Aunt Chris – is this going to happen?” he asked awkwardly.
“Not planning on it. We're closer than I know how to describe, but it's – not erotic. Physical, but not erotic, if that makes any sense.”
“Actually, yeah, Mom, I do know what you mean” he said.
“Just getting to say it out loud is helping, Gillam. I guess I'm not confused, after all.” Myra took a deep breath. “I hope this doesn't turn into a burden for you, this knowledge.”
“I'm kinda honored, is how I feel. And I'm blown away by Mom. You can tell her that for me if you want” he said.
“I will. I'm blown away by her, too. But that's been a daily occurrence, more or less, for as long as I've known her” said Myra, her throat tightening.
“So...Is this a secret?” he asked.
“I won't request you keep it from Jane” she said. “Or, if you need to tell Carly, then him. Somehow I think it's won't weird him out, either. But I'm not telling Margie. You can quietly gloat about that if you want.”
He laughed and said “Thanks. Look, I gotta run, is this a good stopping point?”
“Yes, go make your difference in those kids' lives. Thank you, son.”
“Love you. Love to everybody there. We'll call again soon.”
When she hung up, Ginny said “How did he sound?”
“Fine. Absolutely fine.” She was going to say more, but the phone rang again. It was the home health nurse, Bernetta Fredrik, returning their call. Ginny came to handle it, opening her folder with insurance information and authorization codes. They made an appointment for a home visit the following afternoon.
Half an hour later, Allie and Edwina arrived with a huge bouquet of crimson tulips from a hothouse somewhere and two pounds of jamon serrano. Ginny sat with them for a few minutes while Myra gave a detailed account of the day before, but soon slid back to her painting. Allie snooped into every corner of the house, restless and asking more than once “She ain't swamped by residue here?” Myra thought Allie was about to put on her coat and head for the creek alone when the Volvo pulled up out front. Allie barreled out the front door, yelling “Hey!”
Lunch was happy and felt almost normal to Myra. Ginny asked Margie to bring back a set of folding chairs when she returned from Seattle -- “with padded seats, the good comfortable kind” she instructed. “And a set of folding tables that we could eat from at the couch.”
“Where will you store them?” said Margie, waving her arms at the small room.
“Under the futon” said Ginny.
“Speaking of which, I'm going to offer you my motel room, Aunt Allie. It's nice but I haven't slept in it and I think I'm going to stay here again tonight before driving back tomorrow” said Margie.
Chris took a long nap after lunch, and Margie drove Allie and Edwina to her motel, grabbing her bags and settling them in. Myra was writing when they returned.
“Are you online?” asked Edwina.
“No” said Myra. “Here, you can use the line for your computer if you want.” She scooted over. Allie went to sit near the fire with a sketchbook, and Margie took up the rest of the futon, headphones on while she read from a stack of glossy magazines. When Chris got up, she stood in her doorway a minute and said “Instant home, just add water, huh.”
Margie left the next morning after breakfast, with a promise to call when she got there safely. Allie insisted on being the one to accompany Chris for her creek sojourn, and Edwina shared the dining table with Myra. Ginny had not slept much. She was working with her small brushes, and some of the pigments she was mixing had glittering metal mixed in.
After lunch, Ginny and Edwina took the snow shovel from the jeep and walked to the rear of the meadow behind the house, trying to dig a hole in the frozen ground. Edwina had brought straw and a bag of manure from home, and they finally devised a compost area that Ginny thought might work.
At 2:00, a station wagon stopped out front and there was a knock at the door.
Myra opened it and said “Come on in, you must be Ms. Fredrick.”
“Call me Bernie” she said. She was in her 50s, thick-waisted, with strong arms and her long black hair rolled into a bun. She had on navy scrubs over a white turtleneck and white ankle-high nursing shoes.
“Can I get you some coffee?” asked Myra.
“Yes. Sugar and cream” said Bernie. Myra carried the pot to the table with a cup and saucer on a tray. Chris was introducing herself and settling at the table across from Bernie. Myra also served a plate of homemade pecan rolls. Ginny was making a pot of tea in the kitchen.
Chris turned around to Allie and Edwina and said “Come sit over here, too.” Allie pushed in the wheelchair from the kitchen and gave it to Edwina, standing behind her.
“Do you all live here?” asked Bernie, looking surprised. Chris explained and said “We're all from Seattle, but I came back here to die among my ancestors. Myra and Ginny are my, well, caregivers I guess is the term. As will be Allie and Edwina off and on.”
Bernie took them all in before focusing back on Chris. “Did you come from here, then?” she asked Chris.
“Lived in this house as a child, went to rez schools for a couple of years, then my family moved into Colville. Nez Perce” she said. “Are you Wenatchee?”
“Nespelem, but I spent a lot of years in Canada” said Bernie. “I moved back here when I got married.”
“You know Eddie William?” asked Chris.
“I know of him. He a friend of yours?” asked Bernice.
“I worked with him some. I worked several years for UIATF in Seattle, did a lot of traveling in this area for that and for a dictionary I compiled.”
Recognition flashed in Bernie's eyes. “I heard about the dictionary. That's you?”
They were silent a minute, sizing each other up in ways Myra would never understand.
“What relation are you all?” Bernie asked.
“Friends who've become family” said Chris. “Myra has my power of attorney, and Ginny will be overseeing my Advanced Directive decisions with her, as well as administering medications.”
“What about other – family?” said Bernie.
“Myra and Ginny's kids are like my own, but I never gave birth” said Chris. “Never married, though I was with a woman for almost 40 years. My niece and nephew live in Colville and will be here a lot. The people in charge, though, are Myra and Ginny.”
“What's your prognosis?” asked Bernie.
“Shitty. My liver is starting to fail, looks like that's how I'll go” said Chris. “I had colon involvement early on but right now there's no metastases to major organs, just bones.” She knocked on the wood of the table top.
“What kind of pain medication are you on?” asked Bernie.
“Nothing yet. I'm an ex-addict, I've been holding off as long as I can. But we've got scrips for – Ginny?” Ginny went to the kitchen cupboard and returned with an organized tray of medications.
“You filled all these already?” said Bernie. “That's enough narcotics worth robbing you for. You need to put this under lock and key.”
“All right” said Ginny. Bernie went through the bottles and vials, making notes.
“When I called Dr. Jhadav, he authorized me to do an intake and then come twice next week, depending on what you needed. He'll up the frequency as things progress” said Bernie. “You're outside the usual ambulance zone, your insurance will have to pay an extra fee if you need transport.”
“I won't be needing transport” said Chris. “I'm not going in to the hospital, no matter what.”
“Dr. Jhadav mentioned you were leaning that way” said Bernie, looking into Chris's eyes. “If you change your mind, let me know.”
“I won't” said Chris. She paused, then said “I got locked up in a mental hospital when I was a teenager. For drugs and acting out, mostly. I don't trust hospitals.”
“But you trust doctors?”
“Some of them” said Chris.
“Dr. Jhadav is good” said Bernie. “Okay, let's talk level of care and ADLs.”
“Me and Ginny do the cooking, and we can accommodate any dietary restriction” said Myra.
“At the moment, I can get to the bathroom on my own, bathe and dress myself fine” said Chris. “I have a bedside john that I've been using to piss in at night.”
“Have you had any incontinence?” asked Bernie. “Are you sitting or lying in one position for hours each day? Any early signs of skin breakdown?”
“Not yet” said Chris. “I'm having increasing trouble walking, but I'm still managing to get around. The wheelchair is mostly unused.”
“What about a walker?” said Bernie.
“I have one, a folding one, but -- “ Chris grinned. “I pretty much hate that idea.”
“You'll hate a broken bone much worse” said Bernie without any lecture in her voice. She finished her coffee and said “I'd like to see your bathroom, kitchen, where you're sleeping. Do you have any pets?”
“No” said Chris, struggling to her feet.
“You don't need to show me around” said Bernie. She began in the kitchen, and when she opened the refrigerator door, she turned and said “Who's the diabetic?”
“I am” said Allie.
Bernie did a swift but no doubt expert once-over of the entire house in less than ten minutes. Myra poured herself a glass of milk and had a pecan roll. Allie paced until Edwina stood and said “Sit here for a while”, bringing her an apple. When Bernie returned, she poured a second cup of coffee and finally accepted a cinnamon roll herself. I guess we pass the cleanliness inspection thought Myra.
“The air filters are a very good idea” said Bernie.
“Myra has asthma” volunteered Ginny.
“The rails in the bathroom are stable, and the heating is adequate to good” said Bernie. “This is a new paint job?”
“We had it done, after scrubbing the whole place down fanatically” said Ginny.
“What are all the cans of turpentine in the bedroom closet for?” asked Bernie.
“I'm a painter” said Ginny, pointing to the easel which Bernie had not gone behind to look at the canvas, scoring points with Myra. “We don't have a ventilation system here but I'm being extremely careful, I have decades of experience.”
“Any of you chronically ill? Any children in the household?”
“No infectious diseases” said Myra. “And our grandkids may visit, but not if they're contagious.”
“My niece has kids, I'll talk to her about it” said Chris.
Bernie took a second bite of her pecan roll with a look of appreciation crossing her face. “You'll need to wash dishes with a final scald. No washer and dryer here?”
“No, that's a drawback” said Myra.
“It'll be a big problem at some point. You need to buy extra sheets and towels, wash them in an industrial machine that will sterilize them, then seal them in plastic bags and store them for use as needed. I can bring you some hospital laps that are also sterilely sealed for wipe-ups. Seems like there's enough help to send someone out to do laundry?”
“Yes” said Ginny.
“I'd rather you move that plant on the bedside table” said Bernie, looking at her notes. “You can hang it at the other end of the room. No smoking in the house, and – you don't drink, do you?”
“All of us are clean and sober” said Chris. “Decades now.”
“As for diet, I'm assuming you've been given hand-outs on what to avoid?”
“Yes” said Chris. “We eat well, thanks to Myra and Ginny.”
“You need to drastically cut back on protein and fat, and up your complex carbohydrates” said Bernie. “What kind of tea is that you're drinking?”
“Ginny's herbal blend” said Chris with a grin.
“I'll draw blood, UAs, do cultures as Dr. Jhadav requests” said Bernie. “If we need x-rays, you'll have to drive into town for that, we don't have a portable unit at the moment. When you reach the point of needing an IV and a catheter, I'll start those but one of you will have to be responsible for her care most of the time.”
“That'll be me” said Ginny. “I've been practicing IVs on an orange, and I helped change Myra's catheter bags when she was ill at one point. I'm not faint-hearted.”
Bernie allowed herself to grin. “I imagine you're not.” She finished her pecan roll, folded her napkin neatly, and leaned back in her chair.
“This is going to be far more difficult than you realize if you haven't done it before. Take all the help you can get, and don't cover up things, that's my advice.” She looked at Chris. “My brother died of AIDS back before we had retrovirals. I helped his boyfriend take care of him, and after Lanny passed, I also took care of Rodney because – his family wanted nothing to do with him. I was a lot younger then, and with all my training, it was still the hardest thing I've had to do.”
“We're ready” said Myra softly. “Love will get us through.”
“All right” said Bernie. “Let's go in your room and do a blood draw. Have you done the hemoccult card you were given?”
“No” said Chris, letting Ginny help her stand.
“Then we'll go in the bathroom and do that as well as a urine catch” said Bernie. She shoved her shoulder under Chris's arm with strong competence and walked patiently in tandem with Chris. Once they were in the bathroom with the door shut, Myra whispered “Mary Poppins come to the rez”. Allie exploded into muffled laughter, more from release, Myra thought, than the humor warranted.
Myra packed half a dozen pecan rolls in foil and sent them home with Bernie when she left. Ginny had demonstrated her needle skills, and a folder of forms had been signed for insurance. Once she was gone, Chris said “They're damned lucky to have her around here.”
Myra looked at her keenly. “How you doing with all this?”
“That was actually reassuring” said Chris. “Well, except for the horror of watching someone wipe my shit on a piece of cardboard.”
Ginny put a glass of juice in front of Chris. “Drink that, you just lost some blood” she said.
“Two vials” scoffed Chris, but she drank.
“I think we should go over diet and a revised menu around here” said Ginny, sitting down next to Myra.
“Yeah, I've been doing research on liver-saving nutrition -- “ began Myra. Chris held up her hand to stop her.
“I want to focus on First Foods” said Chris. “Deer, elk, buffalo, roots, berries, and salmon. I know that sounds protein heavy but it's a way different kind of protein than we eat these days and, frankly, it's what my people have evolved as a physiological fit for millenia. I'm pretty sure we can get as much as I need through Ricky's friend plus that woman in Colville.”
“All right” said Myra slowly. “Although you'll have to talk me through how to prepare some of it.”
“Aside from that, I want to keep eating the kinds of meals you make. You two make. I'm not willing to give up that pleasure to buy a little time” said Chris.
Allie leaned forward with a scowl. “Now listen, Chris, if I can fucking watch my Ps and Qs three times a day, you can follow some guidelines -- “
“You controlling your blood sugar gives you a decade or more with Edwina where you're not blind or on a kidney machine” said Chris. “Me cutting out the kind of nitrite-free bacon that Myra makes will give me what, an extra four days hooked up to an IV? No thanks.”
Allie stayed tensed, as if she was considering leaping across the table and slapping some sense into Chris. After a minute, she said “I gonna sic Bernie on you.”
Chris hissed “Narc” at her, then burst out laughing. Allie began giggling with her, and they all dissolved into edgy laughter.
© 2009 Maggie Jochild.
Thursday, March 26, 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.
Tuesday, December 3, 2019
The next morning, Myra woke up when Chris got out of bed, mostly because of the effort it seemed to be taking Chris to stand and dress. She murmured groggily “You need help?”
“No. Go back to sleep.”
But she plainly heard the toilet flush two rooms away, and Margie's conversation with Chris. Ginny joined them and they discussed what to make for breakfast. Myra gave up, using the bathroom herself. She got a bowl of the oatmeal that they were eating, topped it with a fried egg, and sat down on the fourth side of the table.
“Were you warm enough?” she asked Ginny.
“Yes, but I have a headache. I think it's the dry heat. Or maybe wood smoke, although the air filters seem to be handling most of it” said Ginny. “When did you switch beds?”
“I don't know” said Myra.
“2 a.m.” supplied Chris. “I had a nightmare” she offered Ginny.
Ginny shrugged as if it didn't matter. She wasn't fooling anyone.
“Listen, before we head into town, I need some time by the creek” said Chris. She said to Margie “You want to drive me there? It's within walking distance for the hale and fit.”
“Love to” said Margie. She did look excited.
Chris took her buffalo robe with her. After they left, Myra said “You want to bathe first, or shall I?”
“Why don't you bathe and I'll come sit on the toilet to talk with you” said Ginny.
“In that case, let's reverse it, I'd rather have solitude while I bathe” said Myra. They left the door open, and Ginny scooted down in the tub as far as she could.
“Should I have woke you up?” said Myra. “Actually, that implies some kind of premeditation on my part that didn't exist. We got into bed to talk and I started dropping off.”
Ginny picked up the shampoo bottle, then decided against wetting her hair. “I've been thinking about something. I worked on it with Nancy, and I'm pretty sure it's the right decision to make.”
Myra was almost too tired to feel nervous.
Ginny slid back into the hot water, her chin grazing the surface but her eyes on Myra. “If you want to make love with Chris, you have my okay. Or kissing her. I – I know you've told me that's not what you two are about, but things may change and – I can handle it.”
Myra closed her eyes, not quite able to process this. She took a couple of breaths and looked at Ginny again.
“You said you worked on this with Nancy? It's not a test of any kind, then.”
“Is it because she's dying, and you know nothing long-term can come of it?” said Myra. “I have to ask.”
“I asked myself the same question. I can't be sure, but I really think not. I think – mostly, I don't want to be someone who keeps you from that, if it's what you want. I love you too much to ask you not to go there. I trust you both.”
Myra saw tiny ripples in the water and thought Ginny must be trembling.
“I'm not who she wants, Ginny. Not that way.”
“Well...it still stands. Just talk to me, keep talking to me.”
“Of course I'm going to talk to you, Ginny. I feel like you and I are joined at the hip right now, in a functional way, I mean.”
They looked at each other a minute more before Ginny sat up and began soaping herself.
“Ginny...I felt something on her belly. Something that wasn't a scar” said Myra.
“Like what, tumor?” said Ginny, coming to a halt.
“Maybe. It was hard and had a curve to it.” Myra leaned forward and put her head in her hands.
“Did you mention it to her?”
“No. I figured since she's seeing the doctor today, and she's asked us to be in the room with her, it'll be better then. Am I being chicken?”
Ginny said “You're the very definition of courage these days. Is there any way she can have missed feeling it herself?”
“Then she's not told you, Myra. Maybe she's waiting for the doctor visit, too.” Ginny resumed washing. “I need to tell you something, too. I woke up with a painting in my head.”
“Well...” Myra trailed off.
“Yeah, her family is coming for dinner and I bet a late night, and Margie's staying over, not sure whether the futon again or her motel. Tomorrow Allie and Edwina plan to come, midday. I don't see how to fit it in, but I get weird on you when I repress a painting so I wanted to let you know.”
“Ginny, plan to start it tomorrow morning. Today you can stretch the canvas and Gesso it. Allie and Edwina will be fine with you painting, and I'll have their help tomorrow. Will it fray your nerves to wait 24 hours?”
“Some, but not like outright denial. You sure, Myra?”
“Hell, yes. I want us to be as normal as we can here.”
“I don't get a bad vibe from this cabin. Have you picked up any of your, you know, manifestations?” Ginny grinned, though she wasn't entirely joking.
“Nope. The paint job helped, no doubt. And Chris's girl heart seems to have overridden the horrors she lived through here. At least, so far. Listen, I'm going to do the dishes. When you're done, will you start me a fresh tub?”
“Gimme a kiss” asked Ginny.
Myra leaned down, whispering “You are my absolute heart's desire. Always.”
When Ginny came to her later to say her bath was running, Myra said “Have you discussed your quote permission unquote with anyone else? Like Margie, or Edwina?”
“God no. Edwina would pass out, and Margie – I think for all her next-generation cool about polyamory, she counts on us being old school, don't you?”
“Yeah” said Myra with a chuckle. “I left the oatmeal pan for you, since you never remember to butter it first. It's like Sakrete in there.”
“I smell bacon” said Ginny.
“Yeah, I decided I needed extra protein. I left some in the oven for Chris, I bet she comes back hungry from being out in this weather.” She heard Ginny mutter under her breath about feeding hunger with healthy food, but she kept going toward the sound of running water.
After she dressed, she checked e-mail while Ginny stretched her canvas. Ginny was just finishing when Margie and Chris returned, both of them red-cheeked and blowing clouds of breath. “I walked up the creek in the other direction, toward the river” said Margie. “It's stunningly beautiful.” She raised her eyebrows twice at her mothers, out of Chris's sight.
“Do you want a bath?” Myra asked Chris. “Those new handrails are sturdy, I tried 'em out.”
“I'm just going for a lick and a promise” said Chris. “We need to leave in half an hour, I want to try a shop Tina mentioned might have real pemmican.”
Chris's folding wheelchair was still in the back of the jeep. They made a short detour on the way to show Ginny and Margie where Myra and Chris had come on their fishing weekends, and stopped in Kettle Falls to shop at the natural foods store there. They stored cold items in the cooler, deciding they didn't actually need to buy ice if they were going to be out of the car for a while.
Chris found her pemmican, at a touristy shop run by an Umatilla woman who knew Ricky. There was no list of ingredients on the label, and Myra said “What's in this? Any way we could make our own?”
Chris grinned at her. “Nope. It's fresh buffalo, dried outside on racks in the summer, and huckleberries. Plus a few other things.” Myra doubled the quantity Chris put on the counter.
They ate lunch at Stephanie's Grill in Colville because they didn't have time to go to Lovitt's and everything else in sight looked like fast food. Ginny said the creamy crab, shrimp and artichoke melt sandwich was good and the clam chowder was acceptable. Myra ordered the sirloin and wasn't sorry.
Margie had brought her laptop and asked to be dropped at a cafe with internet access to “deal with business issues and calls” while Chris went to her doctor visit. After Chris filled out pages of forms, she walked back into the clinic with Myra at her side to get x-rays and have blood drawn. Ginny was checking her cell phone messages because they had access here, and Myra asked her to check her messages as well, handing over her notebook and saying “Write everything down on a fresh page.”
When Chris and Myra returned to the waiting room, a woman their age who had been sitting there earlier turned to watch Chris cross the room. As they sat down, she leaned forward and said “Excuse me. Are you Christina Kash?”
Chris gave an almost inaudible sigh and said “Yes.” She was staring at the woman, who was white with hair clearly dyed black.
“Well, can you believe it. It's Eunice, used to be Eunice Moore” said the woman.
“My god” said Chris. “I haven't seen you – well, since graduation, I guess.”
“I heard you lived in Seattle, have you moved back, then?” said the woman, moving to sit closer.
Chris hesitated, and Myra said “We're staying for a while. Hi, we're her friends”, introducing herself and Ginny.
“Me and Christina went though 12 grades of school together, didn't we?” said Eunice. She immediately launched into reminiscence. For some reason, Chris remained tense, and Myra kept trying to decode what was going on. Eventually, Eunice said “I'm here with my daughter, my second oldest. She's got breast cancer.” This last bit was said in a whisper. “Mastectomy and they think they got it all, but I'm still worried sick, you understand.”
“I certainly do” said Chris, with an undercurrent of humor in her voice. When she didn't offer an explanation for her own presence in the waiting room, Eunice rolled right on and asked.
“I have cancer. Several kinds. Terminal” said Chris, with at last a familiar grin. Not a good grin, but familiar.
It stopped Eunice for at least 30 seconds. She put her hand on Chris's arm and finally said “I am so sorry. Are you here, then – are you staying with family? I mean, Garnet is dead -- “
“I know Garnet is dead” said Chris. “I buried her. I am visiting her children, but I'm here with my current family, these women. We have children and grandchildren back in Seattle.”
Eunice was memorizing everything, Myra could tell. “I'd heard you were – is one of you, then, her – partner?”
“My partner isn't here” said Chris. “How many times have you been married now, Eunice? The first time was right after graduation, had to, with Tommy Whitlaw, right?”
Eunice had the grace to laugh. “That sorry snake. Yes, and I've been stupid enough to say yes twice more. I'm done with all that. I heard you wrote a book, about your people? And do some kind of political stuff there in Seattle?”
“Radical activist” said Chris, playing it up. “I published a Nimipu dictionary, yes.” She turned to Myra. “Eunice gave me my first line of coke, back before it was fashionable. Mostly our crowd did speed, all we could afford. And any kind of liquor we could get our hands on, right?”
Myra was kept from seeing how Eunice would handle this by the emergence of a 40-something woman from the clinic, who was quickly introduced as Eunice's daughter. Eunice stood and said “I'll pray to Jesus for you tonight, and listen, give me a call, I'm in the book under Eunice Carmody now.”
“Take care” said Chris. As soon as Eunice and her daughter were gone, Chris said in a conversational tone “Her nickname in high school was BJ. I didn't do that, not for any amount of money or drugs. And Tommy Whitlaw was not the father of her first child, everybody knew his testicles had never descended. But he was religious enough to let guilt convince him he had to marry her.”
Myra could tell Ginny was trying to figure out the significance of BJ – not a term she'd heard as a teenager, apparently. Or since. “Margie's going to be sorry she missed this encounter” said Myra, grinning at Chris.
“I bet she'll have other opportunities” said Chris. “Eunice will be on the phone all afternoon with her news, my whole class be looking for me now.”
As they went back to the exam room, Myra leaned over and whispered to Ginny “blow job”. She heard Chris's giggle.
The oncologist was a man, Dr. Jhadav, who'd been raised in India and who was formal but still deeply empathetic and unhurried. He had reviewed Chris's records. She said “I'm here to make sure I get to stay home to the bitter end. I can pay for home nursing, and these women are competent to make decisions for me when that time comes.”
“I see your Advanced Directive” Dr. Jhadav said. “Let's do an exam first, then we can talk more.” He left the room while Chris got into a gown. When he returned, she said “I don't want a rectal. I'm not having chalky or black stools, but I'm not completely digesting my food, either.”
“Will you take home a hemoccult and let us check that, then?” he asked, unbuttoning her gown deferentially.
“Yes. But I'm not having more surgery. Not even for an obstruction” she said.
“All right.” When he looked at her front, his gloved hand immediately went to the wide hard curve visible there. “Your liver is massively enlarged” he said.
“I know” said Chris. “It has been for about ten days.”
“Is it tender?” he asked, pressing on it gently. She winced and said “More and more.”
He pulled out a penlight and lifted her eyelid. “Icterus. Is this new, too?”
“Yes, about the same time frame.”
Ginny, standing behind Myra, put her hand on Myra's shoulder.
“What about diarrhea, nausea? How is your appetite?” he asked, continuing to examine her.
“One episode of diarrhea. No nausea, at least not like I had with chemo. I get hungry and eat normally” she said. “So far.”
“Are you sleepy? Are you getting confused sometimes?”
“I'm actually waking up often, like every three to four hours. Takes me half an hour to get back to sleep. I do nap when I'm tired. I'm getting tired pretty easy. I don't think I'm confused, but you can ask my friends here” said Chris, nodding at Myra and Ginny. Dr. Jhadav turned to look at them, and Myra said “Clear as a bell.”
He left the room again after the exam for Chris to get dressed before talking. He returned with x-rays which he put on a lightbox and invited them all to look.
“No lung infiltrates, which is good. The hepatomegaly is here. Lots of material in loops of bowel, high air fluid levels.”
He turned off the lightbox and sat down. “I'm sure you're aware of what I need to go over with you, but as a responsible physician, I have to hear for myself you are informed of your likely course and consequences.”
The conversation that was followed covered no new ground, but his manner was somehow reassuring. Myra found herself trusting him, and more importantly, it was clear from Chris's face that she did. He recommended several home care nurses, and Ginny wrote down their names. Chris said “Of those, can you tell me if any of them are Native American?”
He didn't blink. He looked at Ginny's pad and pointed to two names.
“Well, to go one step further – I'm a lesbian, and my friends and family have several gay people in it. Are either of those two the kind of folks who will have moral objections to being around us?”
He didn't smile, but he didn't tense either. He said “I can personally recommend Bernetta Fredrik.” Ginny put a star by her name.
Chris introduced Ginny as the person who would be ordering medications and administering them at times. He turned to the nurse who had come in during the exam and remained, saying “Let's make sure she meets the on-call nurse and the pharmacy tech before they leave.”
Chris had a few questions, but none of them were “How long do I have?” He handed her a sheaf of prescriptions and a few print-outs, shook her hand, and gave her his card with an emergency contact number on it before leaving.
“He's a good guy, isn't he?” Myra said to the nurse.
“He's who I'd go to” said the nurse. She led them back through the clinic for more introductions. Chris was moving slower and slower. Finally Myra said “Sit down, kiddo. I'm going to get the wheelchair.”
“We have one here you can borrow” said the nurse, bustling off and returning with one. “Bring it to the front desk when you're done.” Chris sat down heavily and said “Do I get a lollipop now?”
As they waited for Chris's prescriptions to be filled, Ginny called the number of Bernetta Fredrik and left a message. She asked the pharmacy tech where they could get meds when the clinic was closed, and was assured the scrips would be called in to a local chain that was open 24 hours. By the time they got to the jeep, Chris looked pale and exhausted. Margie leaped out to help her into the back seat and insisted on returning the wheelchair herself at a run.
“There's a pillow near the cooler, you can lean that seat back and check out” said Ginny.
Chris complied, pulling the robe to her chin although Myra had the car running and the heater on full blast. By the time Margie returned, Chris looked asleep. Margie leaned forward to get a whispered account of the visit while Myra drove them back to the cabin.
At home, Margie walked in with Chris leaning on her while Myra and Ginny hauled in groceries. Ginny began making a marinade for the local wild salmon they'd bought. Margie came out of Chris's bedroom and shut the door, saying “She's going to keep sleeping but says to wake her up half an hour before her family's due to arrive.”
Myra sent a quick e-mail to Allie about the doctor visit before joining Ginny and Margie in the kitchen. They kept their voices to a whisper as they made dinner together. Margie hauled in more wood and by the time she went to awaken Chris, the only dinner prep remaining was to put the salmon under the broiler.
Tina and Ricky arrived together in Ricky's pick-up, with Tina's two children behind the front seat. Tina looked like their mother Garnet, who hadn't resembled Chris much at all – she was slender, despite being over 30 and having had two children, with a perm in her black hair. Ricky was massive in all respects, and he had the Kash-Kash square face, large eyes, and thick eyebrows. He was the oldest of Garnet's children, Tina the youngest.
They were both visibly shocked at Chris's appearance, despite have seen her a month earlier. Tina shoved her kids toward Chris and told them to give her a kiss. The oldest, a boy called Jimjim, obeyed in a perfunctory way but immediately zoomed around to pull at Myra's laptop on the shelf under the table. Tina tiredly told him to “leave that alone” and he absolutely ignored her. Myra picked it up and carried it to the top shelf of her closet. He was on her heels, but shifted direction when he saw Ginny's easel tucked into the corner and began trying to drag it behind him into the living room. Myra took it away and said firmly “No touching things in this room.” She pushed him out in front of her and shut the door, but she had a strong sense he hadn't really registered her statement.
The other child was a 3-year-old girl named Ruby. She balked at going to Chris, hanging onto the leg of Tina's pantsuit. Myra hadn't seen her in over a year and she was all but bowled over by how much Ruby resembled the photos of Chris as a little girl. Ruby remained as quiet and passive as Jimjim was manic.
Tina had brought a casserole. She was rattling off the recipe to Ginny in the kitchen, “I buy that good white meat chicken in a can, you know, Swanson's? And I mix that with cream of mushroom soup only I used skim milk, plus a cup of shredded box cheese and a package of those fancy cut frozen green beans, julienned, they call it. I bake it 20 minutes and then the last 10 minutes I pour on a can of French's fried onion rings. It's the only way I can get the kids to eat vegetables, in casseroles like this.”
“Bach's cheese?” asked Ginny. “Is that some region in Germany?”
Tina looked at her confused. Myra said “Box, B-O-X, Ginny. Like Velveeta.”
“Oh, of course” said Ginny. “Should I heat it up for you?”
“The microwave will do” said Tina. Margie was setting the table while Ricky talked with Chris and Jimjim did god knows what. Since there were only four chairs for the dining table, Tina rolled Chris's wheelchair to one end and Ricky carried in Chris's armchair to the other end. During this movement, Myra whispered to Ginny “She's a single mother who works full time, you take a generous helping of that casserole and rave about it.”
Ginny gave her a scathing look. “As if you need to tell me that.”
Myra had made extra mashed potatoes which all disappeared, along with her cornbread and baked beans. Margie's salad was only half eaten. Dessert was a choice of baked apples or brownies, and the children were allowed to help themselves to the brownies. Ginny lifted the platter to the top of the refrigerator when Tina wasn't looking, winking at Ricky and whispering “Save some for the big folks.”
During the meal, Chris told stories about living in this house as a child, focused more on memories of Garnet and judiciously edited from the versions she had told the prior night. Tina seemed ravenous for this kind of family history. At one point, Tina said “Mom said things were so different once you all moved into town, that Granddad's spirit was diminished, being away from the outdoors. I wish Jimjim could live in the country, too, it would do him good. We named him after Granddad, you know.”
Margie's eyes were wide as she turned to Chris, waiting for her reply. Chris said “Moving back into community did make some changes in my father, but not all of them were negative.” Ricky grinned, and Myra realized he was more savvy than Tina about the real family legacy. Of course, Ricky had smelled strongly of alcohol since their arrival.
Tina went on “Russell, my ex, you know, he's thinking about moving back to Colville. We've been talking on the phone. If he was willing, I'd give us another try.”
Ricky said “For fuck's sake, you must be nuts, he's a wastoid.”
“The kids need a father” said Tina defensively. “I need help.”
“He won't be any help, he never was, he'd just be a third kid” said Ricky. He announced this as Tina and Margie were clearing the table and he leaned back in his chair to give them access to his plate.
A couple of minutes later, as Ginny was insisting on doing the dishes, Ricky said “I'm going outside for a smoke.” Jimjim tried to go with him but Ricky said “Too cold out here for you, bud.” Myra heard the door of his truck slam a minute later.
Tina said to Chris “Let's set them up in one of the bedrooms with the TV and they'll calm down so we can talk.” Ruby doesn't need calming down thought Myra.
“Uh, we don't have a TV here” said Chris.
Tina looked stunned. “Oh...I'm not sure, maybe – I didn't bring anything with me...”
“We have children's books” offered Myra. “Or puzzles.”
“They don't read” said Tina. “Well, Ruby looks at pictures. I guess we could try a puzzle.”
“I'll hang out with them” offered Margie. At that moment, the phone rang, and Myra, closest to it, answered to hear Gillam's voice saying “Hey, Mama. I wanted to hear how the doctor visit went, but the kids have been clamoring to skype with ya'll all evening, are you through with dinner?”
“We are, but we have company, Chris's family is here, it's not a good time to skype” said Myra. Gillam was saying “Oh, then we'll catch you tomorrow, I guess --” and Myra could hear the loud protests beginning around him, when Chris cut through by calling to her “Tell him yes, I'd love for his kids to meet Tina's.”
“Gillam, never mind, Chris says let's do it. Give us five minutes to get set up and we'll dial in to your number.”
“Great. See you in a jiff.”
Margie put her laptop next to Myra's on the dining table, facing into the living room, and linked them together so the screens would make a single image. She had to deal nonstop with Jimjim trying to unplug cables and fiddle with knobs. Ruby had finally eased over to Chris's chair and was now leaning against her, turning to look silently into her face at times. As Margie dialed Gillam's number through their internet account, Ricky came back in smelling of cigarette smoke and whiskey.
“What're we watching?” he said, plopping down on the floor in front of the sliding doors.
As Chris explained, the connection went through and they could hear Mimi yelling “Bubbe? Gramma? Where are they, it says -- “
“Hi” said Gillam, leaning past Mimi to show his face. “Look, there's Aunt Chris.”
“We're all here” said Myra, coming around to sit on the end of the couch. Ginny and Margie moved into view at the other end.
“Who are those kids?” said David possessively.
“I'm their Aunt Chris, too” said Chris. She made introductions. Jimjim gave up trying to mess with the computers and came to sit on his mother's lap, going still and silent for the first time since they had arrived.
“We want to sing our anfem wif you” said Charlie. “Will you dance wif us?”
“There's not really room here for us to dance” said Ginny, “It's a very small house. But we'll sing along, and you all dance, okay?”
Gillam backed them away from the camera so they could be seen, and they launched into the Golden Horde song. By the end, Ricky and Tina were both in hysterics. Chris asked for an encore, and even Ruby came in on a couple of words – bugger and fart, of course – when they did it a third time.
Gillam began trying to bring the call to a close, but suddenly Lucia's face filled the screen, her hands grasping the computer monitor on either side. She never reacted to cameras in the same way she did to direct gaze from human eyes, and it was startling to see her staring at them without avoidance.
“Chris?” she said, pronouncing it with two syllables like Myra did. “Chris, will you sing me dat song?”
Chris didn't hesitate. She leaned forward and began singing in Nimipu, softly but clearly. Tina and Ricky both froze. Lucia's face registered a range of emotions, something Myra couldn't remember have seen her do since she was a few months old. She fought weeping. At the end, Lucia said “Okay” and vanished to the side. Gillam reappeared, his voice thick with emotion, and said “I'll call you tomorrow on my lunch break, Mom, to get more info. Nice to meet you all.”
When the screen went dark, Jimjim stood up and said “I want to watch something else.”
Ginny had turned to Margie and was murmuring “Please tell me you taped that call.”
“I did” said Margie.
“Well, speaking of tapes, I have lots of family videos on my hard drive or retrievable from my online briefcase” said Myra. “How about if I queue up ones that have your Aunt Chris in them and you can go on watching home movies?”
Tina nodded vigorously. During the five minutes it took Myra to get this accomplished, Jimjim's restlessness returned. Tina said to Chris “They put him in special ed right away this year, but I won't let them give him drugs. This family has enough history with drugs.”
There was a small electric silence, broken by Chris's laugh. Ginny said “I was a special ed teacher way back when, and Gillam is now. I agree with you, medications are not the only way to go.”
Tina said “Thank you, I wish you'd come talk to his teacher about that.” But she didn't ask what alternatives Ginny might suggest.
Lucky, lucky, lucky thought Myra, at her laptop. We have been so lucky.
The first video Myra played was Chris's performance as Craven Raven in the grandkid's puppet show. Conversation was abandoned in favor of viewing, although Myra did pause between each video to allow Chris time for remarks or explanation. She noticed Ricky kept his trips out to his truck to a minimum. When both children began showing signs of fatigue – Ruby by drooping eyelids, Jimjim by frantic fidgeting – Tina said “We should get them home. But this was so good.”
“We play poker on Friday nights after dinner” said Chris. “Come back and Myra can make her famous chicken-fried steak.”
“For cash money?” said Ricky. Myra assumed he meant the poker.
“We use chips but yeah, we buy in and then settle up at the end of the night” said Chris with a wide grin.
“You're on” he said. Tina nodded as well, saying “I won't have time to cook -- “
“Bring ice cream from the store” said Chris. “Peach, I've been longing for peach.” Tina's face lit up. Myra walked out with them to Ricky's truck, trying to assess if he was really safe to drive. At least it's not icy out tonight she thought.
When she went back in the house, Chris was crying quietly, Ginny hugging her from behind and Margie at her feet. Myra sat down on the couch across from Chris, noting how completely fatigued she looked.
“They didn't ask one question about the doctor visit” Chris said finally.
“They're overwhelmed” said Myra. “Nothing about how they love you.”
“I know that. But Ruby...” Chris cried another couple of minutes, then began wiping her face on her sleeve. “I need to go sit on the pot and it'll be a while, if you need to go, do it now.”
Ginny scuttled to the bathroom. Margie said “I want to stay here again tonight, is that okay?”
“Of course” said Myra. Chris said to Margie “You want to sleep with me? No DVD's, though.”
Margie jumped at it. Myra took a quick piss after Ginny and brushed her teeth before turning over the bathroom to Chris, who closed the door. Myra said quietly to Margie “You'll get her into bed okay? If you need me, come wake me.”
It was bliss to lie down with Ginny, feel Ginny's warmth press against her from behind, and whisper to each other in the dark.
Ginny said “If Chris didn't do blow jobs, what was her preference as a prostitute, I wonder? Hand jobs?”
“I...I have a guess, but I don't want to say” said Myra.
After a long silence, Ginny said “That casserole was okay.”
“A region in Germany” teased Myra, and they went off into muffled giggles.
© 2009 Maggie Jochild.