Saturday, April 11, 2009


Topo map showng Stoneburg, Texas
(1961 topographical map including Stoneburg, Montague County, Texas; click on image to enlarge. Key to annotations at end of post.)

Stoneburg, Texas is no more.

When I was 13, my family stopped over in Stoneburg to spend the school semester with my mother's adoptive mother, on our way from Brazil to Singapore for my father's work. My father went on to Singapore, but I fell in love with this tiny place, where four generations of my family had lived before me. In April (1969), I went to my mother and asked that she find a way for us to live here through my high school years, instead of us continuing to move around constantly. I wanted to graduate from the very same school where my mother had gone all 12 years, her mother before that, and her mother before that. Mama wanted to stay, too. But it would mean leaving my father.

We stayed, and my mother kept putting off telling my father why we weren't joining him. In fact, she never did tell him. Instead, right after the Moon Walk, she suffered a massive heart attack from the stress she was under. My father was called back from Singapore, bought a house trailer, and we stayed in Stoneburg until I went to college. I never told Daddy about Mama's intention, either.

But as of Thursday night, Stoneburg has been wiped from the map, burned to the ground during a hellstorm of fire sweeping across Texas and Oklahoma, fueled by winds but eventually creating its own wind, during this worst drought in recorded history.

Most of the current news reports are focusing on larger towns. The few accounts I've found call it a "hamlet of two dozen buildings", which is generous. The story goes on to say two dozen buildings burned, and that only one structure remained intact. I wonder which one it was. I may well know them all, despite having left 30 years ago. Tiny rural places like this don't change a great deal unless some commercial interest arrives to make use of their resources, and that is definitely not the case for Stoneburg.

When I was a teenager there, one day a few of us (ranging in age from me to some elders) were speculating about the actual population of town. I pulled out a piece of notebook paper and between us, we were able to list everybody in town by name. It didn't take long. We counted and came up with 86.

Mostly, the inhabitants were people who ranched a little, had oil leases, or had stayed after high school because their parents lived there and they didn't want to leave the old folks on their own. There were teachers, and one gas station which sold a few groceries. If you didn't ranch or teach, you probably worked elsewhere, in one of the "big towns" a 15 minute drive away, Bowie or Nocona (which might have a dazzling 2000 people). Some people did car repair or other home-based industry. Mostly, everybody was poor, but the class range was so limited, they/we didn't really feel poor.

Stoneburg was once much larger, a solid farming community whose population probably peaked around 1900-1910. Even by the time of my mother's childhood in the 1930s, in addition to the school there was a general store, a gas station/mechanic shop (run by my grandfather Bill Atkins), four churches, a train depot (run by my adoptive grandfather Auther Atkins), and assorted small industry. In 1900, it had even a small strip of downtown brick buildings, including the blacksmith shop of my great-grandfather Joseph Atkins. But after the war, people began moving away, as was the case in most farm communities in the U.S.

The first of my family to arrive there was David and Margaret Armstrong, my great-great-grandparents, with Margaret's parents Tommy and Johannah Ritchie and their family. They had traveled by wagon train from Ash Flat, Arkansas first to Tarrant County, Texas, settling on land outside the town of Grapevine. This was the famous blackland prairie, incredible farming territory, and we've never been able to find out why they sold out and migrated 70 miles north to Montague County, bordering Oklahoma. While Montague County is part of the Western Crosstimbers, it cotton-farming soil would not have been superior. The two families arrived around 1885, and immediately several related families also from Sharp County, Arkansas migrated to join them in and around Stoneburg. David Armstrong donated the land for Oak Hill Cemetery, where every generation of my family except my mother has been buried since -- and where I already have a plot waiting for me when I pass on.

Montague County has always been intensely rural. There were few adventurous (that's one word for it) white families who ventured there prior to 1870, but the area was regularly swept by Comanche and Kiowa raids. Nobody who wanted to live free of terror was going to migrate into that part of Texas until the U.S. Army and Texas Rangers after the Civil War began enforcing the racist vision of Manifest Destiny. Montague County got railroads, one cattle trail, and a few oil fields over the succeeding years, but nothing major, not enough to create or maintain population.

The only reason Stoneburg has managed to hold onto its local school is because there's enough revenue from oil fields under the town's land base (including the famous Hildreth field) to fund the school's fight against annexation by nearby towns. Even so, during the 1950s Stoneburg had to consolidate with nearby Ringgold, ten miles to the north. Grades 1-6 go to school in Ringgold, the junior and senior high kids go to Stoneburg, and the new district was named Gold-Burg -- a name which drove my cosmopolitan relatives in paroxysms of laughter, because this is utterly Baptist country with a wide anti-Semitic streak. But the people there are so removed from knowledge about the larger world, they had no idea "Gold-Burg" sounded Jewish.

It was also, until after I graduated from high school in 1973, part of a dry county (which meant you had to drive to Oklahoma or nearby Muenster in a neighboring county for alcohol, absolutely not a deterrent to drinking) and strongly adherent to a Sundown culture. No people of color could spent the night in Montague County. I understand the latter has changed now. I wonder what pioneering folks busted through that barrier.

Once, when I was living in California, I flew back to Texas on a genealogical research trip and drove to Montague County for the day, hunting abandoned cemeteries and trying to plat family land. In the mid afternoon, I realized I had not seen another living human being or automobile for several hours. It's that isolated. I got a little spooked. I topped a small hill and saw the falling-down Copeland place below me briefly flicker into new condition, with fresh whitewash. A woman was walking to the barn wearing a long full skirt, carrying an old-fashioned wooden bucket. She turned and looked at me, shading her eyes. The light around me was glinty, silverish.

I turned my car around, drove straight to the nearest two-lane blacktop, and headed for Bowie. About a mile outside of town, the funny light shifted, the normal afternoon sun returned, and I finally passed a pickup. I stopped at the first pay phone I found and called my little brother Bill, figuring he would make fun of me but wanting the reality of his rough humor. Instead, he said "They're trying to suck you back into the past, sis. Better come on home." I did. I still don't know if he was serious or just playing along with me.

When I was 13, I wanted to be sucked in to the past. I loved how connected to the land I felt there, how many of the kids in my school were distant cousins, how quiet it all was. I desperately needed that quiet and sense of continuity. While I was in high school, I came out to others as a lesbian and as a writer (although I'd admitted to myself both of these identities when I was nine). I became an anti-war activist and discovered feminism. Despite the fact that most teachers who come to that school are either on their first teaching job or unable to find work elsewhere, I had a couple of extraordinary teachers who gave me the education of my life. Class size averaged 5-8, so individual attention was readily available, and I thrived under it. In addition, my mother did not buy into the rural Texas working class value which says education corrupts the mind, so I stood out in that regard as well. When I was a sophomore, all four girls in the senior class and one of the two juniors (including an out lesbian) managed to get pregnant during the school year, a combination of ignorance, lack of social outlets, and drinking.

My senior year, I did persuade my high school history teacher to leave her husband for me and we began raising her two-year-old daughter together, but it was not the result of alcohol or ignorance. I knew exactly what I was doing.

I hear they still gossip about me there in Stoneburg. That's all right with me. I feel like my ancestors are thrilled with who I turned out to be, and that I'm living up the best of my heritage.

I can't imagine that most of the people who live there now have adequate home insurance, if they have any at all. One news account said they all survived because they contacted each other as the fire raced their way and got everybody out of harm's way. That sounds like the Stoneburg I knew. Still, they've lost the entire town, such as it was. I watched a tiny clip of coverage from a Wichita Falls station where a man named Layne Posey was interviewed, saying "Don't know what we'll do. Figure it out and rebuild, I guess." I used to babysit Layne Posey when he was seven and eight years old. Apparently he had some kind of junk car lot there which is now gutted. It's not much compared to mansions in Malibu that are swept into the ocean by mudslides every year, but I could see on his eerily familiar face the anomie, as we called it in sociology class: The altered reality which, for the time being, has no recognizable rules or conventions.

We'll see if Stoneburg rises from the ashes. If not, the headstones of my ancestors are still there, and maybe that woman on what was once the Copeland place is still heading out to the barn to do milking. Stoneburg helped make me who I am, and I'm grateful for it.

(Key to map above: This map shows the Stoneburg where I lived as a teenager. I could name the inhabitants of every house on it. Here's a few details:
(1) An abandoned chicken ranch where I used to walk when I was at my wit's end. I'd go to a concrete-lined room in the middle where there were stacks of emptied brown glass jugs. I'd hurl bottles at the walls, shattering them and screaming, until I could think clearly again. During the 1980s, this ranch was renovated into a fundamentalist church enclave by a local family, and in 1983, this is where infamous serial killer Henry Lee Lucas was run to earth.
(2) Gold-Burg High School (four generations of my family went here.)
(3) The First Baptist Church, which only had services one Sunday a month from a visiting preacher.
(4) Home and farm of my adoptive grandmother Zura Atkins.
(5) The lot where my mother was born, where her mother died, and where we parked a trailer to live in during my high school years.
(6) The land where David and Margaret Armstrong farmed cotton, in a sod house, later a two-room dogrun.
(7) The gas station/grocery which was the only commercial entity in town when we lived there.
(8) The rock-walled gas station once run by my grandfather Bill Atkins.
(9) Where my great-grandfather Joseph Atkins had his blacksmith shop, next to what was Smith's Store during my mother's high school years.

[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]


Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Lily near Trinidad, California (Lily near Trinidad, California; photo by Easton D. Rankine)

I fully intended to make pasta for dinner, roasted grape tomatoes with caramelized onions, peas and alfredo over the last of my whole-grain penne, but instead I went quick and easy: Reheated burger with a massive plate of carrots. I'll do the pasta tomorrow.

Last night after I posted the Ginny Bates chapter which is the penultimate climax of the book, I realized I had to lie down. Fatigue hit me like a freight train and I crashed into sleep for three hours. When I got up, dreaming about my late beloved main character, I came in to talk with Jesse for a while before doing some paying work. I slept in two chunks today but feel rested.

It's been incredibly hard to write this last month's work of the novel. I had an original draft, which one of you (Kat) read almost two years ago now, but by the time I got back to revising it for posting, I rewrote it almost ten words to one. The characters had grown so much, the story had gotten so rich, it deserved the best I could give it.

The sentence where I ended last night's post was the exact point on October 16, 2006 when I stopped writing to sob uncontrollably about the loss of this main character, whom I allowed to die only because she insisted on it. I cried for 15 minutes, wiped my face and began writing an e-mail to Liza about how I'd spent the weekend writing the death of this character. Before I could finish the note, my phone rang, at 8:30 in the morning. It was my father's caller ID, so I answered. But it wasn't my father, it was my older brother, telling me that my father had died 15 minutes before.

It felt like I'd killed my father. In some aspects, it still feels that way. My grief for the loss of the character overshadowed my grief for my father. I hope you don't think less of me for admitting that.

My friend Martha reminded me this week that we are still, in fact, in the Age of Aquarius, which was/is not just a golden era, it's a time of millennial change. I prefer historiography which studies the lives of "ordinary" people and sees how their connections and growth forces the so-called leaders to make important decisions -- bottom-up power dynamics, in other words. As frighteningly unstable as my day-to-day life is, I'm thrilled to be alive at this point in history.

I just went looking for a quote from Annie Dillard about how and why we love our own generation best. I think it's in An American Childhood, or maybe her essay "The Book of Luke". I couldn't find it, but instead tripped across this:

"There were no formerly heroic times, and there was no formerly pure generation. There is no one here but us chickens, and so it has always been."

I read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek while driving with my best friend Jean and a couple of women we literally picked up along the way (Miri the Israeli hitchhiker who drove like a maniac and Dawna the extraordinary teenage runaway who sang like an angel) from Texas to the second annual Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. The festival alone would have derailed the course of my life, but Annie's writing was a double punch. From that point on, I've wanted to write the way she does. I'm beginning to close in on that goal -- not as well, of course, at least not yet, but definitely on the trail she blazed. How extraordinary to see the unimaginable within my grasp.

And, I'm reminded of another quote from her, this one from her excellent manual The Writing Life: "Many writers do little else but sit in small rooms recalling the real world." Well, that sums me up in a nutshell these days. As I remember it, she wasn't casting aspersions on that lifestyle choice, merely ruefully acknowledging its truth.

Today I'm remembering and grieving a woman I created out of my own imagination, and a father I still don't entirely understand. I am full of carrots, and my right thumb sends a jolt of pain up my wrist every time I use it to push the space bar. My left shoulder burns (the rotator cuff got aggravated by how I slept last night) unless I sit at an angle. Obama is playing politics with our right to privacy and our very soul with regard to torture. There's a meeting in Austin this week of emergency responders from all along the Gulf Coast, trying to get a head start on the hurricane season. But it's good to be out there, to be alive in this world, from what I remember. I'll take my vitamin D and keep writing. See you in the gaps.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Louie Dick, Pete Quaempts, and others drummers during a Seven Drums gathering on the Umatilla Reservation in the 1970s. Photo by Buckaroo Bob

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-Saturday, 18-21 December, 2019

For dinner, Myra baked salmon a la Ginny with wild rice, gooseberries and pine nuts. Allie made cornbread, Edwina roasted beets with whole heads of garlic, and Myra assembled a pecan pie for dessert. Though the meal was of Chris's favorites, intended to spark her appetite, she ate only a few bites of each item.

“Are you queasy?” asked Sima.

“No. Just not hungry. I think maybe it's the IV keeping the juices flowing” said Chris. “Plus, I was a skinny minnie when I was on drugs, never wanted to eat.”

“You were chunky when you got out of the hospital” said Myra.

“But that was bloat” said Chris. “The meds they gave me caused that. I lost it as I detoxed.”

“I remember” said Myra. “You wore your old peacoat until it got big on you. Refused to buy a leather jacket until you were back to what you called fighting shape.”

“I remember that leather jacket” said Sima softly. “Do you still have the fedora that went with it?”

“Yeah, in a hatbox at the house” said Chris, grinning. “Listen, I'm really missing the little ones. I know it's a school night, but could we call them after dinner and have an hour of singing?”

“I love that idea” said Edwina. As Margie cleared the table, Allie and Myra turned around the couch to face the table and dialed in to Gillam's number. Ginny kept painting but sang along. Myra noticed that Lucia's gaze never wavered from Chris, although David was more focused on Sima.

She was caught off guard as they began singing “Shenandoah”. She was next to Chris and could hear her most clearly. When Chris's voice pulsed with emotion during the lines

Oh, Shenandoah
I love your daughter
Away, I'm bound away
'Cross the wide Missouri

Myra found herself crying. Chris took her hand and they all kept on.

Margie returned to the motel with Allie and Edwina when Chris took herself to bed early. Myra decided to lie down on the couch instead of going to bed alone. She asked Ginny to wake her up when Ginny went to sleep. It was shortly before dawn when Ginny shook her, eating a biscuit stuffed with salmon.

“I finished the painting. Let's go to bed” she whispered. As Myra wrapped herself around Ginny in their bed, smelling fish and linseed oil, she thought about Mimi as she was now, that age and size, roaming this wilderness like Chris had, following a creek and surviving because she kept herself from the reach of other human beings. She began shivering, and Ginny squeezed her tight though she was already asleep.

Myra slept in with Ginny, but finally got up at 10:00, leaving Ginny with the comforter tucked around her. Edwina was alone at the table. “Margie's at the motel, working on something, and Allie went with Sima and Chris” she reported. “There's potato pancakes in the oven.”

Myra made hot chocolate to go with her potatoes and a few leftover slices of beet, topping them both with sour cream. Edwina said “She smells funny.”

“Who? Allie? Is it ketones?” said Myra, suddenly frightened.

“No, Chris. And it's not ketones, but it's something chemical like that” said Edwina. “Even with all the peppermint oil we keep rubbing on her hands and feet.”

“Bernie comes this afternoon, let's ask her about it” said Myra, her stomach clenching again.

“Are you going to move Sima in with you?” asked Edwina.

“I haven't brought it up with Ginny yet, but I'm assuming we'll offer” said Myra. “Look, could we not talk about – the elephant in the room – until I'm done eating?”

Edwina went silent. After a minute, Myra said “I don't mean to shut you up. I know you're contending with more than your share of freak-out, yours plus Allie's.”

“We're not having enough time alone, enough time doing what gives us balance” said Edwina. “I mean, we'll make it, of course, whatever it takes. But it's ragged all the time.”

“I'm worried about the kids. I feel bad about leaving Jane and Gillam alone with it” said Myra. Edwina went back to her laptop until Myra was nearly done. She looked up and said “I'm almost five years older than Allie.”

“I know.”

“I need to know you'll make sure she's okay, if I go first.” Edwina's face was nakedly vulnerable.

“I'll make sure. And I ask the same of you.”

“I promise.” After a minute, Edwina said “But, of course, nothing is ever going to be the same.”

Margie arrived for lunch, carrying a leather map case and an unstoppable grin on her face. Chris ate three bites of soup and a tiny sliver of pie. After the table was cleared, Margie scrubbed it down and dried it before going to the door of the bedroom where Ginny was still asleep and saying “Mom? Can you wake up, Mama, you're part of this.”

Ginny got dressed and went to the bathroom before shambling in to sit next to Myra. Margie said “Does one of you want to do the introduction?”

Myra said “You've done all the legwork, I think you should present it.”

Margie shifted from one foot to the other excitedly. “Okay, then. First of all, Aunt Chris, we now own this house, the meadow behind it and a strip all the way to the creek. It's in my name for the time being, but we can do whatever you want with it.”

“My god” said Chris. “You bought it?”

“Wasn't hard, actually, not that part. It's being going unrented for months at a time, too far away for families but not far enough away from the antisocial, lack of TV reception – we got it at a good price. And here's my idea: We rent it out weekly or monthly as an artist retreat. Advertise in all the fancy rags as a place to come be rustic. I mean, leave it mostly as it is, except put a deck and hot tub in the back -- “

“Or sauna” said Myra.

“And, especially, replant the yard with all native plants. Restore it to what it looked like before construction tore it to pieces here. And whatever income we get from it will go to an education fund for Jimjim and Ruby. Mama says we can start getting Jimjim some private special ed right away, something that doesn't conflict with his culture and which will really help out Tina.”

Myra jumped in “But we'll keep the house available for us, your family, as well. Like when Gillam and Jane want to take the kids out of town each month, they can come here and roam the creek and mountains. Learn wilderness the same way you did.”

Chris's eyes were spilling over. “Lucia...she'll adore it here.”

“Yes, she will” whispered Myra, reaching across the table to put her hand on Chris's.

“We wanted to give you this for Chanukah” said Ginny, now entirely awake. “But we have some papers to get signed before then, and, well, news this good shouldn't wait.”

“Yeah, the cabin's not the best part” said Margie, unzipping her map case. Chris looked astounded. Margie put on white cotton gloves and carefully unrolled a sheet of the creamy vellum she used for her most elaborate maps. “Don't touch with bare hands” she cautioned. “Except you, Aunt Chris.”

It was a riot of color and shimmering leaf, living proof that Margie was the daughter of Ginny Bates. To the left was the cabin and its meadow, but beginning at bottom center and meandering up the narrow vertical was the creek. Topography was indicated by silver inlay, the water was lapis lazuli, and woods were every shade of green and brown ink. The foothills and mountain range itself had been embossed, and the spring which began it all had a starburst of gold leaf around it.

Ginny had gotten up to stand behind Margie, thumping her on the back with incoherent pride. Buried in the foliage of the woods was an occasional glimpse of wildlife, wolf, coyote, bear, cougar, raccoon, fox. Myra searched for a sasquatch, and instead found a small black-haired girl reading a compass. She pointed to it, but Chris had already seen it.

“So here's the deal, my beloved auntie: The Nature Conservancy has joined forces with us and we've purchased over 90% of the watershed of this creek. Their lawyer Elliott swears to me we'll get it all. Environmental groups have been exerting pressure locally for years to get the Kettle Range declared an environmentally protected zone, and this is a wedge they can't pass up. Plus, he says the grinding holes make it applicable under some antiquities act. All the private landowners will be reimbursed, and they'll get to keep the roads and bridges that encroach on the creek for the time being, but they can't add or even do maintenance. Eventually it will be pristine again. Open only to people on foot, and all the wildlife protected. And as part of the transfer, it's being renamed.”

Margie reached to pull away a small piece of parchment Myra hadn't noticed because it was decorated in the same color as the creek itself. Underneath lay the new name, also in gold leaf: Kash-Kash Creek.

Chris began crying and couldn't seem to stop. Margie knelt beside her, deftly avoiding the IV line, and Chris soaked her shoulder under Myra was sure Margie's thighs must be burning from the strain of kneeling. Finally Chris sat up and asked for a handkerchief. Margie stood, stretched a few seconds, and said “I'll frame and mount this for you, of course.”

“My people thank you” said Chris hoarsely. “Thirty-thousand years of us.”

“Best thing you've ever done, and that's saying something” Allie said to Margie. Margie was suddenly embarrassed, and turned to go into the kitchen. “Mama, you haven't eaten, how about I warm you up some soup?”

“Come back in here and take your glory” said Ginny. “I can feed myself.” She made a plate while the rest pored over the splendid map, asking Margie and Chris questions. She ate standing, leaned against the counter. Myra joined her after a while, whispering “I can hardly believe she's ours.”

“Oh, she's ours all right” said Ginny. “She's all of ours.”

Finally the map was put away for safekeeping, and Chris received another injection of morphine. She was about to stand when she said “You're not painting, Ginny – did you finish?”

“Yep” said Ginny, wiping her mouth. “I'll show you, but it will not live up to Margie's accomplishment and I can't tell you how proud I am of that.” She went to the easel and turned it around.

A small green plant had been uprooted from wet earth, then dropped back on its former holdfast. It filled the small canvas with leaves just beginning to wilt, a few drops of dew on the stems, and a massive tangle of pale root hairs whose yearning for the soil felt almost palpable. Tiny nodes amid the roots flashed metastatic silver. Myra thought about all the hours Ginny spent weeding, and realized killing any plant – especially the slow death of uprooting – must cause her pain.

Sima sucked in her breath and gripped Chris's hand tightly. Chris grinned at Ginny and said “They'd have burned you at the stake in the past.”

Ginny laughed delightedly. “You and me both, Kash-Kash.”

Chris went for her nap, Sima joining her. Myra suggested Allie and Edwina go to their motel for some alone time, and Edwina looked at her gratefully. After they left, she started a pot roast and a sponge for rosemary bread. Ginny and Margie pulled the map back out for Margie to discuss creative minutiae with her mother. Myra eavesdropped while cooking and intermittently sitting at her laptop to try writing.

Bernie came again at 4:00. When Myra woke Chris, she sat up complaining of nausea and a minute later began retching. Bernie tended to her, administering Compazine and cleaning the bucket. Chris managed to stop after one bout. She asked to go sit by the stove for warmth.

Bernie gave her the results of her last blood draw – there was a decided electrolyte imbalance, which Bernie wanted to address with a change in the IV fluid. She had new bottles, bags, and fluid to inject in her carry-all. When she examined Chris, she lingered over listening to Chris's chest and palpating her abdomen.

“Have you been short of breath?” she asked.

“If I do anything, yeah” said Chris. “And it hurts where you're pressing, there.”

“You've got ascites” said Bernie. “Fluid in your abdomen, leaking from your liver and intestine. It's just beginning, but it can cause loss of appetite and marked shortness of breath. I can't drain it myself, you'll need go to the doctor's office or a hospital for that.”

“Should I have it drained, then?” asked Chris, her face going pale.

“Well, if it continues to progress, you may need to. And if you want the fluid tested, but we pretty much know the cause, so testing is not essential” said Bernie. “We treat it with bed rest, low sodium, and diuretics.”

“I'm already not adding salt to anything I cook” said Myra.

Chris looked relieved at the chance to avoid going in for treatment. “If I take the diuretics, that'll drain the fluid?”

“Usually. But we'll have to monitor it closely, because you're already losing essential electrolytes. Plus albumin is secreted with ascitic fluid. We're going to need to replace your albumin, and keep a tight watch on your blood pressure. And – I think it may be time for a catheter” said Bernie.

“That or diapers, eh?” said Chris resignedly.

“I can insert a catheter” said Bernie. “It's unpleasant.”

“Which is medicalese for hurts like a motherfucker” said Chris. She began standing, saying “Let's get it over with.”

Bernie looked at Ginny. “You got trained in catheter care, yes?”

“Yes” said Ginny.

“The last thing she needs is an infection” said Bernie, pulling plastic-wrapped packages from her carry-all.

Myra and Margie stayed in the living room. After ten minutes, Bernie emerged and went to her car, returning with a telescoping rod that could be affixed to either a walker or a wheelchair. It would hold an IV bag and, at the lower level, a catheter reservoir. Myra signed the forms for this and Bernie installed it on Chris's walker when Chris returned to the living room.

Sima stood with Ginny for the detailed instructions Bernie gave them about new IV fluids and supplements. Allie and Edwina returned during this, and Allie fingered the catheter bag, already holding clear yellow urine. Bernie said she'd return after lunch the following day, but asked to be called first thing in the morning with an update.

Later, Myra would wonder if finding out she would be immortal, through the creek and its protection, gave Chris final permission to let go. From that afternoon on, she vomited every time she ate or drank, she had increasing difficulty staying warm, and she never was able to wean off the catheter.

The following morning, Myra asked to go with Sima to the creek. “It'll give us a chance to talk” she said.

They got Chris settled with her robe, her thermos, and the string-wrapped rock within reach. It was a dry day, clear with piercing cold. Back in the jeep, Myra turned the heat on full blast and said “So, are you not in love with Susan any more?”

“No. I still love her. But – it's a different kind of love. And – I don't know how to explain it, Myra. I want her, I do. And I don't blame her for the choices I made, she didn't persuade me, it was all my own doing. Still – I think love means not assisting someone in self-destruction.” Sima paused. “I ran across this quote by Margaret Anderson, where she says in romantic love, you want the other person, but in real love, you want the other person's good. I read that the day before I got your letter. It was like a bomb went off.”

Myra looked away from the misery on Sima's face. “Well -- “ She saw red flashing in her peripheral vision and focused on the bobbing scarf in the tree ahead of them. “She's signaling, something must be wrong.”

She revved the jeep ahead and left it running as they ran to the boulder. Chris gasped “It's too cold, I feel like it's crushing me.” They all but carried her to the car, Sima dashing back for the robe and thermos. At the house, everyone crowded around, making tea and building up the fire. Chris sat on the couch between Sima and Margie, and her breathing calmed slowly. After half a cup of tea, she vomited and Ginny called Bernie.

After a lunch where Chris refused to try eating, Myra called Carly and Gillam. Gillam said Thad had agreed to come stay with Jane, and Eric was going to remain in town as well. “Me and Jane don't agree about bringing the kids, so for now, at least, they're staying here.”

“We'll rent you a room at the motel. Are you coming tonight?” Myra asked.

“I don't know. We'll call you either way.”

She called Ricky and Tina as well, leaving them messages and urging them to visit. When she hung up, Sima called Leroy.

“She could use some praying” Sima said. “Yes, will you please tell Mary Angeline? Thank you so much.”

Bernie came at 2:00 and made some adjustments in the treatment but said the diuresis was working. “This is how it happens” she said to them gently. Chris's short term memory was evaporating before their very eyes, and she wanted to simply be still, with someone touching her.

Tina called after work to say they'd be out on Friday evening, as they had planned. Ginny, who had answered the phone, said “There'll be no poker, she's not up for that any more.”

“Well, I have a babysitter for Friday” said Tina. “Give her our love.”

Gillam called ten minutes later to say he and Carly were going to drive out that night because the weather was good. “Should we go straight to the motel or what?”

“Yeah, Allie says to wake her and Edwina up, they're in the room next to yours. They have cell service there, so if you run into trouble, you can call them directly.”

“See you in the morning, then, Mama.”

Sima was up several times during the night, helping Chris when she vomited or simply keeping her company as she awoke and needed to talk. Her conversation was increasingly erratic. Margie slept on the futon and got up with Sima.

Carly and Gillam came with Allie and Edwina at 7:00 a.m, everyone looking drawn and tired. The boys sat on either side of Chris on the couch while the rest of them made breakfast. Chris asked to look at the map again, and she told stories about various locations she'd roamed through as a child, pointing them out with a trembling finger.

Bernie came at 9:00 and again at 4:00. There was no question of trying to go to the creek. Chris would sleep for an hour at a time, then rouse herself and want to be on the couch with company. Sima gave her a sponge bath and Chris tried to move her bowels but could not. “Guess you can't say I'm full of shit any more” she quipped.

Bernie was still there when Ginny pulled out the shabbos candle holder and inserted two white tapers. Gillam stood to open wine, and Myra put challah on the bread board. Chris was helped to her wheelchair, and Margie set the computer monitor facing her. Lucia's face filled the screen, saying “We gonna pull in light now, okay?”

Lucia then crawled into Jane's lap and moved her small hands in unison with Jane's as they began the prayers. Beyond them, Mimi and Leah were following suit, sitting with Thad and Eric. Gillam's eyes were closed repeating the words, tears sheeting down his cheeks. Sima dipped her thumb into wine and rubbed it lightly against Chris's lips. When they all sang “Shabbot Shalom”, Chris's voice picked up, the loudest they'd heard her all day. But during a meal she did not eat, she went to sleep in her chair. Gillam and Carly carried her to her bed, and Sima lay down with her while the rest of them tried to finish what was on their plates.

Ricky and Tina arrived late and were shown in to Chris's bedroom. She wasn't able to wake up, however. Myra made plates for them, Ricky looking furious, Tina looking guilty. During dessert, Margie told them about the land purchase and Kash-Kash Creek. Tina cried then, and Ricky went outside to smoke a cigarette. They left not long after, saying they'd return the next day “When Aunt Chris is more awake.”

The rest of them sat up late, keeping the fire going and telling stories. Margie again elected to stay the night on the futon, borrowing a clean shirt from Ginny, while the rest drove to the motel for a few hours sleep.

The next morning, Leroy knocked at the door, accompanied by his dog and a tiny elderly woman introduced by Sima as Mary Angeline. Leroy asked permission to use wood to build a fire outside. Since Margie had purchased enough cords to last through the spring, Myra said use as much as they wanted. Two other pick-ups arrived as they talked, and eventually there were 11 men constructing two bonfires on the southeast corner of the house, forming a triangle with Chris's bedroom. Snow was cleared from the ground between the fires, skins laid down, and drums were set up in an arc.

Chris woke up briefly when the drumming began. She smiled and said “Mary Angeline?” The old woman came in and kissed Chris on the forehead. She whispered to Chris and Chris grinned her old familiar grin before drifting away again.

Sima lay on the bed facing Chris, holding her with both arms. Myra slipped off her shoes and lay down behind Chris. She got up briefly to eat a little lunch, and Allie took her place, but gave it back to Myra when Myra returned. Chris slept on, her breathing in time to the drumming outside.

Tina and Ricky returned, along with several of Chris's cousins and other people in the community. The house filled with people and food. Ginny kept watch on Chris's IV. Whenever the pain returned, Chris would begin moaning and Ginny would instantly add a dose to her line. She also changed the catheter bag.

In the late afternoon, Myra felt a tiny shift in Chris's body. Sima felt it too, and looked into Chris's face. Chris didn't open her eyes, but she breathed out "Sima".

"I'm here. I love you. I'll never leave you" said Sima.

There was nothing more from Chris. Her breathing was slow, now moving at half the rate of the drumming. It was not nearly deep enough for Myra. By nightfall, Chris did not seem to be having the jags of pain she'd been having a few hours ago, and Myra resented even this loss. Allie and Edwina had placed cushions on the floor and were sitting leaned against the closet door of the small bedroom. Carly and Gillam were next to them, and Margie sat at the bottom of the bed, one hand under the covers and on Chris's foot. But mostly, Myra thought, it was Sima who tethered Chris still among them. A tether the drummers were working against.

A little before midnight, Myra had to get up to pee. When she stood, Margie did also. She stepped into Myra's arms for a long hug. Myra marveled at how tall and solid her daughter was, a woman with the vibrant health that Ginny had had when they first began dating. The contrast with Chris was cruel. As Myra left for the bathroom, Margie lay down in the bed behind Chris where Myra had been.

After peeing, Myra went to sit at the table for a few minutes. Mostly it was women in the house, and they had begun singing. They were not all singing the same words or tune, but the melody wove in and out among the various singers, creating a whole. Two of the women were dozing. Myra wanted something more than praying, which looked to her like waiting. She walked out to the fires.

The wood had a smell she couldn't identify. There was a wind which blew smoke this way and that. Anywhere she stood around the blaze would, at times, drench her in smoke; she had to simply close her eyes and not breathe when the hot silver cloud enveloped her. These men, some of whom she had known since they were all boys, talked under the drumming to each other about trucks, hunting, some kind of local sports team, and, every few minutes, a story about Chris or her sister. Not big stories, just small pieces of family lore.

She could see the lit window to Chris's bedroom, a flicker from the candle on the windowsill. The sweater she was wearing wasn't enough. A low-level shiver began next to her bones, and she found herself welcoming it. The young men who were not drumming were drinking beer from a nearby cooler or, a few of them, pulling from a pint of something. All of them were big in the shoulder, thick through the middle, taller than her, and with hair painfully like Chris's once had been. Ricky went to the cooler to get another bottle of beer and brought back two, offering one to Myra.

She had not had any alcohol in at least 30 years. She looked at the brown glint of the bottle in the firelight for a minute, then took it from Ricky's hand and said "Thanks." She pulled her sweater sleeve over her hand to give her traction for the twist-off lid. The liquid was cold and alien in her mouth. But once it reached her stomach, something at the base of her spine uncoiled a little. She drank it down rapidly, then turned her back to the fire to try to warm that side of her.

After a few minutes, she was handed another beer. She faced the fire again and drank that one just as fast. Her brain seemed empty, except for a blunted longing that she refused to acknowledge. There was no point in praying, or talking. Nobody was going to help. Nobody was going to do anything for Chris.

A rectangle of light appeared at the corner of the house, meaning someone had come outside. Gillam appeared from the dark, making his way toward her. He put his arm over her shoulders and said “You're shaking.”

“Cold out here” she said. He peered into her face and said, “Are you drunk?”

“Not enough.” She let him pull her back to the house. She went to the bathroom to scrub her mouth and teeth before returning to Chris's bed. Margie stood to give her back her spot at Chris's back.

She smelled strongly of smoke and fire. She couldn't tell if Chris registered it consciously, but she knew it must be going into her brain somewhere, hitching a ride on her olfactory nerve, and Myra clung to that thread of communication.

Despite the beer and an exhaustion that defied boundaries, she was not sleepy. The song from the living room never stopped. She counted every second, like drips of water. Occasionally the obscene injustice of Chris running out of time would try to slither out of its barricade in her mind, and she would shove it back. There was no room for her grief or anger right now -- any distraction from the sensation of lying pressed against Chris was an evil she would not tolerate.

She felt it when Chris died. There was no movement from her, no sound, but something simply blinked out. She held her breath to listen, but then Sima cried "No, no" and the whole room woke up. A high, shrill keening began in the living room next door. Sima started sobbing, pulling Chris to her, away from Myra. Ginny quickly slid into bed behind Sima, holding her. Now, thought Myra. Now you can feel it. But she could not let it loose yet.

She got up from the bed, having to choose her body mechanics carefully. It wasn't the alcohol any more. She just couldn't quite remember how to move without an effort. She looked at her children, at Ginny, at Allie and Edwina, crying and rocking with each other. She walked out into the living room, where everyone seemed to know. Several of the women were praying, and it was more than one kind of prayer. She walked to the bedroom at the back of the house and lay down in the hostile cold. No one had turned on the space heater in here. The pillow was icy against her face.

After a few minutes, Allie came looking for her. She lay down between Myra and the wall and pulled her tight. "It's just you and me now, buddy" she whispered. Allie began crying again, but Myra could not. This was too much to take a chance with. She didn't think she could come back from this grief. She traced Allie's fingers with her own, turning her head and whispering "I love you for all time, Allie Billups."

After a few more minutes, Gillam arrived. He bent and turned on the space heater, then lay down in the small bed on the other side of Myra. They filled it from edge to edge, and she was between two people much taller than her, like a sandwich middle. It was enough to anchor her. She held onto her son and felt a tendril of warmth come into the room. In another minute, she had fallen asleep.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.



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

As an extra treat, check out the LOLCats Theme Song from (same folks who created The Viking Kittens). This is hilarious and addictive. Thanks to little gator who turned me on to it.


Monday, April 6, 2009


Cliff with spring at base
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, 17 December 2009

Myra woke up during the night, hearing someone in the kitchen making tea, but from the footsteps she could tell it was Sima. She made herself stay in bed, seeking comfort by curling into Ginny. Still, it took her half an hour to get back to sleep. She woke up not entirely rested, cold and alone in the bed.

Chris was at the table eating toast and blueberries with yogurt. Her IV pole was beside her, and the buffalo robe was draped over her shoulders. There were dark circles under her eyes.

“How's the pain?” asked Myra.

“A dragon who demands tribute with vociferous breath” said Chris. Ginny from her easel said “High doses every three hours, to be specific”. Sima emerged from the bathroom, and Ginny added “Sima injected an early morning dose into the IV bag herself.”

“There's no need for both of us to wake up” said Sima. “I'm glad to leave it you during the day, Ginny, I'm not trying to take over who are you to Chris right now.”

Ginny held onto her muted irritation for half a minute, then said “All right. I just – There's no margin for experimentation right now.”

Chris said to Myra “My old wife and my new wife are squabbling over me.” She was thoroughly high, Myra could tell.

“If Ginny is your new wife, what does that make me?” asked Myra.

“My new boyfriend” said Chris, giggling. Imitating Cloris Leachman in Young Frankenstein, she hissed “Yes, she wass my boyfriend.” After giggling some more, she said “My hands and feet itch.”

“That could be the morphine” said Ginny. Myra decided she wanted something substantial for breakfast. She began mixing buckwheat batter. She set a saucepan of water on a burner to poach eggs as well. Chris called into the kitchen “Tina called, said Wayne is finally dragging his ass to town this weekend. Which means another mouth for Friday night dinner.”

“Good” said Myra. “You know, Saturday is the winter solstice. Shall we build a bonfire and howl at the moon?”

“We might get some answers close by” said Chris.

“What day does Chanukah begin this year?” asked Ginny. Sima answered “The 23rd. “Next Monday.”

“If I'm like I am now, I want Gillam and Jane to bring the kids here for Christmas” said Chris.

“I'm pretty sure they're planning on that” said Myra. She put the first pancakes on a plate, added butter, and set the plate in the warm oven.

Chris waved to get her attention, patted her robe, and said “I want you to have this. You'll have to get it cleaned. Call Donnalee at the UIATF, she's the one who gave it to me and she knows who can clean it right.”

There was a long silence. “Okay” Myra said finally. “Do you want pancakes or eggs?”

“No, I need to get to the creek” said Chris, trying to get her walker positioned without knocking over the IV pole.

“Let me help” said Sima. Myra turned on the kettle again to make a thermos of tea as they went into the bedroom to put on warm clothing. Just as they were leaving, Allie, Edwina and Margie pulled up out front. Margie said “I'm going with, okay?” Sima looked relieved. Ginny unclipped Chris's line from her wrist access and said “Don't get water or dirt on your hand.”

“Damn. I was going to hand-catch fish for dinner” said Chris. “I'll have to shoot 'em with my .22 instead.”

Myra wasn't laughing at Chris's jokes today, she wasn't sure why. After they left, she put a platter of pancakes on the table, along with a bowl of eggs, and said “There's yogurt and blueberries too. Did Margie eat breakfast?”

“Not that I saw” said Allie. “She had a cup of coffee from the in-room pot, is all.”

Ginny came to eat with them. Myra had a few bites in her when the phone rang. It was Carly, and Myra said “I want to talk with him, will that bother you all?”

“Go ahead” said Ginny. “Catch him up.”

Myra did, and Carly said “You know, severe itching is also a symptom of liver failure.”

“No, I didn't know that” said Myra, frowning at Ginny.

“I'm supposed to work until the end of the week, but – if she starts showing signs of encephalopathy, will you call me immediately? We'll come right away” said Carly.

“I don't know what that is” said Myra.

“Her mind starting to fail” said Carly. “Memory lapses, hallucinations, personality shift, could take a few different forms.”

“I'm not sure if it will be apparent right away” said Myra. Carly laughed, but Myra was serious. They talked another ten minutes. When Myra hung up, her eggs were cold and her appetite gone.

“Why did you say her itching was the morphine?” said Myra.

“I said it could be the morphine” answered Ginny.

“Carly says it's also a sign of liver failure. And he wants us to call him right away when her mind starts failing, which he seemed to expect. You need to keep me ahead of the curve here, Ginny.” Myra's hands were trembling.

“We covered all this more than once” said Ginny, trying not to be defensive. “With that nurse practitioner, and I know I read it to you from my notes at the hospice training.”

“I remember it” said Edwina, in a peacemaker voice.

“You mad at Ginny for seeing what you ain't? Or mad at Sima for moving into Chris's bed?” asked Allie.

“I'm just mad” said Myra. She drank some tea and said “I don't want to be fair any more. At least not today. She looks like crap. She had one good day after Sima came, and now she's worse than ever.” Myra knew Ginny wanted some sort of apology, and she didn't feel like making the effort. She resumed eating in silence.

Allie and Edwina let the silence stand. Ginny returned to her easel, and Edwina cleared the table, saying to Myra “Why don't you write?” Allie hauled in wood, scrubbed sweet potatoes to bake for lunch, then settled on the couch with a book. Edwina shared the table with Myra.

Chris returned with red cheeks but Myra thought her skin tone was noticeably more yellow underneath. She ate only a sweet potato with butter for lunch, complaining of the cold and drinking cup after cup of hot tea. She was about to go to her room for her nap when the phone rang. Myra reached back to answer it.

“Hey, Mom” said Gillam. “Listen, I've got a free hour and I'm in the counselor's office, she's not here. I want to skype in and talk to you all, but especially Aunt Sima, can you set that up?”

“Yeah. Give me five minutes and dial in here.” Margie helped, and they all sat around one end of the table, facing the monitors on the other end, as Gillam made connection.

“Hi, Aunt Sima” he said. “I'm so glad to see you again.” His face was somber.

“I know I owe you an apology, Gillam, for not saying goodbye properly” said Sima.

“Well, yes, I think you do” he said. He waited.

Sima, a little uncertainty in her voice, said “I am very sorry. I wasn't rational, but I know that's no excuse. I didn't mean to hurt you.”

“All right. I accept you apology for me. But I need to say – Aunt Allie told me that you are planning to move back. I – my kids never understood how you could just vanish from their lives. They missed you, and it caused them pain. Unnecessary pain, in my opinion. So I need to know that if you plan to re-enter their lives, you'll never do this to them again. Because if you can't make that promise, I'm going to ask you to – keep your distance from them.” There was no apology in his tone, although his eyes were kind.

Chris giggled. Sima was twisting a bracelet on her wrist around and around. She blew out her breath softly, took in more air, and said “That's only fair, Gillam. I owe them that respect. And you have my promise.”

“Good, then” he said, and his shoulders relaxed. Myra knew how much this had cost him. With a much lighter manner, he asked Chris how she was doing and talked with them all for another ten minutes. He said Mimi had discovered that kicking boys in the crotch provoked a profoundly different reaction than kicking girls did, and both David and Charlie were avoiding her.

“I'll call her later” offered Margie. He accepted.

After Chris and Sima went to lie down, Allie whispered to Myra “He one hell of a daddy.”

“His picture should be in the dictionary” agreed Myra. “Listen, I think part of what's going on with me is just fatigue. I'm going to take a nap myself, if that's all right with you.”

“Calling Nancy would also be a good idea” volunteered Ginny.

“Yes, except I'd have to drive somewhere to have privacy” said Myra. “Maybe tomorrow.” She shut the bedroom door, for what little measure of quiet that would provide. To her surprise, she dropped off instantly and slept hard for two hours. She woke up to the sound of the front door and Bernie's voice. Groggily, she pushed herself into the living room, where Ginny was knocking on Chris's door.

“Bernie's here” said Ginny. Sima said “Come on in” and Myra stood behind Allie, Edwina and Margie, looking into Chris's bedroom. Bernie said “I wanted to come talk with you about your urinalysis results.”

Chris looked at her blankly and said “I'm sorry – who are you?”

Ice flushed through Myra's veins. In an ordinary voice, Bernie said “I'm the home health nurse who's caring for you. I came out after you vomited and took a urine sample.”

“Oh. Right.” Myra wasn't sure Chris actually did remember, however.

“Your specific gravity was quite high, and there was considerable urobilinogen” said Bernie. “These are strong indicators of liver failure.”

“Well alert the press” said Chris.

“I'd like to take a blood draw” said Bernie. Chris held out her wrist. Myra decided to go make herself some steamed milk, anything to help return warmth to her body.

After Bernie left, Chris said “I need a bath. Can we put a plastic bag over this plug so I can bathe?”

Sima sat by the tub and assisted Chris, also washing her hair for her. Once Chris was dry and in sweats, she sat down in her chair next to the stove. She asked for it to be turned so she could look out the sliding glass doors at the sunset while Sima rubbed her hair gently dry, stopping to brush it between rubs. Chris kept sighing in release. After a few minutes, however, she twisted her head around and caught the eye of Allie, sitting on the couch behind her.

“It's coming back. My back and hip. Is it too early for another dose of morphine?”

“Never too early, Chris, you know that. The point is to keep you comfortable” said Allie, standing. Ginny looked around from the kitchen but Allie said “I'll do it, I'm good with syringes.”

Chris snorted, saying “Comfortable isn't really an option.”

Allie brought in the IV pole from the bedroom and reattached the bag and line to Chris's arm access. She then injected morphine into the bag. After disposing of the syringe, she pushed Chris's wheelchair beside Chris and sat in it, looking out at the snowy meadow with her.

After five minutes, Chris's sighs changed tenor. “Here it comes” she said mostly to herself. Her eyes fluttered closed and the lines in her forehead smoothed out. A few minutes later, she slid her hand over into Allie's and said “You know, I still remember what it was like to be with you. You were definitely hot, old friend. Don't tell Sima I said that. Or Myra, she gets so strange about sex with everybody except Ginny. I don't know Ginny found a way around her patch of locoweed, but thank god she did.”

“Amen” said Allie, trying to cover her embarrassment. Sima kept brushing Chris's hair with a smile. In the kitchen, Ginny poked Myra in the ribs and whispered “She always has sex stuff come up right after a shot, have you noticed?”

“Yeah. But she's right about the locoweed thing.”

After several more minutes, Chris said to Allie in a plaintive voice “I miss her so bad, Al. I don't know how much more I can hang on.”

Allie looked at her, stricken. Sima leaned around Chris, putting her face in view, and said gently “I'm here, sweetheart. I came to you, remember?”

Chris's face illuminated. “I didn't dream it, then.” Sima kissed her tenderly, whispering “Not a dream. Feel how real.” Allie stood up to take the brush and towel from Sima, giving her seat to Sima. Chris leaned against Sima and closed her eyes again as Allie continued brushing her hair.

“I walked to the source of the creek one day, did I ever tell you that?” said Chris.

“No. I thought it came from snow melt” said Sima.

“Well, some of it is. But I wanted to find out. It was after I started school, I remember because I had to go on a Saturday and I knew I'd be gone all day, and Dad would bust me if he was here. So I had to wait until he'd be out of the house. It was deer season. He left early, and I slipped out after breakfast. I dressed in cover, not blaze orange. It was better to risk taking a bullet than advertise me being a girl alone in the woods, I figured. Cause I figured hunters were like my Dad's friends, you know?”

Sima couldn't seem to find her voice. Allie said quietly behind Chris's head “I hear ya.”

“I kept having to cross back and forth, as room to walk petered out. I took some harebrained risks, I remember. But I had to keep going.” Chris opened her eyes and looked at Sima. “I had a compass, a beautiful silver thing. The year before, I broke into a cabin that wasn't used year round and I found the compass, plus a jackknife and other things I stole. There was a little magnifying glass, and this metal string with rings at each end that I finally figured out could be used to saw through wood. And a Boy Scout handbook, and a little can of Garrett's snuff. My granny used to dip snuff and I thought that was nasty, so instead I sniffed a pinch up my nose like I'd seen in some old movie. I wound up rolling around on the ground in agony, snot and tears streaming out of me. Didn't try that again. I used it for prayers and offerings, cause it was tobacco, you know. When it was all gone, I used the can to keep matches in. I made little fires to cook fish, if I could catch any, and to sit by in cold weather.”

Chris rubbed her hands together unconsciously. She closed her eyes again.

“I took an old Crisco can, cleaned out, and stashed my stuff in that under some rocks by the creek. If I brought it home, my Dad would find it, he went through everything in here. I kept other stuff in it, too. Bird feathers, some flint-knapped spearheads and a curved stone blade that I think was used to scrape skins; an old brass cartridge case from the 1800s; and a pack of cards I found in the glove compartment with pictures of naked ladies on them. And once in the creek I found three vertebrae, scoured completely clean, from some big animal. They fit together like a puzzle, and I could stick my fingers through the middles. I loved carrying them in my pocket when I hiked around.”

“What animal was it, you think?” asked Sima.

“I don't know. They looked about as big as a human's, but they weren't human, I don't think. When we moved into town, my Dad found the can in my clothes chest and took the knife and compass. Waled on me for stealing the cards, and threw the rest away.” Chris turned her head so Allie could reach the other side more easily, even though she seemed to have forgotten who was brushed her hair. It was dry now, but Allie didn't stop.

After a couple of minutes, Chris opened her eyes and said “What was I talking about?”

“The creek. Finding the source of the creek” said Sima.

“Oh, yeah. I got up past the foothills, the creek now only a trickle. I came into this little meadow, surrounded by trees. But at the end, facing me, was a cliff face. Beautiful grey stone going straight up, with striations in it, two sweeps here and here “ -- she motioned arcs in two directions -- “that looked for all the world like giant legs coming down to the jumble of boulders at the end of each, like boots. I used to imagine it was a giant frozen in mid stride. And between the two feet was a wet patch, with a hole in the rock where seep was coming out. It was a spring. I mean, I'd pass feeder streams along the way, so other water comes into the creek, but the first drops come from a spring that arises out of the cliff. That water is icy, even in the hottest summer, and it tastes better than anything I've had since. And where it seeped out was green lichen over the grey rock. The first time I looked into your eyes, that's what I thought of, the greeny-grey of my spring. I knew right then you were my source, I'd found you.”

Sima swallowed hard and took both of Chris's hands between hers.

“I'm sorry I didn't tell you, Sima, I – so many lies are told with words, I decided I would be honest with actions first. But that was a mistake, I should have said more -- “

Sima put her thumb across Chris's lips. “No. It wasn't your fault, remember, we agreed on that. My mistake, not yours.” They looked at each other for a while. Allie could hear Margie's breathing on the couch behind her.

“You know, Sima, I just realized that it was Myra who led me to you, and it was you and Allie who led her to Ginny, and it was Ginny and Myra who led Allie to Edwina. Isn't that funny? We all helped each other find our heart's desire.”

Allie heard Edwina get up from the table and go into the kitchen. Sima kissed Chris again. Chris said “I have to lie down, I'm getting dizzy.”

Allie helped Sima get Chris on her feet, but Sima took over then, supporting Chris into the bedroom. They shut the door. Allie blew a kiss to Margie, then went into the kitchen and put her arms around Edwina, Myra and Ginny all together. “Thank you” she whispered.

Myra was remembering the Saab she'd bought Chris when she first won the lottery, how Chris had asked for a green-grey color that reminded her of “some rocks near where I lived as a kid.” I had no idea...

Three animal vertebrae

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.



Therese Edell 1978 (Therese Edell, circa 1978, photo by Toni Armstrong Jr.)

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, a lesbian-feminist singer/songwriter named Therese Edell toured women's communities and music festivals in the U.S. to admiring crowds. Often, she would stride on stage, her guitar slung over her back, and begin her set by holding up her hands in two O's, then bring her forefingers together in a point, while singing

Do you know what's round at both ends
High in the middle?
When I was a baby child
That was my favorite riddle

We dykes would cheer for Ohio, no matter where we had grown up. We knew Therese was from the Cincinnati feminist stronghold which had given us Crazy Ladies Bookstore, Dinah (originally Dinah Soar News), and which still contains the Ohio Lesbian Archives.

The fact is, much of what was best in the national lesbian/feminist culture of that era came from the Midwest. Also nationally known but originating from Ohio was Womenews, The American Negro Woman, and Working Women Newsletter (all from Cleveland); Women's Studies Review and lesbian mothers organizing in Columbus; plus the Feminist Health Fund Newsletter and waves of Socialist women's theory emerging from Yellow Springs. Michigan gave us the largest women's music festival (outside Hesperia), the annual MichFest; the sine qua non of lesbian news forums, Lesbian Connection (still publishing) from East Lansing; the influential Aradia Collective in Grand Rapids; Moving Out and Sojourner Third World Women's Research Newsletter from Detroit; Daily Dyke, Bridges Jewish Feminist Journal, Leaping Lesbian, Purple Star (from Radicalesbians), and several of the women who later formed The Furies from Ann Arbor. Other known hot spots for lesbian-feminist culture were Madison, Wisconsin (where Amazon, Wisconsin Tribal Women's News Najinakwe, Union Maid, and two women's science fiction journals, New Moon and Aurora, were published); Milwaukee, Wisconsin (home to the Bread and Roses Women's Health Center and Women of Color News); Lincoln, Nebraska (originator of Sinister Wisdom, still publishing); Lawrence, Kansas (publishing Monthly Cycle); Bloomington, Indiana; Minneapolis, Minnesota (home to Maize Lesbian Land Journal, Sing Heavenly Muse, So's Your Old Lady, Hurricane Alice, Women's Braille Press Newsletter, and the Lesbian Insider/Insighter/Inciter); Champaign-Urbana, Illinois (home of the other national women's music festival); Chicago, Illinois (giving us the Chicago Women's Liberation Union, Women and Children First Bookstore, Mountain Moving Coffeehouse, Jane [a safe underground abortion service before Roe v. Wade], and Voices of the Women's Liberation Movement, the first national women's liberation newsletter); and Iowa City, Iowa (home to Ain't I A Woman?, the Iowa City Women's Press, Aunt Lute Books, Better Homes and Dykes, and the standout Common Lives/Lesbian Lives).

This is all prologue to me saying I'm not at all surprised that Iowa this week legalized lesbian/gay marriage in a matter-of-fact way which will likely stand without reversal until 2012. Common sense and fair play are, in fact, Midwestern values. I don't view any part of this country as expendable, hopeless, or a "fly-over" zone. Like so many other non-conforming people, I fled my home (Texas) as a young adult, moving to San Francisco to be a dyke's dyke for a dozen years, because the urban cities of this continent's margins are where we cluster. But I returned because I love my people of origin and I knew exile is often self-imposed. I've not regretted my choice.

I suspect all those women who created culture in the 1970s and who stayed rooted in the Midwest probably played a large role in making this victory possible. Community is much larger than we progressives often paint it to be. (Don't mistake that for me agreeing with the fractured view of community put forth by conservatism.) In addition, from Suze Orman to Ellen Degeneres to Rachel Maddow, it seems like suddenly lesbians are not just trendy but being viewed as beacons to be followed by the larger world. Honestly, this makes me nervous, but we'll see how it all pans out.

Vermont's passage of same-sex marriage rights seems headed for a veto by their governor, which is like trying to hold back the Mississippi each year with sandbags instead of moving cities away from the floodplain. But I want to make it clear that I don't see marriage rights as the most important issue which should be embraced by lesbians and gays in this country, and I don't view the changes occurring in this arena to be about lesbian/gay rights per se.

If lesbians and gays marry at the same rate as heterosexuals, this issue will directly affect the lives of only about 25% of us. (And let's admit here, it's much more likely to be lesbians marrying than gay men, which is why so many of those "first to get married" photos are of two women.) And of that 25% who might want to marry, there's another solid percentage who don't actually believe in the institution of marriage. I know plenty of hets my age who feel the same way. (Cue Brooklyn Bridge singing "The Worst That Could Happen"...)

Of much deeper consequence, I believe, to the lives of most lesbian and gay people is job protection, freedom from housing discrimination (including for retirees), and safeguarding our youth from violence/misinformation at school. I find it significant that polls indicate much more support for equality and basic rights in these areas, especially the first two, than for "marriage rights". I think it's been a tactical error to focus on precisely where the Right is able to do its best fund-raising, whipping up a frenzy of fear and hate about how we threaten their world.

However, despite that error, change she is a'comin. It will be portrayed, right and left, as a growing recognition that we deserve to have our love sanctified in matrimony. I'm not sure that's true. I think the definition of marriage has been under enormous pressure to change since World War II, and this is only one manifestation of a culture-wide struggle to revise an institution whose role has been crucial to maintaining control by the elite few. Divorce, birth control, refusal to marry, open marriage, reversal of anti-miscegenation laws, and a broad array of women's rights issues are other indicators of this sea change. And the Right stands in opposition to them all, which tells me (should tell you as well) how important the myth of "traditional" marriage is to the patriarchy.

I think government should remove itself from the business of marriage except as a civil contract that people can undertake to derive certain legal benefits such as choosing a coparent to your children, ensuring inheritance and medical decision-making protection, and other financial agreements. Holy matrimony should be left to religious entities and not confused with the legal contract. I think we should push for civil unions only from the state, for everybody, and if you want a church wedding on top of that, fine by me but it should carry no legal standing -- only that certificate you both swear to in front of a clerk will be binding.

I can imagine this kind of practical approach emerging from the Midwest, spreading from town to town like a fervor for the community-building opportunities of boys' bands. But then, some of my best friends are from Iowa. And Nebraska. And Ohio.

[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]


Sunday, April 5, 2009


Can of cocoa powder from Amsterdam
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.

Sunday-Monday, 15-16 December, 2019

Sima stopped when she saw the expression on Myra's face. After two heartbeats, Myra walked swiftly to Sima and pulled her into a tight hug. Sima shivered, and Myra said “Thank god you came.” She walked Sima into the house, her arm around her waist. Margie had gone in and was grinning from ear to ear.

“Some surprise, huh?” she said. But Sima was looking hungrily around the rooms in sight, and Myra said “In here. She's asleep.”

She turned on the bedside lamp and bent over Chris, murmuring “Darlin', you're gonna want to wake up. Have a look.”

Chris focused on Myra's face as Myra helped her sit up. Then her head slowly turned and she stopped breathing as her gaze locked onto Sima.

“Am I awake?” she whispered.

Myra wondered what Sima must be feeling, seeing Chris as she was now: Half the size she used to be, her face and hands gaunt, her white hair with streaks of yellow and in a near frizz around her head. At the corners of her eyes and mouth were hints of yellow as well. Myra looked at Sima, who had no expression on her face but her body seemed open. Sima glanced at the walker, the bedside toilet, the array of bottles and syringes on the nightstand, and then, for a long second, Ginny's portrait of the six of them, before returning to Chris's face.

Myra said “It's real.” Sima dropped her coat on the floor and crawled over the foot of the bed, lying down beside Chris with her thigh over Chris's. Chris said “Ow” and Sima pulled away in dismay, saying “Oh, no, did I hurt you?” After a second, Chris burst into crazy laughter as she answered “Fuck yeah you did.” After another second, Sima began laughing with her and Chris pulled her close.

Ginny's voice came from behind Margie in the doorway. “What's going on – oh my god.” Margie turned to her and said “Come on, Mama. Both of you. Let's leave them alone.”

Myra didn't move, scanning Sima's face to be sure Chris would be safe with her. Margie's hand closed around Myra's wrist and tugged at her. Once they were out of the room, Margie shut the door and said “Let's go to your room and talk.”

Margie scooted over their bed to lean against the far wall, then said “Damn, it's like ice back there” and leaned forward again. Ginny closed the door and sat on the other side of Margie from Myra, arranging the down comforter over the three of them before she said “How the hell did you pull this off?”

“It wasn't me” said Margie, looking as if she wished it had been. “I mean, I simply drove her here. She's been trying to call Chris for over a week, but apparently Chris isn't checking her cell. She's also been calling your house line, which Gillam thought you were calling in to listen to messages. She said she wanted to talk to Chris first, not one of us.”

Myra looked at Ginny, who said “Shit. I checked our cells but not the house line, I thought Jane and Gillam would be doing that, I guess.”

“Anyhow, when Chris didn't return her calls, she thought – well, she thought the worst, and she finally just got on a plane. Once she was in the air, she called me. I was the one she was least ashamed of asking for help, she said.” Margie's tone seemed to relay her uncertainty about her reaction to that distinction.

“So she flew in today?” asked Myra. “My god” Ginny said to herself.

“I called her back right away and told her what was going on. She begged me to just bring her to Chris first, not tell anybody. I decided that would be okay with Chris. And I knew it be okay with you two. I mean, Mom, I read that letter you wrote to her. Which I think is what probably shifted things for her” said Margie.

“What letter, the angry one?” Myra didn't see how that could have made a difference like this.

Margie, nodding, went on “I gave her a big talking to, I want you to know that. I said Aunt Chris was not, fucking NOT to be asked to deal with relationship stuff now, that Sima had to either be completely here for Chris or I wasn't bringing her to the cabin.” There was sudden steel in Margie's voice, and Myra's eyes welled.

Ginny said again “My god. I honestly didn't think she would ever come.”

“How long will she stay?” asked Myra, suddenly scared Sima would leave again in two days.

“She's not going back, she said. She didn't officially break up with Susan, but I gather there was an ultimatum that Sima violated.”

Ginny barked a laugh. “Who knew Sima had this streak of taking off like she has been?”

“Yeah, well, it's a habit she has to break as of now” said Myra. “So none of the rest of the family knows she came?”

“I picked her up on the way out of town” said Margie. “But I told Franny, of course. And I need to go back to the motel, wake up Aunt Allie and Edwina to tell them so they can talk it over before coming here tomorrow.”

“Edwina won't be happy” said Ginny softly.

“Allie will be” said Myra. “I mean, it's about what Chris wants and needs at this point. But we're gonna ride herd on Sima, I hope she knows that.”

“I thought you had news about the plans” said Ginny. “You know, the title transfers?”

“That guy Elliott still has not called me back” said Margie. “All I ever get is his voice mail. I left him a message about that point you made, Mama, about the grinding holes” -- she directed to Myra -- “So maybe that changed things for the better. But so far all we have is the one piece of property. I'm going to sleep in a little tomorrow, then use the motel phone to make more calls. I may not be here until lunch.”

“You are doing a heroic job” said Ginny, her voice resonant with pride.

“I need the experience” said Margie quietly. “Anyhow, I have to go, I'm beat. Frances sent cannelloni and some fresh swordfish, it's in the fridge.”

“Call us when you get to the motel” asked Myra. “In fact, take the jeep.”

“All right” said Margie. Myra and Ginny walked her to the door, added a new log to the stove, made tea and sat at the table in darkness until Margie called in. Sima's bags sat in the living room.

After wishing Margie sweet dreams, Myra lay down with Ginny curved behind her and pulled the comforter to her chin. “Tell me Chris is actually all right in there.”

“She's all right” said Ginny. “She's a very different woman than when Sima left, for one thing. And for another, Sima willingly walked back into unknown territory. She never lacked courage, our Sima. She just got very, very stupid for a while. Stupid is something you can recover from.”

After a few moments, Myra chuckled. “Plus there's that painting of us all looming over her head.”

A minute later, Ginny said “Did you see Chris's face? It was more alive than it's been in months. You know, sometimes...a cathartic event can turn around failing health.”

Don't go there, Ginny thought Myra. She stayed silent.

Ten minutes later, she heard sounds from the other end of the house: Someone was weeping. But she couldn't tell which of them it was – or maybe it was both. She strained to listen in the dark, worried about how she would know if her help was needed. Then, blindly, she realized it wasn't weeping, it was lovemaking she heard.

“Thank god” she said out loud. She felt Ginny's arm around her waist squeeze tightly, meaning she was still awake, too. She put her breathing in rhythm with Ginny's and was able to fall asleep quickly.

In the morning, despite it being full light out, Ginny was still there. They woke up together, faced the bitter cold of their room outside the blankets, and went to the kitchen where Allie was frying turkey sausages with sliced tomatoes and mushrooms. Edwina leaned against the counter beside her, sipping coffee.

“They been up yet?” Myra whispered.

“No” said Edwina. Ginny opened the fridge to inspect the swordfish steaks and said “I'm going to make a marinade for these, we can have them for dinner. Did you bring nuoc mam in your kitchen kit?”

“Uh, no” said Myra. She leaned against the counter next to Edwina and murmured “How are you with all this?”

“Chris first” said Edwina crisply. “Wherever that goes.”

“Aha, kochujang!” said Ginny, plucking a bottle from the door. Two limes and a can of coconut milk were already sitting beside the fish.

“I want those cannelloni with breakfast” said Allie. “She puts almond meal in the batter and candied ginger in the ricotta.”

They all froze when they heard Chris's bedroom room open. By the creak of the walker, they could tell Chris was coming out first. Ginny stepped into the dining area and said “Are you hungry?”

“After I use the bathroom” said Chris. Sima came into the kitchen, her face red but determined. Allie stepped over to hug her, and Edwina followed her with less warmth.

“Tea or coffee?” asked Myra.

“I'll make it” said Sima. She had on the clothes she'd been wearing the night before. She looked at Allie's griddle and said “Is that pork?”

“No” answered Ginny, squeezing limes. Sima added cream to her cup of coffee and went to stand beside Ginny, saying “That is one hell of a painting. I feel like I've been immortalized without my clothes on.”

“The Ginny effect” said Myra, setting the big teapot on the table. Allie whispered to her “That guy Elliott called Margie first thing. They was still talking when we left.” Sima could hear them but didn't ask any questions.

When Chris came to sit at the table, her face was vivid, her eyes dancing. She let out a long groan, however, shifting her position twice. Myra felt shy about asking if she'd exerted herself too much. Ginny said “Your patch still on?”

“Yeah, but – my vertebrae are throbbing, and there's a new pain in my gut” said Chris. “Pain, not nausea.”

“Where in your gut?” asked Ginny, abandoning her swordfish.

“My liver” said Chris. Sima had sat down beside her, her face going pale.

“How about if I call Bernie?” said Ginny.

“I'll do it” said Chris. Ginny handed her the phone and went to cover the marinating fish before setting it in the refrigerator. Chris got through to Bernie directly and told her what was up, including “My girlfriend came back to me last night. But I don't think that's related to the pain, it was starting before then.” Ginny looked at Myra, who shook her head: No, Chris hadn't mentioned it last night.

“All right” said Chris, handing the phone to Ginny. To the rest of them she said “She'll come by this afternoon, but she says it's breakthrough pain, it was a matter of time before this happened.”

After Ginny hung up, she said “She's recommending Dilaudid, is that okay with you?”

“No, but let's give it a try” said Chris. “I'll take one after I eat a bite of cannelloni.”

Allie set a platter of mixed grill on the table and Edwina set down the cannelloni. Allie stayed in the kitchen to run her Accuchek and decide a metformin would be enough. She joined them and they held hands, closing their eyes for a minute. As they began eating, Allie said to Chris “You better stay our sweetheart. Keep talking like you been. No disappearing into you room all the time with Sima.”

Chris laughed heartily. “Yes ma'am.”

Allie said to Sima “After breakfast she go sit by the creek and pretend she a buffalo. I wait on her in the car. You can go with me if you like.”

Chris laughed again. Sima grinned and said “Thanks. Do you, any of you, have questions you want answered?”

“Not in a group setting” Myra said, looking around the table. Edwina's jaw was chewing tightly. Ginny said “Your cell phone won't work out here, if you need to leave a number -- “

“I won't” said Sima. “But I do want to call Gillam and Carly.”

“If you need privacy, you'll have to drive to the motel or into town” said Ginny kindly. “I like your hair that way.”

“I don't” said Chris. “Distracts from the clear beauty of your face. But of course I'm one to talk, with my Lady Taxol style results.” Happiness surged from her in waves. She speared a second sausage from the platter with her fork. Before she cut into it, however, she took the dropper Ginny handed her and poured a small stream of Dilaudid into her mouth. “Tastes like chicken” she commented, with another laugh.

Fifteen minutes later, during a conversation about what was going on in Congress, Chris said “Hot damn. The midnight express has done arrived.”

Allie looked at her keenly. “Good or out of control?”

“Good. A little too good” said Chris, experimentally flexing her back. Myra got up and returned with a jar of prune juice. Chris said “Oh, gag me.”

“I know. If you'd rather use the Docusate -- “ said Ginny.

“No, Bernie says it plays havoc with potassium levels” said Chris. She opened the jar and drank directly from it, wiping her mouth with her sleeve afterward and saying “I'm guessing none of the rest of you are going to partake.”

“I can barely stand to watch you drink it” said Myra. “Please do not take a bite of cannelloni next, that would be sacrilege.”

By the end of the meal, it felt almost normal to have Sima sitting there with them again. She insisted on clearing the table before going to change clothes. They heard Chris saying “That bottom drawer is clear and you can move the drums on the closet shelf all the way over, if you want.”

Sima carried Chris's buffalo robe in her arms as Chris walkered to Allie's car. Once they were gone, Edwina sat down at the table and said “I'll get past this, I will. But it takes me time.”

“A jolt for all of us” said Myra.

Ginny picked up the phone and said “I'm calling our house machine and retrieving messages, I'll be a while.” Edwina looked at Myra and said “Can you and I both plug in while she's on the line?”

“You go ahead” said Myra. “I'm starting a soup for lunch, then putting laundry and trash in the Volvo. Maybe Margie will make a run today or tomorrow.”

“I'll do it this afternoon” said Edwina. “I need to pick up a few things anyhow.”

After lunch, Chris lay down with Sima for a nap while Allie drove into town with Edwina. Margie sat at the table with Myra, whispering about their project, and Ginny, listening in, stretched another small canvas and gessoed it before starting the decoration of an upright on Chris's walker.

Bernie came at 4:00. Myra woke up Chris, lying in Sima's arms, before taking Bernie into the room. While Bernie was taking her blood pressure, Chris suddenly said “Oh god, I'm going to be sick.” Bernie got the bucket in front of her before Chris emptied her stomach into it. Myra stayed in the living room, but Ginny stood in the doorway and said “Is this a reaction to the Dilaudid?”

Bernie was inspecting the contents of the bucket. “I think not. There's a great deal of bile in the emesis. Besides, the liquid form doesn't reach the liver until it's been absorbed by the bloodstream.”

Myra wasn't sure what that meant, but she saw Ginny's shoulders sag a little. Sima said “What is it, then? She only had vegetable soup for lunch.”

Chris began heaving again. Bernie waited five minutes, until Chris could lie down and sip at water, before emptying the bucket. She gave Chris a dose of Compazine and said “I'm not going to draw blood at the moment. If you can make water, though -- “

Chris sat up wearily and dropped her pants before sitting on the toilet in her room. Sima held the cup for her. Margie looked away. Bernie waited for Sima to return from washing her hands before saying to Chris “I need to talk with Dr. Jhadav, but I think this is the natural course of liver failure.”

“Red letter day” said Chris with a weak laugh.

“Dilaudid is stronger than morphine, but if we administer the morphine by IV, it'll even out” said Bernie. “You could use some hydration, I think. I can start the line if you're ready.”

Chris looked at Ginny before she looked at Sima. Myra went to sit on the foot of the bed as Bernie slid a needle into Chris's arm, taped it down, and connected the line to a bag full of clear liquid hanging from the IV pole Margie pulled out of the closet. Bernie talked over morphine dosages with Chris and Ginny.

Chris said “Can I tie this off or whatever to go outside for a while?”

“Yes. Up to you and your tolerance for being off the morphine” said Bernie. She made a call to the doctor, leaving a message, and accepted the last two cannelloni before she left.

Sima helped Chris get to her chair by the stove. Chris insisted she needed to sit up. Margie carried in the IV pole and placed it on the side away from the stove. Chris looked at the easel and said “Another one?”

“Not if it bothers you” said Ginny.

Chris snorted. “Better than TV” she said. Margie sat down at Chris's feet with Ginny's peppermint lotion and pulled off one sock to begin rubbing Chris's instep. Ginny began loading a palette with pigments.

Chris said “Okay, Sima. Tell us about Boston. Anything except Susan, I don't want to hear jack shit about Susan.”

Sima settled on the couch and began “Worst drivers in the world, and that includes New York in an ice storm.”

Allie and Edwina returned right before dinner was ready. Chris had asked for couscous to go with the swordfish, saying “I'm not giving up Ginny's swordfish, not at this point.” Myra filled in Allie and Edwina while they set the table. Allie took the chair next to Chris, and Chris said “You'll have to run for the bucket if I give you the high sign.”

After dinner, Chris sat in her wheelchair at the table and they played another long game of Scrabble. She was clearly high and her usual humor was there, along with an excruciating sweetness. She went to bed at 9:00. Sima tucked her in, then went into the bathroom for a shower.

Allie whispered to Myra “I'm not ready. I mean, I know that sounds crazy, like when would I ever be ready, right?”

“Not crazy to me” said Myra. “Listen, none of us called Gillam or Carly today. Will you do that from the motel? Tell them they can call us any time tomorrow.”

“Yeah” said Allie, standing and looking briefly like an old woman. “I need to go soak my bones.”

Margie said softly “I guess I don't get to sleep with her any more.”

“You can ask” said Ginny stoutly.

“Not tonight” said Margie. “I'll drive behind you, Aunt Allie.” They left after long hugs with Myra and Ginny.

When Sima came out of the bathroom, Ginny said from her easel “I'm going to bed in an hour. But wake me up for any reason, especially if she needs more pain medication.” Myra put her arms around Sima and said “Are you holding up as well as you appear to be?”

“I can hardly stand how awful this is for her” said Sima. “But it's way easier being here than it was not.”

“Glad you figured that out” said Myra. “She tends to wake up in the middle of the night, often with bad dreams. She likes Amsterdam cocoa and sitting at this window, watching coyotes out back with the night vision goggles.”

“I don't know how to thank you” began Sima.

“Then don't. Use your talents for Chris” said Myra. She kissed Sima's cheek and went to add more wood to the fire before lying down on Ginny's side of the bed so it would be warm for her when she came to join her.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.