Saturday, September 29, 2007


(The Fall of Icarus, by Marc Chagall)
Okay, by popular demand, here's another small excerpt from Ginny Bates, the Lesbian novel I'm writing. This takes place in 1998 when Myra and Ginny's two children are 10 (Margie) and 7 (Gillam). I chose this one because Matthew Shephard is in the news again today. The Quaker Meeting incident in this excerpt actually happened.

If you are already a familiar reader, skip down to Read More. If not, here's links to background information in the sidebar to the right, third item from top.

Myra and Ginny don't let the children watch regular TV or any kind of violence. They have shabbos dinner every Friday night and sometimes go to chavurah with Congregation Tikvah Chadashah (Seattle's Lesbian and Gay congregation). The children are in Hebrew School, celebrate various other non-Christian religious observances, but once a month Myra takes them to Quaker Meeting as well.

Pat and Patty took Gillam and Margie for an overnight Saturday at their house. Hannah was out of town as well. With the house to themselves, Myra and Ginny made love on the living room floor (with Juju hiding on the stairs, waiting for it to be over). Afterward, they decided to take themselves out to a long romantic dinner at Ginny's favorite seafood place. Just as they were ready to leave the house, the phone rang. Myra answered; it was Patty.

"What's wrong?" said Myra. "Who's hurt?" Ginny appeared beside her instantly.

Patty said "Nobody's hurt, everything's fine." Myra made the okay signal to Ginny, who still stood there waiting.

"Pat was giving the boys haircuts, redoing Carly's crewcut, and Margie insists she wants a crewcut too. I told her we had to check with you."

Myra sighed. "Let me talk with her a minute."

When Margie got on the phone, her voice was loud and defiant. "Why can't I have a crewcut, it's not just boys can have them!"

"You're right, Margie, I know girls who have crewcuts. And they look really good on whoever is wearing them. The thing is -- you're gonna encounter public stupidity from people who think you must be a boy with your hair that way. They're wrong, and you may have to tell them they're wrong. We'll help you when we can. Are you up for that?"

"Of course" said Margie. "I already have too short hair for a girl, and I have to tell people about having two mothers."

"Do we need to have a talk about that, about what it's like for you to deal with all that kind of stuff from other people who don't know us?"

"Not right now, Mama, please, Pat's gonna put the buzzers away!"

"Okay, hang on just a sec, let me check with Ginny."

But Ginny had heard most of it, and with a resigned grin she said "Okay by me."

"Ginny says okay, too. Put Patty back on."

Margie shrieked with joy and dropped the phone. After a few seconds, Patty was there, giggling.

"We gave her the go-ahead. What about Gillam, does he want one too?"

"No, he says he's going to grow his hair out long" said Patty.

"Well, that's not gonna happen. Thanks for calling, Patty. We're going out to eat, we'll be back later."

"Have a good time."

After dinner, Myra and Ginny drove to the waterfront and made out for a while. When they got back home, there was no message on the machine, so they got in the hottub naked and became so relaxed they were both ready for sleep.

Myra murmured "I was going to have an Alien marathon tonight. Or maybe write until dawn. Now I just want to drop off."

"Me, too" said Ginny drowsily. They dried each other off and curled up in bed.

The next day, after breakfast, the front door burst open and Gillam raced in, followed by Carly, then Pat. Margie and Truitt brought up the rear. When Myra saw Margie, she goggled.

"You look amazing, Margie. You remind me of Phranc!"

"Who's Frank?" asked Margie.

Ginny came in from the studio and ran her fingers through Margie's hair. Her eyes were gleaming. She bent and kissed Margie with a big smack, and said "You have the most beautiful face in the world, girlfriend."

Myra saw Gillam's expression change a little at that. She picked him up -- he was really getting almost too big to hold -- and whispered "She means both of you -- you both have those stunning Bates good looks, but she doesn't want to make Carly and Truitt feel bad by saying so." Gillam whispered back "Carly is beautiful, too."

"Yes, he is" lied Myra.

Pat rounded up her boys and left. Myra called Margie into her study and gave her the Phranc tape, I Enjoy Being A Girl. "You can play this in your room, I think maybe you'll really like it. Some of it is kinda punk."

Margie was glowing. She ran upstairs to put the tape in her boombox.

"Poor Hannah when she gets home" said Ginny. She swung Gillam's arms back and forth, asking "What did you all do last night?"

"We played freeze tag, and we had sloppy joes for dinner. And then we watched Jurassic Park."

"You what?" said Ginny.

"There wasn't any pork in the sloppy joes, I promise" said Gillam, unsure of what had set Ginny off.

"Did the dinosaur movie scare you?" asked Ginny, her jaw set.

"Nah, it's an old movie and Truitt kept making jokes about it. He and Carly have seen it lots. He made up voices for all the mean dinosaurs."

"Where were Pat and Patty?"

"Patty had to go out for a while, and Pat was at her computer. Then we got to have ice cream sandwiches, and then it was lights out." This was clearly a new phrase for Gillam, and he repeated it with relish: "Lights out".

Myra suggested she and Gillam go for a swim, and he raced her out to the pool. As she was pulling off her shirt, she saw Ginny picking up the phone at her desk.

(a few months later)

Margie approached Myra at her desk. "Mama, is there a way to look up on the computer about sled dog food?"

"Sled dog food? You mean the kind of food that sled dogs eat? Like huskies?"

"Yeah, dogs that pull sleds in the snow" said Margie. "I looked in all our pet books and also the encyclopedia, and I didn't find anything."

Myra scooted her chair over and booted up the internet. "Is this is a class assignment?"

"No, I just want to know more" said Margie. "I don't understand if dogs can get scurvy or not."

Myra stared at her for a minute. "What have you been reading?" she said finally.

"The Last Place On Earth" said Margie. "About Captain Scott, and Rolled Almondson."

"It's pronounced Ro-ald Amund-sen" said Myra. "I'm not sure you're old enough for that book."

"There aren't any bad words in it, at least not so far" protested Margie. "And there's no war stuff. It's about explorers."

"I know what it's about. Well, okay. You know how to do web searches, yes? I'll leave you to it, but don't download anything, not a thing, and if you get into something weird, tell me instantly, I'll be right here at my desk."

"Okay. If I find stuff to print, can I use your printer?"

"Sure, but if it's photographs, ask me and I'll show you to get a good image without draining my toner dry."

After an hour of research, Margie had a stack of paper. Myra gave her a folder to put it in. "I'm going to make a better map than what's in the book" said Margie as she went back to her room.

"I have no doubt of that" said Myra.

Two nights later, Myra and Ginny were sound sleep just past midnight when Myra felt someone crawling over her, crying. She jerked in alarm, then realized it was Margie throwing herself onto Ginny.

Ginny woke up in a panic. "What is it, honey? What's wrong?"

"They all died, all of them" sobbed Margie.

"Who's died?" Ginny sat bolt upright, and Myra finally found the lamp and turned it on.

"Captain Scott, and Captain Oates, and Dr. Wilson, and Birdie B-b-b--bowers!" blubbered Margie.

"Have you been reading in bed all this time?" said Myra, lying back down.

"I had a flashlight, I didn't bother Gillam. I couldn't stop. And I'm so cold, I'm f-f-freezing" cried Margie.

"Oh for shit's sake, is this that book you've been buried in?" said Ginny. Her face was creased with pillow marks.

"Lie down here, Margie, under the covers. We'll get you warm" said Myra. Ginny threw herself down grumpily too. She was good with early morning wake-ups, but if she hadn't got in at least one REM cycle yet, she was unbearable. Still, she pulled Margie into her, wrapping an arm around her and closing her eyes.

"Cherry found them. He knew something was wrong, didn't he?" continued Margie.

"Yes, I think so. I have his book, you know, in my rare books section. The Worst Journey on Earth. Most people think he and Birdie were lovers."

"Myra" said Ginny in an aggrieved tone, "How about if we try to get her to sleep?"

"I don't think I can sleep, it's so sad!" said Margie.

"Well, here's something to think about that will help you sleep. What's the date they died?" Ginny opened one eye and gave a scorching glare at Myra.

"March 29, 1912" said Margie.

"Well, the one-hundred year anniversary of their death is only 14 years off. You'll be a young woman then. We can have a special ceremony in their memory. We'll have some hot cocoa, and make a fire in the fireplace, and dress the cats up to look like huskies..."

Margie began giggling.

"And we'll wave the Union Jack, and sing God Save The Queen, and take a vitamin C pill. And for now, they are at peace, and it's okay if we save the mourning for them until the hundred-year anniversary. Okay?"

"Okay....Can I read Cherry's book next?"

Ginny opened her eye again.

Myra said "I think you need to wait until you're a few years older. We can see if there's any map information in it for you, but otherwise let's save that one for a treat later on."

Margie snuggled back into Ginny and closed her eyes. Myra turned off the light and listened to the two of them breathing for maybe a minute before she, too, was asleep again.

In the morning, she was lurched into consciousness by Margie's voice saying in a loud tone "Your bed is so big, me and Gillam could sleep with you both every night and there'd be plenty of room."

Ginny said foggily "Shhh, Myra's not up." Myra refused to open her eyes. It sounded like they were headed for the bathroom. Yep, she heard the sound of a small stream of liquid in the toilet.

Margie continued in a piercing whisper "Could I have English marmalade on my toast instead of apple butter?"

Ginny grunted something. At that moment, the bedroom door slammed open and Gillam said urgently "I can't find Margie anywhere!"

With her eyes still closed, Myra mumbled "In the bathroom." There was the sound of his feet running, then he said loudly "What you are all doing in here?"

Margie said swiftly "I got to sleep with both of them last night, in their bed."

"Mo-om!" he complained. "How come you didn't let me?"

Ginny hissed "Both of you, GET OUT. I'm trying to take a dump. Go into the kitchen and eat breakfast with Hannah."

As they went into the hall, Margie said "I was in the middle, between them."

"SHUT THE DOOR!" yelled Myra. Somebody crept back and shut it gently.

After a few minutes, Ginny flushed and washed her hands. Myra rolled over onto her stomach, burying her face in the pillow. She heard the bedroom door open and Ginny say softly "Hannah? I'm leaving it to you this morning. Thanks."

Then Ginny was crawling back not just into bed, but on top of Myra. Her weight always felt really good on Myra's spine. Ginny whispered "You're my favorite mattress in the whole world." She lay her face next to Myra's. Myra said "Some people think Scott and Dr. Wilson were jerking each other off, too." "Mmmm" said Ginny. Within a minute, they were both sleeping again.

11 October 1998

The Sunday after Matthew Shephard was murdered, Myra announced she wanted to go to Quaker meeting, an extra attending as usually they only went once a month. When Ginny looked at her and asked why, Myra said "I need some -- perspective." She didn't want to talk about the murder with the children in the room. But Ginny asked "Is this about Matthew Shephard?", and when Myra nodded, Margie asked "Who's that?"

Ginny explained it to her and Gillam. She glossed over all the harshest details, but even bare bones was, in Myra's opinion, too much for the children to hear. It plainly frightened Gillam. He looked from one mother to the other, and his fear for them was naked on his sweet, intelligent face.

Margie said "I want to go with you". When Gillam said "Me, too", Margie added "I mean sit with the grownups during silent worship instead of going to First Day School." Gillam again said "Me, too."

Myra said "I'd love to have you, but it's a whole hour of sitting without fidgeting and being quiet like a mouse. Are you sure you're ready for that?" She looked directly at Gillam.

"I am" declared Margie, and there was no keeping Gillam back after that. Ginny decided not to go. As Myra was getting ready, Ginny came in the bedroom and said "If that Jesus guy gets up and starts talking about how Matthew is in Christ's arms now, I want you to do something, I don't want these kids having to listen to that shit."

"I can't interrupt Quaker meeting, Ginny. If something is said, you and I can do clean-up afterward."

"If they need to leave, you'll leave with them, right?"

Myra just gave Ginny an impatient look and finished tying her shoes.

This was the first time either child had stayed in the main meeting room past the first 15 minutes of worship since they were slumbering babies. As the other children rose at the quarter hour and were led out of the room, Gillam got antsy while Margie put a triumphant look on her face. Myra took Gillam's hand. Once the door closed and the room subsided into a profound, grateful quiet, Gillam's fidgeting stopped. This moment of transition, an almost physical plunge into communal silent worship, awed Myra every time, and she could feel it doing the same to her children.

Over the next half hour, a couple of people spoke about small revelations, moments from their past week. Then, at the three-quarters-hour mark, after several minutes of silence, Ric Bruner-Castillo stood up. When he did, a rustle of expectation traveled around the room.

Ric was a gay man around Myra's age who was partnered with a Latino. They had been married in the Meeting, and Myra had attended the wedding. She had never seen Ric stand and speak in Meeting before; in fact, she had hardly heard him speak at all. He was a stocky man with a black goatee, and he didn't seem to know what to do with his hands now as he stood, staring at the blank wall.

"When I heard the news that night" he began "I didn't know where to turn. Tomas wasn't home. Anger...anger threatened to unhinge me......Finally I picked up the Midrash, which I study weekly and which often sustains me."

At the mention of Midrash, Margie and Gillam both leaned forward a little. Their two religious communities had just melded.

"I began reading the account of how God and his angels watched while Moses and the Israelites fled Egypt. When Moses parted the sea and his people began passing between the waves, the angels cheered. When they reached the other side, the angels began watching closely, to see if Pharaoh's army would stop. But they did not, they came roaring into the gap, whipping their horses even faster. Then, before the first soldier could reach the Israelites, suddenly the waters closed over them in a mighty tumult. The angels began dancing in glee. But one angel saw that God was not dancing, or even cheering. He sat there weeping. The angel said, 'God, why are you not jubilant? Your people are safe.' And God replied 'How can I dance when my people are drowning?'"

As Ric sat down, Myra burst into tears. She was not the only person in the room to do so, but all of them tried hard to muffle their sounds and not draw attention to themselves. Margie gripped Myra's hand with strong fingers, and Gillam stood up and pressed himself against her side. Myra put one arm around his waist and kept her eyes closed, willing herself to go back into worship.

After Meeting, they left before announcements. Myra wanted to check in with her children. Once in the car, she turned to face them and said "What are you thinking or feeling? Let's share."

Margie said "Can we just go home? I want to be with Mama, too." Gillam's face was drawn but not in dire distress. He nodded, so Myra started the car and got them home.

As they came in, Ginny was in the kitchen making lunch. The children ran to her and hugged her from either side. Myra joined them, picking up Gillam while Ginny picked up Margie and set her on the counter, saying "What happened? Are you okay?"

Gillam began crying, laying his head on Myra's shoulder and clinging to her as he had when he was a baby. Ginny demanded comment from Myra with her eyes, but Margie began talking first.

"This man, Mama, he's one of the gay men there -- he talked about the Midrash. And he told the story about God and the angels, how they watched Moses running from Pharaoh. And he said that the army who drowned, they were God's people too. He meant the boys who killed Matthew Shephard, didn't he? He meant they are loved by God too, didn't he?"

Myra began crying again, leaning against Ginny and Margie, her son's sobs joining her own. Ginny kissed them all over and over, said "I'm sorry I wasn't there" and "That's right, that man was exactly right, my darlings".

Copyright 2007 by Maggie Jochild

1 comment:

Jesse Wendel said...

Such a beautiful story.

Lovely. I'm trying to find a way to speak of it without using the words metaphorical and biblical -- I didn't want to be on the nose -- however on reflection, after reading your story, I'm left in a space of reflection very similar to the space of reflection I'm left in after attending a deeply special Church session, or losing my Self in a spiritual text.

I'd tell you your writing is that of the poet, but I wouldn't be telling you anything you don't know. Earlier tonight I was thinking how lucky I am to have you as a poet, and as a writer of fiction in my life. Few people are privileged to associate with the Bard as she reaches down through us and uses us to let art loose into life. And while I, from time to time, occasionally, sometimes, am used this way, much, much more often, I get to be present, even if indirectly through email or over the telephone, as she works through you.

I'm not kidding around here; I consider my association with you in your capacity as a poet and as a fiction writer, a gift from the gods.

Night... Love you,