Tuesday, November 27, 2007


This is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. 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.

Summer 1986

As they were looking over paint for the walls, Ginny said "Listen, I once heard Allie say something to the effect that you saved her life. I was interested in what she meant, but she changed the subject. Do you know what she's talking about?"

Myra got serious. "Yeah, I think I do. But if she didn't want to tell you..."

"Well, I didn't ask her directly, I guess I could do that. But maybe it's just that she doesn't want to be the one to tell me. Don't look at me like that, I'm not trying to manipulate you. If you don't want to tell me, then don't. But if you do want to tell me, well, it's your story, too."

Myra thought about it for a minute. "I'd like to tell you. But it's a serious confidence. You can tell Allie I told you, but nobody else. Deal?"


"Well...When we first met, right after both of us had moved here, we were in our early 20s. Allie was still drinking. She drank first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Mostly it was just a maintenance kind of drunk, but every so often she'd get sloppy and act out, like picking a fight or trying to kiss somebody...I need to know, Ginny, that you're not going to feel differently about her if I tell you this."

"I go to Al-Anon, Myra. My mother is a closet alcoholic. I know what it looks like."

"Okay...Well, I wasn't going to Al Anon yet, that wasn't until I met Chris. I drank beer every now and then, and a couple of times a year in a social setting I'd drink something hard and get drunk fast, make an ass of myself. But otherwise I didn't care for alcohol -- I didn't like being out of control, to be honest. Too scary. So I didn't drink with Allie, but I kept hanging out with her because there was a lot to her besides the liquor. Over time, though, she pissed a lot of people off, and most of the friends we had in common got to the point where they didn't want to be around her if she was drunk or headed toward being drunk. She did hold down a job, she was a functional drunk. So...

"One night about 3 in the morning, our phone rang. I was living in a flat with three other women, and one of them answered and was steamed that it was Allie; she woke me up pretty mad. Allie was drunk, I could tell, and was saying strange shit. So, even though I had to get to work the next morning by 7:30 -- I was frying doughnuts at that time -- I pulled my ass outta bed and drove over to Allie's house. She had a tiny efficiency of her own at that point.

"I had a key and let myself in. She was at the kitchen table. She'd brewed a pot of coffee, and she had a cup of it in front of her, in a bright yellow mug. But of course it wasn't just coffee, she'd Irished it, as she used to say. She was sitting there in a kitchen chair, at that table with a red and white checked plastic tablecloth, and one hand was wrapped around a yellow cup of coffee, and the other hand was lying on top of a nickle-plated .45. She'd take a sip, lounge back in that chair, and then stroke the gun with the fingers of the other hand.

"I don't know where she got that gun, I still don't know. She'd never had one before, so she must have bartered for it or maybe sold some drugs to get it. Anyhow, I was scared shitless. Not of her, but the gun. I didn't know what to say or do. I sat down and asked her what was up. She was really wasted, so I would've had trouble understanding her sentence structure anyhow, but that gun had shut down my brain. I was not cool, definitely not cool.

"Finally I said, 'Where'd you get the gun, Allie?' She laughed, not in a good way, and said it had become a tool she needed. That I remember clearly -- a tool she needed. So I said 'What do you need it for?'

"She started getting pissed then, her jaw getting hard, and she said something like 'Are you worried about me going off on you? Is that all you care about?' Which wasn't exactly true, Allie had never hurt me, but it was close. I thought I might get caught in some kinda crossfire, but even more, I was scared she was going to shoot herself. There was that feeling in the air. So, I croaked out 'Is it loaded?'

"She picked it up then, tried to twirl it like a gunfighter and managed to drop it on the floor, which about gave me a heart attack. She laughed at how I jumped, and reached into her jacket -- she was wearing her jacket in the house, which was another strange thing, her bombadier jacket -- and she pulled the clip out of her pocket, said 'See, you're in no danger.' Then she picked up the gun and aimed it at the ceiling, making fun of me, and pulled the trigger.

"The motherfucker went off. The boom was so loud I fell out of my chair, and plaster dropped down into Allie's drink and all over her hair. There must've been a shell in the barrel, which of course that drunk asshole didn't think to check. She had upstairs neighbors, a nice Filipino family, and my first thought was 'What the hell time is it, is there anybody in their kitchen?' I looked at my watch, and it was only about 4 a.m., so I was relieved -- they didn't get up that early. I stood up and grabbed Allie's arm and said 'Come on, we've gotta get out of here.'

"She knew what I was saying. She was trying to stick the gun in her jacket pocket, and I said 'Give it to me, you dimwit.' And she's arguing with me, like I'm trying to steal her damned gun, and finally I got up in her face and said 'We are about to make a run for it, and you are a big drunk black dyke with a buttload of attitude, you are not going to be the one to carry the motherfucking gun, not if we are going to be stopped by the cops.' That got through, so she gave it to me. I didn't have any place it would fit, I was wearing one of those zip-up sweatshirt jackets with shallow pockets and a pair of tight Dickies, so finally I tucked it into the back waistband of my pants, praying it didn't have two bullets in it so I didn't get my ass shot off. I got her out the front door about the time I heard the people upstairs coming to their front door. I felt so bad leaving them without an explanation, I mean, how fucking terrifying is it to have somebody shoot into your kitchen in the middle of the night? But I had to get her out of there.

"We got in my car and I was shaking so hard I dropped my keys trying to get them in the ignition. She's starting to laugh, nonstop, like a goddamned maniac. Finally I get the car started and get one block away, then two, and I realize I don't know where I'm going. So I start heading for my house. She demands the gun back, and I say I can't pull it out right now, I'm driving, and she finally says okay and leans her seat back. Next thing I know, she's dozed off. So instead of going straight home, I drove to the Sound, to a little park that's open all night with easy access to the water. As soon as I turned the car off, she woke up and lunged for me, but I got out the door and ran like a gazelle, or my version of a gazelle, to the Sound. And she's too drunk to catch me. I threw that gun way out into the water, and when she finally caught up to me, she pulled back her fist like she was going to punch me. The only time she ever did anything like that. And I don't know what got into me -- well, I do know, I had years of practice as a kid -- I said in this low deadly voice, 'You do, and it'll be the last thing you remember before waking up in the emergency room and asking where all your teeth are.'

"Well, she just sat down on the ground laughing, and I began laughing too. I mean, it was so melodramatic, you know? And I got her to give me the clip, and I threw that in the water too. Then we got back in the car and drove to my house. On the way she said I owed her for the gun, and she demanded I pull over at a liquor store. This is before Al-Anon, remember? So I went in and bought her a pint of the shittiest whiskey they had, and she started drinking it as soon as I got back to the car with it.

"This flat were I lived, it had two bedrooms plus one of those Victorian dining room-parlors separated by sliding doors that we were using as bedrooms. Up at the front was a tiny room that we used as our living room. Basically all it could hold was this ratty couch covered by an Indian print bedspread, some milk carton crates with books in them, and another curbside rescue chair, also covered by an bedspread. I put her in there because I only had a twin-sized foam pad on the floor at that time, didn't have a real bed yet. She stretched out on the couch, drinking, and I sat down in the chair after shutting the door. I was fried, but I had to start getting ready for work in another hour or so anyhow, so there was no point in going to bed.

"After she had most of the bottle in her, she finally started talking. Turns out, her father had committed suicide the week before, and she had just found out that day. He was a class A bastard, a drunk himself, and it wasn't that she loved him, because she didn't. But you know it's a lot more complicated than that. So finally she tells me what's going on, and I moved over to the couch and put her head in my lap, and she cried a little bit and went to sleep again. I pulled off my boots and got as comfortable as I could, and dropped off for as long as I could.

"Now, those boots...they were new Vasq hiking boots, I'd had them less than a week. I had to save $35 a month for four months to afford them. Most of the time I wore second-hand sneakers from Purple Heart, $1.50 a pair, that never fit right because they'd been broken in by someone else and all the padding in the bottom was gone. But that was all I could afford, and I made even those last by using this stuff called Goop which was a kind of plastic caulk to repair rips in sneaker soles. I was so unbelievably happy to have new boots, that fit me, just me. But I couldn't wear them to work, frying and icing doughnuts, they'd get trashed. So when I woke up, I left the boots there, went in my room and put on my crappy sneakers, and went off to work. My feet hurt all day, which was typical.

"When I got off work, one of my roommates was home and as soon as I walked up the stairs, she said with this accusatory tone 'The front room smells like puke.' Which it sure did. Allie had pissed on herself, which didn't matter with that couch, but she'd also rolled over and vomited into my boots. Honestly, when I saw it, I sat down and cried. She woke up and saw what she'd done, but there was no saving them. I had to just throw them away and start saving another four months.

"It was another few weeks or a month before she decided to go to her first AA meeting, it wasn't like she woke up and changed on the spot. But she always said the boots were the deciding factor. That and the bullet hole in her kitchen ceiling. I mean, lots of people hit a rockier bottom than that, I know, but she -- she really knew how much I needed those boots. And she really liked her upstairs neighbors. And she said she absolutely would have gotten around to blowing her brains out that night if I hadn't shown up. I believe her; I've been there myself. But the truth is, she saved her own life. I just kept her company until she decided to do it herself."

There was a long silence. Myra put the empty drink containers and napkins into the empty piroshki bag and folded down the neck of the bag. Ginny had her knees pulled up, her arms around them, staring at the floor. Finally she said "I don't get it."

"Don't get what?"

"Well -- at first I was gonna say I don't get what it takes for someone to reach the point of stopping drinking, but the truth is, I don't understand why they drink in the first place. Not really. To me it just looks like going away, so why not just go away until you can be present? Instead of faking like you're there." There was an edge of grief in Ginny's voice, the grief of a little girl.

Myra set down the bag and put her arm around Ginny.

"I don't think Mother is ever going to hit bottom" said Ginny. "Daddy won't let her."

"Why not? Scared of what that would look like?" asked Myra.

"He's just hard-wired to keep things going. He grew up keeping his mother okay, he was trained in codependency from the outset. He makes it look like love." It was the first time Myra had ever heard overt bitterness in Ginny's voice when she talked about her father. It struck a chill in her: It was also the first time she noticed the similarity between her and David.

She squeezed Ginny and said "Let's go look at seed catalogues." She helped Ginny up, then walked to the trash can. As Ginny carried catalogues to Myra's office, Myra put on Cris Williamson and began singing along:
Open mine eyes that I may see
Glimpses of truth thou hast for me
Open mine eyes, illumine me
Spirit divine...

13 January 1995

When Allie arrived for Friday night dinner, Myra called out "Happy Friday the 13th", then leaned around the breakfast bar to wave hi. One look at Allie's face and she stopped grinning.

"What's wrong?" she asked. Ginny stood up from getting veggies out of the refrigerator and joined her as Allie sat down wearily at the table.

"Jean Swallow committed suicide."

"Oh my god -- when?" Ginny sat down at the table too.

"Yesterday, but she died this morning. She took an overdose, then changed her mind and called her best friend Marian."

"Marian Michener?" said Myra.

"Yeah. Marian called EMS and rushed over there, but by the time she got there, Jean was unconscious. She never woke up again."

"Why?" asked Ginny. "Why would she kill herself?"

"Nobody knows. She and her partner -- they had kids, you know." Allie finally broke, laying her head on her arms and beginning to cry.

Myra sat down next to her and pulled Allie's head onto her shoulder. "Her book" sobbed Allie. "I was already sober by then, but her book -- kept me going."

(Lesbians in Recovery medallion from My 12-Step Store)

"She saved countless lesbians with that book" said Ginny softly.

The front door opened, and Chris and Sima walked in. Chris came up behind Allie and put one hand on her back. "You've heard then. I just found out from Alveisa."

Myra stood up to hug the new arrivals. "I met her a few times through writing circles. How well did you all know her?"

Allie, after blowing her nose, said "She was in my meeting for a while."

Chris said "Yeah, me too." She and Allie looked at each other. Confidentiality kept them from saying anything else.

Sima said "Have you heard why she did it?"

"No, have you?" asked Allie hopefully.

"No. Her book was coming out; as far as anybody knows, she was okay" said Chris. She and Sima sat down as well. "For me, the hardest part is that she didn't really want to do it, not at the end."

Allie began crying again. Chris put an arm around her and said "I know, buddy. I know."

Margie and Gillam thundered downstairs, followed by Hannah. Margie was stopped in her tracks when she saw Allie crying. Myra crossed to her and picked her up. "Aunt Allie is sad because she just found out that someone we all care about has died."

"Who?" said Margie, sudden fear on her face.

"Not someone you know -- a woman in the community named Jean Swallow. She was a very good woman, a great leader and writer. We miss her already."

Ginny had come to pick up Gillam as well. Margie reached her arms toward Allie, and Myra delivered her to Allie's lap. Margie put her arms around Allie's neck and said "I'm so sorry you feel sad, Aunt Allie."

Allie hugged her tight and cried harder. Margie patted her hair lightly. Myra found her own eyes full of tears.

"Is there a memorial service?" asked Ginny. Sima answered "We don't know yet."

Hannah touched Myra's arm and said "I was planning to go out, but if you need me to stay -- "

"No, it's okay" said Myra. "We'll be fine."

Hannah left, and Myra returned to making spareribs and lentil burgers. Margie stayed on Allie's lap for quite a while. When Allie stopped crying, Margie told her about what they'd been doing that day and got her laughing. Gillam kept getting under Myra's feet, so she finally set him on the counter and talked him through her recipe for potato salad, then allowed him to stir it together in a big bowl once the ingredients were assembled.

"Is there dessert?" he whispered.

She whispered back "Yeah, and I'm so glad it's one of Allie's favorites -- nana puddin'." She thrilled to the thrill on his face.

After dinner, they sat in the living room and played "As I Was Going To Michigan..." Margie could hold her own with any adult at this memory game, despite Chris trying to throw them all by using Nimipu words instead of English for the items she had packed into her Honda.

Chris helped Ginny put the kids to bed, while Myra sat on the couch next to Allie, Sima on the other side of her. When Chris and Sima left, an hour later, Myra said to Allie "Wanna talk?" and Allie nodded. Ginny kissed them both and announced she was going to bed, she was taking Margie to a friend's birthday party the next day and needed extra rest.

"It still okay with you that I'm not going?" asked Myra.

"Yeah. You can take the next one. There's no reason for both of us to suffer" said Ginny.

Once they were alone, Myra took Allie's hand and said "Spill."

Allie said "I don't think I need to cry any more. But, damn, Myra -- I wish I knew why she reached that point. If we never know why -- I'll have trouble hanging with that."

"Whatever the 'why' was, it wasn't real. Not even for her. You can see that, right?"

Allie was silent.

"C'mon, Allene, tell me what you're thinking."

Allie put her feet up on the hassock and said "What if -- what if she knew something we don't?"

"Well, shit, Allie, I can't believe I'm hearing you say such a thing." Myra saw Allie's face close down, and began back-pedaling. "Sorry, Al, I didn't mean to jump on you. Is -- do you mean that you're scared you'll reach the same point as her?"

Allie squeezed Myra's hand and sat up straight again. "I'm always scared that stuff will come back up. You know -- that thing in my head saying 'You can't make it, time to check out'."

Myra felt cold inside. "How long's it been since it hit you?"

"I'm not sure. Years, now."

"But you don't feel like you're over it?" asked Myra.

"Not completely" Allie said quietly. After a few moments, she said "You done with your demons?'

"That one, yes. After Gil died. There are things that could happen that I don't see how I could bear -- " Myra paused to think briefly of her children and push away the constant fear she had now for their safety -- "but I got so much going on for me, so much to do, I think I'm likely to find a way to go on. Being scared of it, of getting run down -- well, it sucks to admit this, but being scared of it might make it more possible to come true."

"I know that. Still can't shake it, though" said Allie.

"Well...In the name of bearding the dragon -- what, exactly, could go wrong that would make you not be able to go on?"

Allie looked at Myra, her face still. "You do rummage around, don't you?"

"Only when I really wanna know" Myra answered.

Allie said, with a hint of obstinacy, "How about you? What happened to you, the times when you -- tried to off yourself?"

"Well -- this was all before I met you. I mean, I felt like it after I moved here, but I never got to the point of doing something. Once was in high school, and alcohol was involved, no surprise there. And once -- the worst -- was after Astrid left me. Packed a bag, grabbed our kid, and walked out the door one sunny afternoon. No warning at all. I waited for it to not be true, just went crazy, you know? Then, maybe a couple of days later, I realized she really wasn't going to come back. I wrote a note and put it on the dining table, took a shower, got dressed, and sat down on our bed with my .32. The same one you got now. I had the barrel in my mouth and my finger on the trigger when somebody began pounding on my front door. I put the gun under my pillow and went to the door, hoping it was Astrid, of course. But it was my Mama."

"Holy shit. What a coincidence."

"No, Allie, it wasn't. Somehow she knew. She began demanding to know where Astrid was, and when I told her Astrid had left me, Mama charged down the hall to our bedroom. Looked around at the mess I'd been living in, and then, goddamned if she didn't walk right over to the bed and lift up the pillow."

"You are shitting me!" said Allie.

"Nope. She knew. I never found out how. Freaked me the fuck out. She picked up the revolver and put it in her purse, then said 'You're coming home with me'." Hauled me out of there literally by my arm. Once we got to her place, she called my friend Star and told her what was up. Star was a country butch, smart and tough. She came and got me, took me back to my and Astrid's place, and told me to pack my bag, I was going to live with her and her girlfriend for a while. I was numb, trying to figure out what to take, not firing on all cylinders, you know? But Star pulled the mattress off our bed and muscled it down the hall, out to the dumpster at that apartment complex. Once she got it in the dumpster, sweating and swearing, she came back in the house, raided our camping gear for Coleman lantern fluid, poured it all over the mattress and set it on fire. Then we had to skedaddle, before the fire department arrived."

Allie had begun laughing. "Well, that's a woman I'd like to meet."

"Yeah. Sometimes rescuing works." Myra waited a few moments, then said "So...back to my question."

Allie sighed. "I know how lucky I am, Myra. I know it all the time. I can't name another black artist who has complete freedom to pursue her art without any, I mean, any at all pressures about money. So I got no right to feel sorry for myself."

"Fuck that. You know better than to run the 'Ah jes bees grateful' shit with me."

Allie was momentarily shocked, then laughed again. She punched Myra lightly on her thigh and said "Okay, then. I'm lonely, Myra. I got you, and Chris, and those incredible children. And your girlfriends who are like my sisters, too. Especially Ginny -- the connection we have now about art is, well, like nothing else in my life."

Myra felt a momentary ache. "You two have an intimacy I don't have with either one of you. Ginny and I, our lives are seriously intertwined, and we completely support each other's art but we don't -- share it, not all the way down. She's not a writer, I'm not a painter. And that's fine, it's good to not expect one person to be everything, it really helps our balance. Auntie Mame said 'Life is a banquet' and in my head I always finish that sentence with 'So make sure you get dishes from more than one cook.'"

"But that's the point" said Allie. "I don't gots enough cooks. In particular, I don't -- I want a lover. I want sex, and going home to someone's arms. And if something happened to you and to Chris -- well, that's the fear. I know I have more than most people, and still, with a freak accident, I could lose my...foundation."

"And god is just the kinda freak to pull that off, right?" grinned Myra. "Voltaire said something like 'God is a comedian playing to an audience too terrified to laugh.'"

"Exactly" said Allie. "Every meeting I go to, I give it up to god. But that don't mean I'm not worried."

"I can't argue with you" said Myra. "For big chunks of our childhoods, god was either not taking care of us or she's a sick bastard, seems like."

"If this is mean to be reassurance, it's cattywampus" said Allie, grinning at Myra.

"Well, here's what I do actually lean on: They did everything they could, back when I was tender and helpless, to kill me, and it didn't work. I'm still here. So I think maybe I'm meant to be alive. Slim pickins', but that's my faith. I think it's true for you, too."

Allie said slowly "Are you implying that Jean wasn't meant to be alive?"

"God, no. I have no idea what her story is, Allie. I can only know it for me, and maybe those I'm really connected to."

Allie thought for a while, then said "Well, it helps to at least say out loud what's rattling around in my head. No tying it up into a neat package tonight, I figure."

"Listen, you wanna spend the night?" offered Myra. "I finally located a copy of that documentary, 'No Maps On My Taps', we could sit up and watch it."

Allie's face lit up. "Honey Coles! Hell, yeah. But -- will you sleep with me, like old times?"

Myra's face lit up as well. "I'd love to, Al. I'll set up the portable in the spare bedroom, we can crash in there."

"I'm gonna brew some decaf. You want anything?"

"I was thinking about making milkshakes from scratch" said Myra, standing and helping Allie to her feet.

"Oh -- I could add the decaf to my shake and make it mocha!" said Allie.

"Now you're talking. I'm going to tell Ginny what's up, be back out in a sec" said Myra.

Ginny was already asleep when Myra lay down briefly beside her and told her she would be crashing in the spare room with Allie. Ginny woke up long enough to give her a thorough kiss and whisper she'd miss her.

When Myra got back to the kitchen, she remembered she had hidden the birthday present she'd wrapped for Margie's friend tomorrow because both children seemed determined to open it, just in case it was really for them. She went to her study and got it out of the drawer, then walked around the corner to lie it on Ginny's work table.

As she was turning to go, she noticed an addition to the gecko habitat. A small bright piece of paper was taped to their wall, like a miniature poster. She bent over to look at it closely. It was a faithful likeness of the movie poster for Jurassic Park, with that distinctive script spelling out "When lizards ruled the earth", but instead of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, the marauder was a massive fanged gecko looking for something to devour. She cracked up as she left the room, turning out the lights.

June 1995

Myra, Ginny and the children flew to Denver for their usual two-day visit on the way to the coast. David accompanied them to Houston, where they met Allie.

Two weeks before the trip, Myra and Allie had a long conversation about accommodations at the beach house. Myra drew a sketch of the house, and Allie looked at it for a while. Then she said "I just don't want to sleep in the same room with an old white guy, no matter who Daddy he is."

"Well, Al, I'd feel the same way if I was you. We could maybe set up a bed in the living room -- "

"Does it have doors for privacy?"

"No, wide open."

"And hotter'n hell, from what you say."

"Yep." Myra was afraid Allie would decide not to go, and couldn't think about anything else.

"Is there a motel close by, in that town where you buy your groceries, maybe?"

"It's a ten-minute drive. And late nights on the beach are the best part, really."

"Plus -- I don't like the idea of being alone." They sat in silence for a minute.

"How about if we give you our bedroom, and we'll sleep in the living room?" said Myra.

Allie laughed shortly. "My guess is, you two at each other like rabbits on vacation -- you gonna do without for that whole time?"

Myra grinned. "If it means having you there."

"Ginny would have to weigh in on that decision" said Allie.

"Hell, Allie -- camping out is not an option, not with the fire ants and how fucking hot it would be in a tent..."

Allie looked up at Myra, her small frown clearing. "Not in a tent, maybe -- but how about a Winnebago?"

Myra's face cleared, too. "You could park it on the beach, right in front of the lane to our house. You'd have one hell of a view -- privacy but we'd be right at hand."

"And AC -- don't they come with generators so you can run AC?"

"We'll find one that does, Allie! We'll get you one with a canopy out front. And, you'll have your own toilet, such as it is. I'll call AAA and check on camping permits for that area, and also arrange for a trailer rental."

"This just turned into a little adventure" grinned Allie. "I can get behind segregation if the white folks have the old place and I get the fancy digs."

So after they rented the usual huge car in Houston, they went to the travel trailer rental company where Allie got behind the wheel of what she was now calling a Winnedyko. Both children pleaded to ride with her, of course, and after a tedious chore of making Gillam's child seat fit in the rear passenger seat, they were kissed goodbye. Margie's face in the front window was incandescent with excitement.

"She is so damned ready to leave us behind" commented Myra as Ginny led their mini-caravan to the freeway.

"Ginny was just like that when she was little" said David. Myra glanced at Ginny. She thought, but did not say, I hope not for all the same reasons.

They stopped for lunch at Gaidos, then for floats, coolers, toys and Allie's fishing gear, then food and ice. When they finally got to their house, Ginny took the children in right away for a swim while Myra and Allie set up her trailer. David unloaded the luggage and put away the food while they were gone. When Myra came back to start dinner, she rearranged all the food to suit her cooking method. The three artists set up easels and a small tilted table for Allie on the front porch. Margie and Gillam were out front, trying to throw rocks with strings attached over the limbs of the swing trees.

That night, they built their bonfire a safe distance from the Winnedyko. Allie had bought a lawn chair to sit in by the fire. She'd also requested they make smores, which the children had never tasted. Gillam wound up with chocolate smears all over his face and one streak in his hair. Myra could tell plain marshmallows were never going to cut it again.

They began singing, starting as always with Holly or Alix, then into folk music proper, touring through James Taylor and Carole King, Aretha, MoTown, doo-wop, and arriving at show tunes. David sang, at the children's request, his hilarious rendition of "I Wonder What The King Is Doing Tonight" from Camelot. Allie talked everyone in trying to do "Harriet Tubman" as reggae, and then Myra said "I could teach us a three part round. Gillam, you get in my lap and we'll be a pair." She began singing "Hava na shira, shir'allelujah". Eventually, everyone was able to carry their own part, and the final rendition was hauntingly beautiful.

"We used to sing that at camp" said Ginny. "But you didn't go to Hebrew camp, I wager -- "

"Never went to camp at all" said Myra.

"So where did you pick it up?"

"A...roommate" said Myra, gazing into the fire. Ginny eyed her, then said "Karin Barbaras, right?"

Allie answered before Myra could. "Ah, yes. Karin. As opposed to Carole, Kuyler, Kya or Carla."

"Carla was just two dates" protested Myra before she realized that she was doing.

"I used to wonder if you had a thing for alliteration" Allie said reflectively. "There was Judy, Judit and Julie, plus Jen and Janice; Aggie, Anna and Annie; Max, Myra and Mimosa." Myra was staring at her in disbelief. Allie went on "But Mimosa brings up another trend -- the nature series, Smokey, Blue, Fern, and Oak. Not to mention Skyrivers, but she was just a Michigan fling, right?"

Myra could see that Margie, despite not understanding exactly what Allie was saying, was desperately trying to memorize this list of names because the charge in the air was palpable. Myra was afraid to even look at David's face. What on earth was wrong with Allie?

But Ginny, to her amazement, began giggling. She said "So, does Ginny go with the J series because of the homophone or would it fall under the nature series because of Virginia?"

Allie grinned. "No, Ginny is the big blue marble that stopped the machine in its tracks."

"Oh, what a nice thing to say". Ginny's voice was happy. She reached out one toe and touched Allie's toe with it. Then she leaned toward Myra and said "Gimme a kiss, you stalled machine, you."

Later, as Ginny and David were carrying sleeping children back to the house, Myra asked Allie quietly "You feel okay out here by yourself? I'll stay with you if you want."

Allie whispered "I brought my .38."

"Fuck. Don't tell Ginny. Is it anywhere Margie can --"

"I know how she is, Myra. It's got a trigger lock on it, and it's in a locked box to boot." Allie showed her two small keys on a chain around her neck.

"Good, then. And I'm glad you've got it. Wow, it's already cool in here, with just the generator running this last hour."

"Eat you heart out, My. Listen, I'd like to let each kid have a sleepover in here with me one night."

"Okay, we'll toss a coin for who gets to go first. Thanks, Al. I love you. You being here makes this perfect."

"I'm going fishing first thing in the morning. This feels like how summer supposed to be. Night, Myra."

Their second day at the beach, Ginny took the children over for a midday swim before coming back for a nap. Allie was on the porch at her worktable next to David at his easel. Myra was in the kitchen at the table, working on plot notes. Some part of her brain registered the blare of a horn from the two-lane blacktop that ran between their house and the beach, and then a long screech of tires.

As her brain convinced her to turn and look out the front door, she saw Margie hopping on one foot up to the porch. She came as furtively as she could into the house, not looking at Myra, and tried to scoot through the living area to the bathroom. Myra was on her in a flash, grabbing her from behind and pulling her into the light of the kitchen.

Margie's right leg was scraped from the top of the knee to halfway down the shin, and sheets of blood dripped onto the floor. The end of her big toe seemed to have been scraped off as well. She was missing the flip-flop on her right foot. The left one was torn at the side. Margie was holding her hands out to keep anything from approaching her wounds. She still had not met Myra's eyes.

"Mother of god, Margie, what happened?" breathed Myra. There was a shadow in the doorway -- Allie blocking the light. As Myra turned to look at her, she heard the crunch of tires in the driveway. She said to Allie "Will you keep her here -- sit her up on the edge of the table?" She rushed past Allie to outside.

A fat woman in double-knit shorts and a flowered blouse was getting out of her old Buick. There were several children in the back seat and a teenaged girl in the front seat. David had begun walking toward her.

"That girl who ran toward your yard? Is she yours?" the woman demanded. Her face was a mixture of shock and anger.

"Yes, she's my daughter" said Myra, walking quickly to meet her. "What happened?"

"She damn near killed herself, that's what" said the woman. Her belligerence was mostly fear. She had Margie's other flip-flop in her hand. The toe piece was torn out of the bottom. "She ran right out in front of my car with me going 40 miles an hour. She fell down halfway across -- I think she tripped on this here shoe -- and it was all I could do to skid to the right and miss her. I could've hit a dune and wiped out my own car." The woman was breathing heavily. Myra looked at the children in her back seat. None of them appeared to be injured, but they were all wearing seatbelts.

"Oh my god" said Myra. "Oh my god." She walked blindly over to the porch ledge and sat down. She could see the image in her mind, of this woman's car barrelling over Margie. That was all she could think about.

David stepped in. "Ma'am, I am so sorry. It must have scared you to death. She knows better, I don't know what got into her."

The woman liked talking with an older man, it reassured her. "I saw her standing there by the road, where the path crosses, and she looked right at me and waited. I put my hand up flat, signaling 'You just stay there'. Then, all of a sudden, she just darted out, with no more sense than god gave an armadillo, as if she could outrun a motor vehicle. I was watching her, you know how kids are, that's the only reason I was able to react in time."

David reached out and took the flip-flop from the woman's trembling hand.

"God must have been looking out for her. Well, God and you" said David. "I'm her grandfather, David Bates." He reached out his hand to shake the woman's hand. "I can't thank you enough. Would you like to come in and have something cold to drink? You and your children?"

"Well, no, we have somewhere to be. Is the little girl all right? She was limping after she got back up off the road."

Myra could finally say something besides "oh my god". "She's scraped up one leg pretty bad. But don't you worry about it, it's clearly not your fault." She returned to "oh my god".

"Is your car injured in any way?" said David, stepping to one side to look at it.

"Oh, no, that piece of crap, don't worry about that" said the woman. "Will the little girl need to go to the hospital? Do I need to give you my information?"

David looked at Myra.

"No, I don't think so" said Myra. "And, as I said, it's not your fault. I appreciate you stopping to check on her. Once we get her scrapes patched up, you can rest assured we will deal with her behavior." She stood up suddenly and went into the house, forgetting to say goodbye to the woman.

David said "Margie -- that's my granddaughter -- she's going to wish she were in the hospital when they get through with her. She's scared her mother out of one life, at least."

"Well..." The woman didn't want to urge them to go light on Margie, clearly. It had been too traumatic for that to roll off her tongue. "Well, you all take care. I'm just glad she's okay."

"Bless you, ma'am" said David softly, walking her to the car. He leaned in the back window and said "You all okay in here?" Three mute faces nodded at him.

He shut the door once the woman was inside and shook her hand again. "I can't thank you enough. If you have any questions, you know where to find us."

The woman started her car and pulled out slowly. She would be driving at a reduced rate of speed for a while.

At that point, Ginny came clambering into the yard, carrying towels and water-wings, pulling Gillam by one hand. "I heard a car -- " she began.

David walked toward her. "Margie ran out in front of a car on the road, missed being hit by a miracle. That's the woman who managed to avoid her. She's scraped up pretty badly, Myra says. They're in the house."

Ginny dropped everything and ran like a gazelle into the house. Myra had gotten a wet washcloth and was dabbing at Margie's scrapes, as much as Margie would allow. When Ginny bolted in, she stopped a foot away, her face drained of color. Allie turned around and handed her Margie's shoes. "She was trying to outrun the car in these, and one of them broke. She left a big piece of herself on the asphalt" said Allie, more serious than Ginny had ever seen her.

Myra looked around at Ginny and said instantly "Hey, sit down, you look like you might pass out, honey". She stepped over and kissed Ginny's forehead, pushing her down into a chair. "She's okay. Just bloody and obviously dangerously stupid."

She asked Allie to get their toiletries bag from the bedroom. Margie was looking into Ginny's face, and at last she began to cry. Ginny got up and hugged Margie from the side. She still looked disturbingly pale.

"Ginny? Ginny, what all did you pack in the way of first aid supplies that I can use on this?" asked Myra. Allie was back with the bag, and Myra began rooting through it.

"Peroxide to wash out the wounds" said Ginny. "I think there are some cotton balls. There's antibiotic cream, and probably also some iodine, I'm not sure."

Allie made a whistling sound. "Iodine, that would be rough."

"I'm worried about tetanus" said Myra. "She had a shot this year for school, yes?'

"Yes" said Ginny. "I don't want to take her to Jamaica Beach, not unless we have to."

"Same here" said Myra. "If we clean it out with peroxide and iodine, that should take care of any chance of infection, don't you think? Then maybe wrap these big scrapes in gauze and tape. A big bandaid for the toe. Treat her for mild shock." She gently turned over Margie's hands, to reveal some jagged scrapes on both palms. "Ahh, that will require washing with soap and water under the tap, to make sure there's nothing imbedded in the flesh. We'll start with that. Allie, would you be willing to carry her into the bathroom and hold her at the sink?"

Allie knew this was a shitty job, but she nodded instantly. Myra took the peroxide and iodine with her. "Ginny, sit down and drink something. We're gonna need you in a minute."

Gillam and David came in the door, Gillam's eyes huge. "Anything I can do?" said David.

"No, Myra's on top of it. Daddy, this is going to hurt like hell, this first aid we're about to do. Maybe you and Gillam should go for a walk."

"Great idea. Gillam, I want to show you something in the dunes down the beach -- if it's a crab hole I've discovered, this crab must be as big as a dog."

David bustled Gillam out the door as yelps started from the bathroom.

Once Margie's hands had been cleaned and both Myra and Allie had blown non-stop on the iodine pain of her palms, they brought her back into the kitchen and set her back on the edge of the table. Myra got the wash basin from the sink and put it under Margie's feet.

"I'll do this part" said Ginny. "With my help" said Myra.

Margie screamed and cried, with Allie murmuring "That's it, Margie, let it all out" and sitting behind her so Margie could lean against her. Finally the worst was over. Ginny gave her a children's aspirin and a glass of juice. She stepped over to the sink to wash her hands, as Myra emptied out the washbasin and threw away gauze wrappers.

Myra said to Ginny in a low voice: "Now for the harder portion. I don't care how dire these consequences seem or how scared she is, we still have to talk to her about what she did wrong."

"I agree, Myra...but I don't know if I can. I want to shake her and scream at her, I really do."

"Usually it's me goes there first. Well, I'm up for it this time. I'll take her someplace quiet to sit down -- maybe on the couch in the living area -- and you can be here and listen, join in any point you want. Will that work?"

"Yes." Ginny hugged Myra briefly.

Myra picked up Margie and took her into the next room, sitting her on the couch and sitting down beside her.

"Margie..." she began. "Why don't you tell me what went wrong, on the road out there?"

Margie was drained and quiet. "I was coming back to the house because I wanted to get that float, we forgot it. I got to the edge and looked both ways, and there was a car coming, so I stopped. But it wasn't coming really fast. And I looked at the woman, I could see her plain through the windshield, and she put up her hand like 'Go ahead'. So I started running. But my shoe, something happened, and I fell down. It hurt like I was on fire, and I heard the car loud, and I felt something like a wind beside me. I got up and ran. I knew I had to get out of the road. That's all."

Myra now wanted to just shake her and scream as well. But she took a long breath and said "Well, first of all -- even if the woman had signaled you to go ahead, you don't. You never go out in front of a moving car. Never, never, never. Can you understand that?"

Margie nodded.

"Second, she was signaling you to stay, not go. She risked the lives of her children in that car to swerve and not hit you. You could have caused the injury of five other people, as well as your own...injury. What you did was stupid beyond anything I've ever seen you do."

Margie was staring at the floor now, breathing shallowly.

"Margie...if something happened to you...if that car had hit you, at the speed it was going, it could have...killed you. If you...died...I don't think I could bear it. I don't think Ginny could. I can't face the notion of living without you. Ginny and me, it's our job to look after you and keep you safe, but you have to help us out with that job. You have to not take chances. You have to not hurt us so badly we won't know how to go on living ourselves." Myra was crying now, and she could hear Ginny sobbing in the kitchen. Margie wasn't looking at her, but she was fidgeting, moving her little butt around from side to side.

"Margie, are you paying attention to what I'm saying? Stop moving and pay attention" said Myra.

"I am, it's just that something -- there's something wiggling on my behind" said Margie.

Myra stood up abruptly and pulled Margie up, ignoring her cry of pain. "Stand here" said Myra, motioning Margie a little to the side and behind her. Myra stared at the sofa cushion; she couldn't see any movement. But Margie had been leaning against the back, where there cushion met the back. Myra reached out and gingerly pulled the cushion away from the back.

A writhing mass of pink, hairless mice were suddenly exposed. Margie went into blood-curdling screams, and Myra joined her. She couldn't seem to stop after just one or two, either. She snatched Margie up into her arms and backed away in horror.

Allie and Ginny appeared in the entryway, saying "What?" Without looking away from the couch, Myra was able to say over Margie's shrieks "Mice! A bunch of them in the couch!"

In one move, Ginny leaped into the kitchen sink and stood there, tall as a giant. Allie stared at her, then said "Here, give Margie to Ginny. Let's get that thing out of the house."

Myra went to the end where the mice were and used her fingertips to push the cushion back lightly against the sofa. Then, with a bravery she hoped would make up for all the screaming, she picked up that end, holding it as far away from her body as she could, while Allie picked up the non-mousy end. They staggered with it through the kitchen and out the front door. Myra tried to crane her neck behind her to see if there were mice exposed underneath the couch. When she didn't hear any new screams from Ginny and Margie, she decided the floor must be clear.

"Where to?" said Allie, huffing with effort.

"Go toward your left, toward the corner of the yard. Edge of the dunes" gasped Myra. They were enormously relieved to let go and back away. The couch sat out in the open. No mice had come into view.

They went back in and got Ginny to vacate the sink so they could wash their hands. Allie was the first to begin laughing, but once she did, they all had to sit down and lean their faces on the table, they lost it so thoroughly.

"I could not imagine what you were doing to Margie to make her scream like that!" said Ginny. "I thought maybe you had lost your mind."

"I wouldn't have screamed if she hadn't started it" said Myra.

"Yeah, you tell yourself that one" teased Allie.

David and Gillam came in the front door, looking nearly overwhelmed. "We heard screaming, and why is the couch out in the yard?" said Gillam.

"There were baby mice in the couch, where Margie and I were sitting to talk. They were wriggling against her hiney, weren't they, Margie?"

Margie had traveled through such a range of human emotion in the last half hour, she could only nod.

Gillam went back out on the porch and stared at the couch. David had a cold drink and sat with the others at the table, wiping his face with his sleeve. Gillam came back in and said "How will the mama mouse find them?"

"She's probably in the sofa with them, just better at hiding" said Myra. She hoped it were true. Ginny looked at her sharply, then wall-eyed scanned around the edges of the floor. Ginny's terror of mice was new information for Myra.

After everyone had calmed down, Myra said "Margie. You are going to have to prove to us that you can be trusted again. It's going to take a long time of you behaving responsibly for us to get over this. Until then, we are going to need to treat you like you are a baby again in some areas. That's one thing. The second is, you need to take some room to think about what happened. I'm going to ask you to go to your bed and lie there for the rest of the day. You can read, if you want. You can go to the bathroom. You can get up and eat with us. You can turn the fan on yourself, of course. If you get thirsty, call me and I'll brink you something to drink. Otherwise, you are to be in your bed, alone, until tomorrow morning."

Margie clearly hadn't seen this one coming. She looked to Ginny for appeal, but found no quarter at all. Allie didn't meet her eyes, and David just smiled at her sadly. Gillam was horrified.

"So, let's refill your lemonade and I'll walk you to your bed, get you set up. Okay?" said Myra kindly. "I love you, we all love you, and you have to figure out a way to think before you put yourself in danger. That's what this time is for."

Myra picked her up, saying "I know it hurts to move, and it's probably going to hurt even more tomorrow. We'll keep giving you aspirin or Tylenol, you let us know if it starts hurting bad, okay?" She carried her to the sleeping porch.

When she came back out, she said quietly to Ginny "Did I do okay? Flying without instruments, here."

"Better than I could have" said Ginny. She leaned against Myra's shoulder. Her color was still not back to normal.

"Gillam, do you want to take your nap now or in an hour?" asked Myra. Gillam picked at his mouth for a minute, then said "Now".

"Get yourself a cool drink and go on in there. Keep it quiet, okay, honey?" said Ginny.

Myra stood up. "I, for one, am going to join the nap brigade. I'm played out, what with one thing and another. I'll get up later to start dinner."

She patted everyone on the shoulder as she went to her room. After shutting the door, she stripped down, trained the fan on her, and pulled the shades until the room was in shadow. When she lay down, she went right to sleep.

Some time later, she woke when Ginny sit down on the bed beside her. Without opening her eyes, she slid her hand under Ginny's T-shirt and said drowsily "Take off those pants, babe, they're in the way."

Allie's voice said "Myra?"

Myra sat upright in one motion, jerking her hand back to her chest. It was Ginny she'd been touching, but Allie was beside to the bed. "I'm so sorry, Al" Myra began.

"S'okay, we snuck up on you" said Allie. "We began talking, and decided to finish our conversation with you."

Myra tucked her legs up next to her so Allie could sit down on the bed too.

"It's about Margie" began Ginny. "She really could have died today." Her voice was a little thready.

Myra was wide awake now. "I know. When they were babies and toddlers, I kept thinking that when they got older, things would get easier. And, I hate to say it, they have with Gillam, but Margie just keeps coming up with more challenging problems."

"She a free spirit" said Allie. "She like us, every one of us, when we was her age except she ain't been boxed up."

"That's a good way to look at it" said Myra. "But I'm getting scared, down to my bones."

"Yeah, that's what we need to talk about" said Ginny. "I don't know always the line between what kind of lesson I should be giving her about taking care of herself and the place where my terror lives. Like Allie said, I don't want to box her in just so I can rest easier."

"So, we're putting our heads together?" asked Myra. Ginny nodded.

After a moment, Allie said "My Nana -- she was old-fashioned. Tight. Came up in the first part of the century when you didn't cross lines, not if you wanted to live. She raised her kids that way, and that's part of why my mama took off, went wild. Not all of it, but some. But by the time Nana come got me, she looked so good, so safe, I didn't care how tight it was. Not until I was near grown, and even then, I found ways out that had hand-holds in case of emergency."

"J.T." said Myra.

"Yep. And then, when I finally got wild, I had alcohol to drown my fear" said Allie. "So I got no example at all for Margie, really. Except I can see her, clear, and I don't want her flame tamped down. Not even in the name of safety."

"I try talking to her, explaining things, but that can only go so far" said Myra. "First of all, I can't tell her everything out there liable to hurt her -- sometimes telling a child about the evils of the world is just as bad as them running into them headlong. And second -- she's only seven, she can't keep every promise she makes, and she can't think ahead like an adult."

"She has a sheltered existence, if you look at it globally and herstorically" said Ginny. "And I understand her wanting to push those boundaries -- "

"That's the point" said Allie. "She gonna get hurt sometimes, it's her way."

"Thank god she's a girl" said Ginny with a laugh.

Allie laughed too. "If she was a boy, you two would be all over her."

"You mean we aren't already?" said Ginny.

"Nah, she's getting away with a lot" said Allie.

Myra was thinking, hard. "Do you reckon that Gillam is as sweet and -- well, cooperative, thoughtful, there's no other way to put it -- as he is because he is a boy and he can sense we'd treat him differently if he did the same shit Margie does?" Her voice was full of pain.

"No, Myra" said Ginny, putting her arm around Myra's shoulders. "They came out of me the way they are. Gillam was always a sweetheart -- well, Margie's a sweetheart, too, but a different kind. We're not squashing him, I'm sure of it."

Myra looked at Allie. Allie nodded at her, and Myra could breathe deeply again.

"Plus Gillam's tendency to watch things through once, before plunging in, really serves him in good stead around Margie. She crashes and burns, and he gets to see what not to do, first-hand" added Ginny.

"But you don't think he's too passive, do you?" asked Myra, finding a new worry.

"No, he fine" said Allie. "Margie's got Ginny all tangled up in her heart, and me, and Chris, and she's David's favorite. Plus you and Sima and Hannah. Gillam got you gooed out on him, and me, and Carly worshipping every thing he does, with similar back-up to Margie, and the scales are balanced. They both got what they need."

This frank appraisal make both Myra and Ginny a little uncomfortable, but they took it in.

"So, back to the original question about Margie -- what do we do that we aren't already doing?" asked Ginny.

Myra sighed. "Well, it helps to talk like this. A lot. Maybe we could do that regularly." She looked at Allie.

"Sure" Allie replied. "And -- we already let her pick who she want for a particular activity, but let's just be upfront about it. Make it clear we a team, she's not playing us off against each other, but she can single one or two of us out at times, for this and that." Allie's voice had a moment of hesitation in it.

Myra put her hand on Allie's knee and said "Absolutely. And in particular, since you aren't at the house all the time, when you arrive and she acts like you're saving her -- I'm inclined to see that as a good thing." She nudged Ginny and Ginny said "Yeah, I'm for it. But no secrets from each other, not about anything to do with her well-being."

"Got it" said Allie. "And if she really is like us, then when she grown, she gonna be super responsible and smart. If we can keep her going til then." They all grinned.

"We can't go to the beach tonight and leave her alone in the house" said Myra. "My punishment either has to be lifted or we need to stay here after dinner."

"If we sit on the front porch to talk, she'll hear every word" said Ginny.

Allie grinned. "And maybe tomorrow night, she can have a sleepover in the trailer."

"That would be great" said Myra. There was a pause, and she thought the talk was over. But Ginny said "Back to something you said earlier, about passing on the evils of the world..."

Myra felt a foreboding. Ginny looked inexpressably sad. "At some point, in school if not from another kid, our children are going to hear about the Holocaust. I was around Margie's age when my parents first told me. It was -- traumatic, gave me nightmares for weeks. It wasn't until I got down here for the summer, with Bubbe, and had a chance to talk it over with her, that my freak-out got better. As good as it can get, considering."

"Oh, god, Ginny -- I'd just as soon they never find out about it" said Myra, cold in her chest.

"I know. But it's way better to hear it from somebody who loves you" said Ginny. "I think being here, and having Daddy in on it, would be a good idea. I can ask him if he'll help."

"No details, none of that lampshade shit, gas ovens or pulling fillings out of teeth" said Myra.

Ginny was shocked. "Of course not."

"I'll follow you and David's lead" said Myra. "Gillam's been asking me questions about slavery, too. He read the term Middle Passage somewhere, and wanted to know exactly what that meant."

Now Allie looked shocked. "You didn't tell him specifics, right?"

"No. I don't know when either of them will be old enough to hear any of these details, I can't imagine them being that -- ready" said Myra. "Ah, shit, I wish we had a better world to hand over to them."

"It's better for them being in it" said Ginny firmly. "Now, you ready to get up?"

"Yeah, time to start dinner" said Myra. "And hug those kids as much as they'll let me."

When Myra checked on Margie, Margie said her knees were hurting and her head ached a little, too. Myra pulled away the bandages and checked for infection, then took Margie's temperature. Satisfied it was just normal post-trauma pain, she carried Margie into the kitchen and had her sit at the table while she began making dinner. She gave her a glass of milk and some children's Tylenol, then let her use the hand mixer to make chocolate pudding for dessert. Margie sneaked in several tastes of the pudding, and Gillam finally burst into protest. Myra let him lick the bowl and gave the beaters to Margie.

Everyone lingered over dinner, delaying the time when Margie had to return to her bed. Finally, after dishes were done, Ginny carried Margie back in to her bed and helped her change for the night. She sat with her a few minutes, singing a couple of songs with her and assuring her they would not leave the house.

(The next section has already appeared on this blog as a post at Ginny Bates: The War. The following action resumes after that segment.)

The next morning, when Myra got up, Allie was at the stove.

"What is that fabulous smell?" said Myra.

"Caught two speckled trout and a flounder this morning. Hope you're hungry" said Allie.

"I am now. Should I make something to go with it?"

"Biscuits would be welcome" said Allie. "There's leftover fruit salad from Ginny and David's breakfast."

"Ginny is for sure going to come back and eat some of that fish" said Myra, pulling flour and baking powder out of the cupboard. "Where are the kids?"

"They're digging a hole in the front yard to see if they can get deep enough to where water will well up. Using tablespoons, so they'll be a while" said Allie.

Everybody, in fact, came in and had some fish. Myra was glad she'd made extra biscuits, because the trout didn't go very far. Margie asked if she could go fishing with Allie. Allie said "You bet. You and Gillam both. In fact, I was gonna ask if you wanted to sleep in my camper with me tonight, Margie, and you can come tomorrow night, Gillam. We'll have to get up very early to hit the surf at dawn."

Both children were enthusiastic, although Myra saw Gillam's face register disappointment at being second in line. Apparently David did, too, because he said "With Margie gone, it'll be boys only in our room tonight, Gillam. We'll batch it." Gillam didn't know what batching it meant, but he obviously assumed it was something special and felt vindicated.

When Myra went to the front porch after breakfast, she noticed small tufts of what looked like cotton in the sandy yard. Looking around, she noticed a concentration of fluff near the discarded couch by the dune. She walked over and stood staring down at ripped apart cushions and upholstery. Allie came to join her.

"Holy moly, something tore this to bits last night" said Allie. "Coyotes after the mice, d'ya think?"

"No, it looks like knife cuts, you see how it's sliced rather than ripped? I think that means an owl" said Myra. She turned the cushions over to hide some of the damage and said "Let's don't share this with the kids, especially Gillam."

"We need to get rid of this thing anyhow" said Allie. "Is there a dump anywhere around here?"

"I don't know. Maybe we could just burn it on the beach" suggested Myra.

"Long as we don't breathe in the fumes, and pick up the metals that remain" agreed Allie. "Ya wanna carry it over?"

"Not particularly" said Myra. "Let me see if I can come up with another way to haul it."

Allie went back to her worktable and Myra wandered around the side of the house. A new metal roof had been put on the sleeping porch that spring, and two long sheets of corrugated tin still lay at the edge of the yard next to the driveway. She went back in the house and rooted around in the tools on the back porch, locating a screwdriver, a hammer, duct tape, and leftover nylon rope from that year's tree swings.

Margie and Gillam were immediately curious. "What are you going to do?" asked Margie. Myra remembered, nostalgically, the days when this would have come out as "Wat are doin?"

"We need to get that old couch to the beach to burn it tonight. I'm going to make a sled for it. You can come watch, but you better put on your wellies, Gillam. And Margie, since you can't run fast, you need to sit on the porch railing."

Now excited by the mystery, Gillam raced to get on his boots and Margie went to the porch, announcing to Ginny that Myra was about to do something that would make everybody need to run. Myra went to the back shed, looking for a hoe, and instead found a machete hanging on the wall there, rusted but still usable. She came around the side of the house where Ginny finally located her.

"What's up?" said Ginny, her eyes challenging.

"Gillam, you stand back there with Mama" instructed Myra. "Now, what do you do when you see a small wild animal -- not a bear or cougar, not a predator, but a small critter?"

Margie and Gillam thought hard for a minute. Ginny prompted them "Get out of its way. Myra, what are you planning to stir up?"

"I need to move a sheet of this tin, and I have no idea what's living underneath there, snug and dry" Myra replied. Gillam instantly got right next to Ginny and took her hand. Ginny looked around to make sure Margie was safely on the porch.

Myra slid the tip of her machete under the long side of the tin and, leaning her body as far back as she could, she flipped over the tin. Several members of the beetle family scrambled for cover, and at least one spider which Myra thought was probably a black widow. But, far more compelling, a medium-sized yellowish snake slithered into vigorous life, making a sinuous beeline for Ginny and Gillam. They, plus Margie, screamed like extras in a horror movie. Ginny swung Gillam into her arms and backed up hastily toward the porch.

"Chill out, she's harmless" said Myra.

"How do you know that?" demanded Ginny. The snake had abruptly stopped, sensing their motion, and was trying to decide where to go now.

"Well, name the four poisonous snakes in Texas. Anybody?" asked Myra, trying to creep up on the serpent.

"Rattler, water moccasin -- " began Ginny.

"Copperhead" added Allie, who, along with David, was now standing behind Margie on the porch, looking on with interest.

"Coral snakes" finished David.

"What color are they?" continued Myra.

"Brown or black for the big ones" said Allie.

"Rattlesnakes have a rattle" said Margie.

"Very good. And coral snakes?" asked Myra. She was now right behind the snake, her knees bent so she could look at it closely.

"Red and yella kill a fella, red and black won't attack" chanted Gillam suddenly.

"Excellent" said Myra, glancing at him for a moment. "Any of those descriptions fit our beauty here?"

"No" said Margie, taking a long breath.

"That a corn snake?" said David.

"I believe so. I'd really like to pick her up, but she's pretty freaked, and I just destroyed her home, so I think I should let her go find a safe place for herself" said Myra. The snake was moving again, away from the vibration of speech, toward the dunes. Gillam boldly got down from Ginny's arms and walked over to Myra, only fascination now on his face. They followed the snake a few feet, until she pushed her way into the tall grasses.

"That was so cool" said Gillam.

"Indeed" said Myra. "Snakes eat mice" she added, looking at Ginny. "They live around us because mice live around us, and we need to appreciate how they help us out."

"What's the machete for, then?" asked Margie.

Myra had to grin. "Caught me. If she had turned out to be poisonous, I'd have killed her, much as it would have grieved me to do so. Can't have venomous snakes and children in the same habitat, you know."

The expression on Ginny's face clearly indicated if the machete had been in her hands, that snake would be in segments on the ground right now, venomous or not.

Myra said "Okay, Margie, you can hobble over here if you want. I need to punch a hole in the end of this tin so I can attach a rope to it for dragging it as a skid underneath the couch."

She showed them how to make a V-shaped hole with the screwdriver and hammer, then pad the edges with duct tape so it wouldn't chew into the rope. Once the rope was attached, she dragged it to the couch, rope splayed toward the edge of the grass.

"Okay, Al, can use your help now" she called out. Allie helped Myra lift the couch onto the tin. Then Myra backed their car up to the rope, tied it on the back bumper, and told the children to hop in.

"Can I ride on the couch?" asked Margie.

Myra heard Ginny snort. "Never in a million years" said Myra.

Margie and Gillam sat in the rear of the car to watch the couch being dragged along behind them. Myra picked a spot safely away from Allie's trailer and the area where they had already made their bonfire. She untied the rope from the tin as well as the car and coiled it into the back of the car for future use.

"Why don't we burn it now?" suggested Gillam.

"Because it'll be more fun tonight, and it won't worry people that it might be a dangerous fire if it's on the beach at night" answered Myra. "We'll have to stay away from this smoke -- the fabric used in furniture has chemicals in that will be released into the smoke, and it won't be healthy for us to breathe it."

That afternoon, when the children were taking their nap, the adults on the front porch had a quiet conversation about how to handle the upcoming Holocaust revelation. When they went to the beach that night, Margie hitching a ride on Allie's back because she said her knees hurt whenever she bent them, Myra took a can of charcoal starter and soaked the couch thoroughly. Then, with the children ordered to stand next to the other adults, Myra tossed a lit match into the couch and backed away rapidly. For a second, there was no reaction. Then, with a whoosh, the fabric exploded into flames. Everybody cried out "Aahhh!" By the end of the night, it was just embers. Myra said it was safe to leave them to burn because it was all on tin.

As they sat around their own bonfire, Myra pointed up to the night sky and said "Have you ever tried to count how many stars you can see?"

Gillam immediately began counting, and Margie joined him. Myra let them struggle with it for a few minutes, but when they got frustrated at losing their place, she laughed and said "It's impossible to do without taking photographs, really. But I can tell you, on a clear night like this, away from electric lights, you can see between 2000 to 3000 stars."

"Wow, that's a lot" said Gillam.

"So, if this gives you an idea of how many 3000 is, then what do you think a million would look like?" asked Myra.

Margie said "Ten skies of stars -- no, wait, more than that?" Gillam wasn't going to try guessing.

Myra said "If you went outside every night and saw this many stars, and every night it was a different sky full of stars -- if you did that for an entire year, the number of stars you'd have seen by the end of a year would be about a million."

Even Ginny and Allie were amazed by this. Of course, they knew why Myra was giving her math lesson, and Ginny face was lined with sudden sorrow. When they began singing later, Ginny led them in "Dona, Dona" as well as their other standards.

Margie dropped off before she got to experience the glory of walking into the trailer with Allie and shutting the door on the rest of her family. David carried Gillam back to the house, and on the way Gillam woke up and asked drowsily "Are we going to batch it now?"

After Myra and Ginny were in bed, they heard Gillam's piping voice still going strong on the side porch, making the most of his time with David. Finally David began singing, teaching Gillam some lyrics one by one. After the second line, Myra said "Holy shit, that's 'Barnacle Bill the Sailor'."

"I don't know it" said Ginny. "What did he just say?"

"It's filthy, from start to finish. Most of it will go over Gillam's head, but he'll recognize bastard, all right." Unexpectedly, Myra giggled. "Well, dirty songs were part of my childhood, so if David wants to use it as male bonding, I guess it won't hurt him."

"I just hope he doesn't remember it well enough to teach it to Carly" said Ginny. "Patty will have a hissy fit."

"Mm...you have a little pool of sweat under each breast" said Myra. "Here, let me clean you off with my tongue..."

The next morning, Myra heard Ginny exclaim on the front porch, and got up groggily to see if everything was all right. Allie and Margie were in the yard, holding a massive fish that would be too heavy for Margie to hold on her own. They had matching grins from ear to ear.

"What is that?" asked Ginny.

"Bull red" said Allie. "Margie helped me reel it in, took quite a while but she never gave up, didya, Margie?"

"I've never eaten one" said Ginny. David said "I have, and they are tasty."

"We wanted to show it off before we cleaned it" said Allie. "We'll do that on the beach, be back soon. You wanna come with, Gillam?"

"Is it dead?" asked Gillam. "Did you kill that fish?"

"Allie whacked it in the head with a metal pole" said Margie gleefully.

Gillam looked around at Myra. "Stay here with me, we'll start breakfast and you can teach me your batching it songs" suggested Myra. He joined her in relief.

She made cornbread while Gillam squeezed oranges in the hand-crank juicer, big lovely Texas oranges from the Central Valley. After the cornbread was baking, she sliced a pint of strawberries and pulped those as well, stirring it into the orange juice and adding ice. When Allie and Margie returned with a pie plate stacked high with fresh fillets, Ginny took Margie into the bathroom to scrub her down with vinegar, then soap and water, to get the smell off her. Allie washed at the sink, and began melting butter on the griddle with minced garlic. She dipped each filet in beaten egg white, then peppered flour, and lowered it onto the griddle.

When Margie got back from the bathroom, she announced "We cut off its head and stuck a knife in its belly and pulled out all the guts. Then we threw those to the gulls, and they fought and screamed, gobbling it up." She smacked her lips.

Gillam went pale. Myra put her hand on the back of his neck and he said to her softly "I don't want any fish, after all."

"I'll cook you some sausage" she replied quietly. She wondered if he would go vegan when he found out about slaughterhouses and feedlots.

He went on "Is it okay if I don't go fishing with Allie tomorrow morning?"

Allie answered. "Just fine, Gillam. We can go for a walk along the beach instead, see what the tide brought in."

"But I want to go fishing with you!" said Margie.

"The day after that, and for the rest of the time we're here" said Allie firmly.

Ginny stood next to Allie at the stove, looking down at the griddle. "As far as I'm concerned, you can be my personal fisherfolk for all time" she said.

After breakfast, Myra took the children to the beach with a bucket and a sieve, and they sifted sand to fill the bucket. They also walked over to check on the remains of the couch. A few scraps of charred wood had not burned completely. There were numerous springs and buttons, and a few other ashy objects. Checking the temperature and discovering it was safe to touch, Myra let the children dig carefully through the debris. Gillam found assorted small change, and Margie discovered a brass pendant of some cross-like shape, which she insisted was from the time of Jean Lafitte. Myra wanted to ask when Jean Lafitte had sat on their sofa, but refrained.

Returning to the house, Myra melted paraffin on the stove while the children filled old coffee cans from the shed with the clean beach sand. They made sand candles on the back porch and left them in shade of the porch to cool. Then Myra took them to haul the tin back to the house. She called Harm and left him a message that the house would need a new sofa, and she'd be glad to pay for it. As an afterthought, she said if he was willing to upgrade the bed in their bedroom to something queen or king size, she'd pay for that as well.

Myra made lunch with more attention for the children during the process than she usually had, inviting their full participation and conversation no matter how it slowed her down. She was dreading what was about to occur. After lunch, Ginny and Allie cleared the table quickly while Myra and David remained sitting. Myra pulled Gillam onto her lap, and when Ginny sat back down, she asked Margie into her arms as well.

"It's time for us to tell you a piece of history" began Ginny. "This is something that happened when Zayde was a teenager, about to go off to war."

David said "It's why I enlisted to go to war, to fight this terrible thing."

"As you know, the Germans began World War II by invading other countries in Europe to make them all part of Germany. The political party that ruled Germany at that time were called the Nazis. Have you heard that word before?" asked Ginny.

Margie said "Truitt said it once. He said they were very bad people."

"Truitt is right. The Nazis were a party of hate, and everything they did showed their hate. But the most terrible thing they did, the thing they are most remembered for, is -- they decided to kill all the Jews in any country they controlled."

Myra felt Gillam's body go rigid. Margie's face showed complete disbelief. "Nuh-uh" Margie said.

"I'm so very, very sorry to have to tell you, my angel, but it's true. The Nazis believed lies that had been floating around Europe for hundreds of years, that Jews were the cause of all sorts of problems. And the Nazi leaders -- Adolf Hitler, Adolf Eichmann, and others -- they decided that they had the right to kill Jews in order to prevent those made-up problems."

"Why didn't someone tell them they were wrong?" demanded Margie.

"Well, people tried, but the Nazis killed anybody who stood up to them. There was no freedom of speech under the Nazis. So first, they made all Jews register with the government. Then they made Jews start wearing a yellow star on their clothes whenever they went outside, so everybody would know who was Jewish and who was not. Then they stopped letting Jews own businesses, and Jewish children could not go to school any more. Finally, they began making every Jew leave their home, with just one suitcase, and go to places in the country that were like big dormitories, everybody crowded in together, surrounded by fences of barbed wire and guarded by soldier with guns so nobody could leave. These were called concentration camps. Then..." Ginny's voice broke, and she gulped several times.
David stepped in gently, and said "Then, in these concentration camps, they began killing all Jews who were there. It took a while. By the time they were finished, they had killed seven million of our people."

Gilllam's hand was in his mouth. Margie asked "All of them? Even the children?"

"Even the children, and the babies. Everybody in their families" said David, taking Margie's hand in his own.

"Seven million" whispered Gillam. Myra knew he was thinking about the stars in the sky. Ginny was now crying hard. Allie lifted Gillam's sandy feet into her lap and began rubbing them tenderly.

"Why didn't anybody stop them?" asked Margie, her voice numb.

"Well, it took a war to stop them" said David.

"That's what you went to fight for?" asked Margie. Her face was stunned.

"Yes. And I was glad to do it" said David.

"They really wanted Jews to all die?" asked Gillam.

"They were crazy and evil" said Myra. "They killed other people too -- gay people, Gypsies, disabled people, anybody who disagreed with them. But mostly they were mentally ill on the subject of Jews."

David said "So, this terrible, terrible thing, the Nazis trying to kill all the Jews in Europe -- we call it the Holocaust. A holocaust is an event so terrible that it's hard to believe or talk about. In Hebrew, we call it Shoah, which means catastrophe, the same thing as a holocaust."

"Are there any Nazis any more?" asked Gillam. Myra thought he was trembling.

"There are a few people still around who call themselves Nazis" said Myra, "but they are not in positions of power and we don't let them hurt anyone any more. We stopped them. And in America, we are safe to live as Jews." They had all agreed on this lie.

"I don't understand" said Margie.

"What?" asked Ginny, reaching for a tissue.

"How could there be such a lie? Why about Jews?" Margie asked.

Myra said "Well...you know, I think, that used to be, all countries in Europe were run by kings and queens, instead of governments run by presidents and folks who were elected by everybody. Right? The kings and queens were not always good at taking care of their countries, and they were often greedy, taking money from poor people. But if they did that too much, the poor people would rise up against them and maybe throw them out of power. So the kings and queens wanted somebody they could blame for their country's problems. When they saw that Jews needed a place to live, because the Jews were being driven out of the Middle East, these kings and queens told the Jews 'You can live in my country, but only if you do certain kinds of work for me, and you can't be a regular citizen like everybody else.' The Jews didn't have a choice -- it was either agree to the rules or not have a place to live. So the kings would make the Jews do some of their dirty work for them, like collect taxes and handle the money. And when the poor people got so mad about being poor that they wanted to revolt, the kings would point to the Jews and say 'Hey, I'm not the one who takes your money, it's those Jews'. So generation after generation of people who never read a book or newspaper, never saw TV or heard radio, learned from the only source of news they had, their government, that it was Jews keeping them poor. And nobody could tell them different, because the king was in control of all information."

"Plus the church" added Ginny. "The Christian church was in cahoots with the royal families of Europe, and they added onto the lie."

"But people know it was a lie now, right?" asked Gillam.

"Well, all smart and educated people do" said Myra. "And now we have a Jewish nation, Israel, so Jews don't have to live by other countries' rules any more." She saw Ginny glance at her, and knew this was something they'd have to hash out later, when the children were older.

There was a long silence. Myra kissed the top of Gillam's head and held him with a tenderness that nearly broke her heart. He said in a low voice "Did they all die? All of them?"

"No, some were saved" said David. "Some ran away, some got out before the camps began -- all kinds of heroic things were done to save whoever we could."

"And some people who were in the camps managed not to die" said Ginny. "They lived until the Americans got there to rescue them. You know Ms. Saperstein at Temple? She is a Holocaust survivor. When she was a girl, she was put in a camp called Treblinka, but she didn't die."

"Can I ask her about it?" said Margie.

"No" said Ginny quickly. "People who lived through it have a hard time talking about it, usually. So we only talk about it with them if they bring it up first."

"Are there books about it?" asked Gillam.

"Not until you're older" said Myra. "When each of you are ten, you can read a book that was written by a Jewish girl in Holland whose family hid from the Nazis. She wrote a journal that is now one of the most famous books in the world. Her name was Anne Frank."

Margie said "Did she die?"

Ah, shit. She shouldn't have brought up Anne Frank. Ginny said gently "I'm afraid she did. But her words live on, and so her spirit is treasured by us all these years later."

Gillam asked David "Those Germans you shot, from that church -- were those Nazis?"

"Some of them were" said David. "Some of them were just boys forced into the army by the Nazis."

"Does everybody know about this?" asked Margie.

"All grownups do" said Allie. "But kids don't get told until they are old enough to hear such sad news."

Ginny jumped in "And we don't know yet if Patty and Pat have told their boys, so you can't talk about this with Truitt and Carly until we say it's okay. Same thing goes for kids at school, not until a teacher brings it up."

There was another long silence. Then Margie asked "Can we go to the beach now?"

Ginny laughed abruptly and said "That's a great idea. Go get your suits on."

As Gillam and Margie raced into their room, Ginny came to sit in Myra's lap, leaning her head against Myra's.

"Good job, everybody" said Myra.

"After we swim, for their nap -- will you put them in our bed with you? In case they have bad dreams?" asked Ginny.

"Yes" said Myra. "And we'll need to repaint Margie's knees with iodine after she's been in the ocean."

Allie stood up and stretched. "I'm going to go crank up my AC and take a nap now" she said. "Margie got me up half an hour before I'd set the alarm."

"See ya back at the drawing board" said Ginny. She gave Myra a kiss and stood up, too, as the children clattered back in, ready for the beach.

That night, Gillam chose Allie's lap for the bonfire circle, already making his claim on her. Margie roamed around between Myra, Ginny and David. After dousing the fire, Ginny carried Margie back to the house and Margie held onto her neck when Ginny tried to put her in bed, saying sleepily "I don't want you to let go of me." Ginny looked at Myra, and Myra said "Yeah, sure. But it's gonna be crowded."

"She's covered in sand" said Ginny.

"I'll do the sheets tomorrow" said Myra. She was later very glad of their decision, because Margie woke up screaming from a nightmare. She wasn't able to tell them what the nightmare was about, just that she was "scared, scared". They held her between them and she dropped back off quickly.

When Myra got up late the next morning, Gillam and Allie had left her a stack of "sand dollar" pancakes in the oven. After eating, Myra stripped the beds, added towels and a second load of grimy beach wear, and made a list for town. Allie said she needed one of her propane tanks refilled, and Myra pulled out her folder containing all the vacation information, looking for the rental agreement to be sure about the specifications of the tanks.

Margie and Gillam were hovering around her, and Margie began leafing through the folder as Myra talked with Allie. Margie said suddenly "What's this?" She held up the sketch Myra had made of the beach house for Allie, showing a rough outline of the rooms and the yard.

"It's a map of the house" explained Myra.

Margie looked at it critically for a minute, then said "It's wrong. Things are in the wrong place."

"Well, it was just a haphazard effort" said Myra, preoccupied.

"I could draw a better one" said Margie.

"Be my guest" said Myra.

"I need a big sheet of paper" said Margie.

"Go ask Mama" said Myra. But Ginny had only regular size construction paper, and Margie was demanding something poster size. So Myra added onto her list the items Ginny requested, interjecting "I don't know if there's any place in that small town that will have these things, but I'll try."

Allie helped her load the car with laundry and the tank, and Myra said she'd be back in a few hours. Ginny told Allie and David to keep painting, she'd look after the kids while Myra was gone.

After starting the laundry, Myra tracked down a small crafts store where she was able to find most of Ginny's list, including wonderful giant sheets of parchment. She added on a cardboard tube for carrying the paper home. At a camping store, she not only got the tank refilled, she found topo maps that had the beach house on it. She got more film for the Polaroid and stocked up on fruit and veggies at the produce stand. Then she took herself out for a cheeseburger and vanilla Coke before heading home.

Ginny had a chef salad made when Myra returned, and the others were already eating. Myra dodged the question of whether she was hungry, and instead showed Margie the topo map, explaining how to read it. As David cleared the table and did dishes, Myra taught Margie how to use the Polaroid and took her outside to take photographs of the house and grounds as reference points for her map. Margie was so absorbed, she begged to be allowed to miss her nap for the day. Myra said okay, just this once. She and Gillam lay down side by side on top of her and Ginny's bed, with the fan on them, and she told him stories about the crab colony in the dunes until they both dropped off.

When Myra got up, Margie was still hard at work with the markers and rulers Ginny had suggested. Her map was simply extraordinary -- more like an old-style panorama view than an ordinary flat chart. Myra stepped to the porch and said quietly "You need to come see this. But hands off, Ginny."

All three of the artists were floored by Margie's skill. David said "My god, she's a Bates!" Ginny was almost in tears. She said "She does abstracts all the time, I didn't know she had this kind of eye, or precision." She offered to show Margie how to make certain kinds of lines, but Margie said "No, thanks" and Ginny glanced at Myra, then pressed her lips together tight. It was hard for her to go back out on the porch and leave Margie on her own.

At 5:00, Margie complained that her neck hurt. Myra said it was time for a break, and helped Margie put away all her supplies. Then Ginny took the children to the beach for a long frolic in the surf, while Myra started dinner.

When Myra got up the next morning, Margie was back at the table, working on her map. Gillam was immensely bored, and pounced on Myra excitedly. She promised him a nature hike, but as she was finishing her cereal, a summer downpour began. His voice rising in pitch, he said "Oh, dang it, dang it!", looking out the window at the rain.

"It's okay, buddy, I've got a back-up plan" said Myra. She settled into a chair on the porch with a bag from town, and once he was comfortable in her lap, she showed him the comic books she'd bought the day before, including Casper, Wendy, and one Mad Magazine. They read them raptly together, Myra making sure they discussed anything questionable, their conversation often drawing chuckles from Allie and David eavesdropping. After the rain stopped, it became very humid and hot, but nobody complained. Life was good.

When Myra went back in the house to check on Margie, Margie had finished the beach map and begun on what she was calling a topo map of her bedroom at home. Myra walked out to the car and got the atlas. She showed Margie how to read all those symbols and legends, and Margie began going through the atlas, page by page. Myra insisted they go swimming at their usual time, followed by a nap after lunch, but otherwise Margie was absorbed in her maps. Myra and Gillam went on their nature hike, coming back with small items to line the windowsill in Myra's bedroom. As Myra was making dinner, Ginny stopped painting early and pored over Margie's drawings with her, a look of wonder and excitement on her face that made Myra's heart swell.

The next day, Myra taught Gillam how to write tangas. From there, they went on to haiku and then limericks. Myra's favorite was Gillam's haiku:

Loud, bossy sister
Always gets to be the first
Because she's the girl

In turn, Gillam was delighted with Myra's limerick:

There once was a boychik named Gillam
Whose stomach beseeched him to fill 'em
He went out to eat
On potatoes and meat
And when the check came, he said "Bill 'em"

Margie was busy drawing a map of what they would fly over on their trip back home. Myra began a mental list of maps she planned to buy Margie when they returned to Seattle -- the Diapora, the cultures of Africa, Antarctica explorations, Native American tribes in North America.

Harm and Gary came out their last day at the beach house, bringing three of Harm's nieces and nephews, plus a huge bag of ribs and barbecue sauce. Allie had caught a quantity of gafftopsail that morning, which they added to the menu. They cooked out on the grill in the yard, laughing and drinking cold alcoholic/non-alcoholic beer as the children romped. The kids in Harm's family swore just as colorfully as he did, which sent Margie and Gillam into frequent giggles. That night, when Myra put her children into a bubble bath to get clean before their early departure the next morning, she heard them from the kitchen as Margie said "God damn" three times in a row. Gillam was chortling, added "Sonuvabitch", then sang "If you have a son, send the bastard out to sea", completely cracking himself up. Margie was doing a run of "Fucking fucker fuck" when Myra opened the bathroom door and stared at them, managing not to smile. They froze and didn't look up from the suds. She closed the door silently and went to laugh on Ginny's shoulder.

Copyright 2007 Maggie Jochild.

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