Thursday, August 21, 2008


Another installment of my Great American Lesbian Novel (in progress), Ginny Bates. If you are new to reading GB, go to the section in the right-hand column labeled Ginny Bates to read background and find out how to catch up.

Early March 2013

Cathy returned to Denver but continued her morning calls with Ginny, who reported she was getting out more than she had been. She'd also started seeing a grief counselor recommended through someone at her Temple. Chris visited Nancy once and resumed her own research schedule. Allie was traveling all over the U.S., with positive reviews and interviews pouring in daily. Edwina ate dinner with Myra and Ginny at least four times a week, even when Ginny was painting, which was often.

One morning after breakfast, Myra was headed outside to help Ginny turn the compost pile and rake the yard when the house phone rang.

"It's Mai" she said, picking up her desk receiver. "I'll be out in a bit."

"But an hour later, when Ginny came back in red-cheeked and done with chores, Myra was still on the phone with her agent. A yellow legal pad sheet was covered front and back with words and figures. Ginny got a drink and came to sit on the daybed as Myra finished her call.

Myra leaned back in her chair and said "Someone else wants to buy the rights to Skene."

"You have those offers periodically, and we make a little money on it" observed Ginny. "Option for a movie, right?"

"TV series this time" said Myra. "And they're as far as wanting actual rights, not just an option. Mai says I should get a second agent, someone who's adept in that industry, not books. She's got a few recommendations."

"Television?" said Ginny disapprovingly. "Won't they butcher it worse than a movie studio?"

"I can't imagine otherwise" said Myra. "I'll be listed as original author, and Mai says I should push to get a salary as consultant, but I won't have any actual creative control. Only people like Stephen King get to work on screenplays of their own books and say no to hijacking of the plot, and even he didn't have enough clout to save a lot of his stuff."

"Why are you considering it, then?" said Ginny, pointing to the sheet of notes.

"$327,500, with a tiny percentage if it's actually a success" said Myra.

Ginny's eyes went huge. "Holy shit" she said.

"Mai thinks that's about average" said Myra. "As far as she knows, that is."

"We're doing okay, Myra. We're still adding to our retirement, we own the farm in Canada which only breaks even but it could be sold for a lot, and all three kids are about to graduate, theoretically meaning they'll produce their own incomes from here on out" said Ginny. "Plus, if your current book does go out partly on CD-ROM, it'll sell a lot more that way, I'm convinced. You don't have to worry about earning as much as much, we've got years to go before I even up how you supported me for 25 years."

Myra smiled at her. "Thanks for that last part. And, I know. But I want to see Chris's book get printed, even if it means a loss. And yeah, the art marked is so far still ludicrously high because all the tax breaks for the superrich under Reagan and Bush have not yet been reversed -- maybe they never will, I don't see another FDR in the offing. But it could happen. Mainly, though, yes our kids will hit the market and make their own way. But I'd like to be able to offer Margie and Frances help with their restaurant, wherever the fuck they settle. If Gillam starts a family, I want to help pay doctor bills and begin education funds. And Carly -- well, hopefully he'll at least dutifully live here with us but if he wants his own PT practice..."

Ginny was laughing. "Okay, it's your book to sell. Get a good agent. And if we're due to receive a massive check, try to have it come in before January 1st -- my income is spiking this year, and the higher our bracket, the less taxes we'll pay. May Dubya rot in hell."

"With Cheney there to lick out his asscrack" concurred Myra.

Ginny and Myra flew to Washington, DC on March 20th, and Ginny spent the entire next day helping hang her show. That evening, Allie arrived and they caught up with each other. On the morning of the 22nd, Edwina, Sima and Chris flew in from Seattle, Margie from Portland, with Gillam, Carly and Jane arriving from Olympia. They congregated at the airport until everyone was in and shared a shuttle to the hotel where Myra had rooms waiting. Edwina and Allie immediately peeled off for some alone time. The rest of the family went out for a very early dinner/late lunch.

At the hotel, Gillam changed into his new suit. He had settled on a silk/wool blend fabric which was so dark brown, it looked black in some light. The lining was a light gold brocade, and the fit was impeccable. He had an array of shirts to go with it, ranging from a white-on-white Egyptian cotton to champagne silk, all of them with French cuffs requiring either Sima's cuff links or a pair which had belonged to David. For the opening, he wore a starched ivory shirt and one of David's ties with a maroon and gold stripe. Jane couldn't keep her hands off him. She, herself, was resplendent in a pale blue cashmere suit that matched her eyes exactly.

Not to be outdone, Margie arrived in the lobby wearing the grey suit which had once belonged to David, taken in to look as it if had been made for her as well. Underneath it she wore a low-cut scarlet jersey and red fashion boots which looked extremely expensive to Myra's eye. She thought all the rich lesbians coming to the show would gravitate in Margie's direction, and she had decidedly mixed feelings about it.

The turn-out was far more than even Ginny's agent had expected. A documentary crew from the BBC was there, which Ginny had been told about but forgot to mention to her family, so everyone was put on the spot for candid remarks and intrusive questions. Allie was particularly hounded by the Brits, until Edwina sicced them onto Chris with the statement that her pending dictionary might reconfigure the face of Native American linguistics. Chris kept saying things to them which they apparently found fascinating; Myra decided not to eavesdrop because it might give her heartburn.

At the celebratory dinner afterward, Ginny shucked off everyone but family, even insisting her agent "go get some rest, I'll see you tomorrow" in a diplomatic manner. They went to a small Italian place with a back room, and after ordering pasta according to Margie's recommendations (since Frances wasn't there), Myra said "The prices on those canvases were noticeably higher than in the past. Even with the bigger size -- what gives?"

"The gallery owner and my agent persuaded me to listen to their advice. It seems there's a deep rumor floating around art cycles that I plan to retire at age 60. Consequently, my work will skyrocket, they think, once it's a finite supply." Ginny was amused.

"Where did anyone get that idea?" said Myra. "You're still just beginning your prime."

"I don't know. Grown kids, the fact that my style keeps changing, and/or not having had a show for over a year" guessed Ginny. "At any rate, it's a white-hot Ginny market at the moment."

Myra was distracted for a minute thinking about other possible meanings of "white-hot Ginny". Sima said slowly, "You should exploit it, then. I mean, more than you are. Wait at least another year before you show again. Maybe float another rumor, something about changing your focus to family, or illustrating Myra's work."

Margie grinned at Sima. "I could start a sentence here and there in front of groupies in my art department, then cut myself off and refuse to say more. It'll travel like typhoid, supposedly coming from 'the daughter', you know." She and Sima began discussing wording of innuendo.

Ginny had more interviews and gallery commitments over the next few days. Allie, Edwina, Chris, and Myra turned themselves over to research, while the younger folks and Sima became tourists. Gillam had agree to meet Mr. Jamba Juice, as Margie kept calling him, at 2:00 on Tuesday the 26th.

"But that's the beginning of Passover!" protested Myra. "We've arranged a private seder in the hotel dining room."

"I know, Mom. Beginning at 5:00, right? It'll be a good excuse for me to leave him when I need to." Gillam turned to Margie. "You in or out?"

Ginny nudged Margie and said "She's in, she has to be. She'll resent you both if you meet without her."

"For what it's worth, I agree" said Myra. Gillam's apologetic expression was beginning to irritate her.

"I'll decide the day of" said Margie stubbornly.

The day of, they all met for an early lunch at the hotel. Gillam was wearing his new suit again. Margie said with scorn, "Dressing up for the patriarch?"

"No, we have a seder immediately after, remember?" said Gillam, stung. "Although, yes, I would also choose to look my best -- I feel like I'm representing all of us in some way."

"Not all of us" retorted Margie.

Gillam leveled his gaze on her. "You're going, then."

"I suppose I am" said Margie. She left at the end of lunch, saying she had to change. When she met them again in the lobby, she had re-donned David's suit and applied dark red lipstick. Ginny guffawed, but Margie's expression was smoldering.

"This is the man who taught me what men are" she said fiercely, fingering her lapel. "His lineage is what matters to me."

Gillam erupted for once. "Yeah, well, at least I can remember I'm a Josong as much as a Bates!"

Myra said "You haven't even met him yet and you're fighting about daddy. You can get over it right now -- go find out the reality, not the superheated positions you've both assumed. Here's our video camera, Gillam, do not come back without footage, that's my only instructions."

"Behave" added Ginny. She giggled. "If he wants custody, tell him we won't fight it."

Everyone laughed except Gillam and Margie. Gillam passed the video camera to Margie and slung his Leica over his shoulder. He kissed Jane goodbye, but not his mothers. He and Margie walked out front to a waiting cab.

"What now?" Myra said to Ginny.

"Well, don't faint, but how about a matinee?" said Ginny.

"Count me in" said Carly.

They got a paper, agreed on a theater with movies to suit all of them, and headed out.

They were late getting back to the hotel. Ginny dashed upstairs for the seder plate, afikomen cover and Miriam's cup she had transported from home in her luggage, while the rest located the private dining room reserved for them. Margie was sitting at a long table peeling an orange. Gillam was pacing up and down, his cell to his ear, cheeks flushed. When he saw Myra, he said "Why the hell aren't you answering?" as he clicked shut his phone.

"Oh. I turned it off for the movie, I guess I forgot."

"Movie?!!" he exclaimed.

"What'd you see?" asked Margie curiously.

"I think we're all more interested in your main attraction" said Edwina dryly. Jane had gone to Gillam and was hugging him. Just as Margie asked "Hey, where's Mama?", Ginny bustled in, wrapped bundles in both hands.

Myra helped Ginny prepare the seder plate while Allie polished the cup, Chris hid the afikomen, and Sima discussed final details with the wait staff. Their table had been set with an orange on each plate, and no salt water was prepared. As this got sorted out, Margie began a loud, amused account of their meeting with "Mark the Spark", as she was now calling him.

"He's tall, taller than either of us, like 6'2" or 3", wouldn't you say? But he's definitely running to fat. And bald everywhere except for a silver fringe. Something for you to look forward to, brother-o" she said.

Myra responded "Baldness is inherited through the mother's genes -- David is your indicator of how Gillam's hair will look. Lucky boy." She grinned at him. He was looking less agitated. "On the other hand, Margie, it does mean your sons would risk hair loss."

"I'm not breeding" said Margie with more than her usual edge of disdain. "Anyhow, he would've looked like a used car salesman except for his Fabiano Ricci loafers and Hermès suit. He talked fast, interrupted a lot, and was not at all impressed with my attire. He did recognize Gillam's suit as tailor-made, however, and I think he peed himself a little when he realized it."

Myra sat down at one end of the table and waved Gillam to come sit beside her. After a moment of hesitation, he did, pulling Jane with him. As everyone else found chairs, Sima said "Do we begin the seder and save the rest of this story for when we eat? I told them to serve at 7:00."

"Oh, please don't make us wait" said Gillam anxiously.

Ginny, at the other end of the table, said "All right. Let's hear from you both, and maybe we can save questions and rehashing for later." She looked expectantly at Gillam, who said "He was a putz."

Margie laughed merrily. "Indeed he was."

"He treated Margie like she'd been corrupted, he snickered when I mentioned the seder, he snickered again when he found out Jane isn't Jewish, he said it was a shame we weren't at least artists if we weren't going to become professionals, he was shallow and glib and narcissistic, and the whole time, he looked so much like me and Margie, I had the feeling I was in some Twilight Zone episode" Gillam poured out.

Margie lifted the video camera from where it was hanging over the back of her chair and said "Ready for the signpost ahead? It's already rewound, for your viewing pleasure."

Ginny took the camera from her hands and walked to Myra's chair, pushing in beside her so each had one haunch on the seat, one supported by a bent leg underneath. They looked at the little screen together, Margie coming to lean on Ginny's shoulder and Gillam on Myra's right.

From the first image, Myra felt a shock reverberate through her body. She had always believed their children looked utterly like Ginny -- but here was a stranger with their wide brow, their powerful shoulders, their jawline. Worse, his large brown eyes were what Gillam's matched, not hers. She felt like someone had sliced the cord that ran from her to them. She closed her eyes after the two minutes of footage was done.

Ginny passed on the camera to Allie, and Margie went with it, repeating her narrative. Gillam said "I took a lot of photos, you'll see when I develop them. Partly I wanted something between my face and his."

Myra looked at him, seeing his anguish. She folded her hand into his, and he gripped tightly. He said "Thank god I'm yours, both of yours, and not anyone else's. I feel like I just lived through a near miss."

Myra suddenly felt an actual current coming from him, through her to Ginny pressed full against her left side. She wished he were still small enough to pull into her lap. Ginny said "Was there nothing good about the meeting?"

"Oh, he'll probably think it was a success" said Margie, now beside Chris. "He'll occasionally show photos of us and brag, if he's with people who'll find it cool that he loaned his seed to a desperate dyke."

Gillam said "I'm glad I did it. I won't do it again. And yes, I got medical information." He turned to Jane. "Glaucoma, ulcers, and asthma, all of it well-treated in current generations." He turned back to Myra with his first grin. "Funny about the asthma, huh? Plus, I got the names of all his grandparents and where they lived, is that enough for you to do a genealogy?"

"Perfect" said Myra. Their hands were still glued together.

"I'm so hungry, would anyone object if I ate a matzoh or two right now?" asked Gillam. Carly passed him the stack on a plate, and Sima handed over a bowl of charoset.

Ginny kissed Myra tenderly, stood to kiss Gillam around his matzoh flecks, and took the camera away from Margie again with a third kiss. As she returned to the head of the table, she said "Now let us tell the story of how our people were delivered from slavery."

Once they were back in Seattle and Gillam had developed his photographs, Myra took one from him, a horizontal head-and-torso view of Mark the Spark between her son and daughter. It was a spectacular photo, typical of Gillam, and the resemblance between them three of them was overt. She asked Gillam to not send a copy of this to Mark, and Gillam said "Yours alone." She hung it over her desk, next to the picture of the four of them at the Dyke March when Gillam was a baby. When Ginny asked why, Myra said "To remind myself that luck is sometimes the result of brilliant choices."

© 2008 Maggie Jochild


Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Another installment of my Great American Lesbian Novel (in progress), Ginny Bates. If you are new to reading GB, go to the section in the right-hand column labeled Ginny Bates to read background and find out how to catch up.

Into February 2013

Ginny began calling her sister every morning at breakfast, as she ate fruit and yogurt, sipped tea, and looked at the light coming in the front windows past her rosebushes. She referred to with Myra as her "face the day" call, meaning Cathy's day, not hers. While she was painting, she set her alarm to go off as a reminder. After a week of it, Myra discovered they would often still be on the phone when she woke up and shuffled into the kitchen: Cathy was cramming her need for sharing and deep contact into that hour or so each day. Myra asked Ginny how long she would keep it up, and Ginny said, with her eyes dark blue, "As long as she needs it. I need it, too."

"I'm glad" said Myra.

"Is this how you were with Gil after your mom died?"

"Not quite. Gil was a guy, conditioned to see phone conversations as practical, not emotional conduits. Plus I was, we both were, a lot younger. And...I thought I had a lifetime to talk with him. We were going to be old coots together." Myra felt grief well up in her. After all this time, it still hurt that much.

"My birthday is in two weeks..." began Ginny.

Myra laughed. "You don't even have to ask, if she'll consider moving here I'm totally for it."

Ginny looked amazed. "That wasn't what I was going to ask. But -- okay, I'll bring it up. In a while, not just now. She's still trying to make basic sense of things. What I was going to ask is, I know we were planning to visit Austin for research the first week in February, then back here for my birthday. I was going to suggest either we go to Denver or she come here for my birthday. If we do the former, I doubt all our friends and kids will join us."

"Whatever you and she want" said Myra. "Listen, I got an e-mail from Gillam -- he and Jane, for sure, want to come this weekend. I don't know about Carly yet, but I'll write him individually. I think they're scared shitless about the apparent mortality of our generation."

"They should be" said Ginny grimly. "So am I."

A few days later, the phone rang late while Myra was at her desk, close to midnight. She answered it without looking at the caller ID. It was Cathy, saying in a fragile voice, "Oh, please tell me I didn't wake you up."

"You didn't, I'm at my desk. But it would have been fine if you had. How are you, sister of mine?"

"...Not able to sleep. I wondered if Ginny was around..."

"She went to bed two hours ago, but I'll go get her -- "

"No, don't do that, Myra, you know how she is when you wake her up before she's had a REM cycle. I'll just wait until morning..."

"If that was a good option, you wouldn't have called. Listen, I know I'm not Ginny, but I could try channeling her. I'd really like to hear what's up right now" said Myra.

There was a long silence. Myra could hear Cathy's breathing, not quite even. Eventually Cathy said "He liked to go to sleep with the TV on. I'd do my evening ritual in the bathroom, lotion, hair brushing, you know the routine." (Myra did not.) "Then I'd walk through the house, turning off lights and making sure everything was locked up. When the boys were little, I'd look in on them. By the time I got to bed, he'd be asleep. I'd turn the volume down slowly, because if I just switched it off, he woke up. Eventually it was on mute, and after another minute of that, I could click off the picture and he'd keep sleeping. When I lay down beside him, he'd -- " She began crying hopelessly.

"He loved you with every fiber of his being, Cathy. Everybody on earth should have the kind of love you two shared." Myra wanted to hang up and go crawl into Ginny's arms.

After a while, Cathy could talk again. "I've been trying the shows he watched to go to sleep, but they don't work for me. Too much anger, and all the commercials are selling drugs -- a lot of them for heart disease."

"Yeah, TV is full of land mines. So was music for me, I had to be really careful about which albums I put on after I lost someone whose memory and past were completely linked to mine. Instead, how about if you tell me stories about good times you had together, or bad times that turned into good. Whatever comes into your head."

"You sure, Myra? I don't want -- "

"I really want to hear them, I'm sure. I stay up late, you know that. And I'm an hour earlier than you, which works to our advantage. Think of me as your late night talk radio host."

Cathy actually laughed. She said "I was thinking today about this terrible camping trip we took with the boys before they started school. Did you ever hear about when the skunk got in our tent?"

"Oh god, no. Tell me."

Cathy called again three nights later, while Myra was watching a movie with Carly. She whispered her regrets to him and went to her study. After that, two or three times a week Cathy went to sleep by telling stories to Myra. At lunch, Myra and Ginny would compare notes.

"I don't see how she's getting enough sleep, is the only part that worries me" said Myra.

"She's taking a long nap in the middle of the day. When it's safe to lie down, I guess. She has dinner with friends or Noah's family almost every night, so she knows she's got human contact available after the nap. Her doctor has offerer her sleeping pills but she doesn't trust them. I sent her a tea blend a few days ago, we'll see if that helps."

Myra pulled Ginny into a hug. "Did you ask her about living here yet?"

"I did" replied Ginny. "She was pleased, I could tell. She said she'd come for long visits, but it was bad enough Wolf was having to grow up without his zayde, she didn't want him to lose his bubbe, too." Wolf was Noah and Shana's young son. Myra had been startled by his first name until Ginny reminded her that Ze'ev was Hebrew for Wolf. Ginny continued "She is coming for my birthday, though. Which reminds me, I told her I'd get the tickets -- apparently Michael always did that for them."

"Then I'm going to finalize an invitation and send it out to whatever list you create" said Myra. They headed for the computers.

Cathy came two days before Ginny's birthday and was given the back bedroom. Margie and Frances drove up early Friday morning after Frances' work shift and were given Carly's bedroom, after prior consultation with him. Carly, Jane and Gillam arrived Friday afternoon, just as the challah finished baking and a carrot cake made by Cathy with Helen's prized recipe went into the oven. Myra had seven live lobsters in one of the galvanized tubs full of ice water in the storage room -- she said one was for Ginny all by herself -- but she balked at being the one to kill them. Ginny always expressed disbelief at this scruple in Myra, when she was so willing to eat meat in other forms and said she would be the slaughterer, if need be, of cows and pigs.

"It's having to plunge a knife into the head of something looking at me" said Myra. Usually Ginny had to do the deed, but Gillam said "No, it's your birthday and shabbos to boot, I'll say prayers and do the killing."

After cleaning, the lobsters were roasted on the outside grill with cedar plank salmon from Lake Quinault, a variety of mussels, clams, oysters, and a crab boil in the big pot on the stove. Myra had figured out the squash pancake recipe Ginny loved so much, and also made hand-shaped tortillas to dip into a huge bowl of garlicky guacamole.

When Ginny blew out the candles on her cake, Cathy said "Every year, after Mother would blow out the candles, Michael would lean over to me and whisper 'They broke the mold when they made Helen -- smashed it methodically it into tiny pieces and buried it in quicklime, so that mistake could never be repeated.' I'd have to fight from going into hysterics."

"I remember that" marveled Ginny, "I used to wonder what he was saying to you." Her eyes filled with tears, and Cathy began crying. They held one another until Cathy was composed again, and Ginny handed her the knife, saying "You cut it. A giant piece for me, please."

Myra's gift for Ginny was an antique dry sink with multiple shelves and a copper well tarnished a dark green. The wood had been cruelly treated, painted more than once, but underneath a scrollwork of vines and blossoms could be seen. "Once you refinish it, I figure we can cover the top around the sink with tempered glass, so it can sit in the corner of your studio and survive paint spatters" said Myra. Ginny was enthralled. She, Carly, and Chris immediately surrounded the piece where it had been carried to the edge of the living room and began discussing stripping options. Sima couldn't stay away, either, when talk about whether to polish the copper came up.

The rest of the party stayed at the dining table, stealing swipes of cream cheese frosting from the cake and drinking tea or coffee. Frances pointed to Ginny's newest painting, hanging unframed as yet over the breakfast bar, and said "I know that's from Brazil, but it looks completely like Sicily to me, some coastal fishing town. I can imagine having a tiny restaurant there."

"How many paintings does she have for the DC show?" asked Gillam.

"19. Ginny's begun varnishing. We're flying to Washington on March 20th, the opening is that Friday, two days later. We still need a count from which of you want to go with, we need to buy the tickets soonish" said Myra.

Margie looked at Frances and said "I'll tell you tomorrow. 19, that's more than usual, right?"

"She hasn't had a show in well over a year, though she's been selling through catalogues here and there" said Myra. "She's overdue. And this will be the first major exhibition featuring her larger-sized canvases, so pricing has been tricky."

"If she sells all 19 -- " began Margie.

"She won't" said Myra.

"But if she did, after commission and costs, how much income will that be?" asked Margie. Gillam looked disturbed at Margie's prying, and Cathy was embarrassed. Myra looked around at Ginny, who was lying down on the floor inspecting underneath the dry sink and talking to Chris. She told the table "At least half a million."

"Holy crap" said Jane.

"A fifth of which will immediately go to the Feminist Fund" said Gillam defensively.

"We'll use every penny" said Myra calmly.

"Still -- doesn't she ever have qualms about, well, that kind of earning?" asked Margie.

Myra looked at her, then back at Ginny who was still not listening. "You should have that talk with her some time. But what I can tell you is that yes, of course, it's a constant struggle for her to sort through the feelings she has an artist who sells her work. Her privilege. The only reason she was able to develop her ability, and exposure, to this level is because my own wealth gave her a cushion few painters ever know. She's extraordinarily gifted, and she's worked her ass off, but so have lots of other folks who've never been able to sell a painting or have much time to paint at all. And then there's being Jewish..."

"What about that?" asked Cathy sharply.

Myra said "You remember when Vivie and her sister Pauline came to visit Helen in Denver and we came for the weekend?" Myra said to Jane and Nika, "Vivie was Ginny's grandmother, her mother's mother. This was after her grandfather Nathan had died. Helen had a tea party where all her upper class friends from the Temple were there, and you kids were banished to a back room with a baby-sitter. We dressed up and made the rounds. Anyhow, at one point one of those friends of Helen's said something to the effect that it was a shame someone who was so 'aidel gepotchket' had become a luftmensch -- that someone raised in a genteel manner was now without a career or money" Myra translated. "From the tone, I knew they were hinting at her being a dyke, too, living off me. Vivie was offended, but her comeback was that Ginny knew how to sucker the goyishe kop, selling her work for more than it was worth. They all laughed in a nasty way. I turned around and saw that Ginny had heard every word, even though she was in another group. You can't win if you're a Jew -- if you don't sell your stuff, you're a failure, and if you do, you're a money-grubber. Ginny wouldn't agree to have a show for two years after that, until she sorted through the crap for herself."

There was silence after Myra finished. She looked around and saw that Ginny had been listening, after all. Ginny blew her a kiss, and Myra replied "Ich libe dich" with a grin. When she looked back at the table, Margie was chewing over this information and Carly was grinning. Cathy was looking past her at Ginny. Gillam, however, looked bothered. He folded and unfolded his hands in front of him, then said "Well, this is as good a time as any, I guess. I've got news that may affect my trip to DC."

Ginny stood up from the floor, recognizing his tone, and came to stand next to Myra's chair. He looked at them both as he said "I heard from -- my father. Our father, I guess I should say. He wrote me this week."

"What the fuck?" shouted Margie. "You didn't tell me right away?"

"I wanted to do it in family" said Gillam. "I knew we'd all be here together."

"Who is he?" demanded Margie, leaning forward angrily.

"His name is Mark Friedman. He lives in Washington, DC. From his job description, I think he's a lobbyist. He's been married once, is divorced, never had kids. I mean, aside from us. He's scared we're after his money, sounds like, even as he made it clear he'd googled my name and figured out I was the child of the famous Ginny Bates. He didn't mention you, Mama, I'm sorry" Gillam said to Myra apologetically.

Ginny was leaning heavily on Myra now. "My god. He really exists."

"Flesh and blood" said Gillam a little unhappily. "I made it clear my main interest was to get a more up-to-date medical history, and to find out my -- our lineage. He said he wants to meet me in person before handing that over. Well, us, he said he wanted to meet you too, Margie."

"A lobbyist!" said Margie with disdain. "For what?"

"Something to do with overseas manufacturing. He was a lawyer originally, but switched to what he called the private sector during the Bush administration" said Gillam.

"Oh my fucking god, he's a Bushite?!!" cried Margie. "No fucking way am I meeting that fucker, then." Chris was laughing her head off.

"You don't have to" said Gillam. "Anyhow, he's going to be in DC over Passover, which is the weekend after your opening and during my spring break, so if I went with you and stayed a few extra days, I could see him then. I wanted to talk it over with you all first."

"Did he send you a photo?" asked Margie, in spite of herself.

"Not yet. I sent one of all of us from last summer. I mean, all of us, with names and relationships on the back. If he says anything at all off plumb, he can forget about meeting me, either" said Gillam.

Myra looked up into Ginny's shocked face. "Happy birthday" she murmured.

Ginny heard her and met her eyes. She looked back at Gillam and said "I...You should do whatever you want, son. I'd love for you to come to the opening and...I don't think I want to meet him, if that's all right with you. I don't want to invite him to my show, either -- can you understand that?"

"I agree" said Gillam. "He's not part of my family, he's -- "

Margie said "Mr. Jamba Juice. Oh, god. Well, you have to take your camera -- no, a video camera, I want to see him in action. Count me in for the trip to DC, I'll have spring break, too. I want to see the show, Mom" she said self-righteously. So much for conferring with Frances, thought Myra.

"Me too" said Carly. Allie said "I'll be on book tour most of that month but I do have the week around Easter off. If we're talking about being there for a week, I'd like to do more research. For my next book." Edwina nodded at her. Chris said "Well...I want to do some research, too. Holdings at the Smithsonian, for one thing. Library of Congress. But only if Sima can go."

All eyes turned to Sima, who said "I think this one I can't miss. I'll take off without pay, I guess."

Ginny's hand squeezed Myra's shoulder, and Myra imperceptibly raised her shoulder in reply: Yes, we'll cover them somehow. Myra pointed to the calendar on the refrigerator, and Margie carried it to the table. They settled on dates and Myra said she'd make reservations for them all. Ginny said to Cathy, "What about you?"

"I'll stay with you for at least another week, but I want to be home with Noah and his family for Passover" said Cathy with pain on her face. "It'll be dreadful, but worse than if I wasn't there."

Next year in Jerusalem thought Myra.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild



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


Monday, August 18, 2008


(Snow at Ayase River, 1915, by Takahashi Hiroaki {Shotei})

Another installment of my Great American Lesbian Novel (in progress), Ginny Bates. If you are new to reading GB, go to the section in the right-hand column labeled Ginny Bates to read background and find out how to catch up.

January 2013

Once in Seattle, Myra said to Edwina "I bet you're headed for campus, to check in at your office? What's your plan for today, Al?"

"I'm going to an AA meeting at 5:00" said Allie. "Home to check mail before then."

"Ah" said Myra, trying to disguise her next remark as casual. "Say hi to Chris at the meeting for me."

Allie looked at her in exasperation. Ginny giggled, and said to Edwina "If you want to go to the noon Al-Anon near Udub, I'll bring you lunch to eat after."

"Deal" said Edwina.

Myra felt left out. She could call Sima, but Sima was no doubt taking care of herself. Instead, after Allie and Edwina left, she dialed Nancy's number.

Nancy answered, saying "I've only got five minutes, but how are you?"

"Okay" said Myra. "All of us, I think."

"I reached out to you yesterday and located your aura right away" said Nancy. "I began a little clearing, but then there was Chris, expansive and open. I've only met her a few times, at your parties, and she was never like that. I felt invited in, so I worked with her intensively for about half an hour. I hope that's all right."

Myra was stunned. "When was this?"

"In the morning -- about 9:30, I guess, because my next client came at 10:00" said Nancy.

"Hot damn" said Myra. "You got through, I'd say. Good job."

"Are you calling to reschedule?"

"Well, we've changed our flight to Denver for Friday morning, so the only time we can meet you is tomorrow during the day" said Myra.

"Oh, darn, I'm completely booked" said Nancy. "I'll call you if someone cancels, but otherwise..."

"Then it'll have to be after we return next week" said Myra, disappointed.

"I've got Tuesday afternoon or an hour on Wednesday morning" said Nancy.

Myra took Tuesday and wrote down the time. Ginny came in from the yard and Myra asked "How're the new sets?"

"Thriving little buggers. I guess that's why their line keeps enduring." Ginny got a look of recognition on her face and began laughing, Myra joining her as she stood from her desk.

"I'm going to empty our bags, Gin, and wash all the good clothes, I figure we'll want them for Denver."

"I'm sorry about forgetting to pack you underwear for Colville" said Ginny, with a grin.

"I got by without it."

" were amazing with Sima. With her and Chris both...You know, Margie was right, you are the Maginot line for us all. I mean, even those of us who are dykely competent and independent, we lean on you most."

Myra looked deep into Ginny's eyes. "I've been thinking about that. The truth is, I was raised to assume that role. And of course I do it from love, from true love and a clear decision, but -- there's also something involuntary about it, deep down. And way deep down, I resent it. Hard to admit, but there you go. Plus -- I think I did feel like I failed you. You were in dire peril, and I wasn't here. It wasn't as bad as what happened to Margie, back -- back then, but I think some of the same stuff came up. I wanted to make sure it wasn't my fault. All that's true, even as it's true that I'm trying to change how you and I operate."

Ginny crossed to Myra and kissed her. It turned into a long kiss. When they finally pulled back to look at each other, Ginny said "Didn't you wonder where on earth Allie came up with those two items, bridles and mint jelly, even as a joke?"

Myra giggled. "If we had been alone and she'd answered my question, for real, I'd have been mortified, you know."

"I don't think you failed me, Myra. Not even subconsciously. But I was terrified and wanted you to keep me safe in ways I didn't ask directly, once we found out we were being stalked. I...I still don't know how to do more than I have been."

"Well, we're talking now, we'll figure it out together. I think we lifted off the nest we've been living in since the Margie was born and found out what's underneath it. We're doing okay, in the big picture" said Myra.

"So jeep on?"

"Jeep on." They kissed again, lightly. Ginny said "I'm going to call Cathy, I didn't check in yesterday. When I talked to her Monday night, she said Michael might go home yesterday, so I'm hoping to catch them there."

"Give 'em my love, can't wait to see them both" said Myra, heading for their bedroom.

Ginny was still on the phone after she began laundry. She checked her e-mail -- 432 messages, most of them related to her blog whose last post was far out of date -- but one was from Gillam, saying he, Jane and Carly wanted to come to Seattle for the weekend. She wrote back, reminding him she and Ginny would be in Denver, they were welcome to the house but Nika had already been asked to house-sit so she would be there too. She wrote a description of the events by the creek and hit send. She turned around in her chair, noticing Ginny's silence.

Ginny had hung up and was staring out the glass wall. "Michael's still in the hospital. Cathy said every time they take him off the diuretics, he starts loading up water in his lungs again. She sounds worn out."

"Shit. Is Nate still there?"

"No, he went back to New York. Noah's pitching in. I think she's sleeping in the waiting room, not going home" said Ginny.

Myra didn't know what to say. She didn't think she could bear to cancel their dinner the next evening with Chris and Sima, not right now. Ginny said "I'll call Noah and tell him to make her go home for a night's sleep; I know he's got kids and a job, but he's young enough to handle taking over one night extra. We'll be there on Friday to pick up the slack."

"Sounds good" said Myra. She returned to her e-mail and listened as Ginny guilt-tripped her nephew adroitly. When Ginny hung up, Myra told her about the boys' plans. Ginny said "I'll make a list of house chores for Nika or whoever. Right now, though -- I left my latest canvas on the easel because my drying rack is full, the hazards of painting such behemoths. Will you help me carry up a couple to the vault and make room for them there?"

As they did this chore, Ginny said "The gecko habitat needs a good cleaning."

"After we get back. Gin, your latest painting, I'm going to have a hard time letting go of it." The scene was from their Brazil trip, the island of Fernando de Noronha where they had spent three idyllic days with Margie and Gillam.

"Me, too, Myra. Let's keep it, then. There's that space over the breakfast bar, I think it would fit there."

"Oh, wonderful, I can look it every time we eat" said Myra happily.

The following afternoon, Chris came over with her file of family papers and asked Myra if she could scan these into her laptop. Myra gave Nika a task she could do at the dining room table and turned over her scanner to Chris. At one point, Chris said "Don't jump all over this, but I'm considering asking you to look into my family history. At least the part that exists in U.S. records, which may not be very much."

Myra felt her heart leap. She kept her voice calm, however, as she said "Sounds fun. Let me know." Chris snorted.

Ginny was making challah to take to Denver, and pounding down Myra's sponge for her at intervals. When the house began to fill with the smell of baking bread, Chris said "I didn't eat lunch. And breakfast was just toast and coffee. I don't think I can last to dinner."

Ginny poked her head around the corner and said "I made a veggie soup while the bread was rising. And we've got some good cheese left."

"Thanks" said Chris, going to the kitchen.

Allie came over early with defrosted salmon steaks. Myra gave her computer to Nika and began collaborating with Allie on a recipe. Edwina arrived in time to set the table, and they held dinner ten minutes while Sima struggled through cross-town traffic.

As serving bowls were being passed around, Sima said "Part of the reason I got caught in traffic is that Margie called me at the end of my work day and we had a long talk."

"Good for her" said Ginny. Sima looked at her with raised eyebrows and said "She told me something that I think may have been a confidence. I'm going to pass it on, however."

"Now, wait" began Myra. Sima interrupted to say "Not her confidence, someone else's. She said Gillam had called her to get Amy's phone number."

"Her friend Amy?" asked Ginny.

"Yeah, the one who lives in Houston now. Apparently he's landed a job interview for the school district there next year, and he wants to ask Amy what it's like to live in Houston. Margie said 'A Bates returning to live on the Gulf Coast, wouldn't that be awesome?'" Sima watched Ginny's face fall.

Myra set down her fork. "He's not said a word to me about it." She looked questioningly at Ginny. Ginny replied "I'd have brought it to you immediately, you know that."

"Goddammit" Myra said, half to herself. She stared at her plate, not hungry any more.

Allie said "There's war orphans all over the world, ya'll could adopt the ones too ugly to be picked by Brad and Angelina."

Chris was the first to laugh, which was a good sign. Myra laughed with them, said "Goddammit" again to Ginny across the table, and resumed eating. A few minutes later, she said "He'll fucking hate Houston, it's humid and hot all year and the traffic is abysmal."

Ginny said "Are we going to act surprised when he finally gets around to telling us?"

"Hell no" said Myra. "He was dumb enough to tell Margie, forgetting she'd of course find a way to pass it on as fast as she could."

"Or maybe he knew she would, and counted on not having to deliver the news himself" pointed out Edwina. Chris laughed again.

After the meal, Allie helped gather plates and paused in front of the refrigerator, saying "You got any ice cream? I have a sweet tooth tonight."

Edwina cut off Myra's reply, saying to Allie sharply "You need to check your blood sugar first." In the sudden silence, Allie said "I was going to."

"Did you need an injection after lunch?" continued Edwina.

Allie motioned her head slightly at her friends in a gesture that meant "Not in front of them". Edwina said "I think maybe it's time they knew." She turned to Ginny and said "She's using insulin twice a day, sometimes three if there's dessert here."

"They said the oral medications wouldn't work forever" began Allie.

"They work just fine if you stick to the dietary recommendations" retorted Edwina. Their exchange sounded as if this was a familiar argument.

"What are you eating that you shouldn't be?" asked Myra. Allie turned to walk away, but Chris was behind her, not really blocking her. Not quite.

"She has white-flour biscuits from a damned pop-out tube at breakfast, or pancakes from a mix, plus eggs and bacon, no fruit. If she eats at home. Worse if she goes to a diner. At lunch, she has a sandwich with white bread and lunch meat, no vegetables unless she comes here or I make it on the weekend" said Edwina, sudden fury in her voice. She turned on Myra. "She says it's because she's working such long hours, she doesn't have time to cook so she goes for the easy stuff. Or that it reminds her of home, and the shots take care of it. But I know for a goddamned fact she's using twice as much insulin as she was this time last year."

Chris moved in beside Allie and said softly, "What gives? Stuff that hard?"

"Only when I'm working like eight or ten hours a day" said Allie. "It's not as bad as she's making out."

"You calling me a liar, Allene Billups?" demanded Edwina. They all knew, Edwina didn't lie, didn't exaggerate or like people who did.

"Is it because you're writing about your Nana, her life and your people?" asked Myra. Ginny glanced at her.

"I don't know" said Allie, crossing her arms across her chest. "And it's not regular white bread, it's that good stuff from Whole Earth -- "

"That's not any better just cause they jack up the price!" said Edwina. "You eat Myra's bread like it's god's own grain."

"Hers is good" said Allie, her jaw settling into fight mode. "I eat healthy when it's available, I'm not a hypocrite like you're implying."

"But if I'm not home to pull it out of the cupboard, you can't find time to take care of yourself, is that it?" said Edwina, close to shouting. "I'll be damned if I sit around and watch you go blind or lose a foot, I won't be hauling you to dialysis three times a week, I'll move out first!"

"I'm not going blind, you fucking wear glasses to read, too!" Now Allie was shouting. It was as if the rest of them were not in the kitchen.

"I didn't have to have my prescription upgraded from six months ago" said Edwina. "Turn around and read that list on the fridge door, without your glasses -- you could do that this time last year, go ahead."

Allie refused to turn her head. Her face was dark maroon. Myra said "I'll give you bread every week, all you want in whatever kind you like best."

But Ginny pushed past Myra and stood with her front against Allie's defensive posture. She said softly "Is that why your lines have changed? In the drawings? Oh god, Allie, you must be freaked."

Allie began fighting back tears. She said to Edwina over Ginny's shoulder "They don't need this worry right now, you dumbass."

Chris thumped Allie's temple with her finger, making Allie say "Ouch" indignantly. "It's okay to let Edwina reach this point, but not tell me? I think you're the dumbass" said Chris.

"Gangin' up on me ain't never worked" Allie said defiantly.

Myra turned and walked around the breakfast bar. "You're right, Al. I'm not ganging up on you. But part of the deal we all have with each other is that we each do everything we can to take care of yourselves. If you can't keep that part of the bargain, well, yeah, I'm worried. Something's in your way, it's not like you, not at all like you." She sat down on the stool. Chris followed her cue and backed away from Allie's space.

Allie looked at Edwina again. "What you want me to do?"

"Let's take this to that counselor you saw when you mother died. One or two sessions, figure out what's up and what we can do about it" said Edwina, her belligerence subsiding. "And yes to the bread" she added to Myra.

"I don't want ya'll riding me or trying to co me" Allie said to Ginny, then the rest of her friends.

"Okay" said Myra. "There's vanilla ice cream in the freezer, four-eyes."

Chris cracked up, and Allie had to grin. " got any fresh fruit?" she said.

"Strawberries" said Ginny. "I'll slice some for both of us, if you want."

"Me too" said Edwina.

"You got whipped cream?" asked Allie.

"I have cream, you can whip it yourself" said Ginny.

"First I gotta do an Accu-Chek" sighed Allie. Later, as they all settled in the living room with bowls of strawberries and cream, Myra said "My aunt Joyce on my dad's side got thrown out of so many dialysis centers, they wound up driving across from Oklahoma into Texas to get treatment."

"How come?" asked Allie.

"She kept sneaking in go-cups full of rum and Coke" said Myra. "She'd sip it during dialysis. When the nurses found out, they'd go ballistic."

Myra told Chris and Sima about what Nancy had said, and Nancy's offer. Chris had an expression Myra couldn't read. Finally she said "I might. I might check her out." Myra gave her the number, which Chris slid into her wallet.

They didn't stay up late because Myra and Ginny had to catch the airport shuttle the next morning at 5:30. The flight to Denver was turbulent and neither of them were able to make up sleep. They took a cab to their motel, checked in, and debated about whether to grab a nap. Ginny said "Let's at least call Cathy and see if they're still at the hospital."

Noah answered Cathy's cell. Ginny said "You're still on duty? It's nearly noon. It's Aunt Ginny, we're in town."

There was a long silence. Noah said "Daddy...he died. He...there was a code, everybody running down the hall. They wouldn't let me in the room, or Mom. Then..."

Ginny collapsed onto the bed. Myra rushed to sit beside her. Her own legs felt weak. "He's dead? He can't be dead, we're here to see him."

Noah began crying. Ginny said "Where's Cathy?"

"They gave her a shot, she's in another room. She couldn't stop screaming" Noah choked out.

"Oh my god. Noah, we're coming there, right now. We'll find you. You stay -- stay with Cathy."

At the car, Myra took the keys away from Ginny, who was desperately pale and breathing hard.

"I know where the hospital is, Myra -- "

"You're not driving, and that's final. Sit down in the seat, I'm getting juice from the vending machines, I'll be right back." She got a can of OJ for Ginny and a Coke for herself. In the car, she studied the map, saying streets out loud to memorize them. She refused to let herself think about Michael, only that they were going to meet Cathy.

Ginny didn't cry until midnight, when Gillam, Carly and Margie had gotten to their motel from the airport. They left Cathy at Noah's house and drove to the motel, finding their kids sitting on the sidewalk in front of their room. Myra had rented rooms for them, too, but the motel wouldn't hand out the keys until Myra got there despite her having asked otherwise. When Margie burst into tears again, so did Ginny.

Their children left two days later. Myra and Ginny stayed on four more, helping Noah sort his father's belongings with Cathy mute on the couch. Nate hired someone to come daily to make lunch for Cathy and do light house-cleaning. Her friends rallied round, and their Temple community promised Ginny she wouldn't be left alone.

Myra had refused to let Allie and Edwina come, saying "Chris needs you in town right now. We know you're there, we'll lean on you when we get back." She did call Nancy every day at a prearranged time and let Nancy do over-the-phone oogie-boogie. Nancy said she was cleaning out blockages for Ginny as well, even if Ginny wasn't on the line. Ginny was sleeping, at least, and eating small amounts, mostly to set an example for Cathy, Myra thought.

On the flight home, Ginny made a pillow of her sweater and leaned against Myra's shoulder with it. She couldn't sleep, however, and after a while she sat upright again. She reached her seat and removed her sketch block from her bag.

"Is that why you're so hot?" asked Myra. "I was scared it was a fever."

"I feel terrible about it coming up" whispered Ginny. "What's wrong with me, that I have no control over it?"

"Not a thing" said Myra. "I never do this, but -- what's the painting about?"

"Daddy" whispered Ginny.

"Soon as we get home" responded Myra. "It's okay, he needs to come through."

Nika picked them up and drove them to the house, but didn't want to stay the night. Myra made tea while Ginny stretched a canvas. She carried a mug back to Ginny, already applying gesso. Ginny took a long sip and said "You better not leave me. I can't handle the idea of you dying."

"Me either."

"Will you sleep on one of the daybeds?"

"I was planning to. I'm going to call the kids first. And our friends."

"Tell me whenever you want me to come out of it, Myra, I will. I don't want you to be alone while I'm painting."

"I'm okay, Ginny. But I'm going to get us in to see Nancy as soon as we can."

"Okay." Ginny had drained the cup. Myra said "I'll bring you more after I do the calls."

"I love you, Myra."

"I know."

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.


Sunday, August 17, 2008


View of Bangs Mountain above trees, looking west across river to cove at end of Chris's creek (View of Bangs Mountain above trees, looking west across river to cove at end of Chris's creek)

Another installment of my Great American Lesbian Novel (in progress), Ginny Bates. If you are new to reading GB, go to the section in the right-hand column labeled Ginny Bates to read background and find out how to catch up.

January 2013

Allie, Chris and Sima didn't return until 7:00. Chris said "We ate some, the house was full of food. But me and Sima know a place here you're gonna love, even you, Ginny. All local and fresh ingredients. Plus pigs raised on apples from down the road, Allie."

As they went to the car, Allie murmured to Myra "We left when the drinking became continuous."

Chris led them south of town to Lovitt's, in a 1908 farmhouse overlooking Colville Valley. Ginny and Allie both had the maple-glazed salmon with squash cakes, Sima had lamb ribs, Chris had ham, and Myra and Edwina both ordered steaks. They shared soups and salads, and Ginny raved about everything, saying to Myra "We have to steal this squash recipe, can you decode it?"

On the way back to the hotel, Margie called and talked to everyone again, longest with Chris. Back in their room, Myra said suddenly "Oh, hell, I forgot to cancel with Nancy." Ginny said "I'll call her" and did, leaving a message. They then called Gillam, who was with Carly, and again all six of them talked with the young men.

"What would you two like now" Myra asked Chris and Sima after they hung up. Chris looked at Sima, who said "I'm exhausted. If you can sleep, that's my preference."

"If I can't, should I watch TV in another room?" said Chris.

"No" said Sima. "Just keep it low." They hugged their friends and departed. The four remaining talked for a while, Allie giving a report of the family gathering. She concluded by saying "And more to come tomorrow. I need down time." Edwina said "No TV in our room, please." Allie replied "Either sleep or sketching." Edwina stood to say "Then I'll come with you."

Finally alone, Myra said "I'm exhausted, too. I don't even want to shower before I hit the sack. How are you with all the scraps of sleeping you did today?"

"Off kilter but okay" said Ginny. "I want to unpack our bags, hang up things, and Allie's mention of sketching sounded good. I'll join you soon."

Myra pulled out her book but didn't get even a full page into it before dropping off.

The next morning they went to Debz Diner for breakfast, which satisfied Myra's lust for pancakes but Ginny found the fruit wanting. After a second cup of coffee, Chris said "The viewing begins at 4:00, and none of the kids offered where they'd be before then. I...Would you be interested in taking a drive out of town?"

Myra felt a small tingle. In all the times she'd come to Colville with Chris, they'd never ventured into the surrounding countryside, although she knew Margie had been at least once as a child. "Love to" she said.

They were in Sima's car, which had room for six. Sima, however, handed her keys to Myra and said "I'd rather not drive right now." Chris took the front passenger seat and directed Myra northwest toward Kettle Falls: "There's a bridge across the river at Sherman Pass."

Allie and Edwina were in the seat behind them, Ginny and Sima in the lift-up seat at the rear. Myra could hear the murmur of Sima's voice but not what she was saying. In the mirror, she could see Ginny's arm around Sima's shoulders. The rest of those in the car were silent. Occasionally Chris would point out a geographic feature and name it. The towns and clusters of houses they passed tended to be drab, lower working class. Everything else around them was spectacular, covered with a thick white blanket, mountains and meadows. The sky was overcast but there was no snow in the immediate forecast.

Across the river, they headed south again. Whenever a small waterway crossed the county road, Myra could look upstream and see at least one tiny ice-rimmed waterfall. A sign eventually told them they had entered the Colville Indian Reservation. Immediately there was a casino with cars in the lot, even at this time of a day, and a cafe. They drove on.

After half an hour, Chris leaned forward, studying landmarks. They kept passing small gravel roads which led off toward the mountains on their right or the river on their left. Just past one such intersection, Chris said "Oh, hell, that was it. Find a place to turn around, can you? It's so much more developed than how I remember it."

Myra reversed their direction and went back to where Chris pointed, a mushy gravel-and-mud road curving toward the mountains. They passed a few houses near a gas station/store. Chris said "That didn't used to be there. Would've been real handy if it had, at least for milk and bread."

Myra said "You lived out here, then?" She saw Ginny and Sima stop talking and pay attention.

"When I was little. From when I was a baby until I was eight. Mom had cousins nearby, though not near enough to walk to. Dad worked seasonally for the forest service, it was closer for him. He lost that job when I was in second grade, and we moved to Colville when he got on the city roads crew there." Chris was looking around her intently, her forehead creased. She hadn't tied back or braided her hair that morning, and its iron length blew in the fan from the heater.

They came to a T, and Chris said "Go left". Sima called from the back "Is this where you were living when Garnet was born?"

Chris turned around to look at her. "Yeah. We rented this house from the rez, though I think it's privately owned now." She faced front to point to a cinderblock square at ahead on the left. "I see a car in the drive. Damn. I was hoping nobody was there, we could look in the windows."

Myra slowed down to a crawl. The house was very small and utterly plain. There were no trees in the yard, no flower beds, just a gravel drive and a fence behind it facing a snow-laden meadow backed up to foothills. When Chris began talking, Myra stopped the car and put it in park.

"The front door goes into a living room which has a sliding door on the far side. On the right is the kitchen and behind that my bedroom, mine and Garnet's. On the left is my parent's bedroom and the bathroom. The dining table was by the sliding door. No fireplace, and it was fucking cold in the winter. But I was outside as much as I could. By the time I was five, I'd climbed Bangs Mountain by myself."

A face appeared at the window of what must be the kitchen, a white woman staring out at them. Myra put the car into gear and drove on, feeling shy about turning around in the driveway. Chris, however, said "Keep going till you reach the bridge."

After another mile, they reached a creek flowing down from Bangs Mountain toward the Columbia. A low concrete bridge without railings crossed it, and in the distance Myra could see a second house. On this side of the creek, however, a dirt road went in either direction. Chris pointed left again, and Myra began following the creek. Much of its edges were frozen, only the center still visibly flowing. They came to a dead end, and Chris unlatched her seatbelt, climbing out before Myra had the car turned off.

The rest of them followed Chris toward a jumble of massive boulders, grey-green beneath a sheen of frost. Another cluster of boulders across the creek narrowed the water here into a falls which looked carved from ice, though they could hear the water still moving underneath. Trees had a foothold here, too. Chris nimbly found her way through the rocks to a waterside perch where a sort of granite easy chair offered a perfect view of the falls and the waterway in either direction. She turned to her friends and said "I practically lived here as a kid. I caught little fish sometimes, and saw every kinda critter that lives around here. The last year, when Garnet was three and could walk, Mom made me bring her if I didn't sneak out of the house on my own, and she'd talk so much she scared everything off. But...things were still okay when we lived here. I needed this hiding place, but I was still okay."

It was a sacred space. Myra could feel it traveling up from the soles of her feet. She suddenly ached to have known Chris as a child. They'd have loved each other more passionately then than they ever had, she knew it. Sima went to Chris and put her arms around her as best they could manage in their bulky coats. They kissed, and Myra looked away. After a minute, Sima came back toward the rest, saying "Let's give her some alone time." They returned to the car and Myra backed as far as the bridge, turning around there to face the direction out.

Sima had gotten into the front seat. She turned to face Myra and said "You better leave the motor running and the heater on, no telling how long she'll be."

"You ever been here before?" asked Myra.

"I've never even heard her talk about it" said Sima. "Except generally, like 'One time I saw an eagle catch a fish' or 'I used to walk a mile in the snow to catch the school bus', nothing specific to this place."

"It makes sense of her" said Allie from behind them. Sima looked at her, then at Ginny leaned over the back seat. She said "When the doctor came out and told us about Garnet, Ricky -- he shouted no a few times, then he turned on Chris and screamed at her 'This is your fault, you killed her by making her do this. You never wanted her to be born, and now you've killed her."

"Oh god, no" said Myra, reaching for Sima's hand. But Sima pushed her entire body forward, falling into Myra's arms and bursting into chest-wrenching sobs.

Ginny got out of the back and came to Sima's door, squeezing in beside her enough to shut the door again. They held Sima between them, Allie's hand on Sima's shoulder from the back seat. After a couple of minutes, Sima said "It's so unfair. She's the reason Garnet was as -- untouched -- as she was."

"I know" said Myra.

"I hate her family. If I could go back in time, I'd kill her mother and father right after she was born and take her away from them, I don't have any fucking compassion for them at all, fuck them, I don't care what happened to them!" yelled Sima.

"I'm with you on that" said Ginny, startling Myra.

"And then those fuckers fried her brain to shut her up, so her's in pieces, it's linked to senses rather than...I don't know how to describe it. I can tell, she's being flooded by it right now, like that frozen water, she's tried to sort it out. I just wish she could stand to do it with me!" wailed Sima.

"She couldn't do it at all if you weren't in her life" said Myra. She wasn't sure Sima heard her.

"She's alone now, there's nobody who remembers her as a kid, at least that she's in touch with. She...those kids will only call her if they need something. Oh, god" said Sima, beginning to shake.

"Just us" agreed Myra. "We got it covered, we do, Sima my love. As terrible as it sounds, this will be a release for her, not just a loss."

Sima looked at her sharply and cried hard again. At the end of that spate, she sat up straighter and said "I better blow my nose, I'm about to drip."

Edwina handed up a clean bandana, and Sima blew vigorously. She said "It's amazing she brought us out here. That's a good sign, isn't it?"

"It's earth-shattering" said Edwina. "In the best way."

"Can you believe they let her wander around out here on her own?" said Sima with a tinge of disgust.

"Safer than in that damned house" said Allie. Myra thought Her ancestors could protect her out here, but she didn't feel safe saying it.

"Was Chris born in that house too?" asked Ginny. Sima said "I don't know, I'm learning as much as you are."

Ginny pulled maps from under the seat, saying "Myra buys topos like other people buy gum, I bet she's got one of the Colville region."

"I do" said Myra, "though I'm not sure if it extends this far." Eventually, however, they found a large one which included the creek nearby. They studied the terrain. Allie said "That cove where this empties into the Columbia, I'd love to go down there and pull some bigass salmon out of the water. Smoke 'em on the banks on a cold day like this, best eatin' I can imagine."

After an hour, Myra saw Chris walking down the road toward them. She looked stiff, her hands deep in her pockets. Myra put the car in gear, to go get her, but Chris sat down on a nearby rock and bent her face toward her chest. Sima said "Open the door, Ginny, let me out!" She reached Chris fast, pulling Chris's face into her chest.

Ginny said "Should we go, too?"

"No" said Edwina. "If Chris is unbuttoning, she'll bring it to us, too."

Edwina was right. A few minutes later, Chris stood and linked her arm with Sima's to reach the car. She slid into the back seat, between Edwina and Allie, and cried some more. Sima's face was wet again, and she settled on Ginny's lap to lean over the seat and hold Chris's hand.

When Chris was done, she wiped her face on her sleeve and said "I'm about frozen. Can I get back up front next to the heater vent?"

Ginny and Sima gave up their seat, returning to the back. Myra said "Where to next, the place where you emerged from the ground as a spirit being?" She heard Ginny's gasp, but Chris roared and said "In your dreams, Josong." She laughed as long as she had cried. Finally she said "I'm hungry again. Let's go back to town, to Lovitt's."

She turned around to look at Sima and said "I love you." Myra was starting down the road and didn't see Sima's face, but she could imagine her expression.

Chris's family were more subdued and sober for the viewing. Myra lost track of names and faces as they came and went, what would have been Chris's community if she had stayed here. She tried to imagine a Chris who hadn't gotten so hurt as a kid, who stayed in town after graduation without using drugs or alcohol, who maybe came out with a local girl, maybe another Nimipu girl, and lived here all these decades. She couldn't pull it off: Chris was a product of complicated forces and events.

The following morning, they went to a small Catholic church for the funeral. It was quieter than Baptist services, more comforting, Myra thought. Sleet had begun falling when they went to the cemetery. A bobcat had messily torn a hole in the earth, and even with artificial turf underneath and a plastic canopy overhead, the weather made everyone wretched from cold and wet. The burial was brief.

They returned to Garnet's house, where beer filled the refrigerator and casseroles lined the counters. In a back bedroom, Myra could hear the muted sound of a television, which was ostensibly for the children but most of the kids were running around in the main room; it was older men who disappeared. They mingled as best they could while nibbling from paper plates. Chris refused to take a plate, and when she whispered to Myra "I can't take much longer here. Let's stop at Lovitt's on the way home", Myra passed on the word to the rest.

Tina said she would clear out Garnet's house before the first of February and disperse her belongings. The day before, Chris had surreptitously carried albums and framed photos into a bedroom and taken everything she wanted. She showed the envelope to Tina and said "I'll get three copies of everything, I promise you." After a search, they found where Garnet kept her financial papers. There was no will, no order to her filing, and a fair amount of outstanding debt. Chris located the stash of family papers -- her parent's wedding license, birth certificates, and the like -- and added this to the bills, saying "I'll handle this. Don't worry about it." But she made sure to take Garnet's billfold from her purse as well. She left the car keys -- it would all go to the kids, let them fight it out among themselves.

The six from Seattle made their goodbyes after half an hour, citing the long drive in bad weather. When Chris hugged Ricky, he said "I didn't mean what I said. You know."

"I know" she replied. "I'm your mother now, and I'll kick your ass if you don't keep it clean." He smiled wanly.

After ordering their food at Lovitt's, Chris pulled out the family photos and papers, and they pored over them while eating. It was a complete release, in a way Myra couldn't describe but wanted to for a future poem. Chris and Sima were sitting close, laughing together with normal color in their faces again. They said goodbye in the parking lot, Sima driving and promising to be safe. They all agreed to have dinner together the following night at Myra and Ginny's. On the way home, Ginny drove and Edwina sat in front with her. Allie leaned sideways, draped her legs over Myra's thighs in the back seat and said "She like us now. How come we found each other, us meant to be the only ones left alive from our families?"

"Maybe that's why we're still alive, because we did find each other" said Myra.

"You hear any voices out there by that creek?" asked Allie.

Myra was surprised for a minute. She said "Well, I didn't actually touch any stone, that seems to be what kicks the circuit open. Shit, I'm so glad I didn't."

"We got Lake Quinault salmon in our freezer" said Allie. "If I bring it over tomorrow night, you wanna try making that maple glaze we just had?"

"I think there's chili pepper in it, too" said Myra, running her tongue over her lips. "I hope Chris keeps opening up to Sima from all this. They -- do you and Edwina still have sex often, or have you changed into simply companions like them?" She had forgotten where they were. Edwina turned around to stare at her, and Ginny was glaring in the rear-view mirror.

Allie burst into laughter. "We use bridles and mint jelly on Tuesdays -- " she began, before Edwina reached around to smack her on her arm.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.