Friday, January 30, 2009


Cartoon by XKCD (From the fabulous cartoonist XKCD; hattip to Jesse)

After I moved back to Texas in 1989, I resurrected a friendship with someone I'd known in college named Mary. She lived in Dallas, I lived in Austin, and in addition to visits to each other's homes, we began going camping once or twice a year during a season when the smaller jewels of Texas state parks would not be overrun. (This was before the Bush Governorship, which gutted funding for state parks.)

Acrocanthosaurus tracks from Dinosaur Valley State Park, Texas (Acrocanthosaurus tracks from Dinosaur Valley State Park, Texas; photo by Glen J. Kuban)

Thus, in October 1990 we agreed to meet partway between our homes at Dinosaur Valley State Park near Glen Rose, Texas. We'd gone to this park with other friends back when I was still in college. It has some of the best preserved dinosaur tracks in the world, including a chase sequence between a carnosaur and a sauropod. Many of them were excavated during the 1920s and taken to the American Natural History Museum in Washington, DC, but hundreds still remain. Most of the tracks are located in and around the limestone-ledged Paluxy River, best seen when the water levels were low, as they would be in the fall when we went. We collaborated by phone on a menu and arrived after work on Friday, grabbing a quick look at some therapod tracks before moving into the screen shelter we'd rented, which was simply a wooden roof over a small concrete pad enclosed by screen.

We made dinner, talking animatedly with the ease of old friendship. There was nobody else camping in our entire leg of the park. Mary blew up her air mattress and put it in a far corner: She didn't like her sleep to be disturbed. I put my pad in the opposite corner and spread my down bag on it. It would get cold at night, and the wind was up. By 9:00, Mary was ready for bed, being the early riser type. I had forgotten to bring anything to read, but Mary had gone by the Dallas Public Library on her way out of town to pick up best-sellers she had on hold. She offered my choice of these.

I looked them over. One was by Michael Crichton, whom I knew as a good writer from The Andromeda Strain and The Great Train Robbery. This new book was called Jurassic Park. Neither Mary nor I had heard anything about it, but there was a dinosaur on the cover, so with a laugh, I chose it. I crawled into my bag with my pocket flashlight, covered my head with the flap to keep light out of Mary's face, and began reading.

At midnight, I was in paroxysms of terror and my flashlight died. Going to sleep was not an option. I was no longer able to think very clearly, if truth be told. I knew there was a good flashlight in the toolkit of my Honda: the issue was how to get to the car without being run down by velociraptors. I eventually made the sprint and got back to the screen shelter in record time, wheezing enough to need to use my inhaler. I found no way to lock the screen door, then realized it didn't matter, we were simply in Saran wrap from a giant carnivore's perspective. I huddled in my bag again and began draining the battery on a second flash.

An hour later, I realized I should have taken the chance to piss while I was outside the first time. My bladder was stretched tight, from fear and cold, and I wouldn't be able to last until morning. The nearest bathrooms were five minutes away -- we'd deliberately chosen to be away from traffic areas. I scanned the dark for as long as I could bear it, looking for signs of raptors and finding plenty. Finally I bolted outside the door, dropped my pants and let go. In my mind, I'd traveled a dangerous distance from the shelter. In reality, I was two feet from the door and on a slope where the stream traveled down and pooled on the sill, which I didn't realize at the time.

I finished the book right before dawn. I fell asleep from sheer exhaustion, still shivering, only to be awakened half an hour later when Mary ventured outside in her moccasins to walk to the bathroom.
Cartoon by XKCD (From the fabulous cartoonist XKCD; click on image to enlarge)


Thursday, January 29, 2009


(Patrick's Point, California; photo by Bob von Normann)

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

October 2018

The next morning, Ginny was again at her canvas when Myra got up. Myra made herself breakfast and carried her plate to her computer. After working through lunch, Ginny stopped to make soup and sandwiches. They ate on the back porch, marveling at the clear weather. Ginny said “Are you in need of more exercise?”

“What'd you have in mind, felling trees?”

Ginny laughed. “No, there's that state park near here, Patrick's Point, it's apparently gorgeous. It was a spot sacred to the Sumeg Indians, the brochure says. They've recreated a Sumeg village within the park.”

“Oh god, Ginny, not more white people stucco fake hogans or whatever -- “

“No, Myra, this was supposedly constructed by Native American people. Though I've never heard of the Sumeg, have you?”

“No. All right, let's go, but if it's awful, we leave, okay?”

They filled their packs and drove half an hour. It was an afternoon to remember. They climbed Ceremonial Rock, hiked down the cliff trail to Agate Cove, and found the ancient village site “not awful”. On the way back, they stopped at another seafood restaurant for dinner where the food definitely did not live up to Ginny's standards. Myra was glad to get home, as she was already thinking of the house.

They worked until 10:00, when the climbing done during the day made both of them want hot baths and early sleep. After having been asleep only a short while, however, Myra woke up feeling thirsty. They'd forgotten to bring water upstairs with them. She thought about drinking from the tap, but the rusty pipes sounded unappetizing – they'd been using bottled water for drinking. She slid quietly out of bed and felt her way downstairs. It was pitch black outside and in, but her eyes had adjusted to it.

As she crossed the main room, she saw a square patch of light coming down at a slant in the garden: One of them had left the bathroom light on. Then she noticed a glint to the left of that, by the apple tree, which was visible only as a faintly darker trunk set apart from the gloom around it. Except there was another shape whose girth rivaled that of the tree, erect beside it. She stopped to try to remember what was there, staring out into the night, and she saw this second shape move. An enormous roundness atop it turned and she saw the glint again, a pair of them: A pair of eyes which reflected light, looking straight at her.

She was too frightened to move. A long, thick arm which she had mistaken for a limb of the tree slowly came down from its reach into the tree, and the – whatever it was – shifted slightly to face her directly. She realized the edges of the shape were not crisp, no sharp lines, meaning – what? Fur? The eyes glinted again, and she looked from them to the tree where the main limb began. She knew that limb was over six feet off the ground. The eyes were level with it.

Suddenly she could move. She backed away from the window, into the deeper shadow of the room's center. Her pulse was crowding her throat. She remembered another window was behind her, on the other side, and she stopped her backing. She edged toward the fireplace and fumbled until her hand closed around the poker leaned against brick. She gripped this with a slick palm and backed until she rounded the corner onto the stairs.

She went up the stairs backwards, staring with absolute terror down at the dark square of the doorway where something might appear at any moment, glinting a look up at her. When she reached the bedroom, she closed the door and locked it, but it was a latch attached to the outer wood. It would be child's play to break through that lock.

“Ginny!” she hissed. She lay the poker atop the heavy oak dresser and began dragging it in front of the door. The scrape of wood on linoleum made her dizzy for an instant, it seemed so loud. But It knew she'd seen it, It already knew she was awake and aware.

“Ginny, Ginny, Ginny” she kept saying in an urgent voice. It was the racket of moving the dresser which woke Ginny, however. She said “Whah? Is that the pipes?”

“Ginny, there's something outside. Something bad” whispered Myra.

Ginny bolt upright and whispered “What is it?”

“By the apple tree, a – Ginny, I think it's a sasquatch.”


“Bigfoot. Ginny, when you unpacked did you go through all the closets up here, is there any chance on earth there's a gun in one of these closets?”

Myra saw Ginny's hand go out toward the lamp. “Nooo!” she hissed. “No lights. It already knows I saw it, but I don't want it to know which room we're in.”

“Myra...You're talking crazy. Are you trying to pull a prank on me?”

Myra sat on the bed next to Ginny, gripping her poker, and said “I should've planned for this, I knew this is an area where there's been sightings, remember, we passed that wooden sculpture in that Oregon town on the way. Ginny, if it comes in the door, hide in the closet, I'll beat it as much as I can before it gets me, maybe it'll be hurt enough to go away after that.”

“Myra, tell me exactly what happened. Right now.”

Myra gave her a disjointed version, interrupting herself often to listen intently. After two minutes, Ginny said “Myra...There's no such thing as sasquatch.”

Myra looked away from the door long enough to gape at her. “I can't believe after all this time you're revealing – do you not believe in evolution, Ginny?”

“It's not connected to evolution” said Ginny, standing and pulling on pants. As she zipped up her hoodie sweatshirt, Myra said “You're not opening that door, what if it's on the other side, waiting?”

“It's not, Myra. I'm not saying you saw nothing – although the possibility that you dreamed it has to be included in the mix, honey, it does – but whatever you saw was either a nearby tree creating strange shadows on the darkest night of the year or a small animal up a tree – or maybe a bear, bears stand upright. Whatever it was, it's not in this house.” Ginny had her boots on. “Where's the flashlight?”

Please don't go out there, Ginny, please, please -- “ Myra was almost gibbering.

“Myra, I promise you I will be okay. Where did you put the flashlight?”

“On the mantle. But don't use it until you have to, Ginny, keep the advantage of night vision.”

“Are you staying up here? Come help me push back this dresser, then.”

When Ginny swung open the door, Myra made sure she was in range to land a blow on the thing's head. But there was nothing in the tiny hall. Ginny started down the stairs and Myra stood above her, watching for something to lunge around the bottom corner. Ginny stepped out into the room without hesitating and Myra heard her say “Found the flash. There's nothing out here, Myra, you can come down.”

Myra descended one stair at a time, her knees in a crouch. By the time she reached bottom, her thigh muscles were burning. “Where are you?” she whispered before rounding the corner.

“Looking out the back window. I don't see a thing, Myra.”

“It can see you, I guarantee it.” Myra crept around and stayed in the middle of the room, looking between the two windows.

“There's nothing by the tree. No shapes anywhere that I can't name, I covered every inch of that yard, Myra. It's gone.”

“Maybe it's around front” said Myra.

“I can turn on the outside lights, that will scare away any animal” said Ginny.

“No god no, Ginny, the switch for the back porch light is outside, you'd have to open the door.” Myra had begun shivering violently. She crossed in a crouch to the kitchen and bent under the sink, rattling containers.

“What are you doing?” asked Ginny.

“Got it.” Myra stood up with a spray can of oven cleaner. “This has lye in it, I can get it in the eyes once it's in range.”

“I'm telling you, there's nothing out there, Myra.” Ginny joined her in the kitchen, putting her hand on Myra's arm. “My god, you're having a chill. Here.” Ginny opened the refrigerator and when the light came on, Myra hissed and withdrew.

“I'm making you some warm milk with honey in it” said Ginny. “Stay here and do not take the cap off that fucking Easy Off, Myra.” She poured milk into a pan and turned on a burner. She took off her sweatshirt and zipped it onto Myra. When two large mugs of milk were ready, she left the dirty pan in the sink and herded Myra back upstairs with gentle coaxing. Once in the bedroom, Myra said “We have to put the dresser back.”

“Okay, if it will make you calm down.”

“And I have to switch sides of the bed with you, so I can watch the door.” Myra put her spray can on the bedside table and kept the poker in her hand. Ginny sat behind her and gave her sips of milk, easing Myra back against her chest, murmuring reassurance. Eventually Myra's trembling stopped, but she was still icy with terror inside. When Ginny persuaded her to lie down, Myra facing the door and Ginny spooned behind, Myra slowed her breathing and listened until she could hear the surf again. After half an hour, she could tell Ginny was asleep. She kept her hand on the poker and waited for morning.

In spite of herself, she did drop off before dawn, though only for a few minutes, she thought. Once light began pouring in the windows, however, a small thaw occurred inside. She was stiff from not changing position. She stretched her legs and went back to sleep without knowing it.

When she woke up again, the morning light was far advanced and Ginny was gone, the bedroom door standing open. Myra screamed Ginny's name. Ginny answered “I'm downstairs, honey. Put on warm socks and join me, I'll make you breakfast.”

Myra appeared at the bottom of the stairs with her eyes fixed on the window to the back yard. “Tell me you didn't go outside by yourself” she demanded.

“I didn't, though I did have a scan with the binoculars. No signs that I could see. Listen, I'm making you oatmeal the way you like it, with cream and butter. You can put applesauce on top or “ Ginny paused to make a major concession “brown sugar if you'd rather.”

Myra did not want applesauce from that tree. The oatmeal, hot and thick, gave her instant strength. Ginny had made chai as well and Myra sipped at her cup between bites. When she was finished, she said “I don't think I can go out there.”

“That's okay. Will you trust me to tell you the truth?”

After a long pause, Myra nodded. Ginny already had on her wellies. She picked up the digital camera and reached for the back door lock.

“Take the poker” urged Myra.

“It'll just be in my way” said Ginny. She shut the door behind herself and Myra crossed to stand at the window, gripping the sill. Ginny went down the steps and bent to look closely at the ground wherever there was no thick vegetation. She turned to make a “nothing” signal to Myra before going down the quasi-path to the apple tree. She approached it carefully, squatting and moving forward in a duck walk so she could scan the earth. After circling the tree, she stood and put her hands on the trunk, feeling the bark. She leaned as high as she could, looking into the upper branches. Myra noticed that the top of Ginny's head did not reach the main limb where the eyes of It had glinted at her. She began shivering again.

Ginny again made the “nada” sign. She went to the shed, opened its door and looked inside. When she was closing it, Myra saw her back muscles tense. Myra pulled the cap off her spray can and shifted it to her right hand, poker in her left, as she edged toward the back door.

Ginny walked over to the back gate and looked at it closely. Myra suddenly realized it was slightly different, not hanging quite plumb. Ginny opened it, and it swung akimbo, the bottom hinge ripped from its post. She stepped out onto the trail and crouched again, inspecting the path. Don't go toward the woods, don't go, don't go begged Myra. She shifted the poker to her spray can hand so she could open the door and yell at Ginny.

But Ginny didn't leave the yard. She came back to inspect the sides of the house out of view from the window. Myra began feeling like she might throw up her oatmeal. Her nausea stopped mounting when Ginny returned to the back porch and came inside, looking with clear blue eyes at Myra standing, can at the ready.

“Put that down, Myra, I need my vision. Sit down, drink another cup of tea. Okay: Something pushed in the back gate. But it left no tracks anywhere in the yard, no sign anywhere, Myra. And from how it muscled through the gate, from the bottom, means it was on four legs. Which means bear, or possibly a big deer – a deer could have stood up against that trunk looking for apples. There's no marks on the trunk, no fur, no scat, no residue whatsoever.”

“Sasquatch don't leave fur or claw marks behind, Ginny, just footprints if the ground is wet and they can't find a way around it. We haven't had a real rain since we got here.”

“Do you hear yourself, Myra? You're trying to argue that because there is no sign of it being a bigfoot, then it must be one. Honey, people have been trying to come up with tangible proof of this mythological creature for all our lives, swarming all over the woods in hunting parties, and there's been not a scrap of evidence produced -- “

“The Patterson film, in Bluff Creek, California. Hundreds of plaster casts of footprints. Recordings of screams. Plus all the people like me who've fucking seen one, Ginny, though nobody believes them.” Myra felt anger dropping in to mix with terror in her blood. “Chris will fucking believe me, she said where she grew up people knew about them, they were called skanicum. And, my god, you fucking smelled it, Ginny, that's what we've been smelling. Oh my god, it's been watching us since we got here, and that night I walked home alone from the beach, it was there, oh shit, it was following me -- “ Myra clamped her hands over her mouth, holding back the impulse to retch.

Ginny put her arms around Myra. “Honey, honey. I had no idea you had this kind of bogeyman in your unconscious. We're okay, nothing has hurt us or menaced us, I promise you we're okay.”

“I want a gun, Ginny. I want to drive into town and buy a rifle, but you have to go with me, I can't do it alone -- “

“Absolutely not, Myra. Even if you weren't having a panic attack, no guns in a house where I'm staying.” Ginny's voice was unyielding.

“Then I want night vision goggles, I've wanted them for years, if I'd had them last night I could've taken a fucking photo and you'd fucking believe me.”

“You won't be able to find night vision goggles in Trinidad, Myra.”

“Then I'm buying them online so they're waiting on me when we get back. I don't spend much on toys, you can't argue that I'm a spendthrift, I'm buying the goggles!” Myra's voice had gone very high.

“I'm not arguing with you” said Ginny. “Get online and research the perfect pair.”

“And that new kind of mandolin that Frances has at the restaurant, I want one of those, too, I don't want to wait until my old one isn't usable any more. And that maple sugar candy from the Vermont Country Store, I want to buy as much of that as I feel like.”

Ginny patted Myra's head. “If a shopping spree will help you deal with this, knock yourself out. The weather is changing out there, I think rain is about to hit, so I'm going to haul in enough wood to fill our bin for the next few days.”

Myra couldn't bear to think about the next few days here. She watched Ginny go outside with the wood hod until she was out of sight around the corner of the house. With an act of will, she carried her weapons to her computer instead of waiting to watch for Ginny's return. She did look around involuntarily when she heard steps on the back porch, to be sure it was Ginny. She stopped looking after Ginny's third trip, as she began surfing sites that sold night vision equipment.

Half an hour later, the rain began in earnest, a steady shushing sound on the roof, a braided gurgle from the eaves. Ginny put on her poncho and said “Myra. I need to repair that gate, to keep the deer from returning to level the garden. There's wire and stuff I can use in the shed.”

Myra waited until Ginny was out the back door before turning her computer around so she could watch through the window, keeping guard. They lost the functionality of the gate by the time Ginny was done, wiring it tight against both side posts, but Myra thought that was for the best. When Ginny returned, she lit a fire, then put potatoes in to roast and began another soup for lunch.

Once this was simmering, she walked over to stoke the fire, going by Myra hunched at her computer to retrieve the poker. She said abruptly “What the fuck are you looking at?”

“The Patterson film, Ginny. Part of the evidence you say doesn't exist, look at that and tell me it's not real, for god's sakes, it's got breasts. And that's the head shape I saw, that's the arms I saw. Plus listen to this, do you really want to hear this in the middle of the night?” Myra, wild-eyed, pulled the headphone plug from her computer so Ginny could hear the drawn-out scream of some animal or, more likely Ginny thought, the carefully constructed hoax of an audio expect.

“Ginny, I can't stay here another night, I can't, I just can't.” Myra was begging again.

“Do you want to rent a motel room for a night? I'm sure Trinidad has vacancies.”

“No!” Myra shook her head violently. “Nowhere near here. We have to get to a city, someplace with highrise hotels, at least five floors off the ground. Someplace with security guards and no accessible windows.”

Ginny sat down, starting to feel defeat. Myra pressed her argument. “I'm fighting for my survival here, Ginny, this is life or death. I'm being hunted and you can't protect me, nobody can, it's just me. It's after me now, it knows I told.” She was ranting.

Ginny reached for her cell phone on the table and began looking up a number.

“Who are you calling, the park service? They'll just deny it, Ginny, they always do officially, but read some of these testimonials, they're from -- “

Ginny reached out and did something she had never done, pulled the plug on Myra's computer without checking to see if documents were saved. It shocked Myra enough to silence her. Ginny heard a voice on the other end answer, “Hello?”

“Nancy? We're in California and Myra's gone off the deep end.”

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.



(Waves in freshwater lagoon near Patrick's Point, Trinidad, California; photo by Easton D. Rankine)

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

October 2018

The Monday after Rajaraja led her band to Brihadeshwara, Myra and Ginny boarded an early morning train heading south for a week's vacation. Ginny had found a small house for weekly rental outside the northern California coastal town of Trinidad, with internet access, no carpets, close communion with nature, and no real amenities to speak of. They rode the train for eight hours to Grants Pass, Oregon, where they had a rental car waiting. Because they weren't sure about the availability of non-commercial groceries in Trinidad, and they'd be arriving late, they went to a natural foods store in Oregon to stock up before heading down the Redwood Highway.

They arrived in Trinidad shortly before 8:00 p.m. and ate at the only real restaurant they could find open, the Larrupin' Cafe. Ginny declared the Dungeness crab to be excellent. Myra found her steak lacking in flavor, but she thought beef was generally not a strong point of California cuisine. After a few false starts, they found their rental, outside of town to the southwest, at the end of a dirt road. A quarter mile away was the Pacific, and backing up to the house was redwood forest. The overhanging roof line all the way round it spoke of frequent rain.

The small front porch opened onto a single room the width of the small house – basic kitchen to the right, long narrow dining table straight ahead, fireplace with couch to the right. But wide windows front and back would bring the outdoors in when it was light, Myra guessed. One pantry in the kitchen had been converted into a room with only a toilet. A set of narrow, steep stairs behind the fireplace wall led to the second story, which held one large bedroom and one small, both with windows on three sides. Between was a bathroom with a claw-footed tub, sink, toilet, and a gas heater. There were also gas heaters in the bedrooms which seemed to do nothing at all against the damp chill. However, the sheets on the large bedroom's queen bed were fresh and there was a good down comforter, so warm sleep would be had.

They unloaded the car. Myra found several traces of other life in the cupboards, so she stashed every food that wasn't canned or bottled in the refrigerator. She'd brought her own cutting board, knives, and a few other kitchen essentials. Ginny schlepped suitcases up the stairs, banging them against the narrow walls. After a few minutes Myra heard a new kind of banging, which turned out to be the pipes as Ginny turned on water to fill the tub for a hot soak. When she came back downstairs, she reported the tap ran light brown at first, but eventually the stream cleared. “Rust in the pipes, I guess” she said. “I shut the door so the bathroom will warm up from the heater. Okay if I go first?”

“Sure” said Myra, looking through the selection of local brochures and nature books left on a small table by the front window.

Ginny said “That small bedroom's light will probably be perfect for painting. I put my dropcloth and easel in there.” She opened the back door with a squeak of hinges and walked out onto the back porch, where she found a light and turned it on. Myra joined her. It was a dark night, approaching no moon at all, but they could still see a gloriously overgrown yard where someone had clearly gardened. It was surrounded by high deer fencing, with a lichen-covered shed in one back corner and a gate in the other.

“There was a photo of this on their website” said Ginny. “It's what settled the vote for me. I could go put on my wellies now -- “

“Your bath” Myra reminded.

“Oh, right. Well, in the morning, we'll explore, eh?”

While Ginny bathed, Myra set up one end of the central table with placemats and settings for her and Ginny, where they could both look out the back window. In the center of its expanse, she moved all the local attraction material from the small table plus her own set of books and maps she'd brought for this area. At the far end, she hunted out a few empty jars, baskets, and strainers from the kitchen: nature study.

All that now remained on the small table was a lamp. She set up her laptop there, deciding which of the dining chairs was most comfortable and appropriating it as her writing chair. She was in the process of sending a “We're here” e-mail to their family when Ginny came downstairs in a robe and wool socks, rubbing her hair with a towel. A waft of apricot came with her.

“How's the tub?” asked Myra.

“Comfy. There's quite a draft comes in from around the door, though. Are you going to work there?” asked Ginny as she started the pipes knocking to fill a teakettle.

“Mm...yeah” said Myra, distracted by comment left at her blog. She kept reading, formulating a reply. After a few minutes, the teakettle began whistling. When it continued, Myra looked around – Ginny must've gone back upstairs. She went to turn off the burner and pour water into a pot already prepared. Ginny appeared at the foot of the stairs loaded down with hastily folded dropcloth, easel, and her case of painting supplies. She began spreading the cloth beside Myra's writing table at the front window.

“Won't the light be crappy there part of the day?” asked Myra.

“I want to be where you are” said Ginny.

“Oh. That's nice.” Myra carried the pot the table with two mugs. “Somebody at my blog said I was still living a hardened separatist existence, I'd simply brainwashed young men who had limited alternatives into living under my rule.”

“MRA troll” snorted Ginny. “Delete it.”

Myra was going to argue that their signature was something-grrrl, then realized how silly that was. She went back to her computer, made note of the IP address for her “watch” file, and deleted all trace of the comment. Much more satisfactory.

Ginny pulled out small rolls of canvas and decided on a width, then began assembling stretchers, stopping to sip at her tea. Her robe was gapping open. Myra briefly considered Ginny's version of “being” where she was, then set it aside. They worked on until Ginny had a canvas gessoed and sitting on the easel.

“I'm not going to start this tonight” she said. “Are you coming to bed soon?”

“Uh...I guess so, I'm not finding my way into the Skene book. I want to take a bath, too, though.”

“I'll start your water for you” offered Ginny. “You want those rosemary salts in it?”

“Yeah. I'll lock up down here” said Myra, carrying her and Ginny's cup to the kitchen to rinse. She turned off lights, checked doors, and walked upstairs to still-knocking pipes. Those could get old fast she thought. Ginny had a candle burning on the edge of the sink, and another beside their bed. Myra bet by this time tomorrow the house would be full of jars of wildflowers.

When she dashed to bed across the cold linoleum floor of the bedroom, Ginny was already asleep. Myra rudely warmed her feet against the backs of Ginny's calves, but Ginny didn't complain. She thought she could hear the ocean over Ginny's breathing. The house creaked in unfamiliar ways as she drifted off.

The bedroom had no curtains at its windows, and morning came far too early. Even so, Ginny's side of the bed was empty and cold when Myra rolled over. She took a piss, pulled on warm clothes, and walked down the stairs putting her hands on either wall for balance.

Ginny wasn't in the main room, either, but Myra spotted her bent over in the back yard. She walked to the kitchen and discovered a pot of eggs which had boiled down until the shoulders of the eggs extended into air. She turned it off. They'll be rubbery she thought to herself. The teakettle had cooled, so she refilled it and turned on the burner under it. She walked to the back door: It wasn't as cold outside as it felt inside. The bright morning had already warmed things up. Autumn was a month or so behind Seattle here.

“Hey” she called to Ginny. Ginny stood with a huge grin. She'd put on faded brown sweats and a spaghetti-strap cotton shirt of marine blue. Her nipples were poking hard at the cotton. “I couldn't wait on you to root around out here!” she said.

“That's okay. I'm making breakfast, did you eat?”

“No, just tea. Oh, and I started some eggs for us.”

Myra nodded and went back in. She fished four of the eggs from the pan and put them into a bowl with cold water. She found the fruit bread she thought looked promising at the natural foods store and pulled out four slices. The toaster on the counter only held two at a time – their toaster at home would handle eight thick slices or bagels at one. As she waited to butter the first two, she remembered the toaster her grandparents had when she was very small, with sides that flipped down where you lay a slice of bread on each side, then closed it back up. You had to time it yourself or the toast burned. She considered how that might alter your relationship with that piece of toast, how mechanization affected our enjoyment of processes.

When the toast was ready, she peeled all four eggs and put them on a plate. She sliced them open and confirmed the thin green line of sulphur around each yolk, the ungiving texture of the albumin. She sprinkled them with salt and pepper, then a drizzle of olive oil, Frances's trick for food resuscitation. She added a banana and orange to each plate and put them on the table before going back to the door to call Ginny.

“Brex is ready.”

“Oh, why don't we eat out on the porch? There's two comfortable chairs, and it's so nice out.”

Myra added cups of tea and silverware to the plates and carried them out, meeting Ginny at the steps. Ginny set down a large basket already full of gatherings dappled with dew and wet soil clinging to the roots. Myra said to Ginny "Ya got mud on your face, ya big disgrace."

Ginny grinned and replied "Gonna be a big man someday." Myra never knew when Ginny would recognize pop culture references, and it pleased her when she did.

After they sat, Ginny took a huge bite of toast and said “Oh, you were so right about this bread.” A tiny chickadee landed on the porch railing in front of Myra, cocking its head hopefully. She pulled a morsel of crust from her toast, shredded it even further, and leaned forward to scatter crumbs on the railing. The chickadee hopped away a few feet but returned instantly. Within a minute, there were four other chickadees, a pair of nuthatches, and what Myra thought was a towhee all shoving each other around for food.

She added more crusts to her repast, as well as pinches of banana, egg, and orange. Ginny said “These Oregon eggs, though, are not nearly as good as what we get at home.” Myra didn't comment. Ginny began talking about what she'd found in the yard.

“There's chives which I believe are wild, kinda lemony in flavor, and incredible sage bushes. Most of the veggie garden has bolted or been mowed down by insects, but there's enough spinach to feed us a few times, tons of radishes, and it must not have had a hard freeze here yet because I'm still finding lovely little tomatoes on a long row of plants. That big tree there is apple, some variety I can't name but the flavor literally gave me a thrill, it was so delish. I'll need your help to pick that tree safely, though. There's wild morning glory, lilacs, calendula, lavender, even a little tearose that looks ancient.” Ginny was talking through a full mouth and a broad smile. Myra felt every cell in her body starting to relax.

When Ginny stopped for breath, Myra said “According to the topo map I bought for this scrap of land, there should be a creek to the left of us, not far. Between us and the main part of town.”

Ginny was eating her banana in rapid bites. The rest of her plate was clear. She picked up sections of orange peel and wiped them across her wrists, inside her elbows, the nape of her neck and behind her earlobes, a habit of hers. It left scent and an oil Myra's searching mouth sometimes discovered. Used to discover thought Myra.

“I don't have a compost spot picked out yet” she said, standing and offering to take Myra's plate.

“I'm not done yet” pointed out Myra.

“Well, when you are, put on your wellies. Apple-picking, then creek exploration, then down to the beach?” ventured Ginny.

“Sounds good. At some point, if you want fresh seafood, we should make a run into town and find a local market” said Myra. Ginny set her plate down at Myra's feet and went back into the yard with a new basket, heading for blackberry vines around the shed.

Myra had to agree about the singular taste of the apples. They leaned a rickety ladder against the tree-trunk and Myra held it tight while Ginny climbed to upper limbs, filling basket after basket of imperfect small yellow globes. Ginny would sit on a safe main limb while Myra carried each basket into the kitchen and emptied it into a trash bag, not able to find another container roomy enough to hold them all. Finally Myra insisted Ginny not go any higher.

They gathered field guides, collecting gear, camera and topo map, heading out the back gate to the right, skirting the woods. Two minutes later they found the creek, which was sandy and shallow, an isolated jewel. In one bank Ginny spotted a crisply outlined raccoon print, which she photographed, saying “We can e-mail this back to the grandkids and let them guess what animal it is.” She had not changed into a warmer shirt, staying so active she said she didn't need it. Myra thought the blue against her rosy skin was inexpressibly beautiful in the slanting October light.

On the way back from the creek, a strong musky odor hit them from the woods.

“Whew, skunk” exclaimed Ginny. “This must be skunk paradise around here.”

“And raccoon. But that isn't quite skunk, I don't think. Or maybe there's a bog in there, so it's skunk mixed with that” said Myra.

“Or maybe it's a different species of skunk” said Ginny. “Rank, whatever it is.”

They spent a couple of hours coring apples and starting the biggest pot in the kitchen cooking applesauce. Ginny made a salad from garden gleanings, and Myra cooked a cut-up chicken in boiling water, picking off the flesh for sandwiches and returning everything else to the pot for stock, along with assorted veggies. While apples and stock were simmering, they made a run into town, buying salmon, crab and cod from a fresh-air market and popping briefly into a local gallery.

Myra strained her stock and carried the leached-out remainders to a spot outside the fence where composting would fight with local wildlife for their scraps. Ginny emptied applesauce into ziplock bags for freezing and started a new batch of apples in the pot. Myra said “Why don't you put a lid on that and turn it off, so we don't have to rush back from the beach?”

Ginny complied, finally covered her lovely shirt with a hoodied sweatie, and they headed out the front door toward the sound of distant surf. It was a ten minute walk, winding here and there, often along a salt marsh that Myra thought was one of the most beautiful places she had ever seen. The beach had dark grey sand, and the small bay contained high rocks topped with soil, left-behinds which had once been part of the mainland. They spotted a few migrating California grey whales, gathered driftwood to take home for the grandchildren, and saw not another soul coming and going. They held hands along the way.

Ginny resumed her apple chores, singing Malvina Reynolds. Myra said “What should I make for dinner?”

“The crab, it won't last long.”

“Crab cakes, maybe? I'll put some of those red potatoes in to bake, but the cakes themselves will only take 15 minutes.” Myra occupied herself taking photos of their nature finds, composing puzzle e-mails to send the grandkids each day, and sneaking shots of Ginny, her cheeks flushed by apple steam. She thought The two of are never happier than when we're nesting.

After the third and last pot of apples went on the stove, Ginny said “We still have an hour before dinnertime. You want to explore the berryish looking clearing to the left of us?”

Myra was at her computer. “Uh...Will it be okay if I beg off? I've gotten snared here.”

Ginny kissed the back of her head. “It's fine and dandy. You know, I think this house is built over a geographic change zone – it's sandy on the road and up to the front steps, but the side yard becomes more loamy, and that clearing was probably once fields for crops. Then comes the woods.”

“Dark and deep” recited Myra.

“I'll be back to make the salad for dinner.”

She was back in half an hour, with an assortment of berries in her basket. "Myra, there's still stuff on the bushes, some of them I'm not sure about. Where's that Pacific Northwest field guide?"

"I put it back on the table there. Gin, don't eat anything until you know for sure -- ."

"I know, crush it and rub the liquid on my lips, wait to see if anything goes numb. But I know what rosehips look like, there's masses of them that I'm collecting to take home for tea. And I'm pretty sure these here are beach strawberries. This one looks like a huckleberry, mostly. Anyhow, I'll do ID."

"Check for pesticide residue too. They may spray the shit out of this place."

"Oh, that would be such a waste. I've already gathered a basket of miner's lettuce for dinner" said Ginny.

"Listen, where's the woodpile out there?" said Myra.

"Go right when you leave the back porch, it's on that side of the house. Looks spidery, though."

Myra walked up the narrow stairs to their bedroom to find her gloves. When she returned, Ginny had a purple smear on her bottom lip and said “It's gooseberries! Not enough to do much with, but try one, the flavor is intense.”

Myra obliged before she went out to bring in wood. After dinner, however, before Myra could light a fire, Ginny went to her canvas, stared at it for a while, then cleared a corner of the long table to grind pigments. Here we go thought Myra.

She opened her Skene manuscript, but felt unable to transport herself to that place and time. She sat staring out the window, thinking about the creek to the north of them. She'd looked on the topo map: It was named Migration Creek, and ran far back into the woods, originating in coastal mountains. She bet it was a torrent in the spring. That must be the high bridge they crossed right before the paved road turned into dirt.

Years earlier, she'd written a novel about a girl who grew up by a creek. It had been the least successful of all her works of fiction, Ginny said mostly because people didn't expect that kind of story from her. The publisher had insisted it not be titled Creek Girl, which is how she thought of it, and finally named it Crosstimbers. It hadn't failed, and got good critical reviews, but nobody loved it the way she did.

She began imagining that girl at her age, now, and suddenly realized there was was a story in it, at least. Creek Girl Part Deux she thought to herself with a grin. She started a new document and began typing.

They worked side by side until almost 11:00, when Ginny said “I've got to grab some sleep. You coming up?”

Myra was working on an outline, trying to decide if this was going to remain a short story or more than one story. She leaned back and realized she was long overdue for bladder relief.

“You know what, I will. I can come at it clearer in the light of day.” They locked up and took turns on the toilet or at the sink before lying down with a chaste kiss and a distant sound of waves.

Their second day at the house, Ginny made breakfast using a handful of the tiny beach strawberries crushed into pancake batter. It infused them with such extravagant flavor that she took one of the small bottles of expensive vinegar they'd bought and crushed a fourth cup of the berries into it, creating a strawberry vinaigrette unlike anything Myra had ever had. Ginny also took time away from painting to make tomato soup for their lunch. Otherwise, she was at her canvas, and Myra wrote.

Late afternoon, Myra was too stiff to sit any more. She stood and stretched, made a fire, but that was not enough. She said she was walking to the beach, did Ginny want to go?

“Mm...No, I'm...” She never finished the sentence. Myra put on her boots and pack, heading down the sandy trail. It cleared her head and got blood pumping, but she missed Ginny's silent company as she watched the sun sink into the horizon. She sent a kiss to Laksis, forever waiting for Umai's return out there in the World Beyond The World. Even though she started back soon, it had grown quite dark – no moon at all tonight, she thought – and she was worried about wandering off the trail into marsh. At one point, she smelled the skunk again, unbelievably offensive, and she earnestly hoped not to encounter it. Skunks were notorious for making folks go around them.

At last she made a turn and saw the warm light of the front windows up a slope, Ginny's back to her. She almost ran the last few steps with gladness, giving Ginny a cold-lipped buss on her cheek and saying “Salmon for dinner, plus fritters made with Jerusalem artichokes and Trinidad spinach, okay?”

“Hell yes” said Ginny. They worked until late again and went to sleep together.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009


(Entrance of Brihadeshwara Temple in Thanjore, India)

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

Autumn 2018

In early October, Myra moved ahead Heroic Quest Day one week because that Sunday was sunny and warm enough for all the children to spend hours outside. She had done a fair amount of homework for this particular quest, and much of the rest of the family intended to participate or at least watch.

While Myra began assembling gear, Ginny took each child into the bathroom and painted a different colored dot in the middle of their forehead, telling them the meaning of their particular symbol. She called in Mimi last, shutting the door to tell her “Myra says you are to be the main hero today, Rajaraja, ruler of the Cholan empire in India over a thousand years ago. He was divined to be the intended king because he had a sacred symbol on his back, which I'm going to paint on you now. You're not to let on, all right? Even when we begin the search for the symbol and everybody is pulling off their shirts, you act like you don't know. Take your shirt off last and act surprised, can you do that?”

Mimi, her eyes alight, nodded vigorously. Ginny painted a quick representation of Kali on Mimi's low back, which was not historically accurate but Ginny claimed artistic license when Myra objected. Ginny helped Mimi drape half an Indian print bedspread from Cost Plus around her upper torso, held in place by a brass clasp, before they left the bathroom.

The other three older children also wore various bedspread drapes. Myra gave David a pair of satin dress shoes she'd found at Goodwill that she hoped would not be too big on him. Lucia received a dot on her forehead and a silk drape over her sling around Myra's neck. The gear was hauled outside and the children lined up to begin the quest.

“In the Indian language, raja means king. One of the most famous who ever lived was named Rajaraja, which means king of kings. He pursued dharma, a life of virtue, and his reign of Cholan is considered a golden age, a time when people prospered, education and art were promoted, and justice was to be had.”

Myra paused to let this sink in. How could such small children already have intense yearning for Golden Ages?

“Now, it was not clear at first that Rajaraja would be the chosen king. There was tension in his family. But it had been written that the divine ruler could be identified by a secret symbol on his back, and a search of all the possible personages was conducted to see if this symbol could be found.” Myra and Ginny helped each child remove their drape and shirt, then back up to a brass platter Myra had polished into a mirror.

Mimi did a creditable job of assuming nonchalance, although she wouldn't have fooled any adult. When she turned around, her siblings gasped. Charlie's expression indicated he believed that figure might have always been on Mimi's back and he had somehow overlooked it. Mimi looked over her shoulder and gave a fake jaw-drop. Leah's protest was thwarted by Ginny and Myra bending deep and placing their palms together in obeisance to the newly-discovered king. The others, even Leah, followed suit.

Mimi was given a cloth bag heavy with undisclosed items to carry over her shoulder. Myra whispered “When your people are hungry, open this bag to feed them. I'll give you the signal when.”

Myra declared that Lucia would play the role of Rajaraja's royal daughter Madevadigal, who embraced Buddhism as an adult and did not marry. Ginny began giggling. Myra ignored her as she outlined the other possible roles.

The sacred temples at that time had dancers (Myra saw David look alert), one of whom, named Tirumahalah, was renowned for her ability to recreate the holy dance that god Shiva performed, with drum, to spin the entire world from nothingness into being. Before Myra had finished, David's hand was waving wildly in the air. Myra handed him a drum and draped extra flowing scarves around his neck. He immediately began experimenting with flinging them around as he spun.

The Cholan empire was famous for its rice production, harvesting three crops a year, which kept people well-fed and wealthy. Irrigation and protection of the rice was maintained by an inherited caste, one of whom knew how to make rice drawings at critical times. She was named Nisumbhasudani, after a goddess. Leah was already looking expectantly at Myra. Myra handed her three small drawstring bags filled with white rice. “Allocate these wisely” said Myra. “One bag per drawing.”

She continued “But the reason why we know so much about Rajaraja is because his scribes took enormous care to preserve his record, etched in stone and written in palm leaf books. His epic was also translated into song. Thus, we need a musician, named Tyagaraja, who will write the story of our adventures and sing the exploits of Rajaraja, who was also known as Jananaathar, the Lover of People.” She handed Charlie a roughly-sewn book and a crayon, and whispered “When it's time to sing the stories, I'll signal you and you make up what comes to you, all right?” Charlie would love nothing more, she knew.

“Now, as we begin, we are in the coastal city of Kanchipuram. It is time for a great festival in the capital city, Thanjore, at the magnificent Brihadeshwara temple, called Raajarajeswaram, which Rajaraja had built. We must make our pilgrimage to Thanjore, a journey of many days by foot, through sometimes hazardous or mysterious territories. Is this band of pilgrims ready?”

Of course they were. They began with a small rice drawing on the terrace of Kanchipuram, which Leah arranged grain by grain with Ginny intruding here and there. Charlie warbled a meandering ditty that was not reliably intelligible but his passion was evidenced by tightly closed eyes and his toddler sway. David, admonished to save his big dance for later, compensated by beating his drum and fluttering around Rajaraja, who sat on a bench with crossed legs and beamed at her subjects.

Once they set out, they immediately ran into a region (the canopy over the avocado tree) dominated by wild elephants who chased them screaming through the countryside (Ginny with one arm held up like a trunk). They navigated a canal region with the advice of the irrigation caste member, and stopped for a speech about kingly philosophy by Rajaraja atop an ancient stupa (the meditation bench). Myra was dismayed by the condescension in Mimi's voice, but she seemed to be the only one who noticed it. She stepped to the side to quickly text Margie about their approach.

As they gathered before the gate to Margie and Frances' yard, Myra said solemnly “We now must travel to Tirumalay, which is a city surrounded by six forests. This is perhaps the most dangerous part of our pilgrimage, because the jungles are known to be home to the Flesh-Eater of Aaru Kaadu, a fearsome tiger the size of ten people. Take care. The Flesh-Eater is accompanied by two wild dogs, who are no threat themselves if you are brave enough to not run from them. Instead, observe the dogs carefully, because they will give away the hiding place of the Flesh-Eater, if we are lucky.”

Charlie suddenly needed hand-holding, and Ginny obliged. Rajaraja bravely led the way. The wild dogs immediately rushed them, and even Charlie managed to stand his ground as they were licked and gamboled by Moon and Gidg. The side bench had been covered by a garish drape, providing a decent concealment for anyone who might be crouching behind it, thought Myra. She didn't know who had assumed the role of the Flesh-Eater.

The bushes and flowerbeds of Aaru Kaadu's jungle were tentatively searched. When no predator was found, Rajaraja eventually decided to sit on the bench while Tyagaraja sang another ode to her valor. The Flesh-Eater waited until the ballad was under way before pouncing from behind the bench: Frances in fake tiger fur with long canines extending from her painted face.

The pilgrims forgot any unity and nearly trampled one another in their shrieking bedlam to escape. The gates, however, were locked, and the wild dogs, thinking it was a game of tag, knocked down children right and left. The Flesh-Eater's leaps were acrobatic, resulting in amazing near-misses.

Suddenly the side door of the garage opened and Margie, dressed in a provocative sari, called out “Hist, Rajaraja, it is I, your sister Kundavai Pirattiyar. Come hide in my temple, called Kundavai Devi Jinalaya.” The pilgrims hurled themselves into sanctuary, and the door was slammed shut against the Flesh-Eater, who snarled horribly at the facing and scratched with deadly claws against the wood.

Princess Madevadigal had awakened with all the commotion and required a diaper change. While Myra did this, Kundavai made a Margo Batiz-like speech about her own travels. Eventually, panic subsided, and Rajaraja opened her tucker bag to find a jug of green tea, a package of coconut bars, and bamboo cups for everyone to partake of refreshment.

At the conclusion of their repast, Nisumbhasudani cast another magical rice drawing, which revealed a secret door on the other side of the garage where they could escape attention from the Flesh-Eater. Once outside and headed toward Carminati's, Frances appeared as Kundavai's lifelong servant, dressed in velvet capri pants, a Nehru jacket which Myra recognized as Margie's, and knee-high leather boots. Completely anachronistic for the era, but she looked damned good all the same. She introduced herself as Kama Sutra, and to Myra's astonishment, Margie's face went a deep red.

Around the corner of the hedge, they entered the alluvial plain (the small restaurant parking lot), and above them on the landing stood two men in Japanese robes. They introduced themselves as shogun who had been traveling by ship toward Africa and been washed up on the Cholan coast. Again, not authentic but Myra appreciated everyone's effort. Eric was even wearing a sword, which drew the children's envy and Ginny's glare.

Now it was time for Tirumahalah to dance the Shiva creation dance. This was long and increasingly complex, as David remembered to use some of the Indian dance maneuvers Ginny had been teaching them the past few weeks in anticipation of this adventure. Eventually the Japanese travelers had to join in, and there was a small crowd of onlookers at the end of the parking lot. Ginny stood next to Myra and murmured “Don't you wonder what the neighbors say about us?”

The shogun, naturally enough, decided to join the pilgrimage, and the band passed through another gate into the paddies around Thanjore. Here Nisumbhasudani's expertise was called upon to lead them through the watery landscape toward Raajarajeswaram, a temple on the banks of a mighty river. Leah cleverly snaked them to and fro instead of beating a direct path, and Myra turned over adventure narration to the aunts and uncles. She could see Gillam and Jane on the upper deck, watching with rapt enjoyment.

Finally Rajaraja had had enough and shouted “There it is!”, running toward the back deck. Everyone followed, and Leah was mollified by being asked to do a final rice drawing, followed by a wrap-up song and a background dance while Rajaraja declaimed from atop her Adirondack-chair throne.

When temple dignitaries came out to greet their children, Myra and Ginny went by elephant to their home and brought back dal, basmati rice, onion bhaji, spinach pakora, and a korma made from roasted walnuts. As the rest of the family arrived for singing potluck, Gillam announced this evening's meal was entirely vegetarian in honor of Rajaraja and the people of Cholan. Mimi beamed, and all the children wore their costumes until bedtime.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009


(The Fallen Caryatid Carrying Her Stone, sculpture by Rodin circa 1880-1)

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

Autumn 2018

Two days later, Ginny's concern about the underlying message of the Golden Horde Anthem seemed to be borne out when Leah flatly refused to do her chore of setting out silverware for the dinner table. She never had to do this unassisted, because it was deemed beyond her skill set yet, but she began crying when Jane told her to come carry sorted knives, spoons and forks to the table and set them by each plate. Jane let her cry a minute, then said “Do you need a time-out or are you going to be able to pull yourself together and do your share?”

“No!” shouted Leah, kicking at chair. Jane promptly carried her to the time-out step at the bottom of the stairs, told her “two minutes” and went to help Charlie count out placemats. Gillam muttered to Myra “I thought we were going to escape the terrible twos with her, but as she begins the second half toward three, she's getting into her stride”.

At the end of the time-out, Leah hugged Jane and apologized, but again refused to do the silverware. Jane said “If you don't do your share toward making family mealtime, then you won't get to eat with us. I'll put your plate in the other room and you can eat alone.”

Mimi was gloating, but looked amazed when Leah threw herself onto the floor in a melodramatic surge that Myra had never witnessed in this child, wailing and pounding on the parquet with her open hands. Jane stepped coldly over her and went into the kitchen. When all the other adults ignored her as well, Leah's heartbreaking sobs tapered off suspiciously quickly. David, whose chore currently was to carry condiments to the table, dawdled so much in order to stare at Leah that Gillam gave him a gentle shove and said “Focus, Trinity.”

Leah wandered into the family room where they heard her singing something made up on the spot, with a very accusatory tone. As bowls of food began to be dished up, Jane carried a placemat, plate, sippy cup, and silverware into the family room and set it at the low table the children used for projects. It took Leah a minute to notice it, and another minute to realize what it meant. Ginny was herding the other children to the bathroom for handwashing when Leah marched back to the dining table clutching a plate in one hand and a spoon in the other.

Jane intercepted her before she reached her chair. Leah flung her arm to the side, avoiding Jane's grab, and the plate sailed like a Frisbee through the air, narrowly missing a living room lamp and crashing against the fireplace. Fortunately, all the children's dinnerware was plastic, so while it made a startling crash, nothing was broken. Gillam retrieved it as Jane carried Leah back to the time-out step and set her down for another two minutes.

“It's that time” Jane said quietly to Gillam as he walked by her. Myra followed him into the family room and said “What time did she mean?”

“War. When they decide to fight until we force them. I hate this, but we've survived two of them so far. I hope it doesn't last as long with Leah as it did with David. Mimi gave in a lot quicker than he did” said Gillam.

“You'll be able to write books and give lectures by the time you and Jane are done” said Myra.

“We'll never be done” he said to himself.

After the time-out, Leah piteously begged to not be segregated for the meal. Gillam joined Jane to negotiate.

“We all do our chores” he said. “If we don't, we're letting down the family.”

“But I hate the sivilware! I don't want that chore any more!” she said, crying in a way that sounded to Myra more authentic pain than manipulation. Though she wasn't sure any more.

“Well, I suppose we could think of a different chore” said Jane.

“The plates?” asked Leah. This was Mimi's and involved choosing between colors and sizes for various family members. Mimi was already bristling, but Jane said “No, that's taken”, heading off her protest.

“What's wrong with the silverware?” asked Gillam.

“It's stoopid. No colors or names” she said. Meaning there was no creativity involved or thinking about who sat where translated Myra.

“Well, we could let you set out cups at each place. The cups have colors and are different for kids and adults” said Jane.

Leah nodded exuberantly. Currently cups and glasses were set out by adults.

“But you don't get to throw another fit and change chores again” warned Jane. “This is it. And, the fact is, you've done no chore to help get ready for this meal.” She looked at Gillam over Leah's head, warning him not to let her off, Myra thought.

“I can't think of one” he said to Jane.

“You can sweep the kitchen” said Jane. “All the food is on the counter. We'll sit at the table and wait for you to finish before we begin eating.”

Leah was stunned. Jane opened the cupboard and pulled out the smaller of their two brooms, plus the dustpan. She instructed Leah in how to cover territory, and Leah became interested in spite of herself. Everyone else sat down and Gillam began cutting up food for Charlie.

“She's strict” Eric mock-whispered to Carly.

“She has to be” said Chris. “She's a single parent much of the day and her partner has to work hard for a living.” Ginny glared across the table at Myra as Myra laughed along with Allie.

Leah was let off the hook after two minutes, having accomplished nearly nothing in cleaning the floor but you couldn't tell by the triumph on her face. When Ginny and Myra were walking home later, Ginny said “I'll have to buy a whole set of plastic tumblers for the adults now, I can't let her loose with my glassware collection.”

“We could ask Jane where she gets hers” said Myra. Ginny hated Jane and Gillam's choices in plates and glasses. Ginny goosed her and said “Shush.”

The following Monday, when Jane came to drop off the children, she said “I've been thinking about the anthem thing...”

Myra froze inside, ready for banishment. Jane went on “Mimi and David's preschool takes them out in the morning to see the flag raised, and they all put their hands over their chests to recite 'The Pledge of Allegiance'. Gillam hates it – not them learning it, but the mandatory enforcement of flag-swearing. We got to talking, and we decided we want them to learn patriotism at home, in the family.”

“We're patriotic” said Ginny. “I happen to believe that people who recognize flaws and work to help overcome them while holding onto love are demonstrating a deeper love than those with blind adoration.”

Jane grinned at her. “Almost word for word what Gillam said. And I agree, they're picking up, or will, the values we want them to have. But there's a culture out there with knee-jerk responses, and if they're going to hear the national anthem, for instance, I want them to have learned the words at home, with a chance for discussion and interpretation. So, we're going to add some patriotic songs to the Sunday roster.”

“The national anthem is a crappy song” said Ginny. Myra argued “Yeah, but I fucking hate to see Olympic athletes who've won a medal get up there and not know the lyrics.”

“So we do that one enough to learn the words, no more” said Jane. “We like 'My Country Tis Of Thee', especially some of the later verses, and Gillam said 'America the Beautiful' was written by a lesbian. I figured you might have requests to make.”

“'Finlandia'” said Ginny instantly. “It's a beautiful song of love, but not xenophobic.” She added to Myra “We sang it at Greenham Common a lot. Dakin taught me the Danish version.”

Myra was momentarily distracted. Jane said “Well, pass it on to the aunties. We can start next Sunday.” She handed over Lucia and left.

Leah tugged at Myra's hand, saying “What are doing for Science Day?”

“Today's lesson is about vacuums. Not the household appliance, but the principle upon which it operates” said Myra. “Everybody go put on their thinking caps.”

That night, Ginny went to bed ahead of Myra, and Myra found herself feeling pangs of jealousy over Dakin, the first woman to unleash Ginny's all-out passion. She told herself it was because she wasn't getting to experience that passion herself, but she couldn't entirely settle her heart. When she went to bed, Ginny rolled over and attached herself to Myra in her sleep. Myra could tell that while unconscious, Ginny had no memory of their current physical boundary, and several times she'd put her face in a position to kiss. She didn't wake up enough to notice when Myra held back. Myra wondered if she was doing the same thing with Ginny in the mornings when Ginny woke ahead of her and held her a while.

The next day, Myra went out for lunch with Chris at Malena's Taco Shop in the Queen Anne neighborhood. After ordering carne asada tacos with sides of pork tamales, Chris said "Well, I know it's out of character for me to ask, but I'm wondering how stuff is going with you and Ginny. Your Nancy sessions and all."

"Slow but steady. Enough to make there not be tension, most days, and create interesting poetry flowing into my head" said Myra.

Chris unwrapped a tamale, then said "I ran into Pat the other day."

"Fuck. Here, in Seattle?"

"Yeah, I think she was having some meeting at Microsoft. It was at a cafe near there. She waved and was going to come over to talk. I gave her the drop-dead-warbonnet stare and she screeched to a halt" said Chris.

Myra laughed bitterly and said "Thanks, pal."

"Listen, Myra, you are still looking tired all the time. Your asthma any better?"

"Only if I stay on top of the albuterol treatments. I need to go back in and see if there's some new drug that'll help me sleep without waking up short of breath at least once a night" said Myra. "And don't say anything about Keller -- she's staying with me."

"Well, then, I think you need to take some time off. Without kids and grandkids" said Chris. "You're as busy now as you were in your 20's."

"You wanna go back up to Colville?" said Myra, her face brightening.

"No -- I mean, yeah, sure, but in this case I was thinking it should be just you and Ginny. Not any of us with you."

Myra looked at her speculatively. "Is this an Allie idea she sent you in to pitch? Or maybe Ginny via Sima?"

Chris snorted. "No. I'm done with group handling of you. At least for this bout of nuttiness. No, it's just -- I can tell you and Ginny aren't making love. It's chewing her ass ragged, and it makes you a very dull boy, too."

Myra wanted to ask how Chris could tell, but didn't. "All right. I'll float the idea by her. What about you and Sima, how come you two don't ever take off alone like you used to?"

Chris shrugged. "If I need down time, I need it completely alone, I guess."

"Hey!" came a voice nearby. It was Allie. She put a hand on each of their shoulders and said "I needed a salsa fix. You two want privacy or can I join you?"

Chris scooted over in her booth. "You want the rest of my pollo crema while you're waiting to order? I'm going to switch to a chorizo burrito. The lack of sun today has me bleeding B vitamins, feels like."

"Okay, I'm in a rush. I need to go pick up Edwina from a meeting by 2:00." Allie waggled her fingers at the waiter.

"She still not driving herself around?" said Myra.

"I'm beginning to think she's ready to turn in her license for good" said Allie. "Which reminds me, I have an eye appointment on Friday and I shouldn't drive afterward, will one of you come get me and pick up 'Wina for shabbos dinner?"

"I will" said Myra. "What is it with her and transportation anyhow?"

Allie hesitated. Myra said "You don't have to tell, of course."

"No, I could use talking it over. But you" she pointed at Myra "You have to not tell Ginny. Because for some reason, Edwina hasn't shared it."

The waiter had appeared. Myra said to Allie "See if they've got sopapillas today, I want an order if they do."

After the waiter left, Allie dug into the refreshed chip basket and said "See, her mother had a car wreck when Edwina was two years old. There was another brother, an older one who was in first grade, and he got killed. Her mother never drove again after that."

"Shit" said Myra. "No wonder."

"Well, except that's 65 years ago, and this ain't Chicago in terms of public transportation" said Allie. "I want to goose her into getting some kind of help, getting past it."

"Why don't you?" said Chris.

Allie looked at the formica tabletop as she said "Seems like folks move through what they can, fast as they can. I don't ever feel comfortable trying to assign they lessons for them."

Myra and Chris looked at each other and burst into laughter. "Unless you think it's about damn time" said Myra. "Look, the worst that'll happen is she'll cry and say she can't."

Allie's chile relleno and bean tostada arrived. Myra began poking holes in her sopapillas and pouring in honey. Chris joined her. After two bites, Allie said "I got a check in this morning's mail for the last Seed book. I'll bring it on Friday."

"Means there's probably one waiting at home on me. Al, why are you going back to the eye doctor?"

"Things getting a little blurry again" she said uncomfortably. Myra looked at Allie's lunch: No pork, whole wheat tortillas, and water as her beverage. She suddenly felt bad about her sopapillas.

"I knew this blind guy back in Texas, when I was a teenager, who had his Rottweiler trained to be his seeing eye dog. That beast was named Cuisinart, 'cause of how he chewed things up. They cleared a path on the sidewalk when they went out" said Myra.

Allie laughed in relief. "Guess if it come to that, I'll get a German Shepherd, name it Nat Turner."

"Or Geronimo" offered Chris.

They kept laughing while eating. Myra had the feeling she'd had countless times, that she and these two beloved women had known each other since they were small children, not adults. She never had that feeling with Ginny, she didn't know why. Bring up the sex stuff now she urged herself.

Allie said “How them kids? Gillam got bruises from Jane working him over?”

“You know, Jane is direct and strong but when she's hurt, she just shows hurt. And this really got to her. I get the feeling there was some part of her that wanted to keep open the option of another baby, possibly. And he knew it or guessed it, and this was his end-run to keep from having to say no to her face” said Myra.

“Sounds like him” said Chris.

“Well, the old him. I thought he'd left it behind” said Myra.

“I don't know if anybody actually leaves their biggest demons behind, not if the right provocation arises” said Chris, picking up the last sopapilla.

There was a small silence. Myra avoided looking at Allie. Chris said “So what's he going to do, visit Nancy and ask for a rainbow patch?”

“It ain't rainbows for this, Kash, it's unicorns for guys” said Allie. She and Chris giggled together.

Myra wasn't the least perturbed. “No, I think he's found somebody in Quaker Meeting to talk with. Somebody who is also a Jew. I only talked to him for two minutes, the grandkids were in the other room.”

“I saw Thad give him the evil eye at singing the other night” said Allie. “Baby sis is on the line to family 'bout it.”

“Good for her, I say” said Myra. “I know Jane and Margie had a talk, Margie apologized and – oh, wow, I knew I was forgetting something! Frances got word back from Galveston, the county historic board has given her the go-ahead!”

“Hot damn” said Allie. “This the final step, then?”

“No, she has to submit those papers to the bank to get her loan. But they've told her already she's probably going to be approved.”

The summer before, when Frances and Margie had gone into Galveston to have lunch with Amy, Frances had noticed an old building in the historic district downtown which had remained empty since its first story was gutted by Hurricane Ike. She'd excused herself after eating, to give the two friends privacy, and walked over to inspect the building. A quartet of metal poles had kept the upper 1-1/2 stories from collapsing when two of the brick walls on the first story had been washed away by surge. She surveyed the neighborhood, then gone to the nearest large realty office and begun inquiries.

The parcel was protected from development and substantial change. “Aside from hurricanes” Frances had commented. A large water tank adjacent to it was also part of the property and had survived the storm well. Frances was late getting back to Margie and Amy because she was ordering old blueprints, a title search, and other documents from more than one agency.

Her idea was to not rebuild the lower story and instead cover it and the surrounding parcel with reclaimed historic brick paving, turning it into permeable paving. She'd add a small elevator to covered stairs up to the second story, which would hold the kitchen and a small indoor dining area. A spiral staircase would lead to the half story above, which would hold office, storage, and open onto a dining deck with one hell of a view, covered with a retractable portico.

The location was extremely desirable, now that Galveston was finally emerging from the decade-long slump after Ike and the recession. She found that the original establishment, in the 1870s, had been an Italian grocery store, and she was quite attached to reclaiming it. She sweet-talked the county historic board by promising not only to restore as close to original as could be determined, but also to make it hurricane-proof, bolstering the poles which had saved it from the last surge. She also agreed to restore the water tower and well which fed it, creating an emergency reservoir in the heart of downtown against future emergency. She planned to install generators on the third floor which could keep the place going in almost any trouble, and a small ice plant which she would share with the community if electricity failed elsewhere.

She planned to name it Margie's.

“That pizzeria of hers in Queen Anne must be doing great” said Allie. “I see her teenage delivery folk on bikes everywhere most evenings.”

“She's sharp – well, and Margie, she's got quite the business sense herself” said Myra. “The hitch now is Frances has to tell her parents, who were counting on her first foray out of Seattle being where they lived in L.A. Her dad expected to be named honorary manager. Frances has found a very remote cousin who lives in Houston and is in the biz, and she hopes enlisting that woman will help convince her parents that she's not turning her back on family. Their family, of course, which is the real family as far as they're concerned” said Myra.

“Yeah, like we don't have the same bias” said Chris.

“Anyhow, Frances is going to fly back to Texas maybe on Monday to sign papers and hire a contractor. Probably those kin of Harm's who did our renovation of the beach house, if they do commercial and historic” said Myra.

“I guess we'll be going there on our arrival and departure lunches now, instead of Gaido's” said Allie.

“I hadn't thought of that” said Myra. She felt bad about losing the Gaido's tradition.

“These grandkids, when they taking they grandkids back to the Gulf, it'll be all about going to Margie's and having Frances's tiramisu for dessert” said Allie. “Look at the time, I gotta bust outta here. I'll call you from the eye doctor's tomorrow when I'm done.”

“Okey-doke” said Myra. I still didn't talk to them she thought. She didn't feel like bringing it up alone with Chris, not at the moment.

Frances and Margie flew to Galveston for a crammed trip of decision-making and little sleep except on the plane. Myra and Ginny took the dogs for two days, which they both loved but Myra's wheezing grew even more pronounced. Ginny began hectoring her to wash her hands several times a day, cleaning it of animal dander.

On Saturday, Myra was hard at work writing her new Skene book when the phone rang. She didn't answer or look at the caller ID. However, when the message machine clicked on and she heard Cathy's voice, she picked up.

“Hey, sister o'mine, how you doin?” she asked.

“Old but not grey thanks to Clairol” said Cathy, her standard reply. They exchanged brief updates about family, then Myra said “You've missed Ginny, she's gone thrift-storing and I can't guess when she'll be back. Will I do as a conversationalist?”

Cathy hesitated, then said “Sure. I'm worried about Noah and Shana.”

“Worried in what way? Money, health, their marriage?”

“Well, two of the three, I guess. Noah's been out of work three times in eight years, and the money was so scarce, Shana had to go back to nursing full time. I think she likes it, but...I'm afraid Noah is having an affair. And I think it's because of feeling like crap.”

“Ah, fuck, Cathy. What are the signs?”

They talked it over for a while. At one point, Cathy said “I realize every day how lucky I was to have Michael.”

“And how did you find him, exactly? Have I heard this story?”

Cathy told about meeting him at a party of a friend when she was a high school junior and he was a college freshman. Eventually Cathy said “The thing I miss most is how much he touched me. He came from a family that hugged a lot, sat close to each other, kissed hello and goodbye. It was a whole new world for me, when we began living together and I realized I could have human contact, as much as I wanted. And it didn't have to be sex.”

Well, here goes thought Myra. “Can I ask – was there any sexual energy in your house, David and Helen's house, when you were growing up?”

“Zip. Mother didn't like 'off-color' jokes or stuff on TV, as she called it. Bubbe, now, she could be quite frank. Daddy said it was from being a farmer. And she was a hugger, too, Bubbe was. Daddy reverted when he was around her. But that wasn't enough. Not for us.” Cathy paused to think for a minute. “You know, when Ginny was born, they never kept her crib in their bedroom, not even for a day. She was immediately put into her own bedroom. And if she cried, Mother would check on her to see if she needed changing or a bottle. But if wasn't that, Mother would leave and shut the door.”

“You're kidding me. Ginny never told me this.”

“She probably doesn't remember it. If I could, I'd sneak in there and – well, I wasn't very adept at being around babies, so I didn't always pick her up, which is all she needed. But I'd entertain her as best I could. If Daddy was home, he'd pick her up, of course, and ignore all the snide comments Mother made about spoiled brats. Sometimes when I was in trying to comfort Ginny, Daddy would come in and whisper 'I've got it this time', picking her up and letting me get away before Mother found out.”

My god. Myra felt ice inside. “I can hardly bear this happened to her” she whispered.

“I know. It was just her and Helen in that house for eight hours a day. I – don't tell her I said this, but I always wondered if her shoulders are so narrow because she kept them hunched up, as if trying to ward off something bad coming at her.”

Myra began crying softly. “Oh, Myra, I'm sorry, I shouldn't be telling you all this --”

“You absolutely should, Cathy, I really really need to hear it. I want you to know, my not making love with her right now has nothing to do with how much I love her. I'm not leaving her and I'll find my way back. She doesn't deserve to have me saying no, I'm just – stuck. Temporarily stuck.”

Cathy sounded embarrassed as she replied “She's told me that, Myra, don't worry.”

Myra said “She's talked about her first-grade teacher, Ms. Williams, and how much it meant that whenever the kids were upset, they got to sit in her lap. Ginny said that's pretty much when she decided she was going to be a teacher. It never occurred to me until now that it wasn't just to follow in Ms. Williams' footsteps, it was because that simple affection might have helped save her life.”

“I remember Mrs. Williams” said Cathy, laughing. “She had one of those bras that made her breasts stick out like a B-52 bomber fusilage, you know? And pointy glasses with rhinestones on them.”

“Hey, Cathy, you're in luck, I hear Ginny opening the front door. Franklin is galloping down the stairs. I'll walk to her and hand you over. Bless you for this conversation, it's meant the world to me.”

As Myra reached the dining room where Ginny was stacking bags on the table, Ginny said “I picked up the milk and butter, it's still in the car, could you get it?”

“Yeah. It's your wonderful sister on the phone” said Myra.

Ginny's face lit up in a way that made Myra want to begin crying again. Instead of handing the phone over immediately, Myra leaned in for a hug and whispered “I love you with all my heart, Ginny Bates. And your sister, too.”

Ginny squeezed her, then leaned back to look at her inquiringly as she took the phone. “Cath? Yeah, I did score a haul. You remember that madras shirt Daddy had with the pleats in the back? Well, I found one exactly like it that I can get on my postmenopausal body. Okay, I'll take one and send it to you...”

Myra headed out the front door to bring in the dairy delivery. When Ginny got off the phone, she'd ask if they could take a vacation together as soon as possible, just the two of them. Nobody else needing their attention.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.



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


Monday, January 26, 2009


Frodo failed
Found in my e-mail today:

Dear Fellow Constituent:

The George W. Bush Presidential Library is now in the planning stages and accepting donations.

The Library will include:

1. The Hurricane Katrina Room, which is still under construction.
2. The Alberto Gonzales Room, where you won't be able to remember anything.
3. The Texas Air National Guard Room, where you don't even have to show up.
4. The Walter Reed Hospital Room, where they don't let you in.
5. The Guantanamo Bay Room, where they don't let you out.
6. The Weapons of Mass Destruction Room, which no one has been able to find.
7. The National Debt Room, which is huge and has no ceiling.
8. The Tax Cut Room, with entry only to the wealthy.
9. The Economy Room, which is in the toilet.
10. The Iraq War Room. (After you complete your first visit, they make you go back for a second, third, fourth, and sometimes fifth visit.)
11. The Dick Cheney Room, in the famous undisclosed location, complete with shooting gallery.
12. The Environmental Conservation Room, still empty.
13. The Supreme Gift Shop, where you can buy an election.
14. The Airport Men's Room, where you can meet some of your favorite Republican Senators.
15. The Decider Room, complete with dart board, magic 8-ball, Ouija board, dice, coins, and straws.

Note: The library will feature an electron microscope to help you locate and view the President's accomplishments.

The library will also include many famous quotes by George W. Bush:

1. 'The vast majority of our imports come from outside the country.'
2. 'If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure.'
3. 'Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.'
4. 'No senior citizen should ever have to choose between prescription drugs and medicine.'
5. 'I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy -- but that could change.'
6. 'One word sums up probably the responsibility of any Governor, and that one word is 'to be prepared'.'
7. 'Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things.'
8. 'I have made good judgments in the past. I have made good judgments in the future.'
9. 'The future will be better tomorrow.'
10. 'We're going to have the best educated American people in the world..'
11. 'One of the great things about books is sometimes there are some fantastic pictures.' (during an education photo-op)
12. 'Illegitimacy is something we should talk about in terms of not having it.'
13. 'We are ready for any unforeseen event that may or may not occur.'
14. 'It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.'
15. 'I stand by all the misstatements that I've made.'...George W. Bush to Sam Donaldson


Jack Abramoff, Co-Chair
G.W. Bush Library Board of Directors

[Cross-posted at Group News Blog. H/t to Adrienne.]


Sunday, January 25, 2009


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

Autumn 2018

The next morning, Jane came over to pick up the children. She looked more-than-usual short on sleep, and Lucia was cranking. Myra was in the middle of settling a dispute between David and Leah, who were accusing each other of stealing jam. Ginny was holding Charlie, and when Jane came to kiss his forehead, Ginny said quietly “We just want to you know, we think what he did was wrong.”

Jane's face perked up a little bit. “I hoped you would. Will you be telling him that?”

“First chance we get. How'd it go last night?”

Myra said “Shut up” to David, who subsided into a shocked silence. Jane said “He's never done this with me, you know. I know he's overextended, but it's hard not to see it as a slide down the dark side, somehow.”

Now all the children were listening, even Lucia, it seemed.

“Overextension is an explanation but not an excuse. And the fact is, me and Ginny have some culpability in – creating the personality, shall we say” said Myra. “As you'll find out five times over eventually. Anyhow, what's the plan?”

“Uh...Talking to support folks.” Jane was now coding her words, too. “Letting the incisions heal. Carly's coming over for a talk after dinner. He's – not happy about the – subterfuge.”

“What's that mean?” said Mimi.

“Well of course he's not” said Ginny. “That's why Margie was chosen, the only one of us who'd miss the big picture. Nothing to do with how much she cares for you, Jane, just a predictable blind spot she has.”

“I thought so” said Jane with a righteous ring of indignation.

“What's supperfeud?” repeated Mimi.

“Being sneaky” said Myra. “A dishonorable way of behaving. Are you done with those eggs? If so, quit picking at them with your fingers.”

Jane's focus shifted to her children. “Did you all thank Gramma and Bubbe for the unexpected overnight?”

A chorus of thank you's began. Ginny said “Nobody wet the bed, and a full night of sleep was had by all. Except us, of course.”

“I never wet the bed” began Leah. Charlie turned a wounded expression her way.

“We need to scoot, to get Mimi and David to preschool” said Jane. “Listen, I have to meet with their teacher afterward today, so we won't be here until 3:00 at the earliest.”

“Why don't you let me and Charlie come over early, before we go to get them at school?” suggested Leah.

“You already had a lot extra this week, don't be a greedy guts” said Jane “Come on. Charlie, where's your other shoe?”

“I see it” said Myra, bending under the table.

Once the racket was out the door, Ginny looked at Myra and said “You did most of the cooking this morning, I'll clean up. You heading back to bed?”

“You know it” said Myra.

The following day, Myra and Ginny were still in bed at 9:00. Ginny had been up but returned to sip tea and read the paper. Myra was slowly waking to the sound of rustling paper when their bedroom door swung open and Leah burst in. They heard Jane yelling “I told you to knock.”

Charlie hurtled in and clambered into Ginny's lap seconds after she managed to get her teacup safely on the bedside table. Myra sat up with a jolt of energy and said “What's wrong?”

Jane came in the door carrying Lucia and promptly began turning red at Myra and Ginny's exposed torsos. “It's Beebo, he's been vomiting for an hour, I need to get him in to the vet and, well, could you take them?”

“Of course” said Myra, standing to reach for Lucia. The two older children immediately fell silent, ogling her. Ginny's naked half the time, but my occasional bare skin is like a peep show for them she thought irritably.

“She's nursed already” said Jane.

“What's that smell?” said Charlie, sniffing the air. Jane's blush went deeper. Leah said “Toast!”

“Yes, I made some toast earlier” said Ginny. “Jane, go. Let us know how he is when you can.”

As Jane hurried out the door, Ginny said “I have to get a shower before I dress, I'll keep it to two minutes, okay?”

“Fine” said Myra, noticing Lucia needed a diaper change. As she headed for the dresser where they kept diapers and wipes, she said “Uh, Charlie and Leah? Let me give you a riddle.” She thought fast. They loved their grammas walk-in closet, stuffed with decades of accumulation. “Okay, go into our closet and count how many shoes are in there. Whoever comes up with the right number gets cinnamon toast. And don't race, take your time so you get it right.”

Charlie's counting ability was sketchy, but Leah would no doubt yell her answer first and he would be canny enough to copy her. Besides, Myra had no idea what the right answer was and didn't care. She was worried about Beebo, and trying to move fast so Lucia didn't start crying during the diaper change.

Ginny was true to her word. She had pulled on clothes, run fingers through her damp hair, and was reaching to take Lucia from Myra when Leah broke out of the closet shouting “41! The answer is 41!”

“I thought the answer to everything is 42” Ginny joked to Myra. Myra laughed, and Lucia, watching her intently, gave one of her rare smiles, which made Myra go a little goofy.

Charlie emerged, breathless and holding a gimme-cap which said “I'm a Cunning Linguist”. It had blaze orange flames along its purple sides. He said “Can I have this? Please?”

“You can wear it as much as you want while you're here” said Myra, “but that was a gift to me from someone else and I can't give it away permanently. Sure looks good on you, though. Come here, I'll adjust the back band for you.”

As she did so, she said “Did you come up with an answer to the riddle? Leah's guess was 41. Which means one pair of shoes has undergone a painful separation, I gather.”

“Dat's right, 41” he said, bobbing his head vigorously. Ginny said “You need to get a photo of him in that.”

“You do it. I'm going to shower, not as expeditiously as you, and meet you downstairs. I promised them cinnamon toast for solving the riddle. Which both of you got right, yes, you both win.”

Leah looked around doubtfully at Myra. “You're not making our cimmanon toast?”

“Ginny, they want it with brown sugar, not honey or applesauce” said Myra.

“I know how to make it” said Ginny, taking Charlie's hand and starting to carry Lucia to the bedroom door. Leah shot ahead of them, shouting “I get to push the button!” After a second lag, Charlie raced behind her, shouting “I get to push inside!”

Whenever unsteady walkers or non-walkers had to be conveyed up and downstairs, Myra and Ginny had gotten into the habit of herding all the children in the elevator. The fun of riding with Ginny was limited to being the one who pushed the button. Riding the elevator with Myra, however, was a crapshoot.

As soon as the doors bumped shut, the next several seconds of the slow, bumpy ride could contain almost any kind of transformation. Myra's most common trick was to assume the voice of a haughty announcer proclaiming the goods to found on various floors of an imaginary, not-quite-right department store. When she intoned “Flo-ah Seven – Men's haberdashery, window sashes, sausage casings, and salamanders” the children would laugh with glee and burst from the sliding doors going “eww!” about sausage made with salamanders and asking questions about what part of a man was his haberdashery.

Just as often as she did “the announcer”, however, Myra would lapse into some other character, some of them quite alarming. One day, before Lucia was born, as soon as the doors shut Myra had grabbed Mimi by her collar and shoved her against the wall, growling at her in a pirate's voice “Now tell me where ye've hidden the gold, or ye'll walk the plank, ye scurvy dog!”

The other children had frozen in disbelief. After a couple of seconds, Mimi's eyes glinted and she snarled, not quite logically, “I'll come to thee by moonlight though hell should bar the way!” Myra had slid into raucous laughter, and they emerged from the elevator as buccaneer and highwayman, weaving an adventure in which the others had to snatch roles for themselves when they could.

Myra's favorite was the day when, as soon as the doors shut, she'd cried “Jonesy! We forgot Jonesy! We can't leave him on the Nostromo!” Her forearms changed position to carry a weapon, and the children boldly assumed pistols in their own hands. When they reached the ground floor, Myra began looking around corners in a frenzy of fearful anticipation, occasionally firing bursts from her flamethrower into shadowy regions, all the while calling “Jonesy? Come here, Jonesy.”

Ginny was vacuuming that day, and she became the Alien. When Myra looked around the doorway into the living room and spotted her, she recoiled in horror and hissed to the others “It's in there.” They sprinted across the opening with bursts of fire at Ginny's back and clustered near the bottom of the stairs. Myra called urgently upstairs for Jonesy, adding “kitty, kitty, kitty”, and Keller of course responded, coming to stand at the head of the stairs, wary of both the hated vacuum and Myra's odd voice. But with pleading she came slowly down the stairs. Myra grabbed her, kissing her frantically and shielding her as they blasted their way back to the elevator, which was now the escape pod.

Once the door shut that time, Myra put Jonesy down and wiped her sweaty face in relief, saying “We still have two minutes to get into protective gear and launch this pod into space.” As each child began miming their own interpretation of what that meant, with hilarious effect if anyone had been watching, Myra stood by the door trying to come up a good substitute for animated suspension chambers.

She later realized Ginny must have simply sprinted up the back stairs as soon as the elevator doors shut. When they opened on the second floor, Ginny leaped in at them with a horrible roar, her hand snapping at Myra's face like shiny steel jaws. Myra fell backward, hitting the rear wall hard but thankfully landing on no child or cat. The high little screams in that escape pod were not pretty, my friend. Keller bolted for safety. Ginny sat down on the floor next to Myra and they laughed until tears leaked from their eyes.

This day, Myra rode down alone, entering the kitchen to the smell of cinnamon and the two older children sitting happily at stools, gobbling down the real thing. Ginny said “I made some for you, too. How about a fruit smoothie with it?”

“Aggh. Clash of sugars. But I'll eat it. Put lots of carrot juice in it, okay? And – I'll cut a slice of that Maasdammer we got.”

“Cut me one, too. There's leftover steamed squash, you know.”

“How about if I saute that real quick with onions and garlic?”

“Sounds great.”

They worked together fluidly. Leah came around the corner, carrying her plate and asking “Can I have another slice?”

“Nope” said Myra. “But if you want smoothie or cheese or squash, it'll be ready in a jiff. Look, your shoe's untied. Here.” She lifted Leah onto part of the counter with an unused cutting board and began repeating the bunny diving into the hole shoe-tying story as she tied her sneaker. Charlie called out “Is it Dink or Usagi?”

“Uh, another bunny, an Irish one whose last name is O'Steel” said Myra. At that moment she heard a long rasp on the wood of the cutting board beneath Leah's corduroy pants. Myra stared at her and said “Did you just fart on my cutting board?”

“Sorree” said Leah unconvincingly. Ginny was laughing hard, and Charlie joined her. Myra put Leah back on the floor, said “Take your plate to your stool, we'll serve you there, Vice-Admiral Flatulence.” She carried the cutting board to the sink and looked in the cabinet beneath for bleach.

Jane returned shortly before 11:00. She said Beebo was all right but on an IV, and blood tests for his kidneys and liver weren't back yet. “They think he got hold of something toxic” she said. “You know, I kept thinking about how the restaurant got fumigated on Monday – Carly and Eric complained about the smell when they got home. I'm wondering of some dying bug or mouse got through our fence and Beebo ate it.”

“Poor little guy, the only kind of hunting he could ever manage” said Myra. “Did they pump his stomach?”

“Gave him charcoal and are flushing him out. The vet thinks he probably puked enough of it out to save his kidneys. I'll call you when I hear more. I'll have to search the yard, and there's still a few upchuck puddles in the house.” Myra looked away, fighting her own instant nausea. Jane went on, saying “Hello, darling, are you ready for a snack?” to Lucia as she unbuttoned her shirt. She stole one quick kiss from Lucia's forehead, then settled in to nursing. She said, almost to herself, “The last baby I'll have, and she's not a cuddler.” Her sadness was wrenching to Myra.

As it apparently was to Ginny, who said “I know exactly how you feel, about the last baby part, I mean.” Myra looked accusingly at Ginny and was about to bring up all the times Ginny had been way too public about Myra being the one who wanted to drag out their childbearing years, but Charlie said loudly “Tell Mommy what Leah did to your board” and the moment was lost.

After Jane and children left, Ginny remarked to Myra, “You this, this morning, she acted like we'd been interrupted from having sex, I know that's what she thought.”

Myra was trying to think of an answer when Ginny said, trying for humor, “Right bedroom, wrong year, huh?” Myra remained silent, and Ginny finally faced her directly to say “Have you talked to Allie or Chris about this yet? About how we're -- not making love? You told Nancy you would.”

“Not yet. Haven't had the chance. How about you, have you told your friends?” Myra felt defensive.

“I've talked it over with Cathy. And a little with Margie.” Myra was utterly thrown by that piece of news, and didn't think she liked it. Ginny went on “I was waiting for you to have your turn with Allie before I went to Edwina or Allie myself, but I'm not going to wait any more, I don't think.”

“What's the push here, Ginny?”

“Well, Allie was – not a stone butch, that's not an accurate description, but she was one-way with lovemaking for all those years. I'm hoping she has insight about how you're feeling it but not able to act on it.” Ginny's jaw was squared off.

“It's not ability, it's a choice” said Myra. “And it's not anything like the reasons she had, because those would be the same as Bonnie had, and certainly you have your share of learning material there. Not all sexual issues are the fault of fucked-up incest experiences, Ginny. Seems to me like you're forgetting there was an actual rupture of trust that occurred.”

There was a long silence when they stared each other down. Ginny said softly “I haven't forgotten it. I won't ever forget it.”

“You've been a force for good in my life, Ginny Bates, and usually your pushing at me is useful to me. But only when I think you might more than I do. I'm...not sure here. I just don't know what all I'm dealing with yet. Inside me, in particular.” Myra didn't want to be as fair as her words sounded to her. When she saw the reception on Ginny's face, however, she breathed in and let it stand.

“Okay. I won't bring it up again. You'll tell me when something changes. Or I'll know it from our time with Nancy.” Ginny hugged her, and Myra let herself relax in those familiar arms. Perversely, she suddenly remembered how glorious it was to kiss Ginny full on the mouth, and she lay her head to the side, away from Ginny's face, to resist the temptation.

Beebo was able to come home the following day, thinner and clingy but declared by the vet to be as good as could be expected for his age. Myra invited him over for the evening, playing with him in her study until he needed a nap.

On Friday, when Gillam and Jane came to pick up the kids before shabbos dinner, Jane said sternly “I was cleaning the upstairs bathroom this afternoon, and I have a question for one of you children: Who has been wiping their buggers on the wall beside the potty?”

The three oldest children began giggling, looking sideways at each other, ready to pounce when accusation was made. Charlie stood out because he froze and would not meet anyone's eyes. Poor little dummy thought Myra with a heartwrench. But then, it wasn't her scrubbing away hardened old snot.

Jane squatted down and took his hands. “Charlie, why did you do that?”

His body writhed in conflicting emotion. “I don't know” he said, and it sounded like the truth.

“Well, what should you do if you feel congestion in your nose?” said Jane. Charlie finally let his big brown eyes face hers, confusion on his face. Myra thought he wanted to say “pick it out and eat it?”, but some whisper of caution kept him silent.

“You blow your nose, son” said Gillam, helping out. “Into a tissue or handkerchief.”

Charlie nodded, sensing a clearing path away from his public exposure. “Will you do that in the future?” asked Jane, squeezing his hands. He nodded more emphatically. She pulled him into a hug before delivering the coup de grace. “Okay, let's go home. I saved part of the scrubbing for you, you can clean off the last bit.”

He looked over her shoulder at Myra with desperation, but Myra thought he'd met justice. At one-and-a-half, learning how to wipe down a surface that she was sure Jane had sprayed with precleaner was a skill he could pick up.

That Sunday at singing potluck, when they gathered in the family room after dinner, Myra stood with a grin and said “I've written a song. A kind of theme song, I guess you'd call it. The tune is not quite right, but – well, maybe Jane there at the piano can figure it out for me. Here goes.”

Myra winked at Leah as she began:

We fart upon your cutting board
We wipe our buggers on your wall
We call ourselves the Golden Horde
We got no manners at all

We got no manners at all
We live like monkeys in the trees
We fling our poop and eat our fleas
We got no manners at all

It was an instantaneous smash. She had to sing it again because shrieks of laughter had drowned out sections the first time through, and then Carly leaped up to stand beside her for a third rendition. By that time Jane was not only pounding along on the keyboard, she was making it sound better and better, adjusting the melody in ways Myra would never have considered.

On the fourth singing, all the adults knew the words and were a wild chorus, with the children coming in half a word behind but screaming at delicious turns like poop and buggers. Lucia was wide-eyed and not a whit upset at the volume around her.

On the fifth repetition, Ginny and Margie stood up to create an accompanying dance, which consisted mostly of miming the various actions mentioned. The children swarmed to join them, and reaching around to one's backside to scoop up invisible poop to hurl at someone nearby broke out everywhere in the room. Myra sat down again, letting the mayhem go on without her leadership. She'd done her work.

It became, indeed, the children's anthem. It was not only the most requested song at singing potluck, it was a chorus which often appeared in their play sessions. After picking up Mimi and David at preschool later that week, Jane enlisted Myra and Ginny's help to reinforce rules about Where The Golden Horde Song Could Be Sung, and where it was best kept for family alone. “I meant to warn them not to teach it to the other kids, I just forgot” whispered Jane.

“I can only imagine how popular they were for a while there” responded Ginny, laughing. “I just hope it doesn't make Charlie backslide on the bugger front. He's taking great pride at having a line all about him.”

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.