The Night of Three Moonrises

moonbAfter I wrote my I Wish post where I mentioned that it felt as if I were losing control, as if bits of me were floating off into the ether, a friend suggested I go to Tao Road and gather a bit of Dao, the big picture, the harmony of the whole. I couldn’t do it right away, but on Saturday night I went to Tao Road and walked far out into the desert to watch the full moon rise. It was a perigree moon, (more commonly known as a super moon), a full moon rising at its closest point in its orbit around the earth.

It was lovely. Just me, the desert floor, the knolls in the background, an immense and immensely bright yellow moon slowly creeping into view. I lifted my arms in the port de bras I’m learning in ballet, and framed the moon in the circle of my arms. For just a moment, it seemed as if the moon and I were one, and then it drifted up out of my embrace.

As I walked back to town, the moon disappeared behind a knoll, and I stopped and watched it rise again. And ten minutes later, it disappeared behind a higher knoll, and I stopped to watch it rise a third time.

Such a magical evening!

Of course, here I am again, in the hell of my life, but I have the memory of that triple super moonrise to give me light. And hope. And courage.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Questioning the Cops

Strange morning. But then, that’s redundant since my entire life has taken a turn into strangeness.

The cops were here about my brother. They suspected him of turning off a neighbor’s gas as retaliation for her ignoring him after he called her a lewd name. (When my father took a turn for the worse and my sister came to help out, it seems as if my brother had what appears to be a psychotic break from reality. He does things that he completely believes he never did, such as slashing my sister’s tires or calling people awful names.) His turning off their gas created problems with the water heater — which doesn’t make any sense to me, but that’s what they said — and the heater had to sheriffbe replaced. He’s also made forays into other neighbors’ back yards. All that in addition to his “poltergeist” activity around the house, such as banging on windows, incessantly ringing the doorbell, calling through the locks.

The cops wanted to talk to my brother, but I didn’t feel up to dealing with his reprisals, so I said he wasn’t here. The truth is, I knew he wasn’t here — at the first sight of a cop car, he runs and hides, usually some place where he can hear what is going on. They asked if they could come in, and I said no. They seemed surprised at that. There isn’t anything to hide here in the house, but wasn’t a social call, and they hadn’t been invited. So I went outside.

They explained the problem and asked for his last name. I didn’t tell them — it’s not my name to give. Then they asked for my name. I said “Pat.” They wrote that down, then asked for my last name. I didn’t want to give it to them. I explained I was in no way responsible for my brother’s acts, was in no way responsible for him, that he was 64 and a grown man. They said they understood, and asked again for my last name. Again I hesitated, and they said they only needed it for their records to show who they talked to. I told them that in all my dealings with the local cops up to that point, my first name had been satisfactory, and they retaliated by telling me those were not criminal investigations, and this one was. If I didn’t give them my name, I could be arrested for impeding a criminal investigation. So I gave it to them.

Then they asked for my birth date. This really sent alarms through me. My stress level, for reasons I cannot fathom, reached critical levels, and I could feel the tears gathering behind my eyes. (Tears seem to be how I process changes and stress.) I said, “So, are you going to be investigating me now?” They said no, and again told me that I could be arrested if I didn’t give them the date. I said it wasn’t fair. Suspects could lie. Cops could lie. But as a bystander I couldn’t. They said that it wasn’t a criminal offense if I lied about checking to see if my brother were in the garage, but that it could be a criminal offense to lie about my birth date.

In all such discussions about my brother with the local cops during the past year, and especially during the past weeks after I began writing my book about a murder at a dance studio, I’d never paid attention to their uniforms, and that would be an important detail for the book. So I studied them. Dark green slacks. Light olive drab shirts. Yellowish-gold “Sheriff’s Department” insignias on their right upper sleeves. Gold deputy stars above their left pockets. Black rectangular nametags above the pocket on the right side. Heavy black equipment belts.

Then I started asking them questions. I figured it was only fair. I told them I was writing a book about a murder that will take place at a local exercise studio and asked what would happen after we called 911. They said officers would show up fairly soon, and the number of officers would depend on how busy they were. They said they’d remove us from the scene, take personal information and fill out a detailed report about our relationship with the deceased, what we’d been doing just previously, if we knew what any of the others witnesses had been doing. Then they’d probably take us to the police station to be questioned by detectives. I asked if we’d each be in a separate car, but they thought we’d probably be taken in pairs with warnings not to talk to each other. I asked if the radio would be on, that in movies, the police radio is always squawking. They said it would be silent so that we wouldn’t be able to get any information. At the police station, we’d probably have to wait for an hour for the detectives to arrive.

I asked for a description of the interrogation room and about the color of the walls. (Cream.) I said one of my detectives would have a lovely first name that I wanted to use for the story, but I noticed they only used the first initial on their nametags and business care. They said it was up to the detective whether she’d give her name or not.

I guess about the only other thing I needed for a sensory description was how the cop car smelled, but I wasn’t about to ask them to let me sit in it to find out. For all I know, they could have used that as an excuse to take me to the station.

One cop told me that as much as he would love to talk about police procedure, he had to get back to business. He said at some point I’d have to have my brother evicted, but as we talked, I learned what I already knew — that in the end, they couldn’t do anything. They would remove him from the premises after the eviction went into effect, and when he came back, they would arrest him, let him go, and when he came back, they’d arrest him, let him go ad infinitum. They told a story about a guy with mental problems who sounded much like my brother. The panhandler had been arrested and let go on a regular basis. This went on for many years without his ever having served jail time. Eventually, the family begged for the cops to arrest him and take him to a penal mental institution.

Luckily, long before we would reach such a point, my father will be dead, and I will be out of here.

But for now, I’m very proud of myself for turning things around and questioning them.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Change

My father came home yesterday, and today we met with a visiting nurse who will be helping us through the next couple of months. I’m glad to have the help, both of the nurse and my sister. My father has been flat on his back for almost three weeks, more because of his disinclination to sit in a chair or walk rather than any medical issue. (“I have patients’ rights,” he told me smugly. “I have the right to refuse any treatment.” My explanation that sitting did not constitute a “treatment” did not sway him at all.)

nurseHe has the idea that he will immediately resume his normal life, and gets furious at me for suggesting it will be otherwise. (I have a hunch his fury stems from the fear that I am right.) I’m to the point where I simply smile at him and keep my reservations to myself. Maybe this time won’t be like all the other times he’s gotten out of the hospital and found himself helpless to do what he wanted. But the truth is, even for the relatively healthy, it takes a while to recuperate from a lengthy hospital stay.

Luckily for me, I won’t be the only one around to cater to his demands.

His homecoming and the nurse aren’t the only changes. My siblings are trying to get my insane and insanely drunk brother evicted from the garage, but supposedly they aren’t going to go against my wishes. I don’t want him forced out on the dusty streets of this hellishly hot and devilishly windy desert town. He needs to be in northern Colorado where perhaps he can get signed up for various social services.

I must be as crazy as he is — I have agreed to drive him back. 1000 miles with someone constantly bellowing in my ears is not my idea of a fun trip, but it’s the only alternative I can think of to legal hassles.

My sister came up with a brilliant idea. Rent some sort of SUV with plenty of cargo area for his hoardings, but take possession of it a few days in advance. Give him the alternative of loading up his stuff and being driven to Colorado in comfort, or staying and dealing with the repercussions of my siblings’ efforts to remove him.

Either way, with him or without him, I take off. If he’s in the vehicle, I only have to deal with him for two days, then blessed silence. If he doesn’t want to go, I take off for a weekend by myself. Sounds wonderful! The days off will also break my father’s psychological dependence on me, so that when I return, I won’t feel so burdened by his neediness.

Lots of changes in the air. I’ll let you know what happens.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Casting Off Old Family Patterns

I’ve been crying on and off for the past few days, mourning the loss of my brother. He’s still alive, at least physically, but he is so very lost to schizophrenia, alternate personalities, alcoholism or some combination of all three, that it seems as if he is gone forever.

I remember him as a bright twelve-year-old — bright as in joyous, bright as in super intelligent, bright as in the favored child, bright as in open-faced, eagerly awaiting all life had in store for him. Family stories indicate I idolized him, but that was so long ago, I can barely remember anything but being wary of the angry, frightened, intolerant, relentless, bellowing man he has become. To most of my siblings, the neighbors, even the cops who have come to the house, he is, at best, a nuisance and at worst, an animal.

And yet, whatever he has become, he is still a human being.

In June, Robert Wilkinson wrote about the retrograde Mercury: Some will see what contributes to hesitation or insecurity about a life corner that’s already been turned, preparing to reshape their expression before moving forward boldly in July. Others will take a look back, say goodbye, and cast off the old family patterns forever. This can give us a new look at fluid ways of moving with life energies.

The major unresolved family pattern in my life is that of my father, older brother, and me. Those two shaped my adolescence and early adulthood with their fighting and the inability of both to ever see any side but their own. Both used my love as a rope in their tug of war, and it was only when I met Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, that the pattern changed. But not forever. When he died, I went to look after my then 93-year-old father in an effort to restore the Karma of my early life, and fourteen months ago, my brother showed up. And the pattern repeated itself, with each using me as the rope in their tug of war.

Perhaps neither of them could help what they became, but I hoped I could change the pattern of our relationship. My father kicked my brother out of the house when he was a teenager, and when he again wanted to kick him out last year because of some innocuous offense, I counseled against it. And yet, as soon as I left the house that day to run errands, our father tricked his son into leaving and locked him out.

Such patterns seem impossible to change, but a week ago, my sister came to help take care of our father and perhaps to do what she can to help relocate my brother. This constitutes a major shift in our dysfunctional threesome.

I seem to feel the change more than anyone, weeping at what might have been, never was, and never will be. I know now that whatever I hoped out of this insane living situation will never come to pass. My brother will never again be as bright as the youngster I once knew, nor will he ever be the adventurer he was as a young man, where the whole world was his backyard. And my father will never be anything but what he is.

It is I who will have to change, and weeping, apparently, is how I process change. I always hoped that when my responsibilities here were finished, that those patterns of the past would no longer haunt me, but I expected it to be a joyful change. I suppose at some point, when I am truly free, the joy will irrupt, but for now, all I can do is cry for the loss of that bright, sane older brother, and a wise father who could fix anything, even himself.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Becoming Dance

Of all the strange places my recent life has taken me, this has to be the strangest. I am sitting in lobby of a convalescent home, waiting for my father to wake from a nap. He’s only here for five days to get intravenous antibiotics to help treat a bout of pneumonia, but the few hours I’ve spent visiting him have made me realize how incredibly lucky I am.

I can walk with a straight back and easy gait. I can breathe unassisted. And oh! I feel so very young. I know this is a temporary condition. If I live long enough, I’ll be as old and decrepit as these folks, but for now, I’m thankful for what youth I dancehave left, for the joy that now comes at increasingly frequent intervals, for the capacity to taste what I eat and drink, for the ability to write and laugh and dance.

Strangely, not only do I feel good, people often mention that I look good, too. Some even say that stress becomes me. The wonder is that I can deal at all with the horrendous stresses of my life — an ailing, aging father and an insane and insanely drunk brother who has spent the past several hours bellowing at me. I am blessed to have wonderful and patient friends who will listen to my horror stories, sometimes for the second and third time, and who will offer hugs when I need them. I have this blog, of course. But mostly I have dancing.

We all need vacations from ourselves and our problems, but when we go on trips, we take ourselves with us. When we dance, especially choreographed dances, we leave ourselves at home. We become the music, the motion, and something else — part of a dancing whole. As the teacher keeps reminding us, we need to do everything in unison — one body, one mind, one soul. When it works, when we know the dance and are in perfect sync, it’s magic. For just one moment, we become more than we are. We become Dance.

Of course, after dance, we become just ourselves with all our attendant problems, but we still have the memory of that moment of freedom to sustain us, and hopefully we’ll still have it even when we’re too old to dance at all.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

I Wish . . .

It feels as if I have lost control of my life, as if the winds of life — or change — are in the air, and bits of me are floating off into the ether.

I wish I could concoct a powerful witches brew and — poof. Everything would be fine.

Or that I knew a wizard who could cast a joyous spell.

wizard

I wish I were as strong as everyone thinks I am.

warrior

I wish I had money enough and time to give everyone what they need and make things right.

gold

I wish . . . oh, so many things. But mostly, I guess, I hope I will eventually rise

alone

out of the horror or my life into a new day.

077c

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

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Chaos to the Nth Degree

My chaotic and unreal life continues. I’ve written before about my out-of-control abusive brother, and readers have given me much advice, which mostly centered around calling the cops. My few dealings with the cops when they came in answer to neighbor’s complaints led me to believe there was nothing they could or would do, so I never called. My inability to follow this course of action bothered many people, but the truth is, as horrific as he is, I couldn’t see throwing him on the street for strangers to deal with.

But as it turns out, there is nothing I could have done, anyway.

badgeMy sister came to help with our 97-year-old father who is failing. He’s been in the hospital for the past two weeks, and is currently in a convalescent hospital for a short stay to get over a bout with pneumonia. When he gets home, he will need someone here all the time, and obviously, I couldn’t do it alone.

It took her a single night to get fed up with our demented, delusional, dissociative and very nasty brother. She called the cops. They came out but did nothing, simply told her he could be evicted but that neither of us could do it since we too are guests. And of course, my father is dealing with his age and health issues, and only wants me to keep his son away from him.

She spent yesterday and this morning trying to line up people who would be willing to get him back to Colorado, and once he was there, to chauffer him around and help him get all the benefits to which he is entitled. Of course, he wouldn’t go along with that. He claims to want to go back to Colorado, but seems unable to make the mental leap. He screams that he wants help, but won’t tell me what he wants me to do, and when I ask, he shrieks “Get me a beer, bitch.” As I said, not a nice man, at least this personality of his isn’t. He has one vulnerable, almost shy personality that seems to have all but disappeared during the past few months.

After we broached the subject of getting him back to Colorado, he slashed the tires on my sister’s car. (He claims he didn’t do it, and is outraged that we accused him, so either someone else did it, or he had a complete psychotic break.) She was so angry, she locked him out of the garage where he is camped, and he broke down the door to get back in. She called 911 again, told them he needs to be taken in on a 5151, which is the code for having him detained and evaluated for 72 hours at a mental facility. It took her at least thirty minutes to get them to agree to send a deputy to “assess” the situation, and another hour for the deputy to come out. (Interestingly, the deputy already knew part of the situation because he was one I had spoken to before.) My sister showed him her tires, the broken window (brother had broken the outside of a double-pane window about six months ago and the inside of that same window just a week or so ago), the broken door, the obscenities on the garage wall (all directed at me, I might add), and in the end, nothing was accomplished. According to the deputy, our brother wasn’t a danger to himself or to us, and so the system could do nothing. Even if our sibling got us so upset that we wanted to kill him, that wasn’t considered a threat, though, with a straight face, the cop warned us against such an action. Then, like the previous cop, he suggested we get my brother evicted. When we admitted we were guests here, he said there was nothing we could do. “Well, there is one thing,” he said, then hesitated. “What?” I asked. “You could let him badly hurt you,” he responded.” Yeah, right, like I’m going to on purpose let him hurt me in order to get him out of here so he doesn’t hurt me.

As for the tires, he said she could file a complaint, and both she and my brother would have to show up in court. I explained that he wouldn’t show up, and the cop said the courts would swear out a warrant, and if they found him, would simply set a new date. I said he already had warrants for not showing up for court dates, and the cop shrugged. (He’d come wearing a bullet proof vest, which made his shrug very stiff.) Apparently, if my brother is ever arrested again, the old charges and the new charge would be combined and a new court date set. This could go on for years until he racks up more than $500,000 in warrants. (He’s only up to perhaps $10,000.)

So, here we are, barricaded in, the doorbell muted, while our brother roams around outside the house, like some sort of insane Wee Willie Winkie, “rapping at the window, crying through the lock.”

I had always held the thought of calling the cops as a mental safety net, knowing there was something I could do when he went totally out of control, but that mental safety net disappeared when the cop drove away.

The one interesting aspect of the conversation is that the cop said he never had guests. Never. His brother wanted to stay with him, and he refused. In this state, there is no way to get rid of guests who outstay their welcome, even if you’re a cop.

[For those of you who are following Ms. Cicy's Nightmare, don't be surprised if you see a truncated version of this post in the story.]

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

MS. CICY’S NIGHTMARE — Chapter 1e

Ms. Cicy's NighmareMs. Cicy’s Nightmare is a fictional work in progress set at a dance studio where I take classes. All the characters have real life counterparts (except perhaps me as the narrator. I’m not sure how real I am). I have everyone’s permission to use their names. Here’s hoping I end up with as many friends at the end of the project as I have now. If you’ve missed any of the story to date, you can find it here: Ms. Cicy’s Nightmare

***

“I don’t have any secrets,” Royann said. Royann is our lady in red — not only does she love the color, she is passionate, simulating, impetuous. Her zest for life keeps her on the move and keeps a huge smile on her animated face. But now, beneath her relentless optimism, I sensed a strain, as if she did indeed, have a secret she was keeping even from herself. Or perhaps the strain came from continued dealings with an ex-husband who had divorced her after forty-two years and seven children. He’d hidden their considerable assets so she ended up with only her social security and small pension, and he was trying to take those from her, too. Royann seems radiantly happy now that she’s remarried, and yet there is that telltale strain.

The exotic notes and strong percussion of Arabic music sounded in the studio. Cicy stretched with us then moved to the center of the floor and led us in a series of steps — figure eights with our hips, common motion, hip lifts, rond de jambes. Afterward, we practiced the dance we knew, the one we’d performed on stage.

As we danced, I thought how much I would miss Jan when she was gone, then I paused midstep. What the hell was wrong with me? I wasn’t going to kill Jan for real. It was a story, a game.

Ms. Cicy stopped the music. “You’re not together. When you dance in a group, Pat, the group has to act like one person. Let’s start again.”

To be continued . . .

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

MS. CICY’S NIGHTMARE — Chapter 1d

Ms. Cicy's NighmareMs. Cicy’s Nightmare is a fictional work in progress set at a dance studio where I take classes. All the characters have real life counterparts (except perhaps me as the narrator. I’m not sure how real I am). I have everyone’s permission to use their names. Here’s hoping I end up with as many friends at the end of the project as I have now. If you’ve missed any of the story to date, you can find it here: Ms. Cicy’s Nightmare

***

Although I took six classes from Ms. Cicy, I shared only one class with Jan, Arabic dancing. On Tuesday ballet class came first at 10:00am, and Arabic followed immediately after. While some of us were taking ballet, Jan had a different class with a different teacher, and she arrived at Ms. Cicy’s studio right after her other class, already dressed in her belly dance skirt.

Samm usually took ballet, but she missed class occasionally due to other obligations, and the morning I shot Jan’s photo was one of those occasions. A few others whom you have not yet met (I’m trying not to commit the unforgivable authorly sin of introducing too many characters at once, and I am failing miserably) came when their schedules permitted, but I’d never missed a Tuesday class. I don’t know what I hoped for — maybe grace or strength. I was too old to ever become a ballerina and I didn’t have a ballet body or even ballet feet. Ms. Cicy had to keep reminding me to point my toes, and when I stood on the balls of my feet, my heels barely lifted off the ground. Regardless of my shortcomings as a ballerina, I approached the class with all the dedication I could muster. I’d even made myself a black ballet skirt to put myself in the proper frame of mind and body.

After stowing my camera in my dance bag, I unwrapped my ballet skirt from around my waist and donned my orange and turquoise Arabic practice skirt. I stood at the barre and waited for class to begin. Samm found her place at the barre behind me.

“When did all this happen?” she asked.

I turned to face her. “When did what happen?”

“I don’t know how it all started with Jan. Was it your idea?”

Corkey had been silent during the picture taking and the between-class bustle, but now she spoke, sounding surprised at Samm’s question. “You were there. It started a couple of months ago when we all went to see the Trocks.” By “Trocks” she meant Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, a glorious and gloriously funny all male ballet troupe. “When we were at lunch before the show, someone mentioned that Pat was a writer. Jan suggested she write a book about us and even volunteered to be the victim.”

“Oh.” Samm slid one slim leg behind her in a deep lunge and stretched her body forward. “I sat at the other end of the table that day, so I didn’t know.”

“I didn’t know either,” Marilyn said. Marilyn was a quietly cheerful woman who seemed to take everything in stride despite the major losses she had suffered. Or maybe the loss of her husband and best friend had taught her to take things as they came. Either way, she was easy to talk to and easy to be around. “My son and grandson met me that day, and I ate with them.” Her greenish eyes twinkled with pixyish delight. “Maybe we should all tell Pat a secret that will come out during the story.”

Samm continued to stretch, and Corkey drew tendus on the floor with her properly pointed feet. Their so obvious non-response to Marilyn’s suggestion made me wonder what secrets they were hiding. Was it my obligation as a writer to pry out those secrets, or did my obligation as a friend demand that I leave them alone?

To be continued here: Chapter 1e

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

MS. CICY’S NIGHTMARE — Chapter 1c

Ms. Cicy's NighmareMs. Cicy’s Nightmare is a fictional work in progress set at a dance studio where I take classes. All the characters have real life counterparts (except perhaps me as the narrator. I’m not sure how real I am). I have everyone’s permission to use their names. Here’s hoping I end up with as many friends at the end of the project as I have now. If you’ve missed any of the story to date, you can find it here: Ms. Cicy’s Nightmare

***

Samm, a lithe woman of unknown years (unknown to me, that is) with wonderfully flawless dark skin, entered the dance studio. She was the type of woman who could randomly pull two or three unmatched items out of her closet and look as if she’d spent hours dressing herself for a Vogue photo shoot. That day she wore her purple practice skirt, which wrapped twice around her hips (mine barely wrapped once, if you must know), a maroon scarf tied into a turban-like affair, and a bluish-purple long-sleeved shirt with the tails tied at her waist. It wasn’t only her age Samm was quiet about, but her earlier years, too. Perhaps she had been a model at one time. Or maybe she had reason to be secretive — a woman with a sordid past.

Samm watched me take the photo of Jan in her death pose below the barre, then asked, “how are you going to get Jan into that exact position when she’s killed?”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” I admitted.

“Maybe she was trying to reach the barre so she could die dancing,” Samm said.

Jan gave a little laugh. “That’s too true to be funny.” Then, more seriously, she added, “Dying while dancing is how I’d like to go out. I just wouldn’t want to die on stage with all those people watching like a friend of mine did.”

Dying to Dance would be a good name for the book,” I said. “Or maybe Sashaying with Death. Or Death en Croix.

“Why does it have to be death.” Cicy said with a moue of distaste. Ms. Cicy is our teacher, a 77-year-old with the body of a woman half her age and the legs of a teenager. When she dances, you can almost see the years melt away, and she is young again.

“Maybe we could call it Ms. Cicy’s something,” I said

Ms. Cicy’s Nightmare.” Cicy giggled, sounding about seventeen. “Maybe you don’t really kill Jan. Maybe I wake up and find that I dreamt the whole thing.”

“Great title,” I said, hoping the teacher wouldn’t notice I didn’t comment on her idea about Jan’s death being a dream. It’s a time honored ending, of course, but I thought if I were going to go through the trouble of killing Jan, it should be for real.

Glee lit Cicy’s beautiful dark eyes. “I could be the murderess. I have experience.”

I felt my jaw drop. Cicy had experience with murder? It seemed impossible that anyone who danced with such expressive moves — moves that spoke of life — could have a history of violence.

“It was a murder weekend,” Cicy explained. “I was the murderess, a princess from a foreign country. I even wore a tiara.”

I blew out a breath of relief, glad I didn’t have to alter my impression of the dance teacher, at least not yet. “But why would you want to murder Jan?”

Cicy exchanged glances with Jan, who had risen and was smoothing her skirt. “Maybe she stole my choreography.”

I understood the need to protect one’s work any way one could, yet in truth, Cicy routinely gave us her choreography. Every step she taught gifted us with her work.

Still, such an irrational theft, as minor as it might seem to the danceless, could be a killing offense, especially if Jan were to give Cicy’s work to a rival instructor. (I’ve lost track of how many dance classes Jan took. Three or four from Ms. Cicy, and at least a couple more from other teachers. In the dance world, such promiscuousness could be motive enough for wanting someone dead.)

I am new to dance, but even I had experienced the deep emotions dredged up by dancing. In just a few short months, dancing had become a need, a pilgrimage, a soul quest.

“Do you know how long it will be before the cops get here,” I asked Jan, thinking how disappointed I would feel if class had to be cancelled.

“A long time. Maybe a couple of hours.”

That seemed excessive to me, but I figured Jan should know since her husband is a retired criminalist.

I looked around the dance studio. The place wasn’t large, perhaps fifteen feet wide by sixty feet long. Mirrors lined one long wall and a barre stretched across the opposite wall. A small nook at the back of the studio had been furnished as a miniscule waiting room, and a corner had been cordoned off with a counter and cabinet for an office. Pictures and posters hung on the walls, but other than that, the studio was empty.

“If we have to stay here for a couple of hours waiting for the cops, we might as well have a class,” I said. “The floor will be mostly bare since Jan’s body won’t take up much room, we’d be dressed for the occasion, and our minds would not yet have processed the truth. I like the idea of a group of aging women dancing in the face of death.”

By this time, the rest of the class had arrived. All eight women stared at me with various shades of disbelief, but I shrugged off their attitude. This was my story, my murder, and I could choreograph it any way I wished.

Jan shook her head with mock sadness. “I am truly hurt that no one will mourn me.”

“Of course, we’ll mourn you,” I told her. “But it will have to wait until after class.”

Jan smiled, but I don’t think she thought my comment funny.

To be continued here: Chapter 1d

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

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