Act Ambition

A few good folks have wondered where I’ve been, what I’ve been writing. While I continue to be in business as usual (solitude nirvana) mode, I could also say I’m in witless protection after passing through magical, mystical doors of contention… Several times, I started to blog about being a pandemic dissident, but restrained myself.

While people worldwide lament about lockdown and the false new normal phrase, I try to relate and fail. Graduation and proms, I boycotted both…and protested when my friends got a senior trip–to Viet Nam. I wondered if we should be filling out 2020 census now or later when…? I’m perplexed few remember the Hong Kong flu and not surprised so many don’t realize or accept we are all 99.5+% the same. DNA can’t tell race… A neighbor keeps playing Helter Shelter, while offering the season’s first Freud Green Tomatoes, and lamenting over lost things, especially illusions. Is this pandemic based on how dense the population is or how dense the population is? I better stop. It’s time for my anti-social meeting–though we never meet…

Meanwhile I have a crop of stories to offload. Part 3 of Demeter’s Delinquent Daughter rolls out next week. This is Chapter 1 of the subject title in which the suicide of a famous, reclusive French composer and poet in the Florida Keys turns a multi-tasking sassy lassy into a sleuth. If it was his ambition to die, she must know why. She sees parallels between the man’s death and Italian novelist, poet, and translator Caesar Pavase. Was it just a coincidence, the desperate act of a brokenhearted man, or something far more sinister? Cheers, Jo

Prologue: A Willful Act

May 2007, excerpt from Nora McGreer’s Baffling Bulb blogsite: The technicolor  Keys weren’t about cowardly lions, paper tigers, or bears; the Keys were about alligators lurking in mangrove swamps, moray eels stealing your lobster dinner, and etheric moments when you swam next to a giant sea turtle destined to become part of tomorrow’s soup at Turtle Crawls. Key West was most alive for me when I was among the fringe faction: gays, rebels, artistes, peddlers of the perverse—people that hadn’t conched over. When I imagined life through the lens of these ‘there’s only today’ purveyors, the view was sublime, and sometimes something out of a Herminie Bosch painting, but with swaying palm trees.

Only Bosch could have painted the bizarre landscape I saw that day in 1987 when I found the charred body of Hilaire Chaz Delacroix, the reclusive French songwriter whose rock ballads and commercial hits made Billboard’s Top 10 more than 50 times in the 60’s and 70’s. His slender book of dark, resilient poems sold over one million copies in Europe. In the US, Chaz’ poems was largely unknown. We should have known him. You should have known him—now I know what I do.

The local police said it was an obvious suicide. My intuition told me otherwise. This man couldn’t have willfully set himself on fire. In the weeks after discovering his remains, I exploited every source possible to uncover the truth. I called in a favor with the desk sergeant to obtain the police reports; I pinched Delacroix’s letters, sheet music, photos, and journals, and a stack of well annotated books piled on a bedside table in his rented bungalow. One of those books was the diary of a man who had committed suicide, Italian poet, translator, and novelist Cesare Pavase. At least, it’s been presumed Pavase committed suicide. He left a suicide note and an empty bottle of sleeping pills in his hotel room in Turin. But what seems obvious seldom is.

The troubled, extremely private man that lived two and a ½ blocks from the cigar maker’s bungalow my parents bought me as a college graduation present has been all but forgotten. He might have said it’s better that way. It’s been nearly 20 years since I learned the truth, sold my bungalow, and left the Keys. A new generation of singers and musicians still record his ballads. My heart squeezes into a fist like grip of remembrance every time I hear his remastered or reinvented songs, or find a copy of his solitary book of published poems in the $1 bin of a used bookstore.

Though I never met him, I came to love this complex genius of a man. He should be remembered, not just as someone that expressed the deepest thoughts and longings of a generation, but as a man dealt life’s cruelest blows over and over. Yet each time he was knocked down, he got back up and fashioned art from the dregs of misfortune, heartache, and adversity. He never once lashed out at his tormentors.

Pavase died before I was born, and I was a telling five hours too late to prevent Chaz Delacroix’s death. What soon became clear was that our lives were intertwined. I couldn’t save him, but he saved me. It’s my ambition to return the favor and save someone who’s reading this now, who’s been broken, abused, loved scarred, or simply too tired of this business of living to draw another breath. I’ve shared many stories with you on this blog post and as a writer for Eyes on Everyone, America’s Sunday night TV staple. This one’s personal, so keep breathing, keep reading. Pavase once wrote “We don’t free ourselves from something by avoiding it, only by living through it.” I’ve avoided telling this story long enough.

May 1982, excerpt from Chaz Delacroix’ journal: “Mon dieu, what if I simply quit le monde? No reason to linger dans endroit du pain et mauvaise souvenance. I write these words in English to practice its language. No longer can I bear to gaze on Superga and the hills of Piedmonte. The wine and bread taste of cardboard and straw. I have given notice and sail next week for a destination free of reminders. How could Cesare have stayed here? He was too accurate about women when he wrote Verra’ la morte e avra’ i tuoi occhi, so right. He should have done what I am doing. It might have saved him. Will it save me?”

May 1942, excerpt from Il Mestiere di Vivere (journal of Cesare Pavase): “In the mental disturbance and effort of writing, what sustains you is the certainty that on every page there is something left unsaid.

Act 1: An Act of Kindness

Nora The day I found him, I was initially drawn by the smell of burnt wood and what I thought was roasting pork. Charles Delcroix began killing himself well before the imprint of death and profound disillusionment registered on his face. First, he tried killing off parts of his body—his liver, brain, and heart. I estimate he drank perhaps as much as a fifth of vodka and a bottle of wine daily. On a modest day, he only smoked ten cigarettes. He also smoked wacky weed, snorted coke, and popped a variety of uppers and downers. Eventually, he caught on how it should be done. At age 43, he exited life in a most final way. It created a strange kind of alchemy; he turned poison into a magic potion.

We woke early that morning and drove to a favorite, sparsely inhabited key sporting a tangle of mango swamps and a fat crop of coconut palms. I was wearing little more than a snorkel, mask, and faded, teeny navy bikini. I hastily applied sunscreen to my face and shoulders as I hugged the left side of a deep canal, scouting for lobsters to take to a late afternoon cook-out. My trusty tickle stick enticed lobsters from their hidey holes, though I was careful not to poke the moray eels that also liked to linger in these crevices. York, my roommate and current lover, was swimming down current, close to where the canal emptied into the sea. I hoped he was avoiding the fire coral. The lightest brush draws blood and raises painful welts.

When I had three lobsters in my trap, I surfaced. The strong undercurrent had carried me several hundred yards from where we’d jumped in. I flipped over onto my back and half-floated, half kicked my way back to our jumping in point, towing the lobster trap with me. The wind had shifted and a strong smell of salt fishy air and burning wood mingled intriguingly with an odor redolent of roasting pork. Was someone camping nearby? I hoisted myself out of the water using a rope ladder specially designed for climbing in and out of steep canals. It was attached to a long rope we’d secured round a nearby palm. I left the trap of lobsters bobbing, then sinking into the water, hooked to the submerged part of the rope ladder, and grabbed the bottle of sunscreen I’d flung into the sandy scrub grass. Thin wisps of smoke rose from an area about 300 yards into thicker brush. I decided to investigate.

I yelled at York while slipping on a pair of worn sandals, and gingerly hopped down the overgrown coral and crushed shell path. Stunted silver palms begged for a drink of fresh water. I was intrigued by the curious odors. I should have been more cautious. The smells could have come from tourists roasting hot dogs or vagrants roasting whatever they could find or steal. I’d brought no weapon and hoped it was the former not the later I’d find; rather than calling out, I remained silent, adjusting my sandals so they wouldn’t make clicking sounds.

From a distance of about ten feet, part of a long, gray femur and a full ribcage protruded from the charred wood of the smoldering fire banked with a ring of darkened crushed and broken shells. Birds of prey cawed shrilly and circled overhead. My voice caught in my throat as I gazed at the blackened bones. The skull had rolled several feet from the fire and was partially hidden by charred scrub grass. However, part of the seared flesh of the lower jaw was discernable. The lips were blackened, but the expression on the corpses face was most peculiar; it could almost be described as “smug.

I must have started screaming because suddenly York was yelling and running towards me, barefoot, heedless of the sharp coral path. “It’s a man. I know it’s a man” I sobbed. “Someone’s burned him like, like he was a cannibal’s dinner, or a witch, or rubbish. Someone’s burned him.”

York gripped my shoulders, spun me round and grabbed either side of my sopping wet head. “What are you flapping your silly . . . Oh shit.” Over my shoulders he saw what I’d seen.

I buried my head in his chest. Bits of grey ash floated in the air. The breeze carried the ash our way. Further into the brush, York saw the gleam of polished metal. The intense sun was glancing off the fender of an expensive sports car. York pulled me back from the smoldering campfire, grabbed my hand, and started leading me towards where we’d left our motor scooters. Then he yelled at me to mount up.

“York, we’ve got to call the police.” Despite the bright glare of the sun, I was shivering like a slice of jelled aspic.

“I may be tan, but I ain’t half baked. That’s what I’m doing.” If you can’t ride, Mergirl, stay here. Don’t touch anything.” He slipped on a pair of battered canvas deck shoes and rocked the scooter forward off its stand. “I’ll be back with the fuzz.”

He called me Mergirl or Merrow more than he called me Nora. I had a minor physical defect called Zyodactyly, aka webbed fingers. The area between my big toe and the one next to it was similarly webbed. It never bothered me. In fact, I considered it an asset, which combined with my generously sized lungs, allowed me to swim rings round everyone else, and stay underwater longer. My parents had owned one of the lovely old painted lady gingerbread houses here and I spent many summers as a kid exploring Key West’s turquoise waters. Unfortunately, when the feds got self-righteous about the drug running in the early 80s and tried to block access to these isles, Key West declared itself the Conch Republic, and attempted to succeed from the Union. That was too much for my parents. They sold our grand old house and bought a place in Hilton Head. I protested the move so often and loudly they bought me a cigar maker’s cottage as a college graduation gift.

I was amazed York hadn’t cut his feet on the crushed shell path. At least, as I walked back to the campfire, I didn’t see any drops of blood, just some loose trash—balled up paper, part of a local flyer advertising drinks on the lagoon, a few candy wrappers, and a crumpled paper coffee carton.

Three years living in the Keys had toughened York’s feet and outlook. He’d arrived here with his southern rock band for a three night gig at one of the 232 bars on this tiny 3 mile isle dubbed the last resort. The band left, York stayed. The ladies loved his New England accent, long locks, and pearly whites. The manyana culture suited him; you could describe both York and Key West as carelessly charmng.

He had held a variety of jobs–driving the Conch Train, filling in when a local band needed an extra guitar player or singer, and occasionally signing on as a tour boat snorkel or scuba guide to the many shipwreck sites in the Keys. We met after he landed a job as a construction worker and handyman. I needed a new back porch and built in bookcases. Eventually he got the jobs done. Eventually he moved in with me. He wasn’t hard to look at, with his high Slavic cheekbones, dark winged eyebrows, sun streaked hair, and perpetual morning stubble. Sometimes he was, well handy.

Key West was once called Cayo Hueso, the Key of Bones. The tall, proud Calusa Indians that inhabited these keys were in touch with the spirit world. They were so powerful, other tribes sent tributes. Early explorers found burial mounds throughout the keys that were filled with bones, pottery shards, arrowheads, gold and silver ornaments, clay pipes… The ghosts of shipwrecked passengers, pirates, settlers and slaves, and those that got so key wasted they took a permanent dirt nap also inhabit and haunt this part of Florida. I’ve listened to the legends and tales for decades. That day I found the charred bones of Hilaire Chaz Delacroix I thought perhaps one of those tales about vengeful ghosts had come true.

York pushed the scooter to the limit—20 miles per hour, and five minutes later, pulled over at a pay phone outside a gas station and called the sheriff’s office. Fifteen minutes later, the sheriff and a deputy met York at the entrance to the canal where we’d been snorkeling; he directed them to the camp site.

While York was gone, I searched the car. I’d watched my share of detective shows on TV—Columbo, Magnum P.I., and Quincy MD, and read tons of books by Spillane and MacDonald. I used my tickle stick to poke through a few empty candy wrappers and newspapers crumpled on the backseat floorboard. I popped the trunk but it held nothing of interest. Then I tore off a piece of the newspaper and used it to open the glove box without leaving fingerprints. Inside I found a wallet containing a driver’s license, a local library and credit cards, a receipt for a paid utility bill, and about $35 cash. I looked at the driver’s picture and tried to mentally compare it to the blackened skull. I guessed it could be the same man. What a damn shame. He was a handsome man, with finely chiseled features, and a well-groomed mustache and goatee. Layered brown hair framed his face and curled under at the collar line; his eyes were deep brown; he weighed 185 pounds and was 5 foot, 9 inches tall.

Under the visor, I found a Polaroid photo of a grinning bleach blond woman wearing heavy black eye makeup. She was standing next to one of Key West’s fishing piers and holding a tall drink garnished with fruit. She wore a short, yellow flowered halter dress and high heels, bracelets on both wrists, dangling earrings, and a tangle of necklaces. I turned the photo over and saw the name Lydia in tiny ornate cursive writing. Penciled below I could barely make out the words “doesn’t it look like she could be perfection?” I thought perhaps with a full Hollywood makeover and a good plastic surgeon.  I took a long look and carefully put the picture back.

I was poking the smoking wood pile with a flimsy branch from a mangrove bush when York returned with the police. “He’s been burnt to a cinder. Who would do this?”

“You knew this man?” the sheriff asked.

“Hell no, sir, “York said, glancing at me. “She doesn’t even know if it is a man. Although, that does sort of look like a man’s skull; or maybe it’s just some big ol armadillo somebody barbequed.” York crossed his arms and shrugged his shoulders.

An ambulance arrived and two paramedics jumped out. I walked with the deputy over to the partially hidden car, a cream colored Cobra with a deep bronze racing stripe down the center of the hood. I peered over the deputy’s shoulder as he removed some papers from the glove box. A registration slip indicated the car belonged to Hilaire Chaz Delcroix. The home address was a street I knew well, just two and a 1/2 blocks from my bungalow. It matched the address I’d noted on his driver’s license.

The glove box also contained a pack of unopened foreign cigarettes, Gitanes, and a pair of worn brown leather driving gloves. The small trunk was bare, except for the empty two gallon can of gasoline. It suddenly registered. That must be what he used to set himself on fire. Then he neatly puts the can back in the truck? That didn’t make sense. Or was it what someone else used to set him on fire? The deputy looked at the picture attached to the visor. Then he looked at me and back at the picture.

“Really Officer? That skinny woman has a bad bleach job. I have light brown hair that’s been naturally lightened, with a little help from some key limes and chamomile. And you couldn’t call me scrawny or small boned. I doubt she even lives here, but I’d definitely consider her a suspect. Turn it over. Is there a name or any writing?”

I knew the deputy, at least. I’d served him drinks before, but couldn’t recall his name. He raised his eyebrows and asked if I’d touched anything. There was a newspaper smudge on the face of the glove compartment box.

With both hands on my hip, I said nope, and shook my head for good measure. He sighed and said this was the third suspicious death he’d investigated in recent weeks. Somebody found a dead cat draped over the branches of a Banyan Tree, and a few days ago, two folks digging for clams over on Big Pine, or maybe it was Cedar Keys, found skeletal remains in a shallow grave. The coroner estimated death occurred 2-3 months earlier. He asked me if I knew anything about those deaths.

I shrugged my shoulders, squinted, and wanted to tell him he was crazy. Instead, I said I hadn’t left Key West since May, when I’d flown to Savannah to visit my parents. He jotted something in his notebook, and I trotted back to my scooter, fumbling nervously in my canvas bag for my steno book and pen. I jotted down Charles’ name and address while the memory was fresh, the name on the back of the photo, and a few other details.

Sheriff Stingray Hayes arrived in a separate cruiser and talked with the deputy. Then he asked us a dozen questions, many the same ones the deputy had asked, and recorded our address and phone number. He told us to leave, but not to leave town.

I didn’t know much about our new sheriff. He was a Florida mainlander who’d worked for Miami Dade Vice, though he looked nothing like the actors on the similarly named TV show. He was about 6 foot, 2 or 3 inches tall, and I guessed he weighed 250-60 pounds. He’d gone soft around the middle, and wore his salt and pepper hair short, military style. The name Stingray came from the nasty device he used on those that ignored his warning or tried to run. He wielded a retractable whip with sharp, blood drawing barbs along the tail. Some locals said he rubbed it with rock salt so the sting would be extra painful.

York retrieved the lobster trap from the canal, tied it to my scooter, and took off without a word. I knew where he was going—to one of his favorite bars. Most likely, he was heading for 3 Eyed Jack’s, where he would regale his buddies with a much embellished and self important version of this morning’s grim adventure. I vowed to return and poke around some more. If this man did commit suicide, did he write a final note? Where was it? Could he accidently have set himself on fire? Or did he simply combust and burst into flames?

The sun was directly overhead as I drove back to my bungalow, anxious to wash away the roasting meat odor that seemed to permeate my hair and cling to my skin. I put the lobsters in a pan of water and rearranged a few items in the fridge to make space for the pan. This included removing a ½ empty bottle of chardonnay. The liquid glugged as it left the bottle and flowed into a tall cut-crystal glass. The glass had originally served as a flower vase for my mother’s spring garden cuttings. From my much thumbed music collection, I chose an old Brook Benton album and allowed his deep, dolorous voice to permeate every corner of the bungalow. By the time I’d showered and squeezed the sea water and grey ash remnants from my hair, the wine was gone and the record player had shut off.

I pulled out the paper on which I’d scribbled Delacroix’s address, and looked up his name in the local phone book. He wasn’t listed. Had he just arrived in the Keys or was he no longer at that address? What did it matter—I couldn’t call the dead.  I would have to putt over and check out the location, see if there was any family members or a friend living there. For what purpose, I didn’t know except to pay my respects.

Delacroix, wasn’t that the name of the Cajun prisoner at Cold Mountain Penitentiary in the movie The Green Mile? How peculiar—it was also the name of a famous French artist. On a shelf crammed with art books, I found one about the Romantic painters of France and Italy, and turned to the chapter on Eugene Delacroix. Amid samples of a few masterful paintings, there was a picture of the artist as a young man. The image bore an eerie resemblance to my corpse, or rather, the likeness I saw on his driver’s license. How very peculiar. Were they related?

Eugene Delacroix was alleged by several historians to be the illegitimate son of Tallyrand-Perigord, a French diplomat. Eugene was described as a skeptic and a dandy; many declared he was willful, clever, and tender all at the same time. He produced over 9000 works of art during his career. His friends included Alexander Hamilton and Baudelaire. Delacroix never married though he was a known womanizer. He may have had an affair with his devoted housekeeper; she was present at his death and given his self-portrait. Was a child born as a result of one of his dalliances? Speculation would have to wait. It was time to get ready for the cookout.


Though it was 90 degrees in the shade at 5pm, it seemed appropriate to dress in black for the cookout. I threw on a sleeveless tank top and shorts, and grabbed a pair of lace up espadrilles out of my closet. The sluggish, chilled lobsters slid calmly into a big plastic bag with a few inches of water. I grabbed a full bottle of chardonnay and carefully placed the bag and bottle in the basket at the front of my scooter. In less than 5 minutes I arrived at Rexhoda’s crib. I called it a crib because it was where York and his buddies hung out and cried about how badly the world was treating them while sucking down icy long necked beers.

I delivered the lobsters and wine to Rexhoda’s girlfriend and made myself a frozen Key West Margarita—3 shots of tequila, local lime juice and ice, and two shots of Grand Marnier. A few junior college colleagues waved hello and asked what I thought of the new wave of freshmen. I taught World History and American Literature classes, was an occasional news stringer for the local paper, and filled in as a bartender at several of the best joints in town. I shrugged my shoulders and waved back. I’d spotted Alma basting lobsters and skewers of shrimp and brightly colored veggies with a marinade.

We hadn’t spoken in months. She’d recently married an Episcopalian minister. Alma asked me to be her maid of honor and I’d refused, though I did try to explain why. I was happy for her, but not about the idea of long drawn out, archaic ceremonies. I was indifferent to the thought of marriage as anything more than a legal contract; it seemed disingenuous to take it seriously. I tapped her gently on her shoulder. “Alma, I apologize for being a wedding no show. How are you?”

She turned abruptly, and the basting brush painted my arm with dribbles of oily, herb flecked liquid. Without saying a word, she handed me a paper napkin. Then she hugged me before I’d sopped up all the liquid.

“Really, I’m so sorry I made you uncomfortable or that you thought I didn’t want to see you married and happy. I did, I do.” I detected the bare flicker of a smile and continued. “So how in Hades are you? How was the gathering, I mean your wedding?” I took a big slurp of my Margarita and immediately got a brain freeze headache that hit me right between my eyes. My mouth formed an O and my eyes began to water.

Alma laughed, and patted me on the back. “Oh dear, you look far more uncomfortable right now than I ever felt after you said no. Perhaps I was a bit of a Bridezilla. The planning did get out of hand; I knew weddings and churches have never been on your radar. Afterwards, I realized how uncomfortable you would have been at—the gathering. I guess I did lose my head for a while. I kept hoping you’d call me. Here, let me have a sip.”

My brain freeze faded, but was replaced with a feeling of nausea. I hadn’t eaten since York and I had stopped for a crack of dawn quick breakfast burrito and OJ on the way to the canal. “Alma, I’ve really missed you.” Then I just blurted out with, “this morning, we found a crispy critter body near the Mangrove swamps where we usually snorkel for lobsters.”

Alma took another swig of my Margarita. “Well, I was going to bore you with what you missed at the wedding but your news sounds far more intriguing.”

I swallowed and tried to dismiss the images that surfaced as I stared at and smelled the blackening lobsters and shrimp on the grill. “Oh, I don’t know; you see one dead body…Well anyway, I heard your bridesmaid’s looked like hooker Barbie’s and you could see right through their dresses to their thongs…”

Alma giggled, and added that instead of being pampered, she was the one that had to hold their hair back when two of her bridesmaids puked into the poinsettia bushes. At the mention of puke, I realized I needed to find the bathroom. I waved an index finger in apology and ran towards the house.

Inside, I splashed tap water from the kitchen sink on my face and held a damp towel to the back of my neck. In a few minutes, the nausea passed. What a day. Tomorrow the real fun begins. I grabbed a bottle of club soda and plunked a wedge of lime through the hole. Alma had finished grilling food and was scraping it with a wire brush.

She fetched me a plate containing a grilled chicken breast, a wedge of Cuban bread, and a vinegar based pasta salad with fat chunks of feta cheese, and said “eat, unless that is, you’re not…”

“No, I’m not preggers. Remember I had my tubes tied. It was the most gruesome thing I’ve ever seen, and the smell… The corpse, not the surgery.” We both chuckled.

“Yeah, York was talking to me earlier. He said the skull had separated from the body and rolled into the scrub grass. Was it some homeless person?”

I picked at my food and told Alma about the sports car, fancy cigarettes, and wallet I’d found. It belonged to Hilaire Chaz Delacroix. She stopped me in mid-sentence.

“You mean the crispy critter was our celebrity songwriter/poet recluse Chaz Delacroix? Oh no!”

Alma told me what she knew. About a year and a half ago, Chaz had been staying at a bed and breakfast but needed more privacy. Alma’s parents owned the local grocery store where he shopped. He asked her mother if she knew of any quiet cottage rentals; she told him her friend Dolores Roland had an available rental cottage. Dolores let him bring a gently used piano and swap out some of her wicker furniture for items he custom ordered from Miami. She also made him promise to give her son Kirk piano lessons.

Alma waited on him regularly at the store and then started delivering boxes of food, alcohol, and wine to his bungalow, which was right off Caroline Street. He tipped well. Chaz had also requested some gourmet items they didn’t usually carry—cornichons, Baba au Rhum in a tin, Cream Fraiche, dried herbs from Provence… They special ordered the items from Miami. He was grateful and gave her mother a beautiful necklace made of Tahitian Wild River pearls. Her father received a cedar cigar box engraved with his initials, and he gave Alma a Hermes silk scarf. “I just can’t believe he’s dead.”

While Alma rocked and moaned, my head spun. I asked her if she could introduce me to her mom’s landlady friend.

“When?” she asked.

“Tomorrow—please. So you knew him as Chaz. I’ll have to look him up at the library. I vaguely recall reading an article last year about song writers being the unsung heroes, so to speak, of music. I think he was mentioned in the article, and there was some scandal, a lover’s spat or fight over rights to a song; I can’t recall what it was.”

Alma rambled off a list of songs he’d written and names of famous rockers that had hits as a result. She thought he’d composed the music as well. She said he’d hung out with Johnny Burnett, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and a number of Hollywood A listers.

I didn’t have any classes scheduled the next day and Alma got an hour break for lunch. She agreed to meet me at the grocery store and I’d drive us to Chaz’ bungalow, about a mile away. I found York and told him I was going home. He blew me a kiss.

The used bookstore was still open; I scanned the reference aisle and found a few books on the 50s-60s roots of rock n roll, and one on singers and songwriters of the 60s-70s. In the poetry section, I was amazed to find a copy, in French, of a slender book of poetry by Chaz Delacroix. I also bought a French/English dictionary. My high school French was rusty. On the way to the front counter, I passed a General Non-Fiction section and added several more books on suicide and death to my pile.

At home I put the kettle on and shook loose English tea into my heirloom blue porcelain teapot. Tea always calmed me. I opened the book of poetry and picked one at random. I had translated the title as Dark Dirge; his poems were just that. I was surprised that I only had to look up a few words. The haunting last stanza of the poem Witch Bottle ended with: “…into the dark earth it went; my marks, my life, my little deaths; under the oak tree; marked with an X.” I translated and read a few more poems and shivered despite the infusion of hot tea. The rest of the books would have to wait until tomorrow. I turned on the porch light, turned out the kitchen light, threw my clothes onto the chaise lounge, and fell into bed.

Act 2: An Act of Conscience, to be continued…