An Introduction to “Murder by Any Other Name”

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Photo: copyright 2011, Janet Brantley
Front Beach, Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Something was coming but I didn’t know what, and that not knowing had sent me here this evening after work – to the beach in Ocean Springs, where I could watch the balloon of golden sun setting over toward Texas.

I had parked Bernice, my little red Beetle, in one of the pull-offs, taken off my sandals, grabbed a quilt, and set out to find the perfect spot to watch another of our glorious sunsets.

On this Thursday afternoon, I needed solitude though I wasn’t sure why. My day at work at the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency had been easy and without controversy. This didn’t feel like it had anything to do with work, anyway. The person on my mind, the one who’d been on my mind all day, was Richie.

I stepped out onto the toasty sand, enjoying the feel of it squishing between my toes, and headed west down Front Beach, our rather quiet little piece of sand across the Bay Bridge from Biloxi. Reaching an empty spot, I dropped my quilt in a heap and strolled down to the water’s edge, where I could step off into the cool sand, damp from the incoming surf.

The waves were gentle this afternoon, so gentle dozens of fiddler crabs were skittering in and out of the water as the tide moved ever closer to their temporary homes. These tiny, almost translucent creatures with one giant claw always amazed and amused me.

I bent over to watch one industrious denizen of the beach racing up the sand to burrow out a new home – only to have the next wave crash on top of him. His home was swept out from over him, and he scurried a bit farther inland, burrowing in again, acting for all the world as if he believed the previous wave had surely been the last one.

“You poor devil,” I said. “You just never learn the lesson, do you? Sometimes we humans don’t learn our lessons, either.”

At the sound of my voice, a noisy flock of seagulls swooped down, circling about my head demanding sustenance. “Feed me!” they all shouted in unison, reminding me of the carnivorous plant in “The Little Shop of Horrors.” I waved an arm, trying to shoo the pesky birds away so I could have the peace and quiet I craved this afternoon.

When the flock finally decided they’d probably do better elsewhere, I meandered back to my quilt, shook it out in the evening breeze, and laid it back onto the warm sand, settling myself on top of it. I was glad my work clothes were casual – brown capris, a beige Henley shirt with our agency’s name, and a cap with matching logo. As usual, my longish, straight black hair was caught up in a high ponytail I’d pulled through the opening at the rear of the cap. For all of my twenty-eight years, I admit I still looked more like a teenager than a twenty-eight-year-old woman.

I had felt progressively more anxious as the afternoon wore on, and now, sitting quietly, my mind raced with possible reasons for my unease. The women in my family were known for their premonitions. Aunt Bess had a vision of Uncle Joe lying on a sidewalk, not moving – just a few hours before she got a call from his work place telling her he’d been taken to the hospital with an apparent heart attack. By the time she got there, he was already dead. That’s just one instance; there have been more.
Sometimes we just get a “feeling” something weird is on the way.

And it doesn’t even have to be something bad. We might have a thought out of the blue that someone we haven’t seen in a long while is nearby, and then the phone or doorbell will ring and there they’ll be. This can be a worrisome experience, this seeming glimpse into the near future. My brother Richie just makes fun of Mom and me when we talk about things like that.

“You women are really something, you know that?” he said to us last year after we compared notes and found we’d both had dreams about my cousin Glynnis up in Oklahoma. But we had the last laugh, because Glynnis phoned the next day to tell me she was coming down for a visit the next week.

I guess what was causing me so much uneasiness this afternoon was that I kept thinking of Richie, which of course made me worry he was in danger. I didn’t think I could stand it if something happened to him. He’s my big brother, and he’s always looked out for me, despite his penchant for laughing at my many hang-ups.

And I have lots of those. I have occasional anxiety attacks that’ve been known to put me on the phone at two in the morning calling Richie, just so he can talk to me while I wait for my “two beer pill” to take effect. That’s what I call my anti-anxiety medication. Richie never ever laughs at me when I call in a panic, heart racing, hardly able to control my tears enough to let him know what has set me off this time.

Last time I called about three in the morning. Richie took the phone downstairs and started chatting about the last movie he’d seen, and describing the antics of his four-year-old son, Owen, at his T-ball practice. God, I love my brother.

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