The Beatitudes - first chapter posted at www.beatitudesinneworleans.blogspot.com

Here's a taste and then you can go to my blog and read the chapter. Remember, if you decide to purchase the book, ALL ROYALTIES GO TO REBUILD THE PUBLIC LIBRARIES OF NEW ORLEANS. Libraries, where books live.

I

THE PURE OF HEART

To course across more kindly waters now

My talent’s little vessel lifts her sails,

leaving behind herself a sea so cruel;

Dante, Purgatorio

My best friend Pinch was murdered while I slept. The police reported that she was caught off guard, snuck up on, as Pinch would have said. I don’t believe that for one blasted minute. I

know she looked her killer in the eye, sized him up, laughed, then spit in his face. It all happened before my very eyes; I had dreamed about her death over the past year. The first dream came the morning after the murder of the first foster child. Marisa was found fully clothed, wrapped in a pink swaddling blanket, as though dreaming of many tomorrows and games and parties and toys; and then eight more dreams, eight more foster children murdered, all left on the trolleys of New Orleans; then again the same dream after the presumed murderer had been arrested; and finally the last one, after I had lost my job, accused of negligence in the care of two of the slain children under my charge. And when Pinch was butchered, my dream coming horrifyingly true, my life spinning out of control, I had, for the second time in my life, lost everything, lost control, was unwittingly blown away by the winds of a dispassionate fate. Or so I thought at the time.

Pinch, born Earline Washington, had been my friend and colleague in the social work department located in Greater New Orleans for almost five years. In a bureaucracy that seemed always under siege, its employees ceaselessly dispirited, Earline was one of the few welcoming faces I encountered when I started my first day as a social worker. I had the feeling that I had walked into a hive of Sisyphean slaves; but this woman’s splendid, dark face, embellished with green eyes and an earnest smile, captivated me immediately. My innate and all-consuming reticence vanished. It seemed a natural coming together, our early fraternity, as though we were soul mates. She called me Hannah love, and then our relationship grew to perfect friendship. We read each others’ thoughts, knew when the melancholy clouds of sorrow from our pasts had suddenly descended upon us, even as the bright nimbus of southern nights beckoned. All of my life I had experienced Sundowner’s Syndrome, but with Pinch the carmine shadows of evening became an event not without hope. We shared our failures as potential social saviors, but never allowed each other to give up.

She had grown up in a New Orleans housing project shamefully named Desire. Desire had been constructed in an isolated area northwest of greater New Orleans, bordered by industrial canals and railroad tracks. Pinch often recounted her nights as a young child lying on the floor under a matted blanket listening to gunshots in the night. Desire had been built in the late 40s over the Hideaway Club where Fats Domino had played his first gigs. Pinch swore she could hear Fats sing “My Blue Heaven” just for her. As Pinch’s childhood tumbled forward, she learned survival skills. By the age of twelve, she had tried just about every street drug going and stole to keep from going hungry, acquiring the nickname Pinch. She would have been doomed to a child’s death but for the help of an aged aunt. Pinch pulled herself up, finished high school, and made it through college by working sometimes two shifts as a housekeeper in seedy hotels that bordered the Ninth Ward. A city auditor once asked her why she hadn’t worked in the Lafayette Square District or the famous 625 St. Charles suites. “You could have paid for a Ph.D. with the tips alone.” And she replied: “Well, I guess ‘dis sista just feeling mo’ secure wid da brothers. Ozanam Inn be my place, homeless peoples and all.” Then she rubbed his arm. The poor guy broke out in a sweat, brushed his thinning hair back with an aged-spotted trembling hand, and looked at me for intervention. Later I asked Pinch why she’d stuck it to the auditor; she shrugged her shoulders and replied: “I guess just every once and a while I have to remind myself where I come from. Pride has many forms, love.” Pinch had overcome. She was the bravest person I ever knew.

My name is Hannah DuBois. I grew up on the banks of the bayous that run between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. This area was once God’s breeding ground, for it held the muck and stuff from which life evolved. But by the end of the Reagan Administration, fouled by oil, gas, and the rapacious march of progress, it came to be called Cancer Alley. My grandparents did not speak English, and my mother stopped talking altogether the night my father went to town for a beer and never came back. Like Pinch, I grew up poor; I was sixteen before I ate pizza, and saved almost every dime I made. I moved to New Orleans soon after my mother died, leaving the only home I had ever known; I exchanged the precious land for the urban jungle. My grandparents had left me a little money and a small monthly income from the Standard Gas Company, so I kept my promise to my long-gone father and enrolled in college. All of my money went to school and rent, and it seemed my hunger was unending. You can eat well in New Orleans if you find the right places, places where food was cheap, good and abundant. But I also loved junk food. I guess any food. My pockets were stuffed with crackers and sugar, mustard, and ketchup packets from fast food joints. “Want not” was my motto. So Pinch nicknamed me Scrimp. We made quite a pair.

In May of 2005, the New Orleans Social Services Department finally got divine guidance and mandated that all social workers had to have a partner. The division called it “the buddy system.” The new directive came as a result of what the Times-Picayune dubbed The Foster Child Murders. Nine children had been murdered in the last year; “suffocated tenderly,” said the Medical Examiner, “their baby bodies placed in the back seat of the city’s trolleys.” He continued in his clinically obtuse, yet lyrical, way, for which he was famous: “Fragile spirits fluttering into the moss latticed oaks, riding to God on the St. Charles line.” The children had already endured endless and unexplainable pain during their short time among brutal adults. Sexual abuse, torture, starvation, all criminal in their lack of connection with life. One of the trolley drivers, a black man who had worked the St. Charles Line for over forty years and had witnessed life on the mean streets, broke down in front of the cameras and wept. He said he saw a fine mist swirl around the child he had found, a little black girl of eight years old, the “dancing fog” vanishing into popping fireflies as he approached her. The same Medical Examiner, always around for public events, used the word “reposed,” saying that in all his years of working on the most vicious murders, this was the first time he was truly terrified. “When I cut them open,” he told a reporter, “I saw their little souls rise up, and then I heard a child giggle.” His name was Harlan Boudreaux and he retired after autopsying the ninth child.

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Comment by Karen J. Laubenstein on October 27, 2007 at 1:07pm
Okay, now I'm heading off to the blog to read the rest of the chapter... can't read this stuff and like, just stop. It's giving me goosebumps, though... and immediately liked Pinch, too, but oh, to know she's murdered! And those children?! I can see, though, why you got those five stars...

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