It’s difficult to do Yoga and plan a murder at the same time.
Along with my three classmates I’m in Tree pose. We are in a light-filed home studio situated on a ridge in Santa Barbara overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the Channel Islands. It is a spectacular view. But the ridge is caving in, and as we try to stay in the now by yoga breathing there are men in hardhats installing enormous steel I-beams into the crumbling hillside.
Our instructor tells us to focus on an unmoving object. We are standing on one leg with our hands in prayer position. Focusing will help us not to tip over. I focus on an outside wall that I pray is not moving.
The LAPD Detective has to die. That’s the problem. He is a son-of-a-bitch, but I like him.
“Stop clenching your jaw, Melodie,” the instructor tells me.
I try to unclamp my teeth. A gentle wind blows a flower near the wall. I begin to tilt sideways. Was it the flower or the wall moving? Then all four us seem to go like dominos and we laugh as we regain our balance.
Now we bend over, hands touching the floor, staring at our ankles. When did my ankles get wrinkles?
My jaw tenses. My novel has come to an absolute stop. “When in doubt have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.” Raymond Chandler gave this advice, slightly tongue-in-cheek, to writers who were blocked or stuck in the middle of a scene. I think it’s a brilliant observation. It’s Chandler at his best: sledgehammer imagery, witty, ironic, and right.
I need a man to come through the door with a gun in hand. To shock my novel into life. No. A woman. And not with a gun. Something more personal, intimate. A knife. It might be difficult to kill an LAPD detective with a knife. Element of surprise. The unexpected. But what about motivation?
We are on our hands and knees doing Cat Curls. I love this position. It doesn’t hurt my knees, my shoulders, my back, or my neck. Though my wrists feel a little sore. Who is this woman with a knife? It’s one thing to write about murder looking through a microscope, searching out the strands of DNA, the fingerprints, matching of the shattered bone pieces. But a good murder mystery novel should be enjoyed even if there is no solution, or denouement. Again Raymond Chandler. In other words it is the complexity of the story, the characters, and the good writing that counts. Not the DNA. Of course Chandler didn’t have to worry about forensics and the public fascination with the absolute truth it appears to bring to a case. He was dealing with a public who had been through WWII; who knew about the brutality and deep loss of death, not the lingering bits and pieces of it.
We are in Child pose. This pose is very much like the prayer position of Muslim men. I instinctively feel uncomfortable in this pose. My dormant Calvinistic roots begin to stir, telling me to get off the floor and sit up straight in a hard pew. Besides I’m a woman. I have breasts. They get in the way in this pose. I also feel like a traitor. I know this is irrational. I’m doing yoga. I am searching for inner peace, especially if I can’t have worldly peace. Why don’t we see Muslim women praying? Stay in the now, I tell myself.
A woman comes through the door with a knife in her hand. She has lost something so important to her it has transformed her into killer. What has she lost? A man she loved? A child? A way of life? Her own identity? Is she stripped of all freedom in the name of love and respect?
Now we rise up on our knees, our arms in the air, and then we bow back down. Not only does this kill my knees, but my Calvinistic roots are in complete rebellion.
This woman comes through the door with a knife in her hand. The man’s back is to her. She whispers his name. He turns. She slips the knife behind her. He doesn’t see it.
We are in Down Dog position. I have dogs so I know what this pose is supposed to look like. The closest I can get to it is the dopey look on my dog’s face.
The cop whispers her name and holds out his arms. She moves into his embrace. “You have forgiven me.” No, no. Too arched. “You forgive me?” he asks. “You must forgive me.” A demand.
We are on our backs. Stretching our legs in the air.
“Relax your shoulders, Melodie.” My instructor’s gentle voice reminds me. How do you relax your shoulders? It’s like trying to relax your elbows or your ears.
“Stay in the present,” she announces. “Don’t let your mind wander to the past or the future.”
I am aware of my heart beating. This is the present. “My heart is my least vulnerable area.” Claude Raines. Casablanca. Stop thinking. Embrace the nothingness. I can’t. I fear the void. I think that’s why I’m a writer.
She feels her heart beating. She knows it’s the last time she’ll feel vulnerable. The last time to feel human. She cannot forgive. In her own sick way she is trying to bring a morality back into her life. That’s what she wants. Morality.
We lie down and cover ourselves with white blankets. We put on lavender colored eye mask to block out the California light. This is Savasana, sometimes called the Corpse pose. The only sounds come from outside: the ding, ding, dinging of a large truck in reverse. And the pounding of steel beams into earth: thud, thud. We lie in repose each in our own dark peace.
She kills him. She jerks her arm back and thrusts the knife into the softest part of his belly. It is revenge. It is redemption. And her own demise. She tries to cover up the murder, tries to live out a shadow life. She pretends she is still a human being with a soul. But my private detective finds her. Private detectives always do. That is the inevitable beauty of the mystery novel.
When I get home I will sit down at the computer and give this woman, who came though the door with a knife in her hand, her own name, her own history. I will grow to like her. Then I will grow to hate her sick power of death. And I will have created her.
We sit up and bow our heads and clasp our hands in prayer. And whisper: “peace, peace, peace.”
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