For the past two weeks I’ve been watching an episode of Foyle’s War every day (sometimes two). New episodes are coming up on PBS and I’m anxious for summer to end—enough with this unbearable heat and humidity, weather that makes a cup of tea impossible, even with the a/c on. Soon my friends and I will resume our Sunday evening tea parties as we watch Downton Abbey or whatever else comes on Masterpiece Theater. I wasn’t interested in crime novels as a young reader; I may have picked up a couple of Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys books, but I preferred fantastic stories about Narnia and other faraway worlds (where creatures still made time for tea). These days crime dramas are all I seem to watch and all, with the exception of Law & Order, are set in the UK. Death in Paradise is set in Guadeloupe but the star is an uptight British detective who hates everything about the Caribbean (the blazing hot sun, the roosters invading his home, the vibrant colors splashed on houses and boats and bodies) and yet the efficient white male manages to solve crimes that baffle the unsophisticated local police (who are black, of course). As problematic as the show is, I do watch it every week and will be interested to see the new star—another white detective will have to be sent from London since the tropical climate really did overwhelm actor Ben Miller. My grandfather was a policeman in St. Kitts-Nevis and Antigua and I imagine he looked quite handsome in his uniform. Apparently he made quite an impression on the ladies, which explains (at least in part) the three or four children he fathered before marrying and migrating to Canada in the 1950s. I’ve often wondered whether my grandfather had anything to do with the institutionalization of my grandmother, Rosetta Elliott. He had a child with her in 1941 and five years later she was committed to the asylum. Today I got an email from the civil registry in Antigua letting me know that a search was conducted for 1955, ’56, and ’57 but no death certificate was found for Rosetta. So it seems that, contrary to family lore, she did not die in Antigua in 1956. She could have died earlier, I suppose. Or perhaps she didn’t die in the asylum after all—maybe she was released and simply decided not to go back to Nevis. Maybe people lied to my father and my aunt, thinking it was best for them to believe their mother was dead. For all I know, Rosetta could still be alive somewhere. I don’t have a team of detectives to work the case. I don’t have any witnesses to testify on her behalf. I suppose that’s the appeal of crime dramas—you know that at the end of the show, all the loose ends will be woven together into a believable account. The guilty party will be held responsible and/or punished, and the injured party will receive justice. But it’s never so tidy in real life. People lie or misremember the facts, records vanish or get swept into the sea by a hurricane, and as a result you’re left with only a distortion. Which made me think of Billie Holiday and these lines from “Canary” by Rita Dove:
Fact is, the invention of women under siegehas been to sharpen love in the service of myth.If you can’t be free, be a mystery.