So, now for character write ups aka dramatis personae
Grace Stroud – the dead woman. She had been a math teacher at the Manhattan center for science and mathematics, and that’s one reason she’d lived in Spanish Harlem for oh so many years.
She was born in Brooklyn, and had gone to Cooper Union and then got her PhD at Caltech. She’d decided – for no obvious reason- she was a fairly creative numerical analyst, and presumably could have taught in college – that was what some of her fellow grad students had said. She herself had decided as a child that the numerical analysis could happen at home. She was (she felt) intrinsically a loner. Later, in her thirties, it occurred to her that she was not so much a loner, as nervous about her sexuality. She was gay.
She’d continued a pleasant life however. She loathed teenagers, loathed teaching, and somehow loved teaching teenagers. At least they hadn’t yet given up on life (well many had but that didn’t occur to her until her late forties).
She didn’t like the boys, and no, not because she was a lesbian, but rather because so many of the boys were what she’d experienced from adult men as a child. She wasn’t pleased that they espoused violence and anger towards women. When they took too much of her time she could have cried.
She didn’t like the girls either – too many of them had bought into ideas of femininity that disgusted and frightened her. Yet maybe it was she who was wrong? Maybe it was the use of language? Because her girls – hundreds of them by the time she retired – her girls hadn’t had children at 15 (well one of them had, and she turned out to be brilliant), or rather her girls had become complete happy people.
Very few of the children she’d taught had been creative. Brilliant yes, successful, probably. Creative – Lavonda – she was a doozy of an theorem generator Makayla – she was an astro-physicist with interesting insights in planet formation There might have been others…
And then there were her lovers. Her wife had died young. She hadn’t remarried. She hadn’t had a lover in ten years by the time she was killed.
She wasn’t solitary, no, she had LouLou, and she had friends at the center at Isaacs (that was her favorite, even though it was more than a mile away) and she had the computations she’d loved through out her life.
The landlords: Manda, Juan-Carlos, and Maybelle. They were old now. They looked it, while displaying few of the obvious signs of aging. They were still beautiful. Odd, but beautiful. Because the eyes were now clouded, both by cataracts (and their removal) and by macular degeneration (well, that was only Maybelle), you couldn’t tell the original color. Probably brown, maybe hazel? blue? green? No, you couldn’t really tell.
Manda wears wigs you know. Most of her wigs were interesting shades of purple and burgundy. She’d always told herself that she looked best in henna, and she flattered herself that no one knew the difference. Perhaps if she’d bought new wigs as her hair thinned that would’ve been true. Juan-Carlos and Maybelle had hair that thinned and grayed. It still covered their skulls but was it combed over? was it treated? who knew? That’s how Juan-Carlos thought (when he thought at all). He tied himself to Maybelle, never noticing that now, as in their childhood, their youth, their prime — throughout their lives — Maybelle had a springy, wavy, mane. It hadn’t thinned, it was gray.
All three were unwrinkled. They’d shrunk with age, never having been tall to begin with, and now they were under 5 feet. Slim, slow moving, with opaque taupe skin. Again almost gray. Darker than their hair (paler than Manda’s wigs), but somehow, fuzzy – unclear.
Was the color the remains of endless seasons of tanning? – They had been wealthy Was it a gradual fading of darker melanin? – Was it an alien process that had taken over? – They were “gray”! Was it giant age spots covering them entirely?
Who knew? All that an observer could tell is that the three of them were slender, brownish, grayish, always together. Speaking in piping sopranos or rumbling bass. Not memorable. You couldn’t call the tones of any of their voices to mind. You’d hear them as a chorus, you’d see them as a unit. When you’d try to grasp a concrete detail it would fade away. What would be left was three cliched old people who somehow wouldn’t come into focus.
And as for character! Nasty. Grasping. Angry. Even at each other. With outsiders – that’s us – cold.
Again, it’s difficult for an outsider to tell them apart. The hazelish, brownish, almond eyes: Manda’s are slightly more narrow, Maybelle’s have a slight epicanthic fold. Maybe all three do? Tiny. Grumbling. Tight skin. Tight fists. Also tiny,