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Goodwin & Coyle – Baltimore Ekphrasis Project

Juliette Goodwin and Caryn Coyle traded art and words. Juliette shared this image, entitled “Camera Morte,” with Caryn:

camera-morte-JulietteGIn response, Caryn wrote this story:

Discarded Roses

More than a dozen roses were left in the back seat of the limousine.  They were discarded, falling over the floor and seat, covered in blood.

They were not the first bouquet of roses given to her that day.  The others were yellow.  But in Dallas, the roses were red.

She held them against her pink suit.  A round, pink hat, secured with a pin, was on her head.
She had come to Texas with her husband as a testimony of their replenished bond.  They had survived the latest crisis in their decade of marriage; the loss of a newborn three months before.

She placed the roses between them on the back seat of the 1961 Lincoln convertible.  Their aroma was strong, almost sweet.  She lifted her head, her eyes in dark sunglasses, and lost the scent of the roses.

Her husband asked her to remove her sunglasses.  The people lining the streets to greet them couldn’t see her, he said.

He waved and nodded at the crowds, smiling, confident.  When he brought both hands up in fists, under his chin, he turned toward her, startled, confused.  Over the bouquet of roses she grabbed his arm, her hands in white gloves.   She could no longer smell the flowers.

An explosion of gunfire ruptured his head, inches from hers.  Fragments of him covered the back seat of the car.

His blood filled her navy pumps.  It soaked the skirt of her pink suit.  She grabbed at the air, trying to catch pieces of his skull.

Someone tried to help her, climbing over the Lincoln’s shiny blue trunk.   The limousine sped away from Dealey Plaza.  An American flag whipped in the air from the front bumper along with the flag of the Seal of the President of the United States.

He was dead.  She could see what was left of his head.  Much of his brain was gone.

There was chaos at the hospital.  Shouting.  Rifles drawn to protect them.  Blood.

The roses forgotten, she followed the gurney with her husband’s body through the hospital doors behind a crowd of dark suits.

She was numb.  Her feet were slippery in the blood filled shoes.  Her nylons were sticky.  Her white gloves were red with blood.

She sat outside the closed door to Parkland’s Trauma Room One.  Her chest vibrated.  Her eyes, wet.  She could hear the muffled voices of nurses, doctors.  The mechanical noises of machines.

She would not cry.  Accepting a paper cup of tap water, she concentrated on holding it; determined to keep it steady on her lips.

She was asked if she would change her clothes and she shook her head.  Yanking at her pillbox hat, a few strands of her dark hair tore from her scalp.

She stood beside the new president on Air Force One, wearing the stained suit.  Her hands clasped in front of her, she thought of the roses; magnificent red blooms in the midday sun.

* * * * *

Caryn shared this short story with Juliette:


Bob Dylan is singing I Want You on your cassette player and you are sorry that you have turned onto this street of rowhouses. You are annoyed. Homebound. Traffic has stopped on the main road and this is the last mile and a half of your commute.

On this street – many years ago — the one you wanted drove a Fiat Spider and Dylan’s song was playing on a classic radio station. You search for the rowhouse you visited that day. They are grouped together under one continuous slate roof. Each house shares a wall with the next and a trio of windows, trimmed in white, beside the front door.

There is a hill on your right. The houses are set back from the road, resting higher than you, as you slowly drive past them. You are looking for the steps that are too many to count. They lead from the sidewalk to the front path of the rowhouse for which you are searching. You have climbed them twice in your life and you cannot remember which set of steps they are.

The first time you were here, you were in college. The one you wanted had brought you to this street to introduce you to his best friend, who lived in the rowhouse. On the steps you cannot find, he gently pulled a strand of your hair off your face. “You are so beautiful,” he whispered. Raising your hair in his fingers, he dropped it behind your shoulder.

You kissed him on the cement stairs. He tasted of clear water. Clean. You had never kissed a man who tasted as pure as he did. Your mind soared. Suddenly, you got it. Why Dylan sang about desire, longing. You were no longer living in the same world you were before you kissed him.

The one you wanted held your hand and you followed him along the front path. Stood with him while he knocked on the door. Waited in the foyer, politely declining an offer of coconut cake from his friend’s mother. The front stairway’s banister ended with a wooden ball on which his friend’s father rested his hand. He yelled up the stairs that the friend had company. You sat on the living room couch with the one you wanted who stroked the small of your back in a place that his friend could not see. The thought of it, even now, tingles. He caressed your skin, over and over, like he was waving at you. The warmth he generated has stayed with you for twenty-five years.

When your romance ended, you were destroyed; unable to listen to I Want You.

Months after you graduated, you let the friend of the one you wanted seduce you. He had left home and lived on the second floor of an ancient rowhouse. It had cracked marble steps leading to its front door. Marble steps that he told you Billie Holiday once scrubbed with a bucket of soapy water and a brush. Pulling you onto an unmade bed that smelled of mold, his kiss tasted of saliva. Salty. His spit stung as it dried on your lips.

When you returned to the rowhouse on this street, five years had passed. His father, who had become a widower, was the only one living in it.

Maybe it’s the Blonde on Blonde CD you are now playing that makes you search for the rowhouse. They all look the same: brick. Two stories. You rule out the houses on flat land. They do not have the cement stairs.

The second and last time you visited the rowhouse, your daughter came with you. She’s in college now. You think back, remembering the climb up those steps you can no longer recognize. She was heavy in your arms, three months old. The friend of the one you wanted did not come with you to introduce your daughter to her grandfather.

Unable to distinguish which house it is, you turn off the street, onto another that is clear of traffic.

In response, Juliette made this image, entitled “Rowhouse Dream”:


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