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Joseph's Courtyard

By M. A. Eppolito


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Copyright 2000 M.A. Eppolito



“The problem, cara mia, is truth.  Truth is faceted,  like the cut of a fine colourless diamond,  no matter how it’s turned you can see through to the other angles.  Both right and wrong glare in equal proportions.”  He said wiping a brush across his thigh, leaving a trail of yellow on the denim.  His voice is an accented english veined with Polish vowels and Italian consonants rang off the uneven geometry of the courtyard.   “So how do I show all of the truth?   Tell my history and be able to face it.”   So cara am I to be the antagonist or the protagonist?”  Kneeling down to pick up a red plastic cup half full with deep aqua marine paint, pulling a fine tipped brush from his hip pocket and staring at the wall before turning to look at the rest of the courtyard.  An adopted spit of space, a raged threshold between concentric worlds.   Leaning back in toward the wall he was working on he said,


“Well, Molly,  am I the good guy or the bad guy?”  A sad smile graced his mouth.


Molly looked past the paint smeared bulk of Joseph’s body to the walls and the series of murals in various stages of completion.  The first is of dark mountains of black and silver at the horizon looming over a village on market day.  People fill the streets, picking over stands full of vegetables, meats, and flowers.  Church and school sit side by side on the far end of the village.  A thin woman dressed in mourning black looks over her shoulder towards the viewer as she walks up the steps leading to the church.   In the school yard seven girls in dresses the colour of spring, play.  Cobbled streets lined by small brown roofed homes.  


Out of all the figures in this mural the woman at the church and the little girls at the school are the most detailed, the most human.  The most remembered.  Faces of sorrow and joy.   In a mosaic of line and colour this first mural has a gritty  George Seurat style; hard lines of mathematically perfect proportions inlayed with soft dots of colour, nearly like photographic grain intensified.  Light and dark pulling and blending together. Hard to see close up but when Molly took a few steps back from the wall the mural came together, lines and dots, highlights and shadow combine to tell of a small polish village on the late twenties.  


Finishing the village are small interlocking mosaics of Italy.  From Mediterranean waves to the canals of Venice, water flowed easily between the vignettes to create a delicate blue gold frame.


The next section of wall is blank but for a few stress cracks in the stucco. A five by ten block of vacant grey wall book-ended by the village scene and the next mural, still in the beginning stages.  Only hectic bold out-lines, a bold sketch of New York.  New York of the late 1940's .  Though this section was still in an embryonic stage of black lines and grey wall, Molly could  feel the energy leaping off  the wall.  It was tooth jangling. Overwhelming jubilation.  Completely exhilarating.  Molly imagined  this wall finished; huge patches of  immodest colour.  An electrifying encompassing the Bowery, Chinatown,  little Italy,  the Bronx and Broadway   Jazz and taxis’s.  The way Beauford Delany had captured his New York of the 1930's and 1940's. 


The main focus is to be and apartment building.  Windows like thresholds holding time in-between worlds open into dioramas of life beyond polite wall paper of life off the front stoop.  Key hole insights into long condemned families.  All but six.  They were blank grey patches between sex hate and love. 



Molly knew little of his background, this man with Walt Whitman hair and beard, kind blue eyes and a tattoo on his forearm.  Though Joseph was still a puzzle box of a man Molly had guessed enough over the years of their friendship to realize that the dead spaces were those truths he spoke of .  The places in his life where he would be either the white hat or the black hat.



As painful as the wasteland places in the murals was to see, like huge burns scars, ropy while bits of narrative for the girl the quick glimpses of the once black fading to green numbers of his forearm broke her heart.   Sending shards of nausea into her stomach.  The murals were simply paint smeared over rude walls open to interpretations.  Flexible.  But his forearm, the numbers tattooed in the tender flesh were unmistakable concrete. 



  Joseph’s eight year old arm was held tight while a needle imbedded five numbers in his skin deep enough to draw blood,  beginning three years of torment.  The fact of Joseph’s forearm allows a brief glimpses of his life during the war.  So different form the stories told by Molly’s grandparents.  Days of victory gardens and ration books.  His war encompassed;  Horror.  Liberation.  Exodus.  Finally Immigration.  The rest was just a gathering of frayed threads picked from the weaves of conversations that floated in the bookstore that worked as the entrance to the courtyard. The years in New York and a tumultuous eight year marriage that ended, badly, in the early sixties.  Leaving behind a home and four raging  children that will suckle on the pap of an unfulfilled childhood well into old age. Another relocation.  Another marriage.  Lives shifting and changing in orbits of uncommon gravitation. 


Molly looked around the courtyard born out of an imperfect mating of four building.  Watching the shadows beginning to grow out of the corners.  Weeds shifting under the fingers of a light breeze.  Then back to the wall.   Reading the finished mural,  the newly born piece , the blank sections where his story will continue, finally where the grey blocks wait to be unlocked.  Wanting to be faced and finally excepted.  Then she saw it, the truth , whispering form the walls.  Swallowing hard she  heard a hard click at the back of her throat.  A shiver ran down the muscles Molly’s.  Her eyes burning with emotion she quickly brushed a tear from her cheek.  She  turned her deep green eyes to his  winter blue and said in an emotional voice,



“Both. You’re both. Just like the rest of us. Unfortunately it’s something you’ll have to live with, being both the good guy and the bad guy of you life.  That’s what it’s like to be a human.  So finish the murals and let the rest of us in. “


Joseph leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on her cheek, wiry bristle brushing against her skin.  Her tears mingling with his salt and pepper beared. 



“Thank you cara.” he said then returned to his work


Molly sat down on the concrete, a thin pale girl ringed by red plastic cups full of paint and watched the man with the tatoo finish the beginning of his history.


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