he Graveyard Orchids
Georgetown has warped, but Oak Hill Cemetery has remained the same.
In the 1850s, William Corcoran oversaw the cemetery’s creation: a church and knobbly tombstones. In those days you could see the river.
Trees fell down. The smog rolled in. Cramped townhouses swelled around the graveyard: the only swatch of quilt in Georgetown still green. Georgetown, the dirty district where buildings sobbed. If you climbed over the fence, in the bushes behind Frederick Aiken’s tombstone, on a full moon, you can find the graveyard orchids smelling of musk, arsenic, and orange peel.
We ripped down the slums. Townhouse stores rose along the river, beautiful, climbing the hill from the perfumery all the way to the graveyard. At the top of the hill, you can still uncover the graveyard orchids, tender and fragrant from the soil’s juices.
We natives smell like Georgetown.
Women only enter the perfumery to fix things that are already broken.
Silda Spitzer, that governor’s wife, tapped her fingers on the perfumist’s counter, her blouse starched and her shoes clean. The perfumist squatted over his bottles, sniggering as he worked. He shocked a bundle of charcoal orchids in ice water to extract their scent. He blended it with amber and a touch of coffee.
A week later the scandal would break, the prostitutes coming down from New York to Washington’s golden Mayflower Hotel.
We natives smell like Georgetown; we know what the death of things smells like.