Rudy went straight to the kitchen to prepare Sunday dinner. His menu plans included baked chicken with wine, extra garlic, and fresh rosemary, sautéed collard greens with a dash of brown sugar, rice with almond slices and fresh-baked bread compliments of the bread machine. Dessert was banana pudding made with vanilla wafers and banana Jell-O pudding mix. The smell wafted through the house and covered up the bitterness of the earlier church incident for Aria. Dinner was “served promptly at 5:00 p.m.”
The incidents in church, and Kiev’s placement in out of the house created some uneasiness. As she dialed her phone she thought of her baby birds, and her mother.
Aria dialed her cell phone, “Hello Oma. I’m fine. How is Opa? How’s the baby bird three – still being a nusance at the wondow. Everything is okay here. Have you heard anything? No, no one just yet. I know you and Opa love me, but I can’t just buy a ticket and come home. He hasn’t left and he won’t. He loves me too Oma. Everything will be okay Oma. Let’s give it a little more time. Okay. I’ll talk to you soon. Ciao, beijos.” Oma probably had a couple of more things to say, but what she was asking her to do was making her feel unsettled and scared. Instead of leaving her feeling anchored, like she wanted, the phone call left her feeling responsible for solving everyone’s discomforts, assuring everyone of the lie that she was okay.
It was time to pretend again, which started with getting dressed. Deciding on attire wasn’t too difficult. The white Ecuadorian smock with red and blue embroidery around the collar matched with the grey satin pantaloons gathered at the knee. The synergy the red sandals added to the red birds on the collar pulled the outfit together. Pinning back her hair, the coils rested mostly on the back of her neck. Finally, Mildred Rhone’s royal blue satin pill hat. She took to checking each hat’s brim, hoping to find any other love notes from her grandpa. No such luck with this one.
She admired her outfit in the mirror. It was clever the way the fabric of the hat and the pants matched. At least some things make sense.
She plopped down in the oversized easy chair and the cushions exhaled. It was four o’clock and she needed to burn some time. She’d started Zora Neale Houston’s biography about two days earlier. Ms. Hurston wore a felt hat tipped slightly to one side, her short hair neatly framing the rest of her face. She was an anthropologist who liked to study other people’s lives and write about them. Apparently, it was rare for a woman, especially a black woman, to go around recording and observing people. Aria compared her film to Ms. Hurston’s typewriter. Ms. Hurston, Aria thought, seemed a lot more fearless than Aria.
Four thirty and the clock on the wall ticked too loudly. She laid the book in her lap, fifteen minutes later. “L-w-a-r-c, l-w-a-r-c. It’s alright, there are only two new ones. You’ll be okay. Her fingers danced.
At four forty-five the doorbell rang. Trish’s screechy voice welcomed Elias and his date. Bounding footsteps and an occasional extra thud amplified and reached the door of her room.
“Hey peanut, it’s your Uncle Elias. I want you to meet Heather-Celeste or H-C for short.”
Weighed down by fear, she slid off the chair and made her way to the door. Her body moved forward, but she dug her nails into the chair for anchor.
“Come on, I can’t wait for her to meet my favorite niece,” he said. Her body won as it always did.
The handle of the camera slid effortlessly into her grasp as she followed his momentum downstairs. Elias’ tail bounced down the steps as they went. Heather-Celeste, the willowy woman in one of the pictures, stood in the living room talking with Trish. Aria’s heart skipped a beat. Mesmerized for no reason she could articulate, she thought she felt what a hummingbird feels upon finding nectar, I’ve found my red-fluted flower. Simply lovely, like the smell of resin that leads to satisfaction and sticks in one’s primary sensory cortex. She estimated H-C’s age to be the same as her mother’s, the last time Aria had seen her. Her eyes seemed to carry the same capacity to love deeply. Raising the camera to film, Aria bobbed from behind the screen like a cuckoo clock.
Trish gave Aria a once-over, cocked her lip and shook her head. Noticing, Aria felt slightly smaller but was not deterred from admiring Heather-Celeste.
“It is so nice to finally meet you. You can call me H-C,” she said. Trish curled her lips. Her pink and brown gums exposed made her teeth look longer. H-C didn’t seem bothered in the least by the camera.
“So, how are you enjoying yourself?” asked H-C.
H-C’s voice sounded pretty, like poetry. The magic must be in the shape of her mouth. The forms she created with her lips as she spoke were like fluid magic. Aria’s body relaxed, forgetting everyone else present in the room and her personal oath not to get comfortable around these people.
“Ha!” Trish delighted. She returned her focus back to the conversation.
“I am. It’s nice to meet my family. Are you part of the family?’ Aria asked.
Trish smiled accompanied by another snort. H-C glanced at Elias. He sauntered out of the living room.
“Well, not by blood or legally. Sometimes your closest family doesn’t necessarily come from blood bonds. Family is a group of people creating stories together, that means spending time together.” answered H-C. “Aria, your accent is charming. It almost sounds Russian.”
Feeling guilty about the immediate affection she felt for H-C, she turned slightly away and looked down at her camera. It was like a breach of allegiance to her mother.
Sasha arrived with his cello at 4:50 p.m., as usual in low emotive form.
Back in Germany, one of Aria’s relatives traveled to Japan and brought her back a paper weight. An octahedral block of acrylic holding a poppy at optimal bloom suspended inside. Sasha reminded her of that flower. There was something painfully beautiful underneath the scars on his wrists.
“Aria, want to help me find Kiev for dinner?” H-C interrupted Aria’s long-held stare at Sasha.
“Sure.” I’d follow you anywhere H-C. Blushing, her latte complexion brightened to a rose hue as she traipsed after her.
“You know Sasha is an opera singer and a musician. You should see and hear him play. He comes to life,” H-C explained.
“Really?” The camera lowered.
“I think he’s had an interesting life. You know people adapt to the world by different means. Some have lucky charms or talismans to protect them, others turn to religion, others close themselves off from the world the best they can, and some live in their own worlds like Sasha and Kiev. There’s as many ways as there are people, I guess.”
Some run away, Aria thought about both her father and mother.
They went into Kiev’s house entering without knocking. He was in the kitchen.
“Hello Kiev. It’s nice to see you again,” H-C said. There was a unique brightness in his face, his body relaxed. “Dinner’s ready, would you like to come with us?” H-C held her hands grasped in front of her, waiting for an indication. Kiev set the glass he was holding on the counter and moved towards them. He turned sideways as he neared, facing the wall as he scooted by.
The three of them moved as a unit through the backyard, to the kitchen and into the dining room. No one spoke, no one had to.
“Well, well, what were you three doing? Bonding over shiny objects?” Rudy joked.
Trish laughed and nodded.
Sitting next to Sasha, Aria won another disapproving glance from Trish. She’s got it in for me. Kiev plopped down next to her. H-C glanced over at Kiev and Aria with a smile as if to say, “Sorry guys, I have an obligation to sit next to Elias. Wink. I’ll see you after the last bite.” Thankfully Trish sat farthest from her.
Dinner served, the conversation went into full swing.
The first chance of a crescendo in the conversation she turned to Sasha and whispered, “Do you play the cello?”
”Yes, I do,” Sasha answered. His voice had notably different deep rich tone, perhaps borrowed from the instrument.
“I heard that you play with passion,” she said, her voice sounding a little squeaky, mouse-like.
“I do love it,” Sasha stated.
God only knew what that emotion meant to him.
“I would really love to hear you play. I like cello music. My uncle in Germany played at a conservatory there from the time I can remember,” said Aria.
“Do you miss home?” asked Sasha looking across the table at the China cabinet, one eye directed at the corner of the room.
“I miss it,” Aria answered, trying to figure out what Sasha was staring at. She did that Sasha understood the depth of longing that was associated to those three words.
“I’ll play for you after dinner.”
“Do you always have your cello?” asked Aria.
“Almost always. Do you always have your camera?” he asked flatly. Sasha looked blankly at her, and then began to eat.
Dinner done, Sasha brought in his cello and played for the group. The music sounded as if it were a prayer, pleading to heaven for some harrowing wish. Sasha came to life, his face woke from its catatonic state, rocking the cello like a beloved child, conduit to God. Aria dreamed: pools of water formed at Sasha’s feet. The ice melted, releasing the captured poppy conditionally into the radiance of life. He played his prayer, that this curse be destroyed, that he may feel, wither and be marked by age and love. Low and slow notes resonated through their hearts. The cello became his divining rod. Sasha became an alchemist manipulating each note of music into gaseous gold.
When he finished, his face left no trace lines of contortion. It was as if it had been a dream, when he stopped playing.