It was a decent-sized studio apartment in Bedford Stuyvesant, N.Y. with an old-fashioned Murphy bed and a neat little extra nook near the bed fold. It resided on the second floor next to a vacant lot. Aria stared out the window on the fire escape side, smelling the weeds and the dust. The street noise amplified up to the studio, but Kiev seemed to like it in its entirety. She watched over the course of a week as he arranged his things in places, much like his dinner plate process. During this first week, she noticed the lovely pecan-colored woman who frequently surveyed the empty lot adjacent to the brownstone housing the studio and talked out loud to herself. One day she showed up with some gardening tools and three teens, and started digging.
Sasha came to the studio often. On his first visit he entered as if it were a museum. She appreciated his reverence, since Kiev was so unrecognized by his siblings. Walking in slowly, his eyes lit and his body relaxed.
“Kiev, wow this is fantastic. It’s a real artist studio, man.” He held his arms folded against his abdomen as if trying to squeeze some inflection into his remarks.
He walked from sculpture to sculpture finding something in each to admire and comment on, Aria recording his reflections. Kiev kept adjusting his arms awkwardly mimicking Sasha’s poses.
“I think this one is my favorite,” Sasha turned his head away from the piece and smiled at Kiev. His eyes reached for his brother through the space. Kiev rocked from side to side with most of the motion being in his shoulders.
A simple sculpture, two boys stood in front of a make-shift lean-to, lazily staring, perhaps at a road. One boy’s arms wrapped around the other’s waist, the taller boy’s arm draped over his companion’s shoulder, one arm leaning against the lean-to.
As he walked, told them he had taken a part time job this summer, as a mentor, at an opera camp for youth. The camp introduced young people to several operas, vocal theory, and provided vocal and acting coaching as well. It also gave them networking opportunities to continue pursuing the art through internships. The program started at 9:00 a.m. and ended at 3:00 p.m. in downtown Brooklyn.
“Kiev, man, this one is crazy powerful. Where did you get this idea from?” His voice quietly danced, ignited by this brother’s work. Kiev turned to face a mirror that was hung on the wall, but avoided meeting his own gaze.
The sculpture depicted a man holding a sheer veil over his face as if unsuccessfully hiding.
“Does it remind you of someone you know?” Aria asked.
“No. It’s just the way he captured the veil. And the guy’s expression. Like he doesn’t know that he isn’t hidden. Kiev, you’ve always been able to feel so much. I’m glad you found this.”
Kiev’s body relaxed.
“You look pretty happy, Uncle Sasha. Did you have an inspiring day?” Aria inquired noticing this new disposition. She wondered about her word choice.
“Matter of fact, I did. We’ve got twenty-six kids in the program. Twenty-six kids that want to be there. Three have relatives in the opera, but the other twenty-three were just inspired. They all act like they’re hungry to learn.” He’d made his way over close to Kiev who had begun kneading and pinching the clay into vague shapes.
Sasha’s chest opened as he spoke to them. Aria noticed the resemblance between the two of them. She also noticed a joy both emitted seemingly being so close together. Somehow Sasha seemed less flat and Kiev seemed less rigid.
“I remember when I caught the bug,” he gleaned, rolling a piece of soft clay he’d picked up between his fingers.
“How’d you catch it?” she asked, giving her full attention to his response, camera still recording.
“Miles, your dad, had left and Kiev and I were having a tough time in high school.” He paused and drew in his shoulders slightly. Kiev’s body tensed, most notably his neck.
“I really didn’t want to be around anyone,” he continued, seemingly addressing Kiev. His voice returned to flat monotone, more hushed however.
“Mom had these eccentric friends that would come over for salons in the Kensington basement. Daddy, your grandfather, couldn’t stand them. We usually stayed upstairs, but some of the performances were decent. One time this woman and man came over. Kiev and I were in our room. I was at my desk doing homework, math. I heard the most beautiful sound and tried to ignore it, but couldn’t. I put down my pencil and closed my eyes. The next thing I knew, my face was wet with tears and Kiev had his hand on mine. That day I was moved into a new place full of possibilities.”
“Who were the two people?”
“I don’t know. Never asked. I wanted to find the opera on my own without my family being involved.” He’d made a spiral with clay and laid it on the table, which he leaned against.
“So what did you do next?”
“I started reading about opera. I went to a performance arts high school of sorts, so there were teachers that knew about the vocal techniques and had some connections. One coached me some in my senior year. In college, I studied music and education.”
“Was college fun?”
“Somewhat. I was far from home for almost six years. I’ve just been back for the past three years.”
“But you still haven’t described what it is about opera that you love.”
“The power of the voice, and the intensity. The passion of the arias and the stories and sometimes the absurdities. I love the magic that happens when my exhale pushes through my vocal chords, hearing my own voice, probably just like Kiev enjoys seeing his emotions come to life in his sculptures.” A beautiful storm dwelled in his eyes as he spoke.
When Aria lived in Germany, she took a trip with her mother and father to the coast in early spring. When they arrived the sky was great and open, and there was no end to the water that she could see. A cold, reassuring wind blew and brought blood to her cheeks. Clouds covered the sun and the landscape was all gray -- all shades of gray so beautiful that she felt afraid to breathe lest the clouds would expose sunlight upon these ethereal hues. They were witness to these various shades of melancholy, this soft threat of a polite storm, to the potential of brilliance held neutral. This, she realized, was Sasha. Sasha, Kiev’s twin, born more easily equipped to deal with this world. Her heart felt softer.
“Matter of fact, Aria and Kiev, I’d like for you to be my guests at our student performances at the end of the summer.”
Kiev put down his cutting wire, walked over and turned on the CD of La Traviata. Aria tilted her head and smiled.