Study #1: A child balanced on top of a wild mustang running with abandon. The wind blew her braids horizontal, chin tilted up towards the sun, her face relaxed and content, fearless.
Study #2: A man’s bust, hand holding his head as he admired a Dahlia in his other hand.
Study #3: A man hid inside a large hollowed oval, only seen if one ventured to explore the insides of the sculpture.
Study #4: A woman’s face tense and irate, her mouth open as wide as it took to empty out rage. On her tongue enduring her screams was a man, hair blown forward by her wind, hands crossed over his abdomen.
Study #5: A large cello, half the size of an adult, held up a face on its stem and hands on its strings. Aria thought the cello was slowly absorbing the player. Was it that the cellist wanted to be absorbed by the music or that the music wanted to absorb the player?
Of all his sculptures her favorite Kiev creation: a great oak tree on canvas in an expansive field of grain and flowers. Losing herself in a daydream with this piece was easy. She imagined sitting in the tree, bathed by the same wind that lovingly caressed its branches. Birds brought her messages and she’d whisper responses they’d take to some glorious place.
“Tell him that I am here. I will wait for him to come for me.” Aria didn’t envision saying this to anyone in particular. It was what she suspected people who are wanted say.
As she lounged, draped on a branch, she would watch leaves turn to butterflies, making clouds and patterns for her amusement. They’d turn into birds, the underside of their wings, where their secrets were kept, reflecting the sunlight, weaving in and out of formation like a breath.
Kiev began making variations on the tree theme. He spent hours around and near trees. They’d take the bus to Prospect Park, Kiev accompanied by H-C, Rudy, Sasha, and always Aria. There, Kiev spent time selecting a tree for study. He’d find several spots to sit and observe for hours. Each day he’d get closer and closer to it as if in courtship. How light was cast on the tree seemed of importance. Kiev would then spend a day or two with his hands on the bark on all sides of the trunk. Finally, he’d sit looking outward on the world from underneath it, occasionally with eyes closed. Aria filmed and observed.
Back in the studio Kiev would begin to work, all from memory. His sculptures didn’t seem literal, but quilted reflections, collaged bits of beauty captured from intricate study. Uncle Kiev was brilliant, as she suspected.
“How are things down at the studio? Kiev seems like he’s relaxed and making some nice pieces,” asked Rudy.
The dinner table had various bowls of leftovers to choose from.
“I think he’s doing well. Are you Kiev?” Her spoon sliced through mashed sweet potatoes.
Kiev’s head bobbed slightly. Neither Rudy nor Trish noticed the movement as sign of affirmation.
“He needed to go to the park last week, but we did and he worked out his problem.” The lemonade tasted too sweet. Trish must have made it again.
“Who took you all to Prospect?” asked Rudy, taking a bite of meatloaf crust. Aria knew he liked the barbeque sauce on the top.
“We did,” answered Aria.
“You two took the bus alone?” Rudy lowered his fork.
“Yes.” She looked up from her meal to see why Rudy’s tone had changed.
“Aria, Kiev is different and doesn’t function like the rest of us. He can get lost in the city easily and if you are with him you can get lost as well. If you need to go anywhere please call an adult. Okay?” His forehead wrinkled as he spoke.
Kiev pushed back from the table, took his unfinished plate of food into the kitchen and sat it noisily on the kitchen counter. Rudy’s eyes followed him out the door as he proceeded back to his house.
“Testy, what’s got into him lately,” said Trish.
Aria recounted the story. They’d gone to Prospect Park to complete a study. It was a typical day and a typical trip, like any of the ten to fifteen they had made before. There was nothing different about the weather or the way the buses were running. Kiev and she stayed in the park for a typical amount of time, about two hours, midafternoon.
When leaving, they waited at the bus stop for the Number 4 as usual. A group of rowdy young males was also waiting. One boy, only about two years older than she, was making her feel uncomfortable. He appeared momentarily to have a forked tongue that extended two feet out of his mouth and eyes that elongated along the side of his head. He had no ears.
“Hey, s’up sweet thing. You want to film me?”
Aria ignored his comments. He eyed the camera. She hid her dancing hand behind her back, nervous that he might pick up on this abnormality.
“You fine girl. What’s your name?” he seemed to slither a little closer.
Aria glanced at Kiev who deftly moved into the space between her and the young man. He towered over the young man like the skyscrapers loomed over the Kensington house. Aria, out of sight, left the young man’s short attention span. The Number 4 bus came and the young men pushed and spit their way to the front of the line. She began advancing towards the door of the bus.
“Kiev, come on.” Her heart pounded.
Kiev stood in place and shook his head no.
“The next one isn’t for another 30 minutes. You’re not going to get on are you?” she asked.
She got out of line and stood next to Kiev. When the number 14 bus came he got on trailed by her. They got off on Reid and Patchen and walked to Green Avenue and on to the studio, safe and sound. That’s where the story ended.
“Sometimes, it seems you all--Elias, Sasha, you, daddy--treat Kiev like he’s incapable and invisible. He’s very intelligent. I think he gets insulted,” she added in a weak voice and then took a sip of lemonade.
Trish said, “What did I tell you about that girl’s mouth?” giving a slight lift and jab to her fork and said, “Didn’t your mother teach you any manners?”
Aria felt the lids of her eyes close and her stomach drop. Maybe this was part of the painful truth.
“I’m asking you a question and I expect an answer, young lady.” Trish sipped on her water.
“Yes, she did teach me manners.” Her hands danced under the table. If Oma was here, she’d never let Trish speak to her like this.
“Well, obviously, not enough. You know, manners were big in my household. You should be worried about what your mother would think. In my opinion, I don’t think she would be impressed,” Trish’s spine straightened.
“Patricia, that is enough,” Rudy snapped, his eyebrows stitched together to make an inverted “V”.
“Aria, if you care and you’d like to make your mother proud, let me know. I can teach you a thing or two.” Trish smiled deliberately at Rudy and then, Aria.
The joy that Aria had generated earlier that day seemed like it had been grabbed and choked.
“Where is your mother, dear? Trish pretended to care, “Do you talk to her much?”
“Patricia, that’s enough. You don’t have to answer that if you don’t want to,” Miles said.
Aria finished what she could of the meal in silence. She retreated to her room, lay down and searched her grandmother’s eyes. Neither the white envelope nor the picture of her mother and herself, weren’t a consideration tonight. Even if she made it home, her mother probably wouldn’t want her.
Sleep came before long. She waited for her mother on the same stoop of the old apartment building in Germany. Idelina arrived with a sprig of rue and placed it behind Aria’s ear.
“How are you my darling, Aria?”
“I’m okay, Mama.”
“Where would you like to go tonight?”
“Can we go someplace where we can watch people?”
“Okay. Let’s go.”
They landed in an outdoor amphitheater and sat on the lawn in front of a large outdoor movie screen. The air seemed thin, the sky dark, absent of stars. The black and white movie started.
“Hello Ward, welcome home dear. How was your day?”
“Hello Mrs. Cleaver.”
“Let me take your briefcase and your coat dear. Your cocktail is on the coffee table. Dinner is ready. You say when.”
Ward Cleaver sits down and sips on his cocktail. June floats out with a newspaper as Ward’s rear end meets the couch.
“Boys, Beaver and Wally, wash up. Your father is home. Dinner will be on the table in five minutes.”
From upstairs the boys yell, “Okay, mom.”
“June, I think I’m ready for dinner now.”
Beaver and Wally tumble down stairs and greet their father. June looks on lovingly.
“Everyone sit down at the table.”
Ward and the boys sit down at a clothed table, set with silverware, plates, cloth napkins and drinking glasses.
June comes out and places some dishes on the table.
“Aww, mom, leftovers! You gotta be kidding!”
June begins to weep and runs out of the room into the kitchen.
“Beaver, now see what you did? You upset your mother.”
Ward and the boys begin to eat. June saunters out, fresh and content with a brand new chicken dish.
“This replaces those old leftovers. Silly me, how could I be so selfish?”
Idelina lifted her hand and the movie stopped. The stars came out and a breeze blew the screen away.
“What a bad boy that Beaver is.”
As she spoke, Aria began to shrink. Her mother picked Aria up and placed her in the center of her palm.
“You are such a wonderful daughter.”
Her mother rolled her into a miniature bed.
“Good night,” her mother said as she lowered her immense lips towards Aria.
“Mama, stop you’ll suffocate me.”
The lips continued to suck the air out of the room.
“Stop Mama, you’re going to hurt me.” Her mother continued. Aria felt her lungs collapse, her screams mute. The face moved away. In its place were Herr Rausche’s baggy eyes and yellow-toothed smile.
She woke in a fright. Opening her eyes, she saw the light of day breaking, her grandmother’s soft eyes still watching.