Her father had enrolled her in two, two-week summer camps at the Northeast Institute of Film in New York, as a going away present. Typical of his pattern, always buying her some big thing before he left the times before.
Aria gathered her camera, laptop, and the software her father had given her. Butterflies landed on rocks in her belly.
“Here I go, grandma. Wish me luck.” Kissing the photo, she placed it back on the table.
“Aria, ready to go?” Rudy called up the stairs.
“Coming, Uncle Rudy.”
“Ready? Here’s your lunch.”
She made a conscious decision to put disappearing on hold for a time. She found the family interesting, both those living and dead. This class, she reasoned, might hold an opportunity to gain some talents that would impress her mother when she returned, some talents that she did not have, like Aunt Trish pointed out.
The sun shone, people moved onto the streets like logs in a boom, drifting into the subway. The collective movement all fed into the city’s electrifying river of energy. They boarded the “J” train heading into Manhattan. He’d drop her off and go straight into work. He looked very handsome and important in his suit. She wrapped her arm around his and took in the day as they made their way towards the class. They got off at a bustling train station.
“What is this place?” she asked.
“Oh, this is Grand Central Station. Pretty busy place.” He stopped and looked around. “It’s got a pretty interesting history. Firstly, it was built in 1871 and then expanded in the early 1900s. Look at the sculptures and that clock. Huge, huh? It’s supposed to be 13 feet in circumference. Get this, there’s a secret boarding area on platform number 61 under the station. It was used by President Roosevelt because he didn’t want folks to see that he was lame from polio. Grand Central is a landmark in New York.” Rudy got lost in his narrative. “We used to go on field trips with Pops on Sunday mornings. Lots of times we’d end up here.” Rudy always had so much information to share. They began to walk in the direction of multiple doors with thick cut glass that muted the sun light.
She filmed the streams of people rapidly walking past, then filmed the architecture of the station. The syrupy sweet smells laced with cinnamon brought to mind morning baked goods. It reminded her of Germany. Acrid smells of urine, mold and diesel fuel also drifted and swirled in the station. She resisted thinking of Herr Rausch’s yellow teeth. They emerged onto 45th Street and walked down Fulton.
The film school occupied an old red bricked building on 48th Street. They entered and followed signs directing them to summer camp. The wide halls smelled of cleaning fluid and old paper. Rudy approached who he identified as the teacher with a handshake.
“Good morning. I’m Rudolf Rhone and this is Aria Rhone. She’ll be taking the class this week.”
“Here she is. Welcome Aria. You may take a seat anywhere. You’re a couple of minutes early so just relax, look around.” The teacher’s personality reminded her of carbonated water. His front teeth bucked out under a thick mustache, matched by symmetrical tufts of white hair in his ears.
Rudy walked over to the seat Aria selected and helped her arrange her things. As the class began to fill and the start time arrived Rudy prepared for his departure.
“Aria, you okay?” Rudy asked.
Aria appreciated all his doting even if it was slightly overbearing.
“Okay, we’ll see you tonight. Have fun and if you need anything or have a problem you have my number, and I’ve also written down H-C’s, Elias’ and Sasha’s. Trish’s is the last on the list. You might want to try everyone else’s before hers. See you later, Peanut.”
Handing Aria the piece of paper with a heart to punctuate, he also gave her a hug. Leaving, he looked back and gave a wave.
“It’s so nice to see such a loving relationship between you and your dad, Aria,” the instructor said.
“He’s not my dad, he’s my uncle,” Aria looked down as she quickly issued the correction. She felt awkward and somewhat exposed.
“Well he loves you, that’s obvious.” She exhaled when he walked away.
There were about twenty kids in the class, ranging in age from thirteen to sixteen. She was one of the younger ones. They were all more sophisticated, it seemed, so when it came time for socializing she missed the majority of their jokes and innuendos.
About three-quarters looked like they were from families with money, judging from their film equipment and shoes. She felt comfortable on the margin, hoping to fly under the radar of scrutiny.
“Good morning, my name is Mr. Paul Stokes and I’ll be your instructor for this four-week class. We’ll be covering quite a bit in this short period of time. Each student will participate in writing, shooting, directing, and editing a film. The class will focus on the fundamental elements of visual storytelling that enable you, the participants, to direct your own projects. At the end of the camp, each of you will have created a short film that conveys a selected primary emotion.” The lens of his glasses magnified a few long brow hairs threatening to poke his eyes.
Mr. Stokes continued with the summary. “You students will be covering quite a bit. Let’s get started. ”
Aria felt somewhat like afraud, like every other kid must have known so much more than she did. Afterall, she had taken the camera and learned to use it for only one reason, not for art but for redemption of someone else’s sins against her.
The first day students spent learning the mechanical aspects of their cameras. Mr. Stokes advised her that she might want to rent a more modern camera. Hers, she found, was almost a relic.
Time spent on theory, history of film, and video came from a documentary about how to create a film. Aria absorbed every bit of information.
At the end of the first day, students were given a choice of activity as they waited for their parents. They could continue to discuss film with their campmates, read, or listen quietly to their iPods.
The coffee table book on odd structures made into homes looked interesting. It had nothing to do with film but the concept of transforming old to new, odd to functional was intriguing. Who would think to use old airplanes for the skeleton of your home? She was engrossed by the conversion of old train stations and old stone churches. High ceilings, stained and cut glass, many doors and living space that echoed when you spoke, sang, or screamed. Living in a tree house looked quaint, convenient for persons like herself and Kiev.
“Your mom and grandma are here, Aria,” one of the girls returning to the class from the hall shouted. A chill drew down her spine. She imagined the white envelope disintegrating.
She hadn’t heard those words in two years. Jerking her body up, the book fell from her lap. She headed out into the hall. Her body moved but her soul reluctantly followed. She held her breath, then exhaled when she saw them.
“Hi Eloisa and H-C. I’ll get my things.” The sense of relief she felt tasted like spoiled milk. Where did the desire to reunite with her mother go? Had the need gone flat or worn? Trust was nothing more than a made up concept used to cause suffering. Maybe that was it.
Returning to them in the hallway, she carried several papers.
“How’d it go Aria?” asked Eloisa.
“We learned a lot and no one told me that I was filming wrong. I was worried about that.” They all looked at each other and giggled.
“Did you meet any film buddies?” asked H-C.
“I met a couple of people, but no buddies.”
Well into the week, the camp attendees divided into teams of five. Each person on the team was to introduce a concept for a twenty-minute film and then vote on which concept appealed to them the most. Everybody began milling around, eyeing each other and picking their groups. Scanning the room, she had no idea what criteria she should use to pick her people. Up to that point she hadn’t really mingled with anyone. She considered that there might be a connection between herself and the girl who notified her about Eloisa and H-C. She wasn’t sure. She breathed in and gathered the gumption to rise out of her chair. Before she got up, a team of two girls asked her to join them. Three boys joined shortly thereafter.
One of the boys, Jonathan, was boastful and arrogant. Aria thought he’d chosen the group because they looked like a mass he could push around. She knew a bully when she saw one.
True to form, he attempted to make himself look like an expert. He was a mynah bird, only repeating what he had heard or read in brief. He probably spent most of his life trying to convince himself and others of his importance. His body language reflected it – he awkwardly hung his thumbs from his pant pockets and shifted his weight from side to side. He often pushed his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose and rolled his eyes at just about every suggestion other than his own. He wore tight fitting T-shirts that accentuated his pudgy pear shape and mop hair do.
Sheryl, one of the girls in the group, said very little at first, but eyed Jonathan suspiciously.
Philip, Janelle, and Tyrone were the other three in the group. Philip and Janelle seemed to buy into Jonathan’s boasting. Maybe they thought if you were from a wealthy family, you must be of superior intellect and resources. The rules of life seemed so screwed up.
“Hey, what’s up. I’m Jon. I’ve got a great idea. I’ve done this a bunch before and I think this will work. We can do a piece on architecture of NYC.”
Sure you think you do, Aria thought.
Philip and Janelle bobbed their heads in agreement and shined their eyes at Jonathan. He took note and puffed himself out a little more which caused the seam of his shirt to roll over his stomach slightly. He tugged it down.
“Architecture? Okay, well what’s the primary emotion?” asked Sheryl, narrowing her eyes and scrunching her brow.
“Amazement,” he responded.
Philip said, “I can see that,” grinning and giving a thumbs up. Jonathan bobbed his head and looked down at Phillip’s worn shoes. He looked away.
“That is not a primary emotion and I don’t find that interesting.” Sheryl whipped her words out.
Sheryl’s forthrightness was impressive. Aria wondered again, why Philip and Janelle were so impressed with Jonathan.
“Come on, they did something like this on PBS. It was interesting enough for a show to be produced,” Jonathan whined, evaluating Sheryl’s shoes. She did not turn away.
“Figures you would lift the idea. Let’s be original and creative folks,” said Sheryl, looking at Phillip and Janelle.
“Does anyone else have any ideas?” asked Tyrone.
Philip and Janelle looked at Jonathan like Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
Aria surprised herself by speaking up. “I like the idea of taking myths and making them current. Maybe we can take an event and mold it into a myth.” She thought her voice sounded high and tiny.
“That’s not going to work.” Jon piped in. “That’s too complicated. Too much work.”
“So give me an example of what you’re thinking about,” Sheryl inquired not looking at him.
Jumping in, Tyrone said, “I have a myth that might be cool to mold something around. The story of this dude named King Minos and his daughter Ariadne. This king had three kids, two daughters and one son. They lived in a castle that was surrounded by this maze thing called a labyrinth. One day his son went to battle and was killed by these dudes from Crete. Minos, like, was so pissed that he ordered that every nine years, fourteen young Aegeans had to be fed to this Minotaur which is some kind of beast that roamed the labyrinth. In the meantime, this young Cretan prince was pissed about this rule and decided he was going to put a stop to it by slaying the Minotaur. When he got there, Minos’ daughter, Ariadne, fell in love with him and gave him this magic thread which showed him the way out of the maze. He slayed the dragon and got out. Then dude dumped Ariadne off on an island.”
“Figures,” said Sheryl.
“Well, karma got him in the end and she married Dionysus, the god of happiness. It’s all good,” added Tyrone.
“How do you know that story? Are you a Greek geek or what?” asked Jon.
“Naw, I’ve gone to Waldorf School since kindergarten. We learned a bunch of myths from the time I can remember. I just think this one could be modernized.”
“Okay, so I think we should do a modern version of Snow White and the seven dwarfs,” Jon sarcastically remarked.
“Sure Jon. Let’s consider it. How could we do that?” Sheryl pushed her lower lip into her upper lip.
“The name is Jonathan. And ask Aria, it’s her idea. Aria and the seven dwarfs.” Jonathan looked to Philip and Janelle as his audience, both giggling on cue.
Aria panicked. The cassette lay buried in Germany. No one would find it. No one would ever know her secret, she reassured herself. She didn’t want to remember anything. She didn’t want to negotiate with herself. “I don’t think you get it,” she croaked at Jonathan.
“I’m out of here. I can’t work with you people. Philip and Janelle, are you coming with me?” Jonathan backed away from the group with his hands up. He found Mr. Stokes and made a case for changing groups.
“Hi Sheryl, Aria, Tyrone. Are you amicable to the change, are you alright with the switch?” Mr. Stokes asked.
They all nodded their heads in agreement and gave thumbs up.
“Okay, well let me see what I can rearrange.”
“Thank God he’s gone, I hate being around his kind,” Sheryl commented.
“What do you mean his kind?” asked Tyrone.
“Spoiled rich boys who have no talent and don’t care if they do. They know it’s not necessary to have talent, just connections. Good riddance.” Sheryl grew red in the face.
Mr. Stokes brought over two girls, Dana and Sarah, and introduced them to the group.
“Hey,” Sheryl, Tyrone, and Aria said.
“Hey,” Dana and Sarah responded.
“What happened over there?” Sheryl shoved her blunted chin in the direction of their former group. “Why’d you guys change?”
“Group dynamics. This bossy chick with no talent or imagination trying to tell everyone what we’re going to do or like. She ignored everyone else’s ideas,” said Dana.
“Same here. Well let them eat each other,” said Sheryl.
“What are you guys thinking about doing?” asked Tyrone.
“Well, I know it might be passé but I’d really like to do something with 9/11 and how it’s changed people. New Yorkers specifically,” Dana said.
“We were talking about myths and modernizing them. Do you think we could fit that into your idea?” said Sheryl.
“Can you explain that to us a bit more? Sarah asked. She came across as thoughtful and deeply pensive.
The group chatted and came up with different scenarios. In the end they decided to interview a wide range of New Yorkers on the effects of 9/11, adding metaphorical imagery. Aria felt seen since her initial idea was what sparked the concept. She also was comfortable with the variety of shoes the members of their groups wore.
On the way home that evening, Aria tossed and wrestled with a dilemma Tyrone’s story created for her. “Would it be better to be lost, running through a maze not knowing when a monster would attack? Or be in love with someone who would eventually abandon you?” It was unnerving to think about, but she couldn’t turn away. Over and over again she addressed possible scenarios and none ended safely. Perpetually chased by a monster, not knowing when one would meet danger, or being left, alone tricked by someone you loved. Alone with only your thoughts. Her fingers danced frantically. She began to hyperventilate, her palms sweat profusely and her heart raced.
“Aria, are you okay? Do you need a little air?” H-C’s concern lent an intervention.
“I think. Are we close enough to walk the rest of the way?” The train began to slow for a stop. She felt yellow-green nausea dancing on the roof of her mouth.
“You look like you’re going to throw up. Let’s get off.”
They walked out of the grimy subway station, onto the street. Taxis honked, pedestrians dodged cars and red lights blurred as they sped past. She let her eyes follow the lights until the color disappeared.
“You looked like you were panicking about something. Do you want to talk about it?” asked H-C.
“I’m okay, I just got dizzy. I feel better now that we’re walking.” Aria punctuated her response with a bobbing nod.
She felt the color returned to her face, and her fingers ached. H-C dropped the subject, but looped Aria’s arm in hers, pulling her close.