Coming into the studio Aria noticed all the crocus blooms withered, replaced by the more stellar yarrow. The flowers so different from one another, one small and delicate burst with color, the other tall, dry, stingy with blooms.
In the studio, Kiev worked his clay, H-C pecked at the keyboard of her computer and Aria looked at her films. The day proceeded gently thus far, for Aria.
The screaming started in the alley several brownstones down from the garden.
“You little whore, sleeping with my man when I was at work. You tramp. Can’t trust your good-for-nothing fast ass.”
H-C and Aria exchanged looks, rushing to the fire escape window. A woman in her early thirties screamed and threw blows at a girl of thirteen or so.
“I didn’t want him to touch me. He kept coming after me, wanting me to touch him. He raped me Mama! He said if I told you, you’d believe him. That he didn’t do it.”
“Liar. He’s my man. All I got. Get out of my house, you whore. Filth.”
H-C, retrieving a phone from her purse, called 911 and reported the incident. Aria stayed transfixed, listening to the rest of the conversation.
“You got to go out of my house. I don’t care where you go, but I don’t want you anymore.”
“Please Mama, please. I didn’t do anything. He did it to me.” The young girl sobbed on, pleading with her mother. Tears welled in Aria’s eyes and panic built in her chest. Her fingers began the familiar pops and hyperextensions.
“My God, I wish the police would get here. This is too much. Aria are you alright?” asked H-C.
Aria shook her head yes. “I’m always okay.”
The red lights preceded the whir of the police sirens.
“Come on ma’am. Let’s get inside,” said a police officer.
“That thing is not coming back into my house. Just to let you know, she is a liar and she’s fast. Don’t believe a word she tells you.”
The police successfully moved the duo, where their voices were muffled.
“Come on, Aria. Let’s go. That was not good.” H-C led her into the studio to the table she’d been working on.
Aria stood pensively over her camera for several minutes until H-C asked, “Aria, do you miss Germany?”
“I haven’t thought about it too much lately,” she answered.
The story burst forth despite the layers of emotional debris she’d dumped on it. At age eight, Aria and her mother lived in an apartment they had shared with her father in a suburb south of Berlin. He’d been gone for at least six months at that point. It was the second time he had left the family.
In the morning, her mother would escort Aria to the school bus stop and in the afternoon, would meet her at the bus drop off, except for Tuesdays. The bus was noisy and the other children would make fun of whosever vulnerabilities were most evident. Aria was often a target, with her curly, bushy hair, latte complexion, and unique accent that was a blend of German, Portuguese, and English. And then there was her tentative trust in herself.
Nonetheless, she liked school, and luckily, her teachers took an interest in her even though by that point in time she hadn’t made many friends. On Tuesdays, Aria often waited at the bus stop for ten or even fifteen minutes before her mother arrived. Often other children would be waiting on the wooden bench too.
Herr Rausche, an older man from the neighborhood, with thinning gray and dark brown hair, always took a stroll on the sidewalk past the bus stop. Coincidently, it was when children waited for the bus in the morning and during the afternoon. His trench coat, always wrinkled, was knotted, instead of buckled closed. He’d walk past slowly and wave at the children, baring his teeth, reminding Aria of her distaste for corn on the cob. Sometimes he’d approach the children. His fingers, swollen at the joints, would emerge from his pockets with candy he’d offer to them.
One day when he showed up with a puppy he got all the kids’ attention.
“Does it have a name, Herr Rausche?” Aria asked.
“No, but I am counting on you to help me name it.”
The children called out names, but Herr Rausche said, “We’ll have a contest and I will be the judge.”
The children, who were normally uninterested in Herr Rausche, began to chatter about naming the cute little Labrador retriever mutt.
Aria thought about what her entry for a name choice would be for the chocolate-brown dog: Raisinette, Café, or maybe Loyal.
On a particular Tuesday, Aria waited after school at the bus stop for her mother. Ten minutes had passed and there was no sign of her. It was a sunny day and the heat warmed Aria’s young body, relaxed at the school bus stop bench, lost in a daydream.
“Hello.” Herr Rausche startled her.
“And how was your day?” he asked her.
“No, thank you.”
“So have you come up with a name for my puppy yet?” he asked.
Aria’s interest was piqued and her defenses fell.
“Oh yes, two very wonderful names. They’re…”
“No, no, don’t tell. I want to give everyone a fair chance.”
Her mother walked up and gave Herr Rausche a warm smile.
“Hello Herr Rausche. Sorry I’m so late Aria, you know how Tuesday goes sometimes. Ready to go home?”
“Hello, Frau Babbin.” His smile was a slit. “I’ve been keeping her safe. Aria could always go home with me on Tuesdays. We could walk the dog together.”
“Thank you,” her mother responded. “Come on Bird, get your backpack and let’s go.”
The next Friday morning, Herr Rausche asked everyone what their name selections were. He told the children he’d have a decision in the afternoon, when they were dropped off at the bus stop.
“I have made my decision.” He walked towards Aria and draped his crooked arm around her shoulders. “The puppy will be called Loyal and the prize goes to Frau Babbin.” The children immediately lost interest again, all but Aria.
“What is the prize, Herr Rausche?”
“You get to walk Loyal with me in the morning and afternoon. Maybe a longer walk on Tuesday, maybe even feed him his dinner.”
Aria smiled, imagining herself strolling with the chocolate puppy. She felt special.
“You are the winner, my dear!” he exclaimed and clapped his hands together.
Aria told her mother as soon as she saw her.
“That’s great! Loyal really is a very nice name.”
“So can we go to the bus stop a little earlier?”
“A little, but not much.”
Aria, Herr Rausche and Loyal began their walks that next school week, in the mornings and afternoons. She didn’t pay particular attention to Herr Rausche, but answered his questions usually in one or two words.
“Would you like to feed him his supper next Tuesday?”
“I’ll need to ask my mother.”
“Okay. You do that then let me know what she says.”
She could hardly wait to ask. Loyal was as cute as a button and had that puppy smell. He was practically hers too.
“I guess that’s okay. You’re just going to feed the puppy then come back to the bus stop right?” her mother asked.
“Yes. Loyal eats wet food now. That’s what Herr Rausche said.”
“You get the apartment number and then you can go next Tuesday. I’ll rest a little easier not having to rush to get you from work.”
That Tuesday, Aria woke thrilled. She was the chosen one.
When she stepped off the school bus, Herr Rausche and Loyal were waiting for her.
“Ready?” He reached out his hand to Aria and she hesitantly took it. “It’s alright. Are you ready to feed Loyal? He’s very hungry.”
“Well then let’s go.”
She had never been this close or connected to Herr Rausche before. A cross between body odor and urine seemed to be emanating from his hand. She concentrated on Loyal as they made their way to Herr Rausche’s apartment.
At the door, she hesitated before being helped in by compassionate words, “It’s okay. We’re just feeding Loyal. Your mother knows.”
She climbed the stairs that led to his third-floor apartment. The building was quiet.
“Here we are, my dear.”
She walked into the living room where there was an old mauve couch and a television with a video camera on top. She was surprised that Herr Rausche’s apartment was so neat. His hygiene was not indicative.
“Let him off the leash, my dear.” She did as she was told and he took off his trench coat. Aria stared as this was the first time she had seen him derobed. He was thin and frail but his shirt was neatly pressed. “Now come into the kitchen and I’ll show you his selection of wet food.”
He had about four types and he let her chose the one they’d feed the dog. He took out a can opener and helped her connect it to the container and cut it open. Standing directly behind her, he bumped her several times as he gave her instructions.
“Now take this fork and empty it out into his bowl.”
Herr Rausche eyed her as she moved over to the bowl, “You are much prettier than the rest of the girls on the bus.”
“Thank you.” Something was not right.
“Let’s let Royal eat. Come sit with me. We’ve got so much time, we’ve fed him so fast.”
Aria wondered about Herr Rausche’s mistake in calling the pup Royal instead of Loyal.
Her ushered them to the mauve couch with beaded pelts from wear. “Sit down next to me.” He patted a spot very close to him.
She chose another spot farther away, but Herr Rausche moved closer.
“Do you know that I make films? See that red light there? It shows that the camera is on.”
Aria hadn’t noticed that before. It reminded her of the red blinking stop lights.
“Do you like to act, Aria?”
“What’s your favorite story? Or better yet what story would you act out if you could?”
“Ummm, maybe Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”
“That’s a famous one.”
“Let’s act it out. But just a minute, I have costumes.” He left and went into his bedroom.
Maybe this wasn’t a bad situation after all. Maybe all he wanted to do was play and act a little. When he came out he had changed into what looked to be a billowy shirt, tights and a saucer-shaped hat with three large peacock feathers. He handed her the costume he chose. A white dress with a lace bodice and a tulle skirt.
“Pretty, yah? Go put it on. You can use my room or the bathroom.”
Aria went into the bathroom and locked the door. How pretty she thought she looked. It took her back into her daydreams.
“My, I’ve never seen such a beautiful princess.”
She felt her cheeks flush. She curtsied.
“Now, let’s act out the last two scenes of Snow White. I know them well. The dwarfs have made their way back to find Snow White asleep, they lay her to rest in a glass coffin until the prince comes.” Herr Rausche uncovered the lens on the video camera and Aria saw herself and Herr Rausche.
She felt a rush of adrenaline. Herr Rausche grabbed an apple that he gave to Aria. “Go ahead, bite it.”
She did as she was told, still focusing on herself in the television monitor. He repositioned the camera so that it was at a forty-five degree angle, pointed at the couch. The angle was odd, she thought.
“Now that you have been stricken by the curse you must lay here in the grass.” Her picked her body up and placed it on the couch. Aria noticed an odd shape had formed in Herr Rauche’s tights. “You’re dead my dear, close your eyes.”
She heard Herr Rausche sing the funny little dwarf song they sang on their way home.
“What has happened to Snow White? It was the witch, she finally did it. We must bury her here.”
She opened her eyes for a quick second. Herr Rausche snatched his hand from between his legs“Eyes closed until your prince has come to awaken you.”
She shut her eyes again, her stomach ached. Loyal whined from behind the barrier where Herr Rausche had placed him.
“Who is this lovely creature who lies in this glass casket? I will awaken her with a kiss.” Herr Rausche bent down and kissed Aria on her forehead, the balls of his fingers pressed into her scalp. Somehow, she felt relieved, the play finally over.
“You may open your eyes now.”
Herr Rausche kneeled at her side and placed her hand in his. “Do not fear, you are alive again.”
He moved her hand down and wrapped it around his erect, exposed penis. “Don’t be afraid my princess. We are married now, sealed with a kiss.”
Aria, too stunned to scream, let him maneuver her hand. He bent and separated her legs and then looked at the video camera. The acrid smell of urine and body odor grew even stronger. She had found the source. He excreted a white fluid and a heavy groan, and dug his yellowed pinky nail into her right inner thigh creating a small open wound. Her hand drew towards the pain and managed to push Herr Rausche’s away.
“You were marvelous my darling. Thank you. Our secret, right? No one would understand. They’d blame you and your mother may be so jealous that she wouldn’t want you. Our secret, right?” Aria nodded, too stunned to comprehend anything but fear.
“Oh, it’s almost time to meet your mother. Go get dressed. Loyal and I will walk you back to the bus stop. An hour goes by quite quickly.”
Herr Rausche kissed her forehead again, “Our secret, right?” and retreated to his bedroom.
Aria hopped to her feet, grabbing her clothes and backpack from the bathroom. She ran through the living and caught a glimpse of her image still being recorded. She ripped the cords out of the camera and stuffed the video camera into her backpack and proceeded to run without shutting the door behind her. She did not know if her feet hit the ground when she left or if she was still attached to her body. It was a sensation of floating slightly above ground. In no time she was at the bus stop, facing her mother.
“Aria, you’re late. I’ve been waiting here for the last 15 minutes. Where’s Herr Rausche?”
“He’s home. It’s time to go now.”
Aria never disclosed what happened to her to anyone. On Tuesdays, she either feigned sickness or pleaded to go home with another child after school even though this wasn’t her social nature. Herr Rausche made himself scarce for a while, but when she did see him she would cling to her mother tightly and turn away. She insisted her mother stay until the bus left. After some time, Herr Rausche set his sites on another child. Two years later he was dead from a gunshot wound by an unknown assailant. The crime case seemed to have grown cold.
The camera, locked in a sturdy brown box; she kept pushed deep inside her closet. A couple of years later, a little after her mother left, she retrieved it. Before leaving Germany, she buried the cartridge, never having viewed it, knowing the horror it held. The film held the darkest secret, the camera just a tool. It held no blame.
She kept the video camera, telling her father that one of her mother’s relatives had given it to her as a going away present, and vowed never to film herself with it. The story dwelled on as what she hoped was only a fragment of her living in the deepest, darkest part of her soul.
The transformation of dark thoughts to light is a quiet miracle done in private.