The incident in the alley threw Aria into that chamber cluttered with all shades of darkness. Herr Rausche story had survived the fall, she was the catcher and keeper of this ugliness. Floating there for what seemed liked years, she heard H-C voice. In actuality it had only been minutes.
“Do you miss your mother?” H-C asked startling her with the question.
“Well she left for awhile. She still loves me. I think she is working for a weaving and textiles collective. She’s probably finished up by now. I think she’s traveling around collecting the world’s best threads to weave a tapestry and to find a nice place for us to live. She is a really good parent.” She stopped the monotone information dump and waited for affirmation. “Did your mom and dad leave often, Heather-Celeste? I mean like for years?” The string of information had tumbled out of her mouth like clothers sprung from an over-packed closet.
“Well, no they didn’t,” answered H-C softly but with weight, her eyebrows slightly stitched.
Aria puzzled, hesitated engaging any further but was desperate to find answers.
“Kiev, did yours?’
Kiev shook his head and said, “Incorrect.”
H-C looked shocked, from Kiev to Aria.
Aria rattled from her new demeanor disposition, looked from H-C to Kiev. Making her way onto the fire escape, she looked out to garden. A vital piece from her pick-up-stick reality had just been removed.
I thought the best parents search for the best places for their families. That they want you no matter what, Aria said to herself.
There weren’t any tidy ways to fit this information into her personal reality without admitting to some degree that her folks loved her less than she thought because of what had happened with Herr Rausche, or just because. Because she was unwanted, damaged, undesired. Either way, her whole being was wrong and had no place or business in the world.
“Aria if you need to talk, I’m right inside.”
She felt the pull of gravity, felt her feet touch down on earth for the very first time. Her bridge to the sky was fading. She realized she’d been living with her head above the clouds in virtual space, the scant air allowing her to float free of time. Earth was uncomfortable, disorienting, harsh and angular. She needed anchorage as a deranged seed began to gestate. Hope seemed even further away than any other time she could remember. She made her way down to the garden where Eloisa worked.
“You hear all that awful racket and ugly words?” Eloisa glanced up and took her time to ask, “How you doing?” retracting her head back.
Aria asked if her parents left and then came back.
Eloisa said, “I left but didn’t go back, but not my parents.
“My parents took trips when I was little. Each of them would go away and then after awhile they’d come back. How long were yours gone for?” asked Eloisa.
“Two years and three years, so far.”
“That’s a long time to be away from a little one, but it happens I suppose. Mostly in the military,” Eloisa said.
“Why?” Aria begged.
Eloisa pointed to a pile of things she found while she was cleaning out the plot.
“Get that bottle that has an old map and open it, sit down here on this bench and study it.”
Aria fished out the map. An old thing, probably some child’s father made with burnt edges, coiled in the glass bottle. The map had a house with a backyard, a path led to a place in the rear under a large oak tree. An X marked the spot where the treasure was supposed to be. Aria got lost in a daydream: A girl-child fished out the map from the bottle. When she pulled the map out a parade of people quietly surrounded her as she unrolled it. When she realized the treasure was in her backyard the band began to play a festive song. They all marched over to the spot marked by the X on the map. The girl began to dig and found a chest. Inside the chest, a bejeweled gold-plated box held the treasure. A key magically appeared from the knot of a nearby tree. The girl retrieved it. The parade held their collective breath as she inserted and turned the key. The chest lid adjusted and cracked open. The girl opened the chest and inside she found …
“What do you see?’ asked Eloisa. “Your question and the answer is there,” Eloisa pointed to the map.
“Well, with all respect, it’s boring. It’s a house and it doesn’t lead to a treasure that’s on any exotic journey far away,” Aria said with an air of pity.
“Exactly!” shouted Eloisa. Eloisa threw up her index finger straight in the air.
“But what does that have to do with if it’s normal for people to leave and come back to their children and why?”
“Maybe it doesn’t answer if its normal, but it asks the question why people leave and gives you the answer how they find their way back.”
“I’m sorry, Eloisa, I don’t understand.”
“That’s okay, baby. Let it simmer. Most answers, ’specially the hard ones, need to simmer in our souls and stew in faith for awhile. The answers always come somehow. Don’t lean too far in the future though and don’t go making up stuff to fit to your liking. Ask it and then let it simmer.”
“Okay.” Aria whispered, “Eloisa, I think there’s something wrong with me.”
“What could possibly be wrong with your being child?”
“I’m not good. They won’t stay because of me. I get confused about how I am supposed to be. Eloisa, I’m afraid that I am going to mess up and they’ll never come back.”
Eloisa put the hoe down and sat next to Aria in fellowship. Her strong brown hand, tattooed with dirt, took Aria’s. Together in silence, Aria studied the map, and Eloisa was lost staring into space.
Eloisa spoke, “Sometimes we’re given a bag to carry around. Someone tells us not to open it, just keep carrying it around. One day, though you open it and find that it’s just a load of horse crap you’ve been carrying around all your life. By that time, it’s your horse crap and you’ve gotten way too used to it. Doll, try to put it down now.”
Startled by a gentle touch on her back, she looked behind her to see H-C.
“Aria, you want to go some place today?” asked H-C.
H-C gently smiled at Eloisa, who looked forlorn. Eloisa winked back.
”Aria, doll, remind me to tell you something. A personal matter ’tween you and me.” Eloisa gave her leg a pat, “You are the map and you are the treasure. We’ll talk.”
Aria smiled. She loved Eloisa. She turned to H-C to answer.
“Where?” Aria asked. It was best to keeping moving.
“I’d like to take you to the Museum of Natural History,” said H-C.
“I think Kiev would enjoy it too. Eloisa, would you like to come?”
“Naw, I got too much to do today. You all go and give my regards to the Mastodons.”
“Okay, Eloisa.” Aria was grateful for Eloisa, although she kept Aria perpetually confused with her advice.
“I heard about that museum, H-C. Daddy said he went there often when he was a boy.” Daddy, Aria thought. She suddenly felt a flush in her face and her heart race. She began to taste betrayal when she thought of him.
Kiev, H-C, and Aria traveled to the Museum of Natural History, entering on the 77th Avenue side. In the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, a ninety-four-foot-long blue whale hung. They were surrounded by the blue whale song, and the hall vibrated.
The replica dwarfed her senses. She’d never seen anything like it. While H-C caught up with an old friend she ran in to, an old male friend, Aria and Kiev sat down on a bench underneath the massive creature.
“Kiev, look at it. It’s amazing. So large, so magnificent. It’s almost too much.” The blue light glowed on Kiev’s face.
She wanted so much to be where blue whales were right then. So many questions and doubts exploding in her head like popcorn. Then the reverie: the whale detached from its suspensions to swim free. Aria and Kiev seized the opportunity to go with the whale by clinging to its fins. The whale gained velocity and burst through and out of the museum’s west wall. The whale, instead of heading down to the ocean, headed up towards the blue sky. Suddenly, it flipped its dorsal fin, that Kiev and Aria were holding onto. Their hands slipped off the fin and they flew into space above the whale. At that precise moment, the whale turned and positioned itself under the descending twosome. Kiev and Aria slid down the whale’s blow hole onto a soft deep billowy mass. Kiev smiled, looking directly at Aria. They linked hands and began to explore the inside of this formidable creature while they waited to see where the adventure would land.
“You guys ready to go?” H-C interrupted.
“Okay,” she said, still bedazzled by the whale, not committed to her answer.
H-C reminded them that they only had a couple of hours. The museum was closing at five forty-five.
“Let’s prioritize what we want to see.” H-C unfolded the museum map.
“Can we just go and not plan?” asked Aria staying closer than usual to Kiev.
“Okay,” H-C responded.
They headed to the Hall of Biodiversity and then to the Hall of Gems and Minerals.
“Which one is your favorite Kiev?” asked Aria.
What would she do without Kiev? He was the safest place she knew.
He turned and walked towards a large geode, rough and gray on the outside. It was a perfect oval shape. Walking to the other side of the exhibit one discovered that the geode contained brilliant crystals and amethysts.
“I should have guessed,” Aria said.
“Okay Kiev and H-C, guess mine.” Aria said, feeling a little less tense.
H-C selected a large blue diamond. Kiev chose a small unassuming gem that may have been a diamond.
“H-C that is quite spectacular and I take that as a compliment. Kiev you are right!” Aria beamed.
“Aria, why do you like that one?” asked H-C.
“Because it’s most like me.”
Aria and Kiev went on to look at other gems in the exhibit. H-C read the informational plaque on the stone. The smaller stone, a diamond, had a remarkable history and attributes. It had been discovered in South Africa by a settler while washing clothes in a tributary stream. The gem was amongst a number of granite river rocks. The settler cashed in the stone and it was sent for cutting in Amsterdam where it proceeded to damage or destroy a number of the jeweler’s instruments due to its hardness. It ended up in the Museum of Natural History because it was one of the hardest, most intricate stones yet to have been discovered and cut.
H-C caught up to Aria.
“Aria what are the attributes of that stone that remind you of yourself?”
“Quiet, small, and holds lots of secrets,” she answered. “Kaleidoscopic.”
“You know how a dragonfly sees. Small pictures all put together to make one.”
Aria managed a little grin.
They continued to walk.
“You know, when I was a girl I came to this museum and I figured out that I wanted to become a doctor.”
“How’d coming to this museum full of dead stuff make you want to be a doctor?”
“There’s an exhibit that focuses on how communities lived throughout the world in different periods of time. One time they had a special display on medicine and how very important community is to wellness.”
“I don’t understand,” said Aria.
“Without a strong healthy, community, no drug works well. People need each other. You know the best doctors are those that care about and are connected to their communities.”
“H-C, do you think that someone could care for others but not be able to care for themselves?”
“As a matter of fact, in too many cases I know, healers need the most healing.”
“Why do you think that is? How can you be good at something if you can’t do it for yourself?”
“I guess people become acutely aware of the intricacies of their own suffering and can home in on others. It’s like having a magnifying glass and the whole world is enlarged except for yourself,” Said H-C.
Aria added,”Cause we never in our lives can lay our own eyes on our own selves completely. It’s just impossible. And how do we know if the mirror is telling the complete truth?” I can’t even tell if I am having the right reaction to a situation, Aria thought.
“Yes, it’s impossible.” H-C was casual.
Aria hallowed. “I think Eloisa tries.”
“What do you mean?” H-C asked.
“Eloisa counts on things, feelings, not others’ opinions. I think she lies on the ground and feels the Earth’s needs. She listens to the birds and sees how they react to her being around. Then she adjusts.”
“Eloisa is an interesting person. And you are a very sensitive kid.” H-C flicked Aria on her nose and Aria grabbed H-C’s hand and held it.
“Aria, I want you to know that oftentimes we see or we are taught that holding emotions in is the proper thing to do. That’s not true. Holding on to secrets doesn’t make you stronger, it weakens you and decreases your ability to let others in. You always have to guard your emotions when you do that. Community is for spreading the weight until your burdens become light enough to be carried off by the smallest of creatures.”
“Butterflies?” Aria wondered.
“Do you understand me Aria?”
“I do H-C.” Aria’s eyes moistened.
They finished walking through the gem exhibit and went to the second floor, the Birds of the World. Kiev looked fascinated by all the taxidermied creatures. She watched. His gaze seemed to cast a delicate light, momentarily infusing life into each of the specimens. H-C also began to delight in watching Kiev look at the dioramas. They followed him around, finding magic in his discoveries.
“H-C and Kiev, have you ever heard of a guillet? Look what it says about the fledglings: “The adults will lead the chick through the colony to large drops, like cliffs. The adult will fly down and then call its young. The chick will then launch itself off the
cliff, attempting to fly as far as possible, crash landing on the ground below before continuing its run toward the ocean.”
“Now, that is a leap of faith!” H-C whistled.
“Maybe, if I were a bird I’d do it, but I think I would try to find another way to get down,” commented Aria.
The three wandered separately. Aria remained in front of one particular exhibit until H-C interrupted her.
She felt her shoulders quivering.
“Are you alright?” asked H-C.
Streams of tears fell from her eyes. H-C was looking at her profile
“What’s the matter?” H-C asked, putting her arms around her. Aria remained rigid. Kiev turned from the diorama and faced them.
“They are just like Miles and Idelina. Cuckoos. That’s what we are and that’s not funny. And I don’t want to talk about it.”
Kiev rocked as H-C read the informational plaque. Aria shook.
“Come on, let’s go,” said H-C concerned.
Under her breath Aria whispered, “Why does everyone always have to say ‘Come on Aria, let’s go, its time to go?’” Her fingers danced for the first time in weeks.
H-C suggested the butterfly conservatory might be a good way to end the visit under the circumstances.
“Would you like to go the butterfly exhibit?” H-C asked again.
“I want to just sit and look at the blue whale again. You and Kiev can go wherever. I will be there and I will wait. I always wait. I’m always okay.” She realized that she sounded like the woman who asked for change and talked to herself outside the corner store.
“Do you mind if we sit with you, Aria?” asked H-C.
“No.” She felt the push and pull of confusion.
The three of them made their way to the hall and sat under the great blue, listening to a symphony of whale songs.
That night Aria waited on the porch in Germany with conviction. She waited to demand an answer from her mother. But her mother never showed up. In her dream Aria screamed, “Coward!”