Sunday arrived and Aria noticed the house was abuzz with activity and excitement. Rudy left early to go to the fish market for ingredients. He told her he was making Halibut in coconut milk on a bed of fennel and cilantro; asparagus with a light crème sauce; wild rice; wild green salad with strawberries, orange slices, crumbled blue cheese; and flourless chocolate cake.
He returned from the market with three big bags with items wrapped in brown paper with white tape holding them together. Aria watched the production as he labored in the kitchen from noon to four. He described the fish he used and the flavor of fresh halibut – salty like the sea, but light and sweet if it was fresh; and what spices like fennel brought enhanced it. He had stories about spice combinations and food disasters. He talked lovingly about his mother. As he continued on about his family stories, Aria became absorbed in shredding herbs, or cutting onions, avoiding being immersed in his tales.
His stories reminded her of both her Oma and how much she missed her, and the anxiety she was feeling in seeing her mother again. She felt the need to retreat to her room. This was a big day. It had been so long since she’d seen her mother, except in her dreams. She didn’t know quite how to feel or what to do. Even the soothing act of sounding out letters was not accessible at this point. From her room she heard the arrival procession.
At 4:14 p.m. the door bell rang and she heard the voices of Elias and H-C. She peeked ’round the corner and spied down into the foyer as they entered.
“Come in Elias. Heather-Celeste,” Rudy was on the verge of giggling. Elias wore a white linen suit, a polo shirt with a matching hat and white knit shoes. H-C looked more matronly than she ever had, but still stylish. She wore a high collar navy blue pencil dress with white piping, adorned with a short strand of pearls. Her heels were about an inch-and-a-half tall and her hair was pulled back in to a bun. Sasha was the next to arrive. Sasha, neat and clean as usual, added a skip to his step, raised his eyebrows to look alert, and employed rarely-used muscles to pull the sides of his mouth upwards. Her father arrived, looking handsome in jeans and a Klein polo shirt.
“You’re obviously going to try to seduce Idelina into listening,” Rudy guessed. Rudy wore light-blue dress pants and a white collared shirt. Trish wore a pantsuit that was not out of the ordinary.
Kiev appeared at the bottom of the stairs and ascended them. He’d never come up the entire time Aria had been in the house.
“Here I am Kiev. I’m coming,” she said.
They found the troupe in the living room. She raised her hand to her mouth. Kiev’s body relaxed. Elias looked like a Cuban from 1940s, and Miles’ clothes and his expression looked like a gigolo. H-C reminded her of a librarian and Sasha looked as if he had one too many coffees. It wasn’t the clothes it was the persona wearing the clothes that seemed hysterical.
Trish came into the living room.
“What do we have here? What is going on? Who are you people?”
There were several vases of flowers placed around the house and several brochures of middle schools in New York and young artist programs and camps dotting various end and coffee tables.
Elias and H-C had gone to the kitchen to find a vase for one more bunch of flowers. The doorbell rang and they all looked at each other for a suspended moment in time. Rudy and her father made for the door.
“Maybe you should go on and get it Miles. You should be the one that introduces her to the family. It would be proper.”
“Okay,” her father looked nervous to Aria, but he took a moment to collect himself and take on the air of a gigolo by adjusting his eyebrows and hand position. She grew flat, returning to the rock plain.
He opened the door, after adjusting his collar, giving her mother the most slaying smile. In a deep baritone, sensual voice he welcomed her to his childhood home and into the family.
Elias and H-C giggled. Sasha, who had just entered the kitchen for an extra water glass for the table, covered his mouth. “Did you hear him? He sounds like Barry White!”
“Brother is trying to be Don Juan,” said Elias.
“We heard that,” Trish yelled from the living room.
She hadn’t changed much, not as much as Aria had. Her mother was still stunning with an engaging smile. The way her father looked at her, Aria thought he was thinking the same thing. Her large hazel eyes were framed by long, full lashes. When she blinked, she reminded Aria of a seal. She had the same heart-shaped face but thinner lips and straighter hair than Aria, and wore all white as it was Sunday.
“Mama!” she moved towards her mother. The air seemed dense and cumbersome. I just need to get to her, this is not a dream. She is here and I need to feel something more, a rush of hope. Where is it? God, I’ve lost the ability to feel.
For the first time in close to three years, her mother stood before her. Part of her wished they were alone, but part of her felt safe with her uncles and H-C there, because of this deadness she felt.
“Little mouse, let me see you. You’re not so little anymore.” Her arms spread wide as the span of an eagle’s wings in flight, pulling Aria in. Does she still love me, really love me?
Her mother began to weep as she embraced her. She had her mother’s arms wrapped tightly around her, finally. Her soul stood aside, not trusting what was happening. The witnesses began to retreat into the dining room and kitchen but her father hovered behind.
“Mama. I’m so glad to see you. I missed you, Mama,” it was protocol and right to say under the circumstances but by no means did it start from the heart.
“I’m here now, Aria. I’m sorry, so sorry.”
They embraced each other again, and then Aria stared into her mother’s eyes.
Mama did you leave because of me? Do you know? Will you leave again?
“Mama, I want you to meet everyone here in New York. I wish Eloisa could have been here too. Maybe, we can go to the garden in Brooklyn and you can meet her. I know you’d like her. She’s a rebel.”
“I am looking forward to meeting everyone, Beautiful One,” she embraced Aria’s face with her hands.
“May I introduce you to my family, Idelina?” Her father continued to use his baritone voice.
“I would love to.” Her mother seemed to add a little silk to her voice when she responded, and looked at her father a little longer than pedestrian.
Her mother held her hand as they moved into the dining room.
“Idelina, this is my older brother Rudolf.”
“Charmed,” Rudy gave her his best horse smile, took her hand, and kissed it. Her mother blushed and beamed.
“This is my brother Elias and his girlfriend, Heather-Celeste.”
“And H-C is my very good friend too, Mama,” added Aria.
“It is so nice to meet you. Aria is a fabulous young lady. You two look so much alike. Beautiful,” said H-C.
“This is my brother Sasha.”
Sasha, shaking her mother’s hand, gave a smile pulled tight against his teeth. He opened his eyes wider, seemingly for effect.
“And this Kiev.”
Kiev, facing her mother with his hands hanging at his sides, cast his gaze on her temples. This was as direct a look as Aria had ever seen him give at a person.
“Kiev, my pleasure,” her mother gently greeted.
What Aria remembered of her mother was that she was a kind, and fiercely protective of creatures that were vunerable.
Trish came in last attempting to make an entrance as usual.
“And this is Trish, the fine lady of the house,” Rudy said with exuberance.
The room said, “yes, yes, Trish is a fine lady.”
Trish gasped and looked around not appearing to recognize any of them. She appeared to be stunned, as if even she didn’t believe what they were saying. So did Aria.
“Trish is a Smith, as in the Smiths of Massachusetts. Their family was one of the first to open an insurance company in Massachusetts. Very distinguished,” Sasha said with an air of authority.
Idelina tried to look impressed and follow the conversation, yet her eyes kept focusing back onto Aria.
“Oh, I never knew that. Did you know the Bells of New York? I went to college with their son in California,” Elias replied.
Trish shook her head suspiciously, yet with some delight in her brow, “Well, I didn’t know the Bell’s directly, but I’m sure they knew of me.”
Elias continued to engage Trish in a name game, leading her into the kitchen with questions. Before she went through the door, she called back to Rudy, “Honey, can you fetch my picture album from the study. I want to show Elias?”
“Sure thing, Trish,” Rudy answered and then turned to Sasha. “Why don’t you put on some music. I brought a couple of CDs up.”
The brothers played R & B and some Latin jazz for her mother, laughed, and talked. Sasha played his cello at the end of the night.
As the evening wore on, her mother seemed to become intoxicated with the family. She stayed close to Aria, either holding her hand or her arm, or hugging her. Her eyes were compassionate, and pleading. Aria allowed her mother to give this to her, but she could not create the same longing and loving to give back. All that she thought she ever wanted was her mother, and she couldn’t find the way to be.
“Can we plan to talk tomorrow?” her father asked. “I can come pick you and Aria up in the morning. The three of us can get some breakfast and wander around the city. I’d like to talk to you alone at some point too. Aria can hang with Elias and H-C or Sasha in the evening. Dinner, maybe, you and I?”
“That sounds like a plan that can work, Miles. Aria might enjoy that. She’s gotten to be so beautiful.” Tears filled her mother’s eyes, her forehead stitching with concern. “I shouldn’t have left her. That was a bad decision,” she lamented and squeezed Aria’s arm. Idelina looked at her father in silence for several seconds.
“We’ll talk about it more tomorrow?” Her father whispered. “Aria, go get your things from upstairs, will you?” She would be staying with her mother that evening.
I have to pretend, or I’ll lose everything again. Pretend to be happy, to forgive, to not be afraid of the truth. Pretend that we are normal, a perfect family.
It had to be okay. She got the impression she was still loved and her mother, remorseful for leaving, regretted the years apart. Maybe, overnight her proper emotions would show up. She left the camera behind.
Aria came down the steps with a duffle bag. Her father jingled the rental car keys and headed out the door to Mount Vernon, New York, a suburb close to the city.
“Hey H-C, it’s me Miles. I just dropped them off and they seemed pretty happy. Yeah, I’m okay. I know she is, I’ve never forgotten how beautiful she was especially with Aria around. So tomorrow can you guys hang with Aria in the evening? Lina and I are going to dinner by ourselves, and I’ll bring up having Aria stay then. No, no, its okay, I think it’s better if we are by ourselves. I’m pretty sure, but thanks for asking. Okay, see you tomorrow evening.”
“Good morning daddy, welcome to our place,” she playfully greeted her father.
“How’d you ladies sleep last night?”
“Quite well. It was great to be with my daughter. We had long talks last night. A little hard, yes Aria, about me leaving. Never should have done that. Even if there were reasons.” Her mother’s voice shaky and cracking.
“Mama don’t cry again. Didn’t we agree that we would be silly this morning and have a nice time. Besides you are here now, you’re back from your trip, just like I knew you would be, like daddy did too.”
A lump rose in her throat as Aria comforted her mother and indirectly her father, and she thought of Kiev’s sculpture of the man on the screaming woman’s tongue. Was she the screamer or the one that endured the backwash of anger? She blinked away the threat of clarity and smiled at her parents. Her mother hadn’t brought anything up about Herr Rausche. Maybe, she didn’t know. Maybe there was still hope.
Aria said, “Let’s go to that place where we can get those crispy waffles and pastries.”
“That café and the food in it remind Aria of Germany,” Answered her father.
“Okay.” Her mother responded as she pulled herself together.
Proceeding as a trio to breakfast, they spoke of happier times editing out the four or five years of absences. Her parents looked at each other with softness, but there was something else lingering she couldn’t quite understand. She noticed they took opportunities to touch each other in conversation and give each other quick hugs. What if they could be a family again? Maybe her mother would love New York and decide to stay here. With all the things that had happened in her short life, she reasoned, maybe I’ve paid off all my karmic debt. Maybe, now I can have both of them and I can learn to act happy.