3. The Human Heinrich
Dad’s workshop was my bliss. Working alongside this gentle man who spoke softly and always patiently explained the why and works of things gave me inspiration and belief in myself. While Enid ruled her garish, neon manor house and played quirky, girlish hostess to gross, horny freeloaders, we would build and design and repair. While Louis, my treasure, hid in his closet and voraciously read all of H.G. Wells, Jack London and Ray Bradbury, we drew up plans for new creatures.
“Dolly Daisy, my apprentice! Hand your Pa the small flathead. Gordy’s busted an elbow from his last show!”
I absorbed every detail, every inch of his environment: The squeaky cot with blue pinstripe mattress where Arthur slept nearly every night. The vice lined with foam to carefully cradle his creations while he nursed them. The white silk sheet neatly covering the Opal puppet.
“Why does she stay covered up? Is it to keep her clean?”
“Mmm. That. And Opal doesn’t always need to know what I’m up to out here.”
“Soooo, Opal can mind her own business?”
He nodded. Even then at seven years old, I began to understand the balance in my parents’ marriage. Arthur was doing what he loved. And Enid was not a part of that. Enid was wallowing in their success and living it up. And Arthur had no desire to be part of that. It was their bliss.
And one day into this oddly happy arrangement, Ignatio Ormonza arrived with his Salvador Dali mustache and long yellow teeth. Enid had hired him as a gardener or groundskeeper or something. I had suddenly started seeing him lingering around her window and drooling a bit. His hands were smooth and doughy as if he’d never held a shovel or rake. His fingers seemed unnaturally long like viscous caterpillars crawling toward the things he wanted.
What Ignatio wanted was Enid and her sweet, carefree lifestyle. He wanted to ooze into the wide gaps of Enid’s time alone, meet influential and wealthy people at her parties, and to establish himself as her dear, dear friend. Oh yes, she was married, but so so lonely.
The one thing Ignatio did NOT want was children. And Louis and I gummed up the works for him.
He ignored us at first. Then found ways for Enid to dismiss us. But we had both seen his villainous intention in the way he wrapped his gross, spindly fingers around Enid’s waist. It was in the way he leered at her breasts or the pearls around her neck. He was truly a cliché big bad wolf. And Enid, usually very savvy in her recognition of character, was the bamboozled Little Red. She was clueless to the danger he posed.
She would toss her hair and exclaim, “Oh Ig! You are incorrigible! Dear Ig!”
Ig would chortle and snort and wallow with his head in her bosom or lap. Then he would catch us gaping at him and his face would turn into a gargoyle of guilt.
“Get out of here, you nasty little creeps! I’ll fix you!”
Enid laughed it off. He was just playing with us. Right?
Then it escalated. We were pretty much barred from the house, except to be in our rooms. I had Dad’s workshop, but Louis was a prisoner. He was afraid of the workshop. He was afraid of Ig. Most of all Louis was afraid of the basement.
When the Grimwalt monsters became famous, Arthur had decided to create giant helium balloons of them. He had sort of abandoned the idea in the middle of making his first balloon, Heinrich the German Ghost. Both Louis and I hated Heinrich. His mist-grey face hollowed with shadows, his nasally cackle, and his jerky, floaty movements were suspect. I always felt a weird, jagged pit of fear in my guts when left alone with the Heinrich puppet. But the balloon was worse.
Heinrich balloon skin lay strewn across the basement floor. He could not be made in the workshop, because the fabric would mold or get too dirty. Our basement was dry and relatively clean. There was not much in it except for the belchy, clunky gas furnace. In the blue glow of its pilot light, piles of Heinrich sagged. Whenever the furnace kicked on, the ventilation blew against the fabric. The flayed Heinrich, with his crumpled ghost face, breathed.
Ig must have figured this out, because he suddenly invented a new game to “play” with us. It was called “Catchers Keepers”.
Whenever one of us would walk in on Enid and Ig, Ig would chase us through the house. Louis would usually make it to his closet, but my room was further away. Ig would run, arms outstretched flexing his spidery fingers. If he caught us, he would push us down the basement stairs and lock the door. That was the keeping part. The string lights in the basement were too high for us to reach. So we would sit as far away from Heinrich as possible.
Louis and I would watch the furnace glow, praying that when it turned on with a whoosh, Heinrich would not come to life and strangle us. We would stare at Heinrich’s slack jaw and try to believe that the teeth would not begin to chatter and snap. We felt so small, so lost.
The air billowed into the balloon and our hearts pounded in the darkness.