9. Gerda ex Machina
I was medicated for a few months. I was talking to everyone about that night and what I saw. Enid wanted me to come back to her reality and wear black and grieve with her or FOR her. She was a rich, lovely widow who had also lost a child. Her attention-sucking vortex just got a lot bigger. Ig just wanted me to shut up. He would always manage to find a moment during their visits, usually when Enid went to cry in the bathroom about her insane little girl. He would squeeze my wrist or ankle hard and grit his teeth. “You shut up, girly. You saw nothing.”
Finally, I bit him, breaking the skin. “You burnt up my Dad’s place! But he’s alive! He got out! Louis got OUT! OUT! OUT!”
Enid came back to find Ig nursing the gash on his finger. I looked at her blankly and barked a couple times.
When the police, fire and insurance companies fell into agreement, the will was read. I was not there, of course. But Arthur was not a stupid man. He was a true genius. Although he gave Enid free rein, he managed to put aside money in a trust for Louis and me. With Louis presumed dead, his portion reverted to me. The real surprise was that the trust was to be handled by his sister, a woman I had never met. The will and trust called for immediate transfer of guardianship as well.
Gerda Grimwalt lived in Geneva, Switzerland. And at first, Enid balked that she herself had never heard of such a person. But there was Gerda’s heavy-handed scribble on the will and trust documents. Two weeks later, in the middle of yet another awkward hospital visit, there was Gerda herself.
She trudged in full of purpose, a fat lady in a tan corduroy pantsuit. She made a lot of noise when she moved and she moved very fast. Her hair was an unnatural shade of buttery blonde. Her face was a duplicate of Arthur’s, but much rounder.
“Holy Hell, Dahlia, get yourself out of that bed. Get your things. Our flight is in two hours.”
Enid jaw dropped. Ig tried to step in front of her, but she bulldozed right through as if he were made of paper. She bustled about with a large bag in her hand, collecting my things.
“My leg still hurts.” I said weakly.
“Well, tough titty said the kitty. You need to walk. And NOW!” She whipped the covers off me and handed me clothing that she had brought with her.
“You are not taking my daughter anywhere, Lady!” Enid stood up.
Gerda turned and put her bulk right in Enid’s personal space. “Yes. I am.”
“My husband-“ Enid began.
“Is dead. And your boy. This child is not safe with you. And especially not with this greasy old leech!” She threw a hip forward and knocked Ig off balance.
Who was this person? A fairy godmother? A real aunt? A crazed stranger? A paid actress? A hallucination?
Hospital security was called. Police were called. But Gerda had all the papers. And all the right information. And me – more than willing – to be anywhere else but here.
She marched beside me as I was wheeled out to the hospital parking lot. I climbed into the taxi and turned to see Enid and Ig. She had collapsed to her knees, sobbing that she had lost everyone. Ig was still arguing with a police officer. I felt wobbly, but I wanted to go and never come back.
As soon as the taxi pulled away, Aunt Gerda pulled off her blonde wig. She was completely bald. And for the first time, she was quiet and still.
“Thank you.” I said quietly.
“Gratitude is good, kiddo. But you have got to understand something right up front. Your dad loved you kids more than life. We could get all buddy-buddy, but I’m not going to be around very long. The least I could do is get you sprung.” She drew in a ragged breath.
“Am I going to live with you?” I was afraid she might drop me off at the airport and leave me there.
“Yes. If that’s what you want. I’m crabby and I’m fat and I don’t like kids. And if you are like Arthur, you will drive me crazy.” She turned to face me and took my hand. As we passed the streetlights on the expressway, shadows found her face. “I don’t even know you. But these decisions are going to have to be yours. You’ll need to be a grown up. I’m here to sign my name for you. Be clear on what you want. And don’t whine if it turns out different than you expected.”
I didn’t say anything for a very long time. We boarded the plane and I slept the entire flight. A full seven hour deep slumber. Nightmare free. I was floating, but not falling. I could control how high I rose, fly and land safely.
When we landed, Gerda was still holding my small hand in hers. It was like my hand had been swallowed by a warm crescent roll. I smiled at her, still groggy. She raised one of her pencil-thin eyebrows. I noticed they had been carefully drawn on because she had no eyebrow hair either.
“Get your crap and let’s go, Sleeping Beauty!”
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