11. I Know Who You Are!
Life with Gerda Grimwalt opened more doors for me than I could have imagined. My childhood with Enid had meant being relegated to an inconvenience. Louis and I had been accessories to be trotted out to entertain company. I had literally no idea how we had survived infancy. My world was so painfully small.
Gerda treated me like a companion, an intellectual equal. She did not mince words or sugar coat anything. She never once dumbed down her conversations with me. She was frank about her perceptions of Arthur, Enid, Ig and me.
And she saw my world from the other side of a newly-open door. In my first week, we walked through the streets of Geneva. Everything was written in four languages! There were street vendors with balloons and ice cream. She bought me a single scoop of lemon glace. I thought it would be sour, but it was creamy and sunshiny.
We passed beautiful stores and ornate, jeweled shop windows. She noticed me eyeballing the chocolatiers. She took my hand. “Come on, that’s not what you want, Kiddo.”
She trudged on just toward the entrance of the Botanical Gardens where a tiny blue cart was parked. She greeted the small, chubby man with a big kiss on each cheek.
He returned the gesture. He circled his hands around her face, crinkling her silk head scarf. “Toute est belle, Mees Gerda!”
“Deux truffles, Maxim.”
He made a stiff little bow and took her money. He handed us each a large, multilayered piece of chocolate heaven. I followed her into the gardens and we toasted before indulging.
“Let’s toast to freedom, Dahlia.” She winked.
We bumped chocolates. That moment defined the concept of delicious for me. I was in the gorgeous center of a wide world, with a responsible adult who actually liked me, eating the most divine Swiss chocolate.
“I love this city. I love everything about it. It’s expensive as hell. I can go twenty miles toward France and live for half the cost. But I wouldn’t trade it.”
“It’s your favorite place in the world?”
“Mmm. No.” She became thoughtful. “I’ll take you there one day, though. It’s called Mer de Glace. Sea of Glass. Sea of Ice. It’s blue!”
Her head did this slight, jerky thing when she was excited. It was involuntary. And just in that moment, that angle, that profile – I KNEW who she was!
Aunt Gerda was Wanda the Witch! Arthur’s inspiration for the sassy spell-caster was his own sister!
I would never tell her that, but it made my heart smile. A little piece of her had been with Arthur and me all along in that workshop. Her voice and mannerisms were comfortable for me because they were already familiar. Wanda was kind and brilliant and helpful and magical. If Gerda had donned a curly purple wig, she could have done the show herself.
A gateway opened in my mind about the relationship between Arthur and his sister. She was older and he was her baby brother. Although she lived half-way across the world, they must have still been close. It dawned on me that Gerda and I were both grieving a little brother lost. But I never saw her cry or lose her composure.
She rented a Jet D’eau – a tour boat that took us around Lake Geneva. She pointed out Villa Diodati – where Lord Byron vacationed.
“That’s where Frankenstein was born. Mary Shelley was hanging out with Byron, and her crazy husband and that creepy Polidori.”
“I read about them, the Romantics with John Keats.”
“Smart girl. You can read anything in my library. Educate yourself. Round out that brain.” She patted my head. “Feed it with big, fat juicy stories. If you’re like Arthur…” she smiled, not finishing.
“What if I’m more like you?”
“Well. Hm. You’re not like your mother – although you look like her.”
We looked out at billowy clouds hanging over the water. She took out a handkerchief from her purse and wiped a bit of chocolate off my face.
“I’ll say this, Dahlia. We are the best of them. All that was good about Arthur and Louis, even that one, tiny good molecule of Enid – we are the best of all that. Let’s celebrate that every day. Deal?”
I put my arm around my kind and magical aunt. I thought of Louis seeing the world through my eyes. I couldn’t wait to show him the world. And the Mer de Glace. The Sea of Ice.
The Sea of Glass.