Now tonight was awful.
I don't need to know what's going on between Maria and Father to know that it was awkward. I dunno if my siblings noticed anything (I know Kurt was too preoccupied with his weiner schnitzel to notice anything else, like a typical boy), but I did, and Liesl did.
Father was looking at Maria, probably because she was wearing the same dress that she wore during the puppet show. I don't know why, but Father seems to be really attached to it or something. She is really pretty in it, if I'm being quite honest. Then again, Maria is always pretty in anything. That look on his face is part of the reason me and Liesl were sure that Father was in love with her. But him proposing to the Baroness is really messing with our perception of his facial expressions.
The Baroness was looking like she ate a sour lemon, and tried to get the captain's attention with talk of the wedding. Fraulein, though trying to be funny and make conversation with us and try not to bother the other adults and uncle Max, wasn't hiding the sadness in her eyes very well. She was trying not to alarm us, but after that conversation about the terrace situation, we all knew something was up. Nobody cracked up though, so the 3 day time limit for the adults to solve their own problem before we get started on fixing it is still on. I want those days to get shorter, this isn't fun to watch. If it were up to me, I'd be going up to Maria and giving her a hug right there, but I have to keep my part in the agreement.
As soon as we kids finished, we left, with Maria inviting us for some stories before bedtime. She left at the front of our pack, walking so fast it's like she was trying to get away from something, or someone. The only question is whether it was Father or the Baroness.
"Alright, so what kind of story would you like to hear tonight?" she asks us.
"You never finished the story with Eliza!" pipes up Marta, "She was with her family after going through the ball and all the training!"
Maria's face warms with the recollection. Her English accent is better than all of ours, so we laughed so hard when she made her impression of Eliza's Cockney accent, or Henry's snobby-sounding English. It always put us to bed with a smile. Marta must be still really worried to want that story.
"Alright, but you all need to sit down and be ready to listen." she says, and noticing we were ready, she starts the ending to her story:
"Eliza went home, and saw her dad. She hasn't seen him at all when she was learning to become a lady in a flower shop. And he became rich because of an American man who left him a lot of money after he passed on. He was being studied for his bad accent and he was going to get married tomorrow morning. He didn't notice that Eliza became a lady and that she was going to be a good upper class lady. She suddenly knew she was on her own here. Her voice, before the training, was just like theirs, Cockney, foreign to the proper English person. But now it was proper, and the people she was raised with couldn't recognize her anymore, except her dad that was not going to listen to her feeling sad or anything."
"Poor Eliza!" Gretl cries out. Maria waits a moment. And continues her tale:
"Eliza had nowhere to go, except Henry's mother's home. She thought that the lady would help her figure out what to do next. The lady, after hearing Eliza's tale wasn't just angry, she was congratulating Eliza for not throwing an iron at her son." That comment earns Maria a few laughs, as Maria continues.
"Meanwhile, Henry is impatient, confused and worried. Why did Eliza leave after such a triumph at the ball? Why is she so upset? Eventually, he went to meet with his mother, only to see Eliza, looking quite pleased with herself and quite composed. Henry raged and rattled, but Eliza told him how she would handle living without him, and eventually, she just left. Henry suddenly felt alone. He didn't agree with everything Eliza did. He certainly didn't think her hanging around Freddy Einsford-Hill was anything good either. But he thought, she's but a woman, she's not going to be the reason I feel miserable."
Maria pauses. Something sparkles in her eyes, as she thinks of how to phrase the next part of the story. Then picks up her guitar that she always brings, just in case there's a song in the story, and sits down with us. Her face wasn't shining though. All of us were captivated with the story, but I can sense that it's not the story that's making her look so far away right now.
"But he realized, that there was something he was forgetting when he was deciding how to best to forget her. He'd gotten used to her." And that's when Maria began to strum:
I've grown accustomed to her face.
She almost makes the day begin.
I've grown accustomed to the tune that
She whistles night and noon.
Her smiles, her frowns,
Her ups, her downs
Are second nature to me now;
Like breathing out and breathing in.
I was serenely independent and content before we met;
Surely I could always be that way again-
I've grown accustomed to her look;
Accustomed to her voice;
Accustomed to her face.
Fraulein continued to strum some more, as she stared to make sure her fingers were on the correct frets as she played. My heart started to ache. Something in this song made me feel like this wasn't Maria as Henry singing, but rather, Maria herself opening her heart.
But I'm so used to hear her say
"Good morning" ev'ry day.
Her joys, her woes,
Her highs, her lows,
Are second nature to me now;
Like breathing out and breathing in.
I'm very grateful she's a woman
And so easy to forget;
Rather like a habit
One can always break-
I've grown accustomed to the trace
Of something in the air;
Accustomed to her face.
As she sang the last note, and the last chord on her guitar reverberated around the room, we wait in complete silence. Something in me screams for me to hug my governess, but before anyone could do anything, Gretl walks right up to her and gives her a hug. After that, we all rush to hug our Fraulein. I can feel my tears burn the back of my eyes. Maria put the guitar down on the ground, and hugs us all back. I can feel her vibrate a little, with what I think is relief and sadness. She then gets up, still holding up Gretl.
"Thank you. That was a very good hug. Now off to bed. I'll tell you the ending to the story tomorrow morning. It's very late, and I think you guys are very tired to be so close to tears." she smiles, but that sadness I saw and heard on the terrace never left her face, and is fixed on her now. I want to cry out to her, tell her it's alright to cry, but I know she would've cried now, if she didn't love us so much to not want us to worry.
"Fraulein, will you be here tomorrow morning?" asks Marta. Maria kneels down to be on eye level with my little sister and nods.
"I promise, you will hear the ending to this story tomorrow morning. You can think of the story of being my responsibility to finish, no matter what." she promises. Marta smiles, giving Maria a kiss on the cheek.
"Will you come to say goodbye when you leave?" Louisa asks, eyes full of tears. Maria stands up to put her hand on my older sister's head.
"I promise." says our Fraulein, "Now off to bed. I can't have you guys crying, and filling the room with tears. That wouldn't do any good to any of us."
"I'll go to bed on one condition. You have to answer a question." I ask her. Maria almost invisibly stiffens. I want to ask her if our father hurt her. But Liesl's look of reprove stops me. I have to keep that agreement.
"Did you leave because we did something wrong?" I ask. I'm sure it isn't the case, but I have to be sure. If we did something wrong, if I did anything to hurt Fraulein, I would do anything I could to ask Maria to forgive me. Maria face falls, and she grabs me in a big bear hug.
"Oh never, children. You didn't do anything wrong. I would never do that because I love you. I made a bad mistake and left, I'm so sorry you were hurt." she says, and I can hear her tears hiding in her throat, and a tidal wave of feeling. After a moment, she lets me go, her eyes glistening just a little more than before.
"Does that answer your question?" she asks. The room is filled with silence, a silence I've read in a book: deafening. There is so much we want to say to the lady who opened our hearts again, who made us feel like this was home. There isn't enough words in the English language to tell her how much we love her, missed her and want her to stay. I don't think there are enough words out there, period, to tell her how hard I will work, search, and help if it means she won't ever go back to the convent. I know my siblings feel the same, as we file out of the room. Grelt and Marta stay and hug Maria, as I slip through the door, as the story time was in their room to begin with.
I go inside my little room. I don't share it with anyone and I crumple into my bed. I want to cry, but I know that I can't. There's too much to think about and too much to wonder to think about sleeping, and crying won't make me feel any better for it. Stupid adults, why do they have to have such complicated problems to deal with?
A thought pops into my mind. A crazy thought, but a thought anyways. I slip off the bed, and prop my elbows on the mattress, my palms clasped together the way I've seen Fraulein do it so many times before. I start my little prayer, whispering:
"I don't think I've ever prayed to you before, and I know it's a bad time to start now, when I need you this badly, even after not believing in you for so long. I'm still not sure I believe in you. I think I stopped after you took Mother away. I never understood why. Maybe it's because you wanted Maria to come, or maybe you decided that after Father stopped spending time with us. I don't know."
"But I do know this: I know I want to do anything and everything for Maria to stay. I know that's not my choice to make, and I know Maria wants to be a nun. But that abbey is nothing like her. It's quiet, respectful and graceful. Maria's graceful and all, but she can't be quiet and peaceful her whole life. She was always so happy with us up until just last week, and I don't know what happened."
"I promised to give her three days to fix it, and then I'll act, but I want you to help her. If you're real, if Maria's stories about you are really true, you got to have the power to help her, to make her happy. I can't stand to see her looking so sad and grim all this time. I want her to fix whatever is bothering her, and I need you to help. I will start praying for you every day like this, and saying the whole god bless you's and all the way Maria does it every day. I can't watch her look so far away like this forever, and I know that isn't good for her either. Please bring her back to us."
By the end of the prayer, I can feel the tears begin to pour. I don't usually cry. I invent the plans of getting rid of governesses, I help create the battle plans. I don't need to cry. But this, this is so much more important to me than where to put a jar of spiders, so much more meaningful than remembering the plan signals to be able to effectively kick out any adult who wanted to control us. It hurts me to see her like this, and it hurts me to see Father try to be happy with the Baroness while he stares down Maria from the other side of the table.
I finish my prayer: "Amen, or whatever it is you use for this stuff." I climb into the covers, and only exhaustion forces the mantle of sleep to fall over me.