Mara Schindler

Stella means star

Stella wasn't tired at all but told to sleep. That was so unjust!
Everything was unjust. That the sun still was shining was unjust. That the twins were allowed to watch television downstairs was unjust. Stella could hear them laughing when Bernd the Sheep had done any nonsense again. He always knew how to do it. In each sequel he did something to laugh about. So he did in this one.
Stella hid herself under the blanket and closed her eyes. She felt so angry that she got into a sweat. The sheet already was wet as if she would be in fever. Or in a nightmare. With monsters in it and long-nosed witches croaking like raven and falling off their brooms while laughing. When suddenly a huge monster mouth appeared to swallow them up, turning their laughter into a scream you don't wanna listen to! Stella put away the blanket to gasp for breath. Then left her bed and went to the window. She opened the curtains and had a look at the garden where Mr. Schulz was busy with moving the lawn mower. The molehills forced his way into a zigzag that he didn't seem to like. He often stopped to take the spade and knock them down, followed by his wife who, armed with a rake, finished them off.
Stella was close to screaming but watched Mr. Schulz switching on the machine and starting to cut the grass although it hadn't reached ankle's height yet. Stella knew that for sure because she had tried it herself only one hour ago. She had put off her shoes and socks to walk over the meadow, walk over it barefooted, feeling the grass tickling her soles, sitting down with stretched legs, watching a ladybird climbing up a blade of grass, thinking with a grin: "Look at this, Mr. Winter, spring has arrived."
Five seconds later, Mrs. Schulz appeared to do what she always did: namely scolding.
"Look what you've done, everything's flat now, how to cut the grass this way. Get up immediately, girl! Good for you that my husband's at town, otherwise ... I told you to get up!"
But Stella didn't do so. It wasn't a question of not wanting, but not being able to. Her legs didn't obey. They just remained lying on the meadow, surrounded by the grass that hadn't reached ankle's height yet, with daisies here and there stretching to the sun. And the beauty of it all just made her laughing out loud!
"What a cheek!"
Mrs. Schulz grabbed her arm to put her on her feet and she didn't let her go, even not when Stella tried to get rid of her by wriggling like an eel. So, she had no choice but biting. Biting the hand that grabbed her!
One second later, Stella found herself rushing into the staircase. Taking three stairs same time, she opened the door and closed it immediately and turned the key two times so nobody could get in.
Oh, being safe ...
Stella's heart had beaten like a woodpecker, tocktocktock, while she was hiding behind Daddy's black winter coat. Here, she could smell him as if he'd be close. Oh, if it would be evening already! If Daddy were home to take her pick-a-back, jumping through the flat, saying: "That's not a drama at all, little star, never forget: The others are monsters but you are an angel!"
Later, the door bell had rung. It was Ma who couldn't get in. Stella quickly opened the door, ready to fly directly into her arms which already had been filled with shopping bags.
"Why did you lock yourself?", Ma scolded. "I have to leave again to pick up the twins. Do you want to join me?"
But Stella just shook her head. As if the way to the kindergarten wouldn't be one of her favourites. All those planetrees with its leaves big as exercise books, sailing through the air like spaceships, turning the streets into a rustle concert in autumn!
Now, there weren't any leaves yet, although their buds were close to burst.
Stella watched Ma crossing the street, then unpacked the bags to put every thing at its place: butter, milk and eggs into the fridge. The jam on the sideboard. The lemons into the hanging basket. But what to do with those tomatoes? Stella wasn't sure, first put them into the fridge but took them off quite soon.
"Tomatoes lose their taste", Stella thought, "once they start getting cold."
And so, she put them on the heating and switched it on.
Stella was still standing at the window, staring outside. One quarter of the meadow was already cut. Stella put off her pyjamas and got into her shirt and jeans. Almost three hours left until Daddy would be home! No way to stay in her room so long. And Ma! Stella foamed with rage. Ma was the worst monster of them all! Hard to imagine, hard but true, that Ma had apologized to Mrs. Schulz! And when Stella refused to do so, she had told her to go to bed as if she was a baby! But that was after Stella had cleaned the heating that was dicovered over and over with tomato mush. What a mess. (Proof that tomatoes didn't like heat, too.) But it hadn't been bad purpose as Ma still believed ...
But the worst thing, the worst thing had been Mrs. Schulz sitting at the kitchen table and watching her cleaning, shaking her head all the time as if she'd think: "How to have such a wayward daughter!"
Stella was shivering again. She hardly managed to tie her shoes. At least, there was no need being silent. Nobody took notice of her anyway. Ma and the twins were sitting in the living room. Bernd the Sheep was just fallen on his back, moving his legs like a beetle. Stella nearly joined into the twins' laughter when she remembered again how angry she was!
She threw the door with a bang and trudged downstairs like an elephant, remaining one second to have a look at the courtyard. There was Mrs. Schulz. Her left hand was bandaged. Her right hand was holding the lawn mower's cable so that Mr. Schulz didn't cut it.
Stella wondered whether to rush into the cellar to pull off the plug but then decided against it. All she wanted was talking to Daddy now.

When sitting in the bus, Stella draw a deep breath. The bus would bring her directly to the road of Dad's office. It wasn't a real office but a studio. Daddy used to draw his paintings here. But Stella used to call it 'office' when she was asked. She wouldn't have to explain so much this way. Because when mentioned 'studio', people started to ask really silly: Whether her Dad was famous. And which museums showed his paintings. And why they didn't do so. And why her Dad didn't better go to office then and so on ...
Stella really loved Daddy's office. She even visited it more often than Ma did. Not long ago, she used to go there every day after school to sit for him. Daddy had drawn her face, for hours. For weeks. Stella couldn't imagine that drawing her face was so difficult! But it was. And he had hummed while drawing her like he used to do in a satisfied mood. But Stella wasn't allowed to hum, too. She was meant to sit as quiet as a sleeping sloth.
Maybe she would be allowed to have a look at the drawing today? And Daddy, would he be happy to see her? After all, she came unannounced, a fact Daddy didn't appreciate very much. Maybe he was busy with drawing an eye right now which was a difficult job, almost as difficult as it was to draw a hand ...
Stella no longer felt angry but anxious, wondering whether it wouldn't be better to get off at the next stop line. Why not? She'd wait for the Seven and would be home again in fifteen minutes ...
Stella pulled up her nose. Meanwhile, the meadow was bleak like a cactus for sure. The daisies were gone, so was the ladybird. Ma was still sitting on the sofa with the twins. And Bernd the Sheep was still lying on his back, moving his legs like a beetle. Stella would tiptoe back into her room, and nobody would actually have noticed at all that she'd been away ...
Stella got up to push the STOP-button. The bus stopped and Stella got off, too early though, close at Lindenpark but that wasn't bad because she wanted to walk a bit anyway. Walking always was a good option when your head was in a mess for your thoughts were able to slide downwards then, slide directly into your legs to be walked tired. In best case, your head had fallen asleep, too, when your thoughts had finally reached your feet ...
But somehow, it didn't work today. Perhaps because of all those people who were lying on the meadow, sunbathing. Or because of all those cyclists who nearly ran you down when being careless for a second ...
Stella left the park once she had entered it, trotting along the main road until she reached Friedrichsplatz. There, finally, was Luisenstraße! Stella felt relieved. Almost there.
Then she stood in the courtyard. A bumblebee circled round her and Stella kept still until the bumblebee disappeared. Tulips were blossoming in the garden bed towards her feet, a violin was singing somewhere. Stella hoped it didn't disturb her Dad. His ears were very sensitive. That's been the reason why he had rented the studio. Since the twins' birth he hadn't been able to work at home any longer ...
Stella slipped through the courtyard door and went upstairs the cool staircase. The violin was very close now, you couldn't call it a singing at all, it was a squealing and croaking.
"Must be a rank beginner", Stella thought. "Poor Dad."
She was in a hurry now and took three stairs same time. There was the green door, beside it the nameplate: Christoph Müller. Portraitist.
Stella rang the doorbell. Nothing happened. Dad was probably gone out to buy something. That couldn't take long. Stella decided to wait inside. She lifted up the doormat, took the key and opened the door.
It was quite cold inside, much colder than outside. Stella crossed the narrow corridor and entered the kitchen. She opened the window to let the sun in and took a seat on the windowsill. Her gaze wandered slowly through the room. How tidy it was! Each thing was on its place, not like at home where always something of the twins was lying around and the mountain of dishes seemed to grow with every hour. There was no mountain of dishes in Dad's kitchen. Only a single cup was standing in the sink, feeling lonely.
Stella jumped off the windowsill and entered the studio.
Here, it was bright and warm, smelling of paints and turpentine. Stella loved that smell, getting excited. She passed her hand over the brushes, lying one after the other, fussy cleaned, big ones and small ones, wide ones and flat ones and very thin ones, too.
Then she saw the painting.
Standing on the second easel, it was covered by a cloth which meant that it was almost finished. Almost finished but not finished yet. Before finishing it completely, Dad had to forget it for a little while, maybe for two weeks or so. And when he looked at it again, he saw at once whether it was good or not. He'd only finish it if it was good. Otherwise, it would disappear on the loft forever. That was the way Daddy used to work.
Well, so here it was, the painting Daddy had done, Stella's portrait!
Stella circled round the easel like a wasp round a honey bread. She started to count until ten, but at seven a half she already had lifted up the cloth to peer below. And what she saw just took her breath away.
How could that monster be her?!?
Eyes as big as the eyes of an alien! A mouth that actually was none, only a wide, mean stroke! And hair that looked like a helmet!
Stella didn't hesitate a second: She took off the painting, tucked it under her arm and trudged back into the corridor. This painting belonged on the loft immediately!
"What a row!"
Dad was just leaving his bedroom, wearing his blue pyjamas, his hair was untidy, he looked like a bear whose hibernation had been interrupted too early.
"What's going on here, Stella?" Dad saw the painting towards her feet: "And what the hell are you doing there?"
Stella suddenly felt deaf somehow. She wanted to run away, leaving Dad and the painting far behind, but she couldn't. It was not possible. All she was able to do was standing there and watching her nose running. At least, the violin's croaking was gone. It was very silent now, so silent you could hear the sparrows quarrelling on the roof.
Stella noticed Dad's foot pushing away the painting. She noticed him squatting down, opening his arms and lifting her up as if she'd still be a baby. He went into the kitchen and carefully put her down on a basket chair, then opened the fridge and took off the milk. He put a pot on the stove and began to prepare hot chocolate. Stella watched him mixing powder and sugar in a cup, pouring hot milk over it and stirring it all again with the whisk. Later, a cream layer was added to carry the marshmallows which jut out the cup like icebergs.


Then - f i n a l l y - the hot chocolate stood in front of her. When she put her hands around the cup, Stella realized how hungry she was. She carefully blew, then began to drink in small sips, right through the cream layer she drank, and the icebergs were colliding with her nose tip that it just crashed.
And with a belly full of warm chocolate, Stella began to talk. About Mrs. Schulz who had been bleeding. And about Ma who had been crying. Who had been crying because Stella was such a monster. The same monster like shown on the painting lying on the corridor's floor: with eyes as big as an alien's eyes. With a mouth that actually was none, just a wide, mean stroke. And with hair that looked like a helmet ...
"But doesn't Stella mean star!"
Dad got up and left the kitchen while Stella began to attack the marshmallows. Marshmallows so soft and sweet that her teeth started to ache. She even noticed a bit of cream on the bottom of the cup, reached out for it and finished it off, wondering what Dad was going to do. Probably inspecting the painting. The painting ... Stella felt her anger coming back. And like on cue, the violin started squealing again!
'I know what Daddy's doing right now', Stella thought mischievously. 'He's painting a self-portrait, entitled: The monsterboss.'
"Are you ready?"
Stella looked up.
Dad was standing in the door frame, freshly showered, with wet hair. His blue pyjamas were changed against jeans and shirt. He was putting on his jacket right now. It was the good one he used to wear on exhibitions.
"Are you ready?", Dad repeated, impatiently watching the clock. "We are late. The twins are waiting already. And we haven't bought flowers yet."

This short story was written in April 2017, inspired by my little niece's birth. It tells about how difficult life and togetherness can be sometimes as we all wear our own glasses of perception. Adults often are caught in everyday life's business while children are experiencing the m o m e n t with all their senses, the adventure of spring, walking over a meadow barefooted, the beauty of a ladybird and the fragility of it all. A mown meadow can be practical. But it can also be a drama. And maybe we should just hold our tongues sometimes to not disturb the wonder.