One day Christina Heppel was sent home from school after turning up in knickers affixed with apple blossoms. Another day, she wore a top hat and crinoline, but wasn’t sent home. On a third occasion, she was paddled for sporting a horse-hair mustache. After that, she arrived in her school uniform but stalled lessons with questions that had no answers or good ones. Can God control her thoughts? Is her dog being haunted by ghosts? Why does rhubarb taste like Klangfarbenmelodie? Christina’s questions were contagious, and soon all the children wanted answers to their own mysteries. Ursula wanted to know why her mother’s belly stopped growing. Eva wanted to know why there was never enough bread. Hans wanted to know why his skin burned at being touched.
At recess, the children sat in a circle. Christina sat in the middle and spoke in hushed tones. The teachers looked on with disapproval. After class they convened to discuss the matter, but could not agree on a course of action.
The following Monday, Christina used a tree branch as a walking stick and declared that she was blind. She ran into desks and walls, knocked over books and chairs, wielding her stick like a sword. When the teacher took her branch and spanked her with it, the class revolted. The twins, Andreas and Alex, faked seizures and convulsed violently on the floor. Eva went around the room, kissing classmates on the lips. Martin began a cabaret:
Was Dir mein Lieb einst der SchÃ¶pfer verlieh,
What gave you my love once the creator,
O, so viel SchÃ¶nheit gab er nie;
Oh, so much beauty, he never gave;
Der ganze Reichtum gehÃ¶rt mir allein,
All wealth belongs to me alone,
Die Augen, der Mund und Du selbst bist mein.
The eyes, mouth, and you are my own.
The children joined hands and danced around the room. Christina sat at her desk, seemingly unmoved by the show. For the rest of the afternoon she said nothing. She abandoned her stick in the yard, and sat by herself and read. The next day she refused to speak to anyone, turning away from Eva’s invitation to share her bread at lunch. Eva, whose hunger she named her teufelchen for the mischief it caused in her belly, lost her appetite and began to cry. The twins comforted her, holding her in their arms until Eva’s devilkin returned to eat her tear-soaked bread. Andreas confronted Christina but she remained silent. Others’ attempts to elicit a response, whispering within earshot, laughing maniacally at an untold joke, failed. The children passed notes to her in class. They piled up, unread, on her desk and spilled onto the floor. Christina sat still and mute, a regal urchin in her resolve. The teacher called on her and was rebuffed like everyone else. Christina was summoned to the front to receive her punishment. When she walked up, scraps that cursed or wooed or forgave or thanked or beseeched or admonished or praised her trailed behind, skipping in the air like crickets. Christina held out her palms and closed her eyes. The teacher raised her yardstick, glancing uneasily at her class, while the children waited with bated breath for the affliction.