The cobblestoned path by the church was one of Ernst's favourite places to walk. His black Sunday shoes clicked and clacked on the uneven stones, tapping out a rhythmic beat. Scraggly weeds poked their green-brown heads from the cracks in the mortar, aching for the sunlight outside. Ernst would pull the weeds out ever so gently so as not to break the roots and then he would bring them home and plant them in the grassy lawn beside his cottage, patting down the soil gently and making sure to water them every day. This enraged his father as the vegetable garden was soon overrun with ugly, misshapen weeds, as was to be expected. So Ernst was not allowed to bring any more weeds home- he merely picked aging, white dandelions from the stone walk by the rectory.
He would gently hold up the wet stem, letting the sticky milk drip onto his fingers. Ernst then shut his eyes and wished very hard for his dream- being a reverend with well-fitting woolen robes, a whole library full of gold-embossed books and a pretty family with pink, scrubbed faces and soft-scentedblossoms to place in the real China vase sitting next to the church's collection plate.
He would blow hard on the delicate fluff that clung to the dandelion stem and watch the tiny hairs fly away in the breeze, drifting up towards the clouds. Ernst would cross himself afterwards, and then he'd pray extra hard at church for his wish to be made true. Unlike the other restless adolescents, Ernst didn't mind going to church. He loved the choral music and the majestic words printed on the prayer books; almighty and gracious and commands. If the pastor's sermon became so dull that flies crawling around on Fraulein Bergmann's felt hat flew away through cracks in the real glass windows, Ernst could always gaze down at his attractive, shiny Sunday shoes and then ogle the other churchgoers' special clothing.
Thea's braids would be even tighter, with lard grease to make sure that not even one hair could wander out of place. Her cheeks would be rosy and raw from being scrubbed so hard and her brown eyes would twinkle every time she turned back in the pew to make a face at Anna. Anna's hair was frizzy and unkempt most of the time, but she made a decent effort to wash it and remove the lice for Sundays. And Ernst liked Anna's Sunday dress- it was soft cotton and free from rips or tears and it had a solid inch of fine lace adorning the hem.
Melchior was always entertaining to watch. Besides his masculine features- Ernst felt guilty and ashamed to notice Melchior's strong eyebrows and red lips- there was his hair, slightly messy, but reflecting the light that shone through the dusty window panes. Melchior despised going to church- he squirmed and shuffled in his seat, breathing heavily, sweat staining his starched linen shirt beneath the arms. When the pastor began his weekly sermon, Melchior would pay close attention, always ready to shoot a hand into the air and interrupt with a critical question or contradiction. The revered had long since learned never to call on Melchior, as an incendiary three-hour debate about the existence of God in the world today would inevitably follow.
Ernst doesn't know whether he believes in God, but he believes in the power of dandelions fluttering by the flagstones to grant wishes. And he likes the smell of sweet incense and musty prayer books. Ernst listens to the swoosh of the reverend's robes and the clinking of money dropped in the gleaming collection plate with relish. It doesn't matter whether the harmonic hymns and stern sermons are delivered to God or merely to a room full of devastatingly bored but clean and attractive parishioners.
One Sunday, the service is over and the children are running out of the church quickly, their shoes squeaking on the yellow pine floor, braids and ties flying past them. Shrieks of laughter and shouting follow outside as the girls and boys remove their shoes and chase each other around the huge sycamore trees. Ernst leaves the church alone, ambling outside aimlessly, pushing his mousy hair back and wishing the dirt wouldn't cling to the black polish on his shoes.
The adults leave the building slowly, stopping to mingle and chat with each other in their society voices. The teachers are there too, but they are not teachers now- merely adults with comic bustles and scratchy charcoal suits. Ernst sees his mother gossiping with Fraulein Gross by the old stone well. Their voices carry up into the warm air and mix with the other chatter of adults and giggles of children. Ernst enjoys this mélange of conversation- it's music, just like the call of the mockingbirds high up in trees…
Someone interrupts his thoughts quickly, announcing his name.
"Oh…oh yes." He looks up at the speaker. "Melchior! I- I didn't see you there. I was rather lost in my own thoughts."
Melchior laughs easily. His hands are in his pockets. Ernst notices that he has removed his tie and swung it around his neck, two lines of black hanging down his shirt, which has had two buttons undone, exposing Melchior's pale, pink chest.
"I thought you liked these," Melchior grins at him. He's clutching a sprig of fuzzy dandelions, just waiting to be wished on.
"Yes. Very much." Ernst feels his face grow warm with happiness.
"Do you believe in them?" Melchior's face is shiny with sweat.
"In what- oh, in dandelions?"
"Yes. Do you really believe in them?"
Ernst giggles shyly. "I don't know. I mean, I wouldn't know."
"I guess we should try them and see, shouldn't we?"
Melchior, who didn't believe in teachers or parents or even the Bible wanted to make wishes on dandelions with Ernst?
"Yes." Ernst smiles a great big smiles, stretching his cheeks up against his dark eyes. "What will you wish for?"
"I wish…" Melchior purses his lips and thinks for a moment, a gesture which Ernst finds immeasurably attractive. "I wish Moritz would do well on this next Latin exam."
Moritz. Ernst blushes ever so slightly.
Melchior looks down and says, in a lower voice, "Between you and me, only a dandelion wish could possibly make Moritz pass a Latin exam now."
Ernst laughs softly. Behind him, a girl screams in laughter. The shadows by the trees buzz with spring cicadas.
"What are you wishing for?" Melchior wants to know.
"I wish…I can't tell you what my wish is for! It won't come true."
Melchior grins with a looks that says There's little chance for that wish coming true, anyways, but he hands Ernst three dandelion stalks. The stems are already warm from being held tightly in Melchior's palm.
The boys raise their dandelions up, silhouetting them against the piercingly blue sky.
"Shall we, then?' Ernst whispers. Melchior nods.
They blow hard on the tangled grey fluff, tiny droplets of spit coming from Melchior's mouth. The fuzz blows away.
Ernst makes his wish in that very moment.
I wish every day could be Sunday.