“Wrong. When you started family planning and told the CEO you weren’t available for a board position because you wanted to get pregnant.”
“That was only fair.”
“May I remind you that it took four years to get pregnant. Four years,” Susanne stretched four fingers of her right hand accusingly toward her, “you could have accomplished a lot during that time.” Suddenly, a gray haze spread through Charlotte. She tried to focus on Susanne’s fingers so as not to drown in the maelstrom of grief. She had never talked to anyone about her two miscarriages during that time. Not even to Susanne. She couldn’t. Instead, she said: “I wanted to be a mother so badly. I wanted a family. That was my greatest wish.”
“Mine, too. But you didn’t have to give it all up for that. You know what they say: “The right choice leads to the right life. Wrong choices take merciless revenge.”
Charlotte winced. That motto seemed wrong to her. But she couldn’t put her feelings into words. Instead, she said, “At the time, I just thought that was absolutely right. And quite honestly, I didn’t feel comfortable as the only woman in the department. But in the meantime…” she thoughtfully crumbled the cookie, “but hey, I don’t have to work either.”
Susanne looked at her, stunned, “I really can’t think of anything to say about that now.”
“Well, living self-determined instead of externally determined and not having to obey a boss isn’t so bad after all.” Charlotte’s voice sounded defiant.
Susanne rolled her eyes and sipped her cup, cleared her throat, and said, “I know what you’re trying to do. Don’t.” She took a deep breath, “I read something and immediately thought of you.” She reached for her purse and pulled out several newspaper pages, “Look, they and they and they are looking for a controller.” She tapped various job ads with her index finger. Charlotte’s eyes snapped open in astonishment, “I’ve been out of the picture for more than eight years. I’ve forgotten all about it, haven’t I?”
“Hogwash. You’re taking a refresher course. Then you’ll be fit again. Here,” Susanne held a flyer entitled “Business Administration – Back to Work” under her nose, “sign up.”
Indecisively, Charlotte shifted the newspaper pages back and forth on the kitchen table two days later. Working as a controller again would appeal to her. But – was she up to it? There were younger ones. Good grief, she’d been out for eight years. An eternity in the working world. How could anyone manage a return to work? When the phone rang, Charlotte gathered the pages in relief. It was her mother, “Just checking in to see how you’re doing?” Her voice sounded powerful yet plush. Charlotte heard her smile. As far back as she could remember, her mother’s presence had always made her world a little brighter and friendlier. Charlotte thought of her younger sister Pauline and her mother’s loving care for them both. If they were unwell or in distress, her mother listened and found the right words of comfort and encouragement. She supported her and her sister Pauline without constricting them or manipulating them with reproaches. Her mother took life by the scruff of the neck. With her, everything was easy and full of possibilities. Charlotte sighed: how she would have liked to inherit this gift. But she was a coward who preferred to hide from the stressful world in the kitchen. “Charlotte, are you there? How are you?”
“Sorry, Mom. Yes, I’m here. I’m fine,” Charlotte said, taking the job ads, putting them in her recipe drawer, and closing them with a deliberate swing of her hips. Decision postponed.
In the background, Charlotte heard her father turning a page of the daily newspaper.
Her parents had a good marriage. Charlotte often thought that they were the only couple among her circle of relatives, friends, and acquaintances who sincerely loved each other. She and Pauline had grown up in an atmosphere of love, loyalty, appreciation and respect. Charlotte had always wanted that for herself, too. But she had failed.
“Do you feel like coming over? Dad brought cakes from the bakery. And because pastries were on sale, we have way too much,” her mother chuckles amusedly to herself.
Charlotte was only too happy to allow herself to be distracted from her dull thoughts: “Great idea. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes,” she put down the phone and looked down at herself. Her momentum slackened. Sweatpants and baggy shirt – she couldn’t go to her parents’ house like that. She went into the bedroom, opened the closet. There were a lot of fancy sweaters, pants, suits and pantsuits from her days as a controller. But none of it fit anymore. Frustrated, she reached for the size 44 blue jeans she’d bought last week and a loose, white blouse. She looked in the mirror: chubby, very chubby, but neat. No, she didn’t feel comfortable in her skin. She grimaced at her reflection in the mirror: “Just get away from you.“
Her parents lived about 15 kilometers from her house in Siegburg. From a distance, however, their house looked more like a large, white villa. Only when you got closer did you realize that it was two residential units. In the front grew large perennials. Although it was only mid-February, Charlotte recognized the large white blossoms of the Christmas roses. Unlike her, her mother gardened with passion. This also benefited the garden behind the house, where not only was the lawn lush and green even in midsummer, the lilacs bloomed profusely in spring, and the roses developed magnificently, but also a small kitchen garden yielded vegetables and fruit. Often more than her parents, her sister’s family and her own could eat and process. But people who appreciated homegrown produce were always found in the neighborhood or among friends. Charlotte admired her mother’s talent and work. But she could not get enthusiastic about gardening. A lawn on which Emma could play and a hedge that provided privacy – that was quite enough for her. Otherwise, nature was allowed to do what it wanted in her garden. Charlotte liked the open and the wild.
Her parents lived on 150 square meters spread over three floors. The former children’s bedrooms were unchanged and now served as a place for the grandchildren to play and sleep. Emma had settled into Charlotte’s former room, Pauline’s twins Marie and Liam in their mother’s room.
As Charlotte drove up, she saw her mother standing at the kitchen window. She waved at her with a smile. Before she could climb the steps to the front door, her mother yanked it open, “Coffee’s ready. I am glad you’re here.” Her mother hugged her, took a step back, caressed her cheek and smiled at her, “Come on,” she said, pushing her gently down the small hallway into the dining room. There were three place settings on the table, a candle in the center. “Sit down,” her mother gently pushed her onto a chair.