Episode 4 – The Labyrinth of Charlotte Reimann

A novel by Mira Steffan

Smiling, she followed her instruction and looked up at her. Her chin-length, fringed blonde hair framed her oval face, giving it a soft, feminine expression. With her dark blue eyes, her mother winked at her, “Dad will be here soon, too. He’s sitting at his desk.”

Since his retirement, her father had been involved in local politics. It had always interested him. But as a CEO in a large clothing company, he used to lack the time. Now he was a knowledgeable citizen on the municipal economic committee.

Just as her mother was pouring the coffee, the door swung open. At 6-foot-3 and a good 95 pounds, her father almost filled the doorway. “My daughter,” his deep voice sounded warm and loud. He spread his arms and she flew into the security. A hearty kiss landed on her cheek. Together they sat down at the table, and Charlotte felt catapulted back to carefree childhood days without responsibility or self-doubt.

“How’s Emma?” her father asked as he reached for the pot sitting on the table and poured coffee into all three cups. This was clearly Charlotte’s favorite topic and proudly she chatted away, “She’s with her friend Eva. They get along really well. Her teacher told me that they put their heads together all the time at recess, too. I don’t even remember having a best friend back in elementary school.” Her parents shook their heads thoughtfully.

“You played a lot with the neighborhood kids,” her mother said, “You didn’t have a best friend until you were in college. Speaking of which. What’s Susanne doing, by the way? Did you girls get together again on Saturday?”

“Yes, we did,” Charlotte said, grinning wryly, “she’s still pursuing a career and tried to talk me into going back to work as a controller.” Her father listened up and looked at her intently, “So, what did you say?” Charlotte shrugged, “It’s been so long since I’ve been employed. She won’t let that stand as an argument, though. She recommended a refresher course and put job offers in my hand.”

Her mother put her right hand on Charlotte’s left, “You know if you need help taking care of Emma, all you have to do is say something. I’m very happy to do it. Since I retired, I miss the daily challenge of dealing with children,” she added with a sigh. Charlotte’s mother had worked as an elementary school teacher and had been very popular. Charlotte nodded gratefully, “I know. That’s totally sweet of you. Right now, though, I don’t trust myself to do it.”

“Take your time and think it over. I think it’s a good idea. After all, you have a good college degree and worked in an executive position for a long time,” her father said. “Yeah, right,” Charlotte said gloomily, changing the subject. After two hours, she reluctantly broke away from the comfort of her parents’ home. She would have liked to stay longer, but Emma waited. In the car, she automatically pressed the radio button. A shrill female voice blared out to her, advertising a furniture store. Shuddering, she turned the volume to mute. Did the people who commissioned this commercial seriously believe that such a pitch would encourage people to buy? Charlotte shook herself. Ghastly. She definitely wouldn’t set foot over the store’s threshold.

When Emma and Charlotte got home, it was quiet. No Justus. Irritated, Charlotte looked at her wristwatch. 8 p.m. Strange. She sent Emma to wash her hands in the bathroom and called her husband. The voicemail jumped on. Lost in thought, she cooked dinner while Emma sat on the kitchen chair drawing a picture with her crayons. After dinner, she put Emma to bed and made herself comfortable in the wing chair in the living room with a book. But she couldn’t really concentrate on the story. Again and again her thoughts drifted. Around 9:30 p.m., she heard a rattling at the front door. Justus was fiddling with his key. She flipped the book closed and went to meet him in the hallway.

“Where did you come from? I was getting worried because I couldn’t reach you.” Justus calmly took off his shoes and hung up his coat in the coat rack. Only then did he look in her direction and say, “Hello, Charlotte. I told you so. We had another meeting with a client.”

For the life of her, she couldn’t remember Justus mentioning it, but his distant behavior startled her. That’s why she nodded and asked, “Do you want something to eat?” Justus shook his head, “No, I’m not hungry, just very tired. I’m going straight to bed. Is Emma asleep yet?”

“She wanted to read. Maybe she’s still awake.” Justus walked up the stairs like an old man. She looked after him and instantly a guilty conscience spread through her. The poor man toiled all day in the office to give them a carefree life. She could have been a little nicer. After all, her parents managed to do the same. She would so much desire to have a good and loving marriage.

Exhausted, Justus pulled himself up, step by step, to the second floor. The door to the children’s room stood ajar. Behind it everything was dark. Disappointed, Justus shuffled into the bedroom. Fatigue made his arms and legs heavy. With difficulty he got rid of his shoes, his tie, his suit. In the bathroom mirror he saw his stern, serious features and the worry lines between his brows. Where had his lightness and zest for life gone. He closed his burning eyes and stood like that for a while. When the burning subsided, he reached for the toothbrush and toothpaste with a sigh. Five minutes later he was in bed and had fallen asleep immediately.

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