Episode 8 – The Labyrinth of Charlotte Reimann

A Novel by Mira Steffan

Done. She had done it. The applications had been sent. Thoughtfully, she turned on the kettle, got a chamomile tea bag and her teacup from the cupboard. Leaning her hip against the kitchen counter, she indulged her thoughts. Whether this was right for her little family and her marriage? Would she be able to get a spot for Emma at the day-care? Was she being selfish? Charlotte shook her head. She should let things come to her. She shouldn’t think so much. Although – can you actually think too much? The water was boiling. She poured it into her cup and kept thinking: about Justus and Emma and love.

Together they came up the escalator. Emma waved excitedly, Justus stood behind her and smiled at Charlotte. He looked relaxed. The light tan made his blue eyes shine intensely. Emma, too, looked sun-tanned and refreshed. Laughing, Emma ran up to Charlotte and threw herself into her arms. Firmly, Charlotte hugged her child. Justus hugged them both. “You guys look great,” Charlotte said. Justus gave her a kiss on the lips over Emma’s head, “You too.” Perplexed and delighted, she smiled at him. It had been a long time since he had complimented her. “I mean it,” he said emphatically, stroking her cheek lovingly with the back of his hand. Elated, Charlotte directed her little family to the elevator and the car, while Emma chattered nonstop about her experiences.

“Wait Mommy,” Emma squealed as Charlotte went to unpack Emma’s small suitcase at home and look in the side pockets. Charlotte flinched back. With a solemn expression on her face, Emma’s hand now disappeared into the bag. When it reappeared, a pretty shell with a large sinuous case lay inside. “This is for you,” she said proudly. Touched, she accepted the gift. “There – listen. The sound of the sea,” Charlotte said and held the shell to Emma’s ear. Wide-eyed, she listened, “Indeed.” Smiling, Charlotte shook her head, “That’s just what they say. What you’re hearing are the sounds from our environment. They’re captured in the shell’s casing and sound like ocean noise.”

“Have you guys unpacked? Shall we go out to eat?” Justus stood in the doorway and looked at them both questioningly. “Yessss, I want to go to Anton’s,” Emma said. “Anton‘s” was the fast food restaurant with good German home cooking two streets away. Charlotte grinned, “Good idea. We can walk there.” At “Anton‘s” they grabbed the last free table. Justus and Charlotte opted for meatballs wrapped in bacon, Emma for schnitzel with french fries and extra mayo. After the waiter had brought the drinks to their table, Justus took his wine glass in his hand and toasted Charlotte: “I’ve missed you,” he said abruptly, looking tenderly into her eyes. Charlotte, who avoided his gaze, missed the longing. She heard only a reproach in his words and abruptly her good mood was haunted. She shrugged her shoulders. “You would have liked it.”

“Mhm,” she said, forking a piece of meatball into her mouth. Now if he charged her what her cancellation had cost, she’d scream. Her guarded reaction hurt him, and without thinking further about it, he said, “We basically threw away 1,500 euros,” just to provoke some reaction.

She stifled her cry of indignation with a sip of mineral water. For a while, no one talked. When Charlotte realized that her pulse was thumping at its usual frequency again, she said, “The seminar helped me a lot. I sent out some job applications.”

“You could have done that later,” Justus said, still annoyed by her cool manner, and wiped his mouth with a paper napkin. Hadn’t he understood anything? Energetically she shook her head, “I wouldn’t have. And now I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” To make sure he understood she was serious, she frowned, stabbing the meatball with her fork as if to kill it. “Whatever you say,” Justus said, crumpling his napkin. With that, the relaxed mood was gone. They looked past each other and talked exclusively to Emma.

But as the waiter cleared the plates from the table, he caught her gaze. Longing for the uncomplicated times they had shared rose up in Justus. His right hand jerked forward to brush back a strand of hair that had fallen into Charlotte’s forehead. But when he looked into Charlotte’s dismissive face, he suppressed the impulse with all his might. He loved her. Deeply and truly. But for quite a while now, he couldn’t reach her. Panic rose in him. Helplessly and unhappily he looked at her hand, on which her golden wedding ring shone. He would have liked to touch her so much.

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