A Novel by Mira Steffan
The energy and the voices of the others were stuck in her head. Charlotte turned off the radio. Not a single sound could she bear anymore. The clock on her car’s multifunction display read 10 p.m. Another exhausting day at work with many new faces was behind her. She felt as flat as a postage stamp. The only good thing was that all the turbulence had made her forget about snacking. Nine kilos had melted away in the last few weeks like butter in a hot pan. Charlotte had to think of Günter Heinze, her new boss. On her first day, he had told her in a sour tone that she should have no illusions. She would not get more than what she had been offered in terms of money and position. “With that, you’re retiring,” were his exact words, which Charlotte had heard with alienation. So far, though, he had proven cooperative. He was probably glad to be rid of work. Okay, she had to listen to endless monologues about his incredibly efficient work, and his incredibly athletic, intelligent son, and his incredibly attractive blonde wife. But hey, if that was all.
As she arrived at the house 20 minutes later, she noticed fatigue wafting leadenly through her body. Straining to lift her right arm, which felt as if a ten-pound dumbbell hung from it, she reached into her purse, felt for the key and unlocked the front door, stepping into the hallway. Soothing calm enveloped her. Emma was with her parents. Justus was on a business trip. Charlotte hung her coat on the coat rack, kicked her shoes into the corner below. There was a bottle of martini in the refrigerator, she found ice cubes in the freezer, filled both into a cocktail glass and toasted herself. Slowly and with relish, she let the cold liquid melt on her tongue. It felt so good to have herself to herself. Her neck muscles gave up their tension. Hunger announced itself. Suddenly she had a craving for pasta with spinach leaves and Parmesan cheese. As she cooked, she kept sipping the martini. The alcohol made her problems and stress shrink: life is beautiful, she thought befuddled. Unfortunately, her sense of reality awoke again after dinner. The slight buzz was gone. She called her parents to make sure Emma was okay. Her parents were ecstatic and persuaded her to let Emma stay with them until the weekend. Her father assured her that driving Emma to school and supervising the completion of her homework kept him fit and that he enjoyed reading her bedtime stories at night. Before Charlotte went to sleep, she replied to Justus’ message he had already sent her via smartphone three hours ago. Then she finally fell into the pillows.
When Charlotte woke up, it was still dark. She felt for her alarm clock and pressed the light button. 3:29 a.m. She shut her eyes tightly, but found no sleep. It was a strange state. She was tired and wide awake at the same time. What should she do now. Read, have breakfast? Neither. She didn’t feel like doing either, and it was much too early for the other. She tossed and turned restlessly, closed her lids over her tired and burning eyes, turned onto her right side, bent her legs, slid her hand under the pillow. And before she could stop it, her thoughts drifted anchorlessly to the monologuing, smug, empathy-less Heinze, the ice-cold Meier and his outer office secretary, Heidi Lah, with her pinched, thin lips, downturned corners of her mouth, and shrill laughter, who was ragging on everyone in the company, and to her colleague Burkhard Fligge from the accounting department, with that strange pretentious yet submissive manner. Even if these people were difficult, there was no way she was going to give up her new job. She never wanted to experience that feeling of loss of identity of the last years again. Just being a mother was not enough in this society. Although, when she thought about it calmly, it wasn’t right to work full time as a mother either. Unfortunately, the word “bad mother” was still heard in this context. Working half days was the magic formula. Starting a family and emancipation don’t mix. Frustrated, she dropped the subject. Her thoughts traveled through the last few days and got stuck on the brief conversation with Burkhard Fligge: “Starting a new job is not easy. Especially the first year is very stressful. It’s a new stage of life.”