The Labyrinth of Charlotte Reimann – Episode 13

A Novel by Mira Steffan

“Mhm,” Charlotte looked at the menu impatiently. Hopefully she would change the topic of this conversation. After all, she didn’t feel like pretending that everything was fine with her and Justus.

“Listen, I found a really great dress and wonderfully matching sandals in a tiny boutique in Ibiza Town. Sven was thrilled,” Pauline said, raving about the perfect beach, the beautiful weather and the cheerful people. And so it went on and on for the rest of the evening. After three hours, Charlotte knew the latest about the twins, her students’ parents, the woman she buys eggs from, her in-laws, her neighbor with the red hair and the ugly dog, and at last the weather forecast.

Her sister was a world champion at petty chitchat. There were times when conversations like that made Charlotte to feel depressed. But not today. She was glad not to have to think about anything. The conversation flowed easily and cheerfully. Only when they were back in the parking lot in front of their cars did Pauline interrupt herself briefly: “Oh my, now I forgot to ask about your new job.”

Charlotte waved it off, “No problem. It’s going well. The colleagues are okay and the work is interesting. And I’m really grateful to our parents for looking after Emma until Justus and me could call it a day.”

Pauline nodded, “They’re doing a great job. When I started working again after the twins were born – and that was only half-time – they also stood by me. When I think about how often Marie and Liam were sick. If Mom and Dad hadn’t stepped in, I would have had to quit.”

Charlotte nodded mechanically while Pauline, completely absorbed in the past, philosophized about the compatibility of work and family. Fifteen minutes later, Pauline looked at her wristwatch in dismay, “Oh, so late already. I have got to go home. Sven is waiting for me,” she gave Charlotte a hug, “It was nice talking to you again. We always have so much to talk about.”

Charlotte was all smiles. What else do is she supposed to do.

They say: you can’t choose siblings, you are born into this relationship and never get out of it. Perhaps this was the answer to the contradictions in her love for Pauline. For distinction, blind trust, rivalry, love, appreciation, neglect, togetherness and every other aspect of sisterhood happens pretty much at the same time.

After Pauline was born Charlotte had walked her up and down the road in a baby carriage in front of her parents’ house for hours, again and again. Charlotte had never owned such a pretty ‚doll‘ and was mighty proud. And one day she even  saved her life. It happended during summer vacation. Her parents had rented a house with a swimming pool in France. Pauline played in the back yard, while Charlotte sat on a sun chair looking at the shells she had collected on the beach the day before. The heat was making her tired and lethargic when a voice inside abruptly called out loud and clear, “pay attention.” Charlotte jerked her head up and saw Pauline scrambling toward the pool. She shot up and, just before she would have fallen headfirst into the pool, she was able to grab her by the straps of her pants just in time to pull her back. This experience had shaped her relationship with her three year younger sister. To Charlotte, Pauline was always the little one, the one to be treated with velvet gloves only.

Drumming her perfectely manicured bright red finger nails against the steering wheel, Pauline thought about her sister. To her Charlotte seemed stressed, worn-out, even though she tried to hide it.  Slow-moving traffic. She called Sven on his mobile phone. While listening to his voice over the speakers, she smiled and relaxed, “Hi honey. I’m on my way home, but I’ll be a little late. Traffic jams on A59, it’s stop and go. No idea how much longer it’s going to take me to get home.”

“I just saw it on my traffic app. Apparently there’s a new construction site.”

“Are Marie and Liam home yet?”

“Yeah, they just got back from sports. We’re going to start cooking. They’re both starving.”

“Great. See you in a bit then,” Pauline says with a smile and sent a kiss after them.

As she shifted gears, hit the gas, braked and clutched again, hit the gas and braked, her thoughts drifted once more to Charlotte. Her big sister – her role model and yet somehow not. She loved her, but sometimes couldn’t stand her at all. Pauline wrinkled her forehead thoughtfully. Actually, that wasn’t because of Charlotte, but rather because of the environment. She just couldn’t stand it when her parents praised Charlotte to the skies. It created a feeling of inadequacy in her. Praise for Charlotte was always accompanied by unspoken criticism of her. Isn’t complimenting one person in the presence of another to make the other understand that they are a screw-up? Pauline shook her head uneasily. Was it envy or just a desire for recognition? Gloomily she pulled up her shoulders, gripped the steering wheel tightly with both hands, and concentrated once again on the car in front of her.

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