A Novel by Mira Steffan
The world was standing still. Or was it her standing still? And the world kept on rotating? Minutes, hours, days melted into one another. Her life was falling apart, and she sat on the bystander’s bench. Until the funeral, Charlotte had taken a vacation. The day of the final farewell passed by like a series of sequences of a movie. The day after the funeral, she could only remember Justus’ arm holding her tightly as she stood at the graveside. She swept all her feelings aside and focused on her father. He worried her. After all, he wasn’t used to living by himself, though he tried not to make a bid deal of of it. But Charlotte could see the effort it took him to be pleasant. How dreadful it must be for him not to have his beloved wife by his side anymore. Focusing on his pain was distracting her from her own sorrow. He needed another purpose in addition to his political involvement, Charlotte thought. I wonder if he could take care of Emma by himself as well. Picking her up from school, taking care of her doing her homework, and at the same time cooking dinner? She asked him. And to her delight, he agreed, though with the caveat that he still needed to practice cooking. And he did so with the thoroughness that was so typical of him. He gathered up all the cookbooks in the house and worked his way through the multitude of recipes, made notes and shopping lists, and began to cook. When Charlotte had to go back to work, he got the hang of it, and Emma loved his dishes.
Back to everyday life, back to the usual grind. The first day of work. Charlotte’s colleagues had trouble looking at her. They murmured condolences and didn’t dare to ask any questions. What held them back? The assumption that she would burst into uncontrolled weeping? That she would have a crying fit? Or even that dying would be contagious? Charlotte shook her head. A surreal situation. Charlotte felt increasingly uncomfortable. Heinze, too, gave the impression that he wanted to put all this behind him quickly. When Charlotte was finally able to close the door of her office behind the last person to offer condolences, she breathed a sigh of relief. She sat down at her desk and closed her eyes for a brief moment. Mournfully, Charlotte rested her head on her folded arms on the desk top. Dying and death just don’t fit into our kind of mainstream culture, she thought, picturing in her mind’s eye her mother happily driving to school with her and Pauline in her VW Beetle, saying goodbye to them in the hallway with a kiss before each went to her classroom. Her mother to teach, Pauline and her to study. Like in a movie trailer, the images continued to stream. Her mother‘s happiness and excitement at Charlotte and Pauline’s wedding, at their graduation ceremonies, as a proud grandma. Charlotte shook her head to get rid of the memories, raised her head roughly, and turned back to the files piling up on her desk.