A Novel by Mira Steffan
“Yes, yes, that’s what I say. It goes on and on.”
Then a shrill exclamation, “My God! NO! OH! Oh, the poor thing!”
Charlotte cringed. She was sitting in Kevin Meier’s antechamber, waiting for him. Heidi Lah was on the phone.
“Really? That’s what you did? What did she say? Really? Oh come on….Nee, nah, you can’t do that then either. After all, that’s who, her son. Okay, you’re right. She is difficult. No, she didn’t congratulate me either. Really, she was honored with a bouquet of flowers for her excellent work? Doesn’t help. She still has to carry chairs and hand out champagne,” she pulled the corners of her mouth down snidely.
Normally Charlotte would have been amused by the theatrical tone, the grammatical lapses and the gossip. Not so today. Restlessly, she tapped her right foot. I wonder if Meier was going to complain again. But it wasn’t her problem if he kept miscalculating or overlooking bills. So why was she so nervous? It was probably his spiteful remarks. They embarrassed her and created a feeling of helpless anger in her. It was funny that his bad behavior made her uncomfortable. The door to his office opened. A man in his 50s, wearing a fashionable gray suit and holding a briefcase, came out. Meier’s secretary, still on the phone, signaled to her, waving. Charlotte rose, still hearing Heidi Lah exclaim, “Yes really. It’s supposed to be rainy next week,” and entered Meier’s office. He was sitting at his desk, looking intently at a paper in front of him.
Charlotte stopped in the doorway, “Mr. Meier?” His physiognomy reminded her of a scowling hawk with a double chin.
With a deadpan expression, he looked up, “Here are the corrections you asked for.”
He pushed the papers together and held them out to her. Charlotte walked up to him and took them from him. Meier then slumped back in his desk chair, eyed her up and down, grinned condescendingly, and said, “You can read this when you’re through with Joy of Sex.”
Stunned, Charlotte looked at him. Had she just heard him right? Did he refer to her? What was she supposed to say? How to respond? Her thoughts stalled each other. And the moment for a quick-witted answer was over. Wordlessly, she nodded and left the room as quickly as she could. She must have misheard. Charlotte shook her head. He hadn’t said that. Once in her office, she threw the papers on her tray in disgust, dropped into her desk chair, crossed her arms in front of her chest, and stared at her computer: What an impertinence. Just you wait. Let’s see if the bill was right now. Determined, Charlotte reached for the stack and began looking through it when the phone rang.
“Hi Mom, I’m home now.”
“Good sweetie,” Charlotte said absentmindedly, reluctantly tearing herself away from the numbers, “is Grandpa here yet?”
“Yes, he’s looking in the fridge for the casserole,” a grin sounded from Emma’s voice.
“Tell him I put the casserole on top.”
“Grandpa, Mom said it was on the top.”
“He found it.”
“Great. Sweetie, I have to get back to work now. I think I’ll be home around 6:00. Give Grandpa a kiss for me.”
Briefly, regret and a bad feeling flashed through Charlotte as she hung up the phone. But work was pressing and the interruption made her quite restless. She hung up the phone and instantly became absorbed in the lists, figures and papers.
“Our department is getting an addition in two weeks.” Heinze had entered Charlotte’s office. Charlotte, who was intently calculating rows of numbers, flinched violently. Confused and still completely in thought, she looked up, “What?”
“A new colleague will be joining us in 14 days. I want you to train him.”
“Why?” Caught off guard, Charlotte looked at Heinze.
“Because I think you’re good at explaining.”
“I see,” Charlotte made a throwing away gesture with her right hand, “why is another controller being hired?”
“Because…”, Heinze sat down swingingly on the right corner of her desk. When he was sure of her attention, he continued, “Because I’ve been promoted. To the board.” Smug and praising, he looked at Charlotte.
“Ah. Congratulations, Mr. Heinze,” Charlotte rose and shook his right hand.
“Thank you, thank you,” Heinze grinned flattered.
“Who will take over as department head?”
“That hasn’t been decided yet.”
Charlotte nodded. Then she remembered something: “What’s the new guy’s name?”
“Didn’t I tell you?” absentmindedly Heinze scratched his head, “Leo Schneider. He meant that they knew each other.”
He caught on quickly, made an effort, performed his duties correctly, and was friendly and charming. Nevertheless, Charlotte felt as comfortable in his presence as in a piranha tank. An uneasy feeling that she couldn’t grab lurked constantly on the back of her neck. And then it hit her. It was so subtle that she hadn’t even noticed it at first. Whenever he came into her office for a meeting or had questions, he would not sit in the chair in front of her desk, but casually sit on a corner of her desk. This had already bothered her with Heinze. But Schneider topped it all by placing his pen, a file or his pad on her desk. That morning, too.
“Would you please remove your file from my desk? You have to understand. I can’t do that,” Charlotte said politely.
“Oh. Yes, of course. I was all in my head.”
“That can happen,” Charlotte said, smiling forcedly.
As Schneider disappeared from her office, she breathed a sigh of relief. There you go.
However, Charlotte had rejoiced too soon. The next day, Schneider continued as before. As if the conversation had never happened.
“The new guy is a pain. Constantly, when he comes into my office, he puts his stuff on my desk. I’ve talked to him. But he continues as if I didn’t say anything. Can you explain that to me,” upset, Charlotte waved her spoon in the air and looked questioningly at her father. She was sitting at the dinner table with him and Emma at home.
Her father waved it off, “Those are just normal power signals.”
“Perfectly normal…” repeated Charlotte, rolling her eyes.
“Yeah, that’s how he stakes out his territory.”
“I don’t understand. I told him I didn’t want that.” Charlotte’s father smiled dumbly.
“Okay,” Charlotte said resignedly, “what do you want me to do?”
“Not talk, but act.”
“What do you mean?”
“The next time he puts items on your desk again, stay friendly, take them off your desk and put them on the floor. You’ll see. He’ll understand.”
“You guys are so challenging.”
There was a knock on her office door. Before Charlotte could say “come in,” the door opened and Schneider came sauntering in, grinning. Abruptly, Charlotte stood up. Somehow she had the feeling of being pushed into a corner. Schneider stopped in front of her desk and put down the file he had tucked under his arm. Charlotte gave him a friendly smile, took the file and put it on her meeting table.
“I’ll look at that later,” she said.
Schneider became erratic: “The file is not for you. I just wanted to ask if you’ve looked through my investment statement?”
“No, but we can go over it tomorrow,” Charlotte said firmly.
“Then I’ll come back,” he said, grabbing his file and disappearing in a flash.
Grinning, Charlotte looked after him and silently thanked her father for the tip.
Leo Schneider thoughtfully entered his office. This wasn’t going to be as easy as he had thought. Now he had to come up with something new to get the department head job.
“Good work Ms. Reimann,” Heinze tapped appreciatively on the file folder with the business plan and flipped open the folder.
Had she heard correctly? Had he praised her? Dumbfounded and delighted at the same time, Charlotte smiled at him. Elated by the recognition of her work, she elatedly explained her plan, pointing out financial risks and the potential profits for the company. At the end of the meeting, she left Heinze’s office feeling good. Why couldn’t it always be like this? It was simple, after all.
All you had to do was set your goals firmly on the matter, work as well as you could as well as you could, exchange ideas without turnig off the other person, look for solutions together, and the company was already making progress.
“Of course you’re qualified for the position. What a question!” indignantly Susanne looked at Charlotte, “I’ve known you long enough. You’re good. You wouldn’t want that Schneider to get the post, would you?”
Charlotte sat in Susanne’s kitchen. From outside, she heard the voices of children playing in the garden. She looked thoughtfully at the table.
“These power games are not my thing. Either they’re convinced of my work or they’re not,” Charlotte said, taking a sip of tea from her mug.
Fiercely, Susanne placed her coffee cup next to Charlotte’s, “That’s bullshit. How many times do I have to explain this to you. Stop being timid, reticent and servile, apologizing or begging for understanding, explaining things. If you’re going to work with men, you should take the bull by the horns.”
“But I’m not a man.”
Susanne rolled her eyes, “Watch this: When you go on vacation to Spain, you don’t expect all the Spaniards to speak German, do you?”
“Of course not.”
“Exactly. And it’s the same with men. To get along, it helps to speak their language. Whether you become a department head or not. But if you do, it’s a prerequisite.”
“But men don’t speak womanish either. They don’t go through that trouble.”
Susanne nodded in agreement and sighed, “Yes, unfortunately. Actually, a seminar on how women and men communicate differently should be part of the continuing education program for executives and company owners.”
They both looked thoughtfully at their cups as the children’s voices outside grew louder and louder, culminating in a deafening shouting match.
“What’s going on!” said Susanne, resolutely standing up. Emil, Susanne’s younger son, had Emma in a headlock.
Upset, Susanne ran toward the children, “Emil!!! Get your hands off Emma. Let go right now.”
Astonished, the ten-year-old looked up, “She took the remote control.”
“Let go immediately,” Susanne repeated her command, bracing her hands at her waist and scowling at her son.
Grumbling, he let go of Emma.
“Emma, give Emil back the remote control,” Charlotte now joined in.
Also grumbling, Emma reluctantly handed over the device, “Emil doesn’t know how to use it properly. I just wanted to help him. Just like he helped me fly a kite the other day.”
Charlotte and Susanne looked at each other and involuntarily laughed.
“We should put her in a communication seminar,” Susanne said, nudging Charlotte in the side.
Charlotte’s office door was yanked open, “Ms. Reimann, is that taken care of with the new contract?” Suddenly Heinze was standing in the middle of the room. Charlotte, who had just bitten into a pastry, looked up in confusion and swallowed quickly. Hard, the bite slid down her gullet.
“What, what contract?”
Heinze shook his head in annoyance. “Well, the electricity contract?” the said from above, rolling his eyes and disappearing as quickly as he had come, leaving a caught off guard Charlotte with a bad feeling.
Of course, she had already looked at the contract and calculated the lineups. But the surprise appearance had momentarily caused silence in her mind. Now the monster of failure was rolling inexorably toward her. She would never become a department manager like this. Frantically, shewiped her hands on her napkin and focused on the work that lay on the desk in front of her. No, she wouldn’t let it bring her down. Not by Heinze, not by Meier and not by Schneider for that matter.