The Labyrinth of Charlotte Reimann – Episode 25

A Novel by Mira Steffan

The moderator’s voice was getting on her nerves. The world was so noisy. People everywhere were talking, gossiping, arguing. The people were wearing her out. Charlotte turned off the car radio. Finally, silence fell. She breathed a sigh of relief. Without looking, she looked at the street in front of her. She was on her way to the office. She had just dropped Emma off at school. In her mind, she went over her schedule for the day. Two meetings, finish the monthly report for the management, call the dentist for an appointment for Emma, make the semi-annual check-up appointment with the gynecologist, go grocery shopping after the office ended. Startled, she paused. Had she taken her shopping basket with the empties? Yes, she had, Charlotte thought, as the trunk rumbled around the next bend. I wonder if her mother had always been so tense? Her mother! She missed her, she knew that. But she didn’t feel it.

This couldn’t be true. Not again. When Meier kept giving her the wrong numbers, she couldn’t continue budgeting. Without further ado, Charlotte grabbed the papers and headed to Meier’s office, past his chatty secretary, who was once again on the phone with a very meaningful expression on her face. Charlotte was nodding to her and walked with quick steps towards Meier’s office door, knocked briefly and entered the room. Sitting across from Meier was Leo Schneider. Apparently they had just said something funny to each other, because they turned to her with a grin.

“Mr. Meier, may I speak to you, please?”

Meier smiled jovially at Charlotte, “What is it? Can’t you deal with the numbers once again?”

Charlotte was so stunned by the tone and insinuation that she once again couldn’t think of a quick-witted response. But that would probably never happen, she realized, because of her deep-rooted upbringing to treat other people with respect.

Schneider, however, seemed to like Meier’s attitude. For he grinned mischievously in her face. And that blew a fuse in Charlotte. Loudly and emphatically distanced, she said, “Once again, I’ve found a miscalculation. Or should I say: a mistake in thinking. I’ll leave the folder with you. I have marked the unclear parts in red.”

And without paying any further attention to Meier or Schneider, Charlotte left the room.

The smell of coffee rose to Charlotte’s nose. Sunday. She stretched and stretched again blissfully, swung herself out of bed in a good mood, brushed her teeth quickly and ran downstairs in her nightgown. Justus had set the breakfast table on the deck and was sitting there with the daily paper open. When she stepped through the patio door, he lowered the leaves and grinned, “There’s our sleepyhead.”

Elated, she walked up to him and gave him a hearty kiss. “Good morning,” she said, sitting down on his lap without giving it a second thought and reaching for his coffee cup.

“Hey, grab your own coffee,” he playfully nudged her around the waist.

Charlotte sipped his cup and grimaced, “Ew, black.” Hastily, she put it back, went to her place setting, mixed coffee with milk, and drank with her eyes closed. From a distance, she heard Emma’s voice and that of the boy next door. Life could be so wonderful.

“Karl just called and asked if we’d like to go to the town festival with him.”

“Oh no. I was looking forward to a quiet Sunday. Besides, we were supposed to have a barbecue.”

“Yes, but Emma was quite enthusiastic about the idea, and we can barbecue in the early evening.”

Suddenly Charlotte’s cheerfulness was gone. “Mhm,” she grumbled, silently drinking her coffee.

When Justus saw her dismissive expression, he made a suggestion that Charlotte liked: “What do you think? I’ll go to the town festival with Emma and Karl. Then you can relax. And when we get back, we’ll have a barbecue here together.

Charlotte beamed at him, “Perfect.”

The sun cast buttercup-yellow rays on the asphalt. With Emma by the hand and Karl beside him on the other side, Justus strolled past the booths and rides. Emma focused on her ice cream while Karl ate a freshly baked waffle. The balmy air, the wonderful smell of baked goods, the cheerfulness around them relaxed Justus. Even more so when he thought of Charlotte and how she had confidentially sat on his lap this morning. He desired her. Ever since he had met her, he had wanted no one else. He yearned for her, for her touch and for her affection.

Lying limp, Charlotte lay on the sun lounger. The three of them were gone. She reached for her book. The story was thrilling. But somehow Charlotte did not manage to concentrate on it. Instead, the relaxed feeling vanished. Something tough and dark suddenly settled over her. The sun’s rays no longer warmed her. A black hole opened up inside her. With all her might, Charlotte braced herself against it. The book fell out of her hand. A jolt went through her body and the hole disappeared as quickly as it had come. What remained was a viscous, churning, greasy, dark something. Hastily, Charlotte sat up, looked out into the garden. And there she felt the warmth of the sun again. She breathed a sigh of relief. But she could no longer read. She went into the kitchen and started preparing the barbecue.

Restlessly, Charlotte walked up and down the living room. The hands of the small grandfather clock on the side table next to the couch pointed to two o’clock and four minutes. Restlessly, she had been rolling back and forth in bed. In order not to wake Justus, she had gotten up. Somehow this threatening experience of the afternoon did not let her go. Exhausted, but wide awake, she sat down in the armchair, only to jump up again and go to the kitchen to pour herself an herbal tea. Mechanically, she reached for her cup and tea bag, turned on the kettle, and waited. She felt like a ship gliding across the water, but unable to see what was below the surface. She shook her head. If the ship was under the surface, it would sink, wouldn’t it?

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