The Labyrinth of Charlotte Reimann – Episode 28

A Novel by Mira Steffan

Charlotte opened the front door. Silence greeted her. Emma and Justus had gone swimming. She hung up her coat on the coat rack, added her shoes, and strolled into the living room. The buff white blanket, she always liked to snuggle into in winter, lay lazily over the arm of the chair. Thoughtfully, Charlotte went into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, reached for the Martini bottle, took a cocktail glass from the cabinet and ice cubes from the freezer. With deliberation, enjoying the silence around her, she poured the light golden liquid into the glass. Hearing the soft clink and crunch of the ice cubes as the martini hit the frozen water, she relaxed. Closing her eyes, she sipped her favorite drink. If only happiness were always so easy to find, Charlotte thought, and her thoughts flew to Justus. She should talk to him. Finally fix your marriage, she urged herself. And the brief moment of contentment crumbled into dust. Discomfort crept up inside her. Her resolution to boldly embrace change dissipated like mist in the morning sun.

The rake clattered against the watering can. In her left, Pauline carried a basket of grave candles, matches, and garden shears. Charlotte walked beside her, holding an azalea and a pallet of pansies with a firm grip.
“If Mom could see us side by side in such harmony, she’d be happy,” Charlotte said.
“She sees us.” “Do you really think so?”
Pauline nodded seriously, “I firmly believe so. There is far more in this world than we can see with our eyes.”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s wishful thinking?” Decisively, Pauline shook her head.
“Okay, if you say so, let’s try it. I’m asking for a sign in a tricky matter.“

Pauline looked at her curiously.
While Charlotte set one foot in front of the other, she began to talk: “I think I’m having a huge crisis. I don’t know what I want, except that something has to change. I keep asking myself: was it the right thing to go back to work? Fine, I feel respected. I have my feet on the ground again and am financially independent. But the job eats up my whole life. Sometimes the demands suffocate me. And then these rivalries in the office. They exhaust me,” Charlotte now looked Pauline straight in the eye, “but I don’t want to give up my job either. I wouldn’t be satisfied. What should I do?” Charlotte lifted her head toward the blue sky, “What do you think I should do?”
The sky remained blue, unchanged. Instead, Pauline cleared her throat, “I know what you mean.”
“Do you feel the same way?” wanted to know Charlotte.
Pauline nodded, “Sometimes.”
“How did our mother do it?”
“I don’t know. And she certainly had to fight even more prejudices and obstacles than we did. Too bad we can’t ask her more,” Pauline said.
They had arrived at their mother’s grave. “I always admired our mother,” Pauline said thoughtfully, “the older I get, the more I can see her life’s achievements. How much strength she had. She tackled problems and sorted them out. She never blamed us for anything. She listened and didn’t judge. I always wanted to be like her: strong, reliable, wise, brave, sensitive, understanding. Didn’t work out for me that way, I guess,” Pauline smiled wryly.
“Well, we weren’t allowed to mess with her either. Remember when we tried to stay up late or when we came home from parties later than allowed?”, Charlotte giggled softly.
“Yeah, she could get pretty mad then. And then she’d act like she wanted to spank us with a wooden spoon.”

“And remember how mad she got when I spent all my allowance money on a pair of name-brand jeans?”
They both looked wistfully at the grave until Pauline gave Charlotte a gentle pat on the upper arm, “Come on, let’s plant the flowers now.”

With some effort, Charlotte opened her eyes. Daylight peeked through the cracks of the bedroom blinds. Sleepy she glanced at the alarm clock. 8 o’clock. Something inside her was shaking her up. But before she realized that this was her inner alarm clock calling her to work, her synapses reported the words “weekend and Saturday.” Immediately Charlotte relaxed, closed her eyes and let her thoughts wander. But all of a sudden, something else trickled over into her consciousness: Today was her twelfth wedding anniversary. And she had forgotten it. Charlotte’s stomach somersaulted and got stuck in mid-air. Carefully, she turned her head to the left. Justus’ side of the bed was empty. Where was he? She listened. She heard a clatter at the door and Emma’s excited whisper. Shortly after, she smelled the scent of freshly brewed coffee. That’s when it hit her. Justus was preparing breakfast for her. Quickly, she swung her legs out of bed. If she didn’t have a present, she at least wanted to look and scent as if she were refreshed. But a quick rinse had to suffice. Barefoot and careful, she opened the door, slipped silently across the hall to the bathroom, brushed her teeth, washed her face, and slipped back in. She had barely made herself comfortable in her bed when the bedroom door slowly opened.
“She’s awake,” she heard Emma whisper excitedly.
Charlotte glanced in that direction and saw Justus with a tray on which breakfast was set out. Next to him stood Emma with a champagne bottle and two glasses.
“Happy wedding anniversary,” Emma crowed as Justus set the tray down in front of her. He gave her a kiss on the lips and murmured, “For you. I love you.”

This unexpected declaration of love shot lightning through her body. Justus still managed to electrify her. Curious, she looked at the tray. On the breakfast plate was a white envelope with a pink ribbon.
“I hope you like my gift. Because actually, it’s also a little bit for me, or rather, for us.”

Charlotte reached for the envelope, put the bow aside and opened it. As she slowly pulled out the sheet, the first thing she read was the word ” voucher.” She unfolded it. The logo of a hotel was printed on fine hand-made paper. And then she realized: she was looking at a four-day wellness vacation.
“Wow,” she said, overwhelmed, “this is great.”
But then her eyes fell on the date and her enthusiasm dissipated on the spot. “Justus, that’s the weekend I’ll be in Munich for professional training.” “Honestly? Shit! Can’t you cancel the seminar?”
“What, of course not. Why didn’t you even ask me before you booked?” Indignant, Charlotte glared at Justus as Emma spoke up, “Aren’t you excited, Mom?”
Charlotte paused, reminding herself to be calm, “Of course Emma. I was just so surprised.”
Emma nodded gravely, then asked, “What are you giving Dad?”
Mortified, Charlotte looked at Justus. She could tell by his knowing look that he knew she had forgotten about the day.
“A meal at Anton’s,” Charlotte stammered, resolutely setting the tray aside and standing up, “I’m going to take a shower. We can have breakfast together afterwards. Okay?”

Justus raised his eyebrows and Emma nodded.
“See you in the kitchen in a minute, then,” she said and disappeared into the bathroom.
In the shower, her anger at Justus’ selfish booking of a vacation surged again. Was she a little girl? Couldn’t he ask her? What was he thinking? Energetically, she soaped her body and then let the warm water jets flow over her body. But this could not calm her down. Anger was still bubbling up inside her, even after breakfast. After Emma was picked up by a friend to play, Charlotte turned to Justus, “I can’t accept your gift.”

Immediately Justus’ tone turned aggressive, “Why not? What’s so bad about canceling the continuing education?”
“Everything,” Charlotte slapped the kitchen table with the flat of her hand, “stop patronizing me and work it out with me. Take me seriously.” She cringed at her own vehemence. But years of frustration had found their way against her will. She had denied and swallowed long enough.
For a while they looked angrily into each other’s eyes until Justus interrupted the silence, “Why are you so tense? Is it because of your job?”
“You don’t mean that now?”
“Well, pressure at work can have severe repercussions.”
“Stop it. Don’t belittle me by saying I’m not up to my job.”
“I don’t mean to. Charlotte, I love you. But you have to give us a chance. We can’t go on like this.”
“You’re always making the decisions without me. I’m sick of it.” Energetically, Charlotte turned around, ran into the hallway, put on her shoes, grabbed her coat and purse, and slammed the front door behind her.
She left him standing speechless in the kitchen.

She didn’t know how she got there. After the argument with Justus she had only wanted to leave. Escape or fight – that’s what living beings do in stressful situations, Charlotte thought and was amazed at this clear thought in her head, while everything inside her else was raging wildly.
Karl, who had just sat down at his desk when the doorbell rang, got up with a groan, went to the hallway and peeked through the little window in the front door. He saw a very pale Charlotte standing there.
He yanked the door open: “Charlotte – sweetheart – what’s going on? Why didn’t you use your key? Has something happened?” he looked into her face worried, “Charlotte?”
Only now did Charlotte realize that she was standing in front of her parents’ house and had probably pressed the bell. She ran her right hand over her forehead and hair: “I don’t know,” Charlotte looked at her father questioningly and added: “Justus and I had a bad argument.”
Without another word, Karl pulled her into the house, closed the door, put his arm lightly around her shoulders and led her into the living room. He motioned to the sofa, “Sit down.” Then he turned to the closet, picked up a whiskey bottle and poured the light brown liquid into two glasses. He handed one of them to his daughter: “Drink. And then tell me, what was going on.”

Charlotte took a big gulp. The alcohol burned her throat and warmed first her stomach, then the rest of her body.
“Our marriage has changed. And that’s gotten worse since I’ve been working,” she said, “Justus makes decisions over my head, gets angry when I don’t react the way he wants.” Charlotte hesitated and then continued tentatively, “we argue a lot or keep it to us.”
“Sorry if I’m asking directly,” Kurt paused for a moment and took a breath, “Is he cheating on you?”
Charlotte tilted her head to the right, raised her eyebrows and pressed her lips together: “I thought so too at first. But no, it’s not that,” she shook her head vehemently. Despite her confusion and despite the grief, she heard her father‘s sigh of relief. “It’s more like,” she continued, “that I feel constrained and alienated and…I can’t breathe. We can’t talk to each other anymore. We live past each other. It crept in at some point. And now we’re both unhappy. We only talk about everyday stuff now”, Charlotte looked blankly at her hands in her lap.
“Mhm,” Karl said and thoughtfully longing for his wife, who had always known how to deal with problems in such situations. He sent out a prayer to heaven, or wherever his wife was now, asking her for help.
“Maybe it’s the job too, and everything will be fine if I quit. He works a lot and I work a lot. Maybe that’s too much overall.”
“You know,” Karl began to grope his way slowly, “it’s completely out of fashion to make compromises, to persevere and to allow love to change.”
Charlotte shrugged, “It’s possible.”
“But – what is love? Perhaps just habit and convenience keep us together. Or fear of being alone. Or fear of life. Or the fear of being abandoned.”
“Well, sometimes love and happiness hide under a mountain of everyday issues and need to be dug up again.”
“I don’t know. Maybe”, Charlotte absentmindedly kneaded her fingers and continued after a short while, “when I think of all these challenges of everyday life, then you could be right”, Charlotte waved her hand with a weak gesture and at a loss ran her right hand across the back of the sofa.
Thoughtfully, Karl approached his daughter, put his hands on her shoulders: “Stop worrying. Consider this. Just accept Justus as he is. Do not be judgemental or make up things. Just be with him, enjoy his closeness, try to understand him and not change him. That’s enough.”
“If only it were that easy.”

“Of course, my beloved daughter, it’s not easy. Really wanting and love someone requires that you accept yourself in the first place. And that is far from easy. After all, we’re more willing to criticize than look into each other’s eyes and say, ‘I love you’.”
Charlotte smiled involuntarily: “How am I supposed to be able to look myself in the eye?”
Her father rolled his eyes with a grin: “Take a mirror. Give it a try when you brush your teeth in the morning.”
“Oh Dad,” Charlotte spontaneously got up, went to her father and hugged him, “you’re wonderful.”
Karl hid his emotion behind a cough. He awkwardly patted Charlotte on the back: “It’ll all be fine.”
“Thanks,” she said and gave him a kiss on the cheek, “I’ll go home then. You have helped me a lot.”
As Charlotte stood in front of her car, she took a deep breath of the soft evening air, got in the car, waved to her father, who was standing in the front door, and drove off.
She had so many things to think about that she decided to drive to take a walk under the big trees of the Kottenforst. Accept and love yourself, her father’s words echoed in her head. When she had to stop at a traffic light, she checked out herself in the rear mirror as a first test. She saw a serious and questioning expression in her face.
“I like you,” she said aloud.
An intertwinded tangle of feelings rose up within herself. Pushing them aside she tried again: “I love you.”
Although the impulse to look away became overwhelming, she withstood it. Only when the driver in the car behind her honked because the traffic light was green did she concentrate on driving again. She had become aware of her innermost feelings. It felt strange and soothing at the same time.





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