A Novel by Mira Steffan
“Have you ever noticed how pale Dad is?”
Charlotte stopped raking and sat up, “Now that you mention it. True.” She wiped her forehead thoughtfully, “I think Papa has lost weight, too.”
Pauline nodded and handed her the full watering can. Charlotte watered the pansies she had just planted on her mother’s grave. She had been so preoccupied with herself, her worries, the family, and her job that she hadn’t thought about her father at all. She had already noticed the paleness.
“He misses her a lot,” Pauline said.
Charlotte nodded and looked at the headstone, lost in thought, “What can we do?”
Pauline shrugged, “I talked to Sven. We’re going to ask him if he’ll go on vacation with us. A change of scenery will certainly do him good. But before we ask Dad, I wanted to discuss it with you, because you’ll need childcare for Emma.”
“I like that idea. We can work that out. When are you going?”
“The first three weeks of the summer vacations. We’ve booked a vacation home on Rügen,” Pauline looked at her thoughtfully, “Why don’t you guys come along, too? The house has bedrooms for eight people.”
“We haven’t thought about summer vacation yet.” “Then you haven’t booked yet either,” Pauline noted with satisfaction.
Charlotte smiled, “Your offer is very tempting,” and after a short pause she continued, “We’re game, as long as Justus doesn’t mind.”
“I’m sure he doesn’t,” Pauline said, raising her right hand to high-five Charlotte. Sure enough. Justus not only didn’t mind, he was downright excited: “Finally, another vacation together.”
He beamed at Charlotte, took her face in both hands and kissed her profusely.
It was a dream. The house had its own heated swimming pool and even a whirlpool. Charlotte stretched out in it with pleasure and watched the bubbling air bubbles gently massaging her body.
The vacation was a complete success. Liam and Marie took Emma on their walks on the beach, built castles with her, walked with her on the promenade. And Emma adored them, copying Marie’s looks and her walk and Liam’s ironic sayings. Her father was visibly recovering, getting a tan and seeming relaxed for the first time since his wife’s funeral. Sven and Justus had always gotten along well. And Charlotte and Pauline were closer than ever before. Families, Charlotte thought, are ambivalent entities. There were misunderstandings, quarrels, rivalries, and alliances. Everyone had problems, complexes, opinions and views. But if the basis of loyalty and love was right, they stuck together. Just like her family. This knowledge warmed Charlotte and gave her confidence. She enjoyed the cheerful barbecues they shared, the long evening walks on the beach, the visits to art galleries – Charlotte wished this vacation would never end. Her thoughts jumped to the art galleries. Working there had to be interesting and stimulating. Why hadn’t she studied art history? Surely that would have been her thing. She thought back to all her visits to museums and the many catalogs and illustrated books she had bought and her collection of postcards and posters with works by van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Liebermann, Caspar David Friedrich or Goya. As a young woman, it had never occurred to her to turn her passion into a profession. As an art historian or a painter? Was it too late for that? Perhaps. Probably. But what if she tried to make painting a reality somehow? Then she thought about her overflowing daily schedule and cursed softly to herself.
Charlotte pushed up the left sleeve of her dark blue sweater and glanced at her wristwatch again. She was waiting for Dorothea, with whom she had arranged to meet for lunch at a café that was very crowded at this hour. That’s why Charlotte was glad she had been given a table in an alcove whose wooden walls shielded her from the gaze of the other patrons. Her cell phone rang. A message from Dorothea. She would be ten minutes late. Charlotte ordered a latte from the waitress to tide her over and was daddling on her cell phone when she heard two loudly chatting women who had probably settled at the next table. The voices sounded familiar to her. And the longer they talked, the more certain Charlotte became that they were colleagues from the legal department.
“Have you read the job offer for the new position in bookkeeping?” asked a very shrill female voice.
“Yes, but I can’t tell you anything about that,” the other voice answered dismissively.
But her interlocutor was not impressed: “Have you read through the description of the job?”
“Yes,” was the monosyllabic reply.
“Don’t you think it’s strange that no qualification is required? Apparently you only need a high school diploma. Gabi said that the starting salary is 3,000 euros gross.”
Pause. Then the shrill voice again: “Don’t you feel you are being treated in an unfair way?”
“No, I’m happy with my salary.”
“Hm, yes. I am satisfied, after all. Still, it’s unfair. Overall like that, I mean.”
“I don’t care. Let him or her earn a good living.”
Although the shrill one had achieved nothing, she didn’t give up and continued to tease, “Aren’t you going to complain?” “Nah, why should I?”
“I’m just saying….”
That was the last Charlotte heard, as Dorothea stepped up to the table and plopped down in the chair across from her, groaning, “Boah, I thought they’d never come to an end, those inflated egos.”
Charlotte put her index finger to her mouth and pointed her head in the direction of her colleagues. Dorothea stumbled, looked around and rolled her eyes. Quietly she said, “Pff, you’re not even safe from them during the break.”
“That one is a miserable gossip and troublemaker,” Charlotte said softly, not hiding her disdain.
Dorothea winked conspiratorially, rose quietly, and glanced cautiously over the wooden wall. Quickly she dropped back again.
“I’m afraid you’re right.” Dorothea reached for the menu and said louder, “What are we eating today?”
They each ordered a tarte flambée.
“You look fantastic. The vacation seems to have been really great.”
“Yes, it was like a dream. We all had a really relaxing time,” Charlotte said and began to talk.
End of a workday. Charlotte was in a hurry. She had an appointment with Justus and Emma at her favorite ice cream parlor. She hurried past crowds of people and shop windows. But all of a sudden, she stopped abruptly. Large pictures were on display in two gallery windows. Time became unimportant. She felt magically drawn towards these paintings. With her face close to the glass, she admired the portraits of women. Elvira Bach must have painted that, she thought. And indeed it was. The signature gave it away. Fascinated, Charlotte looked at the woman holding on to a heart with huge hands. She would never be able to afford such a painting. However, if she worked in a gallery, she could see and admire this and other paintings every day. Or she could start painting. Charlotte shook her head. Where were these thoughts coming from again? With all her discipline, she pulled herself away from the day dreaming. Her two beloved ones were waiting for her.