A Novel by Mira Steffan
She knew something was wrong even before she picked up the phone.
“Mrs. Reimann, Emma hurt herself in sports class. She probably has a concussion of the brain. The ambulance took her to the hospital. Her class teacher is with her. Your daughter is fine, though. I’ve tried to reach you several times.” The principal spoke in a frantic tone that left Charlotte dazed.
“Stop,” Charlotte almost shouted.
The flow of speech stopped abruptly.
“What hospital has my daughter been taken to?” The principal gave the name.
“I’m already on my way. Thank you for calling,” Charlotte hastily hung up, grabbing her bag and coat. Hurrying out, she called out to her secretary to cancel all of today’s meetings. In the car, she concentrated on driving. One step at a time, she admonished herself. Hadn’t the principal said she hadn’t reached her at first, it involuntarily flashed through her mind. Why hadn’t she called Justus or her father? After all, the school had the phone numbers. She shook her head and pulled into the hospital parking lot. She parked her car, paused briefly to collect herself, and called both of them. Justus immediately went on his way. She asked her father not to worry and promised to keep him informed. To her relief, he responded prudently and calmly. Charlotte entered the foyer of the hospital. At the information desk, they sent her to the outpatient clinic. A nurse led her to the examination room. There lay Emma, waving to her from the couch, “Hi, Mom.”
Relieved, Charlotte took a deep breath and exhaled. It couldn’t be that bad.
The attending physician, who was standing by Emma’s bedside examining her, turned and gave her a friendly nod. Charlotte took that as a good sign, too.
“Other than a big bump on her forehead, your daughter is fine. I’d still like to keep her here overnight for monitoring, though.” “Can I stay with her?”
“If you wish. Mrs. Lugh will show you around,” the doctor said, pointing to the nurse who had accompanied them into the room. Charlotte nodded at Mrs. Lugh and only now saw that Emma’s teacher, who was also the physical education teacher. She was sitting on a stool at Emma’s bedside. Her complexion competed with the white of the wall.
Charlotte went up to her: “Hello, Mrs. Schulz. Emma gave us a huge scare there. How did that happen?”
“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Reimann,” Mrs. Schulz’s head was swinging back and forth between her shoulders, like a marionette whose strings had snapped, “We were practicing high jumping and Emma slipped off the springboard and fell against the box.”
“Wasn’t there any help from your side?”
“Sure. But Emma didn’t want any. She really wanted to do the double-legged jump on her own.”
“Then I would have gotten an A,” Charlotte heard Emma’s little voice.
Memories of her own school sports rose up in Charlotte. How she hated it. The exclusions by the other kids if you weren’t good enough to make a team and the grading. It was a never-ending succession of humiliations. She had had to turn almost 40 to overcome that trauma and find her own approach to sports. To this day, Charlotte could not understand why physical education had to be evaluated at school. There’s no question about it – sports were a great way to get out of the classroom. But assessments, in her opinion, belonged to competitive sports, which were chosen voluntarily.
Charlotte lovingly stroked Emma’s hair, “Oh, Emma.”
What could she tell her daughter? That she didn’t care much about sports grades? That she couldn’t stand school sports. Hardly. She didn’t want to demotivate Emma. So she said, “Next time, get some support, okay?”
“Okay, Mommy,” she said softly.
All of a sudden the door was yanked open. Standing in front of them was a serious looking Justus, “How’s Emma?”
“Hey Daddy,” Emma beeped.
Charlotte smiled reassuringly at her husband, “She has a bump on her head. It happened when she was jumping in school sports. Emma is staying in the hospital today for observation. I may stay with her. Mrs. Lugh,” Charlotte pointed to the nurse, “was just about to show us to our room.”
“I’ll come with you,” Justus said curtly, then bristled briefly when he recognized Emma’s teacher.
“Mr. Reimann. I’m sorry, I should have been paying more attention.” “That’s all right, Emma didn’t hurt herself seriously.”
Relief spread across the teacher’s face, “Then I’d best leave you alone now. Or is there anything else I can do for you?”
Justus and Charlotte shook their heads at the same time and bid her farewell.
The hospital room was small, but Emma and Charlotte had it to themselves.
“Do you want me to stay with you?” asked Justus anxiously.
Charlotte smiled at him, “I think one of us is enough. And I don’t think there’s a second couch either. But you can do us a favor and bring our pajamas, toothbrushes, underwear, and my makeup stuff.”
“Sure. Will do. I’ll be right back.”
“Wait a minute. I better write you a note with the things we need. Then you won’t forget anything.” Charlotte rummaged for the mini pad and pen in her purse, wrote everything down on a piece of paper, drew a little heart at the end of the list, tore off the piece of paper and handed it to Justus, who winked at her in delight.
When he was gone, Charlotte called her father and then her secretary to be excused for tomorrow’s meeting.
“Schuster wasn’t at all amused that you were absent from the last meeting,” Leo Schneider grinned gloatingly at Charlotte.
Just don’t justify it. Shut up, Charlotte thought, and grinned back. She said, “Oh, good to meet you, Mr. Schneider. Is the analysis for the purchase of new rubber processing machinery ready yet?”
The grin was wiped away all at once. “Not yet. But next week,” Schneider said, and left her in a hurry before she could say anything in reply.
Charlotte continued down the hall and entered the anteroom to her office. “Good morning Mrs. Grüntal.”
Bärbel Grüntal, who was typing intently, looked up briefly. “Good morning Mrs. Reimann,” she said and continued typing.
“Did you excuse me from Mr. Schuster yesterday.”
Grüntal nodded, “He sent word through his secretary that you should contact him as soon as you get back to the office.”
“Thank you,” Charlotte went into her office, booted up her computer and picked up the phone.
“I’m glad to hear you’re back at work,” Schuster said after greeting her.
Somehow his tone sounded smug, Charlotte thought, and, despite not asking, said, “My daughter was released from the hospital yesterday. She’s doing fine now.”
“Fine, fine,” Schuster said, and swung right over to official business.
When she hung up the phone again, she closed her burning and overtired eyes for a brief moment. The workday would be long today. She called her father and told him.
“I’ll take care of Emma. Don’t worry about it. I’ll pick her up from school right away, make her something to eat, supervise her homework, and drive her to piano lessons later. I’ve got everything under control.” “Oh, Dad, what would we do without you?”
“I don’t know,” her father said cheerfully, and Charlotte heard him laugh softly. “It gives me pleasure to take care of Emma. Would you like me to bring her to your house after piano lessons?”
“That would be swell. Justus will be home around 7:00. He can take over then.”
“All right. Don’t worry about it. We’ll work it out.”
In a good mood, her father said goodbye. But a guilty conscience spread through Charlotte like an ulcer. How did all the other women manage it? Especially those who had more than one child and no helping grandparents. That’s probably why there were so many women who worked part-time and couldn’t get ahead in their jobs. And how did single parents actually manage that?