The Labyrinth of Charlotte Reimann – Episode 37

A Novel by Mira Steffan

„Sit down,” Meier said friendly, but in an neglegtful manner.
With unease, Charlotte complied with this request. Why had Meier called her into his office? She was sure – it couldn’t be good.
“Mr. Heinze will be 60 in four weeks and has been working at our company for 30 years this year. We want to surprise him with a celebration.”
Charlotte nodded cautiously. What did this have to do with her?
Meier’s tone abruptly changed from friendly to stern: “He was your supervisor. So you know him well. That’s why we had the idea of you preparing his celebration. Not alone, of course. Mrs. Lah will help you.”
Charlotte was so taken aback by the commanding tone that she couldn’t think of a retort at first.
Meier kept talking and talking.
“Stop,” Charlotte interrupted him rudely when she realized Meier was trying to shift the organization onto her, but then continued in a sweet voice, “It’s lovely that you trust me to do this. I must decline the honor, however. You know Mr. Heinze much better and longer than I do. You should take that on. But I will be glad to help you prepare the speech for the occasion.”
Puzzled, Meier looked at her, “No, no, my dear. You have the better knack for this sort of thing. Women are much more adept at it than we men and are better at organizing.”
Hear, hear, thought Charlotte, now she was even “his love.” He had to be very desperate.
“Mr. Meier. I can’t. Even if I wanted to. I have so much work. It’s not going to work. With the best will in the world. But I just remembered something: Ms. Grüntal probably knows Mr. Heinze best of all of us, due to their years of close cooperation. Ask her. I would also give Ms. Grüntal a few hours off for planning and preparation.”
“Mhm. Is that your final word.”

“Yes,” Charlotte said crisply and insistently.
With a fierce gesture that revealed his suppressed anger, Meier ran a hand through his hair, “Very well, then. Then Mrs. Lah shall take over the organization together with Mrs. Grüntal.”
Why not do it that way, Charlotte thought grimly.
They were sitting in Dorothea’s office, had just gone over a contract, and were now sitting together relaxing over coffee and cookies. Suddenly, Dorothea interrupted herself in the middle of her flow of words, “Are you listening to me?”
“Excuse me, I’m a little confused.”
“You’ve been jittery and erratic all along. What’s the matter? Tell me.”
“No, no, I didn’t mean to interrupt you.”
“Oh come on. You look like a thousand days of rainy weather. Come on, talk.”
Charlotte laughed unhappily and spooned sugar into her cup, “Don’t exaggerate. A thousand days…tsss.”
“True, though. Now talk. Or do I have to get handsy first.” Playfully, Dorothea tapped Charlotte’s head.
A giggle escaped Charlotte. “Come on now.”
Charlotte relented, “Okay. I have so many things going through my head. To make a long story short: I don’t know what to do. I can’t paint. My job often doesn’t leave me enough time for my family. My idea to work two days from home was flatly rejected. Instead, I was offered a new job.”
“That’s a lot,” Dorothea nodded meaningfully.
Charlotte took a deep breath and talked about her drawing class and the gallery owner’s offer, “And…what do you think?”

“Let me summarize: You’ve always wanted to do something with art, but you didn’t think you could do it, so you studied business administration. In a drawing class, you discovered that you lacked the talent to paint. A gallery owner offered you a job that pays poorly, but offers more free time and a world of beautiful things. Are you at all interested in the offer?”
Charlotte raised both hands in the air, “I don’t know. I love art, but I’m not a professional.”
“Let me be practical about it: Suppose Justus’s salary goes away for some reason. Can you then support yourself and Emma on the gallery salary?”
Puzzled, Charlotte looked at Dorothea, who shrugged, “I’m a divorced woman. I’ve learned that money and financial security are very important. You should think about that, too. Because you, unlike me, also have the responsibility for your child.”
Charlotte hesitated, “I think I could manage with the money. Other women manage, after all.”
“Sure, they have to work their butts off, though. Look around you. Open your eyes. I have some female friends with kids who have had to stretch themselves pretty good since their divorce. It’s a fact that when you start a family, it’s always the woman who bears the economic risk. And believe me: having little money wears you down. It doesn’t always have to be a divorce that ruins you,” Dorothea continued. “There are other strokes of fate that I hope never befall us. What I’m saying is, think it over. Maybe make a list and write down the pros and cons of each job. It always helps me when I have to make a decision. And as for painting – make it your hobby.”
Back in her office, Charlotte pondered Dorothea’s words. Painting as a hobby? Charlotte shook her head as the phone rang on her desk. She picked up the receiver, and the pros and cons list was forgotten.

“Oh gosh, another packed weekend,” Charlotte said. It was Saturday and she was sitting comfortably wrapped in her bathrobe with Justus at the breakfast table. In her hand she held an invitation to a milestone birthday.
“I know, but I can’t cancel Joachim. He’s my oldest friend.”
Charlotte sighed, “I like him and his wife too. It’s just that our time together suffers. And we’ll have to leave for your parents’ in a minute. I’ve stood Susanne up for the last two Saturdays. It’s all too much for me. All this hustle and bustle puts me in a bad mood. I’d love to go for a walk in the woods with you and Emma and then cook something nice.”
“We’ll do that tomorrow,” Justus said, and when he saw her skeptical look, he added, “I promise.”
“Your parents want us to spend the night with them, don’t they?”
“No, I talked about that earlier during the phone call. We’re going back home tonight.”
Justus’ parents lived in Frankfurt-Sindelfingen. Charlotte liked both of them and got along well with them. They were fun-loving and had been traveling the world since they retired; her mother-in-law had worked as a judge, her father-in-law as in-house counsel in a company. Three days ago, they had returned from Nairobi. And they were eager to see their only child and his family again.
As they pulled up in front of the villa-like house, its entrance flanked by two planters of ornamental conifers, the front door opened almost simultaneously and her mother-in-law rushed out. A little slower, her father-in-law followed behind.
“Hello Erika, hello Robert. My God you’ve gotten a tan. It looks great on you,” Charlotte noted enthusiastically as she got out. As soon as she had Erika squeezed her heartily and gave her two resounding kisses on each cheek. She did the same with Justus and Emma. Robert’s welcoming was a little more composed, but no less cordial.
“Come on in. Coffee and cake are waiting for you. We’ve brought you some great things. I’m very excited to see how you like your gifts,” Erika said excitedly.
Together they entered the entrance area of the house. There was a smell of freshly brewed coffee.
“Go on into the dining room. I’ll get the coffee.”
The table was set all in Massai design and there were gifts on three chairs.
Admiringly, Charlotte stopped in the doorway, “This looks impressive.”
“Do you like it? We brought all this from our vacation,” Erika said proudly, entering the room with the coffee pot in her hand, “open the presents,” she said, pointing her chin toward the three chairs as she poured the coffee.
Charlotte’s and Emma’s packages each contained a bracelet made of pearls and a matching necklace, and Justus got a plain leather belt.
“I have something else,” Erika exulted and disappeared into the living room. When she returned, she had two sisal-woven, leather-strapped shopping baskets in her hands, which she handed to Emma and Charlotte.
“How sweet of you,” Charlotte said as she helped Emma, who was hopping from one leg to the other with joy and excitement, put on the jewelry, “how did you like the safari?”
While Justus’ parents told of their exciting trip with verve and enthusiasm, Justus let his eyes roam over the people, seeing Emma’s happy face and Charlotte’s attentive one. How comfortable he felt, and how he loved them. This was his family, his refuge, his castle, his home, his Life. He took a deep, satisfied breath and stabbed a very large piece of his cake with his cake fork.

Justus kept his promise – the next day they all three went for a walk, and then he cooked dinner. As the daily routine continued the next day, Charlotte felt relaxed and happy. She entered the outer office as Bärbel Grüntal was on the phone. Her mine and attitude exhaled frustration and dissatisfaction. She must have had a really lousy weekend, Charlotte thought, waved her off, entered her office, booted up the computer and started her work.
“Ms. Reimann!”
Charlotte looked up from her desk. Bärbel Grüntal stood in the doorway. The drooping corners of her mouth did not bode well, “Yes, what is it?”
“The grid lights on the ceiling in my office give me a migraine.” “Mmm. Sorry about that. Why don’t you turn off the lights then?”
Grüntal shook her head vehemently and indignantly, “Then it’s too dark to read. Besides, darkness gets on my nerves.”
“Mhm. Did I understand that correctly: If it’s light, you get migraines. If it’s dark, you get melancholy.”
Green Valley nodded.
Charlotte shooed away her impatience, “That’s difficult. How can I help you, then?”
“I’d like to order some different, less glaring lights.” “If that’s available, then do that. I don’t mind.”
Assuming that everything was now settled, Charlotte looked at her desk. But Bärbel Grüntal stopped in the doorway. “Is there anything else?”
“Yes, you didn’t tell me on Friday that you wouldn’t be in tomorrow. And now I’ve already made appointments.”
“Oh, crap. I forgot all about that,” Charlotte slapped the flat of her right hand across her forehead, “tomorrow I have to go to a training course in Cologne. Can you reschedule?”
The Grüntal sighed surrendered and gave her a stern look “I don’t know. I’ll try,” she said venomously.

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