A Novel by Mira Steffan
Charlotte sat in her car outside Dorothea’s house, waiting for her. They were going to their company’s corporate party together. Charlotte was excited. It was the first time she attended this party, which took place every three years. She was about to change the radio station when there was a knock on the passenger side window, and Dorothea grinned at her. Charlotte opened the door, and along with Dorothea came a scent of sandalwood and musk into her car. She leaned towards Dorothea and sniffed enthusiastically.
“You smell amazing. Did you change your perfume?”
Dorothea grinned, ran her right hand through her hair, and shook her blonde mane. “Yes, I visited my beautician this morning, and I came across this perfume. It suits me well, don’t you think?”
Charlotte gave her a thumbs up and started her car. “It goes perfectly with your blue dress.”
“Thank you. I really like your outfit too. Is it new?”
“This is the result of my shopping spree last Saturday,” said Charlotte, tugging at her pink blouse and black chino pants with her right hand while gripping the steering wheel with her left.
“You made a good choice. It looks really chic.”
Charlotte thought about the day and smiled happily. “Justus helped me pick it out.”
When they arrived, there were only two parking spaces left in front of the restaurant.
“We got lucky,” said Charlotte as she pulled into one of the available spots.
“I’d say we’re running a bit late.”
Charlotte glanced at the digital clock on the dashboard. “Only 15 minutes.”
As they entered the restaurant, Peer Schuster had just begun his welcome speech. They discreetly mingled among their colleagues, finding a gap between two couples to stand in. A waiter passed by with a silver tray holding champagne glasses. When Charlotte reached for a glass and looked up, she saw Leo Schneider standing very close to Ricarda Baldus. They seemed to be getting along splendidly. Even from a distance, Charlotte could tell that Schneider was flirting intensely. It seemed to be well-received by Ricarda because her cheeks were deeply flushed, and she either twirled her brown hair around her right index finger or tucked it behind her ear.
“She’s smitten. Too bad, I thought she had better taste,” Charlotte thought, letting her eyes wander further and landing on Peer Schuster. She listened to him attentively for a while. Either he had already had too much champagne, or he was having a bad day. Schuster spoke incoherently and monotonously, losing his train of thought several times. Charlotte glanced at her colleagues, who either twirled the stems of their cocktail glasses out of boredom, stared at the floor, or whispered to their neighbors. Nevertheless, Schuster received a lot of applause at the end of his speech.
“That’s a relief,” whispered Dorothea.
Laughing, Charlotte turned around to find a seat when she saw Schuster approaching Dorothea and herself.
“Good evening, Mrs. Reimann, good day, Dr. Groß. It’s nice to have you here,” he said cheerfully, shaking each of their hands. “Mrs. Reimann, this is your first time attending, I hope you enjoy it and have a wonderful evening with us.”
But before Charlotte could reply, Kevin Meier approached the group. “Mr. Schuster!” he exclaimed, extending his right arm and shaking Schuster’s hand vigorously. “What a wonderful speech. Once again, you found the right words.”
Indignantly, Dorothea looked at Charlotte and rolled her eyes in her direction. “What a sycophant.”
Charlotte couldn’t help but laugh. “Just a bootlicker, that’s all.” “Huh?” Dorothea asked.
“Well, a bootlicker. Step on people below, bow to people above. Haven’t you heard of Carl Zuckmayer’s play ‘The Captain of Köpenick’?”
Dorothea waved it off. “Oh, that’s been a long time. I think I had to read it in school.”
“Then let me enlighten you,” said Charlotte, raising her right index finger, making a stern face, and lecturing with a serious expression. “In the play, Zuckmayer uses the term ‘riding a bicycle’ as a synonym for crawling, fawning, and groveling. Back then, that behavior was frowned upon, but apparently, it’s experiencing a renaissance.” Charlotte let her finger drop and added with a grimace, “At least with Meier.”
“Either way, it’s a great synonym. I’ll call him a cyclist from now on,” said Dorothea, giggling to herself.
“I think we have more cyclists in the company than I thought,” said Charlotte, pointing at the colleagues who were gathered around the managing director, loudly and visibly praising him for his speech.
“Come on, let’s go to the buffet before the cyclists finish their praises and devour everything,” Dorothea encouraged, pulling Charlotte towards the food table.
“That looks delicious,” Dorothea remarked, unabashedly loading up her plate. “I might as well grab dessert right away.”
“You’re quite the glutton, my dear friend,” said Charlotte, smiling ironically as she also scooped her favorite dishes onto her plate.
“Well, I hardly ate anything for two weeks,” said Dorothea, sucking in her cheeks, creating holes on the sides of her face.
Charlotte laughed so hard that two potatoes rolled off her plate.
“How nice to see the ladies having such fun.”
Surprised, Charlotte, who was in the midst of trying to get the potatoes back on her plate, looked up and saw Burkhard Fligge standing next to her. Without thinking, she took a step back. She couldn’t stand his subservient and oily manner. Nevertheless, she made an effort to be friendly.
“Good evening, Mr. Fligge. Here as well,” she said because she couldn’t think of anything better to say.
Fligge moved closer in a familiar manner, allowing Charlotte to catch a whiff of his cologne. Respecting personal space didn’t seem to be one of his strengths. He leaned his head towards her ear and winked. “Please reserve a dance for me on your dance card,” he whispered, breathing his halitosis in her direction. Shuddering, Charlotte took three steps towards Dorothea and hastily said goodbye to Fligge, who was already preparing to close the distance again. She nudged Dorothea, who was staring lovingly at the dessert, in the waist. “I’m done. Are you coming?”
Dorothea, who had witnessed the scene, grinned with amusement. “Don’t you want to grant the charming Fligge’s request?”
“Young lady, I’m a married woman,” Charlotte said, pretending to be indignant. “You’d better find us a seat instead of spreading such improper ideas.”
Laughing, Dorothea balanced her plate in one hand and her dessert in the other, heading towards the table where their colleagues from the legal department were sitting. It was a fun group, and time flew by. But when the DJ started playing, and Charlotte saw Fligge approaching their table, she tugged at Dorothea’s sleeve. “Let’s go home.” And as Fligge reached their table, they were in the middle of saying their goodbyes.
It was the Monday after the company party. Groups gathered in the corridors and offices, whispering and giggling. Charlotte grinned amusedly and entered the meeting room. Schuster, standing in front of the conference table and talking to Heinze, looked up and gestured to the two empty chairs in front of him. Charlotte headed towards them as Schuster and Heinze turned around and took their seats. Confused, Charlotte paused. Had she misunderstood the signal? She stood there dumbfounded, sinking into a deep swamp of confusion. Had someone in the room observed this embarrassing situation? What were her colleagues thinking now? How embarrassing, embarrassing, embarrassing. Panic surged within her. What should she do? She felt like she was glued to the ground. Quickly, quickly, she had to think of something. She heard a clearing of the throat, and it snapped her out of her swirling thoughts. She wiped them away energetically and approached a free chair across from Schuster. Relieved, she sank onto the cushion.
Schuster stood up. “Ladies and gentlemen, I have called you here today for an extraordinary meeting to discuss a new project. The economic situation in our country is currently favorable. We can see that in our company as well. We have hired several new employees, which poses a problem. We have insufficient space for the number of staff members. We urgently need to expand our facilities. We have various options. We can build an extension, add another floor to the existing building, or relocate. To assess the situation and explore the possibilities, I would like you, Mrs. Reimann, to prepare an analysis. I ask the gentlemen present to assist Mrs. Reimann with all the necessary information.”
A murmur arose, which Schuster interrupted. “Gentlemen, we will postpone all further discussions until we have Mrs. Reimann’s analysis on the respective options.”
With that, the meeting came to an end.
Market opportunities, needs and target audience analysis, costs, capacities, construction plans, and profit forecasts filled the next few weeks of Charlotte’s professional life. Occasionally, she attempted to focus on straight lines during her breaks, but otherwise, the world of art disappeared from her consciousness until she received an email from Lana Sass:
Dear Mrs. Reimann,
Our meeting at my gallery left a lasting impression on me. That’s why I wanted to remind you of my offer. I know that the salary I can offer you doesn’t do justice to your qualifications. However, I saw your passion for art. I am convinced that the work would fulfill you greatly. It would be a simultaneously art-related and sales-oriented endeavor. In short, it is a beautiful profession that requires a passion for art as well as business knowledge. While we don’t create artworks in the gallery ourselves, we are also artists. Successfully running a gallery is an art in itself. We have to analyze the market, calculate investments, advise both artists and customers, advertise, and of course, sell constantly. Product knowledge is just as important as a solid business qualification. And you would be perfect for it. I need support and advice in bookkeeping. My focus is on art, and yours is on managing money. I believe we would make a good team.
I would be delighted to hear from you. Sincerely,
“Wow,” Justus said in the evening after reading the email.
“Yes, I was quite surprised too.”
“What do you want to do now?”
“I still don’t know. I think I don’t have enough knowledge of art.”
“Do you have knowledge of plastic packaging?”
Charlotte chuckled briefly. “In a way…” Thoughtfully, she added, “Perhaps I just don’t like viewing art as a mere commodity.”
“Well, if nobody sells art, how will artists make a living?”
Absently, Charlotte rubbed her nose. “That’s also true. But the low salary still bothers me.” And she thought about her conversation with Dorothea.
The next day, Charlotte responded to Lara Sass’s email with a decline. While writing, she had a vague sense that she might be missing out on something, but she vigorously shook off that feeling. What she was doing was exactly right, she reassured herself. Suddenly, a new idea came to her. Since she was giving up on art, maybe she could do something to help Julia. Therefore, she recommended her in her email to the gallery owner. The response came on the same day:
Dear Mrs. Reimann,
I regretfully acknowledge your rejection. However, if you happen to change your mind, please do not hesitate to contact me. Anytime!
I would be very happy to get in touch with the young artist. Thank you for the recommendation.