Benedikt Silberlilie couldn't enjoy coming back to his home.
The long journey had visibly exhausted him. If only he had someone there to talk to, to welcome him at the front door... He didn't want to get a cat or a dog because he didn't have the time to look after them regularly. Moreover, he was rarely at home.
Almost sweating, he left the automobile in front of the garage and took the steps up. The cool north wind gave movement to the treetops. A breeze brought him to better thoughts. There were urgent matters he had to attend to.
The study was in a disastrous state. Documents and reports lay everywhere on the floor. Books hid the desk and the jade plant and orchids had already died, despite the open window. Panting and depressed, he set his bag on a vacant chair and swam through the load of work. He found the phone quickly; it rang just as he was about to sit down. But when he picked it up, the other person had already lost patience.
He tried to find out who it could have been.
He immediately set about cleaning up and in between kept getting ideas about who might have called him.
He remembered that he wanted to stop by the company. He looked at the grandfather´s clock in the living room and thought he could make it to the main building before he had to call Claire. He ran down the steps at full speed and was in the car faster than he would have liked. He hit his head on the roof and cursed loudly as the vehicle rolled down the driveway.
His assistant, Ernst Rothmann, was no longer expecting him. He was reading through some contracts and then sorting new files into the cupboards when his boss entered.
"Good evening," he greeted, "I forgot some important documents that I had to submit to the boss. I had let him know before I left..."
"All done," Rothmann confessed with satisfaction, "I brought the papers up myself because Mr Haarmann asked for them. That's why I had to rummage through your papers for a moment."
"Good, because it's important. As an assistant, you have thought of everything. Thank you very much."
Benedikt sat down in his seat, exhausted, and looked at the desk. It was tidier than at home. He disliked his table lamp with its green shade. While he pondered who might have called him, he played with the lamp, constantly illuminating his work surface. Hoping, he even thought it might have been Claire when he immediately put it out of his mind.
The manager stood up and looked around the room. He had been doing this job for over fifteen years. Why he had been chosen, of all people, he could not understand. He had been in therapy and away from his children for too long when he was promoted overnight. Doubting his abilities, he turned out of the window and left Rothmann alone with the files.
The view of Seelenherz Square was not only breathtaking when standing on it. If one explained to a visitor that they were in the middle of a city of millions, one could only verify this statement when one went beyond the trees. The two buildings were encircled by all kinds of trees.
There was a hint of pink in the air.
Benedikt did not know why, but he accepted it. The sun cast a brilliant light on the surrounding trees and the building. He almost couldn't make out Rothmann as the sun stood awkwardly.
Benedikt rested for a moment. His hands trembled nervously as he sat back on the chair. The last few days had been too much for him. If he didn't have his assistant, he would probably be lying collapsed on the floor.
Just as Benedikt picked up the phone, his assistant's desk rang.
"Seelenherz Inc, headquarters Berlyne, Rothmann speaking, deputy of Mr Silberlilie. What can I do for you?"
He listened briefly as he signalled that it was for Benedikt. The tired man got up and dragged himself to Rothmann.
"Hello, Benedikt Silberlilie, here?"
"Father, it's me! Why didn't you call?" came from the Bakelite device.
Almost screaming, he spoke to his caller. Relieved and shocked at the same time, he stopped next to Rothmann.
"Why should I call?"
"We were going to have dinner tonight since you came back from Senfl Castle! Seems like you forgot!"
"Forgive me, Bolderich. I didn't think about it anymore. Listen, we're having dinner tomorrow night, I'm still at the office right now. Business isn't going so well. Besides, I have to call Claire tonight. I have too much on my plate."
"A father apologising to his son? I've never heard that before. You seem overworked. Well, I'll be waiting for you tomorrow at Star Square at 6 p.m.,” Bolderich laughed. "Say hello to Claire from me! Goodbye."
"Goodbye..." Benedikt mumbled.
Grasping his forehead, he crawled back to his worktable and took a seat.
"A coffee? Tea?”
"No thanks, otherwise, I won't get any rest at all," he grinned, "As you heard, business hasn't been so good. Levin has the temps lining up for another company. Buyers from abroad must have more money than us."
Rothmann smiled at his boss.
"A little joke? We are Seelenherz Inc."
"Unfortunately, no. And now the dinner. How could I have forgotten? I think I've been thinking too much about my youngest daughter the last few days."
"Claire, isn't it?"
Benedikt returned it with a nod of his head.
"I'll call her now. Could you leave the office for a moment?"
"I have some papers to deliver to Mr Haarmann."
Alone in the office, the father of a family could take a breath before he wanted to call his daughter. He could not have known that she was already on the train to Pfalzburg, closer to him than he thought.
Aunt Waltraud was equally astonished when she heard Claire's statements on the phone. Two hours, Benedikt had never been on the phone that long. It was also unusual for his sister to keep the mayor waiting in the restaurant. No one knew where Claire was. For the father, there was no other option than to notify the police immediately.
The aunt was able to reassure him, saying that Claire was away with Emma. She saw the father as the trigger for this silent holiday opportunity and said she would be back. If necessary, she could check with Emma's mother.
For Benedikt, it was more than too much.
He never had any concerns about his work in his life. Now he was asked the question of whether he should be there more for his family or for his job. He found the answer when he went for a walk shortly after sunset towards the Atriale district, in the east of the city. The very next morning he made a phone call and immediately got an appointment with his therapist, Miss Kaufmann.
"Problems for Mr Silberlilie mean changes in plans for me in the coming weeks. Mr von Senfl has passed on the negotiations. I suspect that my boss blames himself. He didn't get the contracts to Mr Haarmann in time," Rothmann explained.
The flat was made for a young couple.
There was no hallway. One went straight into the living room, from there into the bathroom and the narrow, elongated kitchen. The parlour, separated by a wide opening surrounded by purple curtains, led three steps further into the bed-chamber. The three rooms were octagonal, with high ceilings and large windows. A balcony connected the bathroom with the kitchen. The colours were light overall, the wooden door frames painted black. It was noble.
With the balustrade, one had a view of the inner courtyard.
The smell there was reminiscent of factories. Exhausted and starving workers came from there to their rooms and spent the night in one of the overcrowded beds just across the courtyard in the building. Sometimes Rothmann thought he could hear the squeaking of shoes. Thin walls were a horror for any privacy.
He still felt comfortable. He couldn't afford to live here, so he shared it with a colleague. In general, he was happy to take the underground to his workplace without changing trains, even though these journeys annoyed him.
"That sounds awfully bad. Will you be home late the next few days?"
The voice came from the bathroom. Rothmann went back in the kitchen preparing dinner. The balcony doors were open.
"Tomorrow evening in any case. Mr Silberlilie is having dinner with his son. That's where I benefit from the few hours to tidy up some files and make some phone calls," he returned as he sliced the tomatoes, "I must honestly confess that I've been a bit sloppy the last few days as well. Work takes me sometimes, sometimes not."
"Really? Were you asleep? I'm sure some people will have noticed."
"No, don't worry, I wasn't asleep. I had some problems with Miss Hirsch. She came to the office so often to talk to my boss, even though she knew he wasn't there. It made me so angry that I lurked for her. All the while I was waiting for her at my desk for three hours."
"Really? You are one to me. You're even better paid than the mimes in the vaudeville. Maybe she likes you."
"Nonsense. She is too old. Besides, she knows that marriage means her expulsion. I think she comes to our office because we are the only ones who don't gossip about her. After all, Benedikt is her boss too."
"Because she's a woman?"
"Are you almost ready, dinner is on the table."
"Smoke one and I'm done."
He rarely had a cigarette, but sometimes Rothmann needed it. The only person who knew about his smoking habits was his roommate. She was also the only one who knew that he was a member of a tobacco college, although Rothmann was very reluctant to go there. His visits were mostly about work, he avoided the place most of the time. If someone waved to him in the street, he would act friendly and strike up a conversation with the mostly older gentlemen if he were recognised. But in general, Rothmann did not care much for smoking. His roommate agreed. Although she would have loved to be in a tobacco college, she was refused entry. This led to discussions between her and Rothmann from time to time because she tried several times to get in.
This was not the only thing that was much rumoured in the house.
The older ladies from the fifth floor whispered that they had no real relationship. Rothmann didn't care. They were probably senile and moronic. He didn't care what they said about him or his roommate, as long as everyone did their job well and quickly, no one should be criticised for their private life.
The elderly ladies earned their living by providing beds. The many workers who lived in these houses all had to toil in the industrial areas. Most of the halls there belonged to Seelenherz Inc. and were allowed to make themselves comfortable in the back houses.
The men would be happy to swap places with him, though Rothmann could sing a song about how it wasn't always nice to live with an unmarried woman. She came and went as she pleased, she had been away for the last few days for work and was only supposed to be here for a short detour before she had to leave again.
The bathroom door was opened. It was followed by the warm fog.
"Where are you?" she asked.
"Balcony. Smoke. Like you said."
"I didn't even notice you."
Ernst removed the puddles she had left behind. He was already used to cleaning up after her and always wondered how she managed to keep the flat clean on her own. He was often away on business and when he came home, everything was as tidy as he had left it. He didn't think she cared; she must have grabbed someone from the back of the tired factory workers to clean the flat. Or she lived somewhere else entirely in the meantime. Ernst wasn't sure about that and didn't ask. As long as everything was in order and clean, there was no reason to criticise her.
As he inspected the bathroom, he now heard her speaking from the kitchen.
"Are you coming to dinner?"
"There's a place set on the balcony," he replied, recoiling as he now caught sight of her juggling the two plates.
Ernst came back into the kitchen, washed his hands, and brought a wine outside to her. She already had the bowl of salad by her and was nibbling on it. He joined her and poured her wine while she distributed the salad.
"The tomatoes taste really good," Ernst revealed at the first bite.
"Fresh from the market. I got them this morning before Mrs Fuchs from fifth was awake."
"Is she giving you trouble?"
"No. Don't worry. The police don't show up because we're not married or anything. Divorce is becoming more popular, so is raising children alone. The Great War didn't change the men's world alone, it changed the women's movement. You see it when you walk the streets. Forget skirts and orders from men. We, women, are becoming more independent and don't want to stay in the kitchen forever."
"Should I get scared now?" asked Ernst gloomily. “You come back after so many days and already you start debating again, Daphne.”
"No, just don't. I mean that everything will change."
"I'm sure it will. Oh, do you remember the boss's other children?"
"Claire and Greta...?"
"Claire and Giselle. Well, as far as I know from him, Claire, his youngest daughter, is now also supposed to move here and attend the Petra Schröder School."
"Mr Silberlilie is a very conservative person. Does he want to make her a chambermaid?"
"I'm not getting involved, it came to me now because you were talking about Emanpa... Emancipation."
"Seems I have to teach your boss a lesson. The poor girl can't be for it voluntarily!"
"The bread is very fresh. From the market?"
"The same market. Don't change the subject now! I was just talking about equality! You can already see that very well on the streets these days. The war is far away, and we can celebrate as long as the time is available to us. What I meant is that the Great War is an excellent help to us women. Perhaps this war will also change the world..."
"I'm sure it will. But in the end, you will all be alone. Men die at the front. Not at home."