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LoaMR: Ch.XVI: Daphne and Claire 5

by MailicedeNamedy


Claire had observed Ernst using the bathroom early in the morning. Even though he was trying to sneak through the flat, she could hear everything. Even the whispering during the night. Even if she hadn't understood a word, she knew the conversation was about her.

When Ernst closed the flat door behind him, Claire lay there. She didn't know when she usually got up with Daphne, so she had to lie there until the sun was higher in the firmament. She would have preferred to sleep, but she had to be on her guard, as Ernst could come back at any time.

Claire's night was uncomfortable. Was it because of Daphne's lack of warmth?

At some point, she had to get up to get a glass of water, when she came across Daphne sitting on the armchair. She studied Claire's sleeping place with wide eyes.

"Good morning."

"Good morning," Claire replied.

"What should we do today?"

Claire glanced at the violin case.

"I don't know."

"I'm sure I'll think of something. It's still early," yawned Daphne.

Once a key is turned, you can't easily get out of the room. This security provided Claire with an elegant morning marathon, reading through spines of books on the shelf. Not wanting to give her thoughts any room for negativity, she distracted herself with anything. She dreaded the next evening. And the one after that. She had to move out sometime...

Bored, Claire remained at the kitchen window next to the balcony, watching the goings-on in the courtyard. Strangers were entering it, Mrs. Schneider was running after them with a box, a man on the first floor of the side wing was pulling the curtains aside, while a bearded guy was looking for his dog next to a hedge.

It seemed like a film from the cinema, but that didn´t help Claire to get a better mood. She felt the cold all over her body and the redundancy in her mind. She was neither a resident nor a guest, merely an intruder in this house.

***

"Go ahead and have another one."

They were sitting on a park bench in the writers' quarter. Behind the woods, they could hear the brisk wandering of passengers from the main station. The tiny square somewhat neglected between the five-storey houses seemed like a refuge for those people who wanted to follow their words with action. The acacias and beeches were old, gathered around a dead birch, betting on who would leave next. With strong winds blowing through the canyons of houses, they whipped their branches at the weakest.

"Thank you."

Almost trembling, Claire took a grape.

"We should go swimming before autumn, what do you think?" asked Daphne casually.

A crow landed on the water cooler. With a raging flap of its wings, it squeamishly watched a small stone roll across the ground in the wind. It followed it hopping.

"I don't have a swimsuit."

"Never mind. We'll buy you one."

She threw the crow a grape and suddenly she pulled Claire towards her.

"Today we're going swimming."

"Now? So unprepared?"

"Would you like a written invitation?" joked Daphne, "I already know where. Not the bathing lakes in Berlyne. They're always full of people. We're going to Wasserhafen!"

The crow chased them for a few feet as they passed an old gentleman with a bowler hat and a stick. Hissing, he chased the bird away.

***

Wasserhafen was east of Berlyne, about six or seven miles from the city limits. It was easily reached by the local underground railways. It was a strange feeling to finally get out of the city. Fields accompanied them through the growing valley.

Claire remembered. She had come from here by train. From the windows facing south, she could make out a village. Then the hills and fields came back. A river followed them. Several times man had laid hands on it and given it a new route to irrigate.

With a firm grip, she held on to her new backpack, which Daphne had bought for her, along with her swimsuit. She was in as good a mood as she was every day. It seemed almost uncanny for Claire to imagine her friend angry. It gave her shivers thinking about Daphne getting mad and crushing everybody with her bare hands. Daphne didn't notice the quiet and reserved temperament at first. At first, she suspected nothing. Only after a few minutes without stopping, when Claire noticed that they were the last ones on the train, did she speak.

"You don't have to assume anything will change between us just because Ernst is home."

She had hit the nail on the head. Claire blushed, immediately denied this thesis, and turned towards the paddock. There she was again out of sight.

"If you think I haven't noticed, I'm sorry to disappoint you," Daphne continued, "Ernst is just a roommate. We are neither engaged nor married. We met at work and together we can only afford to live in Apex."

Claire nodded.

Can a problem be solved so quickly?

"The only thing that changes is that I have a snorer lying next to me at night."

She laughed. Claire giggled.

"As soon as he's gone again, you come to me. All right?"

"All right."

"Is it that hard?"

"What?"

"To be in a good mood?" asked Daphne.

"I'm in a good mood. I'm with you," she said absently.

"Think positive."

It would be nice if it were so easy to get someone out of your mind just because someone says you should think positively…

Wasserhafen was a street village with a few alleys. The river from Berlyne flowed into that imposing stream. It was the terminus of the line, so it was time to get off. Beyond the beech and fir-covered hills lay the city of millions.

For her, it was a quirky place. She felt strange and unsafe. So far from the Apex flat, Claire felt rigid.

"On to the river!" commanded Daphne with an outstretched hand, "swimming helps to take your mind off things."

"I don't get the impression that my thoughts change when I take a bath."

"When you're drowning, you'll think differently," Daphne said cynically, "Don't make such a sad face, Claire."

Nothing has changed. Only in your head. Or does this bed mean that much to you? You just sleep in it. Nothing else. You can imagine the conversations you have with Daphne in your head. You used to do that. Why not now?

"Let's have fun," Claire said after a while.

"Exactly!"

Unlike a safe swimming hole, the river offered the dangers of carelessness. The current would push a careless person of the bank away, leaving them to wash ashore dead miles away. The unpredictable depth and the live fish within lay in wait for those who feared the black bottom. Even a ship could come up behind the mountains at any time and shred someone to pieces by means of the propeller.

Daphne's words of encouragement crossed over into the absurd but helped to take Claire's mind off things. Nothing could really go wrong with her; how could she forget? The fun grew after they swam a few laps. They mimicked fish and dogs, sometimes Daphne diving under and grabbing Claire by the waist to pull her in further. When a cutter passed, they waved to the passengers from a safe distance.

As more guests arrived in the course of the morning, they were able to rest. The effort of staying in the water had managed to put Ernst completely out of his mind.

He returned in Claire´s head on the journey back to the city.

He disappeared again with a visit to the Apex palace garden. The beauty of the palace, which was surrounded by woods on every side, was probably its central location, not far from the Oriel Alley. And yet it seemed as if they were immersed in another world as soon as the iron fence disappeared behind the trees and hedges. Only the railway passing by at the northern end made them realise they were still in the city.

They did not dine together. Ernst did not get home until around eleven o'clock. Daphne and Claire were having a good time listening to classical music. They were listening to the record for the second time after coming out of the cinema.

With the quiet time, Claire had a small table lamp and a book with her. Some author called Magnus had immortalised himself in The Oratory of Allegory, critically examining the human condition.

*

Every existing living being can evolve in the course of its life. Evolution has shown this with the human being. At some point there comes a point where the consciousness of its own is formed and this is passed on genetically. Through this new form, living beings can survive and one day live after many generations of inheritance.

This act of creation reduces the formerly dominant subconscious. Thus, humans hardly succeed anymore in understanding the natural effects and conditions of the brain that are essential for survival.

The process of getting to that point takes many, many years. When does human start thinking? What am I really? But when exactly does this process begin? Does it also end at some point? Every living being has to come to terms with what it is and why it exists. It has to develop words for itself and for others.

So how do animals see things in their heads? Does a tree appear before their eyes when they see one? Do we see the letters? What great power is behind distracting the subconscious in such a way to be able to think freely as an individual?

What does consciousness bring with it? One can think about an ego, another person, a possible Goddess, about life after death and love. This knowledge of what we master, does it go so far that we can even destroy ourselves?

*

The book didn't seem so complicated and boring from the outside. Claire could not imagine what she had just read. Her head toyed with the intention of reading the one volume on the anatomical development of molluscs because she had liked the drawings inside. She didn't want to get up. Instead, she grabbed the next tome that lay beside the lamp.

She fell asleep to it, which ultimately pleased her. This conceited, self-convinced arrogance of the author had made her angry. The preface was written in a style of writing she did not like.

She had thought it was a novel, but she realised while leafing through it that it was a non-fiction book, a kind of documentary about something that was not allowed to be called by its name. As if the author wanted to make it exciting before the actual prologue he thanked his friend who had been extremely important support and help to him during the research.

***

Claire had not noticed Ernst when he left the flat.

She was still asleep when he entered his office. Only Daphne was able to wake her.

"Bad dream?"

"... don't know anymore."

"Take a bath first, then we'll leave right away."

"Where?"

"You'll see when we arrive."

Washing in the morning gave her the strength to wake up and stop worrying about the dream. Claire noticed that Daphne didn't have a car. Immediately she asked when she actually had to go to work. As long as she had been on the road with her now, Daphne could not possibly have been granted leave by the company.

It no longer tormented Claire, while it struck her that there was no breakfast. Not right away, in any case.

The path led out to Berlyne. Heliosbrück was their destination.

Situated on terraces, surrounded by waterfalls, and selected lime trees, the underground railway drove in between them as they were about to reach the terminus. Because of one thing, the city was famous in the Free Duchy.

The good wine that grew everywhere on the slopes was marketed as the best wine of the Free Duchy. The ducal family vouched for the black-green bottles with the Helios label.

Daphne wanted to introduce her friend to the world of wine and confess to her that they were going to a restaurant that evening. Ernst wanted to invite them both. Claire was not the best wine drinker and was not familiar with the different varieties. For her, there was no such thing as good or bad, because they all tasted the same. And they weren't even delicious. Daphne smirked several times as Claire grimaced just smelling the glass. The taste manifested itself in her mouth and acted like a sticky mass that rotted her teeth.

***

The pub was located at the end of Reichenberg Street.

Vena - Cava was an independent village northwest of Apex. The main road passed it to the east so as not to disturb the residents. It had notoriety because of the river division, the water lock, and the mills in the north.

The restaurant was decorated with pictures of the ducal family. It looked very noble, although a living was earned with home cooking. The Schröck family took care of the guests' well-being. As every week, the district mayor was present, with him his lovely wife and the three pests, all boys.

Claire and Daphne had arrived before Ernst. The reservation gave them the opportunity to get a table outside. This gave them the best seats, just off the wash fountain square. The large open space in the midst of extremely busty buildings looked out of place. As if someone had ripped a building complex out of the ground, the rectangle had merely been decorated with an old fountain that had supposedly been there since the village was founded seven hundred and forty-four years ago.

"He'll join us right after work," Daphne said.

She was carrying a pocket watch. She muttered something like usually just after six in case he didn't volunteer for more.

"Is he out a lot? Like the last few weeks?"

"A few times a year." she reflected, "He's actually just the assistant, but he has his hands full. He must have some people under him, but what exactly he does, you'd better ask him yourself."

She laughed.

"And you?" asked Claire promptly, "You work for the Seelenherz too, after all."

"Through my relations with Mr. Neumann I have some freedom, otherwise I am an employee who commutes between there and Berlyne."

"Really?"

"Many commute between two places. The head office is in Valdebourg, most of the trainees and employees have to go there several times a year - or to Wasserrund. The many subsidiaries are spread all over the Free Duchy."

"That's why you were in the closed city!"

"Correct."

Claire grinned. She couldn't imagine changing her workplace or even her place of residence on a regular basis. It seemed unreal and far too hectic for her. When she wanted to confront Daphne with another question, Ernst appeared.

"Good evening ladies."

He was carrying a suitcase. Daphne glanced at it mysteriously and guessed that he had brought himself something to do for the night.

"In case I'm not asleep." he mumbled sheepishly, "Have you ordered yet?"

"We've been waiting for you."

"Very good. I invite you, take anything you like."

"So spendy?" grinned Daphne, "What happened?"

"A phone call. But more later."

The asparagus starter was accompanied by wine again. Claire choked several times. This was followed by cockchafer soup. She was not at all pleased to hear that the soup was made out of bugs. It tasted surprisingly pleasant, though. Only the heat made it difficult to slurp at first.

"Another plant is about to open in Wasserrund," Ernst explained bored, "I'm supposed to be in charge to recruit."

All at once, he sounded full of anticipation.

"Are you moving?" returned Daphne as she watched the passers-by.

"Only next year – if it should work. Mr. Haarmann mentioned it. He sees potential in me."

Daphne sighed. She did not sound happy. Claire thought about the name mentioned. It couldn´t be the same Haarmann as at Léonards birthday, could it?

Claire felt out of place. If two adults were talking about their professional lives, she wanted to contribute something rather than just sip her glass. Attempts to study people went awry, as did the Schröck family's daughter, who had moved her waitressing outside in the sun for a few weeks.

"Where is Wasserrund?" asked Claire suddenly.

"You don't know Wasserrund?" chortled Daphne, "It was the capital of the Free Duchy. It's on the northern border."

Not being familiar with the geography of Enalit, Claire nodded amiably, "Is it like Berlyne?"

Ernst shook his head.

"A working-class town. It's in the mountains, very unsightly, little vegetation, lots of mines, a very obscure, cold area. But because of its location as a former motte, it was strategically safe."

"We never have to go there, Claire," Daphne reassured her.

What a motte was, the young Silberlilie could not know. She had other things to worry about with the main course anyway. She gleefully ate small portions and at the same time watching people getting on and off at the nearby underground station. In the process, her knife fell to the floor twice, whereupon she quickly got a new one.

While her companions continued to talk about Wasserrund and the new factory, more questions came to her mind. Claire forgot that they were sitting in a restaurant. She would have been better off enjoying the sun's rays. The temperature, the location, the people, and the smell of sweet desserts.

"The Seelenherz Inc. owns the trains, don't they?"

"Gruber Railway Company,” Ernst smacked his lips hesitantly and wiped his mouth, "Part belonged to the state, was subsequently confiscated by the Greater Sagauvelian Empire."

"The underground I mean."

"After the first construction phase, half of it went to the city. Most of the stations and tunnels are managed by the respective districts and municipalities."

"But to start an apprenticeship, you have to go to Seelenherz," Claire said quickly.

"Right." murmured Ernst with interest, "Your idea of the future - ready for a career in the oldest company in the country?"

He laughed.

Claire blushed.

"As a conductor or something."

"Then I can always go for free!" interjected Daphne with a smile.

Ernst stared at her in horror.

"It was just a little joke."

"Can I start there right away?" asked Claire.

Scratching, he mused.

"Certainly, that is possible. The apprenticeships are managed by my boss and by Mr. Haarmann. They decide who gets in and who doesn't. They have the final say. But an apprenticeship doesn't mean being employed. After two years Mr. Haarmann can say we don't need you."

"Hm..." Claire went on, "But it's possible, isn't it?"

Daphne answered the question in the affirmative. Ernst remained silent.

"What is it?" asked Daphne.

"I don't see a problem with Mr. Haarmann, but with my boss."

"True. Mr. Silberlilie is so conservative. For him, women are a burden."

Claire choked again. Her coughing and retching sounded like that of a maltreated dog. Surrounding guests looked at her while Ernst tried to free her with a gentle pat on the back.

"Should we get a doctor?" Daphne wanted to know, "Elvira lives just around the corner."

"There's no need for that," Ernst spoke in shock.

"I feel better," Claire whispered, her face red. A sip of water gave her back her pale colour.

"Is your boss's name Benedikt Silberlilie?" she said, gasping.

"He and Mr. Haarmann are responsible for the training."

"He's my father."

Daphne and Ernst stared at the young thing with incredulous expressions. It seemed like a spectacle. Wide eyes oppressed Claire.

"He's your father?" repeated Ernst.

"Claire Silberlilie,” Daphne read off an invisible note, "You never mentioned to me what your last name is."

"I..."

Now you have betrayed yourself. Now you can move out and go to your father.

What a fool I am!

"You have a brother, Bolderich?"

"Yes. He works also at Seelenherz.”

Ernst thought.

"So, there shouldn't really be a problem. You are your father's daughter.”

"You never mentioned he worked there," Daphne interjected, "I guess you don't see much of each other."

“No," Ernst and Claire revealed at the same time.

Daphne laughed and took a sip of wine. She poured for them and raised the glass.

"What coincidences the world brings. Hurrah for Our Mother!"

"Wait." interjected Ernst, "You've been in Berlyne for three weeks and you haven't been to see your father once?"

"I haven't seen him for two years. I'm staying with my aunt in Regenschloss."

"But you have to tell him you're here! He worries a lot about you," he explained, "He talks about you all the time."

Daphne shook him awake.

"Let her. We don't need to interfere in their family affairs."

"She still has to see him... if she wants to go through with the training. I'll make an appointment for tomorrow right away."

"Not tomorrow,” Daphne spoke for her friend, "Soon. Give her time."

Claire's face had turned deathly pale when her father was spoken of. The telephone conversation flashed through her mind, the letter and himself. Now he was standing awfully close to her.


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A woman knows the face of the man she loves as a sailor knows the open sea.
— Honore de Balzac