Secluded in an isolated world, Claire lived her pipe dream. This world she created, where she was the impetuous, voluntary centre, could evoke any scenario imaginably.
The thoughts formed repetitions of the memories. Like a carousel, she spun the days and gave the people in her head the sentences they were allowed to utter.
It was a perfect world in her eyes.
There was neither pain nor deceit. There was neither suffering nor lies.
Claire often lost herself in her fantasy. Everything happened the way she wanted it to.
But no matter how many times she repeated the evening with the three of them, her play came to the same result. This resentment left her speechless and tense. Distanced, she sat a few inches away from both of them as they headed home. The monotonous, assembly-line night greetings blinded everyone.
Helplessly, she pulled herself under the covers and was filled with disgust. She could not say no. Claire had to agree to yes. There was no going back. Fed with distaste, she tried to think positively. If she were to come face to face with her father, her future would be ruined.
Instead of a beautiful reunion, there was a beating, shouting, and a dislike. Her head was lost in pessimism. It didn't end with seeing the reunion once. Many times, it was replayed, each time with a far worse ending.
Claire had heard from people from Regenschloss how fathers forcibly married off their daughters or sent them abroad. Some resisted by suicide, others fled, others accepted their fate. Claire would not accept it.
Sceptically, she thought about a possible escape.
There was no one in this world who could help her.
There was no aunt.
There was no Emma.
There was no Léonard.
Lonely and abandoned, she had to go to her father.
Ponderous and depressed, she supplied her scripts in her head. There was none for a meeting with him where she could get off lightly. What was she to say? What was he supposed to say? She could not defend herself.
It was a mental low she received in the morning hours. Burdened by the voice in her head, the world deteriorated. The small, positive voice appeared but could not win. How could it? Anything good couldn't come to Claire because she didn't believe in it. If anything, good was going to happen, it was going to be undone. There wasn't even a reason for anything nice to happen to her.
She admitted that she did not want to be disappointed. That's why she set her expectations so low. She didn't want to get that feeling of failure and restructuring. She didn't want people to laugh at her for it. All the people paid attention to her.
Claire was terrified of her own view. No matter how much she didn't want to be the centre of attention, her head put her in the birdcage in a black vision where everyone could laugh at her. Suddenly the whole world knew she had run away, it was in newspapers, you heard it on the radio and saw it on the news in the cinema. Every resident of Berlyne knew where she lived, lurked outside the front door waiting to catch sight of her.
Claire kept a distance.
Daphne noticed it all too well. In the apathy, an ice shield grew around the former openness. Nothing nice could happen while the meeting was imminent. Pain struggled in her stomach whether she seemed to be enjoying herself or not. Unhappily, they both marched through the city centre. There was no conversation. Everything pointed to tomorrow.
Daphne almost wanted to take her to a doctor because the apathetic posture seemed unhealthy. She thought Claire was like a balloon that kept blowing up until it was about to burst. Claire avoided any dialogue that had anything to do with her father. It was only in the evening that she could not resist when Ernst organised a meeting for her.
"We'll be there in ten minutes."
Ernst didn't know how to deal with children and young people. He was not much older than Claire, possibly twelve or thirteen years, but he could not understand this nervousness. Women generally remained a closed book for him.
Line II drove in. Boar arcades was left behind them.
"Daphne said you were very interested in technology."
"Trains... but not how to build them or anything, just how they work. These tunnels. It's a fascinating art of construction. How did they dig them?"
"I'm sure there are others who think the same," Ernst said kindly, "I for one find them exhausting. When you travel with them day in, day out, the motivation fades."
Claire did not seem disillusioned at all.
"My excitement rises every day when I see the trains."
"You probably see them as a metaphor," he concluded, "I see them as a simple means of transport."
Silence. Three stations ahead of them.
"Do you know if my father is there yet?"
"He usually comes after me," he replied, "You can wait in the office."
They had agreed yesterday not to come right out with the truth that Claire was living with him and Daphne. Ernst knew how Benedikt reacted to bad news. Better than his daughter, but still worse than most people.
"How long have you known my father?"
Reeling, she had to ask. The words fell out of her mouth as she tried to breathe. Stage fright made the pit of her stomach a piece of iron to be hammered on.
"Five, no... six years. He has trained me so that one day I can succeed him," Ernst mentioned proudly, "Although it will be that I am transferred to Wasserrund."
One station between them. For the last time, the train entered the dark tunnel.
"Do you want to know what he's like?"
"No." Claire returned lifelessly.
If you live in Berlyne, you have to go to the farthest place in town in your life. If you make it, you can't get past the buildings there: Seelenherz Inc.
The imposing, dignified skyscrapers were aspired to by employees and admirers alike. They were all tiny ants amidst the imperial stones.
The glorious history of the oldest company in the Free Duchy demanded that a status symbol be placed in the former capital. Whoever got off the train was in a blue-red mixture of bricks and tiles. Seelenherz was the name of the station. On the walls hung inventions and achievements of the company. Historical founding fathers and chairmen were dedicated busts on the central level. A gigantic coat of arms, assembled in a mosaic, formed the floor.
A pink heart with a tangled end that merged into waves lay on white velvet and blue sea spray. A violet prism was enthroned on the right side of the heart. Surrounded by a sombre aura of yellow and azure, it also formed the flags that waved in the wind in the square.
Everything in the immediate vicinity had a touch of pink.
Almost united with the sky, it resembled one of Claire's many dreams. Frozen, the people waited for her order to proceed. The clouds remained like stones in the firmament and the sun on the horizon slipped back.
It looked like a sprightly fortress from the Long War. The skyscrapers symbolised the heart of the city. All around there were hills and trees in the middle of the old town. It seemed like a dream as Claire took the steps up with Ernst. This wonderful, pigeon-free square bore the name of the station and the company.
The thought of her father working here was uncomfortable and irritating. She tried to relax by reading the history of the company at the station.
The office was on the seventh floor of the main building. The rather narrow room had two bureaus, a cramped ponytail palm, and cupboards and shelves with folders and typewriters. A newspaper lay on the table obviously reserved for the boss.
"Have a seat."
Ernst pointed to a rickety chair behind the door.
Silently she sat. With calm eyes, she looked at the wooden partition and waited for her father. When she heard footsteps, she was startled; when she heard someone cough, her pulse increased; when she heard someone knocking on the office next door, her legs and arms trembled.
Ernst offered her a tea. She declined.
While the scenario in her head tried to straighten everything out, the second voice was busy imagining how her father would behave. How often does it happen that you get a visit from your children at work?
There was no clock in the office. There were no paintings or any distractions on the walls. It was a sterile, lonely workplace.
It must have been half-past nine when the door opened.
Benedikt Silberlilie had arrived.
"Good morning, Rothmann."
"Good morning, Mr. Silberlilie. Did you have a pleasant journey?"
"At Star Square, they are building new entrances for the underground. That's why there was a little traffic jam," he explained.
“That sounds bad,” Ernst agreed, “You have a visitor, Mr. Silberlilie."
Ernst Rothmann pointed at Claire.
Benedikt was not aware of whom he had sitting in front of him. The small, inconspicuous girl he had left at the age of five was sitting there on the chair actually reserved for business partners.
There was nothing to say. They were both similar in a certain way. Empathy rarely existed with them. It took him almost a minute to realise who he had sitting in front of.
His pale eyes spoke first.
The enlarged pupils and a subsequent sudden break of sweat were little noticed by Claire.
He knelt down slowly and looked as if he had forgotten what he wanted to do. Hesitantly, he raised his arms and put them around his daughter. Claire avoided physical contact and smiled sheepishly at Rothmann, who was disinterestedly removing the creases on a leaf. The crush was an immediate relief. The hungry embrace created consternation. She sat motionless before him, looking bitter. At last, Rothmann smiled back as Benedikt rose.
"It's good to see you, Claire."
A cold shiver. Goosebumps. Should she have said father?
"It... well... I didn't think I'd see you again so soon," he spoke softly, "How are you or what are you doing right now... I don't think we need these questions."
A breather gave the opportunity to put overwhelm first. Or was it resentment?
"Can you leave the room for a moment?"
"I apologise for a moment."
Ernst hurried out of the room. A reluctance grew there. Claire could now say anything she wanted. All the words she had put in place. The consequences would remain the same.
"I'm glad you're OK," her father said.
Claire remained silent. She waited for the but.
"At the same time, I wonder what I did wrong that you lied to your aunt and me for no reason at all and turned your back on Regenschloss. What has got into you?"
"I don't know."
"And then your letter where you berate yourself and don't accept me, finally your phone call...? How do you think I feel when I read something like that and hear something like this? I was worried about you, but you throw things around that you don't know anything about."
He waited for no answer. He stared at her. Claire swallowed anger. It was not enough to spit it out.
"It's not the right time to talk to you about this. There are so many things I need to talk to you about - almost argue," he continued, "I don't want to hear an answer, you've disappointed me badly."
He was almost spinning in circles. Benedikt had no idea how to deal with her.
"Just get out of my sight now. I don't want to see you anymore."
Stunned, she shook her head. Not a word came from her. He reached into his jacket pocket and lovelessly handed her a key.
"You know where I live. Stay there until I get there tonight. Your things are already there. You can tidy up."
Claire looked at the silver thing.
"Do you understand me?"
"Good." he spoke from the office, "And tomorrow you go to school. You're lucky that the headmaster is an old friend of mine. They'll turn a blind eye to you."
Claire sparkled at Ernst's desk. Her father was not really angry. He looked overwhelmed. That's where the anger came from. Perhaps she was not concentrating on his daughter but on himself. Claire wished it as she clenched the cold metal in her hand. Instead of warming it, her fist froze.
"If you heard me, answer me, Claire!" he said loudly.
"Out you go then! I'll see you tonight."