Authors: Jule Meeringa
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2013 Jule Meeringa
Translation copyright © 2015 Terry Laster
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Previously published as
Single, alleinerziehend . . . und dann auch noch Seeluft!
by Amazon Publishing, Munich, 2014. Translated from German by Terry Laster.
Published by AmazonCrossing, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and AmazonCrossing are trademarks of
, Inc., or its affiliates.
Cover design by Jason Blackburn
Library of Congress Control Number:
s the meeting dragged on into the third hour, I looked longingly out the window, which offered a magnificent view of the city park. Half the city seemed to be enjoying the warm summer afternoon. Mothers pushed baby strollers past retirees who sat talking on park benches. Teenagers lounged in the grass or cooled their feet in the fountain, and laughing children played ball. I would have loved to join them. I sighed and turned my attention back to the meeting.
“It’s high time we came to a decision!” someone was saying. Finally! I looked around to see who had spoken. Aha! The architect. Around the room, nodding heads signaled approval.
“Wait!” the city councilor broke in. “I’d like to state for the record that my opinion has not yet been thoroughly considered.”
I slouched in my seat. It felt as though we’d already met a hundred times to discuss the project. I found it hard to believe that any plausible argument hadn’t already been heard. At this stage, it would hardly be well received. I noticed my colleague, Marco, scribbling something on his notepad with quick strokes.
What a geek
, I thought. As I watched him, I suddenly felt my blood run cold.
Oh, crap! Paula!
I was late for after-school pickup. I jumped up and ran out into the hall. Before the door slammed shut behind me, I heard someone say, “What’s happening?”
Please, Sandra, please be there
, I begged as I waited for her to answer her phone. As it turned out, I didn’t need to worry.
“Nele? I’ve already picked the girls up. I figured you weren’t going to make it in time.”
“You’re the best! Where are you now?”
“Standing in front of the day care. I was just about to call you.”
“Is Paula terribly mad?”
“Not a bit. I’m taking the girls to our house and I’ll feed them. See you later!” She hung up.
“So which is it—crazy or pregnant?”
I turned around and saw Marco standing behind me, grinning. “Neither. I forgot to pick up my kid.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Sandra has everything under control,” I said, mentioning our mutual friend. “Are they getting anywhere in there?”
“In your dreams.” Marco led the way back into the boardroom. When we walked in, all eyes turned toward me.
“Sorry. It was urgent.” I sat down in my place.
The director of the building department, Mr. Schlüter, went back to what he’d been saying. “So, then, it’s settled: The Larchen Way Day Care Center Project is on hold until further notice. We’ll resume project meetings after pending questions have been resolved. Thank you all for coming.” He gathered up his belongings and hurried from the room.
I was floored.
“What’s going on here?” I whispered to Marco as the others filed out of the room.
He shrugged. “What do you think is going on? The same thing as always. You weren’t seriously expecting otherwise, were you?”
“Honestly, I kind of was,” I admitted. “Now what?”
“We go home.”
“You know that’s not what I meant.”
“Nele, don’t take it so hard,” Marco said. “We can’t change this. You can’t and I can’t. Probably no one can.”
“So what happens now?” I pushed.
“The mayor has announced that he welcomes the construction of the day care.”
“So there shouldn’t be any problems moving forward.”
“Nele.” Marco looked as though he felt a little sorry for me. “Are you really that obtuse?”
“But if the mayor . . .” I slapped a hand to my head. The mayor and the director of the building department, Mr. Schlüter, were in opposing political parties. Now that the mayor had given the go-ahead, of course Mr. Schlüter was throwing up roadblocks.
“Ding, ding, ding?” Marco rang an invisible bell.
I nodded. “You’re right. I should have known. But what are the kids going to do?”
“The Schlüter children already have a day care center.”
“Okay, I get it. Sorry I asked.”
On the way out, I glanced at Marco’s notes. What had he been scribbling so zealously?
Tomatoes, toothpaste, trash bags . . .
“I use my time wisely.”
I fell onto Sandra’s sofa, letting out a long breath.
“What was the outcome of the meeting?” Sandra gave me an expectant look.
“A shopping list.”
“Marco wanted to go shopping.”
“What?” Sandra looked at me as if she thought I was crazy. “I mean, when will the day care center be built?”
“But the article in the newspaper last week said that plans were completed!” Sandra dropped into her wicker chair. She looked very chic today, in her short, pale-yellow summer dress. The light color contrasted pleasantly with her tanned skin and shoulder-length chestnut hair.
“You know how it is.”
“And how is it?”
“The people who are supposed to be building the day care are acting like kindergarteners themselves.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Forget it, Sandra. There’s not going to be a day care center. Not now and not five years from now.”
“But Anke desperately needs a place. She’s already on the waiting list. And little Nico . . .”
“Somebody should get him on a waiting list now for senior housing.”
“I’ll get some coffee.”
Just then Sandra’s daughter, Anneke, and Paula hopped into the room on large bouncy balls with handles. Blond braids and dark ones flew up beside their heads with each bounce.
“Hi, Paula. I’m so sorry about today. I—”
“Momma, you’re here way too early! We’re having so much fun!” The girls flashed indignant looks at me and then hopped away.
Sandra pressed a cup of coffee into my hand and set a pack of chocolates on the table.
“Comfort food! Now tell me what’s really going on.”
I told her what Marco and I had discussed and what I realized. She looked at me, stunned. “Where on earth are we living?” she asked.
“In a beautiful house on the edge of the city, with a yard, lovely neighbors . . .” broke in Sandra’s husband, Christoph, who’d come in when we weren’t looking. “And wonderfully tasty chocolates.” He shoved one into his mouth, gave Sandra’s forehead a light kiss, and looked at us. “Crisis?”
“They’re not going to build the day care center!” exclaimed Sandra. “Can you imagine?”
“Day care center? Anneke’s already in school.”
Christoph shrugged and walked out the door.
“I’d better go,” I said. “See you tomorrow. Thanks so much for picking up Paula.”
Paula came with me only after a loud protest. She and Anneke had decided that a sleepover would be much cooler than going to my boring apartment.
I’ve got to get out of here!
It wasn’t the first time that I’d woken up in the morning with that thought in my mind. My head buzzed. Out of sheer frustration I had taken both my heating pad and a bottle of red wine to bed with me the night before. Paula’s alarm clock sounded good morning in the next room: cock-a-doodle-doo! cock-a-doodle-doo!
In moments my disheveled child stood at my door. Without a word, she went to the closet and dug out colorful floral socks, a blue flowered shirt, and lime-colored floral leggings.
“Look, Momma, all flowers! They match great!” She was radiant with delight in her fashion choices. She padded off, barefoot, toward the bathroom.
“Where are your . . . ?” I dropped back onto my pillow.
What the heck,
She’ll figure out the benefit of wearing slippers for herself, eventually.
I dragged myself out of bed to make Paula’s school lunch. My flowery daughter came into the kitchen soon after.
“Cornflakes?” I asked. But I already knew the answer. She shook her head. Paula never eats breakfast at home. She slipped out of the room again. A little later, I overheard her talking on the phone. “I haven’t done my math homework, because Mom was so late! Okay then, see you soon.”
Well, great. My daughter’s homework wasn’t done because her bad mommy was so involved in her career.
“I’m going now!” Paula called, shouldering her book bag.
“Why so early? You’ve still got lots of time.”
“I’m going by Anneke’s and then on to Juliane’s.”
“But that’s a huge detour!” I stuffed her lunchbox in her bag.
“But we’re best friends and that’s what besties do!” She looked at me as if she wanted to ask, “But what do you know about best friends?”
“All right, but please wear a jacket. It’s chilly out.”
With a groan she withdrew from the room, and she didn’t return. I found her in the bedroom, almost completely buried in the closet. Two floral legs thrashed in the air.
“What are you looking for? Your jacket is—”
“I found it!” Triumphantly, she held up a long-forgotten sweatshirt jacket. It was floral.
After a hot shower, I went outside to fish the newspaper from the mailbox. Yesterday’s decision was already on the front page: “Larchen Way Day Care Center Project Postponed.”
I slapped open the paper and read:
Following its most recent planning meeting, the Larchen Way Day Care Center Committee announced that construction of the long-planned day care center would be “postponed until further notice.” The building department indicated there is still “an urgent need for coordination” regarding financing and the extent of utilization to be expected. The builders have been asked . . .
I slammed the newspaper onto the table. “The extent of utilization to be expected”! Who were they kidding? The children were standing in lines so long they could have gone to day care in the next town. What people wouldn’t give for a full-time day care center here! We’d been planning it for six years. Parents had been so excited about finally getting access to local childcare for their preschool kids. Some families weren’t waiting anymore because their children had already reached school age, but others had had a second child and were hoping that these kids, at least, could be accommodated. This hope was all but evaporating now that there’d been a change in government. The project had already been teetering on the brink because the political party that was now out of power had initiated it. Now this! I picked up the telephone.
“Marco, I’m going on vacation. Don’t expect me for the next two weeks.”
“Isn’t your daughter supposed to be in school, dear?”
A pause hung between us.
“I meant to say, I’m going to be on vacation
in two weeks.
As soon as summer vacation starts.”
“Right. See you later.”
I sank into self-pity. No vacation. No day care center. No man. No man? So this is what I’ve come to. After I kicked Paula’s father out the door five years ago, I promised myself I would never let another man into my life. Then Steffen, my dream guy—or so I thought—came along, but it turned out I was wrong about him, too. And now the day care center situation was making me feel sad again about my lack of male companionship? I felt tears welling up. I knew I couldn’t go on this way. I wondered what I could change to make myself feel better. My apartment? My job? My hair? I decided to change all of them! Pleased, I headed to the office.
After scrolling through my e-mails and finding nothing I had to deal with immediately, I decided to take the first step to my new life right away. I figured I’d start at the hair salon.
My notoriously snarky stylist held a lock of my hair between her thumb and index finger. “How about a perm for a bit more fullness?” she asked sweetly. I wasn’t so sure this was the smartest choice for a woman on the brink of ushering in a new life. I had a perm before. I looked like my Aunt Hilde’s old mop.
“No perm. Just a cut.”
“Straight cut or a little layering?”
“So, like Angela Merkel?”
Merkel! As if I wanted to run around looking like her! Things were bad, but not so bad that an Angela Merkel haircut would make them better. Now I was ticked off.
“More in the direction of Claudia Schiffer, please.”
“But your hair’s not quite long enough.” She bit her lip as if to show regret.
“You know what? I think I’ll come back later.”
“Humph!” She shrugged like she didn’t care, but I could tell she was actually sorry.
. Standing on the sidewalk, I rummaged through my pocketbook, dug out a rubber band, and tied my hair in its usual ponytail, then wandered through the pedestrian mall. For a while, I drifted around my favorite bookstore, letting myself be drawn to the travel books. I wondered whether any of the authors had managed to break free from the shackles of civilization, at least for a while. Siberia or Alaska, Patagonia or the Sahara—it didn’t really matter where the authors took me. The important thing was to go far away. One African travel book in particular fascinated me. I picked it up and headed to the cashier. As I walked past the children’s section, I decided to buy the latest book in Paula’s favorite Conni series. “The one for early readers that I’ve wanted to read since
Momma. It’s not as babyish as the ones I read when I was six.” At a whole month past her seventh birthday, Paula had a new interest in the Conni books for older kids that was perfectly understandable.
As I wandered down the pedestrian mall, more trouble crossed my path in the form of an unwelcome admirer named Herbert.
“Nele! What are doing here in broad daylight? Are you busy? Join me for a cup of coffee.”
“Oh, hello, Herbert. I’m so sorry, but I can’t. I’m in a big hurry.” I tapped hard on my wristwatch to emphasize my lack of time. “I’m on my way to an important appointment. Marco’s already waiting.” I forced a smile.
“I just ran into Marco! He had his son with him and said he was taking him to the pediatrician.”
“Oh . . . that’s right. Now that you mention it, he did say something about possibly running late. I can’t believe I forgot. The meeting really
Although he looked like he didn’t quite believe me, Herbert didn’t give up. “Well, then you have time now!”
I shrugged and almost resigned myself to coffee with Herbert when my cell phone rang.