Johanna – 12

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Howard Fletcher had gotten me the leading breast cancer specialist in New York. His expertise and skill meant that my lumpectomy was minimally invasive. I went back to work on Wednesday, the very next day after the surgery and had a full workday.The small incision healed quickly and I began to feel better. Things returned to normal except that I had my apartment myself now that Jerry had moved out. I was surprised by how little I missed him. I was still tired all the time and after a long day at work, I no longer wanted sex when I got home. I realized that he had provided little else.The specialist scheduled my first chemo infusion for early January, 2020, more than a month away. I felt I had a reprieve. Even though I was feeling tired and weak, I knew that I would feel much worse once I started chemo. When Roberta called to invite me to California for Thanksgiving, I accepted.I had not told her about my cancer in our regular calls. She was heavily pregnant with her second child and due any day. As a thirty-nine-year-old, she was deemed an “older mother” and advised to take precautions far beyond those for a normal pregnancy. I knew that she would be dreadfully upset to hear about my situation and this could put her and her unborn child at risk.Burton kindly allowed me to double up my briefs the week before Thanksgiving and take the entire holiday week off. I sent Roberta my flight details, but told her to stay put at home and not come to the airport in her condition. I flew to San Fran on the Saturday before Thanksgiving and got a rideshare to their place on Nob Hill.My timing was perfect or terrible, depending on your point of view. Roberta went into labor almost as soon as I got there. Over Owen’s objections, Roberta insisted that I accompany them to the maternity suite at the hospital. I sat on one side of her bed and Owen sat on the other. She held both our hands as she pushed and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.Roberta had decided to name her Marie for Mom and fortunately, Owen was supportive of the idea. Roberta beckoned me forward to take the infant soon after she bonded with her, but I hung back, offering Owen precedence. He clucked over his new daughter for a few minutes, then passed her to me. I held her, cuddled her, kissed her, and she gurgled. Owen’s phone rang and he stepped out of the room.“She loves her aunt!” Roberta said.“Her aunt loves her back,” I said.Over the next two days, I spent every moment I could with Roberta and little Marie in the maternity wing. Roberta talked to her endlessly, almost exclusively in French, and I struggled to understand her. Owen was working over the weekend, and came by for a few hours each day. We took mother and baby home on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.Since her marriage to Owen, Roberta had taken over making the Lawler family Thanksgiving meal at their place in Marin county. She’d planned an elaborate menu for this year as well. However, she was obviously not a hundred percent just four days after giving birth. I volunteered to help her, much to the relief of Owen’s mother and sister.“They seem to like the way I do Thanksgiving dinner,” Roberta said to me. “Thanks for helping make it happen. I couldn’t have done it alone this year.”“You’re a gourmet chef, Roberta, you have Mom’s culinary gifts. It’s no wonder they like your cooking.” But my thoughts were less kind. Of course, they are happy to have my sister slaving away to feed them a magnificent meal.Roberta and I cooked together as we always did – she in charge, me her sous chef. The Lawlers had a professional kitchen with all the requisite equipment, and their cook had the day off. To be honest, I was rather pleased that Owen’s mother and sister stayed out of the kitchen, so I had Roberta all to myself. Little Marie was mostly asleep in her bassinet on a side table. We took turns to cuddle her when she woke and Roberta fed her.After the meal, everyone made much of Marie for a while. They congratulated Owen and Roberta. Then the men retired to watch football in the enormous sunken family room. The women sat further away from the screen, talking. They dipped in and out of the game, and the men’s conversation as they felt like. Owen’s mother took charge of Owen Junior, who was now a rambunctious toddler.Roberta retired to Owen’s old room upstairs to put Marie down to sleep again. I went with her. Little Marie was as good as gold. She suckled very contentedly, burped when she was burped and fell asleep without a fuss.“If she stays like this, my life is going be very easy,” said Roberta. “Owen Junior was colicky from day one, the first three months with him were misery.”We sat down together on the window seat that commanded a beautiful view of Richardson Bay and Sausalito.“Johanna, you look run down,” she said. “Have you been sick?”I screwed up my courage and leaned toward her.“I have breast cancer,” I said. “I had surgery a few weeks ago. I start chemo in January.”Her mouth dropped open. The excitement of the arrival of little Marie and the activity and fun of cooking with her had distracted me from my grim reality. But now it resurfaced with all its morbid implications. I thought I was calm and in control, so I was shocked when I began to cry.Roberta immediately took me in her arms, kissed both my cheeks and then my lips. She wiped my tears with her silk scarf.“You’re young, strong, and fit,” she said. “Surely you must have a good chance of beating it?”“I’m going to fight, Roberta,” I said through my tears. “I don’t want to die! I really don’t. But I’m so afraid!”“Hush, hush, cherie,” she said, sounding so much like Mom. “You must stay here with us so I can take care of you.”“My cancer specialist and my job are in New York, Roberta,” I said. “But I’ll come here as often as I can.”“I’ll call you every day. And I’ll come to New York whenever you need me.”“You already call me every day,” I said, gratefully. “Your support means so much to me.”“You know I’m with you every moment, Johanna. Even when I’m far away, my arms are always around you.”“I know. I always feel your love.”* * * * *I went back to New York after Thanksgiving, and returned to work. The Monday after Thanksgiving, I was sitting in Burton’s office, discussing our current big project. It was the SEC filing we were doing for a German auto company that was in the process of buying a component manufacturer in Cleveland.“They’re very skittish,” he said. “They’re very worried about adverse publicity if the government raises roadblocks. You know, leaks from Washington, headlines kaçak iddaa like Germans taking over the American auto industry. They want to be absolutely certain that everything is airtight. They’re a big target, just the type of company the liberal young DOJ antitrust lawyers would love to drag into the headlines and make their careers.”“The little shits,” I said. “Not good enough to play the game, so they try to steal the ball.”“Exactly,” said Burton. “If they were any good, they’d be working for us or our competitors, making five times their government paychecks.”“I’ve analyzed it from every angle, Burton. I’ve put together every precedent since Sherman I in 1895. It’s bulletproof. There’s no antitrust case. Not even a prima facie one.”“Not a legal case, maybe,” agreed Burton. “But what about an emotional case? Foreigners vs. Americans?”“That’s dirty pool, Burton.”“This is the big leagues, Johanna. The major story is all politics. Law is just in the footnotes.”“Okay.” I sighed. “I’ll put together a political analysis. I can’t guarantee to cover all the angles, though. I’m a lawyer, not a political consultant.”“No, no,” said Burton. “We’ll do it together. You’ve already done more than your share. You talk to the Cleveland City Manager, I’ll talk to the mayor. I’ll have Ashley call their offices and get us on their calendars.”Ashley was Burton’s executive assistant, a young graduate out of the NYU journalism program.I talked to the City Manager Tuesday morning, and Burton talked to the mayor just after lunch. We met in the late afternoon to compare notes.“Everything jells, Johanna. If the City Manager is telling you the truth – and I have no reason to think he’s not – then both and mayor and he realize that without the German takeover, Cleveland is going to lose 5,000 jobs. Union jobs. Keeping those jobs translates to serious political capital. I’ll call the Germans first thing tomorrow morning.”I was fast asleep that night, when I was wakened by the phone ringing on the nightstand. I touched the screen, saw it was Burton, and swiped it open.“If your house on fire, Burton? It’s three in the morning.”“I just got a call from Munich. They want us to come and make a presentation to their managing board.”“When?”“They want us there this week, Johanna. We’re presenting in Munich on Friday. Tomorrow is Wednesday, we have to leave in the evening.”I groaned.“You want to meet for breakfast?” I asked.Normally, I would have been happy and keen to do a breakfast meeting, but I was so tired! He heard the tiredness in my voice and when he replied, his voice was kind.“No, no. You’ve been working very hard. Sleep in tomorrow, I’ll have the final presentation ready for us to go over together at lunch.”I was ashamed at how relieved I was to get out of work.I spent the morning packing. I assumed the Germans would have formal events set up for us, so in addition to my suits, shoes, and scarves, I packed a long gown and jewelry, just in case. * * * * *As a partner, Burton was entitled to fly First Class on international flights, whereas as an associate, I was only entitled to Business Class. But as we were checking in at the airport, I was surprised to discover my seat was next to his in First.“I’m not entitled to this fare, Burton.”“I know. I paid the difference.”“I’ll pay you back,” I said.“No, no,” he said. “I paid for it with miles, it didn’t cost me anything.”“Well, thank you.”“It will be a much more enjoyable flight with you to talk to, Johanna.”We settled into our seats, talked about our presentation till the meal service.“Tell me about your new niece, Johanna,” Burton said as we were eating.“Roberta named her Marie, after Mom. I was so pleased.”“That was very thoughtful of her. I’m happy you’re seeing more of your sister and her family. How’s Jerry?”“We broke up.”“I see.” He sipped his wine. “It is always difficult to make a relationship work with that much disparity. Some time ago, I encouraged you to keep things going with him. That was a mistake. I shouldn’t be giving advice. It’s clear from my own relationship that I’m no expert.”“You’re the man all the women’s magazines rave about, Burton. Successful, modest, a perfect gentleman, thoughtful yet manly, tender without being soft.”“I should hire you to do my PR,” said Burton, laughing.I laughed with him but said, “I’m serious. I know this just sounds like flattery from an underling.”Burton grew serious as well.“You’re not a flatterer, Johanna.” He took my hand and squeezed it. “I’m honored that you think so well of me. I’ll try to be worthy of your respect.”We decided to have port after dinner and got to talking about horses.“I miss riding,” I said. “I don’t think I’ve been on a horse since I moved to New York. All through undergrad, horses and riding were such a big part of my life, I just took them for granted. I didn’t realize how lucky I was.”“You did what I hoped Annabel would do. I wanted her to work in the stables, to really get to know horses. But Melissa thought stable work was demeaning, vetoed it. I’ve always let her make the decisions about Annabel’s upbringing, you know, division of labor. Plus, as a woman, I thought she would know better what was best for our daughter.”“Annabel rides, though, doesn’t she? All that mucking out of stalls I did was just the price I paid to saddle up. Believe me, if someone had given me the option of just riding without doing all that work around the barn, I would have taken it in a heartbeat!”“Perhaps,” said Burton. “But it wouldn’t have been good for you. Working in the barn all those years, you know so much more about horses than the girls who just came in and rode them.”“I guess you’re right,” I said. “I never thought of it that way. I just thought I had to work because it was the only way I could ride without paying for it. We didn’t have any money, but I’ve always been a strong girl, never afraid to get my hands dirty.”“Sometimes too much money is not good for you, Johanna. Like too much chocolate. Or too much port.”“Well, no more port for me!” I said, laughing. “Does Annabel have a horse?”“Yes, an Andalusian gray.”“He must be beautiful.”“Yes, he is. What did you ride, growing up?”“Well, in the barn in Wisconsin, I exercised all the horses, Arabians, Akhal-Tekes, Appaloosas, Morgans, even a Belgian draft horse. But out in Montana with Dad, I rode mustangs and quarter-horses. I love quarter-horses with their big chests.”“Did you race?”“Just some barrel racing when I was a kid. Dad did rodeos when he was younger, but didn’t want me competing.” We waited kaçak bahis while the flight attendant cleared away the remains of our meal. “Tell me about your riding.”“I won’t give you false modesty, I grew up privileged. My father was a very successful lawyer. He was a partner in our firm, back when there were only three. I went to boarding school in Connecticut, learned to ride there. Played a lot of polo. Some cross-country racing, point to point.”“You must be good!”“I’m sure you’re better with horses than I am, Johanna. I never spent all day with them, brushing them, feeding them, watering them, leading them around the ring. The grooms did all that. It was only later that I realized the grooms knew the horses better than I did.”I nodded.“I envy your upbringing, Johanna. Riding mustangs on the open range out West. It’s a romantic image. But I suppose the reality was less so.”“Yes. The mustangs we had were working horses. Most of the time, I rode them with Dad to do chores. Fixing fence posts, stringing wire, herding cows and sheep, checking on things after a storm. And money was short, we were always trying to save a buck. Mustangs were cheap to buy and maintain.”He shook his head.“The romantic image of the cowboy never mentions poverty.”“Poverty doesn’t make for a good movie,” I said.“Well, you must come and ride with us sometime soon, Johanna. I’m sure you could teach Annabel a lot.” He paused before going on. “Me, too.” * * * * *We landed early Thursday morning. Our clients had sent a limousine to pick us up at the airport and deliver us to our hotel. They’d booked a suite on the top floor for Burton and a room for me on a lower floor. It was early in the morning and I had slept on the plane, but I was still tired. I didn’t want to think about the cancer, so I changed into my nightie and got under the covers, intending to take a nap till lunchtime. I set my phone alarm, and fell asleep almost instantly.When I woke up, it was getting dark. I sat up in a panic, picked up my phone and saw that it was four in the evening. I called Burton and he picked up on the first ring.“Burton, I’m so sorry!” I cried. “I don’t know what happened! I had my alarm set for noon, local time, but I slept through it. I’ve never done that before!”“It’s alright Johanna. I called your room several times, then got worried about you. So I asked the hotel to send a maid to check on you. She looked in on you a few times, said you were sleeping peacefully. Jet lag is a terrible thing, it can knock you out when you least expect it.”“Do you want to go over the presentation? I thought we had all day today!”“Come up to my suite whenever you’re ready.”I had a quick shower, got dressed, and ran upstairs. Burton was at the suite’s dining table and had his laptop open. I pulled up a chair and sat by him. I was embarrassed to find he had already gone through our presentations twice, and timed everything. He was doing most of the speaking and I had just a few points to cover.We did my points first, then went through the whole thing together at double time. At six, he said he was satisfied. I was still embarrassed about sleeping all day and leaving him to do most of the work.“I’m sorry, Burton,” I said for the tenth time. “I feel terrible about this.”“You put in a lot of work into getting this presentation together, Johanna. Let’s just see how it goes tomorrow. If we bomb, we’ll go out and get drunk together. But if everything comes up roses ….”“What?” I asked, pretending to take the bait.“We’ll go out and get drunk together.”He delivered the cliché with such a straight face that he made me laugh.“There,” he said. “That’s what I like to see.”Our clients were coming to take us out to the Staatsoper, followed by dinner, and our pickup was at seven.“I better go to my room and get ready,” I said. “I’ll meet you in the lobby.” * * * * *I put on my long gown, tall heels, and Mom’s snake pendant and bracelets. I added dangly snake theme earrings that I had bought because they nearly matched Mom’s old set. Then I put my hair up in a coiffure and I looked at myself carefully in the magnifying mirror.There were bags under my eyes, and my cheeks looked a bit sunken. I’d never been a beauty, so I wasn’t vain about my looks, but I really thought I did not look my best. I didn’t want to let Burton down, so I spent a long time doing my makeup. I managed to cover up the bags under my eyes, but there wasn’t much I could do about my cheeks. I wished Roberta was with me, I was sure she would know what to do.I swirled on my scarf, put on my long coat, picked up my clutch purse, and went downstairs.Burton was already there, wearing white tie for the opera. He came up and bent over my hand European style.“You’re looking striking, Johanna,” he said.“I hope I pass muster,” I said.Our host arrived a few minutes later. Nicolas zu Ebron Wildenberg was the automotive company’s finance director and was accompanied by his wife, Verena. Burton and I had read up on them. The Wildenberg family had risen to prominence in the late 19th century as industrialists and were elevated to the nobility by the Kaiser at the beginning of the 20th. Wildenberg was tall with a fringe of silver hair like a Roman senator. His wife carried the title of baroness as the younger daughter of a much older Bavarian princely family. She had dark hair and was rather plain, but her eyes were bright and piercing.Burton went up and shook hands, then introduced me.“I’m pleased to meet you,” Wildenberg said to me. “You are obviously American, but you have a very Bavarian name. I assume you are related to the von Eschenbachs of Abenberg?”“I have no idea, sir,” I said. “My father’s family migrated from Germany in the 19th century from Bavaria. But I have no idea who my German ancestors were.”“You carry a grand old name, Fräulein,” said Verena. “The von Eschenbachs were once the masters of Schloss Abenberg or Abenberg Castle in English.”“Maybe you have noble blood on both sides of your family, Johanna,” said Burton, smiling.“Both sides?” asked Verena.“My mother was French,” I said, embarrassed by all this talk about me. “Her family were minor Breton nobility.”“Herr Wilson, what about you?” continued Verena. “Do you have any German ancestors?”“None that I know of,” said Burton. “I have an aunt who is passionate about genealogy and she’s traced our family tree back to the 1700s. Almost every single forebear was from somewhere in the British Isles. The name Wilson comes from Wales. Very boring, unlike Johanna.” He paused. “Isn’t it time to leave?”“It illegal bahis is still a few minutes to seven,” said Wildenberg. “We are being joined by the managing director of one of our main banks, Herr Walter Buol, and his wife. They are Swiss, from Zurich. Walter has a great deal of interest in this deal, his bank is providing the financing for it. I am keen for him to meet you, Mr. Wilson.”At precisely seven PM, Buol and his wife approached us across the lobby. I looked at the wife with shock and some trepidation. For she was Heidi, the mistress of Thomas Lindt that I had met briefly and tensely at Gasthof Müller in Zermatt during my study abroad year. She had not aged at all and looked just as gorgeous as she had almost a decade earlier. Her blonde hair was piled on top of her head in an intricate coiffure that was clearly the work of a hairdresser and her diamonds sparkled in the light.Wildenberg introduced us, and I could see from Heidi’s expression that she recognized me. We all went out to his limo and were driven to the opera house. We were seated in Wildenberg’s box, a choice one just over the stage. Wildenberg directed us to our seats, the men on one side of the box and the women on the other. Heidi and I were seated on either side of Verena.We had some time before the curtain and a white-gloved waiter appeared with a silver tray laden with flutes of sparkling wine.“I hope this is not the rubbish served by the Staatsoper,” said Buol.“No, no,” said Wildenberg. “Verena keeps a few bottles of 2006 Schloss Wachenheim Winzersekt in the cellar here. Very drinkable.”We all accepted the wine Wildenberg made a toast.“May our deal fly like the Flying Dutchman!”“To our deal,” responded Burton.Wildenberg and Buol began to talk to Burton about the work we had done for them, and I tried to listen. However, I was on the far side, with both Heidi and Verena between me and the men. I could barely hear what they were saying over the buzz of noise as the opera hall continued to fill.“I am very interested in Bavarian history,” Verena said to me. “You must tell me what you know about your family. All of the prominent families in Bavaria are inter-related. It would be wonderful if we had connections across the ocean in America.”“Oh, I very much doubt my father’s family were related to the nobles of Schloss Abenberg, Baroness,” I said. “It was my great-great-grandparents that migrated from Germany. My grandmother showed me pictures of them as well as the record of their arrival at Ellis Island in the United States. They were very poor, arrived with virtually nothing as steerage passengers. We always assumed they were serfs or servants who had taken the name of their feudal lord in Germany.”“Hmm, that’s possible, I suppose,” said Verena. “On the other hand, in Bavaria, it is well known that the von Eschenbachs were among those who incurred the wrath of King Ludwig II for opposing his alliance with Bismarck and the Prussians. Shortly after the Franco-Prussian war of 1866, he confiscated their lands, reducing them to penury. It seems quite likely, at least to me, that some of them fled to America.”“But Fräulein von Eschenbach does not even look German, Baroness,” said Heidi.“Ah, Heidi, before you came, she was telling us that her mother was French. What did you say her name was?”No one had ever spent so much time discussing my lineage before, and I was very uncomfortable. But I could see no escape.“She was born Marie-Aude Thérèse de Rustéphan in Brittany,” I said. I didn’t want to appear boastful, so I smiled and went on. “As you know, the Breton are considered bumpkins, objects of ridicule and contempt amongst the sophisticated Parisienne.”“Oh, I have the highest regard for gentry from the country,” countered Verena. “Many of my dearest cousins are from rural locales. Many lost their lands in the East after the last war.”Fortunately, the bell rang for the curtain, ending the conversation for the moment. The opera was Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman and the orchestra struck up the ghostly overture. The Staatsoper was performing the opera in three acts rather than the traditional format with no intermission. Burton had already told me that we were only going to stay for the first act, then leave for dinner.Even though I was enjoying the opera, soon after the Dutchman’s aria Die Frist ist um, und abermals verstrichen sind sieben Jahr, I began to feel tired again. No matter how much I tried to concentrate on the music – that I loved –, I just could not keep my eyes open. I was awoken by gentle prodding, and realized that Verena was trying to wake me. The theater lights were on, and all in our party were on their feet. Heidi’s expression was particularly contemptuous as I hurriedly stood up and followed everyone down to the coat check.Wildenberg took us to an intimate little restaurant in the Altstadt or Old Town. It only had two tables, and he’d reserved the entire place, so we were the only guests. I was still very tired and registered very little of Wildenberg’s conversation with the chef, other than realizing that we were having a fixed menu, so I did not have to order anything. After the soup, I began to feel sick, so I excused myself and went to the ladies’ room. I threw up with traces of blood. I washed the sink to remove all traces of the mess I made, then I rinsed out my mouth and washed my face.I was about to put my makeup back on when Heidi entered.“Vielleicht sollte ich mit Ihnen auf Englisch sprechen, da Ihr derzeitiger Wohltäter Amerikaner ist,” she said. She spoke Schweitzer Deutch (Swiss German) very slowly and clearly. (Perhaps I should now speak to you in English, since your current benefactor is American.)“Gerne spreche ich mit Ihnen auf Deutsch,” I replied. “Obwohl Sie meine Unfähigkeit entschuldigen müssen, Schweizerdeutsch zu sprechen.” (I am happy to speak to you in German. Though you must pardon my inability to speak Swiss German.)“Sie scheinen ein Talent dafür zu haben, sich an reiche und mächtige Männer zu binden,” she responded tartly. (You seem to have a talent for attaching yourself to rich and powerful men.)“Vielleicht,” I said. “Aber zumindest bin ich denen treu, denen ich mich anschließe.” (Perhaps. But at least I’m loyal to the ones I attach myself to.)“Ich sehe, die Zeit war nicht nett zu dir,” she said. “Ich nehme an, sich selbst zu verkaufen ist anstrengend.” (I see time has not been kind to you. I suppose selling yourself is tiring.)I realized that without my makeup, the bags under my eyes and my sunken cheeks were more obvious. She was looking at my face with complacent superiority, for she could see her beautiful reflection in the mirror behind me. I did not have the energy for any more verbal sparring, so I surrendered.

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