"Emil, please. It's fine. I can walk the rest of the way."
Emil had walked Camilla back to the Silber residence, carrying her in his arms for over two kilometers. It was not difficult for Emil, but Camilla found it awkward. She had felt dependent on him for too long. The soreness and lack of energy she felt since her last seizure was crippling, but she did not feel the need to be carried around like a child.
"Last time you tried to walk you kept tripping and scraping yourself up. We're almost there, Camilla."
She flailed aggressively, causing Emil to lose his grasp. When she fell beneath him, she quickly rolled onto her side and pushed herself up. As she was trying to stand up, Emil tried to take her arm and help her—she rejected this by pulling away, and with sheer willpower she rose to her feet.
Without another word, the two walked straight to the front door of the Silber residence. Camilla put her hand on the door handle and stopped to breathe. She looked at Emil, who nodded to her.
Camilla opened the door, slowly, but with a sense of tentative fortitude.
"Mother, I'm home. Emil is here."
The bedroom door adjacent to the foyer opened, and Paula Silber came to greet her daughter and Emil. "Camilla, I'm so happy to see you. I was worried."
Her words seemed fabricated. Emil noted her demeanor was just as frazzled as when he saw her last, but he at least expected her to greet her daughter with a hug. She hadn't even smiled.
Camilla was avoiding eye contact. "There's something we need. A key," she said, nervously playing with her hair. "After we get it, Emil and I will be going to Berlin."
Paula sighed. She looked out a window—thinking, considering, perhaps arguing with Camilla in her mind—then she waved at them to follow her into the living room.
"That old place in Berlin, hm?" Paula spoke aloud the thoughts which previously crossed her mind, "Probably abandoned now. Unless Gustav went there himself. It's possible. That is why you two are going there, I assume."
"I feel like I've been in this house all my life," Camilla said, in a tone which drifted off.
Paula, standing in front of a bookshelf, looked to her daughter and nodded. She took a scrapbook off the top shelf and opened it. After flipping through some pages with her thumb, she reached a page with the copper key taped to it.
"I felt the same way as you, Camilla." Paula did not talk to Camilla, but instead, kept her head down as if talking to her scrapbook. "It was different, but the same. I had been in Berlin my entire life before I came here. I thought it would be peaceful here. Things could be managed the way I want—that's what I thought."
Camilla covered her eyes. "I do know how you felt, Mother. I want to live somewhere peaceful. I don't know if I will find that place where I belong, but I want to search for it."
Emil wanted to know how to relate to Camilla. He now realized the entire time he watched her grow up into a young woman, she was not happy. She seemed happy, she put up a front; it was clear now, she was never happy. She was always wishing she could leave everything behind and start a new life somewhere completely different.
She continued, "I don't know if I am deathly sick. I could die very soon, but even if that's the case and I am to die, I need to try to make this life seem meaningful."
"Frau Silber, did you . . ." Emil choked trying to ask Paula if she knew about Camilla's seizures.
However, Paula seemed to know what Emil was going to say. "Yes, Camilla is in quite a severe condition. Even as bad as I seem right now, I can see it is worse for her. She's all scraped up, just like she used to be when she had those—ugh, those moments."
Paula was speaking of this as if she was disgusted by it rather than sympathetic toward her own daughter. Camilla got down on her knees, still hiding her eyes with her left hand, her right hand on her chest. Emil felt horrible for her, but he could not think of a single thing to say. He asked himself, what would Gustav Silber say if he were here?
The words came to Emil without another thought. "Your husband told me to tell you . . . he misses you. He insisted I tell you, Frau Silber."
Paula looked to Emil, and for the first time since he and Camilla returned, she let surface a faint smile. She looked like she wanted to laugh, but was simply too tired to do it.
"I'm sorry," Paula said, removing the copper key from the scrapbook and closing it. "Gustav's behavior is quite absurd. He was always that way. I should have known what I was getting myself into with that man."
Paula kneeled beside Camilla and put her arm around her daughter and laid the scrapbook on the floor. Camilla responded by finally looking her mother in the eyes, and they both smiled wide. They laughed.
"I guess it's the fact that you wanted to leave Berlin. It must have seemed like a crazy idea, running off with him and doing all this, not even being married!" Camilla said this not as an insult, but seemingly as a joke.
Emil wanted to laugh with them, but he was shocked by the fact that Gustav never actually married Paula and Camilla was born out of wedlock. He indeed did not have anything close to a full picture of Gustav nor his family.
Paula could see the expression of astonishment on Emil's face, but she focused on Camilla and said to her, "Oh, dear, your father was always a handsome one, but . . . he was always asking so many questions. It made my head spin! Why couldn't he just talk about normal things? Everything was always a complicated question leading to another question! He even responded to my questions with questions. My goodness!"
Even Emil couldn't help but snicker at that. It was the most relatable thing Paula had ever said since he had known her. In many ways Gustav was an enigma, Emil thought, but there were some things about the astronomer and father which were apparent to everyone. Questions were Gustav's way of becoming familiar with people, but these people would never be entirely familiar with him.
"You know what your father said to me that finally convinced me to leave Berlin? And to be with him?" Paula paused briefly before she continued, "He said I would learn to love him. Ha! I thought it was the most absurd thing I ever heard in my life, but it turned out he was right. I learned to love him. What do you think of that, Emil?"
Emil admitted to her, "It does sound absurd."
Paula sighed and ran her fingers through Camilla's hair. Camilla seemed to be looking at her mother as if her whole childhood made sense now. It was not a look of dismay, but rather one of awe.
"Mother . . . you learned to love me too, didn't you?"
Paula hugged her. "Yes, dear. Please don't ever doubt that."
The mother and daughter stood, and Paula gave the copper key to Emil. He put it in his pocket, breathing a sigh of relief.
"Though I may have said it sounds absurd, I do believe anything is possible," Emil said with a grin.
Emil's words wiped the smile right from Paula's face. It was as if she was deeply offended by what he said. He shoulder muscles tightened and she clenched her teeth, but then released the tension with a sigh.
"Why don't the two of you stay here for the night? Camilla can sleep for twelve hours, sometimes more in the days after her attacks."
Camilla nodded to Emil, and he nodded back. Camilla needed to stay and get some rest. Emil, on the other hand, would need to speak further with Paula Silber.
There was a question he needed an answer to. It was a question which he could not let go unanswered. It was simply a matter of how he would be able to ask it.
He wondered, how could he ask Frau Silber what triggered Camilla's seizures? Such a serious matter cannot be addressed with inconsiderate means of interrogation. After being told by Gustav himself that holograms were what caused Camilla's seizures how could it possibly be that Camilla was having them before Gustav reached the origin point and created his hologram to trigger the seizures to begin with?
Emil decided he would sleep on it.