Ursula returns home to her flat, exhausted from the war and freezing from the cold of the city. She lives on her own now—Millie Shawcross had married an American officer and moved to New York. The building is dingy, but then again, she thinks, all of London now looks wretched. It was “a long, hard war,” as Churchill had promised.
After Ursula finally achieves success in making it through World War I, Atkinson jumps forward in the narrative to the end of World War II, providing readers with the sense that war is ubiquitous in Ursula’s life and nearly inescapable, a point Atkinson will confirm in later chapters.
Ursula’s flat is one room, and Ursula misses the old apartment she and Millie had shared in Kensington, which had been bombed in May 1941. She had actually moved back in for a few weeks, living without a roof. Ursula finds a gift from Pamela waiting for her: fresh vegetables, eggs, and a bottle of whiskey. She is cheered immensely, but then thinks back to the incident at Argyll Road, which plunges her back into gloom. She chides herself for being so “up and down.”
The incident in Argyll road, which Atkinson reveals later as an incident filled with gruesome civilian deaths of some of Ursula’s neighbors, demonstrates the way in which war can affect all aspects of life. Even in moments of happiness, Ursula is caught up in severe survivor’s guilt and depression, as it is inescapable even after it is officially over.
Sylvie had committed suicide on VE Day (Victory in Europe Day), swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills and laying down on Teddy’s childhood bed. She had not left a note, but to her family, her intentions had been quite clear. Pamela had told Ursula at the funeral that she used to argue with Sylvie because Sylvie said that science was only about inventing new ways to kill people, and Pamela wondered whether she was right.
Sylvie chooses to kill herself following the death of her husband and her son, which also serves as a way of showing how the war reaches far beyond the battlefield as well as demonstrating how critical her family was to her in these times of crisis.
Ursula lights the gas fire to boil an egg, though there is very little gas pressure. There have been warnings to be vigilant about the gas pressure—in case the gas came back on when the pilot light had gone out. Ursula wonders if it would be so bad to be gassed. Ursula thinks of her younger brother Jimmy, who had helped liberate Bergen-Belsen. Working as a secretary during the war, Ursula had recorded the “endless stream of figures that represented the blitzed and the bombed.”
Ursula puts a record on her gramophone: “I’d Rather Be Dead and Buried in My Grave.” She eats the egg she boiled and reads. Snow falls outside the window, gray and ashy. Ursula thinks of Auschwitz. Ursula writes a thank-you postcard to Pamela and puts it on the mantlepiece next a clock that belonged to Sylvie, and Teddy’s photo and his Distinguished Flying Cross medal. Teddy and his crew sat in chairs with their dog, Lucky, in the photo.
Ursula is overwhelmed both by the large-scale deaths of the Jews and others in the concentration camps during the war, as well as the more intimate deaths of her mother and brother, as the war serves to redefine life for millions of people across the world.
Ursula brings her plate to the sink, and the electricity goes out. She takes the bottle of whiskey to bed, still in her coat. The flame on the stove flickers out, and the pilot light dies. She wonders when the gas might come back on. If the smell would wake her, she would relight it. She feels extremely tired. Darkness begins to fall.
The war’s tragedies ultimately lead Ursula to kill herself (or, rather, to not care whether she lives or dies), but her despair seems particularly instigated by the loss of her brother, whose support had always been critical to her.