No breath. All the world come down to this. One breath […] Panic. The drowning girl, the falling bird.
“God surely wanted this baby back,” Bridget said when she came in later that morning with a cup of steaming beef tea.
“We have been tested,” Sylvie said, “and found not wanting.”
“This time,” Bridget said.
Ursula had been about to plunge out of the window in Queen Solange’s wake, intent on delivering her from the no man’s land of the roof, when something made her hesitate. A little doubt, a faltering foot and the thought that the roof was very high and the night very wide.
Bridget went flying, toppling down the stairs in a great flurry of arms and legs. Ursula only just managed to stop herself from following in her wake.
Practice makes perfect.
So much for progress. How quickly civilization could dissolve into its more ugly elements. Look at the Germans, the most cultured and well mannered of people, and yet... Auschwitz, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen.
“There are some Buddhist philosophers (a branch referred to as Zen) who say that sometimes a bad thing happens to prevent a worse thing happening,” Dr. Kellet said. “But, of course, there are some situations where it’s impossible to imagine anything worse.”
Ursula had seen her brothers naked, knew what they had between their legs— wrinkled cockles, a little spout—and it seemed to have little to do with this painful piston-driven thing that was now ramming inside her like a weapon of war. Her own body breached. The arch that led to womanhood did not seem so triumphal anymore, merely brutal and completely uncaring.
“But he forced himself on you,” she fumed, “how can you think it was your fault?”
“But the consequences...” Ursula murmured.
Sylvie blamed her entirely, of course. “You’ve thrown away your virtue, your character, everyone’s good opinion of you.”
“Intact?” Ursula echoed, staring at Sylvie in the mirror. What did that mean, that she was flawed? Or broken?
“One’s maidenhood,” Sylvie said. “Deflowering,” she added impatiently when she saw Ursula’s blank expression. “For someone who is far from innocent you seem remarkably naive.”
She no longer recognized herself, she thought. She had taken the wrong path, opened the wrong door, and was unable to find her way back.
Derek’s whole life was a fabrication. [...] What had he wanted from her? Someone weaker than himself? Or a wife, a mother of his children, someone running his house, all the trappings of the vie quotidienne but without any of its underlying chaos.
“Could you do that? Could you kill a baby? With a gun? Or what if you had no gun, how about with your bare hands? In cold blood.”
If I thought it would save Teddy, Ursula thought. Not just Teddy, of course, the rest of the world, too.
Most people muddled through events and only in retrospect realized their significance. The Führer was different, he was consciously making history for the future.
“Hindsight’s a wonderful thing,” Klara said. “If we all had it there would be no history to write about.”
Powerful men needed their women to be unchallenging, the home should not be an arena for intellectual debate. “My own husband told me this so it must be true!” she wrote to Pamela.
What had the Fuhrer’s apprenticeship for greatness been? Eva shrugged, she didn’t know. “He’s always been a politician. He was born a politician.” No, Ursula thought, he was born a baby, like everyone else. And this is what he has chosen to become.
She held tightly on to Frieda and soon they were both wrapped in the velvet wings of the black bat and this life was already unreal and gone.
She had never chosen death over life before and as she was leaving she knew something had cracked and broken and the order of things had changed.
Of course, even Miss Woolf had not imagined how distressing these sights would be when they involved civilians rather than battlefield soldiers, when they involved shoveling up unidentifiable lumps of flesh or picking out the heartbreakingly small limbs of a child from the rubble.
“Yet we must hold fast to what is good and true. But it all seems so random. One wonders about the divine plan and so on.”
“More of a shambles than a plan,” Ursula agreed.
Some hours later they had both woken up at the same time and made love. It was the kind of love (lust, to be honest about it) that survivors of disasters must practice—or people who are anticipating disaster—free of all restraint, savage at times and yet strangely tender and affectionate.
“We only have one after all, we should try and do our best. We can never get it right, but we must try.” (The transformation was complete.)
“What if we had a chance to do it again and again,” Teddy said, “until we finally did get it right? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
“I think it would be exhausting.”
“An awful lot of people would still be alive.”
“Well, yes, obviously. And the whole cultural face of Europe would be different because of the Jews. […] But perhaps Goering or Himmler would have stepped in. And everything would have happened in just the same way.”
Become such as you are, having learned what that is. She knew what that was now. She was Ursula Beresford Todd and she was a witness.
She opened her arms to the black bat and they flew to each other, embracing in the air like long-lost souls. This is love, Ursula thought. And the practice of it makes it perfect.
Ursula stayed where she was, worried suddenly that if she moved it would all disappear, the whole happy scene break into pieces before her eyes. But then she thought, no, this was real, this was true, and she laughed with uncomplicated joy as Teddy let go of Nancy long enough to stand to attention and give Ursula a smart salute.