Kurt involved me closely in the whole affair, translating Trade's letters to me, discussing the number of children they would have, and asking my advice on the decoration of the flat they planned to buy in Hamburg when he had finished his three years' stint in London and had saved enough money for marriage. I became a sort of universal aunt to the two of them, and I would have found the role ridiculous if it hadn't all seemed quite natural and rather fun—like having two big dolls to play at “weddings” with. Kurt had even planned their sex life minutely and the details, which he insisted, rather perversely, on sharing with me, were at first embarrassing and then, because he was so clinical about the whole subject, highly educative. On the honeymoon in Venice (all Germans go to Italy for their honeymoons) they would of course do it every night because, Kurt said, it was most important that “the act” should be technically perfect and, to achieve this, much practice was necessary. To this end, they would have a light dinner, because a full stomach was not desirable, and they would retire not later than eleven o'clock because it was important to have at least eight hours' sleep “to recharge the batteries.” Trade, he said, was unawakened and inclined to be kühl sexually, while he was of a passionate temperament. So there would have to be much preliminary sex-play to bring the curve of her passion up to his. This would need restraint on his part, and in this matter he would have to be firm with himself, for, as he told me, it was essential to a happy marriage that the climax should be reached simultaneously by the partners. Only thus could the thrilling summits of Ekstase become the equal property of both. After the honeymoon they would sleep together on Wednesdays and Saturdays. To do it more often would weaken his “batteries” and might reduce his efficiency at the Büro. All this Kurt illustrated with a wealth of most explicit scientific words and even with diagrams and drawings done on the tablecloth with a fork. The lectures, for such they were, convinced me that Kurt was a lover of quite exceptional finesse, and I admit I was fascinated and rather envious of the well-regulated and thoroughly hygienic delights that were being prepared for Trude. There were many nights when I longed for these experiences to be mine, and for someone to play upon me also like, as Kurt put it, “a great violinist playing upon his instrument.” And it was inevitable, I suppose, that in my dreams it was Kurt who came to me in that role—so safe, so gentle, so deeply understanding of a woman's physical needs.
The months passed, and gradually the tone and frequency of Trude's letters began to change. It was I who noticed it first, but I said nothing. There were more frequent and sharper complaints about the length of the waiting period, the tender passages became more perfunctory, and the pleasures of a summer holiday on the Tegernsee, where Trude had met up with a “happy group,” after a first ecstatic description, were, significantly, I thought, not mentioned again. And then, after three weeks of silence from Trude, Kurt came up to my rooms one evening, his face pale and wet with tears. I was lying on the sofa, reading, and he fell on his knees beside me and buried his head on my breast. It was all over, he said between sobs. She had met another man, at the Tegernsee of course, a doctor from Munich, a widower. He had proposed to her and she had accepted. It had been love at first sight. Kurt must understand that such a thing only happened once in a girl's lifetime. He must forgive her and forget her. She was not good enough for him. (Ah! That shabby phrase again!) They must remain honorable friends. The marriage was to take place next month. Kurt must try and wish her well. Farewell, your abject Trude.
Kurt's arms were round me and he was holding me desperately. “Now I have only you,” he said through his sobs. “You must be kind. You must give me comfort.”
I smoothed his hair as maternally as I could, wondering how to escape from his embrace, yet at the same time being melted by the despair of this strong man and by his dependence on me. I tried to make my voice sound matter-of-fact. “Well, if you ask me, it was a lucky escape. Any girl as changeable as that would not have made you a good wife. There are many other better girls in Germany. Come on, Kurt,” I struggled to sit up. “We'll go out to dinner and a cinema. It will take your mind off things. It's no good crying over spilt milk. Come on!” I freed myself rather breathlessly and we both got to our feet.
Kurt hung his head. “Ah, but you are good to me, Viv. You are a real friend in need—eine echte Kameradin. And you are right. I must not behave like a weakling. You will be ashamed of me. And that I could not bear.” He gave me a tortured smile and went to the door and let himself out.
Only two weeks later we were lovers. It was somehow inevitable. I had half known it would be, and I did nothing to dodge my fate. I was not in love with him, and yet we had grown so close in so many other ways that the next step of sleeping together was bound, inexorably, to follow. The details were really quite dull. The occasional friendly kiss on the cheek, as if to a sister, came by degrees closer to my mouth and one day was on it. There was a pause in the campaign while I came to take this kind of kiss for granted, then came the soft assault on my breasts and then on my body, all so pleasurable, so calm, so lacking in drama, and then, one evening in my sitting-room, the slow stripping of my body “because I must see how beautiful you are,” the feeble, almost languorous protests, and then the scientific operation that had been prepared for Trude. And how delicious it was, in the wonderful privacy of my own room! How safe, how unhurried, how reassuring the precautions! And how strong and gentle Kurt was, and, of all things to associate with love-making, how divinely polite! A single flower after each time, the room tidied after each passionate ecstasy, studious correctness in the office and before other people, never a rough or even a dirty word—it was like a series of exquisite operations by a surgeon with the best bedside manners in the world. Of course, it was all rather impersonal. But I liked that. It was sex without involvement or danger, a delicious heightening of the day's routine which each time left me sleek and glowing like a pampered cat.
I might have realized, or at any rate guessed, that, at least among amateur women as opposed to prostitutes, there is no physical love without emotional involvement—over a long period, that is. Physical intimacy is halfway to love, and enslavement is much of the other half. Admittedly my mind and much of my instincts didn't enter into our relationship. They remained dormant, happily dormant. But my days and my nights were so full of this man, I was so dependent on him for so much of the twenty-four hours, that it would have been almost inhuman not to have fallen into some sort of love with him. I kept on telling myself that he was humorless, impersonal, un-funloving, wooden, and, finally, most excessively German, but that didn't alter the fact that I listened for his step on the stairs, worshiped the warmth and authority of his body, and was happy at all times to cook and mend and work for him. I admitted to myself that I was becoming a vegetable, a docile Hausfrau, walking, in my mind, six paces behind him on the street like some native bearer, but I also had to admit that I was happy, contented, and carefree, and that I didn't really yearn for any other kind of life. There were moments when I wanted to break out of the douce, ordered cycle of the days, shout and sing and generally create hell, but I told myself that these impulses were basically antisocial, unfeminine, chaotic, and psychologically unbalanced. Kurt had made me understand these things. For him, symmetry, the even tempo, the right thing in the right place, the calm voice, the measured opinion, love on Wednesdays and Saturdays (after a light dinner!) were the way to happiness and away from what he described as “The Anarchic Syndrome”—i.e., smoking and drinking, phenobarbital, jazz, promiscuous sleeping-about, fast cars, slimming, Negroes and their new republics, homosexuality, the abolition of the death penalty, and a host of other deviations from what he described as Naturmenschlichkeit, or, in more words but shorter ones, a way of life more like the ants and the bees. Well, that was all right with me. I had been brought up to the simple life and I was very happy to be back in it after my brief taste of the rackety round of Chelsea pubs and gimcrack journalism, not to mention my drama-fraught affair with Derek, and I did quietly fall into some sort of love with Kurt.
And then, inevitably, it happened.
Soon after we started making regular love, Kurt had steered me toward a reliable woman doctor who gave me a homely lecture about contraception and fixed me up. But she warned that even these precautions could go wrong. And they did. At first, hoping for the best, I said nothing to Kurt, but then, from many motives—not wanting to carry the secret alone, the faint hope that he might be pleased and ask me to marry him, and a genuine fear about my condition—I told him. I had no idea what his reaction might be, but of course I expected tenderness, sympathy, and at least a show of love. We were standing by the door of my bedroom, preparatory to saying good night. I hadn't a stitch of clothes on, while he was fully dressed. When 1 had finished telling him, he quietly disengaged my arms from round his neck, looked my body up and down with what I can only call a mixture of anger and contempt, and reached for the door handle. Then he looked me coldly in the eyes, said very softly, “So?” and walked out of the room and shut the door quietly behind him.
. I went and sat down on the edge of my bed and stared at the wall. What had I done? What had I said wrong? What did Kurt's behavior mean? Then, weak with foreboding, I got into bed and cried myself to sleep.
I was right to cry. The next morning, when I called for him downstairs for our usual walk to the office, he had already gone out. When I got to the office, the communicating door with mine was closed, and when, after a quarter of an hour or so, he opened the door and said we must have a talk, his face was icily cold. I went into his office and sat down with the desk between us: an employee being interviewed by the boss—being sacked, as it turned out.
The burden of his speech, delivered in matter-of-fact, impersonal tones, was this. In a comradely liaison such as we had enjoyed, and it had indeed been most enjoyable, it was essential that matters should run smoothly, in an orderly fashion. We had been (yes, “had been”) good friends, but I would agree that there had never been any talk of marriage, of anything more permanent than a satisfactory understanding between comrades (that word again!). It had indeed been a most pleasant relationship, but now, through the fault of one of the partners (me alone, I suppose!), this had happened, and now a radical solution must be found for a problem that contained elements of embarrassment and even of danger for our life-paths. Marriage—alas, for he had an excellent opinion of my qualities and above all of my physical beauty—was out of the question. Apart from other considerations, he had inherited strong views about mixed blood (Heil Hitler!) and when he married, it would be into the Teutonic strain. Accordingly, and with sincere regret, he had come to certain decisions. The most important was that I must have an immediate operation. Three months was already a dangerous delay. This would be a simple matter. I would fly to Zürich and stay at one of the hotels near the Hauptbahnhof. Any taxi driver would take me there from the airport. I would ask the concierge for the name of the hotel doctor—there were excellent doctors in Zürich— and I would consult him. He would understand the situation. All Swiss doctors did. He would suggest that my blood pressure was too high or too low, or that my nerves were not in a fit state to support the strain of childbirth. He would speak to a gynecologist—there were superb gynecologists in Zürich—and I would visit this man, who would confirm what the doctor had said and sign a paper to that effect. The gynecologist would make a reservation at a clinic, and the whole matter would be solved inside a week. There would be complete discretion. The procedure was perfectly legal in Switzerland, and I would not even have to show my passport. I could give any name I chose—a married name, naturally. The cost would, however, be high. Perhaps as much as one hundred, or even one hundred and fifty pounds. That also he had seen to. He reached into the drawer of his desk, took out an envelope, and slid it across the table. It would be reasonable, after nearly two years' excellent service, for me to receive one month's salary in lieu of notice. That was one hundred and twenty pounds. Out of his own pocket he had taken the liberty of adding fifty pounds to cover the air fare, tourist class, and leave something over for emergencies. The whole sum was in Reichsmarks to avoid any problem over the exchange.