Publish the Word
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Angelus -- Chapter 19

 

 The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it. Psalms 68:11

                              Chapter 19

 

She sat on her bed and began to examine the diary: its thin, smooth pages yellowed at the edge, the binding still taut, the leather cover faintly aromatic.  The script was florid, from a Brause or Pelikan fountain pen -- Germany had long made the world's finest -- she could tell from the occasional blotting and flooded letters, the cursive strokes made by a slightly canted nib.  The writer had a 45 degree, right-handed slant, the t's and f's crossed near the top like flags, even letter-spacing, an assured hand, she thought.  Some of the German words seemed unfamiliar, but as she slipped into the internal rhythms she had not heard in years, the words dissolved on the page and she began to hear a voice in her mind, as if her mother were reading in her slow, accented cadence the words written in 1944 by another woman, her birth mother, perhaps the thought too surreal, but nevertheless, now blistering inside her.  The first entry was dated April 10, 1944.

 

To my precious Leibchin:

I am certain today you are here, growing inside me.  From my calculations you are eight weeks old -- the first time in twenty years I have missed two consecutive months, and me, who is punctual to the day, like a Munich clock.  We could schedule trains from my regularity, your father says.  I am certain you were conceived February 10, out last full week together since he has gone to East Prussia.  I am compelled to record my thoughts for you as we both change from month to month.  I have told no one, absolutely not even Herta, nor my sister Gretl who would immediately inform Mutti and Vati and then I would hear no end to their recriminations.  I want to run to the peak of the Watzmann and shout to the world.  I am dying to tell your father -- if only I could.

 

Ava stopped reading.  She smoothed the page and held her hand against the paper's texture, held it warm and trembling slightly as if the words might bypass her eyes and brain and pass by osmosis through her skin and into her thudding heart.  This was real and so weird to comprehend, that she, a nameless nobody from smalltown America was reading about her conception, the very day pinioned, the thoughts of Eva Braun her mother writing in this small book, she the daughter of history's worst mass murderer.  The idea seemed too implausible, too Kafkaesque.

She kept reading, fascinated and repelled and certain she was hallucinating each succeeding moment into existence: the room, the diary, her life -- that she would wake up soon and realize she was only a dream in the mind of a frog, a Salvador Dali nightmare, a morbid joke Udo had perpetrated to punish her for ever leaving.

She paused midway through the diary to briefly consider the irony that she was also recording her most private thoughts and feelings for her daughter, that this secret history was repeating itself and she could only marvel at the why buried in her genetic inheritance.

She lingered over certain passages and ached with inner torment herself and began slowly to understand that the essence of love and sacrifice was beyond her human comprehension.   This was psychic regression to her prenatal self and into the mind of a woman who existed in every cell of her being, even to this instant, half a century after the conception of each word, each crossed t and dotted i. 


September 25, 1944                I feel so fat today.  I waddle like a cow.  I crave fresh lemons and can't find them anywhere in Munich.  I am miserable and long for the rains to cease and for the rationing to end.  I am listless.  I have spent the day on the divan wearing out the same old endless records.  The birds I usually watch are lately absent from my courtyard ever since a tabby cat has begun prowling the wall over the protests of Stasi and Negus.  I think they would tear him to shreds but he taunts them from a safe distance.

A letter arrived from your father yesterday and then this morning at seven a.m. a courier brought another letter.  Neither said much, a few details of his campaigns along the Siegfried line, the usual grumblings, the roads become muddy troughs, he says.  He is optimistic after our victories in the Netherlands.  He said the incendiary raids on Frankfurt have exacted a horrible toll on the civilian population, but I know this from following the radio reports.  My prayers are with the wounded.  I remember the last time we were in Frankfurt, the summer of 1940, a year of anticipation.  We attended Die Meistersingers at the Opera House, then afterward we strolled the promenade across the old bridge to the statue of Charlemagne which the Chancellor stared at for a long time.  I remember the blue lights in the topiary garden.  I remember a woman's shrill laugh as she and a man passed in a carriage as if coming from or going to a wedding celebration.  I told the Chancellor that June was the month of brides.  He ignored my statement.  I remember the crimson, sequined dress I wore, with velour trim and matching satin gloves.  Frankfurt was, that evening, the capital of gemutlichkeit.  I hope the cathedral with its frescoes is not destroyed.  I weep for its citizens.  The F. urges me to return to Berchtesgaden. 


October 3, 1944                      I have just this moment hung up the phone after a brief conversation with your father.  He says Blondi is pregnant!  Imagine.  That makes the both of us.  If HE were only so excited about my expectancy which could be any day now.  I have a valise packed and car ready to drive me to Ruhpolding at the first signs, but alas, nothing yet.  Blondi's mate, he said, is a greyhound belonging to one of his aide-de-camps.  What will the puppies look like?  The last few days I have wondered the same about you:  a boy or a girl?  and hair? what color and how much?  Your eyes will be blue, but not at first.  I must stop for now to rinse out the hair invigorator I have concocted, a mix of castor oil, bay rum and vinegar.  It is beginning to itch my scalp.

I am back now, an hour later and I must confess to gobbling four whole oranges I bought from a ragged boy who was selling them at my door.  I took pity and gave him twice as much as he was asking.  Nothing sates my thirst more than juicy fruits and ice cold champagne, especially the sweet pinks from Vitry-le-Francois.  I estimate my weight at 60 kg.  Until this last month my pregnancy was not discernable, but all at once I seem to have swelled up.  My stomach, as I stare sideways at myself in the mirror, is comical, my skin so stretched  I think it will tear and spill you out.  You seem to shift about at will and cause discomfort which is bearable.  I go in two days for another examination, and hopefully will get something from the doctor to relieve this constant pressure to urinate.  I hesitate to leave the house now for fear of embarrassing myself. 

A postcard today from Ilse in Breslau.  She complains about three straight weeks of rain, no meat to be found anywhere in Silesia and that her hands look like a peasant woman's because of her job in the garment factory.  I have half a mind to write back and scold her for moaning over such trifles when our soldiers are suffering much worse conditions.  We must all bear up until the end, I should tell her.  I do worry, however, about the Chancellor's throat which pains him to speak.  If it turns out to be cancer, I don't know what I shall do. 


October 6, 1944                      A monstrous trip back from the doctor.  What should have taken forty minutes became a three-hour ordeal because of Allied planes which seem to fly unchallenged above all of Bavaria now.  Twice we had to drive off the road to find sanctuary in the trees.  SS-Gruver., my chauffeur, suggests I paint my Mercedes a camouflage, but its glossy exterior is so beautiful I cannot bear the thought.  But for my safety he is probably right.

I spent a pleasant hour with Muti who wrung from me every detail of my exam.  The doctor says any day now because you, little Tschapperl, have settled lower.  I also experience more frequent cramping, a good sign.  He says length of delivery is difficult to know, but he complimented my health and daily exercises in preparation.  As for names, I have selected several which I tested on my mother, but she was only mildly enthusiastic, though she said Vatti would be flattered if we named our son Fritz Adolf.  I continue my list making.

 

October 7, 1944                      A disturbing dream last night.  I record it so you will understand my mental state as I await your birth.  I felt drugged and could not wake up to tell if  the noise was  bombing in the distance or thunder, but the wet morning streets suggest storms.  Still, I was damp, as were my sheets which tangled about me.


                I recall vaguely a harsh light in my face, so bright my eyes watered shut.  I sensed I had gone into labor and could hear the nurses coaching me to breathe deeply, you must breathe Fraulein, but I couldn't swallow in enough air and I was gasping, almost as if the air had drained from the room.  I was suffocating and the bombs were falling all about us and I called out for the doctor, but I knew he had gone for shelter and then the nurses said to keep breathing that they were going below to the bunker, keep breathing, breathe deeply I said to myself and I could not move because the birthing stirrups held my feet securely.  I was calling out, so desperate, because the bombs were exploding closer and I could not wake up to save myself or you, who had begun to claw at my stomach to be let out.  When I awoke this morning the horror of the dream lingered, and then, like a mist, began to evaporate.  I write it down now so as to not forget it entirely.  I will ponder its symbolism.

 

October 13, 1944                    Success!  Professor Eicken removed the polyp from the F.'s vocal cord this morning in Berlin.  Frau Junge relayed the news that the operation was over in twenty minutes and the F. was resting with an ice pack against his neck.  He will not be able to speak for several days, she said.  Was it cancerous? I asked.  The doctors think not, she replied.  They are testing the tissue at present, but from early analysis, they think not.  Are you coming here, she asked?  Your presence would cheer his spirits.  I cannot, I answered.  I long to be with him, but I am recovering from intestinal distress and I would not want to infect him in his weakened condition.  But please tell him I pray for his recovery.  Is he well otherwise? I asked.  She was silent for a long time.  What do you mean? she at last asked.  I said, How are his injuries from the assassination attempt?  Good and bad days, she said.  All the way here from Adlerhorst he kept the blinds lowered in order not to see the destruction along the way.  Emotional upset causes his trembling to increase.  Dr. Morrell is treating him.  That's what worries me, I said, but did not elaborate.  I have often questioned the F.'s unwavering loyalty to Dr. M., but the F. refuses to budge on this matter.  His debt to the doctor goes back to Geli, a subject I am cautious not to discuss

After speaking with the F.'s secretary I worried momentarily that he might  view my absence as suspicious, so I am determined to compose a lengthy letter emphasizing my love and my illness which will delay me, I hope, only a week or two before I can rejoin him.  We shall see.


October 20, 1944        I have been too uncomfortable to do anything of late, even write these few words.  If not for Herta's solicitations in the evenings, I would be in abject misery.  The weather is unrelenting, so much wind and cold rain I haven't left home to visit even the bakery.  I am experiencing palpitations but they stop far short of contractions.  Herta said with Uschi her symptoms didn't begin until two hours before the delivery.  I pray for guidance but Liesl, who has never bore children, urges me to leave for the hospital at every jab of pain -- which I won't do until I am certain.  Muti did recall her labor with me was about eight hours, but Vatti insists it was of a shorter duration.  I imagine during the experience one loses all sense of time.           Nevertheless, I am desperate to get it over and done with.  If the weather breaks tomorrow I may drive to Ruhpolding to see the doctor.  By my calculations we still have 21 days to wait, but, God willing, Dr. ____ says babies follow their own timetable.  Any day now may bring your  arrival.  I can't wait.

 

October 22, 1944                    I will describe this room so later I may recall every detail of every moment.  I am tucked under starched military sheets in a hospital room of approximately four by five meters.  In this room are a steel  bedframe on wheels, a simple brocaded chair next to the bed and a wooden table beside the chair upon which are a few of my toiletries.  The curtainless window looks out onto a truck depot where I can now hear the gearshifting of a supply truck about to leave the loading dock.  Through the foggy, late-afternoon air I cannot quite read the words on the truck as it drives away.  A slightly metallic air is whistling from the steam heater under the window.  I am calm and alert after the excitement of the previous hours. 


When I arrived shortly before midday I was experiencing rhythmic pains.  They began as we left the outskirts of Munich.  I began to pray that if you were coming, you would have the patience to wait until we arrived at the hospital.  The pain would seem to peak and then subside, but a couple minutes later the "squeezing" would again begin.  I felt as if all the muscles of my lower stomach were trying to expel you, so I fought against this impulse by bending forward as far as I could and panting to relieve the pressure.

By the turn at Rosenheim I was certain SS Oberlieutenant Gruver would have to pull off the road and deliver me.  The pain was so intense that the contractions could mean only one thing.  I was frantic and told him to drive faster.  The roads are slick, he said over his shoulder.  I could see SS Gruver's worried eyes in the rearview mirror.  He reached his arm over the seat to comfort me, but I told him to please watch the road ahead.  When we reached Felden the fog descended.  We were driving into a grey, swirling blankness.  He had to roll down the window and drive with his head out to see if we were still on the road.  Fortunately my pain subsided to twinges which I could manage.

When we at last arrived I was able to shuffle into the lobby and ease myself onto the bench while someone phoned my parents in their apartment.  Muti arrived promptly.  Vati, ironically, had driven up to Munich so we must have passed along the way.  The doctor was then summoned.  A nurse helped me into the toilet as we awaited him.  At that point the pain had stopped but my clothes were damp from my exertions and I felt if this were a false labor, I doubted I could endure the actual delivery.


In the privacy of the toilet I began to cry, as much from anxiety, I think, as from the months of anticipation.  I called in the nurse to show her a passage of blood-tinged mucus.  It was a small quantity, but she said, yes, it was a portion of the membrane which had torn.  I told the doctor about this when he bent forward to examine my  cervix.  You are not fully dilated, he said.  I prefer not to induce labor, but to wait until your body determines when.  And when will that be? I asked.  He said, perhaps tonight, perhaps tomorrow, maybe a week.  A week? I said.  Please don't say a week.  He helped me lower my legs and sit up.  Are you in intense pain? he asked.  No, I answered meekly.  I can medicate your pain, he said.  No, I am fine now, I said.  He was fiftyish, with brown eyes which seemed to droop like a Beagles'.  His hair was gray streaked, white at his ears.  I appreciated his methodical manner, and his voice, which was soft with compassion as he spoke to me.  He held my hand in his and assured me the baby would come soon, but on its own schedule.  He would arrange a room and keep me under observation for the rest of the day.  In the morning, he said, we will reassess the situation. 

Muti, who had been waiting outside the examination room, walked with me down the long corridor, past rooms with half-open doors and an endless ebb and flow of medical personnel and attendants.  She walked with her arm hooked through mine.  I tried to block out the moans of the wounded who had been transferred primarily from Italy and the Balkans.  Once settled in my room, I chatted with Muti for an hour until she left so I might sleep, if I could.  Of course I cannot.

So I will write these few words to remind myself what pains I am suffering to bring you into this world.  I am not afraid for either of us, but I do hope you come sooner than a week.  I could not survive the barrenness of this room nor the bland food they served me a few minutes ago.  The tray of boiled potatoes, carrots and some overcooked slice of unidentifiable meat sits uneaten at my feet.  Let me correct my last statement.  One bite of the potatoes cured me of any hunger.  I will have Muti smuggle me some real food later.  For now, I lay back and gently massage my stomach.  And I wonder if you think any thoughts in that warm, dark world you are soon to leave. 


October 23, 1944                    Nichts.  Nothing.  Not a twitch from you.  The drizzle has changed to sleet so the weather has determined my fate today.  The doctor said I could return home, but the thought of navigating icy roads was too worrisome for Muti to allow, so I am ensconced upon her sofa in their one-bedroom apartment.  At least I shall have her records for amusement and last week's newspapers.  I've asked her to send a dispatch off to Berlin to inform the F. that I am visiting my parents for a few days and hope to return to him soon.

The food has improved today, a skillet of Muti's eggs and mushrooms with pumpernickel bread soon to come from her oven.   After all your activity of yesterday, Muti jokes that maybe you peeked out and decided you preferred the safe home of my womb to this insane world.  I half-heartedly agree.  Ah, the bread is done.

 

October 24, 1944                    I am bored and Muti is getting on my nerves.  Thank goodness my father is still in Munich.  Another day of these close quarters and I will be tempted to wring her wrinkled neck, forgive me.  Again, you are silent.  Not a peep.  I can't even concentrate to write today I am so distracted.  I feel that I could wring somebody's neck out of frustration.

 

October 25, 1944                    Maybe the doctor was correct when he said a week, though you are at least rumbling about today.  In fact, I have never felt you so active.  Vati walked in the door at noon, so regal in his brown uniform with the silver, twisted crosses on his hat.  Where is my grandchild? he boomed.  We are all wondering that, I replied.

After Vati left to make his rounds, I told my mother I should go back to the private room because their apartment was too cramped for my lumbering presence.  But she insisted I stay.


If we cannot soon come to some agreement about this birth of yours, mein liblest kind, your poor mother will go insane.

 

October 28, 1944                    What God hath wrought!  I feel just like the Madonna this morning as I stare down at the sleeping countenance of my daughter.  A precious girl born October 26 at 3 p.m.  Weight -- a healthy 3.3 kg.  You are five decimeters long.   Fine wisps of light brown hair encircle your head.  Like a halo, Muti says.  My sleeping angel.  I kiss your nose for the thousandth time and inhale you, all sweetness and baby-smell, the scent of heaven lingering.             The red blotches have faded from your skin and now your cheeks are smooth cream, nearly transparent.  I so wish your father were here to cradle you into his arms.  I gaze at the perfect curvature of your head and cannot contemplate how we managed this, you and I.  Your tiny body is so perfect in every way.  Such small hands, but already they grip my finger.  Such delicate eyelashes.  Your tiny nostrils flare, barely perceptible, with each breath, but I can feel your exhalations against by palm.  I stroke your hair which is finer than duckdown.  Your tiny ears are perfect spirals, perfect little ears.  I marvel at how perfectly miniaturized you are.

The delivery is hazy in my thoughts.  I remember waking at five a.m. with painful cramping.  And then fluid from the umbilical sac began to flow out onto my thighs.  I remember Vati wheeling me along the dim corridor with Muti trailing behind in her bathrobe.  Go get dressed, I heard Vati say.  Go get dressed, he repeated, but he did not slow for her.  The pain began to sweep through me in waves then, and what I had experienced days before as contractions were nothing compared to what I felt, almost like my lower body was being split asunder.


Next I recognized the doctor's eyes above his surgical mask and two nurses lifting me into position, not quite sitting upright, but neither laying flat.  They began to chant what I can still hear in my head, breathe Fraulein, breathe.

You felt like a lightning bolt tearing at my tender skin with more violence than I expected.  The doctor had maneuvered between the nurses and I could feel his rubber hands searching for your head.  The pain which had been constant for the last twenty or thirty minutes suddenly vanished and I felt my body relax.  Everyone relaxed momentarily.

Are you all right, Fraulein Eva? the doctor asked me.  Yes.  If I could please have a drink of water, I remember saying.  One of the nurses held a glass to my lips and I tilted my head back to drink.  It was warm and tasteless.  We remained in the same positions for what seemed ten minutes, maybe longer, maybe only seconds, the doctor's voice softly dreamlike and calming.

And then the searing convulsions began again and more breathe, breathe, Fraulein, breathe.  I tried to suppress a scream, but it came out anyway and startled me, startled the doctor, I think, by the sight of his eyes searching my eyes for some signal.  I remember him snapping something in the direction of the nurse on my right, a command and then his soothing voice to me, saying, an injection for the pain, amidst, breathe, Fraulein, breathe.

After that, I can recall only the sound of a baby crying, your first sounds, and the sensation of movement as they took me to a private room, you, so I was told, tucked in beside me.


I was still drowsy from anesthesia when they helped me open my gown and held you up to my breast, your wet mouth nothing more than a warm kiss.  Is this my child, I remember thinking, sleepily, unfocused, is it a boy?, oh a girl, I heard myself say, surprised by the baby pressed to my chest.  My body ached, bruised and rent as the dullness wore off.  I remember Muti holding you, bending low for me to see your face.  I remember Vati beaming over her shoulder, peering at the bundle in her arms.  I remember asking Muti why you were so quiet?  She is sleeping, Muti's voice said through the fog.  I am so sleepy, I said.  And seeing my mother holding you, at least the shape of you cocooned in a pink blanket, I was content, at last, and so slept.

Later, Dr. ____ came in to explain the episiotomy.  He had snipped the tissue at the base of the birth canal so your head would emerge without further tearing.  I would be sore for several days, he said, but I would heal without a stitch to show.  And today, though the wound is tender, I am able to walk normally and sit with minor discomfort.  I don't recall the placenta being expelled, but this occurred without complications, as have the contractions of my uterus to original size.

I am noticing a yellowish discharge, but the doctor is unconcerned.  Your recovery, he pronounced, should be excellent.  My breast milk, I asked him, does not seem to flow yet.  How will I feed my baby?  He touched me lightly on the arm.  You will feed her with a bottle mixture, he said reassuringly.  To supplement your breast milk.  Like most new mothers, you worry about this child entrusted to you, but she is healthy and you are intelligent.  I said, but I seem so dry.  He took a sterile cotton from his leather bag and sponged my nipple.  Try nursing for another day or two, he said.  If this problem persists, I can give you something to increase your milk supply.  For now, lightly knead your breasts, he said, as if you were making bread dough.

And so I have, but I don't notice much improvement.  The nurses bring warmed bottles to me at regular intervals and when I lift you from your crib, eyes shut, little mouth flapping open instinctively, you seem not to care whether the rubber nipple of the bottle or my white breast reaches you first.


When Muti and Vatti came in yesterday for me to complete your birth certification, he asked what name I had chosen.  I have selected my name, I told them. Eva.   But spelled with an "A," the first initial of her father's name.  And for a middle name, I like Maria, after the Savior's mother, who has always been an inspiration to me.   This precious child, I said, is my song of joy, my Ava Maria.  They both agreed the name was befitting.  I must go phone your sisters, Muti said, and tell them all about their new niece.  She hesitated at the door.  I asked, Yes? Something else?  What about the Chancellor? she asked me.  Vati, I could tell, had looked away, towards the sunny day beyond the window.  In a few days, I answered them, I'm going to Berlin.  I will tell the Chancellor of his daughter.

 

November 1, 1944                  When I was 14 at the convent school of Simbach, Sister Francis Claire taught me that to perform a great task God would supply me grace.  And so I summon all the grace I can now to leave you.  Having been torn from my body, I feel you are about to be torn from my soul.  I have cried all morning as I packed my travel bags.  You are sleeping now, your face serene, your little fists tight to the fleece blanket.  We are fortunate that Herta's cousin, Monika, will care for you while I am in Berlin.  She is about to wean her little boy, Udo, and so will be able to nurse you in my absence.  I knew at once she was a good mother.  In two weeks, God willing, I shall return.

I am crying again.  Liesl knocks at the door to announce my car is waiting to drive me to the station.  I want to pour all of my sorrow out onto this page.  You see how the ink smears?  From my tears.  I must go, I know I must, and though you are but a week old, someday as you read these words, you will know how much I love you, my priceless Tschapperl.  Tschuss.

 

   

 

 
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