Study Guide

Life After Life Chapter 25

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Chapter 25

A Long Hard War

September 1940

  • Ursula has joined the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) department, working as a warden to rescue people from buildings after bombs fall on London.
  • Her fellow wardens include Miss Woolf, a retired hospital matron; Mr. Durkin, who misquotes literature all the time; veterans of WWI Mr. Simms and Mr. Palmer; Herr Zimmerman, a German refugee; and Mr. Bullock, a wrestler who has a lot of friends who are strippers.
  • The first serious incident involved a house that suffered a direct hit. Surprisingly, everyone survived the blast, but a water pipe burst, flooding the basement and drowning all fifteen people.
  • Later, they need someone slim to wriggle through another hole, so Ursula crawls through and finds a dead body.
  • That night is rainy and gross and Ursula is so exhausted she almost falls right into an enormous crater, but Mr. Bullock grabs her before she tumbles to her death.
  • He sends her home to the apartment she shares with Millie.
  • The next day, she notices some of Miss Woolf's notes on her desk for some reason. They mention "one dog still operating" (25.82), but Ursula can't remember seeing a dog anywhere.
  • At some point later, Ursula is at Fox Corner eating lunch outside with her family.
  • She mentions that she has "a young man" (25.111) named Ralph, whom she met in her German class.
  • That night, Hugh walks her to the station, but the last train has left by the time they get there.
  • There is an engine going, however, and Fred Smith offers to let her ride on the engine back to London.
  • Ursula agrees. She rides to London in an engine that's "hotter than hell" (25.159) and stumbles home through a blackout.
  • Millie remarks that Ursula looks "like a coal miner" (25.172) when she arrives.

October 1940

  • Ursula and Miss Woolf are keeping watch as a full-scale raid is in progress.
  • They share stories of their lives with one another, Ursula telling Miss Woolf all about her younger brothers, Jimmy and Teddy.
  • She went out with Jimmy a few weeks ago, and found a girl crying in the ladies' room.
  • Her name is Renee (Renee Miller, whom Ursula doesn't really know in this life), and Ursula notices that she carries a gold cigarette case, the same one Crighton used to carry.
  • When Jimmy leaves, Ursula tells him to promise he won't die: "Do my best" (25.235), he says.

October 1940

  • It's Hugh's funeral.
  • He had a heart attack on the lawn and died in his chair, where Izzie found him.
  • Nancy Shawcross reads a poem at the funeral, while Pamela and Bridget practically have to hold Sylvie up near the open grave.
  • Izzie decides to stay at Fox Corner, but neither she nor Sylvie can bring themselves to sort through Hugh's things.
  • Bridget and Ursula do it, packing up his clothes to give away.
  • Before Ursula leaves, Izzie confesses to Ursula that she had a baby, a boy who is probably as old as Ursula is now.
  • Now that Hugh's gone, Izzie has no way of tracking down her child, a child who is most likely now the enemy. (In a Nazi sense, not in a Rosemary's Baby sense.)

November 1940

  • All the wardens in Ursula's ward of the ARP are having a good ol' time—playing piano and violin, singing opera, dancing—when the warning goes off.
  • Ursula has a premonition that things aren't going to go well.
  • Sure enough, the incident is pretty bad. An apartment building has been pretty much leveled by a bomb.
  • It turns out to be the apartment building Ursula was living in back in the "A Lovely Day Tomorrow" chapters.
  • A woman (whom Ursula doesn't know as Mrs. Appleyard) asks for her baby, Emil, then dies.
  • They also find a smart-mouthed woman pinned by some wreckage.
  • It's Renee Miller, who ends up dying in front of them; Ursula collects her identity card and her gold cigarette case.
  • As they continue to explore the wreckage, Ursula finds Emil, the baby… when she steps on his dead body.
  • Stepping on dead babies sure works up an appetite, so Ursula heads to canteen for a snack, but she gets distracted by a dog up the street.
  • She goes to check on the little dog, a terrier, and as she's with it, the rest of the apartment building falls right on the canteen.
  • It kills Mr. Emslie, one of the wardens, and Tony, the messenger boy.
  • Fred Smith, who is a fireman on the scene, is mad that they parked the canteen there.
  • Ursula realizes that he's angry "because they were dead, not because they were stupid" (25.375).
  • He offers to walk her home, but they go to Izzie's empty house instead and have sex in one of the empty bedrooms.
  • After, as they're lying there smoking cigarettes, Fred says "I don't really pick up strange women and f*** them in posh houses" (25.393). Sure you don't, Fred…
  • His crass attitude doesn't sit right with Ursula, and she later tells Millie that he was "disappointing" (25.400).

May 1941

  • Despite her dalliance with Fred Smith, Ursula continues seeing Ralph, who is a lot sweeter in bed than Fred.
  • She's also boinking Crighton again on the side.
  • Ursula takes a break from patrolling when Teddy comes to visit.
  • She gives him the little terrier, now named Lucky, to take care of.
  • There's a terrible raid later, which blows off the roof of Ursula and Millie's apartment building. Even if they always wanted a skylight, they probably didn't expect it to happen like that.
  • At least they're not there when it happens.
  • Ursula continues to stay there in the open-air arrangement, but when Millie returns, she thinks Ursula has lost her mind and insists they move.
  • She later hunts down Fred Smith again, and he apologizes for being "a complete arse" (25.481) the last time they were together.
  • He also says, "Do you know your problem, Miss Todd?" (25.483) in a flirty way, but before he can answer, the siren goes off and he has to rush for duty.
  • He never gets to answer, though, since he's crushed by a wall in the fire.

November 1943

  • Just when things can't get worse, they get worse: Teddy's plane goes down.
  • Maurice delivers the news to Ursula.
  • Izzie comes to get her and take her to Fox Corner. She's able to drive them because she knows a man who can get her petrol ration coupons.
  • Everyone is distraught and trying to hold out hope that he survived, but Maurice insists he's dead.
  • To find out for sure, Ursula goes to talk to Roy Holt, one of Teddy's crewmates.
  • He says there's no way Teddy could have survived, and he returns Lucky to Ursula. (That dog sure didn't live up to his name.)
  • Sylvie soon kills herself by overdosing on sleeping pills.
  • Pamela is to inherit Fox Corner, and the house's contents are to be divided among the children.
  • Ursula takes the little carriage clock; Jimmy doesn't want anything; Teddy is dead; and Maurice sends a truck, loots the house, and sells everything. What a model brother.

February 1947

  • Ursula is in her apartment gorging herself on Pammy's care package (remember this from Chapter 18?) and the box of Milk Tray.
  • The power goes out… Ursula starts to feel very, very tired (from all the gas leaking into her apartment when the pilot light goes out…).
  • But this time, the power comes back on soon, and Ursula doesn't die of gas inhalation. Whew.

June 1967

  • Ursula, now 57, has a date with Benjamin Cole (finally), but she's not attracted to him anymore (darn).
  • "Catch me next time around" (25.592), she tells him, maybe or maybe not realizing that this is totally possible.
  • She has recently retired from her job and been given tickets for Beethoven's Choral.
  • She'd love to invite Miss Woolf, except she's dead—she died back in 1944—and Crighton's dead, too. It seems like all her friends are dead.
  • Ursula decides to take Nigel, her favorite nephew, with her.
  • While they're out, she starts talking about Hitler as though she met him (her past lives blurring over?).
  • In July, she takes a walk through the park and eats an ice cream.
  • She falls asleep on a park bench and wakes up with a headache—it's really bad, so she closes her eyes and falls asleep again.
  • Even though it's July, "snow began to fall" (25.664).
  • Oh, you know what that means. Ursula is born again.

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