Epilogue-1990

In their hotel room, later in the evening, Serena and Francesca sat on either side of their great-grandmother on the bed with the album open across Ursula's lap. Their mother and grandmother were talking in the bathroom. Their nine-year-old brother Tony was standing in the bathroom door in his underwear, waiting for his bath water to be ready. He had no interest in looking at pictures of dead people.

"I wish you could have known your Great-Uncle Albert," Ursula was saying. "He died when Serena was just a baby, and before Francesca was ever born. He was the finest man that ever was."

"He was a veterinarian, wasn't he?" Serena said. Of all the great-grandchildren, she was the one who most resembled Ursula as a child, and some of the others complained that she was Granny's favorite. It wasn't true-Uschi didn't have favorites. But there was something about Serena. She clearly stood out in a crowd, and not just because of her physical beauty. She was a pistol, according to her father, and couldn't go anywhere without making a lasting impression. "That's what I'm going to be. Holy cow, was he a fox or wasn't he?"

Francesca, a sweet and dreamy child of five, looked at the picture with a fingertip in her mouth. "Pretty, pretty, pretty," she murmured around the finger, then took it out and looked at it as though expecting it to agree with her.

Ursula smiled. She enjoyed the girls immensely.

"You are a too young to be a teenager, Serena," she said with a grin.

"Oh, I'm not crazy about boys," Serena said with a pointed look at her brother, who was popping the waistband of his briefs and humming to himself. "Especially naked ones. Hey Tony, how 'bout going in the bathroom and shutting the door if you're gonna do that? I think we could all do without the sight of your tushy just fine."

He favored her with a raspberry. "Too many women in there," he said. "Geez, women everywhere I go."

"Well, nobody's forcing you at gunpoint to stay in here, twerp," Serena pointed out.

"Who's this?" Francesca pointed at another picture.

"That is my cousin Ilse," Ursula said. She closed her eyes for a moment, remembering a certain confession Ilse had made on her deathbed. A confession Ursula herself would take to her grave. "She died long before either of you were born."

She shut her eyes more tightly. She would rather remember the confession than the bone cancer that destroyed Ilse's career as well as her life, when she was only a little past fifty.

"She looks kinda like you when you were young," Serena mused, "only with lighter hair, and she's kinda thinner, or something. And you were prettier," she added with a cheeky grin. "Dang, you were gorgeous. You looked like a movie star or something. Didn't you ever think of being in the movies?"

"No, never," Ursula was glad to have something to distract her from certain remembrances. "I never had an interest in the cinema. I think I would have made a terrible actress."

"Well, you should have," Serena said. "Isn't that thing awful heavy?" She was referring to the album.

"Very heavy indeed," Ursula said softly. "Perhaps..."

"What's that?" Francesca pointed out Ursula's locket, noticing it for the first time.

"It's a locket." Serena reached out and took it in her hand. "I never saw it before."

"Open it, hon," Ursula said with a tight little smile. She braced herself as Serena undid the clasp on the chain so she could look at it more easily. Then she opened the locket. A curl of dark hair and a few strands of golden hair fell into the girl's lap unnoticed as she stared with her mouth wide open.

"Who's THAT?" she exclaimed, then gave a loud wolf whistle. Francesca tried to whistle too, but it just came out a breathy imitation. Ursula laughed a little.

"Dang, Serena," Tony said, clapping his hands over his ears. "Bust all our eardrums, why don't ya!"

"You think that's something? Listen to this," Serena said, and before anyone could stop her she put two forefingers in her mouth and emitted a truly earsplitting whistle. Francesca put her fingers in her ears-a bit too late.

"Serena!" her mother and grandmother both said in unison. Serena laughed. So did Uschi.

"I could do that once," she said, "back when I still had all my own teeth."

"I'm in LOVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVEEEEEE," moaned Serena, clutching the locket once more. "Just look at him. Oh my God, I don't believe it. Mom, Grandma, come look. Isn't he dreamy? Oh Granny, who is it?"

"It's time for you girls to come brush your teeth," her mother said. "No, come on, you're going to wear Granny out," she said above their moans of protest. "Into the bathroom, both of you-now! Tony, stop making faces-what if you froze that way?"

Much later, after the children were tucked in bed, Ursula lay watching her daughter-in-law, the former diva, making a few last-minute preparations for bed, and she thought of the swans she had seen on the river. Had no one else seen them? Probably they thought she was having what they called a senior moment...then again, maybe it was a vision...

"Lucia," she said after a moment, "did you bring the Schubert disc with you?"

She nearly always had to have music to fall asleep to now. They had brought along what the children called the boombox, sitting on the table beside the bed, although she'd protested that it wasn't necessary, it would just make more for them to bother with on the plane. But they'd brought it nevertheless.

"Yes," her daughter-in-law smiled, "as a matter of fact, I did." She was Italian born, still a strikingly handsome woman at sixty-two, who didn't bother any more to cover the grey streaks in her black hair. Ursula smiled back with love and pride, thankful that her Hänschen had had the good sense to choose such a fine wife. Unlike his brother Kalle, who had not been so wise.

Lucia found the CD in a bag in her suitcase. She had recorded this album herself especially for Ursula, although she was an opera singer and not a lieder singer. The critics had praised her diction and phrasing, although they had to admit she was a little out of her element. Ursula presumed to disagree with them on that point. What did they know anyway?

(Oh but Kalle had found happiness at last with Michael Katz's eldest daughter, after her husband was killed in action. She had always been in love with him but he'd had to go out and "experience all of life" first, whatever that meant, and Ursula never really knew just what he'd done all that time...other than compose an opera, Green Mansions, just for Lucia. Does one ever really know one's own children?)

"I wanted to hear 'Der Lindenbaum.' But you know, I think I have changed my mind," she said as Lucia picked the disk from the bag. "I think I would rather hear 'When I Grow too Old to Dream'. I am feeling sentimental tonight. It is a German thing."

Lucia just chuckled. "Fine," she said. She was well used to this.

"I am sorry to be such a troublesome old biddy. But-"

"Not at all, dear," Lucia said. She had recorded this song as well, and her diction and phrasing were even better, and no critics had anything to say about her element. They were probably too busy wiping tears from their eyes to notice.

Now Ursula held the silver locket in her hand and dreamed, as Lucia's perfect voice throbbed softly in the darkness, an old woman's dream. She played the song over and over, and began singing along with it very softly at one point.

"Granny?" her granddaughter's voice spoke from the bed next to hers. Ursula started. She'd supposed everyone was asleep.

"Yes, hon."

"Are you all right? I never heard you sing before."

Ursula smiled wryly. "It is just as well, Kathy. I was no songbird even in my youth. That is quite your mother-in-law's department."

"Sure you're all right?"

"Of course, my angel. I am so glad...just to have experienced all of life."

When I grow too old to dream
I'll have you to remember
And when I grow too old to dream
Your love will live in my heart.

So kiss me, my sweet
And so let us part
And when I grow too old to dream
That kiss will live in my heart...

~*~Finis~*~