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The other woman is near the front door. Her hair is short, stiff, an unnatural shade of platinum; melaten. He notices a sort of earnestness about her stance; what he'd taken before as awkwardness he sees now as the alertness of a body attuned to work. Another beer slips easily down his throat. He looks again at his empty glass and it seems to take on a new significance.

He is maybe getting a little drunk; but it is a sort of smooth drunkenness, a descent into one shade of madness, where his thoughts still flow in an analytical and intellectual way but wander off to places which his sober mind would not dare approach. He is still staring at the penis glass when his angel suddenly wraps her pale, well-manicured hand around it and this act quite naturally takes on the look of some bizarre and arcane pornography.

He breathes out, long and slow, and nods, yes, he wants more, but it isn't really beer he wants, it's her. She fills the glass, reaches for the beer mat with her pencil poised to mark his seventh or eighth drink and he, without thinking, without any plan, catches her hand in his.

He addresses her in his native tongue, which she doesn't understand, and so her answer is only a gentle resistance to his touch. He smiles as she stares at him but she does not smile back, instead her eyes move uncertainly to the Cologne cowboy at the end of the bar.

Remembering himself, the Canadian gently releases her hand and struggles to find his few clumsy German words.

'Entschuldigung, bitte,' he says, then, after licking his lips as his mouth has become strangely dry, he manages to say, 'Was ist sie name?'

She looks at the beer mat as if searching for the answer there. She does not want to say her name, or give him anything. She does not want to give anyone anything of hers. Not now anyway, not here. And so she looks at the row of pencil marks she has made and remembers the story of Ursula and how the saint came to Cologne on a pilgrimage with eleven virgins and how all of them were massacred. How later scholars somehow misread the eleven as eleven thousand. How silly that is, she thinks, and almost laughs to think of such a miscalculation of scale.

'Bitte,' he says and she looks at his face and notices for the first time how lonely he looks, how lost and half drunk, and she leans forward a fraction and whispers the name she has just this moment christened herself with.

'Ursula,' she says, 'mein name ist Ursula.'

He lifts his newly-filled glass, raises it higher in salute of her and says her name, filling his mouth with her, before drowning it in KUlsch.

Now that she has told him her name, his mind is spinning off like a mad thing, like a pinball whizzing here and there, bouncing off cushions, setting off lights, bells, buzzers, defying gravity, and whenever the ball threatens to drain out of play, sets the flippers in action by remembering how she leaned forward and almost smiling, barely keeping a straight face, whispered her name to him.

Continues tomorrow
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Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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