FROM Guises of Desire, Chapter 3
….How unfair of Klara to call her a little goose. And innocent! What did Klara know that Bertha didn’t? Innocent was the word they used at school to refer to girls who didn’t know – they always gave the key words a special breathless emphasis in speaking of those things – who still thought that babies were brought by storks or angels.
Bertha had known since she was thirteen. Heidi Muller told Renate Grunwald and Renate told the rest of the Jewish girls. But none of them believed it. Heidi Muller was a Catholic and they decided that she was pulling their legs. Most of the girls in Bertha’s school were Catholic and the Jewish girls often felt out of things. It was just like Heidi to try and make them believe something disgusting like that and then laugh at them for being so foolish as to believe it, they said. Later that year, in December when the Catholics were preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the subject came up again. Mademoiselle Lamartine, the French teacher, had been talking to them about Christmas and she spoke about la Vierge Marie and how her baby Jesus was born in a stable.
‘Please, Mademoiselle, what does vierge mean?’ Heidi Muller asked, darting a sly and triumphant look at the Jewish girls who she knew hadn’t believed her about that.
Mademoiselle’s face had gone pink. ‘You’ll learn about that when you’re older,’ she said, and hurried on to talk about three kings who had come from far away to give presents to Jesus.
After class Heidi told Renate what it meant so Renate looked the word up in a dictionary but she only found other words, like ‘chaste’, which none of them understood, or ‘intercourse’, which they thought meant the same as conversation. Claudia Hahn had asked her mother about it and reported back that her mother had said it meant an unmarried woman but that couldn’t be right because Mary was married to Joseph. Then Renate pointed out that, according to the Catholics, the father of Jesus wasn’t Joseph, but God. That meant that what Heidi said couldn’t be true because God didn’t have a body and you needed a body to do what Heidi said. Renate put this to Heidi but Heidi just said it was a miracle. After that they had forgotten about it for a while, what with all the excitement of Christmas and Hannukah, which were at about the same time that year. But in January Claudia, whose father was a doctor, said she had looked up one of his books about female diseases – she had wanted to find out more about what had begun to happen to her every month – and it was all true. There were even diagrams. Some of the girls had pestered Claudia to draw the diagrams for them but she said they were too complicated. Bertha noticed, however, that Claudia’s face was turning red and decided that she was too embarrassed. Bertha was not surprised.
After that they were more sober and fearful when they talked about it. That was why married people slept in the same bed, they said – it always happened at night, when you didn’t have any clothes on. ‘Not even your nightdress?’ Bertha had said. ‘Surely not?’ Heidi said that it hurt horribly and the Jewish girls thought that she was just trying to frighten them. But Renate said that it must hurt. How could it not, when you thought about it? Bertha preferred not to think about it. Heidi said it hurt only the woman. Men enjoyed it. In fact they enjoyed it so much that they often went to special women – they were called prostitutes – who let them do it to them in exchange for money. This was what Claudia said, anyway. She had read about it in another of her father’s books which talked about the horrible diseases men got from these women and then passed on to their own wives.
So, Bertha decided, there was no reason for Klara to call her an innocent little goose. But she still didn’t know what she could have meant about the pleasures of marriage. She tried to visualise herself married. She would be in charge of her own house rather than under the constant supervision of Mamma, which would be a good thing. And she would be able to dispense with Miss Thomson. Other than that there was little she could see that would afford pleasure. Then there was that side of marriage. But perhaps she wouldn’t have to do it. Some married couples didn’t have children. That must be because they didn’t want to do it. Or if the man did, he could go to one of those prostitutes.
In the meantime, there was the pleasure of dancing……