Tea with the Tin Man

In the 1930s, all we English society girls were mad for Munich. Unity Mitford, one of the six troublesome Mitford sisters, was living there at the time. Unity had become a Fascist and a Hitler groupie. She adopted the name “Unity Valkyrie Mitford.” UNITY VALKYRIE roaring around Munich on her black motorcycle steed. She wore a black shirt and a man’s tie and a gold swastika pin on her collar, dressed in black leather head-to-foot and could skillfully dismantle and clean a carburetor. One day she picked me up and said, “Hop on, Sybil, we’re going to the Hofgarten to have tea with Hitler.”

As we approached the table, Unity grasped my hand, she was shaking with excitement. Hitler was so short that when he got up to greet us, I thought he was still sitting down. Really. And his hands, I couldn’t help but notice, when he passed the milk and the sugar bowl. They were rather small and twitchy. Yes, twitchy. Unity told me later it was nothing to worry about. That was just the cocaine. He held a German shepherd puppy in his lap and stroked it with his doll-like fingers, while he held forth on the merits of a small affordable car he was designing for the German people, he called the Volkswagen. He sketched it in a shaky hand on the tablecloth, a squiggly blue-inked bug of a thing. He bought an ice cream for a little girl at the next table and squeezed her pink little knee. I don’t remember much more than that.  My strongest impression was that he was FLAT. Flat and made out of painted tin, like one of those little tin metal soldiers you find in a souvenir stall on the pier at Brighton.

In September of ‘39, when Britain declared war on Germany, Unity took a pearl-handled pistol to the English Garden and shot herself in the head. Unfortunately, she survived. They left the bullet in. While Unity lay in hospital, a huge bouquet of yellow roses arrived in her room.  She showed me the note, written in Hitler’s nearly illegible schoolboy scrawl, “My dearest Fraulein Unity, you are for me the ideal Aryan-Nordic woman. I hope you have saved a lock of your precious blonde hair for me. Get well soon, yours Adolf.” Unity lay there half-paralyzed, her dark roots growing out quite healthily. But with that 9mm bullet lodged in her brain, Unity was never quite right again.

 

Charles Leipart 

Finalist 2017 Tennessee Williams Fiction Prize for What Wolfman Knew, Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival; Received the 2016 Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, 1st Prize Award for the One Act, Cream Cakes in Munich. His play, A Kind of Marriage, exploring the private life of British novelist E.M. Forster, received an Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation LGBT 2015 Playwrighting Award. His original portrait of Pamela Harriman, Swimming at the Ritz, developed with award-winning BBC director David Giles, began a UK National Tour in March 2011 supported by the Arts Council England; American premiere at New Jersey Rep Company, Jan 2015. Charles is a former fellow of the Edward Albee Foundation and a member of the Dramatists Guild.  www.charlesleipart.com

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