Disgrace - Don't the dogs get

Friday, 30 December, Year 8 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu

'Don't the dogs get bored?' He points to one, a tan-coloured bulldog bitch with a cage to herself who, head on paws, watches them morosely, not even bothering to get up.
'Katy? She's abandoned. The owners have done a bunk. Account unpaid for months. I don't know what I'm going to do about her. Try to find her a home, I suppose. She's sulking, but otherwise she's all right. She gets taken out every day for exercise. By me or by Petrus. It's part of the package.'
'You will meet him. Petrus is my new assistant. In fact, since March, co-proprietor. Quite a fellow.'

He strolls with her past the mud-walled dam, where a family of ducks coasts serenely, past the beehives, and through the garden: flowerbeds and winter vegetables - cauliflowers, potatoes, beetroot, chard, onions. They visit the pump and storage dam on the edge of the property. Rains for the past two years have been good, the water table has risen. The water table sometimes rises. She talks easily about these matters, a frontier farmer after a fashion. Of the new breed. In the old days, large famililies raising cattle and growing maize. Today, an abandoned lesbian running a service industry for sulking bitches ; and "crafts" applied to flotsam and weeds. The same house shelters them both, or rather -- either.

In the old days a head of a household would have never permitted this sad attempt at a farm to continue in its present shape ; but then again in the old days a head of a household would have never been a woman, either. Nor would have Lucy's father permitted her to live without offspring into ripe adulthood. Not in the old days. Come to think of it, in the old days a University Professor of Religious Studies would have never allowed himself, or anyone around himself for that matter, to stoop quite to the level of out-and-out cargo cultism ; but then again in the old days such a Professor would have never been black. The more things change the more things stay the same, even if it's not really the same class of things. And the more things stay the same the more evident the decay. Just like an old man, following the temperament of his youth with ever diminishing results, here's History repeating itself, these days in an ever more modest vein.

Perhaps history has learned a lesson. Perhaps that lesson is -- everything goes to shit once the men go away. Perhaps the lesson is that Dr. Rassool really is its friend, and wants to help it. Dr. Rassool shall help History. Why not ? Just because she can't be cajoled to say she is its friend, no matter what social pressure is put on her ? Just because Dr. Rassool imagines herself outside of the reach of social pressure, and possessed of a sacred, dignified duty to remain forever deaf and blind to it, but also to quiver with indignant fury whenever someone else dares act in the same manner, and especially should they have all the benefit of tradition behind ? Does that bar Dr. Rassool from being History's friend, and aiming to help it ? A History she's never read, let alone understood, she's going to help. How ? Why ? Dr. Rassool hopes that she'll help History into a shape so flat that she, Dr. Rassool, won't have to read or understand it anymore.

The schoolchildren shall learn about ants and no more, and the schoolchildren will run around after learning about ants and no more pretending to be Dr. schoolchildren. On what basis ? On the same basis everything else works in "these" "new" times, just as "new" and just as "these" as all the previous times before -- it's easier this way. To be, or to comfortably "be", this is the novel statement of that ancient question, whether tis wiser to pretend to suffer that false friendship of a sinful wife or else to stand up before a sea of drones and with rejection squish them. To tell a drone, I am a bee ; to ask a drone, are you an ant as you pretend to be ? To watch it profer a limp friendship, a thing of stage make-up and prepared statements.

They can be friends, Dr. Rassool and History, but just as soon as History stops being anything at all, because Dr. Rassool can't have friends and doesn't want to admit to this. Strange men will be coerced into singing her hymns in rhyme and sending her sweets in wrinkly paper because no animal on two or four legs would do it for love, and besides Dr. Rassool has no need of such quaint, antiquated notions. A man's love! Dr. Rassool will excise the trappings of love with the force of arms, and find Lucifer's happiness in the hollow babilony thusly constructed. Who dares say she's naked, and in her nakedness as ugly as any gorgon ?

They walk back along an irrigation furrow. Lucy's bare toes grip the red earth, leaving clear prints, like a bear's. A solid woman, embedded in her chosen life, as much of this earth as the clay within it. Good! If this is to be what he leaves behind - this daughter, this woman - then he need not be ashamed. She may be a creature of his being rather than of his mind, she may have come about in ways he does not understand while all other issue out of him, the sad, unbothered products of his mind, items with workings he does understand even as they are workings which do not work, all that aside here she is, and so is he, she is of him just as she is of herself, a duality reduced of a trinity that faintly glares in an unseen, unsought distance. And he need not be ashamed.

'There's no need to entertain me,' he says, back in the house. 'I've brought my books. I just need a table and chair.'
'Are you working on something in particular?' she asks carefully. His work is not a subject they often talk about.
'I have plans. Something on the last years of Byron. Not a book, or not the kind of book I have written in the past. Something for the stage, rather. Words and music. Characters talking and singing.'
'I didn't know you still had ambitions in that direction.'
'Neither did I, but I think I would indulge myself.' and after a pause 'There is more to it than that. One wants to leave something behind. Or at least a man wants to leave something behind. It's easier for a woman.'
'Why is it easier for a woman?'
'Easier, I mean, to produce something with a life of its own.'
'Doesn't being a father count?'
'Being a father...'
'Yes ? Being a father.'
'I can't help feeling that, by comparison with being a mother, being a father is a rather abstract business.'
'That's up to the father.'
What is she saying ? Does she know what she is saying ? What of what she could be saying does she mean ? He does not say any of that. Instead, he says: 'Let us wait and see what comes. If something does come, you will be the first to hear.' Then with sudden bitterness, 'The first and probably the last.'
'Are you going to write the music yourself?'
'I'll borrow the music, for the most part. I have no qualms about borrowing. At the beginning I thought it was a subject that would call for quite lush orchestration. Like Strauss, say. Which would have been beyond my powers. Now I'm inclining the other way, toward a very meagre accompaniment - violin, cello, oboe or maybe bassoon. But it's all in the realm of ideas as yet. I haven't written a note - I've been distracted. You must have heard about my troubles.'
'Roz mentioned something on the telephone.'
'Well, we won't go into that now. Some other time.'
'Have you left the university for good?'
'Not just the university. The whole god damned thing, academia, however would you call it. The "life of the mind" as currently implemented -- it is not life, and it certainly is not of the mind.'
Lucy looked up at him, perhaps in amazement, but said nothing.
'I'm well and thoroughly done with all of it.' he offered by way of closure.
'Will you miss it?'
'Will I miss it? I don't know. I was no great shakes as a teacher. I was having less and less rapport, I found, with my students. What I had to say they didn't care to hear. So perhaps I won't miss it. Perhaps I'll enjoy my release.'

A man is standing in the doorway, a tall man in blue overalls, with rubber boots and a woollen cap. 'Petrus, come in, meet my father,' says Lucy.
Petrus wipes his boots. They shake hands. A lined, weathered face; shrewd eyes. Forty? Forty-five?
Petrus turns to Lucy. 'The spray,' he says: 'I have come for the spray.'
'It's in the kombi. Give me one second, I'll fetch it.'
He is left with Petrus. 'You look after the dogs,' he says, to break the silence.
'I look after the dogs and I work in the garden. Yes.' Petrus gives a broad smile. 'I am the gardener and the dog-man.' He reflects for a moment. 'The dog-man,' he repeats, savouring the phrase.
'I have just traveled up from Cape Town.' Petrus says nothing. 'There are times when I feel anxious about my daughter all alone here. It is very isolated.'
'Yes,' says Petrus, 'it is dangerous.' He pauses. 'Everything is dangerous today. But here it is all right, I think.' And he gives another broad, oily smile.
Lucy returns with a small bottle. 'One teaspoon to ten litres of water. You know.'
'Yes, I know.' The interlocking words, like a secret handshake, give him a vague impression of secret, unspoken complicity. Petrus knows ; Lucy knows ; Lucy knows Petrus knows ; Petrus knows Lucy knows. What do they all know ? He has not the slightest idea. Nobody knows anything. Petrus ducks out through the low doorway. 'Petrus seems a good man,' he remarks.
'He has his head screwed on right.'
'Does he live on the property?'
'He and his wife have the old stable. I've put in electricity. It's quite comfortable. He has another wife in Adelaide, and children, some of them grown up. He goes off and spends time there occasionally.'

He leaves Lucy to her tasks and takes a stroll as far as the Kenton road. A cool winter's day, the sun already dipping over red hills dotted with sparse, bleached grass. Poor land, poor soil, he thinks. Exhausted. Good only for goats. Does Lucy really intend to spend her life here? He hopes it is only a phase. Everything's only a phase. Maybe in another twenty-six years she will look at her son, or at her daughter and say to him, or to her, that it is not a life, and that she won't miss it. But what son ? And what daughter ? A desperate sense of urgency unexpectedly washes over him, and he feels suddenly overwhelmed. A group of children pass him on their way home from school. He greets them; they greet him back. Country ways.

Already Cape Town is receding into the past, leaving no mark, like a fever, like a boil. Like a bad dream from childhood, a night terror that lingers, vaguely forgotten, incomprehensible, into adolescence. Without warning a memory of the girl comes back: of her neat little breasts with their upstanding nipples, of her smooth flat belly. A ripple of desire passes through him. Evidently whatever it was is not quite over yet.

He returns to the house and finishes unpacking. A long time since he last lived with a woman. He will have to mind his manners; he will have to be neat. Ample is a kind word for Lucy. Soon she will be positively heavy. Letting herself go, as happens when one withdraws from the field of love, or at least from the marketplace thereof. Qu'est devenu ce front poli, ces cheveux blonds, sourcils voőtés? Lucy is now a married woman, without children, without a husband, without even the ugly older woman she clung to before. Yet her face still retains some aspect of childhood, a simpleness in the eyes, an inexperienced dullness of the corners of the mouth. Solipsism and neoteny, exactly and completely "these new times". He should be worried about not having a job -- they needn't worry about not having a life. It makes sense, in its perverted way : after all he did at some point have a job, or at least thought he did, flattered himself with the thought of having one ; but they never had a life, nor any desire nor any inclination. A life "of the mind", what rank nonsense. There is no life outside of what happens between the toes of an ample peasant and the ground they grip upon. There never was ; nor could ever be.

Supper is simple: soup and bread, then sweet potatoes. Usually he does not like sweet potatoes, but Lucy does something with lemon peel and butter and allspice that makes them palatable. More than palatable.
'Will you be staying a while?' she asks.
'A week? Shall we say a week? Will you be able to bear me that long?'
'You can stay as long as you like. I'm just afraid you'll get bored.'
'I won't be bored.'
'And after the week, where will you go?'
'I don't know yet.' He pauses, he looks around. He does not say: I have come to stay. He does not say: I have come to be your father, and I have come for you to be my daughter. He could not say such a thing. Not now. Not after all this time. Should he say such a thing ? Regardless, he can't. He does not say: I am an owner here, and by god I intend to own my own here. Instead he says: 'Perhaps I'll just go on a ramble, a long ramble.' Is he a vagabond, rather than a man, was he who Soraya had in mind, to be locked up ? Is this what "a life of the mind" actually means ? Are all tramps, are all bums living a life of the mind, are they building towers in spirit, is academia truly something entirely else from what he had, youthfully, imagined it to be ? Is he as far off point as Mathabane allows himself to be ?

On to the next chapter, "Well, you're welcome..."

Category: Cuvinte Sfiinte
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