Disgrace - Katy is coaxed

Saturday, 31 December, Year 8 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu

Katy is coaxed out of her hiding-place and settled in the kitchen. She is subdued and timorous, following Lucy about, keeping close to her heels. Life, from moment to moment, is not as before. The house feels alien, violated. They are continually on the alert, listening for sounds. Or maybe just he is.

Then Petrus makes his return. An old lorry groans up the rutted driveway and stops beside the stable. Petrus steps down from the cab, wearing a suit too tight for him, followed by his wife and the driver. From the back of the lorry the two men unload cartons, creosoted poles, sheets of galvanized iron, a roll of plastic piping, and finally, with much noise and commotion, two halfgrown sheep, which Petrus tethers to a fence-post. The lorry makes a wide sweep around the stable and thunders back down the driveway. Petrus and his wife disappear inside. A plume of smoke begins to rise from the asbestos-pipe chimney. He continues to watch. In a while, Petrus's wife emerges and with a broad, easy movement empties a slop bucket. A handsome woman, he thinks to himself, with her long skirt and her headcloth piled high, country fashion. A handsome woman and a lucky man. But where have they been?
'Petrus is back,' he tells Lucy. 'With a load of building materials.'
'Why didn't he tell you he was going away? Doesn't it strike you as fishy that he should disappear at precisely this time?'
'I can't order Petrus about. I am not his master. Neither are you.'

A non sequitur, but he lets it pass. They look at each other, plainly, unseeing.
'Did you set the dog on the boy?' she asks, at a last.
'What boy?' He retorts, in the grip of confusion.
'The men had a boy with them, did they ? He was left outside. With you.'
'You set the dog on him ?'
'Yes, I set the dog on him.'
'What did you do that for ?'
'Excuse me ?' His confusion is giving way to anger now, a sheer, unmitigated, even anger.
'What were you planning to do ? Set an old bulldog on a young man and then what ?'
He is nearly apoplectic, and for the first time in many years can't find his words. No set of quotes from the classics of culture come, as is their habit, to offer themselves for his use and be discarded on slim grounds, like the "inadequacy" of the audience. He opens and closes his mouth a few times, letting out no sound. He does not say: I had no plan, really. He does not say: It seemed like a good idea at the time. He does not say: I just thought that's what's done, in polite company, under the circumstances. Instead he opens and closes his mouth, and lets out no sound.

"You are a burden, David." she continues, flatly. "I did not say anything because I do not mind. I am sure at a time I was a burden to you, myself. I think perhaps you minded, but I do not care. It makes no difference. There is no point in thinking about that.' She draws a breath, sharply, and continues. 'I said you could stay here for as long as you liked, and I meant it. I will say it again : please stay here for as long as you like. But understand one thing : if you are to stay here, then you are to stay here', she accentuates the word, tickly, 'here, as this here is. Not as you think it to be, nor as you think it should be, nor as you think Ettinger would agree with you nor any other imagined thing. As it is. Do you understand me ?'
'No.' he says plainly because indeed, he hasn't the faintest inkling as to what she might be telling him.
'I may no longer keep dogs, now.' she says, a soft whisp of regret wrapping around her crumbly, skeletal words like wool on long dead, dry thistles.

Another non sequitur, which he lets pass. He has decided to let everything pass, with Lucy, for the time being. Lucy keeps to herself, expresses no feelings, shows no interest in anything around her as far as he can see. It is he, ignorant as he is about farming, who must let the ducks out of their pen, master the sluice system and lead water to save the garden from parching. Lucy spends hour after hour lying on her bed, staring into space or looking at old magazines, of which she seems to have an unlimited store. She flicks through them impatiently, as though searching for something that is not there. Of Edwin Drood there is no more sign. He spies Petrus out at the dam, in his work overalls. It seems odd that the man has not yet reported to Lucy.
He strolls over, exchanges greetings. 'You must have heard, we had a big robbery on Wednesday while you were away.'
'Yes,' says Petrus, 'I heard. It is very bad, a very bad thing. But you are all right now.'
Is he all right? Is Lucy all right? Is Petrus asking a question? It does not sound like a question, but he cannot take it otherwise, not decently. The question is, what is the answer?

'I am alive,' he says. 'As long as one is alive one is all right, I suppose. So yes, I am all right.' He pauses, waits, allows a silence to develop, a silence which Petrus ought to fill with the next question: And how is Lucy? He is betrayed in his expectation. Admitting Petrus wishes to know how Lucy is, evidently Petrus does not believe David the proper source to inquire. 'Will Lucy go to the market tomorrow?' asks Petrus instead.
'I don't know.'
'Because she will lose her stall if she does not go,' says Petrus. 'Maybe.'
'Petrus wants to know if you are going to market tomorrow,' he informs Lucy. 'He is afraid you might lose your stall.'
'Why don't the two of you go,' she says. 'I don't feel up to it.'
'Are you sure? Getting out of this room may do you some good.' he offers, meekly.

She does not reply. She would rather hide her face, and he knows why. Because of the disgrace. Because of the shame. That is what their visitors have achieved; that is what they have done to this confident, modern young lesbian, this great equalitarian, this animal lover. This child. The girl without a soul is now bereft also of face. She has no public visage that she can use in public places, not anymore. She now belongs in beds, cloistered inside rooms, kept behind doors, past gates and fences. Inside a fortress, outside of the world, a fortress in a fortress in a fortress, her thoughts within her body within the cage. Well out of wind and sunlight, rain and thunderstorm.

Like a worm in a cocoon, like a snake shedding its skin, his daughter, his child is finally separating from the body he has given her, he and her mother both. The body they had tried to give her that she never quite accepted, that she never quite fit. The body politic, twenty six centuries of mostly unbroken tradition, with all the gaps filled smooth by the bodies of countless women, so one could walk over the whole length, one splendid bridge from Thales in Miletus to Chomsky in Philadelphia. Is this death, then, is he watching his only remaining hope die ? Will she emerge ? Women are not like thoughts, at all, he tries to comfort himself. Women will re-emerge, he prays in himself, to himself, softly. Women re-emerge. On the ashes of violated bodies of girls, women emerge.

Like an oil stain the story is spreading across the very liquid district. Carried by the water of speech, not her story to spread but theirs. They are the tellers of her story ; she is the object of their story. They are the owners of the story of how they put her in her place, the story of how they showed her what a woman was for, the story of Lucy the boervrou and her life in Africa. Her history, her personal history. How she took it, how she hurt with it, how she squirmed with it, how she begged for it. Why not ? He thinks, again, of Melani. The black one. Did the white one go the same way as the black one ? Did she go soft, did she go limp but helpful, raising her shoulders and her hips to ease them access ?

With his one eye and his white skullcap, he has his own measure of shyness about showing himself in public. But for Lucy's sake he goes through with the market business, sitting beside Petrus at the stall, enduring the stares of the curious, responding politely to those friends of Lucy's who choose to commiserate. 'Yes, we lost a car,' he says. 'And the dogs, of course, all but one. No, my daughter is fine, just not feeling well today. No, we are not hopeful, the police are overstretched, as I'm sure you know. Yes, I'll be sure to tell her.'

He reads their story as reported in the Herald. Unknown assailants the men are called. 'Three unknown assailants have attacked Ms Lucy Lurie and her elderly father on their smallholding outside Salem, making off with clothes, electronic goods and a firearm. In a bizarre twist, the robbers also shot and killed six watchdogs before escaping in a 1993 Toyota Corolla, registration CA 507644. Mr Lurie, who received light injuries during the attack, was treated at Settlers Hospital and discharged.'

David Lurie, who is no longer a professor, also is no longer a man. It used to be that a story would read 'David Lurie and his daughter, Lucy', not so very long ago. Nowadays the story reads 'Lucy Lurie and her elderly father.' He does not need a name ; there are no protests, no "WAR activists" to "verbally spar" with, the perpetrators aren't alledged and don't get surrounded by a mob of curious young women that are unsure of spelling but certain of the facts of life, as they perceive them, of what's what and who's who and where it's all headed. Was she raped ?

The question jolts him, painfully, body responding to an absent but immense charge of nervous electricity. He is glad that no connection is made between the victim, elderly father of Ms Lurie and the man, David Lurie, disciple of nature poet William Wordsworth, servant of Eros and until recently also professor at the Cape Technical University. As for the actual trading, there is little for him to do. Petrus is the one who swiftly and efficiently lays out their wares, the one who knows the prices, takes the money, makes the change. Petrus is in fact the one who does the work, while he sits and warms his hands. He does not presume to give Petrus orders, he has not the slightest expectation that Petrus would obey them if he did, and he has no idea what he should bid him do in any case. A trinity, expanded from a quiet duality. Petrus does what needs to be done, and that is that.

Nevertheless, their takings are down: less than two Bitcents. The reason is Lucy's absence, no doubt about that. Boxes of flowers, bags of vegetables have to be loaded back into the kombi. Petrus shakes his head. 'Not good,' he says.

This strange community, if one can call it that, this strange beast, ill shod, uncomprehending agglutination of black men and women is not merely disinterested in the fate of animals. Anywhere else within "the Realm" as it is pompously called, anywhere else in "the Commonwealth", once "Empire", that mythical place "beyond the seas" wherein Churchill proposed not so long ago the font of carrying on the struggle endlessly lies, the victim's produce would have been entirely sold out. It is not much to think -- the woman is not here, she is maybe ill, she is maybe in bed, I will buy a potato. I will buy a flower, not to send it to her, no need to go that far. To feed it to the goats, to throw it in the wind, to float it away on the river. But no, not in Africa.

Anywhere else but here. Or in India. Or anywhere else. In any other part of the colonial empire except for the capitol, in fact. Thousands and thousands of men, poor, desperate, leaving behind women in need and children in danger, "armed by the British Fleet", that ancient institution principally famous for kidnappings and white slavery, went to France, when to the beaches, over the seas and oceans, to defend "their" island, whatever the cost may be. The cost was high enough, the island, once defended, quickly forgot about them all. The police is stretched thin, of course. He had an older brother, a young man who never came back, an older brother whom he never met. Had that young man never left, would the police still be stretched thin today ?

As yet Petrus has offered no explanation for his absence. Petrus has the right to come and go as he wishes, apparently, these days. Whether he has such right or not, he exercises it. He is entitled to his silence, perhaps, but whether entitled or not he is in fact silent. Yet questions remain. Does Petrus know who the strangers were? Was it because of some word Petrus let drop that they made Lucy their target rather than, say, Ettinger? Did Petrus know in advance what they were planning? In the old days one could have had it out with Petrus. In the old days one could have had it out to the extent of losing one's temper, beating him black and blue then sending him rolling down the hill. Graciously allowing any other of the indistinct crowd to eagerly eat up his place. But though Petrus is paid a wage, and allowed to make his nest on the property, Petrus is no longer, strictly speaking, hired help.

It is hard to say what Petrus is, strictly speaking. The word that seems to serve best, however, is neighbour. Petrus is a neighbour who at present happens to sell his labour, because that is what suits him. He sells his labour under contract, unwritten contract, and that contract makes no provision for dismissal on grounds of suspicion. It is a new world they live in, he and Lucy and Petrus. Petrus knows it, and he knows it, and Petrus knows that he knows it.

On to the next chapter, "In spite of all that..."

Category: Cuvinte Sfiinte
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4 Responses

  1. Thousands and thousands of men, poor, desperate, leaving behind women in need and children in danger, "armed by the British Fleet", that ancient institution principally famous for kidnappings and white slavery, went to France, when to the beaches, over the seas and oceans, to defend "their" island, whatever the cost may be. The cost was high enough, the island, once defended, quickly forgot about them all.

    I have thought it right upon this occasion to give the House and the country some indication of the solid, practical grounds upon which we base our inflexible resolve to continue the war. There are a good many people who say, 'Never mind. Win or lose, sink or swim, better die than submit to tyranny—and such a tyranny.' And I do not dissociate myself from them. But I can assure them that our professional advisers of the three Services unitedly advise that we should carry on the war, and that there are good and reasonable hopes of final victory. We have fully informed and consulted all the self-governing Dominions, these great communities far beyond the oceans who have been built up on our laws and on our civilization, and who are absolutely free to choose their course, but are absolutely devoted to the ancient Motherland, and who feel themselves inspired by the same emotions which lead me to stake our all upon duty and honor. We have fully consulted them, and I have received from their Prime Ministers, Mr. Mackenzie King of Canada, Mr. Menzies of Australia, Mr. Fraser of New Zealand, and General Smuts of South Africa—that wonderful man, with his immense profound mind, and his eye watching from a distance the whole panorama of European affairs—I have received from all these eminent men, who all have Governments behind them elected on wide franchises, who are all there because they represent the will of their people, messages couched in the most moving terms in which they endorse our decision to fight on, and declare themselves ready to share our fortunes and to persevere to the end. That is what we are going to do.

    Didn't take all that long for the wonderful man with his immense profound mind, and for the Governments elected on wide franchises to turn into dust, did it.

  2. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Tuesday, 3 January 2017

    English is not a language either capable or made to speak the truth.

  1. [...] very same Nazis who didn't assassinate him. But they weren't "democratic" see. We know it's true because Churchill said so. [↩]For reasons. [↩]There was another census in 1912, which would have perhaps been [...]

  2. [...] to the next chapter, "Katy is coaxed..." Category: Cuvinte Sfiinte Comments feed : RSS 2.0. Leave your own comment below, or send a [...]

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