Disgrace - Lucy returns

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

Lucy returns. 'They've let down the tyres of the kombi,' she says. 'I'm walking over to Ettinger's. I won't be long.' She pauses. 'David, when people ask, would you mind keeping to your own story, to what happened to you?'
He does not understand.
'You tell what happened to you, I tell what happened to me,' she repeats.
'You're making a mistake,' he says in a voice that is fast descending to a croak.
'No I'm not,' she says.
'My child, my child!' he says, holding out his arms to her. When she does not come, he puts aside his blanket, stands up, and takes her in his arms. In his embrace she is stiff as a pole, yielding nothing.

Ettinger is a surly old man who speaks English with a marked German accent. His wife is dead, his children have gone back to Germany, he is the only one left in Africa. He arrives in his three-litre pickup with Lucy at his side and waits with the engine running.
'Yes, I never go anywhere without my Beretta,' he observes once they are on the Grahamstown road. He pats the holster at his hip. 'The best is, you save yourself, because the police are not going to save you, not any more, you can be sure.'

Is Ettinger right? If he had had a gun, would he have saved Lucy? He doubts it. If he had had a gun, he would probably be dead now, he and Lucy both. His hands, he notices, are trembling ever so lightly. Lucy has her arms folded across her breasts. Is that because she is trembling too?
He was expecting Ettinger to take them to the police station. But, it turns out, Lucy has told him to drive to the hospital.
'For my sake or for yours?' he asks her.
'For yours.'
'Won't the police want to see me too?'
'There is nothing you can tell them that I can't,' she replies. 'Or is there?'

At the hospital she strides ahead through the door marked CASUALTIES, fills out the form for him, seats him in the waiting room. She is all strength, all purposefulness, whereas the trembling seems to have spread to his whole body. 'If they discharge you, wait here,' she instructs him. 'I will be back to fetch you.'
'What about yourself?'
She shrugs. If she is trembling, she shows no sign of it.

He finds a seat between two hefty girls who might be sisters, one of them holding a moaning child, and a man with bloody wadding over his hand. He is twelfth in line. The clock on the wall says 5.45. He closes his good eye and slips into a swoon in which the two sisters continue to whisper together, chuchotantes. When he opens his eye the clock still says 5.45. Is it broken? No: the minute hand jerks and comes to rest on 5.46.

Two hours pass before a nurse calls him, and there is more waiting before his turn comes to see the sole doctor on duty, a young Indian woman. The burns on his scalp are not serious, she says, though he must be wary of infection. She spends more time on his eye. The upper and lower lids are stuck together; separating them proves extraordinarily painful.
'You are lucky,' she comments after the examination. 'There is no damage to the eye itself. If they had used petrol it would be a different story.'

He emerges with his head dressed and bandaged, his eye covered, an ice-pack strapped to his wrist. In the waiting-room he is surprised to find Bill Shaw. Bill, who is a head shorter than he, grips him by the shoulders. 'Shocking, absolutely shocking,' he says. 'Lucy is over at our place. She was going to fetch you herself but Bev wouldn't hear of it. How are you?'
'I'm all right. Light burns, nothing serious. I'm sorry we've ruined your evening.'
'Nonsense!' says Bill Shaw. 'What else are friends for? You would have done the same.'

Spoken without irony, the words stay with him and will not go away. Bill Shaw believes that if he, Bill Shaw, had been hit over the head and set on fire, then he, David Lurie, would have driven to the hospital and sat waiting, without so much as a newspaper to read, to fetch him home. Bill Shaw believes that, because he and David Lurie once had a cup of tea together, David Lurie is his friend, and the two of them have obligations towards each other. Is Bill Shaw wrong or right? Moreover, is he outright fucking insane ? Has Bill Shaw, who was born in Hankey, not two hundred kilometres away, and works in a hardware shop, seen so little of the world that he does not know there are men who do not readily make friends, whose attitude toward friendships between men is corroded with skepticism? Modern English friend from Old English freond, from freon, to love. Does the drinking of tea seal a love-bond, in the eyes of Bill Shaw? Yet but for Bill and Bev Shaw, but for old Ettinger, but for bonds of some kind, where would he be now? On the ruined farm with the broken telephone, amid dead dogs.

'A shocking business,' says Bill Shaw again in the car. 'Atrocious. It's bad enough when you read about it in the paper, but when it happens to someone you know' - he shakes his head - 'that really brings it home to you. It's like being in a war all over again.'
He does not bother to reply. The day is not dead yet but living. War, atrocity: every word with which one tries to wrap up this day, the day swallows down its black throat.

Bev Shaw meets them at the door. Lucy has taken a sedative, she announces, and is lying down; best not to disturb her.
'Has she been to the police?'
'Yes, there's a bulletin out for your car.'
'And she has seen a doctor?'
'All attended to. How about you? Lucy says you were badly burned.'
'I have burns, but they are not as bad as they look.'
'Then you should eat and get some rest.'
'I'm not hungry.'

She runs water for him in their big, old-fashioned, cast-iron bath. He stretches out his pale length in the steaming water and tries to relax. But when it is time to get out, he slips and almost falls: he is as weak as a baby, and lightheaded too. He has to call Bill Shaw and suffer the ignominy of being helped out of the bath, helped to dry himself, helped into borrowed pyjamas. Later he hears Bill and Bev talking in low voices, and knows it is he they are talking about.

He has come away from the hospital with a tube of painkillers, a packet of burn dressings, and a little aluminium gadget to prop his head on. Bev Shaw settles him on a sofa that smells of cats; with surprising ease he falls asleep. In the middle of the night he awakes in a state of the utmost clarity. He has had a vision: Lucy has spoken to him; her words - 'Come to me, save me!' - still echo in his ears. In the vision she stands, hands outstretched, wet hair combed back, in a field of white light.

He gets up, stumbles against a chair, sends it flying. A light goes on and Bev Shaw is before him in her nightdress. 'I have to speak to Lucy,' he mumbles: his mouth is dry, his tongue thick. The door to Lucy's room opens. Lucy is not at all as in the vision. Her face is puffy with sleep, she is tying the belt of a dressing-gown that is clearly not hers.

'I'm sorry, I had a dream,' he says. The word vision is suddenly too old-fashioned, too queer. 'I thought you were calling me.' Lucy shakes her head. 'I wasn't. Go to sleep now.' She is right, of course. It is three in the morning. But he cannot fail to notice that for the second time in a day she has spoken to him as if to a child - a child, or an old man. He tries to get back to sleep but he cannot. It must be an effect of the pills, he tells himself: not a vision, not even a dream, just a chemical hallucination. Nevertheless, the figure of the woman in the field of light stays before him. 'Save me!' cries his daughter, her words clear, ringing, immediate. Is it possible that Lucy's soul did indeed leave her body and come to him? May people who do not believe in souls yet have them, and may their souls lead an independent life?

Hours yet before sunrise. His wrist aches, his eyes burn, his scalp is sore and irritable. Cautiously he switches on the lamp and gets up. With a blanket wrapped around him he pushes open Lucy's door and enters. There is a chair by the bedside; he sits down. His senses tell him she is awake. What is he doing? He is watching over his little girl, guarding her from harm, warding off the bad spirits. After a long while he feels her begin to relax. A soft pop as her lips separate, and the gentlest of snores. It is morning. Bev Shaw serves him a breakfast of cornflakes and tea, then disappears into Lucy's room.
'How is she?' he asks when she comes back.
Bev Shaw responds only with a terse shake of the head. Not your business, she seems to be saying.

Menstruation, parturition, violation, and their aftermath: blood-matters.i A woman's burden, women's preserve. Of no interest, without public projection. To be kept quiet, a shame, a secret. Another kind of secret. Is it actually another kind ? Perhaps all secrets are the same one secret after all.

Not for the first time, he wonders whether women would not be happier living in communities of women, accepting visits from men only when they choose. His experience supports the notion, but then again has he known any women ? Who was a woman, Melanie ? Rosalind ? Thirty years between them, yet in the end what was the difference ? Such a naive contrivance, "when they choose". What will they choose, and who will care what their choice was ?

Perhaps he is wrong to think of Lucy as homosexual. Perhaps she simply is immature, and thus inclined to female company, like any young girl. Perhaps that is all that lesbians are: girls trapped in women's bodies they have no actual use for. Little girls whose minds have not yet caught up with their bodies, infantile, not having so far managed come to terms with their body's need of men. No wonder they are so vehement against rape, she and Helen. Rape, god of chaos and mixture, violator of seclusions. The definitive solvent of all the complicated secretions women surround themselves with to insulate their anatomy from its physiology. To support the willing suspension of disbelief a female worldview requires, to permit the sweet illusion of the self take root, in fits and spurts. Rape, for the longest time the single and unique manner of reproduction ; in most sexuate species still the normative sexual behaviour. Anything else, perverse, abnormal, decadent. The arrival of speech changed all that, for a select brand of chimp, the normative of yesteryear became today's unthinkable atrocity. Rather, unspeakable.

Raping a lesbian. Worse than raping a virgin ? Perhaps more of a blow, stronger a statement. Did they know what they were up to, those men? Had the word got around? The rapist and the lesbian, a strange encounter of troglodytes. He, from a time before speech, behaving in a manner... not manly, othermanly perhaps. A throwback to times so old they left no record. Marks, yes, but no records. She, from an age before puberty, behaving in a manner... not womanly, for sure, asexual, infantile. The worst possible pairing, like the furious impotent and the placid nymphomaniac, like the blind poet with the deaf nymph, a radical coupling of Eros and Psyche. She can never hear him, for he can't speak, and he can't ever feel her, for she doesn't know she has a soul.

And in a single, sublime moment a flash coallesces all these stray thoughts grazing on the craggly fields of the inside of his skull -- yes, it is true, he has never met a woman. He hasn't ever met a woman because he is not a man. The fear of death, the ultimate fear, turns out to not be so ultimate after all. If he had a gun he would probably be dead now, he and Lucy both. He thought this, this was his thought. Death, the ultimate fear, given in token, to cover up for what ? The old German had a gun, and he wasn't dead. How did he manage this ? Luck, is it ? It is not. He was never before afraid to follow a thought, a wayward strand of thought, wherever it may lead -- but now he is. If he were a man, he'd have had a gun, and maybe died, or maybe killed, some dogs, some boys, but that's not the important part. If he were a man, Rosalind would have been a woman, and Lucy's mother before her, and Lucy herself. Raped still, perhaps, at another juncture perhaps, yes, but not as a child. Not as a child.

The absent difference between one and another, across thirty years, he realises now, is him. Him. The reason he has lived half a century without meeting any women, he realises now, is entirely like the reason a rapist can live out his entire life and never hear an ode. Women in love will come up with hymns to glorify the man they love, he knows this, he can on some level, mentally feel this. It has left record. Yet the rapist doesn't speak, and cannot hear. A deaf nymph, using elaborately carved furniture for kindling, unable to distinguish loud flatulence and a string quartet.

At nine o'clock, after Bill Shaw has gone off to work, he taps on Lucy's door. She is lying with her face turned to the wall. He sits down beside her, touches her cheek. It is wet with tears.
'Have you seen a doctor?'
She sits up and blows her nose. 'I saw my GP last night.'
'What do you want to do ?'
'Go back to the farm and clean up.'
'And then?'
'Then to go on as before.'
'On the farm?'
'Yes of course. On the farm.'
'Be sensible, Lucy. We can't just pick up where we left off.'
'Why not?'
'Because it's not a good idea. Because it's not safe. Things have changed.'
'It was never safe, and it's not an idea, good or bad. I'm not going back for the sake of an idea. I'm just going back.' Sitting up in her borrowed nightdress, she confronts him, neck stiff, eyes glittering. Not her father's little girl, not any longer. 'I live there. On that farm.' she says flatly.

On to the next chapter, "Before they set off..."

  1. Yes, the girl affecting sensitivity to splattered blood is merely furthering a conceit. Always affecting, always a conceit. Just like a crab pretending to perceive pincers atrociously outrageous rather than comfortably natural. Men prefer women different for the rest, for men abhor the in-itself-abhorent female herd ; and what's more different, further afield than absurdity ? []
Category: Cuvinte Sfiinte
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