Disgrace - But he is not satisfied

Sunday, 01 January, Year 9 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu

But he is not satisfied. Like Melani, greedy for experience, he hooks a leg behind his daughter to draw her in closer. 'I am sure they tell themselves many things. It is in their interest to make up stories that justify their actions. But trust your feelings. You said you felt hatred from them.'
'Hatred... When it comes to men and sex, David, nothing surprises. It's hard work, to summon the interest. Whatever works for them should properly speaking work for me. Maybe, for men, hating the woman makes sex more exciting, or even possible at all. You are a man, you ought to know. When you have sex with someone strange, someone new... when you trap her, hold her down, get her under you, put all your weight on her -- isn't it a bit like killing? Pushing the knife in, pulling it out, leaving the body behind covered in blood... doesn't it feel like murder ? Does it not feel a little like getting away with murder?'
'Perhaps,' he says. 'Sometimes. For some men.'
'The substance of divinity, you know? Getting away with murder.'
'Was it the same with both of them? Like fighting with death?'
'They spur each other on. That's probably why they do it together. They're still young.'
'And the third one, the boy?'
'He was there to learn.'

They have passed the Cycads sign. Time is almost up.
'If they had been white you wouldn't talk about them in this way,' he says. 'If they had been white thugs from Despatch, for instance.'
'Wouldn't I?'
'No, you wouldn't. I am not blaming you, that is not the point. But this is not something new you are talking about. Slavery. They want you for their slave. It didn't work so well before.'
'Not slavery. Subjection. Subjugation. They want me for my feminity.'
He shakes his head. 'It's too much, Lucy. Sell up. Sell the farm to Petrus and come away.'
'I would rather drink bleach.'

The words, the exact words, shock him. The exact words. That is where the conversation ends, but Lucy's words echo in his mind. He understands Lucy doesn't resemble her mother after all. No, she doesnt resemble her mother. She resembles him. His daughter, observant, unjudgmental, carved of herself an exact matching half of him, the matching half he never in his life managed to meet. Maybe others will. Maybe there's a Jude the Obscure cutting stone somewhere around. Maybe he is tall, athletic, beautiful. Maybe he's seen him once, or twice, around.

He thinks of the three visitors driving away in the not-too-old Toyota, the back seat piled with household goods, the trunk filled with obscure books. Their penises, their daggers, their fleshy clubs his daughter worships so tucked warm and satisfied between their legs - purring is the word that comes to him. They must have had every reason to be pleased with their afternoon's work; they must have felt happy in their vocation.

He remembers, as a child, poring over the word rape in newspaper reports, trying to puzzle out what exactly it meant, wondering what the letter p, usually so gentle, was doing in the middle of a word held in such horror that no one would utter it aloud. In an art-book in the library there was a painting called The Rape of the Sabine Women: men on horseback in skimpy Roman armour, women in gauze veils flinging their arms in the air, mouths open. He thoguht they were wailing. Were they ? What had all this attitudinizing to do with what he suspected rape to be: the man lying on top of the woman and pushing himself into her?

He thinks of Byron. Among the legions of countesses and kitchenmaids Byron pushed himself into there were no doubt those who called it rape. But none surely had cause to fear that the session would end with her throat being slit. From where he stands, from where Lucy stands, Byron looks very old-fashioned indeed. Or could they ? Is this anachronism, and of a very poor taste at that ? Or could her... ? Hatred, perhaps, but murderous ?

Lucy was frightened, frightened near to death. Her voice choked, she could not breathe, her limbs went numb. Was she joyous, somewhere, under all of that, as the men forced her down ? The men, for their part, drank up her fear, revelled in it, did all they could to keep her humours flowing, menacing her, to heighten her terror. Call your dogs! they might have said to her. Go on, call your dogs! No dogs? Then let us show you dogs!

You don't understand, you weren't there, says Bev Shaw. Well, Bev Shaw's mistaken. Lucy's intuition is right after all: he does understand; he can, if he concentrates, if he loses himself, be there, be the men, inhabit them, fill them with the ghost of himself. If he loses himself ?

But the more pressing question is, does he have it in him to be the woman?
From the solitude of his room, in the early hours of the morning he writes his daughter a letter: 'Dearest Lucy,' it begins. 'You are right, no doubt in my mind that you are right. All my mind can conjure up confirms, nothing infirms your splendid intuition. Yet even as you are right, I am old. I am not sure I can live here, and I am not sure I should soil the here with my presence.'
And then it continues, 'There is an old story, of a man who joined a monastery, and being a novice he was given the task of sweeping all the floors. Soon thereafter, he left. A older neighbour asked him, why did he leave, did he not know or realise that all have to start low ? But the man answered that he did not leave because he felt sweeping the floors below his standing ; he left because at last he observed the only dirt he sweeps away is his own, made by himself.'
And it concludes, 'Ever in that vein, I must take my leave of you. I wish you all the joy in the world, and I want you to know that you have done more good, and more worth the mention in your short years that I in mine. With love, your proud father, once Professor of many things.'

That is their exchange; and as far as any substantial discussion is concerned, the last word.

The business of dog-killing is over for the day, the black bags are piled at the door, each with a body and a soul inside. Bev seeks him out, humbly, self-humiliatingly even. She has been rejected, she knows, she accepts it, she still aims to serve him and to please. She aims for all contact she may be allowed.
'You have never told me about your first wife,' she begins. 'Lucy doesn't speak about her either.'
'Lucy's mother was Dutch. She must have told you that. Evelina. Evie. After the divorce she went back to Holland. Later she remarried. Lucy didn't get on with the new stepfather. She asked to return to South Africa.'
'So she chose you.'
'Maybe. Rather I think she chose South Africa. You know ?'

Bev regards him, incredulous.
'I think you know,' he continues, evenly, his manly naivite untrapped by the cobwebs of her innate coy behaviour. Untrappable, forevermore. Immunity, by virture of gloria puella. 'You should join her, sometime. Go with her.'
'You mean...' Bev's eyes are wide, as wide as the face supports.
'Yes Bev, I mean. It is the best thing for you, and it is your best chance. Go with her.'
'But... but...' Bev is babbling, incoherent. 'What about Bill' she manages at an end.
'That is in the end something Bill has to solve for himself. You can help, but you can't carry him, can you.'
Bev is without speech. He pats her on the back as he leaves, and throws 'It's not made of soap, you know.' over his shoulder as he goes out the door.

In his head Byron, alone on the stage, draws a breath to sing. He is on the point of setting off for Greece. At the age of thirty-five he has begun to understand that life is precious. Sunt Iacrimae rerum, et mentem mortalia tangunt: those will be Byron's words, he is sure of it. As for the music, it hovers somewhere on the horizon, it has not come yet.

He re-enters Cape Town on the N2. He has been away less than three months, yet in that time the shanty settlements have crossed the highway and spread east of the airport. The stream of cars has to slow down while a child with a stick herds a stray cow off the road. Inexorably, he thinks, the country is coming to the city. Soon there will be cattle again on Rondebosch Common; soon history will have come full circle. The jungle, and the night that consumes all.

So he is home again. It does not feel like a homecoming. He cannot imagine taking up residence once more in the house on Torrance Road, in the shadow of the university, skulking about like a criminal, dodging old colleagues. He will have to sell the house, move to a flat somewhere cheaper. His finances are in chaos. He has not paid a bill since he left. He is living entirely on credit; any day now his credit is going to dry up.

The end of roaming. What comes after the end of roaming? He sees himself, white-haired, stooped, shuffling to the corner shop to buy his half-litre of milk and half-loaf of bread; he sees himself sitting blankly at a desk in a room full of yellowing papers, waiting for the afternoon to peter out so that he can cook his evening meal and go to bed. The life of a superannuated scholar, without hope, without prospect: is that what he is prepared to settle for?

He unlocks the front gate. The garden is overgrown, the mailbox stuffed tight with flyers, advertisements. Though well fortified by most standards, the house has stood empty for months: too much to hope for that it will not have been visited. And indeed, from the moment he opens the front door and smells the air he knows there is something wrong. His heart begins to thud with a sick excitement. There is no sound. Whoever was here is gone. But how did they get in? Tiptoeing from room to room, he soon finds out. The bars over one of the back windows have been torn out of the wall and folded back, the windowpanes smashed, leaving enough of a hole for a child or even a small man to climb through. A mat of leaves and sand, blown in by the wind, has caked on the floor.

He wanders through the house taking a census of his losses. His bedroom has been ransacked, the cupboards yawn bare. His sound equipment is gone, his tapes and records, his computer equipment. In his study the desk and filing cabinet have been broken open; papers are scattered everywhere. The kitchen has been thoroughly stripped: cutlery, crockery, smaller appliances. His liquor store is gone. Even the cupboard that had held canned food is empty. No ordinary burglary. A raiding party moving in, cleaning out the site, retreating laden with bags, boxes, suitcases. Booty; war reparations; another nameless, unreported incident in the great campaign of redistribution. Who is at this moment wearing his shoes? Have Beethoven and Janácek found homes for themselves or have they been tossed out on the rubbish heap?

From the bathroom comes a bad smell. A pigeon, trapped in the house, has expired in the basin. Gingerly he lifts the mess of bones and feathers into a plastic packet and ties it shut. The lights are cut off, the telephone is dead. Unless he does something about it he will spend the night in the dark. But he is too depressed to act. Let it all go to hell, he thinks, and sinks into a chair and closes his eyes.

As dusk settles he rouses himself and leaves the house. The first stars are out. Through empty streets, through gardens heavy with the scent of verbena and jonquil, he makes his way to the university campus. He still has his keys to the Communications Building. A good hour to come haunting: the corridors are deserted. He takes the lift to his office on the fifth floor. The name-tag on his door has been removed. DR S. OTTO, reads the new tag. From under the door comes a faint light. He knocks. No sound. He unlocks the door and enters.

The room has been transformed. His books and pictures are gone, leaving the walls bare save for a postersize blowup of a comic-book panel: Superman hanging his head as he is berated by Lois Lane. Behind the computer, in the half-light, sits a young man he has not seen before. The young man frowns.
'Who are you?' he asks.
'I'm David Lurie.'
'Yes? And?'
'I've come to pick up my mail. This used to be my office.' In the past, he almost adds.
'Oh, right, David Lurie. Sorry, I wasn't thinking. I put it all in a box. And some other stuff of yours that I found.' He waves. 'Over there.'
'And my books?'
'They are all downstairs in the storage room.'
He picks up the box. 'Thank you,' he says.
'No problem,' says young Dr Otto. 'Can you manage that?'

He takes the heavy box across to the library, intending to sort through his mail. But when he reaches the access barrier the machine will no longer accept his card. He has to do his sorting on a bench in the lobby. He is too restless to sleep. At dawn he heads for the mountainside and sets off on a long walk. It has rained, the streams are in spate. He breathes in the heady scent of pine. As of today he is a free man, with duties to no one but himself. Time lies before him to spend as he wishes. The feeling is unsettling, but he presumes he will get used to it.

Category: Cuvinte Sfiinte
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