He glances across at Lucy. The young man is dancing mere inches from her now, lifting his legs high and thumping them down, pumping his arms, enjoying himself. The plate he is holding contains two mutton chops, a baked potato, a ladle of rice swimming in gravy, a slice of pumpkin. He finds a chair to perch on, sharing it with a skinny old man with rheumy eyes. I am going to eat this, he says to himself. I am going to eat it and ask forgiveness afterwards. Then Lucy is at his side, breathing fast, her face tense.
'I will have to go in the back now. Will you be ok on your own ?'
'I think so...'
'If it gets too late for you, don't wait for me. I'll be back on my own.'
'Lucy' he starts, but she gives him a look that every mother knows, that every child knows, that says one thing but says it loud and clear: Do not make a fuss ; do not cause a scene. He follows her with his eyes, young men gaggle around her as she goes out the back door. He thinks he sees... but no, he is imagining things. For a moment he thought he saw the young, handsome, athletic fellow, his head towering above the crowd, outside, through the opening of the door. A fleeting moment, but he does not get up, he does not follow after her.
Instead, a drink finds his way into his hands, he knows not from where. He drains the cup, it is a murky liquid, modertately alcoholic, somewhat bitter, vaguely floral. Is this what passes for sherry in these parts, he wonders. Then he feels his eyelids heavy, the room ready to spin around him, moving in a dizzying circular motion at the edge of vision even as it is stationary in front of his eyes. He thinks to himself, could I have become so unaccustomed to alcohol, that all it takes is one drink ? No, he thinks, before the whole world turning to water, alcohol does not hit that fast.
When he comes to, it is early morning, early Sunday morning in the bush. The birds sing, loudly, decisively. He is groggy, he stands uneasily, looks about. Most of the guests already left, the older folk as the night fell or soon thereafter, taking the smaller children with them, leaving the younger set behind. This he remembers. Most of the young men also left, but this he never saw. He sees a man crumpled here and there, sleeping, uneasily. Some snore, each in his own tongue. No sign of Lucy whatsoever. She probably left, but how did she leave leaving him behind ?!
He makes his way to the back door, stepping over legs and arms, trying to contain the swirling nauseous mass inside his head, nearly falling over twice in the process. Beyond the door there's a sort of bivouac, the smoldering remains of a large pit fire, and by the fire, on a worn, fraying reed mat, a naked body. A woman, a white woman on her side, with her back to him. Lucy!
He tries to run but straggles over, he grabs her shoulder as he nearly collapses next to her. She turns on her back, mumbling, then slowly awakens. It is her, she is completely naked, her parted legs displaying a pubis shaved smooth, hairless, like a child's. The realisation thunders through his mind, Lucy hasn't been getting heavier. Lucy is simply pregnant.
'Lucy!' he tries to scream at the top of his lungs, but the word comes out low and hoarse.
'Shh!' she replies, sleepily. 'You'll wake them up.' She gets up, tiredly. Her hair is caked. The mat left straight narrow furrows on her rump running all the side of the ribcage and her breast. He looks at her with wide eyes, awestruck.
'Come, come.' she says, pulling his hand. 'Let's go.'
'What happened to your dress ?' he manages, more a mumble than anything.
'I do not know. One of them probably has it.'
The immensity of the situation is too much for him to process. He follows his daughter, sheepishly. She steps barefoot, completely nude. Did they take her bra, her underwear also ? Did she not have any underneath her dress to begin with ? Her body is stained, like with wax. They go through the door, traverse the barn with the snorning, sleeping drunks, and they are out the door. Out of the party, into the morning air, Ms Lucy Lurie, bare as the day she was born, and her eldery father, confused as the day he was born, climbing hand in hand up the trail towards their home. Somehow he has her tiny flashlight, and he blinks it on, then off, then on again.
'Will you stop clicking that thing.' comes the reprimand, and he turns it off and puts it in his pocket.
They are seated in the livingroom of the once great house, the spacious, empty, sad remnant of another time. She, in her robe, dripping water from the shower. He, in yesterday's clothes, a whispy, corpse-like beard around his jaws.
'Lucy' he manages at long last.
'Yes, David.' she responds, plainly.
'The baby - when are you expecting the baby?' he asks his own daughter, no-one's wife.
'January, perhaps. February, at the latest.'
'Why didn't you tell me anything ?'
'Tell you what ?'
'For instance, you could have told me you knew those three men.'
'I could have told you that I know them, and it wouldn't have been true, I don't know them, not really. Or I could have told you that I don't know them, and it wouldn't have been true either. But I told you nothing of the kind.'
'Lucy, what are you saying ?'
'Do you know the two sheep that they ate tonight ?' and after a pause 'That you ate tonight.'
'I don't understand.'
'There's a lot you don't understand, David. You came to tell me we were invited to Petrus' party, but we weren't, not as such. My presence was required -- I was part of the entertainment. The white woman and two blackface sheep, that was Petrus' offering to his guests.'
'This is a disgrace.'
'I thought you preferred to call it "Being a servant of Eros" or something to that effect. Not all servant roles are equally appealing, I take it ? You're not the first elderly father of a public woman, David. I am sure you won't be the last.'
'We must call the police!'
'Don't be ridiculous. Call the police!' she puffs in disdain, 'Call the police to say what, to complain that while you were passed out drunk your daughter whored herself out at a party ?'
'Lucy! What have they done to you!'
'Whatever they want. They have done to me whatever they wanted to do.'
'Lucy, listen to me...'
'No!' she cut him off, sharply. 'I will not listen to you! I will listen to them! Whatever they say.'
He is astonished, astonished enough to be bereft of words. At last, 'But... why ?'
'Why what ?'
'Why won't you listen to me ?'
'You're unpersuasive. They aren't.'
He is astonished, beyond the use words, merely keeping his jaw from slacking takes most of his mental energy.
'How much do you pay, in Cape Town', she coos at him. He stares at her, a blank stare on the doorstep of insanity.
'Before the girl you raped, there were whores, weren't there ? There probably was one, what was her name ?'
He opens and closes his mouth. 'Soraya', he offers at an end, mouth dry, barely audible.
'How much did you pay Soraya ?'
'Three Bitcents for ninety minutes, of which half went to Discreet Escorts. They owned the premises. And her, I suppose.'
'Here it is a quarter Bitcent, and all of it goes to Petrus. He looks after me.'
Suddenly, decision strikes, anger wells up inside him, he can feel it, but as a result. He is decided, firm, 'I will kill him.'
'Who will you kill, David ?'
'This black man, Petrus.'
'You will kill Petrus ? How ?'
'Have you ever killed a man before ?'
He glares at her, all the fury that he can summon, all the indignant rage of a pubescent boy humiliated by a whore, coming out through his recent eyelashes.
'Why start with Petrus ?'
'He did this to you!'
She laughs, a crystalline, happy laughter he hasn't heard from her since she was a little child, since he was working on his first book. One day he ran into a complication, a Gordian knot of cognition. He took a break, an unexpected change of pace in the dour progress of the afternoons in the house of the life of the mind, and spent the time playing with her. She was so happy then, that day, that brief evening, as he hadn't seen her before. Or since.
'I told you, he looks after me.'
'Why does he do that ?'
'He bought me, David. He bought me like he bought those sheep, exactly. And for not much more money, at that. They don't slaughter women for meat in these parts, it puts a certain downdraft on the open market price.'
'Who did he buy you from ?'
'From another, who had me before.'
'What do you mean, who had you before.'
'Would you stop and think for a moment. There isn't anywhere on Earth land that doesn't belong to someone, is there ? And if it is, a man will come, and make it his. There isn't an ewe, or a goat, or a cow or an elephant that doesn't have an owner, and if there were, an owner would come forth in any case.'
'But you are a woman.'
'Exactly. I am a white woman in South Africa. A little more than a sheep, a little less than a cow.'
'This is a disgrace.'
'It's not that bad. It could be worse.'
'How could it be worse, Lucy ?'
'Take you, for example. Do you think you pay the price of a goat, David ?'
The question hits him like a gravestone. Ample, final. Does he, David, think he, David, pays the price of a goat ? He could try and kill Petrus. So could a goat. Who has the better chance ? He'd have thought he, before trying to hold down the goat at Bev's, but now he thinks the goat, actually. A servant of Eros ? The image of Petrus, somehow with a monstrously overgrown, hooked nose comes to his mind, rubbing his fingers, cocked head... women cost money, serving Eros in the capacity he contemplates doesn't pay anything, on the contrary, it costs. Centeris futuit Matho, milibus -- non tu propterea sed Matho pauper erit. How will he, David, prevail in the constest with the goat called David ? He is a professor, he will teach -- where will he teach ? Who has he taught, and what ? Who'd pay for that ?
'How about the other women there ?'
'What about them ?'
'Do they also...'
'No, David. Just me.'
'How come ?'
'They had older brothers, to teach them how to behave. They had parents. All I had were friends. It's not quite the same thing.'
'Lucy, Lucy, I plead with you! You want to make up for the wrongs of the past, but this is not the way to do it. As for the police, if you are too delicate to call them in now, then we should never have involved them in the first place. We should just have kept quiet.'
'We called them for the sake of the insurance. We filed a report because if we did not, the insurance would not pay out.'
'And the insurance will pay out...'
'... to Petrus, yes. Petrus knows best.'
'It's my car!'
'Yes David, it is your car, and you are my father, and I am his white woman. And so it goes to him.'
'Lucy, you amaze me. You have a duty to yourself, to the future, to your own self-respect. Let me call the police. Or call them yourself.'
No: that is Lucy's last word to him. She retires to her room, closes the door on him, closes him out. He can not begin to believe how much like her mother Lucy turned out to be. Their very quarrels, his and her mothers', have survived the years and re-embodied themselves. He is now rueing the day when he came to live with her, like he rued the day he brought her mother live with him. He has to leave.
Yet she too will have to leave, in the long run. As a woman alone on a farm she has no future, that is clear. Even the days of Ettinger, with his guns and barbed wire and alarm systems, are numbered. If Lucy has any sense she will quit, throw in the towel, move on. But of course she will not. She is stubborn, and immersed, too, in the life she has chosen, or that has chosen her. He slips out of the house. Treading tiredly under the strengthening sun, he approaches the stable from behind. The big fire has long died down, the embers cold, the music stopped. There is a cluster of people at the back door, a door built wide enough to admit a tractor. He peers over their heads.
In the centre of the floor stands a man of middle age. He has a shaven head and a bull neck; he wears a dark suit and, around his neck, a gold chain from which hangs a medal the size of a fist, of the kind that chieftains used to have bestowed on them as a symbol of office. Symbols struck by the boxful in a foundry in Coventry or Birmingham; stamped on the one side with the head of sour Victoria, regina et imperatrix, on the other with gnus or ibises rampant. Medals, Chieftains, for the use of. Shipped all over the old Empire: to Nagpur, Fiji, the Gold Coast, Kaffraria.
The man is speaking, orating in rounded periods that rise and fall, a strange sort of Sunday service. He has no idea what the man is saying, but every now and then there is a pause and a murmur of agreement from his audience, among whom, young and old, a mood of quiet satisfaction seems to reign. He looks around. The boy, the junior of the three is standing nearby, just inside the door. The boy's eyes flit nervously across him. Other eyes turn toward him too: toward the stranger, the odd one out. The man with the medal frowns, falters for a moment, raises his voice. As for him, he does not mind the attention. Let them know I am still here, he thinks, let them know I am not skulking in the big house. And if that spoils their get-together, so be it. He lifts a hand to his white skullcap. For the first time he is glad to have it, to wear it as his own.