The dogs are brought to the clinic because they are unwanted, to be done because we are too menny. That is where Little Father Time dressed as David Lurie enters their lives. He may not be their saviour, but he is prepared to take care of them once they are unable to take care of themselves. The first time they are unable to take care of themselves. Once even Bev Shaw has washed her hands of them. A dog-man, Petrus once called himself. Well, now he has become a dogman: a dog undertaker; a dog psychopomp; a harijan.
Curious that a man as troubled as he should be the one called for this unknown task. You'd think the carrier has a steadier hand, a calmer composition. Curious that he'd accept such a call. There must be other, more productive ways of giving oneself to the world, or even to an idea of the world. One could for instance work longer hours at the clinic. One could try to persuade the children at the dump not to fill their bodies with poisons. Even sitting down more purposefully with the Byron libretto might, at a pinch, be construed as a service to mankind. But there are other people to do these things, other people who do these things. The animal welfare thing, the social rehabilitation thing, even the Byron thing. He saves that trembling, evanescent spec, the honour of nameless, mute corpses, because... because there is no one else stupid enough to do it. That is what he is becoming: the fallthrough case of the stupid tree.
Their work at the clinic is over for the day. The kombi is loaded with its dead weight, no lighter than it was alive. The animal soul, muddled inside the animal body, fails to separate in time, does not lift away. Dies with the dog. As a last chore he is mopping the floor of the surgery.
'I'll do that,' says Bev Shaw, coming in from the yard. 'You'll be wanting to get back.'
'I'm in no hurry.'
'Still, you must be used to a different kind of life.'
'A different kind of life? I very much fear life might not come in kinds.'
'I mean, you must find life very dull here. You must miss your own circle. You must miss having women friends.'
'Women friends, you say. Surely Lucy told you why I left Cape Town. The friendship of women didn't work very well for me.'
'You shouldn't be hard on her.'
'Hard on Lucy? I don't have it in me to be hard on Lucy.'
'Not Lucy - the young woman in Cape Town. Lucy said there was a young woman who caused you a lot of trouble.'
'Yes, there was a young woman. But she caused me no trouble. No trouble at all. On the contrary, she was most instructive.'
'Lucy said you had to give up your position at the university. That must have been difficult. Do you regret it?'
What nosiness! Curious how the whiff of scandal excites women. Does this plain little creature think him incapable of shocking her? Or is being shocked another of the duties she takes on -- like a nun who lies down to be violated so that the quota of violation alloted the rest of the world may be reduced? An ugly old toad aspiring to the virginal charms of santa Girolama through the trite venue of inciting disinterested Longobards to rape her shrivelled old twat ? He finds her repugnant, thoroughly repugnant in a stricly moral sense ; but this determination is of no further significance to him.
'I did not have to give up my position. On the contrary, they begged me not to do anything of the kind, a whole chorus of them. The young woman's... the introduction to the facts of life I visited upon that girl made them want me more, not less. My position there never was as strong as then ; their demand for my words never that stringent, that desperately acute.'
Bev looks at him with the eyes of an owl. At last she manages to crank the mechanism that makes her speak again, and asks 'How come you left, then?' in such a tone as to barely betray a question's being asked at all.
'A man came from behind and asked me something.'
'You said so before.'
He looks at her, standing before him. Yes, he had said so before. How to make sense of the world for the benefit of curious Bev Shaw, nosy Bev Shaw, stolid, old Bev Shaw ? 'You have your notions on the subject, of course. They aren't so much yours per se, they're what others have imparted on you. But let me tell you, I, who was there, or rather, let me tell you, around whom that place was built and of whom that place in any sense exists that you do infinitely more for the mongrels here than anyone ever did for any one of all those children crowding in Cape Town University each and every god damned year. Except, perhaps, for one.'
She blushes. A long time since he last saw a woman of middle age blush so thoroughly. To the roots of her hair.
'Still, you must find Grahamstown very quiet,' she murmurs. 'By comparison.'
'I don't mind Grahamstown. At least I am out of the way of temptation. Besides, I don't live in Grahamstown. I live on a farm with my daughter.'
Out of the way of temptation: a callous thing to say to a woman, even a plain one. Yet not plain in everyone's eyes. There must have been a time when Bill Shaw saw something in young Bev. Other men too, perhaps. He tries to imagine her twenty years younger, when the upturned face on its stout stipe must have seemed pert and the freckled skin homely, healthy. Suddenly, shockingly, she drops to her knees in front of him.
'Will you... will you...' she burbles, haltingly, at loss for air, like a cauldron going on an intense fire. 'Will you show me.' she manages at least. 'Please.' Her beseeching has something of the dogs' desperation in it.
He reaches down and undoes his belt, extracts a disinterested appendage from its linenny folds. She attacks it eagerly, ineptly. It might be her first time, he thinks. He reaches behind her, grabs the straps, affixes her wrists to the table behind. The straps are not tight, but Bev's wrists go completely limp. They have been conceptually tied, and can not be moved any further. They're paralyzed, completely, like chess pieces that have been captured off the table. The straps captured Bev Shaw's wrists, and thus she has not her wrists with her anymore. He sways gently, to give her frantic activity some kind of a rhythm. A rhythm, a rime, a reason.
It takes him a long time to spend ; it takes her a long time to earn his expenditure. But it eventually does happen. It does eventually happen. She's unprepared, she chokes on it, she coughs it back up, the stuff of life coming out in a blob through her left nostril. That is all that happens. That is as far as they go. He unties her left arm and without another word he leaves the clinic.
He sits in front of the wheel, shaken. You were not there, she had said. His daughter said so to her, somehow. Lucy said something, and from what Lucy said Bev understood he wasn't there. Did Lucy say anything ? The outer shell of the great secret, the carapace holding within mystery afore ununderstood is starting to crack before him. That shared, universal if unspoken bond of womanhood. A violation ? What is that ? An outrage, is it, and a crime. How ? 'She asked for it, your honor.' he could say. She did. Who ever didn't ? How could one not ? All life is asking, and what does life ask for ?
The next afternoon there is a call from her. 'Can we meet at the clinic, at four,' she says. Not a question but an announcement, made in a high, strained voice. Almost he asks, 'Why?', but then has the good sense not to. Nonetheless he is surprised. He would bet she has not been down this road before. This must be how, in her innocence, she assumes adulteries are carried out: with the woman telephoning her pursuer, declaring herself ready. 'Come now, I'm ovulating!' Like those ridiculous couples trying to fool mother Nature, trying to conceive in spite of it, intensely crafty, focused on their thermometres and who knows what complex flanges. Special mice thinking themselves clever for eating their own way into the mousetrap, eschewing the common entrance to end in the same way as all the others, but on their own, supposedly chosen path. Cattle are wiser than humans, in that no cow has yet jumped the fence into the slaughter yard just for the hollow satisfaction of having ended up inside in its own way.
He does not bother to go. He is in no mood for it, and besides he does not like Bev Shaw. It had been a long while since he was inside a woman, longer than any time he can readily recall, in fact. Yet he does not miss it, apparently, and isn't the slightest interested in an encore. He always thought sex a problem to be resolved, but apparently it will take care of itself just as well.
The next time they see each other she is dejected, but quiet. During the day he happens across some blankets in a cabinet, two of them. One pink, one grey, smuggled from her home by a woman who no doubt bathed and powdered and anointed herself in readiness; who has, for all he knows, been powdering and anointing herself every Sunday, and storing blankets in the cabinet, just in case, and who knows what else. A waistless, squat little tub of a woman by the name Bev apparently thinks that because he comes from the big city, or because there is scandal attached to his name, that he makes love to every woman and expects to be made love to by every woman who crosses his path. He'd wager Bev was blest with even less of a bosom than Melani, yet Bev thinks herself a woman, and readily usable for the purpose. How little do kids learn these days at University. A casanova's days are never over -- and it has nothing to do with him.
Petrus has borrowed a tractor, where from he has no idea, and in what manner he prefers not to inquire, to which he has coupled the old rotary plough that has lain rusting behind the stable since before Lucy's time. In a matter of hours he has ploughed the whole of his land, that now resembles a couple of hectares more than anything. All very swift and businesslike; all very unlike Africa. In olden times, that is to say ten years ago, it would have taken him days with a hand-plough and oxen.
Against this new Petrus what chance does Lucy stand? Petrus arrived as the dig-man, the carry-man, the water-man. Apparently now she owes him a lot, somehow, and he is too busy for that kind of thing anyway. Where is Lucy going to find someone to dig, to carry, to water? Were this a game, he would say that Lucy has been outplayed on all fronts. If she had any sense she would quit: approach the Land Bank, work out a deal, like so many others. Consign the farm to Petrus, return to civilization. She could open boarding kennels in the suburbs; she could branch out into cats. She could even go back to what she and her friends did in their hippie days: ethnic cloth-weaving, ethnic pot-decoration, ethnic basket-weaving. Selling beads and whatnot to tourists. The traditional fare of the gypsy woman, up to and perhaps including the rental of the space inside her cunt.
Defeated. It is not hard to imagine Lucy in ten years' time: a heavy woman with lines of sadness on her face, wearing clothes long out of fashion, talking to her pets, eating alone. Not much of a life, especially considering the high oral flatulence the new age conmen and women employ to recruit impressionable youth for their abattoir. A university in its own right. Still, better than passing her days in fear of the next attack, waiting to be savaged, nightly, by the local dogs, waiting for the flies to lay their eggs and for no one to answer the telephone.
He approaches Petrus on the site he has chosen for his new residence, on a slight rise overlooking the farmhouse. The surveyor has already paid his visit, the pegs are in place. 'You are not going to do the building yourself, are you?' he asks.
Petrus chuckles. 'No, it is a skill job, building,' he says. 'Bricklaying, plastering, all that, you need to be skill. No, I am going to dig the trenches. That I can do by myself. That is not such a skill job, that is just a job for a boy. For digging you just have to be a boy.'
Petrus speaks the word with real amusement. Once he was a boy, now he is no longer. Now he can play at being one, as Marie Antoinette could play at being a milkmaid. He comes to the point. 'If Lucy and I went back to Cape Town, would you be prepared to keep her part of the farm running? We would pay you a salary, or you could do it on a percentage basis. A percentage of the profits.'
'I must keep the farm running,' says Petrus. 'I must be the farm manager.' He pronounces the words as if he has never heard them before, as if they have popped up before him like a rabbit out of a hat.
'Yes, we could call you the farm manager, if you like.'
'And Lucy will come back.'
'I am sure she will come back one day. She is very attached to this farm. She has no intention of giving it up. But she has been having a hard time recently. She needs a break. A holiday.'
'By the sea,' says Petrus, and smiles, showing teeth yellow from the pipe.
'Yes, by the sea, if she wants.' He is irritated by Petrus's habit of letting words hang in the air. There was a time when he thought he might become friends with Petrus. Now he detests him. Talking to Petrus is like punching a bag filled with sand. 'I don't see that either of us is entitled to question Lucy if she decides to take a break,' he says. 'Neither you nor I.'
'How long I must be farm manager?'
'I don't know yet, Petrus. I haven't discussed it with Lucy, I am just exploring the possibility, seeing if you are agreeable.'
'And I must do all the things - I must feed the dogs, I must plant the vegetables, I must go to the market - '
'There is no need to make a list. There won't be dogs. I am just asking in a general way, if Lucy took a holiday, would you be prepared to look after the farm?'
'If I go to market I must have kombi. If Lucy go to sea she must have kombi. There is only one kombi.'
'That is a detail. We can discuss details later. I just want a general answer, yes or no.'