Years ago, when he lived in Italy, he visited the same forest between Ravenna and the Adriatic coastline where a century and a half before Byron and Teresa used to go riding. Somewhere among the trees must be the spot where the Englishman first lifted the skirts of his eighteen-year-old charmer, bride of another man, to find her warmth, willing, wet. He could fly to Venice tomorrow, catch a train to Ravenna, tramp along the old riding-trails, pass by the very place. He is inventing the music (or the music is inventing him) but he is not inventing the history. On those pine-needles Byron had his Teresa - 'timid as a gazelle,' he called her - rumpling her clothes, getting sand into her underwear (the horses standing by all the while, incurious), and from the occasion a passion was born that kept Teresa howling to the moon for the rest of her natural life in a fever that has set one David howling too, after his manner.
Teresa leads; page after page he follows. Then one day there emerges from the dark another voice, one he has not heard before, has not counted on hearing. From the words he knows it belongs to Byron's daughter Allegra; but from where inside him does it come? Why have you left me? Come and fetch me! calls Allegra. So hot, so hot, so hot! she complains in a rhythm of her own that cuts insistently across the voices of the lovers.
To the call of the inconvenient five-year-old there comes no answer. Unlovely, unloved, neglected by her famous father, she has been passed from hand to hand and finally given to the nuns to look after. So hot, so hot! she whines from the bed in the convent where she is dying of la mal'aria. Why have you forgotten me?
Why will her father not answer? Because he has had enough of life; because he would rather be back where he belongs, on death's other shore, sunk in his old sleep. My poor little baby! sings Byron, waveringly, unwillingly, too softly for her to hear. Seated in the shadows to one side, the trio of instrumentalists play the crablike motif, one line going up, the other down, that is Byron's.
'Lucy says you are back in town. Why haven't you been in touch?'
'I do not wish to talk to you. Do not call here again.' and with that he hangs up. Punishment enough ? Perhaps. Go, live with Lucy, let me be. He is not in the mood to entertain the hollow pretense of the heady, intelligently, ellaborately stupid woman. Let others teach her, if they wish, he's well and truly done. But has he ever tried ? He does not care if he did. Whatever it was that he had done, sufficient or otherwise, is what he's done. If it was not enough -- that's fine. There is not another portion, neither in the offering nor in the making. Rosalind is, practically speaking, dead. At least as far as he's concerned.
In her white nightdress Teresa stands at the bedroom window. Her eyes are closed. It is the darkest hour of the night: she breathes deeply, breathing in the rustle of the wind, the belling of the bullfrogs. 'Che vuol dir,' she sings, her voice barely above a whisper - 'Che vuol dir questa solitudine immensa? Edio,' she sings - 'che Sono?'
Silence. The solitudine immensa offers no reply. Even the trio in the corner are quiet as dormice. 'Come!' she whispers. 'Come to me, I plead, my Byron!' She opens her arms wide, embracing the darkness, embracing what it will bring. She wants him to come on the wind, to wrap himself around her, to bury his face in that sweet hollow between her breasts. Alternatively she wants him to arrive on the dawn, to appear on the horizon as a sun-god casting the glow of his warmth upon her. By any means at all she wants him back. Sitting at the piano he harkens to the sad, swooping curve of Teresa's plea as she confronts the darkness. This is a bad time of the month for Teresa, she is sore, she has not slept a wink, she is haggard with longing. She wants to be rescued --from the pain, from the summer heat, from the Villa Gamba, from her father's bad temper, from everything.
Yet despite occasional good moments, the truth is that Byron in Italy is going nowhere. There is no action, no development, just a long, halting cantilena hurled by Teresa into the empty air, punctuated now and then with groans and sighs from Byron offstage. The husband and the rival mistress are forgotten, might as well not exist. The lyric impulse in him may not be dead, but after decades of starvation it can crawl forth from its cave only pinched, stunted, deformed. He has not the musical resources, the resources of energy, to raise Byron in Italy off the monotonous track on which it has been running since the start. It has become the kind of work a sleepwalker might write.
He sighs. It would have been nice to be returned triumphant to humanity, the author of an eccentric little chamber opera. But that will not be. His hopes must be more temperate. He goes out, finally, for the first time since his return. Out to a dating bar, the sort of place where present-day, living Teresa would go, to find herself... a partner, maybe, for the night. A partner in crime, a Byron on the cheap. He pays for a drink he does not finish, can't force himself to sit through. Out the door he breathes in, hungrily, the free night air. He wanders around town, following unawaredly a large U-shaped pattern around the campus.
Eventually he's tired ; he doesn't want to admit it, but he is. He slumps his body on a bench, seating halfway, and at that moment, just as he's sitting he sees her. Blonde, hair in a tail bobbing to and fro. Well rounded rump, strong thighs. A pretty, a proud and pretty young Dutch girl. She's jogging, she's keeping her body in shape, keeping herself in shape. She goes around in the distance, and then comes close and passes him by.
A strange familiarity, evoked in his memory maybe by her scent ? Maybe the movement, a line in her step, something about this girl reminds him of something, long forgotten, something from his past. As he's wallowing on the pond of reminescence, vaguely, disinterestedly fishing in, feeling around without much eagerness for whatever old, disused, undesired boot might come back hooked on the line, she turns, still jogging. A comedic little run, purposefuly, directly towards him. Once two paces off she stops, and smiles.
"Hello" he offers, neutrally. Has anyone yet been mugged by a jogging adolescent girl ?
"Are you the Professor ? David Lurie ?"
"I'm not a professor now, anymore."
"You don't remember me, do you ?"
"I'm sorry to say..."
"I was in your class. Also I tried to interview you."
"I was there, too, but couldn't make it through to really talk to you."
"There was a little crowd, wasn't there."
"You said you were enriched."
He looks at her, blankly. What a way to go, sparing non-verbally with the 2nd echelon WARchivists. Does she have a baton somewhere ? Spirits and a match, maybe ? Where'd all that be, she's a creature of spandex, her outer skin clings desperately on the skin beneath, where could she possibly hide a baton ? Up her ass, maybe. That'd still look somewhat penile... he checks, there's nothing there, his eyes perceive nothing asked of the elastic besides what a girl's pubis might in fairness demand.
"I didn't understand it, at first. Then I had to look it up."
"I've read all your materials, too, since then. About the poets. And..."
He looks up at her, incredulous. What is this girl gibbering about ? "What is your name ?" he inquires, blandly, trying to somehow make heads or tails, maybe perhaps take back some measure of control over the situation.
"I'm Amanda." she proffers, joyously, almost giggling in excitement. The professor asked her a question, and she knew the answer! The professor gave her a way out of awkwardness, past the ellipsis, something to talk about.
"Nice to meet you, Amanda." he retorts, neutrally.
"I... I..." she attempts, blushing by degrees. "How are you getting along, sir ?" she inquires, her face almost scarlet red, her voice transcribing a meekness of such superlative degree he can't summon to memory its equal, or a contender, even.
"More or less. I was away, visiting family for a few months. Now that I'm back I see life's been carrying on, taking care of itself without me. They've hired some intolerable young snot to go through the motions of sitting at my desk ; they broke into my house, took all the supermarket fare, the worthless stuff, packaged foods, electronics... the rural thieves of East Cape took my books along with the consumabilia at least ; but then again those were already in the car. A pigeon at some point got lost inside, and passed on, by itself, in my sink."
She follows him, fascinated, eyes bulging and opening wider by degrees, as he speaks. She swallows, hard, a big thick knot in her throat. 'I'd like to... Can I come clean it up for you ?'
He walks back to his place with Amanda. He's pretty sure now she was in Melani's class. He somewhat less vaguely remembers her ; more of a woman than "his little upstart", back then, certainly now. About as quiet, about as... Much scarier, truly, which is ultimately, if he dare be honest, a large part of the reason he didn't serve Eros upon her. He could have picked either one, why that one and not this one ? He feared this one ; he still, in some sense, in some corner does. "Take off your clothes. You'll shower when you're done."
His words fall definite, absolute. He speaks without turning, he's headed for the cleanning supplies. Behind he hears the rustle of compliance. As he returns and confronts the nude girl, bolted in place, he can't shake the image of Lucy. Ankle socks, the differentiator between town and country ; his own daughter, naked, much heavier, but the same skin. The same bones. She quietly, with eyes downcast, takes the things from his hands and scurries about. He sits in his favoured armchair, looking through things, past things. Thinking. He's not writing a book, he's not working for his class tomorrow, not trying to summon arias or arguments. No more Gordian knots of cognition, great mysteries framed s'as to be found out. His erstwhile life of the mind, meanwhile absorbed in a minding of life. "Where action ceases, thought's impertinent..."
The water runs, and then it's done. Amanda emerges from the light in the bathroom into the darkness of the livingroom. She's dripping wet, her figure cut out of light into the dark around, glistening. She closes the distance in a panther sprint, and the next moment she's cuddling herself in his arms, liquid. He grabs her by the hairs on the back of her head and kisses her ; soon he's bulging painfully and they have to rearrange, to reconfigure themselves toward his accommodation. She has a place prepared, she has a place ready for just such an occasion, and he takes his room in her, of her, comfortably. With slight movements of her strong hips she caresses him inside of her, slowly, delicately. He loves feeling the muscles underneath tense and do their work, precise, deadly. He rests his arms about her neck, left palm wrapped around to the left. His left, her right, left thumb touching under her chin, where life springs, pulsing on his fingertip. His right palm wrapped around the right that is her left, his right thumb on the pulsing vein that is her life. Her life, still.
He proceeds to squeeze, by degrees. Slowly, delicately, deadly like her hips. She breathes heavy at first, moving stiffer, then she puts her hands on his wrists, not in opposition, more in nude, meek display. "Here are my hands" she doesn't but as well might say, "Resting on yours ; do as you will." He whispers in her ear, toridly, heavily, in resounding sybillants "Shhh... passss out. Tassste the water... let it washhhh over you... The dark water, of your death."
Her movements are now jerky, desperate. Her breath, once bated, is now stopped altogether. He squeezes still. She gives a little, barely audible, barely perceptible whimper. She's resigned. To him it's deeply reminiscent of the dogs. Familiar, now. Familiar, in the family way. He, who for a while was the dog's psychopomp, their undertaker, the harijan. He. Once David the boy, for many, many endless years David the boy. But then, the dog man, and now simply the man. By his experience with the dying dogs slowly chiseled, perfected, completed, David the man. Of the tiny motes of their canine honor, that even as he protected, awkwardly, as best he could, following a barely understood strain of deep need deeply inside, yet wholly and fully, lovingly were protecting him, rounding him. The gift of dogs, boyhood's oldest, truest, and these days only friend. Of their muddy, animal souls, too heavy, unbuoyant, nevertheless lightnening his. Of their negligible, imperceptible honor rounding his. David, a man of honor now, impervious to death, ready to kill.
He spends his rich, royal gifts inside her, generously spreading, coating her womb, coating the still present womb of the recently, momentarily departed. She isn't here, now. He is alone. As he does also he lightens the grip on her throat. He watches the rose rushing to return into her pallid cheek. Her heart beat, more effectual, more far reaching than before. A little nothing, a pretty head again reunited with its pulse from before. She'll open her eyes in a moment, questioning, horrified. He'll coo and comfort her, in a woment. Usher the little girl into womanhood, like it's been done so many times on the endless face of endless earth, like he's so recently learned to do. Another girl dead, another woman born, the great flywheel flies on.
"You're mine, now" he says, looking down at her. A prisoner, released for now, her life still his, to snuff out when he please.
"Yes I am." she whispers, with her heart, as for the rest of her life she yet will.