flash of response. Like lightning. Like falling in love.'

Like falling in love. Do the young still fall in love, or is that mechanism obsolete by now, unnecessary, quaint, like steam locomotion? He is out of touch, out of date. Falling in love could have fallen out of fashion and come back again half a dozen times, for all he knows.

`Do you write poetry yourself?' he asks.

‘I did when I was at school. I wasn't very good. I haven't got the time now.'

‘And passions? Do you have any literary passions?'

She frowns at the strange word. 'We did Adrienne Rich and Toni Morrison in my second year. And Alice Walker. I got pretty involved. But I wouldn't call it a passion exactly.'

So: not a creature of passion. In the most roundabout of ways, is she warning him off?

‘I am going to throw together some supper,' he says. Will you join me? It will be very simple.'

She looks dubious.

`Come on!' he says. 'Say yes!'

‘OK. But I have to make a phone call first.'

The call takes longer than he expected. From the kitchen he hears murmurings, silences.

`What are your career plans?' he asks afterwards.

`Stagecraft and design. I'm doing a diploma in theatre.'

‘And what is your reason for taking a course in Romantic poetry?'

She ponders, wrinkling her nose. 'It's mainly for the atmosphere that I chose it,' she says. 'I didn't want to take Shakespeare again. I took Shakespeare last year.'

What he throws together for supper is indeed simple: anchovies on tagliatelle with a mushroom sauce. He lets her chop the mushrooms. Otherwise she sits on a stool, watching while he cooks. They eat in the dining-room, opening a second bottle of wine. She eats without inhibition. A healthy appetite, for someone so slight.

`Do you always cook for yourself?' she asks.

‘I live alone. If I don't cook, no one will.'

‘I hate cooking. I guess I should learn.'

`Why? If you really hate it, marry a man who cooks.'

Together they contemplate the picture: the young wife with the daring clothes and gaudy jewellery striding through the front door, impatiently sniffing the air; the husband, colourless Mr Right, apronned, stirring a pot in the steaming kitchen. Reversals: the stuff of bourgeois comedy.

`That's all,' he says at the end, when the bowl is empty. 'No dessert, unless you want an apple or some yoghurt. Sorry - I didn't know I would be having a guest.'

‘It was nice,' she says, draining her glass, rising. 'Thanks.'

`Don't go yet.' He takes her by the hand and leads her to the sofa. 'I have something to show you. Do you like dance? Not dancing: dance.' He slips a cassette into the video machine. 'It's a film by a man named Norman McLaren. It's quite old. I found it in the library. See what you think.'

Sitting side by side they watch. Two dancers on a bare stage move through their steps. Recorded by a stroboscopic camera, their images, ghosts of their movements, fan out behind them like wingbeats. It is a film he first saw a quarter of a century ago but is still captivated by: the instant of the present and the past of that instant, evanescent, caught in the same space.

He wills the girl to be captivated too. But he senses she is not.

When the film is over she gets up and wanders around the room. She raises the lid of the piano, strikes middle C. 'Do you play?' she says.

‘A bit.'

`Classics or jazz?'

`No jazz, I'm afraid.'

`Will you play something for me?'

`Not now. I'm out of practice. Another time, when we know each other better.'

She peers into his study. 'Can I look?' she says.

`Switch on the light.'

He puts on more music: Scarlatti sonatas, cat-music.

`You've got a lot of Byron books,' she says when she comes out. ‘Is he your favourite?'

‘I'm working on Byron. On his time in Italy.'

`Didn't he die young?'

`Thirty-six. They all died young. Or dried up. Or went mad and were locked away. But Italy wasn't where Byron died. He died in Greece. He went to Italy to escape a scandal, and settled there. Settled down. Had the last big love-affair of his life. Italy was a popular destination for the English in those days. They believed the Italians were still in touch with their natures. Less hemmed in by convention, more passionate.'

She makes another circuit of the room. 'Is this your wife?' she asks, stopping before the framed photograph on

Вы читаете Disgrace
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату