the coffee-table. `My mother. Taken when she was young.'

‘Are you married?'

‘I was. Twice. But now I'm not.' He does not say: Now I make do with what comes my way. He does not say: Now I make do with whores. Van I offer you a liqueur?'

She does not want a liqueur, but does accept a shot of whisky in her coffee. As she sips, he leans over and touches her cheek. `You're very lovely,' he says. 'I'm going to invite you to do something reckless.' He touches her again. 'Stay. Spend the night with me.'

Across the rim of the cup she regards him steadily. 'Why?'

`Because you ought to.'

`Why ought I to?'

`Why? Because a woman's beauty does not belong to her alone. It is part of the bounty she brings into the world. She has a duty to share it.'

His hand still rests against her cheek. She does not withdraw, but does not yield either. ‘And what if I already share it?' In her voice there is a hint of breathlessness. Exciting, always, to be courted: exciting, pleasurable.

`Then you should share it more widely.'

Smooth words, as old as seduction itself. Yet at this moment he believes in them. She does not own herself. Beauty does not own itself.

`From fairest creatures we desire increase,' he says, 'that thereby beauty's rose might never die.'

Not a good move. Her smile loses its playful, mobile quality. The pentameter, whose cadence once served so well to oil the serpent's words, now only estranges. He has become a teacher again, man of the book, guardian of the culture-hoard. She puts down her cup. 'I must leave, I'm expected.'

The clouds have cleared, the stars are shining. 'A lovely night,' he says, unlocking the garden gate. She does not look up. 'Shall I walk you home?'


`Very well. Good night.' He reaches out, enfolds her. For a moment he can feel her little breasts against him. Then she slips his embrace and is gone.


THAT IS WHERE he ought to end it. But he does not. On Sunday morning he drives to the empty campus and lets himself into the department office. From the filing cabinet he extracts Melanie Isaacs's enrolment card and copies down her personal details: home address, Cape Town address, telephone number. He dials the number. A woman's voice answers.


‘I'll call her. Who is speaking?'

`Tell her, David Lurie.'

Melanie - melody: a meretricious rhyme. Not a good name for her. Shift the accent. Melбni: the dark one.


In the one word he hears all her uncertainty. Too young. She will not know how to deal with him; he ought to let her go. But he is in the grip of something. Beauty's rose: the poem drives straight as an arrow. She does not own herself; perhaps he does not own himself either.

‘I thought you might like to go out to lunch,' he says. 'I'll pick you up at, shall we say, twelve.'

There is still time for her to tell a lie, wriggle out. But she is too confused, and the moment passes. When he arrives, she is waiting on the sidewalk outside her apartment block. She is wearing black tights and a black sweater. Her hips are as slim as a twelve-year-old's.

He takes her to Hout Bay, to the harbourside. During the drive he tries to put her at ease. He asks about her other courses. She is acting in a play, she says. It is one of her diploma requirements. Rehearsals are taking up a lot of her time.

At the restaurant she has no appetite, stares out glumly over the sea.

‘Is something the matter? Do you want to tell me?'

She shakes her head.

‘Are you worried about the two of us?'

`Maybe,' she says.

`No need. I'll take care. I won't let it go too far.'

Too far. What is far, what is too far, in a matter like this? Is her too far the same as his too far?

It has begun to rain: sheets of water waver across the empty bay. `Shall we leave?' he says. He takes her back to his house. On the living-room floor, to the sound of rain pattering against the windows, he makes love to her. Her body is clear, simple, in its way perfect; though she is passive throughout, he finds the act pleasurable, so pleasurable that from its climax he tumbles into blank oblivion.

When he comes back the rain has stopped. The girl is lying beneath him, her eyes closed, her hands slack above her head, a slight frown on her face. His own hands are under her coarse-knit sweater, on her breasts. Her tights and panties lie in a tangle on the floor; his trousers are around his ankles. After the storm, he thinks: straight out of George Grosz.

Averting her face, she frees herself, gathers her things, leaves the room. In a few minutes she is back, dressed. 'I must go,' she whispers. He makes no effort to detain her.

Вы читаете Disgrace
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