Disgrace - J.M. Coetzee

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J. M. Coetzee
FOR A MAN of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well. On Thursday afternoons he drives to Green Point.
Punctually at two p.m. he presses the buzzer at the entrance to Windsor Mansions, speaks his name, and enters. Waiting for him at the door of No. 113 is Soraya.
He goes straight through to the bedroom, which is pleasant-smelling and softly lit, and undresses. Soraya emerges from the bathroom, drops her robe, slides into bed
beside him.
'Have you missed me?' she asks.
'I miss you all the time,' he replies. He strokes her honey-brown body, unmarked by the sun; he stretches her out, kisses her breasts; they make love.
Soraya is tall and slim, with long black hair and dark, liquid eyes. Technically he is old enough to be her father; but then, technically, one can be a father at
twelve. He has been on her books for over a year; he finds her entirely satisfactory. In the desert of the week Thursday has become an oasis of luxe et volupte.
In bed Soraya is not effusive. Her temperament is in fact rather quiet, quiet and docile. In her general opinions she is surprisingly moralistic. She is offended
by tourists who bare their breasts ('udders', she calls them) on public beaches; she thinks vagabonds should be rounded up and put to work sweeping the streets.
How she reconciles her opinions with her line of business he does not ask.
Because he takes pleasure in her, because his pleasure is unfailing, an affection has grown up in him for her. To some degree, he believes, this affection is
reciprocated. Affection may not be love, but it is at least its cousin. Given their unpromising beginnings, they have been lucky, the two of them: he to have found
her, she to have found him.
His sentiments are, he is aware, complacent, even uxorious. Nevertheless he does not cease to hold to them.
For a ninety-minute session he pays her R400, of which half goes to Discreet Escorts. It seems a pity that Discreet Escorts should get so much. But they own
No. 113 and other flats in Windsor Mansions; in a sense they own Soraya too, this part of her, this function.
He has toyed with the idea of asking her to see him in her own time. He would like to spend an evening with her, perhaps even a whole night. But not the
morning after. He knows too much about himself to subject her to a morning after, when he will be cold, surly, impatient to be alone.
That is his temperament. His temperament is not going to change, he is too old for that. His temperament is fixed, set. The skull, followed by the
temperament: the two hardest parts of the body.
Follow your temperament. It is not a philosophy, he would not dignify it with that name. It is a rule, like the Rule of St Benedict.
He is in good health, his mind is clear. By profession he is, or has been, a scholar, and scholarship still engages, intermittently, the core of him. He lives
within his income, within his temperament, within his emotional means. Is he happy? By most measurements, yes, he believes he is. However, he has not forgotten
the last chorus of Oedipus: Call no man happy until he is dead.
In the field of sex his temperament, though intense, has never been passionate. Were he to choose a totem, it would be the snake. Intercourse between Soraya
and himself must be, he imagines, rather like the copulation of snakes: lengthy, absorbed, but rather abstract, rather dry, even at its hottest.
Is Soraya's totem the snake too? No doubt with other men she becomes another woman: la donna e mobile. Yet at the level of temperament her affinity with
him can surely not be feigned.
Though by occupation she is a loose woman he trusts her, within limits. During their sessions he speaks to her with a certain freedom, even on occasion
unburdens himself. She knows the facts of his life. She has heard the stories of his two marriages, knows about his daughter and his daughter's ups and downs. She

unburdens himself. She knows the facts of his life. She has heard the stories of his two marriages, knows about his daughter and his daughter's ups and downs. She
knows many of his opinions.
Of her life outside Windsor Mansions Soraya reveals nothing. Soraya is not her real name, that he is sure of. There are signs she has borne a child, or
children. It may be that she is not a professional at all. She may work for the agency only one or two afternoons a week, and for the rest live a respectable life in the
suburbs, in Rylands or Athlone. That would be unusual for a Muslim, but all things are possible these days.
About his own job he says little, not wanting to bore her. He earns his living at the Cape Technical University, formerly Cape Town University College.
Once a professor of modern languages, he has been, since Classics and Modern Languages were closed down as part of the great rationalization, adjunct professor
of communications. Like all rationalized personnel, he is allowed to offer one special-field course a year, irrespective of enrolment, because that is good for morale.
This year he is offering a course in the Romantic poets. For the rest he teaches Communications 101, 'Communication Skills', and Communications 201, 'Advanced
Communication Skills'.
Although he devotes hours of each day to his new discipline, he finds its first premise, as enunciated in the Communications 101 handbook, preposterous:
'Human society has created language in order that we may communicate our thoughts, feelings and intentions to each other.' His own opinion, which he does not
air, is that the origins of speech lie in song, and the origins of song in the need to fill out with sound the overlarge and rather empty human soul.
In the course of a career stretching back a quarter of a century he has published three books, none of which has caused a stir or even a ripple: the first on
opera (Boito and the Faust Legend: The Genesis of Mefistofele), the second on vision as eros (The Vision of Richard of St Victor), the third on Wordsworth and
history (Wordsworth and the Burden of the Past).
In the past few years he has been playing with the idea of a work on Byron. At first he had thought it would be another book, another critical opus. But all his
sallies at writing it have bogged down in tedium. The truth is, he is tired of criticism, tired of prose measured by the yard. What he wants to write is music: Byron in
Italy, a meditation on love between the sexes in the form of a chamber opera.
Through his mind, while he faces his Communications classes, flit phrases, tunes, fragments of song from the unwritten work. He has never been much of a
teacher; in this transformed and, to his mind, emasculated institution of learning he is more out of place than ever. But then, so are other of his colleagues from the
old days, burdened with upbringings inappropriate to the tasks they are set to perform; clerks in a post-religious age.
Because he has no respect for the material he teaches, he makes no impression on his students. They look through him when he speaks, forget his name.
Their indifference galls him more than he will admit. Nevertheless he fulfils to the letter his obligations toward them, their parents, and the state. Month after month
he sets, collects, reads, and annotates their assignments, correcting lapses in punctuation, spelling and usage, interrogating weak arguments, appending to each paper
a brief considered critique.
He continues to teach because it provides him with a livelihood; also because it teaches him humility, brings it home to him who he is in the world. The irony
does not escape him: that the one who comes to teach learns the keenest of lessons, while those who come to learn learn nothing. It is a feature of his profession on
which he does not remark to Soraya. He doubts there is an irony to match it in hers.
In the kitchen of the flat in Green Point there are a kettle, plastic cups, a jar of instant coffee, a bowl with sachets of sugar. The refrigerator holds a supply of
bottled water. In the bathroom there is soap and a pile of towels, in the cupboard clean bedlinen. Soraya keeps her makeup in an overnight bag. A place of
assignation, nothing more, functional, clean, well regulated.
The first time Soraya received him she wore vermilion lipstick and heavy eyeshadow. Not liking the stickiness of the makeup, he asked her to wipe it off. She
obeyed, and has never worn it since. A ready learner, compliant, pliant.
He likes giving her presents. At New Year he gave her an enamelled bracelet, at Eid a little malachite heron that caught his eye in a curio shop. He enjoys her
pleasure, which is quite unaffected.
It surprises him that ninety minutes a week of a woman's company are enough to make him happy, who used to think he needed a wife, a home, a marriage.
His needs turn out to be quite light, after all, light and fleeting, like those of a butterfly. No emotion, or none but the deepest, the most unguessed-at: a ground bass
of contentedness, like the hum of traffic that lulls the city-dweller to sleep, or like the silence of the night to countryfolk.
He thinks of Emma Bovary, coming home sated, glazen-eyed, from an afternoon of reckless fucking. So this is bliss!, says Emma, marvelling at herself in the
mirror. So this is the bliss the poets speak of! Well, if poor ghostly Emma were ever to find her way to Cape Town, he would bring her along one Thursday
afternoon to show her what bliss can be: a moderate bliss, a moderated bliss.
Then one Saturday morning everything changes. He is in the city on business; he is walking down St George's Street when his eyes fall on a slim figure
ahead of him in the crowd. It is Soraya, unmistakably, flanked by two children, two boys. They are carrying parcels; they have been shopping.
He hesitates, then follows at a distance. They disappear into Captain Dorego's Fish Inn. The boys have Soraya's lustrous hair and dark eyes. They can only
be her sons.
He walks on, turns back, passes Captain Dorego's a second time. The three are seated at a table in the window. For an instant, through the glass, Soraya's
eyes meet his.
He has always been a man of the city, at home amid a flux of bodies where eros stalks and glances flash like arrows. But this glance between himself and
Soraya he regrets at once.
At their rendezvous the next Thursday neither mentions the incident. Nonetheless, the memory hangs uneasily over them. He has no wish to upset what must
be, for Soraya, a precarious double life. He is all for double lives, triple lives, lives lived in compartments. Indeed, he feels, if anything, greater tenderness for her.
Your secret is safe with me, he would like to say.
But neither he nor she can put aside what has happened. The two little boys become presences between them, playing quiet as shadows in a corner of the
room where their mother and the strange man couple. In Soraya's arms he becomes, fleetingly, their father: foster-father, step-father, shadow-father. Leaving her bed
afterwards, he feels their eyes flicker over him covertly, curiously.
His thoughts turn, despite himself, to the other father, the real one. Does he have any inkling of what his wife is up to, or has he elected the bliss of
He himself has no son. His childhood was spent in a family of women. As mother, aunts, sisters fell away, they were replaced in due course by mistresses,
wives, a daughter. The company of women made of him a lover of women and, to an extent, a womanizer. With his height, his good bones, his olive skin, his
flowing hair, he could always count on a degree of magnetism. If he looked at a woman in a certain way, with a certain intent, she would return his look, he could
rely on that. That was how he lived; for years, for decades, that was the backbone of his life.
Then one day it all ended. Without warning his powers fled. Glances that would once have responded to his slid over, past, through him. Overnight he
became a ghost. If he wanted a woman he had to learn to pursue her; often, in one way or another, to buy her.
He existed in an anxious flurry of promiscuity. He had affairs with the wives of colleagues; he picked up tourists in bars on the waterfront or at the Club
Italia; he slept with whores.
His introduction to Soraya took place in a dim little sitting-room off the front office of Discreet Escorts, with Venetian blinds over the windows, pot plants in
the corners, stale smoke hanging in the air. She was on their books under 'Exotic'. The photograph showed her with a red passion-flower in her hair and the faintest
oflines at the corners of her eyes. The entry said 'Afternoons only'. That was what decided him: the promise of shuttered rooms, cool sheets, stolen hours.

oflines at the corners of her eyes. The entry said 'Afternoons only'. That was what decided him: the promise of shuttered rooms, cool sheets, stolen hours.
From the beginning it was satisfactory, just what he wanted. A bull's eye. In a year he has not needed to go back to the agency.
Then the accident in St George's Street, and the strangeness that has followed. Though Soraya still keeps her appointments, he feels a growing coolness as
she transforms herself into just another woman and him into just another client.
He has a shrewd idea of how prostitutes speak among themselves about the men who frequent them, the older men in particular. They tell stories, they laugh,
but they shudder too, as one shudders at a cockroach in a washbasin in the middle of the night. Soon, daintily, maliciously, he will be shuddered over. It is a fate he
cannot escape.
On the fourth Thursday after the incident, as he is leaving the apartment, Soraya makes the announcement he has been steeling himself against. 'My mother is
ill. I'm going to take a break to look after her. I won't be here next week.'
'Will I see you the week after?'
'I'm not sure. It depends on how she gets on. You had better phone first.'
'I don't have a number.'
'Phone the agency. They'll know.'
He waits a few days, then telephones the agency. Soraya? Soraya has left us, says the man. No, we cannot put you in touch with her, that would be against
house rules. Would you like an introduction to another of our hostesses? Lots of exotics to choose from -Malaysian, Thai, Chinese, you name it.
He spends an evening with another Soraya - Soraya has become, it seems, a popular nom de commerce - in a hotel room in Long Street. This one is no more
than eighteen, unpractised, to his mind coarse. 'So what do you do?' she says as she slips off her clothes. 'Export-import,' he says. 'You don't say,' she says.
There is a new secretary in his department. He takes her to lunch at a restaurant a discreet distance from the campus and listens while, over shrimp salad, she
complains about her sons' school. Drug-pedlars hang around the playing-fields, she says, and the police do nothing. For the past three years she and her husband
have had their name on a list at the New Zealand consulate, to emigrate. 'You people had it easier. I mean, whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, at least
you knew where you were.
'You people?' he says. 'What people?'
'I mean your generation. Now people just pick and choose which laws they want to obey. It's anarchy. How can you bring up children when there's anarchy
all around?'
Her name is Dawn. The second time he takes her out they stop at his house and have sex. It is a failure. Bucking and clawing, she works herself into a froth
of excitement that in the end only repels him. He lends her a comb, drives her back to the campus.
After that he avoids her, taking care to skirt the office where she works. In return she gives him a hurt look, then snubs him.
He ought to give up, retire from the game. At what age, he wonders, did Origen castrate himself? Not the most graceful of solutions, but then ageing is not a
graceful business. A clearing of the decks, at least, so that one can turn one's mind to the proper business of the old: preparing to die.
Might one approach a doctor and ask for it? A simple enough operation, surely: they do it to animals every day, and animals survive well enough, if one
ignores a certain residue of sadness. Severing, tying off: with local anaesthetic and a steady hand and a modicum of phlegm one might even do it oneself, out of a
textbook. A man on a chair snipping away at himself an ugly sight, but no more ugly, from a certain point of view, than the same man exercising himself on the
body of a woman.
There is still Soraya. He ought to close that chapter. Instead, he pays a detective agency to track her down. Within days he has her real name, her address, her
telephone number. He telephones at nine in the morning, when the husband and children will be out. 'Soraya?' he says. 'This is David. How are you? When can I
see you again?'
A long silence before she speaks. 'I don't know who you are,' she says. 'You are harassing me in my own house. I demand you will never phone me here
again, never.'
Demand. She means command. Her shrillness surprises him: there has been no intimation of it before. But then, what should a predator expect when he
intrudes into the vixen's nest, into the home of her cubs?
He puts down the telephone. A shadow of envy passes over him for the husband he has never seen.
WITHOUT THE Thursday interludes the week is as featureless as a desert. There are days when he does not know what to do with himself.
He spends more time in the university library, reading all he can find on the wider Byron circle, adding to notes that already fill two fat files. He enjoys the
late-afternoon quiet of the reading room, enjoys the walk home afterwards: the brisk winter air, the damp, gleaming streets.
He is returning home one Friday evening, taking the long route through the old college gardens, when he notices one of his students on the path ahead of
him. Her name is Melanie Isaacs, from his Romantics course. Not the best student but not the worst either: clever enough, but unengaged.
She is dawdling; he soon catches up with her. 'Hello,' he says.
She smiles back, bobbing her head, her smile sly rather than shy. She is small and thin, with close-cropped black hair, wide, almost Chinese, cheekbones,
large, dark eyes. Her outfits are always striking. Today she wears a maroon miniskirt with a mustard-coloured sweater and black tights; the gold baubles on her belt
match the gold balls of her earrings.
He is mildly smitten with her. It is no great matter: barely a term passes when he does not fall for one or other of his charges. Cape Town: a city prodigal of
beauty, of beauties.
Does she know he has an eye on her? Probably. Women are sensitive to it, to the weight of the desiring gaze.
It has been raining; from the pathside runnels comes the soft rush of water.
'My favourite season, my favourite time of day,' he remarks. 'Do you live around here?'
'Across the line. I share a flat.'
'Is Cape Town your home?'
'No, I grew up in George.'
'I live just nearby. Can I invite you in for a drink?'
A pause, cautious. 'OK. But I have to be back by seven-thirty.'
From the gardens they pass into the quiet residential pocket where he has lived for the past twelve years, first with Rosalind, then, after the divorce, alone.
He unlocks the security gate, unlocks the door, ushers the girl in. He switches on lights, takes her bag. There are raindrops on her hair. He stares, frankly
ravished. She lowers her eyes, offering the same evasive and perhaps even coquettish little smile as before.
In the kitchen he opens a bottle of Meerlust and sets out biscuits and cheese. When he returns she is standing at the bookshelves, head on one side, reading
titles. He puts on music: the Mozart clarinet quintet.
Wine, music: a ritual that men and women play out with each other. Nothing wrong with rituals, they were invented to ease the awkward passages. But the

Wine, music: a ritual that men and women play out with each other. Nothing wrong with rituals, they were invented to ease the awkward passages. But the
girl he has brought home is not just thirty years his junior: she is a student, his student, under his tutelage. No matter what passes between them now, they will have
to meet again as teacher and pupil. Is he prepared for that?
'Are you enjoying the course?' he asks.
'I liked Blake. I liked the Wonderhorn stuff.
'I'm not so crazy about Wordsworth.'
'You shouldn't be saying that to me. Wordsworth has been one of my masters.'
It is true. For as long as he can remember, the harmonies of The Prelude have echoed within him.
'Maybe by the end of the course I'll appreciate him more. Maybe he'll grow on me.'
'Maybe. But in my experience poetry speaks to you either at first sight or not at all. A flash of revelation and a 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
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
'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
'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 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. 'Can 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. Melani: 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
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.
He wakes the next morning in a state of profound wellbeing, which does not go away. Melanie is not in class. From his office he telephones a florist. Roses?
Perhaps not roses. He orders carnations. 'Red or white?' asks the woman. Red? White? 'Send twelve pink,' he says.
'I haven't got twelve pink. Shall I send a mix?'
'Send a mix,' he says.
Rain falls all of Tuesday, from heavy clouds blown in over the city from the west. Crossing the lobby of the Communications Building at the end of the day,
he spies her at the doorway amid a knot of students waiting for a break in the downpour. He comes up behind her, puts a hand on her shoulder. 'Wait for me here,'
he says. 'I'll give you a ride home.'
He returns with an umbrella. Crossing the square to the parking lot he draws her closer to shelter her. A sudden gust blows the umbrella inside out;
awkwardly they run together to the car.
She is wearing a slick yellow raincoat; in the car she lowers the hood. Her face is flushed; he is aware of the rise and fall of her chest. She licks away a drop
of rain from her upper lip. A child! he thinks: No more than a child! What am I doing? Yet his heart lurches with desire.
They drive through dense late-afternoon traffic. 'I missed you yesterday,' he says. 'Are you all right?'
She does not reply, staring at the wiper blades.
At a red light he takes her cold hand in his. 'Melanie!' he says, trying to keep his tone light. But he has forgotten how to woo. The voice he hears belongs to a
cajoling parent, not a lover.
He draws up before her apartment block. 'Thanks,' she says, opening the car door.

He draws up before her apartment block. 'Thanks,' she says, opening the car door.
'Aren't you going to invite me in?'
'I think my flatmate is home.'
'What about this evening?'
'I've got a rehearsal this evening.'
'Then when do I see you again?'
She does not answer. 'Thanks,' she repeats, and slides out.

On Wednesday she is in class, in her usual seat. They are still on Wordsworth, on Book 6 of The Prelude, the poet in the Alps. 'From a bare ridge,' he reads aloud,
we also first beheld
Unveiled the summit of Mont Blanc, and grieved
To have a soulless image on the eye
That had usurped upon a living thought
That never more could be.

'So. The majestic white mountain, Mont Blanc, turns out to be a disappointment. Why? Let us start with the unusual verb form _usurp upon_. Did anyone
look it up in a dictionary?'
'If you had, you would have found that _usurp upon_ means to intrude or encroach upon. _Usurp_, to take over entirely, is the perfective of _usurp upon_;
usurping completes the act of usurping upon.
'The clouds cleared, says Wordsworth, the peak was unveiled, and we grieved to see it. A strange response, for a traveller to the Alps. Why grieve? Because,
he says, a soulless image, a mere image on the retina, has encroached upon what has hitherto been a living thought. What was that living thought?'
Silence again. The very air into which he speaks hangs listless as a sheet. A man looking at a mountain: why does it have to be so complicated, they want to
complain? What answer can he give them? What did he say to Melanie that first evening? That without a flash of revelation there is nothing. Where is the flash of
revelation in this room?
He casts a quick glance at her. Her head is bowed, she is absorbed in the text, or seems to be.
'The same word usurp recurs a few lines later. Usurpation is one of the deeper themes of the Alps sequence. The great archetypes of the mind, pure ideas,
find themselves usurped by mere sense-images.
'Yet we cannot live our daily lives in a realm of pure ideas, cocooned from sense-experience. The question is not, How can we keep the imagination pure,
protected from the onslaughts of reality? The question has to be, Can we find a way for the two to coexist? look at line 599. Wordsworth is writing about the limits
of sense-perception. It is a theme we have touched on before. As the sense-organs reach the limit of their powers, their light begins to go out. Yet at the moment of
expiry that light leaps up one last time like a candle-flame, giving us a glimpse of the invisible. The passage is difficult; perhaps it even contradicts the Mont Blanc
moment. Nevertheless, Wordsworth seems to be feeling his way toward a balance: not the pure idea, wreathed in clouds, nor the visual image burned on the retina,
overwhelming and disappointing us with its matter-of-fact clarity, but the sense-image, kept as fleeting as possible, as a means toward stirring or activating the idea
that lies buried more deeply in the soil of memory.'
He pauses. Blank incomprehension. He has gone too far too fast. How to bring them to him? How to bring her?
'Like being in love,' he says. 'If you were blind you would hardly have fallen in love in the first place. But now, do you truly wish to see the beloved in the
cold clarity of the visual apparatus? It may be in your better interest to throw a veil over the gaze, so as to keep her alive in her archetypal, goddesslike form.'
It is hardly in Wordsworth, but at least it wakes them up.
Archetypes? they are saying to themselves. Goddesses? What is he talking about? What does this old man know about love?
A memory floods back: the moment on the floor when he forced the sweater up and exposed her neat, perfect little breasts. For the first time she looks up; her
eyes meet his and in a flash see all. Confused, she drops her glance.
'Wordsworth is writing about the Alps,' he says. 'We don't have Alps in this country, but we have the Drakensberg, or on a smaller scale Table Mountain,
which we climb in the wake of the poets, hoping for one of those revelatory, Wordsworthian moments we have all heard about.' Now he is just talking, covering
up. 'But moments like that will not come unless the eye is half turned toward the great archetypes of the imagination we carry within us.'
Enough! He is sick of the sound of his own voice, and sorry for her too, having to listen to these covert intimacies. He dismisses the class, then lingers,
hoping for a word with her. But she slips away in the throng.
A week ago she was just another pretty face in the class. Now she is a presence in his life, a breathing presence.

The auditorium of the student union is in darkness. Unnoticed, he takes a seat in the back row. Save for a balding man in a janitor's uniform a few rows in front of
him, he is the only spectator.
Sunset at the Globe Salon is the name of the play they are rehearsing: a comedy of the new South Africa set in a hairdressing salon in Hillbrow,
Johannesburg. On stage a hairdresser, flamboyantly gay, attends to two clients, one black, one white. Patter passes among the three of them: jokes, insults. Catharsis
seems to be the presiding principle: all the coarse old prejudices brought into the light of day and washed away in gales of laughter.
A fourth figure comes onstage, a girl in high platform shoes with her hair done in a cascade of ringlets. 'Take a seat, dearie, I'll attend to you in a mo,' says the
hairdresser. 'I've come for the job,' she replies - 'the one you advertised.' Her accent is glaringly Kaaps; it is Melanie. 'OK, pick up a broom and make yourself
useful,' says the hairdresser.
She picks up a broom, totters around the set pushing it before her. The broom gets tangled in an electric cord. There is supposed to be a flash, followed by a
screaming and a scurrying around, but something goes wrong with the synchronization. The director comes striding onstage, and behind her a young man in black
leather who begins to fiddle with the wall-socket. 'It's got to be snappier,' says the director. 'A more Marx Brothers atmosphere.' She turns to Melanie. 'OK?'
Melanie nods.
Ahead of him the janitor stands up and with a heavy sigh leaves the auditorium. He ought to be gone too. An unseemly business, sitting in the dark spying on
a girl (unbidden the word letching comes to him). Yet the old men whose company he seems to be on the point of joining, the tramps and drifters with their stained
raincoats and cracked false teeth and hairy earholes - all of them were once upon a time children of God, with straight limbs and clear eyes. Can they be blamed for
clinging to the last to their place at the sweet banquet of the senses?
Onstage the action resumes. Melanie pushes her broom. A bang, a flash, screams of alarm. 'It's not my fault,' squawks Melanie. 'My gats, why must
everything always be my fault?' Quietly he gets up, follows the janitor into the darkness outside.
At four o'clock the next afternoon he is at her flat. She opens the door wearing a crumpled T-shirt, cycling shorts, slippers in the shape of comic-book gophers
which he finds silly, tasteless.

which he finds silly, tasteless.
He has given her no warning; she is too surprised to resist the intruder who thrusts himself upon her. When he takes her in his arms, her limbs crumple like a
marionette's. Words heavy as clubs thud into the delicate whorl of her ear. 'No, not now!' she says, struggling. 'My cousin will be back!'
But nothing will stop him. He carries her to the bedroom, brushes off the absurd slippers, kisses her feet, astonished by the feeling she evokes. Something to
do with the apparition on the stage: the wig, the wiggling bottom, the crude talk. Strange love! Yet from the quiver of Aphrodite, goddess of the foaming waves, no
doubt about that.
She does not resist. All she does is avert herself--avert her lips, avert her eyes. She lets him lay her out on the bed and undress her: she even helps him, raising
her arms and then her hips. Little shivers of cold run through her; as soon as she is bare, she slips under the quilted counterpane like a mole burrowing, and turns her
back on him.
Not rape, not quite that, but undesired nevertheless, undesired to the core. As though she had decided to go slack, die within herself for the duration, like a
rabbit when the jaws of the fox close on its neck. So that everything done to her might be done, as it were, far away.
'Pauline will be back any minute,' she says when it is over. 'Please. You must go.'
He obeys, but then, when he reaches his car, is overtaken with such dejection, such dullness, that he sits slumped at the wheel unable to move.
A mistake, a huge mistake. At this moment, he has no doubt, she, Melanie, is trying to cleanse herself of it, of him. He sees her running a bath, stepping into
the water, eyes closed like a sleepwalker's. He would like to slide into a bath of his own.
A woman with chunky legs and a no-nonsense business suit passes by and enters the apartment block. Is this cousin Pauline the flatmate, the one whose
disapproval Melanie is so afraid of? He rouses himself, drives off.
The next day she is not in class. An unfortunate absence, since it is the day of the mid-term test. When he fills in the register afterwards, he ticks her off as
present and enters a mark of seventy. At the foot of the page he pencils a note to himself 'Provisional'. Seventy: a vacillator's mark, neither good nor bad.
She stays away the whole of the next week. Time after time he telephones, without reply. Then at midnight on Sunday the doorbell rings. It is Melanie,
dressed from top to toe in black, with a little black woollen cap. Her face is strained; he steels himself for angry words, for a scene.
The scene does not come. In fact, she is the one who is embarrassed. 'Can I sleep here tonight?' she whispers, avoiding his eye.
'Of course, of course.' His heart is flooded with relief. He reaches out, embraces her, pressing her against him stiff and cold. 'Come, I'll make you some tea.'
'No, no tea, nothing, I'm exhausted, I just need to crash.'
He makes up a bed for her in his daughter's old room, kisses her good night, leaves her to herself. When he returns half an hour later she is in a dead sleep,
fully clothed. He eases off her shoes, covers her.
At seven in the morning, as the first birds are beginning to chirrup, he knocks at her door. She is awake, lying with the sheet drawn up to her chin, looking
'How are you feeling?' he asks.
She shrugs.
'Is something the matter? Do you want to talk?'
She shakes her head mutely.
He sits down on the bed, draws her to him. In his arms she begins to sob miserably. Despite all, he feels a tingling of desire. 'There, there,' he whispers, trying
to comfort her. 'Tell me what is wrong.' Almost he says, 'Tell Daddy what is wrong.'
She gathers herself and tries to speak, but her nose is clogged. He finds her a tissue. 'Can I stay here a while?' she says.
'Stay here?' he repeats carefully. She has stopped crying, but long shudders of misery still pass through her. 'Would that be a good idea?'
Whether it would be a good idea she does not say. Instead she presses herself tighter to him, her face warm against his belly. The sheet slips aside; she is
wearing only a singlet and panties.
Does she know what she is up to, at this moment?
When he made the first move, in the college gardens, he had thought of it as a quick little affair - quickly in, quickly out. Now here she is in his house, trailing
complications behind her. What game is she playing? He should be wary, no doubt about that. But he should have been wary from the start.
He stretches out on the bed beside her. The last thing in the world he needs is for Melanie Isaacs to take up residence with him. Yet at this moment the
thought is intoxicating. Every night she will be here; every night he can slip into her bed like this, slip into her. People will find out, they always do; there will be
whispering, there might even be scandal. But what will that matter? A last leap of the flame of sense before it goes out. He folds the bedclothes aside, reaches down,
strokes her breasts, her buttocks. 'Of course you can stay,' he murmurs. 'Of course.'
In his bedroom, two doors away, the alarm clock goes off. She turns away from him, pulls the covers up over her shoulders.
'I'm going to leave now,' he says. 'I have classes to meet. Try to sleep again. I'll be back at noon, then we can talk.' He strokes her hair, kisses her forehead.
Mistress? Daughter? What, in her heart, is she trying to be? What is she offering him?
When he returns at noon, she is up, sitting at the kitchen table, eating toast and honey and drinking tea. She seems thoroughly at home.
'So,' he says, 'you are looking much better.'
'I slept after you left.'
'Will you tell me now what this is all about?'
She avoids his eye. 'Not now,' she says. 'I have to go, I'm late. I'll explain next time.'
'And when will next time be?'
'This evening, after rehearsal. Is that OK?'
She gets up, carries her cup and plate to the sink (but does not wash them), turns to face him. 'Are you sure it's OK?' she says.
'Yes, it's OK.'
'I wanted to say, I know I've missed a lot of classes, but the production is taking up all my time.'
'I understand. You are telling me your drama work has priority. It would have helped if you had explained earlier. Will you be in class tomorrow?'
'Yes. I promise.'
She promises, but with a promise that is not enforceable. He is vexed, irritated. She is behaving badly, getting away with too much; she is learning to exploit
him and will probably exploit him further. But if she has got away with much, he has got away with more; if she is behaving badly, he has behaved worse. To the
extent that they are together, if they are together, he is the one who leads, she the one who follows. Let him not forget that.

HE MAKES LOVE to her one more time, on the bed in his daughter's room. It is good, as good as the first time; he is beginning to learn the way her body moves.
She is quick, and greedy for experience. If he does not sense in her a fully sexual appetite, that is only because she is still young. One moment stands out in
recollection, when she hooks a leg behind his buttocks to draw him in closer: as the tendon of her inner thigh tightens against him, he feels a surge of joy and desire.
Who knows, he thinks: there might, despite all, be a future.
'Do you do this kind of thing often?' she asks afterwards.
'Do what?'
'Sleep with your students. Have you slept with Amanda?'
He does not answer. Amanda is another student in the class, a wispy blonde. He has no interest in Amanda.
'Why did you get divorced?' she asks.
'I've been divorced twice. Married twice, divorced twice.'
'What happened to your first wife?'
'It's a long story. I'll tell you some other time.'
'Do you have pictures?'
'I don't collect pictures. I don't collect women.'
'Aren't you collecting me?'
'No, of course not.'
She gets up, strolls around the room picking up her clothes, as little bashful as if she were alone. He is used to women more self-conscious in their dressing
and undressing. But the women he is used to are not as young, as perfectly formed.
The same afternoon there is a knock at his office door and a young man enters whom he has not seen before. Without invitation he sits down, casts a look
around the room, nods appreciatively at the bookcases.
He is tall and wiry; he has a thin goatee and an ear-ring; he wears a black leather jacket and black leather trousers. He looks older than most students; he looks
like trouble.
'So you are the professor,' he says. 'Professor David. Melanie has told me about you.'
'Indeed. And what has she told you?'
'That you fuck her.'
There is a long silence. So, he thinks: the chickens come home to roost. I should have guessed it: a girl like that would not come unencumbered.
'Who are you?' he says.
The visitor ignores his question. 'You think you're smart,' he continues. 'A real ladies' man. You think you will still look so smart when your wife hears what
you are up to?'
'That's enough. What do you want?'
'Don't you tell me what's enough.' The words come faster now, in a patter of menace. 'And don't think you can just walk into people's lives and walk out
again when it suits you.' Light dances on his black eyeballs. He leans forward, sweeps right and left with his hands. The papers on the desk go flying.
He rises. 'That's enough! It's time for you to leave!'
'It's time for you to leave!' the boy repeats, mimicking him.
'OK.' He gets up, saunters to the door. 'Goodbye, Professor Chips! But just wait and see!' Then he is gone.
A bravo, he thinks. She is mixed up with a bravo and now I am mixed up with her bravo too! His stomach churns.
Though he stays up late into the night, waiting for her, Melanie does not come. Instead, his car, parked in the street, is vandalized. The tyres are deflated, glue
is injected into the doorlocks, newspaper is pasted over the windscreen, the paintwork is scratched. The locks have to be replaced; the bill comes to six hundred
'Any idea who did it?' asks the locksmith.
'None at all,' he replies curtly.
After this coup de main Melanie keeps her distance. He is not surprised: if he has been shamed, she is shamed too. But on Monday she reappears in class; and
beside her, leaning back in his seat, hands in pockets, with an air of cocky ease, is the boy in black, the boyfriend.
Usually there is a buzz of talk from the students. Today there is a hush. Though he cannot believe they know what is afoot, they are clearly waiting to see
what he will do about the intruder.
What will he do indeed? What happened to his car was evidently not enough. Evidently there are more instalments to come. What can he do? He must grit his
teeth and pay, what else?
'We continue with Byron,' he says, plunging into his notes. 'As we saw last week, notoriety and scandal affected not only Byron's life but the way in which
his poems were received by the public. Byron the man found himself conflated with his own poetic creations - with Harold, Manfred, even Don Juan.'
Scandal. A pity that must be his theme, but he is in no state to improvise.
He steals a glance at Melanie. Usually she is a busy writer.
Today, looking thin and exhausted, she sits huddled over her book. Despite himself, his heart goes out to her. Poor little bird, he thinks, whom I have held
against my breast!
He has told them to read 'Lara'. His notes deal with 'Lara'. There is no way in which he can evade the poem. He reads aloud:

He stood a stranger in this breathing world,
An erring spirit from another hurled;
A thing of dark imaginings, that shaped
By choice the perils he by chance escaped.

'Who will gloss these lines for me? Who is this "erring spirit"? Why does he call himself "a thing"? From what world does he come?'
He has long ceased to be surprised at the range of ignorance of his students. Post-Christian, posthistorical, postliterate, they might as well have been hatched
from eggs yesterday. So he does not expect them to know about fallen angels or where Byron might have read of them. What he does expect is a round of
goodnatured guesses which, with luck, he can guide toward the mark. But today he is met with silence, a dogged silence that organizes itself palpably around the
stranger in their midst. They will not speak, they will not play his game, as long as a stranger is there to listen and judge and mock.
'Lucifer,' he says. 'The angel hurled out of heaven. Of how angels live we know little, but we can assume they do not require oxygen. At home Lucifer, the
dark angel, does not need to breathe. All of a sudden he finds himself cast out into this strange "breathing world" of ours. "Erring": a being who chooses his own
path, who lives dangerously, even creating danger for himself. Let us read further.'

path, who lives dangerously, even creating danger for himself. Let us read further.'
The boy has not looked down once at the text. Instead, with a little smile on his lips, a smile in which there is, just possibly, a touch of bemusement, he takes
in his words.

He could at times resign his own for others' good,
But not in pity, not because he ought,
But in some strange perversity of thought,
That swayed him onward with a secret pride
To do what few or none would do beside;

And this same impulse would in tempting time
Mislead his spirit equally to crime.

'So, what kind of creature is this Lucifer?'
By now the students must surely feel the current running between them, between himself and the boy. It is to the boy alone that the question has addressed
itself; and, like a sleeper summoned to life, the boy responds. 'He does what he feels like. He doesn't care if it's good or bad. He just does it.'
'Exactly. Good or bad, he just does it. He doesn't act on principle but on impulse, and the source of his impulses is dark to him. Read a few lines further: "His
madness was not of the head, but heart." A mad heart. What is a mad heart?'
He is asking too much. The boy would like to press his intuition further, he can see that. He wants to show that he knows about more than just motorcycles
and flashy clothes. And perhaps he does. Perhaps he does indeed have intimations of what it is to have a mad heart. But, here, in this classroom, before these
strangers, the words will not come. He shakes his head.
'Never mind. Note that we are not asked to condemn this being with the mad heart, this being with whom there is something constitutionally wrong. On the
contrary, we are invited to understand and sympathize. But there is a limit to sympathy. For though he lives among us, he is not one of us. He is exactly what he
calls himself: a thing, that is, a monster. Finally, Byron will suggest, it will not be possible to love him, not in the deeper, more human sense of the word. He will be
condemned to solitude.'
Heads bent, they scribble down his words. Byron, Lucifer, Cain, it is all the same to them.
They finish the poem. He assigns the first cantos of Don Juan and ends the class early. Across their heads he calls to her: 'Melanie, can I have a word with
Pinch-faced, exhausted, she stands before him. Again his heart goes out to her. If they were alone he would embrace her, try to cheer her up. My little dove,
he would call her.
'Shall we go to my office?' he says instead.
With the boyfriend trailing behind, he leads her up the stairway to his office. 'Wait here,' he tells the boy, and closes the door on him.
Melanie sits before him, her head sunken. 'My dear,' he says, 'you are going through a difficult time, I know that, and I don't want to make it more difficult.
But I must speak to you as a teacher. I have obligations to my students, all of them. What your friend does off campus is his own business. But I can't have him
disrupting my classes. Tell him that, from me.
'As for yourself, you are going to have to give more time to your work. You are going to have to attend class more regularly. And you are going to have to
make up the test you missed.'
She stares back at him in puzzlement, even shock. You have cut me off from everyone, she seems to want to say. You have made me bear your secret. I am
no longer just a student. How can you speak to me like this?
Her voice, when it comes, is so subdued that he can barely hear: 'I can't take the test, I haven't done the reading.'
What he wants to say cannot be said, not decently. All he can do is signal, and hope that she understands. 'Just take the test, Melanie, like everyone else. It
does not matter if you are not prepared, the point is to get it behind you. Let us set a date. How about next Monday, during the lunch break? That will give you the
weekend to do the reading.'
She raises her chin, meets his eye defiantly. Either she has not understood or she is refusing the opening.
'Monday, here in my office,' he repeats.
She rises, slings her bag over her shoulder.
'Melanie, I have responsibilities. At least go through the motions. Don't make the situation more complicated than it need be.'
Responsibilities: she does not dignify the word with a reply.
Driving home from a concert that evening, he stops at a traffic light. A motorcycle throbs past, a silver Ducati bearing two figures in black. They wear
helmets, but he recognizes them nevertheless. Melanie, on the pillion, sits with knees wide apart, pelvis arched. A quick shudder of lust tugs him. I have been there!
he thinks. Then the motorcycle surges forward, bearing her away.
SHE DOES NOT appear for her examination on Monday. Instead, in his mailbox he finds an official withdrawal card: Student 7710 101SAM Ms M Isaacs has
withdrawn from COM 312 with immediate effect.
Barely an hour later a telephone call is switched through to his office. 'Professor Lurie? Have you a moment to talk? My name is Isaacs, I'm calling from
George. My daughter is in your class, you know, Melanie.'
'Professor, I wonder if you can help us. Melanie has been such a good student, and now she says she is going to give it all up. It has come as a terrible shock
to us.'
'I'm not sure I understand.'
'She wants to give up her studies and get a job. It seems such a waste, to spend three years at university and do so well, and then drop out before the end. I
wonder if I can ask, Professor, can you have a chat with her, talk some sense into her?'
'Have you spoken to Melanie yourself? Do you know what is behind this decision?'
'We spent all weekend on the phone to her, her mother and I, but we just can't get sense out of her. She is very involved in a play she is acting in, so maybe
she is, you know, overworked, overstressed. She always takes things so to heart, Professor, that's her nature, she gets very involved. But if you talk to her, maybe