بخش 03کتاب: لولیتا / فصل 3
- زمان مطالعه 62 دقیقه
- سطح خیلی سخت
دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»
این فصل را میتوانید به بهترین شکل و با امکانات عالی در اپلیکیشن «زیبوک» بخوانید
متن انگلیسی فصل
I had lunch in town had not been so hungry for years. The house was still Lo-less when I strolled back. I spent the afternoon musing, scheming, blissfully digesting my experience of the morning.
I felt proud of myself. I had stolen the honey of a spasm without impairing the morals of a minor. Absolutely no harm done. The conjurer had poured milk, molasses, foaming champagne into a young lady’s new white purse; and lo, the purse was intact. Thus had I delicately constructed my ignoble, ardent, sinful dream; and still Lolita was safeand I was safe. What I had madly possessed was not she, but my own creation, another, fanciful Lolitaperhaps, more real than Lolita; overlapping, encasing her; floating between me and her, and having no will, no consciousnessindeed, no life of her own.
The child knew nothing. I had done nothing to her. And nothing prevented me from repeating a performance that affected her as little as if she were a photographic image rippling upon a screen and I a humble hunchback abusing myself in the dark. The afternoon drifted on and on, in ripe silence, and the sappy tall trees seemed to be in the know; and desire, even stronger than before, began to afflict me again. Let her come soon, I prayed, addressing a loan God, and while mamma is in the kitchen, let a repetition of the davenport scene be staged, please, I adore her so horribly.
No: “horribly” is the wrong word. The elation with which the vision of new delights filled me was not horrible but pathetic. I qualify it as pathetic. Patheticbecause despite the insatiable fire of my venereal appetite, I intended, with the most fervent force and foresight, to protect the purity of that twelve-year-old child.
And now see how I was repaid for my pains. No Lolita came homeshe had gone with the Chatfields to a movie. The table was laid with more elegance than usual: candlelight, if you please. In this mawkish aura, Mrs. Haze gently touched the silver on both sides of her plate as if touching piano keys, and smiled down on her empty plate (was on a diet), and said she hoped I liked the salad (recipe lifted from a woman’s magazine). She hoped I liked the cold cuts, too. It had been a perfect day. Mrs. Chatfield was a lovely person. Phyllis, her daughter, was going to a summer camp tomorrow. For three weeks. Lolita, it was decided, would go Thursday. Instead of waiting till July, as had been initially planned. And stay there after Phyllis had left. Till school began. A pretty prospect, my heart.
Oh, how I was taken abackfor did it not mean I was losing my darling, just when I had secretly made her mine? To explain my grim mood, I had to use the same toothache I had already simulated in the morning. Must have been an enormous molar, with an abscess as big as a maraschino cherry.
“We have,” said Haze, “an excellent dentist. Our neighbor, in fact. Dr. Quilty. Uncle or cousin, I think, of the playwright. Think it will pass? Well, just as you wish. In the fall I shall have him ‘brace’ her, as my mother used to say. It may curb Lo a little. I am afraid she has been bothering you frightfully all these days. And we are in for a couple of stormy ones before she goes. She has flatly refused to go, and I confess I left her with the Chatfields because I dreaded to face her alone just yet. The movie may mollify her. Phyllis is a very sweet girl, and there is no earthly reason for Lo to dislike her. Really, monsieur, I am very sorry about that tooth of yours. It would be so much more reasonable to let me contact Ivor Quilty first thing tomorrow morning if it still hurts. And, you know, I think a summer camp is so much healthier, andwell, it is all so much more reasonable as I say than to mope on a suburban lawn and use mamma’s lipstick, and pursue shy studious gentlemen, and go into tantrums at the least provocation.” “Are you sure,” I said at last, “that she will be happy there?” (lame, lamentably lame!)
“She’d better,” said Haze. “And it won’t be all play either. The camp is run by Shirley Holmesyou know, the woman who wrote Campfire Girl. Camp will teach Dolores Haze to grow in many thingshealth, knowledge, temper. And particularly in a sense of responsibility towards other people. Shall we take these candles with us and sit for a while on the piazza, or do you want to go to bed and nurse that tooth?”
Nurse that tooth.
Next day they drove downtown to buy things needed for the camp: any wearable purchase worked wonders with Lo. She seemed her usual sarcastic self at dinner. Immediately afterwards, she went up to her room to plunge into the comic books acquired for rainy days at Camp Q (they were so thoroughly sampled by Thursday that she left them behind). I too retired to my lair, and wrote letters. My plan now was to leave for the seaside and then, when school began, resume my existence in the Haze household; for I knew already that I could not live without the child. On Tuesday they went shopping again, and I was asked to answer the phone if the camp mistress rang up during their absence. She did; and a month or so later we had occasion to recall our pleasant chat. That Tuesday, Lo had her dinner in her room. She had been crying after a routine row with her mother and, as had happened on former occasions, had not wished me to see her swollen eyes: she had one of those tender complexions that after a good cry get all blurred and inflamed, and morbidly alluring. I regretted keenly her mistake about my private aesthetics, for I simply love that tinge of Botticellian pink, that raw rose about the lips, those wet, matted eyelashes; and, naturally, her bashful whim deprived me of many opportunities of specious consolation. There was, however, more to it than I thought. As we sat in the darkness of the verandah (a rude wind had put out her red candles), Haze, with a dreary laugh, said she had told Lo that her beloved Humbert thoroughly approved of the whole camp idea “and now,” added Haze, “the child throws a fit; pretext: you and I want to get rid of her; actual reason: I told her we would exchange tomorrow for plainer stuff some much too cute night things that she bullied me into buying for her. You see, she sees herself as a starlet; I see her as a sturdy, healthy, but decidedly homely kid. This, I guess, is at the root of our troubles.” On Wednesday I managed to waylay Lo for a few seconds: she was on the landing, in sweatshirt and green-stained white shorts, rummaging in a trunk. I said something meant to be friendly and funny but she only emitted a snort without looking at me. Desperate, dying Humbert patted her clumsily on her coccyx, and she struck him, quite painfully, with one of the late Mr. Haze’s shoetrees. “Doublecrosser,” she said as I crawled downstairs rubbing my arm with a great show of rue. She did not condescend to have dinner with Hum and mum: washed her hair and went to bed with her ridiculous books. And on Thursday quiet Mrs. Haze drove her to Camp Q.
As greater authors than I have put it: “Let readers imagine” etc. On second thought, I may as well give those imaginations a kick in the pants. I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita. She would be thirteen on January 1. In two years or so she would cease being a nymphet and would turn into a “young girl,” and then, into a “college girl”that horror of horrors. The word “forever” referred only to my own passion, to the eternal Lolita as reflected in my blood. The Lolita whose iliac crests had not yet flared, the Lolita that today I could touch and smell and hear and see, the Lolita of the strident voice and rich brown hairof the bangs and the swirls and the sides and the curls at the back, and the sticky hot neck, and the vulgar vocabulary”revolting,” “super,” “luscious,” “goon,” “drip”that Lolita, my Lolita, poor Catullus would lose forever. So how could I afford not to see her for two months of summer insomnias? Two whole months out of the two years of her remaining nymphage! Should I disguise myself as a somber old-fashioned girl, gawky Mlle Humbert, and put up my tent on the outskirts of Camp Q, in the hope that its russet nymphets would clamor: “Let us adopt that deep-voiced D.P.,” and drag the said, shyly smiling Berthe au Grand Pied to their rustic hearth. Berthe will sleep with Dolores Haze!
Idle dry dreams. Two months of beauty, two months of tenderness, would be squandered forever, and I could do nothing about it, but nothing, mais rien.
One drop of rare honey, however, that Thursday did hold in its acorn cup. Haze was to drive her to the camp in the early morning. Upon sundry sounds of departure reaching me, I rolled out of bed and leaned out of the window. Under the poplars, the car was already athrob. On the sidewalk, Louise stood shading her eyes with her hand, as if the little traveler were already riding into the low morning sun. The gesture proved to be premature. “Hurry up!” shouted Haze. My Lolita, who was half in and about to slam the car door, wind down the glass, wave to Louise and the poplars (whom and which she was never to see again), interrupted the motion of fate: she looked upand dashed back into the house (Haze furiously calling after her). A moment later I heard my sweetheart running up the stairs. My heart expanded with such force that it almost blotted me out. I hitched up the pants of my pajamas, flung the door open: and simultaneously Lolita arrived, in her Sunday frock, stamping, panting, and then she was in my arms, her innocent mouth melting under the ferocious pressure of dark male jaws, my palpitating darling! The next instant I heart heralive, unrapedclatter downstairs. The motion of fate was resumed. The blond leg was pulled in, the car door was slammedwas re-slammedand driver Haze at the violent wheel, rubber-red lips writhing in angry, inaudible speech, swung my darling away, while unnoticed by them or Louise, old Miss Opposite, an invalid, feebly but rhythmically waved from her vined verandah.
The hollow of my hand was still ivory-full of Lolitafull of the feel of her pre-adolescently incurved back, that ivory-smooth, sliding sensation of her skin through the thin frock that I had worked up and down while I held her. I marched into her tumbled room, threw open the door of the closet, and plunged into a heap of crumpled things that had touched her. There was particularly one pink texture, sleazy, torn, with a faintly acrid odor in the seam. I wrapped in it Humbert’s huge engorged heart. A poignant chaos was welling within mebut I had to drop those things and hurriedly regain my composure, as I became aware of the maid’s velvety voice calling me softly from the stairs. She had a message for me, she said; and, topping my automatic thanks with a kindly “you’re welcome,” good Louise left an unstamped, curiously clean-looking letter in my shaking hand.
“This is a confession. I love you [so the letter began; and for a distorted moment I mistook its hysterical scrawl for a schoolgirl’s scribble]. Last Sunday in churchbad you, who refused to come to see our beautiful new windows! only last Sunday, my dear one, when I asked the Lord what to do about it, I was told to act as I am acting now. You see, there is no alternative. I have loved you from the minute I saw you. I am a passionate and lonely woman and you are the love of my life.
Now, my dearest, dearest, mon cher, cher monsieur, you have read this; now you know. So, will you please, at once, pack and leave. This is a landlady’s order. I am dismissing a lodger. I am kicking you out. Go! Scram! Departez! I shall be back by dinnertime, if I do eighty both ways and don’t have an accident (but what would it matter?), and I do not wish to find you in the house. Please, please, leave at once, now, do not even read this absurd note to the end. Go. Adieu.
The situation, chri, is quite simple. Of course, I know with absolute certainty that I am nothing to you, nothing at all to you, nothing at all. Oh yes, you enjoy talking to me (and kidding poor me), you have grown fond of our friendly house, of the books I like, of my lovely garden, even of Lo’s noisy waysbut I am nothing to you. Right? Right. Nothing to you whatever. But if, after reading my “confession,” you decided, in your dark romantic European way, that I am attractive enough for you to take advantage of my letter and make a pass at me, then you would be a criminalworse than a kidnaper who rapes a child. You see, chri. If you decided to stay, if I found you at home (which I know I won’tand that’s why I am able to go on like this), the fact of your remaining would only mean one thing: that you want me as much as I do you: as a lifelong mate; and that you are ready to link up your life with mine forever and ever and be a father to my little girl.
Let me rave and ramble on for a teeny while more, my dearest, since I know this letter has been by now torn by you, and its pieces (illegible) in the vortex of the toilet. My dearest, mon trs, trs cher, what a world of love I have built up for you during this miraculous June! I know how reserved you are, how “British.” Your old-world reticence, your sense of decorum may be shocked by the boldness of an American girl! You who conceal your strongest feelings must think me a shameless little idiot for throwing open my poor bruised heart like this. In years gone by, many disappointments came my way. Mr. Haze was a splendid person, a sterling soul, but he happened to be twenty years my senior, andwell, let us not gossip about the past. My dearest, your curiosity must be well satisfied if you have ignored my request and read this letter to the bitter end. Never mind. Destroy it and go. Do not forget to leave the key on the desk in your room. And some scrap of address so that I could refund the twelve dollars I owe you till the end of the month. Good-bye, dear one. Pray for meif you ever pray.
What I present here is what I remember of the letter, and what I remember of the letter I remember verbatim (including that awful French). It was at least twice longer. I have left out a lyrical passage which I more or less skipped at the time, concerning Lolita’s brother who died at 2 when she was 4, and how much I would have liked him. Let me see what else can I say? Yes. There is just a chance that “the vortex of the toilet” (where the letter did go) is my own matter-of-fact contribution. She probably begged me to make a special fire to consume it.
My first movement was one of repulsion and retreat. My second was like a friend’s calm hand falling upon my shoulder and bidding me take my time. I did. I came out of my daze and found myself still in Lo’s room. A full-page ad ripped out of a slick magazine was affixed to the wall above the bed, between a crooner’s mug and the lashes of a movie actress. It represented a dark-haired young husband with a kind of drained look in his Irish eyes. He was modeling a robe by So-and-So and holding a bridgelike tray by So-and-So, with breakfast for two. The legend, by the Rev. Thomas Morell, called him a “conquering hero.” The thoroughly conquered lady (not shown) was presumably propping herself up to receive her half of the tray. How her bed-fellow was to get under the bridge without some messy mishap was not clear. Lo had drawn a jocose arrow to the haggard lover’s face and had put, in block letters: H.H. And indeed, despite a difference of a few years, the resemblance was striking. Under this was another picture, also a colored ad. A distinguished playwright was solemnly smoking a Drome. He always smoked Dromes. The resemblance was slight. Under this was Lo’s chase bed, littered with “comics.” The enamel had come off the bedstead, leaving black, more or less rounded, marks on the white. Having convinced myself that Louise had left, I got into Lo’s bed and reread the letter.
Gentlemen of the jury! I cannot swear that certain motions pertaining to the business in handif I may coin an expressionhad not drifted across my mind before. My mind had not retained them in any logical form or in any relation to definitely recollected occasions; but I cannot swearlet me repeatthat I had not toyed with them (to rig up yet another expression), in my dimness of thought, in my darkness of passion. There may have been timesthere must have been times, if I know my Humbertwhen I had brought up for detached inspection the idea of marrying a mature widow (say, Charlotte Haze) with not one relative left in the wide gray world, merely in order to have my way with her child (Lo, Lola, Lolita). I am even prepared to tell my tormentors that perhaps once or twice I had cast an appraiser’s cold eye at Charlotte’s coral lips and bronze hair and dangerously low neckline, and had vaguely tried to fit her into a plausible daydream. This I confess under torture. Imaginary torture, perhaps, but all the more horrible. I wish I might digress and tell you more of the pavor nocturnus that would rack me at night hideously after a chance term had struck me in the random readings of my boyhood, such as peine forte et dure (what a Genius of Pain must have invented that!) or the dreadful, mysterious, insidious words “trauma,” “traumatic event,” and “transom.” But my tale is sufficiently incondite already.
After a while I destroyed the letter and went to my room, and ruminated, and rumpled my hair, and modeled my purple robe, and moaned through clenched teeth and suddenlySuddenly, gentlemen of the jury, I felt a Dostoevskian grin dawning (through the very grimace that twisted my lips) like a distant and terrible sun. I imagined (under conditions of new and perfect visibility) all the casual caresses her mother’s husband would be able to lavish on his Lolita. I would hold her against me three times a day, every day. All my troubles would be expelled, I would be a healthy man. “To hold thee lightly on a gentle knee and print on thy soft cheek a parent’s kiss…” Well-read Humbert!
Then, with all possible caution, on mental tiptoe so to speak, I conjured up Charlotte as a possible mate. By God, I could make myself bring her that economically halved grapefruit, that sugarless breakfast.
Humbert Humbert sweating in the fierce white light, and howled at, and trodden upon by sweating policemen, is now ready to make a further “statement” (quel mot!) as he turns his conscience inside out and rips off its innermost lining. I did not plan to marry poor Charlotte in order to eliminate her in some vulgar, gruesome and dangerous manner such as killing her by placing five bichloride-of-mercury tablets in her preprandial sherry or anything like that; but a delicately allied, pharmacopoeial thought did tinkle in my sonorous and clouded brain. Why limit myself to the modest masked caress I had tried already? Other visions of venery presented themselves to me swaying and smiling. I saw myself administering a powerful sleeping potion to both mother and daughter so as to fondle the latter though the night with perfect impunity. The house was full of Charlotte’s snore, while Lolita hardly breathed in her sleep, as still as a painted girl-child. “Mother, I swear Kenny never even touched me.” “You either lie, Dolores Haze, or it was an incubus.” No, I would not go that far.
So Humbert the Cubus schemed and dreamedand the red sun of desire and decision (the two things that create a live world) rose higher and higher, while upon a succession of balconies a succession of libertines, sparkling glass in hand, toasted the bliss of past and future nights. Then, figuratively speaking, I shattered the glass, and boldly imagined (for I was drunk on those visions by then and underrated the gentleness of my nature) how eventually I might blackmailno, that it too strong a wordmauvemail big Haze into letting me consort with the little Haze by gently threatening the poor doting Big Dove with desertion if she tried to bar me from playing with my legal stepdaughter. In a word, before such an Amazing Offer, before such a vastness and variety of vistas, I was as helpless as Adam at the preview of early oriental history, miraged in his apple orchard.
And now take down the following important remark: the artist in me has been given the upper hand over the gentleman. It is with a great effort of will that in this memoir I have managed to tune my style to the tone of the journal that I kept when Mrs. Haze was to me but an obstacle. That journal of mine is no more; but I have considered it my artistic duty to preserve its intonations no matter how false and brutal they may seem to me now. Fortunately, my story has reached a point where I can cease insulting poor Charlotte for the sake of retrospective verisimilitude.
Wishing to spare poor Charlotte two or three hours of suspense on a winding road (and avoid, perhaps, a head-on collision that would shatter our different dreams), I made a thoughtful but abortive attempt to reach her at the camp by telephone. She had left half an hour before, and getting Lo instead, I told hertrembling and brimming with my mastery over fatethat I was going to marry her mother. I had to repeat it twice because something was preventing her from giving me her attention. “Gee, that’s swell,” she said laughing. “When is the wedding? Hold on a sec, the pupThat put here has got hold of my sock. Listen” and she added she guessed she was going to have loads of fun… and I realized as I hung up that a couple of hours at that camp had been sufficient to blot out with new impressions the image of handsome Humbert Humbert from little Lolita’s mind. But what did it matter now? I would get her back as soon as a decent amount of time after the wedding had elapsed. “The orange blossom would have scarcely withered on the grave,” as a poet might have said. But I am no poet. I am only a very conscientious recorder.
After Louise had gone, I inspected the icebox, and finding it much too puritanic, walked to town and bought the richest foods available. I also bought some good liquor and two or three kinds of vitamins. I was pretty sure that with the aid of these stimulants and my natural resources, I would avert any embarrassment that my indifference might incur when called upon to display a strong and impatient flame. Again and again resourceful Humbert evoked Charlotte as seen in the raree-show of a manly imagination. She was well groomed and shapely, this I could say for her, and she was my Lolita’s big sisterthis notion, perhaps, I could keep up if only I did not visualize too realistically her heavy hips, round knees, ripe bust, the coarse pink skin of her neck (“coarse” by comparison with silk and honey) and all the rest of that sorry and dull thing: a handsome woman.
The sun made its usual round of the house as the afternoon ripened into evening. I had a drink. And another. And yet another. Gin and pineapple juice, my favorite mixture, always double my energy. I decided to busy myself with our unkempt lawn. Une petite attention. It was crowded with dandelions, and a cursed dogI loathe dogshad defiled the flat stones where a sundial had once stood. Most of the dandelions had changed from suns to moons. The gin and Lolita were dancing in me, and I almost fell over the folding chairs that I attempted to dislodge. Incarnadine zebras! There are some eructations that sound like cheersat least, mine did. An old fence at the back of the garden separated us from the neighbor’s garbage receptacles and lilacs; but there was nothing between the front end of our lawn (where it sloped along one side of the house) and the street. Therefore I was able to watch (with the smirk of one about to perform a good action) for the return of Charlotte: that tooth should be extracted at once. As I lurched and lunged with the hand mower, bits of grass optically twittering in the low sun, I kept an eye on that section of suburban street. It curved in from under an archway of huge shade trees, then sped towards us down, down, quite sharply, past old Miss Opposite’s ivied brick house and high-sloping lawn (much trimmer than ours) and disappeared behind our own front porch which I could not see from where I happily belched and labored. The dandelions perished. A reek of sap mingled with the pineapple. Two little girls, Marion and Mabel, whose comings and goings I had mechanically followed of late (but who could replace my Lolita?) went toward the avenue (from which our Lawn Street cascaded), one pushing a bicycle, the other feeding from a paper bag, both talking at the top of their sunny voices. Leslie, old Miss Opposite’s gardener and chauffeur, a very amiable and athletic Negro, grinned at me from afar and shouted, re-shouted, commented by gesture, that I was mighty energetic today. The fool dog of the prosperous junk dealer next door ran after a blue carnot Charlotte’s. The prettier of the two little girls (Mabel, I think), shorts, halter with little to halt, bright haira nymphet, by Pan! ran back down the street crumpling her paper bag and was hidden from this Green Goat by the frontage of Mr. And Mrs. Humbert’s residence. A station wagon popped out of the leafy shade of the avenue, dragging some of it on its roof before the shadows snapped, and swung by at an idiotic pace, the sweatshirted driver roof-holding with his left hand and the junkman’s dog tearing alongside. There was a smiling pauseand then, with a flutter in my breast, I witnessed the return of the Blue Sedan. I saw it glide downhill and disappear behind the corner of the house. I had a glimpse of her calm pale profile. It occurred to me that until she went upstairs she would not know whether I had gone or not. A minute later, with an expression of great anguish on her face, she looked down at me from the window of Lo’s room. By sprinting upstairs, I managed to reach that room before she left it.
When the bride is a window and the groom is a widower; when the former has lived in Our Great Little Town for hardly two years, and the latter for hardly a month; when Monsieur wants to get the whole damned thing over with as quickly as possible, and Madame gives in with a tolerant smile; then, my reader, the wedding is generally a “quiet” affair. The bride may dispense with a tiara of orange blossoms securing her finger-tip veil, nor does she carry a white orchid in a prayer book. The bride’s little daughter might have added to the ceremonies uniting H. and H. a touch of vivid vermeil; but I knew I would not dare be too tender with cornered Lolita yet, and therefore agreed it was not worth while tearing the child away from her beloved Camp Q.
My soi-disant passionate and lonely Charlotte was in everyday life matter-of-fact and gregarious. Moreover, I discovered that although she could not control her heart or her cries, she was a woman of principle. Immediately after she had become more or less my mistress (despite the stimulants, her “nervous, eager chria heroic chri! had some initial trouble, for which, however, he amply compensated her by a fantastic display of old-world endearments), good Charlotte interviewed me about my relations with God. I could have answered that on that score my mind was open; I said, insteadpaying my tribute to a pious platitudethat I believed in a cosmic spirit. Looking down at her fingernails, she also asked me had I not in my family a certain strange strain. I countered by inquiring whether she would still want to marry me if my father’s maternal grandfather had been, say, a Turk. She said it did not matter a bit; but that, if she ever found out I did not believe in Our Christian God, she would commit suicide. She said it so solemnly that it gave me the creeps. It was then I knew she was a woman of principle.
Oh, she was very genteel: she said “excuse me” whenever a slight burp interrupted her flowing speech, called an envelope and ahnvelope, and when talking to her lady-friends referred to me as Mr. Humbert. I thought it would please her if I entered the community trailing some glamour after me. On the day of our wedding a little interview with me appeared in the Society Column of the Ramsdale Journal, with a photograph of Charlotte, one eyebrow up and a misprint in her name (“Hazer”). Despite this contretempts, the publicity warmed the porcelain cockles of her heartand made my rattles shake with awful glee. by engaging in church work as well as by getting to know the better mothers of Lo’s schoolmates, Charlotte in the course of twenty months or so had managed to become if not a prominent, at least an acceptable citizen, but never before had she come under that thrilling rubrique, and it was I who put her there, Mr. Edgar H. Humbert (I threw in the “Edgar” just for the heck of it), “writer and explorer.” McCoo’s brother, when taking it down, asked me what I had written. Whatever I told him came out as “several books on Peacock, Rainbow and other poets.” It was also noted that Charlotte and I had known each other for several years and that I was a distant relation of her first husband. I hinted I had had an affair with her thirteen years ago but this was not mentioned in print. To Charlotte I said that society columns should contain a shimmer of errors.
Let us go on with this curious tale. When called upon to enjoy my promotion from lodger to lover, did I experience only bitterness and distaste? No. Mr. Humbert confesses to a certain titillation of his vanity, to some faint tenderness, even to a pattern of remorse daintily running along the steel of his conspiratorial dagger. Never had I thought that the rather ridiculous, through rather handsome Mrs. Haze, with her blind faith in the wisdom of her church and book club, her mannerisms of elocution, her harsh, cold, contemptuous attitude toward an adorable, downy-armed child of twelve, could turn into such a touching, helpless creature as soon as I laid my hands upon her which happened on the threshold of Lolita’s room whither she tremulously backed repeating “no, no, please no.” The transformation improved her looks. Her smile that had been such a contrived thing, thenceforth became the radiance of utter adorationa radiance having something soft and moist about it, in which, with wonder, I recognized a resemblance to the lovely, inane, lost look that Lo had when gloating over a new kind of concoction at the soda fountain or mutely admiring my expensive, always tailor-fresh clothes. Deeply fascinated, I would watch Charlotte while she swapped parental woes with some other lady and made that national grimace of feminine resignation (eyes rolling up, mouth drooping sideways) which, in an infantile form, I had seen Lo making herself. We had highballs before turning in, and with their help, I would manage to evoke the child while caressing the mother. This was the white stomach within which my nymphet had been a little curved fish in 1934. This carefully dyed hair, so sterile to my sense of smell and touch, acquired at certain lamplit moments in the poster bed the tinge, if not the texture, of Lolita’s curls. I kept telling myself, as I wielded my brand-new large-as-life wife, that biologically this was the nearest I could get to Lolita; that at Lolita’s age, Lotte had been as desirable a schoolgirl as her daughter was, and as Lolita’s daughter would be some day. I had my wife unearth from under a collection of shoes (Mr. Haze had a passion for them, it appears) a thirty-year-old album, so that I might see how Lotte had looked as a child; and even though the light was wrong and the dresses graceless, I was able to make out a dim first version of Lolita’s outline, legs, cheekbones, bobbed nose. Lottelita, Lolitchen.
So I tom-peeped across the hedges of years, into wan little windows. And when, by means of pitifully ardent, naively lascivious caresses, she of the noble nipple and massive thigh prepared me for the performance of my nightly duty, it was still a nymphet’s scent that in despair I tried to pick up, as I bayed through the undergrowth of dark decaying forests.
I simply can’t tell you how gentle, how touching my poor wife was. At breakfast, in the depressingly bright kitchen, with its chrome glitter and Hardware and Co. Calendar and cute breakfast nook (simulating that Coffee Shoppe where in their college days Charlotte and Humbert used to coo together), she would sit, robed in red, her elbow on the plastic-topped table, her cheek propped on her fist, and stare at me with intolerable tenderness as I consumed my ham and eggs. Humbert’s face might twitch with neuralgia, but in her eyes it vied in beauty and animation with the sun and shadows of leaves rippling on the white refrigerator. My solemn exasperation was to her the silence of love. My small income added to her even smaller one impressed her as a brilliant fortune; not because the resulting sum now sufficed for most middle-class needs, but because even my money shone in her eyes with the magic of my manliness, and she saw our joint account as one of those southern boulevards at midday that have solid shade on one side and smooth sunshine on the other, all the way to the end of a prospect, where pink mountains loom.
Into the fifty days of our cohabitation Charlotte crammed the activities of as many years. The poor woman busied herself with a number of things she had foregone long before or had never been much interested in, as if (to prolong these Proustian intonations) by my marrying the mother of the child I loved I had enabled my wife to regain an abundance of youth by proxy. With the zest of a banal young bride, she started to “glorify the home.” Knowing as I did its every cranny by heartsince those days when from my chair I mentally mapped out Lolita’s course through the houseI had long entered into a sort of emotional relationship with it, with its very ugliness and dirt, and now I could almost feel the wretched thing cower in its reluctance to endure the bath of ecru and ocher and putt-buff-and-snuff that Charlotte planned to give it. She never got as far as that, thank God, but she did use up a tremendous amount of energy in washing window shades, waxing the slats of Venetian blinds, purchasing new shades and new blinds, returning them to the store, replacing them by others, and so on, in a constant chiaroscuro of smiles and frowns, doubts and pouts. She dabbled in cretonnes and chintzes; she changed the colors of the sofathe sacred sofa where a bubble of paradise had once burst in slow motion within me. She rearranged the furnitureand was pleased when she found, in a household treatise, that “it is permissible to separate a pair of sofa commodes and their companion lamps.” With the authoress of Your Home Is You, she developed a hatred for little lean chairs and spindle tables. She believed that a room having a generous expanse of glass, and lots of rich wood paneling was an example of the masculine type of room, whereas the feminine type was characterized by lighter-looking windows and frailer woodwork. The novels I had found her reading when I moved in were now replaced by illustrated catalogues and homemaking guides. From a firm located at 4640 Roosevelt Blvd., Philadelphia, she ordered for our double bed a “damask covered 312 coil mattress”although the old one seemed to me resilient and durable enough for whatever it had to support.
A Midwesterner, as her late husband had also been, she had lived in coy Ramsdale, the gem of an eastern state, not long enough to know all the nice people. She knew slightly the jovial dentist who lived in a kind of ramshackle wooden chateau behind our lawn. She had met at a church tea the “snooty” wife of the local junk dealer who owned the “colonial” white horror at the corner of the avenue. Now and then she “visited with” old Miss Opposite; but the more patrician matrons among those she called upon, or met at lawn functions, or had telephone chats withsuch dainty ladies as Mrs. Glave, Mrs. Sheridan, Mrs. McCrystal, Mrs. Knight and others, seldom seemed to call on my neglected Charlotte. Indeed, the only couple with whom she had relations of real cordiality, devoid of any arrire-pense or practical foresight, were the Farlows who had just come back from a business trip to Chile in time to attend our wedding, with the Chatfields, McCoos, and a few others (but not Mrs. Junk or the even prouder Mrs. Talbot). John Farlow was a middle-aged, quiet, quietly athletic, quietly successful dealer in sporting goods, who had an office at Parkington, forty miles away: it was he who got me the cartridges for that Colt and showed me how to use it, during a walk in the woods one Sunday; he was also what he called with a smile a part-time lawyer and had handled some of Charlotte’s affairs. Jean, his youngish wife (and first cousin), was a long-limbed girl in harlequin glasses with two boxer dogs, two pointed breasts and a big red mouth. She paintedlandscapes and portraitsand vividly do I remember praising, over cocktails, the picture she had made of a niece of hers, little Rosaline Honeck, a rosy honey in a Girl Scout uniform, beret of green worsted, belt of green webbing, charming shoulder-long curlsand John removed his pipe and said it was a pity Dolly (my Dolita) and Rosaline were so critical of each other at school, but he hoped, and we all hoped, they would get on better when they returned from their respective camps. We talked of the school. It had its drawbacks, and it had its virtues. “Of course, too many of the tradespeople here are Italians,” said John, “but on the other hand we are still spared” “I wish,” interrupted Jean with a laugh, “Dolly and Rosaline were spending the summer together.” Suddenly I imagined Lo returning from campbrown, warm, drowsy, druggedand was ready to weep with passion and impatience.
A few words more about Mrs. Humbert while the going is good (a bad accident is to happen quite soon). I had been always aware of the possessive streak in her, but I never thought she would be so crazily jealous of anything in my life that had not been she. She showed a fierce insatiable curiosity for my past. She desired me to resuscitate all my loves so that she might make me insult them, and trample upon them, and revoke them apostately and totally, thus destroying my past. She made me tell her about my marriage to Valeria, who was of course a scream; but I also had to invent, or to pad atrociously, a long series of mistresses for Charlotte’s morbid delectation. To keep her happy, I had to present her with an illustrated catalogue of them, all nicely differentiated, according to the rules of those American ads where schoolchildren are pictured in a subtle ratio of races, with oneonly one, but as cute as they make themchocolate-colored round-eyed little lad, almost in the very middle of the front row. So I presented my women, and had them smile and swaythe languorous blond, the fiery brunette, the sensual copperheadas if on parade in a bordello. The more popular and platitudinous I made them, the more Mrs. Humbert was pleased with the show.
Never in my life had I confessed so much or received so many confessions. The sincerity and artlessness with which she discussed what she called her “love-life,” from first necking to connubial catch-as-catch-can, were, ethically, in striking contrast with my glib compositions, but technically the two sets were congeneric since both were affected by the same stuff (soap operas, psychoanalysis and cheap novelettes) upon which I drew for my characters and she for her mode of expression. I was considerably amused by certain remarkable s@xual habits that the good Harold Haze had had according to Charlotte who thought my mirth improper; but otherwise her autobiography was as devoid of interests as her autopsy would have been. I never saw a healthier woman than she, despite thinning diets.
Of my Lolita she seldom spokemore seldom, in fact, than she did of the blurred, blond male baby whose photograph to the exclusion of all others adorned our bleak bedroom. In once of her tasteless reveries, she predicted that the dead infant’s soul would return to earth in the form of the child she would bear in her present wedlock. And although I felt no special urge to supply the Humbert line with a replica of Harold’s production (Lolita, with an incestuous thrill, I had grown to regard as my child), it occurred to me that a prolonged confinement, with a nice Cesarean operation and other complications in a safe maternity ward sometime next spring, would give me a chance to be alone with my Lolita for weeks, perhapsand gorge the limp nymphet with sleeping pills.
Oh, she simply hated her daughter! What I thought especially vicious was that she had gone out of her way to answer with great diligence the questionnaires in a fool’s book she had (A guide to Your Child’s Development), published in Chicago. The rigmarole went year by year, and Mom was supposed to fill out a kind of inventory at each of her child’s birthdays. On Lo’s twelfth, January 1, 1947, Charlotte Haze, ne Becker, had underlined the following epithets, ten out of forty, under “Your Child’s Personality”: aggressive, boisterous, critical, distrustful, impatient, irritable, inquisitive, listless, negativistic (underlined twice) and obstinate. She had ignored the thirty remaining adjectives, among which were cheerful, co-operative, energetic, and so forth. It was really maddening. With a brutality that otherwise never appeared in my loving wife’s mild nature, she attacked and routed such of Lo’s little belongings that had wandered to various parts of the house to freeze there like so many hypnotized bunnies. Little did the good lady dream that one morning when an upset stomach (the result of my trying to improve on her sauces) had prevented me from accompanying her to church, I deceived her with one of Lolita’s anklets. And then, her attitude toward my saporous darling’s letters!
“Dear Mummy and Hummy,
Hope you are fine. Thank you very much for the candy. I [crossed out and re-written again] I lost my new sweater in the woods. It has been cold here for the last few days. I’m having a time. Love,
“The dumb child,” said Mrs. Humbert, “has left out a word before ‘time.’ That sweater was all-wool, and I wish you would not send her candy without consulting me.”
There was a woodlake (Hourglass Lakenot as I had thought it was spelled) a few miles from Ramsdale, and there was one week of great heat at the end of July when we drove there daily. I am now obliged to describe in some tedious detail our last swim there together, one tropical Tuesday morning.
We had left the car in a parking area not far from the road and were making our way down a path cut through the pine forest to the lake, when Charlotte remarked that Jean Farlow, in quest of rare light effects (Jean belonged to the old school of painting), had seen Leslie taking a dip “in the ebony” (as John had quipped) at five o’clock in the morning last Sunday.
“The water,” I said, “must have been quite cold.”
“That is not the point,” said the logical doomed dear. “He is subnormal, you see. And,” she continued (in that carefully phrased way of hers that was beginning to tell on my health), “I have a very definite feeling our Louise is in love with that moron.”
Feeling. “We feel Dolly is not doing as well” etc. (from an old school report).
The Humberts walked on, sandaled and robed.
“Do you know, Hum: I have one most ambitious dream,” pronounced Lady Hum, lowering her headshy of that dreamand communing with the tawny ground. “I would love to get hold of a real trained servant maid like that German girl the Talbots spoke of; and have her live in the house.”
“No room,” I said.
“Come,” she said with her quizzical smile, “surely, chri, you underestimate the possibilities of the Humbert home. We would put her in Lo’s room. I intended to make a guestroom of that hole anyway. It’s the coldest and meanest in the whole house.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, the skin of my cheekbones tensing up (this I take the trouble to note only because my daughter’s skin did the same when she felt that way: disbelief, disgust, irritation).
“Are you bothered by Romantic Associations?” queried my wifein allusion to her first surrender.
“Hell no,” said I. “I just wonder where will you put your daughter when you get your guest or your maid.”
“Ah,” said Mrs. Humbert, dreaming, smiling, drawing out the “Ah” simultaneously with the raise of one eyebrow and a soft exhalation of breath. “Little Lo, I’m afraid, does not enter the picture at all, at all. Little Lo goes straight from camp to a good boarding school with strict discipline and some sound religious training. And thenBeardsley College. I have it all mapped out, you need not worry.”
She went on to say that she, Mrs. Humbert, would have to overcome her habitual sloth and write to Miss Phalli’s sister who taught at St. Algebra. The dazzling lake emerged. I said I had forgotten my sunglasses in the car and would catch up with her.
I had always thought that wringing one’s hands was a fictional gesturethe obscure outcome, perhaps, of some medieval ritual; but as I took to the woods, for a spell of despair and desperate meditation, this was the gesture (“look, Lord, at these chains!”) that would have come nearest to the mute expression of my mood.
Had Charlotte been Valeria, I would have known how to handle the situation; and “handle” is the word I want. In the good old days, by merely twisting fat Valechka’s brittle wrist (the one she had fallen upon from a bicycle) I could make her change her mind instantly; but anything of the sort in regard to Charlotte was unthinkable. Bland American Charlotte frightened me. My lighthearted dream of controlling her through her passion for me was all wrong. I dared not do anything to spoil the image of me she had set up to adore. I had toadied to her when she was the awesome duenna of my darling, and a groveling something still persisted in my attitude toward her. The only ace I held was her ignorance of my monstrous love for her Lo. She had been annoyed by Lo’s liking me; but my feelings she could not divine. To Valeria I might have said: “Look here, you fat fool, c’est moi qui dcide what is good for Dolores Humbert.” To Charlotte, I could not even say (with ingratiating calm): “Excuse me, my dear, I disagree. Let us give the child one more chance. Let me be her private tutor for a year or so. You once told me yourself” In fact, I could not say anything at all to Charlotte about the child without giving myself away. Oh, you cannot imagine (as I had never imagined) what these women of principle are! Charlotte, who did not notice the falsity of all the everyday conventions and rules of behavior, and foods, and books, and people she doted upon, would distinguish at once a false intonation in anything I might say with a view to keeping Lo near. She was like a musician who may be an odious vulgarian in ordinary life, devoid of tact and taste; but who will hear a false note in music with diabolical accuracy of judgment. To break Charlotte’s will, I would have to break her heart. If I broke her heart, her image of me would break too. If I said: “Either I have my way with Lolita, and you help me to keep the matter quiet, or we part at once,” she would have turned as pale as a woman of clouded glass and slowly replied: “All right, whatever you add or retract, this is the end.” And the end it would be.
Such, then, was the mess. I remember reaching the parking area and pumping a handful of rust-tasting water, and drinking it as avidly as if it would give me magic wisdom, youth, freedom, a tiny concubine. For a while, purple-robed, heel-dangling, I sat on the edge of one of the rude tables, under the whooshing pines. In the middle distance, two little maidens in shorts and halters came out of a sun-dappled privy marked “Women.” Gum-chewing Mabel (or Mabel’s understudy) laboriously, absentmindedly straddled a bicycle, and Marion, shaking her hair because of the flies, settled behind, legs wide apart; and wobbling, they slowly, absently, merged with the light and shade. Lolita! Father and daughter melting into these woods! The natural solution was to destroy Mrs. Humbert. But how?
No man can bring about the perfect murder; chance, however, can do it. There was the famous dispatch of a Mme Lacour in Arles, southern France, at the close of last century. An unidentified bearded six-footer, who, it was later conjectured, had been the lady’s secret lover, walked up to her in a crowded street, soon after her marriage to Colonel Lacour, and mortally stabbed her in the back, three times, while the Colonel, a small bulldog of a man, hung onto the murderer’s arm. By a miraculous and beautiful coincidence, right at the moment when the operator was in the act of loosening the angry little husband’s jaws (while several onlookers were closing in upon the group), a cranky Italian in the house nearest to the scene set off by sheer accident some kind of explosive he was tinkering with, and immediately the street was turned into a pandemonium of smoke, falling bricks and running people. The explosion hurt no one (except that it knocked out game Colonel Lacour); but the lady’s vengeful lover ran when the others ranand lived happily ever after.
Now look what happens when the operator himself plans a perfect removal.
I walked down to Hourglass Lake. The spot from which we and a few other “nice” couples (the Farlows, the Chatfields) bathed was a kind of small cove; my Charlotte liked it because it was almost “a private beach.” The main bathing facilities (or drowning facilities” as the Ramsdale Journal had had occasion to say) were in the left (eastern) part of the hourglass, and could not be seen from our covelet. To our right, the pines soon gave way to a curve of marshland which turned again into forest on the opposite side.
I sat down beside my wife so noiselessly that she started.
“Shall we go in?” she asked.
“We shall in a minute. Let me follow a train of thought.”
I thought. More than a minute passed.
“All right. Come on.”
“Was I on that train?”
“You certainly were.”
“I hope so,” said Charlotte entering the water. It soon reached the gooseflesh of her thick thighs; and then, joining her outstretched hands, shutting her mouth tight, very plain-faced in her black rubber headgear, charlotte flung herself forward with a great splash.
Slowly we swam out into the shimmer of the lake.
On the opposite bank, at least a thousand paces away (if one cold walk across water), I could make out the tiny figures of two men working like beavers on their stretch of shore. I knew exactly who they were: a retired policeman of Polish descent and the retired plumber who owned most of the timber on that side of the lake. And I also knew they were engaged in building, just for the dismal fun of the thing, a wharf. The knocks that reached us seemed so much bigger than what could be distinguished of those dwarfs’ arms and tools; indeed, one suspected the director of those acrosonic effects to have been at odds with the puppet-master, especially since the hefty crack of each diminutive blow lagged behind its visual version.
The short white-sand strip of “our” beachfrom which by now we had gone a little way to reach deep waterwas empty on weekday mornings. There was nobody around except those two tiny very busy figures on the opposite side, and a dark-red private plane that droned overhead, and then disappeared in the blue. The setting was really perfect for a brisk bubbling murder, and here was the subtle point: the man of law and the man of water were just near enough to witness an accident and just far enough not to observe a crime. They were near enough to hear a distracted bather thrashing about and bellowing for somebody to come and help him save his drowning wife; and they were too far to distinguish (if they happened to look too soon) that the anything but distracted swimmer was finishing to tread his wife underfoot. I was not yet at that stage; I merely want to convey the ease of the act, the nicety of the setting! So there was Charlotte swimming on with dutiful awkwardness (she was a very mediocre mermaid), but not without a certain solemn pleasure (for was not her merman by her side?); and as I watched, with the stark lucidity of a future recollection (you knowtrying to see things as you will remember having seen them), the glossy whiteness of her wet face so little tanned despite all her endeavors, and her pale lips, and her naked convex forehead, and the tight black cap, and the plump wet neck, I knew that all I had to do was to drop back, take a deep breath, then grab her by the ankle and rapidly dive with my captive corpse. I say corpse because surprise, panic and inexperience would cause her to inhale at once a lethal gallon of lake, while I would be able to hold on for at least a full minute, open-eyed under water. The fatal gesture passed like the tail of a falling star across the blackness of the contemplated crime. It was like some dreadful silent ballet, the male dancer holding the ballerina by her foot and streaking down through watery twilight. I might come up for a mouthful of air while still holding her down, and then would dive again as many times as would be necessary, and only when the curtain came down on her for good, would I permit myself to yell for help. And when some twenty minutes later the two puppets steadily growing arrived in a rowboat, one half newly painted, poor Mrs. Humbert Humbert, the victim of a cramp or coronary occlusion, or both, would be standing on her head in the inky ooze, some thirty feet below the smiling surface of Hourglass Lake.
Simple, was it not? But what d’ye know, folksI just could not make myself do it!
She swam beside me, a trustful and clumsy seal, and all the logic of passion screamed in my ear: Now is the time! And, folks, I just couldn’t! In silence I turned shoreward and gravely, dutifully, she also turned, and still hell screamed its counsel, and still I could not make myself drown the poor, slippery, big-bodied creature. The scream grew more and more remote as I realized the melancholy fact that neither tomorrow, nor Friday, nor any other day or night, could I make myself put her to death. Oh, I could visualize myself slapping Valeria’s breasts out of alignment, or otherwise hurting herand I could see myself, no less clearly, shooting her lover in the underbelly and making him say “akh!” and sit down. But I could not kill Charlotteespecially when things were on the whole not quite as hopeless, perhaps, as they seemed at first wince on that miserable morning. Were I to catch her by her strong kicking foot; were I to see her amazed look, hear her awful voice; were I still to go through with the ordeal, her ghost would haunt me all my life. Perhaps if the year were 1447 instead of 1947 I might have hoodwinked my gentle nature by administering her some classical poison from a hollow agate, some tender philter of death. But in our middle-class nosy era it would not have come off the way it used to in the brocaded palaces of the past. Nowadays you have to be a scientist if you want to be a killer. No, no, I was neither. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the majority of s@x offenders that hanker for some throbbing, sweet-moaning, physical but not necessarily coital, relation with a girl-child, are innocuous, inadequate, passive, timid strangers who merely ask the community to allow them to pursue their practically harmless, so-called aberrant behavior, their little hot wet private acts of s@xual deviation without the police and society cracking down upon them. We are not s@x fiends! We do not rape as good soldiers do. We are unhappy, mild, dog-eyed gentlemen, sufficiently well integrated to control our urge in the presence of adults, but ready to give years and years of life for one chance to touch a nymphet. Emphatically, no killers are we. Poets never kill. Oh, my poor Charlotte, do not hate me in your eternal heaven among an eternal alchemy of asphalt and rubber and metal and stonebut thank God, not water, not water!
Nonetheless it was a very close shave, speaking quite objectively. And now comes the point of my perfect-crime parable.
We sat down on our towels in the thirsty sun. She looked around, loosened her bra, and turned over on her stomach to give her back a chance to be feasted upon. She said she loved me. She sighed deeply. She extended one arm and groped in the pocket of her robe for her cigarettes. She sat up and smoked. She examined her right shoulder. She kissed me heavily with open smoky mouth. Suddenly, down the sand bank behind us, from under the bushes and pines, a stone rolled, then another.
“Those disgusting prying kids,” said Charlotte, holding up her big bra to her breast and turning prone again. “I shall have to speak about that to Peter Krestovski.”
From the debouchment of the trail came a rustle, a footfall, and Jean Farlow marched down with her easel and things.
“You scared us,” said Charlotte.
Jean said she had been up there, in a place of green concealment, spying on nature (spies are generally shot), trying to finish a lakescape, but it was no good, she had no talent whatever (which was quite true)”And have you ever tried painting, Humbert?” Charlotte, who was a little jealous of Jean, wanted to know if John was coming.
He was. He was coming home for lunch today. He had dropped her on the way to Parkington and should be picking her up any time now. It was a grand morning. She always felt a traitor to Cavall and Melampus for leaving them roped on such gorgeous days. She sat down on the white sand between Charlotte and me. She wore shorts. Her long brown legs were about as attractive to me as those of a chestnut mare. She showed her gums when she smiled.
“I almost put both of you into my lake,” she said. “I even noticed something you overlooked. You [addressing Humbert] had your wrist watch on in, yes, sir, you had.”
“Waterproof,” said Charlotte softly, making a fish mouth.
Jean took my wrist upon her knee and examined Charlotte’s gift, then put back Humbert’s hand on the sand, palm up.
“You could see anything that way,” remarked Charlotte coquettishly.
Jean sighed. “I once saw,” she said, “two children, male and female, at sunset, right here, making love. Their shadows were giants. And I told you about Mr. Tomson at daybreak. Next time I expect to see fat old Ivor in the ivory. He is really a freak, that man. Last time he told me a completely indecent story about his nephew. It appears”
“Hullo there,” said John’s voice.
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