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"Lolita, or the Confession of a White Widowed Male," such were the two titles under - 43


I got out of the car and slammed its door. How matter-of-fact, how square that slam
sounded in the void of the sunless day! Woof, commented the dog perfunctorily. I
pressed the bell button, it vibrated through my whole system. Personne. Je resonne.
Repersonne. From what depth this re-nonsense? Woof, said the dog. A rush and a
shuffle, and woosh-woof went the door. Couple of inches taller. Pink-rimmed glasses.
New, heaped-up hairdo, new ears. How simple! The moment, the death I had kept
conjuring up for three years was as simple as a bit of dry wood. She was frankly and
hugely pregnant. Her head looked smaller (only two seconds had passed really, but
let me give them as much wooden duration as life can stand), and her pale-freckled
cheeks were hollowed, and her bare shins and arms had lost all their tan, so that the
little hairs showed. She wore a brown, sleeveless cotton dress and sloppy felt
slippers. "We--e--ell!" she exhaled after a pause with all the emphasis of wonder and
welcome. "Husband at home?" I croaked, fist in pocket. I could not kill her, of
course, as some have thought. You see, I loved her. It was love at first sight, at last
sight, at ever and ever sight. "Come in," she said with a vehement cheerful note.
Against the splintery deadwood of the door, Dolly Schiller flattened herself as best
she could (even rising on tiptoe a little) to let me pass, and was crucified for a
moment, looking down, smiling down at the threshold, hollow-cheeked with round
pommettes, her watered-milk-white arms outspread on the wood. I passed without
touching her bulging babe. Dolly-smell, with a faint fried addition. My teeth chattered
like an idiot's. "No, you stay out" (to the dog). She closed the door and followed me
and her belly into the dollhouse parlor. "Dick's down there," she said pointing with an
invisible tennis racket, inviting my gaze to travel from the drab parlor-bedroom
where we stood, right across the kitchen, and through the back doorway where, in a
rather primitive vista, a dark-haired young stranger in overalls, instantaneously
reprieved, was perched with his back to me on a ladder fixing something near or
upon the shack of his neighbor, a plumper fellow with only one arm, who stood
looking up. This pattern she explained from afar, apologetically ("Men will be men");
should she call him in? No. Standing in the middle of the slanting room and emitting
questioning "hm's," she made familiar Javanese gestures with her wrists and hands,
offering me, in a brief display of humorous courtesy, to choose between a rocker and
the divan (their bed after ten p.m.). I say "familiar" because one day she had
welcomed me with the same wrist dance to her party in Beardsley. We both sat
down on the divan. Curious: although actually her looks had faded, I definitely
realized, so hopelessly late in the day, how much she looked--had always looked--
like Botticelli's russet Venus--the same soft nose, the same blurred beauty. In my
pocket my fingers gently let go and repacked a little at the tip, within the
handkerchief it was nested in, my unused weapon. "that's not the fellow I want," I
said. The diffuse look of welcome left her eyes. Her forehead puckered as in the old
bitter days: "Not who?" "Where is he? Quick!" "Look," she said, inclining her head to
one side and shaking it in that position. "Look, you are not going to bring that up." "I
certainly am," I said, and for a moment--strangely enough the only merciful,
endurable one in the whole interview--we were bristling at each other as if she were
still mine. A wise girl, she controlled herself. Dick did not know a thing of the whole
mess. He thought I was her father. He thought she had run away from an upper-
class home just to wash dishes in a diner. He believed anything. Why should I want
to make things harder than they were by raking up all that muck? But, I said, she
must be sensible, she must be a sensible girl (with her bare drum under that thin
brown stuff), she must understand that if she expected the help I had come to give,
I must have at least a clear comprehension of the situation. "Come, his name!" She
thought I had guessed long ago. It was (with a mischievous and melancholy smile)
such a sensational name. I would never believe it. She could hardly believe it herself.
His name, my fall nymph. It was so unimportant, she said. She suggested I skip it.
Would I like a cigarette? No. His name. She shook her head with great resolution.
She guessed it was too late to raise hell and I would never believe the unbelievably
unbelievable-- I said I had better go, regards, nice to have seen her. She said really
it was useless, she would never tell, but on the other hand, after all--"Do you really
want to know who it was? Well, it was--" And softly, confidentially, arching her thin
eyebrows and puckering her parched lips, she emitted, a little mockingly, somewhat
fastidiously, not untenderly, in a kind of muted whistle, the name that the astute
reader has guessed long ago. Waterproof. Why did a flash from Hourglass Lake cross
my consciousness? I, too, had known it, without knowing it, all along. There was no
shock, no surprise. Quietly the fusion took place, and everything fell into order, into
the pattern of branches that I have woven throughout this memoir with the express
purpose of having the ripe fruit fall at the right moment; yes, with the express and
perverse purpose of rendering--she was talking but I sat melting in my golden
peace--of rendering that golden and monstrous peace through the satisfaction of
logical recognition, which my most inimical reader should experience now. She was,
as I say, talking. It now came in a relaxed flow. He was the only man she had ever
been crazy about. What about Dick? Oh, Dick was a lamb, they were quite happy
together, but she meant something different. And I had never counted, of course?
She considered me as if grasping all at once the incredible--and somehow tedious,
confusing and unnecessary--fact that the distant, elegant, slender, forty-year-old
valetudinarian in velvet coat sitting beside her had known and adored every pore and
follicle of her pubescent body. In her washed-out gray eyes, strangely spectacled,
our poor romance was for a moment reflected, pondered upon, and dismissed like a
dull party, like a rainy picnic to which only the dullest bores had come, like a
humdrum exercise, like a bit of dry mud caking her childhood. I just managed to jerk
my knee out of the range of a sketchy tap--one of her acquired gestures. She asked
me not to be dense. The past was the past. I had been a good father, she guessed--
granting me that. Proceed, Dolly Schiller. Well, did I know that he had known her
mother? That he was practically an old friend? That he had visited with his uncle in
Ramsdale?--oh, years ago--and spoken at Mother's club, and had tugged and pulled
her, Dolly, by her bare arm onto his lap in front of everybody, and kissed her face,
she was ten and furious with him? Did I know he had seen me and her at the inn
where he was writing the very play she was to rehearse in Beardsley, two years
later? Did I know--It had been horrid of her to sidetrack me into believing that Clare
was an old female, maybe a relative of his or a sometime lifemate--and oh, what a
close shave it had been when the Wace Journal carried his picture. The Briceland
Gazette had not. Yes, very amusing. Yes, she said, this world was just one gag after
another, if somebody wrote up her life nobody would ever believe it. At this point,
there came brisk homey sounds from the kitchen into which Dick and Bill had
lumbered in quest of beer. Through the doorway they noticed the visitor, and Dick
entered the parlor. "Dick, this is my Dad!" cried Dolly in a resounding violent voice
that struck me as a totally strange, and new, and cheerful, and old, and sad,
because the young fellow, veteran of a remote war, was hard of hearing. Arctic blue
eyes, black hair, ruddy cheeks, unshaven chin. We shook hands. Discreet Bill, who
evidently took pride in working wonders with one hand, brought in the beer cans he
had opened. Wanted to withdraw. The exquisite courtesy of simple folks. Was made
to stay. A beer ad. In point of fact, I preferred it that way, and so did the Schillers. I
switched to the jittery rocker. Avidly munching, Dilly plied me with marshmallows
and potato chips. The men looked at her fragile, frileux, diminutive, old-world,
youngish but sickly, father in velvet coat and beige vest, maybe a viscount. They
were under the impression I had come to stay, and Dick with a great wrinkling of
brows that denoted difficult thought, suggested Dolly and he might sleep in the
kitchen on a spare mattress. I waved a light hand and told Dolly who transmitted it
by means of a special shout to Dick that I had merely dropped in on my way to
Readsburg where I was to be entertained by some friends and admirers. It was then
noticed that one of the few thumbs remaining to Bill was bleeding (not such a
wonder-worker after all). How womanish and somehow never seen that way before
was the shadowy division between her pale breasts when she bent down over the
man's hand! She took him for repairs to the kitchen. For a few minutes, three or four
little eternities which positively welled with artificial warmth, Dick and I remained
alone. He sat on a hard chair rubbing his forelimbs and frowning. I had an idle urge
to squeeze out the blackheads on the wings of his perspiring nose with my long
agate claws. He had nice sad eyes with beautiful lashes, and very white teeth. His
Adam's apple was large and hairy. Why don't they shave better, those young brawny
chaps? He and his Dolly had had unrestrained intercourse on that couch there, at
least a hundred and eighty times, probably much more; and before that--how long
had she known him? No grudge. Funny--no grudge at all, nothing except grief and
nausea. He was now rubbing his nose. I was sure that when finally he would open
his mouth, he would say (slightly shaking his head): "Aw, she's a swell kid, Mr. Haze.
She sure is. And she's going to make a swell mother." He opened his mouth--and
took a sip of beer. This gave him countenance--and he went on sipping till he frothed
at the mouth. He was a lamb. He had cupped her Florentine breasts. His fingernails
were black and broken, but the phalanges, the whole carpus, the strong shapely
wrist were far, far finer than mine: I have hurt too much too many bodies with my
twisted poor hands to be proud of them. French epithets, a Dorset yokel's knuckles,
an Austrian tailor's flat finger tips--that's Humbert Humbert. Good. If he was silent I
could be silent too. Indeed, I could very well do with a little rest in this subdued,
frightened-to-death rocking chair, before I drove to wherever the beast's lair was--
and then pulled the pistol's foreskin back, and then enjoyed the orgasm of the
crushed trigger: I was always a good little follower of the Viennese medicine man.
But presently I became sorry for poor Dick whom, in some hypnotoid way, I was
horribly preventing from making the only remark he could think up ("She's a swell
kid. . ."). "And so," I said, "you are going to Canada?" In the kitchen, Dolly was
laughing at something Bill had said or done. "And so," I shouted, "you are going to
Canada? Not Canada"--I re-shouted--"I mean Alaska, of course." He nursed his glass
and, nodding sagely, replied: "Well, he cut it on a jagger, I guess. Lost his right arm
in Italy." Lovely mauve almond trees in bloom. A blown-off surrealistic arm hanging
up there in the pointillistic mauve. A flowergirl tattoo on the hand. Dolly and band-
aided Bill reappeared. It occurred to me that her ambiguous, brown and pale beauty
excited the cripple. Dick, with a grin of relief stood up. He guessed Bill and he would
be going back to fix those wires. He guessed Mr. Haze and Dolly had loads of things
to say to each other. He guessed he would be seeing me before I left. Why do those
people guess so much and shave so little, and are so disdainful of hearing aids? "Sit
down," she said, audibly striking her flanks with her palms. I relapsed into the black
rocker. "So you betrayed me? Where did you go? Where is he now?" She took from
the mantelpiece a concave glossy snapshot. Old woman in white, stout, beaming,
bowlegged, very short dress; old man in his shirtsleeves, drooping mustache, watch
chain. Her in-laws. Living with Dick's brother's family in Juneau. "Sure you don't
want to smoke?" She was smoking herself. First time I saw her doing it. Streng
verboten under Humbert the Terrible. Gracefully, in a blue mist, Charlotte Haze rose
from her grave. I would find him through Uncle Ivory if she refused. "Betrayed you?
No." She directed the dart of her cigarette, index rapidly tapping upon it, toward the
hearth exactly as her mother used to do, and then, like her mother, oh my God, with
her fingernail scratched and removed a fragment of cigarette paper from her
underlip. No. She had not betrayed me. I was among friends. Edusa had warned her
that Cue liked little girls, had been almost jailed once, in fact (nice fact), and he
knew she knew. Yes . . . Elbow in palm, puff, smile, exhaled smoke, darting gesture.
Waxing reminiscent. He saw--smiling--through everything and everybody, because
he was not like me and her but a genius. A great guy. Full of fun. Had rocked with
laughter when she confessed about me and her, and said he had thought so. It was
quite safe, under the circumstances, to tell him . . . Well, Cue--they all called him
Cue-- Her camp five years ago. Curious coincidence--. . . took her to a dude ranch
about a day's drive from Elephant (Elphinstone). Named? Oh, some silly name--Duk
Duk Ranch--you know just plain silly--but it did not matter now, anyway, because
the place had vanished and disintegrated. Really, she meant, I could not imagine
how utterly lush that ranch was, she meant it had everything but everything, even
an indoor waterfall. Did I remember the red-haired guy we ("we" was good) had
once had some tennis with? Well, the place really belonged to Red's brother, but he
had turned it over to Cue for the summer. When Cue and she came, the others had
them actually go through a coronation ceremony and then--a terrific ducking, as
when you cross the Equator. You know. Her eyes rolled in synthetic resignation. "Go
on, please." Well. The idea was he would take her in September to Hollywood and
arrange a tryout for her, a bit part in the tennis-match scene of a movie picture
based on a play of his--Golden Guts--and perhaps even have her double one of its
sensational starlets on the Klieg-struck tennis court. Alas, it never came to that.
"Where is the hog now?" He was not a hog. He was a great guy in many respects.
But it was all drink and drugs. And, of course, he was a complete freak in sex
matters, and his friends were his slaves. I just could not imagine (I, Humbert, could
not imagine!) what they all did at Duk Duk Ranch. She refused to take part because
she loved him, and he threw her out. "What things?" "Oh, weird, filthy, fancy things.
I mean, he had two girls and tow boys, and three or four men, and the idea was for
all of us to tangle in the nude while an old woman took movie pictures." (Sade's
Justine was twelve at the start.) "What things exactly?" "Oh, things . . . Oh, I--really
I"--she uttered the "I" as a subdued cry while she listened to the source of the ache,
and for lack of words spread the five fingers of her angularly up-and-down-moving
hand. No, she gave it up, she refused to go into particulars with that baby inside her.
That made sense. "It is of no importance now," she said pounding a gray cushion
with her fist and then lying back, belly up, on the divan. "Crazy things, filthy things.
I said no, I'm just not going to [she used, in all insouciance really, a disgusting slang
term which, in a literal French translation, would be souffler] your beastly boys,
because I want only you. Well, he kicked me out." There was not much else to tell.
That winter 1949, Fay and she had found jobs. For almost two years she had--oh,
just drifted, oh, doing some restaurant work in small places, and then she had met
Dick. No, she did not know where the other was. In New York, she guessed. Of
course, he was so famous she would have found him at once if she had wanted. Fay
had tried to get back to the Ranch--and it just was not there any more--it had
burned to the ground, nothing remained, just a charred heap of rubbish. It was so
strange, so strange-- She closed her eyes and opened her mouth, leaning back on
the cushion, one felted foot on the floor. The wooden floor slanted, a little steel ball
would have rolled into the kitchen. I knew all I wanted to know. I had no intention of
torturing my darling. Somewhere beyond Bill's shack an afterwork radio had begun
singing of folly and fate, and there she was with her ruined looks and her adult,
rope-veined narrow hands and her goose-flesh white arms, and her shallow ears,
and her unkempt armpits, there she was (my Lolita!), hopelessly worn at seventeen,
with that baby, dreaming already in her of becoming a big shot and retiring around
2020 A.D.--and I looked and looked at her, and knew as clearly as I know I am to
die, that I loved her more than anything I had ever seen or imagined on earth, or
hoped for anywhere else. She was only the faint violet whiff and dead leaf echo of
the nymphet I had rolled myself upon with such cries in the past; an echo on the
brink of a russet ravine, with a far wood under a white sky, and brown leaves
choking the brook, and one last cricket in the crisp weeds . . . but thank God it was
not that echo alone that I worshipped. What I used to pamper among the tangled
vines of my heart, mon grand pichi radieux, had dwindled to its essence: sterile and
selfish vice, all that I canceled and cursed. You may jeer at me, and threaten to clear
the court, but until I am gagged and half-throttled, I will shout my poor truth. I insist
the world know how much I loved my Lolita, this Lolita, pale and polluted, and big
with another's child, but still gray-eyed, still sooty-lashed, still auburn and almond,
still Carmencita, still mine; Changeons de vie, ma Carmen, allons vivre quelque part
oy nous ne serons jamais siparis; Ohio? The wilds of Massachusetts? No matter,
even if those eyes of hers would fade to myopic fish, and her nipples swell and crack,
and her lovely young velvety delicate delta be tainted and torn--even then I would
go mad with tenderness at the mere sight of your dear wan face, at the mere sound
of your raucous young voice, my Lolita. "Lolita," I said, "this may be neither here nor
there but I have to say it. Life is very short. From here to that old car you know so
well there is a stretch of twenty, twenty-five paces. It is a very short walk. Make
those twenty-five steps. Now. Right now. Come just as you are. And we shall live
happily ever after." Carmen, voulez-vous venir avec moi? "You mean," she said
opening her eyes and raising herself slightly, the snake that may strike, "you mean
you will give us [us] that money only if I go with you to a motel. Is that what you
mean?" "No," I said, "you got it all wrong. I want you to leave your incidental Dick,
and this awful hole, and come to live with me, and die with me, and everything with
me" (words to that effect). "You're crazy," she said, her features working. "Think it
over, Lolita. There are no strings attached. Except, perhaps--well, no matter." (A
reprieve, I wanted to say but did not.) "Anyway, if you refuse you will still get your .
. . trousseau." "No kidding?" asked Dolly. I handed her an envelope with four
hundred dollars in cash and a check for three thousand six hundred more. Gingerly,
uncertainly, she received mon petit cadeau; and then her forehead became a
beautiful pink. "You mean," she said, with agonized emphasis, "you are giving us
four thousand bucks?" I covered my face with my hand and broke into the hottest
tears I had ever shed. I felt them winding through my fingers and down my chin,
and burning me, and my nose got clogged, and I could not stop, and then she
touched my wrist. "I'll die if you touch me," I said. "You are sure you are not coming
with me? Is there no hope of your coming? Tell me only this." "No," she said. "No,
honey, no." She had never called me honey before. "No," she said, "it is quite out of
the question. I would sooner go back to Cue. I mean--" She groped for words. I
supplied them mentally ("He broke my heart. You merely broke my life"). "I think,"
she went on--"oops"--the envelope skidded to the floor--she picked it up--"I think
it's oh utterly grand of you to give us all that dough. It settles everything, we can
start next week. Stop crying, please. You should understand. Let me get you some
more beer. Oh, don't cry, I'm so sorry I cheated so much, but that's the way things
are." I wiped my face and my fingers. She smiled at the cadeau. She exulted. She
wanted to call Dick. I said I would have to leave in a moment, did not want to see
him at all, at all. We tried to think of some subject of conversation. For some reason,
I kept seeing--it trembled and silkily glowed on my damn retina--a radiant child of
twelve, sitting on a threshold, "pinging" pebbles at an empty can. I almost said--
trying to find some casual remark--"I wonder sometimes what has become of the
little McCoo girl, did she ever get better?"--but stopped in time lest she rejoin: "I
wonder sometimes what has become of the little Haze girl . . ." Finally, I reverted to
money matters. That sum, I said, represented more or less the net rent from her
mother's house; she said: "Had it not been sold years ago?" No (I admit I had told
her this in order to sever all connections with R.); a lawyer would send a full account
of the financial situation later; it was rosy; some of the small securities her mother
had owned had gone up and up. Yes, I was quite sure I had to go. I had to go, and
find him, and destroy him. Since I would not have survived the touch of her lips, I
kept retreating in a mincing dance, at every step she and her belly made toward me.
She and the dog saw me off. I was surprised (this a rhetorical figure, I was not) that
the sight of the old car in which she had ridden as a child and a nymphet, left her so
very indifferent. All she remarked was it was getting sort of purplish about the gills. I
said it was hers, I could go by bus. She said don't be silly, they would fly to Jupiter
and buy a car there. I said I would buy this one from her for five hundred dollars. "At
this rate we'll be millionnaires next," she said to the ecstatic dog. Carmencita, lui
demandais-je . . . "One last word," I said in my horrible careful English, "are you
quite, quite sure that--well, not tomorrow, of course, and not after tomorrow, but--
well--some day, any day, you will not come to live with me? I will create a brand
new God and thank him with piercing cries, if you give me that microscopic hope" (to
that effect). "No," she said smiling, "no." "It would have made all the difference,"
said Humbert Humbert. Then I pulled out my automatic--I mean, this is the kind of
fool thing a reader might suppose I did. It never even occurred to me to do it. "Good
by-aye!" she changed, my American sweet immortal dead love; for she is dead and
immortal if you are reading this. I mean, such is the formal agreement with the so-
called authorities. Then, as I drove away, I heard her shout in a vibrant voice to her
Dick; and the dog started to lope alongside my car like a fat dolphin, but he was too
heavy and old, and very soon gave up. And presently I was driving through the
drizzle of the dying day, with the windshield wipers in full action but unable to cope
with my tears.

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