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July 2019 Vol. 15 No. 2

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Jonathan McKeown

This Lolita

To be fair I shouldn’t make too much of her response – it’d been more than twenty years since she’d read it in high school while I, on the other hand, at 51, having just got round to it, still had a fresh impression. But in that somewhat saddened mood one can find oneself in – on Sunday afternoons – or approaching the end of one’s holidays – or, in this case, after finishing a good book, I was left feeling unexpected compassion for its narrator (“Humbert the Terrible”), a genuine heartbreaking pity for his grief at the loss of the girl who, despite it all (it seemed to me), he utterly adored – and yes – loved. Out of this reluctant and still somewhat spellbound state of mind – still clutching the closed book in my hands as if it contained something unspeakably precious – I became aware of the presence of my wife quietly folding washing at the end of our bed. In the afterglow of Lolita (while she was still unaware my attention had turned), I regarded her: the way she moved, the way she carried herself, her face with its peculiar contour and complexion …, and tried – in “the faint violet whiff and dead leaf echo” – to discern through time’s veil the nubile form of her own nymphet.

alabaster moon her satin night gown gaping

“Do you think Humbert really loved Lolita?” I said. She frowned – perhaps in the realisation I’d been watching her – perhaps at the preposterous suggestion he may have – perhaps at having her own private reverie interrupted – and took some time to answer. I waited, watching her face with unhurrying expectancy. Her frown took on a shade of irritation – perhaps at my apparent interest in the devil Humbert – perhaps at the unfairness of the question being put to her now – perhaps at being obliged to remember details of the self-serving story cooked up by a depraved and objectionable man she would not otherwise have given a second thought – but eventually, and with notable vehemence (let the reader beware), she came out with an answer: “No. He only loved himself – his fantasy – which she embodied for a while in her adolescence. But when he finds her again, a few years after she’d escaped him, and she is changed – having become a woman – and pregnant with another man’s child – no longer the embodiment of his pubescent ideal – he is nauseated, as I recall, at the way time had ravaged and ruined her. I wouldn’t call that love.”

Sensing I’d strayed into hazardous terrain I decided to keep my own thoughts for a more auspicious time.

gibbous moon folding the dew-softened washing