|Read Dmitri Nabokov’s impressions of Pia Pera’s Lo’s Diary|
Read Jack’s Naughty Bits on Lolita
Read Phil Martin on last year’s film-version of Lolita
From Chapter 11
A good chance to put on lipstick. I choose the color myself — I certainly don’t go and ask what his favorite is. Dear Hummie, which color seems most exciting to you? That’s what the attentive hen would have said, and he would have responded: Dear Isabel, I am past the age where the color of lipstick can arouse me, I am an old scholar of French literature and what little ardor remains to me is devoted to prewar France — that’s more or less his line of defense when he scents danger.
When Mom paints her lips, she draws an outline with a pencil first, very carefully puts on the lipstick, and then starts wandering around the house: her lips look like they were cut out of cardboard, like they’re detached from the rest of her body, and it’s like what she’s doing is impersonating “the lady with painted lips” — which usually goes along with “the lady with painted nails,” waving her hands in the air so the polish will dry, and also “the lady with her hair in curlers,” who with her freshly polished nails and her painted lips stuck out like a fish goes around the house like a kind of walking prayer: want me, want me, want me.
I do it all the opposite: I put on the lipstick almost carefully, I say almost, and not completely, on purpose, because the guy’s eyes should be hooked by uncertainty: was it put on well or badly? Does it need touching up or not? So his thoughts go around in circles until he forgets the original reason for his curiosity and is simply lost in contemplation of the mouth, the blinding-white teeth, the pink tongue darting between the teeth, redder than the lipstick, until without meaning to he gets closer and closer, and suddenly he’s stunned by the blood-hot breath, and doesn’t have the strength to pull back . . . That’s how it’s done. What possible interest can Mom’s lips, so precisely painted they look like plywood, ever have had?
My lips are almost impeccably painted: they’re like a piece stripped off me, a tiny lip muscle bared, red blood just veiled by skin too fine to hide the flesh, so in reality two pairs of lips can be seen, superimposed, almost superimposed . . . a dizzying out-of-focus effect. But lipstick by itself isn’t enough: the attack has to come from several directions, otherwise the defense can concentrate on a single point. So a red apple, red plus red, two red spheres in perpetual motion. The principle of hypnosis. Anyway, the apple is essential. How come these hens don’t get it? They go to church year after year, they read the Bible, or at least they keep it on their bedside table, and then they forget how the first seduction of the first man occurred? With an apple, that’s how. No man can resist a woman who has an apple in her hand, it’s theological. A woman with an apple in her hand is the first woman, the only woman in the world, and he’s the first man — he stumbles on love and he can’t shake it, never ever ever. This isn’t in Nora’s book; the truth is, a lot of stuff isn’t in it. I’ll write a new one someday. Anyway, armed with my two red patches, lips and apple, and wearing my dress with dark and light pink checks, I go and sit on the sofa next to Hummie, who, poor guy, tries not to notice me for a while. And I seem to be there for reasons of my own, having nothing to do with him. Then I get tired, and start throwing the apple up in the air and catching it, concentrating so it’s like I’m not even aware of Hummie sitting there next to me. The apple flies in the air, and I catch it with a thud, skin against peel. Finally he grabs it out of my hand, and I yell at him to give it back. Give it back right now, I yell, hurling myself at him. The action begins! Battle! I grab the apple, I am more alert than he is, stronger and a hundred times more agile. I bite it, and it’s like breaking a jar containing a love potion — the air is pierced with fragrance. Acidic apple and blood-sweet mouth warmth. But since I can’t give him time to be aware of the main frontal attack I take his hand off the magazine (diversionary tactic), and while I’m looking around for something or other for him to look at — to see better I stretch across him — the smell of me stuns him completely. I find a dumb but funny photograph of a naked lady, in marble, so then Hummie, who seems stupid yet very happy to stay in the game, throws the magazine aside. With new protests, I fling myself away to get it back, but he holds on to me, trying to think up something, anything, just to keep my sunburned legs from escaping. It’s obvious with every move of the struggle that he’s trying to position them against him, and on his lap, under the silk bathrobe that’s as if it weren’t there, he’s all on edge. His cheeks are fiery, he mutters a pile of nonsense so that I’ll stay, he wants me there, whatever the cost. He’d have a heart attack if I were to give in right now. He even starts humming my favorite song, without ever getting to the end — all this so he can keep rubbing against my legs. I feel it swelling, like a trunk. He goes on singing, endlessly, now slow, now fast, very fast, then he turns red and, fighting for breath, mangles the words. It’s a waste of time to try and correct him by singing along — by now he’s out of time, in the sense that he’s all mine. He looks at me as if he hoped to keep me there forever, comes closer and closer but doesn’t dare. Then, so he can touch me right at the edge of my underpants, he remembers the bruise I got when I stumbled against the chest of drawers: another hypocritical trick, like the day he stuck his tongue in my eye. But what can you do except put up with these cowards who want to act refined. I just wish I could get him to be a little less dishonest. So he hunts for the bruise, making tremendous faces so that I won’t guess how excited he is, while he goes on rubbing my knees against him. I’m all hot inside, I’d like to hug him and kiss him without all these pretenses, but I’m going to put it off; for now I pretend nothing’s happening, and go on biting my apple. With every bite I get under his nose the smell of acid apple is stronger and stronger, and at every crunch he rocks more quickly, throwing his head back as if he’s on a swing, and then tries to act normal so I can’t tell how excited he is. Finally only the core is left. I feel sorry for him, for not being able to just take what he so desperately wants — to hold me tight against him, crush me — so I throw the core in the fireplace and end up right on top of him, against that hard little stick, and then I start humming along with him again. We’re hand in hand, our arms coming close and then moving apart; I fling my head back, and for a second feel his mouth on my throat. I press against him, until he holds me still, interrupts the nursery rhyme, and, all trembling, forgets to keep pretending. I feel weird, too, I relax, and something goes by without me really seeing it, a whir of soft wings, it disappears in an instant and we sit there looking at each other, all red, not knowing what to do. I’d like to curl up and wrap myself in his arms. It would be nice but he’s scared; I’ll put off the courage lesson till another time — you can’t insist on everything right away. Luckily the telephone rings, and I run away to answer it. He takes advantage of this to get up and go to the bathroom and when he finally comes out I’m in the garden. He looks around confused and satisfied, maybe he hasn’t yet realized what happened to him: that I seduced him. That now he’s mine.
This excerpt from Lo’s Diary was brought to you in conjunction with Foxrock Press. For more from Lo’s Diary, as well
as articles relating to the publication of the original Lolita,
check out the Evergreen Review.