Runner-up in the 2nd Annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest.
My daughter is in love with Nabokov. She takes him wherever she goes. He sits beside her at breakfast; her hand hovers possessively. At dinner it is the same. And she talks of him all the time. Nabokov this. Nabokov that.
He speaks to her. She listens. She tells me she even dreams Nabokov.
Somewhere inside I hear a small crack, a tremor, a rattling at her corner of my heart. Nabokov will not sustain you, I want to say. He will disappoint you from time to time. Be careful his carelessness does not leave you disillusioned.
But I say nothing. If I did, she would only curl her thin shoulders around her heart and shut me out. She’d accuse me of not understanding. Or her silence would shame me.
She would have him. He has seduced her. I am jealous.
She found me yesterday, with her Nabokov, my cheek pressed upon him. I did not want anything from him; it was she I was looking for, the sense of her; through him, the touch of her hand.
You cannot imagine, I wanted to say, the intimacy of a mother and her child. You cannot imagine what it feels like to know that body so well, to feel the infant grow within the cupping of your hand, to carry that imprint for the rest of your life.
But Nabokov and I never speak.
I sensed her eyes on me and self-consciously turned myself to the small things that crowd my day. She said nothing, but swept Nabokov from my reach and shut herself away with him.
I do understand. I want to say, “I do understand.” There is nothing like the first passion. Never will another lover thrill in quite the same way. There is the first—and everything that comes after is dulled, just a little, by comparison. I had forgotten. And now I remember one summer orgy with Fowles and Salinger, and Cohen and Roth. I was their neophyte. They were my gods.
She has left. Her young life packed up into boxes. She has gone off to make sense of it, to find her place, to live her time. She has gone, with Nabokov.
A package in the post. Brown paper, wrinkled, a recycled grocery bag turned inside out, my daughter’s tiny printing scratched across it—all capital letters. I hold it in my hand for a long time.
Lolita. Found in a used bookshop. It was raining, and she had stopped under the awning to wait for the light. I imagine her there, curling her toes inside her red runners, inside her socks, wet and cold because she has not found time to buy the new shoes I gave her the money for. She cups her hands over the glass, peering into the shop. It’s waiting there.
“And look,” she writes. “Someone has inscribed, ‘to one who understands.’ Isn’t it perfect?”
That’s what I want to say.