Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 1, Chapter 17 (view annotations)

The hugest dictionary in the library said under Lip: "Either of
a pair of fleshy folds surrounding an orifice."
Mileyshiy Emile, as Ada called Monsieur Littré, spoke thus:
"Partie extérieure et charnue qui forme le contour de la bouche
102.05 . . . Les deux bords d'une plaie simple" (we simply speak with
our wounds; wounds procreate) ". . . C'est le membre qui lèche."
Dearest Emile!
A fat little Russian encyclopedia was solely concerned with
guba, lip, as meaning a district court in ancient Lyaska or an
102.10 arctic gulf.
Their lips were absurdly similar in style, tint and tissue. Van's
upper one resembled in shape a long-winged sea bird coming
directly at you, while the nether lip, fat and sullen, gave a touch
of brutality to his usual expression. Nothing of that brutality
102.15 existed in the case of Ada's lips, but the bow shape of the upper
one and the largeness of the lower one with its disdainful
prominence and opaque pink repeated Van's mouth in a femi-
nine key.
During our children's kissing phase (a not particularly healthy

[ 102 ]

fortnight of long messy embraces), some odd pudibund screen
cut them off, so to speak, from each other's raging bodies. But
contacts and reactions to contacts could not help coming
through like a distant vibration of desperate signals. Endlessly,
103.05 steadily, delicately, Van would brush his lips against hers, teas-
ing their burning bloom, back and forth, right, left, life, death,
reveling in the contrast between the airy tenderness of the open
idyll and the gross congestion of the hidden flesh.
There were other kisses. "I'd like to taste," he said, "the inside
103.10 of your mouth. God, how I'd like to be a goblin-sized Gulliver
and explore that cave."
"I can lend you my tongue," she said, and did.
A large boiled strawberry, still very hot. He sucked it in as
far as it would go. He held her close and lapped her palate.
103.15 Their chins got thoroughly wet. "Hanky," she said, and in-
formally slipped her hand into his trouser pocket, but withdrew
it quickly, and had him give it himself. No comment.
("I appreciated your tact," he told her when they recalled,
with amusement and awe that rapture and that discomfort. "But
103.20 we lost a lot of time—irretrievable opals.")
He learned her face. Nose, cheek, chinall possessed such a
softness of outline (associated retrospectively with keepsakes,
and picture hats, and frightfully expensive little courtesans in
Wicklow) that a mawkish admirer might well have imagined
103.25 the pale plume of a reed, that unthinking man—pascaltrezza
shaping her profile, while a more childish and sensual digit would
have liked, and did like, to palpate that nose, cheek, chin. Re-
membrance, like Rembrandt, is dark but festive. Remembered
ones dress up for the occasion and sit still. Memory is a photo-
103.30 studio de luxe on an infinite Fifth Power Avenue. The fillet of
black velvet binding her hair that day (the day of the mental
picture) brought out its sheen at the silk of the temple and along
the chalk of the parting. It hung lank and long over the neck,
its flow disjoined by the shoulder; so that the mat white of her

[ 103 ]

neck through the black bronze stream showed in triangular
Accentuating her nose's slight tilt turned it into Lucette's;
smoothing it down, into Samoyed. In both sisters, the front
104.05 teeth were a trifle too large and the nether lip too fat for the
ideal beauty of marble death; and because their noses were
permanently stuffed, both girls (especially later, at fifteen and
twelve) looked a little dreamy or dazed in profile. The luster-
less whiteness of Ada's skin (at twelve, sixteen, twenty, thirty-
104.10 three, et cetera) was incomparably rarer than Lucette's golden
bloom (at eight, twelve, sixteen, twenty-five, finis). In both,
the long pure line of the throat, coming straight from Marina,
tormented the senses with unknown, ineffable promises (not
kept by the mother).
104.15 The eyes. Ada's dark brown eyes. What (Ada asks) are
eyes anyway? Two holes in the mask of life. What (she asks)
would they mean to a creature from another corpuscle or milk
bubble whose organ of sight was (say) an internal parasite
resembling the written word "deified"? What, indeed, would a
104.20 pair of beautiful (human, lemurian, owlish) eyes mean to any-
body if found lying on the seat of a taxi? Yet I have to de-
scribe yours. The iris: black brown with amber specks or
spokes placed around the serious pupil in a dial arrangement of
identical hours. The eyelids: sort of pleaty, v skladochku (rhym-
104.25 ing in Russian with the diminutive of her name in the accusative
case). Eye shape: languorous. The procuress in Wicklow, on
that satanic night of black sleet, at the most tragic, and almost
fatal point of my life (Van, thank goodness, is ninety now—in
Ada's hand) dwelt with peculiar force on the "long eyes" of
104.30 her pathetic and adorable grandchild. How I used to seek, with
what tenacious anguish, traces and tokens of my unforgettable
love in all the brothels of the world!
He discovered her hands (forget that nail-biting business).
The pathos of the carpus, the grace of the phalanges demanding

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helpless genuflections, a mist of brimming tears, agonies of un-
resolvable adoration. He touched her wrist, like a dying doctor.
A quiet madman, he caressed the parallel strokes of the delicate
down shading the brunette's forearm. He went back to her
105.05 knuckles. Fingers, please.
"I am sentimental," she said. "I could dissect a koala but not
its baby. I like the words damozel, eglantine, elegant. I love
when you kiss my elongated white hand."
She had on the back of her left hand the same small brown
105.10 spot that marked his right one. She was sure, she said—either
disingenuously or giddily—it descended from a birthmark Ma-
rina had had removed surgically from that very place years
ago when in love with a cad who complained it resembled a
105.15 On very still afternoons one could hear the pre-tunnel toot
of the two-two to Toulouse from the hill, where that exchange
can be localized.
"Cad is too strong," remarked Van.
"I used it fondly."
105.20 "Even so. I think I know the man. He has less heart than
wit, that's a fact."
As he looks, the palm of a gipsy asking for alms fades into
that of the almsgiver asking for a long life. (When will film-
makers reach the stage we have reached?) Blinking in the
105.25 green sunshine under a birch tree, Ada explained to her pas-
sionate fortuneteller that the circular marblings she shared with
Turgenev's Katya, another innocent girl, were called "waltzes"
in California ("because the señorita will dance all night").
On her twelfth birthday, July 21, 1884, the child had stopped
105.30 biting her fingernails (but not her toenails) in a grand act of
will (as her quitting cigarettes was to be, twenty years later).
True, one could list some compensations—such as a blessed
lapse into delicious sin at Christmas, when Culex chateaubriandi
Brown does not fly. A new and conclusive resolution was taken

[ 105 ]

on New Year's Eve after Mlle Larivière had threatened to smear
poor Ada's fingertips with French mustard and tie green, yel-
low, orange, red, pink riding hoods of wool around them (the
yellow index was a trouvaille).
106.05 Soon after the birthday picnic, when kissing the hands of his
little sweetheart had become a tender obsession with Van, her
nails, although still on the squarish side, became strong enough
to deal with the excruciating itch that local children experienced
in midsummer.
106.10 During the last week of July, there emerged, with diabolical
regularity, the female of Chateaubriand's mosquito, Chateau-
briand (Charles), who had not been the first to be bitten by
it . . . but the first to bottle the offender, and with cries of
vindictive exultation to carry it to Professor Brown who wrote
106.15 the rather slap-bang Original Description ("small black palpi . . .
hyaline wings . . . yellowy in certain lights . . . which should be
extinguished if one keeps open the kasements [German print-
er!] . . ." The Boston Entomologist for August, quick work,
1840) was not related to the great poet and memoirist born
106.20 between Paris and Tagne (as he'd better, said Ada, who liked
crossing orchids).
Mon enfant, ma sœur,
Songe à l'épaisseur
Du grand chêne a Tagne;
106.25 Songe à la montagne,
Songe à la douceur—
—of scraping with one's claws or nails the spots visited by
that fluffy-footed insect characterized by an insatiable and reck-
less appetite for Ada's and Ardelia's, Lucette's and Lucile's
106.30 (multiplied by the itch) blood.
The "pest" appeared as suddenly as it would vanish. It settled
on pretty bare arms and legs without the hint of a hum, in a

[ 106 ]

kind of recueilli silence, that—by contrast—caused the sudden
insertion of its absolutely hellish proboscis to resemble the brass
crash of a military band. Five minutes after the attack in the
crepuscule, between porch step and cricket-crazed garden, a
107.05 fiery irritation would set in, which the strong and the cold
ignored (confident it would last a mere hour) but which the
weak, the adorable, the voluptuous took advantage of to scratch
and scratch and scratch scrumptiously (canteen cant). "Sladko!
(Sweet!)" Pushkin used to exclaim in relation to a different
107.10 species in Yukon. During the week following her birthday,
Ada's unfortunate fingernails used to stay garnet-stained and
after a particularly ecstatic, lost-to-the-world session of scratch-
ing, blood literally streamed down her shins—a pity to see,
mused her distressed admirer, but at the same time disgracefully
107.15 fascinating—for we are visitors and investigators in a strange
universe, indeed, indeed.
The girl's pale skin, so excitingly delicate to Van's eye, so
vulnerable to the beast's needle, was, nevertheless, as strong as a
stretch of Samarkand satin and withstood all self-flaying at-
107.20 tempts whenever Ada, her dark eyes veiled as in the erotic
trances Van had already begun to witness during their im-
moderate kissing, her lips parted, her large teeth lacquered with
saliva, scraped with her five fingers the pink mounds caused by
the rare insect's bite—for it is a rather rare and interesting mos-
107.25 quito (described—not quite simultaneously—by two angry old
men—the second was Braun, the Philadelphian dipterist, a much
better one than the Boston professor), and rare and rapturous
was the sight of my beloved trying to quench the lust of her
precious skin, leaving at first pearly, then ruby, stripes along
107.30 her enchanting leg and briefly attaining a drugged beatitude
into which, as into a vacuum, the ferocity of the itch would
rush with renewed strength.
"Look here," said Van, "if you do not stop now when I say

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one, two, three, I shall open this knife" (opening the knife) "and
slash my leg to match yours. Oh, please, devour your finger-
nails! Anything is more welcome."
Because, perhaps, Van's lifestream was too bitter—even in
108.05 those glad days—Chateaubriand's mosquito never cared much
for him. Nowadays it seems to be getting extinct, what with the
cooler climate and the moronic draining of the lovely rich
marshes in the Ladore region as well as near Kaluga, Conn.,
and Lugano, Pa. (A short series, all females, replete with their
108.10 fortunate captor's blood, has recently been collected, I am told
in a secret habitat quite far from the above-mentioned stations.
Ada's note.)

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