Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 1, Chapter 32 (view annotations)

The shooting script was now ready. Marina, in dorean robe
and coolie hat, reclined reading in a long-chair on the patio.
Her director, G.A. Vronsky, elderly, baldheaded, with a
spread of grizzled fur on his fat chest, was alternately sipping
197.05 his vodka-and-tonic and feeding Marina typewritten pages from
a folder. On her other side, crosslegged on a mat, sat Pedro
(surname unknown, stagename forgotten), a repulsively hand-
some, practically naked young actor, with satyr ears, slanty
eyes, and lynx nostrils, whom she had brought from Mexico and
197.10 was keeping at a hotel in Ladore.
Ada, lying on the edge of the swimming pool, was doing
her best to make the shy dackel face the camera in a reasonably
upright and decent position, while Philip Rack, an insignificant
but on the whole likable young musician who in his baggy
197.15 trunks looked even more dejected and awkward than in the
green velvet suit he thought fit to wear for the piano lessons he
gave Lucette, was trying to take a picture of the recalcitrant
chop-licking animal and of the girl's parted breasts which her
half-prone position helped to disclose in the opening of her
197.20 bathing suit.

[ 197 ]

If one dollied now to another group standing a few paces
away under the purple garlands of the patio arch, one might
take a medium shot of the young maestro's pregnant wife in a
polka-dotted dress replenishing goblets with salted almonds, and
198.05 of our distinguished lady novelist resplendent in mauve flounces,
mauve hat, mauve shoes, pressing a zebra vest on Lucette, who
kept rejecting it with rude remarks, learned from a maid but
uttered in a tone of voice just beyond deafish Mlle Larivière's
field of hearing.
198.10 Lucette remained topless. Her tight smooth skin was the
color of thick peach syrup, her little crupper in willow-green
shorts rolled drolly, the sun lay sleek on her russet bob and
plumpish torso: it showed but a faint circumlocution of femin-
inity, and Van, in a scowling mood, recalled with mixed feelings
198.15 how much more developed her sister had been at not quite
twelve years of age.
He had spent most of the day fast asleep in his room, and a
long, rambling, dreary dream had repeated, in a kind of point-
less parody, his strenuous "Casanovanic" night with Ada and
198.20 that somehow ominous morning talk with her. Now that I am
writing this, after so many hollows and heights of time, I find
it not easy to separate our conversation, as set down in an in-
evitably stylized form, and the drone of complaints, turning
on sordid betrayals that obsessed young Van in his dull night-
198.25 mare. Or was he dreaming now that he had been dreaming?
Had a grotesque governess really written a novel entitled Les
Enfants Maudits? To be filmed by frivolous dummies, now dis-
cussing its adaptation? To be made even triter than the original
Book of the Fortnight, and its gurgling blurbs? Did he detest
198.30 Ada as he had in his dreams? He did.
Now, at fifteen, she was an irritating and hopeless beauty;
a rather unkempt one, too; only twelve hours ago, in the dim
toolroom he had whispered a riddle in her ear: what begins with
a "de" and rhymes more or less with a Silesian river ant? She

[ 198 ]

was eccentric in habits and clothing. She cared nothing for
sunbathing, and not a tinge of the tan that had californized
Lucette could be traced on the shameless white of Ada's long
limbs and scrawny shoulder blades.
199.05 A remote cousin, no longer René's sister, not even his half-
sister (so lyrically anathematized by Monparnasse), she stepped
over him as over a log and returned the embarrassed dog to
Marina. The actor, who quite likely would run into somebody's
fist in a forthcoming scene, made a filthy remark in broken
199.10 French.
"Du sollst nicht zuhören," murmured Ada to German Dack
before putting him back in Marina's lap under the "accursed
children." "On ne parle pas comme ça devant un chien," added
Ada, not deigning to glance at Pedro, who nevertheless got up,
199.15 reconstructed his crotch, and beat her to the pool with a Nur-
jinski leap.
Was she really beautiful? Was she at least what they call
attractive? She was exasperation, she was torture. The silly girl
had heaped her hair under a rubber cap, and this gave an un-
199.20 familiar, vaguely clinical look to her neck, with its odd dark
wisps and strags, as if she had obtained a nurse's job and would
never dance again. Her faded, bluish-gray, one-piece swimsuit
had a spot of grease and a hole above one hip—nibbled through,
one might conjecture, by a tallow-starved larva—and seemed
199.25 much too short for careless comfort. She smelled of damp cot-
ton, axillary tufts, and nenuphars, like mad Ophelia. None of
those minor matters would have annoyed Van, had she and he
been alone together; but the presence of the all-male actor made
everything obscene, drab and insupportable. We move back to
199.30 the lip of the pool.
Our young man, being exceptionally brezgliv (squeamish,
easily disgusted), had no desire to share a few cubic meters of
chlorinated celestino ("blues your bath") with two other fel-
lows. He was emphatically not Japanese. He always remem-

[ 199 ]

bered, with shudders of revulsion, the indoor pool of his prep
school, the running noses, the pimpled chests, the chance con-
tacts with odious male flesh, the suspicious bubble bursting like
a small stink bomb, and especially, especially, the bland, sly,
200.05 triumphant and absolutely revolting wretch who stood in
shoulder-high water and secretly urinated (and, God, how he
had beaten him up, though that Vere de Vere was three years
older than he).
He now kept carefully out of reach of any possible splash as
200.10 Pedro and Phil snorted and fooled in their foul bath. Presently
the pianist, floating up and showing his awful gums in a servile
grin, tried to draw Ada into the pool from her outstretched
position on the tiled margin, but she evaded the grab of his
despair by embracing the big orange ball she had just fished
200.15 out and, pushing him away with that shield, she then threw it
toward Van, who slapped it aside, refusing the gambit, ignoring
the gambol, scorning the gambler.
And now hairy Pedro hoisted himself onto the brink and
began to flirt with the miserable girl (his banal attentions were,
200.20 really, the least of her troubles).
"Your leetle aperture must be raccommodated," he said.
"Que voulez-vous dire, for goodness sake?" she asked, in-
stead of dealing him a backhand wallop.
"Permit that I contact your charming penetralium," the idiot
200.25 insisted, and put a wet finger on the hole in her swimsuit.
"Oh that" (shrugging and rearranging the shoulder strap dis-
placed by the shrug). "Never mind that. Next time, maybe, I'll
put on my fabulous new bikini."
"Next time, maybe, no Pedro?"
200.30 "Too bad," said Ada. "Now go and fetch me a Coke, like a
good dog."
"E tu?" Pedro asked Marina as he walked past her chair.
"Again screwdriver?"

[ 200 ]

"Yes, dear, but with grapefruit, not orange, and a little zuc-
chero. I can't understand" (turning to Vronsky), "why do I
sound a hundred years old on this page and fifteen on the next?
Because if it is a flashback—and it is a flashback, I suppose" (she
201.05 pronounced it fleshbeck), "Renny, or what's his name, René,
should not know what he seems to know."
"He does not," cried G.A., "it's only a half-hearted flashback.
Anyway, this Renny, this lover number one, does not know,
of course, that she is trying to get rid of lover number two,
201.10 while she's wondering all the time if she can dare go on dating
number three, the gentleman farmer, see?"
"Nu, eto chto-to slozhnovato (sort of complicated), Grigoriy
Akimovich," said Marina, scratching her cheek, for she always
tended to discount, out of sheer self-preservation, the consid-
201.15 erably more slozhnïe patterns of her own past.
"Read on, read, it all becomes clear," said G.A., riffling
through his own copy.
"Incidentally," observed Marina, "I hope dear Ida will not
object to our making him not only a poet, but a ballet dancer.
201.20 Pedro could do that beautifully, but he can't be made to recite
French poetry."
"If she protests," said Vronsky, "she can go and stick a tele-
graph pole—where it belongs."
The indecent "telegraph" caused Marina, who had a secret
201.25 fondness for salty jokes, to collapse in Ada-like ripples of rolling
laughter (pokativshis' so smehu vrode Adï): "But let's be seri-
ous, I still don't see how and why his wife—I mean the second
guy's wife—accepts the situation (polozhenie)."
Vronsky spread his fingers and toes.
201.30 "Prichyom tut polozhenie (situation-shituation)? She is bliss-
fully ignorant of their affair and besides, she knows she is fubsy
and frumpy, and simply cannot compete with dashing Hélène."
"I see, but some won't," said Marina.

[ 201 ]

In the meantime, Herr Rack swam up again and joined Ada
on the edge of the pool, almost losing his baggy trunks in the
process of an amphibious heave.
"Permit me, Ivan, to get you also a nice cold Russian kok?"
202.05 said Pedro—really a very gentle and amiable youth at heart.
"Get yourself a cocoanut," replied nasty Van, testing the poor
faun, who did not get it, in any sense, and, giggling pleasantly,
went back to his mat. Claudius, at least, did not court Ophelia.
The melancholy young German was in a philosophical mood
202.10 shading into the suicidal. He had to return to Kalugano with
his Elsie, who Doc Ecksreher thought "would present him
with driplets in dry weeks." He hated Kalugano, his and her
home town, where in a moment of "mutual aberration" stupid
Elsie had given him her all on a park bench after a wonderful
202.15 office party at Muzakovski's Organs where the oversexed pitiful
oaf had a good job.
"When are you leaving?" asked Ada.
"Forestday—after tomorrow."
"Fine. That's fine. Adieu, Mr. Rack."
202.20 Poor Philip drooped, fingerpainting sad nothings on wet stone,
shaking his heavy head, gulping visibly.
"One feels . . . One feels," he said, "that one is merely playing
a role and has forgotten the next speech."
"I'm told many feel that," said Ada; "it must be a furchtbar
202.25 feeling."
"Cannot be helped? No hope any more at all? I am dying,
"You are dead, Mr. Rack," said Ada.
She had been casting sidelong glances, during that dreadful
202.30 talk, and now saw pure, fierce Van under the tulip tree, quite
a way off, one hand on his hip, head thrown back, drinking
beer from a bottle. She left the pool edge, with its corpse, and
moved toward the tulip tree making a strategic detour between

[ 202 ]

the authoress, who—still unaware of what they were doing to
her novel—was dozing in a deckchair (out of whose wooden
arms her chubby fingers grew like pink mushrooms), and the
leading lady, now puzzling over a love scene where the young
203.05 chatelaine's "radiant beauty" was mentioned.
"But," said Marina, "how can one act out 'radiant,' what does
radiant beauty mean?"
"Pale beauty," said Pedro helpfully, glancing up at Ada as
she passed by, "the beauty for which many men would cut off
203.10 their members."
"Okay," said Vronsky. "Let us get on with this damned
script. He leaves the pool-side patio, and since we contemplate
doing it in color—"
Van left the pool-side patio and strode away. He turned into
203.15 a side gallery that led into a grovy part of the garden, grading
insensibly into the park proper. Presently, he noticed that Ada
had hastened to follow him. Lifting one elbow, revealing the
black star of her armpit, she tore off her bathing cap and with
a shake of her head liberated a torrent of hair. Lucette, in color,
203.20 trotted behind her. Out of charity for the sisters' bare feet, Van
changed his course from gravel path to velvet lawn (reversing
the action of Dr. Ero, pursued by the Invisible Albino in one
of the greatest novels of English literature). They caught up
with him in the Second Coppice. Lucette, in passing, stopped
203.25 to pick up her sister's cap and sunglasses—the sunglasses of
much-sung lasses, a shame to throw them away! My tidy little
Lucette (I shall never forget you . . .) placed both objects on
a tree stump near an empty beer bottle, trotted on, then went
back to examine a bunch of pink mushrooms that clung to the
203.30 stump, snoring. Double take, double exposure.
"Are you furious, because—" began Ada upon overtaking
him (she had prepared a sentence about her having to be polite
after all to a piano tuner, practically a servant, with an obscure

[ 203 ]

heart ailment and a vulgar pathetic wife—but Van interrupted
"I object," he said, expelling it like a rocket, "to two things.
A brunette, even a sloppy brunette, should shave her groin be-
204.05 fore exposing it, and a well-bred girl does not allow a beastly
lecher to poke her in the ribs even if she must wear a moth-
eaten, smelly rag much too short for her charms." "Ach!" he
added, "why the hell did I return to Ardis!"
"I promise, I promise to be more careful from now on and
204.10 not let lousy Pedro come near," she said with happy rigorous
nods—and an exhalation of glorious relief, the cause of which
was to torture Van only much later.
"Oh, wait for me!" yelped Lucette.
(Torture, my poor love! Torture! Yes! But it's all sunk and
204.15 dead. Ada's late note.)
The three of them formed a pretty Arcadian combination as
they dropped on the turf under the great weeping cedar,
whose aberrant limbs extended an oriental canopy (propped up
here and there by crutches made of its own flesh like this book)
204.20 above two black and one golden-red head as they had above
you and me on dark warm nights when we were reckless,
happy children.
Van, sprawling supine, sick with memories, put his hands
behind his nape and slit his eyes at the Lebanese blue of the sky
204.25 between the fascicles of the foliage. Lucette fondly admired his
long lashes while pitying his tender skin for the inflamed
blotches and prickles between neck and jaw where shaving
caused the most trouble. Ada, her keepsake profile inclined, her
mournful magdalene hair hanging down (in sympathy with the
204.30 weeping shadows) along her pale arm, sat examining abstractly
the yellow throat of a waxy-white helleborine she had picked.
She hated him, she adored him. He was brutal, she was defense-
Lucette, always playing her part of the clinging, affection-

[ 204 ]

ately fussy lassy, placed both palms on Van's hairy chest and
wanted to know why he was cross.
"I'm not cross with you," replied Van at last.
Lucette kissed his hand, then attacked him.
205.05 "Cut it out!" he said, as she wriggled against his bare thorax.
"You're unpleasantly cold, child."
"It's not true, I'm hot," she retorted.
"Cold as two halves of a canned peach. Now, roll off, please."
"Why two? Why?"
205.10 "Yes, why," growled Ada with a shiver of pleasure, and,
leaning over, kissed him on the mouth. He struggled to rise.
The two girls were now kissing him alternatively, then kissing
each other, then getting busy upon him again—Ada in perilous
silence, Lucette with soft squeals of delight. I do not remember
205.15 what Les Enfants Maudits did or said in Monparnasse's novelette
—they lived in Bryant's château, I think, and it began with bats
flying one by one out of a turret's oeil-de-boeuf into the sunset,
but these children (whom the novelettist did not really know—
a delicious point) might also have been filmed rather entertain-
205.20 ingly had snoopy Kim, the kitchen photo-fiend, possessed the
necessary apparatus. One hates to write about those matters,
it all comes out so improper, esthetically speaking, in written
description, but one cannot help recalling in this ultimate twi-
light (where minor artistic blunders are fainter than very fugi-
205.25 tive bats in an insect-poor wilderness of orange air) that Lu-
cette's dewy little contributions augmented rather than damp-
ened Van's invariable reaction to the only and main girl's light-
est touch, actual or imagined. Ada, her silky mane sweeping
over his nipples and navel, seemed to enjoy doing everything to
205.30 jolt my present pencil and make, in that ridiculously remote
past, her innocent little sister notice and register what Van
could not control. The crushed flower was now being merrily
crammed under the rubber belt of his black trunks by twenty
tickly fingers. As an ornament it had not much value; as a game

[ 205 ]

it was inept and dangerous. He shook off his pretty tormentors,
and walked away on his hands, a black mask over his carnival
nose. Just then, the governess, panting and shouting, arrived on
the scene. "Mais qu'est-ce qu'il t'a fait, ton cousin?" she kept
206.05 anxiously asking, as Lucette, shedding the same completely un-
warranted tears that Ada had once shed, rushed into the mauve-
winged arms.

[ 206 ]

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