Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 1, Chapter 9 (view annotations)

Was she really pretty, at twelve? Did he want—would he ever
want to caress her, to really caress her? Her black hair cascaded
over one clavicle and the gesture she made of shaking it back
and the dimple on her pale cheek were revelations with an ele-
58.05 ment of immediate recognition about them. Her pallor shone,
her blackness blazed. The pleated skirts she liked were becom-
ingly short. Even her bare limbs were so free from suntan that
one’s gaze, stroking her white shins and forearms, could follow
upon them the regular slants of fine dark hairs, the silks of her
58.10 girlhood. The iridal dark-brown of her serious eyes had the
enigmatic opacity of an Oriental hypnotist’s look (in a maga-
zine’s back-page advertisement) and seemed to be placed higher
than usual so that between its lower rim and the moist lower lid
a cradle crescent of white remained when she stared straight
58.15 at you. Her long eyelashes seemed blackened, and in fact were.
Her features were saved from elfin prettiness by the thickish
shape of her parched lips. Her plain Irish nose was Van’s in
miniature. Her teeth were fairly white, but not very even.
Her poor pretty hands—one could not help cooing with pity
58.20 over them—rosy in comparison to the translucent skin of the

[ 58 ]

arm, rosier even than the elbow that seemed to be blushing for
the state of her nails: she bit them so thoroughly that all vestige
of free margin was replaced by a groove cutting into the flesh
with the tightness of wire and lending an additional spatule of
59.05 length to her naked fingertips. Later, when he was so fond of
kissing her cold hands she would clench them, allowing his lips
nothing but knuckle, but he would fiercely pry her hand open
to get at those flat blind little cushions. (But, oh my, oh, the
long, languid, rose-and-silver, painted and pointed, delicately
59.10 stinging onyxes of her adolescent and adult years!)
What Van experienced in those first strange days when she
showed him the house—and those nooks in it where they were
to make love so soon—combined elements of ravishment and
exasperation. Ravishment—because of her pale, voluptuous, im-
59.15 permissible skin, her hair, her legs, her angular movements, her
gazelle-grass odor, the sudden black stare of her wide-set eyes,
the rustic nudity under her dress; exasperation—because be-
tween him, an awkward schoolboy of genius, and that pre-
cocious, affected, impenetrable child there extended a void of
59.20 light and a veil of shade that no force could overcome and
pierce. He swore wretchedly in the hopelessness of his bed as he
focused his swollen senses on the glimpse of her he had en-
gulfed when, on their second excursion to the top of the house,
she had mounted upon a captain’s trunk to unhasp a sort of
59.25 illuminator through which one acceded to the roof (even the
dog had once gone there), and a bracket or something
wrenched up her skirt and he saw—as one sees some sickening
miracle in a Biblical fable or a moth’s shocking metamorphosis
—that the child was darkly flossed. He noticed that she seemed
59.30 to have noticed that he had or might have noticed (what he
not only noticed but retained with tender terror until he freed
himself of that vision—much later—and in strange ways), and
an odd, dull, arrogant look passed across her face: her sunken
cheeks and fat pale lips moved as if she were chewing some-

[ 59 ]

thing, and she emitted a yelp of joyless laughter when he, big
Van, slipped on a tile after wriggling in his turn through the
skylight. And in the sudden sun, he realized that until then, he,
small Van, had been a blind virgin, since haste, dust and dusk
60.05 had obscured the mousy charms of his first harlot, so often
His sentimental education now went on fast. Next morn-
ing, he happened to catch sight of her washing her face and
arms over an old-fashioned basin on a rococo stand, her hair
60.10 knotted on the top of her head, her nightgown twisted around
her waist like a clumsy corolla out of which issued her slim
back, rib-shaded on the near side. A fat snake of porcelain
curled around the basin, and as both the reptile and he stopped
to watch Eve and the soft woggle of her bud-breasts in profile,
60.15 a big mulberry-colored cake of soap slithered out of her hand,
and her black-socked foot hooked the door shut with a bang
which was more the echo of the soap’s crashing against the
marble board than a sign of pudic displeasure.

[ 60 ]

(back to Part One, Chapter 8)
(forward to Part One, Chapter 10)

(This page is part of ADAonline, which depends on frames for navigation. If you have been referred to this page without the surrounding frameset, follow this link.)