Summer with Lolita

Summer with Lolita

Summer with Lolita 1014 1600 Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri

The summer you read Lolita, you were eleven, almost twelve. The house smelled of mother’s milk and newborn baby. It smelled of diapers too; not the stench of toddler stools, just a fragrance of milk delivered through clean, new bowels. You didn’t dislike it, and your nose remembered the last time the house had that smell, when you were little and your parents allowed you to fall asleep next to another newborn on their bed.

Your third brother was already three months old but he still had eyes for nothing but your mother. Neither did he have a mouth for anything but her. His pacifiers were launched right at your face whenever you tried to tide him over to his next meal. You’d take him out for walks in his pram, show him off to your girlfriends who thought he was cute. But when you extracted him from his blankets and straps, he’d wake up and cry as though he’d never seen you before—as though you’d abducted him.

When your mother took him into her arms, you could hear the sigh he let out from the next room as his wailing stopped mid-sentence. You were already on your bed, reading a book, or rather holding it, pressing it hard around the index finger you used as a bookmark, thinking there wasn’t enough room for four kids in the car, in the house, in your head.

It was a summer of waiting. For the weather to improve. For Dad to come home from work. For Mom to stop yelling when he was late. For the kitchen to be clean. For soup that didn’t come out of a bag. For the cloud cover to pull away. For just one night of midnight sun. For a day warm enough for short sleeves. For your shirts to tighten over your chest. For your legs to fill your jeans. For your parents to take you to Granma’s house on the island.

The summer before, on the island, there was dessert on the table every day. Your bell-bottom jeans looked just right on you; they flapped around your legs when you ran down the path from the house to the road. Your brothers were old enough to play by themselves, and Granma thought you were a good girl if you helped with the dishes. In the afternoon hours while Granma had her nap, you’d read Nancy Drew and old comics and you couldn’t wait to turn the page to find out how it ended. And there was always a hum from a trapped fly in the windowsill, the same as last summer and the one before. When the book ended and Nancy had solved the mystery, you could join your brothers and play until the sun hid behind the nearby mountain and the fiord turned dark and deep.

The summer you read Lolita, you read your way through the midnight grey, working through meters of bookshelf, night after night, but the mysteries were shallow and the solutions left you dry. You needed a new book before you had finished the last. You woke up with dark shadows under your eyes. Your mom asked if you were unwell, then, before you could answer, told you to go out and do something with your other brothers, keep them out of the house so they wouldn’t wake the baby.

The forest behind your house was damp, the soil slippery. Cold droplets crept down your spine, tracing the jagged line of your shoulder blade. You took your brothers with you to the small hut of moss and branches you’d built when the snow thawed in May, and still believed you could sleep in it sometime that summer. When you got there, you discovered the hut had shrunk, and the beds you’d prepared inside of twigs and turf were all soggy, reeking of eternal rain. But you were too old to play house anyway, so you didn’t really care. You just plucked the moss off the branches, piece by piece, until only the skeleton was left. And when your brothers ran off to the soccer field, you just stood there, wondering where to go.

The summer you read Lolita, the house was full of people yet there was no one to talk to. And they never left you alone, but came banging on your bedroom door as soon as you’d started doing something, asking you what you were up to and couldn’t you please come out and help with the kids. Then suddenly they’d decide to go on a family day-trip and discover the Opel was too small for six.

You were old enough to stay at home alone, even happy to have some space, but when you waved goodbye from the porch, the house was already too big and quiet. If you felt alone, you could run over to your cousin’s, of course. It was just a few minutes away, so close you would hardly get wet. And you thought about that for a while; but what would you talk about when you got there? If you had nothing to say, a book was better company. You thought of the books in your room, stacks of solved mysteries and girls with sunny smiles, and nothing new to discover in any of them. But nobody was there to guard that upper shelf of the wooden bookcase your dad had made.

Standing on the piano stool you ran your finger ran across the brown, green, and blue hardcovers from the Norwegian Book Club. The backs with the chiseled B and the two leaves felt hard and grown-up. Lolita was green. You’d heard the name, seen it in the monthly magazine that came with the book, and was in the magazine holder pile by the fireplace. You’d seen glances. Your mom hadn’t discussed it in her book circle, but you’d heard enough to know there was something budding inside.

The green book filled your nights. Many times you picked it up, read a few pages, threw it under your bed, and went hiding beneath your covers. You studied the stages of blushing. From a hint of pink on your cheeks, to bright specks on your neck, and finally flashes of heat in secret places further down. It was all a question of reading just a few more lines. The fire wasn’t in your loins but somewhere deeper, more secluded. You wanted to finish the book and throw it away; and you wanted to linger on the page until you couldn’t take it anymore.

After the last page, you held it hard against your chest until your breasts ached. Then you slid it under your mattress, thinking you might want to read some passage again, just once. You never did. The book’s presence, there, a few inches down, was enough.

The summer you read Lolita, when the sun finally came out, it was too late. Still, everybody else’s spirits lifted as the meadows dried and the blueberries ripened. You heard your mom tell your dad “She’s coming to that age,” after your dad asked her what was wrong with you.

Something had started growing behind your nipples. It was hard and looked nothing like your mom’s boobs, none of the generous milkiness. You examined it until it hurt. Then, while pulling down your undershirt, you’d think of Lolita and wonder if she ever touched herself, or if other people’s touching turned her off all that.

The summer you read Lolita, the odours in the house changed. Before the leaves turned, your baby brother took a liking to bananas and carrots. You fed him distractedly while scanning your life for Humberts. Eager Humbert hands, tickling your neck. Hungry Humbert eyes, summoning you to sin. When you closed your eyes, familiar faces lined up, innocents and suspected Humberts all jumbled up: Not him; oh no, certainly not him. And you wanted to know and you wanted to forget, and you wanted to feel the heat and you wanted it to snow and the summer to be over.

And there were other summers and other books from the same shelf. There were other babies in the house, and a red minibus everyone fit into. And softness covered and shielded the hard kernel of your breast, eventually, and stroking it gave you solace. But the summer you read Lolita, you knew there was no going back.

A version of this piece was published in Sycamore Review, 2015.

Header photo © Brett Stout.

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