feeling the thump
Posted on June 19, 2008
Natasha undressed by a candle’s wan flame, and saw her reflection in the murky glass of the window — her pale, thin neck, the dark braid that had fallen across her clavicle. She stood like that, in motionless languor, and suddenly it seemed to her that the room, together with the couch, the table littered with cigarette stubs, the bed on which, with open mouth, a sharp-nosed, sweaty old man slept restlessly — all this started to move, and was now floating, like the deck of a ship, into the black night. She sighed, ran a hand across her warm bare shoulder, and, transported partly by dizziness, lowered herself onto the couch. Then, with a vague smile, she began rolling down and pulling off her old, oft-mended stockings. Once again the room started floating, and she felt as if someone were blowing hot air onto the back of her head. She opened her eyes wide — dark, elongated eyes, whose whites has a bluish sheen. An autumn fly began to circle the candle and, like a buzzing black pea, collided with the wall.
More Nabokov. Of all the visceral things in this passage, it’s that fly at the end that just brings it all together, makes it all real, and surprising. Who the hell would think to describe a fly as a buzzing pea, yet somehow you can hear that pea hit the wall — you know exactly the sound, and the slight, tiny hard thump. Just brilliant, that’s all. This is from “Natasha,” a short story that Nabokov — and I’m going to butcher the background a bit — left unfinished and wanted unpublished. I think he asked that it be destroyed. But his wife tucked it away, unable to burn it as he’d requested. Then his son hung onto it, unwilling to publish it but also unwilling to torch it. And now here we have it. I felt a little bad reading it; Nabokov never meant it to be read, didn’t want us to see it in this state. Yet why didn’t he destroy it himself, then? It’s in the June 9-16 double issue of The New Yorker.