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Vladimir Nabokov. The Vane Sisters

I might never have heard of Cynthia's death, had I notrun, that night, into D., whom I had also lost track of for thelast four years or so; and I might never have run into D. had Inot got involved in a series of trivial investigations. The day, a compunctious Sunday after a week of blizzards,had been part jewel, part mud. In the midst of my usualafternoon stroll through the small hilly town attached to thegirls' college where I taught French literature, I had stoppedto watch a family of brilliant icicles drip-dripping from theeaves of a frame house. So clear-cut were their pointed shadowson the white boards behind them that I was sure the shadows ofthe falling drops should be visible too. But they were not. Theroof jutted too far out, perhaps, or the angle of vision wasfaulty, or, again, I did not chance to be watching the righticicle when the right drop fell. There was a rhythm, analternation in the dripping that I found as teasing as a cointrick. It led me to inspect the corners of several houseblocks, and this brought me to Kelly Road, and right to thehouse where D. used to live when he was instructor here. And asI looked up at the eaves of the adjacent garage with its fulldisplay of transparent stalactites backed by their bluesilhouettes, I was rewarded at last, upon choosing one, by thesight of what might be described as the dot of an exclamationmark leaving its ordinary position to glide down very fast-- ajot faster than the thaw-drop it raced. This twinned twinklewas delightful but not completely satisfying; or rather it onlysharpened my appetite for other tidbits of light and shade, andI walked on in a state of raw awareness that seemed totransform the whole of my being into one big eyeball rolling inthe world's socket. Through peacocked lashes I saw the dazzling diamondreflection of the low sun on the round back of a parkedautomobile. To all kinds of things a vivid pictorial sense hadbeen restored by the sponge of the thaw. Water in overlappingfestoons flowed down one sloping street and turned gracefullyinto another. With ever so slight a note of meretriciousappeal, narrow passages between buildings revealed treasures ofbrick and purple. I remarked for the first time the humblefluting-- last echoes of grooves on the shafts of columns--ornamenting a garbage can, and I also saw the rippling upon itslid-- circles diverging from a fantastically ancient center.Erect, dark-headed shapes of dead snow (left by the blades of abulldozer last Friday) were lined up like rudimentary penguinsalong the curbs, above the brilliant vibration of live gutters. I walked up, and I walked down, and I walked straight intoa delicately dying sky, and finally the sequence of observedand observant things brought me, at my usual eating time, to astreet so distant from my usual eating place that I decided totry a restaurant which stood on the fringe of the town. Nighthad fallen without sound or ceremony when I came out again. Thelean ghost, the elongated umbra cast by a parking meter uponsome damp snow, had a strange ruddy tinge; this I made out tobe due to the tawny red light of the restaurant sign above thesidewalk; and it was then-- as I loitered there, wonderingrather wearily if in the course of my return tramp I might belucky enough to find the same in neon blue-- it was then that acar crunched to a standstill near me and D. got out of it withan exclamation of feigned pleasure. He was passing, on his way from Albany to Boston, throughthe town he had dwelt in before, and more than once in my lifehave I felt that stab of vicarious emotion followed by a rushof personal irritation against travelers who seem to feelnothing at all upon revisiting spots that ought to harass themat every step with wailing and writhing memories. He ushered meback into the bar that I had just left, and after the usualexchange of buoyant platitudes came the inevitable vacuum whichhe filled with the random words: "Say, I never thought therewas anything wrong with Cynthia Vane's heart. My lawyer tellsme she died last week." He was still young, still brash, still shifty, stillmarried to the gentle, exquisitely pretty woman who had neverlearned or suspected anything about his disastrous affair withCynthia's hysterical young sister, who in her turn had knownnothing of the interview I had had with Cynthia when shesuddenly summoned me to Boston to make me swear I would talk toD. and get him "kicked out" if he did not stop seeing Sybil atonce-- or did not divorce his wife (whom incidentally shevisualized through the prism of Sybil's wild talk as atermagant and a fright). I had cornered him immediately. He hadsaid there was nothing to worry about-- had made up his mind,anyway, to give up his college job and move with his wife toAlbany, where he would work in his father's firm; and the wholematter, which had threatened to become one of those hopelesslyentangled situations that drag on for years, with peripheralsets of well-meaning friends endlessly discussing it inuniversal secrecy-- and even founding, among themselves, newintimacies upon its alien woes-- came to an abrupt end. I remember sitting next day at my raised desk in the largeclassroom where a midyear examination in French Lit. was beingheld on the eve of Sybil's suicide. She came in on high heels,with a suitcase, dumped it in a corner where several other bagswere stacked, with a single shrug slipped her fur coat off herthin shoulders, folded it on her bag, and with two or threeother girls stopped before my desk to ask when I would mailthem their grades. It would take me a week, beginning fromtomorrow, I said, to read the stuff. I also remember wonderingwhether D. had already informed her of his decision-- and Ifelt acutely unhappy about my dutiful little student as during150 minutes my gaze kept reverting to her, so childishly slightin close-fitting gray, and kept observing that carefully waveddark hair, that small, small-flowered hat with a little hyalineveil as worn that season, and under it her small face brokeninto a cubist pattern by scars due to a skin disease,pathetically masked by a sunlamp tan that hardened herfeatures, whose charm was further impaired by her havingpainted everything that could be painted, so that the pale gumsof her teeth between cherry-red chapped lips and the dilutedblue ink of her eyes under darkened lids were the only visibleopenings into her beauty. Next day, having arranged the ugly copybooksalphabetically, I plunged into their chaos of scripts and cameprematurely to Valevsky and Vane, whose books I had somehowmisplaced. The first was dressed up for the occasion in asemblance of legibility, but Sybil's work displayed her usualcombination of several demon hands. She had begun in very pale,very hard pencil which had conspicuously embossed the blackverso, but had produced little of permanent value on the upperside of the page. Happily the tip soon broke, and Sybilcontinued in another, darker lead, gradually lapsing into theblurred thickness of what looked almost like charcoal, towhich, by sucking the blunt point, she had contributed sometraces of lipstick. Her work, although even poorer than I hadexpected, bore all the signs of a kind of desperateconscientiousness, with underscores, transposes, unnecessaryfootnotes, as if she were intent upon rounding up things in themost respectable manner possible. Then she had borrowed MaryValevsky's fountain pen and added: "Cette examain est finieainsi que ma vie. Adieu, jeunes filles! Please, Monsieurle Professeur, contact ma soeur and tell her thatDeath was not better than D minus, but definitely better thanLife minus D." I lost no time in ringing up Cynthia, who told me it wasall over-- had been all over since eight in the morning-- andasked me to bring her the note, and when I did, beamed throughher tears with proud admiration for the whimsical use ("Justlike her!") Sybil had made of an examination in Frenchliterature. In no time she "fixed" two highballs, while neverparting with Sybil's notebook-- by now splashed with soda waterand tears-- and went on studying the death message, whereupon Iwas impelled to point out to her the grammatical mistakes in itand to explain the way "girl" is translated in Americancolleges lest students innocently bandy around the Frenchequivalent of "wench," or worse. These rather tastelesstrivialities pleased Cynthia hugely as she rose, with gasps,above the heaving surface of her grief. And then, holding thatlimp notebook as if it were a kind of passport to a casualElysium (where pencil points do not snap and a dreamy youngbeauty with an impeccable complexion winds a lock of her hairon a dreamy forefinger, as she meditates over some celestialtest), Cynthia led me upstairs to a chilly little bedroom, justto show me, as if I were the police or a sympathetic Irishneighbor, two empty pill bottles and the tumbled bed from whicha tender, inessential body, that D. must have known down to itslast velvet detail, had been already removed. It was four or five months after her sister's death that Ibegan seeing Cynthia fairly often. By the time I had come toNew York for some vacational research in the Public Library shehad also moved to that city, where for some odd reason (invague connection, I presume, with artistic motives) she hadtaken what people, immune to gooseflesh, term a "cold water"flat, down in the scale of the city's transverse streets. Whatattracted me was neither her ways, which I thought repulsivelyvivacious, nor her looks, which other men thought striking. Shehad wide-spaced eyes very much like her sister's, of a frank,frightened blue with dark points in a radial arrangement. Theinterval between her thick black eyebrows was always shiny, andshiny too were the fleshy volutes of her nostrils. The coarsetexture of her epiderm looked almost masculine, and, in thestark lamplight of her studio, you could see the pores of herthirty-two-year-old face fairly gaping at you like something inan aquarium. She used cosmetics with as much zest as her littlesister had, but with an additional slovenliness that wouldresult in her big front teeth getting some of the rouge. Shewas handsomely dark, wore a not too tasteless mixture of fairlysmart heterogeneous things, and had a so-called good figure;but all of her was curiously frowzy, after a way I obscurelyassociated with left-wing enthusiasms in politics and"advanced" banalities in art, although, actually, she cared forneither. Her coily hairdo, on a part-and-bun basis, might havelooked feral and bizarre had it not been thoroughlydomesticated by its own soft unkemptness at the vulnerablenape. Her fingernails were gaudily painted, but badly bittenand not clean. Her lovers were a silent young photographer witha sudden laugh and two older men, brothers, who owned a smallprinting establishment across the street. I wondered at theirtastes whenever I glimpsed, with a secret shudder, thehiggledy-piggledy striation of black hairs that showed allalong her pale shins through the nylon of her stockings withthe scientific distinctness of a preparation flattened underglass; or when I felt, at her every movement, the dullish,stalish, not particularly conspicuous but all-pervading anddepressing emanation that her seldom bathed flesh spread fromunder weary perfumes and creams. Her father had gambled away the greater part of acomfortable fortune, and her mother's first husband had been ofSlav origin, but otherwise Cynthia Vane belonged to a good,respectable family. For aught we know, it may have gone back tokings and soothsayers in the mists of ultimate islands.Transferred to a newer world, to a landscape of doomed,splendid deciduous trees, her ancestry presented, in one of itsfirst phases, a white churchfill of farmers against a blackthunderhead, and then an imposing array of townsmen engaged inmercantile pursuits, as well as a number of learned men, suchas Dr. Jonathan Vane, the gaunt bore (1780-1839), who perishedin the conflagration of the steamer Lexington to becomelater an habituè of Cynthia's tilling table. I have alwayswished to stand genealogy on its head, and here I have anopportunity to do so, for it is the last scion, Cynthia, andCynthia alone, who will remain of any importance in the Vanedynasty. I am alluding of course to her artistic gift, to herdelightful, gay, but not very popular paintings, which thefriends of her friends bought at long intervals-- and I dearlyshould like to know where they went after her death, thosehonest and poetical pictures that illumined her living room--the wonderfully detailed images of metallic things, and myfavorite, Seen Through a Windshield-- a windshieldpartly covered with rime, with a brilliant trickle (from animaginary car roof) across its transparent part and, through itall, the sapphire flame of the sky and a green-and-white firtree. Cynthia had a feeling that her dead sister was notaltogether pleased with her-- had discovered by now that sheand I had conspired to break her romance; and so, in order todisarm her shade, Cynthia reverted to a rather primitive typeof sacrificial offering (tinged, however, with something ofSybil's humor), and began to send to D.'s business address, atdeliberately unfixed dates, such trifles as snapshots ofSybil's tomb in a poor light; cuttings of her own hair whichwas indistinguishable from Sybil's; a New England sectional mapwith an inked-in cross, midway between two chaste towns, tomark the spot where D. and Sybil had stopped on October thetwenty-third, in broad daylight, at a lenient motel, in a pinkand brown forest; and, twice, a stuffed skunk. Being as a conversationalist more voluble than explicit,she never could describe in full the theory of intervenientauras that she had somehow evolved. Fundamentally there wasnothing particularly new about her private creed since itpresupposed a fairly conventional hereafter, a silent solariumof immortal souls (spliced with mortal antecedents) whose mainrecreation consisted of periodical hoverings over the dearquick. The interesting point was a curious practical twist thatCynthia gave to her tame metaphysics. She was sure that herexistence was influenced by all sorts of dead friends each ofwhom took turns in directing her fate much as if she were astray kitten which a schoolgirl in passing gathers up, andpresses to her cheek, and carefully puts down again, near somesuburban hedge-- to be stroked presently by another transienthand or carried off to a world of doors by some hospitablelady. For a few hours, or for several days in a row, andsometimes recurrently, in an irregular series, for months oryears, anything that happened to Cynthia, after a given personhad died, would be, she said, in the manner and mood of thatperson. The event might be extraordinary, changing the courseof one's life; or it might be a string of minute incidents justsufficiently clear to stand out in relief against one's usualday and then shading off into still vaguer trivia as the auragradually faded. The influence might be good or bad; the mainthing was that its source could be identified. It was likewalking through a person's soul, she said. I tried to arguethat she might not always be able to determine the exact sourcesince not everybody has a recognizable soul; that there areanonymous letters and Christmas presents which anybody mightsend; that, in fact, what Cynthia called "a usual day" might beitself a weak solution of mixed auras or simply the routineshift of a humdrum guardian angel. And what about God? Did ordid not people who would resent any omnipotent dictator onearth look forward to one in heaven? And wars? What a dreadfulidea-- dead soldiers still fighting with living ones, orphantom armies trying to get at each other through the lives ofcrippled old men. But Cynthia was above generalities as she was beyondlogic. "Ah, that's Paul," she would say when the soupspitefully boiled over, or: "I guess good Betty Brown is dead"when she won a beautiful and very welcome vacuum cleaner in acharity lottery. And, with Jamesian meanderings thatexasperated my French mind, she would go back to a time whenBetty and Paul had not yet departed, and tell me of the showersof well-meant, but odd and quite unacceptable, bounties--beginning with an old purse that contained a check for threedollars which she picked up in the street and, of course,returned (to the aforesaid Betty Brown-- this is where shefirst comes in-- a decrepit colored woman hardly able to walk),and ending with an insulting proposal from an old beau of hers(this is where Paul comes in) to paint "straight" pictures ofhis house and family for a reasonable remuneration-- all ofwhich followed upon the demise of a certain Mrs. Page, a kindlybut petty old party who had pestered her with bits ofmatter-of-fact advice since Cynthia had been a child. Sybil's personality, she said, had a rainbow edge as if alittle out of focus. She said that had I known Sybil better Iwould have at once understood how Sybil-like was the aura ofminor events which, in spells, had suffused her, Cynthia's,existence after Sybil's suicide. Ever since they had lost theirmother they had intended to give up their Boston home and moveto New York, where Cynthia's paintings, they thought, wouldhave a chance to be more widely admired; but the old home hadclung to them with all its plush tentacles. Dead Sybil,however, had proceeded to separate the house from its view-- athing that affects fatally the sense of home. Right across thenarrow street a building project had come into loud, ugly,scaffolded life. A pair of familiar poplars died that spring,turning to blond skeletons. Workmen came and broke up thewarm-colored lovely old sidewalk that had a special violetsheen on wet April days and had echoed so memorably to themorning footsteps of museum-bound Mr. Lever, who upon retiringfrom business at sixty had devoted a full quarter of a centuryexclusively to the study of snails. Speaking of old men, one should add that sometimes theseposthumous auspices and interventions were in the nature ofparody. Cynthia had been on friendly terms with an eccentriclibrarian called Porlock who in the last years of his dustylife had been engaged in examining old books for miraculousmisprints such as the substitution of / for the second hin the word "hither." Contrary to Cynthia, he cared nothing forthe thrill of obscure predictions; all he sought was the freakitself, the chance that mimics choice, the flaw that looks likea flower; and Cynthia, a much more perverse amateur ofmisshapen or illicitly connected words, puns, logogriphs, andso on, had helped the poor crank to pursue a quest that in thelight of the example she cited struck me as statisticallyinsane. Anyway, she said, on the third day after his death shewas reading a magazine and had just come across a quotationfrom an imperishable poem (that she, with other gulliblereaders, believed to have been really composed in a dream) whenit dawned upon her that "Alph"' was a prophetic sequence of theinitial letters of Anna Livia Plurabelle (another sacred riverrunning through, or rather around, yet another fake dream),while the additional h modestly stood, as a privatesignpost, for the word that had so hypnotized Mr. Porlock. AndI wish I could recollect that novel or short story (by somecontemporary writer, I believe) in which, unknown to itsauthor, the first letters of the words in its last paragraphformed, as deciphered by Cynthia, a message from his deadmother. I am sorry to say that not content with these ingeniousfancies Cynthia showed a ridiculous fondness for spiritualism.I refused to accompany her to sittings in which paid mediumstook part: I knew too much about that from other sources. I didconsent, however, to attend little farces rigged up by Cynthiaand her two poker-faced gentlemen friends of the printing shop.They were podgy, polite, and rather eerie old fellows, but Isatisfied myself that they possessed considerable wit andculture. We sat down at a light little table, and cracklingtremors started almost as soon as we laid our fingertips uponit. I was treated to an assortment of ghosts that rapped outtheir reports most readily though refusing to elucidateanything that I did not quite catch. Oscar Wilde came in and inrapid garbled French, with the usual anglicisms, obscurelyaccused Cynthia's dead parents of what appeared in my jottingsas "plagiatisme." A brisk spirit contributed theunsolicited information that he, John Moore, and his brotherBill had been coal miners in Colorado and had perished in anavalanche at "Crested Beauty" in January 1883. Frederic Myers,an old hand at the game, hammered out a piece of verse (oddlyresembling Cynthia's own fugitive productions) which in partreads in my notes: What is this-- a conjuror's rabbit, Or aflawy but genuine gleam-- Which can check the perilous habit And dispel the dolorous dream? Finally, with a great crash and all kinds of shudderingsand jiglike movements on the part of the table, Leo Tolstoyvisited our little group and, when asked to identic himself byspecific traits of terrene habitation, launched upon a complexdescription of what seemed to be some Russian type of architec­tural woodwork ("figures on boards-- man, horse, cock, man,horse, cock"), all of which was difficult to take down, hard tounderstand, and impossible to verify. I attended two or three other sittings which were evensillier but I must confess that I preferred the childishentertainment they afforded and the cider we drank (Podgy andPudgy were teetotalers) to Cynthia's awful house parties. She gave them at the Wheelers' nice flat next door-- thesort of arrangement dear to her centrifugal nature, but then,of course, her own living room always looked like a dirty oldpalette. Following a barbaric, unhygienic, and adultèronscustom, the guests' coats, still warm on the inside, werecarried by quiet, baldish Bob Wheeler into the sanctity of atidy bedroom and heaped on the conjugal bed. It was also he whopoured out the drinks, which were passed around by the youngphotographer while Cynthia and Mrs. Wheeler took care of thecanapès. A late arrival had the impression of lots of loudpeople unnecessarily grouped within a smoke-blue space betweentwo mirrors gorged with reflections. Because, I suppose,Cynthia wished to be the youngest in the room, the women sheused to invite, married or single, were, at the best, in theirprecarious forties; some of them would bring from their homes,in dark taxis, intact vestiges of good looks, which, however,they lost as the party progressed. It has always amazed me theability sociable weekend revelers have of finding almost atonce, by a purely empiric but very precise method, a commondenominator of drunkenness, to which everybody loyally sticksbefore descending, all together, to the next level. The richfriendliness of the matrons was marked by tomboyish overtones,while the fixed inward look of amiably tight men was like asacrilegious parody of pregnancy. Although some of the guestswere connected in one way or another with the arts, there wasno inspired talk, no wreathed, elbow-propped heads, and ofcourse no flute girls. From some vantage point where she hadbeen sitting in a stranded mermaid pose on the pale carpet withone or two younger fellows, Cynthia, her face varnished with afilm of beaming sweat, would creep up on her knees, a profferedplate of nuts in one hand, and crisply tap with the other theathletic leg of Cochran or Corcoran, an art dealer, ensconced,on a pearl-gray sofa, between two flushed, happilydisintegrating ladies. At a further stage there would come spurts of more riotousgaiety. Corcoran or Coransky would grab Cynthia or some otherwandering woman by the shoulder and lead her into a corner toconfront her with a grinning imbroglio of private jokes andrumors, whereupon, with a laugh and a toss of her head, shewould break away. And still later there would be flurries ofintersexual chumminess, jocular reconciliations, a bare fleshyarm flung around another woman's husband (he standing veryupright in the midst of a swaying room), or a sudden rush offlirtations anger, of clumsy pursuit-- and the quiet half-smileof Bob Wheeler picking up glasses that grew like mushrooms inthe shade of chairs. After one last party of that sort, I wrote Cynthia aperfectly harmless and, on the whole, well-meant note, in whichI poked a little Latin fun at some of her guests. I alsoapologized for not having touched her whiskey, saying that as aFrenchman I preferred the grape to the grain. A few days laterI met her on the steps of the Public Library, in the brokensun, under a weak cloudburst, opening her amber umbrella,struggling with a couple of armpitted books (of which Irelieved her for a moment), Footfalls on the Boundary ofAnother World by Robert Dale Owen, and something on"Spiritualism and Christianity"; when, suddenly, with noprovocation on my part, she blazed out at me with vulgarvehemence, using poisonous words, saying-- through pear-shapeddrops of sparse rain-- that I was a prig and a snob; that Ionly saw the gestures and disguises of people; that Corcoranhad rescued from drowning, in two different oceans, two men--by an irrelevant coincidence both called Corcoran; that rompingand screeching loan Winter had a little girl doomed to growcompletely blind in a few months; and that the woman in greenwith the frecided chest whom I had snubbed in some way or otherhad written a national best-seller in 1932. Strange Cynthia! Ihad been told she could be thunderously rude to people whom sheliked and respected; one had, however, to draw the linesomewhere and since I had by then sufficiently studied herinteresting auras and other odds and ids, I decided to stopseeing her altogether. The night D. informed me of Cynthia's death I returnedafter eleven to the two-story house I shared, in horizontalsection, with an emeritus professor's widow. Upon reaching theporch I looked with the apprehension of solitude at the twokinds of darkness in the two rows of windows: the darkness ofabsence and the darkness of sleep. I could do something about the first but could notduplicate the second. My bed gave me no sense of safety; itssprings only made my nerves bounce. I plunged intoShakespeare's sonnets-- and found myself idiotically checkingthe first letters of the lines to see what sacramental wordsthey might form. I got FATE (LXX), ATOM (CXX), and, twice, TAFT(LXXXVIII, CXXXI). Every now and then I would glance around tosee how the objects in my room were behaving. It was strange tothink that if bombs began to fall I would feel little more thana gambler's excitement (and a great deal of earthy relief)whereas my heart would burst if a certain suspiciouslytense-looking little bottle on yonder shelf moved a fraction ofan inch to one side. The silence, too, was suspiciously compactas if deliberately forming a black backdrop for the nerve flashcaused by any small sound of unknown origin. All traffic wasdead. In vain did I pray for the groan of a truck up PerkinsStreet. The woman above who used to drive me crazy by thebooming thuds occasioned by what seemed monstrous feet of stone(actually, in diurnal life, she was a small dumpy creatureresembling a mummified guinea pig) would have earned myblessings had she now trudged to her bathroom. I put out mylight and cleared my throat several times so as to beresponsible for at least that sound. I thumbed a mentalride with a very remote automobile but it dropped me before Ihad a chance to doze off. Presently a crackle (due, I hoped, toa discarded and crushed sheet of paper opening like a mean,stubborn night flower) started and stopped in the wastepaperbasket, and my bed table responded with a little click. Itwould have been just like Cynthia to put on right then a cheappoltergeist show. I decided to fight Cynthia. I reviewed in thought themodern era of raps and apparitions, beginning with theknockings of 1848, at the hamlet of Hydesville, New York, andending with grotesque phenomena at Cambridge, Massachusetts; Ievoked the ankle bones and other anatomical castanets of theFox sisters (as described by the sages of the University ofBuffalo); the mysteriously uniform type of delicate adolescentin bleak Epworth or Tedworth, radiating the same disturbancesas in old Peru; solemn Victorian orgies with roses falling andaccordions floating to the strains of sacred music;professional impostors regurgitating moist cheesecloth; Mr.Duncan, a lady medium's dignified husband, who, when asked ifhe would submit to a search, excused himself on the ground ofsoiled underwear; old Alfred Russel Wallace, the naivenaturalist, refusing to believe that the white form with barefeet and unperforated earlobes before him, at a privatepandemonium in Boston, could be prim Miss Cook whom he had justseen asleep, in her curtained corner, all dressed in black,wearing laced-up boots and earrings; two other investigators,small, puny, but reasonably intelligent and active men, closelyclinging with arms and legs about Eusapia, a large, plumpelderly female reeking of garlic, who still managed to foolthem; and the skeptical and embarrassed magician, instructed bycharming young Margery's "control" not to get lost in thebathrobe's lining but to follow up the left stocking until hereached the bare thigh-- upon the warm skin of which he felt a"teleplastic" mass that appeared to the touch uncommonly likecold, uncooked liver. I was appealing to flesh, and the corruption of flesh, torefute and defeat the possible persistence of discarnate life.Alas, these conjurations only enhanced my fear of Cynthia'sphantom. Atavistic peace came with dawn, and when I slippedinto sleep the sun through the tawny window shades penetrated adream that somehow was full of Cynthia. This was disappointing. Secure in the fortress ofdaylight, I said to myself that I had expected more. She, apainter of glass-bright minutiae-- and now so vague! I lay inbed, thinking my dream over and listening to the sparrowsoutside: Who knows, if recorded and then run backward, thosebird sounds might not become human speech, voiced words, justas the latter become a twitter when reversed? I set myself toreread my dream-- backward, diagonally, up, down-- trying hardto unravel something Cynthia-like in it, something strange andsuggestive that must be there. I could isolate, consciously, little. Everything seemedblurred, yellow-clouded, yielding nothing tangible. Her ineptacrostics, maudlin evasions, theopathies-- every recollectionformed ripples of mysterious meaning. Everything seemedyellowly blurred, illusive, lost. 1951


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