The car pulled onto the highway with the decisive jerk of someone who likes to go fast. Luckily, it was a machine that was designed to do just that. Bernadette drove a Venetian Red, 2007 SLR McLaren, 722 Edition; there were only 300 made. It went from 0-60 in 3.2 seconds. The engine made an understated purr; it didn’t need to make a lot of noise to assert its dominance. It had been in customs for the past three weeks. Bernadette was thankful that they hadn’t kept it any longer.
Gunning the engine, she sped south on I-5. The stereo blared with perfect precision; not missing a single finger twitch of Bird’s 52nd Street session. The sax rang clear and pure. Bernadette was starting to feel good. The knots in her shoulders had started to unknot the moment she turned in her rental.
Just outside of Portland, she checked her GPS directions. It should only take her three or so hours to get to Ashland. Less if she didn’t get pulled over too many times. Diplomatic immunity, thanks to her father’s ambassadorship, saved her from tickets, but the cops always ate away at her time.
Once she passed Salem she pushed the car up to 120. She loved driving in Oregon; I-5 had the perfect combination of long stretches of straight road and looping curves. This fact, coupled with the endless expanses of forests, made it perfect for driving.
As the McLaren’s 19-inch wheels ate the road, Bernadette was surprised to find herself unchecked by the police. There were no lights in her rearview, no sirens cutting through the jazz. She arrived in Ashland in a little over 2 hours. There was plenty of daylight left for her to check into the bed and breakfast and start her search. She decreased her speed to 20 as she swung into the B&B’s parking lot. It was with regret that she killed the engine. Removing her sunglasses and scarf, she simultaneously slipped out of the bucket seat and fluffed her dark blond hair. Clicking the alarm on her keychain, she strode inside.
The front desk was long and burnished wood. Just like the front desk in every other B&B that Bernadette had ever been in. There was an older woman off to the side, fusing with a flower arrangement that was the sole occupant of one round table. She turned and gave Bernadette a lukewarm smile.
“You must be Ms. Rousseau. We weren’t expecting you for another couple of hours.”
Bernadette laughed. “I made better time than I expected.”
The innkeeper’s eyes narrowed as she spied the McLaren through the front window. “I’m sure you did. Unfortunately, we aren’t quite ready for you. I hate to ask, but maybe you could come back in a little while? You are welcome to stay here, but I think that you would enjoy yourself more exploring our downtown. There are a large number of shops and some very fine restaurants where you could get lunch.”
“I understand completely. I would be happy to get out of your hair. I’m hoping that you can help me, though. Do you happen to know where Vladimir Nabokov stayed while he was in town?”
“Nabokov? That writer? It’s been years since anyone asked me that and even longer since he’s been here. When was that? 1950-something. I was just a girl then. I think that he rented a house over on Meade. It’s not far from here; you could walk.” This last she said while giving Bernadette’s McLaren the evil eye through the window.
Bernadette smiled. “It’s so nice out, I think I will walk. Which direction is the house in?”
The woman gave her directions and Bernadette set out at a brisk walk. It didn’t take long to get to her destination, a two-story brownstone. It was exactly how she pictured it, a perfect little family house close to the woods. She knew that Vladimir had walked through those woods when he had stayed here. A thrill ran through her at addressing her hero by first name, as if they knew each other. As if that were possible. She had read Lolita at 16 and saw herself in that brash, sexual naivety. She had learned Russian for the sole purpose of reading those books that he had written in his original language.
The writer’s dry wit and acerbic insight into the human condition always raised Bernadette’s spirit. There were other writers that she loved and appreciated but it was Nabokov that owned her heart. Feeling slightly dizzy, she forced herself up the front steps. She had been to the places that he lived in Europe—where he was born in Russia, the house he lived in Berlin, where he died in Sweden—but this was the first time she had been able to come to America to see where he had actually penned Lolita.
Bernadette had been a rare book dealer for the past six years. In that time she had traced down numerous rare manuscripts. There was a rumor circulating that the original manuscript of Lolita was still somewhere in Oregon. Bernadette had convinced her firm that it would be worth looking into. She had no intention of actually selling the work, regardless of what the firm would want her to do. It would be for her alone.
Gathering her courage, she knocked on the door. She was surprised when a young man answered, he couldn’t have been older than 25. He smiled at seeing Bernadette and leaned against the doorframe.
“Well, hello. Can I help you with something?”
Taken aback by the man’s stark appraisal of her, she stammered, “I… uh… Nabokov.”
This elicited a laugh, “I see. You’re here for the same reason I am. Are you writing a term paper? A biography?”
Pulling herself up, she attempted to dismiss his banter. “No, I am a book dealer. I deal in antiquities and hard to find manuscripts. It is my understanding that the original manuscript for Lolita might still be in this house.”
His face hardened. “Oh, you’re a thief. There’s nothing here for you, maam. I’ve looked, there isn’t any manuscript.”
“You misunderstand my intentions. I only have a personal interest in this. I don’t want to sell Nabokov’s work. I don’t even care if there is no manuscript. I just want to see the place were Lolita was written.”
“I guess I can understand that.” He moved back from the door so that she could pass inside. “My name’s Trevor. I’m doing my postgraduate work on Nabokov at U of O and thought that it would be inspirational to come down here. I made his office into my office; it’s just up the stairs.”
Trevor led her upstairs to a wood-floored room whose windows overlooked the street. It was painted sage green and had a metal desk, with a lamp, in one corner. Other than that, it was unfurnished.
“You can have a few minutes, I’ll be down stairs.”
“Thank you, Trevor. I appreciate you sharing this with me.”
Alone in the room, Bernadette bent down the feel the planks of the floor. They looked pitted from years of use but were smooth from innumerable waxings. She could picture Vladimir, sitting at a desk by the window, dreaming of Humphrey and Lola. Looking down at the street, she tried to imagine what it would take to write such a novel. She spent about a half hour there, in a trance of contrived memory. The sun sank below the horizon and the room took on a dusty, dark quality. Pulling herself together, she went back downstairs. Trevor was standing at the bottom.
“I heard the creaking in the hall. I thought that you might be hungry so I made some spaghetti. Would you like to have some dinner?”
Bernadette knew that she should go back to the bed and breakfast. She should not have dinner with the boy who was at least 10 years her junior. His generosity in sharing his home with her stopped her. This was someone who understood and appreciated Nabokov as much as she did. For years she had been denying herself even the possibility of something. At the moment she couldn’t remember why.
“I would love to stay for dinner, thank you. Why don’t you tell me about your paper, Trevor? I would love to hear it.”
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Portland Fiction Project
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