Eastern Comma

Vladimir Nabokov is sitting at the back of a school bus holding a pencil and a notebook and listening intently to the fantastic cadences and blunt locutions of the girls when one of the girls gets up out of her seat, walks to the back, sits down next to him, and says, You’re cute, mister, prompting him to look away from her and towards the front of the bus, where he catches the bus driver’s shifty eyes looking at him in the rear-view mirror: “Later that night at the Little Vagabond Motel Gus asks Barbara what she said to the old Commie sitting at the back of the bus. None of your beeswax, Barbara says. Gus smiles and then backhands Barbara across the face, inadvertently popping a few of the pimples on her chin. While she’s lying on the floor of the motel room Gus bends down and tells her how disgusting she is. He tells her that she needs to take better care of herself, wash her face more often, stop drinking so much soda and lay off the greasy foods. Barbara, who thinks Gus hits about as hard as her mom, tells him that if he wants to shack up with a fifteen year old then he’s going to have to put up with some pimples, which only serves to further enrage him. For the next three hours Gus proceeds to lecture Barbara about the evils of communism, after which he breaks down in tears, apologizes for striking her, and rambles on about how she’s going to leave him for a boy closer to her own age; how he’ll grow old by himself; how he’ll spend all his waking hours thinking about the times they spent in motel rooms; how the grief will be too much for him to bear, causing him to lose his job and slowly isolate himself; how the memories will sustain him for a long time, but not long enough; how it will be impossible for him to stop thinking about her since every time he gets a whiff of stale smoke it will remind him of her; how impossible it is to go anywhere and not catch a whiff of stale smoke; and how all of this will either drive him to kill himself, kill someone who looks just like him, or start writing detective novels about a down-on-his-luck Private Eye who drinks too much and only takes cases involving missing young girls. Barbara listens to Gus’ bathetic spiel, tells him she had no idea he could even read, let alone write, and then proceeds, with her chewing gum, to blow the biggest bubble Gus has ever seen in his life, a bubble Barbara pops voluntarily, with a devilish gleam in her eye and a laugh Gus will later describe to the authorities as the sound of pure evil, like a slinky quickly moving down a flight of metal stairs.”

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