Cincinnatus’s Lawyer and the Lost Trifle

And with his eyes he literally scoured the corners of the cell. It was plain that he was upset by the loss of that precious object. It was plain. The loss of the object upset him. The object was precious. He was upset by the loss of the object.

— Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading

Invitation to a Beheading. (Chapter Two) :: Vladimir Nabokov

He took off his head like a toupee, took off his collarbones like shoulder straps, took off his rib cage like a hauberk. He took off his hips and his legs, he took off his arms like gauntlets and threw them in a corner. What was left of him gradually dissolved, hardly coloring the air. At first Cincinnatus simply reveled in the coolness; then, fully immersed in his secret medium, he began freely and happily to . . .

Two

The morning papers, brought to him with a cup of tepid chocolate by Rodin, the local sheet Good Morning Folks, and the more serious daily Voice of the Public, teemed as always with color photographs. In the first one he found the façade of his house: the children looking out from the balcony, his father-in-law looking out from the kitchen window, a photographer looking out of Marthe’s window; in the second one there was the familiar view from this window, looking out on the garden, showing the apple tree, the open gate and the figure of the photographer shooting the façade. In addition he found to snapshots of himself, depicting him in his meek youth.

Cincinnatus was the son of an unknown transient and spent his childhood in a large institution beyond the Strop River (only in his twenties did he casually meet twittering, tiny, still so young-looking Cecelia C., who had conceived him one night at the Ponds when she was still in her teens). From his earliest years Cincinnatus, by some strange and happy chance comprehending his danger, carefully managed to conceal a certain peculiarity. He was impervious to the rays of others, and therefore produced when off his guard a bizarre impression, as of a lone dark obstacle in a world of souls transparent to one another; he learned however to feign translucence, employing a complex system of optical illusions, as it were—but he had only to forget himself, to allow a momentary lapse in self control, in the manipulation of cunningly illuminated facets and angles at which he turned his soul, and immediately there was alarm. In the midst of the excitement of a game his coevals would suddenly forsake him, as if they had sensed that his lucid gaze and the azure of his temples were but a crafty deception and that actually Cincinnatus was opaque. Sometimes, in the midst of a sudden silence, the teacher, in chagrined perplexity, would gather up all the reserves of skin around his eyes, gaze at him for a long while, and finally say: “What is wrong with you, Cincinnatus?” Then Cincinnatus would take hold of himself, and, clutching his own self to his breast, would remove that self to a safe place. Continue reading