Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
Part 5, Chapter 2 (annotations forthcoming)

He had lived up to the ancestral motto: “As healthy a Veen
as father has been.” At fifty he could look back at the narrow-
ing recession of only one hospital corridor (with a pair of white-
shod trim feet tripping away), along which he had ever been
569.05 wheeled. He now noticed, however, that furtive, furcating
cracks kept appearing in his physical well-being, as if inevitable
decomposition were sending out to him, across static gray time,
its first emissaries. A stuffed nose caused a stifling dream, and,
at the door of the slightest cold, intercostal neuralgia waited
569.10 with its blunt spear. The more spacious his bedside table grew
the more cluttered it became with such absolute necessities of
the night as nose drops, eucalyptic pastilles, wax earplugs,
gastric tablets, sleeping pills, mineral water, zinc ointment, a
spare cap for its tube lest the original escape under the bed, and
569.15 a large handkerchief to wipe the sweat accumulating between
right jaw and right clavicle, neither being accustomed to his new
fleshiness and insistence to sleep on one side only, so as not
to hear his heart: he had made the mistake one night in 1920 of
calculating the maximal number of its remaining beats (allow-
569.20 ing for another half-century), and now the preposterous hurry

[ 569 ]

of the countdown irritated him and increased the rate at which
he could hear himself dying. During his solitary and quite super-
fluous peregrinations, he had developed a morbid sensitivity to
night noises in luxury hotels (the gogophony of a truck rated
570.05 three distressibles; the Saturday-night gawky cries exchanged by
young apprentices in the empty street, thirty; a radiator-relayed
snore from downstairs, three hundred); but, though indispens-
able at times of total despair, earplugs had the disadvantage (es-
pecially after too much wine) of magnifying the throbbing in
570.10 his temples, the weird squeaks in his inexplored nasal cavity,
and the atrocious creak of his neck vertebras. To an echo of
that creak, transmitted vascularly to the brain before the system
of sleep took over, he put down the eerie detonation that took
place somewhere in his head at the instant that his senses played
570.15 false to his consciousness. Antacid mints and the like proved
sometimes insufficient to relieve the kind of good old-fashioned
heartburn, which invariably afflicted him after certain rich
sauces; but on the other hand, he looked forward with juvenile
zest to the delightful effect of a spoonful of sodium bicarbonate
570.20 dissolved in water that was sure to release three or four belches
as big as the speech balloons in the “funnies” of his boyhood.
Before he met (at eighty) tactful and tender, ribald and
learned, Dr. Lagosse who thenceforth resided and traveled with
him and Ada, he had detested physicians. Notwithstanding his
570.25 own medical training, he could not shake off a sneaky, credulous
feeling, befitting a yokel, that the doctor who pumped up a
sphygmomanometer or listened in to his wheeze already knew
(but still kept secret) what fatal illness had been diagnosed with
the certainty of death itself. He wryly remembered his late
570.30 brother-in-law, when he caught himself concealing from Ada
that his bladder troubled him on and off or that he had had an-
other spell of dizziness after paring his toenails (a task he per-
formed himself, being unable to endure any human hand to
touch his bare feet).

[ 570 ]

As if doing his best to avail himself of his body, soon to be
removed like a plate wherefrom one collects the last sweet
crumbs, he now prized such small indulgences as squeezing out
the vermicule of a blackhead, or obtaining with the long nail of
571.05 his little finger the gem of an itch from the depths of his left
ear (the right one was less interesting), or permitting himself
what Bouteillan used to brand as le plaisir anglais—holding one’s
breath, and making one’s own water, smooth and secret, while
lying chin-deep in one’s bath.
571.10 On the other hand, the pains of life affected him more acutely
than in the past. He groaned, on the tympanic rack, when a
saxophone blared, or when a subhuman young moron let loose
the thunder of an infernal motorcycle. The obstructive behavior
of stupid, inimical things—the wrong pocket, the ruptured
571.15 shoestring, the idle hanger toppling with a shrug and a hingle-
tingle in the darkness of a wardrobe—made him utter the
Oedipean oath of his Russian ancestry.
He had stopped aging at about sixty-five but by sixty-five he
had changed in muscle and bone more sharply than people who
571.20 had never gone in for such a variety of athletic pursuits as he
had enjoyed in his prime. Squash and tennis gave way to ping-
pong; then, one day, a favorite paddle, still warm from his grip,
was forgotten in the playroom of a club, and the club was never
revisited. During his sixth decade some punching-bag exercise
571.25 had done duty for the wrestling and pugilistics of his earlier
years. Gravitational surprises now made skiing grotesque. He
could still click foils at sixty, but a few minutes of practice
blinded him with sweat; so fencing soon shared the fate of the
table tennis. He could never overcome his snobbish prejudice
571.30 against golf; it was too late to begin, anyway. At seventy, he
tried jogging before breakfast in a secluded lane, but the clack-
ing and bouncing of his breasts reminded him too dreadfully
that he was thirty kilograms heavier than in his youth. At
ninety, he still danced on his hands—in a recurrent dream.

[ 571 ]

Normally, one or two sleeping pills helped him to hold at
bay the monster of insomnia for three or four hours in one
blessed blur, but sometimes, particularly after he had com-
pleted a mental task, a night of excruciating restlessness would
572.05 grade into morning migraine. No pill could cope with that
torment. There he sprawled, curled up, uncurled, turned off
and turned on the bedside light (a gurgling new surrogate—real
lammer having been forbidden again by 1930), and physical
despair pervaded his unresolvable being. Steady and strong
572.10 struck his pulse; supper had been adequately digested; his daily
ration of one bottle of burgundy had not been exceeded—and
yet that wretched restlessness continued to make of him an
outcast in his own home: Ada was fast asleep, or comfortably
reading, a couple of doors away; the various domestics in their
572.15 more remote quarters had long passed over to the inimical
multitude of local sleepers that seemed to blanket the sur-
rounding hills with the blackness of their repose; he alone was
denied the unconsciousness he so fiercely scorned and so as-
siduously courted.

[ 572 ]

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