Vladimir Nabokov: The Vane Sisters

Being a conversationalist more verbose than thorough, she could never describe in full the theory of aura intervention that she had somehow devised. Fundamentally there was nothing new or unusual about her personal beliefs, since they supposed quite conventional likelihood, a silent solarium of immortal souls (sewn together with mortal surroundings), the main entertainment of which involves occasionally hanging over the souls of their living friends. What is of interest is the strange practical quirk that Cynthia gave to her tame metaphysics. She was certain that her existence was influenced by many of her dead friends, each of whom took turns in ruling her fate, in exactly the same way as if she were a homeless kitten, which a passing school girl picks up and presses to her cheek, and again carefully puts down near some suburban fence - to be stroked again by another passerby or carried to a world of doors by a kindly lady. 

For several hours or several days – in a row or recurrently in an irregular series, spread over a monthly period, or even a year – everything that happened to Cynthia after the death of a given person, assumed, as she insisted, his mood and habits. These events could turn out to be extreme, life changing, or a chain of small insignificant incidents, hardly visible against an ordinary day, and then fading into an even less-detected nonsense while the aura gradually faded. The influence could have turned out to be good or bad; the main thing was that its source could be identified. She said that it resembled a walk through a person’s soul. I tried to argue, saying, that she might not always be able to determine the exact source, since not everybody has a recognizable soul; that there are such things as anonymous letters and Christmas presents which almost anybody might send; that in fact an “ordinary day”, as she calls it, can be itself a weak solution of mixed auras or times, when a tame guardian angel takes the routine shift. And what about God? Did or did not people who would resent any omnipotent dictator back on earth look for one in the heavens? And wars? What a dreadful thought – dead soldiers still fighting with living ones, or phantom armies attempting to knock each other down, through the lives of disabled old men. 

Translated by Maria Aprelenko, RT


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