The reading group met on Fridays. Beryl baked, badly it must be said. Timothy liked to experiment with herbal teas. They convened in the living-room, by the bay window.
Margaret, who’d never got over the end of The English Patient, said, “Why does nobody do happy-ever-after any more?”
Everyone nodded, china chattering.
“If it was up to me,” Richard said, “Humbert Humbert would’ve been buggered to death by a bear.”
“Grizzly,” Beryl approved. “Prison’s too good for some.”
Fervent consensus, the slop of coffee in saucers; the group felt strongly about this. They rarely disagreed amongst themselves, preferring to combine forces to tackle the chosen text.
It was a week after they’d finished with Lolita that Timothy made the discovery. He arrived waving a Penguin paperback of Nabokov’s novel. “Here, on page 308!”
They huddled around to look. Gone was Humbert’s tardy remorse as he listened to the children playing sans Lolita. In its place was a graphic description of his suffering at the paws of a big brown bear: “Ravished for a fifth time, I was cast aside with indifference, knowing my fate to be both poignant and just.”
A flurry of excitement followed, as the reading group hunted down as many copies of the novel as they could find, old and new, each time discovering the same thing: their wish had come true. Lolita now ended with the ursine sodomy of Nabokov’s nasty narrator.
“Well,” said Beryl. “What a turn-up.”
It wasn’t just the novel which underwent a transformation following the group’s energetic vilification of the text. Both film adaptations of Lolita had miraculously changed to reflect their preferred denouement. The James Mason version used a cut-away as the bear swaggered onscreen. The more recent adaptation was less diffident. The look on Jeremy Irons’ face, they all agreed, was priceless.
“We did it,” Timothy said, between elation and dismay. “We changed the ending, forever.”
“What’re we reading next?” Richard rubbed his hands.
Margaret held up The Satanic Verses.
“D’you think we should…?”
“Lolita might’ve been a fluke…”
“True. I mean, what’re the chances of it happening twice?”
“I’ll bake a lemon drizzle,” Beryl promised.
Two months later, they reconvened. Sheepish looks were exchanged. No one liked to say anything. The news blackout was a blessing; they could only guess at how bad things might be in the world beyond their village.
“No cake, Beryl?”
“No eggs, Tim.”
Sarah Hilary’s stories have been published by Velvet Mafia, MYTHOLOG, Heavy Glow, Apollo’s Lyre, Twisted Tongue, Four Volts, Neon and the Boston Literary Magazine. Her short story, On the line, was published in the Daunt Books 2006 anthology. She won the Litopia “Winter Kills” Contest in 2007. Sarah lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and young daughter.