Humbert Humbert becomes involved with a woman named Rita, a kind but not particularly intelligent alcoholic from a place he refers to as “Grainball City.” They spend two years together, first traveling, and then at a place called Cantrip, where the local college offers Humbert an apartment in recognition for a paper he’s published called “Mimir and Memory.” Embarrassed of Rita, Humbert doesn't allow her to stay with him at the apartment, and makes her stay in a nearby roadside inn.
Having lost Lolita, Humbert turns his attention to the study of memory. The word Cantrip, which means “magical spell,” suggests that there’s something magical about memory’s ability to recover what we have lost. In many ways, this is Humbert’s reason for writing this story: having lost Lolita, he wants to artistically recover her in memory. Memory and its connection with loss are important themes in all of Nabokov’s writing. Without Lolita, Humbert becomes a kind of drifter. He ends up with Rita, who is equally without a home or purpose. Like all the other non-nymphet females in Humbert’s life, Rita is just a placeholder: he doesn’t care about her.
Sometime during the years he spends with Rita, Humbert returns to Briceland, the town where The Enchanted Hunters motel is located (though he can't bring himself to visit the motel itself). At the local library, he looks for a picture of himself in an old issue of the newspaper; he remembers having accidentally stepped into a photograph at the convention in the hotel lobby. Though he finds the picture, he can find no trace of himself in it.
Humbert’s inability to find himself in the photograph is an allegory for the agonies and difficulties of memory. Having lost Lolita, Humbert begins to have trouble believing that his time with her was real: he looks for “evidence,” in the real world, and fails to find it. By returning to Briceland, Humbert is retracing his steps, a journey that will continue in later chapters as he returns to Ramsdale and other places he visited with Lolita. His writing of the novel is a similar kind of retracing.