Humbert Humbert and Lolita stop in Wace, where Humbert has set up a P.O. box in which they can receive mail. Lolita receives a letter from Mona Dahl. Suspicious, Humbert reads the letter before giving it to Lolita (Mona reports that she is moving to Europe), but when he looks up after reading it, Lolita has disappeared. In a panic, Humbert thinks she’s escaped him forever, but she soon returns.
As is often the case in Lolita, an important event in the novel— Lolita’s disappearance—“almost happens,” just before it happens for real. This is a device used to create a feeling of tension, but it happens so often that it becomes a parody of the technique. Humbert’s fear that Lolita is using letters to communicate with the outside is an ironic reversal of his relationship with her mother in Part One. In his jealousy, he begins to act as ridiculously and suspiciously as Charlotte did toward him.
When he interrogates her, she says that she ran into a friend. Humbert doesn’t believe her, and he reaches for a piece of paper on which he’s written their pursuer’s license plate number. To his surprise, it’s been erased. Quickly, he drives out of Wace, continuing west. Unsure of whether or not he’s imagining things, he sees their pursuer everywhere: in different cars, and once with young passengers. At one point, Humbert’s car gets a flat tire, and he sees the other car pull over far behind him. Humbert gets out of the car, determined to confront their pursuer, but Lolita distracts him by taking the wheel and trying to drive away. When he gets back in, she claims that the car started moving by itself. Meanwhile, the pursuing car has made a U-turn and sped away.
Here, Humbert’s terrified jealousy becomes even more extreme, causing him to see pursuers everywhere. This is an extension of a broader theme in the novel: obsessive desire is the source of illusions which make reality and fantasy difficult to keep separate. Cars have enormous symbolic importance in Lolita. Humbert’s flat tire suggests that the end of his long cross-country journey with Lolita is close at hand. Quilty is always slipping just out of Humbert’s grasp, a characteristic which will become most extreme in the novel’s final chapter. This teasing tendency is part of Quilty’s link with the workings of fate, which also seems to be always just beyond Humbert’s understanding.