Jean had short blonde hair and coke-bottle glasses, back before those glasses were cool. Jean's favourite movie was Labyrinth, or at least that's what she always said — she might have been joking. Jean wanted to be a musician, but could never decide what instrument she wanted to play. Jean wore boxer shorts. Jean's best friend was a starving artist named Angela, who I actually met only twice. Jean kept a small stack of black metal records under her bed, which she only played after breakups. Jean had had seven boyfriends and two one-night stands before we started dating, which she recounted to me like she was describing what she had for breakfast this morning. Jean still had an old NES she played all the time. Jean liked to be the one on top. Jean's parents were divorced, and her mother lived in France. Jean's shower was barren except for a large block of soap and an usually empty shampoo bottle. Jean was frequently mistaken for a lesbian, something we both joked about. Jean would re-arrange price tags at stores when no one else was looking. Jean had this lovely peach-fuzz around her slit, which would massage my face while I went down on her. Jean watched Jeopardy every day she could and yelled the answers at the TV. Jean was a straight-A college dropout.
You see my dilemma? I want to capture all of Jean Martel, but how do you fit a person into a block of text without slicing them to pieces? I can list everything I know about her, but all this gets me is a list of symptoms with no sign of the disease. I could try to describe her personality, but I don't know how to describe a personality without turning it into a cliché. If I described her as smart, spunky, cynical, with an inscrutable sense of humour, wouldn't she just become your favourite smart, spunky, cynical and inscrutable TV character?
I'll try and give Jean to you the same way she was given to me: through life, through experience. I doubt text can truly take you into someone else's mind, no matter what my English teacher said, but it's the best I can do.
When Jean and I met we were both working dead-end jobs at a furniture store. She was in retail, I was in shipping. We got off at the same time and took the same subway home, and eventually we got to talking.
"God, I wish I worked weekend shifts," Jean said as the train rattled through the dark and grimy tunnel. "Maybe there would be less old people around then. As it is, I feel like I'm in a zombie movie."
"Had anyone die in the store yet?" I said.
Jean grinned. "No, but I wouldn't be too surprised. We ought to start keeping defibrillators under the cash."
"Keep an adult diaper dispenser in the change room."
"Put large-print tags on all the clothes." When we got going like this, riffing on each other's jokes, nothing could stop us. But we were both too tired today. Jean leaned back, trying to rest her head on something, but there was only the shuddering window behind her. When her blonde hair touched it her neck snapped forward, reflexively taking her away from the shaking glass. She kept talking as though nothing had happened. "It's pretty sad when you think about it, eh? All these people work for forty years, and then when they retire they have nothing to do but go to the goddamn mall every day. I mean, shit, is that what we're working for?"
"If I didn't have to work," I said. "I certainly wouldn't go to the mall instead. To me shopping's always been another kind of work."
"So what would you do, Dave?" Jean said.
"I'd go bowling."
Jean laughed. It's rare to get a genuine laugh out of her, wrapped up as she is in her invincible armour of irony. "Bowling? They'd, like, break their wrists."
"Bullshit," I said. "Anyone can go bowling. Plus, bowling is the best sport because it's impossible to really give a shit who wins."
"You sound like you're a fan."
"You can call me Mr. 300."
"Surely you don't weigh quite that much." That one got a laugh out of me.
A minute of chugging through the subway tunnel passed before Jean spoke again. "You want to go bowling tomorrow night? Show off your skills?"
I was taken aback. "Um, sure. I think I'm free."
The subway pulled up to her stop. "Awesome. I hope you still think that it doesn't matter who wins when you get your butt whooped." And with that she darted out of the subway car, leaving me in a daze. Jean tended to have that effect on me.
It wasn't until that night that I wondered whether she had asked me out. But that wasn't possible. We were just going bowling, right?
Patrick's Books & Magazines was a tiny storefront that squeezed in between a drug mart and a dollar store on Dundas Street. Nobody knew who Patrick was, or even whether it was a first or a last name. Jean and I came in after I had soundly defeated her at bowling, her hand fleshy and warm in mine. I was beginning to think that this was a date, and absentmindedly noticing old callouses on her palm.
The bookstore was not fancy. Pulpy paperbacks were stacked in a loose approximation of alphabetical order, with genre written on pieces of duct-tape stuck to the shelves. Some of them were going yellow. Behind the counter — okay, really a table with a cash register on it — a middle-aged woman briefly made eye contact and then returned to her tabloid.
"What are we doing in here?" I said quietly.
"Just check it out," Jean said. "Isn't this the greatest place?"
"I don't understand." It was a pretty cruddy little shop.
Jean shrugged and lead me deeper into the store. At the back we brushed by a teenager and found a rack of porno mags. A small army of scantily-clad woman stared out at me trying their best to look desirous.
"It's so sketchy it's great," she said. "But you can actually get good books here too." Jean turned to the nearest shelf and hunted around in it before pulling out a dusty volume. "See, look at this. Death on the Instalment Plan, by Celine. One of the best authors of the twentieth century, though no one's heard of him, and he's sitting across from Jugs Magazine. Isn't that like the greatest thing you've ever seen?"
"I guess so," I said. Jean was always more attracted than me to dualities, high and low jammed together and violently mating. Maybe that was why she liked me — half man and half child, half determined and half cowardly.
Jean dropped the Celine book into my hands. "Here, I'm getting this for you. You need to read it."
"I can pay--"
"You most certainly cannot," she said. "This is a gift." She thought for a moment and than plucked a porno magazine off the shelf as well. It was the April issue of a classy publication called Ass Lovers' Monthly. "You have to get some smut as well. It's the Patrick's Books experience."
I mutely followed Jean, caught up in her unstoppable whirlwind. She paid for the book and the magazine and handed the bag to me. The clerk didn't look up. Jean had the broadest grin on her face as we left the sketchy store. It was the joy of spreading your idiosyncratic happiness.
To this day I haven't finished Death on the Instalment Plan. I don't read a lot, and it's just too cynical for me. The April issue of Ass Lovers' Monthly is still in its plastic wrap underneath my bed. I'm not much of an ass man.
Jean looked at the cover of that magazine a month later, in between bouts of fucking. "You know what I love about this? The punctuation in the title. It's not Ass Lover's, like it's appealing to a singular ass lover. It's the plural form. It's like by buying this magazine you're inducted into a society of ass lovers who promote ass loving everywhere. There's a community."
"I think you're reading too much into it," I said.
Jean crawled back onto the bed and squatted. "So why is it still unopened? You're a man, you guys love porn."
"That is sexist stereotyping," I said playfully. "And for your information, I've only jacked off thinking of you for the past month."
"Aww, that's so sweet," she said. I had no idea whether she was being sincere or not. She crawled towards me with that coy glimmer in her eyes. I loved that look. "Can I see it?"
"What, the porn? Go right ahead."
"No. You masturbating." Jean had that coy smile, with her lower lip sticking out begging, that made me a slave to her every desire. So of course I did this.
I sat up and stared at her, caressing my balls almost absentmindedly. Just the sight of Jean sitting on the edge of my bed, naked as the day she was born with that adventurous look in her eyes, was enough to awaken my previously spent cock. My other hand roamed my chest, touching nipples, shoulders stomach -- I knew that once I started on my cock every other sensation would be blotted out.
Without any coaxing, my rod straightened and rose like a charmed snake. I stared at Jean, at her raw pink nipples, at the mole under her left breast, at her skinny and pale body. I wrapped a fist around my cock and started pumping. It was slick with the juices from our earlier lovemaking, and my hand glided easily up and down the shaft. Jean stared, transfixed.
She slung a leg over the edge of the bed and lay before me spread-eagle, like a Playboy centrefold. Her lightly thatched pussy was visibly moist. She wrapped one hand around one of her small but pert breasts and massaged it, her thumb tracing her already hard nipples. I stroked faster.
Soon Jean was splayed before me, one hand shamelessly plunging in and out her cunt, the other rubbing furiously at her clit. I was pumping away at my cock, my hand giving pleasure like it never had before, pleasure that outbroke on my face and in my posture.
.... There is more of this story ...