In the summer before Jane’s senior year in high school, her friend Corina Williams had a pool party for the Fourth of July. Corina’s parents lived in a duplex on Richmond Avenue, the kind with a deep lot and proportionally tall fences. It was on this legal pad of land that an above-ground pool had been erected, complete with sprawling concrete patio—ideal for beers and barbeque. All summer long, Corina had used the neon blue monstrosity to her advantage, luring the landlocked apartment dwellers of Warren Harding High to its chlorinated shores like zebra to an oasis.
Jane hated it.
The loud music and bottom-lit faces didn’t suit her. People bobbed on the waves and carried on conversations, but you couldn’t make out their lips—only the disembodied paddling of their feet and legs in the eerie water below. She tried to snatch their words from between the pounding stereo beats, but all she could think of were those legs, treading water. They struggled silently: against gravity; against their own fatigue; against time itself. Sooner or later, something would fail, and then what? It was a black and morbid thought, like the button sheen of a shark’s eyes.
At Corina’s parties, Jane spent most of her time inside.
Jane Allison Parker’s favorite memory of the seventh grade was the dance class she attended in the little studio above her uncle’s hardware store on one hundred and eighty-second street. Every Saturday, she would tie up her straight, red hair and wear a black dress with a low back. From eight thirty to noon, she and the other girls would bend and glide in time with the music. They watched one another in the mirror and stood bravely on their toes.
No matter how tightly Janey tied her bun, by ten thirty it was always undone, her smooth locks too fine for anything but waywardness.
On a bright September afternoon, when Poppy was in the fourth grade, Jane sat in the printing studio with the windows open, listening to the birds in the tree outside.
It was one of those timeless hours, where the sun freezes between the yellowing branches and the whole day takes on a twilight quality. The earth pauses momentarily in the last throes of summer before its dramatic swing into the bosom of winter darkness
Jane was working on a small batch of books which had been commissioned by the wife of a local professor of Arabic Language and Literature, on the occasion of her husband’s sixtieth birthday. Jane had been recommended to her by an associate of Paul’s. She had been assured that Mrs. Hayes was the perfect candidate to print an art house edition of T. E. Lawrence’s masterpiece, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
This meant a close and tedious reading was required before any design decisions could be made.
Jane put down the book and walked to the window. She wished that Paul were there. He was much better at this sort of thing. But he was off for the weekend at a conference in Milwaukee. He had driven up Friday morning and was due back that night. Poppy was staying with a friend from judo class, leaving Jane alone in the house. Alone with her thoughts, alone with the twilight, most of all alone with the unfinished book.
Some nights, when Poppy had been put to bed, Jane and Paul would watch a film on the old television in the living room. To keep down the noise—and ensure Poppy stayed asleep—they would mute the dialogue. Sometimes, they invented their own storylines—particularly for action films. Paul would take the male roles and Jane the ladies. The object of the game was to deliver lines each more fantastical than the next. They had, in this manner, greatly improved the plots of numerous block busters, including but not limited to: Step Brothers, Max Payne, and the whole of the Transporter franchise.
Other nights, they would rent something that had won an award for cinematography and just watch silently. The Technicolor vision slid across the screen while they held hands in the dark. One Tuesday evening, on a night before Paul was scheduled to proctor a Chaucer exam, they were sprawled out on the floor below the couch.
The movie playing silently on television was A Lion in Winter.
Five years after her first show at the Evanston Community Arts Cooperative, Jane’s photographic essay, “Structure”, landed a solo showing at the Smart Gallery in downtown Chicago. On May 14, the day of the opening gala, Jane spent most of the afternoon in front of the mirror, deciding what to wear.
She had spent her last paycheck on two new dresses, both of which she loved with equal devotion. The first was a lace dress with satin across the neckline and no back to speak of. It was black, with a beaded skirt. In a fit of passion, Jane had even bought the matching slippers, knowing full well she would never fit her boat feet into size seven-and-a half’s.
The second was a red kimono with black Chantilly tights. Simple and sexy. Best of all, the short sleeves emphasized the muscles of her arms, toned from moving Bea’s books to the new location on Harper Street.
By then, it was only 3:30. Jane poured herself a glass of whiskey and sat down in the overstuffed armchair to wait.
After a few minutes—and more than a few sips of whiskey—Jane became aware of a frustration growing in her itching limbs. When night came, she would be in the city, standing in front of her pieces with two hundred people whose job it was to decide if she had done her job to their satisfaction. She was ready for the judgment, but the night would not come.
The first time that she noticed him was when he was in the records section, trying to decide between “Desire” and “O! Mercy” in the original vinyl. He had on a long, tan coat—longer than had been in fashion for years. Underneath it, he was wearing jeans and a Puget Sound Intramural Champions t-shirt.
From where she was standing behind the register, Jane couldn’t make out much of his face. It was covered in part by his shaggy, brown hair and glasses. She remembered thinking (much later) that he looked a little like an effeminate version of John Cusack in “Say Anything”.
Jane had a game that she liked to play during long shifts when business was slow. The object of this game was to guess the last place a customer had been before he walked into Murray’s Books. Not the sidewalk or the parking lot, of course. Those didn’t count. She had to guess the last real stop the person had made before entering the bookstore.
For Ferdinand & Jordan, Paul & Jane
When will I finish all these things that I’ve started?
He wanted to meet in the real world the unsubstantial image which his soul so constantly beheld. He did not know where to seek it or how but a premonition which led him on told him that this image would, without any overt act of his, encounter him. They would meet quietly as if they had known each other and had made their tryst, perhaps at one of the gates or in some more secret place. They would be alone, surrounded by darkness and silence: and in that moment of supreme tenderness he would be transfigured. He would fade into something impalpable under her eyes and then in a moment, he would be transfigured. Weakness and timidity and inexperience would fall from him in that magic moment.
-James Joyce, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”
See, Melina… you were right about the beach all along!