Black Tickets Summary
by Jayne Anne Phillips

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Black Tickets Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The unnamed first-person narrator/protagonist tells this story in bits and pieces from a jail cell. The central fact of the story is his obsession with his recent girlfriend, Jamaica Delila, toward whom he has ambivalent feelings. He thinks she might have “set me up . . . to do lock-up in this cadillac of castles,” and he fantasizes about beating her. Even as he imagines her falling, however, he cannot help dwelling on the way her hair spreads out and her uplifted hands glow in the light. He dwells even longer on memories of their lovemaking in the bathtub, the boy’s shirts and underpants she wore, and the cartoon faces she drew on their legs with lipstick.

He also remembers her in the daytime, when, high on Benzedrine, she sold tickets at the Obelisk, a run-down pornography theater. There Jamaica entertained herself by staring at the rolls of tickets and, with an ink pen, drawing lines of tickets on her thighs. She also helped keep old Neinmann, the theater’s owner, in line so that she, the narrator, and Raymond could practice their drug trade on the premises: “At first it was sideline stuff, Nembies and speed balls, a little white stuff for the joy bangers who came downtown to cop.” They cut the speed with powder from the crumbling tiles of the bathroom floors and sold it to “silky Main Line debs reeling in their mommys’ sports cars.”

Appropriately, the three drug partners developed a close fellow-feeling for the “cinematic rodents” that overran the building. The narrator also misses “reptilian Raymond,” a hunchback like Quasimodo and a self-described “nice Jewish boy, doing his bit for reverse reparations” by helping Neinmann, “that old storm trooper,” save money to return to Germany. For the narrator, however, the presiding goddess of the whole operation was Jamaica: “Jamaica, you thin wonder in schoolboy clothes. I could crush them all into a burlap bag full of stones and watch them sink in a sewer named for you.” The narrator’s qualifications for belonging to this select group include a brief Florida jail stay for statutory rape before he came to Philadelphia.

Their Obelisk operation went smoothly for months, until Raymond decided to start selling powerful amyl nitrite, “those little extras to close down the days and promote orgasmic endings.” Jamaica began using the drug herself when she and the narrator made love: As he “watched the X’s come up” in her eyes, she would turn into “an electric zombie, a stiff-legged gazelle shuddering in northern catatonia.” Holding his amylized lover, the narrator would have a violent urge to shake the bottled-up blackness out of her, and finally one day he succumbed. Just short of shaking her to death, however, he threw down her limp body,...

(The entire section is 713 words.)