An Education

“Missionary again? Christ, even she’s bored!”

Marius was not exactly in a position to look around at where any voice might be coming from. But the voice may have had a point - Cosette was turned away from him, her eyes closed, as he thrust into her. When he came and pulled out, she merely rolled away,wrapping the blankets around her.

“Did you hear something?” Marius asked.

“No,” she murmured. “Go to sleep.”

Yes, after six months of marriage, she was bored. Marius lay back and unfortunately heard the voice again. “You see? I told you so. You’re bored, she’s bored, and how many times do you have to be told? You only get a male heir if she orgasms, and at this rate, she might as well have stayed in the convent.” It was a very familiar voice. “Convent. Yes, she’d be having much more fun in the convent. I always thought you’d found the most virginal creature imaginable, but she’s adorable, and I’d gladly take her if I still had corporeal form.”

Marius winced. Courfeyrac. I’ve gone mad, he thought. Completely around the bend. That or my grandfather is now somehow pretending to be my dead best friend. “Cosette, did you hear that?”

She groaned. “There’s nothing to hear. Go to sleep.”

But Marius got up and wrapped a dressing gown around himself. “I need to think.” He kissed her on the cheek before leaving her alone in bed.

It was late enough that the house was asleep, and Marius could pace back and forth in the salon without interruption.

“Ah, I’ve got you alone now.”

“Why must you haunt me?”

“I haven’t the first clue. I think I’m being punished by the most boring situation possible for a ghost. Am I a ghost? I have no idea what I am. I do know I came to consciousness in your bedroom three nights ago and have been forced to watch you behave like a fumbling adolescent with your darling wife these three nights straight. I cannot take it any longer.”

Marius looked around wildly. “Where are you?”

“I have no idea. Where can I be if I have no body? If I had to suggest a space, sort of near the fireplace, I guess.”

There was patently no one anywhere near the fireplace, but Marius directed his attention to the general area. “This is a form of madness that could not have been predicted. You were my best friend by force of circumstance; Cosette fills that role now.”

“Pontmercy, my dear chap, force of circumstance? Really? You permitted yourself no friends at all by force of circumstance. I was your only friend because I couldn’t bear to let you disappear into the depths and end up dying alone. No human being deserves that, young or old, male or female. You could never entirely resist me because I never let you. Cosette is not filling that role at all.”

“I have no need of you now.”

“Oh, but your need continues. You never let me teach you much of anything. You never let your grandfather teach you much of anything. He has the best books! If watching you bed your wife is hell, the opportunity to rifle through your grandfather’s collection is heaven.”

“How can you rifle through anything if you have no body?”

“I don’t know, but I can. Oh, look, I dropped this hideous vase.” And indeed, a rather unattractive vase came tumbling from the mantle, untouched by any visible hands. It stopped short of crashing to the floor, hovered in midair for a moment, then came to rest gently, in an upright position, next to the fire irons.

“I have gone mad. Dear god. I have gone completely mad.”

“Yes, you have. That creature in your bed upstairs, and you can only manage one position? A position in which she doesn’t enjoy a thing? You have been poorly educated, my friend.”

“I love my wife,” Marius insisted.

“You don’t show it very well. We shall start with a lesson in anatomy. Let us start with those most perfect of organs, the breasts.”

Marius flushed darkly, even as he was certain it was merely his own madness.

“What else can provide so much pleasure and then be used for the nourishment of life? First, you’ve got to get her naked. Have you never seen her breasts?”

“She is my wife, not one of your grisettes.”

“That’s obviously a no. Come, how can you continue to live like this? There are two things you must remember about breasts: never squeeze them firmly like melons, and pay vast amounts of attention to the nipple.”


“The nipple. There are odes written to well-formed nipples. Your grandfather has a couple. Odes, I mean - I am grateful I have not seen his nipples. I cannot imagine that your wife does not have exquisite, rosy, well-formed nipples. Your tongue is a very good instrument for this purpose.”

“You are suggesting that I should lick my wife’s breasts.”

“Lick is not it at all. Touch, tease, caress - not lick. She will not be so bored if you lavish attention on all her good spots. Now, there are a host of things to consider between the legs.”

“How can my madness be inventing anatomy to which I have never paid the least attention?”

“You’re not mad. I’m haunting you and sick to death of it. Now, between the legs. You have found the slit, but you have not found the button.”

“The button?”

“Front and centre. Don’t worry, I was appalled when I learned I had been missing it, too. I am forever grateful to the girl who first told me where attention was to be applied. There has not been a disappointed girl in my collection since. Front and centre - how could we have missed it?”

“Missed what?”

“The button. The clitoris. It is in front of - above - the vaginal opening. Touch, rub, tease - she probably frigs herself since you’re incapable of finding it. It is to the woman what the head of your prick is to you. Or, perhaps, the head of my prick is - was - to me. Can you even feel anything?”

“I can,” Marius replied defensively.

“There you go, then. The nipple and the clitoris. These are her keys to pleasure. Use them well. Treat them gently. If you make love to them, she will love you.”

“She does love me.”

“Not in bed. A girl who will not look at you when she is being fucked is a girl who is merely enduring, not enjoying the act.”

Marius did not want to admit that Courfeyrac had a point, but Courfeyrac did have a point. Over the past few months, Cosette had seemed to submit to the necessary act rather than eagerly ask for it. He had merely assumed that, as for him, the novelty had worn off. Was he really such a bad husband as to not please his wife? “The nipple and the clitoris,” Marius repeated.

“Exactly! Now, shall we discuss positions? Oh, how shall I do this? You would be much better off with a few publications your grandfather has, namely a thick book in Italian with the most delightfully detailed etchings. You might consider taking her from behind, or standing. Oh, a delightful one is to have her sit on your cock - if her breasts are as pert as they appear when she’s dressed, that will provide a delicious view.”

“I have gone mad, I have somehow encountered a very naughty, sinful, disgusting book of my grandfather’s, and I am now living in it. You are not real. None of this is real.”

“Your bedroom shortcomings are indeed sadly real, my friend. This is not the reaction of a friend, to tell him that he is not real and his attempts at help are madness. Come, you were nearly there. We shall do positions another time, if need be. For now, the nipple and the clitoris. Consider the mastery of these organs your first-year exam. They do not require so much attention at lecture.”

“Are you comparing intimate relations to law school?”

“Yes!” the voice said brightly. “You are catching on. Not a hopeless case after all. I do miss that annoying naïveté, my dear fellow. The dead are not naïve.”

“Are you well?” Marius finally dared ask.

“I’m dead!” It was easy to imagine the grin that ought to have attached to that statement, however. “I am neither well nor ill. I can see the future and the past, as well as the present, and that ought to be great fun. In about thirty years, an Englishman is going to translate a most delightful Hindoo guide to sexual positions that puts even your grandfather’s classic pornography to shame. But how can one enjoy anything when everything is neither beginning nor end, just a vast middle? There are no surprises. And I have no body. Oh, yours will grow old and you’ll end up stiff and bent and toothless, but even then you will have sensation. I don’t know which is worse about death - the lack of feeling or the lack of surprise. I desperately want to embrace you, dear fellow, for old time’s sake, and your adorable wife, but what is the point when I have no arms and the affect