James Fleming is a PhD Fellow in English at the University of Florida. He teaches American and British literature at a small college His critical and creative writings have appeared in numerous journals, magazines and books. He is presently authoring a dissertation on Hamlet and Romanticism, a study of Grant Morrison and the Cosby Codex for McSweeney's Internet Tendency, a biweekly column that examines the Cosby Show through various theoretical perspectives. He lives in Orlando, FL with his wife and dog.

We published Fleming’s story “He Tells Her a Story” in Issue 38.

How she dies

posted May 19, 2009

His daughter dies.

Her heart stops while she’s watching television. Her daughter comes to his home and tells him that she’s dead. He says “who’s dead?” She says “your daughter.” He says “how?” She says “she was very sick.” He says “since when?” She says “for a long time.” He says “why didn’t she tell me?” She says “she did. You just don’t remember anything anymore.”

She dies peacefully in her sleep one morning while her husband sleeps next to her. She dies of a brain aneurism on a boardroom floor with fifteen people watching. She dies of renal failure on her 67th birthday surrounded by her children.

She dies of cervical cancer. He sits with her in hospice and whispers to her, holding her hand and reminding her of brighter times. A nurse touches him on the shoulder and says “she’s gone” and he says “no, her hand’s still warm, she’s still here, she’s listening to me” and he turns and sees she’s dead.

She dies in a plane crash on the way home from her honeymoon. She’s killed while scuba-diving off of Aruba. She has an allergic reaction to a bee sting and dies alone in her kitchen.

She goes out for groceries one day and never comes home. No trace of her is ever found. Several years pass and she’s declared dead. Her husband eventually remarries and her children begin to forget about her. While shopping one day many years later he grabs his wife by the arm and says “what the hell happened to her? I mean seriously, what the fuck happened? Where did she go?” His wife says “I haven’t the slightest idea” and keeps walking.

She dies of a drug overdose two weeks before she’s supposed to graduate from medical school. She chokes to death on a piece of meat during Easter dinner. She dies from blood loss during the birth of her second child.

A terrorist group holds her for ransom while she is working as a missionary in another country. A video of her airs on the evening news. She’s kneeling on a concrete floor while a hooded man points a rifle to the back of her head. She looks into the camera and asks the Western imperialist powers to free a group of political prisoners in exchange for her life. He says to his wife “look at her eyes, I think she’s trying to tell me something.” Two weeks later someone from the State Department calls and tells him her head was found by a military convoy on the side of a desert road. He looks out the window to where his wife stands in the street talking to their neighbors. Her face drops when she catches his eye and he waves for her to come inside.

She dies of leukemia during her sophomore year of college. Her boyfriend’s speedboat overturns and she drowns. A truck slams into her when she crosses a street while jogging.

Her husband finds out she’s cheating on him and shoots her in the head before killing himself. The next morning her infant daughter is found clinging to her body, covered in blood. The following night he says to his wife “I’ll never in a million years be able to make even an ounce of sense of any of this.”

She’s killed during a bank robbery. A suicide bomber blows up a café she’s working in. She slips in the shower, bangs her head and dies.

One night three men rape and beat her while she’s out jogging. They stab her twice in the throat and roll her into a ditch. She dies from blood loss three days later. The men are caught, tried and convicted. During their sentencing he’s allowed to make an impact statement. He stands at the podium, points at the men, and just screams.

A deranged fan shoots her in the back of the head as she walks through a shopping mall. She has an epileptic seizure during a party and dies. The brakes on her motorcycle fail and she slams into the back of a pick-up truck.

A drunk driver rear-ends her on the highway and sends her into an oak tree. Her head hits the windshield and she dies immediately. A police officer calls to tell him she’s dead and he says “you must have the wrong person, my daughter’s right here at home” as he looks out the kitchen window and sees that her car is gone.

She hits a tree while skiing and dies on the way to the hospital. She falls off a deck and falls three stories to her death. A crazed student bursts into her seventh grade classroom and shoots her five times in the chest.

She hangs herself in the basement. She leaves a note telling him and his wife that she’s sorry. Before her wake he asks his youngest daughter “why weren’t there any signs? Why didn’t we know?” and she says “have you been asleep for the last two years?” and walks away.

She swallows a bottom of valium and cuts her wrists in the bathtub after her first boyfriend breaks up with her. Her cousin finds his father’s gun and accidently shoots her in the face. She drops her lunchbox while climbing off a school bus and is run over.

She and his wife are in a train accident. His wife wakes up in the hospital and asks where their daughter is. He says “she didn’t make it, they found her in the back of the train” and his wife says “that’s impossible” and he says they found her body in another compartment and his wife shakes her head and says “it’s not her then” and he says “she already been identified” and she says “no, there’s been a mistake” and he says “I saw her myself” and she screams “I was holding her the whole time! She was still there after it was over, she was crying!” and he says “then I don’t know what to say.”

She dies from a rare genetic disease just before her fourth birthday. She is raped and murdered by her uncle. She slips while playing around her grandmother’s pool and drowns.

She unbuckles her seat belt and climbs into the backseat to look for a toy while they’re on the freeway. A car brakes in front of him. He slams the brakes and she hits the back of his seat. He looks back and sees her lying limp on the floor with her eyes open. Her mother calls him several days later after her funeral and says “if you blame yourself this much, why don’t you just do the world and yourself a favor and end it?” He hangs up and swallows as much vodka as he can before vomiting. When he sleeps he dreams of her standing over his bed, her head twisted half way around her neck. She doesn’t say anything to him and he doesn’t say anything to her.

He leaves her alone in the bathtub while he goes to answer the phone and she drowns. She slips off of a swing and breaks her neck. A neighbor’s dog mauls her to death in the backyard.

She falls through the ice while learning how to skate. They pull her blue and bloated body out of the water several hours later. He tells his wife that it wasn’t her fault. He tells her this every day for several years until one morning she says “it’s my fault she’s gone” and he says “you’re damn fucking right it is, who the fuck lets a child go skating when it’s that fucking warm out?” She throws down a dish towel, walks upstairs and begins packing her bags.

She cuts her hand open in a lawn mower and bleeds to death before an ambulance arrives. She dies of an allergic reaction to penicillin. Their house burns down and she dies of smoke inhalation.

He finds her dead in her crib. The doctor tells him that it wasn’t their fault and that infants just sometimes die without any reason. Four years later, while watching their son chase a duck across a playground his wife says “do you ever think about her?” and he says “think about who?”

She catches the flu when she’s a year old and dies of dehydration. She finds his wife’s necklace while crawling on the floor and chokes to death on it. She slips out of his hands while he’s bathing her and he drops her on her head, killing her.

She’s strangled to death on her umbilical cord. As he comes running into the delivery room the doctor tells someone to “call it.” He asks what can be done and the doctor says “nothing, she’s already gone.” He looks at the doctor and says “already?”