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 “How she dies” in Issue 31.

He Tells Her a Story

posted Jan 4, 2011

For Stephen Dixon

She asks him to tell her a story.

He says “What kind of story?”

She says “A true story about something real.”

“I don’t mean to get all postmodern and complicated on you, especially when you’re probably asking me to tell you a story because something’s bothering you that you feel a good story will help take your mind off of, but I honestly don’t know what you mean by ‘real.’”

“Just tell me a story about something that happened to you without any stretching of the truth.”

“I have thousands of those stories. You have to be more specific about what you’re looking for.”

“Tell me a story about something that changed you.”

“You’re making this even harder for me now. Everything that’s ever happened to me or around me or for that matter everything that I’ve ever heard or read about or seen or even imagined or misunderstood or totally missed the point of has changed me.”

“Think in terms of landmark events in your life. What comes to mind first?”

“That’s easy, though I’m sure I told you about it already, and probably several times at that. It was the time I was working in the convenience store and the guy came in and shoved a gun at me and I said ‘just take the money,’ though I think I also said, ‘and please don’t hurt me’ though I’m really not sure now if I just thought that or if I really said that to him, and he said ‘I don’t want your money’ and he had this sinister expression on his face that made me think he was going to bend me over and fuck me in the ass.”

“You’ve told me that story dozens of times. And when you do you always say you thought during the stickup that maybe it’d be better to be shot than raped and how you saw a movie when you were a kid about a guy getting raped...”

The Rape of Richard Beck. It was about a tough guy cop who isn’t sympathetic to female rape victims and then gets captured by two rapists he’s chasing after who hold a knife to his throat and sodomize him. One of the rapists says something like ‘what do pigs and cops have in common? They both squeal when they get stabbed!’ just before he fucks him.”

“And it left you paranoid about getting raped in the ass, which is why you avoid public bathrooms, jogging or walking alone at night.”

“Right, and as it was happening—the stickup, not the rape that didn’t end up happening to me—I thought, of all things, about that movie...”

“But it all worked out for you.”

“Well, he didn’t rape me, but I suppose if I really wanted to throw you for a loop I could tell you that he really did rape me even though he didn’t.”

“I know he didn’t rape you.”

“I don’t even know for sure if he was going to. I just thought he had a sort of rapist look in his eyes, a wide-eyed, snarling expression like a really pissed off dog might have. But then the cop came in...”

“And drew his gun on the guy and stopped the whole thing. I know this story. I also know how much it still bugs you that the cop almost didn’t stop at the store that night, how he later told you that he was going to wait to get more coffee but out of habit turned in to the store and walked in on the guy pointing a gun at you.”

“How about the time I thought my uncle was going to rape me? That’s a funny one.”

“Yes, and it turned out that he was pointing out that your fly was down. Here’s a rule for you: no near rape or thought you were going to get raped stories, even if the story’s meant to be funny.”

“How about when I tried to hire a hooker in Amsterdam and completely fucked it up and lost all my money without even getting a hand job?”

“I hate that story.”

“Let’s narrow this down further: what types of stories do you not want to hear?”

“No stories about your mother. You always get weird and start rambling and explaining too much when you tell stories about her.”

“How about stories about people I know?”

“No, too much exposition and explanation is required for those stories. Plus you always say that no one’s ever told you a story about his or her own life that’s had an impact on you in any meaningful way.”

“And no outright fiction is allowed either, right?”

“No, because your fictional stories only work if they’re written down and carefully structured or have some clever gimmick to them. I can’t listen to a piece of fiction you’re making up off the top of your head. I need to believe the story and know it’s probably true.”

“I know you already know this but I’ll say it anyway: I can make anything up and call it true.”

“But I’ll know if the story’s too polished or has an obvious point or moral to it that you’re making it up. The story you need to tell me has to be raw and some parts of it need to not make perfect sense or even contradict other parts of it. “

“Now I’m getting nervous.”


“If I tell you a story that you don’t believe you’ll get upset. Then we’ll get into a fight and end up screaming at each other and planning for me to move in with my mother tomorrow.”

“Just think of something you never told me.”

“I don’t think I ever told you about the first girl I made out with.”

“You have. She was your cousin and you were seven and she was nine. And that story’s disgusting. You seem to enjoy telling those early sexual experience stories a bit too much for my taste.  Your true stories nine times out of ten are about fucking around with your female cousins or some guy trying to rape you. I want you to tell me a true story, for once, about something else.”

“You know, just as you were saying that I remembered something I don’t think I’ve told you about. Did I ever tell you about the first time I saw a vagina?”

“Was it a cousin’s?”

“No, I was eight and a girl—a woman, really—flashed me her pussy.”

“Wait, she was an adult and you were a kid?”

“She was this girl who lived upstairs from us. She was a real hard body—big tits, bottle blonde, strong thighs, tight butt—and she had a really active sex life.”

“How did you know that?”

“My mother called her the ‘town pump.’”

“And you knew what that meant when you were eight?”

“I realized it later on but the implication was clear enough then.”

“Keep going.”

“So we’re in the laundry room one day and my mother steps out to call my father from a pay phone. I’m sitting there reading a Superman comic – I still have that issue, by the way, that exact same issue in my collection downstairs – and she walks in.”

“What was her name?”


 “Pedophile Bambi.”

“I didn’t say she was a pedophile.”

“She showed a little boy her pussy. That makes her a pedophile.”

“Can I finish this before you pass judgment?”

“Go ahead.”

“So she came into the laundry room wearing a little white sports bra and white sneakers and socks and a white tennis skirt only an inch over her ass. She said hi and I remember my face felt like it was on fire. I was always nervous with her because I thought she was hot. Plus she was always a little flirty with me.”

“She flirted with an eight year-old?”

“We had a weird thing going on.”

“Keep going.”

“So she loaded her laundry piece by piece and showed off these big, massive bras and little lacy panties to me.”

“What was the matter with this girl?”

“My mother said she was a junkie. She was probably high when she did it, which explains a lot about how she was acting. She asked me if I’d been swimming yet in the pool and I said no and she hopped up on a dryer and said that she and I should go swimming together. So I started imagining the two of us playing grab ass in the pool together and her asking me if she should take her top off, you know, the usual shit boys that age imagine. Well, heterosexual boys. Little gay boys probably think the same way about...”

“Where’s your mother for all of this?”

“Probably on the phone arguing with my father. This is when he wasn’t living with us and...”

“Keep away from the subject of your parents. I don’t need this turn into one of those stories.”

“So while she was talking—Bambi, not my mother, though my mother was probably talking on the phone at the same time Bambi was talking to me—she opened her legs up and, well, there it was.”

“What, she wasn’t wearing underwear? Were they all in the wash?”

“I’d never seen a vagina before. I knew that there was some kind strange fold or hole between a woman’s legs, but I didn’t know it looked like that or that there was hair on it either. It looked like she had a hedgehog stuffed between her legs. It was 1986, so I guess women weren’t shaving or waxing then. I thought a little mouth was going to spring out and bite my nose off.”

“How close was she to you?”

“Two, maybe three feet away.”


“So she glanced down—seeing my eyes half popped out of my head, no doubt—said “oh!” looked up and raised her eyebrows and grinned but kept her legs open.”

“What did you do?”

“Honestly? I got a hard on.”

“You realize how wrong all of this was, right?”

“It wasn’t healthy on her part and I didn’t say it was.”

“And you were perfectly fine with all of it?”

“I was embarrassed by my hard on, which she probably couldn’t even see. I don’t even know why I was embarrassed. The implications of it were probably beyond my awareness then and I shouldn’t have been concerned about size or anything like that then. It was probably because of how my mother—sorry, I know she’s not to be talked about in any stories tonight but I already mentioned her and she pertains to this point so I can’t really leave her out—always flipped out whenever I exposed myself when I was little. When I was three or four I sometimes just pulled it out and let it breathe and feel the night air or the sunshine or the rain on it and whenever she caught me she’d just…”

“This is disgusting.”

“Ok, back to the laundry room. So then my mother came in—she was slamming her feet so they must’ve really gone at it on the phone—and Bambi snapped her legs shut, finished her laundry and skipped out.”

“Did you tell your mother what happened?”

“Why would I?”

“Because what she did was wrong?”

“You mean my mother leaving me alone in the laundry room or Bambi flashing me?”


“How could I know that it was wrong?”

“If you didn’t think it was wrong then why didn’t you say something to your mother?”

“Because I didn’t know what to say or that it was a big deal. Plus, I didn’t want her to ruin the experience or any further opportunities I might get with Bambi.”

“Why would you think she would if it was all ok?”

“Because my parents were stuck up about anything even remotely sexual or involving nudity.”

“So you thought Bambi was opening you up to a new experience? Initiating you into manhood?”

“In a way, I guess.”

“What happened after that?”

“She gave me a thrill a few more times. She’d sometimes bend over and show me her ass if my parents weren’t around. One time she walked by my bedroom window and lifted her shirt and flashed her tits.”

“You’re as sick as her.”

“You’re blaming the victim. I was helpless and violated.”

“You don’t see yourself as a victim. You make it sound like this was a romance.”

“My innocence was lost.”

“You’re not funny.  None of this is funny.”

“You were snickering when I started telling the story.”

“That was because I was remembering the first time you told me it.”

“I never told you this one before.”

“Yes you did.”

“When was that?”

“When we were first dating.  The story was completely different then.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Bambi was a brunette, for one thing, and she was your babysitter and her name wasn’t Bambi either.”

“I didn’t have babysitters when I was a kid.”

“She was your mother’s friend. Her name was Lucy, right? She was babysitting you when you were nine or ten and her skirt came up and you saw her beaver and thought she was flashing you and was going to kidnap and rape you.”

“That’s not the same story as the Bambi story.”

“You’re just changing details and making stuff up as you go.”

“No, the thing with Lucy was an entirely separate occasion that happened the following year.”

“You said you didn’t remember the Lucy thing a minute ago.”

“I do now.”

“You’re embellishing, which I told you not to do. And now you’re mad because I’m calling you out for being a liar.”

“You’re just being a pain in the ass. The thing with Bambi happened just as I said it did.”

“So two women in the course of a year showed you their pussies?”


“And all of that with Bambi was true?”

“To the best of my recollection.”

“And you thought that was an appropriate story to tell me?”

“It’s just a story.”

“A story that whether true or not—and I still have no reason to believe it’s true—tells me more about you than I want know.”

“Forget it. We drank too much tonight and I told you a stupid, drunken story.”

“You’re just saying that so I’ll let this go.”

“I was eight when it happened!”

“That’s not the issue. It’s how you tell the story with such relish that bothers me, like you’re talking about learning to ride a bike or something.”

“You asked for a story.”

“Yes and not some pedophilic jerk-off fantasy you’ve been keeping under wraps for five years.”

“You never let me finish the story so you don’t know how it all turned out or what the point is.”

“I think I have a good enough idea about what the point is.”

“No you don’t.”

“Then tell me so this will be over with.”

“Several years pass after the laundry room incident.”

“And let me guess: you lost your virginity to her. Is that the big revelation we’re coming to? How Bambi popped your teenage cherry and made you a man?”

“Are you going to listen?”

“Go ahead.”

“So I became obsessed with her after that day in the laundry room. It wasn’t healthy on my part and I won’t say it was. But I was enchanted. I daydreamed about her, thought about her before I went to sleep and dreamed about her. I imagined elaborate scenarios about her and me being together and the ways I could pull them off. And those scenarios weren’t pure and innocent.”

“I’m sure they weren’t.”

“When I started jacking off I always jacked off to her. I beat off to Bambi three or four times a day for three years. That’s thousands of orgasms delivered to one person. Think about that.”

“That’s beautiful. She should be honored.”

“So one night when I was 14 my father came home and told my mother and me how Bambi was killed in a car accident a few hours before.  He’d driven by the scene and saw the wreckage.  She was driving a service bus...”

“What was she doing driving a bus?”

“She was bus driver for a special education school. Someone—a drunk driver, I guess—slammed into the rear of her bus and pushed her into a flatbed truck. The bed went through the windshield and ripped her head almost off her body. All the kids inside had their heads bashed in or severed. Every one of them—and there were ten or twelve of them in the bus—died on the spot.” 

“Let me guess, this event launched you into some existential depression and taught you about how easily and suddenly we can all die?”

“Can I finish the story?”

“I’m not stopping you.”

“So we—my parents and I—went to her wake. Keep in mind that my folks loved going to wakes.  They always got dolled up for them, hung around to talk to people at them, and went out to dinner after to rehash the whole affair. Honestly, my parents’ wake-going obsession probably would’ve made for a better story than this one, but you said no stories about my mother so I discounted that possibility...”

“Ok, ok!”

“So Bambi’s was the first wake I ever went to with them. My folks were eager to initiate me into the wake-going experience, something which they wanted to make into a regular family event. My mother spent the night before Bambi’s wake going over all the rules of decorum and procedures with me for the wake. What to say, what not to say, where to stand ...”

“I remember my grandmother’s wake; that was my first...”

“Can I finish my story before you launch into your own?”

“Go ahead.”

“So we go to the wake and once we get inside we see Bambi laying in a casket in the corner of the viewing room. She was dressed like a whore in a cheap looking black party dress.  Her lips were shining bright fire engine red. Foundation was packed under her eyes and her hair was frizzy and bright, like she was wearing a wig.  It probably was a wing, actually. My mother whispered to my father, “Jesus, look at her! That’s the best they could do?” A red and black scarf was wrapped around her neck and my mother asked my father if he thought they’d just stuck her head back on and taped it in place and used the scarf to cover the damage. I walked up to the casket—my mother told me we should go one at a time and suggested I go first to get it over with—and I realized as I was looking down at her—and this really bugged me afterward—that I could see the marks under her makeup from where they’d sewn her face back on. You could see the staples poking through the foundation they’d packed on her. Whenever my parents came home from wakes I asked them what the dead person looked like and they always said he or she looked peaceful. But Bambi didn’t look peaceful to me. When I went to bed that night...”

“If you tell me you started whacking off to her in the coffin, I swear to fucking God I’m packing my bags.”

“No, that’s not it.”

“So what was it?”

“I suppose her death—the event of her death—served as a sort of a Joycian epiphany for me.”

“Portrait of the artist as a...”

“Will you stop it?”

“Sorry. Finish your story.”

“It wasn’t that she was grotesque, exactly. Well, she was. In fact, grotesque is exactly what she was. Despite the ugliness of her corpse there was a trace—a vestige, I guess you could call it—of how pretty she once was, though it was mostly gone, like her beauty was fading in front of me.”

“What’re you talking about?”

“Her corpse. She looked made up, plastic and whorish, but you could still see a bit of what she used to look like under the surface, however destroyed it was. She looked nothing like I expected.”

“What did you expect?”

“I expected she’d look like she was just asleep. It was just that I felt—it’s hard to describe—I guess it was a sense of tremendous sadness. Deep, overwhelming sadness. Only twenty or thirty people showed up for her wake and we stayed for the entire two hours. Hardly any of her family came, just one brother who didn’t even seem that upset—he said he hadn’t seen her in a year and that the rest of her family wasn’t able to come because of the weather—and it was mostly people she worked with who barely seemed to know her and a couple of parents of some of the kids killed in the accident. I don’t even know who paid for the whole thing. There were maybe two or three bouquets of flowers. Even the casket she was in looked cheap and flimsy, like something they’d bury a hobo in. My father’s friend owned the apartment she lived in. He was there and told us how he’d cleaned her apartment out that morning. He said that when he got inside—and the place, he said, was a disaster—there were little trinkets and stuffed animals all over the place. She collected all sorts of weird shit. And the thing was that there was hardly anything in there that came from other people.  She bought all of that stuff herself.”

“How could he tell that?”

“He said he could just tell that she bought all those things for herself. He said she had her apartment decorated with little signs that talked about hope, faith and living for the day. She had nothing to her name except a bunch of sentimental crap. There was a stained mattress on the bedroom floor and all of her clothes were dirty and piled in the closet. But this is what really got to me, though I still don’t know why: he said there was a brand new stuffed animal—a stuffed dog—sitting on the kitchen counter. It seemed she’d gone and bought herself a stuffed animal shortly before she got killed. She went to a shop and picked out a stuffed animal for herself and brought it home. Something about that seemed incredibly sad. They buried her the next day and I asked my parents if we were going to go to the burial and my mother said no, that we’d done our bit. So that was it for Bambi. I’ll bet you hardly anyone—her family included—has visited her grave or even thought much about her since. This is probably the most anyone has said or thought about her since she died.”

“And that’s it?”

“That’s it.”

“You know, I’m at a loss for what the point of all of this was. Am I supposed to feel bad for Bambi?”

“I shouldn’t have to explain the point of the story to you.”

“You’re right. The point should be evident from the story itself.”

“You’re still stuck on her flashing me.”

“I just can’t feel bad for a dead nutcase with pedophilic tendencies, no matter how poor and fucked up she was. I don’t see any great tragedy here.”

“You don’t have to. I was trying to get at something larger here, something that really affected me when I was a kid.”

“That you were sad that some chick you fantasized about screwing when you were a kid died and took away your favorite jack-off fantasy.”

“That’s not it.”

“I think it is.”

“Then you weren’t listening to what I was telling you.”

“That’s exactly the problem: I was listening to you the whole time.”