Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta by Kate Braverman

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Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The unnamed protagonist is a thirty-eight-year-old California woman who is divorced and raising a young daughter, has been a recovering alcoholic for five months, and is currently seeing an analyst. As she walks across a parking lot in West Hollywood one day on her way to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, she is accosted by a short, fat, pale man with bad teeth who introduces himself as Lenny. He invites her for coffee, inquires about her life, and tells her that he will show her the other side and give her the ride of her life. She turns him down.

The next day, Lenny is at the narrator’s noon Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and has brought the narrator a bouquet of roses. Again he invites her out, and again she refuses, but Lenny persists. After watching her for two weeks, he knows every move that she makes. Lenny calls it “recon,” the kind of reconnaissance he used to do in Vietnam, and promises to tell her some tall tales from the Mekong Delta. She again cuts him off, but later, sitting in her car, she notices the sky in a different way. It is China blue, and Lenny’s talk of Asia has given her exotic fantasies of emperors and concubines.

At her meeting the following day, she finds herself looking for Lenny. Sure enough, he is there, holding two cups of coffee as though awaiting her arrival, and he seems younger and tanner than she remembers. Walking out later, she looks at her watch, but Lenny admonishes her, and makes her take it off and give it to him. Time is not important, he says; besides, he will give her something better, a Rolex. He claims to have a drawerful of them, along with a bundle of cash in a safe-deposit box. He offers to take her for a ride around the block on his motorcycle and extends his hand. She takes it and fantasizes once again about blue Asian skies and China seas.

Over the next week, the narrator tries to avoid Lenny. She changes the times and locations of her meetings, but she trembles when she thinks of him and is irresistibly drawn back to the earlier meeting place. She finds him sitting on the front steps of the community center as though he were expecting her. She begins to cry. Lenny consoles her, offers to buy her dinner, and tells her not to worry about the way he looks. He is in disguise, on the run from Colombian drug dealers, and he shows her a knife he has hidden in his sock. He has another under his shirt and is carrying guns. The narrator feels dizzy, lost, but Lenny reassures her: He is in her dreams; he is her ticket to the other side, and she can never get away from him. She lives in a dreamlike state, another time almost, because she no longer has a watch.

Days later, when Lenny says he wants to have sex with her, she finds herself helpless, although rationally she knows better. He needs to get an AIDS test, he is a drug addict, he is pathological, and he has spent time in prison. Lenny reassures her by telling her that if she contracts a disease, he will see that she never suffers. He will take her...

(The entire section is 850 words.)