The Cunt Book
    Donna Storey
Jon chose the perfect moment to tell us about the cunt book. The second pitcher of sangria was empty. So were the dinner plates, except for a few charred pieces of barbecued lake fish and slicks of vinaigrette shimmering in the light of the citronella candles.

We certainly needed a nudge to keep the fantasy going: that we’d invited Meg and Trevor over for their amusing rich kid ennui, not because they were the only other people with a summer cottage on this end of the lake. That I was here as lady of the manor instead of the semi-secret girlfriend of my nearly-divorced boss.

Jon even gave his story a title of sorts. “Let me tell you,” he said, “about Uncle Jacques’ Legacy.”

Jon called him “Uncle Jacques,” but he was really his father’s childhood friend, a second-generation Frenchman with Cardinal Richelieu’s nose and pockets full of caramels for Jon and his brothers. It was always an event when he came to dinner. Jon’s mother worked in the kitchen for hours making odd foreign dishes, beef wrapped in pastry or stews that made the boys tipsy from the vapors alone. Uncle Jacques was what they used to call a confirmed bachelor—though he wasn’t gay, Jon was very sure of that. His mother was always trying to fix him up with her unmarried friends: prim maiden ladies and pretty widows. Around Uncle Jacques they giggled and touched their hair. But his mother’s hopes always came to naught.

When Jon went to Paris his junior year of college, his parents insisted he visit Uncle Jacques in the Dordogne, where he’d retired to his ancestral village. Jon went for the free meal and stayed on for half a bottle of Sauternes—a golden liquid so sweet it made his mouth ache. Uncle Jacques was surprisingly easy to talk to for an old man. He admired Jon’s camera, a Nikon F2, and confessed his own interest in the art of photography. Jon spouted some nonsense from an art course about the pursuit of ideal form and the challenge of conveying depth and suddenly, there in his hands was a photo album, the old fashioned kind with thick black pages and a cord at the binding. He thought at first he might be required to ooh and ah over European landmarks, or worse yet, pictures of Uncle Jacques and his father as boys. But then he opened the book to the first page. What he saw took his breath away.

“What was it?” Meg was the first to bite.

“Art photos,” Jon replied with unusual delicacy.

Trevor twisted his lips into an amiable prep school sneer. “He means pictures of naked women.”

“Or parts of them,” Jon corrected. “In extreme close up. I wouldn’t have guessed what it was at first, except for the fingers, holding the outer lips wide.”

“It was a book of cunt pictures?” The sneer stretched into a cartoon leer.

“Yes. On one page,” Jon said. “On the facing page was a formal portrait of a lady fully clothed. The kind you might see displayed on any mantelpiece. I’d guess from the hairstyles that some were from the forties and fifties. But others were recent, too. Girls my age.”

“How decadent,” Meg cooed. “Do you think he screwed them all?”

“I wondered that myself, but didn’t have the nerve to ask. He did tell me that since he had no son of his own, he wanted to pass the book on to me one day if I thought I might have use for it.”

“Do you have it now?” Trevor’s question had a hopeful lilt.

“Unfortunately not. Uncle Jacques must be over eighty but he said in his last Christmas card he’s feeling quite fit.”

“I don’t know if it was wise of him to make the offer,” Trevor said. “Now he’s got someone anxious for him to die.”

“Who? You?” Meg asked with a grin.

I asked Jon if he recognized any of the faces. One of those maiden ladies or pretty widows?

“Hell, maybe one of them was your mother,” Trevor laughed.

Jon gave him an indulgent smile. “That I would have noticed. Frankly, I didn’t pay much attention to the faces. What struck me was how different the women ….”

Meg’s Adirondack chair creaked. I saw Trevor’s hand settle over her thigh.

“How different they looked down there,” Jon continued. “Far more variety than you find on lips on a face. One was nearly fleshless, a slit peeking from a thicket of curls. The next was plump and meaty, almost prehensile. And then a Baroque extravaganza, folded and draped like swirls of rich cloth.” He leaned back in the lounge chair and closed his eyes. “It’s been thirty years, but I can still see those photographs.”

We all gazed into the darkness as if we could see it, too—a woman’s legs dropped open like butterfly wings and the secret, scarlet fruit within, suspended before our eyes in the summer night.


What was it that made me doubt him? The way he touched me between my legs as soon as we got into bed, murmuring satisfaction when he found me wet? Or, and this occurred to me as he cupped my breast and stroked the nipple with his thumb, was it the way that cunt book story put him so firmly back in charge, throwing Trevor off his game, making Meg squirm around on her little heart-shaped ass? He already knew my weakness for stories of his young, impressionable days—but surely he could do better than a libertine uncle who was, of all things, French?

I turned to face him. “Did your uncle really have a book like that?”

Without his glasses Jon’s eyes looked smaller, the tender skin mapped with lines. He smiled.

“Do you really have an Uncle Jacques?”

His smile broadened. “Would I lie to you?”

He saved me from the answer with a kiss. In the year we’d been seeing each other, I’d become used to his evasions, about his wife, about his feelings for me. The price for sleeping with a man who was almost old enough to be my father. Or my uncle.

If the story was real there was so much I wanted to know. Did he get hard in front of the old man? Did he masturbate later that night in the guest bedroom, vintage vulvas fluttering through his head? Which picture did he see first when he took his cock in his hand? Or when he came, biting back his groans so Uncle Jacques wouldn’t hear?

But he’d never tell me these things. I knew that. Jon’s tongue was too clever, dancing lazily, darting in and out, feeding me a taste of the pleasures to come. Feeding me pictures, too, rising from the growing heat in my belly. Of a lady, lips glossed and softly parted, gazing heavenward as they always seemed to do in pictures back then. But down below she was hitching up her skirt, spreading her legs, half-teasing, half-shamed, to show her secret to that cool glass eye. She wanted it, even back then, when proper ladies didn’t do such things. Or didn’t tell. And I wanted it, too. I wanted it to be real.

I pulled away and lay back on the pillow. “Take my picture.”

Jon looked at me blankly.

“Take my picture. Down there. Will you do it?”

In the dim light it was hard to read the play of expression on his face. But then he said: “Yes. I’d love to.”


The next morning we drove into town for the necessary supplies. The general store only had one roll of black and white film, verging on expiration. Jon fretted that he needed an umbrella reflector to get the lighting right—impossible to find in that outpost of civilization--but we did score a remnant of black velvet, dusty, but on sale at half price.

It seemed to take him forever to place the chaise lounge at the right angle to the window and drape the velvet properly, set up the tripod and take light meter reading, while I waited in my beach robe rubbing my feet to keep them warm.

When he was finally ready, he gestured for me to undress and lie down. I shifted around to show off my best angles until I remembered it didn’t matter where I placed my arms or if my breasts looked perky. I glanced down at my triangle of pubic hair, trimmed back for summer. Suddenly it embarrassed me, at once too lush and somehow inadequate. Through the light brown curls I could see the indentation, like a thumbprint, where the groove began.

“Did they all have their legs open?” I asked.

Jon didn’t seem to understand.

“The women in that book. I thought maybe some of them were shy and only let him get a glimpse.”

We locked eyes for a moment. And then he did understand.

“Yes, I think there was one picture like that.”


“Open your legs now, honey,” he said gently. “We only have twenty-four shots on the roll.”

The words slid deep into my belly, insistent as any cock. But when I started to spread my legs, my hips resisted, like rusty hinges. Sit like a lady. Na, na, I can see your underwear. Every childhood lesson about my body was tossed away in that first cool rush of air.


“A little wider.”

I inched my knees to the edges of the chair. As if in sympathy, my mouth opened in a sigh.

John fumbled with the tripod and moved in closer, crouching. “Tilt up a bit.”


A girlfriend in high school once told me to pretend the camera was my boyfriend. Look straight into the lens and whisper to yourself: I love you, Mr. Camera. Ashley was right, those pictures came out prettier. But what could a pussy do to be fetching? Pick up a dollar bill?

“Were any of those ladies…” I cleared my throat. “Were any of the ladies in the book touching themselves?”

I knew the answer before he said it.

“Yes, baby. Yes, they were.”

I had to do it then, of course, had to slide my hand down and put a tentative finger on my clit, plump as a ripe berry. My thighs jerked open wider, quivering.


I began to strum.


Then do things I never did when I was alone. Rubbing my lips together then pulling them wide. Nipping my clit between two fingers when I pushed them together again.


“You’re nice and swollen now. Try to push your lips out more. So I can see the hole.” Jon’s voice sounded hazy, as if he were calling to me from behind his office door.

I pushed.

“More. That’s a good girl.”

My flesh clicked, like the sound of a shutter closing.


A gush of wetness trickled down my slit onto the velvet.

“Oh,” I cried involuntarily. “I’ve made a mess.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Jon snapped. Then more kindly, “Show yourself to me. Show me how beautiful you are.”

I pushed wider, my muscles aching sweetly with the strain. I wanted to show him. Not just him, but old Uncle Jacques, and a thousand unknown eyes. Then I felt it, down there between my legs, pulsing, as if the very air had taken on substance. It was so real I thought it was Jon, but he was still kneeling back at the tripod, hands on his camera. My finger found my clit again, jerking faster until I was practically clawing myself and sobbing with pleasure.

“Come for me, baby,” Jon crooned. “I’ll catch it for you and keep it right here.”

A flurry of clicks, then the long, lazy purr of film rewinding.

For once he kept his promise.

Afterwards, he came over and ran his fingers over the velvet beneath me. “You’ve made quite a puddle, haven’t you?”

“Sorry about that.”

He smiled and kissed my forehead. “Silly girl. You were terrific. May I make love to you now?” His tone was proper, almost Victorian, but there was no mistaking the hard-on in his jeans.

And so he took me there on the chair, pushing my knees up to my shoulders, eyes fixed at the place where our bodies joined and parted, using me the way a man uses a picture, for his pleasure alone.


We’d been back in the city a month when Jon handed me a package wrapped in pink paper with a cream satin bow. It was a photo album of fine leather.

I knew the story, but was curious to see how it would unfold.

I wouldn’t exactly call myself “beautiful” down there. But I did see things I’d never noticed in a few furtive glimpses of myself in a hand mirror. How the cowl of my clitoris veered to the left. How the inner lips flared out in petals, one slightly thicker. Each page revealed ever deeper layers, another smooth inner mouth and beyond the rugged muscles of my vagina. Watching myself change and swell brought it all back--the vegetal smell of lake water, the softness of the velvet on my bare skin. I felt my cheeks flush. Such a naughty girl I was, turned on by pictures of my own pussy. Then I heard a click. I looked up, surprise on my face. Jon took a picture of that, too.


A year later, I ran into Meg at the gallery where I’d taken a job after Jon and I broke up. I would have left it at hellos, but she insisted we go for drinks. She told me Jon had come by himself to the lake last year and that he seemed sad. Somehow that news didn’t make me feel as good as I thought it would.

On the third drink, she got to the confession. I was the only person in the world she could tell. Last summer, at the lake, she and Trevor had an awful fight and she ran to Jon for sympathy. They got roaring drunk and then she let him—well, actually, asked him--to take her picture. They didn’t screw. Just pictures.

“You know,” she said, “like that book he told us about.”

“The cunt book? That was just some story Jon made up.”

“No, I saw it. That old uncle must have finally died.”

“Were there pictures of lots of different women?”

She shrugged. “It just looked like a bunch of pussies. I was pretty drunk.”

“Faces, too?”

Meg peered into my face. For a moment I was sure she knew but then she shook her head.

Relief made me generous. After another martini, I admitted I’d done it, too, and Meg seemed glad not to be alone. We even joked about starting a club, Uncle Jacques’ Crazy Cunts, membership always open.

We both left the bar happy. For the first time in months, I felt good about that sorry little dream of my time with Jon.

I liked being part of a legacy.

Donna George Storey's short fiction and essays have appeared in Prairie Schooner ("Hot Spring" was nominated for the Pushcart for 2002), Berkeley Fiction Review, Rain Crow, Absinthe Literary Review, All-Story Extra, Grunt and Groan: The New Fiction Anthology of Work and Sex, Stanford Magazine, Princeton Alumni Weekly and Wine Spectator. She is also the author of Child of Darkness: Yôko and Other Stories by Furui Yoshikichi, a translation with critical commentaries.


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