Home > Doomed (Damned #2)(10)

Doomed (Damned #2)(10)
Chuck Palahniuk

As if to illustrate these notes, pressed between the pages were buttercups. Yellow buttercups. Purple violets. Proof of long-ago free time and long holiday strolls and fresh air. Brown ribbons of ancient grass. A record of sunshine. Bits of physical evidence documented a vanished summer. And not just the colors of summer … here were the smells as well! Dried sprigs of rosemary, thyme, and lavender. Rose petals still pungent! These layers of paper and words had preserved them, like an armor. Each primrose and morning glory I came across I was duly careful to leave intact.

From her station at the stove, my nana said something, her words ending on a high note, a question.

I responded, “Excuse me?”

Taking the cigarette from her lips, exhaling a plume of smoke, she repeated, “How are you liking that The Call of the Wild?”

I looked at her, my eyes wide with incomprehension.

“The novel?” she prompted, nodding at my book opened on the kitchen table.

Obviously she hadn’t seen the cover closely enough to know its actual title.

She asked, “Did you read to the part where the dog gets himself kidnapped and took to Alaska?”

Yes, I nodded. My eyes returning to my reading, I agreed that the dog lived a very exciting life.

“Did you read to the part …,” she asked, “… where the collie dog gets took by Martians in a flying saucer?”

Again, I nodded, saying the scene in question was quite thrilling.

“And,” my nana prompted, “was you scared when the space aliens impregnated the Irish setter with radioactive chimpanzee embryos from the Crab Nebula?”

Automatically I agreed. I said that I simply could not wait for the film version. I glanced up just to check the sincerity of her expression, but my nana merely stood there, her dour peasant body garbed in the usual calico apron worn over a shapeless gingham Mother Hubbard, the latter liberated from all style and color by a lifetime of launderings. I made a mental note that this Wild book must be a real humdinger.

As she dipped a second taste from the bubbling pot, lifting the spoon to her pursed lips and blowing to cool its steaming contents, the telephone in the parlor began to ring. As she’d done countless times, my nana set aside her dripping utensils and waddled out the kitchen door and down the short hallway. The springs of the divan squealed as she settled herself. The ringing stopped, and she coughed the word “Huh-lo?” Her distant voice dropped to a conspiratorial hush, and she said, “Yeah, she went and grabbed the evolution book, all right. That Maddy’s a pistol.” Between coughs, she said, “Yeah, I told her about the island.…” Choked and breathless, she said, “Don’t you fret none, Leonard. That girly is more than ready to do battle with evil!”

Here, Gentle Tweeter, I turned a page in my Beagle book and discovered more ancient words. Handwritten down the margin in blue ballpoint pen, they said, Leonard promises that one day I’ll raise a great warrior as my daughter. He tells me to name her Madison.

DECEMBER 21, 9:05 A.M. EST

Now, Voyager!

Posted by [email protected]

Gentle Tweeter,

So it was, that summer of my exile to tedious upstate, that now-vanished sunny yesterday, I found myself standing at the fraying asphalt margin of State Route Whatever, the outer edge of six northbound lanes packed densely with horn-blasting, gear-grinding tractor-trailers. The morning air smelled wretched, polluted with axle grease, tar, hot oil, and the smoke of burning dinosaur juice.

No explorer had ever set forth to ford more dangerous seas.

My own path would lead at cross-purposes to the flow of automobiles, their momentum, the hiss and growl of their radial tires, the stuttering thunder of exhaust brakes. Through this deadly parade of speeding metal I could see the opposite shore, my destination: the island where vehicles parked to void their occupants, and those occupants hurried to the cinder-block restrooms to deposit their own excremental contents.

With one step I would be committed to cross the entire roadway. A single step, and I would be fully invested in taking the half hundred additional strides needed to deliver me to safety on the distant restroom isle. There, pet dogs strolled, leisurely staging their feces in small piles, as judiciously as any endangered tortoise laying its precious eggs.

How strange I must’ve appeared to the drivers, an eleven-year-old girl wearing denim trousers and a blue chambray workshirt, the tails of which hung to my knees, the too-long sleeves rolled back to my chubby elbows.

My arms were crossed over my chest, hugging the Beagle book and a frail, unwieldy gallon-size jar of my nana’s windowsill tea. The murky tea sloshed and shifted, heavy inside its fragile glass. Prior to requisitioning the tea I’d dropped untold sugar cubes into the golden liquid, and as it leaked along the jar’s ill-fitting lid my hands and forearms grew sticky. The skin of my fingers gummed together as if they were webbed, as if I were evolving for some new aquatic purpose. So thusly was I glued to the heavy jar that even if my grip failed I suspected the sloshing glass vessel would remain fixed to the chest of my blue chambray shirt.

Once I entered the flow of traffic the smallest pause would place me dead center in the path of pulverizing impact, to be hurtled through the hazy, torpid summer air, my every bone broken. Or to be overridden, the girlish blood crushed out of me and tracked for miles down the highway in the zigzagged, lightning-bolt tread patterns of mammoth black-rubber tires. Any hesitation would mean my death, and in those bygone days I was still highly prejudiced against being dead. Like so many living-alive people I aspired to stay breathing.

Drawing one deep breath, quite possibly my last, I plunged forward into the chaos.

My Bass Weejuns slapped the hot pavement as garbage trucks raged by on every side. Sirens wailed and horns blared. Vast tanker trucks brimming with flammable liquids … roaring log trucks … these behemoths blasted past me, buffeting my tiny self with such force that I spun like a cork in heavy seas. Dragging their great waves of stinging grit, humongous Greyhound buses peppered me with a buckshot of sharp gravel. In the wake of flatbed trucks, blistering siroccos tore at my skin and hair.

People with happy home lives do not board ships bound for Alaska and the Galápagos. They do not take leave from their loving families in order to sequester themselves in lonely workshops and studios. No psychologically healthy individual would expose herself to X-rays, Marie Curie–style, until they poisoned her. Civilization is a condition which unsocial misfits impose on the rest of popular, easygoing, family-oriented humanity. Only the miserable, the failures, the outcasts will crouch for days to observe the mating habits of a salamander. Or to study a boiling teakettle.

The avant-garde in every field consists of the lonely, the friendless, the uninvited. All progress is the product of the unpopular.

People in love—with nurturing, attentive non-movie-star parents—they would never invent gravity. Nothing except deep misery leads to real success.

The preceding observations steeled my spine even as tractor-trailer combos hurtled past, not a hand’s length away. If my mother had been happy living as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm she’d never have become a glorious icon for the moviegoing world. If my life’s dream were to boil innocent apricots into a vile jellied condiment, alongside my nana, I wouldn’t now find myself dashing across the hostile congested lanes of State Route Whatever.

My chubby legs scampered, advancing and retreating in the flurry, dodging lest I be run down and tatters of my chunky childish flesh be pasted to an assortment of chrome bumpers and radiator grilles, bound for Pennsylvania and Connecticut, my denim-chambray ensemble reduced to sodden rags ironed flat against the searing blacktop. One stumble and I’d perish. One forward misstep led to two backward steps. My burden of tea shifted, heaving me off balance. I reeled sideways into the path of an oncoming long-haul monster. Blaring its mighty air horn, the looming tires squealed and skidded. A cargo box of doomed cattle slid by my side, so close I could smell their bovine musk, too close. Their thousand large brown cow eyes stared down piteously upon me.

Without pause other trucks bore down, herding me, prompting my stubby legs to scurry hither and yon, my mind blind with frenzied self-preservation. I darted. My eyes squeezed shut, I raced, ran, flitted, and cowered. I pivoted, slid, and dived with little idea of my direction, mindful only of the howling automobile horns and swerving near misses. Pursuing headlights flashed their indignant high-beam strobes at my jiggling belly fat.

Sopping with perspiration, I was chased. My flabby monster arms flapping, I was intercepted. My progress thwarted, my meaty love handles bounced as my direction was redirected. An onslaught of irate motorists succeeded in elevating my heart rate higher than would the next two years of costly personal trainers.

At last I stumbled. The toe of my shoe kicked an obstacle, and I tumbled and rolled, ready to be slaughtered by the next pursuing conveyance. My arms and torso were collapsed forward, crumpled to protect the fragile glass jar and Beagle book. However, instead of hard pavement I landed on something soft. The obstacle which had arrested my foot, I opened my eyes to find it was a concrete curb. The soft place where I’d fallen was a lawn of mown grass. I’d reached the traffic island. The grass itself flattened and yellow-dead, the yielding cushion where I now lay was a warm mound of squishy dog poo.

DECEMBER 21, 9:07 A.M. EST

A Tortured Nontortoise Bladder Driven to Near Madness

Posted by [email protected]

Gentle Tweeter,

To avoid the sometimes soporific pace of Mr. Darwin’s travelogue I’ll not describe every molecule of the upstate traffic isle. Suffice to say the island was ovoid in shape, bounded along all sides by maniacal drivers operating their motor vehicles at breakneck speed. As is so typical of the upstate region, the island’s terrain was boring. The view in every direction was uninteresting. The geology ho-hum. A scanty layer of lawn blanketed the island, and every surface—the grass, the inoperative drinking fountain, the concrete pathways—radiated heat at a temperature comparable to the surface of the sun. To be more exact: the surface of the sun in August.

The object of my quest was to locate some insect trapped here and specifically adapted to this sordid environment. I needed only to collect a specimen and name the new species for myself. My discovery would launch my new future as a world-renowned naturalist, and I’d need never again be claimed as a dependent on the tax returns of Camille and Antonio Spencer.

Not that my parents ever paid taxes.

Hulking at the center of the island, like a dormant South Seas volcano ripe with the gaseous stench of brimstone and methane, stood the cinder-block public toilets. To attract exotic insects I uncovered my jar of highly sugared tea, and I waited. Dared I hope for a blaze-colored butterfly? If such a unique species appeared, it would be my own: Papilio madisonspencerii. My clothing hung drenched with perspiration. My neck itched. My thirst grew.

Instead of unique aboriginal butterflies, I was beset by houseflies. Rising as a dark haze, migrating en masse from the reeking public toilets, sated from feasting on fresh human bowel movements, wet with the excrement of strangers—these flies migrated straight to the sweetness of my lips. Fat, buzzing black flies as large as twelve-carat diamonds swarmed in a teeming fog around me. Mr. Darwin, my invisible mentor, would be ashamed, for I was unable to summon up even a distanced scientific curiosity about these loathsome vermin as they alighted on my arms, my sweaty face, crawling upon my damp scalp and specking me with their poo-tinged feet. Parched and frustrated, I flailed them away and drank greedily of the tea. The sweetness begot more thirst, and soon I drank again.

Besides the vile houseflies, the only evidence of animal life thereabouts was dog doo-doo. In the same way sea-birds have deposited millennia of guano on certain remote islands, thus making those nations wealthy with quarries of nitrogen-rich fertilizer, I posited that future upstate residents would someday mine their traffic islands for the vast accumulations of dog poo. No butterflies arrived. Nor did any neon-colored dragonflies. Stymied by the day’s suffocating heat, I partook of more tea. Between the heat and the vigorous exertion required to ward off poop flies, I soon found I’d drunk most of the gallon.

So well irrigated by tea, I found myself compelled to make number one. Painfully compelled.

Please, Gentle Tweeter, do not take what I’m about to say as elitist. If you’ll recall: You are alive and most likely eating a nice buttered snack, while my own precious body is providing craft services for earthworms. Recognizing our relative statuses, in no way can I really high-hat you. But, plainly put, until that tedious upstate moment I’d never before made use of a public toilet. Oh, I’d heard tell they existed, these shared spaces where one and all might venture to donate their wee-wee to a community sewer, but I’d simply never been forced to exercise so desperate an option.

My clenched woo-woo howling in wordless distress, I abandoned my empty tea jar—the sticky glass at present paved with black houseflies. I carried my Darwin and went in search of relief. The landscape offered nothing in the way of cover. No options existed save for the ominous cinder-block bathrooms, their exterior walls painted a dull ochre. So advanced was my condition, so distended my bladder, that I had no hope of successfully retreating to my nana’s spartan albeit semihygienic commode.

The beckoning public toilets seemed to boast two doors, each door occurring on a side of the building opposite the other door, both doors painted a dismal brown. Mounted at eye level beside each was a sign lettered in an alarming sans-serif, all-caps typeface. These read men and women, respectively, suggesting the genders were segregated in their public-toilet-going pursuits. I waited for confirmation, hoping to follow a woman into what seemed the appropriate door. My plan was to mirror some stranger’s behavior, thus avoiding any major faux pas. I especially worried about under- or overtipping any attendant. Etiquette and protocol constituted no small part of my Swiss boarding school education, but I remained oblivious as to how one ought to comport herself while tinkling among bystanders.

Even at school I eschewed using the shared lavatories, preferring always to return to my room’s en suite water closet. Among my worst fears was that I might suffer from a shy bladder and find my pelvic muscles unable to sufficiently relax.

My skills as a naturalist determined my course of action: I waited for a female with full bowels to arrive. Initially, none did. After a few agonizing minutes, even more women didn’t arrive. I racked my brains for any teachings about how such facilities did business. For example, was a patron compelled to take a paper slip printed with a number and wait for her turn to be called? Or perhaps a reservation was needed. Were that the case I was determined to cross the maître d’hotel’s palm with silver and secure myself an immediate piddle. The idea of money chilled me with terror. What did the natives of tiresome upstate use for currency? A quick rifling of my denim pockets yielded euros, shekels, pounds, rubles, and several credit cards. Still, as no butterflies had arrived, no widdle-burdened women arrived. I wondered if such public pooping establishments accepted charge cards in payment.

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