Home > Doomed (Damned #2)(3)

Doomed (Damned #2)(3)
Chuck Palahniuk

Down a PH passageway, padding in my ghost stocking feet past my mom’s yoga studio and my dad’s cigar room, I find the door to my bedroom is locked. Of course the door’s locked, and no doubt the air conditioning is still cranked to meat-locker cold, and the drapes are drawn shut to protect my clothes and toys from sun fade. To preserve my room as a little shrine to a dead beloved daughter. For an idiotic moment I try to guess my mom’s password to the security system. My first choice is: CamilleSpenceristhegreatestlivingactorunder40. As my second guess, my mom’s security password is: NoIdidnotkillmychildstinysweetkitten! My next choice is: IwouldvelovedMadisonatonmoreifshedweighedafewpoundsless. Any of these is most likely correct, but then I realize that I can simply walk through.

Stepping through a door or wall feels only slightly less unpleasant than sharing molecules with a Chihuahua. I notice the flurry of sawdust, the oily sensation of too many coats of pale blue latex paint.

My bedroom presents a tableau similar to the PH living room: It’s filled by a bed, a slipper chair, a bureau, each piece of furniture masked by a white dustcover … but stretched the length of my bed, hidden beneath the white muslin sheeting, is the prone shape of a person. At the foot of the bed, the shape peaks to suggest pointed toes, then thin legs. It spreads to suggest hips, a waist, a chest; then the muslin dips at a seeming neck and rises to cover a face, tented across the tip of a nose. In this Goldilocks moment, someone occupies my bed. On the muslin-draped bedside table a discarded wig of blond hair coils to form a nest. Settled in the center of that blond nest, like eggs, are a set of dentures, a hearing aide like a pink plastic jumbo prawn, a pack of Gauloises, and a gold cigarette lighter. Displayed beside these artifacts is a framed cover from Cat Fancy magazine, a two-shot of my mother and me hugging a bright-eyed orange-striped kitty. In contrast to my mom’s Botox-steeped features, my smile is a frozen moment of genuine blissful laughter. The headline reads: “Film Star Gives Cinderella Kitten a Happy Ending.”

To PattersonNumber54, yes, even a ghost can feel sadness and terror.

Death isn’t the end of peril. There are deaths beyond death. Like it or not, death isn’t the end of anything.

Nobody wants to wander into a lonely, way-quiet hotel room and find a dead body, especially not one lying in her very own childhood bed. It’s the corpse of an inconsiderate stranger abandoned here, no doubt some Honduran hotel maid who elected to commit suicide in my nice bed, surrounded by my imported Steiff bears and limited-edition Gund giraffes, probably with a belly full of my mother’s Xanax, decomposing her nasty Honduran bodily fluids into my hand-stitched Hästens mattress, ruining my sixteen-hundred-thread-count Porthault sheets.

As my mounting rage surpasses my fear, I step forward. I grip the top edge of the muslin dustcover and begin to draw it down, revealing the body: an ancient mummy. A hag. Her gums pucker and frill without teeth to support them. Sunk in a pillow, sparse gray hairs wreath her head. I pull back the white fabric in a single yank, throwing it to the bedroom floor. The old woman lies, legs together and hands crossed over her chest, every bony finger sparkling with flashy cocktail rings. Her dress I recognize, a haze of aquamarine velvet heavily trimmed with sequins, rhinestones, and seed pearls. A slit cut in the skirt reveals a skeletal leg from wasted thigh to the blue-veined foot encased in a Prada sling-back sandal. The shoes are so new the price tag pasted to the sole of one is still legible. The blond wig, the gown, they all look vaguely familiar. I know them. I recognize them from a funeral held about a hundred thousand years ago. Miracle of miracles, I can smell the old lady’s cigarette smoke. No, I swear, ghosts can’t smell or taste anything in the alive world, but I can smell the cigarette stench that wafts from her. And without thinking, without conscious intent, I say, “Nana Minnie?”

The old woman’s eyelashes flutter. The outside end of one spidery false eyelash is peeling off, making her look a touch demented. The old lady blinks, lifting herself to her elbows and squinting her milky eyes in my direction. A smile splits the wrinkled width of her face, and her pink lisping gums say, “Pumpkinseed?”

To CanuckAIDSemily, this blows. Even after you’re dead it hurts just as bad when your heart swells up, stretched bigger and bigger like an aneurysm of tears getting ready to boom.

My nana’s gaze bounces from me to the skirt of her dress, from me to the sequins and velvet that fall away to reveal her aged legs, and the woman says, “For crying out loud … would you just look at the whore’s costume your mama buried me in?” With one shaky, bejeweled hand she reaches to the bedside table and plucks at the pack of Gauloises. Saying, “Come on and give your Nana Minnie a light,” she brings the butt of a cigarette to her mouth, and her slack, wrinkled lips collapse into a kiss shape around the filter tip.

DECEMBER 21, 8:09 A.M. EST

An Ick-inducing Reunion

Posted by [email protected]

Gentle Tweeter,

Sprawled on the satin coverlet of my bed, Nana crosses her spindly legs at the ankle, affording me an unwelcome glimpse up her slit skirt. Cringing, I ask, “Did we bury you … not wearing underpants?”

“Your stupid mama,” she says by way of an answer. Her gown is sleeveless, and she stares down at a thorny tribal tattoo that encircles her wrist and marches up her arm to her elbow, continuing to her shoulder. The inky black forms barbed letters, like briars, that spell out, “I [heart shape] Camille Spencer … I [heart shape] Camille Spencer …” with a tattooed rose blooming between each iteration. Nana spits on her thumb and rubs at the words on her wrist, saying, “What’s this happy horseshit?” She can’t see it, but the words run from her shoulder to circle her neck like a choker, terminating in a large tattooed rose that covers most of her right cheek. These repetitive declarations were needled into her aged, sunbaked hide postmortem, at my mother’s insistence.

Her head propped on the bed’s pillow, Nana Minnie glances down at the full br**sts swelling within the bodice of her dress. “For the love of Pete … What did your mama do to me?” With the gnarled talon of an elderly index finger, she pokes tentatively at one firm breast, obviously another postmortem renovation.

She’s smoking a ghost cigarette, blowing secondhand smoke everywhere, and with her free hand she pats the bed for me to come sit beside her. Of course I sit. I’m bitter and resentful and angry, not impolite. I merely sit, not talking, certainly not hugging and kissing her. My borrowed fake Coach bag rests on the bed beside my hip, and I dip a hand into it and dig among the turquoise Avon eye shadows, Almond Joys, and condoms. I fish out a strange PDA and start keyboarding my evil thoughts into words … sentences … bitchy blog entries.

If I’m honest here, you’ll decide that I’m simply the most hard-hearted thirteen-year-old ghost ever to walk the face of the Earth, but I am already wishing my beloved long-dead Nana Minnie would get lung cancer and die a second time.

Between drags on her coffin nail my nana asks, “You ain’t seen a spiritualist skulking around, have you? Terrible skin? A big, tall drink a water with his long hair braided down his back like a Chinaman?” She cocks a wrinkled eye at me.

To reassure you, HellHottieBabette, I am taking good care of your handbag.

My Nana Minnie was my mom’s mother, and in her palmier days she was probably a madcap jazz baby bobbing her hair and rouging her knees, dancing the jitterbug on cocaine-dusted speakeasy tables with Charles Lindbergh and roaring through the West Egg night in Stutz Bearcats, wrapped in raccoon coats and gorging on live goldfish, but by the time I knew her, my nana was fairly worn down to dust. Probably raising my mom didn’t help her stay young any.

By the time I was born Nana Minnie was already collecting buttons and nursing her sciatica. And chain-smoking. I remember that when I’d go visit her upstate, she’d brew tea by sticking an old pickle jar full of water in a sunny window. All that Norman Rockwell–ness aside, my nana’s house smelled like vacationing with dirty cavemen, as if she cooked every meal by combining raw ingredients she wrenched from some plot of dirt, and then heated to create food right inside her house and never just texted Spago or the Ivy or the Grill Room at the Four Seasons and had them deliver moules marinières tout de suite.

After you used my nana’s bathroom, no Somali maids slipped in quietly to sanitize everything and distribute new pamplemousse-scented shampoos. It’s no mystery why my mother opted to run away as a teenager, become a world-famous Hollywood star, and marry my billionaire father. There’s only so long you can pretend to be Laura Ingalls Wilder before that barefoot-hillbilly game wears thin. While I was banished to the Elba of tedious upstate, my mother would be off with a UNESCO film crew teaching safer-sex condom techniques to the bushmen of the Kalahari. My father would be orchestrating the hostile takeover of Sony Pictures or cornering the international market on weapons-grade plutonium, and I’d be stuck feigning interest in the rustic mating calls of wild birds.

I’m not a snob. You can’t call me a snob, because I’d long ago forgiven my nana for living on a farm upstate. I’d forgiven her for buying domestic Havarti and for not knowing the difference between sorbet and gelato. To her credit, it was my Nana Minnie who introduced me to the novels of Elinor Glyn and Daphne du Maurier. To score a point in my favor, I tolerated her obsession with growing her own heirloom tomatoes when Dean & Deluca could’ve FedExed us infinitely better Cherokee Purples. I loved her that much. But no matter how judgmental this sounds, I still have not forgiven her for dying.

Picking a fleck of tobacco off her tongue, using the chopstick-long fingernails my mom had her retrofitted with for her funeral, my nana says, “Your ma hired some fella to ghost-hunt you, so stay on your toes.” She adds, “I can tell you this much: He’s like a private dick who finds dead folks, and he’s here in this very hotel!”

Sitting here in my old hotel bedroom, surrounded by my Steiff monkeys and Gund zebras, all I can see is that lit cigarette. That legalized form of suicide. And, yes, in response to the comment posted by HadesBrainiacLeonard, this is distinctly ungenerous of me. Allow me to be frank. I’m not entirely without empathy, but to my mind she left me behind. My nana abandoned me because cigarettes were more important. I loved her, but she loved tar and nicotine more. And today, finding her in my bedroom I resolve not to make the mistake of ever loving her again.

My mom never forgave her for not being Peggy Guggenheim. I never forgave her for smoking and cooking and gardening and dying.

“So,” my Nana Minnie says, “Pumpkinseed, where you been keeping yourself?”

Oh, I tell her, around. I don’t tell her anything about how I died. Nor do I offer a word about being condemned to Hell. My fingers keep typing away on my PDA; my fingertips are screaming everything I can’t bear to say aloud.

“I’ve been there. To Heaven,” says Nana Minnie. She jabs her cigarette toward the ceiling. “We was both of us saved, me and your Papadaddy Ben. The problem is Heaven adopted one of them strict no-smoking rules.” Henceforth, she says, in the same way office workers must brave the weather and huddle outdoors in order to puff their cancer sticks, my dead nana must descend as a ghost to indulge her vile addiction.

Mostly I just listen and search her face for signs of myself. Child and crone, we create a kind of before-and-after effect; her hooked parrot’s nose is my cute button nose, except irradiated by the ultraviolet rays of a hundred thousand upstate summer days. Her cascade of variously sized chins duplicates my dainty girlish chin, only in triplicate. I steer the conversation to the weather. Sitting on the edge of the hotel bed, where she lies inhaling a cigarette, I ask whether Papadaddy Ben is also skulking around the Rhinelander hotel.

“Sweet pea,” she says, “stop fussing with that pocket calculator and be sociable.” Nana Minnie rolls her ghost head from side to side on the pillow. She blows a jet of smoke at the ceiling and says, “No, your papadaddy ain’t hereabouts. He wanted to be in Heaven to welcome Paris Hilton when she come.”

Please, Dr. Maya, give me the strength to not use an emoticon.

Paris Hilton is going to Heaven?

This I can’t Ctrl+Alt+Fathom.

Sitting here, looking at my nana’s face, it strikes me that I can’t see her thoughts. Thoughts … thinking … the very proof which René Descartes cites for our existence is as equally invisible as ghosts. As our souls. It seems that if science is going to dismiss the possibility of a soul for lack of physical proof, scientists should also deny that thinking occurs. With this observation I glance at my sturdy, functional wristwatch and observe that only a minute has passed.

My nana catches me with my elbow cocked, my wristwatch twisted for me to look at the time, and she says, “Did you miss your old grandma, kitty-kins?” She exhales another plume of smoke toward the ceiling.

“Yes,” I lie, “I did. I missed you,” but I keep keyboarding to the contrary.

It doesn’t escape me that this is the central conflict of my life: I love and adore all of my family, except when I’m with them. No sooner do I enjoy a reunion with my long-dead Nana Minnie than I yearn to have my chain-smoking, half-blind beloved granny euthanized.

The unhappy reality is that medical euthanasia is at best a onetime solution.

Then it happens: a sound.

From the PH foyer it comes: a laugh.

I ask, “Is that your long-haired paranormal private detective?”

Nana Minnie points her cigarette in the direction of the ruckus, a man’s laugh, and she says, “That’s how come you ought not be here, duckling.” She taps the ghost ash off her ghost cigarette and brings the butt back to her mouth. “Myself, I’m conducting a little covert investigation,” she says, taking another puff. “You think I enjoys laying here surrounded by your lousy kiddy toys? Maddy, honey,” she says, “you done walked into a stakeout.”

DECEMBER 21, 8:12 A.M. EST

A Tryst Revealed!

Posted by [email protected]

Gentle Tweeter,

From elsewhere in the hotel suite comes the sound of a door, the dead bolt snapping open with a heavy clunk. No knock heralds it. No polite announcement of “Housekeeping!” or “Room service!” It’s the door which opens from the hotel hallway into the living room. The latch clicks. The hinges give a little sigh, and muffled footsteps sound against the marble tile of the suite’s foyer.

Sad to say, the dead can still suffer excruciating bouts of self-consciousness. Like you, the predecomposed, the postalive can feel utterly mortified by their own sordid confessions.

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