Home > Doomed (Damned #2)(4)

Doomed (Damned #2)(4)
Chuck Palahniuk

Take, for example, the following admission: I spent the fondest hours of my childhood with my ear pressed to the outside of my parents’ bedroom door. On the not-infrequent occasion when sleep eluded me in Athens or Abu Dhabi or Akron, I took great pleasure in eavesdropping on my parents’ carnal panting. Their coital groaning acted upon me as the sweetest lullaby. To my childhood ear those grunts and snorts were assurance of continued familial bliss. My parents’ bestial ejaculations guaranteed that my home wouldn’t crack up as had all those of my wealthy playmates. Not that I had playmates.

Rapping. Tapping. The culture of spiritualists is rife with ghosts knocking loudly. For souls stranded in a physical world it’s only common courtesy. Plainly put, no one wants to enter a room and witness a predead person pooing or vigorously engaged in performing the Hot Nasty.

Thus, ghosts always knock before they enter a room. Including me. Especially me. In the PH of the Rhinelander hotel, as I follow the sound of my father’s laugh, the unmistakable Thoroughbred stallion clip-clop of his shoes, accompanied by the time bomb tick-tock of Manolo Blahnik high heels, my pursuit leads to the closed door of my parents’ New York bedroom. The instant before I step through the enameled wood, a voice from within says, “Hurry, my love; we’re desperately behind schedule. We should’ve been screwing hours ago.…”

The voice, my father’s voice, arrests my entry. What’s there to say concerning the renowned Antonio Spencer? The shape of his head is like that of a very handsome boulder. A landmark. Usually he speaks with a phony NPR intonation, but today his voice sounds na*ed and hairy.

In lieu of dissolving through the door and possibly witnessing a primal scene, I pace the foyer, enervated with guilt.

In the PH foyer, an electrical outlet catches my eye. We’ll revisit this practice in greater detail soon, but for the present please accept the fact that I pour my ghost ectoplasm into the tiny holes of a three-pronged outlet and worm along the copper wires buried within the hotel walls. Picture Charles Darwin navigating the steamy Amazonian river system. Arriving at a junction box, I guess the next wire and follow it to a new outlet. Soon I encounter the prongs of an extension cord. Shimmying along copper, I jump the gap of an open switch. Tunneling upward, I reach a dead end, lodged within a lightbulb. Not a roomy Thomas Edison incandescent bulb, mind you; this is a convoluted compact fluorescent lightbulb installed in a bedside lamp. Surrounding me, a vellum shade screens my view of the hotel room. I’m twisted inside a dark bulb, exactly the energy-efficient, eco-friendly option that my parents would choose, and the mercury tastes Ctrl+Alt+Foul. Surrounded by the lamp shade, I can only gaze down onto the wood-grain surface of a bedside table. There, like the elements of some torrid modern still life, my cramped view includes a PDA, a room key attached to a brass fob, an alarm clock, and the torn packaging leftover from a not-present condom.

Hark, the comforting slurp-some din of my parents frantically taxing their aged pleasure centers.

Please note, you future dead persons, whenever you shut off a fluorescent bulb or a cathode ray tube and see a residual photon-green glow, that glow is trapped human ectoplasm. Ghosts are forever being snared in lightbulbs.

Even now, coiled within a dark bulb, I indulge my ghost self by covert eavesdropping. Screened as I am, I can’t see them, but I can detect my father’s hoarse endearments. “Oh,” he says, “slow down.” My dad says, “I love what you’re doing, baby, but wait.” He says, “You’re going to send me right over the edge.…”

At that, a hand snakes under the bottom edge of the lampshade. It’s a bony spider of a hand. Plaited with smooth muscle, it’s a serpent of an arm, its skin as smooth as a lizard’s scales. The fingernails are painted with chipped white polish, and pink stripes run from the base of the palm down the inside of the forearm, like a few furrows plowed in a fallow upstate field. These parallel pink lines run almost to the elbow. Ragged, they suggest the scant few inches of sodbusting accomplished by some old dirt farmer before he dropped dead of a lonely heart attack.

These scars, so rudely cut and freshly healed, they brand the bearer as a would-be suicide. Gentle Tweeters, I recognize these scars. I know this arm.

I know the desolate visuals of a hardscrabble upstate lifestyle.

A thin crescent of brown shows under each nail. It’s chocolate, the brown. To an expert eater, it’s clearly milk chocolate smudged from the outer layer of a Baby Ruth. Her touch is slippery with sweat and sticky with caramel. Her fingers fumble against the glass sides of the bulb, effectively fondling my face, soiling my hair. Caressing and molesting the ghost me contained here. These fingers smell like my father’s undershorts fermenting in the bottom of an overly heated Tunis laundry hamper. They smell the way my mother smelled when she’d giggle and stay belted in her bathrobe all morning. Those mornings, my mother would serenely pour organic wheatgrass juice, her cheeks ruddy and raw from my father’s morning stubble.

Not wearing my mother’s canary yellow engagement ring, this groping hand is not my mother’s hand.

Attached to the spidery fingers is the snake arm, a skinny shoulder, a slender neck. A face cranes from the bed, and two eyes peer under the lower edge of the lamp shade, looking directly at me as the fingers locate the switch and twist it. A face no older than that of a pretty high-schooler, in the new sixty-watt glare, it’s not my mother’s face.

Lipstick is smudged around this stranger’s mouth. Her cheeks are livid from whiskers which ought to be abrading my mother’s face. She’s looking up the bottom of the lamp shade as if she’s peering up a skirt. This strange lecher smiles into the glow of my hiding place, and she whispers, “What time is it?”

DECEMBER 21, 8:16 A.M. EST

A Shout-out for Backup

Posted by [email protected]

Gentle Tweeter,

In death as in life I am betrayed by my peers. This girl we find canoodling so freely with my very married father, until recently she professed to be my devoted friend and mentor in Hell. It’s likely that she’s also violated her Halloween curfew, but how she can manifest a physical body and carnally interact with the predead is a mystery.

To my remaining friends still lodged in the fiery underworld, I make a special request. Unbeknownst to you—smarty-pants Leonard, athletic Patterson, misanthropic Archer, and dear little Emily—during the normal course of events in Hades I inadvertently made contact with my living-alive parents. It was by telephone, an accident, and they were understandably upset about speaking to the daughter they had just buried. To quell their weeping I offered my mom and dad some advice on how to conduct their lives. This advice, most likely, will land them in the Pit.

Please, my underworld friends, if my parents die during my yearlong absence, please protect them. Make them feel at home.

DECEMBER 21, 8:20 A.M. EST

The Tryst, Continued

Posted by [email protected]

Gentle Tweeter,

Seeking forensic proof of my parents’ lust for each other, as a predead child I would pillage the dirty laundry. The pong and sogginess of damp bed linens served as the physical evidence that my mom and dad were still in love, and these lustful stains documented their romance better than would any florid handwritten poetry. Their carnal discharges proved that all was stable. The squeak of bedsprings, the slap of skin against bare skin, these spoke a biological promise more lasting than wedding vows.

In those revolting smears of bodily fluids was writ proof of our mutual happy ending. That, it would seem, is no longer the case.

“For the love of Madison,” gasps my father’s voice, “are you trying to f*ck me to death, Babette?”

Those familiar eyes framed in turquoise eye shadow, edged in mascaraed eyelashes, they’re the flesh-eating flowers of a Venus flytrap. Her earlobes strain with the weight of dime-size dazzle-cut cubic zirconia. Making her voice a bedroom purr, continuing to gaze upon me in my lightbulb, the young woman, Babette, asks, “Do you miss her?”

My father responds with silence. His hesitation stretches to a cold eternity. At last he asks, “You mean my wife?”

“I mean, do you miss your daughter, Madison?” prompts Babette.

Gruff, indignant. “You’re asking if I hit her? Did I ever beat her?”

“No,” Babette says. “Do you miss her?”

After a long beat, his voice wry with chagrin, my father says, “I was stunned to find out that Heaven even existed.…”

“Madison wouldn’t lie,” says Babette, baiting me. “Would she?”

“This is going to sound terrible,” my dad’s voice begins. “But I was even more surprised to hear that Madison got past the gates.” A chuckle. “Frankly, I was dumbfounded.”

My own father thinks I ought to be in Hell.

Stranger yet, I suspect that Babette can see me. I’m certain she can.

Quickly, dryly, my dad adds, “I could imagine Madison getting into Harvard … but Heaven?”

“But she’s there now,” says Babette, even as she sees me here, trapped on Earth, hovering within an arm’s length of their adulterous postcoital dialogue. “Madison spoke to you from Heaven, didn’t she?”

“Don’t misunderstand me,” my dad says. “I loved Maddy as much as any parent ever loved a child.” His silent pause here is long and infuriating. “The truth is that my baby girl had her shortcomings.”

As if making a token effort to resolve the topic, Babette says, “This must be painful for you to admit.”

“The truth is,” says my dad, “my Maddy was a little coward.”

Babette gasps in theatrical shock. “Don’t say that!”

“But Madison was,” insists my dad, his voice exhausted, resigned. “Everyone saw it. She was a spineless, gutless, weak little coward.”

Babette smirks up at me, saying, “Not Maddy! Not spineless!”

“Those were the empirical findings of our entire team of behavioral experts,” my dad’s voice affirms dismally. Downhearted. “She hid behind a defensive mask of false superiority.”

The statement roils in the cramping bowels of my brain. My ears gag on the words team and findings.

“Those eyes of hers watched everything and they judged everything,” my father declares, “especially her mother and me. Madison decried every dream, but she never had the courage or strength of convictions to pursue any vision of her own.” As if laying down his sad trump card he adds, “Nothing led us to believe poor Maddy ever had a single friend.…”

That, Gentle Tweeter, is an untruth. Babette was my friend. Not that she’s such a great endorsement of friendship.

Too quickly, too gently, Babette says, “We don’t have to discuss this, Tony.”

And too fervently, my dad responds, “But I do.” His voice simultaneously righteous and defeated, he says, “Leonard warned us. Decades ago. Long before she was born, Leonard said Maddy would be very difficult to love.”

Narrowing her eyes, grinning up at me, Babette prompts, “Leonard? The telemarketer?”

With an almost audible shaking of his head, my father says, “Okay, he was a telemarketer, but he made us rich. He warned us that Madison would pretend to have friends.” My dad laughs quietly. He sighs. “Over one winter break Madison spent the school holiday entirely alone.…”

Oh, for the love of Susan Sarandon, I can’t be hearing this! My ghost brains bloat and ache, stretching, painfully, the swollen belly of my memory.

“She told her mother and me that she was spending the holidays with friends in Crete,” he continues. “And for the next three weeks, she did nothing but eat ice cream and read trashy novels.”

Gentle Tweeter, fie! Ye gods! Forever Amber is not a trashy novel. Neither am I weak and a coward.

Babette’s voice sounds syrupy as she coos, “A pretty girl like Madison … That’s impossible.” Her urine-hued eyes, however, guffaw heartily at my expense.

“It’s true,” says my dad. “We watched her over the entire holiday via the school’s security cameras. The poor, lonely, fat little thing.”

DECEMBER 21, 8:23 A.M. EST

A Former (?) Friend …

Posted by [email protected]

Gentle Tweeter,

Such a nature boy is my father that his copious grunting regales us. Volcanic blasts erupt, not muffled by modesty or any intervening closed and locked door. Having left the bed and padded across the room barefoot, he’s installed himself astride the commode in the en suite bathroom, from whence the tiled surfaces amplify a host of wet sounds.

In his absence Babette once more cranes her head to peer up into the lamp shade where I take refuge. “Madison, don’t be angry,” she whispers. “Believe it or not, I’m trying to help you.”

My father’s voice calls out, “Babs, you say something?”

Ignoring him, Babette whispers, “Don’t delude yourself. Do you think it was an accident when the autodialer connected you with your parents?” Whisper-yelling, she says, “Nothing that’s happened to you is an accident! Not The Voyage of the Beagle. Not EPCOT.” Exasperated, she says, “And the people you think are your dead friends … they’re not your friends. The nerd and the jock and the punk, they’re in Hell for very good reasons!”

If Babette is to be believed, you, HadesBrainiacLeonard, PattersonNumber54, and MohawkArcher666, you’re all miscreants. She claims you’re bent on subverting creation and imposing your own eternal plans. You befriended me in Hell. You put me to work on the phones. She says this is all part of a grand scheme that goes back for centuries.

“They call themselves ‘emancipated entities,’ ” Babette insists. “They refuse to take sides with either Satan or God.”

In the background a toilet flushes.

“Don’t let them fool you, Maddy.” Wagging a chocolate-smeared finger at me, she says, “Girlfriend, you wouldn’t believe the kinky shit your so-called friends planned for you.…”

She hisses, “I’m still your best friend. That’s why I’m warning you.” As footsteps approach from the bathroom, she whispers, “You just watch, Maddy. Satan is going to win this thing! Satan is going to get all the marbles, and you need to get on his side while you still can.”

DECEMBER 21, 8:25 A.M. EST

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