Choke, p.16
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       Choke, p.16

           Chuck Palahniuk
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  Goodwife Landson and Mistress Plain wept into their aprons, but only because mourning was in their job descriptions. A guard of men stood with muskets braced in both hands, ready to escort Denny out into the wilderness of the parking lot. The colony flag snapped, lowered to half mast at the peak of the Customs House roof. A crowd of tourists watched from behind their video cameras. They’re eating popcorn out of boxes with the mutant chickens pecking crumbs at their feet. They’re sucking cotton candy off their fingers.

  “Instead of banishing me,” Denny called out, “maybe I could just get stoned?” He said, “I mean, the rocks would make a nice going-away present.”

  All the wasted colonists jumped when Denny said “stoned.” They looked at the colonial governor and then looked at their shoes, and it took a little bit for the red to drain out of their cheeks.

  “We therefore commit his body to the earth, to be turned into corruption …,” the governor read as a jetliner roared low, coming in for a landing, drowning out his little speech.

  The guard escorted Denny to the gates of Colonial Dunsboro, two lines of men with guns marching with Denny between them. Through the gates, through the parking lot, they marched him to a bus stop on the edge of the twenty-first century.

  “So, dude,” I shout from the colony gates, “now that you’re dead, what are you going to do with all your free time?”

  “It’s what I’m not going to do,” Denny says. “And I’m sure as hell not going to act out.”

  This meant hunting rocks instead of jacking off. Staying so busy, hungry, tired, and poor he won’t have any energy left to hunt porno and wham the ham.

  The night after he’s banished, Denny shows up at my mom’s house with a rock in his arms and a policeman beside him. Denny wipes his nose on his sleeve.

  The cop says, “Excuse me, but do you know this man?”

  Then the cop says, “Victor? Victor Mancini? Hey, Victor, how’s it going? Your life, I mean.” And he holds one hand up with the big flat palm facing me.

  I figure the cop means for me to high-five him, so I do, but I have to jump a little, since he’s so tall. Still, my hand misses his. Then I say, “Yeah, that’s Denny. It’s okay. He lives here.”

  Talking to Denny, the cop says, “Get this. I save a guy’s life, and he don’t even remember me.”

  Of course.

  “That time I almost choked!” I say.

  And the cop says, “You remember!”

  “Well,” I say, “thanks for bringing old Denny here home safe and sound.” I pull Denny inside and go to close the door.

  And the cop says, “You doing okay now, Victor? Is there anything you need?”

  I go to the dining-room table and write a name on a slip of paper. I hand it to the cop and say, “Could you arrange to make this guy’s life a living hell? Maybe you could pull some strings and get him in for a rectal cavity search?”

  The name on the paper is His Lord High Charlie, the Colonial Governor.

  What would Jesus NOT do?

  And the cop smiles and says, “I’ll see what’s possible.”

  And I shut the door in his face.

  Now Denny heaves the rock onto the floor, and he asks do I have a couple bucks to spare. There’s a chunk of ashlar granite at a stone supply yard. Good building rock, rock with good compression strength, costs so much per ton, and Denny figures he can get this one rock for ten bucks.

  “A rock is a rock,” he says, “but a square rock is a blessing.”

  The living room looks filled up by an avalanche. First the rocks were up around the bottom of the sofa. Then the end tables were buried with just the lampshades poking up out of the rocks. Granite and sandstone. Gray and blue and black and brown rocks. In some rooms, we walk around stooped against the ceiling.

  So I ask, what’s he going to build?

  And Denny says, “Give me the ten bucks,” Denny says, “and I’ll let you help.”

  “All these stupid rocks,” I say, “what’s your goal?”

  “This isn’t about getting something done,” Denny says. “It’s about the doing, you know, the process.”

  “But what are you going to do with all these rocks?”

  And Denny says, “I don’t know until I collect enough.”

  “But what’s enough?” I say.

  “I don’t know, dude,” Denny says, “I just want the days of my life to add up to something.”

  The way every day of your life, the way it can just disappear in front of the television, Denny says he wants a rock to show for each day. Something tangible. Just one thing. A little monument to mark the end of each day. Each day he doesn’t spend jacking himself off.

  “Tombstone” isn’t the right word, but it’s the first word that comes to mind.

  “This way, maybe my life will add up to something,” he says, “something that will last.”

  I say there needs to be a twelve-step program for rock addicts.

  And Denny says, “As if that would help.” He says, “When was the last time you even thought about your fourth step?”

  Chapter 30

  The Mommy and the stupid little shit-heel kid, they stopped at a zoo one time. This zoo was so famous it was surrounded by acres of parking lot. This was in some city you can drive to, where a line of kids and moms were waiting to get inside with their money.

  This was after the false alarm at the police station, when the detectives let the kid go find the bathroom by himself, and outside parked at the curb was the Mommy saying, “You want to help liberate the animals?”

  This was the fourth or fifth time she came back to claim him.

  This is what the courts would later call “Reckless Abuse of City Property.”

  That day, the Mommy’s face looked the same as those dogs where the corner of each eye turns down and too much skin makes the eyes look sleepy.

  “A damn St. Bernard,” she’d said with the rearview mirror pointed at herself.

  She’d got a white T-shirt somewhere she’d started wearing that said Troublemaker. It was new but already had some nose blood on one sleeve.

  The other moms and kids all just talked to each other.

  The line went on for a long long time. No police were around that you could see.

  While they stood, the Mommy said if you ever want to be the first person to board an airplane and if you want to travel with your pet, you can do both, easy. The airlines have to let crazy people carry their animals on their laps. The government says so.

  This was more important information to live by.

  Waiting in line, she gave him a few envelopes and address labels to stick together. Then she gave him some coupons and letters to fold and put inside.

  “You just call the airline people,” she said, “and tell them you need to bring your ‘comfort animal.’ ”

  That’s really what airlines call them. It can be a dog, a monkey, a rabbit, but no way can it be a cat. The government doesn’t consider a cat as comforting anybody.

  The airline can’t ask you to prove you’re crazy, the Mommy said. It would be discrimination. You wouldn’t ask a blind person to prove they were blind.

  “When you’re crazy,” she said, “how you look or act is not your fault.”

  The coupons said: Good for one free meal at the Clover Inn.

  She said crazy people and crippled people get first dibs on airline seats, so you and your monkey will be right in the front of the line no matter how many people were ahead of you. She twisted her mouth off to one side and sniffed hard through that nostril, then she twisted the other way and sniffed again. One hand was always around her nose, touching it, rubbing it. She pinched the tip. She smelled underneath her shiny new fingernails. She looked up at the sky and sniffed a drop of blood back in. Crazy people, she said, had all the power.

  She gave him stamps to lick and stick on the envelopes.

  The line moved a little bit at a time, and at the window, the Mommy said, “Could I get a tissue, please?” She
handed the stamped envelopes into the window and said, “Would you mind mailing these for us?”

  Inside the zoo were animals behind bars, behind thick plastic, across deep ditches filled with water, and the animals mostly just sprawled on the ground, pulling on themselves between their back legs.

  “For crying out loud,” the Mommy said, too loud. “You give a wild animal a nice clean safe place to live, you give it plenty of good healthy food,” she said, “and this is how it rewards you.”

  The other moms leaned down to whisper to their kids, then pulled them off to go look at other animals.

  In front of them, monkeys shook themselves and squirted out spurts of thick white junk. The junk ran down the inside of the plastic windows. Old white junk was already there, splashed out thin and dried to almost see-through.

  “You take away their struggle to survive, and this is what you get,” the Mommy said.

  How porcupines get off, she said while they watched, was porcupines hump a stick of wood. The same way a witch rides a broom, porcupines rub a stick until it’s stinking and gummy with their pee and juice from their glands. After it stinks enough, they’ll never leave it for another stick.

  Still watching the porcupine riding its stick, the Mommy said, “And such a subtle metaphor.”

  The little boy pictured them letting all the animals loose. The tigers and penguins, and all of them fighting. The leopards and the rhinos, biting each other. The little fuck was really hot about the idea.

  “The only thing that separates us from the animals,” she said, “is we have pornography.” Just more symbols, she said. She wasn’t sure if this made us better than the animals or worse.

  Elephants, the Mommy said, can use their trunks.

  Spider monkeys can use their tails.

  The little boy just wanted to see something dangerous go wrong.

  “Masturbation,” the Mommy said, “is their only means of escape.”

  Until us, the boy thought.

  The sad tranced-out animals, the cross-eyed bears and gorillas and otters all hunched over themselves, their glassy little eyes almost closed, almost not breathing. Their tired little paws were gummy. Their eyes all crusty.

  Dolphins and whales will rub themselves against the smooth sides of their tank, the Mommy said.

  Deer will rub their antlers in the grass until, she said, they orgasm.

  Right in front of them, a Japanese Sun Bear tossed its little mess onto the rocks. Then the bear sprawled backward with its eyes closed. Its little puddle left to die in the sunlight.

  The boy whispered, is it sad?

  “Worse,” the Mommy said.

  She told about a famous killer whale who was in a movie and then got moved to a fancy new aquarium, but wouldn’t stop messing its tank. The keepers were so embarrassed. This went on so much, now they were trying to set the whale free.

  “Masturbating your way to freedom,” the Mommy said. “Michel Foucault would’ve loved that.”

  She said when a boy and a girl dog copulate, the head of the boy’s penis swells and the vaginal muscles of the girl constrict. Even after sex, both dogs remain locked together, helpless and miserable for a brief period of time.

  The Mommy said this same scenario described most marriages.

  By then, the last remaining mothers had herded their children away. When the two of them were all alone, the boy whispered, how could they get the keys to set all the animals free?

  And the Mommy said, “Got them right here.”

  In front of the monkey cage, the Mommy reached into her purse and took out a handful of pills, little round purple pills. She threw the handful through the bars, and the pills scattered and rolled. Some monkeys crawled down to look.

  For one scary moment, not whispering, the boy said, “Is it poison?”

  And the Mommy laughed. “Now that’s an idea,” she said. “No, honey, we don’t want to liberate the little monkeys too much.”

  The monkeys were crowding now, eating the pills.

  And the Mommy said, “Relax, kiddo.” She dug into her purse and brought out the white tube, the trichloroethane. “This?” she said and put one of the purple pills on her tongue. “This is just plain old garden-variety LSD.”

  Then she pushed the tube of trichloroethane up one side of her nose. Or maybe she didn’t. Maybe it wasn’t this way at all.

  Chapter 31

  Denny’s already sitting ringside in the dark, sketching on the yellow pad in his lap, three and a half empty beer bottles on the table next to him. He doesn’t look up at the dancer, a brunette with straight black hair, on her hands and knees. She snaps her head from side to side to whip the stage with her hair, her hair looking purple in the red light. With her hands, she smooths the hair back off her face and crawls to the edge of the stage.

  The music is loud dance techno mixed with samples of dogs barking, car alarms, Hitler youth rallies. You hear sounds of breaking glass and gunshots. You hear women screaming and fire engine sirens in the music.

  “Hey Picasso,” the dancer says, and she dangles her foot in front of Denny.

  Without looking up from his pad, Denny takes a buck out of his pants pocket and slips it between her toes. On the seat next to him is another rock wrapped in his pink blanket.

  For serious, the world is gone wrong when we dance to fire alarms. Fire alarms don’t mean fires anymore.

  If there were a real fire, they’d just have somebody with a nice voice announce, “Buick station wagon, license number BRK 773, your lights are on.” In the event of a real nuclear attack, they’d just shout, “Phone call at the bar for Austin Letterman. Phone call for Austin Letterman.”

  The world won’t end with a whimper or a bang, but with a discreet, tasteful announcement: “Bill Rivervale, phone call holding, line two.” Then, nothing.

  With one hand, the dancer takes Denny’s money from between her toes. She lies on her front, her elbows propped on the edge of the stage, squashing her breasts together, and says, “Let’s see how it turned out.”

  Denny makes a couple fast lines and turns the pad for her to see.

  And she says, “That’s supposed to be me?”

  “No,” Denny says, and turns the pad to study it himself. “It’s supposed to be a composite order column the way the Romans made. See here,” he says, and points to something with his smudged finger, “see how the Romans combined the volutes of the Ionic order with the Corinthian acanthus leaves but still kept all the proportions the same.”

  The dancer, she’s Cherry Daiquiri from our last visit here only now her blond hair’s dyed black. On the inside of one thigh is a little round bandage.

  By now I’ve walked up to look over Denny’s shoulder, and I say, “Dude.”

  And Denny says, “Dude.”

  And I say, “It sounds like you’ve been at the library again.”

  To Cherry, I say, “It’s good you took care of that mole.”

  Cherry Daiquiri swings her hair in a fan around her head. She bows, then throws her long black hair back over her shoulders. “And I tinted my hair,” she says. With one hand, she reaches back for a few strands and holds them out near me, rubbing them between two fingers.

  “It’s black now,” she says.

  “I figured it’s safer,” she says, “since you told me blondes have the highest amount of skin cancer.”

  Me, I’m shaking each beer bottle, trying to find the one with any beer left to drink, and I look at Denny.

  Denny’s drawing, not listening, not even here.

  Corinthian Tuscan composite architraves of the entablature … They should let some people into the library by prescription only. For serious, books about architecture are Denny’s pornography. Yeah, first it’s a few rocks. Then it’s fan-tracery vaulting. My point is, this is America. You start out with hand jobs and progress to orgies. You smoke some dope and then, the big H. This is our whole culture of bigger, better, stronger, faster. The key word is progress.

  In America,
if your addiction isn’t always new and improved, you’re a failure.

  To Cherry, I tap my head. Then I point my finger at her. I wink and say, “Smart girl.”

  She’s trying to bend one foot behind her head and says, “You can’t be too careful.” Her bush is still shaved, her skin still freckled pink. Her toenails are silver. The music changes to a blast of machine-gun fire, then the whistle of falling bombs, and Cherry says, “Break time.” She finds the slit in the curtain and she’s gone backstage.

  “Look at us, dude,” I say. I find the last bottle of beer and it’s warm. I say, “All women have to do is get naked, and we give them all our money. I mean, why are we such slaves?”

  Denny flips over the page on his pad and starts something new.

  I move his rock to the floor and sit down.

  I’m just tired, I tell him. It seems women are always bossing me around. First my mom, and now Dr. Marshall. In between, there’s Nico and Leeza and Tanya to keep happy. Gwen, who wouldn’t even let me rape her. They’re all just in it for themselves. They all think men are obsolete. Useless. As if we’re just some sexual appendix.

  Just the life support system for an erection. Or a wallet.

  From now on, I say, I’m not giving any more ground.

  I’m going on strike.

  From now on, women can open their own doors.

  They can pick up the check for their own dinners.

  I’m not moving anybody’s big heavy sofas, not anymore.

  No more opening stuck jar lids, either.

  And never again am I ever going to put down another toilet seat.

  Hell, from now on I’m peeing on every seat.

  With two fingers, I give the waitress the international sign language for two. Two more beers, please.

  I say, “Let’s just see women try and get along without me. Let’s just watch their little female world grind to a halt.”

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