Choke, p.8
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       Choke, p.8

           Chuck Palahniuk
 
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  She’s naked inside. Naked and as pale white as the skin under her hair. Naked white and about four steps away. And very doable. And she shrugs the coat off her shoulders so it drapes behind her, still hanging from her elbows. Her arms still in the sleeves.

  Here are all those tight furry shadows where you’re dying to go.

  “We only have this small window of opportunity,” she says.

  And she steps toward me. Still wearing her glasses. Her feet still in their white deck shoes, only they look gold here.

  I was right about her ears. For sure, the resemblance is awesome. Another hole she can’t close, hidden and frilled with skin. Framed in her soft hair.

  “If you love your mother,” she says, “if you want her to live, you’ll need to do this with me.”

  Now?

  “It’s my time,” she says. “My mucosa is so thick you could stand a spoon in it.”

  Here?

  “I can’t see you outside of here,” she says.

  Her ring finger is as bare as most of her. I ask, is she married?

  “Do you have an issue with that?” she says. Just one reach away is the curve of her waist going down along the outline of her ass. Just that far is the shelf of each breast pushing up a dark button nipple. Just my arm away is the warm hot space where her legs come together.

  I say, “No. Nope. No issues here.”

  Her hands come together around my top shirt button, then the next, and the next. Her hands spread the shirt back off my shoulders so it falls behind me.

  “I just need you to know,” I say, “since you’re a doctor and everything,” I say, “I might be a recovering sex addict.”

  Her hands spring my belt buckle, and she says, “Then just do what comes naturally.”

  The smell of her isn’t roses or pine or lemons. It isn’t anything, not even skin.

  How she smells is wet.

  “You don’t understand,” I say. “I have almost two whole days of sobriety.”

  The gold light shows her warm and glowy. Still, the feeling is if I kissed her my lips would stick the way they would on frozen metal. To slow things down, I think of basal cell carcinomas. I picture the bacterial skin infection impetigo. Corneal ulcers.

  She pulls my face into her ear. Into my ear she whispers, “Fine. That’s very noble of you. But how about if you start your recovery tomorrow. …”

  She thumbs my pants off my hips and says, “I need you to put your faith in me.”

  And her smooth cool hands close around me.

  Chapter 15

  If you’re ever in a big hotel lobby, and they start to play “The Blue Danube Waltz,” get the hell out. Don’t think. Run.

  Anymore, nothing is straightforward.

  If you’re ever in a hospital and they page Nurse Flamingo to the cancer ward, do not go anywhere near there. There is no Nurse Flamingo. If they page Dr. Blaze, there is no such person.

  In a big hotel, that waltz means they need to evacuate the building.

  In most hospitals, Nurse Flamingo means a fire. Dr. Blaze means a fire. Dr. Green means a suicide. Dr. Blue means somebody stopped breathing.

  This is stuff the Mommy told the stupid little boy as they sat in traffic. This is how far back she was going nuts.

  This one day, the kid had been sitting in class when a lady from the school office had come to tell him his dentist appointment was canceled. A minute later, he’d raised his hand and asked to go to the bathroom. There never was any appointment. Sure, somebody had called, saying they were from the dentist, but this was a new secret signal. He went out a side door by the cafeteria, and there she was waiting in a gold car.

  This was the second time the Mommy came back to claim him.

  She rolled down the window and said, “Do you know why Mommy was in jail this time?”

  “For changing the hair colors?” he said.

  See also: The malicious mischief.

  See also: The second-degree assault.

  She leaned over to open the door and never stopped talking. Not for days and days.

  If you’re ever in the Hard Rock Café, she told him, and they announce “Elvis has left the building,” that means all the servers need to go to the kitchen and find out what dinner special has just sold out.

  These are the things people tell you when they won’t tell you the truth.

  In a Broadway theater, announcing “Elvis has left the building” means a fire.

  In a grocery store, paging Mr. Cash is a call for an armed security guard. Paging “Freight check to Women’s Clothing” means somebody is shoplifting in that department. Other stores page a fake woman named Sheila. “Sheila to the front” means somebody is shoplifting in the front of the store. Mr. Cash and Sheila and Nurse Flamingo are always bad news.

  The Mommy shut off the engine and sat with one hand gripping the steering wheel at twelve o’clock, and with her other hand she snapped her fingers for the boy to repeat stuff back to her. The insides of her nose were dark with dried blood. Twisted old tissues smeared with more old blood were on the car floor. Some blood was on the dashboard from when she sneezed. On the inside of the windshield was some more.

  “Nothing you learn in school is this important,” she said. “This stuff you’re learning here will save your life.”

  She snapped her fingers. “Mr. Amond Silvestiri?” she said. “If he’s paged, what should you do?”

  At some airports, paging him means a terrorist with a bomb. “Mr. Amond Silvestiri, please meet your party at gate ten on the D concourse” means that’s where the SWAT teams will find their man.

  Mrs. Pamela Rank-Mensa means a terrorist in the airport with just a gun.

  “Mr. Bernard Wellis, please meet your party at gate sixteen on the F concourse” means somebody holding a knife to the throat of a hostage there.

  The Mommy set the parking brake and snapped her fingers again. “Quick like a bunny. What’s Miss Terrilynn Mayfield mean?”

  “Nerve gas?” the boy said.

  The Mommy shook her head.

  “Don’t tell me,” the boy said. “A rabid dog?”

  The Mommy shook her head.

  Outside the car, the tight mosaic of cars was packed around them. Helicopters beat the air above the freeway.

  The boy tapped his forehead and said, “Flamethrower?”

  The Mommy said, “You’re not even trying. Do you want a clue?”

  “Drug suspect?” he said, then, “Yeah, maybe a clue.”

  And the Mommy said, “Miss Terrilynn Mayfield … now be thinking about cows and horses.”

  And the boy screamed, “Anthrax!” He pounded his forehead with his fists and said, “Anthrax. Anthrax. Anthrax.” He pounded his head and said, “How come I forget so fast?”

  With her free hand the Mommy messed his hair and said, “You’re doing good. You even remember half of these and you’ll outlive most people.”

  Everywhere they went, the Mommy found traffic. She listened for radio bulletins about where not to go, and found those tie-ups. She found gridlock. She found jams. She searched for car fires or open drawbridges. She didn’t like driving fast, but wanted to look busy. In traffic, she couldn’t do anything and it wasn’t her fault. They’d be trapped. Hidden and secure.

  The Mommy said, “I’ll give you an easy one.” She closed her eyes and smiled, then opened them and said, “At any store, what’s it mean when they ask for quarters on checkstand five?”

  They were both wearing the same clothes from the day she had picked him up after school. In whatever motel they got, when he crawled into bed the Mommy snapped her fingers and asked for his pants, his shirt, his socks, his underpants, until he’d passed them all out from under the covers. In the morning when she gave them back, sometimes they were washed.

  When a cashier asks for quarters, the boy said, they mean a pretty woman is standing there and everybody should come look at her.

  “Well, there’s more to it than that,” the Mommy said. “But y
es.”

  Sometimes the Mommy went to sleep against the car door and all the other cars drove away from around them. If the motor was on, sometimes red dashboard lights the boy didn’t even know were there would light up to show all kind of emergencies. These times, smoke came out through the crack around the hood, and the motor stopped by itself. Cars stuck behind them would honk. The radio talked about a new tie-up, a stalled car in the center lane of the freeway, blocking traffic.

  With people honking and looking in the windows at them, being on the radio, the stupid little boy figured this was being famous. Until the car horns woke her up, the little boy just waved. He thought about the fat Tarzan with the monkey and the chestnuts. The way the man could still smile. The way humiliation is humiliation only when you choose to suffer.

  The little boy smiled back at all the angry faces glaring in at him.

  And the little boy blew kisses.

  When a truck honked its horn, then the Mommy jumped awake. Then slow again, she pushed most of the hair off her face for a minute. She pushed a white plastic tube up one nostril and breathed in. Another minute of nothing went by before she took the tube out and squinted at the little boy sitting next to her in the front seat. She squinted at the new red dash lights.

  The tube was smaller than her lipstick, with a hole to smell through at one end and something that stunk inside. After she smelled it, there was always blood on the tube.

  “You’re in, what?” she said. “First? Second grade?”

  Fifth, the boy said.

  “And at this phase your brain weighs, three? Four pounds?”

  In school, he got straight A’s.

  “So that makes you, what?” she said. “Seven years old?”

  Nine.

  “Well, Einstein, everything those foster parents of yours have told you,” the Mommy said, “you can forget it.”

  She said, “Those foster families, they don’t know what’s important.”

  Right over them was a helicopter flying in one place, and the boy leaned so he could look straight up at it through the blue part at the top of the windshield.

  The radio talked about a gold Plymouth Duster blocking the center lane of traffic on the beltway. The car appeared to be overheating.

  “Screw history. All these fake people, they’re the most important people for you to know,” the Mommy said.

  Miss Pepper Haviland is the Ebola virus. Mr. Turner Anderson means somebody just threw up.

  The radio said emergency crews were being dispatched to help clear the stalled car.

  “All that stuff they’re teaching you about algebra and macroeconomics, forget it,” she said. “You tell me, what does it get you if you can square root a triangle and then some terrorist shoots you in the head? It gets you nothing! This is the real education you need.”

  Other cars edged around them and took off squealing fast and disappeared to other places.

  “I want you to know more than just what people think is safe to tell you,” she said.

  The boy said, “Like what more?”

  “Like, when you’re thinking about the rest of your life,” she said, and she put her hand over her eyes, “you’re never really thinking more than a couple years down the road.”

  And what else she said is, “By the time you’re thirty, your worst enemy is yourself.”

  Another thing she said was, “The Enlightenment is over. What we’re living in now is the Dis-Enlightenment.”

  The radio said the police had been notified about the stalled car.

  The Mommy turned up the radio, loud. “Damn,” she said. “Please tell me that’s not us.”

  “It said a gold Duster,” the boy said. “That’s our car.”

  And the Mommy said, “That shows how little you know.”

  She opened her door and said to slide over and get out on her side. She watched the fast cars just missing, driving past them. “This isn’t our car,” she said.

  The radio yelled how it appeared the occupants were abandoning the vehicle.

  The Mommy shook her hand for him to take. “I’m not your mother,” she said. “It’s nothing like that.” Under her fingernails was more dried nose blood.

  The radio yelled after them. The driver of the gold Duster and a small child were now a hazard themselves as they were attempting to dodge across four lanes of freeway traffic.

  She said, “I figure we have about thirty days to pile up a lifetime of happy adventures. That’s until my credit cards run out.”

  She said, “That’s thirty days unless we get caught, first.”

  Cars honked and swerved. The radio yelled after them. Helicopters roared closer down.

  And the Mommy said, “Now just like with ‘The Blue Danube Waltz,’ hold on to my hand, tight.” She said, “And don’t think.” She said, “Just run.”

  Chapter 16

  The next patient is a female, about twenty-nine years old, with a mole high on the inside of her thigh that doesn’t look right. It’s hard to tell in this light, but it looks too big, asymmetrical, with shades of blue and brown. The edges are irregular. The skin around it abraded.

  I ask her if she’s been scratching it.

  And is there any history of skin cancer in her family?

  Sitting next to me with his yellow legal pad on the table in front of him, Denny’s holding one end of a cork over his cigarette lighter, turning the cork until the end is burned black, and Denny says, “Dude, for serious.” He says, “You’ve got some weird hostility tonight. Did you act out?”

  He says, “You always hate the whole world after you get laid.”

  The patient falls to her knees, her knees spread wide apart. She leans back and starts to pump herself at us in slow motion. Just by contracting her butt muscles, she tosses her shoulders, her breasts, her mons pubis. Her entire body lunges at us in waves.

  The way to remember the symptoms of melanoma is the letters ABCD.

  Asymmetrical shape.

  Border irregularity.

  Color variation.

  Diameter larger than about six millimeters.

  She’s shaved. Tanned and oiled so smooth and perfect, she looks less like a woman than just another place to swipe your credit card. Pumping herself in our faces, the murky blend of red and black light makes her look better than she really is. The red lights erase scars and bruises, zits, some kinds of tattoos, plus stretch and track marks. The black lights make her eyes and teeth glow bright white.

  It’s funny how the beauty of art has so much more to do with the frame than with the artwork itself.

  The light trick makes even Denny look healthy, his chickeny wing arms coming out of a white T-shirt. His legal pad glows yellow. He curls his bottom lip inside, biting it as he looks from the patient to his work, and back to the patient.

  Pumping herself in our faces, yelling against the music, she says, “What?”

  She looks like a natural blonde, a high risk factor, so I ask, has she had any recent unexplained weight loss?

  Not looking at me, Denny says, “Dude, do you know how much a real model would cost me?”

  Back at him, I say, “Dude, don’t forget to sketch her ingrown hairs.”

  To the patient, I ask, has she noticed any changes in her cycle or in her bowel movements?

  Kneeling in front of us, spreading her black-polished fingernails open on either side of herself and leaning back, looking down the arched length of her torso at us, she says, “What?”

  Skin cancer, I yell, is the most common cancer in women between the ages of twenty-nine and thirty-four.

  I yell, “I’ll need to feel your lymph nodes.”

  And Denny says, “Dude, you want to know what your mom told me or not?”

  I yell, “Just let me palpate your spleen.”

  And sketching fast with the burned cork, he says, “Do I sense a shame cycle?”

  The blonde hooks her elbows behind her knees and rolls back onto her spine, twisting a nipple between the thumb and
forefinger of each hand. Stretching her mouth wide open, she curls her tongue at us, then says, “Daiquiri.” She says. “My name’s Cherry Daiquiri. You can’t touch me,” she says, “but where’s this mole you’re talking about?”

  The way to remember every step to a physical examination is CHAMP FASTS. It’s what they call a mnemonic in medical school. The letters stand for:

  Chief Complaint.

  History of Illness.

  Allergies.

  Medications.

  Past Medical History.

  Family History.

  Alcohol.

  Street Drugs.

  Tobacco.

  Social History.

  The only way to get through medical school is mnemonics.

  The girl before this one, another blonde but with the kind of hard old-fashioned boob job you could chin yourself on, this last patient smoked a cigarette as part of her act, so I asked if she had any persistent back or abdominal pain. Had she experienced any loss of appetite, any general malaise? If this was how she made her living, I said, she’d better make sure and get regular smears.

  “If you smoke more than a pack a day,” I said. “This way, I mean.”

  A conization wouldn’t be a bad idea, I told her, or at the very least a D and C.

  She gets down on her hands and knees, rotating her open butt, her puckered pink trapdoor in slow motion, and looks back over her shoulder at us and says, “What’s this ‘conization’ scene?”

  She says, “Is that something new you’re into?” and exhales smoke in my face.

  Sort of exhales.

  It’s when you razor out a cone-shaped sample of the cervix, I tell her.

  And she goes pale, pale even under her makeup, even under the wash of red and black light, and pulls her legs back together. She puts out her cigarette in my beer and says, “You have one sick issue with women,” and goes off to the next guy down along the stage.

  After her I yell, “Every woman is just a different kind of problem.”

  Still holding his cork, Denny picks up my beer and says, “Dude, waste not … ” then pours everything except the drowned butt into his own glass. He says, “Your mom talks a lot about some Dr. Marshall. She says he’s promised to make her young again,” Denny says, “but only if you cooperate.”

 
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