Choke, page 1
Acclaim for Chuck Palahniuk’s
“Just as dark and outrageous as his previous work. … His voice is so distinctive that he exists as a genre unto himself.”
—The Washington Post
“Palahniuk’s language is urgent and tense, touched with psychopathic brilliance, his images dead-on accurate. … [He] is an author who makes full use of the alchemical powers of fiction to synthesize a universe that mirrors our own fiction as a way of illuminating the world without obliterating its complexity.”
“Puts a bleakly humorous spin on self-help, addiction recovery, and childhood trauma. … Choke’s funny, mantra-like prose plows toward the mayhem it portends from the get-go.”
—The Village Voice
“Oddly, defiantly, happily addictive.”
“[Choke] shines a flashlight into America’s dark corners. … As darkly comic and starkly terrifying as your high school yearbook photo.”
“Palahniuk is a gifted writer, and the novel is full of terrific lines.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“[Palahniuk’s] most enduring trait … is that marvelous quicksilver voice of his. … The exuberance of his language makes it still worthwhile to brave these often chilly and dark waters.”
“Choke is another welcome antidote to antiseptic consumer life, and you can’t blame it for grabbing you by the throat.”
“Palahniuk is a cult writer in the truest sense.”
“His subversive riffs conjure a kind of jump-cut cinema of the diseased imagination, resulting in an outlandish allegory that is as brutally hilarious as it is relentlessly bleak.”
“This is Catcher in the Rye with gloves off, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on ecstasy. … Brilliant isn’t the right word, but it’s the first word that comes to mind.”
—Fort Meyers News Press
Chuck Palahniuk’s novels are the bestselling Fight Club, which was made into a film by director David Fincher, Diary, Lullaby, Survivor, Haunted, and Invisible Monsters. Portions of Choke have appeared in Playboy, and Palahniuk’s nonfiction work has been published by Gear, Black Book, The Stranger, and the Los Angeles Times. He lives in the Pacific Northwest.
Also by Chuck Palahniuk
Stranger Than Fiction
Fugitives and Refugees
If you’re going to read this, don’t bother.
After a couple pages, you won’t want to be here. So forget it. Go away. Get out while you’re still in one piece.
There has to be something better on television. Or since you have so much time on your hands, maybe you could take a night course. Become a doctor. You could make something out of yourself. Treat yourself to a dinner out. Color your hair.
You’re not getting any younger.
What happens here is first going to piss you off. After that it just gets worse and worse.
What you’re getting here is a stupid story about a stupid little boy. A stupid true life story about nobody you’d ever want to meet. Picture this little spaz being about waist high with a handful of blond hair, combed and parted on one side. Picture the icky little shit smiling in old school photos with some of his baby teeth missing and his first adult teeth coming in crooked. Picture him wearing a stupid sweater striped blue and yellow, a birthday sweater that used to be his favorite. Even that young, picture him biting his dickhead fingernails. His favorite shoes are Keds. His favorite food, fucking corn dogs.
Imagine some dweeby little boy wearing no seat belt and riding in a stolen school bus with his mommy after dinner. Only there’s a police car parked at their motel so the Mommy just blows on past at sixty or seventy miles an hour.
This is about a stupid little weasel who, for sure, used to be about the stupidest little rat fink crybaby twerp that ever lived.
The little cooz.
The Mommy says, “We’ll have to hurry,” and they drive uphill on a narrow road, their back wheels wagging from side to side on the ice. In their headlights the snow looks blue, spreading from the edge of the road out into the dark forest.
Picture this all being his fault. The little peckerwood.
The Mommy stops the bus a little ways back from the base of a rock cliff, so the headlights glare against its white face, and she says, “Here’s as far as we’re going to get,” and the words come boiling out as white clouds that show how big inside her lungs are.
The Mommy sets the parking brake and says, “You can get out, but leave your coat in the bus.”
Picture this stupid runt letting the Mommy stand him right in front of the school bus. This bogus little Benedict Arnold just stands looking into the glare of the headlights, and lets the Mommy pull the favorite sweater off over his head. This wimpy little squealer just stands there in the snow, half naked, while the bus’s motor races, and the roar echoes off the cliff, and the Mommy disappears to somewhere behind him in the night and the cold. The headlights blind him, and the motor noise covers any sound of the trees scraping together in wind. The air is too cold to breathe more than a mouthful at a time so this little mucous membrane tries to breathe twice as fast.
He doesn’t run away. He doesn’t do anything.
From somewhere behind him, the Mommy says, “Now whatever you do, don’t turn around.”
The Mommy tells him how there used to be a beautiful girl in ancient Greece, the daughter of a potter.
Like every time she gets out of jail and comes back to claim him, the kid and the Mommy have been in a different motel every night. They’ll eat fast food for every meal, and just drive all day, every day. At lunch today, the kid tried to eat his corn dog while it was still too hot and almost swallowed it whole, but it got stuck and he couldn’t breathe or talk until the Mommy charged around from her side of the table.
Then two arms were hugging him from behind, lifting him off his feet, and the Mommy whispered, “Breathe! Breathe, damn it!”
After that, the kid was crying, and the entire restaurant crowded around.
At that moment, it seemed the whole world cared what happened to him. All those people were hugging him and petting his hair. Everybody asked if he was okay.
It seemed that moment would last forever. That you had to risk your life to get love. You had to get right to the edge of death to ever be saved.
“Okay. There,” the Mommy said as she wiped his mouth, “now I’ve given you life.”
The next moment, a waitress recognized him from a photograph on an old milk carton, and then the Mommy was driving the evil little squealer back to their motel room at seventy miles an hour.
On the way back, they’d got off the highway and bought a can of black spray paint.
Even after all their rushing around, where they’ve arrived is the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.
Now from behind him, this stupid kid hears the rattle of the Mommy shaking the spray paint, the marble inside the can knocking from end to end, and the Mommy says how the ancient Greek girl was in love with a young man.
“But the young man was from another country and had to go back,” the Mommy says.
There’s a hissing sound, and the kid smells spray paint. The bus motor changes sounds, clunks, running faster now and louder, and the bus rocks
So the last night the girl and her lover would be together, the Mommy says, the girl brought a lamp and set it so it threw the lover’s shadow on the wall.
The hiss of spray paint stops and starts. There’s a short hiss, after that a longer hiss.
And the Mommy says how the girl traced the outline of her lover’s shadow so she would always have a record of how he looked, a document of this exact moment, the last moment they would be together.
Our little crybaby just keeps looking straight into the headlights. His eyes water, and when he shuts them he can see the light shining, red, right through his eyelids, his own flesh and blood.
And the Mommy says how the next day, the girl’s lover was gone, but his shadow was still there.
Just for a second, the kid looks back to where the Mommy is tracing the outline of his stupid shadow against the cliff face, only the boy’s so far away that his shadow falls a head taller than the mother. His skinny arms look big around. His stubby legs stretch long. His pinched shoulders spread wide.
And the Mommy tells him, “Don’t look. Don’t move a muscle or you’ll ruin all my work.”
And the doofus little tattletale turns to stare into the headlights.
The can of spray paint hisses, and the Mommy says that before the Greeks, nobody had any art. This was how painting pictures was invented. She tells the story of how the girl’s father used the outline on the wall to model a clay version of the young man, and that’s the way sculpture was invented.
For serious, the Mommy told him, “Art never comes from happiness.”
Here is where symbols were born.
The kid stands, shivering now in the glare, trying to not move, and the Mommy keeps working, telling the huge shadow how someday it will teach people everything that she’s taught it. Someday it will be a doctor saving people. Returning them to happiness. Or something better than happiness: peace.
It’ll be respected.
This is even after the Easter Bunny turned out to be a lie. Even after Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and Saint Christopher and Newtonian physics and the Niels Bohr model of the atom, this stupid, stupid kid still believed the Mommy.
Someday, when he’s grown up, the Mommy tells the shadow, the kid will come back here and see how he’s grown into the exact outline she’d planned for him this night.
The kid’s bare arms shake with the cold.
And the Mommy said, “Control yourself, damn it. Hold still or you’ll ruin everything.”
And the kid tried to feel warmer, but no matter how bright they were, the headlights didn’t give off any heat.
“I need to make a clear outline,” the Mommy said. “If you tremble, you’ll turn out all blurred.”
It wasn’t until years later, until this stupid little loser was through college with honors and he’d busted his hump to get into the University of Southern California School of Medicine—until he was twenty-four years old and in his second year of medical school, when his mother was diagnosed and he was named as her guardian—it wasn’t until then that it dawned on this little stooge that growing strong and rich and smart was only the first half of your life story.
Now the kid’s ears ache with the cold. He feels dizzy and hyperventilated. His little stool-pigeon chest is all dimpled chicken skin. His nipples are pinched up by the cold into hard red pimples, and the little ejaculate tells himself: For real, I deserve this.
And the Mommy says, “Try to at least stand up straight.”
The kid rolls his shoulders back and imagines the headlights are a firing squad. He deserves pneumonia. He deserves tuberculosis.
See also: Hypothermia.
See also: Typhoid fever.
And the Mommy says, “After tonight, I’m not going to be around to nag you.”
The bus motor idles, putting out a long tornado of blue smoke.
And the Mommy says, “So hold still, and don’t make me spank you.”
And sure as hell, this little brat deserved to get spanked. He deserved whatever he got. This is the deluded little rube who really thought the future would be any better. If you just worked hard enough. If you just learned enough. Ran fast enough. Everything would turn out right, and your life would amount to something.
The wind gusts and dry grains of snow scatter down from the trees, each flake stinging against his ears and cheeks. More snow melts between the laces of his shoes.
“You’ll see,” the Mommy says. “This will be worth a little suffering.”
This would be a story he could tell his own son. Someday.
The ancient girl, the Mommy tells him, she never saw her lover ever again.
And the kid is stupid enough to think a picture or a sculpture or a story could somehow replace anybody you love.
And the Mommy says, “You have so much to look forward to.”
It’s hard to swallow, but this is the stupid, lazy, ridiculous little kid who just stood shaking, squinting into the glare and the roar, and who thought the future would be so bright. Picture anybody growing up so stupid he didn’t know that hope is just another phase you’ll grow out of. Who thought you could make something, anything, that would last forever.
It feels stupid even to remember this stuff. It’s a wonder he’s lived this long.
So, again, if you’re going to read this, don’t.
This isn’t about somebody brave and kind and dedicated. He isn’t anybody you’re going to fall in love with.
Just so you know, what you’re reading is the complete and relentless story of an addict. Because in most twelve-step recovery programs, the fourth step makes you take inventory of your life. Every lame, suck-ass moment of your life, you have to get a notebook and write it down. A complete inventory of your crimes. That way, every sin is right at your fingertips. Then you have to fix it all. This goes for alcoholics, drug abusers, and overeaters, as well as sex addicts.
This way you can go back and review the worst of your life any time you want.
Because supposedly, those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.
So if you’re reading this, to tell the truth, it’s really none of your business.
That stupid little boy, that cold night, all of this will just become more of the stupid shit to think about during sex, to keep from shooting your load. If you’re a guy.
This is the weak little suck-ass whose mommy said, “Just hold on a little while longer, just try a little harder and everything will be all right.”
The Mommy who said, “Someday, this will be worth all our effort, I promise.”
And this little dickwad, this stupid stupid little sucker, he stood there this whole time shaking, half naked in the snow, and really believed somebody could even promise something so impossible.
So if you think this is going to save you …
If you think anything is going to save you …
Please consider this your final warning.
It’s dark and starting to rain when I get to the church, and Nico’s waiting for somebody to unlock the side door, hugging herself in the cold.
“Hold on to these for me,” she says and hands me a warm fistful of silk.
“Just for a couple hours,” she says. “I don’t have any pockets.” She’s wearing a jacket made of some fake orange suede with a bright orange fur collar. The skirt of her flower-print dress shows hanging out. No pantyhose. She climbs up the steps to the church door, her feet careful and turned sideways in black spike heels.
What she hands me is warm and damp.
It’s her panties. And she smiles.
Inside the glass doors, a woman pushes a mop around. Nico knocks on the glass, then points at her wristwatch. The woman dunks the mop back in a bucket. She lifts the mop and squeezes it. She leans the mop handle near the doorway and then fishes a ring of keys out of her smock pocket. While she’s unlocking the door, the woman shouts through the gl
“You people are in Room 234 tonight,” the woman says. “The Sunday school room.”
By now, more people are in the parking lot. People walk up the steps, saying hi, and I stash Nico’s panties in my pocket. Behind me, other people hustle the last few steps to catch the door before it swings shut. Believe it or not, you know everybody here.
These people are legends. Every single one of these men and women you’ve heard about for years.
In the 1950s a leading vacuum cleaner tried a little design improvement. It added a spinning propeller, a razor-sharp blade mounted a few inches inside the end of the vacuum hose. Inrushing air would spin the blade, and the blade would chop up any lint or string or pet hair that might clog the hose.
At least that was the plan.
What happened is a lot of these men raced to the hospital emergency room with their dicks mangled.
At least that’s the myth.
That old urban legend about the surprise party for the pretty housewife, how all her friends and family hid in one room, and when they burst out and yelled “Happy birthday” they found her stretched out on the sofa with the family dog licking peanut butter from between her legs …
Well, she’s real.
The legendary woman who gives head to guys who are driving, only the guy loses control of his car and hits the brakes so hard the woman bites him in half, I know them.
Those men and women, they’re all here.
These people are the reason every emergency room has a diamond-tipped drill. For tapping a hole through the thick bottoms of champagne and soda bottles. To relieve the suction.
These are the people who come waddling in from the night, saying they tripped and fell on the zucchini, the lightbulb, the Barbie doll, the billiard balls, the struggling gerbil.
See also: The pool cue.
See also: The teddy bear hamster.
They slipped in the shower and fell, bull’s -eye, on a greased shampoo bottle. They’re always being attacked by a person or persons unknown and assaulted with candles, with baseballs, with hard-boiled eggs, flashlights, and screwdrivers that now need removing. Here are the guys who get stuck in the water inlet port of their whirlpool hot tub.
CHUCK PALAHNIUK SERIES:
Other author's books:
- Fight ClubChokeInvisible MonstersSurvivorMake Something Up: Stories You Can't UnreadBeautiful You: A Novel
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