Survivor, p.19
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       Survivor, p.19

           Chuck Palahniuk
 
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  Feel no evil. See no evil. Hear no evil. Fear no evil.

  In the distance, the coordinator is waving me out onto the artificial grass.

  He’s pointing down at the line chalked into the field, then pointing out at a group of people standing on the wedding platform covered with white flowers in the center of the field.

  The hum of my blood is fading until I hear music. I’m walking past the coordinator, out into the stadium with the thousands screaming in their seats.

  The music blares out of nowhere. The blimp circles outside, flashing:

  Congratulations from the Many Fine Products of the Philip Morris Family of Products.

  The bride, Laura, Trisha, whoever, arrives from the opposing side.

  Without opening his mouth, the justice of the peace says:

  DO YOU, TENDER BRANSON, TAKE TRISHA CONNERS TO BE YOURS TO HAVE AND TO HOLD AND

  BE FRUITFUL AND MULTIPLY WITH AS MANY TIMES AS POSSIBLE AS LONG AS YOU BOTH

  SHALL LIVE?

  You can feel the reverb from a hundred speakers.

  Without opening my mouth, I say:

  I DO.

  Without opening his mouth, the justice of the peace says:

  WILL YOU, TRISHA CONNERS, TAKE TENDER BRANSON AS LONG AS YOU BOTH SHALL LIVE?

  And Laura lip-synchs:

  I DO.

  With the television cameras zooming in, we fake the rings.

  We fake the kiss.

  The veil stays pretty much in place. Laura stays Trisha. From a distance everything looks perfect.

  Outside the shot, the police are starting out onto the field. The agent must be dead. The cologne. Chlorine gas.

  The police are at the ten-yard line.

  I ask the justice of the peace for a microphone, to make my big prediction, my miracle.

  The police are at the twenty-yard line.

  I get the microphone, but it’s dead.

  The police are at the twenty-five-yard line.

  I saying, Testing, testing, one, two, three.

  Testing, one, two, three.

  The police are at the thirty-yard line, their handcuffs open and ready to snap on me.

  The microphone comes to life and my voice blares from the sound system.

  The police are at the forty-yard line saying, You have the right to remain silent.

  If you choose to give up that right, anything you say can and will be used against you…

  And I give up my right.

  I give my prediction.

  The police are at the forty-five-yard line.

  My voice blaring throughout the stadium, I say:

  THE FINAL SCORE OF TODAY’S GAME WILL BE COLTS TWENTY-SEVEN, CARDINALS TWENTY-FOUR. THE COLTS WILL WIN TODAYS SUPER BOWL BY THREE POINTS.

  And all hell breaks loose.

  What’s worse than that, engine number two has just flamed out. Up here alone in Flight 2039, I only have two engines left.

  To do the job right, you take one sheet of the goldenrod paper and fold it around a sheet of the white paper. Slip a coupon inside the folded papers. Hold a sheet of merchandise stamps alongside the folded papers. Then fold a sheet of the letterhead paper around all of it, and stuff this into an envelope.

  Stick the corresponding address label on the envelope, and you’ve earned three cents.

  Do this thirty-three times, and you’ve earned almost a dollar.

  Where we’re at tonight is Adam Branson’s idea.

  The letter I’m folding starts:

  Is the water that comes into the WILSON house bringing with it dangerous parasites?

  Where we’re at is supposed to be safe.

  The goldenrod around the white, the coupon inside, the sheet of stamps, the letterhead paper, it all goes inside the envelope, and I’m three cents closer to escaped.

  Is the water that comes into the CAMERON house bringing with it dangerous parasites?

  The three of us sit around the dining-room table, Adam and Fertility and me, stuffing these envelopes. At ten o’clock, the housemother locks the front door of the house and stops on her walk back to the kitchen to ask if our daughter is doing any better. Have the doctors upgraded her condition? Will she live?

  Fertility with rice still in her hair says, “We’re not out of the woods, not yet.”

  Of course, we don’t have a daughter.

  Us having a daughter was Adam Branson’s idea.

  Around us is the combination of three or four families, kids and parents talking about cancer and chemotherapy, burns and skin grafts. Staph infections. The housemother asks what we call our little girl.

  Adam and Fertility and I look at each other, Fertility with her tongue stuck out to lick an envelope flap. Me looking at Adam is the same as looking at a picture of who I used to be.

  All together, we say three different names.

  Fertility says, “Amanda.”

  Adam says, “Patty.”

  I say, Laura. Only the three names all overlap.

  Our daughter.

  The housemother looks at me in the burned-up remains of my white tuxedo and asks, why is our little daughter in the hospital for treatment?

  All together, we say three different problems.

  Fertility says, “Scoliosis.”

  Adam says, “Polio.”

  I say, Tuberculosis.

  The housemother watches us folding, the yellow in the white, the coupon, the stamps, the letterhead, her eyes coming back to the handcuffs snapped around one of my wrists.

  Is the water that comes into the DIXON house bringing with it dangerous parasites?

  It was Adam who brought us here. Just for one night, he says. It’s safe here.

  Now that I’m a mass murderer, Adam knows how we can start north in the morning, north until we get to Canada, but for tonight we needed a place to hide. We needed food. We needed to earn a little cash, so he brought us here.

  This is after the stadium and after the crowds were tearing to shreds the line of police crowd control. This is right after my sham marriage, when the agent was dead and the police were fighting to keep me alive so they could execute me for murder. The contents of the entire Superdome emptied down onto the field the minute I announced the Colts would win. One half of the handcuffs already clicked around my one wrist, the police were nothing against the running tide of drunks that rolled toward us from the sidelines.

  The band was somewhere playing the national anthem.

  Out of every direction, people are dropping onto the field from the bottom of the stands. People are running with their hands in fists out across the grass toward us. There are the Arizona Cardinals in their uniforms. There are the Indianapolis Colts still at their bench, slapping ass and giving each other high fives.

  The moment the police get to the edge of the wedding platform, I kick the switch and five thousand white doves fly up in a solid wall around me.

  The doves drive the police back long enough for the football mob to reach center field.

  The police fight back the mob, and I grab the bride’s bouquet.

  Sitting here stuffing envelopes, I want to tell everybody how I made my great escape. How the crowd control cylinders of tear gas jet-trailed back and forth overhead. How the crowd roar echoed under the dome. How I grabbed the poly-silk white armload of silk flowers from the bride, tears streaming down her face. How I just touched the hair-sprayed bouquet to a burning candle and I had a torch to hold back any attacker.

  Holding the torch of gladioli and whipping hot wires of fake honeysuckle out in front of me, I jumped off the wedding platform and fought my way down the football field. The fifty-yard line. The forty-yard line. The thirty. Me in my white tuxedo, I dodged and quarterbacked my way, sprinting and pivoting. The twenty-yard line. To keep from being tackled, I whipped the burning dahlias side-to-side in front of me. The ten-yard line.

  Ten thousand tackles are out to sack me.

  Some of them drunk, some of them professionals, none of them are jacked on the quality
chemicals I’m riding.

  Hands grab at my white tails.

  Men dive for my legs.

  It’s the steroids that saved my life.

  Then, touchdown.

  I cross under the goalpost, still headed for the steel doors that will get me off the field.

  My torch is burned down to just some tiny silk trilliums when I toss it back over my shoulder. I jam through the steel double doors and turn the deadbolt from the other side.

  With the Super Bowl crowd pounding the locked doors, I’m safe here for a few minutes alone with the catered food and the makeup artist. The agent’s dead body is under a white sheet on a gurney next to the buffet. The buffet is mostly just turkey sandwiches and bottled water, fresh fruit. Pasta salad. Wedding cake.

  The makeup artist is eating a sandwich. She cocks her head sideways at the dead agent and says, “Good job.” She says she always hated him too.

  She’s wearing the agent’s heavy gold Rolex.

  The makeup artist says, “You want a sandwich?”

  I ask, Is it just turkey or do they have another kind?

  The makeup artist hands me a bottle of mineral water and says my tuxedo is on fire in the back.

  I ask, Where’s the outside?

  Take that door over there, the makeup artist says.

  The steel doors behind me are buckling in their frame.

  Go down the long hall, the makeup artist says.

  Turn right at the end.

  Go out the door marked Exit.

  I say thanks.

  She says there’s a meat loaf sandwich left if I want it.

  The sandwich in my one hand, I go out the door she said, go down the hall, go out the exit.

  Outside in the parking lot is a red car, a red car with an automatic transmission, Fertility behind the wheel and Adam sitting next to her.

  I get in the backseat and lock the door. To Fertility in the front seat, I tell her to roll up her window. Fertility fiddles with the controls for the radio.

  Behind me, the crowd is pouring out the exits, running to surround us.

  Their faces are getting close enough for me to feel spit on.

  Then out of the sky comes the biggest miracle.

  It starts raining.

  A rain of white.

  Manna from Heaven. I swear.

  A rain comes down so slick and heavy the mob is falling, slipping and falling, fallen and sprawled. White bits of rain bounce in the car windows, into the carpet, into our hair.

  Adam looks out in wonder at the miracle of this white rain that’s helping us get away.

  Adam says, “It’s a miracle.”

  The back wheels spin, skid sideways, and then leave black as we escape.

  “No,” Fertility says and hits the gas, “it’s rice.”

  The blimp circling the stadium says CONGRATULATIONS and HAPPY HONEYMOON.

  “I wish they wouldn’t do that,” Fertility says. “That rice kills birds.”

  I tell her that rice that kills birds saved our lives.

  We were on the street. Then we were on a freeway.

  Adam twisted around in the front seat to ask me, “Are you going to eat all that sandwich?”

  I say, It’s meat loaf.

  We needed a ride north, Adam said. He knew about a ride, but it wasn’t leaving New Orleans until the next morning. He had almost ten years of doing this, traveling back and forth across the country with no money in secret.

  Killing people, I say.

  “Delivering people to God,” he says.

  Fertility says, “Shut up.”

  We need some cash, Adam tells us. We need some sleep. Food. And he knew where we could find some. He knew a place where people would have bigger problems than we did.

  We only had to lie a little.

  “From now on,” Adam tells us, “you two have a child.”

  We do not.

  “Your child is deathly ill,” Adam says.

  Our child is not.

  “You’re in New Orleans so your child can go to a hospital,” Adam says. “That’s all you need to say.”

  Adam says he’ll handle the rest. Adam tells Fertility, “Turn here.”

  He says, “Now turn right here.” He says, “Go up two more blocks and turn left.”

  Where he’s taking us, we can stay overnight for free. We can get food donated for us to eat. We can do some piecework, collating documents or stuffing envelopes, to earn a little cash. We can get showered. Watch ourselves on television, making our escape on the evening news. Adam tells me I’m too much of a mess to be recognized as an escaped mass murderer who ruined the Super Bowl.

  Where we’re going, he says, people will have their own big problems to worry about.

  Fertility says, “Like, how many people do you have to kill to make the jump from serial killer to mass murderer?”

  Adam tells us, “Sit tight in the car, and I’ll go inside to grease the skids. Just remember, your child is very sick.” Then he says, “We’re here.”

  Fertility looks at the house and at Adam and says, “You’re the one who’s very sick.”

  Adams says, “I’m your poor child’s godfather.”

  The sign in the front yard says, Ronald McDonald House.

  Imagine you live in a house only every day your house is in a different town.

  We had three ways out of New Orleans Adam knew about. Adam took Fertility and me to a truck stop on the edge of the city and said to take our pick. The airports were being watched. The train and bus stations were staked out. We couldn’t all three of us hitchhike, and Fertility refused to drive all the way to Canada.

  “I flat out don’t like driving,” Fertility says. “Besides, your brother’s way to travel is just a lot more fun.”

  The day after the Ronald McDonald House, we’re the three of us standing in the acres of gravel parking lot outside a truck stop café when Adam pulls a linoleum knife out of his back pocket and slips the blade open.

  “What will it be, people?” he says.

  Nothing here is going due north. Adam’s been inside talking up all the truck drivers. What we have to choose from is the following, Adam says, pointing at each.

  There’s a Westbury Estate going west out Highway 10 to Houston.

  There’s a Plantation Manor headed northeast on Highway 55 to Jackson.

  There’s a Springhill Castle going northwest to Bossier City on Highway 49, with stops at Alexandria and Pineville, then headed west on Highway 20 to Dallas.

  Parked around us on the gravel are prefabricated houses, manufactured houses, trailer houses. These are broken into halves or thirds and hooked to the back of semi trucks. The open side of each modular piece is sealed with a sheet of translucent plastic and inside are the murky shapes of sofas, beds, rolls of rolled-up carpet. Major appliances. Dining-room sets. Easy chairs.

  While Adam was chatting with the drivers, finding out where each is headed, Fertility was in the truck stop bathroom dyeing my blond hair black in the sink and washing the tanning bronzer off my face and hands. We stuffed enough envelopes to buy me thrift-store clothes and get a paper bag of fried chicken with paper napkins and coleslaw.

  The three of us standing in the parking lot, Adam waves his knife in a circle and says, “Choose. The men who deliver these lovely homes won’t be eating their dinner all night.”

  Most long-haul truck drivers drive at night, Adam tells us. There’s less traffic. It’s cooler. During the hot, busy day, the drivers pull off the highway and sleep in the sleeper boxes attached to the back of each truck cab.

  Fertility asks, “What’s the difference what we choose?”

  “The difference,” Adam says, “is your comfort level.”

  This is how Adam’s been crossing and crisscrossing the country for the past ten years.

  A Westbury Estate has a formal dining room and a built-in fireplace in the living room.

  The Plantation Manor has walk-in closets and a breakfast nook.

  The S
pringhill Castle has a whirlpool bathtub in the glamour bath. A glamour bath has two sinks and a wall of mirror. The living room and the master bedroom have skylights. The dining nook has a built-in china hutch with leaded-glass doors.

  This is depending on which half you get. Again, these are just parts of homes.

  Broken homes.

  Dysfunctional homes.

  The half you get might be all bedrooms or just a kitchen and living room and no bedrooms. There might be three bathrooms and nothing else, or you might get no bathroom at all.

  None of the lights work. All the plumbing is dry.

  No matter how many luxuries you get, something will be missing. No matter how carefully you choose, you’ll never be totally happy.

  We choose the Springhill Castle, and Adam slices the knife along the bottom edge of the plastic sealing its open side. Adam slices only about two feet, only far enough for his head and shoulders to slip inside.

  Stale air from inside the house comes out the slice hot and dry.

  With Adam slid inside as far as his waist, his butt and his legs still outside with us, Adam says, “This one has the cornflower-blue interior.” His voice coming from inside the wall of translucent plastic, he says, “Here we have the premium furniture package. A modular living room pit group. Built-in microwave in the kitchen. Plexiglas dining-room chandelier.”

  Adam boosts all of himself inside, then his blond head sticks out the slice in the plastic and grins at us. “California-king-sized beds. Faux wood-grain countertops. Low-line Euro-style commode and vertical-blind window treatments,” he says. “You’ve made an excellent choice for your starter home.”

  First Fertility and then me slide through the plastic.

  The way the inside of the house, the furniture shapes and the colors, looked blurred and vague from outside, that’s how the outside world, the real world, looks out of focus and unreal from inside the plastic. The neon lights of the truck stop are just coming on, dim and smeared outside the plastic. The noise of the highway sounds soft and muffled from inside.

  Adam kneels down with a roll of clear strapping tape and seals the slice he made from the inside.

  “We won’t need this anymore,” he says. “When we get where we’re going, we’ll walk out the front or the back door just like real people.”

  The wall-to-wall carpet is rolled up against one wall, awaiting the rest of the house before it’s installed. The furniture and mattresses stand around covered with dry-cleaning-plastic-thin dust covers. The kitchen cabinets are each taped shut.

 
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CHUCK PALAHNIUK SERIES:

Damned

 

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