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Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk

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CHAPTER ONE

Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, and after that Tyler is pushing a gun into my mouth, saying, the first step to eternal life is to die.

But for a long time Tyler and I were best friends.

People are always asking me if I knew Tyler Durden.

The gun is in my mouth now, and Tyler says, «We won't really die.»

With my tongue, I can feel the barrel of the gun.

«This isn't really death,» Tyler says. «We'll be a legend. We won't grow old.»

With my tongue, I move the gun barrel into my cheek and say, Tyler, we're not vampires.

The building we're standing on won't be here in ten minutes.

If you take nitric acid, add it to sulfuric acid, and then add glycerin — you get nitroglycerin. Mix the nitro with sawdust, and you have a nice plastic explosive.

I know this because Tyler knows this.

So Tyler and I are on top of the Parker-Morris Building with the gun in my mouth, and we hear glass breaking. This is the world's tallest building, and the wind is always cold here. It's a cloudy day. It's so quiet that you feel like one of those space monkeys, doing the little job you're trained to do. Pull a lever. Push a button. You don't understand anything, and then you just die.

You look down from the roof, and one hundred and ninety- one floors below on the street you can see a crowd of people, standing, looking up. The breaking glass is a window that blows out of the side of the building, and then out comes a big cabinet. It falls down, turning slowly and getting smaller, disappearing into the crowd below.

Somewhere in the one hundred and ninety-one floors under us, the space monkeys in the Mischief Committee of Project Mayhem are destroying every piece of history.

I remember that old saying, how you always kill the one you love, well, it works both ways. With a gun in your mouth, you can only talk in vowels.

We've got our last ten minutes.

Another window blows out of the building, and then a dark wooden desk pushed by the Mischief Committee comes from the gap and flies down until it is lost in the crowd, too.

The Parker-Morris Building won't be here in nine minutes. If you have enough explosives, you can blast any building in the world. This practical stuff isn't in any of the history books.

The three ways to make napalm: one, you can mix gasoline and frozen orange juice concentrate. Two, you can mix gasoline and cola. Three, you can mix gasoline with cat litter.

Nine minutes.

The Parker-Morris Building will fall, all one hundred and ninety-one floors, slowly, like a tree falling in the forest.

Tyler and I are on the roof, the gun is in my mouth, and I'm wondering how clean the gun is. We forget about Tyler's murder-suicide thing while we watch another cabinet fall out of the side of the building, with papers flying in the air.

Eight minutes.

Then the smoke starts coming out of the broken windows. The demolition team will push the button in maybe eight minutes. They will blow the base, the columns will fall, and the photo of the Parker-Morris Building will go into all the history books.

The photo will show the tower, all one hundred and ninety-one floors, falling down on the national museum, which is Tyler's real target. «This is our world now,» Tyler says, «and those ancient people are dead.» If I knew how all this would end, I'd be more than happy to be dead right now.

Seven minutes.

Up on top of the Parker-Morris Building with Tyler's gun in my mouth, while desks and cabinets and computers are falling down on the crowd around the building, and smoke is coming from the broken windows, and three blocks down the street the demolition team is watching the clock, I know that all of this — the gun, the anarchy, the explosion — is really about Marla Singer.

Six minutes.

We have a triangle here, you see. I want Tyler. Tyler wants Maria. Marla wants me. I don't want Marla, and Tyler doesn't want me here anymore. This isn't about love. This is about property. Without Marla, Tyler would have nothing.

Five minutes.

Maybe we would become a legend, maybe not. No, I say, but wait.

Four minutes.

With my tongue, I move the gun barrel into my cheek and say, you want to be a legend, Tyler? Man, I'll make you a legend.

I've been here from the beginning. I remember everything. Three minutes.

CHAPTER TWO

Bob's big arms are around me, and I'm pressed against Bob's big chest between his new tits. Going around the church basement full of men each night we met: this is Art, this is Paul, this is Bob.

«It will be all right,» Bob says. «Maybe they got it early enough. Then you'll have almost a hundred percent survival rate.»

I've been coming here every week for two years, and every week Bob puts his arms around me.

«You cry now,» Bob says and sobs. «Go on and cry.»

His big wet face is on top of my head, and I am lost inside his hug. This is when I cry. Crying feels good in the dark, inside someone else, when you see how everything you can ever achieve will be destroyed. Anything you're proud of will be lost. And I'm lost inside. This is as close as I can get to sleeping in almost a week.

This is how I met Marla Singer.

Bob cries because six months ago his testicles were removed. Then there was hormone therapy.

Bob has tits because his testosterone is too high. Raise the testosterone level too much, and your body raises the estrogen level. Too much estrogen — and you get tits. This is when I cry because now your life is nothing.

It's easy to cry when you realize that everyone you love will either reject you or die.

Bob loves me because he thinks that my testicles were removed, too. I look around from under Big Bob's arm. Around us in the church basement there are maybe twenty men and only one woman, all of them in pairs, most of them crying. The man with the only woman puts his crying face against her neck. The woman's face turns to one side as she lifts a cigarette.

«All my life,» Bob cries. «Why I do anything, I don't know.»

The only woman here at Remaining Men Together, the testicular cancer support group, smokes her cigarette, and her eyes meet mine.

Faker.

Faker.

Faker.

Short black hair, big eyes, in her dress with dark roses, very thin, this woman was also in my tuberculosis support group on Friday night. She was in my melanoma support group on Wednesday night. On Monday night, she was in my Firm Believers leukemia support group.

All these support groups have cheerful names. My Thursday evening group for blood parasites is called Free and Clear. The group I go to for brain parasites is called Above and Beyond.

And on Sunday afternoon at Remaining Men Together in the basement of the church, this woman is here, again. Worse than that, I can't cry when she's watching.

This is my favorite part — crying with Big Bob without hope. We all work so hard all the time. This is the only place I can really relax. This is my vacation.

I went to my first support group two years ago, after I'd gone to my doctor about my insomnia. Three weeks and I hadn't slept. Three weeks without sleep and everything becomes an out-of-body experience.

My doctor said, «Insomnia is just the symptom of something bigger. Find out what's actually wrong. Listen to your body.»

I just wanted to sleep. I just wanted a little pill. My doctor told me to take valerian root and get more exercise. That was a real pain. My doctor said, if I wanted to see real pain, I should stop by the church on a Tuesday night. See the brain parasites. See the bone diseases. See the bowel cancer.

So I went.

The first group I went to, there were introductions: this is Alice, this is Brenda, this is Dover.

Everyone smiled with that invisible gun pointed to their head.

I never gave my real name at the support groups.

The little skeleton woman named Chloe told me that the worst thing about her brain parasites was that no one wanted to sleep with her. Here she was, so close to death, and all she wanted was to sleep with someone for the last time. It passed the time. La petite mort, the French called it.

We closed our eyes. This was Chloe's turn to lead us in guided meditation, and she talked about the garden of serenity. With our eyes closed, we imagined our pain as a ball of white healing light. Our chakras were opening. The heart chakra. The head chakra. Chloe talked about caves where we met our power animal. Mine was a penguin, and it said, slide. So we slid through tunnels and tunnels of the cave. Then it was time to hug. This was a therapeutic physical contact, Chloe said.

I didn't cry at my first support group, two years ago. I didn't cry at my second or my third support group, either. I didn't cry at blood parasites or cancer or brain dementia.

This is how it is with insomnia: everything is so far away, a copy of a copy of a copy.

The insomnia distance of everything: you can't touch anything and nothing can touch you.

Then there was Bob. The first time I went to testicular cancer, Bob hugged me in Remaining Men Together and started crying. He used to be a bodybuilder, Big Bob said. He owned his own gym. He'd been married three times. He'd done product advertising, hadn't I seen him on TV? Bob told me all about his hormone therapy, and showed me a wallet photo of himself at some contest. It's a stupid life, Bob said, but when you're on stage and you hear, «Extend your right arm, flex and hold; extend your left arm, flex and hold» — it's better than the real life. Then, Bob said, there was the cancer and divorce. Then he was bankrupt. He had two grown kids who didn't return his calls.

This was all I remember because then Bob was hugging me with his arms. Then I was lost inside of him, and when I finally stepped away from his soft chest, the front of his shirt was wet.

That was two years ago, at my first night with Remaining Men Together. At almost every meeting since then, Big Bob has made me cry. I never went back to the doctor. I never took the valerian root. This was freedom. Losing all hope was freedom. If I didn't say anything, people in a group thought it was the worst. They cried harder — I cried harder.

Every evening I died, and every evening I was reborn. Resurrected. Walking home after a support group, I felt so alive! And I slept. Babies don't sleep that well.

Until tonight — two years of success until tonight — because I can't cry when this woman is watching me. I haven't slept in four days. Because with her watching, I'm a liar and I can't be saved.

She's the faker.

She's the liar.

At the introductions tonight, we introduced ourselves: I'm Bob, I'm Paul, I'm Terry, I'm David.

I never give my real name.

«This is cancer, right?» she said. «Well, hi, I'm Marla Singer.»

Nobody told Marla what kind of cancer. Then we were all busy crying.

I watch her from between Bob's tits. With the man still crying against her neck, Marla lifts her cigarette again.

To Marla I'm a fake. Since the second night I saw her, I can't sleep. Still, I was the first fake, or maybe all these people are faking, even Big Bob. Just look at his styled blond hair.

Marla smokes and rolls her eyes now.

At this moment, Marla's lie reflects my lie, and all I can see are lies in the middle of all the truth. Everyone is hugging and sharing their worst fear that their death is coming, and the gun is in their mouths. Well, Marla is smoking and rolling her eyes, and suddenly I realize that even death and dying have become meaningless.

«Bob,» I say, «you're crushing me.»

I try to whisper, but then I don't.

«Bob,» I'm yelling. «Bob, I have to go to the bathroom.»

In the bathroom, I look at myself in the mirror. I'm sure I'll see Marla Singer at Above and Beyond, the brain dysfunction group. Maria will be there. Of course, Maria will be there, and I'll sit next to her. And after the introductions and the guided meditation, after the white healing ball of light, after opening our chakras, when it is time to hug, I'll grab the little bitch. With my lips pressed against her ear, I'll say, Maria, you big fake, get out. This is the one real thing in my life, and you're ruining it.

You big tourist.

The next time we meet, I'll say, Marla, I can't sleep with you here. I need this. Get out.

CHAPTER THREE

'You wake up at Sky Harbor International.'

Every takeoff and landing, I prayed for a crash. That moment would cure my insomnia.

You wake up at O'Hare.

You wake up at LaGuardia.

You wake up at Logan.

This is how I met Tyler Durden.

Tyler worked part-time as a movie projectionist. Because of his nature, Tyler could only work night jobs. If a projectionist was sick, they called Tyler. Some people are night people. Some people are day people. I could only work a day job.

You wake up at Dulles.

Life insurance pays well if you die on a business trip. I prayed for a plane crash. I prayed for a bird flying into the turbines, for loose bolts, for ice on the wings.

Every takeoff, I prayed for a crash.

You wake up at Love Field.

In a projection booth, Tyler changed the reels if the theater was old enough. In this case, you have two projectors in the booth, and one projector is running.

I know this because Tyler knows this.

The second projector is set up with the next reel of film. Most movies are several small reels of film played in a certain order. In the new theaters, they put all the reels together into one big reel. This way, you don't have to run two projectors and change the reels: switch, reel one, switch, reel two on the other projector, switch, reel three on the first projector. Switch.

You wake up at SeaTac.

On the plane, I study the people on the laminated safety instructions card. A woman floats in the ocean, her eyes are wide open, but the woman doesn't smile or frown. In another picture, calm people reach toward the yellow oxygen masks hanging from the ceiling.

This must be an emergency. Oh. We've lost cabin pressure.

You wake up, and you're at Willow Run.

Old theater or new theater, to send a movie to the next theater, Tyler has to break the movie back into several reels.

Tyler's also a waiter, waiting tables at a hotel, downtown, and Tyler's a projectionist at night. I don't know how long Tyler had been working on all those nights that I couldn't sleep.

In the old theaters that run a movie with two projectors, a projectionist has to stand right there to change reels at the exact second, so the audience never sees the break when one reel starts and the other one ends. Look for the white dots in the top right-hand comer of the screen. This is the warning. Watch the movie, and you'll see two dots at the end of a reel. «Cigarette bums,» they're called. The first white dot is the two-minute warning to start the second projector. The second white dot is the five-second warning. Excitement! Count to five. Switch. The movie goes on. Nobody in the audience has any idea.

You wake up at Krissy Field.

Everywhere I go, the charm of traveling is the tiny life: tiny soap, tiny shampoos, tiny single-serving butter, tiny toothpaste and a tiny single-use toothbrush.

You wake up at Meigs Field.

Sometimes, Tyler wakes up in the dark, frightened that he's missed a reel change or the movie has broken. One thing a projectionist shouldn't do: Tyler makes slides out of the best frames from a movie, especially the nude scenes.

You wake up at Boeing Field.

You wake up at LAX.

We have an almost empty flight tonight. I set my watch two hours earlier or three hours later, Pacific, Mountain, Central, or Eastern time; lose an hour, get an hour. This is your life, and it's ending one minute at a time.

You wake up at Cleveland Hopkins.

You wake up at SeaTac, again.

You're a projectionist and you're tired and angry, but mostly you're bored. So you take a frame of pornography collected by some other projectionist that is kept in the booth, and you add this frame into a movie. There's just a flash. Tyler does this. A frame in a movie is on the screen for one-sixtieth of a second. Divide a second into sixty parts. That's how long the frame is. The porn is there, but no one sees it.

You wake up at Logan, again.

This is a terrible way to travel. I go to meetings that my boss doesn't want to attend. I take notes. Wherever I'm going, I'll be there to use the formula. I'll keep the secret. It's simple arithmetic.

If a new car built by my company is traveling at 60 miles per hour, and the brakes lock up, and the car crashes and bums with everyone inside, does my company have to recall the cars?

You take the number of vehicles (A) and multiply it by the probability of failure (B), then multiply the result by the average cost of an out-of-court settlement ©. A times B times C equals X.

This is what it will cost if we don't recall the cars. If X is greater than the cost of a recall, we recall the cars and no one's hurt. If X is less than the cost of a recall, then we don't recall.

Everywhere I go, there's a burned car waiting for me. I know where all the skeletons are.

Hotel time, restaurant food. Everywhere I go, I make tiny friendships with the people — the single-serving friends — sitting next to me from Logan to Krissy to Willow Run.

You wake up at O'Hare, again.

Tyler added porn into everything after that, and people watched. Nobody complained. People ate and drank, but the evening wasn't the same. Children would feel sick or start to cry and not know why.

You wake up at JFK.

I melt at the moment of landing when the plane leans to one side. At this moment, nothing matters. Not your luggage. Not your bad breath. Nothing matters. You will never have to get another haircut. Look up into the stars and you're gone.

But not this time.

This is how long your moment lasted. And life goes on. And somehow, by accident, Tyler and I met. It was time for a vacation.

You wake up at LAX. Again.

I met Tyler when I went to the beach. This was the end of summer, and I was asleep.

Tyler had been around a long time before we met. He was making something on the wet sand. He'd already made a circle of five big logs.

You wake up at the beach.

We were the only people on the beach. With a stick, Tyler drew a straight line in the sand. I was the only person watching this. Tyler asked me, «Do you know what time it is?»

I always wear a watch.

«Do you know what time it is?»

I asked, where?

«Right here,» Tyler said. «Right now.»

It was 4:06 p.m.

After a while, Tyler sat in the shadow of the five logs. He sat for a few minutes, got up, went for a swim, then put on a T-shirt and pants, and started to leave. I had to ask. I had to know what Tyler was doing while I was asleep. I asked if Tyler was an artist.

If I could wake up in a different place, at a different time, could I wake up as a different person?

Tyler shrugged and showed me the five standing logs and the line he'd drawn in the sand. What Tyler had created was the shadow of a giant hand. Only now, the fingers were too short, but he said that at exactly 4:30 the hand was perfect. The giant shadow hand was perfect for one minute, and for one perfect minute, Tyler had sat in the palm of a perfection he'd created.

You wake up, and you're nowhere. Sometimes, you wake up and have to ask where you are.

One minute was enough, Tyler said, a person had to work hard for it. But a minute of perfection was worth it. You could only expect a moment of perfection, that's all.

You wake up, and that's enough.

His name was Tyler Durden, and he was a movie projectionist, and he was a banquet waiter at a hotel, downtown, and he gave me his phone number. And this is how we met.

All the usual brain parasites are here tonight. The introductions: hi everybody, this is Marla Singer, and this is her first time with us.

Hi, Marla.

The group isn't called Parasitic Brain Parasites. You'll never hear anyone say «parasite.» No one will ever say parasite. They'll say — agent. They don't say cure. They'll say — treatment. Someone might say how the agent has spread into his spinal column, and now he has no control of his left hand.

The last time I was here, the woman named Chloe announced the only good news she had: she no longer had any fear of death. Tonight, after the introductions, a girl said that at two in the morning last Tuesday, Chloe finally died.

Oh, this is so sweet.

For two years, Chloe's been crying in my arms during hug time, and now she's dead, dead in the ground. One day you're thinking and walking around, and the next — you're a fertilizer, a worm buffet. This is the miracle of death, and it should be so sweet, but Marla...

Marla's looking at me again.

Liar.

Faker.

Marla's the faker.

You're the faker.

It's all just a big act.

Guided meditation is not helping me tonight. Behind each of the seven doors is Marla. Marla stands there.

Liar.

In the guided meditation, my power animal is Marla. Smoking her cigarette, Marla, rolling her eyes, Marla.

Liar.

Black hair and puffy lips.

Faker.

You can't escape.

I imagine Chloe's death.

Prepare for death in ten, in nine, in eight seconds. Death will begin in seven, six...

The announcement: Prepare to evacuate soul in ten, in nine, eight...

Death will begin in five...

Four, three, two...

Death will begin in three, in two...

Moonlight shines through her open mouth.

Prepare for the last breath, now.

Evacuate. Now.

Soul clear of body. Now.

Death begins. Now.

Oh, this should be so sweet. But no, Marla is watching me.

In guided meditation, I see no white healing ball of light. Liar.

No chakras.

Liar.

My chakras stay closed.

When meditation ends, it's time for the therapeutic physical contact. For the hug, I cross the room to stand near Marla and wait for the signal to come.

Let's all hug someone near us.

I hug Marla.

Pick someone special to you, tonight.

Marla's cigarette hands cannot move.

Tell this someone how you feel.

Marla doesn't have testicular cancer. Marla doesn't have tuberculosis. She isn't dying. Okay, in a way, we're all dying. But Marla isn't dying the way Chloe was dying.

Share yourself. Share yourself completely.

So, Marla, how do you like it?

So, Marla, get out.

Get out.

Get out.

Cry now if you have to.

Marla looks at me. Her eyes are brown. Her lips are chapped.

«You're not dying either,» Marla says.

Around us, couples stand sobbing.

«You tell on me,» Marla says, «and I'll tell on you.»

Then we can split the week, I say. Marla can have bone disease, brain parasites, and tuberculosis. I'll keep testicular cancer, blood parasites, and brain dementia.

Marla says, «What about bowel cancer?»

The girl has prepared for this!

We'll split bowel cancer. She gets it the first and third Sunday of every month.

«No,» Marla says.

No, she wants it all. The cancers, the parasites. She never dreamed she could feel so marvelous. She actually felt alive. Her skin was getting better. All her life, she never saw a dead person. There was no real sense of life because there was no contrast to it. Oh, but now there was dying and death and loss and grief. Now that she knows where we're all going, Marla feels every moment of her life. No, she wasn't leaving any group.

«I can't go back to the way life was before,» Marla says. «I used to work in a funeral home to feel good about myself — because I was just breathing.»

Then go back to your funeral home, I say.

«Funerals are nothing compared to this,» Marla says. «Funerals are just a ceremony, and here you have a real experience of death.»

Couples around us are drying their tears and letting go.

We can't both come, I tell her.

«Then don't come.»

I need this.

«Then go to funerals.»

Everyone's getting ready for the final prayer. I let Marla go. «How long have you been coming here?»

Two years.

«Two years?» Marla whispers.

Yes.

«Okay then,» she says, «okay, okay, you can have testicular cancer.»

Thanks.

«Don't mention it.»

This is how I met Marla.

CHAPTER FOUR

The security guy explained everything to me about a ticking suitcase. Modem bombs don't tick. But if a suitcase vibrates, they have to call the FBI.

I moved in with Tyler because most airlines have this policy about vibrating luggage. I had everything in that bag. When you travel a lot, you learn to pack the same stuff for every trip. The very minimum you need to survive alarm clock, electric razor, toothbrush, white shirts, black trousers, underwear, black socks.

So my suitcase was vibrating, according to the security guy, and the FBI took it. Everything was in that bag. My contact lenses. My favorite ties. A list of all these things used to hang on my bedroom door at home.

Home was a condo on the fifteenth floor of a high-rise, full of widows and young professionals. The advertisement promised thick concrete floors, ceilings, and walls between me and my neighbors. With all this concrete and air conditioning, you couldn't open the windows, and all your seventeen hundred square feet would smell like the last meal you cooked or your last trip to the bathroom. Still, a thick concrete wall is important when your next-door neighbor watches sports games at night. Or when a blast of burning gas blows what used to be your living-room out of your windows and leaves just your apartment — only yours — a black concrete hole in the side of the building.

These things happen.

Everything, including your handmade green glass dishes with the small bubbles and imperfections to prove that they were made by the honest, simple, hard-working people of somewhere. Well, these dishes are all destroyed by the blast.

From fifteen floors over the city, all your burning stuff falls down on everyone's car.

While I'm flying west on the plane, the FBI is bomb-checking my suitcase. Nine times out of ten, the security guy says, the vibration is an electric razor. This was my electric razor.

The security guy told me this at my destination, without my suitcase, where I was going to go home and find my burned stuff on the ground.

Imagine, the security guy says, telling a passenger upon arrival that something vibrating kept their luggage in the departure airport. Something activated itself, creating an emergency situation, so your luggage was evacuated.

Rain was falling when I woke up for my connection in Stapleton.

Rain was falling when I woke up on my way home.

An announcement told us to check around our seats for any personal things we might have left behind. Then the announcement said my name. Would I please meet with an airline representative waiting at the gate?

I set my watch back three hours, and it was still after midnight.

There was the airline representative at the gate, and there was the security guy to say that my electric razor kept my luggage at Dulles. Things could be worse, the guy told me; at least it wasn't a dildo. My luggage had been checked, he said, and would arrive the next day. The security guy asked my name and address and phone number. I took a taxi home on my last ten bucks.

The local police had been asking a lot of questions, too. My electric razor, which wasn't a bomb, was still three time zones behind me.

Something, which was a bomb, a big bomb, had blasted my yin-yang coffee tables.

Well, they were splinters, now.

And so was my sofa with the orange covers; it was trash, now.

I wasn't the only slave to IKEA. Lots of people sit in the bathroom with their furniture catalogue. We all have the same green striped armchair. Oh, I had to have that!

Mine fell fifteen stories, burning, into a fountain.

We all have the same paper lamps made from environmentally friendly paper.

Mine are confetti, now.

All that sitting in the bathroom. The street outside my high- rise was scattered with all this stuff. It took my whole life to buy this stuff. You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you're happy. Then the right dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you're trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own — now they own you.

It used to be so — until I got home from the airport.

The doorman says, there's been an accident. The police were here and asked a lot of questions. The police think maybe it was the leaking gas. Maybe a burner was left on, and the gas rose to the ceiling, and the gas filled the apartment from ceiling to floor in every room. When the rooms were filled to the floor, the compressor of the refrigerator clicked on. Detonation. The huge windows went out, and the sofas and the lamps and dishes and sheets in flames, and the high school yearbooks and the diplomas and the telephone.

You could go up to the fifteenth floor, the doorman said, but nobody could go into the apartment.

Police orders. The police had been asking if I had an ex-girlfriend who'd want to do this or an enemy who had access to dynamite.

The next day, my suitcase would arrive with the very minimum.

I asked the doorman to use the phone.

«A lot of young people try to impress the world and buy too many things,» he said.

I called Tyler.

The phone rang in Tyler's rented house on Paper Street.

Oh, Tyler, please save me.

And the phone rang.

The doorman put his hand on my shoulder and said, «A lot of young people don't know what they really want.»

Oh, Tyler, please save me from my IKEA furniture.

And the phone rang.

«Young people think they want the whole world.»

And the phone rang and Tyler answered.

«If you don't know what you want,» the doorman said, «you'll have a lot that you don't want.»

Save me, Tyler, from being perfect and complete.

Tyler and I agreed to meet at a bar. We met and drank a lot of beer, and Tyler said, yes, I could move in with him, but I would have to do him a favor. There, drunk in a bar where no one was watching and no one would care, I asked Tyler what he wanted me to do.

Tyler said, «I want you to hit me as hard as you can.»

CHAPTER FIVE

During my demo to Microsoft, I taste blood in my mouth. My boss doesn't know the material, but he won't let me run the demo with a black eye and a swollen face. My boss is making the presentation, and I'm running the overhead projector, so I'm in the dark.

My lips are sticky with blood, and when the lights are on, I will turn to the consultants from Microsoft and say, thank you for coming, with blood on my lips and between my teeth.

Fight club is tomorrow, and I'm not going to miss fight club.

Before the presentation, Walter from Microsoft smiles, shakes my hand, and says, «I wonder what happened to the other guy.» I tell Walter that I fell. I did this to myself.

The first rule about fight club is you don't talk about fight club.

Before the presentation, my boss asks, «What do you get yourself into every weekend?»

I just don't want to die without a few scars, I say.

The second rule about fight club is you don't talk about fight club.

Maybe at lunch, the waiter comes to your table, and he has two panda black eyes from fight club last weekend when you saw him there. You don't say anything because fight club exists only in the hours between when fight club starts and when fight club ends.

You see the kid who works in the copy center. A month ago you saw this kid who couldn't even remember to register an order, but this kid was a god for ten minutes when you saw him kick the hell out of an accountant until the kid had to stop.

That's the third rule about fight club, when someone says stop, the fight is over.

Every time you see this kid, you can't tell him what a great fight he had.

Only two guys to a fight.

One fight at a time.

They fight without shirts or shoes.

The fights go on as long as they have to.

Those are the other rules of fight club.

Who guys are in fight club is not who they are in the real world. Even if you see the kid in the copy center, you wouldn't see the same man. Who I am in fight club is not someone my boss knows.

After a night in fight club, everything in the real world becomes muffled. Nothing bothers you. In the real world, I'm a recall coordinator in a shirt and tie, sitting in the dark with blood in my mouth, changing slides while my boss is showing my demo to Microsoft.

The first fight club was just Tyler and I, punching each other.

When I came home angry and knowing that my life wasn't going well, I could clean my apartment or my car. It used to be enough. Someday I'd be dead without a scar and there would be a really nice apartment and a car. Really, really nice.

But nothing is permanent. Even the Mona Lisa is falling apart. Since fight club, half of my teeth are loose.

Maybe self-improvement isn't the answer.

Maybe self-destruction is the answer.

Tyler and I still go to fight club, together. Fight club is in the basement of a bar, after the bar closes on Saturday night, and every week you go and there're more guys there.

Tyler gets under the one light in the middle of the dark concrete basement, and he can see that light in a hundred pairs of eyes. First thing Tyler yells is, «The first rule about fight club is you don't talk about fight club.»

Tyler never knew his father.

«The second rule about fight club,» Tyler yells, «is you don't talk about fight club.»

I knew my dad for about six years, but I don't remember anything. My dad started a new family in a new town about every six years. This isn't much like a family; it's more like a franchise.

What you see at fight club is a generation of men raised by women.

Tyler is standing under the one light in the darkness of the basement full of men. He repeats the other rules: two men per fight, one fight at a time, no shoes, no shirts, fights go on as long as they have to. «And the seventh rule is,» Tyler yells, «if this is your first night at fight club, you have to fight.»

Fight club is not football on television. After you've been to fight club, watching football on television is like watching pornography. Fight club is now your reason for going to the gym, keeping your haircut short, and cutting your nails. The gyms you go to are full of guys trying to look like men, as if being a man means looking the way an ancient sculptor says.

My father never went to college, so it was really important for me to go to college.

After college, I called him and asked, now what?

My dad didn't know.

When I got a job and turned twenty-five, I called him again and asked, now what?

My dad didn't know, so he said, get married.

I'm a thirty-year-old boy, and I'm wondering if another woman is really the answer I need.

What happens at fight club doesn't happen in words. Some guys need a fight every week. This week, Tyler says it's the first fifty guys in and that's it. No more.

Last week, I fought with a guy. This guy must've had a bad week. He jammed my face into the concrete floor, and after I said, stop, I got up and saw a bloody print of my face on the floor.

Tyler stands next to me, looking down, saying, «Cool.» I shake the guy's hand and say, good fight.

This guy says, «How about next week?»

I try to smile, and I say, Look at me. How about next month?

You aren't alive anywhere as you're alive at fight club — when it's you and another guy under that one light in the middle of all those people watching. Fight club isn't about winning or losing fights. Fight club isn't about words. You see a guy who comes to fight club for the first time, and he is soft like a loaf of white bread. You see this same guy here six months later, and he looks carved out of wood. This guy can handle anything. There's noise at fight club like at the gym, but fight club isn't about looking good. It's more like a church, and when you wake up on Sunday afternoon, you feel saved.

After my last fight, I needed stitches on the cuts on my cheek, so I called my insurance about a visit to the emergency room. At the hospital, Tyler tells them I fell down. Sometimes, Tyler speaks for me. I did this to myself. Outside, the sun was coming up.

You don't talk about fight club because except for five hours from two until seven on Sunday morning, fight club doesn't exist.

When we invented fight club, Tyler and I, neither of us had ever been in a fight before. If you've never been in a fight, you wonder about getting hurt, about what you can do against another man. I was the first guy Tyler ever asked that, and we were both drunk in a bar where no one would care, so Tyler said, «I want you to do me a favor. I want you to hit me as hard as you can.» I didn't want to, but Tyler explained it all, about not wanting to die without any scars, about being tired of watching only professionals fight, and wanting to know more about himself. About self-destruction.

At that time, my life just seemed too complete, and maybe we have to break everything to make something better out of ourselves.

I looked around and said, okay, but outside in the parking lot.

So we went outside, and I asked if Tyler wanted it in the face or in the stomach.

Tyler said, «Surprise me.»

I said I had never hit anybody.

Tyler said, «So go crazy, man.»

I said, close your eyes.

Tyler said, «No.»

Like every guy on his first night in fight club, I breathed in and sent my fist towards Tyler's jaw, but my fist connected with Tyler's neck.

I said, that didn't count. I want to try it again.

Tyler said, «Yeah, it counted,» and hit me right in the middle of my chest. I fell back against a car. We both stood there, both of us knowing we'd gotten somewhere we'd never been before, but we were still alive and wanted to see how far we could take this thing and still be alive.

Tyler said, «Cool.»

I said, hit me again.

Tyler said, «No, you hit me.»

So I hit him, and Tyler pushed me back and kicked me in my stomach.

What happened next and after that didn't happen in words, but the bar closed and people came out and shouted around us in the parking lot.

Now I felt that finally I could handle everything in the world that didn't work: my dry-cleaned clothes that came back with the buttons broken, the bank that says I have an overdraft, my job where my boss messed up my computer, and Marla Singer, who took my support groups from me.

Nothing was solved when the fight was over, but nothing mattered.

The first night we fought was a Sunday night. When we were lying on our backs in the parking lot, looking up at one star in the sky, I asked Tyler what he'd been fighting. Tyler said, his father.

Maybe we didn't need a father to feel complete.

There's nothing personal about who you fight in fight club. You fight to fight. You're not supposed to talk about fight club, but we talked, and for the next couple of weeks, guys met in that parking lot after the bar had closed, and then another bar offered the basement where we meet now.

When fight club meets, Tyler gives the rules that he and I set. «Most of you,» Tyler yells in the center of the basement full of men, «are here because someone broke the rules. Somebody told you about fight club.»

Tyler says, «Well, you better stop talking or you'd better start another fight club because next week you put your name on a list when you get here, and only the first fifty names on the list get in. If you get in, you start your fight right away, if you want a fight. If you don't want a fight, there are guys who do, so maybe you should just stay home.»

Most guys are at fight club because of something they're too scared to fight. After a few fights, you're not afraid.

«If this is your first night at fight club,» Tyler yells, «you have to fight.»

A lot of best friends meet for the first time at fight club. Now I go to meetings or conferences and see faces with broken noses and bandages or stitches above an eye. These are the quiet young men who listen until it's time to decide. We nod to each other. My boss asks me how I know so many of these guys.

The demo goes on. Walter from Microsoft looks at me. Here's a young guy with perfect teeth and clear skin. He's looking at my bruised face and the blood on my lips. And maybe Walter's thinking about a vegetarian lunch he went to last weekend, or the ozone layer, or the need to stop testing products on animals. But probably he's not.

CHAPTER SIX

One morning, I find a used tampon in the bathroom.

This is how Tyler meets Marla.

All night long, I dreamed I was sleeping with Marla Singer.

Marla Singer, smoking her cigarette. Marla Singer, rolling her eyes.

I wake up alone in my bed, and the door to Tyler's room is closed.

The door to Tyler's room is never closed.

All night, it was raining. The roof is old and leaking, and the rain comes through and drips all over the room. When it's raining, we don't dare turn on the lights. We use candles.

The house that Tyler rents has three stories and a basement. The rain drips down through the house, and everything wooden rots, and the nails in everything wooden rust. Everywhere there are rusted nails, and there's only one bathroom in the house, and now there's a used tampon.

The house is waiting for something, probably a demolition. There's no lock on the front door. Our only neighbors are a closed garage and huge warehouses.

I asked Tyler how long he's been here, and he said about six weeks. I've been living with Tyler for about a month.

The night before last, Tyler sat alone, and now there's a used tampon in the bathroom.

How could I compete for Tyler's attention?

I'm furious now. I feel rejected.

What's worse, all this is my fault. After I went to sleep last night, Tyler tells me he came home from his shift as a banquet waiter, and Marla called again from the Regent Hotel.

This was it, Marla said. The tunnel, the light… The death experience was so cool, she said, that she took a lot of pills. Marla wanted me to hear her describe how her soul left her body and rose up. Maria didn't know if her spirit could use the telephone, but she wanted someone to hear her last breath at least.

But then Tyler answers the phone and misunderstands the whole situation. They've never met, so Tyler thinks it's a bad thing that Marla is dying.

It's nothing like that.

This is none of Tyler's business, but Tyler calls the police and Tyler runs to the Regent Hotel. Now Tyler is responsible for Marla, forever, because Tyler saved Marla's life.

If I had only wasted a couple of minutes and gone there to watch Marla die, then none of this would have happened.

Tyler tells me how Marla lives in room 8G, on the top floor of the Regent Hotel.

Tyler gets there and even before, he knocks on the door, a thin arm from behind the door of room 8G grabs him and pulls Tyler inside. At that moment, Tyler can hear the police sirens as cars stop in front of the Regent Hotel. Then Marla pushes Tyler out of the room back into the hallway. She locks the door to 8G, and they run toward the stairs. On the stairs, Tyler and Marla have to give way to the police and paramedics going up, asking which door will be 8G. Marla tells them the door is at the end of the hall. Marla shouts to the police that the girl who lives in 8G used to be a lovely girl, but now she is a monster. The girl is confused and afraid to commit to the wrong thing, so she won't commit to anything. Marla shouts, «Good luck.» The police gather at the locked door to 8G, and Marla and Tyler run down the stairs to the lobby and into the street to get a taxi. In the taxi, Marla tells Tyler he has to keep her up all night. If Marla falls asleep, she'll die.

Tyler and Marla were up almost all night in the next room. When Tyler woke up, Marla had already gone back to the Regent Hotel.

Anyway, now Marla's ruining another part of my life.

I tell Tyler that Marla Singer doesn't need a lover, she needs a shrink.

Tyler says, «Don't call this love.»

Ever since college, I make friends. They get married. I lose friends.

Fine, I say.

Tyler asks if this is a problem for me.

No, I say, it's fine.

Put a gun to my head and paint the wall with my brains.

Just great, I say. Really.

My boss sends me home because of the dried blood on my pants, and I am really happy. My face doesn't ever heal. I go to work, and my face is all swollen and black.

You give up all your possessions and go live in a rented house in the toxic waste part of town where late at night you can hear Marla and Tyler in his room.

Just by contrast, this makes me the calm little center of the world. Me, with my swollen face and dried blood on my pants, I'm saying HELLO to everybody at work. HELLO! Look at me. HELLO! I am so calm. This is BLOOD. This is NOTHING. Hello. Everything is nothing, and it's so cool to be like me.

My boss asked if the blood was my blood.

The blood, is it mine? Yeah, I say. Some of it.

This is a wrong answer.

Big deal! I have two pairs of black trousers. Six white shirts. Six pairs of underwear. The bare minimum. I go to fight club. These things happen.

«Go home,» my boss, says. «Get changed.»

I'm starting to wonder if Tyler and Marla are the same person. Tyler and Marla are never in the same room. I never see them together. Tyler just doesn't come out when Marla's around.

Tyler has to show me how to make soap to wash the pants. Tyler's upstairs and Marla's at the kitchen table. Tyler's upstairs in my bedroom, looking at his teeth in my mirror, saying he got me a part-time job as a banquet waiter.

«At the Pressman Hotel, if you can work in the evening,» Tyler says.

Yeah, I say, whatever.

«You have to wear a black tie,» Tyler says. «All you need to work there is a white shirt and black trousers.»

Soap, Tyler. I say, we need soap. We need to make some soap. I need to wash my pants.

«To make soap, first we need some fat.»

Tyler is full of useful information.

Marla and Tyler are never in the same room. If Tyler's around, Marla ignores him. This is familiar. My parents used to play this game for many years.

«Even if someone loves you enough to save your life, they still hurt you. I can't win you, can I?» Marla looks at me as if I'm the one sleeping with her. She goes out the back door, singing a song. I just stare at her going.

I turn around, and Tyler's appeared.

Tyler says, «Did you get rid of her?»

Not a sound, not a smell, Tyler's just appeared.

«First,» Tyler says and walks up to the freezer. «First, we need to melt some fat.»

Tyler takes out plastic bags of frozen white stuff and drops them in the sink.

I put a big pan on the stove and fill it with water. If there's too little water, the fat will darken.

«This fat,» Tyler says, «has a lot of salt, so the more water, the better.»

Put the fat in the water, and get the water boiling.

Tyler squeezes the white stuff from each bag into the water, and then puts the empty bags in the trash. Tyler says, «Use a little imagination. Remember all that they taught you in Boy Scouts.»

One thing I could do about my boss, Tyler tells me, is to drive to my boss's house some night and pump industrial dye into his house plumbing. Red or blue or green, and wait to see how my boss looks the next day. Or, I could just pump and pump until the plumbing pressure gets too high. This way, when someone flushes a toilet, the toilet will explode. And if someone turns on the shower, the water pressure will blow off the shower head, and the shower head will turn into a missile.

Tyler only says this to make me feel better. The truth is I like my boss. Besides, I'm the calm little center of the world now. You know, Buddha-style. Hari Rama, you know, Krishna, Krishna, you know.

As the fat melts, tallow begins to appear. I turn down the heat under the pan and stir the boiling water. More and more tallow will rise to the surface.

Use a big spoon to skim the tallow off, and set it aside.

So, I say, how is Marla?

Tyler says, «At least Marla's trying to hit bottom.»

I stir the boiling water.

Keep skimming until no more tallow rises.

Tyler says I'm not even close to hitting bottom, yet. And if I don't fall all the way, I can't be saved. Jesus did it with his crucifixion. I shouldn't just leave money and property. This isn't enough. I should run from self-improvement, and I should be running toward disaster. Only after disaster can we be resurrected.

«It's only after you've lost everything,» Tyler says, «that you're free to do anything.»

So it's too early to call me the calm little center of the world. «And keep stirring,» Tyler says.

When the fat's boiled enough and no more tallow rises, pour the boiling water out. Wash the pot and fill it with clean water.

I ask, am I not that close to hitting bottom?

«Where you're now,» Tyler says, «you can't even imagine what bottom is like.»

Boil the skimmed tallow in the water. Skim and keep skimming.

«The fat we're using has a lot of salt in it,» Tyler says. «With too much salt your soap won't get solid.»

Boil and skim.

Boil and skim.

Marla is back. The moment Marla opens the door, Tyler is gone, disappeared. Tyler's gone upstairs, or Tyler's gone downstairs to the basement.

Marla comes in with a canister of lye.

I take the canister of lye and put it on the table. I don't say anything.

«Can I stay here, tonight?» Marla says.

I don't answer.

Marla says, «What are you cooking?»

I say, go, just go, just get out. Okay? Don't you have enough of my life, yet?

Marla grabs me and holds me in one place for one second to kiss my cheek.

«Please call me,» she says. «Please. We need to talk.»

I say, yeah, yeah, yeah.

When Marla is gone, Tyler appears back in the room.

Boil and skim.

Boil and skim.

I boil and skim while Tyler empties the fridge.

Put the skimmed tallow into open milk cartons.

Tyler watches the tallow cool in the open fridge. As I fill the milk cartons with tallow, Tyler puts them in the fridge. I stand beside Tyler in front of the fridge, and Tyler takes my hands and shows them to me. The lifeline. The love line. The Venus and Mars.

«I need you to do me another favor,» Tyler says.

This is about Marla, isn't it?

«Don't you ever talk to her about me. Don't talk about me behind my back. Do you promise?» Tyler says.

I promise.

Tyler says, «If you ever mention me to her, you'll never see me again.»

I promise.

«Promise?»

I promise.

Tyler says, «Now remember, that was three times that you promised.»

Something thick and clear appears on top of the tallow in the fridge.

«Don't worry,» Tyler says. «It is glycerin. You can mix the glycerin back in when you make soap. Or, you can skim the glycerin off.»

Tyler licks his lips, and turns my hands palm-down.

«You can mix the glycerin with nitric acid to make nitroglycerin,» Tyler says.

I stand with my mouth open and then say, nitroglycerin.

With his wet lips, Tyler kisses the back of my hand.

«You can mix the nitroglycerin with sodium nitrate and sawdust to make dynamite,» Tyler says.

Dynamite, I say.

Tyler opens the can of lye.

«You can blow up bridges,» Tyler says. «You could blow up a building, easily.»

Tyler holds the can of lye above the shining wet kiss on the back of my hand.

«This is a chemical bum,» Tyler says, «and it will hurt worse than any bum.»

The kiss shines on the back of my hand.

«You'll have a scar,» Tyler says.

«With enough soap,» Tyler says, «you could blow up the whole world. Now remember your promise.»

And Tyler pours the lye.

CHAPTER SEVEN

The wet kiss on the back of my hand held the lye while it burned.

Lye only bums when you combine it with water.

«This is a chemical bum,» Tyler said, «and it will hurt more than any other bum.»

Close your eyes.

A mixture of lye and water can bum through an aluminum pan and dissolve a wooden spoon.

Lye bums into the back of my hand, and Tyler holds my hands, and Tyler says to pay attention because this is the greatest moment of my life.

«Because everything up to now is a story,» Tyler says, «and everything after now is a story.»

This is the greatest moment of our life.

The lye on my hand is at the end of a long, long road that I imagine, miles away from me.

Tyler tells me to come back and be with him. «Come back to the pain,» Tyler says.

This is the kind of guided meditation they use at support groups. Don't even think of the word part. Guided meditation works for cancer, it can work for this.

«Look at your hand,» Tyler says.

Don't look at your hand.

Don't think of the word pain.

Don't hear yourself cry.

Guided meditation. You're in Ireland. Close your eyes. You're in Ireland the summer after you left college, and you're drinking at a pub near a castle.

«Listen to me,» Tyler says. «Open your eyes. Soap and human sacrifice go hand in hand'.»

You're in Ireland.

«In ancient history,» Tyler says, «human sacrifices were made on a hill above a river. Thousands of people. Listen to me. The sacrifices were made and the bodies were burned. Their ashes fell into the river, and people noticed that washing their clothes there was good. And that's how soap was invented.»

You're in Ireland.

«Look at me,» Tyler says. «You can go and pour water over your hand, but first you have to know that you're stupid and you will die. Someday, you will die, and until you know that, you're useless to me.»

You're in Ireland.

«You can cry,» Tyler says, «but every tear that falls in the lye on your skin will leave a small scar.»

Guided meditation. You're in Ireland the summer after you left college.

Years before you met Tyler Durocn.

In Ireland.

«We can use vinegar,» Tyler says, «to neutralize the burning, but first you have to give up.»

First, you have to hit bottom.

You're in a castle in Ireland.

«This is the greatest moment of your fife,» Tyler says, «and you're off somewhere, missing it.»

You're in Ireland.

«Jeez,» Tyler says.

I'm pissing in my black trousers with the dried blood that my boss can't stand.

«This means something,» Tyler says. «This is a sign.»

There's the smell of vinegar, and the burning on your hand at the end of the long road stops. The back of your hand is swollen and red, in the exact shape of Tyler's kiss.

«Open your eyes,» Tyler says. «Congratulations. You're a step closer to hitting bottom. You have to see how the first soap was made of heroes. Without their death, without their pain, without their sacrifice, we would have nothing.»

I stop the elevator between floors while Tyler unzips his pants. Then Tyler takes the lids off the soup bowls in the buffet cart.

Tyler says, «Don't look at me, or I can't go.»

It's a tomato soup, and nobody will smell anything else we put in.

I say, go already.

Tyler says, «I can't.»

If the soup gets cold, they'll send it back.

The guests will often send something back to the kitchen for no reason at all. They just want to see you run around for their money. At dinner like this, people treat you like dirt. We don't really take anything back to the kitchen. Move the food around the plate a little, serve it to someone else, and it's fine.

Behind me, Tyler says, «Oh, yeah. Oh, I'm doing it. Oh, yeah. Yes.»

Tyler and me, we're the guerrilla terrorists of the service industry.

Tyler did a dinner party one time. While Tyler's washing plates, the hostess comes in the kitchen holding a piece of paper, and her hand is shaking so much. Madam wants to know who wrote it and left it in her bedroom.

«We're not supposed to go in that part of the house,» Tyler says.

The host comes into the kitchen behind his wife and takes the paper out of her shaking hand. «This will be all right,» he says.

«How can I look at those people?» Madam says. «I need to know who did this.»

The host says, «They are your guests, and this party is very important.»

Then the host takes his wife back into the dining room. The note falls to the floor, near Tyler.

Another waiter asks, «What does it say?»

Tyler looks at him and says, without even looking at the note, «I have pissed into at least one of your many elegant perfumes.»

«You pissed in her perfume?»

No, Tyler says. He just left the note between the bottles. She's got about a hundred bottles on a mirror in her bathroom.

«So you didn't, really?»

«No,» Tyler says, «but she doesn't know that.»

Tyler says how they kill whales to make that perfume that costs more than gold. Most people have never even seen a whale.

For the rest of the night Madam sat watching each of her guests, until suddenly Madam's place at the head of the table was empty. She was later found in her bathroom, with her hundred of perfume bottles broken to pieces and her hands bleeding.

Back in the hotel, in the elevator, which stopped between the kitchen and the banquet floors, Tyler zips up his pants. This is easier with cold soup. This is impossible with that onion soup that has a crust of melted cheese on it. If I ever ate here, that's what I'd order.

We were running out of ideas, Tyler and me. Doing stuff to the food was becoming boring, almost part of the job description. Then I hear one of the doctors say how a hepatitis bug can live on steel instruments for six months. How long can it live on salmon, for example?

I asked the doctor where we could get some of these hepatitis bugs, and he's drunk enough to laugh. Everything goes to the medical waste dump, he says and laughs again. Everything.

The medical waste dump sounds like hitting bottom.

CHAPTER EIGHT

«It could've been worse,» Tyler says, «what we did with Marla's mother.»

I say, shut up.

What's worse is I knew what Tyler had done to Marla's mother, but for the first time since I've known him, Tyler was making real money.

A major fashion store called and left an order for two hundred bars of Tyler's brown sugar soap before Christmas. At twenty bucks a bar, we had money to go out on Saturday night, money to fix the leaking roof, money to go dancing. Without money to worry about, maybe I could quit my job.

Tyler calls himself the Paper Street Soap Company. People are saying that it's the best soap ever.

«What would've been worse,» Tyler says, «is if you had accidentally eaten Marla's mother.»

I say to just shut up.

This Saturday night we are seating in the front seats of a huge old car parked in a used-car lot. Tyler and I are talking, drinking beer. We chose the biggest car because if we have to sleep in a car on Saturday night, this car has the biggest seats.

We're eating Chinese food because we can't go home. It was either sleep here, or stay up all night at a dance club. We don't go to dance clubs. Tyler says that the music is so loud there that it kills his biorhythm. The last time we went out, Tyler said, the loud music made him constipated. Besides, the dance club is too loud to talk.

We're sleeping in a car tonight because Marla came to the house and threatened to call the police and have me arrested for cooking her mother, and then Marla ran around the house, screaming that I was a cannibal, and then I left her there.

After her unsuccessful sleeping pills suicide at the Regent Hotel, I can't imagine Marla calling the police, but Tyler thought it would be good to sleep out tonight. Just in case.

Just in case, Marla bums the house down.

Just in case, Marla goes out and finds a gun.

Just in case, Marla is still in the house.

Just in case.

Tyler says, «One more time. Tell me exactly what happened.»

For weeks, I ignored what Tyler had planned. One time, I went with Tyler to send Marla's mother a telegram: TERRIBLY WRINKLED. PLEASE HELP ME.

Tyler signed it with Marla's name.

When we were leaving the office, Tyler said if I loved him, I'd trust him. This wasn't something I needed to know about, Tyler told me.

What really scared me wasn't the telegram — it was eating out with Tyler. Never, never had Tyler paid for anything. For clothes, Tyler goes to gyms and hotels and takes clothing out of the lost and found. This is better than Marla, who goes to Laundromats' to steal jeans out of the dryers and sell them at twelve dollars a pair.

Tyler never ate in restaurants, and Marla wasn't wrinkled.

For no apparent reason, Tyler sent Marla's mother a huge box of chocolates.

Tyler was hiding tonight when this all started. Marla came to the house. Without even knocking, Marla walks through the front door and shouts, «Knock, knock.»

I'm reading in the kitchen.

Marla yells, «Tyler. Can I come in? Are you home?»

I yell, Tyler's not home.

Marla yells, «Don't be mean!»

Now, I'm at the front door. Marla's standing there with a FedEx package, and says, «I need to put something in your freezer.»

I say no.

No.

No.

No.

She is not going to keep her junk in this house.

«But honey,» Marla says, «I don't have a freezer at the hotel, and you said I could.»

No, I did not.

The last thing I want is Marla moving in, one piece of trash at a time.

Maria opens her FedEx package on the kitchen table and takes out something white.

«This is not trash,» she says. «This is my mother you're talking about!»

What Marla lifts out of the package is one of those plastic bags of white stuff that Tyler melted for tallow to make soap.

«Things would've been worse,» Tyler says, «if you'd accidentally eaten what was in one of those bags.»

More than anything in the world, I didn't want Marla to open the freezer.

I asked, what was she going to do with the white stuff?

«To make my lips bigger,» Marla, said. «As you get older, your lips get thinner. I'm saving for a collagen lip injection. I have almost thirty pounds of collagen in your freezer.»

I asked, how big did she want her lips to be?

The stuff in the FedEx package, I tell Tyler in the car, was the same stuff we made soap out of.

Since silicone turned out to be dangerous, collagen has become the hot item to smooth the wrinkles or to puff up thin lips, Marla explained. Most cheap collagen you get is from cow fat that's been sterilized, but that cheap collagen doesn't last very long in your body. Six months later, you have thin lips, again. The best kind of collagen, Marla said, is your own fat, sucked out of your thighs, cleaned, and injected back into your lips, or wherever. This collagen will last.

This stuff in the fridge at home was Marla's collagen fund. Whenever her mom grew any extra fat, she had it sucked out and packaged, and sent the packages to Marla.

Marla never has any fat of her own.

It was right then, standing in the kitchen with Marla, that I knew what Tyler had done.

TERRIBLY WRINKLED.

And I knew why he sent chocolates to Marla's mother.

PLEASE HELP ME.

I say, Marla, you don't want to look in the freezer.

Marla says, «What?»

«That stuff,» Tyler says in the car, «is making us a fortune. We paid the rent with that collagen.»

I say, you should've told Marla. Now she thinks I did it.

«Listen,» Tyler says. «We have a big order now. We'll send Marla's mom some more chocolates and probably some cakes.»

I don't think that will work, anymore.

So Marla looked in the free

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