you pull up your upper lip--when you show that one top tooth, the one
the museum guard broke--this is your levator labii superioris muscle at
work. Your sneer muscle. Let's pretend you smell some old stale urine.
Imagine your husband's just killed himself in your family car. Imagine
you have to go out and sponge his piss out of the driver's seat. Pretend
you still have to drive this stinking rusted junk pile to work, with everyone
watching, everyone knowing, because it's the only car you have.
Does any of this ring a bell?
When a normal person, some normal innocent person who sure as hell deserved
a lot better, when she comes home from waiting tables all day and finds
her husband suffocated in the family car, his bladder leaking, and she
screams, this is simply her orbicularis oris stretched to the very limit.
That deep crease from each corner of your mouth to your nose is your nasolabial
fold. Sometimes called your "sneer pocket." As you age, the
little round cushion of fat inside your cheek, the official anatomy word
is malar fat pad, it slides lower and lower until it comes to rest against
your nasolabial fold--making your face a permanent sneer.
This is just a little refresher course. A little step-by-step.
Just a little brushing up. In case you don't recognize yourself.
Now frown. This is your triangularis muscle pulling down the corners of
your orbicularis oris muscle.
Pretend you're a twelve-year-old girl who loved her father like crazy.
You're a little preteen girl who needs her dad more than ever before.
Who counted on her father always to be there. Imagine you go to bed crying
every night, your eyes clamped shut so hard they swell.
The "orange peel" texture of your chin, these "popply"
bumps are caused by your mentalis muscle. Your "pouting" muscle.
Those frown lines you see every morning, getting deeper, running from
each corner of your mouth down to the edge of your chin, those are called
marionette lines. The wrinkles between your eyebrows, they're glabellar
The way your swollen eyelids sag down is called ptosis. Your lateral canthal
rhytides, your "crow's-feet," are worse every day and you're
only twelve fucking years old for God's sake.
Don't pretend you don't know what this is about.
This is your face.
Now, smile--if you still can.
This is your zygomatic major muscle. Each contraction pulls your flesh
apart the way tiebacks hold open the drapes in your living room window.
The way cables pull aside a theater curtain, your every smile is an opening
night. A premiere. You unveiling yourself.
Now, smile the way an elderly mother would when her only son kills himself.
Smile and pat the hand of his wife and his preteen daughter and tell them
not to worry--everything really will work out for the best. Just keep
smiling and pin up your long gray hair. Go play bridge with your old lady
friends. Powder your nose.
That huge horrible wad of fat you see hanging under your chin, your jowls,
getting bigger and jigglier every day, that's submental fat. That crinkly
ring of wrinkles around your neck is a platysmal band. The whole slow
slide of your face, your chin and neck is caused by gravity dragging down
on your superficial musculo-aponeurotic system.
If you're a little confused right now, relax. Don't worry. All you need
to know is this is your face. This is what you think you know best.
These are the three layers of your skin.
These are the three women in your life.
The epidermis, the dermis, and the fat.
Your wife, your daughter, and your mother.
If you're reading this, welcome back to reality. This is where all that
glorious, unlimited potential of your youth has led. All that unfulfilled
promise. Here's what you've done with your life.
Your name is Peter Wilmot.
All you need to understand is you turned out to be one sorry sack of shit.
A woman calls from Seaview to say her linen closet is missing. Last September,
her house had six bedrooms, two linen closets. She's sure of it. Now she's
only got one. She comes to open her beach house for the summer. She drives
out from the city with the kids and the nanny and the dog, and here they
are with all their luggage, and all their towels are gone. Disappeared.
Her voice on the answering machine, the way her voice screeches up, high,
until it's an air-raid siren by the end of every sentence, you can tell
she's shaking mad, but mostly she's scared. She says, "Is this some
kind of joke? Please tell me somebody paid you to do this."
Her voice on the machine, she says, "Please, I won't call the police.
Just put it back the way it was, okay?"
Behind her voice, faint in the background, you can hear a boy's voice
The woman, away from the phone, she says, "Everything's going to
She says, "Now let's not panic."
The weather today is an increasing trend toward denial.
Her voice on the answering machine, she says, "Just call me back,
She leaves her phone number. She says, "Please . . ."
Picture the way a little kid would draw a fish bone--the skeleton of a
fish, with the skull at one end and the tail at the other. The long spine
in between, it's crossed with rib bones. It's the kind of fish skeleton
you'd see in the mouth of a cartoon cat.
Picture this fish as an island covered with houses. Picture the kind of
castle houses that a little girl living in a trailer park would draw—big
stone houses, each with a forest of chimneys, each a mountain range of
different rooflines, wings and towers and gables, all of them going up
and up to a lightning rod at the top. Slate roofs. Fancy wrought-iron
fences. Fantasy houses, lumpy with bay windows and dormers. All around
them, perfect pine trees, rose gardens, and red brick sidewalks.
The bourgeois daydreams of some poor white trash kid.
The whole island was exactly what a kid growing up in some trailer park--say
some dump like Tecumseh Lake, Georgia--would dream about. This kid would
turn out all the lights in the trailer while her mom was at work. She'd
lie down flat on her back, on the matted-down orange shag carpet in the
living room. The carpet smelling like somebody stepped in a dog pile.
The orange melted black in spots from cigarette burns. The ceiling was
water-stained. She'd fold her arms across her chest, and she could picture
life in this kind of place. It would be that time--late at night--when
your ears reach out for any sound. When you can see more with your eyes
closed than open.
The fish skeleton. From the first time she held a crayon, that's what
The whole time this kid's growing up, maybe her mom was never home. She
never knew her dad, and maybe her mom worked two jobs. One at a shitty
fiberglass insulation factory, one slopping food in a hospital cafeteria.
Of course, this kid dreams of a place like this island, where nobody works
except to keep house and pick wild blueberries and beachcomb. Embroider
handkerchiefs. Arrange flowers. Where every day doesn't start with an
alarm clock and end with the television. She's imagined these houses,
every house, every room, the carved edge of each fireplace mantel. The
pattern in every parquet floor. Imagined it out of thin air. The curve
of each light fixture or faucet. Every tile, she could picture. Imagine
it, late at night. Every wallpaper pattern. Every shingle and stairway
and downspout, she's drawn it with pastels. Colored it with crayons. Every
brick sidewalk and boxwood hedge, she's sketched it. Filled in the red
and green with watercolors. She's seen it, pictured it, dreamed of it.
She's wanted it so bad.
Since as early as she could pick up a pencil, this was all she ever drew.
Picture this fish with the skull pointed north and the tail south. The
spine is crossed with sixteen rib bones, running east and west. The skull
is the village square, with the ferryboat coming and going from the harbor
that's the fish's mouth. The fish's eye would be the hotel, and around
it, the grocery store, the hardware supply, the library and church.
She painted the streets with ice in the bare trees. She painted it with
birds coming back, each gathering beach grass and pine needles to build
a nest. Then, with foxgloves in bloom, taller than people. Then with even
taller sunflowers. Then with the leaves spiraling down and the ground
under them lumpy with walnuts and chestnuts.
She could see it so clear. She could picture every room, inside every
And the more she could imagine this island, the less she liked the real
world. The more she could imagine the people, the less she liked any real
people. Especially not her own hippie mom, always tired and smelling like
French fries and cigarette smoke.
It got until Misty Kleinman gave up on ever being a happy person. Everything
was ugly. Everyone was crass and just . . . wrong.
Her name was Misty Kleinman.
In case she's not around when you read this, she was your wife. In case
you're not just playing dumb--your poor wife, she was born Misty Marie
The poor idiot girl, when she was drawing a bonfire on the beach, she
could taste ears of corn and boiled crabs. Drawing the herb garden of
one house, she could smell the rosemary and thyme.
Still, the better she could draw, the worse her life got--until nothing
in her real world was good enough. It got until she didn't belong anywhere.
It got so nobody was good enough, refined enough, real enough. Not the
boys in high school. Not the other girls. Nothing was as real as her imagined
world. This got until she was going to student counseling and stealing
money from her mom's purse to spend on dope.
So people wouldn't say she was crazy, she made her life about the art
instead of the visions. Really, she just wanted the skill to record them.
To make her imagined world more and more accurate. More real.
And in art school, she met a boy named Peter Wilmot. She met you, a boy
from a place called Waytansea Island.
And the first time you see the island, coming from anyplace else in the
entire world, you think you're dead. You're dead and gone to heaven, safe
The fish's spine is Division Avenue. The fish's ribs are streets, starting
with Alder, one block south of the village square. Next is Birch Street,
Cedar Street, Dogwood, Elm, Fir, Gum, Hornbeam, all of them alphabetical
until Oak and Poplar Streets, just before the fish's tail. There, the
south end of Division Avenue turns to gravel, and then mud, then disappears
into the trees of Waytansea Point.
This isn't a bad description. That's how the harbor looks when you arrive
for the first time on the ferryboat from the mainland. Narrow and long,
the harbor looks like the mouth of a fish, waiting to gobble you up in
a story from the Bible.
You can walk the length of Division Avenue, if you've got all day. Have
breakfast at the Waytansea Hotel and then walk a block south, past the
church on Alder Street. Past the Wilmot house, the only house on East
Birch, with sixteen acres of lawn going right down to the water. Past
the Burton house on East Juniper Street. The woodlots dense with oaks,
each tree twisted and tall as a moss-covered lightning bolt. The sky above
Division Avenue, in summer it's green with dense, shifting layers of maple
and oak and elm leaves.
You come here for the first time, and you think all your hopes and dreams
have come true. Your life will end happily ever after.
The point is, for a kid who's only ever lived in a house with wheels under
it, this looks like the special safe place where she'll live, loved and
cared for, forever.
For a kid who used to sit on shag carpet with a box of colored pencils
or crayons and draw pictures of these houses, houses she'd never seen.
Just pictures of the way she imagined them with their porches and stained-glass
windows. For this little girl to one day see these houses for real. These
exact houses. Houses she thought she'd only ever imagined . . .
Since the first time she could draw, little Misty Marie knew the wet secrets
of the septic tanks behind each house. She knew the wiring inside their
walls was old, cloth-wrapped for insulation and strung through china tubes
and along china posts. She could draw the inside of every front door,
where every island family marked the names and height of each child.
Even from the mainland, from the ferry dock in Long Beach, across three
miles of salt water, the island looks like paradise. The pines so dark
green they look black, the waves breaking against the brown rocks, it's
like everything she could ever want. Protected. Quiet and alone.
Nowadays, this is how the island looks to a lot of people. A lot of rich
from Diary by Chuck Palahniuk Copyright© 2003 by Chuck Palahniuk.
Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.