Survivor, by Chuck Palahniuk

I'm going to let you know right up front that Bob and Bertie don't really exist. They are mere figments of my imagination. These brothers are not me, and I am not them; but they wouldn't exist without me.

It's quite a responsibility, let me tell you.

So, from time-to-time it amuses me to help them out of predicaments and moderate their arguments. They're rarely grateful for my assistance, to be completely honest, but I perform this little service anyway. It's only fair.

They are my responsibility, after all.

And that's why the three of us are sitting in the New Deal Cafe. Bob and Bertie are pretty freaked out. I keep trying to explain to them that nothing should cause them so much stress, since they don't really exist and all.

It's not an approach that works, but it's my approach.

What are these imaginary brothers upset about? Once again, it seems they've got a hold of a book.

"I warned you about that," I say. "Which book?" Bertie holds up a silver paperback. I roll my eyes.

"It's disturbing," Bertie says defensively.

I sigh, not inwardly with discretion, but externally, with a gush of wind and the full force of my disdain. Bertie is always disturbed when he reads. Survivor is written by Chuck Palahniuk, who also wrote Fight Club. Personally, I spent the entire book wondering if Tender, the narrator, was going to turn out to really be the girl. Or his twin brother.

"You guys are not twins, you know," I tell Bertie and Bob.

"Well, not identical twins, no," says Bob.

"Bob, Bertie is three years older than you are. That's an awfully long birth process."

The two of them just stare at each other. I go on to remind them that they don't really exist anyway. Oddly enough, this doesn't seem to calm them down any more than the first time I mentioned it.

I have to flounder around a bit trying to figure out what is bothering them. If the twin brother thing isn't it, then it must be the whole work thing. Two of the main characters are stuck with unusual jobs. It's best not to think about Fertility's job, but here is how Tender describes his job:

Part of my job is to preview the menu for a dinner party tonight. This means taking a bus from the house where I work to another big house, and asking some strange cook what they expect everybody to eat. Who I work for doesn't like surprises, so part of my job is telling my employers ahead of time if tonight they'll be asked to eat something difficult like a lobster or an artichoke. If there's anything threatening on the menu, I have to teach them how to eat it right.

"Don't worry," I say, after I get another diet Cricket. "You'll never have a weird job like that. Trust me, I know everything about you."

"A job like that?" Bertie repeats as if the thought of a job had never occurred to him. "Why would we want a job?"

And it's true, a job has never been high on Bertie's list of wants. I decide to let this discussion track fade, because Survivor taught me that knowing too much about your own future can ruin your life. At one point, the narrator rants --

I need my moisturizer. I need to be photographed. I'm not like regular people, to survive I need to be constantly interviewed. I need to be in my natural habitat, on television. I need to run free, signing books.

"Who gave you this book?" I ask gruffly.

"Uh, our friend Heloise," says Bob. Now that makes some sense. The book is full of hints -- like how to cover up a bullet hole in a wall with toothpaste.

"I see. And you're worried that she was trying to send you some kind of message, right?" I lean back and cross my arms. I'm not sure whether to point out that they don't exist, since this is a dicey moment, talking about suicide and all. The book is a virtual love sonnet to suicide. It's on everybody's mind.

A guy's calling to say he's failing Algebra II.

Just as a point of practice, I say, Kill yourself.

A woman calls and says her kids won't behave.

Without missing a beat, I tell her, Kill yourself.

A man calls to say his car won't start.

Kill yourself.

A woman calls to ask what time the movie starts.

Kill yourself.

"Message?" asks Bob. "What kind of message? What's the book about?"

"About? What do you mean 'about'? Haven't you read the thing?" They had not. I have to peel off the label from the bottle of diet Cricket to keep my hands from strangling my progeny. It takes me a moment, but I finally swallow my creator-pride and ask what their problem could possibly be, "Considering," I remind them, "you don't actually exist."

"We can't agree on who gets to read it first," Bob says. I'm so astonished I can't speak. they came to me with such a piddling little problem? How long have they been brothers that they can't work this out on their own? I refuse to do every little thing for them. Sheez.

I must have said some of that out loud, because Bertie turns to Bob and says, "I told you he can't help us." Bob shrugs. "He doesn't really exist."

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