We don’t talk about fight club

That summer, I ran every day.

The mist hung heavy in the mornings on the path by the river, and the moisture stuck in my eyelashes and mixed with sweat in the creases around my nose. I finished every run soaked and shivering. The chill stayed with me all day, a damp tiredness flowing from my shoulders to the soles of my feet, saturating my veins.

My mother didn’t want me to run there alone, in the cold dark before dawn. “Take the dog, at least,” she begged, and so Hermes ran with me, his gold fur sparkling with dewdrops like tiny diamonds. At first he ran fast, with puppyish abandon, but he slowed to a jog and a reluctant walk as I led him on, and on, and on. By the end of my ten-mile loop, I was dragging him by his leash. The diamonds fell from the shaggy fur covering his belly, and from the tip of his downturned nose.

Once — only once — I ran with Hermes in the afternoon. The mist had vanished. The sun beat hot on the rough asphalt of the river path. The big golden dog ran slower and slower, walked, and finally lay down. Frustrated, I dragged him to his feet. He padded along mournfully until a little girl on a tricycle called out to me. “Your dog is bleeding!”

I wheeled. Sure enough, a rust-red trail spun out in our wake. I ran back to Hermes, lagging at the end of his leash, and gently lifted each of his paws. My hands shook. On the front-left paw, I found a deep flap of skin that had blistered and torn loose against the hot asphalt. We were three miles from the car.

Hermes had to run back. I would have carried him, but he weighed every ounce as much as I did. We jogged very slowly, side by side, Hermes favoring the paw heavily but never making a sound. I stumbled, wracked with sobs.


That summer, I wore a white ribbed tank top in the style coarsely referred to as a “wifebeater”. I was skinny as a rail and had no breasts to speak of. Where the lightweight fabric should have stretched over the curves of my chest, it instead fell in on itself, the ribbing collapsing like a buckling shield.

When my parents went out on a Friday night, leaving me alone in the house, I’d buy a liter of Diet Sprite and fix myself a bowl each of popcorn and tomato salad. I’d sit on the couch in the den and put Fight Club in the DVD player. I’d watch Brad Pitt and Edward Norton hit each other again, and again, and again.

I want you to hit me as hard as you can.

The first rule of fight club is. You don’t talk about fight club.

It’s a movie about guys who want to hit something. But to me, it was always a movie about the guy who wanted to get hit.

You don’t talk about fight club.

I sat in front of the TV, entranced, and wondered — should we talk about fight club? I slowly chewed my thumbnail. When I reached for another handful of popcorn, the sting of salt against raw skin told me that I’d chewed it until it bled.


That summer, it rained only once.

I was out on the river path with Hermes. The healing skin on his paw was still pale, almost translucent. He never complained, although he seemed to me to step more lightly on that foot, shifting his weight just a little to the right. I might have imagined it.

The storm came suddenly when the sun breached the horizon, so that the light teased the sky for barely a moment before vanishing in cloud. Within seconds rain swept against my face, washing away the sweat. Water ran into my eyes. Blind, I tripped over Hermes’ leash and sprawled on the asphalt, and a sharp pain laced my elbow. Something trickled down my arm, something slower and more viscous than water, mingling with the rain on the back of my wrist.

I didn’t get up. Or, rather, I sat up, but I didn’t stand. Battered and dripping, I gathered my feet beneath me and hunched cross-legged in the path. Through the swirling haze I extended my fingers, and a fist-size shape rose to meet them — a shape at once soft and rough, warm and cool, scorched and damp.

Hermes and I sat together in the rain. We held hands, and his new pink skin grew sticky with the blood running into my palm.

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