Porrim says, “You’re all smart, or you wouldn’t be here. Stupid girls make different mistakes, and you’re all smart, brave, beautiful, proud, ambitious. The world was set out in front of you and you were told, ‘go get it’, and you’re working on that, or you wouldn’t be here. You were told be strong, and sweet, and bold, and humble, and a million other impossible things all at once, all the time, but you still gotta smile for the goddamn cameras because you’re a twenty-first century princess and you can have it all, if you’re good enough. Yeah? That’s you, isn’t it? And you’re sick of it. You’re sick that that’s you. Or why would you be here?”
She’s six feet tall, Porrim Maryam, long arms, long legs, long hair, muscled like an Amazon that has seen some shit. Her lip’s split, her thin nose crooked, one of her eyes clouded grey-blue and the other still a brilliant, burning green. When she sneers you can see the blood limning each tooth in a rusty, disgusting red, and the flash of gold on her canines. She sneers a lot.
And then there’s you: five foot two, a thickset build you’re always struggling to keep from running straight to fat, professional short business haircut, professional short business nails. You’re not heir to the largest fortune 500 company, but it’s not the smallest either, and you’re twenty-one and you’re really goddamn tired of smiling for the goddamn cameras.
Porrim says, “If this is your first night at Fight Club, you have to fight.”
And she looks at you.
No shirt, no shoes. No blouse or two-piece business suit, no heels no pumps no sandals. You came to this dirty basement in sneakers and a t-shirt, and you shuck them off, walk bare-shouldered into the ring. No rules about bras: the book was about men, wasn’t it? Even Bob and his bitchtits.
Someone should have gone bra shopping for Bob. Instead, they buried him.
Porrim says, “Fight Club is a pathetic attempt at deconstructing the patriarchal dictum that might makes right. It contradicts itself in methodology and rhetoric, it employs a nearly incoherent pastiche of violent tropes and ultimately offers the very audience it’s trying to talk to a perfect reason not to listen. The story lays out this appealingly self-indulgent ideology where you can shed all responsibility for the disaster you’ve made of yourself. Fight Club has become one more bullshit stone-age power fantasy for sad boys who want to blame their mothers for not enjoying the men they grew up to become, who want to think that if the world ended tomorrow it would make them all free instead of dead. The zombie apocalypse crowd. The fucking meninists.” And she spits on the ground. It slaps wetly against the cement.
She says, “Fight Club is about how kindness is what builds a better world out of the one we’ve got. And it’s about how men would rather buy into the most self-destructive bullshit ideology rather than having to face up to the fact that being a good person is hard.”
She says, “But you know what? I want in on that.”
She says, “Why should men get all the fun?”
You keep your bra on. Porrim takes your hands and shows you how to tape your knuckles, then goes and shows the other girl, a skinny blonde, all big bright smile and bones, the kind you want to sit down next to and feed a sandwich and ask what’s wrong. She takes her neon-pink victoria’s secret bra off and her chest is flat as anything, all the padding dropped away in a handful of rhinestones and polyester.
“I’m Roxy,” she says.
“I’m going to kick your butt, missy,” you say, and she giggles— no. She laughs, a sharp high cackle, joyous and free, and you think you like her.
Porrim says, “You’re all feminists, aren’t you? Or Humanists. Egalitarian. You want truth, justice, and some kind of better American way. Someone in your life told you to work hard, to keep your head up, to admire the first woman astronaut, the first woman CEO, the first woman olympic gold medalist, the first woman president. At night when you try and sleep the queens of the past all sit around and judge you.”
She says, “This is not tai-bo, ladies. You are not getting in touch with your inner goddess, you are not fondling your inner lioness. This is not a landmark seminar, you are not stepping up. Down here we’re not about saving the world or forming some cute little interdependent sisterhood.”
She says, “We’re here to destroy each other.” And when she grins, her teeth are blood and gold.
You haven’t taken tai-bo. But you’ve had a few years of mixed-martial arts, a few sessions of ladies’ self-defense. Your dad likes boxing, so you know the basics. You do yoga every morning, you go jogging. Sometimes in stockholder meetings you look around the room and wonder how many of the men you could take, if you just stood up, if you flipped the table and howled like a wolf, if you put your fist in the face of next dry old prune in a suit who calls you sweetheart.
You think that probably every woman here has the same resume. Has been waiting, all their lives, for one good excuse to haul off and hurt someone. You think probably every woman here could kick Tyler Durden’s ass, and would love to.
“'Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult,’” Porrim quotes, pacing the dirty cement like a panther, her lip twisted up with contempt. She spits and says, “Fuck that fake-ass faux-empowerment cutsie-wootsie female superiority crap. Fuck anyone who tells you that you can’t be seen sweating or hating or crying or pissing or spitting blood on the foot of whoever kicked you— you notice men and women both don’t wanna let you be human? Everyone wants us to be their goddamn dream. Everyone wants us to be their goddamn doll. Fuck them. Fuck all of them. And fuck each of you pretty little bitches, too.”
After Roxy has comprehensively proven to have taken several more years of martial arts and self-defense and boxing than you have, you tap out. She laughs and kisses your cheek and throws her arms in the air like a wrestling champion as she bounces off to highfive all the other the watching women, and you lay on the cool grit of the concrete and laugh too, breathless and more than a little crazed. Hysterical, you think, and laugh harder.
Porrim says, “Good fight,” as she peels you off the floor, and slaps you on the shoulder right where a bad fall scraped you raw. Her fingers come away wet and pink, and you feel like a hundred and fifty pounds of mincemeat and you can’t stop grinning. You lost, you got your butt handed to you by ninety pounds of barbie doll, you got totaled. It felt great.
Two more women walk into the ring.
Porrim says, “I’m not your savior, I’m not your hero, I’m not your mom, I’m not here to help you out. I’m not looking to be your radical feminist Tyler Durden. I’m here because I’m mad as hell and I want to punch some people in the face, and you suckers fell for it.”
There’s laughter, and you laugh too, and so does Porrim— at herself, at all of you— and she takes her bra off and steps into the ring. One of her nipples is pierced with gold barbells and the other’s hidden under an x of bandaids. Where her skin isn’t a patchwork of green and purple bruises she’s so pale the bandaids look orange and she’s beautiful, actually, she’s the most beautiful woman in the room.
Someone goes out and fights her, someone who’s been here before, and you couldn’t give a damn about them if someone had a gun to your head. All you can see is Porrim, fighting. Porrim made of shadows and glitter in the harsh white overhead light, Porrim looking like an avenging angel as she swings out with her fists, the kind of angel made of wings and fangs and divine flame.
“Mother of god,” someone says beside you, quietly. Maybe Roxy, though she might be the girl on the other side of you going “holy shit.”
Your mouth is dry and your skin is slick with sweat, crawling with it. You hurt all over and you’re starting to come down from the fight, the endorphin euphoria, as your body goes what the heck was that!? and you start to shake. Porrim finishes the last fight of the night while you stand there with everyone else, and you scream like a wild thing. You scream like the world is ending and you’ll all be dead tomorrow.
Later, while putting your shirt back on, thinking about how you’re going to get home like this, Porrim comes up and hooks a finger into the back clasp of your bra.
“Hey,” she says.
“Hi,” you say.
“That was a good fight,” she says.
“Thanks,” you say.
She says, “D’you wanna fuck? There’s rooms upstairs.”
Then you can’t say anything, over the rush of blood in your ears and the sharp hot throb in your split lip, your bruised throat, your rapidly dampening panties. You nod, wide-eyed and eager, and hold her hand as she goes up a set of stairs you haven’t seen anyone use.
The building’s empty, abandoned, but there’s a mattress in a corner of a room a few flights up, there’s a storm lantern and a crate of books and a blanket, bloodstains across the green leaf pattern like autumn come early. Porrim skins out of her jeans, stretches out her back with a moan. She lies back and pats the blanket, and where her hand touches another spot of blood drips and blooms. You take off your pants and your panties, and you like the way she looks up at your naked body. It makes you feel wild and shy, all at once.
“Come and have a go, if you think you’re hard enough,” she says, and smiles a different sort of smile, a sweet one.
That breaks the last of your hesitation, and you follow her eagerly across the mattress, let her cup your face in cold fingers and kiss you— and you’d expected this to be another fight, brutal and fierce, but she’s so soft. She licks slowly into your mouth and runs her fingers down your back, light enough to tease, and when you brush your thumb over her nipple piercing she moans and pushes up into your hand.
You can tease her, it turns out, you can suck on her lips, kiss her throat, skim across her breasts, tangle your legs together and feel the wet heat as she grinds against your thigh. She responds to every touch, every soft little stroke, shivering and squirming, gasping, as if helpless against the least little bit of pleasure. She’s flatteringly loud when you get a hand down between her legs: when you draw a careful fingertip across her clit she throws her head back and cries “Yeah, yes, please—” before tangling her fingers into your short hair and kissing you, a litany of yes, yes, more, oh fuck, sunk into your mouth as you work fingers up into her, as you pump in and out of her soft hole until her slick’s dripping down your wrist and she shakes apart with a gorgeous scream. It's nothing like the sound she makes in pain, but she's still so beautiful.
“You gonna roll over and go to sleep?” you ask, as she lies there panting and shivering, but you’re proud of yourself.
“Fuck you, bitch,” she says, breathlessly, and reaches out. “You’ll get yours. C’mere.”
Afterwards, the two of you hold one another.
“Did you know," she says, eventually, "you can sell people the most toxic version of love there is out there, and they’ll buy it all up and thank you for it. I don’t know why. But you can. Do you wanna smoke?”
“God, yes,” you say. She inserts a cigarette in between your index and middle finger and lights it from a matchbook, then lights her own from the tip of yours.
You’ve never smoked in bed before— you’ve hardly ever even smoked indoors before. But Porrim lies back and smokes and burns holes in the blanket in between drags, stitching a neat line along the edge of a leaf. You mostly just try not to fall asleep.
“I’m probably going to fuck someone else next week,” she says, and looks at you challengingly. “Even if you show up again.”
You snort. “Miss Fight Club, I don’t know how to break this to you nicely but you’re not exactly dating material.”
She laughs, bright and startled— pleased, you think, and she grins at you.
“Show up again, Jane Doe,” she says, slinging an arm around your chest. “Stick around.”
You walk into the next business meeting in shirt, skirt, shoes, all professional, all clean and neat. Split lip under the lipstick. Black eye under the eyeshadow. The clear kind of bandaids that match your skin tone.
You sit down at the head of the table and everyone’s staring. All these professional men, and here and there a few professional women.
“Ms Crocker,” says one of the women, hesitantly. “Are you alright?”
“Never better,” you say brightly, laying out your binders and folders.
“What happened?” says one of the men. Last week he told you that you were a very bright girl and you reminded him of his own daughters and he patted you on the shoulder. You had said gosh, thank you, sir, while calculating in your head how many years it would be until you could fire him.
This week everyone in the room watches your mouth as you lick the blood from your waterproof stayfast carmine lipstick. You tap the papers in your hand into a neat stack and lay them flat, your raw-knuckled hands spread dark across the white paper.
“The first rule of Fight Club, sir, is that you don’t talk about Fight Club,” you say, and smile with pink teeth.