You never expect a zombie to lean over and bite you, so you don’t really notice it before it’s too late and the zombie apocalypse has begun. If you knew, you could easily outrun the slow moving ones. You could just walk a little faster and you’d be fine. The way they get you is that you don’t know that they are coming. The fast moving ones are only a more recent phenomenon. They run at you and will not be stopped by fire or anything else unless you remove the head. But they can’t climb ladders. They don’t think.
One movie I saw supposes that zombies act out of a concentrated form of rage. Other movies focusing on the slow moving zombie variety have them acting more out of apathy, it seems, or is it sympathy, or blindness, etc. Whatever, they are driven. Zombies, though they do not think, or feel presumably—but they do seem to feel hunger—always have a direction. They are always going toward something, people rather. What happens—movies don’t address this—when there are no more humans left? Where do they go then? Will they starve? Have a seat? Begin to think that they may have acted rashly? Become university chairs? Occupy tollbooths?
I don’t like people to know what I eat. It’s too personal. I don’t mind other things. But what I eat, strangers, knowing how many spring rolls I have on a Friday night?
I went to my Aunt Kathryn’s funeral yesterday. I took the train out to Long Island early to drive with my parents to New Jersey. I knew I had to leave early so I didn’t go out the night before. It was Friday though, so I drank a six-pack of tallboys in my apartment and watched The Tonight Show and reread those items I’ve reread so many times already—old e-mails, the messages and replies, the CC’d valentines I sent last February, poems and stories from my favorite books, even though I have a pile of books from the library still to get to. I forget to return them on time and have had to begin selling my books in order to afford the late fees from what I borrow. My apartment is almost empty of what I own, but crowded now with things that don’t belong to me. I dog-ear the pages, though I won’t do this in my own books. I underline lines as if I were writing letters to the person who would find it next on the circulation cart. They will notice what’s important, how “it doesn’t matter that six is not seven,” the way a cab can “yawn to the curb,” and that “it is possible to be happy even in a palace.”
After my will broke, I called the Chinese food delivery for my spring rolls—I broke down you see—and called because I was tired. I don’t like people to know what I eat. It’s too personal. I don’t mind other things. But what I eat, strangers, knowing how many spring rolls I have on a Friday night? I have a number of take out menus accumulating in front of my door. I don’t pick them up, because more will just come later. I stay home all day and can hear them being wedged into the slit between the door and its doorframe. I figure I can pick them up when they stop coming.
I usually call all of them. My phone is portable so I get down low on my knees near the door where the light went out last week. I will change that too, but you know I squint and use a flashlight as I gather the numbers into the phone. I order spring rolls from all over the city! One from each place. I time them; tell them when they must arrive. Two minutes apart from each other. It embarrasses them and me when their visits accidentally overlap. They blush and I blush, and I hope they don’t push me to choose one over the other. Last night I was tired and I broke down and called just the one place. Are we becoming too serious? I won’t call again for at least a week.
I don’t like it when they come to my home so I go and pick up usually. Where I live and what I eat Too much, too fast. I don’t know what they eat. But I was tired and a little lonely so I called them. I ordered more spring rolls than I wanted. I figured I’d eat all but one and put the other in the refrigerator or just throw it out. Then they wouldn’t know everything. Did I want someone to know I was hungry? That I live somewhere and that I eat?
Once they get you underground they can do anything they want to you.
I fell down on the rug and slept; I can sleep anywhere but my bed, so I do. When the buzzer sounded I had forgotten that I was hungry and couldn’t think of who it was, but that flowers might be delivered which I could not eat. I said, “Who is it?” over the intercom and stepped outside my door to meet it. I ate a spring roll. I put another into a glass vase, filled it with water and displayed it on my coffee table.
I was tired when I got out to Long Island, after they charged me too much—two dollars—for a Coke at Penn Station. I gasped and muttered, but I already knew the price. Once they get you underground they can do anything they want to you.
I read three Barthelme stories from the book I haven’t sold yet. Is it mine if I know I will lose that too? My heart was beating fast from the caffeine, and the six-pack from last night, and a week of so much smiling and laughing. I thought: I can’t go on like this, and my heart raced with the idea of how I might be killing myself. I tried to calm down and breathe, but I felt like I often do these days when I come to a morning that has to be different than yesterday – the breathing difficult. I think I forget to breathe sometimes. And I gasp suddenly. Often, I can’t sleep. I wake up with a violent shake and gasp. I think when I sleep I stop breathing and this wakes me.
In the car on the way out to New Jersey I tell my parents all the good things that are happening to me because I don’t want them to worry. There are never very many things, so I repeat myself, “Yeah, great news!” worried we’ll run out of conversation.
I read stories in the backseat next to my brother, Teddie, who has things to say. I read three or four, and think about the rain and the sky. There is one story about Zombies who will weep on you if they catch you. I read this because I like zombies. I think the myth must come from those afflicted with rabies. They will bite you if they are not treated. Teddie says that Internet dating is not so bad. Teddie says his company is taking off. Teddie says loudly that the weather is fine.
We talk about politics, but I have nothing to add. I read a section of my book aloud, from a story about capitalism. “’The first thing I did was make a mistake. I thought I had understood capitalism, but what I had done was assume an attitude—melancholy sadness—toward it. This attitude is not correct. Fortunately your letter came, at that instant. ‘Dear Rupert, I love you every day. You are the world, which is life. I love you I adore you I am crazy about you. Love, Marta.’ Reading between the lines I understood your critique of my attitude toward capitalism.’” No one says anything. “Socialism is all about the benevolent dictator,” my father says. He does not believe in God.
In the funeral home my mother talks about heaven, but she’s said in the past how unrealistic it all is. I’ve flown through the clouds, she says. Where is heaven? I haven’t seen it. Am I lost? If you ask for directions, people will point you anywhere. I sent people to China for deviled eggs yesterday.
“They are all together dancing,” my cousin Thalia says. “Aunt Margaret, and Grandma, and Laksh and Kathryn.” “I see them playing cards. Gin-rummy,” I say. Is heaven a story? Is that why I like stories? “Drinking coffee,” Thalia adds. “Grandma is having a beer and wearing her sunglasses,” I can see her. “The steak here is terrible,” Grandma complains.
Kathryn is wearing a pink cardigan with a white scalloped collar. Her face is still. Her eyelids are still. Her hands don’t fidget. She does not shake. At Thanksgiving, growing up, I could never look at her during dinner. Her hands shook violently when she brought the food to her mouth and her face shook in the opposite direction and it made me laugh. I knew I wasn’t supposed to laugh, but it made me laugh.
I hate this room. The flowers. The chairs in rows. To look at someone, their body when they don’t know they’re being watched. To look at someone absent. I don’t like to cry in front of other people. Are we here to cry? Is that why we’ve gathered? There is no organization. I look at her after trying not to look. I see her sitting up suddenly, not shaking at all. Her eyes are wide and she is a monster who will weep on me.
Abraham, Thalia’s boy, he is five, and he smiles confusedly. His eyes crinkle in his face—am I supposed to smile now the way I do for pictures? I smile too. I think my face does not belong to me. A woman, her friend Helen, takes pictures. It is the second funeral for her that day. She gets a close-up. In the lobby she gets a picture of all of us. Good, good, a group photo. We are all wearing black and the rooms seem to have dust all over them. I heard two days ago that dust is 90% dead skin. I am afraid to sit down here. There is something horrible about the cushions. When does one take these pictures out? Do you keep them in your wallet next to pictures of your grandchildren? Bring them out over coffee?
The sound of the camera being wound. The flash across my father’s crying face behind the podium next to Kathryn laid down. She taught him to swim, he says. That he was afraid, but she took him out deep, and he was never afraid again. The camera flashes. The priest blinks. Kathryn took pictures at her husband’s funeral two years ago. Helen wheeled her around to see his face at different angles. What are we recording? Here, let’s have another one gathered around the body. ‘Behave, this is your life!’ some people say. Is there a right way to be? When someone has to stop speaking to compose himself, when they stand there for a very long time, and his chin shakes, do you watch or are you supposed to look away, down?
We went to Friendly’s after for dinner and ice cream. It was a small group who hadn’t seen each other since the last funeral. I tutored Abraham in the eating of sundaes, and asked him if he felt it was a problem that he had caterpillars instead of eyebrows. I explained about caterpillars cocooning and then becoming butterflies. And I told him to be careful, that he might wake up and have nothing drawing lines between his forehead and his eyes, but just look around the room and find two fluttery things chasing each other in the air above him. He said it wasn’t true. I advised him just the same, “You should probably sleep with your hands over your forehead. Just in case.”
Abraham told me secrets and told me to tell my mother who sat next to me. “I can’t,” I said after he finished whispering in my ear, “Then it won’t be a secret!”
He told me that had nothing to do with it.
“The secret is,” I began repeating, “that Abraham has knuckles on his head, and an apple in his brain, and when he went swimming yesterday, he left his teeth in the pool.”
He laughed and said, “Nooo!” That was no longer the secret. “Nooo, there is a new one.”
“Well, tell me,” I insisted, but he told me I had to guess if I wanted to know.
I hide things sometimes, and then put it out of my mind. When I find my stapler behind the couch a month later I am surprised, and I feel less lonely.
I fell asleep in the two-hour drive on the way home. It was raining and dark and Teddie went in the other car; Abraham needed help with a puzzle. We decided before we left to have Thanksgiving all together this year. We never have before because we don’t belong together. We don’t belong to each other. Kathryn was gone, and life spins out. Does anyone belong together? “That’s a wonderful Idea!” Helen had another funeral tomorrow. Abraham and Thalia were going back to California.
“The pictures!” my mother gossiped. “Really!” I heard her say to my father outraged, before I drifted into sleep along the New Jersey Turnpike. “Your mother is turning into such a gossip in her old age,” my father says. Does gossip hold us close? Do you like it when your ears ring?
I took the train in at night, and I finished the story about the zombies. I looked away from people when they looked at me. My friend was visiting Manhattan this weekend, a man I dated once a year ago. We had been to see a horror movie. I told him I didn’t love him then. I said it over and over again, with him beneath me. I cried when he didn’t call the next day. I wrote him a message on the train—“I’m on a train nearing New York City. Reading Barthelme stories and looking out the window. One story is about zombies who will weep on you if they catch you. What are you doing? Are you standing under an awning? Has the rain made your pizza wet?”
I got wet on my walk from the subway. My apartment was as messy as I had left it. Living alone is not so easy sometimes, coming home to a room where nothing has changed, nothing has been moved, and everything belongs to you. I hide things sometimes, and then put it out of my mind. When I find my stapler behind the couch a month later I am surprised, and I feel less lonely. I got into bed. The rain beat hard at the windows and sometimes crashed the broken screen into the sill, waking me. I gasped. I had forgotten to breathe again.
I dreamt of zombies. They were chasing me and I couldn’t close the door fast enough. I couldn’t get my hands on the doorknob in time, because my hands were shaking terribly. If you can just close the door, they can’t get you. Zombies can’t open doors. They chased me around the house; it was the house I grew up in. I got a plastic turtle on wheels when I was five for Christmas, and I had raced it through the rooms on a string. Past Grandma, and Cousin Thalia, and Aunt Margaret, and Uncle Laksh and Kathryn. She yelled at me to stop whizzing by her when I cut her off. In my dream I got so tired, and the zombies were so fast. They were small too, the size of children, but fast. I was too tired to run anymore, so I held out my hand to one and offered him a bite.