(Heat Death: On The Walking Dead and the zombie apocalypse)
The heat death of the universe is more likely than zombies. In all actuality we won’t learn how an axe helve feels when the apocalypse comes. Apocalypse means unveiling anyway, a revelation that will change everything. Just like how, in every end of the world scenario, on TV, in films, books, society’s the same, or it degenerates, slowly at first, until only the women are cooking, and the men are killing, catching, skinning, the sorts of things traditionally we were meant for, if history books are in fact true and not propaganda selling us a sense of home or belonging or substance. Apparently when the world ends every woman peels carrots, puts intricate creases in bed sheets like people might notice, even though in most incarnations of the end times nobody washes their hands after touching corpses, doesn’t think blood from infected parties shouldn’t stay on like blusher, mascara, where it’s accidentally or, sometimes, serendipitously splattered. And decisions are men’s.
The pack mentality is present. The alphas, the betas and a whole mess of gammas. Everyone’s supposed to know their place in this community, to circle the vulnerable, to keep moving, to create a whirlpool in the centre that spirals down to safety. But no-one’s asked who’s good at what; who can run, build, wash, dry, rub, tend. And if you’re out of formation you’re lost, swallowed, suffocated, turned inside out. Aggression’s catching, indiscriminate, there’s no philosophising it. It’s rooted like rot, like mistletoe.
The women need guérrilla tactics.
If they expelled the men then maybe they could hear the wasps chewing the wood of the barn to mulch, spitting paper into the nest to add another layer of protection. Maybe they could follow this low buzz to a nest, smoke out the hive and collect the honey, smear it golden on the backs of their brown hands, glue wounds together with it, trap things with it, gather round and praise it. They’d hush the cicadas with a finger to their lips to hear a footstep a mile off and know to listen not to ignore. In this way maybe they could belong, like the red spots behind sun-shot eyelids, like the comfort of tinnitus.
But without them, without him, she’d miss the sharp edges of his jaw, the way he pushes the seat back in his jeep so she can straddle him better, his action versus her inaction. It’s all sex-and-death, sex-and-someone’s-death, sex-and-a-little-death, sex-to-avoid-death. Sometimes a cliché’s worth carrying, like a handgun in a purse.
Andrea knows she’s homeless. Her home exists somewhere but changed so much she wouldn’t fit back into it, like her high school clothes or book group. She equips herself with guns, wants to know how to hold one accurately from the outset and is mostly mocked for this. The other women make a meal out of cooking, make a show of chopping vegetables without a board, using a thumb as a guard like their mothers used to, peeling towards not away, not slicing like TV chefs, while she keeps watch outside, checking boundaries, fences, wishing her eyesight was what it was in the nineties, a decade she fit in snugly, like ice cubes in ice cube trays.
Before the end started, happened, came, she was a legal secretary, doesn’t miss it, it never defined her, and she didn’t think a situation, group or a place would give her such a hard time as this. Because the research suggests women aren’t cut out for the end times and how is that not terrifying? Why is it assumed if there’s one place women won’t fit it’s in combat, when the world burns, if attack is imminent? Aren’t we past this?
Like rain sounding right on the roves of summerhouses, the plethora of horror films Andrea watched as a teenager seem right, like research, preparation, same as reading the Bible from start to finish in a year. Instead she started with the Scream movies, worked her way back through franchises until she understood what it is to survive, and nobody learnt that watching Dirty Dancing, 27 Dresses. There are some precious rules that she keeps close, like keep fit, shoot twice without blinking, don’t do anything daft like stop to play a piano in an abandoned house because you’d like to hear the out of tune keys clanging and think about how there’ll never be a chance to learn now, how Chopin might be lost forever and all we’re left with is 4’33”on repeat.
But she’s not sentimental for long, could survive under the floorboards of a house for months if she had to, or predict with relative accuracy which shops were worth looting, and which had been picked off already by the undead, and the alive, who are dangerous like archetypal villains in the films she knows better than Shakespeare. And she still prays for a world ending eclipse (the movie Eclipse doesn’t count, although the world’s a little darker because of it) or a comet on its own course, because every predictable thing falls foul to chaos some time, calculations can’t help all decision making, like Snickers or Mars? In that moment, if it’s a choice between dry-panic and calm, she’ll be calm, because depression gathers everything up into a fine point like a statement of intent, ‘this is it.’ Over. Done.
(Originally appeared online in Friction Magazine and Journal, April 26th 2012. Co-written with Laura Tansley)