(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.
I wanted this character dead since I met her, put bets on her dying, said end of season two, first episode season three at the latest, but I lost both. Jack said, “You’re wrong, they won’t kill her,” but the denomination he was raised in didn’t dwell on death marks like mine did, all of them, Evangelical, Baptist, Catholic. I could see the shadow like badly applied liner, foundation gathering in skin folds, dry from the lack of butter.
I was sure that once all tenuous ties were umbilical clipped – crudely – and who she’d fucked and hadn’t fucked and fucked at the exact right time and lied, was inconsequential as siblings set loose into other dictatorships, she’d expire like margarine, quicker than you think, actually.
And Jack was the hope cutter, before incisions, saying, “She dies anyway, in the comics,” and the teetering of the will or won’t, and any pre-wrought shock was instead eventuality.
Three episodes off, I was right, and Jack just won’t except that. He’s steel when it comes to board games.
I’ve observed you, closer than kids’ nits, the overseeing of the erection of a building. Each twitch is the unsolved sum in the back of the maths’ book I didn’t take seriously at 16 because the boys next to me were note ready, asking questions of me like, “Go to Southampton with me?” And sure I went, but not before a toilet vomit, a nerve-shaft-splinter.
And you are the eccentricity of a Madonna video in the nineties when we all still listened and award-givers did and you are the half-cooked-frozen ready meal I scintillatingly under-cook purposefully so that I don’t have to cook any more dinners and you are slight alteration of size between shops so you look like you’ll fit but you won’t. And you are an almost-outfit for Halloween, trophy I never got, gift I didn’t log, sex I couldn’t suffer. I owned you after.
I am a catch, an understand your jokes, almost never late, catch who’s seen every episode of Frasier. And if that doesn’t impress you, when we’re snuck up on, filmed, photographer, fired or broken up with, I’ll find a way to your house or hotel room and watch whatever you watch when you’re alone. Even porn. Even that Paris Hilton one.
Sometimes the person you’re talking to will be topless, or about to be. There is no etiquette for this. You were taught to cover your eyes when male members of your household stepped out of the shower unannounced, when a sex scene happened on TV. So you’ve heard what topless sounds like but you can’t place these sounds, wonder how someone stripping on a baseball court becomes heavy-breathed and screechy. You’ve been practicing deep-rooted groans.
When clothed, you’ll imagine the outlines you can see underneath, especially when you’ve seen flesh before. You’ll look for cheat-sheets, problem pages, web forums, with ideas to get men down to underwear. You’ll carry bottled water. You’re reclaiming wet t-shirt contests for feminism, doing us favours.
He will think there’s a trade, if he can clock hours against you, eventually you’ll strip too. This is not how it works. He’s basically your bitch. Your name’s on the credits. He’ll be recast next season. Fuck him while you can.
The first time I watched, I wondered when the world ended, why I didn’t see it, how I missed the coming, the chosen ascending and my own descension, then picking a place in a dark crowd and waiting out the endless, the unending.
But now I get it. That’s why the faceless I meet bare teeth at me, and I see past nostrils to bone and knowledge sits in skulls in clear view so I know who I want in a pub quiz with me.
I think about the clues first, what I missed but shouldn’t have, and if Big Brother’s purgatory, talent shows, singing shows, seat spinning celebrities are the end times bubbling, the apocalypse coming, hell swallowing people whole. And this is, or will be, fucking Ashton Kutcher.
This is sorry. Before the bad things happen. Because if I knew the man I picked would end you easily on rescue missions or resource runs, I’d have hesitated. There might’ve been hesitation, the sort you sense in Blockbuster. Instead, I defaulted.
Before he says what happened, tells me like I’m a priest capable of curing all ill (lol, jk, I’m a woman, right?) I picture you marrying trees, hiding beneath bodies, hoping for lulls in traffic. But there are always more coming and I allow for the possibility, I accept there’s a 45% chance you’re gone or you’re one of them. When he says, “I killed him. I had to end him. I couldn’t stand him being around,” I wait for sick but we’ve not eaten in days – the last meal I had, you were opposite, holding your plate close to your face, ready to lick it if no-one was watching. I was though, watching, wondering if you can extinguish flames with words, because words out loud are after all breath, and air can both fan or put out fire, and I wasn’t sure what my sentence meant. I’d have been discreet saying, “The arms at my side are dead weight and his heart keeps me awake beating like life’s the same, like constant’s are okay, and his skin’s sullen and I’m supposed to be okay with that?”
Replace things when you can.
This is denial. This is thick denial, the sort the actors on Jeremy Kyle have, the ones on Jerry Springer. I’ve been lathering it for weeks, it’s my camouflage, because connections aren’t fragile but futile and poison in some mouths and I’ve seen our families murder each other, justify it with a Bible verse. I’ve watched the world convert people, simply, quickly; Hershel stood firm and shot the heads of people he’d met, of ones he might’ve saved, days ago. Faith can catch like silk, and when you see it in light, it’s a puckered, nonreturnable mess.
I won’t spell it out. That’s not how dialogue works. Six episodes into next season we’ll kiss, and soon we’ll probably die. There’s nothing to miss and temporary emotions are easily lost calories, morsels of memories we won’t feel the loss of.