Co-written with Laura Tansley: “Heat Death”

(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 fitshoot twice without blinkingdon’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)


You cock-blocked me. And now that you’re gone I can fuck anyone I choose, supposing they choose me back, which is often the case now it’s the apocalypse. Before, not so much. But I still don’t wish you gone. It’s that first day uni feeling except everyone here is super old, crossbow-trained and part of a zombie fight club.

Lori Grimes

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 Know My Thoughts, Can’t Live With Them

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.

Neck Ache

I will navigate the after with the caution of George after marriage: flippantly. Like I know there’s no forever anymore. And I’ll take a neck rub, leg rub, clit, and if your lip bleeds I’ll lick the cut and flesh and you’ll whisper, “You’re one of them now,” and you’ll list every thing you’ve skinned to remind me you understand insides better than Jack did, your navigation’s a notch above Columbus: if we had maps you’d place us.

Promiseless, Bible-burnt, camp bed pews, you gut me from the knees up, each ricocheted bone a muscular clue. Men scream, “Amen,” in other rooms, get hushed by men, watch men, other men, as I spill. I’m a crossbow left hand squeeze, and in clockless, washless time you’re a measured fit. Your tongue is nettle stung and my thigh tops carry your name now.

Never Met Me

We play a father-daughter relationship out. I ignore you, resent you for stopping my suicide, we bicker about dead family members, camp rules: who should have guns, who can fire one, where we should sleep supposing anyone sleeps anymore anyway? There’s nothing unbroken including my eight hours, Donald Trump’s four, and it’s like birthing babies, staying up with them, stopping them screaming; I’d need sedation if I gave birth here, for me, my offspring, group members sure that baby’s screams were drawing the infected closer like errant helicopters, gunshots, whispering. I know longevity’s a thing of the past, an option I pass up through default than any actual want or un-want, but in the other world, the before one, if your wife left, we might have ended up in bars playing out entirely different scenarios with other dynamics, which would’ve led us to rooms rather than tents, and we’d have enjoyed telling each other what to do, then.


My Own Hand

I learnt to let go, un-wedge axes
from skulls, how to pull knives out of muscle without damage to both parties. One party’s pretty damaged already and this is deciphering time, deciding if we’re just as fucked as they are. You can’t control cancers over lifetimes, and the research is gone that kept viruses, ills away. None of us are terminal and we all are. On foot was the option, wrong decision. You can’t run for nights, but hours only.

I execute each stab with movie precision like it’s impossible to miss twice. I’m waiting for saviours or alternatives. Now, the world shows its hierarchy which is always a patriarchy which we didn’t fix when we thought we did. We used to think everything was fine when it wasn’t and some prioritise wrong, think that laundry is an end times’ concern, that dishes are. But blood stains don’t wash out and when they do I have to wonder, “How long did you spend scrubbing, how many washes, rewashes were there? Did you waste bleach on white shirts, Y-fronts? Shouldn’t you have saved it for dissolving flesh, for drinking when there’s only you left?”



One day I’ll understand why I did it, reverted to the life I had, pretended I’d wanted it, that there weren’t pieces of me previously – my shirt buttons, shoes, elastic and stitching – that were all after you, ready to pinch you, shrink you in hot washes, seal you in packets and watch your breath collect as condensation in droplets at the bottom of bags. You made me forget the world ended as it ended around us and I never called your authority or questioned you having it and we didn’t need escape plans: I practiced balance with my yoga daily and I stretched you out on sleeping bags as my child slept and you said you’d play a part, you’d be a person I might need and you’d touch me when I asked and you’d have a flashlight handy and you’d walk me in the middle of the night when I needed a piss and you’d hold my unwashed hand on the way back, ready to own every inch as god watched. You’re dead now.