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.

andrea

(Originally appeared online in Friction Magazine and Journal, April 26th 2012. Co-written with Laura Tansley)

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.

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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.

Interaction/Utterances

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.

Dreamt of Awful Things

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.

Why Are We Running?

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.

There’s Something You Should Know About Me

I won’t waver. Change, you sense like strangers’ star signs, like the contents of meals in restaurants, spice slipped.

Once, we got drunk together. We forget it happened, won’t mention imprints the other left.

I’ve been alone, often, and in six years you’re the only. In bed your legs look like Alicia Silverstone’s on the cover of Clueless and don’t just say that’s a viewpoint. I’ve seen you standing up too.

I like your back best, shirts skimming shoulder bones, unkempt weight. We’re not even programmed to remember what we’ve seen most, necessarily. I worked at Subway for six years and all that’s left is the smell, lingering in pits of cotton.

I watch my trailer door, even when you’re not coming. I want you to come, believe I’m not the 2006 version. That was years and so much has changed, that I know you feel in contours, cards. I’ve read your blog. And if James Van Der Beek’s due a revival, why not me?

I Wanted To Give You Everything

They said don’t dwell on could-have-beens, the teachers in schools that nuns owned, but every regret’s an unexplored avenue, a mistake that aches for conclusion.

When he was dead, I was it. Our shirts were sophomore hand holding, and I licked behind each tooth, more thoroughly than you thought, and I told your son I would save him.

Now I watch the handle of your toothbrush bright in the low light of the torch whose batteries are dying but as we’re denying the world’s ending we use each resource until its wrapper’s utterly empty, until it’s leaking acid.

Soon we won’t wake up and won’t know it, and what’s the matter with that? Every false start will disappear like an exposed negative, shrivel like the magnetic tape in a VHS set to fire.

You, my security blanket, get picked up by people you call husband. I’m vilified like no replacement ever beat out the original. But I’ve seen Crocodile Dundee and I’ve watched Gilmore Girls. I’ve wasted time. I’m playing a long game.

I Can’t Kiss My Own Neck

First, you think we all think the same. Then you realise your thoughts are similar to those of your parents and friends and the people at school who hold sway for no real reason, maybe after school sessions mean something different for them. You did your maths’ homework at Mark’s house, got the last bus at six fifty six, watched Big Brother before bed.

Parents will say, “Carve your own way,” and, “Decisions are yours,” but someone else’s hands have a stake in your brain and, often, it feels like latex-ed fingers are inside cavities created by surgeons, somewhat delicately, but not enough.

The advice you give floors others because hope is for dreams and upbringings. You say, “Die, if you want to,” and, “It hurts,” and you leave doors open when you shouldn’t. You challenge the regressive nature of the women around you who want to recoil into their own wombs, live with the fetuses they grow but shouldn’t. You have a steady hold on guns, in a totally non-euphemistic way, and why should you change your life’s direction for dish washing, peeling carrots.

Whoever said women make stability, girls create homes, never met me.

Regrets Collect Like Old Friends

Jack says, “It’s too much to expect rationality at the end of the world,” and I say, “That’s all I’d want actually,” and he replies, “Faced with some flesh eating mouth your decisions would snap quicker than well worn bra straps to the touch of a moderately attractive man,” and I tell him, “The last time someone tried to ping underwear I was wearing, I deleted them,” and Jack says, “Facebook, what a burn,” and I say, “No,” snap my fingers meaning vanished or vanquished, whichever is stronger, and Jack says, “Yeah, yeah, but I still don’t agree about Shane,” and I wish he’d agree to disagree about it but Jack wants issues smoothed out like discussion has the same properties as a steamer, a rolling pin or tyre.

In the third nightmare, no-one’s been invited and we’re waiting and it’s not a nightmare at all because I always choose private over performance, would prefer to keep vows secret, not have to stand in heels on stone for hours. After the rings are forced on to our fingers I say, “Shane was right, every single time, and I’d sacrifice someone if it meant you, and I’d lie if it got you home, and I’d make it all obvious, do what I could to force you to admit that our feelings were thicker than the top layer of a sticky toffee pudding, and I’d find a piece of myself at the edge of your mouth, buried beneath a newly formed layer of skin on your lips, and I’d make sure you’d smelt me and you couldn’t forget, and you’d wake up eventually knowing that every action that seemed callous, every sentence that felt heavy, was an attempt, and I’d never run out of them.”