We are on a date, but Dafne’s heart isn’t in it. Both she and her date keep darting their eyes to me where I sit on one side of the table, a frozen explosion of orange fur against the pressed quiet of the white tablecloth. I imagine the gentleman thought he was more open-minded than he has turned out to be once in my presence. Dafne has unthinkingly placed me so that I face him. As always, I’m snarling and my limbs are splayed out midleap. I must look like I’m going for his throat.
He thought of himself as the New Graham now. Not New and Improved, because it wasn’t an improvement. He would have liked to go on being the Old Graham, but that wasn’t an option. The Old Graham had thought he’d stay married to Audra forever; the New Graham wasn’t so sure. The New Graham’s future was unknown.
Sam and Kat, Kat and Sam, as unassuming as their three-letter names but, to their minds, violent with potential. In the spring of 1998, they met in St. Louis, when they both had to board a bigger bus. Two kids in zipped pullovers smoking and picking at their fingers as they watched the driver fling their bags into the belly of the coach as if they weren’t their only belongings in the world.
The zombie community is astir with controversy. One faction insists that zombies are mindless creatures who cannot make the traditional moan for “brains.” And that in any case, they don’t crave brains specifically, but the flesh, blood, and organs of any living human. This is what I’ve learned from scrolling through chat boards.
The first day, I pace the red-light district, looking for a hotel, my suitcase banging my leg. At noon, sick of carrying it, I open it. My maid-of-honor dress, midnight-blue silk, spills onto the sidewalk. A dress I spent four hundred and fifty dollars on, a dress I will never wear. I stuff it into a garbage can, where it billows out, a bloated flower.
A still-stumbling calf lives a happy life in the high plateaus of La Mancha. After three weeks he is taken from his mother and slaughtered, then skinned by his owner, a grizzled herder who pushes three hundred head around the plains. The herder brings the meat to the butcher, carries the wet hide to a long, low barn at the edge of town, and then washes himself in the river.
Anson Hempkin believed in Jesus Christ, and every night, while Faye put the kids to bed, he got down on his knees and prayed to the plastic statue on top of his television set. He prayed his roofing company would prosper, the weather would be good, and Enrique and Pablo would show up for work. He prayed the city council would grant a variance for the megahouse on the bluff, the roof for which he had a contingent contract.
When he gets off work, he always smells of butter and chicken stock. The smell lives deep inside his skin where soap doesn’t reach, and sometimes he stands on the bathmat still glistening from his shower and looks in the mirror, grips the pale, soft mounds of fat around his stomach and thinks, I look like a dinner roll. I’m a biscuit with a dick.
Almost a hundred years after the demise of the Jönköping, I sit on the paint-peeling porch of the Montclair Assisted Living Estate, in the decrepit plastic hammock of my wheelchair, and look out, through the topiaried hedges, past the dogwood trees, across the upper-middleclass wasteland of Upper Montclair, to the northeast, toward Sweden, and slowly and methodically eviscerate Jean in two-person hearts . . .