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. I’m going to take part in a zombie parade, and I wanted to find a few makeup tips. Next week, a throng of gore enthusiasts will dress up like corpses and march through the streets of Toronto, as they have for the past four years. It’s not really my thing so much as my boyfriend, Gareth’s.
Gareth already has a girlfriend. You could say I’m his other, unofficial girlfriend. But that would be like referring to zombies as “the semi-deceased.” I used to sneer at people who claimed that things like this “just happened.” So mealy mouthed, I thought. With me and Gareth, at first it only seemed to be happening, and I’d convince myself that it wasn’t going to and perhaps shouldn’t, right up to the point where it was, in fact, happening. Then I let it. We’ve been involved now for almost a year.
Gareth and I first kissed with Night of the Living Dead playing in the background at the Bloor Cinema. The whole place smelled like musty upholstery, and I had a popcorn husk stuck in my throat, but it was still lovely. His lips moved gently, like he was speaking slow secrets into my skin. For the time being, Gareth’s girlfriend is away doing her MBA at Queen’s, while he’s staying in Toronto to work on his master’s in history. That film was our fourth date—the fourth in a series of horror film dates. Before Tombs of the Blind Dead, Horror Express, Død Snø, and the like, the first time Gareth and I spoke was at one of the departmental mixers. History and English were sharing a midterm party, and my fellow grad students and I had come out to display our usual, disproportionate enthusiasm for free food and drink.
I recognized Gareth from an introductory literature course I’d taken as an undergrad. Despite a cable-knit pullover and the broiling lounge, he was serene and unsweaty. He’d always appeared freshly windblown, even during the yearend crunch when most of us looked like we’d been locked in the basement and fed lard sandwiches. He rarely said anything in class, which made him seem smarter.
Now Gareth was standing by the snack table, talking to some stubby guy in pleated pants. I glided over, carrying one of the last bottles of cheap red.
“People keep talking about how hot zombies are right now,” Gareth was saying, “but it’s not like zombie films haven’t been around for ages.” He mentioned that he had films in his collection dating back to Beta. Going for sass, I asked him if this illustrious collection was given prominent display in his home.
“Nope. No it is not. My girlfriend finally made me pack them all up.” Gareth’s smile was a modest slice of sexy. He didn’t recognize me. Not surprising: I used to be mousy. And forty pounds heavier. A fat mouse.
“Seems a bit huffy,” I said. I hoped the tannins weren’t blackening my teeth.
“She thinks it’s all junk. I mean, I can see her point.”
“Well, what about Shelley’s Frankenstein?” I said. “Classic tale of the dead brought to life. Or Beowulf. Filled with supernatural cannibals.” I was talking out of my ass, but Gareth smiled again, and I felt clever and pretty. I think I blushed.
“But those are books,” began Stubby, quietly. Gareth shrugged, then he and I turned to the snack table, as if suddenly interested in a platter of cookies. Stubby drifted over to the chafing dishes.
“So what’s she studying? This girlfriend.”
“I take it you like horror films?”
I detested horror films. During high school it had been a fad: sleepover parties with slasher flicks. The two such parties I attended, I spent the evening with my teeth clenched, alternatively bored and scared, but pretending to be otherwise because I’d been lucky enough to be invited. Later, I’d have bad dreams.
“Oh yes. Big fan,” I said.
And so we went from there. Love me, love my dog. Gareth’s dog just happened to be the undead.
I’m alone in a house with boarded-up windows. Dark creatures lurk outside, staining the night air with their obscene groans. I’ve been bitten, and it’s only a matter of time before I turn. My unnatural cravings will overtake me. I bind the wound on my arm and conceal it beneath a fresh cardigan. I’m not bleeding, but when I stand in front of a full-length mirror, I’m displeased. I keep trying on different sweaters. Each one makes me look dumpier than the last. I’m wasting valuable time, but I can’t stop fussing. That’s how the dream ends.
Gareth was always worried that we might be seen by some of his girlfriend’s friends, so it was just as well that the movies we went to were shown in broken-down, shit-shabby rep cinemas like the Bloor. If we didn’t see a movie in the theater, we’d often watch one from Gareth’s collection. After which we’d ravage each other, bruise each other’s hip bones. Sometimes we went to my tiny studio, but Gareth is allergic to my cat, Lily, and no matter how much I sticky-rollered the furniture, it was hard to escape the fur. If we went to Gareth’s place, we had to deal with his roommate. Ubiquitous Ben, we called him. It felt like we could never watch a film without him flopping onto the easy chair next to the couch, cook a meal without him lurking in the kitchen door frame, chatting away, or share a bottle of wine without him swigging a beer alongside us. Not because he was being a prick, but because it didn’t seem to occur to him to give us our space. He just sort of ran with the bogus conceit that Gareth and I were close pals; he told no tales. His affability was a mixed blessing.
Over time, I actually came round to liking horror films. I learned to associate campily grotesque dismemberment and bloody mayhem with seeing Gareth. With the taste and smell of Gareth’s skin, like freshly baked bread. My friend Kayla once told me that I could probably fall for any man if I just stood next to him long enough. Oh, you’re funny, I told her. Months ago, I thought I might ask Kayla if Gareth and I could use her one-bedroom apartment some time, then I lost my nerve. Kayla is not what you might expect from a nineteenth-century scholar—she’s gritty and unsentimental; unfortunately, I could feel her no-nonsensitivity leaning toward disapproval.
“Do I have to be the only person to tell you this? You’re going to get hurt,” she said. We were nursing coffees at Futures Café and sharing a piece of sweating cheesecake.
“It’s not like I have any illusions about what’s going on,” I said.
“Uh-huh. Keep telling yourself that.”
I stopped sawing at the cold crust, and Kayla took the opportunity to scoop up the last of the raspberry topping. “Judge much?” I asked her.
She looked at up me, her fork poised.
“Yes. All the time. That’s what intelligent people do.”
Kayla’s right to judge; she’s right in her judgment. But I don’t care. That is, I can’t help myself. I think about Gareth all the time. In my stupider moments, I think about us getting married. A wedding day, a white dress, a cake. It’s just a fantasy.
Gareth and I are holed up in a cabin in the woods. What began as a rustic honeymoon has became an extended stay, following strange meteor activity and the rise of the scavenging dead. “We may well be among the last uninfected people on earth,” Gareth says.
I’m pregnant with his child, and thus carry a great burden of hope for humanity. At least, I think I’m pregnant. Every time I look down at my belly, it’s growing, but it’s a different shape. Sometimes it’s rounded and firm, sometimes it’s slack and puffy, sometimes it even looks squarish. At some point, I realize I have a terrible eating disorder. I’ve been ingesting household rubbish without knowing it. It comes to me in a series of flashbacks as I’m pushing an old shoe past my lips.
Gareth compares me to Galina a lot. That’s his girlfriend’s name. Galina. At least one syllable too many for my taste—it’s like she overstays her welcome in my mouth. The comparisons are always in my favor, which shapes my role as the anti- Galina. Except that the more Gareth complains about her, the more I secretly want to be like her. She seems filled with contradictions, which feel more glamorous than my designated identity as transparent good sport. Galina: a haughty, self-centered bitch . . . and yet an insecure mess. A bulimic. Obnoxiously aware of her own attractiveness. Driven and effective. Her family life dysfunctional, fraught with money problems. Gareth and she have been dating since high school. Two years ago, she cheated on him.
“But that doesn’t make this right,” he emphasized. That’s Gareth all over. Constant reminders of how bad we’re being. Frequent flyer miles for all his self-navigated guilt trips. From time to time, we’d resolve to be just friends. We’d send a few chaste e-mails back and forth. And then we’d have a friendly coffee, which would lead to dinner or a film, which would lead us back into bed. “If Galina ever found out, it would just kill her,” he once said, as we rested against damp sheets. Good, I thought.
One time while Gareth was in the shower, I snooped through his room, looking for pictures of Galina. I already knew what she looked like—I’d seen pictures on his laptop—but I wanted to put my hands on an actual photograph of her. In the bottom of his desk drawer, I found a cache of old snapshots, dating back to his high-school days. There he and Galina were, outfitted for the prom. The scarlet cummerbund of his white tuxedo exactly matched her crushed velvet dress. Her face looked just as it does now, kittenish, like a Czech model’s, her complexion free of any blemish. Beside her Gareth grinned, gazing at her like a boy who couldn’t believe his luck. She faced the camera and offered a calm, close-lipped smile, the kind that I could never affect without my slight overbite cracking goofily through on one side. I flipped through the stack and found there was not a single unflattering image of her, even among the candids. I keep going back to those pictures, over and over, whenever he’s in the shower. Each time I hope she’s less beautiful than I remember.
In the early days of our affair, I remember thinking, poor guy just needs a damn break from this domineering, joyless shrew. He’s smart and handsome—he doesn’t need to be pushed around. He just feels loyalty, I thought, and that’s nice. It’s none of my business. And later: he just has Stockholm syndrome.
Only once did I put the question to him directly. Why didn’t he just break up with her, get it over with?
“We have a lot of history,” Gareth said, and then blew his nose. Unwisely, he’d been petting Lily. The cat kept trying to climb into his lap as he sat on my bed, cross-legged and naked. In the silence, I could hear Lily’s purring. I started to look for my clothes on the floor.
“It’s complicated,” he added.
History. Complicated. These words were not invitations—they were crime-scene tape, detour signs. Keep Out. Road Closed.
“Go on,” I said.
“I can’t just end it, just like that.” He spoke quietly and quickly. “Galina’s actually very sensitive, even though she puts on this tough corporate-competence act. She used to want to be a pediatrician, you know that? Her money obsession only started when her father got the family in debt. She was supposed to have this college fund . . . and then they found out he spent it all.” Gareth said that after such betrayal, Galina had problems letting people in. “And now look what I’m doing.”
I didn’t make Gareth talk about it anymore. I just shoved Lily out of the way and kissed him.
Lately, I’ve been telling myself that Gareth and Galina can’t possibly last much longer, but I won’t have him citing me as the reason for their breakup. After all, I’ve impressed him as being independent. As being classy and principled—yes, despite our deception. I want him to be with that version of me, not with some gropey-grabby, needy hysteric. That would never do. Sometimes Galina comes to visit Gareth in the city, during which time I make myself scarce. Sometimes he goes to visit her. It’s become harder for me to be nonchalant about those trips, but at least Gareth isn’t around to see me struggle with the act. His last visit with her was over a month ago. I want this to be a good sign.
“Brains,” the zombie moans.
“You aren’t a real zombie,” I tell him.
He’s sitting in the corner of my studio apartment. He looks like a real zombie, with bloated flesh and a missing eye, but for some reason, I believe he won’t be one if I can present a good argument.
“Real zombies can’t even talk,” I insist.
“Well, you’re talking.”
“Well, I’m not a zombie.”
“Yes, you are.”
“No, I’m not. This is stupid.”
“You started it.”
Our conversation continues along those lines, on and on. I feel like I can’t give in, or he will tear me apart. Or something even worse, which I fear without really understanding.
In the past few days, I’ve been watching online tutorials and reading web pages on how to transform yourself into a zombie. There are all kinds of tricks for mimicking damaged and decaying flesh. People demonstrate different techniques involving spirit gum, liquid latex, theater putty, and even Elmer’s glue, which are combined with layers of dampened tissue paper and blends of makeup. Fake blood is a popular ingredient—although contention surrounds it. One person posted, “Remember . . . zombie blood isn’t red!!” Some people insist that it’s black. Or gray. Or green. Because a zombie isn’t alive. But fake blood is hard to come by in colors other than red. (I know, because I’ve already bought some.) As I read all this, I consider that this is the problem with the Internet: it creates a sense of community where rightly there should be isolation and shame.
All this zombie makeup—the fabricated rot pockets, the oozing facial desecration—is the aggressive inversion of my usual routine of enhancement and camouflage. Which I maintain with tense devotion, since Gareth’s good looks make me self-conscious. A recent immigrant to the land of attractiveness, I feel like I’m in constant danger of being deported, of lapsing into ugliness, the pimple crop thriving if I don’t harvest its sebum, the eyebrows growing wild, straying beyond the topiary that I pluck them into, my flesh thickening back up like curdled yogurt. I worry about becoming unattractively disheveled during sex, all my artful zit cover-up melting off. And yet as the Other Woman, I know I’m meant to be uninhibited and adventurous, coaxed by Gareth’s frequent comments about Galina being sexually conservative. Oh, I’ve been a smug little Kama Sutran, all right. But being boring in bed, I realize, is the privilege of the beautiful.
Galina is dead. She is moaning softly, one arm extended. I’m running from her, but I can never put enough distance between myself and her. I stumble over tree roots. But it switches: I am the ghoul, scratching at a cabin door in some distant muscle-memory of how such an apparatus works. Gareth and Galina are inside. Eventually my hand lands on the doorknob and the door swings inward. Galina is in the living room, putting logs on the fire. I lurch toward her. She turns to face me with a look of disgust, and I stop, swaying in my tracks. I reek like spoiled meat. As she raises herself from a crouch, she drags the poker from the fire. The iron weight makes her sculpted bicep flex.
Oh shit, I think. Except that I can’t think. That part of me doesn’t work.
I call up Gareth. I’ve just watched a rather ingenious bit about faking a protruding arm bone through the use of a sculpted white candle. I say that maybe when I come over before the zombie march on Saturday I can show him how to do it.
“Well, about that,” he says. He’s just gotten off the phone with Galina. She’s coming into town for the weekend. Turns out she wants to dress up and participate in the parade. Although Gareth is producing signs of irritation (sighs, a flatness in his voice), I suspect he’s pleased. Galina, clearly, is no dummy. She must sense she’s losing him and is trying to draw him close again with an unexpected, generous gesture. Maybe she’s learned this tactic from one of her team-building exercises at business school.
“Why does she want to be part of this?” I ask.
“Oh, I don’t know. She probably figures it’s finally trendy enough for her. You know how she thinks of herself.”
“Yeah. It’s kind of a hipster event.”
Where to start with this one? “Gareth, real hipsters wouldn’t touch this with a ten-foot pole. This is for people who were losers in high school who want to be all edgy.” I can feel myself beginning to rant. “Think about it. You think the Goths were the cool kids? This is total Dungeons & Dragons territory.”
There is a pause, after which Gareth says, “I wasn’t a loser in high school.”
“Fine. You were the coolest teenager on the planet. You and the rest of the debating club.”
“Why are you”—he seems hesitant to name my unfamiliar tone—“being so nasty about this? Look, I’m really sorry. But all things in perspective, right? It’s just a few days. And you can still come to the party.”
Gareth’s friend Claire is throwing a post-march bash at her apartment. I won’t really know anybody there except Ben, whose friend, Gareth suggests, I can claim to be. Beard Ben. Galina can’t stand him—she thinks he’s a downwardly mobile slack-ass—so she’d never question him closely. I apologize for blowing up at Gareth and tell him that I’m just disappointed that I won’t get to spend much time with him.
I don’t tell him that I’d thought that maybe this party might be a coming-out event for us. As I’ve been counting the days since his last visit with Galina, I’ve been hoping that he’d finally introduce me to his friends—as his girlfriend. I have kept that little yearning screwed up tight in a jar, along with other concerns: floating specimens of denial.
It’s not by accident that I see Gareth and Galina right now, in the near distance. It’s Friday afternoon, and I’m loitering near the park outside Gareth’s apartment complex. Actually, loitering is too genteel a word for what I’m doing: I’m crouched in the bushes, like some maniac. They’ve walked up to the edge of the sandy playground area, laughing, their clasped hands a swinging knot between them. In their free hands they each hold a Starbucks. I can see she’s wearing his cream cable-knit sweater, which complements her long, dark hair; Gareth is wearing his favorite suede jacket. I want to get closer, but I don’t. Now he’s pushing her on the swing, and she’s shrieking with delight, her hair flying. As Gareth retrieves their coffees from the park bench, Galina hops off the swing and lands feet together, arms up, striking a pose like an Olympian. Gareth rewards her with a cheer and then a kiss. Oh, the fucking whimsy of it all. But I can’t cheapen what I see, no matter what volume of bitterness I pour on it. They look happy. Like a real couple.
The sun is setting, and as Kayla and I sit drinking beer in her living room, windows open to the cooling air, I tell her my afternoon’s tale of sorry stalkerdom. Kayla has a story of her own to tell me. She begins:
“So a friend of a friend was dating this girl. All his friends know about her is her name, Jen. He’s spending a lot of time with her, but nobody ever gets to meet her. If they’re doing a group activity, he never brings her along. They never see her with him at his usual haunts. He never talks about places he’s taken her out to. Seems like he and the girl just hang out at his apartment all the time. So his friends start calling her ‘Indoor Jen.’ They wonder if maybe he’s made her up, but they figure she’s got to be real, because he’s so obviously into her. When someone finally does run into them together, turns out, no big shocker, she’s a total dog.
“And that’s you,” Kayla says. “You’re Indoor Jen.”
“Thanks a lot.”
“Hey, it’s not about looks. It’s about compartments. You think you’re being all decadent and indulgent with this affair. But really, you need to be greedier. Much, much greedier.”
I’ve decided to go to the zombie march today after all. Last night, I’d planned on bailing. And then this morning I changed my plan: I need to talk to Gareth. I want him to tell Galina about us. It’s the least he can do. I’m going to make “a scene,” and I don’t care if it’s in bad taste. It’s long overdue.
Even before I hit the parade route on Yonge Street, I start spotting zombies. Zombies on the subway platforms. Zombies in the subway cars. When I get out at the Yonge and Bloor stop and walk up to street level, it’s a full-on zombie jamboree. Pride Day for the undead. There are varying degrees of commitment: some people have just splashed on a bit of fake blood, like me, but someone else walks past with what looks like an open chest wound, his exposed heart visibly pulsing, and I feel a ripple of nausea. I have to loosen the collar of my ripped bow-tie blouse. Everywhere I look, there are people shuffling along in tattered clothes, groaning and besmirched with gore. It’s like the site of some mass civil disaster.
Because I took so long getting out of the house, there’s no one left at the meeting spot, and I have to find the party alone. I can’t get a hold of Gareth on his cell, and I can’t get a hold of Kayla either. She said she might go with me, as a Regency zombie, but I never really believed she would. As I weave my way through the costumed crowds, I start to recognize archetypes. The lawyer zombie is very popular. As are schoolgirl, cheerleader, and hooker zombies. And soldier, cop, and doctor zombies. But there are also Rastafarian zombies. Rockabilly retro-kitsch zombies. Clown zombies. Lumberjack zombies. A moaning zombie choir. I’m moving much faster than most participants, who affect staggers and limps. More than once, when I accidently bump into people, they growl and make as if to lunge at me. I’m so not in the mood.
When I reach the apartment where the party is being held, the place is already packed, with everyone talking and laughing over the blaring music, mostly in zombie drag. I scan the room for Gareth and spot him in a far corner. He’s dressed as a businessman in a disheveled suit and tie, sporting an exposed piece of cranium as his special effect. And beside him is Galina, dressed as his executive counterpart. Their prom photo immediately comes to mind, and the smarmy, His ’n’ Hers yuppie outfits sting me. What the fuck, Gareth. So much for his disapproval of her money-hungry ways.
As I get closer I can see that Galina has enthusiastically applied the Halloween costume slut-principle toward her outfit, and is skimpily dressed in the remains of a suit jacket and skirt. Her black eye shadow and deep scarlet lips suggest haute couture. She’s also wearing makeup on her torso to emphasize her ribs and clavicles. It seems doubtful to me that a business lady would be wearing the stockings and garter belt Galina models. I’m deeply regretful that I dressed in such haste. I perch my glasses on top of my head in an effort to seem more chic.
When I approach them, Gareth looks a little alarmed, but I play it cool for now. I ask him if Ben’s around. Gareth tells me he’s in the kitchen, and then he introduces me to Galina, who gives that close-lipped smile I’ve seen so often in her photos. She says, “So I’m guessing you’re a librarian zombie? Fun.”
I’m fucking your boyfriend. I want to blurt those words out, but they stay stuck inside me. Both Gareth and Galina are pulled along into another conversation, then blocked from my view by other people. I’m supposed to be looking for Ben, so I head to the kitchen.
Ben is rifling through the fridge, clinking bottles. When he hands me a beer, he almost drops it, he’s so drunk, plus he’s dressed as a rugby-player zombie with one arm. I maneuver him out to the main room where I can see Gareth. I half listen as Ben slurs about the fake arm he’d been carrying around as a prop, now lost. He’d been using it to poke people in the ass. To get rid of him, I ask him if he’ll get me another beer and promise to look for his lost limb.
I try to wend my way to Gareth again, but I get waylaid by Claire, the party’s hostess, a princess zombie. She’s created a thematically appropriate buffet and is anxious to explain all the culinary jokes to anyone who will listen. (“See the kebabs? They’re pork because that’s what human flesh is supposed to taste like, get it? And we’ve got lady fingers, and of course zombie cocktails . . .”) I nod, nod, nod, waiting for my head to fall off and roll under the buffet table. I finally catch Gareth’s eye, but only for a few seconds.
As I tilt the rest of my beer down my throat, I notice that a short woman dressed as undead trailer trash is looking at me—looking at me look at Gareth. Her large thighs spill from her blood-stained Daisy Dukes, a reminder of my old body type. Every time I glance her way, she gives me a sour little smirk. From the way I saw her hovering around Galina earlier, I assume she’s her friend. Or maybe henchwoman: outshone by her hottie pal, I imagine she’s decided to embrace her sidekick-itis. I hear someone call her by name, Amber. Just stay the hell out of my way, Amber.
The party burbles around me, and I cast a look around for Galina, who has not been by Gareth’s side for a while. She’s standing on the balcony, face-to-face with some blond guy in an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt. Right now she’s tracing a finger over the simulated laceration marks on his six-pack. They both laugh as he crumples up, ticklish.
“We have to talk,” I say. I’ve managed to catch Gareth alone and literally corner him. “And not chat. Talk.”
“Um, that’s really not a good idea.” His eyes flick around the room. Out on the balcony, Galina’s still deep in conversation with surfer zombie.
“Just five minutes.”
We go to Claire’s bedroom and pull the door shut. We sit side by side on the bed, and I start to spill my guts.
“I’m going to tell her. I’m going to tell Galina about what’s been going on. And then you have to choose. Her or me. You don’t get to have your cake and eat it too.”
“Wait, wait, wait—slow down. Where’s this coming from? You’re making me feel a little ambushed right now, okay? Look, I really care about you, but I thought you understood that I’m not in a place right now where I can just . . .” He goes on, and I feel like he’s delivering some speech spliced together from other speeches, producing a montage of clichés. It strikes me that he always talks this way, and I can’t listen to it anymore.
“I don’t want to be your Indoor Jen!”
“I’m saying you don’t get to have both. And you don’t get to keep lying.”
His pupils are dilating, his eyes darkening to match the makeup smudged around his lids. His exposed cranial patch, a piece of molded white plastic, is beginning to skid. I can see he’s rattled. But he’s also being very careful. There’s brittleness underfoot, and if he treads wrong, I will snap.
“Let’s just be calm about this,” he begins. He puts his hand on my arm. His fingertips press into me, and his palm arches slightly. It’s a light touch, but somehow it feels like a push.
“Who says I’m not calm?” I’m shouting now and hearing him say, “Sssshh!” makes me want to punch him in the face and draw real blood. Someone told me once that you should never argue naked. This is so much worse: arguing in stupid costumes.
Amber opens the door on us. “Oops! I thought this was the bathroom!” Her voice is sing-songy, but she shoots me a mean look—and gives Gareth and even meaner look— before she shuts the door again. Gareth has now turned red.
“There’s your cue,” I say. “Run along now.”
I get up and leave before Gareth has a chance to. Back in the living room with the other party guests, I walk up to Ben and give him a quick kiss.
“There,” I say. “Now you’re one of Gareth’s zombie army.” On the spot, I improvise some rules for a game that I claim is fully in progress. The kiss represents a bite. A bite turns you. There are competing teams at work, each with a leader. The object is to turn more people than your opponents.
“What’s to stop people from cheating?” Ben asks. He hasn’t sobered up any, but he’s focusing. He loves a good game. Oblivious Ben.
“What’s the point of playing if you’re going to cheat?” I say.
Within a few minutes, people at the party are going up to others and kissing them. Some give little pecks, some give lingering smooches. Opposite sexes, same sexes, in jest, and with earnest lechery. It’s a hit, this game, and the parameters renegotiate themselves up as it moves along. I wonder how long it will take to implode. More than once, someone approaches me to turn me, and I start to get different names: “Jill’s minions!” “Now you’re with Darren for eternity!” Gareth has finally emerged from the bedroom, and now he’s out on the balcony having a cigarette—something he almost never does. He’s avoiding me, just as I’m avoiding him.
I feel a tap on my shoulder. It’s Galina.
“Are you with Gareth?” she asks.
“God, no. No, I’m not.”
“Then I should turn you.”
She gives me a kiss. It’s a light, warm kiss, and her breath smells sweet, like chocolate liqueur, maybe from one of Claire’s elaborate theme-cocktails. When Galina pulls back, she gives me that close-lipped smile. I wonder, briefly, if she’s playing to an audience, but she’s not looking around to see if anyone’s watching. I’m the one doing that. Galina’s just an ordinary girl, being young and flirtatious and in the moment. Her gesture could be a supremely sly one, but I doubt it. Well, I’m not sure. Her composed beauty presents a neutrality that I cannot read. I do know this: Gareth won’t be telling her a goddamn thing, and neither will I.
I stand outside the apartment building, shivering as droplets begin to spatter the sidewalk. Rain is falling on the living, the dead, and the undead of Toronto. So much for the parade.
I’m walking through a dark forest. The trees appear to be moving with me; the entire landscape has a nauseating liquidity. Directly ahead is a massive oak, and nailed to its trunk is a poster, depicting a zombie. The zombie looks a lot like me, if I’d been buried in the ground for a few months. There are no words on the poster, but I understand it’s a warning. I hear a crackle and turn: standing behind me is the girl from the poster.
“Pictures of me are always terrible,” I say to her.
We fall to the ground as we struggle with one another, turning over and over in the dead leaves. I land a solid punch, and she rolls off me, rubbing her jaw. The tears that stream down her cheeks are black.
She’s clearly starving, and I feel sorry for her. Incredibly sorry for her.
“Don’t follow me,” I say.
That’s how the dream ends.
Shannon Robinson has work appearing in or forthcoming from Best Stories from the Midwest, Crab Creek Review, Gargoyle, New Ohio Review, Nimrod, Sycamore Review, and Sou’wester. Her recent honors include the Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Short Fiction, a Hedgebrook Fellowship, and an Elizabeth George Foundation grant. She holds an MFA from Washington University in St. Louis, and last fall she was the writer-in- residence at Interlochen Center for the Arts. Currently, she lives in Princeton, New Jersey, with her husband, poet James Arthur, and their son, Henry.