Category Archives: prose

A Prose Poem Inspired In Part By This Incredibly Academic Book I’m Reading About Zombies

Why fear the zombie? Zombie – uniquely American contribution
to the Movie Monster Canon. Zombie is whatever we’re secretly
afraid of at any given time. Reverse colonization. Cold War. Terrorism.
Biological weapons. Loss of autonomy. Loved ones turning on you.
Having the entire infrastructure upon which you rely cease to function.
Who’s going to come fix your dishwasher now? Not the zombie.

Or perhaps zombie scares us because we know that deep inside,
we are zombie. We either have it already within us, or could turn
on a dime if we’re exposed. We look upon our friends and family
with dead, blank eyes. They are no longer the ones with whom
we play Cards Against Humanity, the ones whose birthdays we
remember at the last minute, prompting us to quickly fire off an

email with an Amazon gift card. They cannot push our buttons
because they installed them. Unless they’re taking a pick-axe
to our skulls, they cannot hurt us. They are food: gristle and
sinew to be masticated and never digested, because zombies
don’t digest. Zombies don’t surf. Zombies don’t shout over
cubicle walls about what happened on last night’s “Scandal,”

nor is there that one zombie who will always whine, “Um…SPOILERS?!”
This is frightening.

Lunchtime

The mid-March weather was crisp and cool, but the sun was shining strong enough that you could get away with a light jacket, so I put on my favorite armor, a grey Dickies Eisenhower that I got back in my punk rock days, before I sold out and became a poorly paid private investigator. I had dressed it up with patches of all the founding fathers — Black Flag, Minor Threat, Op Ivy, Aus-Rotten though I never even listened to that shit, DK, and of course the presidential crest of Johnny, Joey, DeeDee, and Tommy. It was a nice reminder of where I’d come from — maybe how far I’d come since then — and also made me look tough when I was working a case.

The changing seasons also did a number on my bad knee, so I grabbed the shillelagh that I used for a walking stick. It was my da’s from his time with the Irish Guard. He’d tried to train me in bataireacht when I was younger, but when you’re twelve years old there are few things sound as lame as ancient Irish stick fighting. I realized that he would’ve retired this year if he were still alive. I wondered how that worked for the Good People on account of they didn’t really age.

The air outside smelled like shit and sodium and made me strangely nostalgic for The Short Bus, the old tour van that we had when I was playing in The Invisibles. It was actually a converted Type A school bus, so the name was still accurate, if terribly offensive. That old clunker ran on diesel, but for just a few hundred bucks, we made it work with old recycled cooking oil that we got from Chinese restaurants. That’s how I knew Yan, the guy who owned the building where my office and ran the restaurant downstairs. Apparently waste disposal costs a lot of money when you’re frying up that much pickled dog meat or whatever, so we did him a favor and took it off his hands for free. We were kind of a Lifetime-esque hardcore time, and of course we were all vegans at the time. We thought we were stickin’ it to the man and fighting back against oil corporations. Of course, none of us seemed to mind that we were using animal fat to run our van. Or that we were making fun of kids with special needs.

Looking back, that was a very dark time in my life.

I headed east up Essex Street towards the Common, past the cracking roads and crumbling buildings that stood adjacent to the luxury condos that had spread like a virus through the heart of downtown Boston. Gentrification was a weird and wicked beast. I saw Eunice at the intersection of Chauncy and Harrison and waved. She responded with a tiny nod. “Eunice” was just the name I’d given to the little Korean lady with the shopping cart full of empties that she pushed around the city. Her and I had established a kind of repartee over the years, so I felt like she deserved a name. After all, I was one of her biggest donors, and she seemed to recognize me every time I found her scrounging through the recycling bin outside my apartment at four in the fucking morning. Our friendship never developed any further than these subtle acknowledgements, but I was okay with that.

That Was The Homophobic Girl I Poured A Beer On And Then Got Her Kicked Out Of The Bar That Was

I recently attended a bachelor party in a strange dystopian place that was not unlike a Terry Gilliam movie, and while I’m not legally allowed to speak of many details, there is one anecdote that I feel obligated to share.

At this point in the evening, we were, of course, terribly inebriated and acting generally inappropriate in public, as these things tend to go. For what it’s worth, this was fairly common in our chosen destination, and with the exception of one horrified mother, most people seemed to be entertained by our behavior. We met a group of girls, one of whom was celebrating her birthday. They appeared to share our debaucherous attitude, and agreed to pose for a photograph with the Man Of Honor.

Naturally, I decided to photobomb their picture with the Bachelor, because alcohol. Another friend in our group joined me in the fun, and we posed behind the group of girls with me kissing him on the cheek and both of us giving big goofy thumbs-up because that would obviously be hilarious (alcohol). One of the girls saw this, and with her face scrunched up in absolute disgust, she yelled: “Ew, you two are gay?!”

“Don’t worry, we can crop the faggots out of the photo,” replied the birthday girl. (The “faggot” and “gay” comments may have been reversed, depending on which witness you ask from our group)

Needless to say, I did not respond well to this girl’s comment. These girls definitely knew that we were with the Bachelor Party, and that there were much, much, much more offensive things happening nearby than two dudes messing with their friend’s photo.

Unfortunately, I was too shocked in the moment to say or do anything witty (a rare thing for me, I know). But as the evening wore on, I filled with rage every time I saw them (and then naturally forgot about it whenever they were out of sight and continued to have fun).

Some time later, we were deciding to leave, and after a brief conference with some of the guys I was with, we all agreed that it would be a fantastic idea for me to pour a beer on her head. We staged an elaborate domino train alibi, whereby one of the guys would bump into me on his way out, and I would trip and bump into another one of our guys, and then fall back and pour beer on the girl.

Long story short, I am the most amazing actor ever after I’ve been drinking for 15 hours straight because I was not very subtle in my beer pouring. After the planned bumps, I lumbered towards her with one conspicuously lethargic drunken elephant step and dumped the beer, but not before she had a chance to grab a glass with about an inch of water in it and throw it at me in response.

Unfortunately, she missed, instead hitting one of my other friends, at which point security promptly arrived and told the girl and her friends that they had to leave. “That faggot dumped a beer on me!” she screamed at the security guard, very clearly soaked from the beer that I had in fact poured on her. “I got pushed,” I said with a shrug, although it was probably more of a slur. But somehow it convinced him of my innocence, and the security guard brought the police over and they escorted the girls from the premises and in conclusion it was the best night ever and totally made up for the fact that I lost waaaaaaaaaaay more money that weekend than I wanted to.

The Parking Space Saver Vigilante

The narrow city streets were choked off even thinner by the slick, craggy piles of snow browning at the edges, and he stalked along each cowpath like a jungle cat in heat. The streetlights shined down halos on each haphazard parking job that lined the one-way road, and he had trained his eyes to catch the absence of luster from an automobile carcass. And sure enough, he saw a vacant space amongst the parallels. A ten-foot-long box of dugout powder that revealed the slush-streaked pavement underneath. And in the middle of the space sat a wobbling chair with chipping white paint that exposed the weathered wood beneath it.

His eyes hadn’t always been so astute, of course. There was a time when he accepted such strange winter furnishings. But that age of innocence had long been ripped away, ever since that fateful evening when his father had used his mother’s antique rocking chair, the one that had been built by her grandfather as a gift when she was born, to mark his own shoveled-out space while he went off to gamble at the pub. The vigilante was eight years old then, and he had been at the neighbors’ house at the time while mother attended night class at the community college. By the time that father had returned from the bar, he had forgotten about the rocking chair waiting in his space, and he accidentally backed into it with his car. For the most part, the chair remained intact, but the wood had been irreparably warped by the extreme colds of the evening, cracking the grain. It was utterly ruined.

Mother was furious when she came home. She and father spent all night screaming at each other while the young not-yet-vigilante tried to sleep in the next room.

“I busted my god damn ass shoveling out that spot, and I deserve to use it!” father shouted. And mother screamed back “There’s not even any snow left on the ground! You can’t just save your spot indefinitely! And why the hell would you use an antique, handmade rocking chair?!”

It was then that the boy became the vigilante, for he understood that mother and father would have stayed together, if not for that parking space saver. He blamed that folksy practice on his shattered childhood, and committed himself to the cause: as long as he lived, no shoveled parking space would be saved by a furniture marker. He knew that it was too late for him to save his own youth, but he refused to allow that same pain to befall any others.

And so he slinked forward on the balls of his feet, circling around his wood-chair prey, waiting for the moment to strike. When the coast was clear, and all other cars and pedestrians had passed, he lunged forward and ripped the tattered furniture from its asphalt resting place. He gripped its back with both hands, and with a bellowing cry from deep within his gut, he whipped the chair into the nearest snowbank. He watched with satisfaction as its four legs sank into the sleet pile, as little chunks of ice were disturbed from their slumber and fell like boulders from the mount, exploding when they hit the pavement.

The wintery shrapnel littered the previously vacant space, twinkling underneath the streetlights, and the vigilante knew that justice had been served.

The Flight

“Again, this is sweet, but insane,” Ian says as he rubs his eyes and shifts in the passenger seat. “My company pays for every cab ride I even think about taking, let alone take.”

“This is different,” I say. “Seeing you off out of New York is different.”

“You’re going to see me in eight days.”

“Please just let it be sweet, okay?”

He nods.

I start thinking about what I will miss most about Connecticut, and New York, and living here, and I wonder if what Ian will miss most are the same things. I wonder, as I drive down 95, a particularly ugly stretch of 95 where everything is very gray, where the palette is unwelcoming and dark even in July and the bark on the trees is a harsh brown, what I will fall in love with in London, and if I will even fall in love. I wonder if Ian thinks about these things, and I realize I don’t know.

“What’re you going to do with the house all to yourself for a week?”

“Dance on the tabletop. Invite the high school football team to party. Masturbate.”

“That’s my girl,” he says.

We don’t talk for a long while. Finally, he reaches in to the radio dial and turns up NPR to stave off the silence.

“Shit. This skyline,” he says as soon as we hit the Triboro Bridge. I don’t say anything back. “We’re going to have a real life over there, Rachel. Everything is going to be how it’s supposed to be.”

“This wasn’t real life?” I say, keeping my hands fixed on the wheel, not looking at him. I know he’s turned towards me.

“You and I both know this was no way to live. Any of it,” he says. “Me not being the best husband. And you…”

“And me what, Ian?”

“We’ve just been happier, is all,” he says. “We’ve both been happier without external forces chipping away at us, and we need to move on with our lives. This is us moving on with our lives. We’re doing the right thing.”

I start seeing signs for JFK as we cruise along the Van Wyck, not a speck of traffic in our way today.

“Virgin Atlantic,” he says calmly, pointing towards one of the big sign boards for the terminals. “If you didn’t agree with me in some capacity, you wouldn’t be doing this. But you are.”

Ian reaches down into his lap to adjust the buckle on his belt, even though he doesn’t really do anything with it, just sort of plays with it.

“You tossed and turned a lot last night in your sleep,” I say.

“This is all a big fucking deal, Rachel.”

I stare down into my lap for a second longer than I should.

Self-Checkout

It feels like forever while I wait for the guy buying three different kinds of organic peppers and one vine tomato to figure out how to punch in the produce code into the keypad and realize that he’s not supposed to weigh all four fucking fruits together at the same time and then I still have to watch him struggle with swiping his god damn credit card and screwing up the system that I start to consider running for office entirely on a political platform that pledges to require  all potential Self-Checkout users at the grocery store to be licensed before they can be let loose in the lines.

When he’s finally finished fucking up my evening, I step up to the machine and swipe my savings card on the score. “He-lloThome.Well-comeback.,” intones a clunky mechanical voice that vaguely resembles some concept of femininity. “How-was-the__Elli-osPiz-za__that.You.pur-chasedAt__two. Twenty-Seven. Aye-Em___To-Day?”

“Uh, fine. Thanks. Yeah.” I say. I glance around quickly to make sure no one in the line is listening to this dumb machine reminding me of last night’s regrettable drunken purchase. Although perhaps it’s not fair to say that it’s “regrettable” being that, well, I don’t actually have much recollection of it.

I scan my carton of coconut milk across the machine and wait while the dumb thing prompts me to, “Please.place-your__Coconut. Milk.___on-the-belt.” like it does every time, as if I hadn’t figured it out myself by now.

But this time, it keeps talking. “I-see.That.You.have-purchased__Coconut. Milk.__My_records.show.that-you-like.to-buy____Garelick-Farms_Whole.Milk.__Is-this.cor-rect? Please-press__*Yes*-or__*No*.” I press the little green button on the touchscreen and I can hear the people in line behind me shift their weight and sigh.

“Are-you.Di-e-ting_Thome?” the machine asks.

“No!” I say, perhaps a bit louder and more emphatic than I should have when speaking to a machine in public. I laugh nervously then turn to the little old woman behind me and say, “I’m actually just, I’m making sorbet at home tonight, for my girlfriend, so, ya know, the, um, the coconut milk is — ”

“¿Que?” she says, which is how I know she hates me.

The machine interrupts again. “Please-press__*Enter*__if.You-would.like-this.Ma-chine-to.keep-track-of-your.di-et-and-off-er-sug.Ges-tions. Press__*Exit*__if-this-is-a.one-time-pur.chase.” I poke my finger at the red button on the touch screen, then keep stabbing with my finger in angry little bursts like a drunken wasp.

“Thank-you.For.cancel-ing-your.Or-der.Please-have.A-good-day.Thome.” the machine says. I can feel the angry eyes behind me burning holes into my neck. I glance around to see if any of the staff is nearby. It turns out the coast is clear, and my coconut milk is already sitting at the other end of the conveyor belt. I smile at the little old Hispanic lady behind me, then dart down the aisle, grab my milk and make a run for it.

Vows

We lie next to each other in bed and both stare up at the ceiling. My thumb keeps running over my naked ring finger. I am counting each of my breaths. I start counting each of Ian’s.

This is how we spend Friday night. Counting cracks on the ceiling. There is conversation, words with little meaning dribbling out in short bursts, but no movement. I finally turn towards him, and he mirrors me, our foreheads touching. We both close our eyes, and stay like that for a moment.

 “Let’s sleep,” he says, turning over towards the nightstand and flicking off the only remaining light in the room. I flip over so violently that I cause vibrations in the springs of the mattress. I don’t expect Ian to touch me, but he pulls me into him. And he holds me like the world is going to end.

***

I wake up early. The clock says eight, and Ian is still clutching me tight. I can’t remember the last time we stayed wrapped  into each other like this. I’m not tired, but the thought of leaving his arms is more terrible than anything, so I stay. He is asleep, but not fully, so I flip back towards him, willing, once again, for him. But he just rests his forehead onto mine, and inhales for more sleep.

I can’t be only one thing to him, whatever he wants me to be in this moment, so I sit up in bed and lean forward. He puts his hand on my back as he lays there, running his fingers over each notch of my spine, and as I shift to get up, he reaches out, and pulls me back into him with all of his might. And he will not let me go. We sleep another hour.

When I wake, I lie flat on my back, my ear near Ian’s lips. I get up to leave again, but I’m pulled back into bed with the same rubber band reflex against his chest.

At noon, when I wake back up for the final time, his forehead is tucked in against my shoulder, his breath spreading across my back. I reach my hand behind and find his hair, run my fingers through a thick patch on the back of his head, and he readjusts so his chin is resting in my neck.

 “I’m getting up,” I say, and lift myself off the sheets, starting to slide my legs down the side of the bed.

Ian has to catch my body on the way down, but he scoops me up, and doesn’t let me leave. And that’s when I start crying.

 “You won’t even kiss me,” I say, facing out, not looking at him.

 “It’s not you,” he says. “I just need to take this slow again.”

“I’m your wife, Ian,” I hiss. I’m trying to hard to stop the tears, pushing away any sign that they were ever there with the heel of my hand. “This is Kindergarten.”

I turn back so I’m staring back up at the ceiling, but he takes my hands and pulls me on top of him so I’m straddling him. I put my palms flat on his chest.

“What?” I say.

He puts his hands on my hips and, without a word, starts rocking me back and forth on him.

“What are you doing?” I say. “Ian.”

“Just stop talking,” he says, pulling my chemise up over my head.