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November 28, 2007

Zombie boyfriend

What would you do if you woke up one day to realise your significant other had been zombiefied?

I should have known I wouldn’t have been able to get away with it.

‘Charlie, that’s the fifth fag you’ve had in as many minutes! What’s the matter?’ Laura demanded. I glanced up, and saw that she had turned her face to mine to get a better view. Her eyes looked greener and harder in daylight. Bitch.

‘So?’ Jutting over, lighter sparking in one hand, fiddly roll of tobacco in the other, I freed myself of the bother of maintaining that light tone I had been straining to impose on my voice since I stepped into the office six hours ago.

‘What’s going on?’

I couldn’t get the gas to light. I was probably being far too vigorous with the wheel mechanism. But the heartbeat rasp of skin on metal, the dim warm sensation in my hands, these things brought me comfort. My hair flopped forward. I should get it cut. Maybe then… All I could see was the pink of my palms, the steady stabbing movement of my thumb joint…

‘Stop it!’

My left wrist buckled, falling under the weight of what I now saw to be Laura’s copper-clawed hand. She had batted my arm away. Everything I had been holding tumbled to the floor – pack, lighter, cigarettes.

‘Charlie – ’

‘Alan’s been acting strangely,’ I blurted, ducking down to retrieve, scrabbling dirt into my nails in haste. I felt my eyeballs twinge. I blinked twice, and then again.

Laura shifted her weight to her other leg, produced a lit fag from somewhere about her person and thrust it in my hand as soon as I saw fit to rise. I let the hot smoke crinkle the inside of my mouth.

‘Trouble in paradise?’ She nodded at me, peaks of yellow hair glistening in the afternoon dusk.

I had been silent for too long. I had lost all powers of discernment. I told her everything…


I admit it; I’m no expert when it comes to the opposite sex. Alan’s the only serious boyfriend I’ve ever had, I’ve no brothers or anything... Who am I to say what’s normal and what’s not? But I know him. For Christ’s sake we’ve been living together a year! We’ve been friends since sixth form! I know what he’s like. And these past two months – he’s been a changed man.

It started with the accident at work. You just don’t expect it to happen to you, do you? He came home, brown suit rumpled by the stress of it, bandaged round the middle. I leapt from the sofa, guilty for not having known, not having done something. Will and Grace yammered on at my back like a call to prayer. It’s nothing, he said. Bed rest, he said. Don’t worry. As we struggled up the stairs I suggested tomato soup. He insisted on chicken.

Bathing his wound – a strange, round hole with crenellated edges, mottled grey and pink – I reflect. He’s always been a bit quiet, but not silent, not like this. His chest hardly quivers. The books at his side have not been thought of, last Tuesday’s Kakuro suspended, incomplete. Should I check for a pulse? No, don’t be ridiculous.

I wonder – is it me? I lift the mirror off its hook on the wall and lean it against the laundry bin, angled upward so I can see most of myself in it. Is he… is he regretting me, regretting us? I smooth my new jeans over my thighs. I too have changed. My mouth never used to lie drooping like that. When did I start chewing my nails? I should get a makeover. The magazine guides me. I savour the glossy nap of each page. Later, I go shopping.

I am feeding him. Beefsteak and chips, soul food. Each piece is pre-cut. His hunger makes him obedient. He snaps each piece off the fork and chews it with a diligence few children possess. Nothing falls. I no longer remember to bring napkins up in case. For some reason I pause, not bringing the fork back to the plate as quickly as I usually do, dangling my wrist at eye level. His jaws widen, and he snaps again, and again. I gasp and clatter the metal down. His face flushes with something like pain, something like disgust. It is too fleeting to tell.


Shooting off some dull excuse, I left work early that day, the memory of Laura’s parting words shuttling though my head like rocket-powered pinballs. Well, she’s a dried-up old hag anyway, couldn’t get a man for love nor money, twice-divorced spinster cow... Emerging from the car, I noticed the peculiar smudged look of the sky, as if a thousand hands had tried to strike the colour from it. A stupid thought entered my mind. I recall its stupidity well. ‘I should wash my hair tonight, it looks like rain… the water had better be on...’

I found the corpse under the blanket, Alan cradling it to his chest. A snake of crimson wreathed his lips.

November 10, 2007

Professor Marchant's dream

I decide I have been in this position for some time: motionless, upright, one arm flung at ninety degrees against the panel of an open door. There are people streaming past. None say thank-you.

I find myself burdening their collective multitudes with the most poisonous of glares. The muscles round my eyes tighten and my neck juts. Rolls of skin compress under my chin. I must be really cheesed off. I am not a tall man, but I have a sense of looking down from a great height, the subjects of my gaze far, far removed. My head feels large and airy and vacant. I expect it is trying to escape.

I cannot maintain this. My eyes relax, sliding inevitably away like pancetta off a greased pan. The impression I get of the people is curiously watery, and I begin to fear that what I see, this haze-tinged pastel dribbling of human souls, is not an accurate representation of what is in fact going on. Somehow true sight is barred.  

I pitch my chest forward, substantial with accumulated layers of fine dining and biccies before bedtime, marking my intent to move. My free arm butts the body of the crowd and bounces aside. I watch with the detached interest of a man reading the newspaper of a country in which he does not live, where the satirical cartoon prefacing ‘Comment’ is in black and white and makes no sense.

Filaments of pain begin to creep up from my elbow. I am still pinning the door open, spread-eagled, an anatomist’s carcass. What if one of them was suddenly to lunge at my throat?

I advance another inch, this time holding my arm across my belly. But a wave crest of forward momentum catches me unawares, and within seconds I have become part of the crowd. The insides of my nostrils prickle at the familiar tang of sweat. We acquire planes, our flesh pressed insistently against others. This feels like a warm bath, a long hug, caramel on the tongue. I do not mind that I am drowning.

We surge through the door, where a room replete with faux-wood panelling materialises. Music thunders from aloft. Machines flare alluringly. I recognise this place! It’s the campus pub. Students loll everywhere, part of the furniture. Amidst the dandruff of youthful conversation I feel like an impostor. Cheerily, the pub confides that it too is a master of deception, except in those few golden hours – after it has been vacated by staff and patrons, but before the cleaners come. Then it is finally free to be itself. It spent five hours with a discarded Dover Thrift Hamlet yesterday; doing all the voices, being scandalised by shoddy editing, giggling when Ophelia goes mad. I ask whether it plans to write a letter to the editor, but I soon wish I hadn’t: rounding the corner to order, literary witticisms cloy the air.

I am buying a round for my second year Modernity and Globalisation group. A soft-edged list in my hand tells me they drink Guinness and soda gins. The latter reminds me of my ex-wife, and when I pivot my neck to the table it does not surprise me that a nineteen-year-old version of her is ranged among the rest, teasing Jeremy to pinkness about his broken glasses.

I talk to a girl behind the bar. I say something like, ‘do you find my choice of tie alarming?’ but she smiles and dispenses drinks without comment. Maybe I am not wearing one today. Fingers jammed at a greasy shirt collar confirm. Watching her deft movements in the cavern of bottles and pumps, hair coiled in a basket at her nape, I know whatever I attempt she will not alter her course.

It is unwise to buy wine here, yet I find myself gazing into the oily bottom of a glass of white. Something whiter flashes into the bottom. It is a tooth. Perfectly formed. ‘Someone has spiked my drink!’ I declare, grasping the glass’ stem and raising it to general view. By this time, several more have appeared. They are efficient as microwave popcorn. As they overwhelm the upturned tulip of glass and scatter to the ground, I catch a glimmer of disgust on my ex-wife’s face.

At first I was chuffed that I had to write in the style of a dream for the week 3 assignment. I thought to myself: 'I know dreams. I've had dreams. How hard could it be?' Compared to some of the other styles being bandied about class, I reckoned I got off lightly. Ha ha ha.

I chose to write it from the perspective of an academic, mainly because I had recently re-browsed through J.M. Coetzee's 'Disgrace'.

A lot of people dream about teeth. Classic anxiety dream. A friend of mine was telling me she has a recurring one about her teeth continously tumbling out of her mouth, which sort of inspired the end of this piece. Horrible! I was going to have the Professor's mouth bleeding everywhere, as if the teeth were disappearing from his gums as they appeared in the glass, but I thought that would be just needlessly gory. 

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