These Things Will Appear To Be From Fondness

We’re wrapped precariously in morning sunlight and bed sheets when I tell her that I’m afraid to die. It’s Monday and I’m meant to be at work in less than thirty minutes, but I’m made of a kind of exhausted concrete and I can’t move. She has a flexible schedule today and a gift for enabling my procrastination, which she is aware of and exercising at every available opening. I’m mostly useless and random.”I think you should know, I don’t ever want to go rock climbing,” I say without provocation.

“That’s fine, I don’t want to either,” she says.

“What? Why would you completely close yourself off to something like that?” I say. “That’s sad.”

“You said it first,” she’s unfazed.

“You could at least try the boulder hugging or whatever that one is where you climb on the small rocks. That looks pretty safe.”

“Why are you so afraid to die?” she whispers.

“I’m not afraid to die,” I lie too forcefully and she knows. “Really, I just think rock climbing is unnecessary.”

“Mmm hmm. Your house needs Q-Tips and conditioner,” she says, rolling over to face me. “And a hairbrush.”

She’s right about the hairbrush, because her hair gets worked into a thick, swirling dreadlock when she tosses at night. I start to tell her about how I read that Q-Tips were once called “Baby Gays” and she interrupts me to ask about something unrelated and equally trivial. She likes to interrupt, says that conversation doesn’t need to be so linear, so neatly defined. I interrupt to tell her that’s because she’s the youngest child of a large family, that it’s a survival response for her. She interrupts to say that oldest children, like me, are bullies that feel entitled to control. She says we’re too wrapped up in waiting for our turn, that there shouldn’t be turns, that it should all tumble and flow together, random, like scrabble letters left in your pockets and sent through the wash. She says these things and I am interrupting again just to be difficult when the radio alarm clicks on. She runs her finger along the bridge of my nose and closes her eyes while a voice on the radio talks about an astronaut named Steve, who is at this very moment floating tethered and terrified through space, repairing some kind of damaged thermal protection thing.

We’re sun-kissed and driving home after swimming in that river, the one that’s less trashy, less dirty-diaper-floating-by-you, when she saves my life. We’re playing hooky from work, so it’s still early in the afternoon. The sun scorches us because we’re riding with the top down in my cranky old convertible Chevrolet, which we purposely suffer the heat in because it makes that first jump into the cold river feel like young love. We take the small side roads home, a necklace of villages leading us to a little mill town that we know will serve us the seasonal sweet onion rings. There, we will complete this experience and make our fingers glow with that familiar, comforting sheen. We’re about halfway there when all hell breaks loose.“Ohmygod. Zombie,” she says with a hushed panic, pointing at a man inching his way into the crosswalk in front of us. He looks prematurely ancient, forty-nine going on corpse, mouth agape and one arm outstretched in front of him, reaching for a railing – or victim – that doesn’t exist.

“Jesus, are you sure?” I ask instinctively, lending her the sort of credibility usually reserved for experts of important and complicated scientific avocations. Nuclear Physics. Hydraulic Engineering. Brain surgery. Zombies.

“Are you kidding me? Look at him! He exhibits every classic zombie behavior and if we get close enough, I bet he sounds like a zombie too.”

“I think I hear moaning,” I say with wide eyes, because I do. We’ve slowed to a creep and our zombie still hasn’t made it five full paces into the street. I definitely hear moaning.

“We need to get out of here, now” and she emphasizes that “now” in the manner of every brainy and beautiful character of every horror movie I’ve ever seen. I’m suddenly frozen and useless, in the manner of every doomed character of the same.

“Step on the gas, man!” she screams as she pushes my knee towards the floor. The car jerks violently beneath us and we rocket towards the living dead, still oblivious and dragging his feet behind him. My car is old and slow to react when I jerk the wheel left, but it’s just enough to avoid him and ripple the tails of his dirty, un-tucked burial dress shirt. She turns around in her seat to assess the situation.

“This town is fucked. These people have no idea,” she says with a slow and serious headshake that really sells it.

“I don’t know, maybe he was just old and gross,” I say, confidence growing with every new foot now between the demon and us.

“No chance. We got out of there just in time. In twenty four hours, that place is covered with zombies,” she says with the wry smile that she knows will render me mute and melted.

We ride for the next several miles in silence, staring straight ahead and replaying the scene over in our heads, a thousand different horrible permutations. If we were infected, what would it be like to be zombies together? Would we recognize each other? And if we did, would we still be so interested in the kissing? Probably not. We’d need to focus instead on the killing, for whatever reason. Sustenance I suppose and maybe a little bit of sport, or dead animal instinct. I turn these rough things over in my mind until they’re those smooth river rocks, when I realize that the business of zombies is more complicated than I originally gave credit, that it deserves study by people much smarter than me. I realize this and I’m suddenly elated in knowing this woman, able to recognize and react to that zombie with such sharp, lightning conviction. I’m light headed and beaming when I finally turn to look at her laughing at me. The sun comes across her shoulders and blinds me so thoroughly, so completely, I don’t even notice myself turning into the restaurant that will soon serve us sweet seasonal onion rings in the kind of red plastic basket that’s not meant to be thrown away.

And Then
We’re floating dreamily in that creaky, weathered hammock from the Army Navy surplus store when she looks at me and says, “I want to have your baby.” I laugh uncomfortably and pretend to have a burning itch on my face so I can relax my smile a little. I linger on it too long and she knows she’s making me nervous. She always knows how to make me nervous, even though we barely know each other, barely remember the names of each other’s siblings, best friends and childhood pets. Staring, grinning, she lets me squirm for a full minute more before she continues, “I want to have your fatbaby.”“You want to have a child with me and make it heavy?” I ask.

“No. I want to get fat with you,” she says. “You and I are going to get fat together and then we’ll both have fatbabies on us, jiggly little people around our waists. Twenty pounds should be enough,” and she pokes me a little too hard in the ribs. “What are you going to name yours?”

“I don’t want a fatbaby,” I say. “I’m not financially stable enough and my school district sucks. Some ten year old got stabbed last week at Ockley Green and I don’t know about you, bu
t that’s not the kind of world I want my fatbaby living in.”

“I’m naming mine Riley,” she says flatly.

“Ok, then mine will be called Lyle.”

The hammock stops rocking, so I reach out for a chute from the bamboo that’s been slowly devouring the back of my yard for the last year. I reach across her to grab that chute and she bites my arm without hesitation. I’ve already learned not to react when she does this, because it makes her bite harder and longer, even though I like the way she giggles when she eventually lets go. I grab the chute and it breaks off in my hand, sending me abruptly back onto my side of the hammock. She laughs and says, “Do you think fatbabies are covered by healthcare?”

“Not at first,” I say. “They’re not going to cover the birth, so we’re going to have to buy our own milkshakes and tacos.”

“What about when they get sick?” she asks.

“That’s the beauty of the system,” I say. “They’ll give us anything we need once we’re sick, so you can forget about the preventative stuff.”

“Well I still want to get Riley her Diptets,” she pouts in a mock Southern accent. “Just to be safe.”

I reach across her once more and hook another bamboo chute between my fingers, guiding it into my palm. She bites my arm again and I whimper a little, blaming it on the razor edge of the bamboo leaves. She laughs because she knows better and she spares me the deeper bite, this irresistible little Attila. I pull and let go the bamboo and we’re suddenly tangled together and swinging again, imagining ourselves the cause of the wind sighing steadily in the fir tree that towers above our hazy, breathless anticipation.

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