“What should I write about next?” I ask.
“Zombies,” says my boyfriend. Always with the zombies, this guy. But I say: “Okay. Zombies. Sure.” I am half joking.
He nods vigorously. His head looks like it wants to wobble off.
“Why do you keep asking me to write about zombies?”
“No reason,” my boyfriend says, leaving a dry kiss on my forehead. We crawl into bed, and it’s I love you, I love you, goodnight, and goodnight.
When I wake up in the morning, my boyfriend’s arm is missing. The stump boasts bone like teeth. I scream. He screams back.
“Where’s your arm?” I cry.
“What?” He asks. “Oh.”
He reaches under the bed, grabs his arm, and screws it back on.
“Are you ok?” I ask, panting.
“Oh, yeah,” my boyfriend says. “No worries.”
“Hey,” asks my boyfriend. “What are you writing about?”
“A woman who misses her family,” I say.
“Babe,” he says. “That sounds great. But. You know what would make it more interesting?”
“Zombies,” we say simultaneously.
I send out stories about the internal battles people wage. I get generic rejection emails. I send out essays that attempt to blend humor and sadness into a tangy cocktail. I get kindly worded personal rejections for these essays, but rejections all the same. I send out one story about zombies. Three journals respond, saying they must publish it immediately. When I eventually withdraw the piece from the other journals, they write back, despondent, asking for more.
“What’d I tell you?” says my boyfriend.
“How’d you know?”
“Duh,” he says, gesturing at the television, the bookshelf, the nervous leaves outside.
I go on a rampage. I flake flesh off by the pound, abandon toes by roadsides, serve gorgeous feasts of wriggling humans, whose calls for salvation fall upon rotten ears. Eyeballs become the caviar of the undead.
I write about a zombie that develops compassion for the living and only eats animals deemed evil by Disney movie standards. I write about a zombie that tries to go vegan but is eventually ripped for parts by the others. I write about a zombie that tries to pass as a living man and, for the most part, gets away with it. Mostly by showering six times a day.
“Babe,” my boyfriend calls from the bathroom. “Take a break. Grab a shower with me.”
I start to receive hate mail. The way you are representing zombies is preposterous, exclaims one hater. They capitalize the first three letters of the word, so it read PRE-posterous. The thing before posterous.
“They hate me,” I say.
“No, no. You’re getting a little ahead of yourself,” says my boyfriend.
“Right,” I say. “Pre-myself.”
One hate letter states: YOU INSIGNIFICANT NINCOMPOOP I HOPE A ZOMBIE EATS YOU!!!!
I read the letter aloud to my boyfriend.
“They want me to be eaten.”
“Well, come here,” he says with a wink.
Zombie fictions remain hot for the next year. But, finally, the journals begin to say:
Thank you very much for your submission. Regrettably, we are unable to publish it at this time. Please know that we take very seriously the job of reading all submissions that come our way, and we’re grateful that you would consider our journal when sending your writing out for publication. We remain thankful for your support and wish you the best of luck placing this work elsewhere.
They mean: enough with the zombies already.
“You’ll find something new,” my boyfriend says. He’s sitting at the table, eating something that is trying to escape its bowl.
“What about chickens?” I ask. “Hot take: chickens would be the ones in charge if they had opposable thumbs.” I am a quarter joking.
He puts on his ‘it’s cute that you’re trying’ face.
“Any ideas? You’re the brains behind this thing.”
He corrals his lunch with a spoon.
“Oh, no,” he says. “I ran out of brains last week.”
In the middle of the night, I wake up alone.
“Babe?” I call. Downstairs, pans clank on the stove. I get up. Strains of caramelized onions and fried peppers rope around my ankles and throat. When I reach the kitchen, my boyfriend is wearing an apron.
“You’re cooking,” I say.
“You don’t cook.”
“I thought you might like something to eat.”
“It’s the middle of the night.”
“It is. Here.”
He hands me a bowl full of warmth. Suddenly, I am starving. I gobble oversized bites. Run my fingers along the inside of the bowl and suck them dry. I eat like I will never eat again. When I finish, I tilt my head back and close my eyes. My stomach gurgles happily.
“Full?” he asks.
“Okay,” he says. “Good. My turn.”
I don’t say anything. I open my eyes. He’s sitting there, looking like he did when he skipped breakfast before we ran our first and only 5k. “Never again,” he’d said after the race, holding his stomach. Now, he rearranges his apron into a napkin.
“I’m sorry.” He pauses. “You must have seen this coming.”
Even with the zombies, I always knew this was a ghost story.
“How do you want me?” I ask. “I can roll around in pepper. We have wine—I can marinate. What would be best for you?” I am barely joking.
His face is lined with sad love. The party is over, but there’s still one more present to unwrap.
“Babe,” he says. “Just as you are.”
I close my eyes again. I screw them shut, hoping the darkness will offer some protection. I feel him lift my foot. I wait for the pain to start, but it never does. It doesn’t hurt at all. It feels the way I imagine a lollipop might feel. Slowly dissolving in the mouth of someone who is so, so happy to have you.