Jill looked at her reflection in the vanity mirror. Clark sat on the edge of the bed while she gazed into her apple green eyes reflected in the glass. She didn’t think her eyes were the color of apples. Her father told her that when she was a child.
â€śYou think there might be zombies out there?â€ť Clark asked.
Maybe, Jill thought. She ran a teal green brush with stiff white bristles through long chestnut brown hair. She glanced at the right side of the mirror where Clark sat reflected. He looked at her reflection and smiled. How strange. Two reflections not of this world, she thought.
â€śAre you scared of zombies?â€ť Clark’s reflection asked.
â€śMaybe,â€ť Jill said.
â€śI bet Richard Nixon is a zombie,â€ť Clark said.
â€śClark,â€ť said Jill, â€śNixon’s dead.â€ť
â€śDid you ever think he might be undead? The first undead president of the United States.â€ť
Honestly, Jill never thought about such things. She was too young to remember all the bad things they said about the former and disgraced president. Clint, her older brother, hated Nixon. It made sense because Clint was twenty years older than Jill. His generation fancied a revolution and a more fair world. Impossible things, silly things. As she sat there before the vanity slowly stroking her hair with the brush and gazing at the backward reflection of Clark’s blue eyes in the mirror she thought: you know, I can’t even remember what Nixon looked like, I can’t see his face. It occurred Nixon might be one of the undead out there walking the streets with all the other undead. The idea buzzed crazily above her like an angry house fly. One moment it was something silly Clark said and now it was a possibility.
â€śOh, crap,â€ť said Clark. â€śLet’s go to Barney’s.â€ť
â€śFine,â€ť she said, and then put down the brush, flicked her thick mane of chestnut brown hair over slender shoulders, and they walked out of the house.
Barney’s, a delicatessen, was three blocks away. Jill said maybe they should take a cab. â€śI don’t feel like walking,â€ť she said, and then thought, I’m whining again, stop it.
Clark didn’t hear. He was walking too fast, he was in a hurry and Jill struggled to keep up. She reached out and tugged on the sleeve of his jacket. â€śSlow down, Clark,â€ť she pleaded. He looked over his shoulder and saw her pained expression. His face softened.
â€śOkay,â€ť he said, â€śI’m sorry, Beetle.â€ť
He often called her that. She wasn’t sure why, but Jill liked it, even though she did not resemble a beetle, or at least she didn’t think she did. Clark relaxed his pace, Jill fell in beside him, and he put his arm around her shoulder and smiled. It was a full and sincere smile showing his teeth. Jill had always marveled over Clark’s teeth. So white and straight were they.
As they rounded a corner two blocks shy of Barney’s Jill imagined they were surrounded by zombies. It was the way people passing by looked â€“ somber with a yellowish, sickly animal cast to their eyes. She told herself it was the late afternoon sun. It made people passing on the sidewalk appear to have yellowish green eyes. Jill moved against Clark and he cinched her closer with his arm. She imagined he was protecting her from the people turning into zombies right before her eyes. She knew it was crazy. But she could not shake the idea.
Barney’s wasn’t getting any closer. It seemed far away, miles away, an unreachable destination. Jill’s feet ached. They’re five sizes larger than normal, she imagined. I’m busting out of my shoes. I can hardly pick them up. I can hardly move my shoes, they’re made of concrete, some impenetrable something or other.
Clark noticed Jill slowing down. She was a fleshy anchor tethered to him. He loosened his grip and Jill fell a few steps behind, a sea of zombies mindlessly parting as she sank into the sidewalk.
â€śJillish,â€ť Clark said, â€śyou okay?â€ť
That was her other pet name. Jillish.
She reached out with the despondency of a drowning woman. It was the look on her face â€“ an expression of desperation mingled with fear â€“ that sent Clark to the rescue. â€śI’m sinking into the sidewalk,â€ť she whispered, â€śand there are zombies all over the place.â€ť
Clark smiled. â€śAny of them look like Richard Nixon?â€ť
â€śNot funny,â€ť she wheezed.
â€śI’m worried about you, Beetle. I’ll get a cab,â€ť he said.
Jill was about to tell him no, I can make it on my own, but at that precise moment an odd thought entered her head â€“ her lips are stitched together with steel wire. She couldn’t move them. Her mouth and vocal cords were suddenly broken and useless. I’m sinking into the sidewalk. There are zombies all around. They want my flesh, my intestines, every last morsel of my soul right down to the gristle.
â€śThink I need a Xanax,â€ť she murmured, but Clark didn’t hear. He was over at the curb trying to signal a cab. She had a couple of emergency pills in her purse. When she snapped the purse clasp the damn thing opened into a dark chasm, maybe the size of the Grand Canyon, maybe bigger. She was afraid to put her hand in there. It might come back a stump. And then she thought something really weird â€“ her purse was a zombie mouth. It would eat her, gobble Jill’s hand to the wrist. It had sharp teeth. It was hungry.
â€śYou’re okay now, Beetle,â€ť Clark said. He held her protectively close.
They were nestled in the back of a cab, moving slowly down the street, the outside world now a silverish blur of glinty windows, dentist offices, dollar stores, Puerto Rican restaurants, hair stylist salons, hot dog vendors, cops astride black and white motorcycles scribbling out tickets, and dozens of cars all sizes, shapes and colors sailing through the stale urban oxygen of late afternoon. It was like they were in a protective fish bowl made of the strongest diamond-like material. Nothing can get you, Jilly, she reassured herself, and breathed a little easier… until once again she imagined there were zombies, hundreds of them crowding and plodding up and down the sidewalk. She stared at the threatening horde over the crook of Clark’s arm, eyes wide with terror.
Curbside at Barney’s. Clark coaxed Jill out of the cab. It was a short six yards from the ajar cab door at the curb to the threshold of the restaurant. For Jill it was a thousand perilous miles. She finally darted nervously half-crouched into the shelter of the brightly lit delicatessen. Clark steered her gently toward a booth. Jillish pulled herself into a corner where she tried to make herself small and unobtrusive.
Clark was now keenly aware of Jill’s fear and the delusion zombies lurked everywhere. He regretted his playful joke earlier at the apartment. All at once he recalled something he’d read in a book. Delusional disorder, psychoses not otherwise specified, schizoaffective disorder, persistent persecutory state… the partially defined terms bounced around in his head as a waiter descended with menus fanned in hand.
Jill appeared to be better. The color had returned to her face. â€śI’m okay now,â€ť she said, forcing a weak smile that did not reassure Clark as he dismissively waved off the waiter.
â€śI’m worried about you, Beetle,â€ť he said.
â€śNeedn’t be,â€ť she said. â€śLet’s get something to eat. I’m famished.â€ť
Clark flagged down the waiter.
Soon the couple sat counterpoised with menus in hand. The Cordon Blue, she mused, and then, no, possibly the Tuna Melt… not really hungry, she decided, but must keep up appearances. Truth be told I feel like I may vomit. Poor Clark, what did he ever do to warrant my crazy behavior… and then reflexively she peered over the top of the menu to glance at Clark, but instead â€“ there was Richard Nixon on the other side of the booth glaring at her ominously.
An undead Richard Nixon. Green skinned, the world famous jowls droopy as melted and corroded mozzarella. Sunken grayish reptile eyes with vertical slit irises. The snake eyes did not look at her so much as cut through her like twin razorblades. It was a classic example of a thousand yard zombie stare, the countenance of the dead irremediably undead. Nixon slowly opened his slack jaw mouth to form a green saliva slathered snarl. It sounded like gas escaping from a punctured hose. Greenish gob flew across the table and spattered the menu card. Jill saw the teeth â€“ whittled down to sharp yellowed blades, the tangs exposed and rotted â€“ and she let out a scream that went on for an eternity.
A cop stood between Clark, the paramedics and Jill. She was strapped tightly to a gurney. Eyes wide and staring with blank horrible fixedness. Two white uniformed paramedics carefully maneuvered the gurney through the center of the restaurant. The murmuring crowd having earlier gathered now parted to allow the wheeled gurney to clatter out into a dusky street where red lights pulsated with feverish intensity through the steamy front window of the delicatessen.
â€śFunny,â€ť a skinny old man in a checkered shirt and too-short white pants said to Clark. â€śYou look nothing like Richard Nixon.â€ť
â€śWho the fuck is Richard Nixon?â€ť a ten year old kid behind him said.