where you are now
Because I was still bummed out about Jean Luc, I didn’t pay attention to the zombies. It had been a month since I found out he was dating someone else. That means when we went down to Queen St. and ordered chips at the Belgian beer garden, he wasn’t going to be mine no matter how many beers I bought him that night, no matter how I tried to use my Americanness as a factor to up my worth— like dropping in Idaho or baseball into the conversation even when it didn’t fit. That guy’s mole looks like the state of Idaho.
He was so beautiful and lean that I should’ve known that there was a catch when he came back to my flat and we had sex. I’m talking walking-around-Florence-looking-at-the-bodies-of-all-the-men-in-those-statues beautiful. But if I got to do it over again, I would still do it. The sort of guy you fuck just to say you did. Maybe that’s what bothers me the most: I did it and now I can’t anymore. Like I know what physical human perfection is and everything else bores me. I told myself to get over him, that this is New Zealand! I told myself you’re twenty, you can drink legally here. Most guys find you incredibly sexy. Everyone wants to be where you are now.
But I couldn’t snap out of it the way you know you’re dreaming and on the cusp of waking up— but can’t bring your eyes to open. So I went to the South Island, saw the majestic scenery, and it made me think of Jean Luc’s chest. Looking out from a fjord with nothing between Antarctica and your face makes you feel like you’ve ruined everything in this life if there’s no one to turn to and say can you believe how amazing that is? I mean he’s Belgian and spoke with a French accent; Antarctica is the largest desert on earth, which means it’s only a wasteland.
I told my mom this hoping she’d be sympathetic, and she said perhaps I should try changing my study abroad to Israel, as if you could just switch countries like that, like this was going from pb&j to egg salad. I told her that’s not how it works and, besides, I’m super pro-Palestinian; she hung up. I’m sure somewhere in me I’m upset about that too because I haven’t spoken to her since, but right now I only care about Jean Luc. Today, I’m thinking about how his skin smelled like switch grass. I don’t even know what switch grass is.
And that’s why I didn’t care about the zombies. Some French submarine sneaked into the harbor against the country’s no nuclear materials laws. Long story short, it tore against the sea shelf and the thing exploded. There was fallout or something. I haven’t really paid much attention to it on the news, and the science seems sketchy to me, but somehow that made the zombies.
Because the Symonds St. Cemetery is a block away from my flat, this should’ve been important, but I live on the twenty-fourth floor and the elevators in my building are key card-activated. I know from movies that zombies are slow, and they don’t like stairs because they don’t have much knee movement with the whole locked joints issue. Plus, pacifism or not, it’s not like the country was going to let the zombies just eat people’s brains.
The gun shots kept me up all night the first time.
I can understand how zombie attacks are rare in the sense that they’re not common, so it’s not as if most cities have contingency plans to deal with that kind of situation, but after five minutes of shooting and seeing nothing is happening as those dead guys continue to stumble toward you, you’d think they’d learn to save their bullets. Instead, they brought bigger guns, then bombs. On day three of the invasion one of the soldiers got trigger-happy and blew up the Grafton St. Bridge. I wanted to yell from my window that zombies are obviously already dead, so shooting them wouldn’t do anything, but I didn’t. I put my headphones on and listened to Fiona Apple while attempting to write a paper on the country’s commercial appropriation of Maori culture.
Eventually then squad tasked with killing the zombies learned this direct attack thing wasn’t going to work, and the city held this big meeting that I didn’t go to about ways to defeat the zombies. Instead I masturbated to the mental image I had of Jean Luc in my shower. I’ve never washed the towel I lent him.
I only heard about it later on breaking news interrupting a delayed airing of The Amazing Race that the idea chosen was to round up the zombies and transport them to the South Island, where hardly anyone lives outside of Christchurch. I don’t hear complaints about the plan, so I’m assuming that worked. But eight days after the zombies first rose, new zombies came. Only this time they were from the Jewish cemetery.
The Symonds St. Cemetery is divided into five sections: the Jewish one is on the northeast corner. It’s the smallest of them by far, and you’d only know it was different when you passed it pre-zombie apocalypse because the gravestones are written in Hebrew.
This is where I come in. So panic sets in about these news zombies at first, but then it dies down. The National Guard or whatever New Zealand calls their guys is dispatched to battle and contain the Jewish zombies, but when they arrive they notice the Jewish zombies don’t leave the cemetery. They just stand there. The troops stare and take pictures with their phones that they then post on the internet. Suddenly, people all over want to see the Jewish zombies. Everyone goes. And that’s fine because these zombies don’t paw for the spectators’ brains. They just stand there. It’s like some zoo exhibit with boring, smelly animals.
But one day I’m feeling particularly down and want to forget Jean Luc because it would’ve been our two-month anniversary, so I decide to see the Jewish zombies. I leave in the morning, but the crowd is big, so I don’t push my way to the front until early afternoon. The locals are flashing their cameras as if they’re tourists while the tourists are at the Sky Tower bungee jumping because they saw the Jewish zombies yesterday.
One of the Jewish zombies looks at me. He has a thick beard that is ruined with dirt. There are worms in it. He signals the others. They all nod, then walk over to me. At this point people are panicking because the Jewish zombies are finally doing something. Truth is I want to get away, but so many people are pushing into me so they can see that I can’t. I’m stuck. I’m about to get my brain eaten, and I blame Jean Luc in my head. But that makes me smile because I always smile when I think of him, and this makes my impending death seem stupid.
The bearded zombie comes close, and he smells like what I think the holocaust would smell like if it were a perfume. He stares and everyone around me is screaming, but they’re too drawn in to move either. At first I don’t hear him, but I see his mouth move, so I yell for everyone to shut up. For some reason they do. I can’t explain why that moment of crowd shushing seems more incredible than the zombies, but it does. When he repeats himself so that we all can hear, someone calls out he’s speaking zombie. But it’s not; it’s Yiddish. Why I speak Yiddish is because my mom is old world, back when Jews wouldn’t speak Hebrew because it was a sacred language. I forget what changed and made it unsacred, but I think it was Israel. These zombies were buried starting in 1854, so I guess they never got the memo. My mom would talk on the phone in Yiddish when she didn’t want to me to hear her gossip about the neighbors, but that’s how I learned it as a kid.
The zombie said he and his people were hungry. I asked him why he wasn’t eating brains like the other zombies, and he gave me this look as if I were the zombie. In Yiddish, he told me it’s because people’s brains aren’t kosher. That made sense.
I didn’t want to be the liaison for the Jewish zombies, but they were no Jews in Auckland who spoke Yiddish, and even though I stopped believing in god a long time ago, I was the best thing going for them. The mayor heard about me talking to them, and suddenly I’m given this position that comes with business cards, like I could hand them out at bars to guys— but the number on there isn’t my personal line, so it wouldn’t work. The gig even has money, which I couldn’t accept because my student visa status doesn’t let me work.
When the mayor found out the Jewish zombies posed no threat to people, she wanted to know how she could keep them happy. The Jewish zombies were a tourist goldmine because who else had zombies, specifically Jewish ones, who didn’t try to eat your brains? I told her to feed them. I gave her a list of kosher animals, which included sheep. Lamb’s brain is kosher, and there are four of them to every human brain in the country. It was a compromise the Jewish zombies and public were happy with. After the Jewish zombies ate, they regained their strength and moved about freely. They asked, politely, to be let out of the cemetery, and the mayor said O.K.— as long as they didn’t attack anyone. Simple as that.
In fact, they were so far from that rampaging zombie stereotype that they went to temple to pray because it was Friday night. They became doctors and sent their zombie children to study to be lawyers at the university. Everyone was happy with the situation but me. The Jewish zombies visited me frequently because I was the first one to trust them, and that meant something to them. They’d come and cook me dinner and ask me about the new world. I told them about the sad stuff. I told them about the good stuff. When they heard about Israel and I asked if they wanted to go, they shook their heads and said it wasn’t right for them to set foot on that sacred land in their condition. If I were a Jewish zombie, I’d at least want to see what all the fuss about that wall is about.
Sometimes the Jewish zombie mothers would ask me if I were seeing anyone, and it made me miss Jean Luc, but I never mentioned I slept with him because we’re talking very religious Jewish zombies here, and premarital sex with a goy would break their hearts. Once they asked about my family, and when I told them what happened between my mom and me, they said I wasn’t being respectful. The chief rabbi Jewish zombie went on about the fifth commandment, and the other Jewish Zombies in my living room nodded their stiff heads in agreement, which dropped dirt on the carpet.
After that I stopped seeing the Jewish zombies in my apartment. It wasn’t a big deal because several Yiddish schools had opened up—other people wanted to learn to talk to them. The mayor also flew in a guy from Poland to teach Yiddish at the university, which became the most popular major after communication studies, psychology, and business. With that, no one needed me anymore, and the semester was ending anyways.
I think about the stuff I could’ve asked the Jewish zombies while they sat in my apartment and practiced the capitals of the states in America that weren’t even states while they were alive. Like what happens when we die? But I don’t think I want to know that because now I know we can come back from wherever it is we do end up. That gives me hope. But I also don’t think about them much because being the Jewish zombie liaison took up a lot of my time, and I had three essays due by the end of the semester I had neglected amidst my depression and duties. After all, I came to New Zealand for school.
The winter rains were starting, and everything was ready to go gray and die, which meant back in the U.S. summer was coming. I received calls, including ones from Oprah and the Vice President. They all knew about me. I even had book deals for books I didn’t have to write, just say that I did. A new life with people I didn’t know was waiting to meet me. And if so many people that far away knew, there’s no way Jean Luc didn’t. Even though I came from America and it always seemed boring, now, when I heard Idaho, it felt new, like I was coming back to a world that moved on without me. By that point I was ready to go home.
Robby is a baker for Independent Baking Co. in Athens, GA.