The Zombie on Cuenca Street
by Nikki Alfar
Ayen has a zombie in her front yard; it’s literally ‘in’ her front yard, because it’s fallen into the concealed ditch Rico had installed around the perimeter of the house, months before he moved out.
The ditch, he told her, is like the ones used in England to keep livestock away from manor houses, cleverly hidden by a thin lip of grass, so as not to scar the immaculate swath of green; only this particular ditch is over ten feet deep, and faced with sheer stone on either side, instead of just the side nearer the house. It’s theoretically impossible to climb out of.
The ditch is called, ridiculously, a ‘haha’; Ayen remembers laughing at Rico, not just over the name but also the general absurdity of having such a thing at all. Okay, she’d told him, so CNN has actually confirmed those previously ludicrous YouTube videos. But in the first place, do you really think the Americans are not going to find a solution in the next couple of years, if not months? And in the second place, what do you think the so-called undead are going to do: hop the next PAL flight to Manila and then stop for a snack in Ayala Alabang, on their way to golf at Tagaytay Highlands?
Now here one is — somehow — and it would probably be munching on her cerebral cortex this very minute, if not for the damned haha, but she will be damned if she ever lets her soon to be ex-husband know it, which will no doubt be what happens if she calls the police; she can imagine the headlines now.
She can’t call her parents for advice, because her mother will only tell her to call the police and Rico — possibly not even in that order — and then fall to her prayer books in a frenzy of maternal panic. At least it will be a change from her usual — lately despairing, no doubt — pleas to heaven for a grandchild; possibly the saints will be relieved.
Her father, most likely, will charge on over, and while she would certainly be relieved to have him around, if the rest of the currently-inexplicably-absent zombie horde were to materialize, he will also take the opportunity to repeat, for the umpteenth time, that they — meaning she — really should have known from day one that Rico was gay, because what straight man, in God’s name, would ever even think to sue for custody of the bed linen?
Rico is not gay; Rico is just spiteful.
Possibly. It is very good bed linen.
In any case, Ayen does not feel she can take another man telling her what to do right now. In 20/20 hindsight, obviously, she should have hired a female lawyer, but on the day following the night when she had come home to find her precious Kenneth Cobonpue sofa eclipsed by a helter-skelter pile of balikbayan boxes, all she had been able to do was contact the first lawyer anyone suggested — a family friend, of course, whose first priority always seems to be how her actions will impact her parents.
She suspects that she now spends as much time arguing with her attorney as she ever did with Rico — over three years of marriage — but they’re knee-deep in negotiation, and it’s much too late to change.
At this point, she would almost rather deal with the zombie.
* * *
“Ma’am, how do you know it’s a zombie?” the officer in charge asked her, when she called the homeowners’ association, and Ayen was frankly stumped. So she shouted at him, which obviously is not the brightest thing for anyone to do when hoping for prompt service.
It’s been two hours since her apology call, having attributed her rudeness to the bout of perfectly natural panic which she has yet, in fact, to actually experience. She isn’t sure why; possibly it’s because she already had the shock of her life just over seven weeks ago, and maybe the silver lining to that is that nothing is likely to ever so completely floor her again, not even a ravenous monster on her front lawn.
It does not really seem all that ravenous, on observation, only persistent. It just keeps bumping its face against the stone wall of the haha, trying to walk on forward even though, at that depth, there is no clear ‘forward’ for it to go. In relation to the house, it is now actually moving backward — or specifically, she supposes, it’s attempting to move toward Ayen, who is crouching at the far edge of the haha, because that concealing rim of grass blocks her view of it from every other angle.
No doubt Papa and Rico and probably even her attorney would have a great many words to bombard her with, regarding such risky behavior, but the OIC’s question struck her: how does she know it’s a zombie? She’s never even seen it full-on; she was just heading out for her morning run when she heard something vaguely like someone’s voice, somewhere nearby. It took her several long minutes to discover where the sound had come from, and by then the figure in the ditch had already been performing its tenacious two-step.
So for all she knows, it could actually be a vagrant, or a would-be robber — only the night before, she would have said that no such person could get through the village’s vaunted 24/7 security, but that was before she found herself waiting hours on end for the supposedly on-call association to respond. It might even be a neighbor or friend — she thinks she warned everyone to stick to the paved brick path when dropping by, but if the latest, lamentable events of her life have taught her anything, it’s that she is capable, evidently, of overlooking a great many things.
Maybe the — visitor, she decides; it’s a usefully generic word — was concussed, falling down the haha, and that’s why they can’t speak coherently or seem to stop trying to become one with the wall.
So she calls, down into the darkness, “Hello?”
And the ‘visitor’ looks up.
Its eyes are not sickly yellow or bloodshot red or glowing green, like in a movie; they’re simply filmed over, like those of an old person with cataracts. Its skin is not moreno brown or the ‘rosy-white’ attributed to meztisas, Caucasians, and dedicated users of Pond’s whitening solutions, but neither is it deathly gray. It’s just a desiccated cream, something like the thick, textured, my-lawyer-costs-more-than-your-lawyer stationery that was used for the annulment papers which she desperately wants to sign, so she can get it all over with.
But she can’t, because the negotiations ‘continue to be ongoing’ — and, as far as she’s concerned, threaten to be ongoing continually — because no one seems able to agree on a damn thing, except for the single obvious point that she must have done something or failed to do something, which caused her apparently-perfect marriage to dwindle into such insignificance that it was easily packed away into no more than nine balikbayan boxes.
She just doesn’t know what.
What she also doesn’t know, still, is whatever it is the zombie is trying to say. But from the elongated vowel sounds — and, yes, from the many sterling examples provided via various forms of video — she assumes that it has to be ‘brains’.
* * *
After another hour of waiting, Ayen had decided that shouting might, after all, have been the more appropriate strategy, and called the association again with the intent of doing the same, only to be told that they were “very sorry, ma’am, but all our personnel are currently engaged with the more pressing outbreak”.
As it turns out, the rest of the previously missing zombie horde had descended upon the riding school, where security — which apparently does, after all, live up to its press release — managed to contain it, but then found themselves, in turn, waiting for word from the national police as to what to do next.
And waiting for the PNP, as Ayen and the OIC and every other Philippine citizen knows, is not likely to be a matter of mere hours.
She is presently lying on her gorgeous, much-contested Porthault sheets, smoking a Capri — which she has discovered are far more readily available now than when she used to smoke — and willing her headache to go away. She pops pills too easily, Rico has always said ’click-click’, just like that John Lloyd says in the commercials — and for a while she considered taking one now, just to spite him, except that she’s smoking already, anyway, and besides that, she just can’t make herself get up to go over to the medicine cabinet.
It makes sense, she supposes, that the undead would be drawn to the stables, since horses technically have larger brains than humans, albeit not proportionally and, even disregarding that, only in terms of sheer brain matter, not the segments that actually do the thinking. Possibly she should feel flattered that this lone zombie apparently considered her brain — through smell or whatever senses the creatures use — so tempting that it led him to abandon the horses, as well as the rest of his kind, and literally stumble toward her doorstep; maybe she should add this to her résumé.
Three weeks ago, she had seized on that as the sole silver lining to the debacle her life had become — with no husband any longer to feel insulted at the supposed implication that he could not support his wife, she could go back to teaching. She is, after all, an internationally certified progressive education specialist, and the board of Beacon did say that they would be happy to welcome her back anytime.
But she will not make as much as Rico makes — she will never, very probably, make as much as Rico makes — and one of their impossibly many sticking points, currently, is his stated intention to pay her alimony to the letter of the law, meaning only for one year or until she finds a job, whichever comes first.
And this does not seem like such a terrible thing to any of Ayen’s old friends, none of whom had married so well — which translates as ‘so wealthily’ — but the problem is that she will not be able to afford the association dues or the upkeep for the house.
This, too, really shouldn’t be such an issue; she’s actually rattling around in the house, not to mention having a hard time cleaning it, since she dismissed the help. It has three bedrooms, which is so much more than she needs — one to share with the husband that she no longer has, one to welcome the guests that she no longer wants to entertain, and one prepared for the baby that she certainly isn’t likely to have any time soon.
But it’s the house of her dreams — white walls and natural wood and wide, generous windows; a balcony that catches the morning sun and the evening wind and the afternoon birdsong; a pool and a walk-in closet and a two-car garage that now only houses one car and, very soon, may actually hold none, if that part of the settlement goes against her.
She should agree to sell; she knows that, except that she hears it’s a buyers’ market right now and besides — it occurs to her suddenly — surely a zombie, amid the village-approved zoysia grass, is going to seriously affect the property value?
This strikes her as a hilariously insane thing to think, and she gets up to share it, only to realize — somehow shockingly, even after 44 days — that there is no one around to be amused by her humor.
Maybe there never was.
* * *
It’s almost night by the time Ayen is back, standing on the lawn, waiting for local law enforcement to come pick her zombie up. Evidently someone important called someone more important and got things moving; she’s willing to bet it was that senator’s son over on Yakal, although it could easily have been anyone from over near the Madrigal gate, where the really ritzy houses are. Norman wouldn’t tell her.
Norman is the association OIC; he and Ayen are practically chums now, having exchanged cell phone numbers and everything, even if he is a man. She supposes she really ought to be used to it being a man’s world by now — even her zombie seems, to all appearances, to be male. And since she’s never actually seen a policewoman in real life, she seriously doubts that it’s a brigade of them she’s expecting to appear ‘within the hour’.
Some of her neighbors are now outdoors as well — not because they have zombies on their own lawns, but because, she suspects, they’ve noticed hers; it was bound to occur sooner or later, and since it’s now much later than sooner, it has. She sees Marga Ongpauco looking at her and waves; Marga waves back, and Ayen imagines her saying, as she has so many times in the past, “You Larrazabals, ha, you always have all the latest imported things!”
This time, she actually manages to remember that she has no one to laugh over this with.
She’s had enough time, in fact, to be slightly impressed at how well she has handled this entire situation. Maybe she’s recovering. Maybe she’s ready to move on with the rest of her life. Maybe she doesn’t need to wait for other people to decide what’s going to happen to her anymore.
Her iPhone rings, in her Kate Spade armband holster; it’s Rico. Well, she knew that the news was spreading, and she knows, now, that she is ready to deal with him. If she could handle a zombie infestation — albeit, granted, a very limited one, in her case — she can handle anything.
No, she tells herself — definitely.
“Rico,” she preempts whatever he was going to say, “just tell me one thing: what did I do wrong? Is it that we didn’t have a child? Or is there another woman?”
“What?” He’s understandably confused. “Ayen, I just—”
“You heard me,” she interrupts. “Just answer the question.”
After a short pause he says, “Nothing. You didn’t do anything. I just don’t love you anymore.”
As she struggles to find a way past the impenetrable simplicity of that, she realizes that, husband in tow, Marga appears to be coming over. Ayen is suddenly conscious that she is still in her running clothes, hair in a now sloppy ponytail, wearing no makeup. Her skin, she is sure, must be utterly pale and lifeless, like parchment or desiccated cream.
She makes hasty excuses to Rico and hangs up, and Marga and Tony are kind enough to wait with her, until the police do come — on schedule, as promised — and pack the zombie away.
As they do, she almost thinks, for a moment, that it looks at her, one last time, with a nearly human expression — hopelessly, helplessly. But she’s not sure whether she actually saw that, or what it would mean or what she should do if she did.
She has no idea what happens next.
Copyright © 2011 by Nikki Alfar