In the morning I was alone in the kitchen in my favorite raggedy nightgown making pancakes. The irony of the situation was not lost on me. I was my mother, far too soon in my life’s days, cooking for her errant children, who were forever naughty and bound to be late for school. My face throbbed anew from the blow I had sustained.
Chloe and me had an understanding from last night. It was unspoken. But as I stood there, glumly flipping gross little puds of dough, revolting things to be sure, I tried to remind myself, this was no contest, I wasn’t engaged in some back-and-forth with my self/other. I was her master, and, as far as I could tell, this is the way it would always be. Hell, she couldn’t even die unless I told her to die, so I figured. So I kept on flipping. It was the second time in my life I had ever made pancakes. Maybe zombies just didn’t care what they ate. Mom-in-the-basement sure didn’t.
The new wild card in our game was of course James. In the chaotic fracas that was the night before, James had eventually succumbed to Chloe’s cooing commands, as if Chloe was now James’ zombi priestess, not I. What rubbish, I thought. By my calculus, James had simply latched onto the soul he thought was mine, and indeed was my soul’s very close facsimile. Not only that, but Chloe and I were joined in the ritual, joined in the ceremony, joined in the process, joined as ever, joined in all. My heart told me, quite simply: zombi James couldn’t tell us apart. Indeed, that would explain James’ forgetting to hate me, Anna, like he was supposed to do, after Chloe’s perceived death. He couldn’t possibly hate me anymore. Anna could be Chloe or Anna and Anna could be Anna or Chloe. It was plain.
Then came a twinge. If James was so easily duped into thinking Chloe his master, then perhaps my bokor powers were not so unique, did not come from within me, were not mine and mine alone, in the sense of a deep spiritual singularity that was the all-powerful me. All my beliefs about being the only one “chosen” to perform the act of restoring life, all my sinful pride of ownership and elevation, all the pictorial splendor of seeing myself adorned on mountaintop as High Priestess of the Underworld — all this was self-delusion bullshit, and I was just another amongst the Fallen, anonymous, nameless, hideous to the core.
Okay this was too much shit for a mind to take on in the morning. I had to put it aside for further research. Yes, I told myself. Delay the pain. Embrace that art.
I flipped the last pancake out of the pan, right on cue, because I could hear Chloe’s voice from the top of the stairs, just as we planned.
“Come downstairs, James!” Chloe called out rather much too loudly. “Come down and eat the nice pancake breakfast that I made for you!” As somewhat clumsy footsteps descended the stairs, I calmly made myself hidden, exiting the kitchen into the garage, closing the door behind me. Part of me was disgusted by everything — those two idiots playing house, my forced servitude to them — and part of me tried not to care, remembering that they represented a world that I had rejected, seemingly for good.
But another part of me wanted to spy on those two, to witness the dynamic, to see how Chloe was handling him, and, in all honesty, just to watch James again, even if he was, as I’m sure he was, lessened, as a man. There was a window to the kitchen at the front of the house. It was a quiet morning. I didn’t see the harm in spying in on my own house, if just for a few minutes. So I went outside, and positioned myself carefully, so all they would ever see of me from kitchen inside would be a forehead and two squinty eyes, perched at the bottom of the sill, should their gazes in some unlikely event find it. I felt secure, and I could see them, through the half-transparent silk mom curtains. They were both in their school uniforms, sitting at the banquette. Chloe was watching James eat. James’ motions were jerky, awkward, robotic, a sick take on Frankenstein’s monster, I thought. He was indeed lessened, but still, I saw his potential, even in terms unique to zombi.
Chloe talked in loud monosyllables, all the better for me to hear them.
“That’s right, eat up!” she bellowed, “you need all your strength for the big game tomorrow!” That’s right, I had forgotten, the big football game was tomorrow.
“I’M STAR!” James suddenly shouted, with a force that startled me. Christ, I thought, the neighbors might hear him, that’s how loud it was. And he was speaking already? Chloe must have taught him. I’m certain that among her first instructions to James was that he was the best quarterback in the history of everything. And James would lap that up, little doggie he that was. Chloe never missed a beat, she knew she had to fill the air with something, lest James be so bold as to have an independent thought.
“That’s right you’re a star!” she said, “and you’re gonna win!”
“WIN!” screamed James. Holy Christ, tone it down!
“That’s right!” affirmed Chloe again, who as she said this caught glimpse of me and bugged out her eyes. She made a shooing motion with her hand, but I wasn’t going anywhere, I wanted to take in all the spectacle I could. Chloe looked at little angry at me as she kept at James.
“Now you just sit here and let me feed you, cuz that’s what lovers do, isn’t that right big boy!” (Barf.)
“THAT’S RIGHT!” James hollered just before Chloe crammed some pancake into his waiting gob. She gave me the evil eye for her next line.
“And who do you love, my hunky chunky man?”
“I LOVE YOU ANNA!” yelled James without hesitation. Yeah, I thought, whatever bitch, I’m Anna too, you know.
“Now give me a kiss, real gentle!” said Chloe. Fine, bitch, why don’t you just start humping him on the bench, you once-a-slut-always-a-slut whore.
“OKAY!” screamed James and then it became comical, and I was gifted the witnessing of the world’s most awkward kiss, two reincarnated-by-my-own-hand dribbly creatures, salivating at each other like they were in the dark, James jerking his head about, a baby bird pecking into his mama bird’s mouth, while Chloe tried to guide him, fruitlessly, to rouse some romance, slurping at his lips with some real gusto — but really, in the end, just making zombi James giggle, and I’m pretty sure he cried out, “STOP IT, IT TICKLES!” though I have no idea who ever would have taught him that, all I know is that it made me laugh the laugh of a lifetime, which was a sensation so foreign to me that it activated muscles long dormant, and I think I actually pulled something in my side, but I didn’t care, I just keeled over and let the pain fuel my laughter even more, and I could have laughed there for hours and forgotten about the rest of the world, which I must have kinda done anyway, because when I finally spun around and turned my gaze toward my front yard, there standing right in front of me, with his car parked behind, was Mr. Spellman, the biology teacher.