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art by Melissa Mead

Zombie Widows

Natalie Graham lives in Southern California with her toddler and husband, who is thankfully not a zombie. When she is not writing or spending time with them, she teaches middle school English learners in East LA. This is her first published piece. Follow her on Twitter @WriterGraham.

I didn't know why it was only men who returned as zombies. Neither did anyone else. Scientists who studied the phenomenon (and weren't squeezed to death by zombies) were puzzled. Maybe DNA? said one.
Duh, said the widows collectively. And it was widows who said it, because only husbands came back, never boyfriends, or friends with benefits, or one-night stands.
It was usually hair that they sprang from. As little as one strand left behind in the former home and not destroyed within twenty-four hours of the burial would sprout a full-grown zombie. The only way to deal with them once that had happened was fire. Obviously, it was easier to get out the dust buster before than the flamethrower after.
So, as much as I should have stayed and watched him lowered into the ground and out of my life, I turned away from the grave that drizzly May morning and ran to my car. I was actually okay with postponing the closure. As long as my heart was aching I wasn't forgetting him.
My mother had beaten me to the car. She sat in the driver's seat. She went so far as to honk while I gingerly navigated the moist earth in my unsuitable high black pumps. (Though I had no love for them, Ben had, and I had loved that even when I wore three-inch heels he was still six inches taller than me.) I narrowed my eyes as the horn sent a murder of crows into the air. She had the grace to look sheepish. Still, before I had a chance to put on my seatbelt, she was already peeling out of the gravel drive, ignoring the dark looks from nearby mourners.
She controlled the car with her knee as she struck a match and brought it to the cigarette dangling from her lips. She rolled down the window with one hand when the flame caught and then shook it out before tossing the burnt stick out the window. "I'm sorry," she began after a long drag, "It's just we'd all rather you were more like Mrs. Stone than Mrs. Shriver."
I nodded as I closed my eyes, unwittingly recalling images from "The Recent Widow's Guide to Home Cleaning and Husband Eradication." The government literature outlined two anecdotes about the no-nonsense Nina Stone and the absentminded Anita Shriver. Mrs. Stone scoured her home of her husband's DNA three hours after the service. Her thoroughness was immortalized in the printable .pdf pamphlet, "Homage to Bereavement Efficiency," whose story nevertheless left me cold. Not that I would admit it to my mother, but I felt bad for her antithesis, Mrs. Shriver. Overcome with crippling grief, she forgot to Hoover the tool shed and ended up with 47 zombie Mr. Shrivers, which was 46 more than it took to squeeze her to death.
"You know what happened to me," my mother said, interrupting my internal review of the stories of the Misses "S."
I held up a hand to stop her, but her eyes never left the road as she went on. "I had to dispatch four of your poor father's zombies because I forgot about the loafers in the crawl space."
"Wasn't it hard? Didn't they look like him?" I asked, not for the first time.
"Yes, but I knew what they were and so I drew them outside into the gazebo and got the napalm." Her eye twitched. "And I really loved that gazebo," she added.
There was something magical about the home a married couple shared, for it was only within the house or grounds that zombies seemed capable of sprouting. Removal was key, destruction a safeguard. Mom and I entered without talking. Anything Ben had touched that was small enough went into the metal drum out back and was torched. Shirts (still smelling like him), the afghan we fell asleep under on Saturday nights, and his dog-eared books all went into the flames. The larger furniture was rolled out by professionals to be destroyed offsite.
The afternoon was a parade of neighbor women and relatives, there to help me as I would be there to help them if the roles were reversed. By eleven p.m., every physical trace of my best friend, my husband, my love, had been bleached from my life.
I thanked everyone as they left until only my mother and I and a half-empty house remained.
"Zombies are inconvenient," said my mother, stating the obvious as usual, "but I can't help but think this cleansing is for the best."
"Good-bye, Mom," I said. She squeezed my arm and left.
I turned around to face the sterile living room. The carpet had been removed so only the TV cabinet and end tables remained, but out of habit I sat in between them where the couch used to be. My heart beat quicker as I reached up into the curve of my right ear and got the dark black hair I had tucked there earlier in the day with my fingernail. I set it in the middle of my hand and studied it. It might even have been an eyelash. (Whenever he plucked an errant lash off my cheek, he would have me make a wish and blow it off his finger.)
I couldn't even feel it under my finger as I gently pushed it around on my palm. Slowly, I brought my thumb and finger together, pinching and rolling the hair onto my now upturned index finger. I closed my eyes, a wish unbidden whispered through my mind. I inhaled through my nose and then forced a short burst of air out of my mouth, directly onto the hair. It flew off my finger and fluttered madly on the gust I had created, twisting and turning faster than I could see. It came to rest on the clean floor, a few feet in front of me.
I gathered my knees to my chest and laid my head on them, and sat back to wait.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, August 5th, 2013

Author Comments

I am sentimental. Exhibit A: Four large Tupperware bins stuffed with every birthday card, movie stub, wedding invitation, and playbill from middle school to the present buried in my guest room closet. So it should come as no surprise that the only thing worse than losing the most important person in the world to me would be to not let me keep any token or reminder of our time together. This is probably why I had the dream one night that was the basis for my story. I woke up wondering: what would I do if my husband died and I had to get rid of every trace of him? Because if I didnít, he would come back as a zombie who would kill me?

I didnít know I was going to write flash fiction, but when I finished the first draft I was only a hundred or so words over a thousand. So for fun, I experimented to see if I could get below the magic number. As a reader, websites like Daily Science Fiction make me realize how much I appreciate flash fiction because I get to experience a lot of great stories in a short amount of time. As a writer, I love the challenge of creating a cohesive story and developing strong characters in such a brief piece.

I knew how the story would end on paper from the beginning and I know what I think happens next, but Iíd love to hear what the readers think!

- Natalie Graham
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