Claudia Carter knew she had died at 11.17am on a Tuesday. She was on her way home from an early morning meeting. She had dawdled, buying a paper and peering at shop displays. Her heart stopped just as she had been contemplating the ‘Buy One Get One Free’ deal in the Undertaker’s window. She had woken up several hours later, feeling a little chilly and under the weather, to the great (and some said mentally damaging) surprise of the mortician who had been leaning over her. Oh of course she hadn’t been let out of the hospital for weeks after that unfortunate little incident, as she was subjected to the strangest of experiments, as though she were a lab-monkey. The conclusion of these tests? Her vital organs were clinically deceased, and so she should be too. But here Claudia was, still walking around and talking like a well-dressed rag doll. The doctors shook their heads in bafflement, and whispered behind their arms about a word beginning with ‘Z’.
They had to let her go eventually. Claudia insisted upon it – no civilised lady wanted to live a life that started every day with being woken up to have a temperature taken and coagulating blood measured. She was picked up by her husband, and was issued to him along with two cases of pills and promises to “keep an eye on her”. The drive back was not how Claudia had imagined it. Well, her husband couldn’t exactly ask how she was – “technically dead darling, but I’m bearing up”. He avoided her gaze, and instead feigned interest in the radio, listening intently to the news with a crease between his eyebrows. She mirrored his unease by fiddling with her hair. At home, his fingers briefly brushed hers as he opened the car door, but immediately retreated as though they had touched raw fish.
Claudia watched as he heaved her battered blue case into the house, and wrapped her arms around her waist in the cold. Or was it warm? She couldn’t quite tell. However she had grown used to yellow-ish grey tinge her skin had acquired, looking like she had been dipped in lemon juice and left out to dry in the sun.
The next few days were full of evasions. Claudia attempted to ring old friends and arrange lunch dates (which were always “bad timing” she was told), while her husband burrowed into tax returns and gardening. The occasional encounters in the hall were met with wan smiles and nodding as they edged around the corners of the room. They treated each other as Venus fly traps – generally benevolent organisms that bite if something moves too close.
Claudia went away for a few days. “Just escaping to the countryside sweetie, to see the family home and get some fresh air”.
But when she arrived, her sister did not want to see her – and asked firmly if she could come back another time. Claudia felt like she was haunting her childhood village - stumbling back along the path to the phone box, passing the busy shop and school. No-one replied to her smiles or called out to her, to ask how she had been since the accident. The place usually reserved for commiserations was plugged with unbearable silence. She reached the bright red box gratefully, and stepped inside to dial the number.
“Hello Arthur. How are you?”
“---““Please could you come and pick me up? There are no more trains today.”
“Oh hello, is that you Claudia? What a surprise. I’m afraid work is busier than ever, and anyway, I thought you were staying over at Emma’s.”
“They don’t want me.”
“Oh. Umm. Well maybe they’re right. We’re still not sure about the state you are in – could be very dangerous if you are indeed the first Z.. a Z...”
“Darling – I am not a zombie. I prefer the term ‘medical anomaly’. I have no desire to start killing and eating people. I’m not on the Dukan Diet! Also, I’m still human, not a living-dead psychopath.”
“Jolly good. Just looking at the diary dear – no space to do a pick up today... Or tomorrow... Or the day after now I think of it. Why don’t you find a nice little place to stay? Sure you understand.”
“Got to go – the dog’s.. err.. playing merry hell with the postman”
Claudia placed the receiver back in its cradle: it smelt of hair grease and grubby fingers. She wiped her own hands on her girlish white skirt and pressed her palms against pale cheekbones. Then she straightened and sniffed twice.
If she still had a sense of smell, then there must be a little life left in her yet...
'Claudia' (or should that be Ellen?) is wearing all vintage - from various sources, including flea markets, charity shops and gifts.