At The Edge is largely a collection of stories from New Zealand and Australian writers, themed around edges and boundaries and liminality. When I saw the call for submissions last year, I knew it was something I wanted to write for. And luckily my story was accepted!
Though it has to be said, “Responsibility” is not the kind of story I usually write. For one thing, it’s about zombies. They’re not something I generally gravitate to, but I suppose everyone’s got a zombie story in them somewhere and this is mine. For another, it’s very black-humoured – well, a lot of people seem to find it funny anyway, and I’m not a funny writer in general. Sad and morbid, maybe, but not funny. And I’m embarrassed to say that, zombies aside, it’s based on a true story. A few years back I ended up pet-sitting for my sister while she went overseas for a month. At the time she had two dogs and two cats and six chickens, and she was barely out the door before one of the chooks keeled over. I found it dead in the coop, in classic position: on its back, with rigid little feet in the air.
I buried it under her front lawn. I tried to bury it discreetly at the edges under bushes, but everywhere I dug saw me hit a polythene layer under the sod so I gave up and middle of the lawn it was (it serves my sister right for being a decent gardener). That night there was a storm, and after watching a horror film I was tucked in bed, listening to the thunder and wondering if the chicken was really dead. Sample internal conversation: “Self, are you sure you didn’t bury that poor thing alive?” “Self, it had rigor mortis.” “But Self, are you certain it wasn’t just chilled and unconscious?! It was sick, after all.”
Yes, I know, but I freaked myself out sufficiently that I scuttled out into the storm, in my nightie, to roll a giant planter over the top of the grave, just in case this bloody chicken decided to crawl out of its two foot deep hole and come seeking revenge.
Of course it ended up a story.
We were born at the same time, my sister and I, born into bodies of opposites. Yet for all that we love each other, though her touch means death and mine does not. Though her house is full of zombies and mine is full of life. But sisterhood comes with responsibility and with care, so when she asks if I will house-sit for her while she goes from Auckland to New Orleans, to speak at conferences of deaths that are not her own, deaths that are dry-toothed while hers run with red, with soft and sinking flesh, I agree.
Winter’s house is filled with tetrodotoxin and datura. Dried puffer fish hang from the kitchen ceiling and the benches are littered with pestles. There are two dogs that were schnauzers once, two cats who slink in silence, and six chickens in the pen, their feathers dull and drooping but they all eat from her hand with relish and fight over finger bones…