The house was a corpse. Hot and damp, the room had the smell of a disheveled man, a man who had other things to worry about. The house was black. Even the street light was dead outside the window, and no one could see anything except the horrified flame of the withering candle set by the bed. It had been shamed by the dark, overwhelmed by it, and it was losing the battle of its life.
Regina sat in a desk chair pulled up tight to the bed, leaning over me as I stared, shocked and dismayed at the horror of the day. I had been like this since therapy. Unable to talk, unable now to move, as over the past few hours my body had begun to shut down.
I breathed now and then, a shuddering, sputtering thing that seemed ready to end. Ready to stop in its struggle to keep us alive. A friend of mine had once said the only pure way to commit suicide was to lay down and will yourself to death. If you died then, it was meant to be. If you didn’t, then you’re resolve wasn’t real enough.
I thought of that conversation that night, but little else. My hands were all that moved. Flexing and flexing, an either voluntary response or involuntary. Neither would have surprised me.
She kissed me. I was aware of it because she told me.
“I kissed you.” She looked at me and shook her head, exasperated. “Doesn’t that help at all?”
An exhale of breath, and a haunted voice slid out of my mouth.
“No Man,” I said.
Regina knew her literature. She knew Homer when spouted to her. She pulled back. “No Man. Is that your name?”
“I kissed you. Did you like it?”
She grabbed my arm and picked it off the bed. She dropped it, and it slowly lowered to the bed. “You didn’t feel my kiss?”
She did it again, this time sliding her tongue deep in my mouth and pulling back in victory. “You felt that?”
Shake of the head.
She stuck her finger in my mouth. My tongue shoved her back out.
“Did you taste that?” she asked.
“But it had no emotion to it. It was just a finger. Is that you, then? Are you unable to register emotional stimulation?”
“I understand now. We will call you Zombie,” she said. “I will tell the others to leave you alone, that you do not want to be touched.” She kissed me again and walked away.
Talks went on for a long time about Zombie and the things he was capable of. They talked and theorized that he was a final defense, a last stand against the terrible. Wounds that were too great to otherwise deal with were handled by him, a numb catatonic entity that did not have a life to lead.
He came out every now and then. He was how I dealt with confrontation for a long time, how I dealt with overwhelming situations. Job enforced a rule that when Zombie came out he was not to be touched, not to be questioned. He was to be left alone, let to ease away slowly. “Let him not be harassed,” Job said. “Let him be safe. He is the most traumatized, more even than Shush. Let him be. If he wants anything, get it for him instantly. If he is in need, see to that need.”
This was respected whenever Job was around. He was an alpha in his own den, a man not to be questioned when in his domain. And all obeyed him utterly.
When he was there.
But when he wasn’t, Regina would call him out. “Zombie, I want to talk.”
“What do you mean by that? No Man, that name comes with implications.”
She went on asking things of him, telling him things no one else would know. She told him she wanted to make love to him if he would let her.
He opened his mouth and let out a mournful cry when she suggested it. She grabbed him up to his feet and he fell. She gripped him by the belt and fought to pull him up. “Guardian,” she cried. “Zombie has fallen. Help me get him to the bed.”
Guardian obeyed. When he was in bed, she shooed him away. Give her back Zombie. Let her talk to him.
He left and Regina took off her shirt. She climbed in bed and took his hand. She placed it on her nipple.
“Can you feel that?” she asked.
“It must be because it floods you with emotion.” She kissed him again. “That?”
She tested other things, trying to find out what upset him and what he could sense. It was years later when we learned more, when she was ready to share her secrets with everyone.
Job was out of our lives by then. He had grown to hate Regina. Had gotten to the point where he was unable to bear her, and I had moved out. Government housing, and I was the master of my own domain. I was laying on the couch one night, alone with Regina, when she got on her knees by the couch and touched my arm. I jumped.
“I want to talk to Zombie,” she said.
Gasp of breath and a twitch, and out he came.
“Why do you call yourself No Man?” she asked.
“No Man,” he said.
“Are you a woman?”
“Girl,” she breathed.
“I still don’t like the name No Man,” she said. “Pick a different one.”
“All the night tide I lay down by the side of my darling, my darling, my life and my bride,” she said.
“That’s Poe. Can I call you Lenore?” Regina asked.
She had found the woman in me. Every man has one. Every man has that side of himself that finds solace in the soft, the gentle. When she found out Lenore was a woman, Regina kissed her.