Anna Mantzaris ~ Night of the Living

I once con­sumed 33 turkey legs in an evening. I was an extra, one of the flesh-eat­ing zom­bies, in the 1968 ver­sion of Night of the Living Dead. The cam­era pans in from a hill­side and there I am, gnaw­ing on what is sup­pos­ed­ly a human limb. Throughout the film shoot I had an almost insa­tiable appetite. I didn’t know I was preg­nant at the time but the truth is, I’ve always need­ed to eat fre­quent­ly. I thought about this as hunger and low blood sug­ar led me into a store­front on San Francisco’s Grant Avenue.

Welcome, to Hermes,” a video greet­ed me as I walked in. The voice came out of a flat screen so flat I didn’t know it was there until an eques­tri­an pat­tern swirled around its border.

I don’t like to eat on the street, but I still had a 20-minute walk home from my hair appoint­ment so I fig­ured I would pre­tend to try some­thing on and nosh on the salt­ed macadamia nuts I always car­ry in my purse. I’d eat­en in dress­ing rooms count­less times. I’d been banned from the now shut­tered Loehman’s for doing it in the com­mu­nal space with half-naked women. Apparently half-naked women don’t want anoth­er woman sit­ting there eat­ing while they try on clothes.

I wasn’t pedes­tri­an enough to think the store was called “Hermies,” I had gone to board­ing school and Skidmore, but I had nev­er known the exact pro­nun­ci­a­tion and found myself in awe of the quick, affect­ed clip and empha­sis on the first syl­la­ble that par­layed its way to a per­fect-10, tight land­ing on the sting of a “z,” all com­ing from a sub­dued voice with­out a face.

Air, mez” I whis­pered. “Air mez.” “Welcome to Air mez,” I said to myself. I felt like when I’d spent my junior year abroad, even though that had been in London and every­one spoke English.

Excuse me?” asked a woman whose name must have been Genevieve or Vivian or Lucinda or Loquacious. A silk scarf tired around her neck made it impos­si­ble to fig­ure out if her head was tied on or if it was just decorative.

Do you need help?” she asked, scan­ning my black top and washed-too-many-times off-black skirt. She prob­a­bly thought senior cit­i­zen when she looked at me.

Welcome,” I said again for some reason.

Let us know if we can assist.”

I nod­ded and looked around for the “we” but it appeared to just be her and a bulky secu­ri­ty guard who eyed me. She went and stood with her incred­i­ble pos­ture behind a mar­ble topped desk. She gave off the air of some­one who had a lot to do even as she stood per­fect­ly still.

Thank you,” I said, and “Welcome.”

She looked away as I scanned the pale Scandinavian wood floors inter­spersed with a tiled mosa­ic of a horse and char­i­ots. A stair­case curved down from above, mak­ing me fee like I was in the chic Upper East Side duplex that I had seen in the NY Times real estate sec­tion last Sunday. I stopped in front of a her­mit­i­cal­ly sealed glass case fea­tur­ing a purse.

How much is this?” I asked the secu­ri­ty guard because he had maneu­vered his way from the cor­ner to next to me.

If you have to ask,” he began.

You can’t afford it,” we said in uni­son and he smiled.

More than 30k he said. That’s what I make in a year. The crazy thing, it has the same name as my wife. Kelly.”

I get it,” I said. I instant­ly felt like a fraud. The truth was until recent­ly I had nev­er wor­ried about mon­ey but nonethe­less, I would nev­er spend thou­sands on a hand­bag. Glenn had afford­ed me a com­fort­able lifestyle but we were nev­er extrav­a­gant. And now I was retired.

I looked across the room at the open shelv­ing of col­or-cod­ed purs­es. It was a life­size can­dy box of luxury.

Where’s the restroom?” I asked the secu­ri­ty guard. I doubt­ed they even had a dress­ing room.

He point­ed down a small hall.

I walked in. A chic square sink greet­ed me. A Japanese toi­let lift­ed its lid.

Welcome to Hermes,” It said.

Welcome,” I said back. I start­ed to wish I had been a flight atten­dant, or at least a par­rot, but now, at 70 years old, it was prob­a­bly too late for both.

The bath­room in Hermes was not real­ly a bath­room. It seemed unfath­omable that any­one had ever unbut­toned any­thing to expose their gen­i­tals in this stun­ning room. The toi­let lid gen­tly slid down when it sensed no action. It was topped with a per­fect­ly mold­ed square of soft bam­boo that looked almost like a child’s pillow.

I sur­veyed it. Could I? Eat the nuts, here? On the toi­let? It was Hermes after all.

But no. Years of ingrained think­ing that toi­lets and eat­ing do not mix, no mat­ter how much the feel­ing of extreme priv­i­lege swirled around the room that was larg­er than my apart­ment. Even here, I just could not take seat on the heat­ed floors and snack on a toi­let lid. Instead, I sat down on the bam­boo square and took of my shoes. I wig­gled my toes. For the first time in a while, I felt good.

A few min­utes lat­er I stood up and placed my hands under the auto­mat­ic faucet. The ide­al tem­per­a­ture of water—slightly ele­vat­ed from luke warm to a degree I had nev­er felt mak­ing me think it was per­son­al­ly curat­ed to my body tem­per­a­ture trick­led out, tick­ling my hands in a way that I had not been touched since my hus­band had left me a year ago. I pushed the lever on the gold and orange hand pump. The smell of light cit­rus and a wild berry that I imag­ined could only be cul­ti­vat­ed in some obscure part of Switzerland per­me­at­ed the room. I pulled my hands close to my face. My dig­its had nev­er smelled so good. I heard a light knock at the door and ignored it. They’d have to wait. I was get­ting my small moment of lux­u­ry. I moved on to the hand lotion that stood next to the soap. A match­ing sent. I inhaled. It was so intox­i­cat­ing I took a seat on the white chair in the cor­ner, made of fur or maybe it was a sheep­skin flown in from Santorini. I closed my eyes. Just for a minute, I tell myself.


When I come to I feel won­der­ful­ly dizzy and hap­py. Something I haven’t felt in months since my husband’s affair and then mar­riage to a woman who had inher­it­ed her family’s cos­met­ic empire. She had quick­ly moved him into her house in Torrey Pines at the tip of San Diego to “min­i­mize the stress for all involved” as she had said the one time we had come with my face to her cos­met­i­cal­ly per­fect face. I got my San Francisco, low­er Nob Hill rental and left him with pack­ing up and sell­ing our Noe Valley home where we had lived for forty years, and raised our now grown daugh­ter, Lula, who had left short­ly after for col­lege in New York. We had a nice bath­room there with dou­ble sinks and heath ceram­ic tile but noth­ing like the space I was stand­ing in.

I move the gen­tle lock above the gild­ed door­knob of the bath­room and step out in a twi­light hue from a set­ting sun. The scarf woman and secu­ri­ty guy are gone. The lights are off. I walk to the front door of the store and push. It doesn’t move. I am locked in luxury.

Welcome,” I say to no one.

My first thought after the ini­tial exhil­a­ra­tion is that I will be arrest­ed and that I’ve some­how gone sev­en decades with­out that hap­pen­ing until now. I imag­ine The San Francisco Chronicle arti­cle with the head­line “Luxury Boutique Stowaway Gets 20 Years.” I imme­di­ate­ly take out my cell phone to call 911. No bars. Hermes must be a tech-free zone. I’d read about these recent­ly. I imag­ine a cor­po­rate meet­ing where they decid­ed the out­side world was a nui­sance to those who are here to immerse them­selves in the fin­er things. I move to the mar­ble desk the scarf woman had stood behind. It’s topped with a love­ly gold phone beside an emp­ty note pad. I pick up the receiv­er. I pull it close to my ear and real­ize it has no cord, or dial tone. A lux­u­ry prop.

I look out the front glass door at what is quick­ly becom­ing a dark Grant Avenue in down­town. No one is on the side­walk on the cusp of the Thanksgiving hol­i­day week­end. I flip a light switch on and one small stream of track light­ing comes on. The per­fect warm hue trick­les into the space. It is reas­sur­ing and almost womb-like.

I decide I will wait until some­one finds me and at least enjoy myself until then. I will explain about the nuts. That I had come in to have a quick snack and fall­en asleep. They will just have to believe me. I had no crim­i­nal record. Not even a park­ing tick­et and I will pull my old lady card I’ve start­ed using.

Coming to terms with my plan I ask myself, can I sur­vive in Hermes overnight? I haven’t packed pro­vi­sions or cloth­ing but luck­i­ly I car­ry my blood pres­sure meds, just in case of an earth­quake. I open my purse. I have anoth­er bag of unopened macadamia nuts and some Velemints. I will check upstairs and see if there is a staff refrig­er­a­tor and assess what’s there but I assume the staff here eats air or sea­weed or those hor­ri­ble chia seed bowls my daugh­ter had been on me to try.

I slow­ly climb the curved stair­case to the sec­ond floor. I give a quick look over my shoul­der to an imag­i­nary suit­or as if to say, “I’ll be right back and then you can take me to that cham­pagne bar.”

Upstairs is a small room that I assume is some sort of VIP sec­tion for celebri­ties who need to rest on the pris­tine gold faint­ing couch when they tire of buy­ing lux­u­ry goods. I walk the perime­ter of the room and find a small fridge dis­guised as a mar­ble cab­i­net filled with Dom Perignon. I grab two bot­tles. I move through the arch­way into a larg­er space where a din­ing table is set up with dis­play table­ware. I guess the com­pa­ny has mor­phed from just purs­es to home goods. Cream porce­lain din­ner plates are topped with a small­er, sal­ad ver­sion with a gold etched horse in the mid­dle. There are cups and sauces in a match­ing pat­tern along­side wine glass­es. Oddly, no flat­ware. I guess the wealthy just will the food into their mouths. I pull a Velemint out of my bag. The top one is dusty and mat­ted with purse lint so I throw it back in loose and unpeel the roll of can­dy. There are six indent­ed square mints left. A decent start for a meal, I think to myself. I pull out the nuts and cir­cle around the table, plac­ing a mint and few macadamias on each of the plates until my bag is emp­ty. I dig deep­er in my purse and find a Keebler peanut but­ter crack­er pack­et with two left so I spit it into two more so I have four and add those to the place set­tings clos­est to me. I open the cham­pagne and pour some in each glass.

I sit down at the head of the table and pick up the gold-engraved gob­let. “Cheers, I said to my imag­i­nary guests. Welcome to … my home. “

I’m so glad you could join me on my first hol­i­day alone.” I say to no one. “As you can see, I’ve land­ed quite well since the divorce.”

The truth is tomor­row will be my sec­ond Thanksgiving alone. I can’t believe how much time has gone by and I still feel as lost as when I’d first moved in 15 months ago. Last year I bought a small, over­cooked turkey breast at Mollie Stone’s and opened a can of green beans. I knew my ex- was hav­ing a feast at his now sec­ond home in Napa with his make­up heiress and her fam­i­ly because I had seen his Facebook posts that morn­ing even though I had vowed not to look. Our daugh­ter had declined to come back from the East Coast last year and this year in favor of going to her in-laws in the Hudson Valley and for a moment I was grate­ful think­ing if some­thing hap­pened here at Hermes, she wouldn’t be the one to bail me out. It would be one more rea­son for her to crit­i­cize me.

Darhleeng,” I say in a long, drawn-out drawl and tak­ing a sip of my cham­pagne, “Can you please pass the pheasant?”

I quick­ly get up and go to the seat next to me. “Certainly, Ophelia,” I say back to my now emp­ty chair.


When I played a zom­bie in the 1968 ver­sion of Night of the Living Dead, I wasn’t one of the naked actors though they asked. I didn’t think there was any­thing wrong with it but even at the age of 18, I was too shy to walk around being filmed with­out clothes and my moth­er was still alive. I couldn’t embar­rass her in front of her devout Christian friends. I did get one of the close-ups though, a big deal for any aspir­ing actor. The cam­era pans in and there I am, chew­ing on an “arm” from Larry’s bar­be­cue joint. Maybe that’s why Thanksgiving turkey din­ner is not some­thing I ever real­ly looked for­ward to, even before my divorce.

I thought the role was my big break. After Skidmore, I had gone to Yale dra­ma school and many of my class­mates like Meryl Streep, had gone on to have major careers. A pro­fes­sor had got­ten a few of us an audi­tion for the movie. I didn’t know until weeks after film­ing that I was preg­nant with my daugh­ter Lula, and the movie would be my first and last. Lula had always been quite dis­dain­ful that I did the film because she said tech­ni­cal­ly she is also in it with­out her per­mis­sion or pay­ment and she used to say as a teenag­er, “Mom, if you bring up The Living Dead one ore time, I’m going to lit­er­al­ly die,” while she fell to the ground, pre­tend­ing to choke her­self. She was always a dra­ma queen but refused to do the­ater in school because she said she didn’t want to be any­thing like her moth­er. I don’t think I brought it up that much but in our Bay Area cir­cle it was quite a fun fact that house­wife Dorrie Lewis had been in a major movie. “Here comes the movie star,” the wives used to joke at our din­ner par­ties. I kept my good looks for a long time and my hus­band, Glenn had seemed proud of me that peo­ple had found me of inter­est beyond being a housewife.

God bless his soul, I think as I sit back in the armed Chippendale-like chair and take the last sip of cham­pagne from my gob­let. But Glenn isn’t dead, I remind myself, Just remarried.

My hair appoint­ment near Union Square just hours ago seems like months ago when the bus­tle of office work­ers going to lunch and traf­fic in and out of the Stockton garage cre­at­ed a uni­ver­sal buzz down­town. I had asked Sean, an over­priced styl­ist that had bee rec­om­mend­ed to me by some­one in my book club, to make me look like an ear­ly pho­to of Sophia Lauren. I held it up to him on my phone. He bare­ly glanced at the screen­grab of her with shoul­der length tou­sled brown hair that made her look both clas­sic and wild with an off cen­ter part, a few strands brush­ing against her almond-shaped eyes. “But you’re gray,” he said, “You want col­or too? You only booked a cut.” “I was just think­ing of the length,” I said, “Maybe a few lay­ers?” I was already humil­i­at­ed when he asked, “Is she relat­ed to you?” “Who?” I asked. “The woman, in the pho­to,” he said, pick­ing up his sheers. “Oh,” I said, “That was me, when I was much younger.” He nod­ded and start­ed to clip and I thought about the hair and make­up trail­er on the set of The Living Dead. The Zombies had been shuf­fled in two at a time. After a pale base the male and female zom­bies eyes were linked in heavy, inky make­up. I remem­ber my mouth was out­lined and filled in with a thick orange lip­stick, and at the time I had no idea Romero was shoot­ing us in black and white and I won­dered why a dead person’s lips would be so vibrant. He was brilliant.

We had been direct­ed to keep our arms out straight in front of our body for hours and I remem­ber feel­ing both exhaust­ed and exhil­a­rat­ed. The zom­bies had been sched­uled for a day and a half of shoot­ing but it had mor­phed into three. I lost my job as a wait­ress in New York at the time because the movie had filmed out­side of Pittsburgh and I hadn’t been able to come home for my next shift. Glenn, who I’d been mar­ried to for just a few months at the time, assured me it was OK even though I knew we need­ed the mon­ey since he was still in law school. “This could be your break, Dorrie,” he said. “Are you going to ruin it to serve hash browns?” I stayed in Pennsylvania and even though the film bud­get was low, they put the zom­bies up at a motel. Our shoots start­ed at 1am and we roamed the same sog­gy hill­side all night with arms extend­ed. For weeks after I found my arms out like that at the gro­cery store, on the way into a restau­rant with Glenn, in the recep­tion room at the doctor’s office when I found out about my preg­nan­cy. Even now, some­times I’ll be doing some­thing and real­ize I’m walk­ing like a zom­bie, like last week when I browsed Yerba Buena Gardens on my own. I saw a young girl give me a strange look and real­ized my elbows were locked and my fin­ger­tips were point­ed straight out, I real­ized I was doing it again in the check­out line at the gro­cery store nudg­ing my shop­ping cart slight­ly ahead towards a cashier.

I was allowed to keep my white zom­bie dress. The neck­line was rimmed with beige make­up after shoot­ing but I kept it and I wore it on Halloween to take Lula and her friends trick or treat­ing until she for­bid me to do so. I eyed the white dress that looked like it was float­ing in a glass cube at Hermes. It remind­ed me of when I had gone with Glenn and Lula to see the Emily Dickenson house in Amherst and her famous gar­ment was fea­tured in the entryway.

I open the front of the Hermes case and pull out the silk col­umn gown. I run my fin­gers along the soft folds of the front. I gen­tly take the padded hang­er off the translu­cent hook and unbut­ton the back of the dress. I can tell by look­ing at it that it’s at least a few sizes too small but I am still thin and I slip my black top off and pull the dress over my head. I guide my arms in and it’s like dunk­ing my limbs in organ­ic cream. I pull down my skirt and adjust the dress. From the front, it looks amaz­ing, like it fits, but there is no chance of the back being fas­tened. I don’t care. I decide to keep it on even with the gap­ing back. I look down at my clunky and sen­si­bly soled Dansko shoes I bought in North Berkeley the day Glenn final­ly admit­ted his affair after I thought we were hav­ing the best after­noon eat­ing bagels and lox at Saul’s after he told me he real­ly did still love me but he was mov­ing on. “You’ll be alright, Dorrie,” he said. “I’ll be alright.” I had thought he was kid­ding before I hunched over on the side­walk and threw up brunch.

I look at my phone with no bars. I’ve been in the store for hours now but time is start­ing to feel fuzzy. Over the years Glenn and I called that feel­ing Zombie time. Like short­ly after Lula was born and we stayed up all night and we couldn’t tell if it was real­ly morn­ing because exhaus­tion had left a veil over us. The cast had actu­al­ly coined the term on set because the nights felt end­less and I had con­tin­ued to use it over the years and Glenn used it to describe how he felt when he would stay up all night study­ing for the bar.

By the end of the shoot we real­ly had mor­phed into the liv­ing dead, we almost didn’t need make­up after the all-night shoots. We didn’t have e‑mail or iPhones back then and I lost touch with the cast and crew even though we had become quite close dur­ing film­ing. It was almost sev­en months lat­er when we reunit­ed for the pre­mière at the his­toric Fulton Theatre in down­town Pittsburgh. At that time, hor­ror movies pre­miered on Saturday after­noons and Glenn had hap­pi­ly wok­en up ear­ly to make the six-hour dri­ve in ear­ly October. He was more excit­ed than I was. He hand­ed me a small box that morn­ing before we pulled out off the dri­ve­way and I opened it on the road. It was a small rhine­stone encrust­ed pin in the shape of a star. “You’re my star, Dorrie,” he said as he pinned it on my mater­ni­ty dress. I hoped the sparkling broach would detract from y waist­line. I didn’t know why but I was embar­rassed at the thought of my cast mates see­ing my bulging stom­ach. We had spent our off time talk­ing about our movie careers and dreams and I felt like I was let­ting them down. “You can go back to audi­tion­ing after the baby,” Glenn had told me. But we both knew it wasn’t true. He was always study­ing We had no mon­ey. No childcare.

I think of this as I look at my reflec­tion in the gold-framed trip­tych mir­ror near the faint­ing sofa in the store. I know I look good for my age, even if I can’t but­ton the back of my dress. At 70 I have lines on my face but I have always been care­ful with the sun and they are sub­tle. My book club says I could pass for ear­ly 60s. That makes me laugh. But right now, in the light, in the white dress, I feel beautiful.

I’d also worn white to the movie pre­mière. I hadn’t been able to fit into my zom­bie dress, which I had planned to wear, so instead I stayed up nights sewing the empire waist gown and added a small green satin sash for con­trast. I had left the screen­ing just a few min­utes in at the pre­mière to use the bath­room and found myself wan­der­ing the maroon-car­pet­ed hall to the ladies lounge. I had laughed off the idea that the the­ater was known for being haunt­ed (Glenn had told me it was a well known fact that the most ghost sight­ings in Lancaster County had tak­en place there) but I felt an eerie silence as I walked. I told myself it was because the fre­net­ic hus­tle of the open­ing had been such a con­trast and now every­one but me was in the the­ater. Even the employ­ees had gone in to watch, I assumed, as I hadn’t seen any­one since I’d got­ten up from my seat. I walked into the large out­er lounge of the ladies room and took a seat on one of the red tas­seled vel­vet chairs. I had felt fine dur­ing much of my preg­nan­cy but now with weeks to go, a short walk tired me out. I closed my eyes for a moment and felt a soft hand on my shoul­der and some­one gen­tly push­ing a strand of my hair back. I opened my eyes and no one was there. “Hello?” I said to the emp­ty room. “Is some­one here?” I stood up and in the soft­est whis­per close to my ear, I heard, “You’ve cho­sen.” I felt a pan­ic run through me and pushed the wood­en door to the emp­ty stall and yelled, “Who’s here?” “Who said that?”

When I returned to the the­ater it was the scene in the grave­yard and Glenn pat­ted the the­ater seat for me to sit down and put his arm around me. “They’re com­ing for you, Barbra,” said Russell Streiner, who played Judith O’Dea’s broth­er, Johnny. “They’re com­ing to get you.”


I can feel the tight pull of the too small Hermes dress but I close my eyes and think back to when I was that 18 year old girl on the cusp of a new life, one that had fall­en in front of me unplanned, a hus­band, a child. I take a deep breath. The store smells clean with a slight cedar scent laced with cit­rus. I start to imag­ine no one will ever come back and find me here and I can just live in this her­mit­i­cal­ly sealed place of lux­u­ry where cell­phones can’t intrude, where friends haven’t start­ed to die, where I haven’t been orphaned by my par­ents, left by my hus­band, and the idea of grow­ing old alone won’t keep me up at night.

I walk over to the case with the infa­mous Kelly bag again. This time I notice it has a small tag that looks almost hand­writ­ten. Vintage, 1968. It reads. I do a dou­ble take of the date. What are the chances? I say aloud to no one. The same year as the movie open­ing. The cen­ter of the almost enve­lope-shaped bag is a creamy can­vas with the out­side lined in thick, soft cof­fee-col­ored leather. I open the front of the glass case thank­ing who­ev­er decid­ed vis­i­ble locks were not high-end and instead opt­ed for store secu­ri­ty. I pull out the bag and loop it on my left arm. It still has a shiny gold clasp that I turn and unturn, open­ing and clos­ing the bag and imag­ing myself toss­ing in a lip­stick, a hair­brush, or keys to a hap­py home. I walk back to the trip­tych mir­ror and envi­sion myself arriv­ing at the Living Dead pre­mière, only this time in the star­ing role, and it’s evening, in Los Angles, with a red car­pet. I humbly wave to my fans as I enter with the bag on my left arm, my for­ev­er hus­band Glenn proud­ly on my other.

I open my eyes. No Glenn. No Hollywood. I am a 70-year old woman in a locked store in a too small dress in down­town San Francisco. I will lat­er return to my new­ly rent­ed and mod­est apart­ment after a kind police­man tells me after I’ve bro­ken down in tears not to wor­ry, no one is press­ing charges.

But this hasn’t hap­pened yet and I tell myself I should be try­ing to get out. I should be look­ing for an Exit or a back­room phone. I should flash lights or make noise, do some­thing so that some­one walk­ing by will glance over and see that I don’t belong. They will call 911 or a non-emer­gency num­ber and a small group with noth­ing bet­ter to do on the night before Thanksgiving will gath­er in a semi-cir­cle on the side­walk, eager to see what is happening.

But instead, I remain still. As still as I’ve ever been. I bare­ly allow myself to breathe. The dress still on. The bag hang­ing from my fore­arm. I stand so still that if any­one walk­ing by, on this now fog­gy night in late November, will see a man­nequin, a stat­ue, a zombie—ready and wait­ing on the cusp of night.


Anna Mantzaris has appeared in pub­li­ca­tions includ­ing Ambit, The Cortland Review, Necessary Fiction, New World Writing, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.