At the party, Ellen counts a dozen zombies in half-assed costumes, a shredded T-shirt, a smear of fake blood. When she moves, she sweeps her cape dramatically and it feels good. There is dance music and liquor bottles on the kitchen counter and clear plastic cups. Not a shred of food, just booze. She picks up a cup and sees a fat black spider in the bottom and screams.
‘It’s fake, silly.’ Ursula plucks the spider from the cup and nests it in Ellen’s hair. In the driveway, Ellen zipped the girl into the Statue of Liberty costume she’s wearing. At first, she wanted to be a slutty witch, but Ellen talked her into the Statue of Liberty—the tallest iron structure ever built! How could she resist?
The girl vanishes into the party with her fake torch. The song changes. Bodies clump together in the living room. Ellen watches them stomp and thrash. A zombie sucks on a ballerina’s neck.
'Did you know an elephant has as many neurons as a human brain?' she says. 'Did you know that they have nerves in their toenails that help them understand sound?'
‘I didn’t know,’ Ellen says.
Usually, with a novel, you start with no idea what to do because your job is to create convincing characters and then they just run around getting crazy. The problem with writing a memoir, obviously, is you can’t do that because you sort of know what’s going to happen. Because you’re the character.
I don’t know who God is, or any of that. People concerned with those questions turn up in my stories, but I can’t explain why they do. Sometimes I wish they wouldn’t.
I discovered Meloy’s writing shortly after her death, and as I read, it was impossible not to mourn the loss of her voice, her intellect, and the considerable energy with which she advocated for the protection of desert landscapes — landscapes that, time and again, have been deemed sites for damming, bombing, and dumping hazardous waste.
When terrible things happen in a Chekhov story, it isn’t because one of the characters is a bad seed. It is often because of the characters’ inability to extend to each other the kind of compassion that would force them outside of their own concerns.
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