Being the Murdered Girlfriend by Cathy Ulrich

The thing about being the murdered girlfriend is you set the plot in motion.

Your boyfriend will say: I was just playing around.

He’ll say: I didn’t mean to.

He’ll say: The gun just went off.

His mother will wait outside when the police arrive. His mother will smoke a cigarette on the back step, look up at the sky, try not to think of your body on the floor of the family room, try not to think of the stain on the carpet. She’ll say to her husband later let’s just pull it all up, God, let’s burn it, I don’t care, I just want it gone. She’ll smoke one cigarette, two, three. Her hands will shake.

She’ll say to her son when the police say he has to come with them: It will be all right. Everything will be all right.

After you are buried, she’ll tell her friends: I never cared for that girl. I knew she was trouble.

Her friends will nod. Her friends will all have sons too. Her friends will think of their sons as precious boys, tucked them in as children with forehead kisses and blanket-smoothing hands: Sleep well, my precious boy.

They will know, like mothers of sons before them, about girls like you, girls who bring good boys to ruin.

They’ll see your photo in the newspaper — it will run once, the day after, clipped from the school yearbook — whisper over your heavy eye makeup, your twitch of a smile, the black shirt you wore, low-cut, they’ll say to each other, too low-cut.

Watch out for girls like this, they’ll tell their sons. Girls like this are trouble.

Your boyfriend’s mother will hire a lawyer. The lawyer will wear nice suits, cheap ties, speak over the top of people, carry a briefcase with a combination lock.

It was an accident, the lawyer will say. A tragic accident.

He’ll get your boyfriend sent home. Your boyfriend’s mother will pick him up at the courthouse, take him out for hamburgers, buy him a chocolate milkshake. She’ll think of how she did the same thing when he was young, after baseball games, do you remember, and your boyfriend will say I do, kind of.

He will sleep in his own bed, he will ignore the torn-up carpet, the reek of bleach. He will grow used to the scent, the way his mother and father will too, something that never quite goes, that scent, something like a ghost. When his friends come by, they’ll say what’s that smell?

Your boyfriend will say: I don’t smell anything.

He’ll say, when they ask, when anybody asks: It was an accident.

He’ll say: I never wanted to hurt her.

His mother will nod, lips pressed firm. Of course not. My son isn’t that kind of boy.

His mother will stand behind him at the sentencing, hand clutched firm on his shoulder. Later, he will show her she has left marks. In time they will fade, little fingerprint bruises disappearing and disappearing away.

She will only release her grip when the judge pronounces negligent homicide, community service.

She’ll say: Oh, thank you. Oh, God, thank you.

She’ll wait outside the courthouse for her son and the lawyer, smoke a cigarette while she waits, loose one in the bottom of her purse. She’ll think, idly, of quitting. She’ll hear the courthouse doors come open, turn to see her son come out, her precious boy, drop the half-smoked cigarette to the ground, grind it out with her heel, my precious boy, and your boyfriend will smile: Mom, let’s go home.

And she won’t know, and no one will, how you rode beside him in his pickup one night, how he took you backroading the dirt trails behind his house, said to you, when you hit this rise just right, sometimes it feels like you’re flying.

And you rode in the cab beside him, flew beside him, looked out the window and thought how far away and small everything seemed, how it didn’t seem like there was a city anymore at all, how it was you and him, alone in all the world. All you could hear was engine roar, low hum of the country station fade in and out. You looked forward and there was something there, something small, cat, maybe, or rabbit, prairie dog. And you said oh, felt the truck go over the top of it, didn’t cry, weren’t the kind of girl who would cry over a small thing like that, over a small thing that had been alive and wasn’t alive anymore, but you said oh again, looked over at your boyfriend and saw, in the moonlight, the brilliance of his smile.

 

Cathy Ulrich once stopped her car for a caterpillar that was crossing the road. Her eyesight was better then. Her work has been published in various journals, including Sundog Lit, Heavy Feather Review, and Passages North. She is the author of the story collection Ghosts of You, published by Okay Donkey Press (2019).

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