Being the Murdered Mother
(part of the Murdered Ladies series)
by Cathy Ulrich
The thing about being the murdered mother is you set the plot in motion. Your son will never love again, not the way he loved you, the first woman, the one who left. He’ll date girls you wouldn’t have approved of, girls who snap their gum, wear their skirts short. Tell himself you wouldn’t approve of them. Tell himself they’re nothing like you.
Your son will bring his girlfriends back to your house. He will think how empty it is now, fill the emptiness by playing the stereo too loud.
His father will say turn that down. His father will constantly be saying turn that down. Coming into the family room, feet heavy, turn that down, it’s too loud, turn that down, your son and one of the girlfriends there, the girlfriends tugging down their shirts, adjusting the waist of their jeans.
The girlfriends will press themselves into the corner of your leather couch, try to hide away from your son and his father: do you think your mother would like it, you acting like this. The girlfriends will scratch their nails along the arm of the leather couch, tuck their feet underneath their bodies, make themselves small, small, small.
The girlfriends will regret getting involved with a boy who has lost his mother. They will think of it as lost, the way their own mothers say: That poor boy. To lose his mother in such a way.
The mothers will say to their daughters: Why don’t you invite him here for a nice, home-cooked meal? and their daughters will shuffle their feet, shake their heads, make excuses, think of the leather couch, how it clung to their bare flesh, how your son kissed them desperately.
The last girlfriend will be the girl who always shows up late to school, doesn’t always bother to brush her hair. Smokes unfiltered cigarettes, darkens her eyes amateurishly with black liner. Your son will see her standing outside at lunch to sneak a cigarette, will go outside to stand next to her.
Bum a smoke? will be his line.
The last girlfriend will have a mother, no father, at least not one I ever met, live in a tiny apartment, sleep on a pull-out bed.
She’ll say: Your mom died? That sucks.
Your son will rub the back of his neck with his fist, something he has done since he was a child, how small his hands were when he was a child, how small his hands were before you were murdered.
It does suck.
The last girlfriend’s mother, even in that tiny apartment, will make home-cooked meals, will say you shouldn’t smoke, it’s bad for your health, will touch her daughter comfortingly.
Your son and his father won’t touch anymore, not like that. Your son and his father won’t say your name anymore, tip family photos over on their faces, stare at the bare velvet backs of them.
The last girlfriend will say: It feels haunted here.
Haunted, your son will say, haunted?
The last girlfriend won’t be able to express it, how the entire house is enveloped in an emptiness barer than the backs of photo frames. How the entire house is filled with the absence of you, and how your son is too.
She’ll scratch her fingers on the arm of the leather couch, make herself small.
You know, she’ll say.
The last girlfriend will be the sort of girl everyone expects to get murdered, ride in back seats of cars driven by strange boys, smoke cigarettes in dark alleys. The last girlfriend won’t be like you at all. The last girlfriend will live forever.
Your son will turn on the stereo when she comes over, I like this song, don’t you. She’ll shrug, say sure, fish a cigarette out of her purse, tap it against the heel of her hand.
When your son’s father comes in to say turn that down, she’ll be outside on the back step, smoking, looking up at the starlit sky, and your son and his father will be, in the quiet of your house, alone.
When Cathy Ulrich was in high school, her mother was always catching her on couches with boys. Her work has been published in various journals, including Bad Pony, Cotton Xenomorph, Cleaver and Pithead Chapel.