By Cathy Ulrich
The thing about being the murdered lover is you set the plot in motion.
Your lover will be suspected, investigated. His wife and her three fur coats. Ermine, ermine, ermine.
Your lover’s wife will burn one of her ermine coats after it’s returned to her from the police, the one they took as evidence, the one that covered your naked body. Set a bonfire in the back yard, even with her refined, thin hands, she can do something like that. Throw the ermine coat atop it, lips drawn back in a smile or a snarl. She’ll be drunk on red wine, the kind your lover liked to save for special occasions.
The police will be called back to the house after the bonfire when the neighbors complain about the shouting and the thumping, the sound of broken things.
Your lover will be head in hands on the couch when the police come, his wife standing over him in a silk nightgown, clutching torn, burnt pieces of ermine: How could you do this to us?
I’m sorry, your lover will say. The police will take this as a confession. The police will think your lover murdered you to keep you quiet.
The police will think of you as a blackmailer, as a greedy, grasping woman. The police will see your naked body, reveal it from the fur coat, examine the ligature marks on your throat, think of their own wives, their own lovers. Will think: Poor thing got what she deserved.
Your lover will be taken away in handcuffs from his home. You had only been there twice, when his wife and her favorite ermine coat were gone, and he took you on their bed, where he said he hadn’t touched his wife in years. You stared up at the ceiling and clutched the sheets in your hands. Later, he draped you in the ermine coat that would later cover your dead body, said: A girl like you deserves nice things.
While your lover is sitting in his holding cell in a fine Italian suit, his wife will pack a suitcase, unpack it, pack it again.
Your lover will call his lawyer; his wife will call hers. The lawyers will say: Don’t tell them anything. The lawyers will say: Let me do the talking. The lawyers will both secretly suspect their client of being guilty. The lawyers will file motions and snap their briefcases open and closed, clatter down courthouse hallways in their dress shoes.
Your photograph will be brought out from time to time. There will be two the police like to use in their investigation, the first a selfie they downloaded from your phone, duck-lipped, squinting.
Do you recognize this woman? they’ll say, and follow it up with the one of you dead and naked on the floor, draped in an ermine coat.
Do you recognize her now?
The police will secretly prefer the photo of you dead, find something attractive in the parting of your lips, the bruising of your throat, something graceful in your death, something fragile, something precious.
In the first photo, you aren’t making duck lips at all. You are blowing a kiss.
Kiss me, your lover texted you. I want you to kiss me.
I’ll look silly, you said.
Please, he said. Please.
The police will box up your belongings, return them to your roommate after your funeral.
What kind of girl was she? they’ll say.
Nice, your roommate will say. Quiet.
Your roommate will never be a suspect. Your roommate will read about the investigation in the newspaper whenever there is any progress. Your roommate will, in time, forget your middle name.
People will say to your roommate: Didn’t you used to live with her? That woman who was murdered?
Your roommate won’t mind the question, except once, when she is about to get married, getting fitted for her dress, the bridal shop employee spreading measuring tape over her body: Didn’t you used to live with that woman who was murdered?
And your roommate, arms crossed over her bare breasts, will begin to cry. The tears will surprise her; she’ll wipe them away with one hand, keep the other over her breasts, assume she is oversensitive because of her impending wedding.
No, she’ll say. I never knew her.
The investigation will drag on for years. Your lover’s wife will keep the suitcase under her bed, just in case, will keep a bed of her own, a room of her own, sit across from her husband at dinners out on the town to keep up appearances, introduce herself to important people: Oh, that was all just a terrible misunderstanding. We hope things will be cleared up soon.
Your lover’s wife will smile a tight-lipped smile. Your lover’s wife will become so proficient at this tight-lipped smile. She’ll wake in her bed in the night, smiling that smile, touch the corners of her mouth in the dark, think of you.
You didn’t have to die, she’ll say when the newspaper runs their articles on the anniversary of your death, say to the duck-licked photo of you on the front page. You didn’t have to do this to me.
Your lover’s wife will hate herself for thinking this, dig her manicured nails into her palms. She will smile over the top of the newspaper at her husband, that practiced, tight-lipped smile.
Please pass the salt, she’ll say, and make certain, when he does, that their hands don’t brush.
Cathy Ulrich knows the difference between murder and homicide. One implies intent. Her work has been published in various journals, including Easy Street Magazine, Jellyfish Review and Monkeybicycle.