October 2017

Cathy Ulrich

Being the Murdered Wife

 

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

Your husband will become a great man. Thousands of scholars will know your name. He’ll say: I couldn’t have done it without her. I’d never be the man I am today without her.

Your children will be sent to live with your husband’s parents. A great man like your husband couldn’t be expected to spend his time tending to his murdered wife’s children. Your children will be shown photographs of you, told: This is Mommy. Your children will grow up thinking of mothers as two-dimensional things, will think of you as that girl with one hand holdingher hair back, squinting into the camera — that photo you’d always asked your husband to throw out. That photo you never knew he kept. Your children will grow, someday, older than you.

While your children are growing up, your husband will become a great man. He will write poems in your honor. He will take a string of lovers, sometimes weeping into their naked breasts: Oh, I miss her so much.

There, there, your husband’s lovers will say, patting him on the head like a child. There, there.

Your husband’s lovers will admire his devotion, will nod thoughtfully when their friends quote from his poetry: I want to be loved like that.

When reporters interview your husband, they’ll say: Tell us about your first wife.

Oh, where can I begin? your husband will say. Where can I begin?

Your husband’s second wife and third and fourth will never compare to you. You will be an angel; you will be a saint. Maybe a little too rigid in bed, your husband will confide to the lover the third wife will leave him over, the lover who will become the fourth wife.

Your husband’s wives — second, third and fourth — will have to endure the photographs of you your husband will put up round the house. He’ll have so many of them framed after your death. His favorite will be the one of you with a wineglass in your hand, head tossed back, laughing, surrounded by his friends.

I must have said something frightfully clever, your husband will say, to make her laugh so hard.

Your children will come to stay with your husband and the third wife when they’re older. The second wife won’t last long before she leaves your husband. What she had found charming in her bed, she will find less charming in his. The way he will still weep your name, keep your wedding photo on the bedstand table. The second wife will never learn your children’s names, never select Christmas presents for them. The second wife will leave quietly, while your husband is gone for a reading, taking some of your jewelry when she goes. Your husband will bring lawsuit after lawsuit against her. She will always claim the jewelry was given as a gift.

The third wife will be awkward with your children at first, but then grow to love them. They’ll be surprised at the weight of her arms the first time she embraces them, will think: Is this what a mother feels like?

The third wife will say: I would never want to replace your mother.

She and your children will be surrounded by the framed pictures of you. When they’re eating, when they’re watching television. You will always be there. The third wife will develop a nervous habit of smoothing her hair when she glances at the photo of you holding the wine glass, laughing. One day, when there is a sudden gust of wind, that photo will fall off the wall and be torn on the glass shards. Your husband and the third wife will have their first argument.

You did this on purpose, he’ll say.

I know how much she means to you, the third wife will cry.

Your children will flee to their bedrooms. The third wife will follow them later, and apologize.

Your father is a great man, she’ll say. It’s all thanks to your mother.

After the third wife leaves your husband, he’ll move the fourth wife into the house. His friends will never approve of her. That little twist he married, they’ll call her. The fourth wife won’t be so stupid she wouldn’t notice. She’ll pour glasses of wine at your husband’s dinner parties with trembling, furious hands. She’ll let some of it spill onto the counter, leave it till morning, let it stain. She’ll want to put some of the photographs into storage — that one where your face is half-covered in shadow, where your shirt has slipped off one shoulder, especially — but your husband will tell her it has to stay. They all have to stay.

The fourth wife will be the youngest of all his wives, except for you, married to your husband just out of high school, both of you so young then, so vibrant, he’ll say. The fourth wife won’t be as pretty as the second wife or as kind as the third, but she’ll be young. And she will dust your framed photos every week, though she hates them, hates you, perfect, unaging, murdered, because your husband is a great man.


Cathy Ulrich is a writer from Montana. Her work has been published in a variety of journals, including Lost Balloon, b(OINK) and Menacing Hedge.

Emily Corwin