Cathy Ulrich is very tired of thoughts and prayers. Her work has been published in various journals, including Vast Chasm, Sepia and Juked.
Being the Murdered High Schooler
The thing about being the murdered high schooler is you don’t set the plot in motion.
You will die wearing your boyfriend’s borrowed sweatshirt. He wasn’t actually your boyfriend, but almost — you had kissed a few times, met his mother, ate lunch in his car. You were making him a scarf for Christmas. Your parents will find it in your room later, your parents won’t know who it was for. Your mother will wrap it, unfinished, yarn-dangling, around her own throat, think of your last breaths, think of you lying on that hallway tile, think of the boy who stepped over your body, the boy tracking your blood down the hall, the boy firing and firing his pathetic gun.
You will die on your way to sociology class. You’d been fighting with your best friend, one of those stupid little fights you got into sometimes, and she will have slammed her locker shut, strode quickly ahead without you. She won’t remember, later, what it was about, she won’t remember what she said, what you said, she will only remember a flush of anger, a locker slam, leaving you behind in the hallway.
She will hide under a desk when the teacher turns out the classroom lights, tells them quiet, quiet, be so quiet, she will text her mother in the dark Im scared, but Im ok.
She will say Im safe, Im ok.
Her mother will be waiting outside, after, with the other parents, her mother will sob and smile at the same time when she sees her daughter, god, her precious daughter, her mother will hold onto her, tight, tight, tight, like something that might float away.
The parking lot will be full of parents and flashing lights. Your mother will be the one that screams, they will show it on the news, your mother in the school parking lot, covering her face with both her hands, banshee-wailing into the air. Your mother’s scream will be a hovering thing, will be a shatter, a break, a desperate scraping hollow.
This is how your best friend and almost boyfriend will learn. This is how they’ll know.
Your almost boyfriend will attend your funeral. He’ll attend all the funerals, even the service for the biology teacher nobody really liked much before, the biology teacher who stood like a sentinel in the middle of the hallway, who told the kids behind him run, dammit, run.
There will be services every day for a week, there will be candlelit vigils, there will be thoughts, there will be prayers.
Your best friend will see a therapist. She’ll say she thought I hated her, she died thinking I hated her.
Your best friend will remember the sound of footsteps in the school hall, the sound of her own shuddering breaths, the dark and the cold and the wait, the wait, the wait.
Your best friend will stare at her hands in the therapist’s office, she will look at her hands like they are holding answers, she will open and close her hands, only emptiness within them.
You won’t set the plot in motion.
The same people will say all the same things, will offer all the same thoughts and prayers. The same people will say now is not the time to politicize their deaths. The same people will say something must be done and do nothing. The same people will close their eyes and turn their heads, will think at least it wasn’t me, at least it wasn’t here.
You won’t set the plot in motion, nothing will change, nothing will ever change, and your car will sit in the school parking lot for days after, weeks after, vanishing under a blanket of chill-white snow.
And when your parents remember, finally, to bring it home, your mother sliding into the driver’s seat, adjusting the steering wheel to reach, she will find the crumbled petals of the flowers that had been left for you dotting the passenger seat beside her. She will touch them with the tip of her finger, she will say to the cold winter air, they’re so delicate.
She’ll say it’s all so goddamn delicate.
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