CATHY ULRICH | Being the Murdered Mama
The thing about being the murdered mama is that you set the plot in motion.
Before you were killed, your friends gave you knit blankets, onesies, little rubber pacifiers. Called you little mama, said You’re so round you look like you’ve got a basketball under your shirt.
Little mama, they said, what are you going to name the baby?
Your baby will be given a name you don’t choose. Your baby will be pulled from you like straggle cornflower clutching earth; your baby will be swaddled and fed, tucked into a secondhand bassinet.
Your baby will be given a name and so will you, for several days, Jane Doe, until you are identified, until you are given back to your family, unstitched, torn.
The newspapers will love photos of you, your too-serious mouth, unplucked eyebrows, tangle of hair at the base of your neck.
The newspapers will ask has anyone seen your baby, the newspapers will shed crocodile tears for your young life.
Just a kid herself, they’ll say.
The newspapers will have photos of you and photos of you to choose from, until they finally pick the one they like best, how you’re almost smiling, how your eyes are open too wide, how the crooked of your one-time-broken nose is charming. The newspapers will run this photo with their articles about you and your missing baby.
Your face will be on the nightly news, your face will be clickbait, irresistible.
People will say: that poor thing, will say: what a dangerous world we live in.
They’ll say: What about her baby?
Your baby will be found, within the week, in its secondhand bassinet, in an apartment that isn’t yours, that still holds the scent, somehow, of your shampoo.
Your parents will be given care of your baby; your parents will change its name. Your parents will say: Please, let us have our privacy.
And your face will slowly disappear, except at your parents’ house, where your mother will pull photos out of old albums, have them framed and placed all over the house, take your baby round to them every day, this is your mama, this is your mama, this is your mama.
Your baby’s first word will be mama, formula-mouthed, grasping-fingered, mama, mama. Your baby will be sitting up on its own when the trial begins, when your face is back in all the newspapers, that same wide-eyed, almost-smiling photograph.
People will see your face and think they know you from somewhere, didn’t she used to be somebody, will have forgotten how they knew you before, how they wept before, for your tragedy.
What a dangerous world, they’ll say.
The trial will be televised. Your baby and your parents will stay locked up in their home, except for when your mother sends your father out for groceries. He’ll linger in the baby aisle at the box store, remember feeding you pureed carrots with a tiny spoon, remember you once gave him a chain of paper clips, red and white, red and white, like a candy cane, to decorate his office at Christmastime, your small hands dropping the paper-clip chain into his own, here, papa, here. Your father will pick out a box of oatmeal and a can of peas before leaning over the grocery cart and crying your name, again, again, again, until the store supervisor has to escort him back to his car, gripping his shoulder. Your father will clutch the oatmeal and the peas in his shaking hands. Your father will hold them like nothing else.
Your mother and your baby will be waiting at home. Your mother will turn on the television, baby in her lap. She’ll see the face of your killer, done up in plain, flattering makeup, her hands folded in her lap. Desperate to be a mother is how she’ll be portrayed. Your mother’s breath will hitch and catch, hitch and catch. Your mother will see your face when the news stations flash it on the screen, and your baby will see too, say mama the way it’s been taught, mama, mama, and your mother will say yes, say yes, that’s your mama, hold your baby against her chest, the way, she’ll remember, she used to hold you.
When Cathy Ulrich had her daughter, she used a laundry basket as a makeshift bassinet. Her work has been published in various journals, including Cheap Pop, Pithead Chapel and Passages North. She is the author of the flash fiction collection Ghosts of You (Okay Donkey Press).
To keep up-to-date with Cathy Ulrich, be sure to follow her on Twitter @loki_writes.