REVIEW | Ghosts of You by Cathy Ulrich
The innovative flash fiction collection Ghosts of You by Cathy Ulrich (Okay Donkey Press), with murdered women as the central figures of each story, asks the readers, “What if…?” What if you identify as a woman? More importantly, what if you identify as a woman and you get murdered—what will happen among the people around you after your death? In each flash story, “you set the plot in motion,” taking the form of any imaginable woman: a girl, lover, professor, mermaid—always in the second person and always in the future tense. Ghosts of You places you in the personae of these murdered women and suggests the worst-case-scenarios for each possible aftermath of the murder, often like a hoped-for mourning, as in the case of “Being the Murdered Cheerleader,” or frighteningly realistic as in “Being the Murdered Coed”: “He’ll grab the girl with your name by her thin wrist. It will be like grabbing you. He never touched you, not when you were alive. He’ll think it would have been like touching her now” (“Being the Murdered Actress”).
None of these personae present the same “What if…?” scenario, which gives individuality to each murdered woman. Even though the first sentence repeats every flash, and the style is the same, it adds weight to the effect that the overall collection has: as the voices insinuate potential for overlap, these same voices also insist on their autonomy. This effect is imperative in appreciating this collection in its entirety. The blending narratives of these femicides not only show the reality of how we treat these murders in society, but they also call attention to this mistreatment by giving every murdered woman a voice: “She’ll miss the sound of your laughter the most. The gleam of your white teeth second, the way you were so hopeful, the way you thought things could be changed yet, changed still” (“Being the Murdered Politician”). The tricky part, though, is because this collection is told in the second person point-of-view, and because each woman is murdered, each exists like a ghost. But no murdered woman is an active participant in the outcome of her fate: she looks on as an observer, only to witness, and never change, the reverberation of her death.
"He will sculpt you over and over again; you will become clearer with each statue he creates, but it will always be the unfinished one that he comes back to, that he loves. He’ll say she’s perfect like this, isn’t she, undone and perfect, touch the curve of a pale elbow that is both yours and not yours with more care than he ever showed for your skin" (“Being the Murdered Muse”).
Readers observe—along with each murdered woman—how her loved ones, acquaintances, or coworkers mourn: by using her legacy to build up their own, treating it as an inconvenience, legend, obsession, afterthought or by a standard of mourning where they move on with their lives with a ghost of “you” in their minds. The basis of these aftermaths is rooted in anxiety, fear, expectation, or reality because of the future tense. Ghosts of You offers hope that the worst outcome might not need to exist.
Cathy Ulrich once stopped her car for a caterpillar that was crossing the road. Her eyesight was better then. Her work has been published in various journals, including Sundog Lit, Heavy Feather Review, and Passages North. She is the author of the story collection Ghosts of You, published by Okay Donkey Press (2019). You can find her on Twitter @loki_writes.
Susan Yim Rother is a fiction writer from Belleville, Illinois. Currently, Susan lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where she works on Puerto del Sol as a prose editor. You can find her on Twitter @fearthenorms.