Being the Murdered Clerk
The thing about being the murdered clerk is you set the plot in motion.
You’ll be found by passersby at the end of your shift, half-in, half-out of the shop, door propped open by your hollowed body. They’ll check for your pulse, they’ll run for the nearest phone.
They’ll note the curl and clutch of your fingers, how you must have dragged yourself to the door. They’ll say she fought so hard. They’ll say she wanted to live.
You’ll be found. Your killer never will. There will be a reward for information, posters with your name, your face. Pinned up at the post office, at grocery stores, on telephone poles: $5,000 Reward. Everyone will know your face, the dark of your hair, slant of your near-smile. Yours will be the face parents know better than the faces of their own daughters; yours will be the name uttered in cautions from mothers buttoning their children into autumn jackets.
Be careful, they’ll say. Oh, be careful.
Over the years, the reward will grow. Your parents will put money in, your boss, local business owners, police associations: ten, fifteen, twenty. Your face will stay the same on the posters, your name. You are unchanging and dead. You will be, always, unchanging and dead.
Your parents will forget the sound of your voice, scent of your favorite perfume, gone stale in its bottle, perched on your bureau in your empty room. Your mother will stand in the middle of your room from time to time, touch your things with a brush of her knuckles, lightly, lightly, try to evoke you with a calling of your name.
A reporter will call your parents for an interview in honor of the ten-year anniversary of your death. She’ll be new to town, print a copy of your reward poster for her notes. The receptionist was a girl when you were killed; the receptionist will see the poster on the printer, run her fingertip over your face.
Oh, she’ll say, curve of fingernail caressing the flat of your printed hair. Oh, I remember her.
The reporter will go to your parents’ house. They’ll show her your bedroom, wrinkle of your bedspread, clutter of your closet. The pieces of you that have been left behind: favorite books, high-heeled sandals, teddy bear missing one button eye.
We thought it would be safe here, they’ll say. We thought it couldn’t happen here.
Your parents are from out of town, and you were, and your little brothers. Moved from the big city to the small town, the everybody-knows-your-name town. Your old classmates will never hear of your death when it happens, will wonder from time to time, whatever happened to her, will enter your name in search engines, will find your face, will see Reward for Information, will say: Oh, I remember her.
The reporter will write a series of articles about your murder that will go on to win a statewide journalism award. The reporter will collect your posters as they’re released: fifteen, twenty, twenty-five. You will be the ghost haunting the reporter, the name she brings up again, again, again.
On the fifteenth anniversary of your death, the reporter will think of calling your parents, for old time’s sake, she’ll think, hover her hand over the phone. She won’t dial. She’ll go to a dive bar down the street when her shift is over at midnight. She’ll drink too many beers, spill some on the cuff of her paisley shirt. She’ll go home with a retired cop, one who knows you too, the way the town knows you, toast in your honor, say your name. She’ll go home with the retired cop, wake in his bed in the dark, the unfamiliarity of his breath against her neck, roll away from him, curl herself into a ball, think of your weary eyes.
The next day, she’ll cut her hair, shorter than it’s ever been.
You look so pretty, her coworkers will say. You look so young.
The reporter will smile slantwise, say thank you, thank you, looking like a reflection of you.
The reporter will leave the newspaper abruptly and never return, taking all but one of your posters with her. They’ll sit in the passenger seat of her car; she’ll drive and drive and drive until the town is lost behind her. She’ll drop your posters in trash bins along the way, till she gets to the last one, think no, think no, no, no, tuck it into the trunk of her car, where it will stay.
The poster left behind will remain taped to the wall by the reporter’s desk, covered and covered by notes. The receptionist will have to clean out the reporter’s desk for her replacement, will see the corner of the reward poster. She’ll lift the notes away with the tips of her fingers, delicate, barely moving them at all. She won’t need to move them much to know it’s you.
Oh, she’ll say, touch your chin with her fingertips. Oh, I remember her.
About the Author: Bio: Cathy Ulrich used to work as an obituary clerk at the local newspaper. It was a really, really sad job. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in various journals, including Passages North, Black Warrior Review, Gigantic Sequins and Pithead Chapel.