The thing about being the murdered newlywed is you set the plot in motion.
You and your wife will be found together, days later, where he left you, where he disposed of you, he thought of it as a disposal, out there in the cold by the river, with all the small, scurrying things.
There will be a fund set up to bring you home, there will be photos of you and your wife on social media, in the news, they were so happy together, they were so in love. In the obituary in your hometown newspaper: She is joined in death by her wife.
You will be joined in death by your wife.
You will be taken home in the cargo hold of an airplane, your wife left behind in the town where you met, your wife left behind in a county cemetery, in a soft, cold grave. You will go home nestled in your casket, closed tight in the dark, you will be picked up by a mortuary attendant in a pressed white shirt and polyester tie. He’ll only know you by your last name on his clipboard, the slide of your body as he loads your casket into his van. He will never see your face, never speak your name, never see the clothing your family has chosen for you to wear. He will go home that evening and kiss his three children on the tops of their heads, think how soft and small their little heads are, how soft and small and round.
There will be the closed casket and a church full of mourners, your father holding your stepmother’s hand in a velveted pew, your mother standing at the back, no, I don’t need a seat at the front, no, I can stand, twisting the strap of her purse, untwisting it, twisting it again, nodding glaze-eyed at the offers of sympathy, flinching when the minister pats her shoulder.
Thank you for coming, she will say to people as they pass her, smiling like it is a happy day, like this is somewhere she wants to be, smiling, smiling, smiling.
A girl’s mother should be there for her, she will say, to no one, to everyone, and later, she will go home and pour herself a shot of bourbon and look at the photographs from your wedding, my beautiful girl, she will say. My beautiful girl.
Your father will look back in her direction from time to time, his hand limply caught in your stepmother’s grasp, look from your smiling mother to your silver-grey casket, he will think when will it be all over? He will think oh, but it will never be all over.
There will be no service for your wife, a county-paid burial, a line with her name in the local newspaper, a slip and a quiet and a nothing at all.
There will be the drop of dirt onto your casket, fistful by fistful, your littlest brother pinching his eyes shut as he stands above that hole in the ground, your littlest brother thinking of the snap-snap-snap of gunshots, your littlest brother’s hand going slack and letting the dirt fall, your littlest brother, that night, muffled crying into his pillow in the dark.
There will be the long wait for your gravestone to be placed, beloved daughter, beloved wife, and your mother’s daily vigil at the cemetery till it arrives, in dangling-hem nightgown first thing every morning, soon as the sun rises, the sky opening up purple and red and pink and finally, blue, blue, blue over the quiet, empty yawn of your grave.
Cathy Ulrich knows the wait for grave markers is longer than TV makes it seem. Her work has been published in various journals, including Mayday, Leon Literary Review and Juked.