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Being the Murdered Extra by Cathy Ulrich


We are honored to share “Being the Murdered Extra,” the latest in Cathy Ulrich’s Murdered Ladies flash fiction series. Lyric language and meter, distinctive imagery, urgent pace, and bold choices in POV and tense are the hallmarks of this series and this piece.

Ulrich uses future progressive tense and second person POV, addressed to the murdered girl, not the reader. This combination serves as a robust engine, driving the narrative and character arcs. We highly recommend reading a few pieces from this series together. Each is constructed with the same opening line: “The thing about being the murdered __ is you set the plot in motion.” This serves well to propel us into these stories about any and every girl. Please head to the author’s note to learn more about Ulrich’s inspirations. We’re grateful for her stories about lost girls: “Every story is their story. Every story is mine.”  —CRAFT


 

The thing about being the murdered extra is you set the plot in motion.

You were a girl good at walking past cameras, background girl, corner-of-the-frame girl. Never-held-a-script girl, went-where-the-director-said girl.

You’ll be found in an alley, it’s always an alley for girls like you, didn’t-quite-make-it girls, living-four-to-a-one-bedroom-apartment girls. You’ll be found in an alley, you’ll be mistaken for a broken mannequin at first, you’ll be given a nickname. Blue Violet, White Rose, something reminiscent of Elizabeth Short, that first girl like you, that most famous one. The kind of dead girl who never really dies.

A color and a flower, a body in black lace dress, missing heels, missing purse. You’ll be described by the things you have lost, by the things you almost were: wannabe starlet, wannabe model.

Your roommates will say you had a date that night. Your roommates will say you were always going on dates.

She liked men, huh, the cops will say.

Who doesn’t, right, your roommates will sigh, drink the cheap coffee they’re offered.

One of them, a girl from Wyoming, will handroll cigarettes and remember the prairie, remember what the moon looks like in a town uncluttered by neon lights. She’ll cry when the police question her about your death; they’ll think it’s something like guilt.

It’s sad, though, she’ll say. Don’t you think it’s just so sad?

The police will say it’s sad, sure, send her out to the waiting room with your other roommates, say thanks for your time, send them home. Your roommates will take a bus back to the apartment, sit together on the couch, knee-clutching, throw out your expired milk, put an ad on Craigslist for a new girl: Quiet, clean. Won’t take up much space.

Your mother will take the bus in from the suburbs. The police will give her what is left of your things, one silver-plated earring, torn nylons, macramé bracelet that your baby sister made.

She never took that off, your mother will tell them, packing it with your other things from the police in a plastic shopping bag. Your roommates will give her the rest from the apartment, packed in your ripped-side suitcase, except your nicest dress, which the Wyoming girl will tuck among her own clothes for safekeeping.

She was a good girl, she’ll say to your mother.

She was a lot of things, your mother will say. I don’t know about good.

Your mother will take your things back home on the bus; you’ll go back home casketed broken-doll in the back of a mortuary van.

The Wyoming girl will wear your nicest dress to an audition the day of your funeral. She won’t know it’s the day of your funeral; your family will keep it quiet so the press won’t come. Only one local reporter will be there, tall and too thin, all knees and nose, write a first-person account on the death of a flower, the funeral of a flower.

The Wyoming girl will tell the casting director this dress belongs to a dead girl. The casting director will find that interesting, find her memorable, say: you’ve got the role. She’ll be cast as Dead Girl #2 in a popular serial drama about a detective who doesn’t play by the rules. A detective in a trench coat, a detective with a past. A detective who always gets his man.

The Wyoming girl will practice lying still on the floor of the apartment.

How do I look? she’ll say to your other roommates. Do I look like a real dead girl?

They’ll say: Yes. Yes, you look like a real dead girl.

The Wyoming girl and your other roommates will stream your last movie on their phones when it’s released, call it your movie, though it never belonged to you, though nothing ever did. They’ll pause and start, pause and start, shift through frame by frame. This could be your knee, this could be the back of your head, the way that one stands, she could be you.

There, they’ll say, and point at the screens, there, there, that must be her, but they’ll never be quite sure if they’re right.

 


CATHY ULRICH knows a recipe for a drink called a Black Dahlia: it’s got vodka, creme de cassis, and raspberry liqueur in it. Her work has been published in various journals, including Passages North, Black Warrior Review, and Longleaf Review.

 

Author’s Note

This fall, I got a new book about Elizabeth Short. Not too many people know that’s her name—she’s better known by the moniker the Hearst newspapers anointed her with: The Black Dahlia. There are dozens of books about her, movies, ripped-from-the-headlines television shows. But of course none of them are about her, really. She’s much more interesting as a murder victim than as Elizabeth, the girl with bad taste in men. More interesting as The Black Dahlia than as Betty, the girl who couch-surfed for months after she stopped being able to pay her rent.

And this story isn’t about Elizabeth Short either. As much as I would like to tell her story.

This story is about a girl who wanted to make it big and didn’t. It’s about a girl who died. It’s about how she isn’t known from her death, how she is lost in it, how she is recreated as something understandable to the masses. It’s about what she has left behind.

It’s about looking for the lost and never knowing if you have found them.

This story is from my Murdered Ladies series (I wish I had come up with a better name, but it is what it is: stories about women [or girls] who have been murdered). Every story is looking for the lost girl from the title: the Extra, the Babysitter, the Wife, the Lover, the Teacher. Every story is their story. Every story is mine.

I am looking for the lost in these stories.

I don’t know if I will ever find them.

 


CATHY ULRICH knows a recipe for a drink called a Black Dahlia: it’s got vodka, creme de cassis, and raspberry liqueur in it. Her work has been published in various journals, including Passages North, Black Warrior Review, and Longleaf Review.