Fictive Dream

Being the Murdered Professor

Photograph by Kelly Sikkema

by Cathy Ulrich

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

Your husband will have you buried in one of those pastel pantsuits you always wore. He’ll say she loved this one, he’ll think you loved pantsuits, really think you did.

He’ll find a minister for your service that one of your colleagues recommends, did my father’s service, everyone loved him. He’ll sit down with the minister in your kitchen, unwashed dishes in the sink, crumpled napkin by the stove. Your husband will crumple another napkin while he and the minister discuss your services, wad it up, smooth it out, over and over again.

The minister will say soothing things. The minister will have a firm grip when he shakes your husband’s hand. He’ll suggest scriptures, hymns, an order of service.

It’s best to do these things in a certain way, he’ll say.

The minister will shake your husband’s hand again before he goes, leave your husband feeling comforted, feeling known.

Your five nephews will sit with your husband in the mortuary chapel for your service. They’ll leave their wives and children at home.

Your youngest niece-in-law will be pregnant with a third child, will want to attend, remember you from Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas eves, your perfect posture, your unflinching smile. How you offered her a shot of brandy in a Santa-decorated paper cup once, to get through the holiday, you know, laughed.

I liked her, your niece-in-law will say. I want to go.

Your nephew will pat her rounded belly, rub her head like she’s one of their daughters. Your nephew will have a habit of patting his wife on the head, won’t notice when she begins flinching away. Your nephew will be hoping this one is a boy.

It will be too stressful, he’ll say. You should stay home with the girls.

Your five nephews will sit on either side of your husband, pass tissues to him in the middle, tell him he’s being strong, so very strong.

The minister will stand at the front of the chapel. He’ll barely need the microphone clipped to his lapel, his voice rising like riverflow. He’ll read the words of Matthew, Mark, John, Paul. He’ll say this song was written by a man who lost everything, have the congregation sing It Is Well With My Soul. The minister will relate to your death through the words of men, the minister will fill the chapel with the words of men.

You will be at the front of the chapel too, in a casket chosen to match your pastel pantsuit. You’ll be locked away, closed away, hidden behind stands and stands of flowers. The casket spray will be provided by the university, soft and sweet, lilacs and daisies; your husband will cry when he sees it.

It’s beautiful, he’ll say. It’s so beautiful.

Your husband will shake hands with your colleagues. They’ll tell him you were a real go-getter, a real ballbuster.

That sounds terrible, they’ll say. She’d have loved it. You know how she was. Just one of the guys.

Your colleagues will meet after your service for a glass of beer at the bar nearest campus. They won’t go to your burial, won’t want to see you lowered into the ground, won’t be able to, the one who’s known you the longest will say, bear it. One of them will write a poem about your burial later, as if he had been there, really. He’ll use lilacs as a metaphor for your femininity, daisies as a metaphor for death. He’ll win an award, keep it in his office for students to admire.

Your colleague poet will raise a glass of beer in your honor, loosen his tie. All your colleagues will loosen their ties at the bar nearest campus, all of them will say cheers, say here’s to a real ballbuster of a gal.

The minister will be speaking at your grave. He’ll say think of all the things she has taught us. Think of what we have learned from her, about God.

Your husband will dip his head at this, wipe at his eyes with one of the tissues your nephews gave him. On the ground before him, he’ll see a stem-snapped lilac, crouch to pick it up, cup it in the palm of his hands, think how fragile it is, how very fragile.

Cathy Ulrich has heard a lot of eulogies. Her work has been published in various journals, including Mojave River Review, Passages North and Cheap Pop.