The thing about being the murdered homecoming queen is you set the plot in motion.
You’ll be a haunt long after your name is forgotten; you’ll be famous. You’ll be summoned at impromptu after-school séances in the gymnasium, girls sitting lotus-style, knees brushing, cupping flashlights under their chins, wearing gossamer scarves, smelling of their mothers’ incense and potpourri.
I can feel her, they’ll say, one to another. I can feel her presence.
One girl will speak in tongues, writhe, faint. The other girls will wake her with delicate splashes from water bottles, flicked from their fingertips: Are you possessed now? Are you her?
But the girl who fainted will only be herself, and they will all sigh with disappointment, tiptoe out of the gym before the custodian comes by.
You’ll be a picture in the yearbook memoriam section, next to the cancer kid, next to the boy who ran the stop sign, next to a trite poem about loss.
You’ll be a ghost, a ghost, a ghost.
The girls will remember you, the girls always will. Pass you down from one class to another, lose your name along the way. Murdered homecoming queen, you don’t need a name, the thing you have become is more real a name than the one you ever had before.
You’ll be a ghost for the girls alone. You’ll be red-lipsticked backwards writing on the bathroom mirror, cold spot in the hallway outside the science lab, flicker of band room lights at 1:43 p.m. every other Thursday.
You’ll be the curse on the other homecoming queens, girls holding their bodies away from their kings for the shared homecoming dance, girls sharp-elbowed and stiff, heavy head in tiara.
The girls will whisper you, scratch your existence into the tops of desks, bathroom stall doors. You will be larger and more real than you ever used to be. You will envelop the school.
The girls, the girls, the girls.
They’ll keep you, even as women, keep you as their first ghost, keep your sadness, tuck it against themselves at night, between them and their husbands, kiss it into their daughters’ foreheads.
A murdered homecoming queen could never be happy, they’ll tell the nodding daughters.
All that, they’ll say, taken away, and the daughters will say yes, all that, dream of rhinestone tiaras clattering against concrete, tap of heels dyed to match homecoming dress, glare of spotlight, bundle of roses. Dream of you. The daughters will wake; the daughters will walk the hallways you used to walk; the daughters will keep you too, always, always, always.
Cathy Ulrich can't remember if she went to her homecoming or not. She definitely wasn't royalty. Her work has been published in various journals, including Pithead Chapel, Cleaver and Cotton Xenomorph.