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by Cathy Ulrich

She doesn’t love her husband, or maybe she does, only she doesn’t know what love is, really.

When she sees him peering at her from underneath those thick eyelashes, when those delicate hands come at her, there is a trembling in the pit of her belly. Perhaps that is love.

He says: If you really loved me, you’d have had an abortion. If you really loved me, you wouldn’t have made me marry you.

The newspapers call her his child bride. Nearly sixteen, she doesn’t feel like a child, but she doesn’t quite feel like a wife, either. She is something in between, and the envy of all the girls.

You’re so lucky, they say, and hate her. She knows, at least, what that is, hatred: the bouquet of dead flowers that came in her name to her parents’ house, for the bitch. They might have been from her husband. Stubbornly, she put them into a vase and left them in her room.

She knows the flowers will be gone when she returns from her honeymoon, and besides, she won’t be going back to her parents’ home, but will be staying in her new husband’s mansion.

You’re a wife now, her mother said. You have a duty.

When they left for their honeymoon, her husband had her pose for the newsmen’s cameras. He smiled and she smiled too, and they waved to his fans, who called to him, we love you, we love you. She would have liked to ask them how does it feel, exactly, can you describe it to me.

She thought it might have been love when he kissed her fingertips, when he whispered soon we’re going to make love, when he brought her to his home and laid her down on his soft bed. He is handsomer in real life than in his movies; once he’s taken off that silly mustache, he has a face that is almost beautiful. When he smiles, his mouth is nothing but teeth.

He smiles now.

That wasn’t love, he says, pulling himself off of her. She wraps herself in the hotel robe, and pushes past him to stand on the balcony, where she looks out over the silent rocks.

After a while, he comes up behind her, gently brushing her hair away from the bare skin of her neck.

You poor thing. Why don’t you jump?

If I did, she says, if I did —

He presses his lips to the back of her neck. If you jump, he says, that would be love.

Cathy Ulrich loves to read about silent movie stars, even Charlie Chaplin. Her work has recently been published in Spry Literary Journal, Maudlin House and Cheap Pop.