Lucy Raven, PR1, 2012. Screenprint. © The Artist and Forth Estate.

Lucy Raven, PR1, 2012. Screenprint. © The Artist and Forth Estate.


A Girl Detective Decides

by Cathy Ulrich

In a million universes, there are a million girl detectives. They are all thinking of getting their ears pierced. They are pinching the fat of their lobes between index and thumbnails, imagining the bite of something through their skin.

Some of the girl detectives are in the school choir, where they sing with competent, if sometimes thin, voices. Some of them are walking to school with Thomas from chemistry class. They aren’t listening to him talk. They are thinking about unsolved cases, they are thinking about stolen jewels and a men’s size 10 footprint in the dirt outside a cracked window.

Some of them are in sewing class, looking at the needle and thread in their hands, how their mother said all she used to pierce her ears was a needle and ice cube, steadied her hand in the mirror reflection, droplets of blood trailing down the sides of her throat. They are thinking of the sparkle of diamond in their mother’s ears. They are thinking of her straight-backed elegance in front of her dressing mirror, they are thinking of how she said you are nearly a woman now, soon it will be time to put childhood things away. 

Some of them are in history class, their desks jostled when the long-legged boy behind them stretches, their pens jittering across their notes. In the margins, they have written there is something suspicious about Claude J., investigate.

They are checking Instagram, they are getting Snapchat love notes, they are getting e-mails from mysterious accounts, photos of the front door of their house, I know where you live, girl detective, you’d better watch your back, girl detective.

They are tucking their honorary deputy badge into their purse after quietly examining it at lunch, what’s that you got, one of the boys, singsong, long-fingered reaching, what’s that you got, girl detective, hurriedly tucking it away, nothing, nothing, it’s nothing. They are thinking of their mother and childhood things, they are hiding their honorary badge, showing the boy their empty hands, it’s nothing.

They are counting the days until graduation; they are counting the hours. They are thinking when will it be over, they are thinking maybe it never will. They are sending messages to little girls who say they want to be girl detectives too: You can do anything you set your mind to. I believe in you. I’m rooting for you.

Some of them are daydreaming in literature class, the teacher’s droning voice, do I dare to eat a peach, they are thinking of cyanide and peach pits, they are sitting upright, they are solving Mrs. Gravley’s murder, Oh, I see now, and the teacher stops in his recitation of “Prufrock and stares till the girl detectives pick up their knocked-to-the-ground papers, sorry, sorry, I’m sorry.

They are standing outside the school gates watching cars pass by, one long, dark one catching their attention. The girl detectives brush their bangs away from their eyes, try to catch license plate glimpse, and the dark car turns the corner, all they see is 3A9L, a reflection of sunlight off the bumper obscuring their vision. They think that night they will try self-hypnosis to see if they can recall the rest of the number, they think how cold it must be to hold an ice cube to the back of your ear with one hand, a needle with the other. They think their mother’s hands must have wavered.

Some of them are quiet-singing a song from choir, you shall have all the pretty little horses, pinching their earlobes between their fingers, thinking maybe it doesn’t hurt so much, does it, only a little bite, only a little sting. They are thinking and then Mother would be so proud.

They are watching the lovely clouds scudding through the sky, stretch and twist, that could be a dragon, that could be a popsicle, that could be a skeleton key. They are ignoring Thomas from chemistry class offering to carry their books, holding them tucked beneath their chin, they are walking with a small twist in their step.

They are watching three squirrels bound across the street, small red bodies arching, tails curve and fluff, wind around a tree, up and up until they can’t be seen among the leaves, and the girl detectives are smiling and Thomas from chemistry class is smiling too, trying to say your hair smells like apples, but what comes out is something about quadratic equations instead.

They are waving goodbye to Thomas standing on the other side of the locked iron gate, they are saying see you tomorrow and Thomas from chemistry class is watching them walk up the stairs to their house, fumble the key in the lock, turn and wave again. They are thinking of pinches and bites and stings, they are closing their eyes as the door falls away from their pressing hand, they are thinking, no, no, I guess not, except one girl detective, who has decided yes, calls to her mother will you help me pierce my ears, but the house is quiet and dark, the house is empty, and the girl detective sets her books and honorary badge down on the edge of the dining table and thinks tomorrow then, maybe tomorrow.


Published June 30th, 2019

Lately, Cathy Ulrich has been thinking of piercing her ears again. Her work has been published in various journals, including Black Warrior Review, Passages North and Threadcount. She is on Twitter at @loki_writes.

Born in Tucson in 1977, Lucy Raven received a BFA in studio art and a BA in art history from the University of Arizona, Tucson (2000), and an MFA from Bard College’s Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York (2008). Primarily grounded in animation and the moving image, Raven’s multidisciplinary practice also incorporates still photography, installation, sound, and performative lecture. Her work deploys image-making processes used in twenty-first-century filmmaking, which often hide the underlying labor in order to investigate the impact of industrial systems and technology within a global infrastructure. Raven makes visible the patterns that test for focus, framing, aperture, and field steadiness, which are normally seen only by the projectionist, giving weight to the labor of analog cinema in a world increasingly permeated by and obsessed with the digital.