She had never been naked with a man before. That was the thought that went through her head as Bluebeard pulled her through the doorway to the bed chamber.
He let go of her wrist, which dropped to her side, and lit a lamp at the bedside with a taper.The house takes care of itself, but here he is lighting that lamp, she thought. A part of her brain registered what a dumb thought that was; another part of her nodded sagely, indicating it was good to notice such things. Lizzie Borden, body and flesh, stood in this swirl of thoughts and echo of boots on flagstones, and did nothing but breath through her open mouth. One of the Lizzies thought, just like the cow as it came her time to calve.
Bluebeard turned to her and looked. Had he actually looked at her before then, looked at the whole of her? She shivered, and she remembered what she had overheard at her mother’s house a hundred years ago: he had seen her in the field last fall picking potatoes.
He waited a moment, then crossed to her. She was surprised to see that lamps had been lit around the room; when had that happened? Had he done it himself, or was it the house’s strange magic? He reached for her throat. At the last second Lizzie flinched, but he only took hold of her collar and slide the button through its hole. She heard the push of fabric and felt the minuscule draft reach down to her skin.
One, two, three. Her blouse had twelve buttons from neck to waist; as much as time had slowed for the first button it rushed ahead of itself for the rest, and Lizzie couldn’t say afterward if what she remembered had actually happened or been imagined in this sloshing back and forth of time:
Her dress sliding down off her shoulders with the push of his hands.
The heap of it on the floor, like a spelled chalk circle around her bare feet, her shoes mysteriously gone and unaccounted for.
The thin rustle of her threadbare cotton slip. The slow rip as it tore down its center and fluttered away, the ghost of her old self falling into shadows.
A finger under her chin, thick as a Christmas sausage. The sense of scale and scope and how enormously tall he was.
Radiation of heat from his blue velvet tunic.
Then lips on her mouth. Mustache like a brush against her face. The blaze of her skin where hot coals touched her: wife, wife, wife. The way her own neck offered itself up, the way her own head tilted itself backwards. The sudden but faint realization that without the slip there was nothing upon her breasts, and then the large and pink-palmed hands that covered and uncovered them, inspected her ribs as if examining a just-bought horse.
Then time hurrying up again: the hands pushing expertly down, the cool air on her rump and thighs. Then the hands sliding under her armpits, lifting her bodily from the last vestiges of childhood, carrying her like close, nearly over the shoulder so that gold-plated buttons pressed into her white hipbone and whiskers rubbed against her thigh. Then the drop of gravity. The heft of the bed. The weight of the man. The splitting apart, opening, heaving, forgetting; the sudden, intoxicating, obliviating thrust into her new life, all shot through with a spreading warmth like fever, a terror and a thrill. Lizzie Borden was wed.
When she woke up some time before dawn she was alone, and it was dark. The walls were blackness punctuated by blueing windows of sky. There were no curtains, or they hadn’t been drawn, and this small fact made Lizzie aware of her nakedness. She shivered and pushed herself up onto her elbows. There was a burn and an ache, a strange sensation within her— but it wasn’t all bad, she decided. Not all bad. Like a strange food she could develop a taste for, the taste of which left a kind of confusion in her mouth.
She expected to see her torn underdress and thus locate her clothes. But she saw nothing, and her blind groping on the floor revealed nothing but a thick carpet and then cold stones beyond. She found blankets at the foot of the bed, shoved in a heap, and wrapped herself in the sheet and curled up on her side, considering.
But her mind was blank, and she lay without a thought in her head staring into the darkness of the cavernous room. When at last the sun broke over the horizon, Lizzie closed her eyes and slept.
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