Lizzie’s bare feet made no sound on the thick blue carpet— the blue of cornflowers growing on a rocky wall, she thought. But there was no scent, no smell, no freshness, nothing green or growing.
Stop it, Lizzie. Are we going to go through all that again? No, she wouldn’t sulk. She was mistress of all these riches and she was going to enjoy it. She paused, closed her eyes and dug her toes into the carpet. Never had they felt something so soft, why, it was springier than her old straw mattress at home— at the crofter’s cottage, she corrected herself. Where to begin?
When Lizzie worked the dirt of the fields she had a doggedness that served her well. Some of the others hurried or grew impatient, but she got a strange satisfaction about the seeming unending length of furrow, in working her way along it without pause, finally reaching the end and then standing and looking back over the transformed earth in her wake.
So she went down to the front entrance, flung the double doors wide, and began at threshold. The breeze from outside rippled her dress on her back, but nothing stirred within the house. Lizzie squinted. The dining room was off to the left down a passage, and she had crossed through what might be a massive drawing room straight ahead.
There were trinkets: porcelain figurines of young lovers, edged with gold. There were suits of armor standing at attention in the corners. There were woven diamonds of gold thread in the blood-red carpet. Vases big enough to fit a child in. Paintings as tall as a house whose thick oil paint turned from a fern-draped stream to unidentifiable blobs of pure color: gray, pale green, ice blue, tan, white, yellow.
Everywhere Lizzie looked there was something to see. The chandeliers all cascaded with diamonds that caught the light and tinkled ever so softly with her exhale. A golden scepter studded with rubies. A silver sword too heavy for her to lift (she tried, turning around suddenly as if there was someone there to catch her). A tiara dripping with emeralds which she placed on her head: she stood as tall as she could in the full length mirror and waved her hands as if addressing her subjects the way she imagined a queen might.
Room after room. Even the kitchen had countertops of white stone and an oven large enough to hold a grown man. That’s morbid, Lizzie she thought, and left the kitchen.
She poked and peered into every back room, every closet. In one room with only a tiny row of windows close to the ceiling but with mirrors covering an entire wall, she found wardrobes and trunks and heaps of dresses: pink and lilac, buttercup yellow, moss green, deep violet, purest white. All of them frilled and bedazzled and flounced to within an inch of their existence.
She fingered a pale blue gown, nearly the same color as the cornflower carpet and, she thought with a shiver, Bluebeard’s eyes.
“And why should a wife be afraid of her husband?” she pouted to her reflection. You know very well why, was her own answer, so she threw down the blue dress and settled on the moss green.
It took some doing, but she managed to button and lace it in all the right place. How many hours some tailor must have spent working all that! She turned this way and that, admiring how it fit her. She pushed her hair up in a pile on her head and at just that moment glanced a small heap of of hair pins. The effect was very nice.
“But I could use a circle of gold— oh, maybe the emerald tiara!”
She padded out in search of the right room but soon became distracted by every open door. She abandoned her methodical one-furrow-at-a-time approach and wandered through the large house. By the time she reached the third floor every finger had a glittering ring, her throat was draped with strands of pearls, she wafted in a cloud of elegantly mysterious perfume, and she wore circlets of both silver and gold in her hair. All in all, Lizzie Borden was feeling very grand. She had, in fact, convinced herself that she had forgotten all about the forbidden tower, until she opened a door and stopped at the foot of a set of spiraling stairs. The same stairs she had climbed the evening before.
Lizzie chewed her lip. She leaned forward and looked upward, but the top of the staircase was hidden from her view. She twirled a scepter in one hand, not so much arguing with herself as waiting to see which way the world would tip her: into the tower or out? As if she had no more choice in the matter than a leaf has when it is blown about on the wind.
The scepter twirled. She tugged on her strand of pearls. And just as she had decided— or it had been decided for her— just in the moment her foot raised up out of the thick moss of the carpet, a bell jangled from far below.
Lizzie gasped, her hand jerked, she dropped the scepter, and the string of pearls snapped. They scattered like dry peas across the tower floor. The bell jangled again.
“Oh God, oh God!” cried Lizzie, who was not a religious person. She scrambled around on her knees grasping at pearls, but they skittered away and further into the shadows. The bell rang again and again she gasped like a drowning person. Then some sense returned to her and she shoved and swept the pearls further back into the darkness beneath the stairs. Then she slammed the door shut, cursed herself, and made a mad dash down the carpeted stairs.
She burst into the great hall out of breath and in a sweat, and froze. She listened hard, heart hammering in her ears. Later, later, later. She would return to the tower at the earliest possible moment, but for now, who was here? What was that noise in this quiet, quiet house?
She stood so still for so long that her pulse slowed and her breathing returned to normal. She had half convinced herself she had imagined it— guilty conscience, giving your word and then nearly breaking it before the day is done— and decided that she would just go see if there was anything to eat; she wound her way over to the dining room and let out a cry like a stuck pig.
“Good evening, wife. I see you have dressed for dinner.”
She gaped at Bluebeard, seated at the head of the table with fork and knife poised. He looked at her until at last she drew back her chair and sat, her gown making little puffs as the air escaped from its voluminous folds.
When she reached for the utensils her hands trembled. That had been too close. But wasn’t this her house? And she had done nothing wrong— she hadn’t meant to open that door, hadn’t known it led up to the tower. And anyway, she hadn’t gone up there, hadn’t opened a single door that had been locked. No, to her disappointment in spite of the riches displayed her key had been completely unnecessary. She chewed her meat fiercely, talking herself up in her mind. Perhaps she was even muttering to herself, a habit her mother had tried to break, because at last she felt Bluebeard’s gaze, like a cold breeze on her skin. Her cheeks flushed and she looked up. The meat was a lump in her throat.
“You are unsettled, wife.” He did not seem troubled by this— but… curious?
Lizzie swallowed. “I— this is a grand house. Much finer than anything in my village. And I did not expect you back today— the way you rode off…” her voice trailed away. His smile unsettled her further.
“Business was successful and the road short.”
Lizzie nodded, ready to return to her meal, though her appetite had left her, but Bluebeard wasn’t finished. He wrinkled his nose— did something amuse him?
“My lord?” she asked, as she felt it was her duty to do.
“The village is not your village. It was never your village. It has always been mine. All the land and everything on it from the mountains to the great river belong to me.” He leaned forward and Lizzie recoiled at his wine-stained mouth. “You have belonged to me since before you were even born.”
His blood-colored mouth curved in what could hardly be called a smile, and he stabbed another piece of meat with his fork.
Lizzie sat very still, feeling a whirling wind inside of her that threatened to knock any loose pieces apart. She did not look up again until long after she heard his chair scrape back from the table and the room had gone dark.
Leave a comment and tell me what you like, what images stand out, or your curious questions. (No suggestions/grammar critiques, please). Thanks for supporting my work-in-progress! -Rose