Ch 8: A New Wife’s Education

She slept late again. When she woke there was a heaviness to her limbs that had never been there before, not in all her early risings to splash water on her face and get to work. She lay on her back and kept her eyes closed though she could feel how late it was by the brightness of sun showing between the heavy curtains. She felt sick.

She held very still but didn’t fall back to sleep. So one hand gave up the struggle and crept across the sheet, found the pearls, sent the message back to the brain that yes, they were there, no, it had not been a dream. Lizzie clutched them in her fist for a long time. Then, slowly, she pushed herself up.

She sat up against the pillows. She was confused for a moment to find she was naked, and pulled the sheet up to her chin. But a faint bloom of purple on her arm stopped her. She pushed the sheet back and looked down at herself: she was speckled like an egg with soft purpling marks of his hands that were going to turn blue and green in a few days, and vivid circles of pink from his mouth. Lizzie chewed her lip. Her head hurt and she wished for a glass of water. A moment later she spied a pitcher and an overturned crystal glass on the table beside the bed. She drank and drank.

And it made her think of the water pump in the kitchen. It made her wonder about the well. It’ll be outside, she thought. Even with her inner voice she didn’t add that outside was off-limits. A wife belonged in the house.

“Then I’ll explore the bloody house!” she hissed through her teeth. No strange whispers answered her, but she couldn’t assess whether that made her relieved or worried. She glanced at the floor to check the state of the moss green gown.

It was gone.

She looked back at the string of pearls and shook her head. “Maybe it’s nothing. Coincidence.” Was she supposed to wear them? Was she supposed to wear anything? She looked around the room, feeling exposed, and chilled after the water. Where were the laid out things?

“Got used to that quick, didn’t you, Lizzie?” she muttered. She got out of bed and tiptoed around, checking the floor, but found nothing. When she turned, her reflection looked back at her from a full-length mirror on a carved wooden stand. Lizzie had never seen herself reflected like this, not in her entirety until the room with all the gowns yesterday, never naked.

She was a thin girl, as you’d expect from such a hard-working life, with small breasts that sat high on her chest like two young roses. Her hips widened out beneath a flat and unremarkable waist. Her thighs however, those were strong, she could see it. She turned slowly side to side. It was as if she could see ever rock she had moved, ever furrow she had picked and planted. All the standing and squatting and lifting and bending showed themselves here. She turned further and peered over her shoulder at the back of herself.

Her rump made her think of two small, white moons hung side by side in the sky, and the thought made her smile, and then laugh. “Lizzie Borden, you do beat all! Two moons? What nonsense, you funny girl!” She made a face at herself and laughed at the sight of herself. She cupped her hands beneath her breasts and puckered her lips, then rolled her eyes and snorted. “Lizzie, Lizzie, Lizzie.” She chanted it, and it made her laugh, it put her in fits of giggles so that she forgot the fluttering feeling that had settled high in her chest. She swooped and danced and twirled around, she put on a show for herself. Her reflection was so dear to her— perhaps it was that in her own face she saw some hint of her mother and that tethered her. Lizzie was beyond thinking about such things, she only knew the lightness, the joy, the release of frenzied energy.

“Lizzie Borden, Lizzie Borden, Lizzie in the castle,” she sang.

“Enough!” The voice shot ice through her. She stumbled and tripped over her own feet, caught herself by the tips of her fingers, started to stand and then recalled she was naked. From her odd crouch she looked up. Bluebeard filled the doorway. His doublet was black velvet today, slashed with white and here and there piped with gold. Lizzie didn’t breathe.

He crossed the distance between them in three strides and raised her up with an iron grip on her shoulder. “You are my wife and nothing more. Look around you,” he gestured with a hand as big as a steak, “you have need of nothing else. Nothing else.” Her shoulder ached and grew numb where he held her. She stared at his chest.

He cupped her chin in his hand; it put her in mind of how a knacker would grip a hoof to shoe the horse: it didn’t hurt, but she couldn’t move her head a hair’s breadth any way he didn’t want her to. She looked into his face.

“You have always belonged to me. Of all the wives I could have in my lands, I chose you.” He looked disgusted. Lizzie suddenly was washed in the fear that he would send her back— back to the village, a ruined woman. Even Robert Thornton would be too good for her then. She wished for a priest at that moment, a country parson, anyone to marry them, to save her, to make it official and binding. She hung by a thin, black thread, and she felt the precariousness of her situation— or, she thought she did. He continued to look at her.

“I’m sorry.” Her voice was breathy and shook like a small leaf. “I’m so— grateful. I’m sorry— I’ve never been a … wife.”

“No. You haven’t.” And he smiled. He leaned back and his grip slackened, though he still cupped her chin and she stood motionless, waiting. “You are a new wife. A good wife. They always are at first.”

Lizzie looked up into his face again, what a thing to say! But she had only time to draw a quick breath and then he was kissing her mouth, and the chill that had frozen her like marble seeped out of her in the wake of that warmth. We can assume that his mouth on hers, his smooth hands on her bare shoulders, his gold buttons pressed against her breasts felt to her like tenderness. She was a new wife. She was a new woman. She was new to so many things at once.

And so only a short time after she had danced naked as a child across the carpet she was now borne up so that her toes barely touched the floor, and she turned and spun and felt the vertigo of being wife to a powerful man. The pearls fell again to the floor and the woman fell back into bed and all thoughts of why or how, goodness or danger, all desire for names was burned out of her mind by the newness of seduction and possession and disappearance.

When it was all over, the girl who was barely Lizzie Borden was right back where she had started, only deeper in, further gone. Asleep in the middle of the day, alone in bed.


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

Ch 8: A New Wife’s Education

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