It was like this for some time. Lizzie would sleep late, dress in a beautiful gown (but never shoes), wander about the castle picking things up and setting them down, dine in the evenings with her husband, wander about some more, and then lose herself in a fire that only grew bigger, eating away at her very bones so that she came to grow impatient for the sun to set and the day to end, for the clock (which didn’t always chime) to sound the call for sleep, which she continued to flout.
She grew good at sex. It swallowed her up, but she had found she could turn herself this way or that to catch a certain undertow. And the grunts from the man in bed with her revealed themselves to be a language she could understand. The tease. The supplication. The configurations of limbs. She could read his breathing and her own racing pulse and hit upon the perfect combination of touch, space, speed, aggression. Afterward, he praised her for it. He lingered in bed and sometimes stroked her head, saying, “Wife, wife, wife.” Nothing else, but there was no other praise that mattered to her now, none other that she remembered or could imagine. She was fully and completely his now— she tried to be. She was learning the rules, and they simultaneously thrilled her and numbed her into a stupor that was bliss. It spread like frost through her veins, and the way a man caught out in a winter storm wants nothing more than sleep, even though to lie down and give in is the very thing that will kill him, still, when he does, in his delirium he will find that the snow, the wind, the sharp air feels warm. He will take off his clothes and ask for more. And by the time he freezes to death he has no sense of himself at all.
Not that she thought of this. We shall continue calling her Lizzie, though she no longer did. Now, when she went to the Room of Gowns, as she had christened it, and turned to examine a new dress (or, just as often, her naked and slightly-thickening self) she did not whisper the old name, but her red mouth whispered “wife, wife, wife” as she flirted with her reflection.
Truly, in her foolishness, there was nothing else she wanted.
Not even to go outside? To explore the grounds? To ride a horse?
To find her shoes?
These thoughts were pushed to the corners like scattered pearls. Instead she filled her head with gold and silver, velvet and jewels, and of what she might do to Bluebeard when night came again. If we didn’t know what we do, we might say it was a bit distasteful, but not a bad life. To be sated after a life of poverty and low-level hungry is nothing to criticize.
But things were bad. There were secrets. There was a locked door at the top of a tower. There was a locked chest of thoughts inside a young wife. And there was a man who owned, who possessed, who devoured, but who gave nothing.
It happened when Lizzie realized she was not alone in her body. What a queer thing to understand! What a strange dawning comprehension! She was standing before the mirror in the Room of Gowns, touching all the love marks, red as rubies that laced her collarbone, reliving the earning of each one, when she turned to the side and frowned.
She looked… different. What was it?
Left and right, she studied her naked body. It took a surprisingly long time. She had fattened up and was proud of it. The laces of the gowns didn’t draw her in so tightly as they had at first. She liked the softness, how the hard muscle earned for sixteen years melted, made her feel light. She liked the contrast between her body and his.
But this was something else. This was not just rich food and drink accumulating over months. Then an image of one of the village women swam into her mind: what-was-her-name, married to the butcher, hand on her round stomach, walking with a soft sway and being cooed over by the old women at the market.
Lizzie Borden was pregnant. Bluebeard’s wife was with child.
Her eyes grew wide. Her cheeks flushed.
“A child.” It was the first time she had spoken to herself in weeks. “A child. A son.” The words were magic, she could feel it. Already she imagined her husband’s face when she told him. She had thought she was a good wife before, but this was transcendent. This bound them together forever— she pushed the thought aside: it revealed a fear, small and crouched, perhaps the old Lizzie, still crouched with her fingertips on the carpet, afraid of being sent away, afraid of being ruined, afraid of being only Lizzie Borden again.
But a child— a son, for that was the greatest success: an heir— her husband would treat her like a queen.
She dressed herself in white, the purest gown she could find. Everything was silk and lace, soft and rustling like dove wings. She floated through the castle, touring not the rooms as they were but the rooms of her future life.
She kept imagining his footsteps, Bluebeard’s, and turning suddenly, eyes alight, though he never appeared before dinner after the sun had crossed the horizon and all that was left was a bloody glow splashed across the sky. She wasn’t impatient; she had become quite good at existing in a cloud of dreams. She only walked in her stocking feet through the halls and waited, hand lightly on the place where the child lay.
When she told him he struck her, knocked her clear across the room. She skidded on the parquet flooring and hit the wall with the wet thud like a sack of mud.
“Liar,” he called her, “Liar. Whore.” And he left, shaking the castle, frightening the horse, he cracked everything open like a bolt of lightning, a reverberation of thunder.
Lizzie didn’t hear this. She lay still as stone against the wall, a white heap slowly blooming red. But they heard. Up in the tower they heard. The child was gone. The husband was gone. And blood began to call to blood.
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