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The One-Way Door

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They say that Bluebeard kills his wives, and it is true, but they live again. They dwell with him a year and then take leave of him, and wherever they go they are sought after: cool-skinned beauties, flowers of the night, hostesses of glittering parties, who speak with soft and singing voices. No one need say to another that she is in the presence of one of Bluebeard's wives.

He himself is not much to look on, and gives few that privilege. They say there is no red in his flesh at all; only the blue veins show, like lines in marble, and his flesh is as hard as marble, and as cold, all the way to his heart. He owns much gold and silver, and keeps it in his castle, under lock and key.

Silver-polishers, they call Bluebeard's wives.

I was a girl who used those words, and listened to those tales, until I came into the service of Bellatrice, the third who married him. She dazzled me, and though at first I felt that I had very good fortune indeed, I began to wish that I were not only her maid.

They say that marriage is a fine way to change one's station in society; and Bluebeard would take any woman to wife.

My mistress gave me away at the wedding. She offered no comment on my choice, and I had not offered her a reason, but when my bridegroom took me away, I said to her, "I will return to you," and I saw she was struck: with surprise, at the least, though I hoped for more.

Bluebeard gave me the keys to his pantries and his cellars, his drawing-room and his bedrooms - and a single key for mine.

One door had no lock.

"You have vowed to have me as your lord as long as you may live," he said; "should you wish to cut that life short, open the littlest door."

So I intended.

It was the sole reason I had married him, and yet I could not bring myself to carry out my plan at once. First, I told myself, I must become accustomed to being a great lady, to hosting fine parties, to wearing fine clothes. I would not waste my year.

But it was fear talking; let it not be said I never heeded fear.

My lord was not a terrible husband. He was an indifferent one. We dined apart more often than not. He travelled often. If I demurred the marriage bed, he made no protest. Yet sometimes I went there undemanded, merely to stave off the loneliness of the great house. Nor did his presence chase away the shadows. In some ways to lie within his embrace was to hold an embodiment of the house itself: neither more nor less imposing and aware.

Such a strange married life! But I dreamed of a better one. Bluebeard cared nothing for what I did; Bellatrice and I would arrange our days together. Bluebeard never asked me if I wished to leave the house, or arranged for a horse or a carriage to be available to me; Bellatrice and I might travel the known lands together, dazzling all we met. Of course, these were castles in the air: I had not yet gained her favour. But because I loved her so much, I dreamed.

When I walked down the corridor, past that little door, I felt the house watching me.

I was a coward, it seemed. I did not know if I believed in a death that yet allowed me to live. So I did not fear that, truly. But I feared the strangeness of it.

"You have lasted longer than many," said Bluebeard. He seemed surprised, some mornings, to see me at breakfast; to come to bed late at night and find me there.

"I will not stay with you forever," I said boldly.

"No," he said, "they never do."

Autumn came, and when the winds lashed leaves against the house, I thought how lonely the winter would be. Back in the city, Bellatrice would be moving among crowds of enchanted guests. Did she remember me?

It was time to open the door.

I went when daylight shone at its widest angle down that hallway. I went, thinking of everything I knew of death: I had seen chickens killed for plucking, and my grandmother die, and my mother. I had seen blood drawn in the streets, and pain. I could bear pain, I told myself. It would be brief, surely.

And Bluebeard's wives lived again.

I opened that door, and the sunlight did not penetrate it. I stepped inside.

The darkness in that room took shape and seized me: melted my skin, gulped at my blood, boiled my flesh, split my bones, ground my very soul to shards; and though I died, I lived. Through every moment of that death, I lived and felt.

She lives, in a fashion, who writes these words, who tells this tale. I am as lovely as Bellatrice now, with a cool glamour that the whole-souled cannot match. But the girl who loved Bellatrice, who married Bluebeard, is forfeit, lost beyond that door.