Lady Bluebeard by Laura Solomon

Here he comes, my seventh honey. The others hang on hooks in one of my many spare rooms. The room is awash with blood. He looks so fine, with his Brad Pitt abs and his golden locks that hang to his shoulders. Neither him nor any of his five brothers wanted to marry me. He is the youngest of them all; it took money to persuade him, an offer of five thousand pounds. He was easily bought. He is a country boy, a farmer, destined to become a farmer himself but for fate, in the form of me, intervening.

I am standing at the castle window, watching as he pulls up in the driveway in his silver Mercedes. He steps from the car, walks down the driveway, so innocent, knocks upon my front door. The butler lets him in. The cook has prepared a fine feast for our first dinner together; pheasant with boiled new potatoes and French beans.

Crème brée for afterwards. I grin my wolfish grin. He looks so good I could eat him.

I descend the stairs and greet him in the hallway, which is hung with portraits of my dead ancestors. “So glad you could make it," I say and show him to his room, our room, an ornately decorated boudoir with a circular bed featuring a control panel on the headset, the operation of which can cause the bed to sway gently from side to side or rise up or lower back down or revolve in a circular motion.

“Put your heavy suitcase down in the corner," I say. “I shall give you a tour of the castle and its gardens." I show him through the castle’s many rooms, avoiding, of course, that room, the locked one. The room he shall enter eventually, but not until he is a corpse himself. For now he is fresh blood, a living, breathing hunk of meat. He oohs and aahs over the castle’s many architectural features, the large stained glass windows, one of which depicts a crucified Christ on the cross, the crown of thorns gouging into his forehead. He marvels at the gardens, the white garden, with its lilies and baby’s breath, roses and orchids. So pure. And the red garden. Snow and blood. The sun is setting behind the hills, spilling its rosy glow across the evening sky. We make our way indoors; winter is coming on and there is a chill in the air, so I light the fire and we draw our chairs close in to it and I pour us a glass ofport and we begin the process ofbecoming acquainted with one another. He is, after all, a stranger, picked from the village with the help of my butler. I have acquired, I am afraid, something of a sinister reputation among the locals; a distinct whiff of brimstone. My dark frizzy hair springs up from my head as if I have been freshly electrocuted, my eyes are so dark they may as well be black holes. And then there are my living arrangements, high on a hill that rises up behind the village, alone, a lone she-wolf, fond of prowling the night. Then there is my taste for murder, of course, and the rumours that circulate regarding this, though nothing has yet been proved. The police are too scared to come up here. The castle is, after all, surrounded by a moat which I have filled with snapping crocodiles and should any unwanted visitor threaten to come near, I can always raise the drawbridge. This one, my new husband, is either brave or stupid or both. Greedy, perhaps, for the money although, after all, five thousand pounds is not such a great sum, not to me anyway, although I suppose it is to him.

After the port, dinner is served. He tucks in with relish, forking in large mouthfuls, slurping back his wine. I am fattening him up, like the witch in Hansel and Gretel. I shall feel his little finger to determine when the time is right. I am most looking forward to the night, when we shall retire and make the beast with two backs. I shall dig my fingernails into his shoulders, wrap my legs around his back, howl like a tortured wolf as the full moon casts its glare through the window. I quietly eat my meal, careful not to drink too much wine, though the butler keeps my husband’s glass fully topped up at all times, as instructed.

We were married last Saturday; a quiet ceremony. I myself have absolutely no friends and few living relatives, my parents having died in a car crash when I was two years old, leaving my now dead grandparents to raise me in this castle I now inhabit. I have various living cousins and uncles and aunts and so forth, but they all think of me as creepy and weird and although I sent out several wedding invitations, nobody replied or attended. By contrast, my husband had a plethora of friends and relatives who attended the ceremony, all full of good wishes and love, blessings for our marriage. Many of them cast me sideways glances, wary of my reputation, but happy all the same to bear witness to our union. There was a cake, three tiers high, with two dolls on top, a male and female. It was decorated with white icing and dark red cherries. We danced, my husband and I, turning in time to the music like ballerinas inside a music box when the lid is opened.

Dinner is finished. We retire to the dining room for a nightcap, a sherry. He has two. Mind yourself, love, or performance will be impaired. And then, to the boudoir, where he ravishes me five times as the bed rocks gently and then he falls asleep exhausted as I trace patterns across his stomach. Such bliss I have never known.

The morning dawns. The butler brings us croissants and strawberries and champagne. We are still celebrating, after all, celebrating our new love, which surrounds us like a golden cloud, a sparkle of fairy dust or a protective spell nothing can penetrate. We live, we move, inside this bubble. The world cannot touch us. We are in fairyland, up high, up here on this hill, above the common horde of humanity, above the rabble. In the wardrobe hang a number of new shirts and trousers I have bought him. He came to me dressed as a farm boy. I shall transform him, make him over, in an image of my own choosing. When I am finished with him, he will not be ordinary, he shall be spectacular, a prince amongst men, a god. He is raw material, putty in my paws.

The two of us spend the morning roaming the hills, watching the hawks as they swoop and dive, creatures of prey, at home on the air currents.

“I rather fancy that I would like to be a hawk," I say.

“Lady Hawk," he murmurs, slipping his arm through mine. “My Lady Hawke. Milday."

I give a small curtsey, for I am a lady after all, despite my appetite for men’s blood; I was raised to have the best of manners, the finest of clothing, the freshest foods. Raised like a princess in a tower; a tower that at times felt more like a prison. Yes, there is a stench of the penitential about me. I am something that deserves to be set free, yet who holds the key? This man, this boy, with his country air and his ungentrified ways? Will he be the one to unlock, just as he has already, defrocked me? Set me free to soar on the breeze, higher and higher, a kite whose string has been snipped? Perhaps, perhaps, we shall see.

And so the time passes, though di ferently up here than it does down at ground level, for the air is finer, more rarefied. My castle is its own time zone. If so desired, I can stop the grandfather clock that sits in the hallway, freeze time, so that we spin up here in eternity, immortals. We make love frequently, we stu f our bellies, we wander up hills and down dales. My beloved seems happy here, with me, and why should he not be? Have I not, after all, rescued him from a life ofpoverty and despair? Who else would he have married? Some little farm girl with her hair in plaits and her smocked frock, some Heidi or Sophie or Hannah who liked to dosie-doe at the fair of a Saturday? No, he is better o f with me. His days are numbered. So are mine.

Today his relatives visit. They are in awe of my castle, my power, my wealth, but I, I do not lord it over them. They come to the door, I welcome them in, dish them up freshly baked treats, cookies and scones with fresh dollops of cream and jam and tea, of course, Earl Grey. An English tea. I chat congenially, hiding my sharpened fangs; I am expert in small talk. I can see that I am beginning to allay some of their fears, but then the little girl, the nosey one, Elisabeth, I believe she is called, runs away mid-English tea and goes snooping around the castle and discovers the locked room. She returns downstairs, saying, “What’s in that locked room, what’s in there?

Can I have the key, please?" Fortunately I have my wits about me.

“That’s where I keep my sword collection," I say. “Most of the blades are made from the finest She field steel. And then we have my pièce de résistance, a Hattori Hanso sword that glistens like a diamond. Ad nosey little girls will come to no good."I mime a sword slashing through the air, Zorro-style. She cowers and hides behind her mother.

“I believe it’s time for us to leave," says her father and they swiftly make their exit. There will be talk now, speculation about what really lies behind that locked door. They will whisper amongst themselves like the wind rustling in dry leaves. They will not leave it alone, they will come for me, they will bash down the door and discover the awful truth and that will be the end of me, my demise. I must act quickly or I will be doomed. They will sneak in at night, catching me o f-guard, before I have time to raise the drawbridge in order to keep them out. His time draws near. I can feel it in my waters, the time for him to join the others, the dead ones with their staring glassy eyes and their cold fingers like thin sausages and their lank greasy hair, matted with blood. But O, mercy grips me! I cannot bring myselfto thrust the dagger into his chest, for he is mine and too fine to be murdered like the rest, to join that bloody horde who sojourn in that locked room. He will not join the dead tonight.

This one I shall keep forever or at least until they make their way back here, full of bloodthirsty vengeance, hoping to make me pay for my many crimes. Until that day, may God keep me safe from harm, up here, in this highest and loneliest of towers. Hear my voice as I sing my song, echoing out across the valley, a love song, a lonesome song, the wail of a banshee on a moonless night.


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