Sabrina Orah Mark’s monthly column, Happily, focuses on fairy tales and motherhood.
Bluebeard Illustration, “What She Sees There,” by Winslow Homer, 1868
“Sabrina,” says my husband’s first wife, “is married to my husband.” I hear this through The Grapevine, a multibranched root system resembling the hearts of my husbands’ two ex-wives planted in the same plot of deep, fertile soil. Vines like earthy veins, growing tough and twisty. A friend brings me cuttings. I hold them to my ear and listen.
I tell my husband I am writing about Bluebeard. “Oh fuck,” he says.
I look in the mirror. I have become uglier and stronger. I look out the window. A white shed glows in my yard. I live in “the unguessable country of marriage.”
“Bluebeard” first appeared in Charles Perrault’s seventeenth-century Tales of Mother Goose. A man with a blue beard, several missing wives, and extraordinary wealth gives his newest wife all the keys to all the doors of his very fine house. “Open anything you want,” he says. “Go anywhere you wish.” Except for the “little room,” he says.
I ask my husband to clean out the garage, but instead, while I am gone for the summer with our sons, he builds in our backyard—dead center—a white shed. As the walls go up, his second wife drops their daughter off to live with us, possibly forever. She also drops off many boxes. Contents unknown. The garage is half empty now. The shed is half full. I call my mother. “Now there’s a shed in my yard,” I say. “Of course there’s a shed,” says my mother. “Better check it for wives.”
There are doors no third wife should ever open.
My husband, possibly the gentlest man on earth, came to me in a coat of old vows. I married him knowing he arrived with wives. Maybe I married him a little bit because the vows had somehow deepened the lines on his face. Like handwriting I wanted to read, but never could. I married him knowing, but I didn’t know the wives would keep growing in a locked room in my heart. Sometimes they move around, angrily. Sadly. Wives, like peeling wallpaper. Curling wives. Wives like skin. Wives who tell their daughters things that their daughters, my husband’s daughters, don’t tell me. That silence breathes inside me. “What did she say?” I am always asking. “What did who say?” my husband answers.
“Perhaps,” writes Angela Carter, “in the beginning, there was a curious room, a room like this one, crammed with wonders; and now the room and all it contains are forbidden you, although it was made just for you, had been prepared for you since time began, and you will spend all your life trying to remember it.”
I am not an incredibly jealous person, but it hurts to think of my husband saying, “I do. I do. I do.”