photo of door knob with key inserted

Lock and Key by Candace Hartsuyker

 The following story is a retelling of the French folktale “Bluebeard.” This piece was selected to appear on our site in observance of National Tell A Fairy Tale Day.

CW: violence

The women always die the same way: heads rolled back, fingerprint bruises on their necks. Bloodless lips. Sometimes someone comes to investigate: an uncle, a father, a friend. They never leave empty handed. They leave with coins jingling in their pockets, enough to buy themselves a house or a ship. 

We are watching the new servant girl because she is watching us. She wears the standard maid uniform: a black dress and ruffled white apron. She dusts and polishes, makes the bed, sweeps and mops. He has not given her a room yet, so she sleeps on the floor in the kitchen, across from the hook on the wall. She whispers her secrets to us, tells us her father thinks his sister was murdered here. 

We wonder which woman is her father’s sister. We remember all of the women who have been here. A naked whore, flung on top of green satin sheets. Glossy hair and plump flesh. He dressed her in a white nightgown, forced her cold feet into slippers. A giggling actress. A woman with dark, luminous eyes who could contort her body into a thousand different shapes. 

We remember being made, remember the excitement as we went from being a mold to hot iron. There were 60 of us, one for each room. The locksmith took pride in making us look as individual as possible. I am as small as a woman’s pinky finger and have no ornamentation. My teeth are as razor sharp as the point of a needle. I was the first to be made. The second of us has hummingbird wings and the third was made tapered at the top like the head of a rose. 

At first, we were content. We had bodies and a purpose. We liked opening doors. We used to try to guess which room he would pick: the library with its maps and shelves of books? The room with the three fireplaces and one small bed? Until he stopped and there became only one predictable door: a door of terror. He made us watch as he strangled her, and then the next one after that. 

In the morning Bluebeard sits at the head of the table. The girl looks enviously at the food he is eating: boiled cabbage, sausage and ham, a thick loaf of bread. I want to tell her: steal me while there is still time. One woman tried. Her finger was cut off, then both hands. 

At night, we have heard the dead women whispering. Their voices slither down the halls. The next time he opens the door, they will have their revenge. There are seven women, but some talk more than others. The actress said she cried too much when he hit her. The wine taster said she was admiring the knobs on his mahogany dressing table the day she was murdered. The whore blames herself. The contortionist was tired of circus life: she wanted to sleep in a soft bed. The one with missing hands was a violinist. 

In his bedroom, the girl leans over Bluebeard’s sleeping form. This is the fifth time she has come to his door. Her eyes flick past the fourth key which has a design on the front like two crossed swords, then past a key with a teardrop head and one with dragonfly wings. We wait for the girl to find the right key. Then she wraps her fingers around my body, slips me into the side pocket of her dress. 

She twists and turns, searching, then she finds it. The room of terror. The floor is covered with dried blood. The women hang from hooks on the walls. The girl’s body shivers, violently, but she does not scream. 

Bluebeard clomps up the stairs. 

The girl slides to the wall, behind the opened door. I am tight in her hand. She clutches me against her chest. Then the women come, their arms like icy tree branches of trees, fingers reaching. The girl pushes the door closed and turns me in the lock. Her feet pound against the paving stones as she runs.

…………..

Here, in her new bedroom, I am safe. The girl keeps me in a red velvet pouch on top of her desk. At night she takes me out. She tells me that before I came, she once held a stray blue jay feather. The feathers began to shed like petals on a flower until only the spine remained. 

Candace Hartsuyker is a third-year fiction student at McNeese State University and reads for PANK. She has been published in BULL: Men’s Fiction, Foliate Oak, and elsewhere.

Lead image: “White Knob” (via Flickr user R. Miller)