The Secrets of Lizzie Borden (10 page)

BOOK: The Secrets of Lizzie Borden
I stood there feeling lumpy and miserable, and ugly as a fat brown toad, beside the unimpressive dun-colored mare Father had grudgingly hired from the livery stable for me. I wished the ground would open wide and swallow me before Lulie's sapphire eyes flashed cold blue fire and imperiously banished ugly, unworthy me from her exalted and elegant presence. But to my immense relief, when she saw me Lulie just smiled, and I saw no condescension or pity in her ruby lips or sapphire eyes. I wanted to jump for joy and throw my arms around her and kiss her a hundred times.
As we rode away together I prayed for a sudden downpour that would drench us to the skin, sending us scurrying back to the perfumed bacchanal of the rose marble bath again.
When we stopped to rest, the beautiful dream became a terrible, ugly nightmare in real waking life and broad daylight. We stood together under a big shady tree, leaning against its massive trunk, laughing and hugging each other the way girlfriends do. I dreamed of laying her down on the warm emerald grass and lifting her sapphire skirts, the elegant French heels of her boots tangling in the snow-white ruffles of her drawers as I tugged them off. I impulsively put my hands around that tiny blue velvet waist and pulled her closer, reveling in the feel of her bosom brushing against mine, and then—I couldn't help myself!—I
her, deep and lingeringly, the way I imagined it was done in all the novels that I had read, only in their pages it was men who always did the kissing.
But Lulie didn't swoon and melt in my arms or cling to me like passionate ivy the way the heroines in romances always did. She shoved me away so hard I fell and barked both my palms against the tree's ugly, gnarled roots. I will
forget the
burning in her blue eyes as she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and then her hand on the skirt of her riding habit. She
down at me as though she
me, and I felt loathsome and small, like something ugly and pathetic she wanted to step on.
“You're a wicked, evil creature, Lizzie Borden, and I
you!” she cried. Each word was like a hammer on my heart.
We rode back toward town in silence. I was so afraid Lulie would tell, that I would be ruined and everyone would laugh at me and I would replace that unfortunate boy who ate paste, though at eighteen he was surely old enough to know better, as the butt of all my classmates' jokes. I couldn't bear to see the shame and disgust in Father's, Emma's, and Abby's eyes, and to hear their voices speaking of sin, shame and disgrace. I was afraid doctors would come, maybe even priests, and I would be sent away, to a madhouse or one of those quiet, secluded sanitariums in the country, and given some hellish treatment. Possibly they would cut open my head and try to remove the evil thoughts they would say the Devil had planted there like black roses and I would never be allowed in civilized company again for fear that I would be unable to control my unnatural urges and would disgrace myself again. I would be shunned like a leper. People would say I couldn't be trusted around pretty girls. Maybe I would be locked in the attic the way they did madwomen in novels. I would spend the rest of my life in darkness and shackles, barely kept alive on stale crusts of bread and tepid water.
Terror stole my breath away; I couldn't breathe! Then everything went black and I felt myself falling. My head struck a stone like the clapper of a bell and for an instant I was excruciatingly aware of the most
pain radiating from the back of my head all the way down to the bottom of my spine and a loud ringing in my ears. I awakened lying on my own bed with Father hovering anxiously over me and Emma fighting Abby to assist Dr. Bowen in undressing me until he finally shoved Emma out the door and sent her downstairs to the kitchen to boil some water just to get her out of the way. I was bruised and bleeding in several places and ached all over and kept drifting in and out of consciousness, yet my anguished brain kept keening,
Lulie doesn't love me!
I wanted to
when, between them, Abby and Dr. Bowen wrestled my corset and chemise off, carelessly baring my pudgy pink breasts with nipples like hard tawny-peach buttons before Father's eyes. No one even thought of asking him to leave the room! I
but they dismissed me as delirious. Father helped Abby hold my arms down when I tried to cover myself, wincing and weeping in humiliation and the pain that shot through my torso like lightning bolts when Dr. Bowen's prodding revealed two, possibly three, broken ribs. When the doctor pulled off my drawers and rolled me over and exposed my bare bottom, jabbed with his index finger, and, in answer to my pain-filled scream, opined that I had fractured my tailbone I
there was no escaping shame; in one form or another, it would be with me all my life. And I would
be afraid. The only consolation was that at least this was a private disgrace, in my bedroom, surrounded by family, away from the bullies and merciless queens of the schoolyard, and the blue blaze of hate emanating from beautiful Lulie's eyes.
I never went back to school. For a few weeks the teachers sent my homework, but I didn't feel like doing it, so after a while they didn't bother anymore. By the time I had fully recovered there were only two months left till graduation. I was smart enough, I could have caught up, but I couldn't bring myself to go back. I just couldn't bear to face Lulie, to see her glance spitefully at me with that blue blaze of hate in her eyes, then lean over, cup her hand to her mouth, and whisper mean-spirited remarks about me into a friend's ear. Word would rapidly spread and soon they would
be laughing at me, all those uppity girls from up on The Hill. So I dropped out. Father bought me my class ring anyway; he said I deserved it after what I had been through.
A few weeks after she wore a white chiffon dress to the graduation ceremony, Lulie Stillwell put on another white dress and married Johnny Hiram. He was the rich, tall, dark, and handsome boy in the faux medieval mansion next door, perfectly cast to play Prince Charming to Lulie's Snow White and live happily ever after with her in a house grand as a castle that was a wedding gift from her father furnished floor to ceiling, with Johnny's father's money paying for all the beautiful things they would buy on their six-month European honeymoon.
Everyone said she was the most beautiful bride Fall River had ever seen in white Duchesse satin, priceless pearls, and yards of heirloom lace, lace and pearl and diamond encrusted cathedral-length train and veil, with an exquisite coronet woven of silk orange blossoms, diamonds, and pearls crowning the midnight glory of her hair. I still have a picture of her in that beautiful dress I cut out of
The Fall River Globe;
I never did find the courage to go to Gay's Photography Studio and inquire about purchasing a print. I was afraid they would have to ask Lulie's permission first and, of course, she would say
There were a full dozen bridesmaids, all girls from The Hill, in shimmering shell-pink satin overlaid with chiffon, and broad-brimmed hats laden with roses, ruffles, and ribbons, each with a single strand of delicate blush-pink pearls around her throat and a pink shell cameo framed in gold and pearls at her breast as a gift from the bride.
It wasn't fair! I
should have been one of them! Lulie should have kissed
and pinned a cameo on
breast that lovely wedding morning; I
it more than any of the girls she had chosen.
loved her more than any of them did, including the groom!
A few weeks later I would happen across Flossie Grew suffering a nosebleed outside Gifford's Jewelry & Fine Gifts, and when I stopped to assist her I also helped myself to the cameo on the silk-braid-bordered lapel of her fashionable moss-green linen suit. It wasn't
stealing; I was only taking back what rightfully belonged to me.
For years to come, I would lie back on my bed, Lulie's wedding picture propped up on the table beside me where I could see Fall River's most beautiful bride, and hold that precious pink cameo cupped tenderly in my palm, while I touched myself and dreamed of Lulie smiling at me, radiant with love, not burning with contempt—
was the way it
have been! I already knew the ghost of the carefree, bewitching black-haired girl who had straddled me, giggling, rubbing, and tickling, amidst clouds of rose-and-lavender-perfumed powder—like the phantom petals of bridal flowers showering down on us or a wedding veil to cloak our naked lust in the respectable garb of girlish horseplay—would haunt me for the rest of my life.
I sent Lulie a porcelain candy dish with a pattern of blue lovebirds as a wedding gift, but she never acknowledged it. Everyone else got a thank-you note, written on the new Mrs. Hiram's gilt-bordered and monogrammed cream stationery, but not me. I was so upset I wanted to jab her eyes out with one of the plethora of sterling silver pickle forks she was rumored to have received from her poorer friends and relations. I wanted to hurt her as much as she had hurt me. How
she ignore me when all I had done was love her?
Was that really such a crime?
The years passed. I became an old maid. I lost hope and gave up on love. I convinced myself it was only the stuff of stories or a rare and glorious miracle, a gift from God given only to the most beautiful and undeserving, pretty girls with vivacious personalities that sparkled like champagne and indulgent, selfless fathers who wanted them to be happy and were willing to let them go instead of keeping them chained and bound to be the comfort of their parents' old age. And then, like a miracle, the answer to my prayers, Bridget Sullivan had come dancing into my life with her twinkling green eyes, musical Irish brogue, and ready smile. Even an ocean apart I could still hear her singing:
Oh, dem golden slippers,
Oh, dem golden slippers
Golden slippers I'se going to wear
Because they look so neat.
Oh, dem golden slippers,
Oh, dem golden slippers,
Golden slippers I'se going to wear
To walk the golden street.
The evening breeze blew me out of my reverie, back to the hedonistic Riviera and out of the past, and I snatched my hands away from the statues, startled to see how far they had strayed down the marble bodies. My face flaming, I glanced guiltily around, hoping no one had seen me standing there between those marble nudes with my head thrown back, and my eyes closed, caressing them as I remembered Lulie. Anyone would think me pathetic or mad, perhaps both. I shivered and wished I had brought my sealskin cape. Not only my chilled flesh but also my modesty craved it—my nipples were standing up, unmistakably, achingly prominent, beneath my satin bodice,
for a lover's attention like a dog for a bone.
Suddenly a shoulder brushed brusquely against my own and a tall young man in evening clothes walked past me. He stopped at the railing and took something from his pocket. It was a
As he raised it and pressed the barrel to his temple I ran and caught hold of his arm. I was too naïve to realize that this was a common ploy certain men used to prey upon gullible women, to extract funds and favors from them. I honestly thought I was saving a human life.
He had lost all his money at the roulette wheel, he said; he had nothing left to live for. I was startled to suddenly find him in my arms, weeping on my shoulder, and to feel his warm, salty tears dripping down between my breasts. And then he kissed me, bruising hard and urgently upon my mouth at the same time as his hands found my breasts and began squeezing and kneading them. It was
like the books I had read had led me to believe it would be, and not at all like the tender, treasured kiss from my architect. It was at once
and for the life of me I couldn't make up my mind whether to order him to stop or sigh breathlessly and whisper,
Darling, never stop!
Suddenly my back was against a cold white wall, and his lips, hot and hungry, were on mine, and his questing tongue was endeavoring to part them as his hands gathered up my skirts and roved beneath where no one except me had ever dared touch before. His passion frightened me even as it stirred and thrilled me, but Fear was the victor, and I pushed him from me and fled.
My heart was beating like a voodoo drum. My stays were so tight, I felt certain I would faint. But I didn't. The panic passed, but not so quickly the pangs of passion. As soon as I was safe back inside the casino, I castigated myself for being such a coward. I wanted to turn and go back, to give in, surrender and melt beneath those hot lips and ardent hands. But it was too late. By the time I had tiptoed tremulously to the threshold leading out onto the terrace and peeped out he was already gone. And so was my purse, but I didn't notice that until after we were safely back at the hotel. I told Anna that in all the excitement I must have laid it down somewhere and it was likely long gone by now. Fortunately, Anna, giddy from the golden wine, was feeling generous and gave me $100 she had won at roulette and told me to dry my eyes and not worry a moment more about it.
The next night, our last before leaving, we were back at the casino despite my protests that once was enough. I submitted to the coiffeur's finicky attentions one more time and was painted and laced back into the breathless, bone-crushing embrace of the corset and too-tight peacock satin gown. Though Carrie and Anna sniffed derisively about appearing in public two nights in a row in the same gown, I would not wear my peach taffeta, the only other ball gown I owned; I would not have another man's hand touch where my beloved's had rested against my waist when we waltzed. I would not let the slick men lounging like lizards around the casino sully my sweet and tender memories, or my dress, with their selfish, self-interested caresses.
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