There was once a man who had fine houses, both in town and country, a deal of silver and gold plate, embroidered furniture, and coaches gilded all over with gold. But this man was so unlucky as to have a blue beard, which made him so frightfully ugly that all the women and girls ran away from him.
One of his neighbors, a lady of quality, had two daughters who were perfect beauties. He desired of her one of them in marriage, leaving to her choice which of the two she would bestow on him. Neither of them would have him, and they sent him backwards and forwards from one to the other, not being able to bear the thoughts of marrying a man who had a blue beard. Adding to their disgust and aversion was the fact that he already had been married to several wives, and nobody knew what had become of them.
Bluebeard, to engage their affection, took them, with their mother and three or four ladies of their acquaintance, with other young people of the neighborhood, to one of his country houses, where they stayed a whole week.
The time was filled with parties, hunting, fishing, dancing, mirth, and feasting. Nobody went to bed, but all passed the night in rallying and joking with each other. In short, everything succeeded so well that the youngest daughter began to think that the man’s beard was not so very blue after all, and that he was a mighty civil gentleman.
As soon as they returned home, the marriage was concluded. About a month afterwards, Bluebeard told his wife that he was obliged to take a country journey for six weeks at least, about affairs of very great consequence. He desired her to divert herself in his absence, to send for her friends and acquaintances, to take them into the country, if she pleased, and to make good cheer wherever she was.
“Here,” said he,” are the keys to the two great wardrobes, wherein I have my best furniture. These are to my silver and gold plate, which is not everyday in use. These open my strongboxes, which hold my money, both gold and silver; these my caskets of jewels. And this is the master key to all my apartments. But as for this little one here, it is the key to the closet at the end of the great hall on the ground floor. Open them all; go into each and every one of them, except that little closet, which I forbid you, and forbid it in such a manner that, if you happen to open it, you may expect my just anger and resentment.”
“Honestly,” she said, “I’m more than happy to observe whatever boundaries you ask me to honor, but it feels a little harsh, to me, when you detail future punishments for hypothetical transgressions without giving me the opportunity to show up for you in our relationship.”
And Bluebeard said, Oh my God, I had no idea, but of course that’s how you experienced it. I can see that now. I was so afraid of being disappointed that I failed to give you the opportunity to meet my expectations.
“We have to take all possible futures into account,” the damsel told him. “I can acknowledge your wounds without taking responsibility for them.”
And Bluebeard said, Thank you for this dialogue. I feel truly known. We’ve really interrupted a cycle of negative self-talk I hadn’t even realized I was trapped in.
She promised to observe, very exactly, whatever he had ordered. Then he, after having embraced her, got into his coach and proceeded on his journey.
Her neighbors and good friends did not wait to be sent for by the newly married lady. They were impatient to see all the rich furniture of her house, and had not dared to come while her husband was there, because of his blue beard, which frightened them. They ran through all the rooms, closets, and wardrobes, which were all so fine and rich that they seemed to surpass one another.
After that, they went up into the two great rooms, which contained the best and richest furniture. They could not sufficiently admire the number and beauty of the tapestry, beds, couches, cabinets, stands, tables, and looking glasses, in which you might see yourself from head to foot; some of them were framed with glass, others with silver, plain and gilded, the finest and most magnificent that they had ever seen.
They ceased not to extol and envy the happiness of their friend, who in the meantime in no way diverted herself in looking upon all these rich things, because of the impatience she had to go and open the closet on the ground floor. She was so much pressed by her curiosity that, without considering that it was very uncivil for her to leave her company, she went down a little back staircase, and with such excessive haste that she nearly fell and broke her neck.
Having come to the closet door, she made a stop for some time, thinking about her husband’s orders, and considering what unhappiness might attend her if she was disobedient.
Is this really about the room? she asked herself. Or is this about me? Why do I feel like I have to go into spaces I haven’t been invited to? Is this a privilege thing? What am I acting out here? Am I trying to reenact a violation I’ve experienced elsewhere in an attempt to absolve myself of culpability, or cast myself in the familiar role of transgressor?
You need to apply your own oxygen mask first before you self-sabotage, she reminded herself, and went back downstairs. Just because everything’s going right doesn’t mean something’s wrong.
Bluebeard returned from his journey the same evening, saying that he had received letters upon the road, informing him that the affair he went about had concluded to his advantage.
“If I’m honest,” Bluebeard said, “I want to ask you for the keys back right away, and to ask about the locked room, because I’m so convinced you’re going to repeat the betrayal I’m most afraid of that I want to get it over with as quickly as possible.”
“But that’s not my best self,” he added. She smiled.
“You never need to use a lock to keep something private,” she told him. “All you have to do is ask. Respect is the only lock that we need.”
No one ever went into that room again, because you don’t have to justify your No to make it meaningful. No is enough by itself. They were very happy together. The kind of happy where they both knew the passwords to each other’s phones, but never used them. “Do you mind if I use your phone?” they’d always ask. Just because you can go somewhere doesn’t mean you have to.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.