The Scarred Utopian Takes a Wife

by Sun­ny Moraine

On the day of her wed­ding, the bride of the Scarred Utopi­an pulls her veil down over her face. She does this unas­sist­ed by her atten­dants, assem­bled around her in silence of the most solemn kind—this is a thing that she must do her­self, her fin­ger­tips slip­ping over the intri­cate nee­dle lace. She sees pat­terns of flow­ers and wind­ing vines spi­ral­ing end­less­ly around birds in flight, leap­ing stags, wild hares, oth­er crea­tures impos­si­bly strange. Shapes that change for­ev­er, alter­ing them­selves the very instant she iden­ti­fies their nature. She sees this, and then the veil is over her head, a vague white blur, and that is all she sees.

On the day of her wed­ding, the bride of the Scarred Utopi­an pulls her veil down over her face and there it remains, for the Scarred Utopi­an will not lift it to kiss her mouth at the cul­mi­na­tion of their vows. He kiss­es her hands instead, turn­ing them palm-up and press­ing her fin­ger­tips to his lips with care­ful, dis­tant rev­er­ence. The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an can­not see her new husband’s face clear­ly through the lace, but the shape of it seems strange, and the shape of his mouth feels stranger when she tries to glean its lines through the few touch­es he allows her. 

The hall is full of light as he leads her out past silent rows of eyes that she can­not see but can feel like the pres­sure of insects alight­ing on her skin. She turns her gaze up into that blind­ing glow and thinks one flesh, till death unpart­ed, and she won­ders what flesh she has just joined to her own. 

The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an will live in Utopia. Such a nov­el thing, to live in a place that is nev­er and nowhere, but mar­riage itself is nov­el. On the jour­ney the veil is still over her face; she sits with her hands clasped demure­ly in her lap, the bead­ing of her gown rough under her hands. Some­times she thinks the Scarred Utopian—her hus­band for now and for always—is beside her. Some­times she is sure that he is gone, not moved away but van­ished like time in a dream. Is she in a car­riage? A car? A train? Wag­on, wheel­bar­row, cart, or truck? Is she on the back of a horse can­ter­ing over unseen ground? She might feel wheels turn­ing under her, mas­sive black wheels that crush the road and eat it like bro­ken bread—or a bru­tal ship shat­ter­ing Arc­tic ice. She might hear the shriek of an engine, and to her it sounds like a cho­rus of hys­ter­i­cal­ly mourn­ing women in black veils. 

Black veils are not appro­pri­ate for a wed­ding. The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an frowns beneath her world of lace. 

The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an arrives in Utopia in a show­er of bird­song. It falls all around her ears like tum­bling blos­soms. Behind her veil she can see col­ors bleed­ing out of the all-encom­pass­ing no-col­or, as though white—not black—were the dense col­lec­tion of every hue. Now with the sounds they sep­a­rate them­selves and wind through her brain in mul­ti­col­ored strands that sing when plucked. Like the birds, wel­com­ing her to Nev­er and Nowhere. 

The sun streams through the minute holes of the lace and fills her world with dif­fuse light. Her hus­band the Scarred Utopi­an takes her by her ringed hand and leads her down—a gang­way or the steps of a train or a car­riage or up and out of a car swift and iri­des­cent as a new bee­tle. As he does this, she reach­es up her hand and touch­es her veil, the pat­terns of the lace unwind­ing in her mind as her fin­gers trace the lines, and the Scarred Utopi­an takes her hand and tugs it gen­tly away. His breath is warm against her ear as he whis­pers to her over the cho­rus of birds. 

Do not. Not ever, here. In Noth­ing and Nowhere, you must nev­er look upon your scarred and hideous husband.

One must love one’s hus­band, and even if the bride of the Scarred Utopi­an is unsure of whether or not she has yet ful­filled this vow, there is anoth­er that she knows she can begin to ful­fill immediately. 

The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an has promised to hon­or and obey. 

Her fin­gers slip away from her veil. All around her the song swells into her bright blindness. 

The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an must see her way with her feet. Her hus­band leads her by the hand through what sounds and feels and smells like the most beau­ti­ful gar­den she has ever not seen. She inhales; there is danc­ing mint and laven­der, hyacinth and lilac enclos­ing her face in bold­ly fra­grant hands, hon­ey­suck­le like syrup flow­ing down her cheeks. Grass is a green smell, she realizes—she does not need to see it to know that this is so. She breathes all of it in and it rush­es joy­ful­ly into her throat and nose, down into her lungs—so for­ward, the scents, with the courage of numbers. 

She releas­es her husband’s hand in order to bend down and unbuck­le her shoes. For a moment she stands in white light and riotous scent, hold­ing them in her hand; she casts them away. They land with a soft rus­tle of leaves. She will nev­er find them. Under her feet, blades of grass break into ecstasy. 

The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an begins to under­stand that in Noth­ing and Nowhere, noth­ing is forbidden. 

Except, it seems, to see.

On the wed­ding night of the bride of the Scarred Utopi­an, her hus­band leads her into a cham­ber where the air feels lined with silk, and he strips the gown away from her flesh with care­ful­ly delib­er­ate hands. She feels it fall away, that silken air on her skin, and she shiv­ers. She is still veiled, but now the white blind­ness has lost its bright­ness; instead of spun sun­light it feels as though she is sur­round­ed by spi­der-silk, or some­thing woven by fairies from the wings of moths—at once del­i­cate and utter­ly impenetrable. 

The urge to pull it away is almost overwhelming. 

The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an swal­lows past a lump in her throat. In Noth­ing and Nowhere, noth­ing is for­bid­den, so be brave.

The Scarred Utopi­an takes his bride by the shoul­ders and press­es her down onto a bed as soft as the air. So quick­ly, he is on her and in her, lift­ing her hands again and slip­ping her fin­gers into his mouth. He kiss­es her palms, her knuck­les, her wrists; he bites at each knob of bone and each joint. Behind her veil, her shroud, she veers wild­ly between pain and plea­sure, her teeth closed on her low­er lip until she tastes blood. And he will not kiss her, he will not taste the blood she is tast­ing, and she is alone behind her nee­dle lace. Before pro­pri­ety ban­ish­es the thought, it occurs to the bride of the Scarred Utopi­an to be angry. 

But she has promised. 

Promis­es are ter­ri­ble things. 

The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an sleeps in the arms of her hus­band, wrapped in gray shadow.

The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an walks through her unseen home. In her mind she con­structs all the grandeur her imag­i­na­tion can muster. She walks through a world of scent and touch and indis­tinct light—she can see shapes though her ever-present veil, enough to keep from stum­bling or falling, but the shapes remain dim mys­ter­ies. There are stair­cas­es, there are cor­ri­dors that seem end­less, there are rooms that swal­low her like hun­gry throats. Through it all, she is nev­er lost. Through it all, she always finds her­self where she ulti­mate­ly want­ed to be. A din­ing room and a table laden with food—no sight of it but spices and hot bread and thick, sweet wine, push­ing into her nose and mouth like a hard kiss. A veran­da where stringed instru­ments play in coun­ter­point to the birds—are there unseen hands that play, or do the things play them­selves? And her bed­cham­ber, where her hus­band waits for her. Except when he does not. 

The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an turns her face up to the light, secret behind her wind­ing vines, her leap­ing stags.

The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an removes her veil to bathe, but before she steps into the steam­ing water, her hus­band orders her eyes closed as he lifts away her net of lace. He binds old cloth around her eyes, and the gray haze of the veiled world van­ish­es into darkness. 

No sight. Not even a glimpse. The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an slips down beneath the water and in that blind, wet warmth she feels like an unborn child, lis­ten­ing to the steady pound­ing of the blood in her ears like her own mother’s heart. 

Why? she asks. Why can’t I see you? What do you fear?

I fear noth­ing. Lips against the slick arch of her throat. But you would. You would not love me.

You do not know me, she says in a sud­den rush of bold­ness, a heady mix of des­per­a­tion that makes her head spin. How can I know you if I don’t see you?

I have nev­er seen your eyes, replies the Scarred Utopi­an. And yet I love you.

The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an won­ders if now he will kiss her, with her eyes bound but her lips bare. 

But he does not. And soon she is veiled again. 

When the bride of the Scarred Utopi­an dreams, it is always of see­ing. Sharp lines, clear­ly delin­eat­ed shapes, col­or. The sight of one foot before the oth­er, a path stretch­ing off into bright sunshine. 

What is there left to dream of in Nev­er and Nowhere, but what’s gone forever?

The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an pleads with her hus­band. She has formed an image of him in her mind through count­less touch­es, kiss­es, through the weight of his body on hers. He is at once ten­der and mon­strous, beau­ti­ful and hideous. She can­not rec­on­cile these things but they exist inside her mind, each equal­ly real, all jostling for space and clam­or­ing for suprema­cy in her attention. 

Let me see you. Just once. Let me see any­thing you care to show me. Any­thing at all.

The Scarred Utopi­an shakes his head, takes her hand and kiss­es her open palm. When he does that she has to fight back an urge to strike him. Hand and mouth, meet­ing again with all the force restrained in that kiss. 

No. My love, you must trust me. You promised.

The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an pon­ders the nature of love. She pon­ders the mys­tery of it, how love can flood in to fill the void left by des­per­a­tion, by pain. 

She won­ders what it means that she feels so empty.

The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an watch­es a year pass from behind her veil. Two. Three. Then she isn’t sure. Time is like light—there and mov­ing, clear­ly present, but not clear at all. It is flex­i­ble. It bends. 

The Scarred Utopi­an stands in the cen­ter of it. She can­not move him. She flings her­self blind­ly against him, she begs him, she tries to rea­son with him, and against that immo­bil­i­ty she final­ly sub­sides into a weary sub­mis­sion. She allows him to lead her through the world, when she does not want to wan­der through it alone. 

The very con­cept of what she wants is begin­ning to seem as indis­tinct as the light through the veil, as time through blindness.

The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an wakes in dark­ness. This is noth­ing new or alarm­ing, but as she blinks, as she turns against the pil­lows, some­thing is dif­fer­ent. She knows this before she knows any­thing else, the kind of instan­ta­neous knowl­edge that arrives from dreams and slides lucid­ly into the rest of the world. 

Then there is light. The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an throws a hand up over her face and screams. 

It is not the light itself but the sharp­ness of it, the way that every sin­gle par­ti­cle of it hits her eyes like a knife, slic­ing through it and into the soft meat of her brain. She mash­es the heels of her palms into her eyes and whimpers.

The nee­dle lace is gone. She feels around her on the bed, search­ing for it. She’s dis­obeyed. She’s bro­ken her vow. And it won’t mat­ter that it had been acci­den­tal. Now that world will swal­low her up, chew her with its bright teeth, and there won’t be any frag­ile danc­ing shapes before her eyes to pro­tect her. 

It’s all right. Hands close around her wrists, pulling her close. The light seems to fade, not gone but bear­able, and she feels a fin­ger­tip under her chin, lift­ing her face up. Lips against her closed eyelids. 

Open your eyes.

She shakes her head. Whim­pers again. 

My faith­ful love, open your eyes and look upon me.

She draws in shocked breath. Under­stand­ing pierces her like the light. So that is what this is. Not unwant­ed escape but release. 

The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an opens her eyes, lit­tle by cau­tious lit­tle, and looks at her hus­band in the light of the shad­ed lamp that sits by the bed. 

She has no words to describe him. She could describe him in smells, in sounds, in the tex­ture of his skin and the thud of his heart­beat. But sight has been lost to her for so long that all the words of sight have fled as well, and so she stares at him, at his naked body, his face, his hair, his lips and eyes and oh, oh… he is beautiful. 

He is perfect. 

He is smil­ing. She remem­bers what a smile is. 

My love, I need­ed to know that you would be faith­ful. Now I am sure. Your veil is gone; I have burned it. You will nev­er wear it again. I have tak­en back your blind­ness; now live with me and love me and see me tru­ly, and you will nev­er want for any­thing all the rest of the days of your life.

The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an lis­tens to this speech in frozen silence. When it is fin­ished she remains silent, her hands clasped in his, her eyes enor­mous, like mouths open to swal­low as much of him as she can. 

The silence extends. The smile of the Scarred Utopi­an falters. 

The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an snatch­es back her hands. 


You call me faith­ful? When you took the world away from me for a test? Yes, I am faith­ful. You are not.

Cold fire is spread­ing through her breast. She had for­got­ten rage. Now she greets it with some­thing like joy, like the sun after long storms. This is feel­ing when it goes beyond a dim ghost of desire for some­thing unnamed, for some­thing for which the words have been all but lost. 

The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an is con­scious of the feel­ing of hav­ing been robbed. 

You are unwor­thy of me.

She reach­es out a hand and knocks the lamp to the floor. It shat­ters and the light vanishes. 

And she has long since ceased to need the light for anything. 

The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an walks away from Utopia.

She moves down the short hall­way and out toward the door that she knows leads to the gar­den. The place is small­er than she had sup­posed; yet her feet and hands and body know it bet­ter than her mind does, and they car­ry her to where she wants to go, and she does not falter. 

The hall­way is dim with dawn light and smells of dust and empti­ness. There on the far wall is a pic­ture that she has nev­er seen but whose frame she traced with her hands, whose whorls of paint she passed over with her fin­gers. She imag­ined beau­ti­ful things there—a land­scape, or the scene of a his­toric bat­tle, or the por­trait of a woman wise and sad—but now she sees that it’s a sim­ple frame, a sim­ple image: a boat on a dawn lake, but the col­ors look flat and the shapes look wrong, the per­spec­tive skewed in a way that sug­gests lack of skill rather than pres­ence of intent. 

Every­thing is so small. Every­thing is so ordi­nary. Even the sharp­ness of her sight can’t dull her disappointment. 

Behind her, sit­ting silent in their dark bed­room, is her per­fect hus­band. She does not look back as she steps out into the garden. 

The gar­den is equal­ly small, mun­dane com­pared to the green mag­nif­i­cence that she had con­struct­ed in her mind, but it is glis­ten­ing with morn­ing dew and it smells sweet. She is wear­ing her wed­ding gown, and the hem of her skirt damp­ens as she walks bare­foot through the grass. The gar­den of the Scarred Utopi­an is bound­ed by a high wall, a gate set into one far end.

The bride of the Scarred Utopi­an paus­es. A few feet away, on a flagged patio, is a lit­tle pile of gray ash. 

She moves over to the smudge of ash­es, work­ing the ring from her fin­ger as she goes. She leans down, drops the ring into the ash. It lands with a dusty puff. She imag­ines a great house, immense and ornate, gabled and pil­lared, slashed through with win­dows of col­ored crys­tal. The house shiv­ers into dust and blows away. 

The woman who was the bride of the Scarred Utopi­an steps out through the gate. Beyond it, a long, straight road stretch­es out to a flat hori­zon. Behind her, she can feel a warm hand of sun­rise push­ing up over her shoul­ders. The sky is clear. 

She begins to walk. 

Sun­ny Moraine’s work has been pub­lished in a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent places, most recent­ly in Three-Lobed Burn­ing Eye, Strange Hori­zons, and Shim­mer.

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