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.
Filed under: Jabberwocky 14