Bluebeard’s wife is told by her husband to never go into his dungeon. When she does, she finds the mutilated corpses of his previous wives—and Pandora. With the help of Pandora’s magical box, the two travel through time and space, searching out other women who are instructed “don’t do that” and do it anyway… and seeking Bluebeard’s wife’s lost name.
The Don’t Girls
by Octavia Cade
Praise for The Don’t Girls
Now here’s an idea: what do Bluebeard’s wife and Pandora have in common? They both opened a door that they were told not to; they both said “No” to “Don’t”. Cade takes this theme and runs far with it in this long novella... This is all in the service of the story’s theme; as readers will readily notice, it’s a feminist work. Now, political stories can be problematic; too many authors fail to avoid diatribe, lecture, or other sources of boring. In this, Cade succeeds to some extent... There are plenty of entertaining moments here, particularly in the scenes between Pandy and B-w, who are more than just girlfriends; there’s even quite a bit of dark humor.—Locus Online (Lois Tilton)
Read an Excerpt
EXCERPT: Part One - BLUEBEARD'S WIFE
Every room in the house was hers—every room but one.
Mostly the rooms held wardrobes full of clothes that didn’t fit her. Too big in the chest, the hem a little long, colors that turned her complexion sallow or consumptive by turns. She tried them on anyway, and spun until she was dizzy through the house in a yellow dress that was over bright for her, clumping in too-long shoes until she stuffed the toes with tissue and could pirouette without tripping.
“What did you expect,” said Bluebeard’s wife to herself, trying to match half a hundred pairs of stockings. “You’re not the first, you know.”
Pandora was more impressed, her feet wriggling into stockings like little fish. Bluebeard’s wife watched her admire herself, watched the smooth dark thighs dry-mouthed and felt dumpy in comparison; had never wanted to run her fingers into the hollow behind her own knees. Her legs were peasant legs, short and thick, and while stockings improved them, she always felt a little ridiculous in silk.
Pandora was made for silk, and in the rush of emotion flooding her belly—half envy, half fascination—Bluebeard’s wife calmed herself thinking of the woman who had previously worn those stockings... the women who had once worn all the clothes she had taken so happily as a benefit of marriage. (Silk stockings and satin skirts that flared when she twirled, the material heavy and rich and far from what she had once worn to muck out the cow shed.)
Deep down, she had suspected she was wearing dead women’s clothes, but knowing her predecessors were gone and seeing their butchered bodies were two different things entirely. Bluebeard’s wife couldn’t take nearly as much pleasure in hats and silver buckles once she had visited the dungeon, once she knew what her pretty things had come from.
Pandora had no such qualms. “What?” she said. “It’s not as if they’re using them now. Waste not, want not.” And turned back to the mirror, small pink tongue lapping lazily at her own sharp incisors.
“He’s going to know I went into the dungeon,” said Bluebeard’s wife, but Pandora was distracted—seated at the dressing table, rifling through the makeup drawer and trying a different perfume on the soft skin inside each wrist. “And I have a horrible feeling he’ll want me to go back. Those women didn’t end up there by accident. Where’s your box?”
“It won’t help you, dear,” said Pandora, retrieving it from the floor by her feet. “There’s nothing special about it anymore. I only keep it around because it’s useful to store things in.”
“That’s what I’m counting on,” said Bluebeard’s wife, and opened the box. Inside was a pink-tinged seashell, some dried figs, a handful of long hairpins, and half a dozen small and sparkly rocks.
“Told you so,” said Pandora, as Bluebeard’s wife slammed the lid shut.
“This isn’t right,” she said. “I know the story! You weren’t supposed to open the box, but you were no better than you ought to be—and I can’t judge, I know—but you did and you weren’t and all the evils of the world spilled out, which, thank you very much, by the way, but you got the box shut in time to save hope. And I don’t see any hope here!”
“Well, no,” said Pandora, sucking in her cheeks to better apply rouge. “I lied. Wouldn’t you?”
“That’s men for you,” said Pandora. “Think the world revolves around them. Just look at me: made by the gods. A dreamboat of a girl, a real peach. They gave me to Epimetheus for a wife, and the first week we were married he could barely look at me, I was so beautiful. He got over it, though. The second week he followed me about everywhere I went, bothering me. You’re so beautiful, Pandora, he’d say, when I was cutting my toenails. You’re so beautiful, Pandora, when I was on the pot. And the third week, dinner was late—I mean, do I look like a cook to you?—and being beautiful didn’t save me from a strapped bum. So I opened the box. They weren’t very pleased, I can tell you, but at least now they’ve all got bigger things to worry about and I can have a little peace.”
She shook the box at Bluebeard’s wife. “I keep a few things in it, so that it rattles about a bit and doesn’t sound empty. And now they’re always worried I’ll open it again.”
She gave a slow grin, a shark basking in the shallows.
When Bluebeard’s wife opened the door she shouldn’t and found herself standing in an abattoir, she thought she might have been expected to scream. If she’d been a real lady she would have screeched down the rafters, but being raised on a farm had cured her of squeamishness around joints of meat.
Yes, the hacked-off limbs were disgusting, but she had cooked leg of lamb every Sunday since she was twelve. And the poor skinned creature hanging from a meat-hook was certainly pathetic, but held no terror for a girl who had scraped the hides of scalded pigs. And if anyone expected her to faint at the lengths of disemboweled intestine, well, clearly they had never stuffed a sausage in their life.
Had she been a lady, she would have screamed. But Bluebeard’s wife, sneaking into the dungeon and discovering the corpses of wives previous, had—amidst the grief and horror—another thought, one shared with her mother and grandmother and every other goodwife before them, boiling down through the ages into their descendants.
“Doesn’t he ever bloody well clean up after himself?” she said, poking one pretty, tissue-stuffed shoe at a puddle of dried gore.
“They never do, dear,” someone replied, and Bluebeard’s wife turned to see a stunningly beautiful girl carrying a box and inching past the iron maiden...