You wanted to be Rosamund, the girl in that famous dress, a single layer of sheer lace that left the body exposed to the eyes of the court.
Walking down the aisle on her biggest day, Rosamund wore the obligatory dress and regretted everything: her body hair, her female odor, her every curve. You were beside her from the start, tracking the progress of the royal betrothal in the discreet Palace Gazette. You weren’t the only one. All the girls of your generation followed Rosamund’s story, especially after the trouble started.
You will always swear you could feel what Rosamund felt, the chilly horror of being forced to wear such a dress on your wedding day. You thought you knew, perhaps from seeing it in your dreams so many nights in a row, exactly what Rosamund experienced. And then there were the interviews, dozens of them, where Rosamund parceled out the many miseries of the sham marriage, starting with that shocking dress.
You admired the dress, though, in secret. You, like so many girls, swore you would have had no trouble donning it if it meant you could marry the prince. Reenacting Rosamund’s walk down the aisle became a favorite pastime of the girls of the kingdom, a game you played in the forest, under the full moon. Naked.
“It’s not so bad!” you would shout, thinking that Rosamund had complained over nothing. You honestly believed you should have married the prince. If you could have had a single audience with him, he would have seen your worth and chosen you. He would have fallen–he could still fall–in love with you.
You would never have made such a fuss over a dress.
Not that it mattered. Rosamund was now his princess.
“Don’t worry,” your mother told you once. “You don’t want to be the princess. You want to be his mistress. That’s the best role.”
This gave you pause because you didn’t recall reading about any mistresses in your favorite tales. And you certainly never read about them in the Palace Gazette.
Years later, when you are grown and married to some peasant, or a lowly merchant, Rosamund will tell her story in the underground newspaper, Troll Mouth. At first everyone thinks this is a hoax. The story is too outrageous. The palace shuts down all the taverns for a day and begins a general troll purge, though the troll community claims no affiliation with that newspaper.
Troll Mouth sells out. The edition with Rosamund’s first interview, which you steal from your neighbor’s table, is especially popular.
“I understood irony for the first time,” the princess laments, her image frozen forever on the cheap, yellowed paper. “There I was, completely exposed. I was made to reveal myself while he was the one with all the secrets. Believe me, they should have made him march naked on our wedding day–or better yet, abolish the custom altogether. You must understand: sometimes the person with nothing to hide is subjected to the closest scrutiny. I was that person, an innocent maid.”
This is the kind of story best read alone, in a locked wardrobe or an outhouse. It is too embarrassing to read aloud, unless you are in a group of trusted women friends. You read it in the kitchen, while standing and stirring gruel, your mouth open.
Then you read it all over again.
“There were three of us in the bridal chamber,” Rosamund reports. “Lady Margaret was there before I arrived. It was she who took me by the hand and led me to the bed.”
Outside the chickens are clucking. The goats are loose and doing damage. The cows are bellowing, insistent.
You read on: “I lay there paralyzed while they consummated their union right beside me. I was too afraid to move. The prince looked straight through me, as if I did not exist. When I tried to rise at dawn and escape those deceitful sheets, Lady Margaret grabbed my arm and warned me not to move. Alas, I was their prisoner.”
You read it every day for a month because you are not quite sure you believe it. You want to get the details right. (You still ache from the need to be in those scenes with Rosamund. Sometimes you could swear you are Rosamund.)
The kingdom is split. Some support Rosamund and some support the prince. You never can tell whose side a person will take and you are often surprised. You choose neither, abstaining from the discussion but eagerly consuming new versions of the story, which spring up everywhere, like mushrooms.
Deep down inside, especially at night, when the peasant-or-merchant snores beside you, you still believe that you could have made good use of that bridal chamber. You would have known what to do.
The question is: how did Rosamund ever produce an heir?
Even Troll Mouth does not offer an answer. This is a story for the taverns and coffee houses. It finds its way into folk songs and nursery rhymes. You cannot remember where you first heard it, only that it seemed true, as if you had known it forever.
Rosamund has taken a lover, a palace poet who began wooing her shortly after she wore the see-through gown. He is remarkably handsome and liked by everyone.
Rosamund’s supporters rejoice while her enemies delight in this new evidence of her whoredom.
When Rosamund and Lady Margaret appear on the palace balcony, each of them holding a fat baby, lines of naughty verse flow throughout the kingdom. The best known: “Rosamund’s dress of lace and shame / Earned her true love and secured her fame.” Your personal favorite, as a mother: “Two babies are born, quick and bright / To play by day and fight by night.”
Who can say which baby is the true heir? There is much speculation. Fair Rosamund has won, her loyal subjects proclaim. Ah, but the real prince will seize the throne one day, Lady Margaret’s supporters warn. It is easy to tell who reads Troll Mouth and who reads the Palace Gazette. It is how you choose your friends.
The world has turned into an ugly place. The old order is under assault. Nobody behaves correctly, from the court all the way down to the livestock.
It is difficult to find a story you can believe in.
You are fitting your eldest daughter for her wedding dress when you hear the news of Princess Rosamund’s death. You drop the pins and fall to your knees.
For three golden days, only stories of love and goodness are told. Everyone mourns Princess Rosamund. Everyone adores her. Because she is gone forever, the kingdom can suddenly appreciate the girl who wore the infamous lace wedding dress. They see through her beautiful flesh all the way to her perfect, hopeful soul, which is still that of a young girl. Everyone weeps.
You feel especially guilty. Responsible.
(Why didn’t you listen to Rosamund when she told her story, truly listen? Why didn’t you believe her? Why didn’t you do something?)
You look at your daughter, who is lovely and kind. She is shocked that Rosamund is dead but she does not share your deep feelings. She did not grow up with Rosamund the way you did. She never played the wedding dress game with the other young girls, never read either of the local papers. She does not know the secret thrill of being naked in public, nor has she ever really believed she could be a princess. Her bridegroom trains horses. She chose him herself.
She would never want what you secretly desired, to be married in a gown of transparent lace, a copy of Rosamund’s. The original now hangs in the palace museum. Rosamund will not be buried in it. She will be wearing heavy velvet as black as her skin is white. In death she will finally be dressed as a noblewoman, and all will call her a lost princess. They will see her as such.
You go to work on the hem of your daughter’s wedding dress, which is made of good silk. Your back hurts. Soon you will begin sewing your own dress though you know you shouldn’t bother.
You are the mother of the bride and nobody will be looking at you.
Jan Stinchcomb is the author of the novella, Find the Girl (Main Street Rag, 2015). Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in PANK online, Necessary Fiction, Conium Review Online Compendium and Paper Darts, among other places. She reviews fairy tale-inspired works in Notes From Rapunzel’s Tower, her column for Luna Station Quarterly. Find out more at http://www.janstinchcomb.com.
Artist: Laura Makabresku, “I met her again.”