By Elyse Russell
Harriet had been planning her wedding day since she was twelve years old. It had been impressed upon her from a very young age that she should save herself for marriage, so that she could then meet her True Love and live Happily Ever After.
Harriet stuck to those beliefs all the way up until college. Then, one night at a family reunion, she passed out. She’d only had one drink, and always wondered if her cousin had slipped something into it. Whatever the reason, when she woke up, she wasn’t a virgin anymore. And her cousin was asleep next to her.
Of course, as always, she never said anything.
After that, she figured she was a lost cause. She had a few boyfriends here and there, and had sex with them. What was the point in waiting anymore?
But then she’d found Jeff, and they’d fallen in love. And everything had been perfect. Except…Harriet never told him about that night. It was better that way.
On the big day, standing in front of the mirror and looking at the lace and delicate beads on her gown, she wondered something for the first time: Was this the high point of her life? What happened when the wedding was over, and they still had seventy years ahead of them? Would it never be as good as this ever again?
And did she even deserve this, after everything she’d done? She didn’t exactly live up to the standards of her family, religion, or the stories.
She had been warned, time and again, that only “good girls” got Happily Ever Afters. But so far, despite not being a “good girl” (not that anyone knew), nothing had gone wrong. She had fallen in love, she was getting married, and she was happy. The other shoe, it seemed, was just not going to drop.
The music was starting. A few last pictures were taken, and then Harriet’s father was there to walk her down the aisle. She came around a corner, and saw all of the people standing on either side of the aisle. At the end stood Jeff, grinning from ear to ear.
As she walked slowly to the music, smiling from underneath her veil, she focused on the faces around her. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, sisters, brother…cousins.
And there he was. She rarely saw him anymore, but of course he was at her wedding. It would have looked strange not to have him there.
She looked at his scruffy beard and pot belly, thinking about how he’d looked all those years ago when she’d woken up next to him bleeding. She thought about the shame she’d felt: shame that had kept her silent. He looked as unfazed as he usually did. In fact, he looked downright bored. Did he ever think about what had happened?
Then her father was lifting her veil and giving her a peck on the cheek. She could see her mother crying over his shoulder. And that was when she heard it.
One of her younger male cousins, sitting in the front row, made a very clear comment that hit Harriet like a stone.
“She’s one of the only people I know who actually deserves to wear white.”
Harriet’s first thought was, Everyone deserves to wear white if they want to, you bastard.
But of course, as always, she didn’t say anything.
And as Jeff took her hand and she ascended those last two steps to his level, the comment started to echo more loudly through her mind. She heard the preacher addressing the gathering, but didn’t actually hear him.
Jeff didn’t seem to notice that anything was wrong. He had no idea who was sitting only a few rows away, staring right at them.
She glanced quickly at her cousin, and immediately regretted it. She shouldn’t be allowing these thoughts to overshadow her wedding day. Before she could look away, though, her cousin’s eyes turned black.
Harriet’s heart skipped a beat. She looked away and down quickly, sure that she was hallucinating.
But then she noticed something else. Her brows furrowed as she realized that there was a small black stain on the front of her dress. And the stain was…spreading.
It reached out with inky fingers, covering her abdomen and chest. She looked up, breathing in little pants, to see if Jeff had noticed. He just smiled at her, squeezed her fingers, and winked.
She looked at the preacher and then out at the crowd of guests. No one seemed to be seeing anything out of the ordinary. Her mother was dabbing at the corners of her eyes with a tissue. Her father was wrapping his arm around her shoulders and looking on with pride. This was the ultimate goal they’d harbored for their daughter: marriage. Next, they’d want grandchildren. They were expecting that Harriet and Jeff would not use birth control, unaware that Harriet was, of course, already on the pill.
None of them saw the stain, which was now spreading past her hips and down her legs. Before she knew it, her entire dress was as black as her cousin’s eyes, as black as ink.
As black as the underwear she’d worn that horrible night.
She remembered a favorite saying of the older women in her family:
Marry in black, and you’ll wish yourself back.
It was silent. Everyone was suddenly staring at her. Jeff squeezed her hand again.
“Honey?” he asked quietly.
It must be her turn for the vows. Against her better judgement, she looked out of the corner of her eye at her cousin. His eyes were still black, and now his jaw hung down slack, as though it had been broken.
Harriet closed her eyes to center herself, and then she said her vows.
Even seventy-five years later, when Harriet looked through pictures of her wedding day, her dress was always stained black.
Only she could see it.
And of course, as always, she never said anything.
Elyse Russell is a writer of short stories and graphic novels. She has had works accepted with: HyphenPunk, Outcast Press, Crone Girl's Press, The Author's Hand, Mermaids Monthly, and more. Her horror graphic novella, The Fell Witch, will go to Kickstarter in April 2022 with Band of Bards comics.