The Bearded Lady — Inspired by Betsy Carter

Yesterday I posted a one act play inspired by my brother-in-law Brian Carter. Now it’s his wife’s turn. It’s the toe-to-toe stand off of the Carters today! Betsy had another story idea last week. You can read it here.  (Oh! And make sure you check out the other stories from this week… The RemovedRunaway and Broken and Empty).

Here’s Betsy’s idea (I think it’s a pretty good one)…

“Circus bearded lady with elegant name. Setting: Great Depression, touring the country. Conflict: she was a very beautiful woman under the beard. Someone from her past (who doesn’t know she now has a beard) sends her a letter. She is torn because she is successful as the bearded lady. But she misses the life as a beautiful woman.”

The Bearded Lady

Anastasia sat in the dark of a circus tent. She waited to be called on stage. Her hair was tightly curled, held up with red ribbons and adorned with baby’s breath flowers. The satin of her dress matched the ribbons. Underneath, a corset squeezed her body, adjusting skin and fat to thicken the area around her hips and raise her bust line. Gloves covered her hands and forearms. Her make up was perfectly applied.

She was a beauty. Her raven hair offset the emerald of her eyes. Years before, men clambered to meet her, dance with her, kiss her smooth cheek. She’d been loved. Lucas Rissner pursued her. Professed his love.

But then, almost overnight, the hair started to grow on her face. It started on her upper lip. She pulled every coarse hair. Eventually, it sprouted on her chin, too. Then her cheeks. She would shave every morning, like a man. By the afternoon, dark stubble darkened her ivory skin.

She gave up. Let it take over her face. She never saw Lucas again. She feared that he would fall out of love with her. So, she forced herself to stop loving him. And she simply dropped away from everyone.

She took a bus to the circus, showed the ring master her face. Within the hour she’d become part of a side show. “Dr. Minstrel’s Fleet of Freaks”. Any person with unique or

strange, even terrifying, physical characteristics was recruited to join the “fleet”.

Conjoined twins, the tall man, the short man, the fat woman, the skinny woman. A contortionist, the man with the abnormally long nose. And Anastasia: the bearded lady.

“I never seen another freak show with a real bearded lady,” Dr. Minstrel (whose name, incidentally, was really Harvey Benkler) said. “Mostly them ladies get some sheep’s wool and glue it on their faces or somethin’. Hot dog, lady. You’re gonna be a star!”

Her act required her to dance with a clown. She held a silk scarf over the lower half of her face and beguiled the clown with suggestive eyes and hips. When, at last, the clown leaned in for a kiss, she would pull away the scarf, revealing the beard and sending the clown into mania and the crowd into hysterics. Mothers often covered the eyes of their children. Men called out cries of disgust.

Before and after the show she would sit in a booth. For a nickle, customers could pay to speak with the bearded lady for two minutes. Children would ask to feel her beard. Only children were granted that privilege. Adult would ask why she didn’t shave. If it was real hair. If she was part wolf.

One day a man entered her booth. His smile and brown eyes were far too familiar. But he didn’t recognize her. It was Lucas.

“What is your question,  young man?” she asked, disguising her voice.

“You aren’t like what I thought you’d be,” he said.

“What did you expect?”

“I thought you would be a man dressed like a woman.”

“I assure you that I am not a man.”

“You’re pretty.”

Lucas tried to look at her. She covered her eyes.

“What is your question?”

“I wanted to know if you were lonely. Do you ever want to be in love?”

“No. Now, your time is up. Move along.”

He stood and walked away.

A few days later, Anastasia received a letter. It was sent by her old landlord. Inside was a sealed envelope. The return address was in Lucas’ name. She sat on a tree stump.

Heidi, the skinny woman, walked past.

“You okay, Ana?” Heidi asked.

Anastasia opened the envelope and read the letter.

Dearest Anastasia;

I’ve never stopped thinking of you. In fact, I’ve thought about you so much that I was sure that I saw you.  I was at the county fair and was sure to have talked to you for such a short moment. I looked into eyes as green as any I’ve ever seen that looked just like yours.

Please, dear, come back to me.  I don’t know what I’ve done wrong to send you away from me. But I do know that I can no longer live without you. Marry me, please. I am a desperate man without you.

Love always and in all things,

Lucas

“How could he love this?” she asked, tugging the beard.

“Who? Does somebody love you?” Heidi slumped next to Anastasia.

“Yes. He’s asked me to marry him.”

“That’s wonderful, Ana! Go. Leave this freak show. Go marry the man.”

“But I don’t love him.”

“You’d rather stay with all us than go get married to a man who wants you? What’s wrong with you?”

Anastasia closed her eyes and remembered what it was like to be beautiful. Men would watch her, hold open doors for her, bring her roses. But, with the beard, she had become invisible to them. Not because they didn’t see her, but because they didn’t want to.

“I can never be what he wants.”

“Sure you can. Just shave all that off. He’d never know.”

Lucas had never heard her speak of her dreams. He’d never asked what she adored and hated, what delighted and saddened her. All he knew, all he cared to know, was her beauty. The raven hair and green eyes. The high cheek bones and ivory skin.

“I would rather be the bearded lady than some mindless trophy on the arm of Lucas. How could I go back to that?”

Heidi chewed on her thumbnail. “You’re serious? You’d pick being a freak over being pretty?”

“I don’t know, Heidi. I really don’t.”

That night, during the performance, when the clown leaned in for a kiss, Anastasia pushed him away.

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