Story: ‘The Bearded Lady’ by Annelies Verbeke

('0322' © Cia de Foto, 2009)





Annelies Verbeke is a Belgian novelist who also writes short stories, essays, plays, and screenplays. She made her literary debut in 2003 with the much-lauded novel Slaap! (De Geus Pocket) – Sleep! – which sold over 70,000 copies and was published in twenty-two countries. Her novel-in-stories, Assumptions, was published by World Editions in English in 2015. Thirty Days (World Editions) was shortlisted for prestigious literary prizes and sold over 25,000 copies. Verbeke lives in Ghent, Belgium.



The Bearded Lady

Just as no one can combat the greying of the population by dying their hair, so Emmy Debeuckelaer could not keep her sorrow at bay by giving herself a good shave. At the age of about sixteen, when the beard started growing, she’d still been able to deny it a public outing. She shaved in the mornings before leaving for school, where she shut herself in the toilets with a pocket mirror and a Gillette in the afternoons. Contrary to her intentions, she was thereby ensuring that within a few months the excessive down would turn into tough, ever-present stubble. No matter how great Emmy’s abhorrence of the role, she became the Bearded Lady.

Other than that she had an extremely attractive body, which led some of her classmates to put a sexual proposal to her. The scene they had in mind would be played by six actors and a young woman wearing a mask. Emmy declined the offer and was considered ungrateful. Harassment followed, certainly, but more often she was a voided. They did look, boys and girls, women and men, they looked all the time, some biting their lower lip, others horrified, and all with the curiosity with which people witness natural disasters, just before running to safer ground. Deeply hidden in all those eyes was something else, too, something that was ignored because no one could say quite what it was… Keep reading»


Read & download:
The Bearded Lady’ by Annelies Verbeke,
translated by Liz Waters.

© Annelies Verbeke


With many thanks to Annelies Verbeke and World Editions for granting permission to publish this story in English.

Photograph of author © Keke Keukelaar

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