Ghost Post 15: The Velvet Ribbon

She was beautiful in a strange, mysterious way. Her hair and her deep bottomless eyes were as black as the velvet ribbon around her neck. He planned to marry her before the next full moon rose in the autumn sky.

Madame Paul Poirson, by John Singer Sargent, 1885.
Madame Paul Poirson, by John Singer Sargent, 1885.

At their wedding, he watched her walk towards him up the long aisle, dressed in an ivory gown, an ivory veil, and carrying a bouquet of ivory flowers. Even her face was ivory. But below it, around the ivory neck, was the black velvet ribbon.

He stared at that ribbon as the strains of the wedding march brought his bride nearer to him. He watched the curious and shocked looks on the faces of his guests. But then his eyes met hers, and he was drowning in their bottomless darkness.

He didn’t think of the velvet ribbon during the rest of his wedding day. It was a joyous time, and though people thought his wife was a bit strange, they kept that to themselves. That night, when they were alone, he saw that the ribbon was still there, still circling her lovely neck.

“Don’t you ever take that ribbon from around your neck?”

“You’ll be sorry if I do,” his wife answered, “so I won’t.”

Her answer disturbed him, but he did not question her further.

Their life together fell into a pleasant pattern. They were happy, as most newly married couples are. He found her to be a perfect wife… well, nearly perfect. Although she had a great number of dresses and wore a different one every day, she never changed the black velvet ribbon. This ribbon began to be the test of their marriage. When he looked at her, his eyes would invevitably fall to her neck. When he kissed her, he could feel the ribbon tightening around his own throat.

“Won’t you please take that ribbon from around your neck?” he asked her time and time again.

“You’ll be sorry if I do, so I won’t.” This was always her answer. At first it teased him. Then it began to grate on his nerves. Now it was beginning to infuriate him.

“You’ll be sorry if I do.”

“You’ll be sorry if I do.”

One day he tried to pull the ribbon off after she had repeated her answer, like a mechanical doll. It wouldn’t come loose from her neck. He realized then, for the first time, that the ribbon had no beginning and no end. It circled her neck like a band of steel. He had drawn back from her in disgust that day. Things weren’t the same with them after that.

At the breakfast table, the black ribbon seemed to mock him as he drank his suddenly bitter coffee. In the afternoon, outisde, the ribbon made a funeral out of the sunlight. But it was at night when it bothered him the most. He knew he could live with it no longer.

When the next full moon rose in the autumn sky, he threatened his bride, “Either take that ribbon off, or I will.”

“You’ll be sorry if I do, so I won’t.” She smiled at him and drifted off to sleep.

But he did not sleep. He lay there, staring at the hated ribbon. He had meant what he said. If she would not take off the ribbon, he would.

As she lay sleeping and unsuspecting, he crept out of bed and over to her sewing box. He had seen a small, sharp scissors she kept there. It was thin enough, he knew, to slip between the velvet ribbon and her soft neck. Gripping the scissors in his trembling hands, he walked softly back to the bed. He came up to where she lay and stood over her. Her head was thrown back on the pillow, and her throat with the black velvet ribbon around it rose ever so slightly with her breathing.

He bent down, and with one swift movement, forced the thin blade of the scissors under the ribbon. With a quick, triumphant snip, he severed the ribbon that had come between them.

The black velvet ribbon fell away from his wife’s neck. Her head rolled off the pillow and landed on the floor with a thump. Her black eyes sprang open.

“You’ll be sorry,” she said unblinkingly. “You’ll be sorry…”


This freaked me out as a kid. Seeing Mme. Poirson’s portrait at the DIA last weekend, the story came rushing back quicker than I could say ‘you’ll be sorry.’
I found (and lightly edited) this version from Middle School Poetry 180.

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7 thoughts on “Ghost Post 15: The Velvet Ribbon”

  1. I remember this story as a kid– telling it at slumber parties with flashlights spooking out my face. Now that I’m old and jaded I’m wondering if maybe the woman has experienced something horrifying or traumatic that has left a sort of “mark” on her but she has largely moved beyond, if only her husband would just leave it alone. After all, it’s only a ribbon. But if he insists on removing it… everything they have will be ruined.


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