Jan/Feb 2022  •   Miscellany

Hester Prynne at Victoria's Secret

by Gilbert Allen

Artwork by Dale Bridges

Artwork by Dale Bridges

Hester Prynne at Victoria's Secret

I submit to Mr. Secretary Steward that he ought to make diplomatic remonstrances to the British Ministry, and require them to take such order that the Queen shall not any longer bewilder the wits of our poor compatriots by responding to their epistles and thanking them for their photographs.
                        —Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Consular Experiences"

She'd learned a lot from the critics, especially
the one who praised her as
"A Clitoralist of the Imagination"
and made her decide to check out
those shifting semiotics
for herself.

At the Coverdale Mall, next to the busiest
scaffold she'd ever seen, a teenager
with a wedding ring through her eyebrow
told her to take her four-point-O
and shove it up her ass. The girl—
no bigger than Pearl—strode
through this domed Paradise of perfect trees
like a denim serpent.

Soon, Hester was fielding questions
about her sorority chapter, her cheerleading
routines, her floppy disk capacity, and
the Atlanta Braves. But because her creator

had reverently mentioned
the name, and because (despite everything)
she still loved fabrics
to die for, she entered that palace
filled with lifeless sinners, frozen
in various states of undress, beseeching
an audience.

She displayed the Queen's glossy request.

Dolly, the lady in waiting whose name
thrust itself forward with a rococo
D, convinced her her only crime
was not making herself
a bigger person.

"Bless your heart, honey.
With a good bustier
you could at least be looking
at a starlet B."

She made the necessary verifications
in the Royal Dressing Room, saw her new self
from every uplifting angle, in that monarchy
of mirrors and heavenly lights.
Before she left for the register
she picked up something
for Pearl, with just enough satin
for doubled A's, at the strategic points.

"Something to aim for,"
Dolly suggested.

And for Dimmesdale? Something
in black, something in the raciest
lace she could find, something
he could wear in secret
for his new Victoria, for the Hester
that would lash his heart.