The Arctic Circle

By Kristina Marie Darling

October 2014



Wind shook the fence around our yard. A shadow appeared beneath the window. But it wasn't the marble statue or a deer. It wasn't the birdbath with its small store of ice. The shadow was cast by your first wife, returning after our wedding. So long after she'd left that you'd stopped watching for signs.


The garden was all thistle and frost. I was surprised she recognized the small iron gate, the iced-over trees. For years I had been living in her house, wearing her clothes, answering to her name.

I could no longer step outside without my hands shaking.  Your real wife stood there like a buck, waiting to charge.



After you left for work, my hair lightened. My mouth turned the color of your first wife's favorite lipstick: light pink, with the tiniest hint of shimmer. I placed my old clothes in boxes, started to label them. Then I struck a match, lit them all on fire.


When you got home, dinner was waiting. Forks and knives glittered next to our plates. Before long you saw the heap of ashes in the living room. I had swept them into a little pile beneath the armchair. But you never asked how the fire started.

You stood there with your hair slicked backed, smiling. Then you touched my blonde hair, my pale pink lips, and said, This is why I married you . . . 



Little dishes lined the cabinet above the stove. When we moved into the house, I made you coffee every morning.


The stove was old, but I didn't expect it to turn the bottom of the kettle black. I poured your coffee into a china cup. You drank it slowly because it never tasted right. I always made too much, and you didn't want me to know. So when you left for the office, you took the cup and saucer with you.

The dishes started to disappear. Before long the cabinet was almost empty. Then one morning as I made your coffee, my ring fell in the cup. I knew it was only a matter of time before everything else would be carried away.


The Arctic Circle

Sometimes at night you disappeared. You were only a heap of blankets, not even a body but the crumpled sheets in an empty bed.


When you left I tried to follow you, worried the neighbors would find you shivering in the street. You had a strange way of showing affection. Once you sent me a letter after you went missing. I never opened it, afraid it warned me of divorce or suicide. The plain white envelope had been mailed from Greenland, Norway, or Alaska; I know it was somewhere north of here.

After you disappeared for the last time, I wondered if the needle on your compass could be trusted. There's a difference between ordinary north and true north, and I had never even bothered to explain it to you.



The day we met, you were walking your dog in the park. It was windy. We could sense the blizzard coming, heaving its frost and the dead weight of the snowflakes.


I tried to tell you my name, but hair kept blowing in my eyes. The storm twisted my statements into questions: I'm not married? I remind you of...? I started to imagine the other women you talked to, their silk dresses and long winter coats. Then you shook your head as though you knew.

When you walked away, I remembered that the location of the Arctic Circle has been known to shift. I made a list of the precautions I would take. By then the blizzard had already come.          



When I woke in the middle of the night, I saw another woman in the glass. She looked the way I had always imagined your first wife: white blonde, pink lipstick with a hint of sparkle.


I climbed back into bed and you asked me why I was shivering. I told you I was cold, but really I wasn't. I knew I could never sleep in the same house as her. That was when I noticed something glittering on the side of your mouth. I told myself I was imagining things, but even I didn't believe it.

After we'd been married a few years, things started to make sense. You never told me the house was haunted because you hoped it wasn't. Every night, when you thought I was sleeping, you kissed that woman on the other side of the mirror.


Your Only Wife


In the beginning, you had imagined something different. So I can only try harder: hair curled, waist cinched, and every ribbon stitched in place. You watch my hands buttoning and unbuttoning that elaborate dress. The endless lace rustling at my feet. But nothing seems to move you. Our room grows colder and colder. There's no furnace, no telephone, and the matches in your suit pocket have already been burned. A milky haze settles in your eyes. Near the window, a flock of birds gather together for warmth.


Before long snow descends on our enormous house. I keep trying to warm the endless rooms. You sense that what you had imagined is impossible: the faint music, the chandeliers, and the bride's mind gone pale with waiting. I know I think too much about the weather. So I give back each of your vows, place that white envelope in your shaking hand. The wax seal dark as the inside of a cabinet, or my mouth trying and trying to say your name. That's when the air grows even colder. I can still feel the weight of that magnificent ring on my finger.