Kristina Marie Darling is the author of nearly twenty books, which include Melancholia (An Essay)
(Ravenna Press, 2012), Petrarchan (BlazeVOX Books, 2013), and Scorched Altar: Selected Poems and
Stories 2007-2014
(BlazeVOX Books, forthcoming). Her awards include fellowships from Yaddo,
the Ucross Foundation, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and the Hawthornden Castle International
Retreat for Writers, as well as grants from the Kittredge Fund and the Elizabeth George
Foundation. She was recently selected as a Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome.

from Frances the Mute

Even before the gunshots, Frances knew she could not speak. She first noticed as a small child, trying to ask questions about the horses: Why do they move so slowly? Why iron, why a blacksmith, and why the nails?
Each word gathered in her mouth like the hem of a white dress. Her lips trembled. Her teeth ached. But there was nothing that could be done. Frances would never be able to call anyone by their name. The horses trotted back, one by one, to the stable. Above them, that unsuitably blue sky.

Before the suicide, and before the trees fell out of bloom, Frances would accompany Darcy to that same meadow. Even then, she could hardly say anything. The words tumbled from her mouth like cold water or the rusted insides of her jewelry box.
When she tried to speak anyway, Darcy did nothing but wait. He took her hand in his and said, Someday. Someday you will sing perfectly. But Frances could only stare. Before long, he tired of waiting and gathered his things to go. First the lunches, then his handkerchief and black valise. As he walked away, the air grew colder and colder. Frances could already sense a change in the weather.
Until then, darling, he whispered. A bientot.

When Darcy came home the next day, it seemed as though everything had changed.
He could no longer do simple things, like open the glass door to the portico. His hands trembled and eventually grew weak.
Frances had always thought Darcy would be the one to look after her. When she grew old, he would fix her toast and read her letters out loud, one word at a time. But winter had come early, bringing its dark windows and glittering frost. Frances mumbled and eventually gave in. The new role suited her, like a lace dress or black velvet shoes.
As she washed china cups and their gold-rimmed saucers, the door to the portico still groaned on its hinges. Before long, Darcy would take matters into his own hands. The house already reeked of burnt embers, or the silver barrel of that shimmering revolver.
But all I can do, thought Frances, is wait.

When morning arrived, Frances and Darcy entered the day slowly. First, coffee in a white china cup. Then little slices of toast.
Their breakfast continued for hours, until Frances reached into her purse for the key. She thought to herself, Surely he must be ready to begin the long walk to the clearing. But he winced at the thought of the trees, the trees, and those magnificent red birds. Still he realized that this was what Frances wanted.
Darcy opened the door and asked, Shall we? He smiled, knowing that his death awaited him in that forest. It would be a quiet affair, he told himself, without any of the bells and sequins that Frances had pinned to the hem of her green silk dress.

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