In the frost of winter, a sheet of ice would encapsulate the large pond on the Ueda Estate. Amidst the winds bombarding the superficial body of water, the ice, in return, would thicken. The slightest temperature change would leave the seemingly sturdy surface a tumultuous path to cross, in fears of it cracking under pressure. Shifting of warmth beneath the pond’s surface would give off a deafening sound of splintering ice. The hollowness of the echo would reverberate through Aya’s fingertips.
One year, the splintering was loud enough that Aya didn’t need to put her ear to the icy plane. The ringing of a high-pitched frequency filled the space. With the desire for a lower hum, Aya made her way to the middle of the pond. Each step she took precarious as the next, but a low rumble caused Aya to stiffen in place. The maids on the Ueda Estate were frantic at the eight-year-old traversing over the half-frozen pond. The longer she stood out there, the louder the sounds became, and soon her fears of the ice giving way became more apparent.
The image of plunging into the frosty waters below caused Aya to cry out for help. The image of her father bounding toward her evoked a memory of warmth as she felt her father pulling her into his embrace. Smells of mixing paint infused in his clothes and his hair windblown. The incident caused a fight between her parents. As the years passed, it was the day Aya realized that the relationship her parents maintained was akin to that of a half-frozen pond in the tail end of winter. Appearing to be harmonious but shaky was the foundation of her parent’s marriage. Every so often, if you listen close enough, there would be an audible fracture, but it would recover by the chilling facade they readily wear. Delving headfirst back into an illusion.
Lurching awake, Aya felt a curtain of cold sweat and the long-buried memory present itself before her. The subtle noises from the kitchen were her usual morning wake-up call. Aya would make her way down to timely witness her mother and father routinely display a loving interaction between longtime husband and wife. The kiss they shared before parting ways seemed more out of habit rather than out of affection. It was the type of scene Aya’s parents wanted to show her. Her mother wanted to be portrayed as a successful but dutiful wife. Aya’s father, a dependable and loving husband. A front-row seat to a play crafted especially for her. In return, they both cast Aya as a witness to their ‘undying’ love. It was characters that they as a family slipped into through Aya’s adolescences, so who was she to impose on her parent’s game of make-believe?
As she got older, the play was no longer convincing and her parents were no longer committed to their roles. Aya watched as her father calmly placed his suitcase down as he poured his morning coffee. An uncomfortable silence strangled the room, a frigid chill ran up Aya’s spine. Signs of the oncoming storm were perceivable. Aya got up from her seat, making herself scarce. It was out of habit, turning a blind eye to her parent’s problem. It was a courtesy she provided, but the iciness of her parents is her unrelenting reality and Aya grew tired of being kept in the dark to the in-congruencies they refuse to show her. Shutting the front door, loud enough for them to hear before creeping her way back up the hall to listen.
“Why are you leaving again?” a woman’s voice shouted, as it was Aya’s mother who threw down the gauntlet first. “You said that you wouldn’t go on your ‘business trips’ anymore,” she screamed. “Does Director Ueda know that his precious grandson is running off to get plundered?” she sneered. Aya jumped at the insinuation.
A slam on the table made the woman jolt up from her seat as Aya cowered in the hallway. The ugly expression on the man’s face was a warning to the woman’s unthought-out words. “Who are you to talk about my family,” he hissed, curling his lips up into a smirk. “Out of the both of us, I’m pretty sure you’re the expert on extramarital activities,” he spat as the news came as a shock for the teenager. “Don’t push your insecurities onto me, Miki.” The blatant disregard caused Miki to shrink as he poked at her mistakes, but he didn’t stop. “You never wanted to marry me out of love but as a backup plan,” Aya’s father exposed Miki’s greed, embarrassed by his straightforwardness. She straightened her shoulders to retaliate.
“You made me this way!” she yelled at her husband. “Eisuke, I am giving you my heart and you’re stomping on it,” she whimpered, as the frustration finally got to her. Miki was aware of Eisuke’s opposition to their engagement. But thought that if they spent time together, he would eventually come to care for her. She was wrong. Besides the affectionate scene they played for their daughter every morning, Miki’s marriage was in a state of desolation. Years of an empty nest, even Director Ueda, inquired about children. The months of trying for a child were bliss for Miki. Thinking it settled her worries. But the confirmation of Miki’s pregnancy brought about the usual cold spell that dwelled within their relationship.
“I never asked for it.” Eisuke’s calm voice shook both Miki and Aya to the core. “Before we got married, I warned you. That I couldn’t give you the type of love you were craving for, but you and your family persisted.” Eisuke’s tone got louder. “You wanted to find a perch, but now you 're unsatisfied with the view, then by all mean, climb down,” he said. “Your manager is more than willing to take care of you,” Eisuke chuckled at the memory of discovering a stranger in his bed, laying on top of his wife. “He doesn’t earn any less than I do, so he could provide you with a comfortable life and unconditional love. Yet, you still hang on to this husk of a marriage. Why do you think that is?” he stared into Miki’s eyes.
“Because I love you,” Miki spoke, shifting her eyes away. The silence filled the place between them as the tension was so thick that the clicking from the wall clock seemed to intensify with each passing second.
“Miki,” Eisuke sighed, standing up as he grabbed his suitcase. “We need space to think if this is what we want. Lying to our daughter by pretending to be something we’re not. I would never cheat on you, but my answer’s the same. I can’t love you the way you want me to.” After saying his piece, Miki collapsed on the floor crying her heart out. Eisuke looked at his wife, wanting to comfort her, but thought it would do more harm than good, and instead left the dining room. His footsteps stopped short as Aya was standing in front of him, leaning against the wall with tears streaming down her face. Seeing the weary face he wore, Aya said nothing and followed him out of the house. The silence between them prolonged as Aya squeezed his hand tightly as if he was going to disappear.
“Do you hate mom?” Aya’s soft voice penetrated Eisuke’s ears, feeling regret that his daughter had to witness such an ugly scene.
“Of course not,” Eisuke spoke without hesitation, knowing the older Aya becomes, the harder it would be to hide the truth. “It’s just...that I can’t anymore, Darling,” he said closing his eyes.
In that instant, a low reverberated splinter of thin ice that Aya steadied herself on appeared. She realized that no illusion could withstand the weight of reality.
Aya felt the gravity of her father’s words as he was lifting the curtain on their production. The only thing that held them together were splices of DNA, and nothing more. Aya’s stomach churned as she witnessed the mask her father donned for eighteen years crumble to dust in an instant. She was angry and upset, but most of all, she was scared. He washed away the normalcy she took for granted with but a few words. The winter breeds ice over their man-made illusionary pond gave way. Plunging into the depths of reality, Aya’s throat felt as if she swallowed ice shards, as she struggled to withhold her tears that threatened to fall. She wanted to scream at her father and say ‘stop being stubborn and love her, but she couldn’t.
There was no ignorance curt enough to ignore what was in front of them. It was a cold hard truth that her parents weren’t happy, not after today’s explosion. It was a hard pill for Aya to swallow, but she had to swallow it. She watched her father’s form crumple, wondering if he felt just as uncomfortable as she did. Aya watched his usual straighten shoulders concave a fraction inward, as his demeanor went from resolute to anxiety-ridden.
“Your mother and I, we have treated you with no thought. The falsities within our marriage have become blatant with each passing year. But, I know it wouldn’t have lasted this long without your aid,” he spoke. “You, Darling, are the greatest thing that I ever received and I want you to know that,” Eisuke’s trembling hand reached out to grasp her own. It glazed his eyes over with emotion as Aya felt her previous anger dissipate into nothingness. The game of ‘make-believe’ as of late was wearing thin, reality scowling in Aya’s face. As the thin ice, she balanced her life on was soon to evaporate with the changing of the seasons. The play she would watch in the mornings was nothing more than a scene crafted by her parents out of sheer convenience. Aya could not help but show a weary expression as a low reverberating crack resounded once more, with not a pond in sight.