The Frozen Pond
Jessica Dylan Miele
waiting just for you
Alexander and Gillian are twins, but it takes Alexander two years before he finally allows himself to be born. Their father advocates for the surgery to pull him out, but their mother says, Patience, please. Their mother has to speak through her tears, because her son has not stopped crying since the moment he knew himself. Their mother is so overflowing with emotion that Gillian, who has not yet spoken a word, drinks her mother’s milk salted with tears. Curled inside his mother’s womb, Alexander misses his sister and trusts his mother’s infinite affection, but he does not trust the rest of the world to be so welcoming. Finally, their mother is done with sharing her body and she sings about Soren-Lucas, the boy Alexander is destined to be with. He is waiting, she sings. He has hair like the sun, eyes the color of bay leaves, and a mouth just for you. Believing his mother, Alexander slides out into the world with his eyes open and his mother swaddles him in a yellow blanket and holds him close.
Gillian wants to know if there is someone waiting for her, but she does not have the means to ask, and their mother thinks she is being fussy because she now has to share everything with her brother. Don’t be selfish, Gillian is told, and learns again and again that to keep something for yourself is very bad.
Alexander and Gillian braid their hair
Their father leaves them a few years later for another woman, another life. Alexander is not terribly upset at the loss, because there is so much of his mother he only has time to concentrate on what she can teach him. But Gillian yearns to have her father back, and continues to set the table with four place settings. What upsets Gillian even more is that her brother doesn’t feel what she feels, and their mother teaches them how to sing so that they can appreciate the importance of harmony. She also teaches the twins how to braid their long, glossy brown hair.
On a cold February night, Gillian sneaks into their brother’s bed to keep warm and they weave their hair together to create one thickset plait. Though they fall asleep on the same pillow, Gillian wakes up with all the hair and Alexander has none. Soren-Lucas would like you like this, their mother tells Alexander, stroking his bald head. And immediately he forgives his sister.
Gillian refuses to cut out the braid. When their mother comes at her with scissors she screams and tries to barricade herself in their bedroom closet.
the sound of Soren-Lucas
At school, the other children find it easy to like Gillian but not Alexander, and Gillian can’t explain her secret of fitting in. The other children sit at their desk just like Alexander sits, but somehow he sits differently. He can’t stop petting his eyebrow when he gets nervous even though he knows the other children don’t like that. When the teacher talks about the science of ice, Gillian has a bouquet of questions but when Alexander asks one, the other children show him their teeth and tell him his voice sounds like his tongue is too big for his mouth. They try to pull his hair and spit in his pretty face at recess but he escapes to the swings, whizzing up and back and up again, moving to the pendulum sound of Soren-Lucas, Soren-Lucas, Soren-Lucas. The other children ask Gillian what it means and she pretends not to know.
Schmalexander, why do you talk so funny? they ask him, and he keeps his eyes open as he swings past them, seeing them and not seeing them at all.
Someday Alexander will sing his song to Soren-Lucas, and Soren-Lucas will be amazed at how he can control his breath. Alexander still has no clue what this boy looks like beyond hair and eye color, nor where to find him, but he knows what he will feel like when he finds him, and that is enough to keep swinging.
When Gillian and Alexander turn sixteen, they both feel messy, like their eggs have just been cracked and their yokes are spilling over everything. Gillian bleeds every month and uses up all the hot water in the shower; Alexander wants to rub himself on everything, and decorate the whole world with his stuff. They share as few secrets with each other as possible, but then Gillian can’t resist crawling into bed beside her brother and telling him about the frozen pond at the darkest part of the forest.
It is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to her, or so she thinks. It might not be a pond, she tells Alexander. It’s very small. It’s late at night, and they are both looking up at the glow-in-the-dark stars on their ceiling. It’s been so long since they’ve whispered in the dark that Alexander has forgotten how much he loves his sister’s breathy voice. It reminds him of when they used to blow over the lip of glass bottles to make music.
How can something be frozen when it’s already summer? Alexander asks. He’s been counting down the days until summer vacation since September.
I think there’s someone down there, says Gillian. I can see a hand pushing against the other side.
You must have seen a fish.
I saw a hand, says Gillian.
What are you going to do?
Wait until it melts.
What if it never melts?
Gillian doesn’t respond. Not because she has fallen asleep, but because she doesn’t have anything more to say.
the frozen pond at the darkest part of the forest
Alexander doesn’t believe his sister, but he skips school the next day and ventures to the forest near his house to investigate anyhow. He is mostly excited about something that is frozen at even this time of year. His sister’s pond is not his, but it is something that would belong to him if only he had gotten to it first. Every part of the forest is dark with shadows, but there is the smell of cedar trees in the air, a slightly sweet, soothing smell that gives him courage. He arrives at the spot his sister told him about, and he knows that he has found the right place when he feels a pain deep inside his chest. The first time he saw the ocean expanding before him, it was an encounter of such incredible beauty he felt like he might die, and he feels like that now. He gets down on his hands and knees, and sees something move beneath the ice.
It could be a fish, but the feeling inside his chest tells him that his sister was right. He doesn’t wait for the ice to melt. He smashes his fist into the ice, and smashes it again with his other fist with a power he never knew he possessed. His knuckles are bleeding when he finally breaks through, and he reaches in as far as he can. The water is so frighteningly cold he can’t breathe. His fingers hook onto something solid and he pulls it up. It’s the arm of a boy, connected to a shoulder, connected to a head. The boy’s hair is dark auburn and his eyes are closed. His lips are blue. Alexander feels for his waist and hauls him all the way out of the pond. The boy’s mouth moves and Alexander bends down close to hear.
So cold, so cold, the boy says.
Let’s get you back to my house, says Alexander.
Hold me, says the boy.
I can do that, says Alexander. He wraps his arms cautiously around the boy’s soggy body, who lay on his side with his knees tucked into his chest. He can feel the boy’s coldness infecting him, making him shiver. You’re not Soren-Lucas, says Alexander. He wishes he was home in bed, underneath the covers.
My name is Paul, says the boy. Kiss me.
I won’t kiss you, Paul, says Alexander. My mouth belongs to Soren-Lucas. He has hair like the sun, eyes the color of bay leaves, and a mouth waiting just for me.
So cold, so cold, says Paul.
And that is when Gillian swoops in, with her shiny nut-brown hair in a fancy french braid, and gold bracelets jingling around her wrist. Without a word, she pushes her brother out of the way and mounts her prince, kissing him and hugging him, pulling off her shirt to wipe him dry.
Alexander looks away, wrapping his arms around himself. The pain in his chest hurts worse than before.
Gillian and Alexander’s mother dies
The years go by, and Alexander leaves his small town and moves into a different time zone. He becomes a dentist and sticks his hands into other people’s mouths for a living. Men and women, some with blonde hair, some with green eyes, hit on Alexander but he turns down the offers and spends his nights alone.
His sister becomes a dentist also, but she stays in their hometown. She marries Paul on a Sunday morning, at the meadow on the other side of the forest. Alexander does not attend the wedding at the last minute, because he has what feels like a heart attack. At the emergency room, the doctors tell Alexander that he is perfectly healthy, and is only suffering from a broken heart.
But I haven’t yet met the one I love, says Alexander.
It could also be loneliness, says the doctor. Why don’t you let me take you to the top of the mountain tonight? The fresh air will do you some good.
When their mother dies, it is the first time Alexander realizes that his mother might have been keeping secrets from him, and that Soren-Lucas might not exist. When he returns home for the funeral, he shows up at the house, which now belongs to Gillian. He lets his sister hug him. She smells like soap and lilacs, like their mother.
Alexander and Paul finally kiss
It isn’t something they can stop. Gillian leaves them alone in the middle of the afternoon to buy groceries, and as soon as she leaves the sun floods into the living room despite the blinds tightly closed. It is one of those kisses, those ordinary kisses where everything fits together, Alexander putting his tongue into Paul’s mouth, and it is inevitable that they take off their clothes, and Paul’s chest is broad and hairy, and Alexander is scrawny but he loves himself, each part of himself that Paul’s hands touch.
They have to be fast because Gillian will be back at any moment. But when it’s over, they are still touching each other, still kissing even as Paul steps into the shower and Alexander pretends to take a nap on the couch.
Gillian takes herself out on a solo date. She wears a new purple dress with a swishy skirt and a rose gold pendant blooming on her chest. She doesn’t bother telling Paul and Alexander where she is going because she knows they don’t care, but she stands before them with a hand on her hip, daring them to come clean about what they’ve been doing behind her back. Alexander sits on the floor before the coffee table, playing chess with himself, moving each pawn with gentle, ruthless strokes. Paul is in the easy chair, looking at the open book in his lap without turning the page. That’s a nice dress, says Paul.
Alexander is now forwarding his mail to their address, and he keeps asking Gillian to share her practice with him. For now, her brother is still sleeping in the guest bed but he might as well be snoring between them in the master bed, stealing all the covers and with his back to Gillian, treating Paul like a teddy bear.
Gillian kisses her husband before she leaves, and Paul’s lips are as dead as a fish. She doesn’t lock the door.
At the restaurant, she orders a slice of every kind of pie they have. When the waiter sets each plate before her, he teases her about her sweet tooth, and she doesn’t give him a smile until it registers how green his eyes are and how yellow his hair. His nametag reads, Hi! I’m So.
Soren-Lucas, Gillian whispers. And then she can’t stop talking. You’re Soren-Lucas. Soren-Lucas! It really is true. I bet we only have a few years until that hair of yours goes gray.
Keep it down, says the waiter.
You have to come with me right now, says Gillian. She rises from her chair, fork still in hand. He’s been waiting for you all his life. His whole life he owes to you, and just look, you actually are a Soren-Lucas. Do you know I always thought your name was ridiculous? Ridiculous and also the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard. Oh, you must come with me at once.
I’m taken, says the waiter. I’ve been married for fifteen years.
You didn’t wait for Alexander? Well, he didn’t wait for you either. He almost lasted, but he couldn’t possibly be to blame. It’s so difficult to survive loneliness, isn’t it? Loneliness can drive you mad.
I’m afraid I’m not who you think I am. Enjoy your pie. Cherry is my favorite.
He goes with her even as he tells her he wouldn’t. He walks her to her car, hand squeezing her elbow even as he tells her he has other customers to tend to and to kindly allow him to move along. He folds his long body into the passenger seat and buckles his seatbelt even as he tells her he will have to ask her to please leave the premises.
You can stop pretending now, says Gillian. I’m just asking you to meet him. You get to choose whatever else you do, so relax. Here, you can even hold my hand as I hold the steering wheel.
Why do you think you know who I am? His hand is warm when he touches hers.
I’ve known you practically my whole life.
I don’t know where you’re taking me.
Gillian smiles at him, her lips wet with spit. She says, If you were paying attention, you’d know.
As she pulls into the driveway, Soren-Lucas leaves his hand on hers. The car is still running, and she realizes they had been driving the whole time with the radio playing static. Her brother and her husband are dancing together. She can see their shadowy bodies turn into each as they sweep around the living room, not talking about her, not thinking about her, wishing she would go away forever.
Shall we go in? asks Soren-Lucas. I’d like to know the song they are dancing to.
Let’s stay in the car forever, says Gillian. Or that’s what she thinks to say, but she knows that would be impossible and so instead she meets her mouth with Soren-Lucas’ mouth.
But I’m married, says Soren-Lucas. But he keeps the kiss going, and they both have their eyes closed, and Soren-Lucas tastes like french fries.
While his sister is in the driveway, fogging up the windows, Alexander races Paul up the stairs to the bathroom. They let the cold water fill the tub, as cold as they can stand it, and then they hold onto each other as the coldness spills around them. Alexander holds onto Paul, the same way a baby holds onto his mother, and yet Alexander doesn’t trust his lover, not completely, because why would he, when nobody ever told him that this person was the one meant for him.
Jessica Dylan Miele is a writer, librarian, and teacher living in Portland, Oregon. Her short stories have been published in numerous literary magazines including Quail Bell, Coming Together, Spickety Love, and Gingerbread House. Her short story was also featured on Short Stories Podcast. You can find her online at JessicaReads.com.