Loneliness can be a great motivator. It can be debilitating, but it can also lead us to reevaluate our lives, our values, and our decisions. In some cases, it can even ignite our imaginations, our deepest desires. In the case of the Tsurara Onna, or the Icicle Woman, one of Japan’s many Yokai, even a snowflake can become a man’s wildest dreams when he’s been alone long enough and allows his mind to wander.
But sometimes things aren’t exactly what they seem.
Without further ado, I present “Itsuki’s Snowflake”.
Itsuki stared out the window of his flat, watching the dazzling, crystalline snowflakes fall in an orchestrated ballet of silent beauty. He knew he should feel something for the coming winter, but followed their swirling descent with resigned apathy. It was, after all, just another season—another time of the year for the creep of bitter, cold loneliness.
A single flake landed on the glass of the window, directly in his line of sight. He admired its intricate lattice work and strong, hexagonal structure. As a feat of engineering, it wouldn’t hold under the slightest pressure. As a work of art, it would last a hundred lifetimes. He traced its angles with his fingernail, appreciating its uniqueness and wishing for a beautiful snowflake to call his own.
“By my name, if I had a bride half as beautiful as this…” he said, thinking about his job, all the long days at the office, and the conference calls at weird hours of the night with his American constituents. “Alas, it cannot be,” he lamented, watching the snowflake melt into a tiny drop of water that trickled away from him like everything else.
The next evening, Itsuki found himself yet again gazing out the window. The peaceful snowfall from the night before had whirled itself into a frenzy of blistering wind and white fury. He couldn’t even find the skyscrapers across the road through the flurry.
The sound of his door flying open and the sudden howl of wind ripped him from his thoughts. He turned to see the invader, snow, blowing into his flat and a young woman with light, blue eyes sitting cross-legged on his tatami mat. Shivering, she held her arms around her body. Snow blew in waves around her silhouette.
Itsuki rushed to close the door, already snow was piling in the entryway. He peeked his head into the hallway, but everything seemed normal. Same halogen lights, same stretch of identical, closed doorways, and same blinking exit sign at the end.
Once his door was securely shut and latched, and the puddling snow patted from the floor, he found a blanket for the woman and offered it with his head bowed.
“No thank you,” she said, smiling at him. “I don’t so much mind the cold.”
He bowed again, and removed himself to brew them some tea, as his mother had taught him to do when guests arrive. Even unexpected and impossible guests.
She stayed with him, this unexpected and impossible woman, over the weeks to come. She helped keep his house, went on long walks around the city with him, and asked him all sorts of questions like a child learning the ways of the world.
“What are buildings?”
“Don’t people get trapped inside of them?”
“Where are all the trees and the animals?”
“How can one touch the sky every day and still feel grounded when she comes back down?”
Itsuki very much enjoyed answering her questions. The way she nodded her excitement and squealed her delight made him feel worthy, important. It also made him think about romance and children.
Always, though, she insisted the flat be kept to frigid temperatures. So frigid, in fact, Itsuki took to wearing his winter coat through all hours of the day.
Always, too, she’d say, “I don’t so much mind the cold.”
They fell in love that winter, got married, and never left each other’s side. Itsuki couldn’t believe his good fortune, couldn’t see why he deserved such an amazing woman as his new wife. He wanted to shout it out his window, to let everyone in Tokyo know, but he also wanted to keep her all to himself.
“Maybe if I just introduce her to my family,” he said. “Maybe then I’d have the satisfaction of sharing her with the world and keeping her as mine and mine alone.”
So, he introduced his beautiful snowflake to her father- and mother-in-law, as well as her brother-in-law. All loved each other and laughed together from the first.
I am the most blessed man, Itsuki thought. I wish this never ends.
But his father, who had lived many years and survived many harsh winters, and was little more than thin skin and brittle bone, said, “It’s colder than a blizzard in here, Itsuki.”
As the eldest in the family, afforded the reverence deserved of someone so aged and wise, he helped himself to the thermostat. Soon, hot air filled the flat, providing comfort and warmth for the happy, growing family.
Itsuki’s snowflake began to look ill, her cheeks flushed and her bangs matted to her forehead with sweat.
“My dear, are you unwell?” Itsuki’s mother asked.
“I… I’m just a bit warm is all.”
“But it was so cold in here before. Don’t you feel much better now?”
“I don’t so much mind the cold,” she said, fanning her face with her delicate fingers. “Please, excuse me.” She took her leave of the family and shut herself in the bathroom.
Itsuki checked on her, but she insisted she was okay. He could barely hear her over the cascading tinkle of the shower. He shrugged and returned to his parents and his brother, who were worried about the poor woman.
“She looked as if she might burn up completely,” his mother said.
“My snowflake is just overwhelmed, is all. I don’t think she’s ever had a family to speak of. She’s flush with happiness.”
Accepting Itsuki’s assurance, they returned to reminiscing about old times and dreaming about future possibilities.
A long time passed and yet his snowflake did not return. He excused himself and let himself into the bathroom with the key above the doorframe. The shower continued to run, cold bath water flooding out of the tub. Itsuki cried out for her, but she was nowhere to be found. There were no windows on this side of his flat and, even if there had been, they were twenty stories up. He hadn’t heard the door open or seen her leave through the hallway. There was nowhere she could have gone.
He noticed something odd in the water flowing out of the tub and knelt to get a closer look. There, partially melted and floating across the surface of the water was a tiny snowflake—the same snowflake he’d seen on his window so many months before.