Wildfire breathing down our necks. I don’t remember who said the last word, or where we went quiet. Just falling asleep. Eyes half-lidded, heavy. Breathing honey-tongued under nicotine. Told me you’d quit but you were always telling me things. Somewhere up north it’s been burning for weeks and we’d left the windows open, so with the sun sliding up the floor like it was and smoke wafting through the house, everything was smelling like cedar — you grabbed the keys. We drove to the lake. The one we never swim in. Too choked in weeds and that green-algae shit that makes your legs itch. Funny now, after a sunscreen-summer of public gravel beaches I would give anything to feel those slimy leaves around my ankles. But that was before I’d ever left home. It was spring then. Cold. We killed the engine. In the moment between the key and the birds that yawning heavy-thing opened up. The silence I don’t know what to do with. So I walked to the water. So still our footsteps cast ripples. Smoke sitting on the surface — or fog hard to tell. Could barely see the green through it. I was picking at the string still tied to my fingers. Supposed to keep me from forgetting. You told me to make a wish for each knot but I ran out of things to want for. Maybe I should hope for something else. Maybe — I’m watching an otter make his morning rounds. Watching you, watching him swim. Has it really been so long that I haven’t seen how thin, the skin under your eyes? Maybe I —
— Haven’t been sleeping lately. Today I woke up before my alarm. You know that moment of panic when you think you’ve overslept but it’s really just your body doing what it’s supposed to do on its own? Maybe that’s the problem. I reached around for a pair of socks and tied my shoes. Out the door before the sun came up. I was wearing your shirt again. The green one. That color I always used to say was most like you. I’m sorry I haven’t given it back — it makes me feel safe. I brought it home with me, over break. He said he liked it, this morning. We were “grabbing coffee.” We haven’t done that since the last time he broke up with his girlfriend — yes, the same one. No, I don’t miss him. I’m just trying to tell you about the shirt. He said he liked it. He asked if it felt like velvet and I offered him the sleeve. I said no. I hate the feel of velvet. Last time you wore it you were saying you miss me, but you were always telling me things. I was always trying to tell you about the river but I don’t think you listened. I walked there today. The water is covered in ice and looks like skin under a microscope. Melt-mottled thin to the water below. I smoked a cigarette on the walk home. After all that shit I gave you about your lungs turning black. I still tie strings around my fingers. I wonder if you’d laugh, to see me doing that. I wonder if you still smoke. I still can’t think of many things to hope for. Maybe I should stop. Rolling the memory around like I do, it’s not the same after you think about it too much.
Maija Hecht has a memory like a goldfish, so her writing is a last-ditch effort at remembering the details of a moment before they’re lost. Her writing focuses on memory, words in translation, and water. She is a Junior at Macalester College, currently studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina.