“Ontario” By Maija Hecht

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.

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