pages The End of the Beginning

by Jenna Heller

Published in Issue No. 286 ~ March, 2021

It was new ice. Solid at the edges. Thin in the middle. Nicholas slid around the perimeter in his snow boots. Venturing in a little bit and in a little more. It’s fine, he called out. Then hurried back to put his skates on, tightening and double-knotting the laces. It’s thick enough. A little thinner at the far side but still okay. We kissed before he skated away, and then I sat there off to the side on a cold rock with a blanket wrapped all the way around me to keep my bum and legs warm.

I told him to be careful, but he laughed it off, skated counter-clockwise. First skate of the season, he said. I’ll get you out here sooner than you think. All smiles and red cheeks, leaning toward the center, leg over leg, skate over skate, the blades like sharpening knives, the ice shifting. I shivered and wondered how long we’d be there. Picked up my phone.

When he broke through and crashed into the water, he called out, It’s okay! I got this, and I took him at his word. Stayed cocooned in my blanket, watched him thrash about, the ice continually breaking apart as he tried to hoist himself up and out of the water.

Later, after he showered, we sat on the couch in front of the fire. He took my hand in his own and whispered, Why didn’t you even try to help me?

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Jenna Heller is an American living in New Zealand. She is currently working on a collection of short fiction and poetry, and seeking publication of her first novel. More of her writing can be found in Poetry NZ, Popshot, *82 Review, and Takahē.