Lia says, “I want to swim to the pier,”
and I look out past the buoys
to the white structure in the dark water.
“It’s kind of far. It’s over your head,” I answer,
and Lia noses forward. “Help me, Mom!”
I offer her my forearm.
She clamps on with heavy hands,
and kicks like crazy
while I sidestroke our way
to the floating clapboards.
Lia’s feet slide
as she climbs the algae-coated ladder,
then flees across the planks
and jumps into the deep again
calling, “Help me, Mom!”
as though this is child’s play.
I extend my arm again,
all the while knowing she had
nothing at all to hold onto
when her foster father plunged her
into the dark of his bed,
told her he loved her,
and did every unimaginable thing.
If Lia gasped for air from under his heavy hand
and called, “Help me!”
no one came,
and certainly not her foster mother,
who assured me Lia was safe
with her dark, wet eyes,
fresh as rotting sea grapes.
Lia jumps into the cool lake again
pushing on my arm
craning her head above the water’s surface.
Shortly we are both exhausted,
fueled only by adrenaline.
But I swim her to the pier’s slick ladder
time after time
and we both believe,
for these short moments,
that I have saved her.