Lifesaving

Jennifer Hyde

The sun shone brightly while
I plucked my parents from the sea.

It was good weather for drowning. A gentle breeze
fuelled the rolling engine, dragging the bodies that bore me once,
dragging them over and below.

I got my mother first. Plunging in
to pull her out, careful not to crush beneath my care
the ribs and hips and walls of my first home.

She gasped for air as I birthed her through the brine
into the arms of the lifeguard. A strong, healthy girl.

Between the rising waves I see
the greying face of a frightened boy, already twenty metres out.
I didn’t know he couldn’t swim. My father hadn’t liked to say
that no one ever really taught him how.

I go to him and grasp the thinning arm that carried me upstairs to bed,
turn my thighs to face the fading shore
and fling all my love and muscle against the blind ocean.

But the kicking’s not enough. We cannot breathe between each wave,
and it is peaceful not to try. The stars are out
and there are candles on the cake, just ten.

You both sang. My son, I must get you to
shore so that you can be my father once again.

We vomit litres of liquid like drunks onto our sandy feet
as the lifeguard rushes over with a sandwich we can’t look at.

You saved our lives, they say. I thought
I owed you mine. I guess we’re even.

Still now they smile as they tell the tale to friends
of how their daughter plucked them from the sea.

We nearly drowned, you know, he says,
as his hands bravely strain to raise a trembling cup of tea.
There’s not enough dopamine. It destroys the neurons, you see.

My mother cheerfully regales the nurses
as they strap her into the MRI machine
– let me tell you how she saved us!
Good thing she had those swimming lessons, eh?

She’s a strong, healthy girl. There is no cure.
The drugs just slow it down.

And so the sun shines brightly while
I watch my parents shuffle into a sea
from which I cannot save them.