When Sarah was not-quite-two and I was not-quite-twelve, she ran headlong off the side of a pier that jutted over the frothy waves and shattered rocks of a beach on the West Coast. Or she would have, if I had not grabbed her shirt collar in the moment between her launch into space and her inability to fly.
I stood by the pier rails and was in the perfect position to grab her, but even so I made a near-miss of it. She was serious about jumping. Swimming. Flying. I screamed her name and hugged her close, then pushed her away, my hands on her shoulders, shaking her.
“What were you doing?” I said, not wondering if a kid that young could answer that question.
She sighed. “Nother me,” she said, pointing to the rocks below.
All I saw was seagulls screaming away from wave caps.
“Sarah,” I said, shaking my head.
She threw her chubby arms around my neck and planted a kiss on my cheek. “Kay-kay, Linda,” she said. “Nother-me!”
I laughed, astonished. Stupid fearless baby. I hugged her in return, tight. Maybe I cried a little, too.
Sarah’s run caught our parents flat-footed. The constant background hiss of their angry conversation cut off in mid-accusation. They rushed to catch up with us. Mom wrenched Sarah away.
“What are you doing to her?” she screamed.
Dad gave me his #1 considering stare. He waited to speak until Mom and Sarah walked a few yards away.
“Fair leap, that,” he said. “Saved us the cost of a funeral.”
I stood up.
“Dad,” I said. “I caught her.” I hoped for praise. Didn’t I deserve it?
Dad had gotten quiet since he and Mom began arguing. I guess he reserved all his words for her. He didn’t say anything, just turned away from me. He walked fast and grabbed Sarah’s hand. She beamed up at him.
I followed along behind. They walked in silence until the end of the pier before starting their argument again. Sarah ran back to me and grabbed my hand.
“Sister,” she said.