Powerless

By Nancy Smiler Levinson

The wind was rising and our canoe began drifting out on Lake Minnetonka. Susie and I, twelve years old, were campers at Girl Scout camp. I sat at stern, she at bow. But her strokes were diminishing minute by minute, her paddle barely dipping in the swells. I strained, harder, reaching deeper, pulling, pulling  . . .  I couldn’t head us back. I couldn’t work for two.

I heard sobbing and looked up. Susie’s paddle was laid across her knees, dripping.

“My shoulder hurts.  Really bad.” The gasps of her trembling voice drifted out over the roiling water. “I can’t . . . I can’t. . .”

The day earlier she had fallen off a horse. At the time she announced herself fine, uninjured, words gladly accepted by the counselors. Clearly, though, she’d been hurt. The sky was churning gray. I shouted towards the shore, screamed, yelled with tears in my throat.

Then a miracle seems to happen. I’m sure that I didn’t think miracle at the moment, but a motored rowboat with two men aboard appeared. 

The emergency was obvious, and in a struggle against heightening winds they managed to tie our canoe to their boat and haul us to shore.

Stunned and shaking crawling out of the canoe, I have no recollection of exactly what happened once Susie and I were deposited into the hands of the counselors and camp director or what words they exchanged with our rescuers, the fishermen who’d saved our lives. One distinct memory, though:  watching a blur of red lips twisting, opening, closing like fish mouths, while hearing thunderous words scolding strangers you went strange men hurt you rape kill how could you . . . that memory haunts,  dark and terrifying as the threatening sky and perilous winds that summer day long ago.

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Nancy Smiler Levinson is author of  MOMENTS OF DAWN: A Poetic Memoir of Love & Family; Affliction & Affirmation, as well as work that has appeared in Poetica, Voice of Eve, Dreamers, Burningword Literary Journal, The Copperfield Review, Rat’s Ass Review, many anthologies, and elsewhere.  She is a one-time Pushcart nominee in a creative nonfiction category. Nancy lives in Los Angeles.

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