Fall 2009, Volume 7

Fiction by L. S. Wing

Celcilia Svetlana

Cecilia drew in a deep breath and chuckled lightly as she exhaled, letting the sounds of her quiet laughter barely escape through her grin. Thousands of miniscule dots of chalk powder hovered in the air, suspended as if locked in time, and new puffs of these arid clouds rose every few seconds spurred by gymnasts all around; the clap of old grips, the hard punch to a springboard, or the slap of a hand to the balance beam. Even for a beginner gymnast, it never took long to grow accustomed to the melded scent of chalk and air to the point that it became indistinguishable. Yet, even after a decade in the sport, Cecilia noticed the subtle difference when she breathed. Actually, she began to notice many things.

She recognized the type of floor element being performed simply by sound; listening to the speed of the gymnast pounding the floor, counting the moments of sudden silence when the gymnast flew into the air, and finally, measuring by ear the volume of impact when the gymnast landed. Lost in thought, Cecilia stared out across the blue-carpeted floor where a number of gymnasts warmed up with tumbling passes.

“Round off, back handspring…” she said, then paused.

A heavy pound shook the floor.

“…double back,” Cecilia finished, recognizing the combination of skills from one gymnast.

“Front handspring, side salto, front tuck…”

“Round off, back handspring, layout, full twist…”

Cecilia smiled, impressed with herself.

Her delight rapidly faded away though. Someone approached her and she knew very well who it was already. Coach Eduard.

“Are you ready, Cecilia?” he asked. His sun-browned skin wrinkled on his forehead when he spoke.

Cecilia raised her head to face him. Her placid hazel eyes reflected stray rays of light from above. A glossy film draped thinly over her pupils giving her the unintentional look of a young woman in continuous nostalgia.

“Yes, I finished warming up about five minutes ago,” she said.

“Good, because it’s almost your turn.” Coach Eduard held up three fingers, revealing old calluses on his palm. “Three minutes.”

“Right,” Cecilia answered.

She stood up and rotated her neck in small circles to keep her muscles loose.

Coach Eduard placed a comforting hand on her shoulder and walked with her to the balance beam while giving her several last words of advice. Cecilia inhaled deeply, nodding and stretching her wrists and hands. The two passed a large sign to their left hanging on frayed yellow tweed, which stretched around the entire gymnasium separating the audience from the gymnasts. In large black bolded words, it read: “For the safety of our gymnasts, NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY IS ALLOWED.”

The pair stopped at the edge of a massive blue mat. A lone balance beam stood at the center, resting three inches above a washed-out carpet creating an even stronger spotlight on the apparatus. Three judges in black suits sat behind a white plastic table lined against the mat, their faces stern and unmoving as their pens and pencils ticked away like woodpeckers on their papers and notepads. Each tick, five hundredths of a point.

Cecilia analyzed her competitor’s beam routine. She knew that the gymnast’s last pass approached as the girl paused at one end of the beam, turning and adding one last dance element before her dismount. After three staccato-like pounds on the beam, the gymnast flew off and flipped into the air landing with a heavy slap onto the mat. Cheers erupted from the audience members that had been watching while others clapped lightly out of courtesy, obviously mesmerized by other events taking place in the gymnasium.

“Okay,” Coach Eduard said squeezing Cecilia’s left shoulder. “Now what is our motto?”

Cecilia answered without the slightest hesitation. “If you know a routine well enough, you don’t need your eyes.”

“Good.” Coach Eduard nodded and the two stepped up onto the mat, stopping at the very end of the beam.

Cecilia faced the audience, her calm demeanor unchanged.

“Go,” he said.

Before walking away, Coach Eduard tapped the beam lightly. Upon hearing the tap, Cecilia knew instantly the distance between her and the beam.

 “Cecilia Svetlana,” she heard from the judges’ table. She turned to face them. “We are ready. You may begin at any time.”

The judges sat poised and prepared, their pencils and pens resting on a fresh new sheet of paper ready to peck away. With a small smile and nod, Cecilia raised her arms into the air and saluted to the judges to indicate she was starting her routine.

Then, to the surprise of everyone watching, she closed her eyes.

Cecilia moved gracefully on the blue mat, the beam on her right, and her right hand extended out with sculpted poise gliding an inch from the surface. She held her hand unwaveringly, scrupulous not to touch the beam. She knew the second her hand or any body part came in contact with the apparatus meant the timer would begin counting down and she would have exactly one minute and thirty seconds to complete her routine. If she exceeded the time limit, the judges would deduct five tenths of a point–death to any gymnast desiring a position on the podium for the balance beam event.

Counting her steps, Cecilia came to a smooth halt. She made a sharp, but elegant turn to her right to face the length of the beam and the judges ahead. With her eyes still comfortably closed, Cecilia took a shallow breath, stretched her hands out in front of her like a pianist would before playing, and swiftly mounted onto the beam. Behind her, on the pallid wall of the gymnasium hung a gigantic banner, professionally designed with the words: MOSCOW GYMNASTIC CHAMPIONSHIPS. Cecilia lifted herself completely onto the beam, pausing between each dance element to show her control, and with each hold, she appeared so picturesque that one could believe she blended into the banner behind her.

Yet, for Cecilia, the moment she closed her eyes she was immersed in a hazel world of her own.

She could see a balance beam materialize in front of her—four and a half feet in height, sixteen and a half feet in length, and four inches thick. She could even see herself as her mind switched from first to third person and back again. She was young. It was her five years ago at the age of twelve. Yet, the skills, the emotions, and the mentality of her twelve-year old self were not present. She was Cecilia of the now in her twelve-year old body. And as her twelve-year old self performed the beam routine in her mind, which she had done countless times, Cecilia did the same on the beam that lay before the judges.

Although her eyes were completely shut, Cecilia felt no fear standing at the end of the beam, nearest to the audience, ready to perform a row of acrobatic skills. She posed with one last dance element before taking flight in a back handspring connected to two back saltos. No doubt, Cecilia was unique. She lacked the common and sensible fear of leaping and flipping on a four-inch thick surface. However, she would argue one fact: the beam never changed. It was always straight. It was simply up to the gymnast to stay on it.

She felt the familiarity of the beam’s hide as her hands landed on the surface. In her hazel world, Cecilia flashed continuously from first to third person as her twelve-year old self performed the same exact skills. Nothing changed. The beam was always straight and she would always view the world in a shell from the past.

Cecilia held her breath for a second as she leaped into the air for a split leap connected to a wolf jump. Falling was worse than exceeding the time limit. Judges deducted an eighth of a point for each fall and a gymnast could forget their dreams of winning top three for the balance beam. Cecilia only fell once in a competition in her entire gymnastics career, but she learned once was enough.

At any moment that Cecilia’s feet did not touch the balance beam, they matched the curvature of a ballerina’s point, and when she posed, she posed as if she were the 2D image of herself in a photograph; completely unmoving. In the world of gymnastics, the skills a gymnast performed were almost as important as the appearance of the gymnast herself. Most gymnasts tied their hair into tight buns, never allowing a strand to fall onto their faces or onto the napes of their necks. Cecilia once did the same, but now she braided her coffee hair tightly to the back of her head, covering a long scar behind her neck.

 A bell sounded. Ten more seconds until her time was up.

Cecilia finished performing a double full turn and posed for the last time before her dismount. She took a deep breath suddenly feeling tense. She always felt like this before her dismount. Her heart rate increased two-fold as her twelve year old self waited for present day Cecilia to give the okay.

Cecilia took a shallow gulp of air and sprung across the beam in three quick steps ending with a roundoff off the beam and dismounted into a layout full twist. Her eyes shut tighter in response, the creases at the ends of her eyes visible. She suddenly lost the vision of her twelve-year old self with the balance beam. She lost the serene silence of her mind. Instead, she could hear the unbearable noises of a crowd from a distant, but vivid memory.

Her twelve-year old self had dismounted off the beam with a simple back tuck. Cecilia’s muscles tensed as her mind pulled up memories from the past. Her heart pulsed uncontrollably, but her body automatically twisted in the air for her layout; a sign that her routines were successfully inculcated into her unconsciousness.

In her hazel memory, her twelve-year old self prepared to land on the mat. But without warning, something flashed from the crowd and her young self lost awareness of her surroundings, cutting her dismount short and causing her to hit the edge of the beam heavily from the back of her neck.

Cecilia landed on her feet. She heard the audience clapping loudly, the sounds of their cheers penetrating past the heavy beating of her heart.

Meanwhile, her twelve-year old self landed sprawled on the mat. The last thing she would ever remember would be the flash before everything turned dark.

Feet firmly on the mat, Cecilia exhaled in relief, her eyes still closed, but she regained her composure. Her dismounts were always plagued by those flashbacks. As Cecilia smiled at the audience and then to the judges, she recalled how that accident sent her into weeks at the hospital, months of denial, and finally years of learning to adapt and coming to peace with her new self.

She saluted.

“Very good!” she heard and two hands rested onto her shoulders. “Very good!” Coach Eduard repeated.

He massaged her shoulders as they walked back to where her gym bag was located. After several more words of congratulations, Coach Eduard left her to assist another gymnast and Cecilia sat down on the bench. She grabbed her gym bag and felt for the zipper, then unzipped a pocket of the bag and pulled out her water bottle.

Her eyes were still closed. She didn’t see any reason to open them any time soon, and besides, she felt much more relaxed this way.

“Momma! Did you see that?”

Cecilia’s ears perked up hearing a little girl’s excited voice.

“That girl! She did the entire beam routine with her eyes closed! How did she do that?”

Cecilia held the water she just sipped in her mouth for a second longer before swallowing. She smiled to herself and opened her eyes, but she still saw nothing.

Then, turning around to face the little girl who gasped for a second in awe, Cecilia shrugged and smiled gently.

“If you know a routine well enough, you don’t need your eyes.”


BIO:  L.S. Wing is an aspiring novelist and prefers to remain anonymous as much as possible. He is currently a senior at NYU.