She lives on the moon, teaching gymnastics. She’s way too old to compete now, ancient at 28. She can no longer do a double layout punch front, which is where you flip forward in the air twice with your whole body extended and rigid, then bounce against the floor hard and immediately flip once the other way, like a domino that changed its mind. She tried it alone in the gym a few nights ago and understood one handspring in that she didn’t have it. All of her bones were saying no to her at once.
But she won the gold all-around medal back in Tokyo, partially on the strength of that tumbling trick, and the kids are learning it fast. Her medal is back home in Houston along with all the stuff that she wasn’t allowed to take with her, and really it’s probably stolen, or liquified, and generally just not anyone’s top priority at this point down there. There’s an indoor gym with Earth gravity and an outdoor gym with moon gravity. She gets them acquainted with all the tricks in the Earth gravity gym, where the landings insult their ankles and the falls flatten their lungs, until their wrists are made of steel and their calf muscles look to her like little critters trapped under skin—muscle ferrets. Only when they’ve truly mastered gravity does she let them outside and do handsprings uninterrupted for minutes in a row, add a casual handful of twists to their layouts and barely feel the impact. When it had looked like time was pretty much up on Earth, they had a list of everyone who could do things well, and they picked one of each person, and she was the person they picked who was the best at what she did, the best and the youngest. She said yes immediately. What did she have back home? Her mother, who had tried to steal her endorsement money from Wheaties and Fitbit. Her coach, who weighed her every day. She had no friends, no boyfriend. Her life was the gym, she flipped in her dreams. Other moon colonists struggled with the move, but a regimented life of sacrifice and discomfort had not been an adjustment for her.
Sometimes she’s in the outdoor gym, easing kids over the vault to get them acquainted with upsidedownness, guiding their bodies. She’s facilitating the tumbles of moon-born babies who have never seen New York or rivers or cable news or ferrets. And she thinks of what would happen if she turned them a little too hard, and they flipped out of her hands and away from the station and continuously into the atmosphere, holding perfect form the whole time, perpetual motion machines in full-body leotards and helmets. She wants to inflict total freedom upon them. She wants to see weightlessness embraced fully. The return to the surface, the end of the trick, the deference to limits: what a disappointment to her.
But she doesn’t let them go — she can’t. She has them finish practice, hands out dehydrated granola bars, sends them to the locker room. There’s an exhibition meet next month with China’s station and rumor has it their gymnasts are in excellent form.
What a disappointment it has always been, to land.