Back Tuck
Jen Gann

The bomber mistook the gymnasium for an abortion clinic and bombed its front doors. The bomb blew the doors to bits and the cubbies collapsed and salty, sour-smelling leotards and scraps of suede hand grips flew. Luckily it was just the cubbie room, and all the gymnasts were in the far corner of the gym, watching a demonstration on beam.
One of the best gymnasts had just landed a new dismount when the bomb exploded.
The gymnasts went wild! They stampeded in a blur of braids and hair ribbons, perfectly pointed toes and ballerina graceful fingers. They back-tucked and front hand-springed onto the floorboard out of panicked habit. Mercifully, no one collided.
The confused coaches yelled usual practice-type things amid the chaos. "Legs together, back hollow, back arched, toes pointed!" Somehow the sentiment was clear; the gymnasts quit their flipping and fell into line. They walked toward the back exit as though in team formation for a meet: eyes forward and fearful, toes pointed, arms straight, everything about their bodies the opposite of a barnyard. The coaches were always reminding them of that. This isn't a barnyard, ladies.
But the bomb made the gymnasium seem more like a barnyard! With the front side gone, sunlight poured in for the first time. The rubble smoked and the smell was a friendly, sour one, like a barn's frequent flesh and waste.
Police cars and ambulances were already in the parking lot. The bomber had thought himself merciful and called the authorities from a nearby pay phone, the bomb itself sounding in the background. The gymnasts rolled their eyes when the medics attempted to administer first aid. The gymnasts were experts! The gymnasts knew twisted ankles, blistered palms, bruises aching and sore. They snatched the gauze and tape and began patching each other.
The next day the coaches started holding practice in the field across the street.
By now, the bomber had heard of his mistake. It turned out he'd gotten the name of the town wrong altogether. He drove back to the pay phone -- passing the gymnasts during outdoor conditioning, jumping rope and two sets of fifty crunches -- and called the abortion clinic. A woman's nasally voice said, "Hello." The bomber hadn't thought this far ahead. He stuttered the first question that came to mind. The woman told him the clinic was open from nine to five Monday through Friday, noon to six on Saturdays, and closed on Sundays.
The bomber hung up on the woman and drove his pick-up truck to the parking lot of the bombed-out gym building. The entrance was covered in yellow caution tape, draped and billowing in the breeze like streamers. The bomber turned his truck off so he could hear the coaches. "You look like an elephant in water," one said. "What a galumph!"
He'd almost blown them to bits, he thought. He looked closely and wondered if the gymnasts were sinners or not, how much their parents had sinned, how heavy their sins might weigh, how strong the gymnasts might become if they bore the weight of the sins surrounding them, how it would feel to have a body so light in a world so heavy. He closed his eyes and laced his fingers, imagining his soul scooting upward. Thank you, he thought.
Day after day, the gymnasts spilled from mini-vans into the parking lot across the street. The bomber's truck was always there. He couldn't stop watching practice. But the gymnasts never noticed him.
The coaches yelled for the gymnasts to scurry across the street, get their heart rates going, watch out for cars. "A run-over gymnast is no gymnast at all!"
The gymnasts worked hard. The coaches made regular announcements about the gym's rebuilding process. It would be better than before, the coaches maintained.
"This is like discovering a new dismount by having a creative fall off the beam," they said. "This tragedy has an upside and it smells like the chalk on a new set of parallel bars."
Inside his truck, bomber made elaborate notes and detailed sketches of the gymnasts. He had a good, accurate eye and drew beautifully.