She’s just a touch tinier than the rest of the cheerleaders, so Viv is the one who gets thrown into the air. She likes feeling like she’s flying.
She feels special up there. Maybe even magical.
When she goes upwards, she beams so brightly that her cheeks sting, but when her brief suspension in the air ceases and she begins to careen back towards earth, Viv closes her eyes and winces. For those nanoseconds when she’s falling, she becomes convinced that no one is going to catch her — that the pit of skinny, tanned arms below her has dissolved into nothing. She thinks about the idea of falling flat onto the sunburnt grass, her body thudding against the dirt, and secretly? She wants it to happen.
It’s still weeks until school even begins, but Viv has been in practice for the homecoming rally since August 2nd. Her soul feels barren of anything resembling enjoyment, but she can’t quit. She could never.
Her mother has invested so much money and time into Viv’s pursuit of the sport that just up and quitting would be almost an insult to her. Her mother always says how good she is, how talented and graceful and enchanting she looks out there under the football field’s floodlights. Viv hates that her mother is right — she is good. Excellent, even. Viv kicks and flips with more verve than the rest of the team combined, but something about her cheering is beginning to become hollow.
Jacob, her sometimes-boyfriend, often jokes that her main skills are doing the splits and applying lip gloss. Viv can’t even argue with him. She’s spent so long occupied with stunts and twirls that everything else has fallen to the wayside. Viv failed remedial math last year. She isn’t sure what the capital of the United States is. She isn’t stupid. Rather, she’s just become a victim of her own hyper-focus. She’s a master of one trade and an absolute disaster at any others. She stands on the field, beads of sweat already dripping along her hairline, and cheers so loudly that she scares herself. Her arms move smoothly and emotionlessly. She is perfect, precise, and terribly, terribly bored.
Summer isn’t meant to be a time for such rigidity, Viv thinks. You’re not supposed to have to put a heating pad on each of your limbs every night just to go to bed. Summer is supposed to be soft and free and careless. It’s meant to be soundtracked by cicadas and radio music, not by rhythmic clapping and the harsh blows of Coach Ellis’s whistle.
Viv wants to go to the beach and bask in the sun. She imagines the grainy feeling of sand under her bare feet. On the beach, by the water, she could feel as liquid and shapeless as the ocean itself. She wants to read a book (no matter how long it’ll take her to get through all the words) and feel unrushed. She wants to be on vacation for once.
Practice is from ten a.m. to four p.m., and after it ends, she feels so exhausted that all she can bear to do is go home and watch the afternoon sitcoms on the family room TV. A week ago, Catie invited her for hamburgers, but she couldn’t go. She was too tired. Jacob tried to get her out for a milkshake (or maybe even a sundae) but her mother advised against going. She shot up two inches over the summer and therefore became a little wider, so she had nearly outgrown her extra-extra-small cheer skirt. Viv’s mother had said that she feared a few too many tastes of ice cream would cause the button on Viv’s skirt to burst forever.
Privately, Viv doesn’t care. She wants to gobble burgers and slurp down milkshakes until she pukes. She wants to fill herself with all the fun that she’s constantly missing.
It’s too late, though, she thinks. She said “no” so many times that her friends just don’t bother with her anymore.
Viv hates it. At practice last week, she was so angry that she had to miss out on buckets of movie-theatre popcorn at the drive-in that she accidentally stomped on Caralee’s foot. Caralee cried a little bit and Coach Ellis warned Viv not to get reckless.
Viv has her new socks on today. She bounces a few times on her toes before Monica and Caralee scoop her up by her feet and hoist her far above their heads. Viv is ten feet tall. She takes a look at the fuzzy skyline of Main Street, where the Goodheart Diner and the Dairy Queen are. She springs off of her teammates’ hands, pulling her legs apart into a mid-air split. She beams. She expects to keep moving upwards for just a moment more, but she doesn’t. She’s already jutting straight down through the humid August air, and before she has time to pull her legs back into a proper landing position, she hits the grass. Her body throws itself down, crumpling directly on her left foot. She feels something crack, and suddenly her foot burns.
Coach Ellis blows the whistle. As Monica rushes towards Viv, seeing if she’s okay, Viv lies back on the grass and smiles. Tears well in her eyes and stream down her face, leaving salty stains on her freckled skin, but her smile never falters. If anything, it grows wider. Realer, even.
Sarah Priscus lives in Ottawa, Ontario. She is currently studying English and Theatre at the University of Ottawa.