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Normal: Chapter 20

72% isn’t that high. And this was only after Kayla helped me. Without her, I probably wouldn’t have even scraped a pass



ell done, Mimi, this is a significant improvement,” Mrs. Stern says warmly, handing back the test paper.

Oh. Mimi’s stomach somersaults. She’d forgotten the test, or maybe she’d pushed the thought away. With all of Kayla’s help and the feeling that she’d really done well for a change, would it even be good enough?

She keeps the paper tightly folded until she’s in a private corner, then takes a quick breath and peeks.


Well, it’s an improvement, that’s for sure. But…

72% isn’t that high. And this was only after Kayla helped me. Without her, I probably wouldn’t have even scraped a pass. And what will be with the seminary test?

The seminary test. Mimi’s chest tightens. There are knots up and down her windpipe; she needs to breathe.

What if I don’t get into seminary because of my grades?

She’s never allowed herself to formulate the thought before, but now, staring at the big, bold 72% with an encouraging comment from Mrs. Stern (Much improved, Mimi! I see your efforts. Keep shteiging and progressing. B’hatzlachah!), she suddenly faces reality.

72% isn’t enough. And it’s not just Chumash she’s struggling with; there’s all the overdue assignments and endless tests and quizzes. She can barely keep track of them all, let alone study long enough to achieve a decent grade.

It’s gonna get easier, she tells herself in Ma’s most upbeat, positive voice.

But then she thinks miserably: It hasn’t until now. What if it just gets worse?

It feels like the worse she’s feeling, the better she does in gymnastics.

Maybe it’s the tightness in her muscles that lends a new power to her springs, new control to her moves. Mimi bounces on her toes as Tova leads them through the warm-up, come on, I just want to move already.

Officially, they’re starting easy today, with aerials.

“No good having you guys graduate with your simple steps looking like a mess,” Tova says. “Hey – over there! Estee! Take three big steps to the left, you guys are too close together.”

Mimi flips herself over in the air, legs splitting, making a perfect landing on her toes. Good enough. She wants to try the layouts again, there’s something so exhilarating about them.

She backs up, runs forward lightly, and leaps. Arch, heels, tight muscles, landing. She lands lightly, arms circling forward and out to her sides. Tova would be —

“Surprised.” The coach materializes in front of her, arms crossed. “Did I say we were doing layouts right now?”

Mimi’s muscles throb with adrenaline. “I did the aerials first,” she says.

“That’s not the point.” Tova gimlet-eyes her for another moment, and then relents. “But your layouts are coming along nicely. Keep going, and you’ll be starring in the production.”

She delivers all this impassively, but that’s just Tova. She’s tough, she’s a perfectionist, she’s a slave driver at times, but she’s also top in the field. If she thinks something is “coming along nicely,” last year’s coach would be calling it world-class perfection.

Tova claps her hands sharply, and the room quiets for instructions. When she’s done, and everyone’s back to work on their mats, she passes Mimi again.

“Stay behind at the end of the class, okay? I want to speak to you.”

Mimi stares after her.

“What does she want from you?” Leah asks, stretching one leg up in the air in a perfect split.

Mimi shrugs. “No idea.”

“Well, better you than me,” Leah says, lowering her leg and backing away.

Mimi rolls her eyes.

Up close, the coach isn’t as scary as she seems. Tova’s leaning against the wall thumbing through something on her phone, and she looks at Mimi with a close-lipped flicker that could pass for a smile. Aside from the two of them, the room is empty, and without the noise and chatter and movements flying through the air, it seems cavernous.

“Mimi, your gymnastics standard is impressive,” Tova says, her voice clipped. She sounds like Mrs. Stern does when she’s telling someone off, as if Mimi’s skills somehow reflect badly on her. “I’d like you to take extra coaching, get your moves absolutely perfect. Can you manage Sundays?”

Extra coaching. With Tova?

Mimi’s head spins. But… extra gymnastics, Sundays, another day in the week where she can set herself free, break her limits, fly.

“Sure,” she says.

“Good.” Tova checks things off on her fingers. “Now, exercises, you do make sure to do those daily, don’t you?”

Mimi thinks guiltily of the frenzied mornings and overwhelmed evenings, the mound of schoolwork and the social life which has suddenly become so complicated. “Um, yeah, mostly,” she stammers.

Tova frowns. “Mostly is not enough. You need to be doing them daily, keep strengthening your muscles, you should know that by now.”

Mimi is quiet.

“Look, I’m telling you this for a reason,” Tova says. “I have my eye on you, and you’ve got what it takes. With the exercises and the extra coaching, I think you’ll soon be in a position where you can train as a coach. If you’re willing to put in the hours and work very, very hard at it.”

Mimi’s heart feels like it’s doing a layout of its own: fly through the air, brace for landing. Put in the hours. Where is the time going to come from?

But this is gymnastics. This is her life.

“I’ll do it,” she promises.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 909)

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