by Dan Swanson
“Good morning, all! I’m Mayor Vince Clyde, and you know why we’re here today…” The short, bald man was starting to speak when an even smaller woman, dressed in a dark blue leotard with her long hair tied back in a severe ponytail, bounced out of her chair and grabbed the microphone away from him. Angry storm clouds formed around his head, but he didn’t dare fight with a tiny girl for the microphone in front of a gymnasium bleachers filled with potential voters. The next election was coming up.
“If they know already, Mr. Mayor, there’s no reason to tell them again.” She waited for the laughter to die down. “I’m Tammi Paige,” she announced with breathless enthusiasm. “Thanks so much to all of you for being here to see me!” She threw the microphone into the air, jumped into the air herself, spun around completely, landed, and caught the microphone. Everyone cheered and applauded again. Tammi clearly loved the spotlight, but she was so cheery and full of energy that it was hard to resent her self-absorption. She waited again for the noise to die down and continued. “And my teammates.” Several other young people of both sexes stood and bowed. “Your cover charge will help me and some of my teammates from the Milwaukee Academy of Gymnastics travel to the Nationals this week — and you can watch us again next week on TV!
“I could stand here all day and tell you about the program, but you’d probably rather watch us than listen to me!” She smiled impishly; she had just happened to notice Claire Whitman and Harvey Taylor, neither of whom looked happy. “I think you’ll see some things today that you’ve never seen in a regular gymnastics meet!”
Tammi and five other young people, two more girls and three boys, went to the center of the gym, formed a circle with their backs to the center of the gym, and bowed to the crowd. Scotty Dillard turned on the tape recorder, music started to play, and the gymnasts jumped into action.
It was a stunning, exhilarating performance. Attractive, well-muscled, superbly conditioned gymnasts of both sexes in revealing leotards bounced, ran, flew, spun, strutted, twirled, twisted, jumped, tossed, caught, swung, skipped, rolled, flipped, and danced, laughing and smiling, in a show that was easily worth the half-dollar it had cost to get in. Becky Taylor, the captain of the Muskrat Creek cheerleaders, was a very good gymnast, and two of the others were much better than Becky, but Tammi was the best by far.
In the crowd, Marilyn Bova turned to her friend Dale Lindsay, Tammi’s aunt. “It’s more like a circus than a gymnastics exhibition,” she observed.
“Tammi’s parents are aerialists in a small traveling circus,” Dale replied. “When she decided she wanted to try for the Olympics, they sent her to live with me, so she could train with the Milwaukee Academy of Gymnastics. Her coaches let her design a lot of this show, and she based it on the circus routines.”
When their movements brought them close together in a synchronized dance step, Becky whispered to Tammi, “Did you see Harvey in the stands? He didn’t want to come, but Mom made him, since I’m performing.”
“I noticed he’s with Claire. They sure look miserable, don’t they?” Tammi whispered back. “I almost feel bad for her, but she’s such a witch.” They spun apart again. Tammi jumped onto a springboard and did a flip onto a trampoline, bounced twice, and leaped into the arms of one of the boys, who was hanging from his knees from a swinging trapeze. He tossed her to another boy on another trapeze, and she dropped from his hold to grab the top bar in a set of uneven bars, did a giant circle, and released, doing two flips and a full twist before landing on the other trampoline. This sequence brought the crowd to its feet with applause and wild cheers. All six gymnasts did synchronized dismounts from the various apparatus, met in the center of the gym, joined hands in a circle, and bowed simultaneously to the thunderous applause.
Tammi ran to the podium and grabbed the microphone. “I’d like to thank my teammates — that was pretty awesome, wasn’t it?”
The applause began again, with some foot-stomping and cries of, “Encore!”
“You want an encore, huh? I hoped you would!” Tammi yelled back at the wild crowd. “How about a sneak preview of my gold medal performance next week at nationals?”
Everyone else moved off of the gym floor. Scotty dimmed the perimeter lights, drawing everyone’s attention to the illuminated floor exercise mat in the center of the gym. There was movement just beyond the edge of the light, and Tammi emerged from the darkness. She strode to the center of the mat and assumed her opening position.
In the control booth, Scotty tapped the button to start the tape.
Tammi was alone in the gym, the center of everyone’s attention. This was why she worked so hard, why she had pushed herself, why she needed to be the best — so she could be out here, by herself, with everyone concentrating on nothing but her.
She took a deep breath, and then another. The music should have started by now. Why hadn’t the music started?
Scotty was frantic. He checked to make sure everything was plugged in, then checked it again. Everything was connected; everything was working — except it wasn’t.
Beyond the ring of illumination, Tammi began to hear murmurs. They were barely more than whispers, but as the seconds ticked by, they became a cacophony to Tammi’s ears.
“Way to stand there!” a voice from the darkness called out. “I give it a ten!”
The response was a few chuckles, mostly centered around the heckler, but they soon spread among the rest of the audience.
To Tammi, it was as if time had stopped. Every millisecond seemed like an hour of pure agony. And now it wasn’t the sound of music falling on her ears, it was laughter. Her big day was turning into her worst nightmare.
She knew the music; she could hear it playing in her head. If only the sound system would catch up. “Where’s the @#$%^&* music?!” she screamed in her head.
And then she heard it.
At first it was faint, its beat matching the beat of her heart. She prayed that Scotty would turn it up. The opening bars played — it was the sweetest sound she had ever heard — and she began to dance.
In the booth, Scotty looked at his sound equipment, then back down at the floor. He could hear the music, even better when he removed his headphones, and he realized that the tape Tammi had given him to play was still sitting idle. He shrugged, then turned his full attention to Tammi’s performance.
Tammi could tell there was something different about the music this time. It sounded better — no, not better. That didn’t come close to describing it. The music was fuller, richer, more passionate. It was more like a live symphony than a gymnasium sound system. And she knew that — somehow — this music wasn’t coming from a simple tape over an outdated sound system, it was coming from her. It was her heart, her passion, her emotions that made up this symphony, and she danced.
She moved with the music, feeling it flow through her, and around her, and she became the dance. She felt that Tammi was only a façade, and that her art, her music, and her dance, were the true her. She floated through her routine, putting her love and her joy and her deepest inner being into the dance. The routine became anything but. What she was doing surpassed a floor exercise and went beyond a simple exhibition; it had become her personal artistic masterpiece. And she danced as neither she — nor anyone — had never danced before.
And then, almost before she knew it, the music came to an end, and with it, the dance. For an instant there was silence, and Tammi almost forgot there were others in the building with her. Then she remembered that she wasn’t alone, and the silence seemed to have a pulse of its own. She could almost feel the stillness vibrate with emotion.
She took a breath, and then the silence erupted in roars of approval. Even the sounds of her own thoughts were drowned out by the noise. The crowd was awed. What they saw in this gymnasium would be remembered forever — a work of art that rivaled anything they had ever seen, or heard, or read.
Even as her coach and teammates surged into the spotlight to congratulate her, Tammi smiled, waved, and slumped to the floor, exhausted, spent, and satisfied.
Once the gymnastic gear was packed back in the trucks, Tammi went looking for Scotty. She wasn’t sure exactly how she felt about the problem with the tape; the absence of music initially had led to the best performance of her life. Still, she wanted to know what had happened and how Scotty had fixed it. She remembered the feeling that she was the source of that music, but that couldn’t really be true.
Scotty was apparently prepared for the worst; as soon as she entered the A.V. room, he protested, “It wasn’t my fault! Somebody erased the tape! Let me show you…” He turned to his recorder. “This is the tape you gave me — listen!” Before she could speak, he turned it on, and once again there was silence.
“Let me see that tape,” she ordered. He stopped, rewound, and handed her the reel. She had written her name and the name of the music on it with a Speedry marking pen, and this was definitely her handwriting. “So, how’d you manage to erase my tape, anyway?” she asked crossly.
“It really wasn’t me. I put it on the table when you gave it to me yesterday and never touched it again.” He stopped and thought for a minute, and his expression went from one of apology to one of anger. “You know, I’ll bet Claire Whitman did it!”
“You know I don’t get along with Claire, but could she get away with something like that?” Tammi asked crossly. She didn’t think Scotty would be such a weasel. But he explained yesterday’s events, how Claire was alone in the A.V. room for a half an hour, and she had to agree with his assigning of blame.
“Can I hear her original recording? Just curious.” After Scotty played it, she commented, “That was swamp gas! How can she ever hope to get a recording contract?”
“Her voice cleans up well,” Scotty replied. “Here’s the final version.”
“Yes, that’s much better. You’re a genius, Scotty!” He smiled modestly. “So where did you get the recording of my music that you actually played? And how’d you get it to sound so good?” she asked.
“That wasn’t me!” he said, looking mystified. “No way a P.A. system can sound that good! I guess you didn’t see me going crazy trying to figure out what was wrong?”
“So, maybe it was me after all,” Tammi mused. Growing up in a circus, she had seen some unusual things, and her world featured a significant number of people with extraordinary abilities, so such a conclusion was not as wild a jump for Tammi as it might be for someone in our world. Besides, she’d always known she was special.
Scotty was a good one to help her investigate. “So, what were you feeling when you made the music start?”
“I was so desperately wanting to hear that music that I was afraid I would pee!” she exclaimed vehemently. “I don’t remember ever wanting anything more in my whole life, even the time my dad dropped me from the trapeze, and I was praying I’d hit the net.”
“So try it again. You want to hear the music play,” he suggested. “Try to remember what you were feeling then.”
It wasn’t easy, but with a lot of effort on her part and his suggestions, they figured it out. Tammi could play back any sounds she could remember, not just music, with seemingly perfect fidelity. The sounds appeared to play out of the air, and she could control where the source of the sound appeared to be, over a volume of space somewhat larger than the A.V. room. While she had control over the volume of the sounds she created, when she was playing back remembered sounds, she didn’t seem to have control over other aspects; she couldn’t adjust the bass or the treble, or speed up or slow down the sound tracks she played. She wasn’t really good at creating new sounds; any sounds she could make using her voice, she could easily project to other locations, but she couldn’t create new music or conversations using the voices of other people.
They discovered that Tammi apparently had perfect recall for sounds; Scotty couldn’t hear any differences between her playbacks and the originals, and that she recorded sounds even if she didn’t consciously hear them; when she played back a conversation she’d had with Claire over the phone last week, he could pick out the dialog for The Twilight Zone on Claire’s family TV in the background.
This was exciting stuff. “Just think what a great disk jockey you’d make!” Scotty was enthusiastic. “Any song you’ve ever heard! Heck, if you heard the band live, everyone would think they were at the hop!”
“Somehow, Scott, that’s not how I pictured myself: the world’s finest D.J.” She smiled at him to take the sting out of the words.
“Say, maybe you can be a super-hero!” he said, jumping to another idea.
“I’m not sure how that would work,” she replied with amusement. “How would I stop the bad guys? I could call up the sound of a burglar alarm, or maybe a police siren, and scare them away… Well, I’ve got the rest of my life to think it over. Thanks for helping me figure it out!”