Two days before the synchronized swimming nationals, our Flyer vanished. I don’t mean she didn’t show up to training, and I don’t mean she left the pool through a door and didn’t re-enter the door. In the ninth hour of training, we threw Uta Franke into the air and Uta Franke did not land.
The only person who was not underwater at the time, apart from the Flyer herself, was our trainer, Olivia. She sat in her usual spot, the fold-out chair beside the stainless steel ladder. Olivia says her eyes were averted from the pool because she was reaching for the stop button on the stereo. We hadn’t executed the barracuda position in time with the music, which was an unforgivable fuck-up two days before a competition, and she’d seen six-year-olds execute a smoother barracuda, and at this rate she might as well take twelve dogs from the shelter and throw them in the pool and they would still out-barracuda us, and—why not—look better in turbo swimsuits too. This is what she claims she was thinking that instant, when she banged stop.
I was the last one to touch the Flyer. My teammates and I had formed an underwater platform to launch Uta into the air for her dazzling spin and split combination. I was the topmost part of the platform, the shoulders Uta used for the jump. Naturally, it fell to me to explain her disappearance. But what could I say? Did her feet feel a little different that time, the umpteenth? Did her toes dig in to my skin a little more or a little less than usual, before she hurled herself into nothingness?
The first murmur among the team was that she’d drowned. After nine hours in the pool, two in the gymnastics room, it wasn’t implausible. Maybe her heart gave out. Maybe she passed out from a concussion; the twelve of us never swam far from of each other, a kick in the head wasn’t uncommon. But a drowned body would still be in the water. We checked! All twenty-two goggled eyes scanning, stupidly, the blue empty corners of the pool. Miranda, one of the lifters, even ducked under the floating walkway to make sure. It felt like a game of hide and seek, a little naughty because it was a little fun, since we still thought Uta would turn up.
“Drain the pool!” Olivia cried to no one in particular. She was hefty, broad-shouldered, with a bellowing voice you couldn’t say no to. It would fill the pool through the underwater speakers, along with the clack of her brass pipe against the ladder, her do-it-yourself metronome. One-two-three-four-one-two-three-four-split-those-legs-or-I’ll-do-it-for-you-two-three-four…
The technicians drained the pool.
Uta really, truly, wasn’t in the pool.
If not in the water, then, maybe she was somewhere in the air? It was ridiculous, we all knew it, but we had to check all possibilities. The way you check your pocket for your keys just one more time, even if the last three tries yielded nothing. I imagined Uta’s arms and legs dissolving midair during a spin, the molecules losing their bonds, getting sucked into the monstrous vents high up in the ceiling. Olivia had the technicians check those, too: “The girl is quite small.”
Authorities of all kinds swarmed the arena. Fire chiefs, police officers, paramedics shuffled around the empty pool, first responders looking for something to first-respond to.
The team fell into a state of muffled giddiness. We peeked under floor mats, shook out our gym bags. We pressed our fingers to our lips to keep from smiling. Uta had done what each of us had fantasized about during our years of training, even if the fantasy only lasted a second or two. Elize had tried it once, last season. After vomiting at Olivia’s feet, she propelled herself to the bottom of the pool, pressed her head against it, and refused to resurface. We looked to Olivia for instructions—it was forbidden to touch the bottom—but she shook her head. The girl would have to come up for air eventually, and after a full three minutes, she did. Training resumed.
The evening of Uta’s disappearance, no one spoke in the locker room. We heard only the squawk of latex caps being peeled off scalps. We eyed each other, not without suspicion, as if our bodies held some sort of clue.
Maria Reva’s work includes short fiction and opera libretti. She was a finalist for the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize and is currently an MFA candidate in fiction at the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas. Ongoing projects include a collaboration with City Opera Vancouver, The Lost Operas of Mozart, set to premiere in October 2016.