If ever Viv wanted to disappear, now was the time. Thirty-one teens sat in plastic chairs before wooden tables and stared at Remington keyboards. A hefty woman with a band leader’s baton barked commands from the back of the portable building that served as a classroom. Viv’s nerves did not allow her brain to process Sister Felicia’s words. On her left Viv saw the hands of a boy move to an expectant pose over the typewriter keys. Viv mimicked his hand stance as best she could. The fingers of her good right hand curved over the metal letters while her stupid left hand’s fingers seemed glued together and bent upward with her thumb moving nervously over the space bar. The girl to her right offered her the flicker of a smile, and Viv began counting her breaths. The clicks of Sister’s heels back and forth at the rear of the classroom fell into rhythm with Viv’s inhales and exhales. Zydeco…zydeco…zydeco beats filled her head.
Viv heard Paul Newman’s laugh as she looked out her cabin window. He rode past her on a bicycle and held out his hand, beckoning her to join him. She rushed to the front porch in time to jump on his bike’s handlebars when he circled back to get her. Paul’s bright blue eyes sparkled enough to cue the band to play Viv’s latest favorite song: “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.” The song’s “nothing’s worrying me” message tinkled along as Paul pedaled and Viv steadied herself with two healthy hands firmly on the front handlebars and two strong legs tucked neatly to one side. Her long straight brown hair rested over her right shoulder and her large brown eyes matched the beauty of Paul’s baby blues. Newman paused near a barn to let Viv disembark and sit on a fence where she would watch him perform bike tricks just for her to the band’s circus music.
A sudden rap on her desk made Viv stop the piano playing pantomime of her right hand and the spastic taps of her left. “I said type!” said Sister, and she gave the desk a second, louder rap with her stick. Viv gulped and tried a “Chopsticks” rhythm on the keys. “What is wrong with you?” said the confused teacher. Viv’s embarrassment kept her silent. “Why won’t you listen? Are you deaf?” Viv shook her head no. “Sit up straight.”
Viv complied and said, “Yes, Sister.”
“Stand up, girl. Look at me. What is wrong?”
Viv stood up, looked at her corrective shoes and confessed, “My left arm is weaker and my hand—”
Viv’s cheeks and eyes burned. She came clean: “I have cerebral palsy in my left side, and my hand—”
“Why are you in my typing class?”
Viv dropped her head to hide the tears.
“Stop that crying and come with me,” said Sister as she marched the limping girl to the door. Viv felt her classmates’ eyes follow her – the pitiful freshman, the crippled kid, the loser girl.
Sister Felicia handed Viv a scrawled note. “Take this to the front office. You don’t belong in here.”
Viv left the portable building to breathe safer air. As she dragged her feet towards the office, she heard the zydeco…zydeco…zydeco of a mimeograph machine in the teachers’ work room she passed.
Viv was in a candlelit cabin with two handsome gunmen. The three sat at a rustic table. Butch Cassidy was convincing Viv and Sundance that they needed to leave the country. Head out to a new place where they could go unnoticed and learn a new language and start all over. The evil lawmen and their tracker would never find the three friends.
“Vivian Fontenot! Why are you not in class?” said Sister Magdeline pulling the girl out of her movie fantasy. Viv held out the note to the one nun who never made her nervous. Sister Magdeline was only eight years older than the shy freshman before her. Soon the two sat before the school’s frowning principal, Father John, and the young nun patted Viv’s good hand while the girl listened to an old lawnmower in the distance struggle to cut an overgrown lawn with zydeco…zydeco…zydeco strains.
In a sepia toned world, Viv rode a train with both Butch Cassidy and Sundance on their way to a small country. Both men gave her their undivided attention as she referenced a book of Spanish phrases and taught them the words they would need for their next bank robbery.
When Ginger Keller Gannaway’s parents made her switch her major from Creative Writing to English Education in 1976, she switched her focus from writing to teaching. After raising three sons and teaching public school for 36 years, Gannaway has time to write again. Although she co-writes a blog (sittinuglysistahs.com), her true love is writing fiction. Her stories have appeared in Pigeon Review and will be in an upcoming issue of Breath and Shadow. She lives in Texas but will forever have a Cajun soul and a need for beaucoup bon temps.