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Breath & Shadow

Summer 2022 - Vol. 19, Issue 3

"Lost in Space"

written by

Ginger Gannaway

“Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!” yelled a third grader as she got into the robot’s part, waving her arms around like a drunk scarecrow. Viv walked stiffly toward Rebecca who had nabbed the prime role of Penny Robinson. She jerked her head back and forth and let out,“Beep! Boop! Ding!” in the way an alien would do to threaten the Robinson family. Viv/Alien followed the retreating kids and raised her uneven arms over her head to seem scarier.

At St. Mary’s, Viv and her classmates recreated scenes from hit tv shows at recess. This week’s television obsession was “Lost in Space.” The girls vied for roles each day and half-imitated/ half-made up episodes about the Robinsons in outer space. During this Tuesday’s recess Viv did not see the skinny new girl right behind her. Skinny Girl mimicked Alien Viv’s spastic left arm movements and limping left leg. A group of first graders giggled and encouraged the girl’s accurate imitation of Viv’s cerebral palsy crookedness. Just as Viv turned to see who was laughing, a popular seventh grader named Mona was cutting across the playground on her way to the school’s front office and noticed Skinny Girl’s shenanigans.

Mona yanked the performer by her fake-crippled left arm. “What are you doing?” she demanded. Before the child could answer, Mona lit into her.

“How dare you? Don’t you see she’s crippled? How would you like to have to walk lopsided?”

Skinny Girl froze and stared open- mouthed at her loud accuser. Her chapped lips curled up the tiniest bit.

“What’s the matter with you? You think it’s funny? Funny to be born with a birth defect - to be slower and weaker than everyone else? Wait until I tell Sister Joan what you were doing! You will be sorry!”

And all during her lecture Mona shook the kid’s arm as elementary kids gathered around.

First, they stared at Skinny Girl looking like a dishrag Mona was twisting the water out of. Then they looked at Viv. Pity and sadness shone on each kid’s face. Viv’s blue eyes widened and then shut. Had they always looked at her that way?

Mona then yanked whimpering Skinny Girl to stand in front of Viv who now stared at the new kid to avoid the others’ eyes.

“Apologize right now!”

Skinny Girl’s navy blue skirt had a safety pin holding it up at her waist, and all that shaking had pulled the white blouse out of its tucked-in position. Viv noticed that her hem was frayed and stained. Also, the girl’s thin black hair was half-in rubber band pigtails and half-out. Viv felt she should be apologizing to the new girl for the chaos Mona had caused.

“Go ahead. Say you’re sorry,” Mona told her.

The young girl stared at her untied, dirty saddle oxfords and whispered, “Sorry.”

“Louder, so she can hear you,” said Mona.

“I can hear her,” said Viv looking down at her own scuffed brown corrective shoes.

“You ok?” asked Mona as she touched Viv’s shoulder.

Viv nodded without looking up.

She counted by fives in her head to keep from crying. Mona held on to Skinny Girl’s arm and led her towards the front office.

Rebecca put her arm around Viv’s shoulder.

“That kid is just a stupid Yankee from Shreveport,” she said.

Viv heaved a sigh and felt even sorrier for Skinny Girl.

“Gotta pee,” Viv said as she turned to run to the bathroom.

Once safe inside a stall, Viv relived her embarrassment. The words “crippled” and “birth defect” bounced around her brain over and over:

“crippled...defect...defect...defect...crip... crip...defect...defect.” Viv turned the words into a type of music she heard on KVPI. “defect, defect, deco, deco, zydeco, zydeco, zydeco.”

Viv tapped her black umbrella on the floor a few times and looked around the mess of a nursery. She removed her neat black hat with white flowers on it and patted her neat brown bun. Two small children looked up at her.

“First, we must clean up your untidy room,” Viv said with a confident smile.

She snapped her fingers. Music played, and a robin sang outside the nursery window. As Viv sang her song about sugar and medicine, she taught the boy and girl how to make their room as neat and sweet as Viv was. With a whistle here and finger snaps there, their beds were made, toys were put away, and the room was “practically perfect in every way.” Viv even had the robin accompany her in the song. The children loved Viv’s magic and became her instant best friends. Without warning, the song ended and a long ringing erupted from the hall.

Recess was over. Viv flushed the unused toilet, wet the fingers of her right hand in the sink, ran them through her hair, and looked in the mirror a second to make sure her eyes were dry before she rushed out to line up outside her classroom door.

Ginger Keller Gannaway grew up in south Louisiana, and even though she lives in Texas, she will forever have a Cajun soul. She co-writes a blog ( and has written three novels. She has published in Pigeon Review.

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