|Short Story Contest
|About Laura Gaynon|
Laura Gaynon has wanted to enter the Weekly's writing contest in the past, but she suffered from a problem common to writers: She'd start a story but couldn't think of a way to finish it.
"I write down a lot of ideas, but mostly they're just a bunch of bones," Gaynon said. Transforming the "bones" into a cohesive story that flows well is an exercise in persistence and, occasionally, frustration for her.
"I'll come up with a pretty good plot up to a certain point, but then I don't know what to do next," she confided. "I won't know how to solve the conflict."
In "Anny's Flaw," the main character is isolated and miserable until she discovers a special talent that eclipses her physical "flaw"--having no legs. Gaynon, who's in the eighth grade at Jordan Middle School in Palo Alto, says the story is different from any other she has written.
"I was trying to think of all the things a person could come up against and still be a good person," she said of her thought process in creating the character of Anny.
Gaynon, who writes in her journal every day, said her fiction usually is not based on any particular personal experience. In describing Anny's desolation and despair at being excluded from any social contact with her peers, Gaynon had to rely on her imagination. For the most part, Gaynon says, she writes strictly for fun "at night when everything's done."
"Everything" covers activities ranging from homework--Gaynon's favorite subjects include math and English--to playing the cello in the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra and swimming at the local YMCA.
Recently, she has also been running for pleasure and is contemplating going out for the cross-country team, although she admits that, as in her writing, "I'm better at sprinting."
Anny's Flawby Laura Gaynon
As Anny lay whimpering in bed that Monday morning, she had no idea that this day would be different from any other, and indeed would change her perspective of life altogether. When her mother shadowed the doorway of Anny's room, her groans became more numerous, her sighs deeper, and her thoughts more sour.
"Mom, I'm sick. I can't go to school." Anny tried to make her voice sound hoarse. Over the years she had become an expert at it.
"Here, let me feel your forehead. Normal, you're not sick. Now get up."
"You heard me. There's no use playing hooky. Get up." Anny slumped back into the bedclothes and didn't stir, and when her mother tried to drag her out, she shook her head violently and held on to the mattress with teeth and hands. Mrs. Engle bent over her writhing child, scooped her up in big motherly arms, and deposited sobbing Anny onto the unvarnished floor She pushed her to the bathroom sink and pried open the toe-sized fingers. Placing a yellow toothbrush in her palm, Mrs. Engle stood watch to make sure Anny didn't need any help. Anny brushed her teeth, spat into the white toilet bowl, and rinsed with the cup of water her mother handed her.
This was the peculiar way of the Engle home on weekday mornings. Mrs. Engle had to force her daughter out of bed and walk her to school. Without this, Anny would not have attended school at all.
The casual observer would think all of this rather odd and inexplicable, or that Anny was a simpleton. The former was only half-true, but the latter completely false, as there was nothing mentally wrong with Anny at all. Actually Anny had an exceptionally good mind. She was reading by kindergarten, adding and subtracting before her peers. Yet her teachers failed to notice this, and after one look at her and much pretended negotiating, put Anny in a class for slower learners. All this because of her outward appearance, which now leads us to the cause of Anny's most arduous problems.
Anny had no legs.
Upon the first sight of her infant daughter, Mrs. Engle was shocked by Anny's thick stub-like thighs and the dangling pair of gnarled feet with no calves or knees between them. However, Mrs. Engle was a kind woman and loved the pitiful crying baby. She was not disgusted as some other mothers might have been. As the years went on, Anny proved to be very lovely, for though her nose was flat and ears pointed, her hair was curly and raven, and her large, gray eyes had a brightness that lifted your spirits. Anny's mind was agile, and her mother was determined not to allow her daughter's misfortune damage her future.
For those first glorious years Anny was as content as a child can possibly be. She didn't believe anything was wrong with her. She knew that her legs were short, but regarded them only as her "flaw." Imprinted in this girl's vision was an image that everyone in the whole world had a "flaw" which they were born with, so there was nothing one could do about it. Some had no hair, or a crooked nose, or a bent back. Some people, she knew, had two flaws or even fatal ones. In Anny's wise eyes she was reasonably lucky.
Mr. and Mrs. Engle adored their Anny like none other. Being unable to provide toys, they taught her to read at a young age and borrowed library books for her amusement.
In the days just prior to the start of Anny's schooling, the Engles knitted their eyebrows and developed deep worry lines, for they knew that a child's school could be a cold and unkind place. They decided, however, that they should send Anny to school no matter how hard it became; they could not shield their daughter from the world forever. The first few days would be hard, but hopefully things would smooth over with time.
They did not know how cruel children could be.
Kindergarten was the worst year. Anny's peers were none but frightened by this poor deformed child. Anny noticed almost immediately that games of jacks or jump rope seemed to relocate or edge away as soon as she appeared. The children repelled from her like two north magnets.
One day, Anny was watching a game of hopscotch from a distance when a girl by the name of Louise approached her. She stopped at a distance of three feet. Louise swallowed a nervous lump in her throat and said in a quavering voice, "Why don't you have any legs?"
Anny was mortified. "What do you mean?"
"Where are your legs?"
"I don't have any. ... Is that bad?" Louise began to nod. Anny's lip quavered and seeing this as a sign of danger, Louise departed hastily. Anny burst out crying on the spot and ran to the farthest corner of the school yard. Now Anny saw that what she thought only as her "flaw" was something apparently terrible, something to be ashamed of. During class that afternoon while brooding over her frustration, she suddenly exclaimed, "Why doesn't anyone like me?" and had to stay after school for talking out of turn. She decided then that she'd be better off keeping her troubles to herself, and no one at school noticed her much afterwards.
Her mother did notice, however, and Anny's hopes of making friends at this school crushed, Mrs.Engle decided to make a fresh start at the one other school in their town. This school proved no better for popularity there was based on one's ability in its major sport, basketball, of which Anny had to admit she knew nothing about. The teaching staff at this school was the antithesis of the former one and lavished Anny with attention. But while they believed they were helping her, they were unconsciously working against her. The incessant devotion separated Anny from the students more than ever. She was presently left to be ignored by her classmates for the rest of her school days.
There is one fact that we failed to mention thus far. Anny had a particular interest that kept her going in school. Anny was an artist. She had a small set of drawing pencils that she brought to school each day, and at lunch when the rest of the school broke to eat and play basketball, Anny broke to eat and draw. When Anny first discovered her interest, she drew stick figures and other unintentional abstracts. As the years passed, however, Anny became an accomplished artist of many kinds from contour to motion (of which she had more than enough models). If anyone had seen her work, they would have been astonished, but Anny had been eminently self-conscious since her acquaintance with Louise. So thinking that no one would appreciate her work, Anny hid the sketches, even from parents.
For those who have never experienced being totally, and utterly ignored, I will try to describe it. It will be difficult to imagine, as it requires the ability to conceive several feelings at once. This is not the sort of isolation when you have been abandoned by a few of your friends. It is isolation where you feel the whole world has deserted you and only you. It is one against a billion and nobody reaches out to help, let alone notice. Now paint this in your mind: First, you feel a burning anger at the world for abandoning you, and you decide that if the world does not need you, then you do not need the world. Second, you fall into a depression when you suddenly realize that you cannot do without the world, whereas the world can do perfectly well without you (however untrue this is, this is how you are feeling). Your previous anger turns into a self-anger. There is only one reason that the world is ignoring you, and that is because you are not worthy of being noticed. You then feel a strong ambition to accomplish something brilliant and ingenious to show the world that you are more worthy than any other.
Anny at this point was still suffering from self-anger. She drew to calm herself, not because she wanted to prove herself. This was soon to change.
It was this October day in Anny's third grade year that we take interest She was sitting at a picnic bench drawing the basketball players in all different shades of blue.
"That's very good," said a voice from behind her. Anny started and threw her body over her masterpiece. She glowered at the intruder.
"You! You had no right to--" And Anny stopped. This was no child before her. This was a fully-grown man; a teacher by the looks of his suit. "I ... I'm sorry, I thought ..."
The man beamed at her. "No apologies, miss. I should be the one apologizing. I shouldn't have sneaked up on you like that. Let me introduce myself. The name's Braundoff. Richard Braundoff. Pleased to meet you." He held out a large hand. Anny shook it. It was warm and callused like leather.
"Hello. I'm Anny."
"What are you doing over here by your self?"
"Oh, well I was just doodling a little."
"You can't fool me. I saw that picture and it certainly wasn't a doodle. May I see it please?" For the first time, Anny showed someone her work. This man who had suddenly come upon her made her feel like a real person.
Mr. Braundoff gave a low whistle. He turned to her and exclaimed, "Where on earth did you learn to draw like that? I don't have a single pupil who can draw that well!" Anny's face brightened like the sun peeking around the clouds. An art teacher! "Yes, you heard right. I'm a regular art teacher. Do you take lessons?" Anny shook her head sorrowfully.
"My parents can't afford them. I taught myself. What I would do for a lesson or two."
"Well, you can cheer up now. I'm teaching a lesson in your class tomorrow!" Mr. Braundoff folded his arms in a satisfied manner and grinned triumphantly. Anny's heart took a jump, and then fell.
"I can't!" she moaned. "I don't learn with the other students. I'm in different classes." Anny expression was so distraught that Mr. Braundoff's heart nearly melted.
"Now that isn't fair! I'll see what I can do. I'm an old friend of the principal." Mr. Braundoff winked conspicuously and held out his hand once again. "Well, it was sure nice to meet you, Miss Anny." Mr. Braundoff tipped an imaginary hat and strode off whistling.
Excuse me boys and girls. I'd like to share with you a very good example of a motion drawing." Mr. Braundoff held up Anny's picture. Several oohs and ahs circulated the classroom. Anny blushed crimson. As Mr. Braundoff had said, he was an "old friend" of the principal; it was no trouble for Anny to sit in the art lesson. "Notice how this young artist used many shades of one single color for her drawing. It makes a real impression on you, doesn't it?" Heads nodded vigorously. Anny's face burned like fire. Mr. Braundoff glanced slyly around the classroom. "It seems that whoever was talented enough to draw like this would have to be pretty special, doesn't it?" Again the heads nodded. Anny was so embarrassed that she had to look for an imaginary item she hadn't dropped to hide her face.
"Who drew it?" called out a girl from the back of the classroom.
"Well, that is for the artist to say." His eyes twinkled. Head turned to look around the room. All was still. "Come on, show them who you are." Timidly, uncertainly, Anny rose on her crutches. Murmurs of surprise, respect, and acknowledgment were heard. At first she smiled modestly, then grinned wider and wider.
Anny couldn't wait until school the next day.
"The author does an excellent job of communicating the intensity of Anny's feelings. The writer does not hesitate to take on the universal experience of rejection. A fine story."
--Katy Obringer, Bruce Balan, Shirley Climo
Best Of Palo Alto ballot is here
It's time to decide what local business is worthy of the title "Best Of Palo Alto" — and you get to decide! Cast your ballot online. Voting ends May 29th. Stay tuned for the results in the July 21st issue of the Palo Alto Weekly.