March FADness: Story 03/06/2008: Twist

Anne sighed. Her charge, whom she nicknamed “Mouse,” ran on thick, short little legs around the yard, stumbling over the short hillocks of grass. Her stubby fingers extended in front of her like feelers, alert for danger.

“Look…” Anne trailed off, wincing, as the little girl fetched up against a lawn chair, barking her knees painfully on the edge of it. The child sat down on her bottom hard, tears erupting.

“Poor little tyke,” Anne murmured, walking over. She touched the girl’s shoulder gently and held her as the little body shook with angry sobs. “You really are a poor little thing, aren’t you, Mouse?”

At the vibrations of her voice, the little girl put her hand up and banged into Anne’s mouth. Anne obliged by opening and closing her mouth, making “Ah” sounds. The little hands batted her like heavy butterflies and then yanked her bottom lip. Anne closed her teeth on one digit, hard enough to make her point, and the girl pulled back, startled.

Anne stood up, patted her on the back, and off she went again. Anne sighed. It was getting close to lunch time.

She moved over to the shaded area near the French doors and took the cover off the two plates waiting there. Identical sandwiches and sliced apple waited, each with their own napkins. There was, by Anne’s orders, no flatware. Anne set the plates out on the small table and turned back to the lawn.

“There you are, little tyke,” Anne muttered, catching her in mid-dash across the center of the lawn. She squirmed and Anne tapped her bottom. “None of that, miss. It’s lunch time.”

She set Mouse down in her chair and smoothed the napkin in her lap. They had a brief wrestling match over it when Mouse wanted to put it in her mouth, but Anne was stubborn and the napkin stayed in the lap. She guided the little girl’s hands to the sandwich and was rewarded by a little fist making mush of the slices of bread.

“No, Mouse!” Anne snapped, slapping her hand sharply. The little girl froze, waiting. Anne calmly turned her hand over and formed the letters like she always did. “B – R – E – A – D,” she spelled slowly.

Mouse pulled her hand away and stuffed nearly four bites’ worth into her mouth at once. She immediately fell to coughing and Anne had to help her clean herself up. She tried the spelling game again, B – R – E – A – D, to no avail.

After Anne was able to eat half her own sandwich and Mouse ate all of her own, the little girl jumped to her feet and ran off toward the garden. “Mouse!” Anne admonished, scrambling after her.

She was too late. With a crash that Anne felt in her bones, the rake went flying and the little girl tipped over the water bucket, running straight into the faucet. More surprised than anything else, she opened her mouth in a wordless yell of fury.

Anne knelt in the mud and water, and spelled, “W – A – T – E – R.” Mouse pulled away angrily and slapped her arm, aiming, Anne knew, for her face. Anne grabbed her hand again, annoyed. “W – A – T – E – R,” the letters went.

Mouse froze. Her stubby fingers clenched and then her palm flattenened commandingly. Anne felt a chill. She spelled the letters again. W – A – T… Mouse grabbed at her hand wildly and spelled, haltingly, W – A – T – R. Anne shook her head, intent, and spelled W – A – T – E – R. She was so focused she didn’t hear her employer until he stood between Anne and the sun, casting a long shadow on the both of them as they knelt in the soupy muck.

“Miss Sullivan, what are you doing?” he demanded angrily.

“I think it’s working!” she cried, looking up at him with a wild exhultation surging through her. Mouse, by some movement in the air or the sudden coolness on her face from the shade, reached out and planted a mud-spattered hand on her father’s trouser leg.

Anne, rather than admonish her, grabbed her hand and spelled out, “F – A – T – H – E – R.”

Mouse grabbed Anne’s hand and spelled it back, getting it right on the first try.

“Mr. Keller! It’s working! Helen is learning!” Anne crowed, as Mrs. Keller, listening from under the awning burst into tears. “She’s spelled ‘Father!’”

(Author’s Note: This is my first try at historical fiction. It is based on research done on works by Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan.)

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