As the defect was exposed there was a passage of time in which Olivia’s face raced through a series of emotions. They flickered past quickly; shock, pain, blame, fear, sadness, and then finally something which in later years her mother would debate was either denial or resiliency. There were tears on Olivia’s cheeks at the end of these tense moments, however no sobbing or anguished cries. She simply continued to check all of the other areas of her newborn infant and then closed the blanket back up around her. Cradling the baby in her arms, Olivia drifted off into what appeared to be a light sleep and her mother rose to finally go to the kitchen, although she chose to make tea instead of coffee.
In the days following the birth, the house was surprisingly quiet for one in which a newborn was present, the child seemingly having few of the complaints about which babies typically cry. Olivia adapted well to her role as a new mother and handled most of the duties of caring for her child without her mother’s assistance. She of course needed bits of advice along the way, however almost always chose to act on that guidance herself, instead of turning the baby over to her mother for care or demonstration. During this time the infant remained unnamed, with Olivia calling her ‘little one’ and her mother choosing ‘my tortoise’ due to the child’s tendency to wiggle around until its head was hidden by the blanket. The lack of a name went on longer than was typical and Olivia’s mother felt the delay was linked to her daughter’s hidden fears about the child’s physical handicap. She may not speak of it, however the old woman felt that her daughter worried about it constantly. The young girl was healthy and happy enough though, with a further check by the doctor revealing no immediate issues associated with the missing arm. Olivia never mentioned the absence of that limb at all, returning a, “my daughter is just perfect to me,” each time her mother tried to start a discussion about ways they might assist the child with the impairment in the future. By the time the child was six weeks old, Olivia’s mother knew she had to force the issue.
“It’s time, you know that,” she said quietly as her daughter sat in the kitchen after breakfast.
“Time? Time for what?”
“To name that baby girl. It’s past time really.”
Silence followed, with Olivia staring out the window as her mother gathered up the few dishes. Finally she responded.
“I know. I just, well, I can’t decide on a name.”
“Hmm. I thought maybe you were waiting for,”
“Waiting for what mother?” Olivia’s face mirrored the challenging tone of her question. Her mother wiped her hands before replying.
“Never mind then. You cannot decide on a name?”
“I actually like Claudia. I guess, if it’s time to decide then I like that.”
Her mother frowned and replied, “Kind of a heavy name, don’t you think?”
“Not at all. It fits her I think. Claudia Mary Good.”
The old woman, who had an understanding of the meaning of biblical names, thought that this one presented a rather mixed message.
“Maybe Mary for the first name? And I still think Claudia is, well, maybe there is something better than that?”
“I don’t think so mother.”
“I thought you said you couldn’t decide? What other names have you considered?”
“Well, I have decided, just right now. Claudia Mary.” Olivia said this firmly, raising her chin up slightly as she looked at her mother, who just shook her head slowly and sighed.
Very little of any note happened over the next two years as Claudia grew up, staying strong and healthy as she developed. There were some awkward, and in a few cases ugly moments, in and around town with people definitely not afraid to mention what they thought of a unwed mother raising a child they usually described as deformed. The staunchly religious were the worst, never failing to point out both that children with only left arms were certainly kin to the devil himself, and how the child’s first name was not doing her any favors. Olivia’s mother had eventually pointed out to her that the name Claudia was associated with concepts of lameness and crippling, however Olivia preferred to see the association with the line of Roman emperors. Her mother kept her own counsel and decided to not mention how that family had finally ended up.
It was just past the young girl’s second birthday when Olivia’s mother began to notice some disturbing trends in her daughter’s behavior. She began to spend long periods of time in bed, alternating between sleeping and muttering in the dark, and would also occasionally shout out random words when walking around in town. As time went on, Olivia became incapacitated more and more of the time, sitting for hours in a chair with a blank expression on her face or wandering aimlessly in the small back yard. During these times, Olivia’s mother did what she could to care for Claudia, however she was getting well along in her years and the efforts often left her completely exhausted. She had realized that something really needed to change just as she walked in on Olivia sticking a needle into her daughter’s foot.
…to be continued