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Posts Tagged ‘olivia's indian name is Three Thumbs’

For those of you left wondering, “What happened with the paramedic?” after last Tuesday’s teaser, this is simply … a further tease.  What can I say?  It takes more than a few chapters for this particular incident to unfold.

***

Olivia was the kind of girl who never managed to break the ice, even at parties where she knew everyone. The paramedic, on the other hand, leaned out of the ambulance window every day for weeks and said, “Morning.” Or sometimes, “Hey there.”

Down by the river

Down by the river

Startled out of her pre-dawn reverie each time, Olivia nodded, half-smiled, and kept walking. She walked every morning for an hour, looping around the river park trail before the sun made it up over the tree line. The ambulance parked at the edge of the river, its driver leaning back in the seat, arm propped on the window. He had been parking there as long as Olivia’s resolution to lose weight had been in effect and for all she knew, before that. She supposed he was on his break.

Olivia had finally accepted the exchange of greetings as an unavoidable annoyance. Then one morning, as she stepped off the curb to cross the street and start her walk, he opened the ambulance door, got out of the cab and walked toward her. Standing in the middle of the sidewalk, he seemed to be waiting for her to cross the street and reach him. Or perhaps he hadn’t noticed that he was standing directly in her path. Except that he was looking at her.

“Good morning,” he said.

Olivia dropped her gaze, giving her half-smile and trying to step to the side, between the trash can and him. He side-stepped to match her and then there was no place to go. She flushed. She hated games like that, where someone was made to feel stupid and embarrassed. Resigned, she muttered, “Morning.”

“Nice and hot, huh?” he said.

“Global warming. That’s what they say.” She hesitated, her foot seeking the curb, trying to gauge if there was enough room to squeeze past without touching him.

“Yeah, you right.”

Olivia wondered if maybe he were a little “off.” Touched, as her grandmother said. He had the hint of an accent, something exotic to Tampa. When he said hot it sounded like hawt. New Jersey, maybe? Belatedly she felt nervous. There it was, still practically dark, and she was alone.

“You new to Tampa? Dis neighborhood?” he asked. He rocked back on his heels like he was enjoying himself. Daring a quick glance at him, she guessed at a nice tan and hazel eyes, maybe? Hard to tell in the pre-dawn. Sort of swarthy–Italian?  His hair was cropped short, military style, too short to really have a color. Dark blond or brown, she guessed. Embroidered on the right side of his uniform shirt was his name: James.

“Neither. I’ve lived here my whole life.” Just the sort of personal information you shouldn’t offer to crazy strangers.

“Really? I only been seeing you for a few months. Not before that.” He should have been embarrassed or uneasy–she was trying to make it difficult for him–but he didn’t look it.

Olivia stepped up on the sidewalk and, bracing herself for it, pushed past him, her shoulder brushing against his.

“Excuse me, James, I need to go for my walk.” That at least startled him. He looked down at his chest and laughed.

Behind her, he said, “James is my last name. I’m a paramedic, not a quick-lube guy.”

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For today, something completely different.  With Ugly and the Beast out to an agent, I’m looking at one of my projects that stuttered to a halt while I wrote Ugly last year.  This is a portion of chapter two of Lie, Lay, Lain, where one of my two main characters is introduced.  It’s a bit of an oddity for me, because I don’t usually “introduce” characters.  Typically, they just show up in the story and pitch in.  So I’m curious if it works and holds readers’ attentions.

***

Olivia was born with a third thumb, which was removed before she entered kindergarten. The scar remained, sickle-shaped, a ghost tucked into the webbing between the forefinger and thumb on her right hand. When she drew her thumb alongside her fingers, the scar disappeared into a fold of skin. For most of her childhood, Olivia had believed the extra thumb was a sign from God that something was wrong with her. If you asked her about it now, if you said, “Do you think it means something that you were born with an extra thumb?” she would laugh and say, “That’s silly. It’s just an oddity. Like people who have extra canine teeth.”

If you asked, that’s what she would say, but after a few hours, her mind would creep back to the days when her brain was a five-year old turtle in a not fully hardened shell. She would remember not that she had once believed something was wrong with her, but that something was wrong with her.

Mitten

Mitten

Her mother, Barb, occasionally forgot and called her Mitten, her baby nickname. Standing at the kitchen sink, hurrying through the dishes to get to church on time, Barb sometimes said, “Mitten, did you get your dad’s coffee cup?”

When it happened, Olivia grabbed the mug off the table and forced herself to set it on the kitchen counter, instead of slamming it down. In that instant of restraint, Barb often realized what she had done, and instead of letting it go, which was what Olivia wished for, Barb apologized. In the course of the apology, she invariably used the nickname again.

The name itself didn’t bother Olivia, but the lie surrounding it did. When you have a baby with an extra thumb, it’s not the easiest thing to talk about, but it is easy to cover up. You simply slip a mitten on the offending hand, and when people ask, you say, “She’s a thumb-sucker. The doctor recommended the mitten.” Olivia’s mother told the lie often enough that she seemed to have convinced herself. The first time she accidentally used the nickname in front of one of Olivia’s high school friends, Barb told the lie without a moment’s hesitation: “When she was a baby, she used to suck her thumb, so we made her wear a mitten over it.”

Over them! Olivia wanted to shout. Instead she said nothing, but she worried that her mother was going to hell. Not in a hurtling ball of fire, like a murderer or a rapist, but in a slow, steady slide, like other liars. Her mother lied all the time, and never about anything important. Olivia knew it should not be a big deal, but in her heart, she couldn’t forgive her mother. She wasn’t sure she even believed in forgiveness.

That was why what happened with the paramedic was so painful.

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