Name: Fiona Líobhan (Lee-VAHN) Ryan
Date of birth: 19 May 1957
Place of birth: A squat in The Bowery neighborhood of Manhattan.
Year I created her: 1993. The book was taken out of hiatus in 2010, and a whole new Baby developed.
Role: Main character, Not Protagonist
Those of you who’ve been following my Sweet Saturday Samples excerpts for awhile may know Fiona better as Baby, the cute, sensitive, inquisitive third-born of the four nameless Ryan children, three sisters and a brother who’ve grown up poor and squatting in Manhattan. The official name she receives in 1970 is partly in memory of an old school friend of mine who went to the other world at only 26.
Like all four Ryan children, Fiona too was born in an unassisted homebirth, and she didn’t have a birth certificate, social security number, or even a real name till early 1970. Since her parents, Teresa Kathleen Mulrennan Ryan and Floyd Everett Ryan, had no interest in raising kids, they left their raising up to their like-minded community of squatters. And since they had no desire to have kids, they just named each according to what s/he was. Since the name Girl was already taken, they just called the second girl Baby and the third one Infant. When Infant was born, they took off and never returned.
Fiona was a rare en caul birth. A baby who’s born in the caul is born with the amniotic sac over the head (hence the French word caul, which means “hood”). Caulbearers are traditionally said to be blessed with good luck and a sixth sense, and won’t die at sea. Their good luck is underscored if they always have their preserved caul in their possession. (Of course, nowadays, there aren’t many caulbearers because of how many hook-happy, impatient doctors artificially break the water instead of letting it break on its own.) But an en caul birth is even rarer. That’s when a baby is born entirely within an unbroken sac of waters, like the mother laid an egg. And Fiona is an extraordinarily sensitive person, perhaps because of her rare, lucky origins.
Until she graduates high school in 1975, Fiona wears her dark brown hair in ponytails, and retains a very sweet, child-like demeanor. Her original moniker Baby really suits her well. During her family’s squatting years, she often sings, dances, and plays a tambourine for donations in Greenwich Village. She and all three of her siblings are southpaws. (I think I have the highest concentration of any of my fictional lefties in this particular family saga!) And of course, she’s very devoted to her sisters, brother, and their friends after all they went through growing up, without any elders or extended family to raise them. They raised themselves, and one another.
Here are some typical, favorite Baby/Fiona lines:
Baby climbs onto Sarah’s lap. “Why do you have a tattoo? I never met a woman who had a tattoo before, only sailors and bad guys.”
“We won’t bother you by taking up all your room,” Baby says sweetly. “We can pull our mattresses up to your roof. It’s August, so we won’t freeze to death overnight.”
“What was your mommy’s name?” Baby asks. “I like you and don’t want you to leave us, but if you found your mommy and you know your daddy’s dead now, it ain’t right to stay with us longer than you have to.”
“I like it already,” Baby announces. “I know it’s older than the place we left behind, but it’s old in a good way.”
“Is there enough room for all of us to watch television?” Baby asks. “A davenport only seats three or four people, and the rest of us would have to sit on the floor. I don’t wanna sit on the floor my very first time watching television.”
“Well, I hope you don’t intend to do that in front of us every time we come over from now on,” Baby says. “I never wanna kiss a boy. It looks like chewing on someone’s face.”
“Why would any girl in her right mind want a guy to touch private parts of her body?” Baby asks. “You older people do a lot of goofy stuff.”
“Can we take back any little animal friends, like hermit crabs, fish, or seahorses?” Baby asks. “I’d like a pet.”
(Upon learning degenerate oldest Troy brother Carlos’s body stopped working below the waist as a result of his paralysis) “Does that mean he can’t even go to the bathroom?” Baby asks. “Wouldn’t he explode from holding it all in for five years?”
“I just can’t get that image outta my head,” Baby says, hugging her knees to her chest. “If the South Vietnamese are supposed to be our friends, why was one of them shooting a prisoner in the head? I’m still having nightmares about that since I saw it on the news in February.”
“But can’t scientists find a way to stop that from happening?” Baby asks, having forgotten about her fears that the world is going to come to an end this year. “I don’t want our entire planet erased and swallowed into the Sun as though nothing ever happened here. Our entire existence would be in vain if we left no record behind and everything we ever did as a human race was erased without a trace.”
“Do I look like a Fiona?” Baby asks uncertainly. “I know it’s a nice Irish name, but I don’t look Irish with my dark brown hair and eyes.”
“You’re a really swell lady for helping us,” Baby says. “Most grownups we’ve known outside of our own community haven’t been so nice to us.”
“Wouldn’t it be groovy if we could live in a real gingerbread house?” Fiona asks. “Do you think there’s an alternative universe out there somewhere where people live in a fantasy world with gingerbread houses and magic elves and fairies?”
“It wouldn’t have been fair to yous guys to make you stay in Poughkeepsie and commute an hour and a half to Albany just for one more year of my high school,” Fiona says. “Hudson Falls to Albany is only about thirty-five miles away and won’t even take an hour. Plus, it’ll be so groovy for us to all live together again like old times. I can’t wait to have bunk beds with Justine and Aoife.”
“A real job?” Fiona asks excitedly. “As in, I’d get paid with a real check or cash once a week, and it would have regular hours and it would be the same place every day? That sounds a lot better than how I used to dance, sing, and play my tambourine for money!”
“The SAT was tough!” Fiona says. “Whoever thought it up shoulda made it into a test you take during school hours, or at least after school. I wanted to sleep in last Saturday, not get outta bed at eight o’clock. It’s even worse with year-round Daylight Savings Time still in effect. I hope Ford doesn’t outlaw Christmas lights like that crook Nixon did.”
“Did you start a wedding registry yet?” Fiona asks. “That must be awesome to get free stuff just for getting married.”
“Well, Skidmore has no master’s track for anything, and SUNY Albany is the closest grad school to Hudson Falls. I never said I’d interfere in your personal life or give detailed reports to your sisters and brother. I’m just interested in knowing exactly what’s been going on between you and my brother.”
“Even if you wanted to do it, it’s not very nice to sneak looks at unsuspecting people when they’re naked,” Fiona says. “How would you like it if David crept into your room when you were undressed?”
“That’s so not normal,” Fiona says. “Not that I’d know, but everyone says you lose your inhibitions when you do that. It must be torture to have to hold any noises inside for fear of parents overhearing.”
David stares at her. “Did you just admit what I thought you did? You’re twenty-two and haven’t slept with anyone?”
“Because I haven’t had a real boyfriend yet. Believe it or not, big brother, more people than society would like you to think are undated or at least celibate well into their twenties. Romance novels and romantic movies wouldn’t be very popular if they showed a character who was only having her first boyfriend or sexual relationship in her mid or late twenties, even if that’s reality for many people.”
“But how could that be? You have to be trying to avoid dates to be single and celibate that long! And everyone does that nowadays. You don’t hafta wait for marriage anymore or be forced to marry the first guy you sleep with, now that there’s the Pill and legalized abortion.”
“I’m not necessarily waiting for marriage or a guy I’m very sure will be my husband like Emeline was. I’m just reserving myself for a serious relationship. I’m not so out of date I think a woman is a whore for sleeping with more than one guy before finding her husband, so long as these are serious relationships and she’s not having one-night stands and sleeping with guys she only dates for a few weeks or months.”
“At least you don’t wear your hair in ponytails anymore. That mighta been why you didn’t have a boyfriend in high school.”