Instead of napping, Elsa is in the Babies’ Room. She’s cuddling Rayma Colley, whose whimpering she heard from down the hall. With two younger sisters of her own, Elsa isn’t sentimental towards babies but is very competent in taking care of them and soon stops Rayma from crying by coaxing her to look at the sky. In the time she spent in the hospital, largely immobile, Elsa has spent hours examining the sky, and is amazed she never paid such close attention to it before.
Even though Elsa is only twelve, her status in her family as the eldest daughter has made her mature, able to act like a parent herself. In her first appearance, Elsa is quietly compassionate, with a strong sense of intuition. Her newfound reverence towards the sky shows that polio has changed her mindset, just as it has Frank’s.
Elsa assures Rayma that her mother misses her and thinks of her. Elsa knows Rayma crying for her mother because all the children miss their mothers intensely and spend most of their time waiting for them to come visit. Elsa remembers listening for her own mother’s footsteps all day in the Isolation Ward. To Elsa, the sky and her mother have become “entwined,” since both are so important to her and absorb so much of her attention.
Rayma’s longing for her mother and Elsa’s recognition of it show that the children at the Golden Age are young enough to be instinctively connected to their parents though a deep, almost primal bond. This is especially true of Elsa and her mother; the intensity of her language here highlights her close relationship with her mother.
Despite this comparison, Elsa remembers that when she left the Isolation Ward and her parents were allowed to sit by her, they looked “smaller” and “shrunken” by the terror they’d endured. For her part, she felt distant from them and alone in the effort of fighting polio. Elsa knows that, just as she did, Rayma has to learn to be without her mother and think for herself.
Despite the bond between parents and children at the Golden Age, polio has also caused an abrupt rupture in the closeness of these relationships, especially for Elsa. Elsa still loves her mother, but the disease has shown her that her mother can’t take care of her forever, and that she needs to develop independence.
Elsa reflects that when her mother leaves after a visit, she sometimes imagines that her real mother is waiting for her somewhere else; unlike the mother who visits her, this hidden mother is “beautiful as an angel, with an angel’s perfect understanding.”
Although it seems to voice disappointment, Elsa’s fantasy shows both discomfort with her estrangement from her mother and an intense desire to return to her childhood conception of her mother as invincible and angelic.