Porcelain (Part 14)

cuttlefish courtesy progressivehealth.com

cuttlefish courtesy progressivehealth.com

This was a remedy with which Olivia’s mother had little familiarity.  She had heard of its use occasionally, however it had never been used directly in her family as she grew up or since then in her adult life.  Dr. Martin had included the dehydrated cuttlefish ink in the small package with his letter, along with the directions for its preparation.  She read them and realized that it was going to be a challenge to administer this particular solution to Olivia, as it called for a series of dilutions of the ink into sugared milk.  It would not matter that the ink would be diffused entirely and basically invisible.  Olivia just never drank much milk.  As the doctor indicated that this was the only safe way to prepare the sepia, she decided she would just need to wait for an opportune moment.

In the meantime, she of course still needed to keep a very close eye on Olivia and provide care for Claudia.  She worried that these tasks, which had already drained much of her energy over the past months, would overtake her ability to cope before the moment arrived when she could safely administer the sepia to Olivia.  Her fears, which she fought back with her usual resolute manner, were never realized as the situation with Olivia deteriorated quickly.

By the time the letter from Dr. Martin had arrived a few things had changed.  Although she spent more time out of bed than before, Olivia now seemed even more preoccupied than before with herself, and had almost completely abandoned care for her daughter.  Apparently, whatever love for her daughter may have been returning to her previously had now completely vanished.  She spent hours walking briskly around the streets which surrounded the house, returning covered in sweat and collapsing into her chair on the porch.  When asked by her mother, she would insist that all of this activity made her feel much better inside, although that never seemed to make her any more attentive to Claudia.  The remainder of her time was spent largely in a state of detachment, staring out windows or sitting in bed, eating handfuls of chocolate, a culinary fascination which had started just two days before the letter arrived.  In the days since its receipt, Olivia’s mother had also noticed that her daughter’s cheeks were starting to turn a light shade of brown, a change she at first attributed to the additional sun she was exposed to on her long walks.  The coloring had deepened however, out of balance with the other skin on her face, and the old woman took it as a bad sign that whatever was wrong inside her daughter was progressively getting worse.  The doctor had noted in his letter that Olivia’s condition was not likely to correct itself without treatment, and that she should expect some kind of additional deterioration.  She wished he had been more specific, however at this point she felt she needed to treat all of her daughter’s strange conditions and behaviors as related.  Her break came a week after the letter arrived, when she noticed that Olivia had now picked up an affection for sour drinks.  As she stepped into the kitchen that day, her daughter was squeezing lemons.


No response came from Olivia, who simply sliced another lemon in half, placing it onto the cast iron squeezer.  Her mother went over and touched her arm, repeating the question.

“No, I just need lemon juice for my tea.”

Her mother took a step back, looking at the five pulped lemons which were already scattered about on the counter.  She had no idea when or where her daughter had managed to buy lemons, as these were at a fair premium in town most of the time.  A flicker of resentment crossed her face, the thought of her dwindling finances brought on by Olivia’s failure to look for work welling up from inside.  She closed her eyes and sighed, knowing that there were much more serious matters to attend to for the moment.

“You may have enough of that already daughter.  Why don’t I pour us that tea?”

cook stove courtesy mahaffie stage coach stop olathe ks

cook stove courtesy mahaffie stage coach stop olathe ks

Olivia shrugged, completing the lemon she was on and slicing the last one in half.  As she did so, the kettle started to whistle and her mother quickly pulled it off the heat, setting it down on the front ledge of the stove as she reached for the cups.  After pouring, she went and sat by her daughter who was staring at the floor, a small jar half-way full of lemon juice in her hand.  Upon seeing the tea, Olivia immediately poured all of this into her cup, then slowly stirred it around with the spoon, the tink-tink of it hitting the edges the only sound in the room.  Her mother sat in silence, observing as her daughter drank the sour tea without any noticeable reaction.  As they finished, her daughter shouted out a profanity.

“Olivia!  Stop that language, you won’t speak like that in this house.”

“I can’t stand it mother, no more of this, no more of these constant voices in my head, no more of this terrible, constant energy inside me.  It’s that damn girl, that goddamn child I put out into this life, she’s no good for me!”

Her mother, tired to her very core, could take none of this outburst.  “Stop it!  You know that this is no fault of Claudia’s, she never asked you to,” and she paused but then continued, “to thrown yourself away that night with that scoundrel Tom Drummond.  You did it yourself and you need to take what comes from it.”

“I won’t, I cannot take anymore.  I need her gone, me gone, I need it to all to go away from me!”

About to respond, the old woman felt an uneasiness in her heart and knew before turning around that the young girl was standing in the passageway into the sitting room.  Fury kicked in at that point, and with little regret she hauled back and slapped Olivia across her face with all the energy she had left inside of her.

It was the next day, with her hand wrapped in ice and a rag, and Olivia refusing to leave her room, that she began to consider the possibilities of buttermilk.

Porcelain (Part 13)

The child started screaming immediately.

“Olivia!” The mother had stopped in shock as she spoke, however sensing no immediate reaction from her daughter she quickly stepped over and grabbed the hand which held the needle.

“What are you doing?”

There was still no reply and her daughter’s face was blank, her eyes far away.  The young girl was still screaming, its kicking legs sending tiny splatters of blood from the puncture wound onto the bedding.  The old woman reached down, wrapping the child in her blanket before picking her up.

“Olivia, what were you doing to her?”  She shook her daughter’s shoulder as she spoke and finally elicited a response.

“She doesn’t cry mother, she hardly ever cries.  Is she even alive in there?”  Saying this, she reached for Claudia’s head, however the old woman pulled the girl out of Olivia’s reach.

“You need to go to bed.  Just go.  I will take care of her.”  As Olivia continued to try to touch her daughter, seemingly deaf to her mother’s command, the old woman stalked out of the room with Claudia in her arms.

Shaking as she closed her own bedroom door behind her, Olivia’s mother settled into her rocking chair with her granddaughter.   Although she had understood for several months that there was something wrong with her daughter, she had never believed for a second that it would turn into anything that would threaten Claudia.  Now she understood that it was far more serious, however had no immediate answer about how to remedy the situation.   She kept the girl through the night, and in the morning, with the child sleeping well, walked into the kitchen and found Olivia sitting at the table.

Several minutes of silence passed and then the older woman sat down next to her.  Reaching out, she placed her hand over her daughter’s and then spoke.

“What happened yesterday Olivia?”

“I’m not completely sure, but I was just overcome by this emotion, this belief, that something was wrong with Claudia.  It seemed so clear at the time, so, well, it just seemed like there really must be something wrong with her or she would cry more often.  It’s natural for small children to cry and fuss mother and mine hardly ever does, not after she was born and not since.  It frightening, worse than if she cried all the time.  What’s wrong with her?”

“I don’t think anything is wrong dear, she’s just a happy child, one with few complaints.  One of those does come along every once in awhile you know.”

“And when has that ever turned out well in the end?”

Her mother did not have a positive answer for that question, knowing that silent children often grew into odd or sickly young adults, if they even managed to live that long.  She did however feel differently about Claudia.

“She is a strong girl Olivia and she is going to be fine.  Look how well she has managed to handle her,”

“She’s not fine mother,” Olivia interjected, “and I just wanted to hear her cry.”

Silence returned to the room as the old woman drew her hand back from her daughter’s, troubled thoughts running through her head.  Finally Olivia rose.

“I need to go check on her.”  As she walked away, the old woman’s heart fluttered with trepidation, although it was soon put to rest as Olivia came back holding Claudia gently.   Sitting down again, the girl’s head held closely against her chest, she sighed before speaking.

“I’ve felt so strange mother, so strange inside for so long.  I wonder sometimes if I’m going mad.”

“Hmm, yes, I’ve noticed that you have not been right exactly, not for awhile now.  You’ve been acting quite differently.  Do you feel sick at all?”

“I don’t know.  I feel tired, very tired sometimes, like I just can’t move and don’t even want to.  So I just sit in my room.  Other times I have all this energy but cannot contain it, as though it just wants to jump out of me.  And when I sleep I wake up sometimes, hot and drenched in sweat, because of my dreams I guess.  Those are so often about fire and burning, these big furnaces of heat.  And graveyards. Strange, don’t you think?”
The reference back to those fevered cries from immediately after the delivery startled Olivia’s mother.  Perhaps there was some deeper connection between the events of that night and her daughter’s current condition.  Olivia continued on, her voice dropping to a whisper.

“And sometimes, well sometimes I just don’t feel like I love my Claudia.  It’s such an empty feeling, like a big hole opens up underneath my heart.  It doesn’t last long, and I soon find myself just as full of love as always, but it’s so real when it happens.”  Her voice trailed off completely as she stared out the window, gently rocking her daughter in her lap.

The old woman knew that she needed to contact Dr. Martin as quickly as possible.  During the days in which she waited for a reply after writing him, in which she described in detail what she knew of her daughter’s symptoms, the old woman kept a close eye on Olivia’s interactions with Claudia.  Although there were no exact repeat occurrences of the needle incident, there were enough troubling moments to cause her level of concern to increase substantially.  Worn down by the time the letter did arrive, both from the care she continued to provide for her grand-daughter, and the additional time spent monitoring Olivia, she opened it expectantly.  The doctor suggested a very specific remedy.  Sepia.

Porcelain (Part 12)

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

Porcelain (Part 11)

The young girl had worked herself up into a really frenzy by the time Olivia’s mother picked her up, although it was all soon better following  some milk that was administered via a wet rag and a change of clothing.  As she rocked the infant back to sleep she closed her eyes and sighed deeply knowing that Olivia’s awakening, whenever it came, would bring another difficult moment.

sunlight courtesy photoforum.com

sunlight courtesy photoforum.com

The old woman slept fitfully in the chair for several hours, occasionally reaching over and placing her hand on the infant girl’s chest to sooth her or feel her breathing.  She also went twice to check on her daughter who remained peacefully asleep, the temperature of her forehead easing and the flush of her skin fading away.  Fully awake after the last check on Olivia, she sat in the chair wanting coffee but weary enough to keep putting off going to make it.  The sun slowly crept up, its light streaming in the kitchen window and slowly moving down the hallway toward the bedroom.  She watched its progress and when it had crossed the threshold of her room she rose and went to check on Olivia again.  Finding her still resting, she began to straighten up some of the remaining mess from the delivery and the events of the night before.   Several minutes later her daughter whispered a faint greeting.

“Good morning Olivia.  How are you feeling?”

Smacking her lips together and rubbing her throat, Olivia replied, “sore, very sore and so thirsty.  Is there water in the pitcher?”

Pouring a cup in response, the mother checked her daughter’s forehead as she drank.

“So much better.”

“Better than what?  And where is my baby?”

“You don’t remember?”

“I, well,” and then she paused, her face falling and a wail escaping her mouth.  “My baby, what happened?  Please tell me!”

“Shh, your daughter is well, she is well.  You don’t remember last night though?”

“Bring her to me mother.  I want to see her.  Where is she?”  With that, Olivia started to get out of bed, however her mother placed a hand on her shoulder.

“Don’t stir from bed.  You had a difficult night even if you don’t remember it.  I will bring you the child.”

Olivia complied, although the eagerness in her face certainly meant she would not do so for long.  Realizing that there was no way to put off the revelation any longer, the old woman walked toward her room, thoughts running through her head.  Was there a way to lessen the pain from what Olivia was about to discover?  How would her daughter deal with what might be seen as a failure of a mother’s womb?  Should she tell her first or let her discover it for herself, as it certainly would not take long for that to happen?  Reaching the cradle she picked the infant up and spent several minutes putting it in fresh clothing and diaper, then wrapping her up in the blanket.  Finished, and with Olivia calling for her from the other room, asking what was taking so long, she took one more moment to hold the young girl close to her chest.

“You are a beautiful girl, you always will be,” she whispered softly and then wiped a tear from her cheek before heading toward Olivia’s room.   Her daughter’s eyes lit up when she entered and she stretched out her arms, her fingers waving the baby toward her.  Handing the infant over, the old woman settled into the chair.

Several minutes passed as Olivia nuzzled her newborn close to her face, and then spoke baby-talk as she brushed the infant’s cheeks with her right hand.  She turned toward her mother as she began to remove the blanket.

“Was the labor difficult mother?  I do have to admit that I do not remember much if it.  The doctor was here, I know that, and I hurt so badly when I felt I had to push.”

Olivia’s mother paused before replying, reflecting on the experience that her daughter had been part of but for which she possessed no recollection.  She would not say it aloud, however she did in fact believe that this did diminish the motherhood experience.  If this trend caught on, this need to remove yourself from life’s trials and pains with drugs, then she had some serious doubts about how the future might look for civilization.  For now though that was mostly water under the bridge and she responded to Olivia.

“It was no so bad daughter.  You were in some pain as you remember, however not much more than…,” and she paused, decided to skip the point and then continued, “ well, it wasn’t too terrible.  But then the doctor gave you that gas and, well you were pretty much gone after that.  The baby came after awhile and I cleaned her up.”

“You should have let the doctor do that mother, the doctor is supposed to check the baby once it’s born.”

“Olivia, I don’t know what you may have read or been told, but that man was most certainly not going to clean up a newborn baby.  He handed her to me the instant she was out and the cord cut and didn’t seem much concerned after that, not until I had her fixed up anyway.  He checked her breathing and, well a few other things and then he made sure you were well before trying to give me a lecture on caring for you.”

“You did listen to him?”

“I took care of you all last night Olivia, and it wasn’t good let me tell you, yet here you are, well and fit.  That’s enough said I believe.”

Her daughter ignored the comment about the struggles through the night.

“The doctor said she was well, yes?  All her parts, fingers and toes?  Healthy?”

Sighing deeply her mother responded.  “Well, she’s healthy certainly.  And she has all the fingers she can have.”

A blank look from Olivia was followed by her frantically tearing the blanket off the baby girl, who she soon discovered had no right arm.

…to be continued