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?”
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.