Harriet stood there for a few long moments, a series of memories from her daughter’s life flashing by in her mind. As they did, she kept her hand on the doctor’s arm, as he seemed torn between going to help her and turning away in embarrassment. She knew that despite the uncomfortable nature of the situation, she was going to need his assistance with Olivia. Taking a deep breath, and dismissing the memories, she stepped forward and grabbed the quilt to wrap around her daughter. Once she had it situated in a way that provided some modesty to the situation, the doctor came over to assist her. Working together, and against the dead-weight of Olivia, who seemed oblivious to the struggle, they managed to get her into the bed and covered completely back up. Falling with a sigh into a chair, Harriet wiped the sweat from her forehead before speaking.
“Thank you doctor. I think I’ve got it from here.”
“Yes, well I will check up on her just for a minute. Just to make sure that she didn’t injure herself.” He started toward the bed but Harriet raised her hand to stop him.
“Really doctor, it won’t matter, doesn’t matter anymore. Leave her to me as she is.”
“Ma’am, I know you are tired from all of this. Go lay down and I will check on her. A little rest will do you well.”
“You’ve been good to her, you really have. And me. All of us. You truly have done your best to help and I appreciate it. But we both know that there is nothing that can be done for her, nothing of substance anyway. She is as she will be, and there cannot be much of life left for her.”
The doctor had started shaking his head half-way through Harriet’s comments and continued as he replied. “You are over-tired and despondent. There is no reason to despair here. She is ill, that is certainly true, but good medicine can assist and I am here to provide it. We owe,”
Harriet interrupted him, her voice starting to harden. “You owe her nothing. You have provided well for her and I release you from your service to her.”
“I cannot just walk away from this. I have an obligation to provide my best care.”
“Doctor, I release you and bid you farewell. You need to learn to understand when you are wasting your time. Such a lesson will serve you well through your medical career. Some living things cannot be saved.” Harriet’s eyes, more a metallic steel now than their usual soft grey, met his, and they silently considered each other for several moments. Finally he dropped his eyes and replied.
“My time is never wasted on trying to preserve the life of any person. I do see here that you no longer want me to look after her and I will go, for now anyway.” As he turned and picked his medical bag back up, Harriet briefly closed her eyes, steeling herself to dismiss him. As he walked out of the room she called after him, her voice filled with a bitterness that reflected her own distaste for having to say it.
The room closed in on her after that, the dreariness of a day that had turned from sunny to overcast adding to the somber feeling she felt in her heart. It was just her and Olivia, her daughter, whom not so many years ago had been such a vibrant young woman, one full of enough adventurous spirit to strike out from the east coast toward the unknown territory of Kansas. Harriet’s other cares and worries slipped into the background as she concentrated on being right there, next to and with her daughter, who had faded back into sleep. She rose and went to sit on the bed, stroking Olivia’s hair, feeling her face and breathing in the slightly musty odor that emanated from her skin. Her finger traced the ridge of her daughter’s nose, a sharp edge that had always given Olivia a slightly hawkish look. She remembered when she would tweak it when her daughter was a little girl, calling her bird-beak in a way that would send Olivia into a playful pout. Carefully she turned her daughter’s face, so she could see all of it, the way the wisps of her hair hung down and tickled her cheeks, the slight downturn of her lips, the mole next to her left eye. It was so peaceful as she saw it now, soft and relaxed in repose. She could feel her daughter’s ribcage against her own side as Olivia’s shallow breaths continued without seeming to notice her mother’s attention. Leaning over, she kissed her daughter on the forehead, a kiss she held for almost an entire minute before rising and walking to the kitchen.
Once there, Harriet set about her mission without any delay or hesitation. Taking out her remaining supply of dried belladonna, she began crushing it in her mortar, her strong but thin hands working the plant over and over again, until it became a fine powder. Finally satisfied that is was soluble, she poured it into a tea cup and then added warm water and several teaspoons of sugar. As she stirred this solution, she watched out the window as a large crow bobbed up and down on the top branches of a Inkwood tree. Setting down the spoon, she walked back toward the bedroom, where she set the cup down on the nightstand. Pulling the portrait from under the covers, she tucked it in her daughter’s arms after slowly pulling Claudia’s torn dress out of her hand. Waking Olivia up with a sharp shake of her shoulder, she coaxed her into a partial sitting position before placing the cup to her lips. Taking it without question or even a glance at her mother, Olivia drank it down quickly, choking slightly as the last of it crossed her lips. Laying back down, she pulled the portrait of Claudia close into her chest with a small smile on her face. A short time later, with her mother watching her from the doorway, she trembled briefly and took one last troubled breath.
… to be continued