Porcelain (Part 37)

Back in Hiawatha, it had in fact been a rather long journey over to the graveyard from Harriet’s house on Shawnee.  By the time they arrived, John Davis’ nose was bright red from the cold, Jimmy had pulled a blanket over his head, under which he was silently sipping whiskey, and Harriet had lost most of the feeling in her fingers.  The ceremony itself was brief and respectful, the usual words being said, and then Henry McClinton had walked over to assist in lowering the casket into the hole.  As they began, Harriet stopped them, kneeling down and placing her right hand on the top, soft words of farewell being said as mist rose from the warm earth of the grave.  Once that was done, she stood up and began the walk back, the hard set of her face deterring any offers of a ride from John.

Once home, it was a simple process.  Harriet selected a plain grey dress and a more formal cream colored one, packing them away for the time, if it ever came, when she chose to emerge from mourning for her daughter.  These days the proper social etiquette as it applied to children seemed to have been left up to the individual parents, but Harriet was unsure if she would ever again feel it proper to dress in anything but black.  The remainder of her clothing was placed into a large pile on the kitchen floor and she began the process of dyeing all of it as deep and dark of a black as she could achieve.  After setting up her wash basin and placing the clothing in it to soak, she packed all of Olivia’s belongings into a large trunk and then hung a black veil over the one image she had of her daughter.  It was a simple drawing, done years ago by an artistic man who had briefly lived in Hiawatha, setting up a small shop a few doors down from Leaders.  It was a flattering sketch, one that seemed to capture energy that had faded from Olivia even back then.  Knowing that the doctor would stop by later, driven by social custom and perhaps friendship, she wrote out a list of the things she would need weekly from the store in town, as she was certainly not going to be ready for any regular community interaction for some time to come.  Tucking a small amount of money into an envelope, along with the list, she placed them both on the small table by the door.

Harriet passed the remainder of the day with her dyeing process, her hands and forearms becoming a dull grey from the laborious process of moving and stirring the garments.  As she sat down to eat that evening, Harriet was struck by how white her fingernails had remained, standing out starkly against her oddly colored fingers.

They continued to distract her the next morning, both as she sat on the porch, repairing Claudia’s torn dress, and later while composing a letter to her brother.

November 15, 1883

My Dear Wyatt,

So it has come to pass – Olivia died on the twelfth of this month, just a few days ago and I buried her on the fourteenth.  I see no reason to pass this sad news onto Claudia, who hopefully can keep some faint memory of her mother in a happy way.  Perhaps one day she will ask and I shall leave it to your judgement on what to tell her at that moment.  It is about Claudia that I write to you.

I know you have likely traveled already and perhaps are already overseas; I have only your one reference to Germany as a guide to where you may be going and I hope that your travels, if you have already begun them, go well.   How is my granddaughter taking to her new home?  Has she had any difficulty adapting to life in a different county?  What has she learned about?  Has she grown?  

I realize that our distance apart is great and that news travels slowly.  I would, however, greatly like to hear about Claudia when you have time to write me back.  I will hold this letter until you send word of where I may post it to, as you had stated you would in your last telegram to me.  Please write back soon, 

With Warm Regards From Your Sister,


She placed that letter in the drawer of her nightstand, hopeful that Wyatt would be good on his word to forward his address information, and then retuned to the process of dyeing her clothes.  The doctor, who had shown up dutifully the day before and taken the envelope without a word, retuned to the house in the afternoon with the supplies he had purchased.  Offering her the envelope back, Harriet responded with an upraised hand and a soft, “for next time,” before dismissing him with a nod of her head.  He left, an offended look on his face, and Harriet leaned back in her chair.  Mindful of the traditions she had been raised with, she was determined to remain as apart and distanced for society and societal interactions as it was possible to do.  The doctor, and anyone else, would just have to understand that.

It was much later, December tenth, when a messenger finally appeared at her door with a telegram from her brother.  Reading the message quickly, Harriet asked the man to wait while she retrieved the letter, addressing it before handing it to him with a request that it be forwarded overseas.  After glancing at what was written on the envelope, the messenger had delivered a short lecture to Harriet on the many complications inherent in getting a piece of mail delivered to such a faraway location.  He summed it up briefly as, “I doubt this will ever arrive ma’am.”  Harriet, unwilling to engage in any kind of longer discussion with the man, had simply handed him five dollars and stated, “just see that it is done.”

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