Porcelain (Part 43)

Once his boots were back on, Isaac walked out the side door, stopping when he reached the wood bin. Then he went back inside, emerging five minutes later in different clothes, shabbier ones, what Lydia called his tramp clothes. He paused again by the wood bin, picking the axe up this time and then walking over to the cabin. Despite the fact that he had realized months ago, on that night when Lydia had steamed open the letter and they had resolved to not send that or any other of his father’s correspondence to Harriet, that this moment would come, it still made him pause. It had been one thing to think about it; How hard would it be? Would he really be able to do it when the moment came? What was the best way? What would happen afterward? Those thoughts had kept him up on a few odd nights and had distracted him several times at work. It had also been an entirely different thing to whisper about it in bed with Lydia, usually after one of their generally unsatisfying sexual encounters. She seemed mostly concerned about where his father kept whatever money he was hiding, bracing up Isaac for the ultimate moment (as she called it, usually with a smirk), and asking what in the damn hell they were going to do with that troublesome little girl afterwards. That question had never really been answered and now, as Isaac stood on the porch step with the axe held in one sweaty hand, he also was not sure that Lydia had braced him up well enough. His stomach was sour and he had a slight tremble in his jaw. There was, however, no way that he could go back and face his wife’s derision. Taking a deep breath, and wiping his hands once again against his dirty pants, he stepped up onto the porch and listened at the door.

It seemed completely quiet inside and Issac gingerly reached down and pushed the lever, unlatching the door, which swung in with a slight creak. The sound seemed loud in the silence of the night but no reaction came from either of the cabin’s occupants. He waited several long minutes as his eyes adjusted to the gloom inside the cabin and then he slowly made his way across the main room to the doorway of his father’s bedroom. Here he had to pause once again to wipe his hands, and then he set his jaw firmly, grinding his teeth together to keep them from chattering. There was no door on the room, only the doorway, which seemed somehow darker than all of the other darkness that surrounded it, some kind of pit that he was about to step through and into. He did so, feeling his stomach flip once again, and then three steps later he was standing over his father’s bed. The darkness of course made it difficult to perceive the actual person lying there, but he knew the general arrangement of the room, and the bed, and knew that his father always slept on his back. Then Isaac just waited, willing his eyes to adjust better, while at the same time silently praying that no sound, no urge to urinate and no special sense woke his father up. A sharp but low scratching sound came suddenly from the main room, probably a mouse, and he heard a cat, likely that unnamed thing his son had brought home, meowing somewhere outside the cabin. His heart rate, which had been fast and loud up to this point, started to slow down and a small sense of calm began to creep out and cover up Isaac’s nervous state. He could do this. Finally he could see just a little better, enough to see the edges of his father’s face, the red blanket spilled off the end of the bed, the opaqueness of Wyatt’s fingernails where his hands were resting on his chest. And then he did it, fast and without any hesitation.

He swung that axe with all of his might and anger, driving the blade right down and through his father’s face. The swish of the weapon passing his ear was exhilarating and the loud crunch of it bashing though skull and skin brought a malevolent, lopsided grin to Isaac’s face. His father grunted as he died and that was it, although the sound of the axe slamming into the bed frame did wake Claudia up. She called out from the small nook where she slept, and then Issac heard the rustle of her moving around on her mattress. What to do if Claudia woke up had never been part of the planning, as Lydia believed the girl would not be disturbed as long as Isaac kept the noise to a minimum. Who could have guessed that the axe would go completely through his father’s skull? Isaac briefly thought about what to do if she did walk into the room, then was startled by a sharp bang from the porch. It sounded like a animal had knocked something over, the scamper of small feet audible for several seconds afterward. That seemed to reassure Claudia, who called out one more time and then went silent. Gingerly he pried the axe out and then waited for thirty minutes, listening to the blood drip onto the floor while trying to calm the shakes that were running through his body. He then rose silently, his nerves almost completely settled, and walked back out of the cabin to get Lydia. There was other work to be done.

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 42)

Harriet had continued to properly mourn her daughter, leaving all comforts aside and dedicating herself to what little work needed to be done around the house. She kept all of the Christmas decorations packed away and turned down a polite invitation from Doctor Warren to join him for a holiday dinner. There seemed to be no need for fun or joy, as Harriet also felt that she was mourning the loss of Claudia along with that of Olivia. She was not a woman given to bouts of depression or sadness; however, she did feel a great loneliness and a sense that there truly was something missing from her life. Even though the last years with Olivia had been extremely difficult, and despite the cold facts of her death, she still missed the company and the sense of having something to do.

It was on a Saturday in February that Harriet realized just how troubled she was, and how much she needed to find something to do. Waking up that morning with a slightly more cheerful attitude than usual, she had slipped on the grey dress she had kept for some future day, not intending to end her period of mourning, just trying it on to see how it felt. Looking into the mirror, past her many wrinkles and weathered skin, Harriet saw only the figure of a woman who looked out of place in any color other than black. The dress seemed too bright, too cheerful, out of place and inappropriate. Stripping it off, she returned to wearing black but settled in for a cup of tea on the porch with a realistic outlook. She needed to get herself into a better frame of mind.

She started as soon as the tea was drained from the cup. Walking back into the sitting room, where Claudia’s repaired dress still lay upon a small side table, Harriet folded it up carefully and placed it into her chest, tucking it into the same cloth bag as Olivia’s dress, and tying it back up with the purple string. Then she settled down to write a letter to her brother.

February 23, 1884
My Dear Wyatt,
I have heard nothing from you since my last letter and hope that all is well with you and Claudia. I worry much, which you should know, so I find your lack of writing to be extremely inconsiderate. I asked you simply to tell me a little news about Claudia and that you both were well. You could at least have sent me a telegram if you were too busy to write.
Spare yourself any further immediate worry over this as I have resolved to travel myself to see you and Claudia. I still mourn Olivia; however, have come to realize that I must find a new sense of purpose and something to do. I will travel to Germany as soon as it can be arranged and although I fear slightly for my health given my age, believe that my usual fortitude will win out. I am hopeful that your town of Lippelsdorf is small enough that a polite inquiry about the new people from the United States will be enough to locate you. It would be helpful of course, if you receive this in time, if you could arrange to check for my arrival in whatever location it is that persons usually arrive there.
I do hope that all is well and look forward to seeing you soon.
With Warm Regards, Your Sister,

P.S. I add this on Monday after a frustrating day in town spent trying to get information on travel. It appears that my first possible crossing would be May 15 so I will be somewhat delayed in reaching you and Claudia. Perhaps this will be for the better as I can gather my strength and get the house closed up. Best – H

Once the letter was sealed and posted on Tuesday, February twenty-sixth, Harriet made good on her goal of trying to regain as much of her strength and vitality as she could. She returned to taking long walks around Hiawatha, and people would greet her with the cheery sort of wave that one gives a person they have not seen in awhile. The older people believed that Harriet must be starting to come out of her period of mourning and several unannounced pies and tarts appeared on her porch one Sunday, a way of welcoming her back to the community. She appreciated these gestures although she was not herself too sure just how close she was to the end of her mourning. She still felt that not enough time had passed and she also had the lingering example set by her own mother hanging over her every day. But she needed to get ready for her trip, so she kept up the walks and started to make arrangements for closing up her house. She was not completely sure how long she would be gone and had not booked a return ticket from Germany. She also realized that it was just possible that the trip would kill her, so she made sure that all of her own personal affairs were in order. By the end of March she was feeling much better, stronger than she had in quite some time, and her mindset was brighter. She was giving serious consideration to taking off the black.

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 41)

Several days later Christmas came and went with little fanfare, especially at the main house.  Isaac was as frugal as ever and did not allow money to be spent on what he considered to be wasted celebration.  Wyatt did cut down a small tree and place it in the cabin for Claudia.  He also made sure she had a few simple gifts to open, but overall it was a day little different from any other they had spent in Lippelsdorf.  Claudia was sitting next to Wyatt on the porch the next day when Issac passed by with an armful of wood.

“Did you post my letter to my sister?”

“I’ve hardly had time yet father,” Isaac replied in a weary voice, “as I have had many chores around the house.  I am plenty busy despite the work holiday.”

“Well then, return it to me as I think I can manage a walk into town tomorrow and will post it myself.”

“Never mind that father, I said I will take care of it and I will.  Stop worrying about it.”

Wyatt watched his son complete the trip to the side door where he unceremoniously dumped the wood onto the ground and then hurried into the house.

“Lydia sure has that son of mine jumping for her,” Wyatt muttered under his breath, receiving an inquisitive look in reply from Claudia.  “Never you mind girl, just go back to your playing.”

Wyatt wrote several letters after that, about one a month through March, always giving them to Isaac to post as his son had stated he had a special arrangement with the post master to get the letters quickly to the states.  Something about making sure they ended up on the fastest ships.  Wyatt had liked the sound of that arrangement and had praised Isaac for getting it in place.  He would inquire sometimes, about whether any replies had arrived for him at the station, and Issac would respond that he always checked but nothing had been received.  Tension grew between them over this, mostly from Isaac’s side, as he seemingly became more and more irritated by his father’s questions, and shorter and more blunt in his replies.  Eventually, Wyatt would start asking and Isaac would just cut him off with an upraised hand.  He had considered going to the station himself several times; however, the last walk to town had been long and difficult for both he and Claudia.   By the end of March however, he was very worried about the lack of any reply and his patience with trying to get information from Isaac had been exhausted.  He understood the distance involved but he had waited long enough.  As soon as he saw his son walk into the main house that night he had promptly walked over and entered without knocking.  He caught Isaac and Lydia is an argument which they abruptly ended as he stepped through the door.  They looked flustered but Wyatt hardly noticed as he had come seeking different information.

“What is his name Isaac?  What is the name of this post master in town?”

Isaac glanced over at his wife before replying.  “Why are you asking?”

“Because I am going into town myself tomorrow and getting some information from the man.  I have posted four letters to Harriet since Christmas and have not heard one spare word back from her yet.  Maybe he can figure out why his magic delivery trick doesn’t work both ways.  Or help in getting it to work.  Or tell me something about why it should be taking so long.  I need to wire Harriet also, just to make sure she is well.”

“Really father, take it easy.  It is a long walk for an old man like you and it would be a waste of your time anyway.  I’ve told you that I check for you and I’m sure nothing has been received.”  Isaac settled down into a wooden chair and started taking off his brown work boots.  “You do realize that we live in Germany?  This is a long way from the states and mail takes time.”

“Not this long.  Her last letter arrived here barely five weeks after she wrote it so there should have been word by now.  Give me that name boy.”

“You really must be patient.” It was Lydia who had spoken and it took Wyatt by surprise.

“Well, yes, I mean, well, it has been long enough.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to ruin Isaac’s special arrangement or make any kind of a scene. I just need to know what might be taking so long.”

An unusual silence followed, one that remained as Isaac and Lydia seemed to share looks of some kind of understanding.  Finally Isaac leaned back in his chair and stretched his feet out toward the fire before speaking.

“You’re going in the morning, then? Tomorrow?”

“Yes, that is what I said.  Now what is his name?”

“Very well.  Alois Weber, ask for him at the front.”

“Thank you.  Good night son.”

Wyatt strode back out and across to the cabin, while inside the main house the strange silence remained.   Isaac stared up at the ceiling while Lydia stared intently at her husband as she leaned up against the kitchen door frame.  Ambrose came in, seemed to sense that something was amiss, and proceeded on through to his own room.  A cat, which the boy had found in the woods and adopted, but so far not named, jumped up to sit on Isaac’s lap.  Finally he spoke.

“I know.”

“You should, it obviously cannot go on past tomorrow.  And that means tonight.”

“Yes, I said that I know.”

And the silence returned and continued as the clock on the wall slowly marked off the minutes.  The cabin was always dark by ten o’clock each night, and when it was ten thirty Lydia walked over to blow out the lamp on the table.  She then retired to the bedroom and Isaac pulled his work boots back on.


…to be continued