Porcelain (Part 19)

Although she had been eagerly watching the post for days, Olivia’s mother knew that much of this was futile in the days following the sending of her letter.  The mail just did not travel that fast.  During that time little changed, including Olivia’s constant attempts to elicit pained reactions out of Claudia whenever she could manage to get past her mother’s guard.  Fortunately, there were few successful attempts, as Harriet fought her own weariness valiantly, managing to stay awake until Olivia was asleep and rising to meet the day even earlier than was typical.  It was with pleasant surprise that she found Wyatt’s return letter in a small packet of mail handed to her on September twelfth.  Taking Claudia’s hand, she walked slowly down the street and over onto Delaware, sitting on a bench with her granddaughter to read the note from her brother.

August 29, 1883


I have received your letter and must say that it shocked me, both to hear from you after such a long time and also to have you request such a favor of me.  Surely we have not been close these many years, and I find it difficult to reconcile our estrangement and your request.   I do, however, grant that you have need of a specific remedy for the situation with your granddaughter and have arranged for her to travel here to Colorado at your earliest convenience.  For that, I have sent to you, via Western Union, the funds necessary to purchase travel for her by train to Denver.  I must tell you that I, along with the family of my son Isaac, are soon bound for Germany and are unlikely to return.  This trip is to be a permanent move for them, and certainly my last voyage.  As it seems you care greatly for this girl, I fear that the separation may be difficult for you, and more than you expected when you sent your letter to me.  That is the fact of it though, and so you must accept it if I am to aid you and meet your request.  Please send to me the girl’s arrival date here and I will meet her at the train.  I do hope that all is, and remains, well with you.

Your Brother, 


Putting the letter down in her lap, Harriet reached over and pulled Claudia close so that the girl would not see the tears running down her face.  Her brother was correct in saying that she had not expected her granddaughter to be taken so far away.  She also realized that once she departed for Denver there was almost no chance of her ever seeing the girl again.  Wyatt had reacted with more maturity than she had expected, and she gave him credit for that, although she still felt the letter carried a tone of harshness that was unnecessary given the nature of her request.  It was, however, the solution she had asked for, and the only one she had come up with that would allow Claudia to get away from her mother before any substantial harm was visited upon the girl.  It was the thing which must be done.  She did worry about what might become of her granddaughter so far away from her protection; however, she had little to fault Wyatt on in regard to his general demeanor and character.  They may not have gotten along well but her brother had always been reliable, generally honest and much less prone to violence than most men of his time.  Harriet believed that a person’s character changed little over time and hoped this was true of her brother.  She would need to trust to these facts and her belief in Wyatt.  Wiping her face dry with the sleeve of her dress, Harriet took Claudia’s hand and they began walking back together.  As they made their way down Ninth Street, she paused by the home of the new town doctor.  Realizing that this was the only medical resource she had immediately available, Harriet walked up and knocked on the door.  Once inside, she had a long discussion with him while Claudia played in the backyard.  As they left, her granddaughter asked who that man had been and Harriet replied softly, “Someone we are going to need in a very short while.”

As they approached from the west, Harriet could see that Olivia was sitting out on the porch and watching them as they walked up the road.  There was palpable tension, even at a distance, and the old woman shooed Claudia around the back of the house before climbing the stairs to talk to her daughter.  Olivia scoffed loudly as the girl skipped away and turned a fairly unkind face toward her mother.

“Did you enjoy your walk with my daughter?”

“Of course I did.  She is a sweet child.”  Harriet sat down in the other chair, arranging her dress neatly to the side.

“Perhaps I should take her out for another walk after dinner.”

“You will most certainly not.  That girl is going nowhere with you.”

“She’s my daughter.”

“Then treat her like she is, that would be a pleasant change.”

“I hardly,”

Harriet cut her daughter off with a raised hand.  “I’m tired of arguing this with you Olivia.  We have the same discussion every day and I’m tired.  You are not a fit mother, that is a certain fact, whether you see it or not.”

“She is mine and I can treat her as I like.”

“As I said, I am done with this argument and arguing with you in general.  I have made arrangements for Claudia.”

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 18)

August 9, 1883

My Dear Wyatt,

I do hope that this letter finds you well.  I know that we have become estranged over these many years and I fear that this may resolve you to hesitate in considering my request.  I must, however, beg a boon in regard to my recently born granddaughter Claudia.  You will have scarce recollection of my own daughter Olivia; however, she managed to become pregnant several years ago at the rather advanced age of fifty-one.  Perhaps not surprising given my own age when I had her; however, it was most unexpected and rather unfortunate, being the product of a small dalliance I must admit to having a hand in.  For that I may well not forgive myself soon.  The scoundrel absconded at once of course, and I have been raising this child much on my own due to some irregularities with Olivia.  The details will not serve her well; just know that I now fear for the very life of Claudia and have no way to protect her anymore.  I know you are well along in years, just as I am, and may well not welcome the idea.  I still must ask, in fact insist, that you allow me to send the girl to you.  She is well-mannered and causes little trouble, although I must let you know that she was born with only one arm.  I have not seen this affect her in any way and she seems barely aware of it herself.  It may well play larger when she is around other children on a more regular basis, although I feel she will make her way through any challenges that the world puts in her way.  She has proven resolute in the face of her mother’s deterioration and I am certain she will remain so when she lives with you.  Please hurry your response in regard to this request as I must get Claudia safely away as soon as possible. 

With Warm Regards, Your Sister, 


It was into the last week of August by the time that Wyatt received this and Isaac was deep into the plans he was making to depart before the end of the year.  Realizing that a discussion about adding another member to their traveling party was going to need to take place before any further details were finalized, Wyatt folded the letter up and leaned back with his eyes closed.

He was conflicted, both in regard to his obligation to assist his sister, and in his ability to take on such a responsibility as was being asked of him.  He had long ago cast aside any deep sentiments he may have had in regard to familial attachments; however he also still felt a lingering affection for his sister.  Perhaps it was simply that she had been the one to see him off that day, regardless if that was out of obligation or not.  He also understood that he was well advanced in years and may well not be around long enough to raise Claudia properly, or to protect her from Isaac if that became necessary.  Was it right to bring any child willingly into this household that he now had, one that contained a rather unpredictable creature such as his son?  Was the danger here worse than what his sister believed Claudia faced from her mother?  After several long moments, Wyatt stood and walked into the small study where his son was bent over reading ship schedules at his desk.  Sitting down, he waited until Isaac looked up.

“What is it?”

“Have you found a ship for us?”

“There are several, however, it looks as though we will need to leave from Boston aboard a Cunard ship.  I had thought we would be leaving from New York.”

“It hardly makes a difference does it?  I’m sure it will work out just fine from Boston.”

Isaac had stood up and was pulling at his hair as he answered.  “Yes, perhaps it will, although my plans were for New York.”

Wyatt remained silent as his son fought through this change in his head.  He had long ago noticed that any deviation from a previously developed plan gave Isaac serious internal issues, sometimes causing him to become melancholy for several days following a reversal or change.  He may not look at all like his mother, however, much of her temperament seemed to have been passed along and Wyatt had learned to stay silent during these struggles.  Finally Isaac sat back down.

“Our best bet looks to be the Marathon which sails on November thirteenth.  We can get a ticket for us all at seventy dollars.”

“Steerage I take it?”

“Of course father.  We have no money for first class, especially as you know my funds are reserved for purchasing an estate in Germany.”

“Yes, so you have said.  What is the price to add another to the ticket?”

Isaac stood up again.  “We are adding no one else.  Our plans are made and we will leave with you, Ambrose, Lydia and myself, no one else.”

“I have a letter from my sister,” Wyatt began, however, Isaac cut him off.

“We will not be dragging along any remnants of your family, sister or not, I do not care.  Tell her to seek her own adventures, by herself and on her own accounts.”

It took more than an hour for Wyatt to prevail, as he explained the details of the situation with Claudia, his obligation to help and the fact that he would look after the young girl himself.  He then repeated his own insistence that she be allowed to go over and over until Isaac finally agreed in exasperation.

“Not one more change father.  We leave via train on the ninth of November and that girl will be here or she will be left behind.  You will arrange all of those extra details yourself and don’t ask me for funds to assist you either.  This is totally your own affair.”

Wyatt bowed his head slightly in agreement and watched his son storm out of the room.  Allowing a troubled but satisfied smile to cross his face, he then stood up and began to compose a reply to his sister, which he sent the next day along with a Western Union money transfer to pay for bringing Claudia out to Colorado.  As he walked back toward home, Wyatt wondered again about his ability to raise and protect Claudia; however he also knew that there was now no going back from his decision and he would need to meet his new obligation as well as he could.

… to be continued

Porcelain (Part 17)

Wyatt Coburn had left town that spring morning with absolutely no intention of ever coming back.  He had said whatever needed to be said so that his father would consent to his leaving, and that had ended up being that he would return within three years.  The family business depended upon his return, or so his father insisted, especially as Wyatt’s younger brother Michael clearly had no intention of staying around much longer.  His brother’s fascination with Indians had been the thing that planted the seed of Wyatt’s lie, as their father had seemed to acquiesce to Michael’s claim that adventure was what he needed to experience.  No promise had been demanded of the younger son, however, as he lacked any semblance of business acumen.  Wyatt had much of it though and had displayed it early in life, a talent which he realized much too late was going to threaten to hold him back form his own desires for adventure.   It had already done so for too many years, as he was approaching forty years old before he finally realized he just had to get away.  He may come from a family that had proven to be extremely long-lived, however, he still felt that his life was slipping away, caught in the dreary cycle of the logging trade.   So, he had promised to come back and had begun saying good-bye to people who only thought he was leaving for a few years.  On that final morning in Maine he had sensed that his sister, the sole family representative to see him off, had known about his plan.  She had, however, said nothing and merely stated that she hoped his travels went well, a farewell delivered with little actual affection.

From that moment he had felt free and happy for several years as he traveled widely, rarely staying in one place for more than six months.  Over those years Wyatt had managed to take part in several historic events, the first being his inclusion in the first large wagon train that left Independence, Missouri for California in 1841.  That group later split into two parties and Wyatt followed Captain John Bartleson to Oregon where he later worked briefly as a reporter for the Oregon Spectator, the first published newspaper on the west coast.  Wyatt also had been among the first one hundred prospectors to arrive in the  South Platte River area and take part in what would later be called the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush.

It was there, during the summer of 1858, while camped along the river in a small tent, that he had gotten a Cherokee woman pregnant.  This would produce his only offspring, a son named Isaac, who would stay with him throughout the many twists his life took, including after he abandoned the boy’s mother in 1862.  The gold rush had made him wealthy and he wandered around with his money, intermittently returning to Denver City until he was broke again in 1867, finally settling down in the new territorial capital just as it shortened its name to simply Denver.

He had raised his son by himself, never having another woman permanently in his life after departing the depleted fields of the gold rush.  Wyatt believed he had managed the boy, who was far more of a trouble-maker than his father had been, as well as could be expected given the other demands on his time and attention.  Things about his son’s behavior and manner bothered him more as the boy neared his sixteenth birthday, with the usual boyhood talents for cruelty and destruction not gently easing away as they did in other young men.  At times Wyatt truly feared what might happen if his son was left to swing loose into the world, and that had prompted his attempt to keep Isaac as close as possible at a time when other men’s sons were venturing out into the world on their own.  At night, as he would sit outside his front door and smoke his pipe, he realized the irony inherent in his attempt to keep the young man from exploring the world.  Despite that, Wyatt still believed the best interests of others were served by keeping the young man close.  He could not, of course, stop the other urges of his son, and in 1880 Isaac married Lydia Potter and later in the year they had a fair-haired son whom they named Ambrose.  After the birth of his son, Isaac had become more and more insistent in his demands that he and his new family needed to strike out for other parts, and two years later Wyatt had exhausted all possibilities for keeping his son in Denver.  He had managed to wrangle himself into their plans though, claiming that his advanced age of eighty-eight meant he needed to have his family near him to provide care in the event that his health took a turn for the worse.  He was pleased with himself after finally convincing Isaac to take him along, a feeling that was cut short when he learned his son’s intended destination was Germany.  Apparently believing that the United States had offered all it could to him during the five years of his youth spent traveling with his father, Isaac was determined to go to Europe and seek his fortune and adventure.  Wyatt had an internal feeling that the long journey might in fact kill him at his old age, however he felt duty-bound to oversee and control his erratic son for as long as he was able.  It was the day after resolving himself to this, with his son’s family en route to Elite Studios in Denver for a final photograph in the United States, that his sister’s letter reached him.

family denver co elite studios 329 16th street

family denver co elite studios 329 16th street

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 16)

“Well, are you ready to try this or not?”

Her daughter glared back at her, although the look was shrouded in several layers of desperation.   They held each other’s gaze for long moments and then Olivia motioned for the cup.  Taking a small sip she held it in her mouth briefly before swallowing.

“Sour milk?”

“Buttermilk. I thought it would suit you given your recent,”

“Yes, I know.  Lemons and all that.  It’s fine but I really don’t like milk at all.”

“Just sip it, I’m sure it will make you feel better.”

toy top courtesy rubylane.com

toy top courtesy rubylane.com

Olivia was back to moaning, more softly but just as consistently, although she was taking small sips from the cup.  After going out to give Claudia a spinning top to play with, the old woman returned to her daughter’s room and sat on the bed, holding her hand and occasionally reminding her to keep drinking.  When she was finally done, the moaning had stopped and after a few additional minutes Olivia drifted off to sleep.  Carrying much hope, her mother left and returned to the sitting room to check on Claudia.

Nothing at all happened for several days as Olivia stayed in bed, feverish several times although not severe enough to warrant any medicinal intervention from her mother.  Doctor Martin had cautioned in his letter that while the therapy may take several days to be effective, once it was, the results were likely to be dramatic.  Part of this prediction came true, although not exactly as Olivia’s mother had hoped.  Three days after receiving the sepia treatment, her daughter strode forcefully out into the kitchen and slapped Claudia hard across the face.

Screaming in pain, the young girl hurled herself into the apron of her grandmother, who had already dropped a bowl of green beans in shock.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m done with this nonsense mother!  That girl is going to cry, and she’s going to cry every damn day until I’m convinced she won’t turn out to be the town idiot!”

Claudia was clutching frantically at her ears, altering from the left side to the right with her one hand.  Olivia’s mother reached down and covered them for her and she felt her granddaughter twisting up the apron in her fist as she fought to get as close as possible for protection.

“You will stop talking right now!  Get out of here and leave her alone!”

“You can keep her safe for right now mother, but I will get her, tomorrow and the next day and the one after that!  I will make her act normally!”

“There is nothing wrong with her Olivia!  You’re the one with the defect, it’s just one that you are afraid to admit!”

Once her daughter had stormed back into her bedroom, the old woman collapsed on the kitchen floor, exhausted from the confrontation and the accumulation of weariness that had built up inside of her during the time of these recent struggles.  Claudia, tears still falling and with a large welt on her left cheek, kneeled anxiously over her grandmother, tapping at her shoulder in an attempt to rouse her up.  This simple act finally cut through, and Olivia’s mother pushed herself up onto her knees and then wrapped both arms around the little girl.  As she did so, she quickly and efficiently processed the facts; the sepia cure had not worked properly, perhaps because of her substitution, her own daughter was a danger at least to Claudia and possibly to others, and her granddaughter must be removed to safety very quickly.  It was with that final admission to herself, that she could not protect Claudia any longer, that she reluctantly realized she was going to need to contact her remaining brother.

It had been quite some time since she had seen him, and although time may have taken the sharp points off the contentious relationship they had always had, she still dreaded asking him to assist her.  The occasional letters they had exchanged over the decades since parting for the last time had been perfunctory at best, a stilted attempt at maintaining contact.  That day of their last good-bye, standing outside a stagecoach on a chilly spring morning of a kind so common in Maine, had not been intended to be the final time they saw each other.  Wyatt had been headed west, out to seek more adventure and opportunity, leaving with reassurances that he would be back in a few years.  She had accompanied him as a manner of courtesy and obedience, directed by her father to say fare-thee-wells for the family as he could not do so himself.  Growing up, they had not gotten along well as brother and sister, she thinking that he was difficult and prone to trouble in a way that she later learned to describe as pernicious.  Who knows what he specifically thought of her, other than his usual comments on her matronly manner and prissy habits.  She felt that she only acted that way toward him, however, had later come to accept that she did posses some of those attributes although they hardly exhibited themselves as starkly as Wyatt seemed to believe.  In her head she could still hear his often repeated taunt from childhood, “Don’t bring your fun to Harriet, she’ll just want to bury it.”  She also thought it a distinct possibility that he would be happy to take up saying it again if given the chance.

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 15)

She knew that she did not have time to wait for another long-distance consultation with Dr. Martin via letter.  Instead, she needed to determine for herself if she could use Olivia’s new passion for sour drinks against her in a way that would allow the administration of the sepia treatment.  She felt that the milk used in the solution was certainly to make the cuttlefish ink digestible by the human body.  Also, the several dilutions that were required would allow the coloring of the ink to be lost, a useful sensory trick as few people were likely to consume any kind of a black or grey liquid.  What however, was the purpose of the sugar?  As the eldest in her family she possessed the few written records of her own mother’s homeopathic remedies; however, as sepia had never been used, it contained no useful information for that kind of treatment.  It did mention several uses of sugar as an agent to mask taste and never made note of any detrimental effects on the remedies themselves.  If it was used in this case, just to add sweetness, would removing it and replacing it with vinegar cause any adverse reaction with the ink?  That was an unanswerable query; however, she decided that the risk needed to be taken if there was any hope for Olivia to recover back to her former self.    Resolutely, she determined to watch for the very first opportunity to attempt it.

1880s doll

1880s doll

Several days went by and no moment offered itself, the time spent playing with Claudia as much as her energy allowed.  In an atypical moment of reckless spending she had purchased a very fine doll for her granddaughter, one that Claudia seemed to adore and spent long hours play-acting with for her grandmother’s benefit.  That at least only consumed her attention.  The young girl also had just discovered marbles, and although it hurt her to do so, she played often with Claudia in the dirt beside the back door.  It was just after one of these games, as she walked back into the kitchen dusting off her dress, that the moment unexpectedly came.

Olivia was sitting in a chair she had moved near to the cooking stove, bent over at the waist and with her head in her hands.  She was moaning softly.

“What is it daughter?”  The question was met with only more moaning, although Olivia now sat up and clutched at her stomach.  “What is wrong with you?”

“My belly, it hurts so badly,” her daughter replied before returning to a low chorus of moans.

“Are you going to be sick?”

“I don’t know, how can I know? I haven’t yet.  It just hurts, clenching and turning.”

It had to be now.  “Perhaps some milk will help, it will sooth your stomach.”

“You know I don’t like milk.”

“Well, you may not, however it can help you in this case.”

“I won’t drink it, I’ll just stay sick instead.”

Tapping her lip, Olivia’s mother thought the moment would come soon enough, and she needed some time anyway.  “Come on then, if you’re going to be miserable, you can at least do it in your own room.  No need for Claudia to see you in such a state.”  Her daughter offered faint but consistent resistance as she was guided along to her bedroom and spat in her mother’s face when she pushed her down onto the bed.  Wiping it away, the old woman turned and swiftly shut the door.

Claudia had come in by the time she was back in the kitchen, and with no time to find the young girl a diversion, she set about making the solution with her grand-daughter as a spectator.  Claudia could speak well enough to ask what she was doing.

“I’m making medicine my dear, very important medicine,” she replied as she took the first small portion of the dried ink, added it to some milk and shook it up in a jar.


“For your mother.” The old woman continued on as she answered, adding small amounts of ink to just a little bit more milk, shaking each iteration as she went along.  She had a few doubts in the early going, as the solution stayed an unpleasant grey, however as she neared the end of the ink supply, it had turned back to almost completely white.  Adding just a little more milk, and with her granddaughter now silently watching with fascinated wide blue eyes, she finished and realized that this part at least had been successful.   The timing of the rest would now be critical and she went to check on Olivia.

Finding her curled up in bed and still moaning, she softly suggested the milk again and received the same reply as had been previously given.  Knowing that she needed to stretch the limits of what might be considered decent behavior, Olivia’s mother reached down, claiming to just be feeling, and pushed in on her daughter’s stomach.  This elicited a sharp yelp, followed by a hard slap on her arm.  Exiting the room without a word,  the old woman retuned to the kitchen, said a silent prayer of hope, and stirred some vinegar into her ink and milk solution.   Five minutes later, and with her granddaughter still silently watching from the same chair her mother had been sitting in not long before, she poured it into a cup and walked back to Olivia’s bedroom.

…to be continued

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 10)

belladonna courtesy biolibde

belladonna courtesy biolibde

The jar that she withdrew had been prepared several months ago, which she knew mean that it was now very potent, well past the minimum dose practices that homeopathy advocated.  Dr. Martin had told her to always have a belladonna solution prepared and ready, but to not let it sit for more than two months.  He regularly sent her new herbs with which to prepare tinctures and she was usually faithful about making new ones, allowing them to mature for several weeks and then discarding the older solutions.  During the last few months of Olivia’s pregnancy however she had skipped several of these rotations, believing that it may be necessary to have very strong medicines available as her daughter came to term.  She had seen some very rough births over her many years and was determined to have remedies that could aid her daughter regardless of Olivia’s personal beliefs about the matter.

She remembered the day that she had prepared this particular tincture, a stormy morning about three months ago.  During its preparation she had told Olivia the story of the last time she actually needed to use a belladonna solution.   It had been several years ago, the final time she had seen her brother Michael alive and shortly before she left Maine to follow Olivia to Hiawatha.  He had arrived at her house complaining of a headache and several days later this had worsened enough to confine him to the only bed in the house.  She had given this up to her brother after finding him writhing in pain on the floor of her sitting room. Up until that point he had been staying at the Price Hotel and visiting with his sister during the evenings, an arrangement that allowed him to prospect for business with the local Indian’s during the day.   Michael fashioned himself an Indian trader although he had little to show for it after years of chasing various tribes around the eastern seaboard.  Concerned about his increasing pain, and knowing that he frowned upon the medicine they had grown up with, Olivia’s mother had slipped the tincture into a cup of tea.  Relief had followed, although Michael voiced his suspicion before he left about how his cure had been affected.  She had hugged him goodbye and told him not to worry so much as he likely had just gotten over it by resting.  Olivia listened intently to the story, although she interrupted several times to lament the time her mother was wasting preparing remedies with little proven benefit.  Her mother had a lifetime of proof, some of it validated by cures affected on her daughter,  although that seemed to matter little to Olivia.  As she worked they alternated, the mother telling her story and the daughter lecturing on medical advances.

She had prepared the solution so many times that she hardly looked down as she worked.  Taking a belladonna plant from the rough cloth bag she kept them in, she placed the entire dried stalk into the mortar, several of its neatly tapered leaves and faded purple flowers peeking above the rim.  As she reached in and crushed it with her hand she could feel the brittle black berries as they broke off their stems.  Reaching for the pestle, she ground the plant for several seconds, just enough to ensure it was broken up sufficiently to release all of its medicinal qualities.  Once that was done, she placed the crushed pieces into a small jar and then filled it with grain alcohol, placing a small bolt of cheesecloth over the top before sealing it tightly with the lid.  After that it was placed into that far corner of the cupboard where it rested and gained potency until it was needed.

That time was certainly now, as Olivia’s cries continued and she could hear the bed banging on the floor as her daughter thrashed around.  Unsealing the jar, she quickly tied a string around the cheesecloth to keep it attached to the opening, then decanted several tablespoons of the liquid into a tea cup.  She was under no illusions that Olivia would drink a secret solution as her brother had, and the tincture was too strong for that in any event.  Carrying a teaspoon and the cup, Olivia’s mother returned to the bedroom where she found her daughter standing at the foot of the bed, naked now but wrapped in a sweat-soaked sheet and wailing.  No discernible words were being spoken, just anguished cries of pain.  Setting down the spoon and cup, she slowly went over and guided her back, where she slipped a fresh nightgown over Olivia’s head and then helped her sit down on the bed.  She waited a few minutes for her daughter to quiet down and then she recovered the cup and carefully scooped out a spoonful of the medicine.  As she turned back, the wailing started again, fear flashing in Olivia’s reddened eyes and she shouted a refusal to cooperate.  Her mother took advantage of her opened mouth, spilled the medicine under her tongue and then dropped the spoon so she could hold her daughter’s mouth closed with both hands.  A struggle followed, one that was won by the mother when Olivia reluctantly choked down the solution of belladonna.  Five minutes later she was much quieter and had stopped moaning, easing back onto her soaked pillow, which her mother quickly replaced.  Just as Olivia was falling back asleep another dose was tipped under her tongue, and then her mother was finally able to attend to the infant.

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 9)

It was just past three a.m. when she went in for her hourly check on her daughter.  Up to this point Olivia had been sleeping comfortably, her breathing shallow and unlabored.  As she slowly eased the door of the bedroom open, Olivia’s mother could see that this was no longer the case.  Her daughter was flinching in her sleep and sweating profusely, the pillow underneath her head already visibly stained and wet.  A check with her hand on Olivia’s forehead confirmed that she had a fever.

Despite her concern, Olivia’s mother sat down in the rocking chair next to the bed and thought for a few seconds about exactly what to do.  She certainly had her own instincts about how to care for a person with a fever, however she also knew that her daughter thought much of that knowledge was longer valid.  Perhaps there was some value in all of the new medical information in which Olivia believed.  Her thoughts were interrupted by the faint cry of the infant from the other room, after which she noticed that Olivia had begun to toss and turn in her bed although she still seemed to be asleep.  She also was starting to mutter words, unintelligible but increasing in volume.  Deciding that there was no time for anything other than what she already knew, Olivia’s mother shook her daughter’s shoulder in an attempt to wake her up.   She could feel the fever’s heat even through the heavy nightgown Olivia wore and the sweat was staring to soak through the garment.  Unsuccessful in her initial attempts, Olivia’s mother started to slap her daughter’s face, lightly at first and then more sharply, until Olivia’s eyes suddenly snapped open, glistening and colored red, as she cried out in pain.

“Shhh daughter, I’m right here.  You have been tossing and turning in your sleep.”

Olivia buried her face in her hands. “Such an ache in my head.  Help me.”  She moved her hands and pressed them against her temples, continuing to moan and rock gently back and forth.  “Why are my hands so cold?”

Quickly her mother took her right hand and was shocked by how cool it was, a marked contrast to the high heat coming off of Olivia’s skin.  She had seen this several times before and only hoped that the general delirium which often accompanied a fever such as this would not manifest itself in her daughter.  This hope was quickly dashed as Olivia started to shake rather violently and cry out.

“The heat, oh please help me, the heat.  It reaches up and burns me, reaches me from the darkness, dark hands reaching for me.”

Grabbing her daughter’s shoulders in an attempt to get the shaking to stop, the old woman mustered all of her power as she pushed Olivia back down toward the bed.  When her head was finally back on the pillow she cried out again.

“The fires are near, the furnaces are open, thousands of degrees of heat that melt the bones and raise the white towers of light.  Help me, I am so cold, bring me to the fire to warm my bones.”

Olivia’s eyes now fluttered open again, more red than before although they seemed focused and alert.  Placing her hands over several parts of her daughter’s body, the mother realized that all of the body, except for the hands and feet, was extremely hot and starting to turn a pale pink.

Reaching for the water pitcher on the nightstand, she spoke.  “I’m getting you some water Olivia.  It will help cool you down while I get a remedy in the kitchen.”

Olivia screamed.  “No water!  No water!  You must not put the fire out!  It burns me and warms my bones!”  Closing her eyes again, she started to thrash around, repeating the words over and over again, her voice cracking as she screamed.   Realizing that perhaps she had not seen such a serious case of a high fever as this one, her mother left her wailing and thrashing in bed and hurried to the kitchen.  As she passed by her own room, the infant began to cry louder, a faint echo of Olivia’s screams.

Reaching the kitchen, she quickly opened the cupboard nearest to the stove and removed the battered metal tin from the top shelf.   Within this tin were the various components for the kind of medicines preferred by Olivia’s mother, the homeopathic remedies with which she had grown up and which were reinforced by Dr. Martin in his letters.  Placing it down on the table, she lit the lamp on the table before returning to the cupboard.  The cries of her daughter and granddaughter were increasing as they seemed to be locked in a competition to get her attention.  The infant she knew was likely just hungry or wet and would need to wait until she tended to her daughter, for whom she was gravely concerned.  Adjusting the lamp to burn more brightly, she reached back into the darkest corner of the cupboard and withdrew the tightly sealed jar that contained the belladonna tincture.

…to be continued