Porcelain (Part 33)

Harriet had waited after that final breath, just looking at her daughter’s face.  She held Claudia’s torn dress in one hand and her fingers played with the ripped cloth as her heart, which had been hammering away for the past several minutes, slowed back down to its normal rhythm.  Finally she stepped away into the hallway, stopping in her own room to place the dress upon her bed before walking over to the doctor’s house.  She may have told him to stay away when he departed earlier that day; however, there now was nothing more to argue about in regard to Olivia’s care.  She also knew that in modern times such as the ones she now lived in, a doctor’s confirmation of a person’s death, at least in a town setting such as Hiawatha, was almost a requirement.  That, and she was going to need assistance again, as much as she was reluctant to admit it.  Closing her eyes briefly before doing so, she knocked on the doctor’s door.  As persons in that profession seem able to, he had sensed the situation without asking as soon as he opened the door, grabbing his medical bag and then Harriet’s arm as they walked back toward her house.  After confirming the death, he turned toward Harriet.

“Not exactly unexpected but rather abrupt.”  His eyes asked an unspoken question.

“Yes, well, I think we all know that she was in rapid decline.  It surely did not seem abrupt to me.  I feel as though she has been sick for ages.”

The doctor did not reply, continuing to look down at Olivia’s body on the bed.  Slowly his eyes wandered toward the nightstand, where the tea cup sat slightly off the edge, awkwardly balanced and threatening to fall.  Several seconds later Harriet stepped over and picked it up.

“I’ll just clean up in here then before I take care of her body.  Can you arrange a carriage for me doctor?  And ask Hank to send a casket over with them?”

“I don’t suppose you will let me send the undertaker then?  They can embalm,”

Harriet held up her hand.  “Let’s not talk of that foolishness.  I will wash her and dress her, just as my family always has, and then I will walk with her body down to the cemetery.  Now, can you arrange the other?”

“Very well.  I have to go out and see John Davis today, his wife is ill.  I’m sure he will spare the time to drive a carriage over.  I’ll have him stop at the general store for the casket.  What time?”

Harriet shook her head.  “Not today.  It’s late and anyway that wouldn’t matter.  I have to sit with her tonight of course.  Tomorrow morning at ten a.m. will be fine.”

Doctor Warren paused before leaving, looking down once again at Olivia’s body.  “Very abrupt,” he commented slowly, before turning and walking out.

It took the rest of the day for Harriet to clean and prepare her daughter for the grave.  As she had seen her own mother do, and had  done herself more times than she wished, she began by undressing Olivia and washing her body thoroughly with a sponge and warm water.  Standing up to go prepare a light oil infusion with juniper, she also took the clothing Olivia had been wearing out of the room with her.  Returning after giving the body time to dry, she rubbed the oil lightly over it and then carefully dressed her daughter in a dark blue, high-collared dress with long sleeves and lace cuffs.  Crossing the arms over the stomach, she slipped sprigs of rosemary into the sleeves before tucking Claudia’s picture behind the left arm.  With that work done, Harriet set the tea kettle on the stove and made a light lunch for herself before returning to sit with Olivia’s body.  She stayed that way, through the evening and night, falling asleep in the chair sometime after one a.m. and being awoken by the light of the morning.  With a slight flutter of her heart she looked over at the bed, seeing that all remained as it had been the night before.  Her daughter truly was dead.

Preparing herself for the walk to the cemetery, Harriet put on her mourning dress and veil, along with a pair of boots suitable for the walk and the weather.  Although little snow had fallen and the streets remained clear, the air was cold and regular shoes were not going to provide enough protection.  Donning a coat, and grabbing a cup of tea, she went to sit on the porch to await the carriage, which pulled up a few minutes before ten o’clock.


county wagon courtesy aaqeastend.com

county wagon courtesy aaqeastend.com

John Davis had driven a simple affair for the mission today, a county-style wagon with a covered driver’s seat and plenty of room for the pine casket that sat in the back.  He had another man with him, one that Harriet did not know, but the extra muscle would be useful today.

“Good morning ma’am.  Are you set then?  And don’t you have someone to go with you?  A relative or friend?”

Harriet rose and straightened out her dress and coat.  “No, no I do not.  I shall be walking by myself, but thank you.”

John glanced back at his carriage and gestured toward it with his thumb.  “You’re welcome to sit up on top with me.  Jimmy can sit in the back.”

“I will walk, as my family has always done on days like this.”

Shrugging, John looked up at the sky.  “Cold enough, but at least it’s sunny out.  I stopped by and spoke to Henry McClinton.  He says the ground was fairly easy to dig, so he’s ready for us anytime.  Is she, well, I mean, may we go in then?”

“Yes, yes you may.”

Harriet remained standing while John and Jimmy hauled down the casket and then went in to bring the body out, affirming with a slight nod their adherence to her other requests that the body leave feet first and out the back door.  As they passed by her she motioned them to stop, rearranging the dress on Olivia’s body and then securing the picture behind her folded hands.  After they had affixed the lid and placed the casket back in the carriage, Harriet walked down and stood behind it, head bowed and hands clasped over her heart.  As she nodded up at John she overhead, but ignored Jimmy’s mumbled comment.

“It’s gonna be one damn long ride over to that cemetery.”

…to be continued

Porcelain (Part 29)

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.

“Stay gone.”

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

Porcelain (Part 23)

Upon receiving them, Harriet stood for several minutes with the closed folders in her hand as Mr. Holmes’ assistant stood on the porch, a look of worry on his face.  He was used to people immediately opening the photos when they were delivered, eager to look upon the portraits and, at least for the most part, remark upon the skill exhibited in their execution.  Harriet’s reaction, a long, quiet pause with a troubled look of reflection on her face, was atypical enough to give him some worry that the old woman may be as unstable as her daughter.  The display put on by Olivia the previous day, and the aggressive action needed to get her under control, had been a new experience for him and not one that he cared to be involved with again.  To his relief, Harriet’s eyes cleared and she carefully opened the folders, giving all the usual, and in his eyes anyway, proper reactions.  He departed with a tip of his hat and Harriet walked back into the house still looking at the photo of her granddaughter.

Olivia remained asleep in her room with the doctor sitting in a chair outside the door, dozing off from a long night of keeping vigil over his patient.  She had awoken several times since he sedated her at the portrait session, seemingly becoming more and more able to fight her way out of the stupor brought on by the drugs he administered.  He had already informed Harriet early that morning that if Doctor Fitzsimmons were not already scheduled to arrive later in the day he may have needed to take more drastic action with Olivia.  It had already been necessary for him to physically hold her in bed on several occasions and he had only managed to get her back to sleep about twenty minutes ago.  Harriet sat down quietly, not wanting to disturb him, and pulled Claudia onto her lap to show her the portrait.

The young girl smiled and poked at it, although her grandmother quickly pulled it out if her reach, not wanting the clarity of the image to be marred by Claudia’s rather dirty fingers.  After a few minutes the young girl’s babbled talking awoke the doctor, who smiled and waved when Harriet turned the photo around for him to look at.  A sharp knock at the door got him up out of his seat with a whispered “I do hope this is who we have been waiting for.”  Several seconds later Doctor Fitzsimmons, a tall thin man with an elegantly trimmed silver beard,  walked into the sitting room.  Putting her granddaughter down and carefully tucking the two photos into a drawer by her chair, Harriet rose to greet him.

“Thank you so much for coming doctor.  I’m sure it has been a long journey.  Would you like some tea?”

Removing his jacket and hat, he replied while reaching into his medical bag.  “That would be fine ma’am.  I will, however, go to see the patient immediately.  Doctor?”

The two men walked into Olivia’s bedroom without another word, and although she was thanked when the tea was delivered, Harriet considered Doctor Fitzsimmons to be a rather gruff and unlikeable medical man.  She liked him even less when he emerged back into the sitting room.

“She’s in poor condition madam, more mentally than physically, although I would say that I believe she will stay fairly docile for what remains of her life.  It would be important to manage her interactions with people as she should not be placed into any kind of a stressful situation.  Those are likely to elect another of her outbursts.  You may want to consider placing her into a facility for the mentally deranged.  And the girl, this girl,” and he pointed toward Claudia who sat on the floor with her doll, “the situation with her must be settled very soon.  Doctor Warren tells me she is to be sent away?”

Harriet took several deep breaths before answering, her inclination to bluster fading away as she did so.  Finally, she folded her hands together and replied.

“Before we go on, tell me just what exactly is wrong with her doctor.”

“As I said, she is mentally unstable and deteriorating physically, likely as a result of that mental condition, and will be a fair amount to deal with until she passes.  It is probably too much for someone of your age.”

Harriet took another deep breath.  “Again doctor, tell me what is actually wrong with her.  I can ascertain her current condition well enough on my own, and having you tell me of it hardly helps me understand her illness.”

“Madam, this is a medical matter and Doctor Warren called me in to review this case, which I have done.  He has improperly medicated her obviously; however, given his general lack of experience in these matters he did well enough.  His general assessment, that her mind has broken with reality, seems correct and I have given him guidance in her further care if you do choose to keep her in this home.  Although again, I would suggest that she be removed to a more appropriate facility.”

“Perhaps you misunderstand me.  How did she become ill?”

Now it was the doctor’s turn to take a deep breath.  “These are medical matters as I said, and I have consulted with Doctor Warren on them.  He will be able to care for her.”


“Listen madam, you ask far too many questions.  It if satisfies your curiosity then I will tell you that she likely is suffering some kind of neurotic condition associated with her pregnancy or the birth of the child.  Doctor Warren advised me that you had related some disturbing tales involving the delivery and her condition during it.  That break may well have hidden itself for years, with recent events or some unknown other condition finally causing this decline that has become so obvious recently.   Also, he tells me you are a homeopath?”

“I am.”

“Then I shall hope that none of your concoctions, whatever they may have been, aided in her deterioration.  You will do well to watch yourself.”

Harriet had not seriously considered punching anyone in quite a long time, and she found herself enjoying the thought in this moment.  Once the doctor left, giving her a curt nod before stepping out the door, she sat back down slowly while considering what had been implied by his last statement.

…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