Porcelain (Part 20)

Olivia slowly stood up, setting down her cup of tea on the porch railing and taking two steps forward.  “Just what does that mean mother?”

Harriet took several deep breaths before continuing, gathering what strength she had left.  “It means that I cannot stand much more of raising that girl, and no more of protecting her from you.  She is being sent away to live with my brother Wyatt and she is to leave with as much haste as I can arrange.”

The scream that emanated from Olivia was high-pitched at first, a howl, which then descended in tone to a deep growl as she strode across the porch.  Olivia’s arms failed toward her mother, fingernails tearing grooves in Harriet’s face and fabric away from the shoulder of her dress.  As she reached back to deliver a slap across her mother’s face, Harriet summoned everything she had left and stood up forcefully from the chair, grabbing her daughter’s arms and then pushing her onto the wooden boards of the porch.  She had her pinned face-down and was trying to find something to hold onto that would give her better leverage when she saw the doctor striding toward the house.  She shouted to him.

“The trouble has come doctor, hurry, as I cannot hold her down much longer!”  Olivia was bucking underneath her, fighting frantically to get up and continue her attack.  The doctor was on the porch two minutes later and knelt down next to Olivia.

“You must settle down now.  Stop trying to get up as you are going hurt your mother.  Stay still!”

Olivia’s answer to that was to grab his right calf, slipping her hand up inside his pants and digging in her nails.  As she did so, she managed to wiggle out from underneath her mother, who collapsed on the side of the porch, blood running down her face and arms.  The doctor proved to be of fairly tough stock, as he hardly reacted to the tearing at his legs, instead reaching down and removing her arm forcefully, then grabbing the other and pinning both behind her back.

“I do not want to hurt you miss; however, you must stop all this flailing around.  Do you hear me?”

Another scream came from Olivia and she continued to struggle to escape.

“Miss, I, what’s her name again?”

“Olivia,” her mother replied faintly.  Beyond the doctor, she could see Claudia watching with terrified eyes from the other side of the bush at the bottom of the porch stairs.

“Olivia, my name is Doctor Warren, do you hear me?”

The only reply was another scream, after which the doctor used his strength and leverage to maneuver Olivia to her feet and then pushed her into the house, dodging the backward kicking of her legs.  Several minutes later, after more screams and one sound that must have been a slap, the sound of the struggle ceased.

When Olivia awoke later that night, the doctor still remained at her side.  Harriet had only asked that he come over to deal with what she expected was going to be a difficult moment; however, he had insisted on remaining after seeing the severity of Olivia’s response.   Although she knew she could hardly afford his services, Harriet was relieved to have him in the house.  After tending to the wounds on her face and arms, he had insisted that she lay down and Harriet had gratefully taken a peaceful nap with Claudia.  They awoke shortly before Olivia did and were also standing in the room as the doctor greeted her revival.

“Hello Olivia, how do you feel?”

After brushing a sluggish hand across her face, Olivia replied with a groan.

“Olivia, do you know where you are?”

She had appeared to go back to sleep and the doctor shook her shoulder while repeating her name.  Finally Olivia opened her eyes again.

“I’m here, in my house,” she said faintly.

“Good.  How are you feeling?”

“Tired.  Why am I in bed?  What day is it?”

Harriet started to reply to that, however, the doctor waved her to silence and continued with Olivia.

“Let me just check your pulse okay?  I am going to grab your wrist here for a moment.”  As he spoke he looked over and gave Harriet a look that cautioned her to remain silent.  Claudia walked over to the other side of the bed and began rubbing her mother’s back, softly singing her favorite lullaby.  The doctor released Olivia’s wrist and then bent down to look into her eyes, after which he straightened back up and beckoned to Harriet.

“You stay here and watch after your mother while I step out and talk to your grandmother okay?”

Claudia answered with a small nod and continued singing.

Once they were out in the hall with the door slightly opened, so that an eye could be kept on Olivia, the doctor answered Harriet’s questioning eyes.

“I am not certain that she remembers what happened and I do not think it is wise to remind her.  It may well be that she has experienced some kind of break with reality, something I thought might be a possibility due to the severity and aggressive nature of her actions on the porch.  I do not have much practice with situations such as this and you will need to telegraph to a colleague of mine, Doctor Fitzsimmons in Virginia, and ask that he come out and examine her.”

“Will she be okay?  Will she stay like she is right now, or is that still just effects of the sedative?”

“She is still under the effects of the drug, although that will wear off soon enough.  I shall remain here until she is completely lucid and see how she behaves then.  If necessary, I can administer more to keep her under control; however, I would urge you again to contact Doctor Fitzsimmons as I do not know the longer term effects of these drugs I am using.”

…to be continued

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 11)

The young girl had worked herself up into a really frenzy by the time Olivia’s mother picked her up, although it was all soon better following  some milk that was administered via a wet rag and a change of clothing.  As she rocked the infant back to sleep she closed her eyes and sighed deeply knowing that Olivia’s awakening, whenever it came, would bring another difficult moment.

sunlight courtesy photoforum.com

sunlight courtesy photoforum.com

The old woman slept fitfully in the chair for several hours, occasionally reaching over and placing her hand on the infant girl’s chest to sooth her or feel her breathing.  She also went twice to check on her daughter who remained peacefully asleep, the temperature of her forehead easing and the flush of her skin fading away.  Fully awake after the last check on Olivia, she sat in the chair wanting coffee but weary enough to keep putting off going to make it.  The sun slowly crept up, its light streaming in the kitchen window and slowly moving down the hallway toward the bedroom.  She watched its progress and when it had crossed the threshold of her room she rose and went to check on Olivia again.  Finding her still resting, she began to straighten up some of the remaining mess from the delivery and the events of the night before.   Several minutes later her daughter whispered a faint greeting.

“Good morning Olivia.  How are you feeling?”

Smacking her lips together and rubbing her throat, Olivia replied, “sore, very sore and so thirsty.  Is there water in the pitcher?”

Pouring a cup in response, the mother checked her daughter’s forehead as she drank.

“So much better.”

“Better than what?  And where is my baby?”

“You don’t remember?”

“I, well,” and then she paused, her face falling and a wail escaping her mouth.  “My baby, what happened?  Please tell me!”

“Shh, your daughter is well, she is well.  You don’t remember last night though?”

“Bring her to me mother.  I want to see her.  Where is she?”  With that, Olivia started to get out of bed, however her mother placed a hand on her shoulder.

“Don’t stir from bed.  You had a difficult night even if you don’t remember it.  I will bring you the child.”

Olivia complied, although the eagerness in her face certainly meant she would not do so for long.  Realizing that there was no way to put off the revelation any longer, the old woman walked toward her room, thoughts running through her head.  Was there a way to lessen the pain from what Olivia was about to discover?  How would her daughter deal with what might be seen as a failure of a mother’s womb?  Should she tell her first or let her discover it for herself, as it certainly would not take long for that to happen?  Reaching the cradle she picked the infant up and spent several minutes putting it in fresh clothing and diaper, then wrapping her up in the blanket.  Finished, and with Olivia calling for her from the other room, asking what was taking so long, she took one more moment to hold the young girl close to her chest.

“You are a beautiful girl, you always will be,” she whispered softly and then wiped a tear from her cheek before heading toward Olivia’s room.   Her daughter’s eyes lit up when she entered and she stretched out her arms, her fingers waving the baby toward her.  Handing the infant over, the old woman settled into the chair.

Several minutes passed as Olivia nuzzled her newborn close to her face, and then spoke baby-talk as she brushed the infant’s cheeks with her right hand.  She turned toward her mother as she began to remove the blanket.

“Was the labor difficult mother?  I do have to admit that I do not remember much if it.  The doctor was here, I know that, and I hurt so badly when I felt I had to push.”

Olivia’s mother paused before replying, reflecting on the experience that her daughter had been part of but for which she possessed no recollection.  She would not say it aloud, however she did in fact believe that this did diminish the motherhood experience.  If this trend caught on, this need to remove yourself from life’s trials and pains with drugs, then she had some serious doubts about how the future might look for civilization.  For now though that was mostly water under the bridge and she responded to Olivia.

“It was no so bad daughter.  You were in some pain as you remember, however not much more than…,” and she paused, decided to skip the point and then continued, “ well, it wasn’t too terrible.  But then the doctor gave you that gas and, well you were pretty much gone after that.  The baby came after awhile and I cleaned her up.”

“You should have let the doctor do that mother, the doctor is supposed to check the baby once it’s born.”

“Olivia, I don’t know what you may have read or been told, but that man was most certainly not going to clean up a newborn baby.  He handed her to me the instant she was out and the cord cut and didn’t seem much concerned after that, not until I had her fixed up anyway.  He checked her breathing and, well a few other things and then he made sure you were well before trying to give me a lecture on caring for you.”

“You did listen to him?”

“I took care of you all last night Olivia, and it wasn’t good let me tell you, yet here you are, well and fit.  That’s enough said I believe.”

Her daughter ignored the comment about the struggles through the night.

“The doctor said she was well, yes?  All her parts, fingers and toes?  Healthy?”

Sighing deeply her mother responded.  “Well, she’s healthy certainly.  And she has all the fingers she can have.”

A blank look from Olivia was followed by her frantically tearing the blanket off the baby girl, who she soon discovered had no right arm.

…to be continued