The sun was just peaking as Olivia walked briskly to the lemon tree outside in the front yard, the only thing she liked about this house. She couldn’t recall any good memories from any place except that tree. Once she was near it, everything seemed to melt away and be forgotten, at least for a time. The sharp citrus scent of the lemons cleared her mind and refreshed her soul. It was like a spiritual experience, and even now Olivia felt it as she approached. Along with it, however, came the pain that she did not want to be reminded of. But it was inevitable. She set her basket down with purpose, determining that this was the best time of her life and she was going to enjoy its meager supply. The first lemon came free with the smallest tug, and Olivia smiled. It knew how to make her day better. But it seemed the day itself knew how to make it worse. After only a few minutes of picking, dark clouds had rolled in, and the first clap of thunder broke through the air, making everything tremble. Begrudgingly, Olivia picked up her basket and lumbered back inside. The door seemed to swallow her in.
The rain began to trickle softly, and then it burst into a torrent, beating at the windows and threatening to break in. It had gotten suddenly chilly, so Olivia wrapped herself in her shawl and sat at the window in the living room, watching the storm make its damage. It was peaceful, like the whole world was joining her in her withering, expressing pity for her problems, making itself less beautiful so she would feel better about herself. The noises were pleasant; she’d rather hear the bashing of the rain and the crashing of the thunder than the whimpering, simpering babble of people. There was one noise, however, that was not rain or thunder. It was a thump, a tap, a creak. Olivia shot up from the chair and went to her bedroom and pulled the rifle out from under her mattress. Her face remained blank and her body impassive; not even her heart rate increased. This was so routine for her it was like washing dishes or hosting parties. She went back to the living room and listened. A thump came from the sitting room across the foyer. She walked in loudly, thumping her feet on the hardwood floor. She clicked the rifle. It wasn’t loaded; she never loaded it.
“Please go away. I’m not interested,” she said aloud to all the walls. There was another thump. “I have a gun. Go away now.”
A pattering sound followed, the sound of hurrying shoes on rain soaked dirt. Olivia sighed with exhaustion and returned to her chair, placing the rifle at her feet. As she watched the rain, tears began to roll down her cheeks, and she was unaware until she reached up to rub her tired eyes. When she touched the water on her cheeks she became angry. She kicked the rifle with her foot, and the gun flew across the room into the fireplace, where a cloud of ash rose and settled again. There was no way she could sit still now after that. She required an outlet for her anger, and there was a perfect place for that. She clambered to the dusty attic and retrieved a shanty box. She threw it down the stairs, letting it bounce and clatter, and its contents spilled out. Most were soft items like notebooks and fabrics, but one item that was made of clay shattered on the floor. Olivia merely tiptoed over it, hardly giving it a glance. She gathered the notebooks and paper into her arms and dropped them onto the sofa, and then she dropped herself onto the rug beside it. She picked up one journal with a pink butterfly on the cover and began to read.
January 11, 1937
I hate this new puppy mama got. It eats too loudly and runs too fast and is slobbery. She calls him Pumpkin, but I call him Ugly because he’s so dirty. I’ve never wanted a puppy.
This was her grandmother’s diary, or diaries. She was an avid journalist. Olivia didn’t like reading them because they were either terribly dull or terribly dramatic, and there was never a normal entry, no “I had a good day,” or at least, “Billy hit me in the head with his sandwich.” No, everything she wrote was a story to be hated.
January 25, 1937
This puppy is so ugly. I hate looking at it. I hate how much mama coos over it. It disgusts me.
February 20, 1937
The stupid puppy is gone. Mama is crying because she loved him, but I didn’t love him. That’s why he’s gone. He probably hated me too. I bet he’s glad he doesn’t have to look at my ugly face anymore.
Even though these disgusted Olivia, they made her feel better about herself, because she knew she wasn’t as ridiculous as this woman was. Her grandmother as a child was familiar to her, so she closed that journal and rummaged through the more raggedy ones. There was a blue one, a journal that looked new to Olivia. She hadn’t read it before. When she opened it, she had to stiffen her muscles to keep from slamming it shut again, because the first words of the entry startled her.
April 13, 1946
My family is broken. My heart is broken.
It startled her because, many years ago, Olivia wrote those same words in her own journal. In fact, it had been the last thing she wrote, because journaling made her upset rather than better. She fingered gingerly through the rest of the pages. At this time, her grandmother was married and had her daughter, her only child, Olivia’s mother, yet in all the entries never once did she mention either her husband or her daughter. That is, until the last entry, October 3, 1955:
I think my husband hates me. He’s away too much at work. He must hate living here. He hates this house. I hate this house. It’s old and ugly.
“I hate this house, too,” Olivia muttered unconsciously to herself. For once she agreed with her grandmother, though they may have had different motives.
Cynthia must hate the house too. She never plays. She’s such a boring child.
Now, Olivia loved her mother, so this truly did sting. Even at a very young age she saw the emptiness in her mother’s eyes, the absence of luster and will. Suddenly, Olivia realized this was a mistake. She hurriedly collected the journals and dumped them back into the box. She gathered up the other items that fell out and put them back as well, and then she closed it up tightly and taped it across the top. She swept up the broken shards of clay and disposed of them in a frantic manner. The box was returned to the attic, this time gently and with care. After the task was done Olivia realized how exhausted she felt, and she went to bed without any preparation.