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Carol 4

by Richard Brown 

Posted: 23 July 2003
Word Count: 1756
Summary: Another step on Carol's journey
Related Works: Carol • Carol 10 • Carol 2 • Carol 5 • Carol 6 • Carol 7 • Carol 8 • Carol 9 • Carol3 • 

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Carol 4

The house in Gordon Town, in St. Andrew parish just to the west of Kingston, had no exhilarating seascapes but there was a river whose banks were covered in dark green moss. The ground floor apartment was damp and gloomy. Carol liked it much less than the glowing cliff-top home and it suffered from the further disadvantage of being much closer to the capital city. The flow of visitors increased and the competition for attention escalated.

On a hot afternoon, when none of her look-at-me tricks had had the slightest effect, she drifted alone down to the river. It was one of the rare days when she regretted that her hateful cousin had been sent home. At least he had provided a focus for her rage.

She stood at the edge of the tree-lined stream, watching the shallow water swirling and bubbling through the stones. Sometimes she found the gentle noises soothing but this day her feelings were turbulent. The longing to be restored to that beloved place where her needs had been paramount was too strong to bear. Even the overwhelming love which she felt for her father was of no consolation because it was futile. Despite ever insistent hope she knew that false mummy would always win.

There was a flat, inviting stone upstream, just a hop away. Because of the visitors, she was wearing her best dress, a pretty, pink, embroidered garment with pearl buttons and a short, bell-like skirt. Any damage to this would generate terrifying wrath in false mummy. Carol thought about this briefly, then defiantly leapt to the tempting pedestal. She stood on her tiny island, wobbling slightly. The water surged, just missing her shining white sandals. She moved one foot slightly so that the sole edge was moistened.

For a moment she thrilled to her rebelliousness. The rock was her kingdom, closed to false mummies. The sound of the rushing water and the caress of the soft breezes soon transformed themselves into the attentions of her lost people and her mood changed radically. She wanted to cry but could not. Birds joined in the chorus of natural exultation. She looked down at the slippery, silvery, mysterious liquid and loved it. Without premeditation, she skipped to another stone, closer to the midstream, wavering again but feeling completely in control. Laughing out loud, she hop, hop, hopped across to a sandy, rocky island, five of her short paces long, three wide and crouched in the middle of the territory, hugging her knees and singing softly to herself. The loud whistle of a bird commanded her to stand and wave her arms as though they were tree branches and she obeyed delightedly. She began what she thought must be a ballet as performed by the pretty butterfly women depicted in her parent’s books. Soon her pointing feet found a large boulder which rocked. Stilling the dance, she stood there and shook the stone repeatedly, making it clack satisfyingly. ‘Anne, Anne, Anne’ she chanted in rhythm with the percussive noise.

When the buzzing started, she did not worry. It was another noise, a swelling of nature’s chorus. Even the sight of the first wasp on her sunburned arm did not alarm her. ‘Hello, little thing’ she cooed, admiring the stripy colouring of the creature until a piercing pain brought a cry which shook the leaves above her and echoed discordantly through the dense wood.

Instantly, the beasts were all about her face. She flailed and screamed repeatedly, the noise piercing the air ever more sharply as she realised that the wasps were congregating inside the cupola of her skirt, tickling teasingly at first, then bringing unbearable agony. She beat at the material but caused only increased stinging. Desperately she leapt from the island but, almost blinded, she missed her footing. The pain from the stings was augmented as she landed jarringly on her palms and knees. She sobbed helplessly, convinced that she was about to die. Losing power, she rolled into the cold water which rushed about her, tugging at her dress, bringing exquisite relief from the stings. She tried to lift her head but could not. Her despairing ‘Daddy!’ call produced only bubbles yet, miraculously it seemed, she then saw his shoes, his expensive leather shoes, close by her, incongruously underneath the water, She felt herself being lifted. Thinking only that Anne would be furious at the damage to daddy’s precious Sunday footwear, she murmured her father’s name and swooned.

The next she knew, she was in bed, perhaps days later. The dress, washed and carefully ironed, was hung on her wardrobe door as a sign that all was made good. Both the false mummy and the hero daddy treated her with intense love, a fact which puzzled her.

Once she had sufficiently recovered, Carol was granted the special treat of spending time with Evadne, a seamstress who lived in the upstairs apartment. Occasionally she was allowed to sit on the kindly woman’s knee and help to steer the cloth through the humming Singer. ‘What are we making?’ she asked her new friend. ‘Oh, just a big sheet, darling,’ said Evadne.

When the work was done, Evadne’s teenaged daughter, Barbara, was summoned to deliver the item. Carol begged to be allowed to go on the errand. Despite the age difference, the two had sometimes chatted and Barbara said that she would be glad of the company. Reluctantly, so it seemed to Carol, Evadne succumbed to the relentless pressure. ‘But mind you don’t let her near the yard!’ the woman warned her daughter. ‘Course not! Barbara said in the ‘no need to tell me, it’s obvious’ manner of the confident teenager.

The two girls conversed as they hurried through the Kingston streets. Carol told the entire tale of her adventure with the wasps, exaggerating every element. Barbara made gratifying noises of astonishment. With Carol in full flow, they turned a corner and entered a larger thoroughfare. The chatterbox immediately stopped as though disabled by a switch.

‘Whassup, Carol?’ Barbara asked, looking in alarm at the staring child who eventually managed to raise an arm to point at the cause of her vocal chord paralysis. Barbara followed the line of the indicating finger.

‘What?’ she exclaimed, laughing incredulously as she spoke, ‘The poster?’

Carol nodded. Barbara laughed. ‘It’s Marilyn Monroe, you idiot,’ she declared, ‘don’t you know that?’

What Carol saw was an adorably beautiful young blonde woman, standing with her legs apart and with her arms trying, perhaps not too convincingly, to control a white skirt which was being blown upwards by an air stream apparently emanating from a pavement grille. Although the worship of the woman came instantly, it was not devotion which had halted Carol’s monologue, it was the sight of a man in the poster who was staring at the star, evidently transfixed.

‘Come on, Carol!’ Barbara urged, dragging the smitten girl away.

Carol had never been to the cinema and Barbara was only too delighted to take centre stage, relating all the doings of Monroe and the other stars. Her audience listened avidly. So enthused was the leader of the expedition that she entirely forgot her mother’s last instruction and the two of them, deeply engrossed, strolled together up to the yard.

Once more, Carol stopped but this time from fear rather than excitement. Set in the swirling dust was a tin bath tub. In the tarnished container was an immobile old man who had trickles of dark blood coming from his nostrils. Four or five women were gathered round, washing the wrinkled grey skin. Carol did not know the full meaning of the scene but she said, ‘Hell!’ the worst word she knew. Barbara let out a soft stream of self-critical curses, thereby rapidly expanding Carol’s vocabulary. She said; ‘Go, Carol, wait round the corner. I come quick.’ Glancing apprehensively over her shoulder, the child obeyed. Barbara was evidently nervous when, moments later, she came rushing. ‘It was a shroud we were delivering,’ she panted, ‘but you weren’t supposed to see the corpse.’

Carol was unusually quiet. Barbara grabbed her arm. ‘You won’t tell?’ she asked anxiously. The stricken one tried to reassure but could not speak. They walked slowly away, saying nothing until they came once more to the poster. Carol was almost run over because she could not keep her eyes off the film star and her admirer. Sensing an opportunity, Barbara said, ‘Listen, Carol, if you don’t tell on me, I’ll teach you how to be like Marilyn Monroe.’

She could not have chosen a more effective bribe.

Because of constant preoccupation with writing, and entertaining important people, false mummy had neglected to keep up the hair-cutting regime. Carol’s tresses were not quite of Monroe length but there was enough to make the seductive sweepings and tumblings possible. The walk came naturally, as did the pouting and the tricks with the eyes. Most astonishing of all was the capturing of the accent. Intuitively the pupil improved on the teacher’s efforts, as though she were intimate with the star she had never seen. Barbara frequently clapped her hands in high delight. ‘Lordy, Carol!’ she would declare in a bad imitation of a southern belle accent, ‘I swear you’re a natural!’

In her bedroom, Carol practised. Some of her dresses were suitable. Outside on windy days she prayed for upward gusts so that she could put out her arms and pretend, as Marilyn seemed to do, that the lifting of her skirt was unacceptable.

Her moment came one Sunday afternoon, when the pig was being roasted and the people were grouped in the shady garden, talking as they waited for the food. One of the men made a friendly remark to Carol who, without premeditation, responded as Monroe. The effect was beyond her most optimistic expectations. Those who heard the performance laughed with the amusement of astonishment. A request for a repeat was granted with embellishments. Others began to pay attention and the act developed. Carol could see that some of the women, including false mummy, had complicated expressions on their faces but this served only to generate more gratification.

That evening, in the bedroom, all the dolls gladly joined in the familiar game. ‘No, like this!’Carol admonished the one who had been designated as Marilyn. The mistress demonstrated once more; the doll did her best. ‘Oh, you’ll never get it, stupid’ Carol added before subsiding, smiling broadly, onto the bed.

‘But I’ve got it,’ she whispered, ‘Barbara told me. I’ve got it to perfection.’

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Comments by other Members

Nell at 17:48 on 14 August 2003  Report this post
Richard, I can see trouble looming for Carol, and knowing this is a true story makes it all the more compelling. The 'false mummy' seems somewhat kinder in this chapter than in the previous ones, which has the effect of making this reader sit back to see what will happen next, rather than be firmly on Carol's side as I was during the others. But I can identify with her, even though I had no stepmother, and I'm looking forward to the next instalment. I would have liked a clue as to how old she is - I'd guess around seven?

Best, Nell.

Richard Brown at 22:51 on 14 August 2003  Report this post
Thanks for the kind comment, Nell. I think I'm going to have to give some more clues as to Carol's age but the problem is that I don't have a very accurate chronology. She had definitely moved from nursery school at the time of the Monroe lessons but I think of her more as a precocious 6 year old at this stage rather than as 7.
I'm glad that the 'false mummy' is evoking some empathy. There was nothing clear cut in Carol's particular triangle - they were all angels and devils at different times(as indeed, I suppose we all are - but the polarity was more evident in Carol's little family than it usually is). Richard.

Becca at 20:22 on 18 August 2003  Report this post
Hi Richard, I'm finding this awfully tense and spooky. I've just read all of the pieces straight through. I particularly liked the passage about the doll whose face dissolves away in the rain. I find myself not yet in empathy with the child, and sense her coquettishness, (sp?)is going to lead her into big trouble. You've captured a sense of neglect in her upbringing without really stressing it, that's very skillful.
There were a few occassions in which I wondered whether a young girl would have thought the things she did, in particular the negative of a photograph, but then I thought, well why shouldn't she? But I suspect that's one of the tricky things about writing through the eyes of a child. 'Thingy' does it in 'Atonement,' I just cannot think of his name... I have just thought of it, but I can't spell it now. I digress. I'm fascinated to see what on earth is going to happen to her. I'm interested also in the idea that little girls naturally know how to flirt, I'm not sure what I think about that idea. Could you flag up when the next part is in, Richard, on the introduce your work forum, I am really intrigued by this.

Richard Brown at 22:37 on 18 August 2003  Report this post
Thanks, Becca; lovely supportive comments. You're right about the trouble ahead! I know that Carol seems older than her years but I hope that some sense as to why this is the case will emerge as the story unfolds. As for what young children think - my guess is that they are widely different. Some seem to come equipped with all manner of data. People who knew Carol as a child say that she always acted older than the norm and some recalled what seemed like quite sophisticated 'flirting' at a very early age. I don't think that Carol had much of a clue as to what it all meant but she picked up very quickly that it worked as an attention-grabber. And yes, I'll put a note in the forum when the next section is uploaded. It's really so encouraging to have support from you and Nell. Thanks again. Richard.

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