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Carol 5

by Richard Brown 

Posted: 27 August 2003
Word Count: 2767
Summary: A crucial development in the true story of Carol.
Related Works: Carol • Carol 10 • Carol 2 • Carol 4 • Carol 6 • Carol 7 • Carol 8 • Carol 9 • Carol3 • 

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Carol 5

Under Barbara’s proud tuition, the impersonator extended her range. Visitors, male and female, could not see enough; the child was so cute! Whatever doubts Carol’s parents may have had, they could not ban the shows.

The new courtiers were not as satisfactory as the former ones because their allegiance was towards an act rather than the real person. Their devotion was therefore sporadic but Carol’s discovery of the power altered the dynamic of the relationships within the family. It became clear to her much later that both of the adults were also actors and that she had merely joined the troupe. The dramas they played out were often extreme. There was a breakfast argument over the noise being made by Robert's dogs which culminated in Anne spearing a fork into his forehead. In another altercation, the implement was a machete whereafter Robert drove himself to hospital with his blood-dripping hand held limply inside a bucket. Extreme though these incidents were, the couple always made peace.

Their lives were like waveforms, rising and falling erratically. On the rare occasions when three positive peaks coincided, Carol could feel giddily happy They would romp, indulging in delightful games, the females turning playfully on the giant, tickling him until he begged for respite but Carol came to realise that such ecstatic phases would swiftly end in tears and so her joy was always accompanied by an inner echo of anxiety.. A safer pattern was the bipartite alliance with the third one excluded. When, frequently it seemed, it was Carol’s turn to be in the wilderness, the idea that she had been wicked as an infant, and was being punished, was her constant miserable explanation.

Throughout the bewildering changes, her unwavering belief was that she and her father were the natural allies. The unreality of her life, caused by the constant fluctuations, allowed her to hold the contradictory notions that Robert actually was her father and that one day they would marry. In preparation for wedlock she learned how to perform housewifely services for him, polishing shoes to perfection, grinding coffee to his particular taste and meeting as many of his needs as she could anticipate.

His image was burned into her brain. She devoted hour after hour to gazing into the mirror, discussing the matter with her dolls. ‘See,’ she told them, ‘my nose is exactly the same as my daddy's. And the eyes. Look! He really is my daddy and you all must love him like I do.’ At school she daily prayed to her vaguely formed notion of god that it would be his face, and not Anne’s, which would be smiling through the playground railings at going-home time.

One afternoon, when her father had promised absolutely to be there, she rushed out to greet him only to discover that there was nobody she knew amongst the crowd of carers. She looked down the street, expecting to see Robert’s loping figure. A tall male stranger close by called out her name. She knew all too well about abduction. In fear, she rushed to the safety of one of the teachers, hid behind the skirt curtain and burst into tears. The woman enquired solicitously about the trouble.

‘I want my daddy,’ the hiding child snivelled. The teacher laughed. ‘There’s your daddy!’ came the answer.

Carol risked a peek. The dangerous stranger was close, staring at her with what seemed like cruel amusement There was indeed a devilish resemblance but she knew her father’s form better than he knew it himself. She said, with desperation, ‘It can’t be. My daddy has a hairy face’

The laughter, and the explanation that he had shaved off his beard, were like barbs in Carol’s flesh. Unable to see the joke, she felt foolish and betrayed. Other children pointed at her and whispered stories that silly Carol didn’t even recognise her own daddy.

Feeling seriously alienated from her father for the first time, she turned cautiously to Anne who seemed to be in a mood to welcome her. It was wickedly satisfying to see Robert’s perplexity as the two females shared tasks and chatted. Carol went to the lengths of saying that she would prefer it if Anne were the one who escorted her to and from school.

On the third day of this arrangement, the two females were walking side by side on the way home. Carol was looking down, acutely aware of her shiny blue sandals and white socks as they tick-tocked along, loving the sight of her footwear, loving the colour and odour of everything in her purview. A dangerous thought occurred unbidden. Her brow furrowed in an effort of resistance but she could not prevent herself from speaking.

‘Anne?’ she said, with pleasurable gravitas.

‘Yes, darling?’

Carol hesitated, still struggling. She looked up to see a kind, beautiful, intelligent, profoundly energetic woman waiting eagerly for her words. There was a surge of terrifying pride and, more awesomely, an inversion of dislike. Courage came. She burst out; ‘May I call you mummy?’

There was the tiniest hint of a stifled laugh but then, solemn as in a marriage ceremony, Anne answered, ‘Of course you may, my darling.’

The accolade was for a time bestowed, like a knighthood, but the mood did not last. Carol did not really believe that the Anne was her mother. The next day there was a minor disagreement; the following one, an argument. On the near horizon was a visit from Anne’s sister, Claire, who had long ago migrated to London. At the height of the dispute, Anne declared that she would be ashamed for Auntie Claire to see such an ill-behaved, ungrateful child.

Carol knew that her misdeeds had often been reported in trans-Atlantic letters. She had formed an unfavourable impression of this relative who seemed always to have advice about the harsh measures needed to control self-seeking girls. She made a disparaging remark about her aunt and dodged as the first shoe flew.

Still not quite ready to forgive her father, Carol retreated into her safe inner world. The dolls regained their importance, Marilyn particularly. As preparations for the long-anticipated visit increased, Carol infuriated her parents by refusing to take the business seriously.

On the portentous day that Auntie Claire was due to arrive, the adults dashed about and Carol concentrated on Marilyn, whose long, golden hair needed regular brushing. The family car became a house for the heroine, the passenger side running board being a shady porch. When Marilyn’s locks were finally arranged to Carol’s satisfaction, the child tossed the brush aside, sat her companion down on the porch and instructed her to be good whilst she went upstairs to fetch the prettiest ribbon. ‘Must have you at your best for Auntie Claire,’ Carol said with a touch of mockery.

She was hunting through a drawer when she heard a sound that brought terror; the car engine roaring into life. Uttering one of her secret curses, Carol threw the handful of textiles onto the bed and scampered down stairs. She was just in time to see the car reversing into the road with Marilyn rocking and swaying perilously. Robert, oblivious to his passenger, looked left and right before accelerating. Carol used the full power of her voice but the driver heard none of her pleas.

The catastrophe was immeasurable. Wherever Robert was going there would be hills and bends. Marilyn would be dislodged and other vehicles would smash into her fragility. Carol sat abruptly on the driveway and began to howl.

The car returned quite soon, immediately revealing that Marilyn had indeed disappeared. Sobbing turned to hysteria. Robert crouched down from his great height and asked the child what had happened. Carol’s face was contorted, the tears bounced off her cheeks; she could not speak. Forlornly, her body shaking, she pointed to the running board of the car, an action which added nothing to Robert’s comprehension. He put her on her feet but she performed an absurd dance which made him gesticulate with impatience. Robert commanded her to be calm. He spoke louder but her sobs became deeper. He shouted, accusing her of being hysterical. The light tap to her face was expected, welcome almost, but it failed in its usual purpose of bringing her under control. This time it drove her into a limb-waving tantrum. Anne appeared and added her shouts, making matters much worse.

Robert picked up the Marilyn brush. He waved it menacingly but it was like a conductor’s wand, working up the crescendo. He hit Carol lightly on the forearm with the wooden back of the implement, causing her screams to intensify. He grabbed a hand, swung her round and delivered a stinging blow to her buttocks. She wriggled and evaded the second slap. She saw, whereas her angry daddy did not, that a taxi had drawn up. Auntie Claire peered out of a rear window but Carol cared not. She knew neither then nor thereafter the extent to which she was complicit in what happened next but the third intended spank landed crashingly, star-seeingly, nauseatingly on the peak of her pubic bone.

That silenced her. There was a momentary tableau with everyone frozen, not knowing quite how to behave. The emerging Auntie Claire made some comment about it being a bad time to arrive and thereby got everyone into motion. Anne rushed over to greet her sister. Robert waved an apologetic hand and picked pale-face Carol up. He took her to the bedroom where he laid her down and begged, hands pressed together like Uriah Heap, for forgiveness. Completely calm Carol looked at him and smiled. There was acute pain but she felt sublime. ‘It’s alright, Daddy,’ she murmured sweetly, ‘it was an accident.’

Once the atmosphere had settled, Auntie Claire was forthright, letting it be known that she had heard of her niece’s misbehaviour and was dismayed to have had first hand experience of unruliness. The adults debated the child’s waywardness and what to do about it. Repeatedly, Claire, in her warning speeches, referred to Anne as, ‘your mother.’ She did this matter-of-factly, as though there were no doubts. Carol’s dislike deepened.

Then, towards the end of the visit, most of the tension magically dissipated. Auntie Claire took her niece out for treats and told her of life in London’s Brixton district. To Carol the cold and darkness of which she learned seemed insupportable, especially the lack of sun. Claire shrugged, said that people grew used to it and suggested that one day, when she was a few years older, Carol might like to pay a visit. The response was polite but the child made a firm resolution that she would never go to that sick and smoky place where, to make matters much worse, it seemed that her aunt ruled her own brood with a steely rod.

They talked also about goodness. Auntie Claire, without revealing any details, told Carol that Anne and her three sisters had suffered terrible deprivations as children. ’Your mother had it very hard,’ Auntie Claire declared, ‘you should be good for her.’

In bed the night after this conversation, Carol thought about what her aunt had said. It was annoying that Claire supported the mother nonsense but the talk had brought a new reality. Carol recognised later that this was a crux. She had been living in a dream world, with her dolls and her fantasies of rescue. Very dimly she registered the idea that her carers were real people. To herself, and not to Marilyn, she articulated the idea that life might be better if she were consistently good. She felt tears trickling out against her will. ‘I will be good,’ she whispered, ‘I want to be good.’ It was akin to a religious conversion.
Rewards were provided for her improvement and she stepped up her efforts. So good was she that the much desired ballet lessons with a Chinese woman, Madame Suie, were granted. The teacher declared that her new pupil showed great potential though there were doubts that she would ever be sufficiently tall to become a professional. Pleased with her first taste of culture, Carol begged for, and was allowed, lessons in playing the recorder and then, when her school teachers praised her drawing skills, she was given extra tuition in art.

Two more changes of residence within less than two years altered the scenery and refreshed the cast of extras but Carol continued her campaign of virtue. The domicile drift was ever closer to the hub of Jamaican political activity. An apartment very near the university guaranteed an increased stream of visitors but Carol did not mind this. She no longer used the Monroe tricks but her style was engaging in the extreme. With no siblings, and swathes of time when her parents were busy, Carol was forced to look outside the home for company. She became very adept at making friends.

Next door to the new residence was a family called Barnes. The mother quickly became ‘Aunt Jean’ These warm-hearted neighbours had a habit of locking themselves out and it was always the tiny Carol, fed though a small window, who saved the expense of a locksmith. Some of the Barnes children became playmates. One of them called John showed exceptional skill at kicking and controlling a football, an apparently futile pastime which eventually would earn him international fame and fortune.

As Carol moved through the junior school years, she thought less and less of her happy infancy. Whatever the truth about her parentage, she recognised that she was for the time being stuck with Robert and Anne but this no longer seemed like a prison sentence. The storms and shifting alliances, the shoe-throwing and the occasional beatings, continued but she became used to them. Overall, people referred to her as a good child and she found great warmth in this.

In the comfort of the established stability, she was met at the school gates one afternoon by both parents; a rare occurrence. They seemed in excellent spirits, Anne particularly so. Innocently, Carol submitted to being taken to a favourite café and treated to her most relished brand of cake. She felt cherished and sublimely happy.

‘Darling,’ Anne said when the treat was half consumed, ‘we have something to tell you.’

The fork stopped in its travel from plate to open mouth. A chill came to Carol’s stomach. Although she still occasionally disliked this woman she had to acknowledge that there were channels of communication between them beyond those of speech. In the unexpected coldness, the child said nothing, offering neither permission nor encouragement.

‘Well, Carol,’ Anne continued with apparent reluctance, ‘you see, I’ve won a scholarship, a very important scholarship. I’m to go to England for a short while to study at the BBC. They’re going to teach me how to write plays for the radio.’

Carol’s quick brain clicked into action. She and Anne had been getting on well recently but losing her for a few weeks or even months would not be too terrible. The goal of eventually marrying Robert had still not slipped from its primary place on her agenda. With Anne away there could be a blissful time. She smiled and glanced sideways at her father. He was smiling too but she read a negative message which at first she could not believe. No words were necessary. Her eyebrows lifted, her mouth opened slightly. Robert nodded and in an instant her spirit collapsed.

‘Yes, darling,’ he muttered redundantly, ‘I’m going with your mother.’

Carol looked down at the remnants of her cake. Her mother talked.

‘We’ve made arrangements,’ she said, ‘it’s only for a few months and you can’t miss all that schooling and you’ll be staying with a very good family. They’ve got a girl a bit older than you but I’m sure you’ll really like her. You could become very good friends.’

The cake was cardboard, the milkshake vomit. They had torn her from a place of security and unbounded love and now they were leaving her. She could not believe it. She stared at them, looking for a sign that all this was a joke. Robert spoke first.

‘It’ll be over before you know it,’ he declared, ‘the time will fly. We’ll write frequently and bring you lovely presents and pictures from England and just think how proud you will be when your mother’s plays are on the radio. You’ll be famous too!’

She would not allow a tear, even though she would be doubly an orphan, lost and alone.

‘Finish your cake, darling,’ said Anne.

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Comments by other Members

Nell at 16:19 on 27 August 2003  Report this post
Hi Richard,

Carol's story is becoming even more irresistible with this chapter and I found myself at the end all too soon. It's amazing how you've written so convincingly of life from the child's perspective, and I'm identifying with her strongly yet again. I can remember those feelings too. Looking forward to the next part,

Best, Nell.

Richard Brown at 09:58 on 29 August 2003  Report this post
Glad you're enjoying Carol's story so much, Nell. Your comments really encourage me to keep going. Very soon I'm going to have to start a major paid piece of work - writing one volume, maybe two, of family history for a Canadian client. I'm off to Toronto in early October to pick up all the masses of material. Once I plunge into this I will have much reduced time for the Carol story but I'm going to do my best to keep it going. As you might anticipate, in the next section Carol starts on the slippery slope. Sincere thanks for your interest - it much enhances my enjoyment in telling the tale. All the best, Richard.

Bobo at 10:17 on 29 August 2003  Report this post
Hi Richard -

I'd originally planned to save all the installments and wait until you'd finished Carol's story and then read it as a whole...BUT couldn't wait any longer and so printed it all off and read the whole lot last night. What a joy it was to read, and yes you MUST continue with it! There are so few who can carry off writing from a child's perspective; often the child's POV is undermined, belittled, but you do so well to get the readers' full buy-in.

Sorry to basically just reiterate Nell...


BoBo xxx

Richard Brown at 11:37 on 29 August 2003  Report this post
I'm glowing with pride! What a compliment! I'm even more motivated now. Thanks, Bobo, for such a wonderful accolade. Richard.

Bobo at 14:25 on 29 August 2003  Report this post
You're very welcome - just make sure you keep it coming as you'll have some very disgruntled WW members to deal with!

BoBo x

Maria at 11:58 on 01 September 2003  Report this post
Hi Richard,

I read Carol 5 last night. I haven't read the chapters previous to this one and I was a bit lost in the beginning [not your fault!!] but I thought that this chapter was fascinating - I couldn't put it down - very gripping - especially with the little girl speaking.

Is Anne the "step-partner"??

I really admire the way you can write with such ease [I know it's hard work and that it just seems like that!!] and I also like the pace.

Good luck with the next chapter,


Becca at 21:55 on 07 September 2003  Report this post
Hi Richard, the tension continues, it's as if I'm waiting for something just not to go right for her at any moment. I loved 'The cake was cardboard, the milkshake vomit.'
It remains oddly spooky, shivery. The parents are convincingly distant. I'd have liked a clue to her age here, 6? 7?
Keep it going, will there come a point where we, (I) might be able to guess who she is?

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