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Carol 7

by Richard Brown 

Posted: 23 September 2003
Word Count: 2909
Summary: The next episode of Carol's turbulent life.
Related Works: Carol • Carol 10 • Carol 2 • Carol 4 • Carol 5 • Carol 6 • Carol 8 • Carol 9 • Carol3 • 

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This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

Carol 7

‘See what I mean?’ Mrs. Campbell insisted as Carol was made to stand next to the towering Edith. ‘She’s only a year older than you and look! you’re stunted, like a dwarf.’

Carol risked an upward glance and was rewarded with a condescending smirk from the giant. ‘Tests,’ Mrs. Campbell said firmly, conveying the impression that she was not a single person but a committee which had just come to an important and unanimous conclusion. Carol started to mention that her daddy was not in favour of her being tested but the tyrant cut the protest short. ‘Your father agrees with me,’ she said.

Edith slouched away and the tiny one wondered, if being tall were such a blessing, why her supposed superior bent her shoulders so, round and down, as though she were trying to minimise her presence.

Feeling utterly alone and miserable in her unfamiliar room, Carol decided to run away. Even without the looming terror of the medical tests, the hatred of Mrs. Campbell and her aloof daughter was quite sufficient to warrant desperate measures. The problem was where to go. The Mona Heights apartment had been relinquished, with all the furniture going into storage; already there would be strangers in residence. Aunty Jean Barnes was a possibility but there was no room in that household for an extra body, however minuscule, In any case, Mrs. Barnes would be duty bound to contact Robert and Anne who would certainly insist on a return to the Campbell residence.

As she lay in bed, Carol allowed her mind to drift back to her princess days. The leaving of that place had been humiliating and painful yet she understood that her first mummy had had no choice. A mighty judge had spoken. The suffering which had been inflicted on her then was a sign of the vast proportions of the love those people bore for her. ‘If only I could find it,’ Carol thought, ‘real mummy and I could run away, like we did before, but to a secret place where horrid Anne will never find us.’ Sleep was a long time coming but as her twists and wriggles subsided, Carol convinced herself that locating her former home was the proper strategy. ‘I’ll miss daddy, though,’ she sighed wearily as her eyes closed.

In the morning her resolve to flee was still strong but she realised that she could not simply leave. She had been so often warned that there were bad people on the dingy streets of Kingston; She must form a proper plan like the heroines in Enid Blyton books, secreting food and clothing in strategic locations and finding a safe place to sleep in case the search for her haven was prolonged. What she had not allowed for in her calculations was the potency of Mrs. Campbell’s hospital connections. Before the first phase of the escape plan could be executed, the call came from the clinic. ‘It’s for your own good,’ Mrs. Campbell reiterated in response to the wails of protest.

On the way to the hospital, Carol squeezed her mind to make it produce an emergency solution but no ideas came. When, soon after arriving, it became obvious that the smiling nurse intended to jab a needle in her in patient’s arm, Carol began involuntarily to shake. ‘You’re hysterical, child!’ Mrs. Campbell declared triumphantly ‘and you say there’s nothing wrong with you.’

At the first skin prick, Carol fainted. She had found her temporary escape but nothing could halt Mrs. Campbell’s charge. ‘You should be grateful that you’re not on the children’s ward dying of cancer,’ was the comforting message as they left the hospital.

Mrs. Campbell’s dismay when the results of the agony were swiftly delivered was palpable No diabetes, no bone troubles, no imbalances; no identifiable cause for the deformity. The woman shook her head sadly. ‘Must be some mistake,’ she murmured. She retired to the mysterious parlour to ponder further and thirty minutes later emerged triumphant. ‘It’s cos you’ve been spoilt, girl,’ she announced. ‘Weak foods and idleness, that’s what.’

The consequence of the new devil-delivered diagnosis was that Carol’s status fell instantly from paying guest to servant. Encouraged by her mother, Edith took on the role of slave-mistress with great dedication. The little lodger was compelled to perform menial tasks, sometimes having to repeat them until humiliation was achieved. At the dining table, the taller girl was given breast of chicken whilst Carol was made to chew relentlessly on gristly scraps. ‘Struggle, girl,’ Mrs. Campbell exhorted repeatedly. ‘Toughen up!’

The only relief from the tyranny came in the school playground where gifts, bought with the money Robert had given her as a final sweetener, purchased a kind of friendship. ‘Your daddy a big man,’ Beverley said with exaggerated respect as she licked her way through a sticky lollipop.

Carol’s defection to the Beverley set had brought new allies but it had alienated former friends. It astonished her that classmates she had thought loyal could become so quickly hostile. When two weeks went by without a postcard being produced, an erstwhile friend called Carla went so far as to voice doubts about what Carol’s folks were doing. The traitor whispered maliciously that the rich girl’s parents were not abroad at all but locked up in prison. The wicked suggestion appalled Carol. Every day she asked Mrs. Campbell if there had been a postcard in the mail delivery. ‘You think they have nothing better to do than send you cards?’ was the response. ‘They busy people.’

Anxiety and misery overwhelmed Carol. Her daddy had promised cards. She understood that delivery could not be prompt over thousands of miles of cold ocean but aeroplanes arrived daily; surely a little card could be carried without inconvenience. It seemed to her that the lower her spirits sank, the crueller Edith became. Pursuing her escape plan, Carol hid some clothes behind a hedge.

Thoughts of flight were strongly reinforced on the weekend when the Campbells, for the first time in Carol’s sojourn, entertained numerous relatives and friends. The slave was required to act as kitchen-maid and waitress, rushing hotly about whilst Edith sat on a shady step, coolly watching. ‘I hate her, I hate her!’ Carol was muttering when one of the guests bulldozed into her inner world by uttering a mere three words. Sharply drawn, she looked and saw a handsome, light-skinned man whose smiling lips had just said; ‘Thank you, Marilyn.’ She recognised him from her parents’ parties. He was one of Marilyn’s greatest admirers and she only just resisted the urge to throw her arms around him.

Despite the nostalgia, Carol was in no mood whatsoever for play-acting but the response seemed automatic and extreme. In her imagination she utterly became a light-skinned, blonde-haired, speech-drawling film star with hooded eyes and pouting lips. The audience grew rapidly. People clapped and cheered. Carol caught a glimpse of Edith standing tiptoed on the step, her eyes wide, her mouth agape. The sight spurred the impressionist and the applause increased.

Mrs. Campbell’s summoning shout came as no surprise. In fact, it was welcome to Carol because its querulous tone showed that at last she had acquired some power. Dismayed spectators pleaded and Marilyn lingered until the next imperative yell. Only then, to cries of disappointment, did Carol obey the call. She brushed boldly past Edith whose mouth was still stupidly open. Their eyes briefly met and for once the house guest picked up neither disdain nor contempt from her foster sister but something which she could categorise only as deep puzzlement.

In the kitchen, Mrs. Campbell seethed, hissing and bubbling like her simmering pans. ‘Hussy!’ she spat as she slapped Carol’s leg with three sharp, flat-handed blows. The recipient skipped defensively and did her best to hide her smile.

The verbal abuse began in earnest when the guests had gone. Carol’s immorality was self-righteously condemned. It was shocking, apparently, that the child even knew of Monroe’s existence; to be impersonating the decadent film star was wickedness of an unprecedented order. ‘I’ll be telling your father, mark my words,’ warned Mrs. Campbell.

When the speech was over, the inner committee considered what action it should take. Carol stood patiently in the golden evening sunlight, awaiting her fate. Her moral guardian was breathing heavily as the rheumy eyes conducted the survey up and down the child’s inadequate height. The wayward one observed the moment of decision and her nerves instantly jangled. ‘Edith,’ Mrs. Campbell said, ‘fetch me a kitchen stool and the big scissor.’

Early on, probably in an attempt to instil terror, Edith had revealed that her mother was a witch who held séances and who conversed regularly with the spirits of the dead. Though gullible by nature, and easily terrified, Carol had tended to dismiss the claim but this calling for scissors was evidence of evil. The woman had sensed the weak spot. ‘No!’ Carol cried, ‘please Mrs. Campbell. Please don’t.’

‘I should have run!’ Carol chided herself as she was ordered to sit on the stool. She assessed her chances for a belated getaway. Mrs. Campbell was too fat to catch her, the man of the house would take ten minutes to emerge from his customary torpor but Edith was another matter. She would run swiftly and she would wrestle, rejoicing in the opportunity to inflict hurt.

The shorn hair stuck out ridiculously. Girls at school laughed, even some of those who regularly took gifts. Cruel Carla said that the supposed rich girl looked like a criminal, just like her parents. Only Beverley, the rebel, did not laugh. In morbid jest the two girls plotted vicious revenge on Mrs. Campbell. ‘We’ll dig a big pit and fill it with slimy frogs and worms and push her down it,’ promised Beverley.

For three days after the hair cropping, Carol lived in a misery which seemed greatly to Mrs. Campbell’s taste. The minx was being tamed. Carol had never dreamed that a time would come when she would long for the company of Anne. She spent hours crouched by the African violets, thinking of the happy times when she and her daddy and Anne had played. She watered the flowers assiduously, fretting that they nonetheless seemed as dispirited as she did.

She was with the violets one weekend morning when Mrs. Campbell sent Edith to deliver a summons to the parlour.

Carol hesitated in the doorway. The parlour was the place of serious business, the room where the séances were conducted. It was heavily shaded with maroon velvet curtains, crowded with ornate furniture and smelled disgustingly of spent ritual smoke. Something must be amiss, Carol thought and racked her brains to try to recall recent misdemeanours. ‘Quickly, girl, I have something to show you,’ Mrs. Campbell called.

There was no anger in the voice. Carol advanced. The witch was sitting at the thick-legged table with its heavy crimson cloth. In her hands was a rectangle of cardboard and Carol’s heart doubled up its beat. It was a postcard A postcard! Absurdly, she felt a welling of love for Mrs. Campbell. Now the schoolgirls would believe her!

Smiling in a way that seemed not entirely sincere, Mrs. Campbell bade Carol sit down. She slotted herself into a seat opposite the holder of her salvation and looked eagerly. ‘This came for you,’ the suddenly admirable woman said.

With fingers that shook as though she were stricken with a nerve disease, Carol took the missive. Initially unable to face the momentous fact of her daddy’s writing, she looked for minutes at the picture which showed something called Trafalgar Square which had what looked like a warrior standing on a huge column and nose to tail red double-decker buses. ‘Go on, read it,’ said an impatient Mrs. Campbell.

With tears oozing, Carol glanced up at the woman. ‘May I please take it to my room?’ she asked. Mrs. Campbell looked horrified. ‘Oh, silly child, no,’ she replied, ‘you’d just lose it. Your parents have gone to great trouble. I’m sure they’d want me to look after it for you.’

It was then that Carol recognised the true wickedness of what was being perpetrated. Just as Mrs. Campbell had sensed the importance of her hair, so she had intuitively known the vital place the card could have in schoolgirl life. ‘Please, Mrs. Campbell,’ Carol begged, ‘I’ll really look after it. Just for a day or two.’

The eyes widened, the lips compressed. Out poured another speech about how ungrateful, how spoiled, how utterly selfish was .the child. When one of Carol’s tears fell onto a red bus, Mrs. Campbell noticed instantly. ‘See!’ she bellowed, ‘you’re not to be trusted.’ Carol quickly wiped the card with her sleeve. ‘It’s alright, Mrs. Campbell, it’s alright,’ she gasped. She turned the card swiftly, before it could be taken from her.

Immediately there was disappointment. Most of the scrawly writing was Anne’s; Robert’s contribution was a crammed note at the bottom. Tears distorted the words but Carol gathered that they were having a wonderful time, that the course was hard but excellent, that it was cold, that she must be a good girl and remember to water the African violets. Robert’s unbearable message was that he loved her and that they would see her soon; the latter part, Carol knew, a well-intended lie.

There was now no foreseeable escape from school misery. Nobody would believe that a card existed but that it could not be shown. The prison story would gain credence, especially since the stock of money was almost gone and therefore the flow of gifts would soon cease.

‘Come, Carol,’ Mrs. Campbell said, ‘give me the card and run and wash your face so you don’t look like a clown. We’re going shopping.’

In Carol’s estimation this was further deliberate torture. Her presence would be required only as a carrier of bags and parcels. Part of the toughening-up regime was that nothing was ever bought for her.

The first call was at a stationer’s, to acquire a thick, ruled notebook which Edith greatly coveted. It boasted a cover of dyed blue leather embossed with golden swirls and Carol longed for it. There was irritating haggling over the price and for diversion Carol stared at an array of fountain pens lodged in an open display case on a low counter. She spelled out the engraved name; ‘Waterman’. One implement particularly, almost the same blue as the notebook cover, commanded her attention. She rehearsed a fantasy speech to the schoolgirls. ‘Yes, of course my daddy has sent me cards but I am keeping them in a lovely album with a royal blue cover and I don’t want to bring it to school because it will get dirty.’ And as the chorus of scepticism gathered power she would reach into her schoolbag and produce the pen. The girls would gasp in chorus. ‘It’s nothing,’ she would say nonchalantly, ‘my daddy sent me three of them, for different coloured inks.’

The pen gleamed alluringly. On its lid was a golden clip, buried in its body was a golden lever. The writing which declared the name of the maker was ornately golden too. An ache of desire came unexpectedly with such power that she was almost bent. Resisting, and without moving her head, she flicked her eyes. The shop was busy, the verbal haggling battle above her head was absorbing all the players. Her dominant left hand twitched. A distinct voice, a clear, commanding voice inside her head cried, ‘Take it!’

There could be few things more wicked. Punishment would be something beyond beating should her daddy discover that she had even entertained a theft temptation. Her body trembled and, to her astonishment, a familiar guilty pleasure suffused her pelvis. Her eyes rolled, her fists clenched. The voice spoke again, using Beverley language. ‘Take the fucking pen,’ it said.

Trickles of sweat formed in her armpits. ‘Nobody’s looking. We’re invisible. Now!’ the voice commanded.

Carol later remembered the oddity of that use of ‘we’ but it was comforting. It was not her but them; some other beings who were taking responsibility. Feeling empowered to act coolly, she smiled inwardly, blessing anonymity for the first time in her life. Who cared about a tiny being with close-cropped hair and a permanently miserable face?

The movement, when it happened., seemed automatic, as though practiced for years. Whisper light, without shifting the display case, the fingers formed around the gorgeous object. The danger, as she slipped the pen into her already unzipped peggy purse, was that she might cry out, so potent was the pelvic bliss.

As soon as practicable after returning to the Campbell residence, Carol went to her room. She shut the door, sat on the bed and took out the treasure. The luscious feeling came again, weaker than it had been at the actual taking but nonetheless delightful as it trickled out across her belly and down her thighs. The thief stared at her ill-gotten gain, engrossed completely. It represented all her imagined princess riches, it would purchase untold playground power.

She was not sure what it was that made her look away from the hypnotic object. Her eyes flicked quickly. There had been no noise yet the bedroom door was open. Standing in the back-lighted wedge of access was Edith and on the hated, cruel face was a curling, nose-kink smile that struck terror into Carol’s heart.

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Comments by other Members

Bobo at 18:30 on 24 September 2003  Report this post
'Turbulent life', indeed!

I've really been enjoying the Carol series and can only reiterate what I've written previously ( sorry - always a shame not to have anything terribly original to say! ).

Each installment goes from strength to strength. This is intensely powerful; Carol's troubles are conveyed in such a way as to evoke strong emotions in the reader - not an easy feat. I really 'felt' for Carol, wanted to reach into the story to comfort her - which may mean I'm slightly 'barking' but I'd like to think it's more the pure quality of your writing and the way you've developed the story.

As always, 'MORE', please...


Richard Brown at 09:22 on 29 September 2003  Report this post

Very many thanks, again. I guess it's impossible to think up original comments all the time and I certainly don't expect originality. It's just wonderful to know that someone is appreciating the material.
However - production of the Carol story will almost certainly slow down because I'm now involved in writing Volume Six (and perhaps even Volume Seven!) of a series of family histories for a Canadian client. I'm off to Toronto for a week from the 5th of October to collect materials and to be briefed. Mercenary, I know, but I can always use the extra money. I will, though, keep doing bits of the Carol book because I enjoy it and I want to finish is, so there will be more anon.
Thanks again.


Becca at 08:34 on 04 October 2003  Report this post
Hi Richard, I hope the next part won't be too long in coming. The misery of the story deepens, and now there is more than one Carol. I was interested in the physical sensation stealing gave her and wondered where this lead.

Richard Brown at 21:00 on 04 October 2003  Report this post
Thanks, Becca. I'll try to keep the Carol story flowing even though I have to start the new volume for my Canadian client. The thrills of stealing, and the personality split, led Carol into all manner of scrapes and, you'll be glad to hear no doubt, there's a fair bit of fun to lighten the misery as the tale unfolds. All will be revealed!

Nell at 16:25 on 16 October 2003  Report this post
Hi Richard,

More complications in the life of Carol - I'm following this with fascination and looking forward to the next chapter.

One tiny typo for you:

'What she had not allowed for her in calculations...'

And I'm glad her life has more happy parts too.

Best, Nell.

Richard Brown at 09:40 on 20 October 2003  Report this post
Many thanks, Nell, for the very welcome encouragement. I'm starting today on the next Canadian book so there will be much less time for Carol but I'm determined to keep going so there will be further episodes which, as usual, I will flag in the forum. I'll correct the typo. Thanks again.

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