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Carol 8

by Richard Brown 

Posted: 11 November 2003
Word Count: 1851
Summary: Carol slides further down the greasy slope...
Related Works: Carol • Carol 10 • Carol 2 • Carol 4 • Carol 5 • Carol 6 • Carol 7 • Carol 9 • Carol3 • 

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Carol 8

A dozen lies flashed into consciousness but there seemed no point in uttering any of them; Edith’s stern expression precluded all prevarication. She took two steps into the room and held out her hand. ‘Show me,’ she commanded. With an arm that shook uncontrollably, Carol obeyed.

Edith studied the implement, turning it over as though she was expecting it to explode, She then looked up sharply and for the first time in Carol’s awareness, their eyes met frankly. Edith’s fierce expression held for a moment then, startlingly, it was replaced by a grin. ‘Congratulations!’ Edith said. Not sure if irony were intended, Carol struggled for words. The smile faded. ‘You’ve a lot to learn though, girl, believe me,’ said Edith grimly.

An absurd self-defensiveness was Carol’s saviour. She had done a terrible thing, and deserved to be punished, but she had at least done it well. ‘Nobody saw me!’ she declared hotly. Edith smiled a different smile. ‘I did,’ she said.

For Carol it was a defining moment. She felt uneasy, as though the foundations of her selfhood were being shaken, yet there was excitement and a kind of love for the person she had so recently detested. Their eyes met again but fleetingly, as though the information transfer was too powerful to bear.

Edith sat uninvited on the bed. ‘Your first time?’ she asked in a voice much softer than her usual one. Carol’s strongest urge was to cry but she squeezed back the tears and nodded in what she trusted was a bright, morally confident fashion. The older girl smiled once more and her face was transformed from ugliness to near beauty. It was all Carol could do to stop herself reaching out for an embrace. She managed to say, ‘Do you?’ Edith’s response was a withering look which left no doubts.

There was a moment of silence which in Carol’s reckoning lasted for untold ages. It felt as though the room was being irradiated. There were barely decipherable messages flying to and fro but all of them generated a fresh excitement. Unbidden, two further words popped into her head; ‘Your mother.’ She uttered them without knowing what else she might say but she was allowed no verbal space for more. ‘Her! I hate her!’ Edith spat and this time there was the promise of violence.

There was another silence during which Carol’s mind calculated furiously. Edith was sitting in a hopeless, slumped shape, her eyes apparently focussed on the stolen pen but evidently taking nothing in. When she spoke, her words were once more shocking.

‘I’m sorry, Carol,’ she said, ‘I thought you were stuck up.’

It was the start of an alliance, a sisterhood, which transformed Carol’s life in that household.

They went, at Edith’s instigation, into her room. She opened a cupboard, shifted some footwear, raised one of the floorboards and felt into the revealed cavity. She produced a box and handed it to her new ally. ‘Here,’ she said.

Feeling already confident enough to sit on Edith’s bed, Carol put the large cigar box on her lap and delayed the opening. She knew that it would contain treasure just like her princess dream caskets. The smell of the cedar wood, and the much stronger one of the lingering tobacco influence, filled her nostrils. She drew the dreamy scents in, experiencing an excitement that brought her close to fainting. Edith, who was still kneeling on the floor like a handmaiden, said, ‘Lovely, isn’t it?’ and Carol was overwhelmed by happiness. With reverence, struggling once more to contain tears, she opened the box.

Her eyes registered neither doubloons nor golden guineas, of course, but earrings, pens, bank notes, lipsticks, rings, brooches, necklaces and shining coins. Edith grinned happily at the sound of Carol’s exhalation of astonishment. On the bed, easily within Carol’s reach, was the pen. Looking at her new friend, smiling softly, Carol reached out, took the stolen object and dropped it into the box.

Unwinding smoothly, moving with a grace that surprised Carol, Edith stood and went to the dressing table. She picked up the beautiful blue notebook. ‘Our ledger,’ she declared. ‘I know a secret writing. We’ll record everything. Everything.’ Carol instantly understood and nodded eagerly, wanting to be taught the code without delay.

The sound of Mrs. Campbell’s voice broke crudely into their peace. Edith, with a conspiratorial grin towards Carol, shouted that she was supervising the cleaning of her room. There was a grunt of acknowledgement. ‘Come on,’ Edith said, ‘let’s clean so she doesn’t become suspicious, then I’ll help you to do yours.’

From then on, Fagin taught the soon-to-be artful dodger all the tricks of distraction and sleight of hand, of insouciance, confidence, anonymity, voluminous clothing and ways to run and dodge. In the lovely ledger, using the most seductive of the stolen pens, writing in their private language, they listed all the thefts. The most satisfying, marked by stars, were those from Mrs. Campbell’s purse.

The miraculous fact, the one which sealed Carol’s devotion to her new friend, was that Edith cared little or nothing about what happened to the stolen objects. ‘Give them away if you want to,’ she declared. All that mattered to her was the taking and the recording. ‘Stops the box getting full,’ Edith said as she handed her assistant a clutch of expensive lipsticks.

Carol’s image as the little rich girl was massively reinforced. She was always the one with the latest, most expensive adornments. Furthermore, she was carelessly generous. A schoolmate had only to admire greatly and beg a little and the wealthy one would say, ‘Here, have it. I can easily get another.’

It was true; the duo could steal to order. Tall Edith was the serious shopper, Carol the dressed-down, anonymous younger sister who shaped her body and her expressions to enhance the impression of family likeness. Edith stooped to minimise the embarrassing, ever developing impact of her breasts; her proto-sister stooped too, even though she had nothing more than nipples to conceal. The importunate boys would call out, ‘Hey, Edith!’ and she would curse them even though, when she and Carol were alone together, she talked about boys all too frequently. It was the one aspect of their friendship which Carol wished were different. As with the older girls at school, she did her best to join in the conversations but the matter was of no interest.

Carol’s developing stoop further infuriated Mrs. Campbell. ‘You deformed, girl!’ she declared, expanding the medical categorisation of her lodger. Carol no longer cared until Edith, trying on some freshly purloined garment, treacherously uncoiled her body and stared into the mirror. The image of her protuberances disturbed Carol deeply. ‘You think Wellington like this?’ Edith asked one weekend morning as she preened. Carol could only grunt and wriggle uncomfortably.

Some days everything was fine, just the two of them on their adventures. The bolder their missions, the greater the thrill. What was vile was when the boys intervened. Edith seemed to lose focus. The obnoxious Wellington, especially, caused Edith to walk tall. When he called, ‘Hey, Edith,’ she sometimes answered. The worst day was when Edith detached herself and engaged in a shuffling, shoe-focus conversation with the gawky youth.

Carol could not talk to Edith about what was happening. For as long as their private conversations were restricted to the thieving plans, their loathing of Mrs. Campbell or the burdens of school life, there was harmony between them. Edith had but to mention the W word to change completely the bedroom atmosphere. In Carol’s gut there brewed a dangerous mixture of jealousy, unwanted curiosity and hatred for the forces which were prising her companion away. She showed none of this inner turmoil to Edith; pretending to be interested in boys, just as she did at school.

It was after Edith had announced that she had invited Wellington to drop by sometime that Carol made an excuse to flee the room on the pretext of going to the lavatory. Wellington on the streets was just about tolerable. Wellington on her territory was a betrayal. On the way to playing out her pretence of biological need, Carol saw Mrs. Campbell’s purse, left lying negligently open. They had a rule, a limit as to how much should be lifted. The woman was careless with money and reliably failed to notice small depletions. Disregarding their agreement, Carol pulled out the wad of notes, peeled half of it away and replaced the remainder.

As soon as Carol re-entered the room, Edith took up her interrupted monologue about Wellington. She stopped in mid sentence when her friend reached into her knickers and withdrew the cash. ‘Carol!’ Edith said as the notes were tossed carelessly onto the bed. Carol shrugged. ‘I need the money,’ she said. Forgetting Wellington, Edith came close and spoke forcefully. ‘You don’t understand, do you? She really is a witch. It’s really, really scary. She summons devils.’

Carol tried not to shudder and failed but she rallied quickly. ‘I don’t believe in all that nonsense. My daddy.’ Edith did not let her finish. ‘Your precious daddy isn’t here. My mother-witch is.’

It was the first open disagreement since their alliance had been formed. Carol was acutely aware of a power struggle and knew that she could not win. ‘I’ll put half of it back,’ she said. Edith nodded and resumed her self-inspection. Carol took a bunch of the banknotes and left the room just long enough to create the impression that she had fulfilled her promise.

Back in the room, she embarked on a simple peace-making programme which involved nothing more than a question about Wellington’s impending visit. Edith revealed that he was planning to slip into the back of the garden the following Sunday afternoon. Carol conveyed interested delight. ‘You’ll have to keep watch whilst we’re in the shed,’ Edith said. Her friend nodded unwillingly until Edith turned, smiled and said, ‘No peeping, though!’ The nods increased in energy. ‘Then you can have a go.’ Edith added. ‘We share everything, right?’ Carol considered and then summoned the courage to ask, ‘A go at what?’ Edith shrugged and smiled vilely at her mirror-self. ‘You know, kissin’ ‘n that,’ she said.

The idea of being in the shed with any boy was inadmissible. Kissing Wellington, with his skinny, awkward body, the too-large lips and the scary, bulging eyes would make her vomit. Carol’s brain began to scan her stock of plausible excuses and was over-heating when a sound came which knocked all thoughts of next Sunday out of her mind.

Edith’s mother was, most unusually, calling both of them. In her voice was a terrifying tone Carol had not heard before. Furthermore, she was summoning them to the parlour. Edith’s eyes rolled. ‘Oh god save us!’ she said, making the sign of the cross repeatedly.

Carol tried to repeat her declaration that she was not afraid of devils. Had she been able to utter it, it would have been true. Fear was far too weak a concept to describe her mental state; she was completely terrified.

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Comments by other Members

Nell at 08:07 on 12 November 2003  Report this post
Hi Richard,

For me this was the most compelling chapter so far, and I reached the end of the piece in what seemed liked seconds. This felt not so much like Carol sliding further down the greasy slope as plunging headfirst over the edge of a precipice, and I'm not sure that I can wait for the next part!

Best, Nell.

Richard Brown at 08:52 on 12 November 2003  Report this post
Nell. You're right about the precipice. There's certainly a way for her to go yet!

Your encouragement is very greatly valued. I will tear myself away from mercenary Canadian considerations whenever I can to work on the next part.

Many thanks.


Bobo at 17:40 on 12 November 2003  Report this post
Dear Richard - so glad you've managed to continue with this amidst all your other commitments. Carol just gets more and more intriguing, and your style of writing is perfect for such character development. I'm hooked.

Can't wait for the next episode.


BoBo x

Richard Brown at 19:26 on 12 November 2003  Report this post
Such a lovely and encouraging comment. Thanks, Bobo. The story is always in my head and I'm sure it will continue to emerge through all the other stuff. I'm off to play badminton now but I'm sure that part of my mind will be in Jamaica! More anon. Thanks again'


Bobo at 23:55 on 12 November 2003  Report this post
Richard - your writing is such an inspiration that I pray ( though I'm not religious... ) for you to continue - absolutely mind-blowing stuff!

BoBo x

roovacrag at 15:11 on 13 November 2003  Report this post
I have read this. liked it. I will give you the same criticism as i got when i wrote my first novel.
Don't always put the name, when he or she will do, but don't put he or she when the name will do. Look forward to the next part xx alice

Junie Girl at 04:20 on 27 February 2004  Report this post
Richard, Thank you very much for your interest in The Chicken Soup Caper. It actually had about 200 more words but I wanted to enter it into a contest and so had to edit it down.[to 500 words} If it comes flying back to me in the near future I may add a bit and send it out again.
You really hit the nail on the head when you recognized that a petite redhead was much more potent medicine than good "ol Mom's" chicken soup.
I hope to enter another true life tale in a day or two.
In the meantime, I have read all your Carol chapters and agree they are intriguing[spelling]. Will be looking for next chapter. I have a five year old Grandaughter and sometimes the things she comes up with amaze me, "how did she figure that out", I wonder and if I look into her eyes, I see this beautiful innocent child and yet-she is a little woman too. So is Carol, I think.
May I ask you if you think a series of short stories,vignettes etc. would constitute a memoir? That is what I am trying to do. Perhaps putting them in sections such as childhood,young adult etc. or must I leave them in short story or essay form.
Thank you again.

Richard Brown at 18:13 on 27 February 2004  Report this post
Thanks for your kind comments about Carol. Unfortunately I've been neglecting it recently because I'm working on a book for a Canadian client and another (metaphysical!) opus of my own. One of these days I'll get round to finishing it.
I think that the idea of a series of vignettes, rather than a year-by-year autobiography is a delightful one. I can't think of anything similar that's in print but that's no impediment. You could maybe have very brief linking text at the start of each word picture (eg 'I left school and went...') filling in the essential background before launching into a new bout of detail. Go for it!

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