Actions

Work Header

magpies

Chapter Text

“Carol’s glamour is obviously something she’s learned. She’s a beautiful woman, but she knows how to dress, and move, and behave in a way that has gotten her to this place. In the book, you learn that she wasn’t born into this class; she acquired that discipline and that self-presentation that has a certain societal value. And yet: she’s done all the right things, but it hasn’t led her to contentment or happiness. So she looks elsewhere.” - Todd Haynes, Director of Carol.

--

There are days where she doesn’t get out of bed. There are days where she lies there in her day-old clothes, smoking and drinking and fluttering in and out of sleep. Something to forget the mess her life has become.

 

On these days, Abby has to drive over and peel her off her bed, like tape off a table. She has to coax her to drink something besides alcohol, to eat something. It’s unfair, really, and it makes Carol realize that she’s mostly taken advantage of their friendship. Someday, she’ll get her ass outside and repay her, whenever that day comes.

 

Up until a short while ago, she had done everything right. And maybe it was because everything turned out so wrong despite doing everything right that she did what she did.

 

When her parents showed her off to their guests, she let them while hating the scrutinizing eyes of random strangers. When they shipped her off to boarding school, she went even though she feared being alone. And when they showered her with marriage prospects, she didn’t object despite having dreams of going to college.

 

Her parents had been so proud when she met Harge. Harge, the upperclassman, the successful business person, the future inheritor of the Airds’ immense wealth. He was everything Carol’s parents wanted and nothing she herself wanted. Still, she married him and smiled as if her hopes had not been dashed.

 

Then, she played the role of the good housewife, the hostess. She learned to smile and nod and laugh at the right times. She would latch herself to Harge’s side at events, having her hands shook and kissed by men she hardly knew. She endured creepy stares and compliments while Harge was oblivious to her discomfort.

 

She remembers a home economics class she once did, those ridiculous things they taught in order to keep a happy household. Happy husband makes a happy wife and look where that took her. Now, she’s stuck in the midst of a raging custody battle that she’ll most definitely lose. Abby’s wasting her efforts cheering her up, Therese hates her. Her lawyer’s being paid for no particular reason, now that Harge has the tapes. 

 

She’s married up, she’s had kids, she’s cooked and cleaned and entertained. She’s upheld her’s and Harge’s image, she’s impressed and flattered. But apparently, all those right things did nothing but turn her life into his molten pile of trash. She doesn’t even have the energy to sift through for anything useful that could be left over.

 

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.

 

She’s missed one.

Chapter Text

Sometimes, it's a nice thing to be forgotten. When you're forgotten, you have time to do other things. Sure, you could try to get someone to notice you, to get some attention. Or you could also think. Or slip away without anyone noticing. 

 

First, there are the thoughts in her head. There's self-pity: she's the victim; why should she feel bad about rejecting Carol. And there's regret: saying no was stupid, and she is an idiot for ever refusing anything from Carol. There's reproach: how dare she return to her old ways of worshipping this woman. And there's annoyance and self-doubt: Jack is the most unintuitive guy in the world/maybe she should go to the Oak-Room. 

 

Second, it's a little saddening how insignificant she is. In the many minutes she's been there, only two people have acknowledged her presence. One, Richard, who was none too happy (maybe he thinks she wants forgiveness, which definitely isn't the case). Two, some lady named Genevieve. She should probably be honoured: who is she to have caught the eye of some actress? But she's mostly disinterested. How could anyone compare to Carol?

 

(And then she slaps herself for falling back on her worshipping ways once more. But she can't not connect everything to Carol.)

 

Eventually, the party gets dull enough that she'd rather be at her apartment than here, drinking beer and eating plain bread than watching others talk. Third, she slips out.

 

(Slipping out is easy.)

 

Any person normal enough might've stopped after a few blocks. Her heels, while low, leave boots much to be desired (for warmth and comfort). But there's also the adrenaline and the excitement and a whole bunch of other things that leave the pain bearable (though she'll suffer for it later).

 

(She's proud of herself for breezing past the waiter: the old her would never have dared.)

 

If she didn't know Carol, she might've assumed that her day was going dandy and everything was fine. When Carol brushes back a curl, Therese forgets to breathe.

 

(She's still worshipping Carol like a madwoman.)

 

When they make eye contact, everything else disappears, every person, every noise, every object. The air disappears, the floor disappears, the tables disappear. When Carol's face breaks into the slightest (but the most relieved and surprised and happy) smile, Therese feels like she's floating; she's a balloon and Carol with the string. She's being pulled towards her and she's bobbing closer willingly, unresisting.

 

It's like that day in Frankenberg’s all over again and the excitement of it all is so wonderfully overwhelming.

Chapter Text

i. 

Acceptance is sometimes, more often than not, synonymous with defeat. Carol has accepted many things about her life, the most depressing one being:  she will be trapped in this marriage for eternity and she will wither and die without anyone noticing or feeling guilty for causing her misery. 

 

And then her heart starts beating faster and she forgets to breathe and she has to get outside or else she’ll have a meltdown in front of whoever she’s talking to. It’s stupid and humiliating and she knows that her in-laws look at her and wonder why she can’t get it together. 

 

If they were trapped in something as loveless and dull as she was, they would be slowly losing their minds as well.

 

ii.

To accept is to adapt. It occasionally means to compromise. Therese is good at both, she’s had to be, and that’s OK.

 

Accepting is easier than arguing. Adapting is better than waiting for that “something favourable” that may never happen. Compromise is often better than refusal, even if it means that she'll get the worse half of the deal. Because something is usually better than nothing, no matter how unfair everything is.

 

It's tiring to constantly hope for, say, your mother to suddenly change her mind and pick you up from the Home to live happily ever after. And it’s a waste of time to try and wish your father alive again while knowing that dead means dead.

 

There’s so little you can do about something that’s controlled by those above you.

 

iii.

Acceptance is not something that Rindy easily digests. Maybe it’s because she likes a challenge. Or perhaps it's because it means too many things: defeat, adaptation, compromise, change.

 

So when Rindy opens the mail to find not one, but multiple university acceptance letters and her grandparents go ballistic, Rindy takes it on as a challenge. Because it's no longer 1920 and no one gets married at eighteen and her grandparents are not her parents.

 

And when her grandparents refuse to fund her studies, she shrugs. And when they threaten to cut her from their will (a bit drastic but never mind), she lets them. She's Rindy Aird and she'll make her own money, thanks very much.

 

Rindy has big plans far from accepting anything she feels is less than her. She will graduate with honors, go to law school and become a lawyer. And then she'll do something big, whatever that will be. Until then, she'll live with her mother's nagging to go to sleep and Therese's concern at her spending another late night at the library. And the two of them will hide the coffee so she doesn't drink herself a heart attack. But it will be fine since there will be no hovering grandparents around trying to talk her into getting married instead of going off to school.

 

It will be fun.

Chapter Text

Ten years ago, when Harge first met Carol, he thought she was mysterious. Beautiful too, and Harge liked beautiful women (still does, but that’s not the point). So he went up to her, introduced herself, and bought her a drink.

 

(Looking back, she had always been mysterious. A decade of marriage did nothing to break that; if anything, it made her more distant than she had been that day they met. So in a way, he failed to work on that.)

 

 She was polite and well-spoken and the slightest bit aloof but Harge was willing to work on that. And she did refuse the drink a few times but he eventually convinced her.

 

(He probably should’ve given up when she refused that drink. So many times, but he was persistent and she eventually broke and that probably was not the smartest thing he did.)

 

He was captivated by her; her looks and charms and her way of speaking. One drink became multiple and he convinced her to let him see her again. And again, and many times after that.

 

He proposed not long after, and they got married.

 

(He can’t say if they were happy because that would be lying. He was happy, maybe Carol was happy, maybe she wasn’t. Or maybe she was happy for a little while, but how would he know because it wasn’t as if they’d spent their dinners having a little heart-to-heart. Maybe they should’ve done that, or at least he should’ve asked her how her day was instead of waiting to tell her about his day.)

 

Then, they’d had Rindy, and whatever problems that had emerged between them conveniently disappeared whenever Rindy did something: if she laughed or said something loosely resembling English or if she held a bottle or rolled over. 

 

(And then he hadn’t taken notice of Carol’s increasing distance or how she immersed herself so deeply into Rindy’s growing-up that she barely spent any time with him without Rindy.)

 

Everything considered, he could’ve been worse. He was nice, he could’ve told the world about Abby and that shopgirl, about Carol’s condition and everything that it had caused. And who would they believe, a reticent housewife or a reliable husband and father and businessman? He could bask in the sympathy that he might’ve gotten; how dare Carol be so ungrateful as to want more than his devotion and love and care? He bought her gifts, he works, and she decides to throw away ten years of marriage and a daughter just to be with a barely-of-age girl?

 

Even more, he could tell Rindy. And while Rindy may be too young to understand her mother’s actions, she’d know that her mother wasn’t OK. And that would be the final blow: why should Carol even dream of having part-custody of her daughter when Rindy herself doesn’t even want to be around her? Carol, the bad guy, Harge, the good guy.

 

(But then again, if he were nice, he wouldn’t have felt the need to track her down, to invade her privacy and use her own daughter to threaten her into submission. Because even though she destroyed a decade worth of marriage, it had already been falling apart, if he had cared to pay attention instead of living under the pretense that he had achieved the ideal American family. So as much as he could go and try to lay all the blame and whatnot on Carol, it will forever be a nagging insecurity of his that it was also in part his fault.)

Chapter Text

Mommy does not smile very much. 

 

On Saturdays, mommy lets me watch cartoons. I look at Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry and another one that I don’t like that much. I still watch it because I like seeing the pictures move around on the screen. And also because I want to watch TV for longer, and mommy turns off the TV when she thinks I get bored.

 

In those cartoons, everyone smiles big, cheesy smiles. They are the type of smile I make when mommy lets me have cake or ice cream after dinner, or when daddy comes home and gives me candy. They are the smiles daddy makes when I say “happy father’s day” and give him a card I made all by myself with my favourite red crayon. They are the type of smiles grandma and grandpa make when I go to their house and hug them.

 

Mommy doesn’t make those smiles. In the mornings, mommy combs my hair while I sit on her lap, swinging my legs and counting to one-hundred. 

 

Fifty-three, fifty-four, fifty-five... sixty?

 

And mommy makes a funny face and tells me it’s actually fifty-six, not sixty; of course I knew that. Then I count some more and try very hard not to make another mistake. I think the face mommy makes is supposed to be a smile, only it does not look very smiley. 

 

When daddy smiles, his eyes and mouth make little lines on his face. He makes a hahaha sound that is deep and loud and makes me feel warm and good inside. When makes her supposed-to-be-smiley face, her eyes are circles of black and grey. There are no little lines or hahaha ’s or anything that makes me feel warm and good. Her mouth is almost the right shape but her eyes are empty.

 

Her eyes make me think of my teddy bear’s eyes. They are grey too, like hers. Except that on teddy, it looks cute and on mommy; it looks scary, like how I think a dead person might look. Empty eyes and still face. Or if someone wanted to make a dead person look happy and pushed their mouth up but couldn’t do anything about their eyes. I get very scared thinking about it.

 

I get scared. She scares me.

--

Daddy says that a good girl is a helpful girl. I want to be a good girl.

 

Daddy comes in with the mail one morning while I am sitting on mommy and counting. I jump off of her lap and try to pull her up, but she does not move. I smile when daddy comes in and I run into his arms and he calls me sunshine. Mommy does not smile. She does not get up. I think she is mad at daddy. I wonder why.

 

We draw together, mommy, daddy and I. I make a red dog and a red cat and a purple house and green grass because grass is green. Mommy gives me the brown crayon but I am not done with the grass yet, can’t she see? Then, I make some pink flowers and some blue clouds and finally a brown house.

 

Mommy and daddy talk about important adult stuff and I hum the Tom and Jerry opening song quietly so I don’t interrupt them. I sit on daddy’s lap; I like mommy’s better because she is warm and smells good. Daddy smells very strong and I don’t like it much, but I don’t tell him. Mommy smells like flowers. 

 

Then, daddy holds mommy’s hand, and I stop humming. I listen instead, because hand-holding means important stuff like skating. Maybe mommy will come skating after holding hands and talking.

 

"I'd like you to be there."

"I'm sorry, Harge, I have plans."

 

A good girl is a helpful girl. I want to be a helpful girl. “Mommy and Aunt Abby are exchanging presents,” I say.

 

Daddy smiles and turns my face to him. “You've been seeing a lot of Aunt Abby lately, sunshine? With mommy?"

 

“Mhm,” I say and draw some more. I like Aunt Abby; she gives me lots of presents and candies and she says that she will buy me a car when I am old enough (I want the same car as daddy’s, but red!). She also makes mommy’s eyes less sad-looking. Mommy smiles more when Aunt Abby is here, not those weird smiles, but real smiles.

 

"I'll - try and rearrange with Abby."

 

Daddy says “thank you” and smiles at me, so I think I was a helpful girl. I was a good girl. I am a good girl.

--

Mommy brings home a humongous Christmas tree and we decorate it with pretty papers and peppermint twists and sparkly lights. I want to put the star on top but mommy says I’ll fall, so she puts it on. I tell her I think this is the most beautiful tree in the whole wide world. She smiles a real smile at me. I think Christmas does this to people; it makes them happy. 

 

Mommy lets me have cookies before bed. I steal a candy cane and hide it in my pocket as mommy picks me up. I think I will eat it in my room.

 

I don’t brush my teeth and I have my candy instead; it makes me feel like an adult. Adults can have candy whenever they want. When I am an adult, I will have a room full of candy to eat whenever I want. I go to sleep, my tummy full of cookies and peppermints and milk.

 

Daddy wakes me up and tells me to get dressed because we are going to grandma and grandpa’s house. I did not know this was the plan. Adults also don’t have to tell their children their plans. When I am an adult, I will tell my children things before doing it so they don’t get scared when they get woken up at night.

 

Daddy pulls my hand and my feet move speedy quick to keep up. I go past mommy and the tree. I ask daddy if there will be a tree at grandma and grandpa’s. He ignores me. I think it is very rude to ignore people.

 

Mommy hugs and kisses me bye-bye and I draw on the foggy windows. I wipe it because daddy hates having fingerprints everywhere. I see daddy grab mommy and then mommy pushes daddy, and he slips and falls and gets up (I gasp). I think mommy is being difficult, like how I can be when I don’t want to do my ABC’s. When daddy comes back, steaming mad, I sit in the back like I saw nothing.

--

I don’t see mommy for a long time and daddy tells me she is going on a trip. I ask him if we can go on a trip too. He ignores me; I think I’m getting ignored a lot at grandma and grandpa’s house. I want to be with mommy on her trip; maybe we can see Tom and Jerry and Bugs Bunny. Then, we can eat ice-cream for every meal and make snowmen and go skating together, just her and me. She won’t ignore me, I know it.

--

Mommy and I talk on the phone sometimes. I thank her for the train set and I tell her I don’t like grandma and grandpa’s house. I tell her it is brown and ugly and smells old. She laughs and agrees with me. 

 

Maybe trips make people happier. I am happy that mommy is happy.

--

I call mommy again but this time; she does not sound very happy. I tell her about my baby goat to make her laugh again. She does not. I don’t think the trip made her very happy. 

--

Daddy says I can’t see mommy anymore because she is “sick” and “needs help”. I tell him I can help make her better. Grandma and grandpa call her a bad person and I say that she is not. They smile at me like I don’t know a thing; I know lots and lots of things. I try to call her but I don’t know the number and daddy takes the phone and I scream and hit and kick him while he picks me up because I want to talk to mommy. He puts me in my stupid, stinky room and I cry.

--

Mommy says I shouldn’t say “hate” but she is not here, so I will. I hate this yucky, stinky house and my big, brown room that smells like an old man. I hate my new toys and my new teddy bear that has brown eyes and not grey eyes like mommy’s. I hate being told to sit on grandma’s lap because she is hard and boney and does not smell like flowers. I hate sleeping because there is no mommy to go to and hug if I have scary dreams. I want my old room and my old toys and my mommy and I want everything to go back to normal.