Middle-aged, dyed black hair, sunken eyes, face barely discernible beneath layers of makeup. Purple blouse, black skirt, jacket, and pumps. She carries a leather folio.
Carol is the business manager for a secondary school in Shepherds Bush. She has a finance committee meeting today.
The car wouldn't start. Carol took Southeastern Rail from Bromley, Overground to Whitechapel, then discovered the Hammersmith and City line wasn't running. The Central Line isn't going where she needs to, either. It's not her fault, is it, that the damn strike had to happen today?
Carol finds taking the train humiliating, even though it's a chance to feel superior to people. Today, it's hell. Even the Polish day labourers know more about alternative routes than Carol. She speaks to the tired attendant.
Eventually, Carol's resigned to the ultimate humiliation: a bus. Students will make fun of an administrator taking the bus. In secondary school, three girls cornered her in the back of the bus and called her a lesbian: she was too ugly to attract a man. She'd shown them, hadn't she? But Donald wasn't rich enough to keep her from having to work. She'd begged him, after the fiasco at Lewisham Prep, to let her take early retirement, but they needed the money. She'd insisted on the BMW for this commute.
Three buses. An hour and a half. One stop missed, she will be late. 205. 18. 228. Like a safe combination: 25 right, 18 left, 28 right.
A buzz-cut blonde overhears Carol's conversation. "I'm going that way; I'll take you to the bus stop." She walks with aggressive grace in worn jeans and a conductor's cap. Carol imagines writing her mobile number on a business card, slipping it into one of the woman's delicious pockets. Lesbian Lesbian. Lesbian.
Rationale, Carol McCarthy
I wanted to portray a nearly-invisible person for whom the interrupted tube trip was a mirror for dozens of interior frustrations. The writing style is terse not only for space constraints but also because Carol is tense. Without saying it outright, I wanted to convey that Carol's last job ended badly and she feels immense pressure to perform in this one.
The language throughout the whole piece is designed to show that Carol is under pressure in every facet of her life, and that she has managed to lose herself under all those layers of make-up and responsibility and pressure.
I wanted to give a sketch of a complete person with a complex but ordinary life, highlighted by her fear of the label 'lesbian', despite her desire for the woman who helps her find the bus stop. In order to make the piece both compact and complete, I intentionally overwrite the original draft: it was well over 700 words. This exercise, both the overwriting and the subsequent cutting, gave me a chance to fill out Carol as a character while keeping the text brief. My hope is that because I know a lot more about Carol than the text reveals objectively, the language will be more nuanced and suggestive.