Carole’s back in town now, sitting on my rug. She still calls it her rug even though I bought it from her a month ago. Everything she owned was sold or given away. The rug was the last to go. Her friend Helen dropped it off at my place before taking Carole to the drying-out facility north of Montreal.
As they left, Helen said to me, “Tell Jerry he put her in a drunk house.”
Jerry was Carole’s boyfriend until he took off, leaving Helen to clean up the mess. Carole had stopped eating, stopped caring, stopped doing much of anything. All she did was stare at those crazy sunflowers she’d painted on the living room walls. Helen called them triffids. Crazy shit, she told me later. There was paint everywhere. She got on the phone and called the facility up near Saint Sauveur. They told her to bring Carole up the following day. She’d be there four weeks. Four weeks was considered standard.
That’s all I heard until Helen called to say she was picking Carole up again. It didn’t seem like any time at all. “She’s staying with me,” Helen said. Problem was, she couldn’t look after Carole on Sunday. She sold vintage clothes at a flea market down in Sherbrooke. “Can you take her?” she asked.
I couldn’t very well say no. I was the one who introduced Carole to Jerry.
We’d worked together, Jerry and me. This was at an advertising agency down off René Leveque Blvd. We had fun times, maybe too many. One night we ran into Helen and Carole. I said, “Carole, this is Jerry.” They hit it off. Two weeks later, they moved in together. Who knew it would come to this?
Anyway, Sunday arrives and Helen brings Carole over. Carole goes right to the rug. Her hair is cut back, one of Helen’s clip jobs. Helen’s hair is orange, pulled up in spikes. Thank God she didn’t do that to Carole. Carole looks like a ghost as it is. Imagine orange hair on top of that?
“Here’s our girl,” Helen says, putting mineral water in the fridge. She asks Carole if she’ll be okay. Carole nods. She’s running her fingers through the paint spots on the rug. I never managed to get them out. Looking around one last time, Helen shoves her hands in her overalls and says, “I’ll be off then.” I walk her to the door. “Watch her,” she says out in the hall.
What am I watching for? I go back and find Carole by the window, listening to the drummers. Every Sunday, they come to Mount Royale park with their congas, bongos, and timpani. Someone starts a beat and the rest follow. They sit on the monument steps.
“Do you want to go over?” I ask Carole, but she’s miles away.
Maybe she’s back at the facility. I ask her how it was up there. She shrugs. She tells me there were orchards. Deer came out in the early morning to eat the green apples. She sent Helen a postcard saying, “I saw deer today.” Helen showed it to me at the bar one night. “What do you make of that?” she asked, shoving it back in her overalls. “I’m paying to have her look at deer.”
Helen wrote out a cheque at the front desk that day at the facility. She’d been there before. One husband, one brother. She spotted Jerry a mile away. “He’ll eat her up,” she’d said the day Jerry and Carole bought the rug. They came to the bar to celebrate. The rug was their first purchase, one of many more, according to Jerry. He was ordering drinks for everyone. Carole was already drunk. “He’ll break her heart,” Helen said. “See if I’m wrong.”
Helen saw things I didn’t, I guess. No point going over it — not now, anyway. I haven’t mentioned Jerry, and neither has Carole. She sits, she smokes, she stares out the window. When she goes to the washroom, she leaves a lit cigarette in the ashtray. Jerry called her “Careless Carole.” In some respects, they were both careless. What were the words of that Bruce Springsteen song? “We took what we had, we tore it apart.” That was Jerry and Carole all over.
Anyway, there’s no point talking it. As Helen said, Jerry put Carole in a drunk house. Now we’re sitting here, the drummers playing, Carole staring out the window. I go and make more tea, bringing it back with biscuits.
I sit down on the couch. I ask Carole again what it was like up there at the facility. It takes her a minute. She squints like it’s a tough subject, like it’s many images she can’t quite grasp, even though they’re real enough.
She remembers evenings with people sitting around talking. Some would get up and leave without saying a word. They’d just walk off. One of the women was there for a third time. Her name was Louise. She would say things like, “Third time’s a charm,” or, “One more day of sobriety.”
Louise told Carole it got easier with time. Drinking was a process. Most of the people at the facility had been at it for years. “You’re a babe in the woods,” she told Carole. “You’ll be up and all spry before you know it.”
Louise had a husband, two kids. They were waiting for her to get better. When she finished at the facility, they’d pick her up and stop for cheeseburgers. She asked Carole about her life. Carole told her what happened with Jerry, him staying out, then her staying out as well.
Louise said Carole had good reason. What did Jerry expect?
Then Carole told her about the sunflowers. Everyone was listening now, of course. They all nodded their heads. Who hadn’t done crazy things? One woman caught her husband with another woman. She burned the house down.
Louise kept telling Carole to go on, ignore the interruptions. So Carole described those first nights after Jerry left. She kept drinking, going out, coming back. She started painting sunflowers. She added faces later.
Louise said it could happen to anyone.
“So you painted some faces,” she told Carole. “No biggy.”
Carole and Louise became close friends. They’d sit in Louise’s room talking, going over their lives. Louise was looking forward to being home. When Carole asked her how the drinking started, Louise just shrugged.
She didn’t even know. She had a good life, loving husband, two great kids.
“I guess I’m cursed,” she’d said.
She promised Carole they’d get together when they were better. Everyone at the facility said that. Nobody expected anything to come of it. Still, Louise made a point of giving Carole her phone number. She told Carole there were lots of deer out by her place. “They come right up to the back door,” she said.
The day Louise left the facility, they hugged on the porch. Louise’s husband was standing by the car. Louise waved goodbye, and they drove off.
Carole went back to her room. From then on, she got up early, waiting for the deer to come out of the woods. “I thought everything would be all right if I saw them,” she tells me now. She lights another cigarette, then stubs it out.
“Let’s go across to the park,” she says. “I’m tired of talking.”
“I’ll get a blanket,” I say.
Out past the monument, we put a blanket on the grass. Carole says it was like this at the facility. Lawns running out to the apple trees. Then she goes quiet, arms around her knees. I don’t know what she expects me to say. We listen to the drummers, then she gets up. I see her go past a couple lying there. She disappears up one of the mountain footpaths. I grab the blanket and follow.
“Go get her, tiger,” the guy says to me.
Coming out at the top of the mount, I find Carole at the fountain splashing water on her face. I try to take her arm. She pushes me away.
“I wish you remembered,” she says. “I wish it wasn’t just me.”
She grabs a cab in the parking lot. She doesn’t look back.
It rained last night. Water is dripping down from the eaves. I called Carole earlier and got Helen. “How is she?” I asked.
“I told you to watch her,” she said and hung up
I’m staring at the rug now. I cross my legs and look across at the park. I can see trees all the way up Mount Royale. I’m thinking about those deer. I asked Carole what they had to do with anything. She said they made her think of her mother — about her dying — and a song by Peter Gabriel called “Solsbury Hill.”
“Hey, he said, grab your things I’ve come to take you home.”
“I wanted the deer to take me home,” she said.
I listened to the song last night. It’s about hope — but it’s an omen, too. Back at that facility, people were told they needed hope. They needed a substitute for the despair in their lives. I guess those deer helped Carole somehow. Carole told me yesterday she’d mentioned the song before.
“When was this?” I’d asked.
“One night at the bar,” she said.
She’d been waiting for Jerry to show up. He never did.
She was drunk, of course. She sang me the words to the song that night.
“I kept hearing it when my mother died,” she told me.
Her mother committed suicide. That’s all I knew. She’d told Jerry about it, maybe Helen — probably Helen. I was the last in line.
“You shouldn’t beat yourself up” I’d said. I put my hand on her shoulder.
“Don’t,” she said. “I’ll start bawling.”
She didn’t move my hand away, though. She put her hand on my hand.
I thought about that this morning. I wanted to call Carole again. I wanted to tell her I remembered things, too. Like when someone trusts you, when they put their hand on your hand, you forget who belongs to who.
It’s best I leave it for now. Helen’s got a handle on things. Maybe in a few days, Carole will be her old self again, all “spry” as Louise used to say. I asked Carole yesterday if she was going to keep in touch with her.
She didn’t hear me. She was listening to the drummers over in the park.
My heart going boom, boom, boom.
Hey, he said, grab your things, I’ve come to take you home.
Maybe that’s what I’ll tell her the next time we talk. You’re home, Carole. That’s all that matters. It’s nothing to do with deer or eagles flying out of the night. Things happen. You move on. Songs are just songs.
I go out and make more tea. Carole’s mineral water is still in the door. Maybe I should mention that, too. I’ll tell her it’s here. She can have it next time she comes over. We’ll talk like old times. We’ll make it our Sundays.