But mostly I'm feeling rather blah about this.
At least it isn’t orange, she thinks, surveying the prison laundry room. They’ll all look more like janitors than convicts in the blue/grey of the prison garb. At least they will if she can get anyone to wear them.
Carol first noticed the room a few days ago after the initial clean-up of the yard and lower floor had been finished and they began to explore more thoroughly. After they’d discovered the prisoners who had somehow survived in the cafeteria, but before she felt safe straying away from the group. And at first she dismissed the idea entirely. Each of them took what clothes they needed when they finally stopped for gas, after all.
But this life is tough on fabrics that are made to be replaced. Soon Lori will be changing shape almost every day. The baby will need clothes. Carl seems to grow every time she looks at him. She pulled a sewing kit out of an SUV on the highway. It’s not much, but it’s enough for her to work with for now. She’ll have to get measurements before she can do any real work done anyway.
There aren’t any scissors in the little kit, but there’s a knife in her pocket. As she picks it up and tears into the fabric one of the jumpsuits, Carol hums. Sitting on the Dock of the Bay. Be my Baby. Old songs that make her smile and that she hopes manage to last. Sofia knew them. She would have passed them down. Carol hums louder to keep her mind empty.
When she gets the suit cut into two pieces, she sets the knife down, farther away than she needs to. She’s trying to get used to carrying it, but Carol can feel the weight of it burning against her thigh with every step and she prefers to keep it at a distance. It’s better than a gun, at least. She doesn’t feel like it’s going to suddenly go off and kill everyone in the room. And, if she’s being honest, it reminds her of the night they spent camped on the scenic turnout. Underneath the memory of cold and fear, there’s one of hope. Daryl, of all people, reminding her that she is enough. Carol’s always had trouble getting that idea to stick.
But sometimes the truth of who she is crashes against the walls of who she’s learned to be. Sometimes the force of it can’t be contained. Sometimes it bursts forth in ways that are exhilarating and terrifying and never quite what she meant to do.
She ducks into a sex shop in the city. There’s no sudden downpour, no unbearable heat wave, no excuses. Last night she lay dry and unsatisfied beneath a sweat-soaked man who wouldn’t have noticed even if the lights were on.
She buys a vibrator.
She considers the slim, unthreatening varieties with their appealing discreetness, but ultimately she’s drawn to a more complicated piece of machinery. This one is hot pink. It looks like it knows things. It makes her blush. Her heart is pounding so hard she can feel it in her throat and in her ears. Her body demands flight, from this shop, from this idea. Somehow she holds fast. She pays cash.
The afternoon is the only time she has to herself and at first the daylight makes her shy. A week passes. She can’t even look at the bottom drawer of her dresser without her pulse quickening. She panics as her husband walks past it.
Gradually she learns to love her body in the light. She feels wanton, desirable. Her heart beats in a new way as the low buzz fills the air. She learns to wield the pink weapon. She learns how to wield herself.
She begins to worry as she recreates a waistband for the pants that no one’s going to want to wear them. Don’t waste your time. No one wants to dress like a convict. She imagines telling them to suck it up. It’s not like they can just pop over the Walmart or some boutique shop for tailored clothes. These ones are made to last and durability is all that matters anymore. Somehow she knows she’ll never get those words out.
Old habits die hard. Sometimes she wants to speak up, wants to tell the group of people who are, if not her friends, at least her neighbors, that she isn’t going to be a part of killing a living person. She wants to, opens her mouth to say it a few times, but her throat is dry. Something inside her won’t let the words come. It grabs at the rogue opinion, clamping down on it. Her pulse quickens with containing it. Carol wants to be heard but she wants more than that not to be wrong. It’ll take longer than this for her cheek to unlearn the weight of a backhand, for her heart to unlearn that stupid fucking whores don’t get to have an opinion. They tell Dale that he’s being unreasonable and she can’t convince herself it won’t be even worse for her. The muscle memory’s too strong
But she still wants to speak. Her opinions churn around inside her with her fear. They don’t mix. They don’t settle. The room darkens around the edges, Dale's hat still a dim circle of light. The words spew out all wrong. Crazy.
The pity on their faces is unbearable. Poor Carol. Can’t even decide whether or not to kill someone. Must be tough being so stupid. Dale calls her a murderer anyway. She’s too busy waiting for the edges of the room to sharpen to contradict him.
Setting down her needle and thread, she picks up the pants and frowns. She had tried to salvage the zipper, but it’s hopeless. Sighing, she throws the pants down on the table and leans back in her chair. But she doesn’t stay angry for long. She won’t let it be a waste of time. Diving back into the kit, Carol finally finds a pack of buttons. They’re pearly white, a little too girly, but they’ll hold the pants closed. They’re good enough.
Applying the buttons takes more time and more thread than anything else she’s done so far. She’s so focused that she stops humming. The thread squeaks against the fabric as she stabilizes the buttonholes she cuts with the knife. In the quiet, satisfaction starts to settle in her chest. Carol is doing the best she can with the scraps she’s found and everything is turning out okay. Not perfect, but it’ll hold together.
With one more button to go, she pauses, checking to make sure all three of them are in line with their respective buttonholes.
The door explodes open, banging hard against the wall behind it. Shrieking, Carol stands and whirls, pressing her back to the table. She’s conscious of the room’s single exit, of the knife a foot away, of the fleeting nature of life. When she sees Daryl, her breath gusts out of her like wind and she slumps against the table.
“You scared the hell out of me.”
“Well what’re you doing down here alone anyway?” he snaps back, masking the relief that had just for a moment flicked across his face.
“Sewing.” As she gets over her shock, Carol doesn’t mind being flippant with Daryl. It’s almost remarkable how little his anger frightens her.
Carol smiles, turning back to her work. It’ll take six more stitches, tops. “Wait a spell and I’ll show you.”
“I don’t care about some stupid fashion show,” Daryl snarls. “I was just making sure you didn’t get yourself killed.”
“You don’t have to worry about me.” If she turns around now, Carol won’t be able to hide her delight. A smile like the one she’s fighting will chase him away for sure, so she tries to keep her voice even.
“Because I’m all set, remember? I have this?” Picking up the knife, Carol waggles it in the air and sets it back down.
“Like you know how to use it.”
“I sure do. I used it to cut up this uniform. No scissors around here,” she adds, tossing a look over her shoulder.
Daryl’s next words are in her ear and his breath is hot on her neck and this time when she spins around, she bounces off his chest. “Got time to use it now?”
“Something comes through that door, you gonna offer to hem his pants?”
“I knew you were there.”
“Yeah well it ain’t always gonna be me.”
Being this close to him when he’s like this isn’t easy and Carol starts to squirm, trying to get some space. She holds his gaze though, angry that he interrupted her sanctuary to act like a child and confused by his intensity. It doesn’t occur to her to push him away, to ask what the hell he thinks he’s doing. She can wait and see.
Daryl’s look softens and he steps back.
“There’ll be scissors in one of the offices. Knife won’t stay sharp if you use it like that.”
Blinking at the sudden shift of tone and subject, Carol nods, “Okay.”
“And say something next time you come all the way down here by yourself.”
Because he’s calmer now and because she can’t help herself she clarifies, “So no one’ll worry about me.”
Breaking eye contact, stepping back, crossing his arms, Daryl nods, “Yeah.”
“I’ll get you some scissors.” He’s dying to get out of the room. He’s almost halfway out as he’s talking to her and this time Carol allows herself a smile. A small one.
“Hey wait a minute.”
She turns back to the table, grabs her needle and dips it in and out of the fabric, securing the last button in place. Taking a deep breath, she steels against her worst fears and faces Daryl again, holding the pants out by their crooked waistband. “Made you something.”
“What?” he repeats, less snappy, more surprised.
“I told you I’d patch those,” she says, nodding toward what has become a gaping hole in the knee of his pants. “Since you don’t ever take those ones off, I thought I’d make you a substitute.”
“You want me to drop ‘em now?” Daryl asks, putting hand to the button of his jeans as he travels the four steps back across the room and takes the clothes from her.
“If you like,” Carol answers, the corner of her mouth twitching up in a smirk.
Daryl drops his gaze again at that.
As he runs his thumb across the waistband, Carol feels self-conscious yet again. “I think I remembered your size,” she says. “I did the laundry often enough. But if they don’t fit right, don’t wear them. I know they’re a little sloppy and the buttons aren’t exactly…”
She stops when Daryl meets her eyes again, “No, they’re good. They’ll be good for workin’ in. ‘Sides, my knee was getting cold out there in these ones.”
“Well we can’t have that.”
They smile and Carol feels a rush of warmth across her chest and into her cheeks. Job well done. Friend made happy. She’s done something good. And no one else could have.
The moment holds as long as it can and then Carol clears her throat, “I should get this put away. Won’t take a minute.”
“Okay,” Daryl says. “I’ll see you back there?”
“Oh,” she doesn’t know why she expected him to wait for her, but she can’t keep the disappointment out of her voice. “Okay.”
She doesn’t know how he does it without her noticing, but when she goes to bed that night, she finds two pairs of scissors sitting on her pillow.