words: by Dionne Brand

About “Carla” from “What We All Long For”:


Carla loved these Mondays the way she loved snowstorms.  The way these two things stopped the world.  A city hemmed in by snow was a beautiful thing to her.  Cars buried in the streets, people bewildered as they should be, aimless and directionless as they really are.  Snowstorms stopped the pretense of order and civilization.  The blistering winds whipped words right out of people’s mouths, they made all predictions and plans hopeless.  She would abandon all warning from Tuyen and the weathermen on twenty radio and television stations and launch out into the city in a blizzard.  Identifying the direction of the wind, she would turn and turn in the blizzard and be lost, walk with it, walk against it, driving her feet through the thick gathering wall of it.  Nothing like a snowstorm to calm a city and make things safe and quiet.


Love can make you remember.  And what she had left, what she could be sure about, was an utter love.  Carla felt a stifling lethargy.  Wasn’t she just thinking about love?  “Draw me a picture of you, so I won’t forget your face, mom”  she’d said.  Angie had laughed, kissing her.  But that feature of love, the one that recalled something unadulterated, enjoyable, she no longer remembered it.  The flush of pleasure never came on its own.  Always the invasive clasp of willfulness, as if she loved despite things, not for them. 

**  **  **

They were already a family of quietness.  She was a watchful child, not a child of too much exuberance.  She would come into a room and know to be quiet just by the look from her mother or her father, just by the location of their bodies around the room.  Even when they were in pleasant conversation, the tenor of a word or a pause would alert her to someone about to misunderstand someone else.  For that reason, she was a slender child, a child who made room with her own body so that she would not occupy so much space that she would be unduly noticed.  Or call too much attention to herself.  She cultivated a reediness to intercept their tones, their changes in chord.  The efforts to hone this faculty became physical in her.  There appeared no room for her despite the fact that they all seemed sometimes to be fighting over her.

**  **  **

A surge of memories about her days in this house came over her.  In her last days here Carla had hung about like a question mark.  Her father told her that she had grown tall and angular, though none of his people were tall, none of Angie’s, either, that he knew of, so why was she so tall, so bony?  He also noticed a hitherto allusive danger in her.  Just like her mother.

Carla had been 18 then, and Nadine no longer asked her to go to the market or to clean up.  She did not want to be met with a recumbent defiance.  To be truthful, Carla no longer needed to be asked to clean up.  She did it swiftly, unasked.  She did it, it seemed, as a way of avoiding trouble, avoiding contact.  She took care of herself, always had, perhaps to the point of asceticism.  She cleared away domestic chores with a briskness.  But she took no pleasure in them as she had surely been taught. 

Nadine had shown her how to cook lovingly, how to polish tables and floors as if the people you were doing it for, your family, would enjoy it and therefore that would be your joy too.  She had shown her how to shop for the best fruit, the best food.  Her stepmother had smoothed her soft hands over a seam, showing her how her appearance must be lovingly put together.  

Carla had taken all of this and turned it into competence.  She glided through these lessons like an impatient note taker.  She completed what they asked of her not like a daughter but like a clerk, marking off their needs, completing their emotional desires like an office manager.

All her efficiency was to make the time she had with them shorter and shorter; to reduce conversations to a minimum, to limit anything they might want from her.  The only time they ever got a reaction out of her was when she would jump to her younger brother’s defense.  Though, on that score, she was mostly watchful, a kind of seething watchfulness that even her father was slightly afraid of.

**  **  **

“Carla, stop that noise now.  Come here, lovey, and take the baby.”  Carla came and held her brother.  “Put the pencil down now.  Hold tight, dear, and go inside and put him down on the sofa.  Wait there til mommy comes, mommy has to do something.  There’s mommy’s girl.  There’s my baby.”  

Carla stayed singing to the baby until she was tired.  The baby was screaming.  She left him on the sofa and went back to the balcony to tell her mother, but Angie had disappeared.  Perhaps she was in the bedroom, Carla thought.  Then she noticed the chair was tipped over.  She forgot about the baby.  She’d always wanted to see over the balcony, but Angie wouldn’t let her.  She straightened the chair, climbed up, stood on the seat, and peered over the balcony.



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