The time for pleasurable things is over.
Ed had grumbled that to Sophia, one afternoon at the camp outside Atlanta. Sophia had only wanted to use some colored chalk she, Carl and the other kids had found to draw on a ratty sheet of corrugated cardboard. Something to pass the time, to pass this strange war-like time: lots of sitting around waiting, somewhere between deadly bored and terrified.
"But, Daddy, I just…" she drifted off as Ed strode over, stomping on the chalk pieces, pulverizing them to purple dust. Sophia glanced at her, transmitting the familiar jumble of feelings – fear, broken love, childish defiance, sorrow – to Carol with a mere glance. The shorthand of the abused. Carol had barely nodded and Sophia had scampered away, towards the relative safety that existed outside their troubled family circle.
This world. This time. Had Ed been right? Was there no pleasure to be had anymore? Carol was beginning to think he was wrong, despite the daily horrors. She muses on this as she stands in the sun-blasted prison yard, baby Judith in her arms.
"You, sweet thing," she coos down at the baby's pink face, "You bring all of us a bit of pleasure." Judith rewards her with a gummy smile. Pleasure, yes, Carol thinks, and fear of the future, fear of the world you've been born into. She smiles weakly as the baby grasped her finger in a chubby hand.
But how was that any different than her Sophia? Her doomed daughter, come to such an end. But would it have been better if none of this had happened? Growing up with a cowering mother and a father whose hungry eyes had begun to express more than scorn and dislike as Sophia headed towards puberty? Something far more dangerous and damaging?
Carol didn't know. What she does know is that she relishes in the warm bundle of baby in her arms and the sun on her face. She doesn't know if she deserves to feel good about these things, but she does. Despite the bottomless ache in her mother's heart. Despite the roaming dead clawing at the fences.
The group was assembling now, to see Rick, Daryl, Oscar and this woman, this new warrior woman – Michonne – who had appeared like something out of a hero's epic, head out to find Maggie and Glenn, taken from them, this new family of Carol's.
Daryl stops at her side, grimy and grim. Catches her glance briefly; then his eyes dance away like bees, never lingering long. Afraid to stop moving, to rest on a flower. Perhaps, not ready for the sweetness that could be hidden there?
Carol smiles, following his gaze as he looks at the baby in her arms. Remembering his form looming up in the doorway a few days ago, larger than life, his hand roughly grasping her chin, like something in a dream.
"Stay safe," he mutters, another glance, and he's almost gone, buzzing on his way, restless energy.
"Nine lives, remember?" She smiles at him, something continuing to unfold in her heart. Something unexpected. Something she hadn't imagined would ever be a part of her life. As he walks away, she remembers something.
Back before Sophia, before Ed, before the world had narrowed to merely existing, she had gotten a job at travel agency. Just simple assistant work, typing letters, filing, faxing itineraries, ordering office supplies.
One morning, she had gotten to the office early, to unpack a large supply order. She moved quietly around the office, restocking pens, filing the copy machine with virgin white reams of paper, sticking thumbtacks into cork boards. She sat at her own small, desk and dumped a large box of paperclips into her desk organizer. There, amidst all of the thin silvery bends of metal, was one pink paperclip. Just one. Carol recalls laughing and snatching it up, delighted by its uniqueness among its brothers.
She had kept that pink paperclip in her wallet for a long time, remembering that the unexpected jolt of joy she had felt when she opened the box. Because it was different. Because it was there, completely unasked for, and it had made her smile.
As she watches Daryl stride across the dry prison yard, she remembers the pink paperclip – and what Ed said to Sophia that day so long ago. "The time for pleasurable things is over". No, Carol thinks, hoisting Judith onto her shoulder. No, not yet. Not as long as the world has a few pink paperclips. Not as long as we can be surprised, and find joy in small things. It was still a world of hope.