Chapter 2: A Glimpse of a Dream
She hacked the meat in reckless abandon—wondering to herself whether it was the last body she would tear limb by limb. Well, it was the last of the men whose throats Sweeney slit before his ultimate kill: the departure of the honorable and horrible Judge Turpin.
She offered a quick prayer of gratitude to the heavens that urged Sweeney to burn the scoundrel. Else, she might have spent the better part of the morning retching again over a bucket in between chopping his corpse. Turpin, after all, was in the running to ooze the darkest of bloods and the worst of scents for all the crimes he committed.
While Sweeney's revenge was already exacted and there was no need to practice slitting throats amongst the vermin of London men, she could only hope that his thirst for blood was quenched.
Her hands worked as her mind wondered as was her custom. She was already baking since she was still a little slip of a girl that cuts and burns were already beyond her worries. She was confident with her skill, believing that in years of practice, her hands already memorized what they needed to do so she plunged on what she did best: let her chaotic thoughts consumed her.
Sweeney made no mention of the young lovers' flight—only that they left her a letter which he thrusted to her hand and thereafter proceeded to retreat again to his shell; making it impossible for her to reach him despite being holed together in her room. It did not take much for her to know that he let Johanna go without claiming her as his daughter, and that he most regretted it. Perhaps someday when she was sloshed to the brim with a tot of gin, or when she was closer to his heart as she would like, she would ask him why he choose to give up his daughter.
Rolled. Filled. Pinched.
Thoughts of the star-crossed father and daughter were banished from her mind as her dreams of the sea came forefront, transforming said father to her ardent lover. She dreamed of walking along the shore, her face feeling the warmth of the sun, while strands of her hair were being whisked by the wind. The fresh air engulfed them as she reached for Sweeney's hand beside her, their hearts as at peace with the melody of the rolling waves. Or, maybe, on a blanket spread over the warm sand, her and Sweeney rested while they watched over the little ones making their castles in the sand. But the images were blurry, as if she was seeing them through the haze of the usual London smog.
Her pin rolled over her worktable to the floor, ultimately hitting a discarded tray creating a clattering echo that disrupted her daydream. In frustration, she would have thrown the pie she was working on, only her practical mind would not let her waste it. She dropped to her stool with an exasperated sigh, lamenting the fact that she could not even see her daydream through. Just how far could she pushed it through in real life?
She dejectedly eyed the old burning oven, as if her glare could will the pies to bake faster. Only the more intense she glared, the more irritated she was of how long it took for her pies to be ready. Accepting defeat in her glaring battle with the oven and pies which she could never win, she turned to the firmly closed door leading back to the main house. She was arguing with her practical self to just leave the pies be and took the risk of them getting too burnt to sell, when in swept her lover.
He might have exerted effort to hide it, but the barely perceptible pinched of his nose told her that the rancid smell of the bakehouse swamped him too. She did not waste time to welcome him; jumping out from her stool, she took a few steps before bowing down to a small curtsey.
"To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit, your majesty?" Her tone was teasing as she was supposed to lunged at him for a kiss, but when she moved to straighten up, a dizzy spell overcame her, making her to sway unsteadily on her feet. Only Sweeney's quick reflexes saved her to end up in his arms instead of faced down on the floor.
He remained silent as he tilted her chin up to meet his quirked brow. It was up to her to guess what he meant by his expression. With mockery absent in his eyes while they were perhaps infused with a dash of worry, her giddy self took it that he meant to ask why she was still working herself to death.
She was tempted to just pursed her lips and made him guess too but knew that to do that would be futile. So, with a flourish of her hand to the oven, she said simply, "No matter how much I wish it, I cannot simply magic the pies to bake themselves."
"Are there still many left to bake?"
"Just this batch," she said pointing to the ones left in her worktable, "after those currently burning in the oven."
"What about the bodies? Are there still some left to rot?"
She asked, offended, "To rot?! As if I'm letting anything go to waste! But to answer your question, no, there isn't anyone left. All hacked and chopped and filled into these beautiful pies." She looked at her raw pies with a bit of pride before she was interrupted by a thought. "Unless you're planning to slit more throats, eh?"
He shook his head. "I was actually planning not to open the barbershop for a while." Choosing to ignore her eyes that widen in surprise, he directed his attention to the pies. "Just how long would you need to dispose…er…sell all these pies?"
"Well, if you plan not to slit throats and help me tend to the shop perhaps, we can stay open late tonight, and all these will be gone by tomorrow."
"That fast, eh?"
"Well, what do you know, my pies—they sell like hotcakes!" She retorted with a chuckle before adopting a more serious tone to ask, "Pray, tell, why are you asking, Mr. T? Are you concocting any plans in that head of yours?" She raised her eyebrows twice in a suggestive nature, her arms snaking to the back of his neck.
"I was doing a lot of thinking…when I remembered something." After a long pause in which she could see him debating against himself, he finally asked, "Do you still wish to go to the sea, Mrs. Lovett?"
Her eyes even widen if that was possible. Weak-kneed, she was sure she would have dropped to the floor had he not have his arms supporting her back.
"What do you say about a quick visit?"
How could it be? Did she actually manage to project her daydreams on his mind? Not that she was complaining. Just to check that she was not actually trapped in dreamland, one hand went to her cheek and pinched it hard. When the pain registered in her face that she realized she was indeed in the realm of reality, she yanked his head down for his mouth to crash on hers, kissing him hard and with great enthusiasm.
The pie shop was crowded to the brim with her rowdy customers, high-strung with merry making as she made sure that gin was overflowing from her jug to their mugs. Why should they not be happy? Heck, she was in a celebratory mood herself giving away free meat pies for every emptied mug of gin. Her wildly beating heart won out her practical mind where Sweeney was concerned as usual. There was no way she would be taking her chance for Sweeney to back out on his promised seaside trip. The faster the blasted meat pies ran out, the sooner they packed. So, nothing could stop her from giving away the meat pies just to make sure they were all consumed before the sun showed up—not even the loss of her pennies.
Jug of gin in one hand, she looked around the tables, spotting empty tabletops where she could dump the remaining pies. As far as she knew, there was only one remaining tray which Sweeney retrieved from the kitchen. After he grudgingly served the last pie, she would shoo away all these scoundrels to continue their revelry elsewhere. They could go straight to Thames, and she would not bat an eye. She just so craved to close her shop and dream of the sea and Mr. T.
Sweeney showed up by the shop's kitchen door, brows knitted together trying to appear as his usual gloomy self as he carried the last pieces of pies in his mittened hands. Those were too precious hands to be burnt in the oven—she reasoned as she painstakingly put the mittens on his hands. He brokered no argument; she only had to endure the scathing glare he sent her way.
She swayed on her feet with the mere sight of him. He was there in the shop with her. He made true with his word to help her. Would it mean that he would also not got back in his word to take her to the sea? Her seaside dream became more real to her by the hour. Her heart, overwhelmed with elation and her love for him, beat wildly she could swear she was hearing the beating in her ears. She swayed at the giddiness of it all. Lucky her, there was a mighty big bloke on her side that prevented her fall.
The drunk bloke wrapped an arm around her waist to steady her, making a pass at her ample bosom as he did so. "Why, you're very welcome to fall on me lap, Mrs. Lovett," the man teased.
"Oh, just you hush," she retorted back but with a hint of flirt in her voice. "Here, drink up." It was a smooth swap of herself for a mug of drink.
She pranced across the shop making sure to sway her hips in tune with the whistling of the loudest crowds occupying the center table. They were very appreciative of her efforts, even clapping and clinking their glasses to cheer her wiggling hips on.
Sweeney was eyeing them all with a deadpan expression he always used to display, but as she made a beeline to where he was stood, she caught him surreptitiously spitting on the pies.
"Mr. T! Are you out of your mind?"
"We've long been out of our minds, Mrs. Lovett." With that, he moved to dump the lot on her rowdiest cheerers finally making them run out of pie supply. She did not bother checking at the bakehouse for anymore pies because if there were still some there, she would only throw them down the drain to be feasted by rats.
Standing on tiptoe—as if that would make much of a difference—she used the two trays discarded on her counter as cymbals, clanging them together with a bang until all chatter and singing subsided and all ears were on her.
"Arf'arf'an'arf!" She shouted at the top of her lungs. "Come on my good fellas, pay up." Her announcement was met with groans and complaints which she purposively ignored. "It's almost past midnight so you better take your arses back to your wives and whores! We've already extended our business hours and Mr. T here is already grumpy for being forced to stay up past his bedtime!" She could not help herself but send a wink to Sweeney's direction with her last quip. What lie it was—Sweeney would have long wanted to go to her bed, yes, but not to sleep.
To encourage the tipsy crowd to pack up, she grabbed her pitcher of booze and marched straight to the nearest booth. The men immediately dispersed when they saw her approach, assuming her intent was to throw the gin on their heads. She balanced herself on top of the table, her feet perched among scattered mugs and forks and knives.
"Here, here! Let me help y'all drown the booze. Y'all need to cheer for me. Because ya'lll contributed to make me rich, I can finally afford my dream seaside holiday!" She raised her jar for a toast. "To sea!"
"To sea!" The crowd cheered. And as one, they all shove theirs mugs and bottles of gin and ale to their throats.
Nellie planned to take multiple swigs of her drink but on her very first sip, a queasy feeling overwhelmed her stomach. So, she looked on proudly to observe her success—with the crowd drowning their booze following her mini toast.
"Now, off y'all go! Continue your mafficking down the street or straight to the river for all I care!" She shouted with a teasing chuckle and seemingly as an afterthought, she added, "And I will not be offended if you lot darken poor Mrs. Mooney's pie shop while my booming establishment is closed. Pay that poor lonely hard-beaten woman some attention, will you? She needs it more than I do!" In her mind, she was thinking how Sweeney's attention was more than she could take. Blushing red as a tomato due to her wandering thoughts, she finished her adieu. "But I better see y'all here when I came back from my holiday!"
It took a quarter of an hour before they have successfully turned out all her customers, some she even managed to cheat for a higher price than they actually consumed. The supposedly free pies were not free after all. But what could she do? She was dreaming for matching bathing costumes for her and Mr. T.
She was already putting her earnings in her pouch when Sweeney came back after shoving a sleeping customer outside their door.
"What a great bounty we have tonight," she remarked, gleefully patting her pouch full of money.
It took a while before he responded. "Will you really be willing to give that up to Mrs. Mooney for a few days?" She was surprised with his remark. Was he trying to back out of the seaside trip? Sweeney was already clearing away the tables, his back was to her so there was no way for her to read his face.
"Do you mean, Mr. T, that you'd rather stay here in Fleet Street instead of going to our holiday?" She tried to keep the trembling out of her voice, but her disappointment was clear. She stood immobile awaiting his response; afraid to look for her heart was already set on dipping her toes in the sea.
After a long pause, he said simply, "Of course not, Mrs. Lovett. I'll give you your dream."
"Oh, Mr. T!" In three strides, she was peppering his face with sweet little kisses. "I hope you really mean that. Oh, you make me so happy."
He held her by her waist to keep her from bouncing in glee. "I hope your happiness won't be lessened because I'm not accompanying you to the market tomorrow."
"But Mr. T! We're going to get our bathing costumes."
"I said no, and I meant it. Just…surprise me. Besides, I'm sure you look better without it."
"Ha! You bet I would." Her eyes shone mischievously. "I can just picture it…picture you peeling the wet cloth clinging to my body."
"You haven't even bought the garment yet, Mrs. Lovett."
It was the last part of his retort that diverted her attention. "Mr. T, I think you better practice calling me by my name. For practice, you know, when we go to the seaside. You certainly can't call me Mrs. Lovett when we're going to share a bed which I'm sure is what you want too. Anyway, I am determined that we stay in a respectable abode and therefore be respectable as well. No idle tattletales will ruin my holiday."
First, she tried how his name would taste in her mouth. "Swee-ney," she said repeatedly in a singsong voice, her smile widening each time she said his name. "Now, it's your turn." She made to pronounce her name slowly. "Nel-lie. Come on, say it, Sweeney. Go on. Unless you want to call me Mrs. T?"
It was mere teasing on her part—completely unplanned when the words just rolled off her tongue. But his response surprised and delighted her. It was like he was giving her a chance and by heavens she was going to seize it with both hands. So, she raced him to bed dearly hoping to achieve just as he said.
There was no sprawling hillside interspersed with vast fields of greens and flowers nor the changing landscape from old, dilapidated buildings to the wilderness of trees on her train ride to the seaside despite what she had hoped for. Half an hour before the train was due to leave, she was already skipping from the platform to the seats, Sweeney shadowing her in a more subdued pace while laden with all their bags. She had taken the seat beside the window reasoning that he had enough window looking in Fleet Street to last him a lifetime, thus, leaving him to sit beside her with his other side to the aisle. Her reason for choosing that particular seat, however, was the cherub-like toddler with dimpled cheeks and a halo of red ringlets dripping across his forehead who was sitting on his mother's lap on the seat across. The little child was young enough to appreciate her making funny faces at him; his lopsided grins and cute innocent giggles was her entertainment before the train went on to a predicted delayed start.
The view outside was still of the grim, bustling London she wanted to escape when her plan of spending the train journey focused on the views outside, the toddler and Sweeney was all thrown out of the window. Her head spin and ached, prompting her to lean on Sweeney's shoulder. Eyes closed, she buried her face to the crook of his neck—the feel of his skin, his scent were the only things that could calm the pounding in her head, lulling her to deep slumber. She stayed like that for the entirety of their journey, even beating the little toddler on the length of his nap time, as Sweeney remarked when she woke up. But she was more elated to note that she made herself more comfortable as she unconsciously snaked her arms around his body, and that he let her. He even had his one arm draped on her.
Her elation carried her through the bumpy carriage ride until they were dropped in front of a row of similarly built wooden houses near the beach. These are residential houses of townspeople who took in guests for additional income—her sort of people. They—she—chose the one furthest down the line. It was white-washed and though she very much preferred a blue house to stay, this particular house called her for the high fences surrounding it all around—giving the house a sense of aloofness and a bit of security from prying eyes. They have the entirety of the upper floor and an entrance from a staircase outside the house, similar with the one she has on her establishment in Fleet Street. Her and Sweeney could have their own privacy, without encountering the house owners—Mr. and Mrs. Pye—while they go in and out of their rented dwelling.
The wife was a rigid woman with a predominantly sour expression, jutting bones and without soft curves that reminded her of Winnie Mooney. The husband, who was a fisherman, was a bald fat man that when she first saw, she thought she was seeing an apparition of her poor dead husband, Albert. It was only when the man gave the Winnie Mooney look alike a sloppy kiss on the cheek was she convinced that it was indeed another man. Albert would not even let Mrs. Mooney near him with a ten-foot pole—said he was disgusted by her mere appearance.
But the Pyes, despite her being skinny and him being fat, really complemented each other. It was as if their contradictions were there to balance each other and produced an evenly matched couple. She briefly wondered what her life could be had Mrs. Mooney successfully seduced Albert and she, Nellie, had been free to marry Benjamin Barker. The thoughts, however, immediately banished from her mind when she glimpsed the man beside her for however long and dwindling the course it took, she was very much contented to land Sweeney Todd.
The sun has already set, and looking through the small window, she could see the twinkling of the stars reflected on her dark beautiful sea.
"Would you like to go out?" Sweeney asked, seated on the kitchen table. Her lips quirked into a ghost of a smile, thinking how their positions reversed.
She looked around their rented hideaway—with the small-fitted kitchen, a table that would sit only two, and the wide sturdy bed that she made certain was not creaking when bounced before she paid for rent.
"No." For the night, she would rather stay cooped up in the room with him.
His gaze followed hers to the bed. "Would you…like to test it now?" He meant to rumple the beddings; she knew. How many times did they do it already that she wondered how he could still be awkward on the rare times he asked to shag her? He sure was never awkward when he simply did it instead of asking first.
As much as she wanted to say yes right away, however, the low rumbling of her stomach reminded her of hunger. "Why don't I cook up some soup first, love? Before that bed can witness all the action we can muster? I'm quite sure it will see not much sleeping anyway."
She did not wait for his response for any hesitation on his part could make her resolve to hold out to eat crumble. She made straight to the counter without batting him a glance, where the watercress and cream and other ingredients she bought from Mrs. Pye were all laid.
"Do you need, er, help?"
"I didn't know you can cook, love," was her response as she began chopping her ingredients.
"I don't but I certainly can boil tea." He too did not wait for her permission to do his self-assigned task.
They ended up stood side by side in the cramped kitchen and there he remained observing her closely as she stirred her watercress soup. She teased him as she noticed how much unusual—though not unwelcome—amount of attention he was giving her. "Why, Mr. T! Haven't you seen me cook before?"
"As a matter of fact, I don't."
Her brows raised in surprise as she racked her mind about what he said. It may be true, yes, as she could only call out memories of her bringing him a tray of food which he barely touched. He had seen her hack limbs a few times, but she had to agree that the gory scene—not to mention the stink—was a stark contrast to cooking their own meal.
"Well now, with this smaller place we have, you would be seeing more of it. Here, have a taste." She blew a portion in the ladle that she prodded to his mouth to taste. "Mmmm," was the only acknowledgement she received of her cooking talent, and to her, it was enough.
They sat across each other on the table laden with their modest meal of her soup, his tea, and the bread she brought from Fleet Street. In her hunger, she dived in first to her soup without noticing how he was silently transfixed on her. It was like he had just unwrapped a present, and the gift was something he knew he needed but never wanted to own. But as he sat there eyeing the gift, he realized that he only ever needed something because he wanted it first.
"Maybe, I can get used to this," Sweeney said quietly. It was not only them eating together that he was referring to; she was sure by the way he was looking at her before he took a bite of his meal.
In her dreams, there was a pale blue wooden house with a white wraparound porch. Its garden was a gently sloping beach leading to sea. Spread there was an old pale blanket Auntie Nettie used to own, where she and Sweeney lay, watching over their little brood as their built their castles in the sand. Certain images of her dream remained blurry. But that night, the sea sparkled brighter in her mind, and she could see the clearly defined edges of her and Sweeney seating in the blanket—Sweeney's hand inching closer to hers.
Helloooooo! I didn't really realize how long it's been since I posted this. But here it is and crossing my fingers you like this chappie before we go to the exciting parts. Happy reading! x