She’ll have to keep making pies

She’ll have to keep making pies

She’ll have to keep making pies 1080 749 Charlotte Turnbull

Our house was an 1860s Gothic Revival. Academics occasionally turned up to take photos of the Italian portrait busts—all women, sheet-faced and tense—moulded in Victorian majolica and crammed into the arches above the ground-floor windows. A new housing estate surrounded it, clinging to the crenellated boundary wall. I remember my hips fitting perfectly between the narrow crenels when I sat on top.

I was still wearing my best white, smocked dress, although it had yellowed where the wine had dried. My lace-frilled socks rucked at the ankles as I kicked my heels against the crumbling wall; below me, the little boy who lived next door dug in the dirt. I dragged my plaits loose, twining Foam-Banana-yellow ribbons between my fingers and telling him about Sweeney Todd—the songs they all sang, the red spots on Mrs. Lovett’s white cheeks, the trap door that thudded home. He laughed, until he didn’t.

My mother, smoothing back her Princess Di cut, had obtained the tickets at short notice because my father had announced he was taking my brother to watch them bust ghosts at the old Cannon cinema in town. “She’s too young,” he’d said, looking from me to my mother, tossing his company car keys from one hand to another. “This is men’s stuff.” He winked at my brother, and my mother picked up our new crackling cordless phone.

I warned the little boy about dirty aprons and never to look too high up, never to tip your chin too far back.

I can’t quite imagine my mother, with her high-necked Laura Ashley ruffle-trims, queueing below the stage of that tiny theatre to buy me an ice cream during the interval. But she was there that day with a miniature bottle of dry-white and a complementary plastic tumbler to pour it into: the day I learned that it’s what’s on the inside (of a pie crust) that counts.

I sang to the boy, lyrics vague, tongue fat with childish lisp,

One man’s put in his place, 

the other’s got his foot in someone’s face.”*

The boy ran away.

“What it means,” I shouted, seven years old with a head full of slit necks and the rare sound of my mother’s laugh as she spilt her wine when the trap thudded shut, “what it means, is if you keep giving a lady meat, she’ll have to keep making pies.”

The cinema’s a chain gym now, but the theatre’s still going strong—minors always accompanied by an adult.


*Stephen Sondheim, “Epiphany,” Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (New York: Alfred Music Company, Incorporated, 1979). Correct lyrics: “There’s the one staying put in his proper place / And the one with his foot in the other one’s face.”

Header photograph © Bif Naked.

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