Up, down, up, down.
The needle pokes through the satin fabric with a trail of lace following it. The opaque clouds block out the sun, but give enough white light to keep the room well lit. The lamp is too expensive to light at all times. Candles only work so well. Lucy pinches the needle tighter, letting the silver indent between her fingers. She is used to this. Long hours sitting immobile while her lungs burned and legs ached, while her daughter scrambled to make pies. Long hours working for the rich who benefitted from her labor and nary gave thanks in return.
The work on full gowns paid better than the "slop" she used to sew in the beginning: ready-made clothing that had small tears, such as men's shirts or factory women's dresses. The money she had made then was not enough to make rent! After what seemed to be an eternity of slop, she was able to sew full length gowns, requiring months of sitting and stitching, sitting and stitching, for hours at a time, and she could fall asleep at two in the morning to wake up at five.
She would stitch on, though her shoulders burned and back ached. Oh, it hurt. But she had to press on. She had to support herself and her daughter. She had to make rent. She had to stay on Fleet Street since her husband was coming home.
Up, down, up, down.
Lucy brings her thoughts back to the present, eyes narrowing on the shimmering satin on her lap. She smiles and pushes the painful memories away like sunlight breaking through clouds. Her husband is home, and all the hours spent toiling have been realized!
Thoughts about red roses showing up at the shop for a different Barker. Thoughts about when she will clean the shop again because Benjamin will be returning home one day.
Up, down, up, down.
No. Today is different. Benjamin has come back to her. She'd woken up to seeing him asleep next to her, on top of the covers and rigid. She'd smiled at him and gotten dressed, greeting him warmly when he did awaken. He'd woken as though he heard a gunshot rather than her. She could guess why, but never asked.
They'd spoken and she explained that she could take time off. "No," he said. "Do what you need. I'll be in the shop."
"Alright. I'm in here if you need me."
When he turned, she called his name and said, "I love you." Her lips tingled in desire for a kiss—oh, how she missed his kisses—but settled for the words instead. He went inside his shop and has been there ever since—she and Nellie need to take him to the market for fresh supplies.
"Lucy, I will come home again, I promise," he had said to her in that holding cell all those years ago. She had looked into his warm brown eyes, which had been drained of most of their color, and believed him. Her husband had always been a man of his word. He promised to come home, promised…
Promised to kill a man.
She continues to sew the lace onto the satin sleeve, working at a furious pace. She prays she can pull the dark thoughts from her mind. She shivers at the memory of how determined he looked to kill someone. Taking a life. Murder. Murder is not something to associate with her dear Benjamin. Benjamin, turning to murder to recompense all the wrong done to him.
She bites on her tongue. Focus. Focus. Finish this and be done with it. Don't think about him and his repeated visits over the years. Don't think about how Benjamin—Benjamin—will react. She has to remember the good, and think on all they can accomplish. They have a lifetime to fall back in love and that is exactly what she wants.
Up, down, up, down.
"I love him," she whispers to herself. "He is my husband, and I love him." A sudden yearning to hold him rises in her. She needs to finish this work. She needs to help him open the shop. She needs to help him readjust to being outside of Botany Bay. She needs to…
At last, her work is done. She needs to see her husband.
She stands and stretches her tight legs, grateful for the freedom of movement. She walks towards the door and taps it with her knuckle.
"Come in!" he says. She shivers and rubs her arms. Even his voice has changed. She opens the door, and his eyes widen upon seeing her. No light enters them, but a sudden gentleness is there. His face softens, hard lines blurring. The cheekbones that jut out from his face do not protrude as much.
"Lucy," he whispers. The shocked tone makes her heart flutter.
"Benjamin," she says, giving him a reluctant. "How…how are you?"
His brow furrows, and she presses her lips together. He is so closed off, he won't want to tell you this! She intakes a small breath of air and waits for him to respond, feeling precious seconds tick by.
"Alright. And you?"
"Alright, I suppose," she says, inching closer to him.
He merely nods in response. His throat quivers, as though he wishes to speak, but he cannot. Ease him out of it. Think of something to start conversation, anything! She watches him like one observes a caged animal: broken and damaged and in need of affection, but dangerous when provoked.
The way his eyes had shone in delight as he spoke of murder…his wicked smile that had curled onto his lips as though it belonged there…the utter sincerity in his tone…
No. Benjamin is not a killer…He is a good man. He used to love working. She used to love watching, though she had to move downstairs once Johanna was born to not disturb him. He was so confident and proud of his shop, cleaning up at the end of the night. Once, he pulled Lucy into his arms for a crazy waltz. "I had a wonderful day, Luce!" He spun her and she laughed.
"Lucy?" her husband asks. He is so different from the man she remembers, now having pale skin that glows in the white light, hair untamed and containing a white streak, and pained eyes staring into her.
"I was remembering. How you always used to be so happy here…how you and I used to dance in here." His face is still stoic, but there is pain and wistfulness in his eyes. She is watching a shell slowly crack and watching ice melt; the softening gives her courage to step closer.
His hand is perched atop the rough leather backing of his chair, each knuckle curled hands…she had called them artist's hands. Contemplating, she lifts her hand from her side to place it on his, remembering the way she used to take his hand to comfort him or whenever she was afraid—
"What is it, Lucy?" he whispers, and she stops. Her hand is hovering over his own. She mentally kicks herself, for an expression of pain must be all over her face, and he must still be able to detect it…
"I wanted…I…here…" Her face grows hot as she gingerly places her hand on top of his. A single touch, nothing more. Oh, relief, to have his hands in hers again. To be near him again. How long has it been that she's held his hand?
She forces herself to forget that his artist's hands will be covered in red paint with a sharp, silver brush.
"What?" he asks, breaking the tense silence
"I might go downstairs for something to eat, and Johanna is downstairs, so we could get to spend time with her."
His brow furrows. "Your…dressmaking…?"
"I finished this gown. I'll likely have to bring it to the family later. I could get that done today and maybe bring you to the market with me."
At his blank expression, looking daunted at the thought of facing London, she says, "we do not have to, though. Not if you don't want to."
He gives a terse nod, and she gives his hand a gentle squeeze before letting go. She floats towards the door and opens it, allowing London air to penetrate the shop. As she walks downstairs, she listens for the sound of his footsteps behind her.
"Johanna usually brings my breakfast up here when I am sewing," she explains, trying to keep her footsteps in sync with his own. "We shall surprise her. I am sure she is up with Nellie—Mrs. Lovett." Saying her formal name is strange to Lucy's ears.
They enter the shop to find Mrs. Lovett sipping coffee and spreading flour on the counter while Johanna sweeps. The woman's eyes are focused, and every angle of her body focused and pronounced as she concentrates. Lucy laces arms with her husband, feeling the knots in his forearm. Too tight and painful, she thinks.
Both wait for a moment before Lucy clears her throat and speaks. "Nellie?"
The baker looks up from her work, corkscrew curls bouncing. Her eyes widen and a strange look enters into them, and she presses her thin lips together. Johanna looks up and smiles at her parents.
"Mornin', loves!" Mrs. Lovett greets. Their daughter repeats the same, giving her parents a welcoming smile.
"Nellie, may we have breakfast? Unless you need help with opening the shop?"
"I'm all righ', loves. Johanna and I are able on our own." She winks at Johanna, who returns the gesture.
"Thank you, do you have any biscuits?"
In answer, Johanna hands both her parents small plates and small, floured biscuits made with left-over dough. Lucy knows she cannot afford to scrap too much of the pastry.
Sweeney follows as she walks into the parlor, and Lucy gnaws on her lips as she hears Mrs. Lovett greet her husband: "Mornin' Mr. T!" She raises her brow. Mr. T? Did she hear correctly? Lucy pauses in the parlor, wondering if she should ask. First, she greets her daughter. Then she puts down her plate and walks around her husband, back into the pie shop. Nellie is intently working.
"Yes, love?" Mrs. Lovett does not look up.
"You called my husband, 'Mr. T'-surely you know you can call him 'Benjamin' or 'Mr. B' if you wish!" She gapes at little and Nellie looks up at her with a tired expression. As if she has just learned some major secret.
"Ask 'im, said 'e goes by 'Sweeney Todd' now."
Sweeney Todd. Not even a hint of Benjamin Barker in that name. Why such a strange name? Why not go by 'Benjamin?'
Lucy says a quiet thank you and goes back into the parlor. Her husband looks up at her.
"Sweeney Todd?" Her voice is only just audible.
"Why?" She lowers herself next to him with caution, confusion on her pretty face. "Why didn't you tell me earlier? Why rename yourself in the first place?"
"No choice. I'd be sent back," he responds.
Some small hope inside her dies. She naively wanted the public to know she was no longer a widow, as they assumed. The moniker was a protection. All of London thought her daft for not remarrying. Especially after she caught the attention of…him. She prayed that when her husband came home, she could resume her rightful place as his wife. As Benjamin Barker's wife. All those days cleaning the shop in the hopes that Benjamin Barker would resume using his shop. They are dashed; all for nothing. And she knows what it means: he escaped and would be taken away again if caught.
No, not nothing, she reminds herself. He is still here, and you can still have back what you once had.
"I was hoping for you to be able to talk with Johanna a bit before the day started. She's a hard-worker, our girl. She's up with Nellie early. Just like someone else I know," she gives him a sincere, warm smile. Near the fireplace is Nellie's old samovar for tea—the kettle is sitting unused.
"I can get you some tea, if you like. Do you still prefer black?" It had been one of those little factors she treasured in the years he was gone. The little things—the way he liked his tea or how he held his head when in thought or how he smiled—were ones she missed and held onto. She wonders if it was the same for him.
When he nods, she stands and begins working on the kettle and preparing two cups. What else does she say? Should she tell him more about her work? Describe her own hopes for opening the shop? Ah, perhaps he'd want to know about the competition.
"There's another barber around. An Italian named Pirelli."
"Competition," he mutters.
"Yes. But, you are better. By far."
"Once yer shop is set up, love, you'll get customers in no time," Mrs. Lovett says, leaning against the doorframe.
Lucy smiles brighter at that. The smile withers on seeing her neighbor looking at her husband.
"You have the razors again, too." The razors. They were his most prized possession. Benjamin got them not long after becoming a barber, before they'd married. They must have cost him a fortune, but she loved watching him use them. They way they would shine when the sun hit them, the way they fit into his hand, they way he lovingly polished them. At times, she felt jealous of the instruments, watching him polish them with such love and care. Yet she knew she was being silly then.
Now, it is Nellie's turn to have a smile drop. She regains her posture. "We'll 'ave ta take yeh round town ta beat the Italian. Ain' much others around 'ere."
Lucy wonders how he'd even like the market. Her Benjamin now seems like the kind of man to shrink away from crowds, or even blend into them. He looks like he blends into this dark, garish parlor, and only the white in his clothes or in his hair stands out against the darkness. Dark. He was never dark before; rather he was warm like browns or golds. Never black, it did not look good on him.
He may need new colognes or creams for the customers, same with brushes. Perhaps I could sew some smocks…
The tea whistles, snapping her from her reverie. Lucy quickly pours two cups of black tea and hands one off to her husband. The china looks too dainty in his hand, almost ridiculous. Her heart sinks on noting the absence of his ring. Then, she remembers: the holding cell, how he tenderly placed his ring into her hand with instructions to keep it safe. When she returns home, she'll give it back to him.
She sits down primly on the couch next to him. Her own light pink gown stands out once again against the room. She sips her tea and watches him. "Love, I don't mean to overwhelm you. I want you to feel comfortable. Feel at home." She reaches out her hand, leaving the palm up for exposure. Please, please take it. Be comfortable around me.
He nods at her. "I will."
"It'll just take time," she whispers, perhaps more to herself. She thinks about her daughter, about how often Johanna begged for stories of her father. How she wanted Papa to tuck her in or watch her play or make Judge Turpin stop visiting them.
She fights a shiver. Best not to think of him now.
The silver razor winks up at her. Especially not now.
When she goes upstairs and retrieves her usual items for going out, she flies around the room in a haste. He needs creams, colognes, a new strop, suds, new brushes, a new lavabo, towels for surgeries (she nearly gags at that thought). Her reticule hits her skirt, jangling the money within. Let this new payment be enough…let it be enough. For Benjamin…
She looks up to find Nellie standing in her doorway. "I can take 'im for ya, love."
She pauses. Nellie's eyes stare straight at her, before they soften to pity. "Yeh've got a lo' ta deal wit'."
Luy examines her neighbor. "That's sweet, Nellie, but I can go with him later. I should be back soon. Thank you. Do you need anything at the market?"
"No, you go. 'ope that rich family likes that dress."
As her neighbor turns away from her, Lucy calls to her. "Maybe try to keep Benjamin company?"
Without turning around, her neighbor responds, "'Course."
The walk to the house gives her time to think. London around is the same as it always has been, but he is different. Her Benjamin is a different man than when he was taken. There is something harder, darker about him. He is too pale, his eyes too dark and shadowed. His demeanor gone, replaced with something cold and foreign and wrong. She shivers at that. What kind of horrid life could he have experienced?
At first, she wanted as much news on Botany Bay as possible. How were the men being treated? What was the death toll? What were conditions like? Any specific news on some men in particular? She used to try and listen as Mrs. Lovett's customer's gossiped, then left as they got drunk. Any news on her Benjamin made her heart flutter.
As she heard of the harsh conditions, she learned to stop listening. Her delicate heart couldn't take it. Perhaps it was selfish, but she had no choice. She had to focus on customers, on her daughter, on surviving, on blocking advances.
She arrives at Mrs. Desmond's door early and knocks. She prays the woman will be hospitable with her being early. The sooner she can go home to her husband, the better.
Mrs. Desmond opens the door. She looks surprised to see her dressmaker there, an expression that flickers with annoyance. "Mrs. Barker," she begins, disdain creeping into her tone, "you are early. My daughter is still getting ready for the fitting."
"Waiting will be no issue, Mrs. Desmond," Lucy softens her voice and gives the woman a smile, one that she hopes hides the tiredness in her eyes.
She is ushered into the home, where a servant takes her cloak and bonnet from her. She is then taken to a lavish parlor, one with fine carpeting and chaise lounges and the faint smell of cigar smoke. She sits, stiff and formal as she waits for the young girl whom she made the dress for. Miss Desmond reminds her of her own daughter, of what life Johanna could have had if she had…if she had.
A bowl of red roses, meant to accent the parlor, makes her stomach turn.
After a while of waiting, the young girl flounces in with her curls bobbing from her elegant hairstyle. The fitting goes as normal, with Lucy quickly adjusting the skirt but the gown overall fits her young client well. Mrs. Desmond gives her three pounds and five shillings. The paltry amount will be enough for another gown, in addition to the other two she is working on.
She leaves and goes to St. Dunstan's market. The walk allows her to go over what she needs for her husband's shop: colognes, new brushes, foam, fresh cloths for surgeries…all items she hopes will be low enough with the amount she has. But this is her duty—and her joy—as the barber's wife. She certainly shouldn't ask Nellie to do such a thing. She is merely their neighbor, and is busy with her own business.
Nellie. Nellie had been an odd source of companionship and a source of strength in her own way. She'd managed to run a business alone while helping look after Johanna. While Lucy and Nellie never truly were best friends—amicable would be a better word—Johanna was the thing they both cared for. Nellie told her how her and Albert never could have their own. Johanna was the closest thing she had to a daughter.
It was fitting, as Johanna would have been left in Nellie's care if not for—
No. It is no use troubling herself with the past.
Nellie Lovett missed Benjamin too. They were friendly and courteous as neighbors could be. It was because Benjamin was so hardworking that she understood when rent was late—though Benjamin was always honest about paying her.
The chatter in St. Dunstan's helps occupy her while searching for the items she needs. Mrs. Forman tries selling livestock, the meat vendor tries to keep his products away from the general public to protect from the rancid stench, while other vendors and customers talk. The weather is the same. Fr. Devonshire gave an excellent homily. Their daughter has grown so much.
Nameless faces amble about as Lucy gathers what she needs. She prays the man selling them does not wonder why she is gathering items fit for a barbershop. He gives her the glass bottles, brushes, and soaps and says nothing.
Amidst the chatter, one voice manages to make Lucy stop in her tracks.
"Don't you believe this is a fine day, dear Beadle?"
"Ah sir, I quite agree. There has never been such a splendid day as today with how well the sentence went!"
She freezes. He sounds as if he is just behind her, like a viper ready to strike. She has to get away, blend in, be invisible. How can she be inconspicuous in this crowd, she with her wooden bonnet and pale blue dress that are giveaways to who she is?
She walks with cautious steps on the cobblestone, aware of the slightest scrape her shoes make. She was taught to walk like a lady, but now she wants to shrink into herself. Thank God Johanna is not with her right now.
Johanna. Johanna. She has to get home. She has to protect her baby.
She exhales a shaking breath as she quickens her pace, blending into the dully clad crowd. Please let them absorb her. Please let her go away, be free of his all-seeing eye even just for a moment. She managed to purchase one spool of fabric, hiding the barbering supplies in her basket.
"Mrs. Barker!" calls Bamford. "Mrs. Barker!"
Lucy's heart pounds and cold sweat breaks onto her brow. He has seen her. She is vulnerable, finished, ruined. He is the hawk able to catch his prey—
The force of a cane in front of her middle makes her stop. It is brown amidst the blue grey of London, amidst the blue of her dress. Ugly, and not belonging. She finds the courage to look at the fat hand holding it, which is covered by leather gloves. A fine suit covers the portly man.
Beadle Bamford looks at her with some disgusting look on his face, his eyes wide in delight. His dull brown hair comes down to his shoulders like it would for a dandy while a hat hides his balding head. His face is rat-like and pudging out, eager to consume like the scavenger he is.
He sniffs in, a disgusting sound. Lucy tries not to grimace. "Awfully rude to avoid when an officer calls your name, Mrs. Barker."
Lucy exhales. "Forgive my…impudence, Mr. Bamford."
His mouth upturns at that. Smug satisfaction. That is not what makes Lucy's blood run cold, like ice in her veins. It is that deep, velvet voice. His voice. "Where are you running off to, Mrs. Barker?"
With quick breaths and her heart racing like a mad machine, Lucy turns to look into Judge Turpin's weathered face. Age has been graceful to him. Over the years, his hair turned from brown to gray, deep crows feet are in his eyes. He is elegantly dressed, but up close, there are stains on his vest, wrinkles in his jacket, and stubble on his face.
His breath tickles her skin, a disgusting vapor that makes her sick. She tries to concentrate on the other scents around her, hoping she does not faint. "I was going back home, my lord." My lord. A title everyone used for Judge Turpin, save "Your Honor." If she used it in the past, he told her to use, "my lord." Another form of dominance. Already he had pried her husband away from her in his talons.
"Ah. I take it you are busy as a dressmaker during this season?"
She gives a slow nod, trying to look any other place but at him. Yet he would catch that.
"It is time for your daughter to experience her…second season, isn't it?"
No. No no no, not that. "She is sixteen now."
"I do hope she makes the right choice for a gown, and in choosing a potential partner. She is a young and beautiful girl."
A compliment. Lucy is supposed to thank him for that. Then he produces it. A single red rose, stripped of its thorns and shining as bright as blood. Sprigs of baby's breath are tied around it, along with a blue ribbon. Johanna's favorite color.
She feels sick. She puts her hand up and accepts the rose. Does she have a choice not to?
"I do hope that you will give that her way. If not, I have already sent a young man to Fleet Street with a rose bouquet for her." Turpin's words are slimy, sliding into her ears and making her want to box them in. Could it have been a mere three years ago that he tried to charm her with those same flowers? That he wanted Johanna as his daughter?
Lucy wants to crumble as tears prick at her eyes. All that protectiveness for her daughter was for nothing. He's been sending roses to her daughter for the past year. Each time she wanted to throw them back in his face and tell him to go into the lowest pit. Each time she wanted to chop them up with Nellie's chef knife.
Yet each time, she takes them and pastes a smile onto her face. She can still detect fire in his eyes when he looks at her. That secret desire. Now, he is mocking her. Toying with her.
"Give Miss Barker my regards, madam. You do not deserve to slave away making dresses forever."
"It is a privilege to work and provide for my child," Lucy replies. The stem of the rose is numb in her hand.
"Of course. I must return to sentencing. My dear lady, I'm sure you are aware of all the criminals that must be sent off. Hardened thieves, murderers, and the like. It is honest, hard work."
There are rocks in her gut. She swallows the lump in her throat. "Of course, my lord."
"Good day, my dear," he says, letting his eyes linger on her face and stop just above the line of her bosom. She always keeps herself covered. The same with Johanna. Modesty is a special virtue for a lady, she taught her. Simply because they were poorer did not mean them less deserving of respect.
Lucy fights tears the rest of the way home. Turpin's words about murderers haunt her. She drops the rose into a puddle on her way home. The petals droop into the water and lay there. Bleeding. Like a pool of blood.
"You…desire revenge?" she'd asked, her blood turning to sloshing ice.
"Yes," he replied, hissing with victory. Scheming was in his eyes.
Benjamin must never know.