Rats Gone Home to Jesus
Disclaimer: All due credit to Bond, Wheeler, and Sondheim. The summary comes from T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land", and a lot of the ideas were stolen from the first portion of that poem, "The Burial of the Dead." So that's the recommended reading.
A/N: Although this is not really in "revival-world", these characters are based more on the revival than the original.
He counts the numbers of bars on the window
There are seven, and the number isn't going to change. It's foolish, really. That's why he's here in the first place. He was foolish to believe that he could ever marry her and somehow manage to keep her his entire life. Selfish, even. She never really belonged to him. She never really belonged to anyone.
Transported for life.
Dawn is brown from the seven-barred window. Today is the morning, the voyage, and the idea of it makes him sick. He'll stand on the deck of the boat and wave goodbye to his wife and his daughter. And that will be it. That will be the end.
The chains he's bound in are starting to rust. He overhears the captain of the boat tell a sailor that a storm is brewing. The wind's restless, the captain says. It'll be a hell of a journey to Australia.
The guards lead the prisoners out of the jail and toward the boat. There are only a few people there, people who happen to be passing by. Lucy. Johanna. And the Judge and the Beadle, exchanging smirks.
He spits on the ground, but they don't see it. They're looking at her.
There's a beggar woman with a lazy eye at the front of the little crowd. Her clothes are thin and torn around the edges, and Benjamin heard somewhere that she used to be a fortune teller. He doesn't believe in that kind of nonsense, but she's looking at him.
"Storm's brewing," she hisses.
"Fear death by water."
She doesn't have to tell him twice.
He can't move. His pocket watch has stopped, and he can't move.
And she's not even bothering to get up from where the judge left her. Her hair is a twisted golden mess, and she doesn't even have the decency to fix her skirt and cover her bottom half. The people are starting to drift home, and the judge has even started chatting amicably with another woman. Some French rich someone or other. And he has to deal with a broken pocket watch and a broken woman and the palpable silence between them.
"I could use a hand," she says.
Beadle Bamford doesn't know what to say to that. She's certainly quite pitiful, but he's under very specific orders. He can only touch her if he's holding her down. If he helps her, Judge Turpin will have his hide for it.
"I said I could use a hand!"
Her voice cracks on the word hand. Her entire face is red with tears, and her legs are still spread wide open. The bloodshot gleam of her brown eyes makes her look almost demonic, and the beadle doesn't remember why he thought she was so beautiful.
He helps her up. She doesn't thank him, but she fixes her skirt and runs out as fast as he can. She leaves her shoes, her pretty little shoes, and the beadle pockets them for good measure. He could get a few quid for them.
He sees her a few weeks later walking back from the apothecary. When she passes, she refuses to meet his eyes. She's wispy and barely discernable against the gray morning; a strong gust of wind could knock her over. Try as he might, he can't even say good morning.
When he sees her next, she's in bedlam.
Three quid and sixpence
It's not enough. He won't be able to afford bread and milk for the rest of the week, let alone the ale he's been aching to buy. He hasn't been able to afford a drink in more than a fortnight. If he can get a job sweeping up floors somewhere, maybe he can get a few more quid.
The last real job Danny O'Higgins had was in the barber shop on Fleet Street. Benjamin Barker let him sweep up hair for a few quid a week, and if he was lucky, his pretty wife would give him a few extra pence to look after their daughter. Pity what happened to him, really. When his wife paid Danny his last salary, she said he could drop by anytime for some extra change.
Lord knows he could use the change now.
He knocks on the door to Barker's tonsorial parlor (or what used to be). No answer. He waits for a few minutes until a woman taps him on the shoulder. She's a stout woman with callused hands and a striking sensibility that Danny remembers vaguely from their last meeting. Mrs. Lovett. She gave him pie and made him pay for it.
"What d'ya want?"
"I fancied a talk with the lady upstairs."
"What business do yeh have with the lady upstairs?"
"She said I could come by anytime I needed a few quid."
"That was foolish of her. She's flat broke."
"Well, is she here?"
"Well, then, I'll come back later."
"She won't be coming back. I can get you a few quid to hold you over, if you like, but don't get used to it. What yeh need the money for anyway?"
"I'm saving for me ma. She's starving back in Ireland."
"Poor thing," she says, clucking her tongue and disappearing into the pie shop. When she comes back, she has two quid and a rather bemused expression.
"Strange. Mr. Barker had a lad sweeping up floors a few weeks before, well you know. He was the cobbler's son, and I hear the cobbler and his wife are in fine health. No matter. Must be someone else. Well, here you are, love."
He takes the two quid, and she smirks at him coyly.
"Buy your ma in Ireland and nice tot of ale and say it's from me."
Hyacinths. He used to bring her hyacinths, and they called her hyacinth girl.
No one really called her hyacinth girl. It was their little secret, a Benjamin and Lucy secret. Of course, she always tried to turn her head away from the men who gathered at her window. Knitting always put her mind at ease, made her forget about them. She would whistle and knit, and later she would take yesterday's hyacinths and spread the petals over the bed. Benjamin loved that.
But things happen. A judge's gavel can bang three times, and everything can change. A man can sell arsenic at an apothecary, and everything can change. A girl can take a man in an alley, and everything can change.
She doesn't know whose baby it is. Ever since she escaped bedlam and joined the brothel, she's taken each man with a smooth indifference. They're only good for the sixpence she can get from them. And babies are easy to get rid of, according to the others. All it takes is a few herbs, a knitting needle, and a tremendous amount of resolve. She has resolve. She does!
Johanna's seven going on a hundred, or so it seems. Lucy doesn't really know how far away Australia is, but she certainly can't count the paces. It's been such a long time. She keeps her wedding ring in a cupboard with the few pence she does have. If she sells it, she just might have enough money to get herself out of here and find a respectable job. But she can't.
She takes the herbs, the needle, the resolve, the wedding ring (for good measure), and a piece of a lullaby she sings to the no one that could have been her child…
Quickly to sleep then, my jo, my jing
He'll bring you a shoe and a wedding ring
Sing here again, home again, come again spring…
"Spring in Paris is so dreary."
Marie resets the crystals in her hair just so and pouts at her reflection in the mirror. Judge Turpin marvels at his luck. A countess. Her husband has a place in the royal court and a villa in the French countryside, but the Judge has the coveted space in her canopy bed. He lights another cigar and kisses her neck.
"Spring in Paris? How so?"
"Oh, I don't know. The lovers and the flowers and sunshine and what not. We should wait until winter. Paris covered in snow. It's quite a sight."
He shrugs, takes a drag of his cigar. She has money and yellow hair and pretty little eyes. He'll bed her again tonight because he can, because the woman he wants her to be is dead. Winter. It reminds him of the red mufflers Lucy knit for her daughter when the cold came. They shall wait until winter to go to Paris.
"Anything you say, then."
"This'll probably sound terribly naïve of me, but can we visit the surrounding countryside? I used to sled there with my cousin, and I always fell off. I'll be damned if I don't get it right."
"What about your husband?"
"Him? If he asks I'm visiting my aunt. He's just so daft about it. Doesn't have an inkling. So, Paris when the snow comes?"
He nods, threads his fingers through her hair gently. The lamplight dies into a shadow of what it once was, and he presses his lips along her collarbone. Afterward, he reads the paper, and she meets her husband at a gala at the royal court.
They'll go to Paris, but they'll never make it to countryside. She'll die in a nasty brawl in the heart of Paris, and he'll come back to London alone. He'll send another man to the gallows. He'll make tea for himself and Johanna.
Judge Turpin prides himself on the fact that he never needs more than he can have.
It's rather disappointing to hear that there isn't a bird named an English Nightmare Twinkledove.
"It's just a linnet bird," the bird-seller says. "But that's certainly an interesting name. Why nightmare?"
"Well," Johanna begins, "sometimes its song is so shrill that it gives me nightmares. It sounds like a ghost or a boogeyman."
"You have nothing to worry about, little girl. That bird wouldn't hurt a fly. How old are you anyway?"
"A young woman. Care to buy one to keep?"
"Oh, no. Father would scold me for buying one without his permission."
"Are you sure? These birds sing the sweetest songs."
"I'm quite sure. I'm sorry."
"Tis alright. Good day, miss."
That night she dreams about the twinkledove-or-linnet-bird again, and it's bleating like a sheep being shorn. Every sour note tears and tears at her heart, and for a moment she feels like her heart has burst into pieces. She tells the bird to sing her a lullaby, but the bird turns into an old witch and hobbles away.
There is blood on the sheets when she wakes up.
Johanna grabs at her chest, trying to see whether to nightmare bird really tore holes in her heart. The blood flows from the folds between her legs through her white linen nightgown and onto the sheets. She presses two fingers against her heart and listens.
She changes her nightgown and replaces her bed sheets before Father wakes up. He'd be livid if he saw how she ruined her fine linen nightgown. Blood doesn't just wash out. When the morning comes, Johanna kisses him on the cheek and accepts breakfast. An ordinary morning.
The bird-seller no longer waits outside her window, and the real birds, the free birds won't be back until spring. The only ones still in the sky are the lazy ones, the ones that waited all the way until November to start their journey. She would like to see one bird return to the London skies during the winter, just one. She doesn't think it's too much to ask.
The bird doesn't come back, but the blood does.
Anthony is tired of a sailor's life.
He's tired of how his companions bring out the ale every night and toast to the girls they left in Bombay or Prague or London. Anthony doesn't have a girl. They slap his back and offer him more ale.
"We'll find one for yeh, Tony. If not, you can just share mine. There's plenty o'her to go around!"
The boys laugh and start another song. Anthony ducks away and heads to the deck. He picked up a drowning man about a month ago, and they feed him and give him shelter. He hasn't said anything to anyone, and no one is quite sure what they should do with him. When the night comes, he slips out on the deck and stares out over the sea. Always on the starboard side. Anthony thinks he's looking toward London.
The man grunts in recognition.
"Er… thruppence for your thoughts?"
"It doesn't concern you."
"Sorry, sir. May I sit down?"
"Thank you, sir. The ship is heading west, and it'll probably be going to Boston or New York. But I was hoping to snag a lifeboat and head out to London. I would like some company on my journey, if you…"
"London, you say?"
"Yes. No place like London to soothe the soul."
"What's your name?"
"Anthony, sir. Anthony Hope."
"Anthony. I think I will take you up on your offer. I left something very precious in London."
"A girl, sir?"
The man looks up, startled. "What?"
"Nothing. I think if we leave tomorrow morning, we can reach London in less than a fortnight. I can steal us some food and water, and you can help secure the boat, Mr…"
The man seems to consider for a moment. His sight slides a bit out of focus, and he looks to be remembering something (Anthony learns quickly that the past is never a sound topic of discussion). When he answers, his voice is deep and grainy and sounds like it's coming from the very pit of his being.
"Todd," he says. "Sweeney Todd."
Tobias hears things.
First it's a note on Pirelli's accordion that sounds wrong, lower than it's meant to be. And then it's the slight twang of his vowels that suggests a place closer than Italy. Every other night it's the laughter of girls who wear very little clothing. Tobias thinks that they must be cold, for it's the dead of winter.
He makes up songs in his head sometimes, simple melodies. When Pirelli leaves his accordion, Tobias tries to figure out the succession of notes. It takes him awhile, but it sounds so beautiful that he plays over and over again. He's convinced it's something he's heard before, maybe the lick of a lullaby his mother sang to him. If he whistles it softly, it can drown out the clinking of the glasses and the incessant laughter.
What is so funny? Toby can't figure it out.
He once asked Pirelli if he could learn to play the accordion. Pirelli laughed in his face and told Toby that music was for the culturally refined. He reminded Toby (again) that he found him on the street and was kind enough (because Pirelli has quite the generous soul) to take him in. Food and shelter is hard enough, but music? Impossible.
Today, Toby lingers inside the caravan and waits for the regular crowd to gather. When it's almost time to begin, he walks outside into the shadow of the caravan and the shadow of himself and his little tin drum. He'll lie to them again today, and they'll buy it. There's an itch behind his eyes, oncoming tears, and he thinks, no he knows, that there is something or someone that isn't a leaky caravan or an overbearing Italian. There are better places to be than in his own shadow.
He starts his pitch, and when he beats the drum, he thinks for a moment that he can hear the beating of his own heart. It's subtle and quick, like a rat scampering. Like a song he dreamed up just last night.
But it's not his heart. It's footsteps from Fleet Street. A woman walking behind a man.
She wakes up in the stretch of minutes after dawn. Her back has twisted itself into an odd position, and she finds herself sprawled over the entire bed. It takes a bit of effort to hoist herself into a sitting position (she's simply not as young as she once was), and it takes a bit of time to realize he's no longer beside her.
"Mr. T? Where'd yeh get to, love?"
Nellie scampers out of the bedroom and into the tonsorial parlor. Mr. T is there, peering into a rusty mirror and shaving himself with the same deft strokes he uses on all his customers. For a moment she simply stands there stupidly watching his strong hands guide the razor. She runs her fingers across her shoulder blades, remembering the path of his hands across her body. Bits of her are still anxious, still wanting, even after last night.
The razor flinches a bit, but he is careful not to nick himself. He glances over her shoulder at her and shrugs noncommittally. Oh, it's just you, his expression says. He turns back to the mirror and resumes his shave.
"About the Eyetalian. You know he'll be starting to rot soon, and I should just start working on him now. No one will notice if I close the shop for a day, heaven knows only the rats bother coming in anyway. Maybe you shouldn't start today because I need some time to figure things out. Unless it's the Judge, of course."
That warrants a rather dirty look from Mr. Todd.
"Or you can start today, whatever suits your fancy, love. You'll have to get the bodies downstairs, but you're plenty strong."
She smiles a bit at that. She moves to go downstairs to deal with that bloody Italian, but he turns his head to face her. A breath catches in her throat.
Tentatively, she takes a step forward. She kisses him on the lips, and he tilts his head slightly and kisses her back. It's the last time he'll return any of her kisses. It's the last time he'll call her by her first name.
He went for a shave last Sunday, and he hasn't returned.
It's Tuesday. She stares out the window rather hopelessly, wondering where he could be. People do not just drop off the face of the earth. They die in brawls in the street or of some disease the rats in the sewers spread. Her daughter keeps on telling her that daddy will surely be back tomorrow. Maybe he is having a prolonged tea with his barber.
Teatime does not last for three days.
She goes to the pie shop below the tonsorial parlor to see if anyone knows anything. Mrs. Lovett simply shakes her head and offers her a pie and a glass of ale.
"Thought you knew, love. Your husband has a mistress from the countryside somewhere. They were meeting upstairs before running off together. Mr. T saw them with his own two eyes. You poor dear. Here, nothing like a nice pie to warm the heart."
She almost starts crying again because she used to bake pies for her husband. He told her they were the best pies in all of England. The pie reminds her of him. She doesn't really know why.
She walks home in a think London fog. It'll take all the courage she has to face her daughter and tell her the truth. Teatime may very well be the rest of their lives, and it's best for her just to accept that fact.
Daddy won't be coming home after all.