Author's Note: I got the idea for this from "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" and this biography of John Keats that I've been reading. Hope you enjoy.
Disclaimer: I don't own Sweeney Todd and/or its characters. I also don't own the life of John Keats, especially since he's all dead and stuff.
It Stung a Little, But Not For Long
Paul Goodwin's life ended in the middle of an afternoon anatomy lecture. He simply had to cough. Since he had been raised as a gentleman, he used a handkerchief. Then he looked down and saw blood.
He didn't panic. He just folded his handkerchief, waited until the end of the lecture, and then walked to the hospital across the street. That was where he intended to study, once he passed his theoretical courses. One of the doctors examined him and told him that he had tuberculosis. There was no hope of recovery; he would be lucky to live out the year.
"Lucky?" echoed Paul. The doctor sighed and wrote out a prescription for laudanum.
"It's hard, lad," he said, "but we all have to die sometime. This'll make it a bit easier."
Paul wandered home to his small room above the butcher's shop. He forgot all about his evening lecture. There was no use in attending classes anymore. He would never be a doctor, or anything else.
There was no use in courting Sarah Green, either. If he married her, she'd be a widow within a year. Better to let her go free.
No use in contacting his relatives in Leicester. He'd lost touch with them after moving to London. They wouldn't miss him, anyway. After his parents had died, they had fed and clothed him, begrudging every little scrap. They hadn't beaten him with straps, switches, or fists, just given him speeches about how grateful he ought to be. If he wrote them about his sickness, they would assume that he was asking for charity. He didn't want that.
There was nothing to do but hide in his room and wait for death.
At first, his friends visited him and tried to distract him. When even their best efforts failed, they stopped coming. Within a few months, Paul's only acquaintances were his landlady and the apocathary around the corner. The former rushed upstairs to see what was the matter when his coughing fits or crying jags became particularly violent; the latter supplied him with laudanum. The opium mixed with alcohol relieved him a little bit; he could lie in bed and not think about anything.
It wasn't enough, though.
One day, Paul ran out of money. He could no longer afford the wonderful, terrible laudanum. His landlady, he knew, would soon tire of looking after a sick man who couldn't pay rent. The charitable ward waited for him.
"There's no God for me to die like this," he grumbled to himself, after coughing up a few more ounces of blood. As soon as he felt strong enough, he made one last trip to the apocathary and bought a bottle of arsenic with his last few pennies.
On the way home, he caught a glimpse of himself in a store window. He was even scrawnier than he had imagined. His eyes were red from crying and glassy from laudanum. He clearly hadn't shaven for at least a week. A man doesn't think about stubble when he's dying.
"Jesus Christ," he muttered. "I look like a beggar."
With that, he resolved to go to the nearest barber and make himself look decent. It wasn't fair to his poor landlady, who hadn't mentioned his rent at all, to find him in such a state. He needed money, so he sold his gloves to a drunk on the corner. For the first time in half a year, he felt happy.
The nearest barber shop, as it happened, was on Fleet Street, above a bakery which claimed to sell Mrs. Lovett's Meat Pies. Paul remembered the name vaguely from the time before he got sick. He was surprised to see the shop so crowded; Mrs. Lovett, if he remembered correctly, supposedly made the worst pies in London. Putting this out of his mind, he climbed the rickety stairs to the barber shop and opened the door.
A slight, pale man stood inside, polishing a beautiful silver razor. His hair reminded Paul of an ostrich's feathers. Presently, he turned to Paul and gave him a smile that seemed strangely detached.
"Sit, sir, sit," he implored, in an overly polite tone. Paul obeyed and sat in the fancy chair in the middle of the room. "What'll it be today?"
"Just a shave."
"Very well, sir."
Paul closed his eyes as the barber began his work. The razor's edge ran cold across his skin, removing the bristles from his face. It felt good. He wondered whether he would have been as good a doctor as this man was a barber.
It was over too soon. Paul started to stand, but the barber grabbed his shoulders and made him stay in the chair. Suddenly, a razor was pressed dangerously close to his throat.
He had wanted to die. He had wanted so much to die. But now he wanted to live.
"No," he mouthed. The barber seemed to understand what he was saying.
"Death will be a relief," he said softly. Whether Paul agreed or not was immaterial. The blade cut clean through his sore throat.
Later, when Mrs. Lovett rifled through his pockets, she found the bottle of arsenic.
"Was that for you, Dearie?" she asked the wasted, clean-shaven corpse. She shook her head. "Poor thing. If you ask me, Mr. T. did you a favor. That's no way to die. It ain't as quick, and it don't work all the time. More's the pity." She began to unbutton his coat. "Forgive me for what I'm about to do, love. London's starving, you see."
She gave the bottle of arsenic another glance.
"Might need it for a rainy day," she muttered, shrugging as she slipped it into her apron pocket.