A/n: I went for my first swim in ages yesterday, and this is the result. 2010 already my friends! Happy New Year to all =)
~The Sea Pool~
"Will we go in, love?" she asked.
The stern man nodded. "Yes, pet."
They joined hands. For safety, not affection. The ocean was a dangerous place.
They waded down onto the first step in the sea pool.
The water was cold for both of them. More than cold. It was murky, eddied green emerald and brown by the potion of sea current and seaweed.
Neither of them were swimmers.
Mrs Lovett had dabbled with a hot bath here or there, when the stench of the dead and the blood stains on her skin and the flour and leftover meat got too much for her. But she wasn't big on bathing – or even splashing. The last time she genuinely remembered splashing for fun was as a little girl when her Aunt had taken her for a day trip to the sea. She hadn't been afraid then.
"There's somethin' lurkin' down there, Mr T. I ain't makin' it up."
They stared into the deceptively still water.
"I believe you," he said, poking his finger into the shallows of the second step. He'd never liked the sea. He didn't need to see it to know that he didn't like it. It was fact and that was that. Even as a small boy, when his parents had read aloud to him traditional sea stories like Treasure Island or Odysseus' Adventures, Sweeney had put his head down and shut his eyes, hoping he would fall asleep quickly, or if that didn't work, imagine something else instead. Preferably with no salt, sea air, waves or the wet. He didn't see why half of London made the trip for the summer and sat all day under umbrellas. There was so much more he could be doing…
"Come on then. Wot you gonna do instead, brood away usual-like?" She was tugging his arm in the perfect imitation of one of those sea limpets hugging the rocks.
"I though you were afraid, Mrs Lovett," he said, almost tempted to smile. He snuck a look at her, seeing that she was chewing one of her curls and trying to think of a convincing reply.
"Well, Mr T," she began, "it's like this –"
"No it's not," he said, swinging her hand suddenly.
He pushed her in.
Not to hurt her. He watched as the baker went splashing in her red bathing suit into the cold water of the sea pool. It wasn't as if the tide could pull her out. There were no sharks swimming about, he observed, and it was the fastest way to stop her from launching into one of her Dickensian long speeches.
It was highly amusing to watch her shriek and splutter and eventually tread water. Even dogs knew how to do that.
"Having fun, my pet?"
She came forward like a whirlpool. At least, how he imagined one to look. She wasn't doing any particularly stroke, just a mad thrashing-above-water dance.
He didn't know what she was up to until he felt his knees give way beneath him and he went head first into the now churning depths. He couldn't see well with the salt and murk swirling around him. At one point silver fins flashed below the surface, which sent Sweeney shuddering and thrashing around the pool as much as Mrs Lovett.
"Now you know 'ow it feels," she said crossly, treading water tamely in a bicycle motion. "You know it's rather nice after a while, Mr T."
"You think so?" He couldn't agree. He'd seen a saffron coloured jelly fish bob by them as she spoke, and now his imagination was afire with all sorts of horrible visions of creatures arising from the deep.
"Mr T, you is makin' me nervous now. Come 'ere!"
At first, he resisted. It was embarrassing enough, being seen in public holding hands with a widow. He could see her bare arms, and if he stared down in the water, her bare legs.
He quickly looked away. "Only if you stop making my breakfast."
The baker paused. It was a difficult decision. She relished the early mornings, getting up to greet Mr T. It was one of her only reasons to get out bed – the others being to wash his shirts, and perhaps get a look or a word out of him at the end of the day. "Only if I still get to bring up your tea. That way you can pour it into that black kettle o' yours and make believe you actually has a kitchen up in that poky little –"
"Agreed." He looked at her slyly, and roughly took her hand in his. It was his attempt at seduction – the barber was only accustomed to being gentle when it came to razors and throats.
Still, it was enough to make her blush and stammer, and he knew it.
She bobbed her head backward, and breathed in deeply.
He watched her lie back in the water, so that her legs stuck straight out and her arms floated behind her head. He copied her, although he did not like the sensation of the water lapping inside his ears. Her hand still grasped his, and she was able to help manoeuvre him through the water that way.
"Now look up, Mr T," she breathed.
He looked, and saw the still, grey sky, tinged with the cloudy cardinal reds and yellows of a leftover sunset. For some strange reason, the colours did not remind him of anything. He simply admired them, and realised how small he was, how pointless his schemes were against that suddenly vast heaven. He could feel the wrinkles in the barber's hand from their immersion, and wondered if they would even feel this free together again. Was it possible, to have day after day of this? He knew Mrs Lovett's cottage idea was fanciful. He hated the very thought of having "chums over", especially on Fridays. In the old days, on Fridays, he might have once shut up his barber shop early and had tea with Lucy on the floor of the barber shop with a rug spread out beneath them.
"What day is it?" he asked her vaguely.
"Friday, Mr T."
She left the conversation at that.
He found it a marvel.
It was Friday, and they were swimming in some remote sea pool far from any grim streets or blood or gargling throats. Mrs Lovett was saying nothing for the moment, looking up at the sky with a contented smile, just the way Lucy had done all those years ago looking out the window in his shop. Was it possible? Some sort of seaside life? Sweeney let the thought slide for now, and turned his attentions back to the glorious sky.
Mrs Lovett thought of the sky too. It was nothing special now. She had seen a dozen sunsets a piece looking out the window of her pie shop. She smiled anyway, because she knew without even looking when Mr T was in awe. That was good enough for her.
* * *
They climbed out sopping and faced the dark hills and long coach ride back to London. They had to carry Toby between them up the promenade and along the boardwalk (the boy had gotten drunk off chips and gin). The feeling of gritty sand stuck between their feet.
"Remind me, Mrs Lovett, why it is you made me agree to this?"
"You can't lie to me, Mr T. I know you too well by now. You pretend as if the sea's your enemy, an' hells bells if I don't 'ate getting' wet as much as you…but really you can't wait to get 'ere. You adore the sea."
Sweeney listened to her merry laughter as they sweated together up the hill. He wondered if they were talking about the sea anymore, or something else entirely.
"Perhaps you're right," he mused.
Mrs Lovett beamed. "I know I am."
She had to have the last everything. Last smile, last laugh, last story. Even the last word.
The barber half-wondered why he put up with her.
* * *