Today marks the final prompt relating to the Five Stages of Grief and today’s theme is Acceptance. Since yesterday’s story dealt with depression post-bereavement, I decided to write a much lighter story today. Set in a northern town in the Victorian era, it centres around Maggie and her pie stall (street food was very popular in Victorian times, and for poorer people, it was often the only way they got to eat). The theme of acceptance is playing softly in the background of what is mostly a duet between Maggie and a rival pie seller from London. At some point, I may develop this into a longer piece, but for now, enjoy ‘Peas and Queues’.
Peas and Queues
“Maggie!” Her sister’s voice was shrill, but that was nothing new. Effie was always shrieking about something or other. Ignoring the cry, Maggie continued rolling out the pastry, mindful that she had to get another batch of pies in the oven if they were to have enough for the regular customers.
“Maggie!” The voice sounded again. “They’re selling pies! And peas!”
No! Maggie drew in her breath sharply. She and Effie sold pies on Market Street – everyone knew that. Leaving the pastry sitting on the kitchen table, she hurried outside to take a look for herself.
Effie was waiting for her, the tattered shawl about her shoulders not offering much protection from the cold.
“Where is he?” Maggie said grimly, wishing now that she’d taken the time to inspect this new lad from London as soon as he’d arrived earlier that morning.
Effie pointed, her eyes wide with consternation. Maggie swept over to him with the ferocity of a wildcat. “Is this your stall?” she demanded.
The young man she addressed straightened up from the crate he’d been unpacking – were those china cups? – and gazed directly at her. His eyes were the bluest she’d ever seen.
“Yes, Miss, it is. What can I get you? A steak pie? A cup of hot green peas?”
Hot green peas? Whoever had heard of such a thing?
“You can’t sell pie and peas,” she said firmly. “Not on this street anyhow. We sell pies – Effie and me. You’ll have to sell something else.”
The way he was looking at her right now made her feel as if she was a pie – one he was interested in biting into. Trying to ignore the strange feeling in her stomach, she held his gaze and carried on.
“It’s a family business, see? ‘Arkwright’s Pies’ – that’s what we’re called. And if you sell pies too, then people’ll get confused, won’t they? ‘Cos you’re not an Arkwright. And they’ll wonder why the pies you sell taste different-“ Lord, she hoped they tasted different – it would be galling to think that a Londoner could make a butter pie as good as her ma’s handed-down recipe – “And what’s all this cup of green peas nonsense anyway? Everyone knows you have black peas with your pie.”
There, she’d said it. Just let him try to wriggle out of that one!
“Black peas?” He looked intrigued. She should have held her tongue.
“So you’ll have to sell something else,” she repeated, trying to act as if she was unaware of the dimple in his cheek that danced when he smiled and the way his hair flopped over his eyes.
“And why can’t we both sell pies?” he wanted to know. “Or are you scared I’ll steal all your customers?”
Scared? She was never scared of anything!
“You’re a bit young to be running a stall, aren’t you?” he said next. “How old are you? Thirteen? Fourteen?”
She bristled at the insult. “Sixteen. I left school four years ago.”
“Perhaps I should speak to your parents. You did say it’s a family-run business.”
“It is,” she said stiffly. “Effie and me – we run it. That’s Effie over there. She’s eleven.”
“Just the two of you?” He sounded startled.
“We’re the only ones left.” Why was she telling this to a stranger? “Our ma got this cough and she didn’t get better. We didn’t have money for a doctor.”
“And your father?” His voice was surprisingly gentle.
“Drink,” she said simply. He’d always liked a beer or two when he could afford it, but after Ma had passed away, Pa had taken to spending every evening in the Rose and Crown until, one night, he lost his footing in the dark and slipped into the canal. By the time he was found next morning, he’d been dead for hours.
“And how long have you been selling pies on your own?”
“Eight months,” she said. They’d been lucky: Pa’s sister had taken them in and she let Maggie use the tiny kitchen every morning to do the baking. Twenty pies a day, except Sunday, at a penny a pie – and a ha’porth for a screwed paper of black peas – made enough to pay for the flour and butter and potatoes and onions, and anything that was left went to Aunt Jenkins to help pay for their keep.
“Why don’t we come to an agreement?” he said now. “I can’t stop selling pies – I don’t know how to make anything else; but I can make different pies to yours – stop people getting confused.”
“They’re not likely to get confused if you’re giving them steak,” she muttered. Steak! Was the man made of money?
“You don’t make steak pies yourself, then?”
She shook her head. “Butter pies.” He looked quizzical, so she elaborated. “It’s potato and onion in a pie. It tastes dead good with red cabbage.”
“And black peas,” he finished, grinning at her. “I still can’t get my head around those.”
“Maggie!” Effie was shrieking again. “Your pies are burning!”
Lawks! She’d forgotten all about the first batch, and she hadn’t even put the second lot in the oven. Without stopping to say goodbye, she turned and fled.
Some forty minutes later, the pies were in her basket ready to take to the stall while the black peas simmered on the stove top. She’d show that fancy London gentleman, that Mister… What was his name? She couldn’t remember him telling her. She’d show him anyway.
Pulling the back door shut behind her, she hurried to the stall. A queue was already forming. Good. Then her heart sank as she realised they were queuing for the adjacent stall – the one that offered steak pies and fancy green peas done the London way.
Once more, she stormed her way towards the ridiculously handsome – what was that word people used in novels? Cad, that was it – the ridiculously handsome cad who had stolen her customers. Eyes blazing fury, she stared him down.
“Maggie!” he said cheerfully. “I was just telling your customers you were on your way. They say your butter pie’s even better than the one your mother used to make.”
Before she knew what was happening, he had helped her dole out thirteen pies to eager patrons.
“I think some of them said something about black peas,” he murmured. “Have you got some? I didn’t want to cause a riot by giving them my green ones instead.”
He was laughing at her! Nevertheless, she returned to her aunt’s and rescued the dark, gelatinous mass from the stove. She wasn’t used to people offering her help – and she wasn’t used to accepting it either. But there was something about this annoying man – this handsome, annoying man – that made his help hard to refuse.
They were married within a year.