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Mary Poppins Was Wrong About Pie Crust

By Lucy Grace

 

Dear Judith,

Today at work Jerry from accounts said my piecrust was perfect and the colour of caramel like Sarah’s hair. He didn’t say it to me, they never speak to me, but I heard them in the kitchenette.  It wasn’t even his pie. I only make it on Sundays, with enough to last for Monday lunch. They didn’t ask if they could eat it, they just stole it. They never said. They said other things.

“What’s that awful smell in the fridge?”

“I’m guessing it’s Martin’s lunch again. It lingers.”

“Well, uh, there’s nothing in here that looks like food.”

“Usually in a green box. Martin has a thing for eggs and onions – I dread to think what his kitchen smells like.”

I don’t know what they’re talking about. My kitchen smells like a kitchen, what else would it smell like? I doubt they have kitchens, they’re too young. They’ll stay as thin as those too short trousers they wear if they keep eating things from packets for lunch every day, skinny in the wallet as well as the body. And someone really should tell them that tumble drying can shrink clothes in peculiar ways, sometimes just lengthways. And that if they bought socks all the same colour like my brown ones, they will always be able to make a pair. I never suffer from cold ankles.

It takes me three minutes to walk to the office kitchenette to collect my lunch, two and a half minutes to walk back (I am quicker on the downhill stairs) and three-quarters of a minute to set up my desk with the blue cloth, cutlery, flask and cup. I eat my lunch at 12.35pm. At weekends I eat at 12.30pm because my table is in my kitchen and it takes nine seconds to open my fridge and I can be ready with my cloth and cutlery before the clock chimes. But of course I don’t have a clock that chimes. That would be too much. I hope I’m writing this right, Judith.

*

I haven’t eaten with another person for twenty-two years. Not an actual person. There’s Radio Four in my kitchen, and the odd-bods who work in my office, but they mostly eat in the upstairs kitchenette and I eat at my desk so that doesn’t count.  When I was nineteen, I went to a pub with a misused carpet with the girl from the bus stop who made promises. She ordered pie. I tried to stop her, but she said I was a bully and she could eat what she wanted and I wasn’t the boss of her and did I think she was too fat? She said so many words so quickly, they fell out of her mouth like teeth and I couldn’t catch them all. And by the time I’d made sentences out of them, she had gone. The pub smelled funny and the tables were too close together so I left. She wasn’t too fat. She ordered cottage pie and that isn’t even a pie.

*

Grandad always made me wait for the chimes before eating pie – he said the neatness of the hour made the pastry taste better. His table is still in the same place and it’s the same table anyway. Everything is the same in the house, apart from the sharp knife with the butcher string handle, because the string began to unravel and dragged in the washing up bowl so I bought a new one. The girl in the shop made quite a fuss because of all the blood on the blade and the floor and she wouldn’t listen to me explaining that the only way to test a blade is to run your thumb across it, not along it, but in all the noise and shop lights I must have muddled my ‘across’ with my ‘along’ and there was the blood. It was only because of the way I banged my head when I fell that the ambulance had to come but the ride was white and quiet and it made a change from the bus. They said I could lie down. I was just glad it happened on a Saturday. The scar is a white threadworm on my left thumb.

*

The secret in piecrust is cold hands, Judith. I have cold hands and chilblains, but they’re on my feet, the chilblains.

“Don’t overwork it, lad, leave it alone,” Grandad would say.

Grandad was good at leaving things alone. Some days I didn’t speak to anyone. I showed the driver my free bus pass and the dinner lady my free school-dinner pass and the shopkeeper Grandad’s free milk coupons and they didn’t need to speak to me at all. It is better to have passes and vouchers to show people because then they don’t see you. At work I have a pass which hangs around my neck in a plastic wallet. It opens doors too. That’s even better, as people don’t even have to look at my face, they can look at my middle and they’re done with me.

Grandad showed me how to make pie.

“Measure your flour carefully, lad. Too much flour in your piecrust an’ you’ll go from tender to tough.”  Then he would say,

“This is the only time in life it’s good to be flaky,” and laugh wetly until it turned into a cough, and have to go outside for a cigarette for his lungs. I didn’t like the smell, but I liked to watch him smoke the neat little roll-ups from the flat tin. I would stand behind the brown kitchen curtain and watch him leaning back into the weak sun, his floured fingers on the fence.

*

Mary Poppins said in a film on the television that a piecrust promise is easily made, easily broken.

Judith – I don’t think Mary Poppins has ever made piecrust, it is not as easy she thinks. Her promises must be rubbish.

*

This morning the woman in the paper-shop said I had cold hands. She touched my fingers when I paid; I don’t know why because the paper cost exactly twenty pence and she didn’t need to touch me. Twenty pence is a single coin. I have that ready before I go into the shop. When the price of that paper goes up I will swap to a different one which still costs a single coin and has too many parts to it, but I don’t have to read them all.

She said,

“Cold hands, warm heart,” and smiled right at me. I had my gloves on so she didn’t know if my hands were cold and my heart is inside me anyway. Her hair is shiny like conkers. I look at her hands every day, they are pale and soft like raw pastry. I wonder if there would be a mark if I pressed them, gently.

*

She wasn’t in the paper-shop today. It was a fat man instead and he didn’t say anything about my hands or my heart.

*

Perfect piecrust has secrets, not promises. Grandad told me that. He said,

“You want little bits of cold fat in the crust – they’ll melt when it bakes. That’s the secret of flaky crust. Never tell other folk our secrets, lad.”

Does it count if I write them down?

*

Judith – she is back! It has been the fat man in the paper shop for twenty-six days and I thought she had gone forever but this morning she said,

“Cold hands, warm heart,” and I was so happy I walked to the bus stop forty-five seconds more quickly than usual.

*

My cupboard:

  • Two white cups, one for tea and one for coffee.
  • Saucers, none (unnecessary).
  • One drinking glass, medium, chipped.
  • One plate, green.
  • One bowl, for everything else.
  • One white enamelled pie dish with a blue rim, medium-sized.

*

Today isn’t a pie day, but I have thought about it a lot and know it’s risky but I am nearly forty-one and after writing up a pros and cons list like you suggested I’ve worked out the probable hazards and Grandad isn’t here anyway so I’m going to make the pies a day early and take them to her tomorrow. Antiques Roadshow won’t be on but I will hum the music instead.

*

This morning it was difficult to open the door to the paper-shop because I was carrying two pies in a bag. The bell jangled when I went in so she knew I was coming. When I gave her my single coin, I put her pie-cup down on top of the stack of papers and it looked tiny in my man’s hand and maybe not the right size. She didn’t say all the four words. Instead she smiled with the whole of her mouth and said, “Warm heart,” and I felt yellow like softened butter.  I smiled back, just a bit, without teeth, but I didn’t say anything because I didn’t have anything to say.

*

Jerry from accounts stole another pie. I had put it on the second shelf of the fridge, at the back, with a pink post-it note where I’d written DO NOT EAT and underneath that I’d written POISONED because they are too vain to risk getting sickness and diarrhoea in front of Sarah’s hair. I wrote it with my left hand as a disguise.

At 12.30pm I left my desk and at 12.33pm I reached the kitchenette, which was too soon for someone to eat a whole pie, but there on the worktop was my dish, scraped out with crust remnants on the edge. I was rageful. They are short-trousered idiots, I don’t know how they managed to get a job at all. Perhaps they cannot read. I went back to the stairs, but everything was ruined so I went to the toilets instead even though they smell purple and the long lights give me a headache. In the first cubicle I had a seven-minute sit down on the lid and the door opened and some people came in and I heard Jerry from accounts say, “Perfect pastry, just like Sarah’s hair,” and I hated him.

*

This morning I got to the paper-shop at 08.02 and she was there.

“I’m Jo,” she said.

Her words are as small as the pies. It is perfect. On the walk home I thought about cold fat, melting between the cracks.

 

*

This is the last page I will write. It’s a bit annoying thinking about what has happened in the day just to write it all down. Judith said, neuro-typical or not, it is Important to Process Events in order to Feel Things Properly. She has a fixation on Feeling Things, she’s always wanting to talk about Feeling Things. She said to pretend I was writing to her, to make it easier, but I have ended up writing to me. I still speak to her on Wednesdays anyway. The social services cardigan lady said it would either be medication every day or Judith’s leather chair every Wednesday, to Ensure the Stability of my Mental Health. Some people use so many words. One in seven is clearly better than seven in seven, so I chose the chair.

 

*

Tomorrow is New Year. I know I said I wasn’t going to write again, but I bought a green notebook. I have good news:

Jerry from accounts left work.

I took in a medium-sized pie in a foil dish to celebrate, with a note saying HELP YOURSELF. People wondered where the pie was from even though I held the pen in my right-hand. I didn’t eat any because other people might have licked the knife.

I still make pie on Sundays, but now I make two, and use both cups. I’ve bought another glass. Later, maybe tomorrow, I’ll tell Jo about Grandad and his pies, not anything worth mentioning really, but just so she knows, about piecrust and secrets and things.

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