‘The practical way to heaven’ by Simon Armitage

November 26, 2011

The opening of the new exhibition space at the Sculpture
Farm had been a wonderful success. ‘Would all those
visitors returning to London on the 3:18 from Wakefield
Westgate please make their way to the main entrance from
where the shuttle bus is about to depart,’ announced a
nasally Maggie over the PA system. She’d been having
trouble with her adenoids. The London people put down
their wine glasses and plates and began to move through
the concourse. ‘Great show, Jack,’ said Preminger,
helping himself to a final goat’s cheese tartlet and a
skewered Thai prawn. ‘And not a pie in sight!’ ‘Thanks
for coming,’ said Jack. ‘Put that somewhere for me will
you?’ said Preminger, passing Jack his redundant cocktail
stick before shaking hands and marching off towards the
coach. A proud and happy man, Jack asked his staff, all
eight of them, to assemble in the cafeteria, and he thanked
them for their effort. ‘Have all the Londoners gone?’ he
asked Maggie. ‘Yes,’ she said through her nose, peering
out of the window as the back wheels of the bus rattled
over the cattle grid. ‘Very good. So here’s your reward,’
said Jack. He clapped his hands and in through the double
doors of the kitchen came Bernard, driving a forklift truck,
and on it, the most enormous pie. A wild, ecstatic cheer
reverberated among the tables and chairs. ‘Fill your
wellies!’ cried Jack. Tina from the gift shop could not
restrain herself; she ripped off a section of the crust,
dunked her arm in as far as her elbow, and smeared her
face with rich brown gravy. Seth the gardener wasn’t far
behind, gnashing frenziedly at the crimped edging,
followed by Millicent from publicity who hooked out a
juicy piece of steak, went down on all fours and gorged on
it like a starving dingo. Soon everyone was devouring the
pie. And like all the great pies of history, the more they
ate, the bigger it became. Jack threw his jacket into the
corner of the room and whipped off his shirt and trousers.
He was wearing blue swimming trunks. Standing on the
rim of the metal dish he lowered himself through the light
pastry topping. Maggie followed suit in her bra and pants,
until all the staff of the Sculpture Farm were rolling or
wading or lolling or lazing or helping themselves in the
great slow pool of the pie. Now the forklift doubled as a
diving board as Bernard bellyflopped from one of its
prongs into the warm mush. It was only after retrieving a
baby carrot from between his toes that Jack looked up and
saw Preminger, who’d forgotten his wallet. ‘You people,’
he seethed. His face looked like the smell of a broken
sewer in high summer. Jack stood up. ‘I can explain
everything,’ he said. A chunk of braised celery slithered
over his sternum. Preminger spluttered. ‘You told me the
pie thing was over. Finished. You said it was safe in the
north, Jack Singleton. But look at you. Call yourself a
Sculpture Farmer? You couldn’t clean out a hamster cage.’
‘Forgive us,’ said Jack. ‘We’re pie people. Our mothers
and fathers were pie people, and their mothers and fathers
before them. Pies are in our blood.’ ‘Don’t tell it to me.
Tell it to them,’ said Preminger, pointing to the window.
On the other side of the glass stood the idling coach. Like a
row of gargoyles, the faces of critics, sponsors, trustees,
rich benefactors and famous names from the world of
animal art looked out disgusted and appalled. Preminger
swivelled on his heel and exited. The bus revved and
departed.

Leaving gravy footprints behind him, Jack wandered out of
the building and into the landscape beyond. And the
crocodile of staff followed him, past the iron pigs, up to the
granite bull on the hill, then along by the pit pony carved in
coal and the shimmering flock of stainless-steel geese in the
far meadow. Finally they found themselves in a small
temple in the woods, with tea lights on the stone steps, the
flames of which looked like the sails from a flotilla of tiny
yachts in a distant bay. Torches to each corner of the
building burned with an imperial pride. In front of Jack,
soaked in pie juice, stood his loyal staff: Jethro with his
three fingers; Maggie with her shopping problem; Tina
who’d fallen in a quarry; Conrad who’d done time. Jack
said, ‘In the horse I see the plough, in the bull I see the
wheel, in the goat I see the scythe, in the pig I see the stove.
Bernard,’ he shouted into the shadowy woods behind them,
‘bring out the custard.’

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