On existential lemon meringue pies

All day long, I think of the lemons.

They are a bridge from this to that, I know, a coping mechanism.

The Evidence Against You came out one week and five days ago. Any author will tell you that the second Tuesday after publication leads to madness, and I am no exception. I often get ill. I don’t sleep. There is a specificity to it that even I, a full-time writer, struggle to describe. My livelihood now relies on an unknown, amorphous set of people walking into a shop and thinking, that looks good. But it isn’t only that. It isn’t only the sales and the stats and the graphs. It is also the personal nature of it. I am in the business of selling, but the commodity I am selling is a piece of myself, one hundred thousands words of my thoughts, of people I love. Even now, years on, I could still tell you what Jack from Everything But The Truth would be doing, wearing, saying, if he were next to me. I will say that’s so Reuben about some news story to my boyfriend and he will agree.

Here are some people I made, I am saying, as my book goes to print. Here is what I think, here is what I believe is meant by redemption, by justice, by love. Some people will shrug at that. Disagree. Put it back on the shelf. Dislike the ending. Write to me, often. Tell me they loved it. Point out my errors. Tell me they feel as though I have spoken just to them. Make assumptions about my personality, my love life, my morals. That is the career I have chosen. This brilliant, beautiful career.

And so on Tuesday, 30th April, I thought about lemons, instead. My body knew the sales were coming. 2pm, my hands go cold. 3pm, I stop working. I hung multiple loads of washing out. Everything in our house was washed. Bathmats. Towels. I put the kitchen sponges into the dishwasher. They came out brand new.

And I thought about the lemons. After I get my sales, I thought, I’ll drive to Sainsbury’s. Buy two lemons, some caster sugar, six eggs. Make a lemon meringue pie whether I had sold zero books or one hundred thousand. Whether I was number two hundred or number one. Whether it had done poorly or well. Especially, in a way, if it had done well.

Four o’clock. The cat comes home. “I’m waiting for sales,” I say to him, while I scrub the windowsills. Across the room, I hear the ping of my email. I never get spam at four. The cat looks at me.

I had said to my boyfriend the night before that I couldn’t imagine receiving the email and opening it. All those people. How much it matters. Life and death, it sometimes feels like. But, of course, I do. I don’t take a breath or try to rationalise it. I just open it, same as I do my Book Bub email and the Poem of the Day I subscribe to that both tumble into my inbox around 3:00pm and I always think are news.

The email loads immediately. Gone are the days of the slow-burn dial up. Position twelve in the charts. My last book was fourteen. I let a breath out.

I grab my keys immediately, keeping the bargain I made with myself. Drive to Sainsbury’s, my hands warm on the steering wheel in the spring sunlight. I buy the ingredients. Four bestsellers, I think to myself in front of the eggs. A grin cracks my features. I go home and make the pie. I don’t have my phone in the kitchen and it’s meditative, the hot exhale of the open oven, the little clouds of flour above the scales. Just me and the pie. There is a little line, now, between Gillian McAllister, bestselling author, and me. And, today, it is made of lemons.

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