Mother took a firm hold of her largest knife, steadied herself against the kitchen table and, with a grunt, sliced the top off completely. The Eldest caught the top as it slid off, falling forward towards the floor.
‘There you go. Get your hands in and scoop out the insides.’
She placed it on the table in front of them. The Youngest had to stand on a chair to reach up and over and inside, grabbing handfuls and dropping them onto the table top. Mother pulled a plate from the cupboard and set it down next to them.
‘Make sure that you keep it all; we shall make it into a pie.’
Youngest continued to scoop out the insides, leaning further and further across the table as her little hands delved deeper into the cavity she was creating. Eldest gathered up what they had already pulled out and dropped it onto the large, white plate on the table.
Looking up from her task Youngest said, ‘Mother, there are some bits I cannot get out.’
Mother searched in a drawer until she found a smaller knife. ‘Watch out Youngest, this knife is sharp. Let me see if I cannot free the last pieces for you.’ She worked the knife around the inside, separating any remaining strands until the whole of the inside was free to be scooped up and out and onto the plate. ‘Well done children; we shall make a particularly delicious pie for Father’s dinner.’
The small knife was handed to Eldest with the instructions that he was not to harm himself on the sharp blade.
‘Would you like to cut out the eyes?’ asked Mother.
With the relish of a young boy, Eldest set to work in carving out the eyes. He worked away with the little blade until there were two dark holes either side of the nose. ‘Will that do Mother?’ he asked in hope that he had completed the task well.
‘The one on the left is smaller,’ said Youngest, holding her head on one side and giving a critical appraisal of her brother’s work.
‘It’s just fine as it is,’ Mother reassured him. ‘Now what about the mouth? I think he would like a nice big smile.’
Eldest gave a smile himself as he set to work, slicing up and around, lengthening out the mouth so that the ends curled up into a great grin. He cut nicks into the lips so that he could pull the skin back, with teeth to poke through underneath.
Youngest shuddered. ‘That’s horrible,’ she said, the delight dripping from her words. ‘We should give him a name.’
‘He already has a name,’ explained Mother. ‘He is called Jack and once upon a time he made a deal with the devil. He made the devil promise that he would never take his soul. But when Jack died, he could go not to heaven – for he had not led a good life – nor would the devil take him to hell, so he was forced to roam the world with only an eternal flame from the underworld to light his way.’
Mother struck a match to light a candle, which she placed carefully inside the hollowed head.
Eldest laid down the knife next to the plate holding the scooped-out insides. He considered the head staring up at him from the table, with its empty eyes and clownish smile.
‘But that’s a silly story Mother,’ he said at last.
‘Why is that Eldest?’ asked Mother.
‘Because when he died he didn’t wander alone with only a light to guide him. When he died he came home with us.’ He picked up a jumper from the floor and read the name from the badge pinned to the front. ‘And his name isn’t Jack; it’s Brian.’
Mother smiled at him and wrapped her arm around his shoulders. ‘Well, it’s only a story. It doesn’t have to make sense.’
Youngest joined them in their hug. ‘Next year Mother,’ she asked, ‘can we have a pumpkin instead?’