Saturday, 6 November 2010

Red White Chapel

I am here, in the dark with you. The tall man dressed in black, a wicked silver knife in my hand. My face is unseen. I absorb the light, turning no one away. I am everywhere, in your mythologies and perversions. I am in your children’s books, because children always know. They say I am a deep cultural myth, weaved countless times over; a hybrid of truth, lies, fear and imagination. Some say that I am a priest, wandering between the worlds of the living and the dead. What does the knife of an immortal do to mortal flesh?  Agonies and shadows, liquid fire, and the arcing light of divine silver.



September 9th, 1888

My wife’s name is Anna. She frightens me. She does not yield as I thought at first she would. I feel I am in the presence of some divine confluence of events. London is dying, and my peers remain oblivious. As the lower classes succumb to this disease and corruption so does our once great city. Anna is dying also, slowly, slowly dying, and yet still she dares to softly question me. Oftentimes I am inclined to think of this world as an intricate puzzle-box, a child’s game of infinite complexity or simplicity. All things are connected to all things, but this is talk unfit for public consumption. Our Great Queen, she is unperturbed by the destruction of my Londinium that, as a child, I had so loved and despised.
     When I first met Anna she was kneeling at her father’s side.
     They took shade beneath a mighty tree on Hampstead Heath, sharing wine and pastries as other couples did. I saw the possibilities even then, during those summer months, when she was a breathtaking seventeen years of age. She had a skin like alabaster. Her father and I became acquaintances of a sort. He told me an illness in his daughter’s blood had long made itself known to his doctors. There was nothing to be done, he claimed. His wife had befallen the same fate. He felt the Lord had abandoned him, executed his wife and left him with this gorgeous, sickly child who was the singular image of her mother.
     It is funny the way men play games with men.
     I am not an enemy of Christ or the Church. In fact, though I am a man of reason, I do not believe our new enlightened age signals the death throes of the Almighty. Our pen and scalpel alone will not tear God so easily from the heavens. I told her father that we could come to some arrangement. He seemed pleased enough, realising that I was a man of considerable familial wealth. His recompense was sizable. No, I am not an enemy of God. But perhaps this thing stalking Whitechapel and Spitalfields, perhaps this may immolate the Christian spirit in many years to come.
     They have already begun weaving tales. I have heard them in the raucous public houses and gas-lit corners of the East End. If ever he were a man when he first put his blade to the whores, he is a man no longer. Already their lurid fictions have made him something else, their Penny Dreadfuls filled with gleeful superstition; these have drifted into the London nights and the air is thick now with mythical imagination. I cannot allow my tender Anna to know the recent truths of this ugly city; the truths of The Decameron, Baudelaire, or de Sade. I have locked her in our most handsome Georgian home in Bloomsbury. She is most ill, and I fear it would be too much. I have forbidden any visitors, or servants. Anna looks at me in such a way, with the complicity of the damned, but also a jutting mysterious power beneath it. She frightens me in ways I am hesitant to describe. They have given this hero, this destroyer of whores, a name.
     They call him Jack.

The diary of Elliot Crane
Professor of English & Rhetoric Studies
Bentham College, London

***

Men do not kill for the pleasure, for the sheer craft and joy involved. Men only pretend that they do. In truth men kill because they are angry and weak and beautiful and afraid, so utterly afraid of being alone.  That is why men destroy. But angels, ah, angels seek beauty everywhere. The divine takes pleasure in all things, even the darkest, most abhorrent of things. I am so old that I am young, and I have been seen so often that I am anonymous.



1st November, 1888

Jack the Knife, Jack the Knife
He’ll take your heart an’ steal your life
Jack the Knife comes back for more
Out of the shadows to gut the whore

I heard illiterate street-children singing this near Mitre Square. This new hero has made a comfortable home in their merciless imaginations, as though they are just waiting for the Whitechapel murderer to slaughter again. They are flinty-eyed and cold of heart, these dirty ragged urchins. They desire blood to light up the night and flow with the sewage through the streets.
     He has many folk-names now. Old Jack, Red Jack, Demon Jack. I pity the man that actually raises the blade. He cannot compete with his mythical counterpart. This heinous coward, he kills women because they disgust him, because he is so afraid of them. He hates them utterly, these whores; their witchlike toothless faces, their desperate hidden strength, their sheer human ghastliness. Perhaps finally he sees too much of himself in them. Anna has been asking more questions in that quiet, forceful way of hers. Recently I awoke to find her vacant from our bed, methodically walking the dark corridors of our home. I have found her twice in my study, with gaslight burning, leafing calmly through books of Greek mythology. She tells me softly that she is like Prometheus, stealing fire from the gods, and I pretend I do not understand. If I were not such a reasonable man, I would swear that she is touched with some terrible magic. I cannot abide it. My anger swells. I commanded her to bed. She does not fear me. I try to make love to her as forcefully as possible, crushing the pale buds of her breasts in my palms, but it is a fitful, embarrassing experience, and she is somewhere else besides. In the night I hear her laughing softly to herself.
     Jack the Knife, with his anointed silver, he baptised those horrid women with their own scarlet life, and whisked them away from this rotting carapace. I can imagine what he does. He wanders the streets as only the bourgeois can, with the unassailable confidence that all of London is his leisure. He dons his Sunday-finest, as though he is attending church, and in a way he is. I imagine that he wears a wedding ring on a long chain of silver around his neck. He offers this ring to the toothless whores in grimy alleyways and back gardens, where the light is poor and the shadows thick. They laugh at him, or call him ‘sir’, and some of them play along. But some of them understand, in a flash of insight, and try to scream. They do not accept him as one of their own.
     If this Whitechapel murderer is not caught by the Inspectors of Scotland Yard, then he will soon become a terrible immortal, if he is not one already. Then he will truly be Jack the Knife. In the newspapers this morning I read of more ghastliness; two murders in one night. Elizabeth Stride and Cathy Eddowes were opened up like crimson treasure chests, the uterus and kidney taken swiftly from their broken, brokered flesh. Those two unfortunates are not the last. I suspect more women will fall, carved at the delicate hands of Jack. There is a monster hiding in the shadows of Whitechapel. Anna did not come down for tea this morning, instead she pondered in our room, still clad in her torn nightdress. Before leaving for work I lit a fire in our hearth, and tossed the newspapers into the crackling, spitting flames. I write too much in these pages, I fear, or not enough.

The diary of Elliot Crane
Professor of English & Rhetoric Studies
Bentham College, London

***

You are fascinated with me only because I am within you, as all things are. The blood is the life. It can be shared or it can be spilt; liquid fire, knowledge of the gods, running through the veins of men. I know the hot crimson. I know how it sings when it is released, humming from ruined flesh. But the murders of men are lazy, cowardly and ugly. Unlike the beauty they imitate. You see, I am in love with my chaos. I am in love with you, all of you. The angels you pretend to be, the devils you wish you were. I have a wicked silver knife, and I dress in black. You cannot see my face. I am an angel. I can take your breath away.


10th November, 1888

There has been another murder. They are calling him the Ripper now. Jack the Ripper. On the streets of Whitechapel there is talk of the Ripper being something other than human. A ghost perhaps, an old-world demon of vengeance sent to reap the vice-ridden, or even the cleansing hand of the Lord himself. Delusional fantasies always gather around violence and mystery; the city whispering to itself. They want Jack the Ripper to be a monster, an evil serpent with burning silver blades, not an inadequate mortal. But he is both of these things, surely? I head another rhyme near Hanover Street, sung by a miserable-looking little girl. She had hair like dirty straw and eyes like black stones. Jack the Ripper will bleed the moon, of silver knife and silver spoon. She peered at me as I passed her, threatening to devour me with her awful gaze. She muttered something about how she could not cry any more.
     At dinner I told Anna not to defy me with her strange silences, her glances and frowns, and still this magic seemed to emanate from her pale dying frame. She said nothing in her defence. Angered, I moved to strike her across the face, yet despite her weakness she caught my hand firmly at the wrist, halting me, peering at me like the girl in the street. My heart trembled, I think, with utter desire and fear. I dared not let her see my reproach and left the table immediately.
     Identity is like gold to the civilised world. The white man lives in a realm of time and space and reason. There must be logic present in his world or, unlike some primitive races, he will descend into madness. We desire cold, dead fact. Anything warm and ambiguous is not fit to be entertained by our superior intellect. But Jack the Knife; the Ripper, he escapes our definitions, having no identity. He is only what we have allowed to happen, to Londinium and our psyches. Anna knows this somehow. I can see it in her eyes. It has been almost a year since we were wed. She is only eighteen. Still there is this love of words, this fascination with language that her father said was ‘inevitable’ since all she did was read through the worst periods of illness; a silent, bookish girl. But it is more than that. There is some horrible intelligence in my exquisite alabaster wife. I suspect that in medieval times my Anna would have been lashed to a tree and burned alive. In fear this morning I left her a key on our mantle. I do not know if she will use it to venture from our house, into the truth of the city, or even if she will touch it. But I am afraid of her, and I must bring this to an end.

The diary of Elliot Crane
Professor of English & Rhetoric Studies
Bentham College, London

***

At first she is horrified at what she is about to do, but the fear passes quickly, for she is a brave girl. She has not been outside for almost a year. The noise of carriages and the smell of horseshit assail her senses. The wind bites her cheek. She pushes onward, amidst men, women, and the cold London air.
     Her husband has planned all this. She knows there is something wrong. She knows that there is a great wrongness somewhere in the city, and in her husband’s heart. Even now as she wanders in her wasting flesh, she resolves to find that wrongness. She will not stand before St Peter without answers; she will not falter at the Gate. She does not have much time left in this world, she reasons, perhaps a few years, perhaps far less.
     Eventually she notices a newsstand. An older man is watching his little worker beat his trade to the passers-by. The child is successful, since today’s paper is full of horror. A young Irish whore butchered beyond all recognition in her bed. Anna shoves a coin into the little worker’s palm and tears a paper from his grasp. The boy grins and forgets her immediately. She reads the gruesome article, of how the whore’s heart was taken. I listen to her silent reading voice and notice how beautiful it is, how fierce and earnest. She becomes sick with certainty and wonders suddenly if she is in some terrible dream. I smile at this.
     She is in the secret place now, my domain. I am not the architect of this horror, but I shall be remembered for it. Standing there she realises she has slipped through a crack into the place below the world. She is strange, this Anna. She glances up from the pages in her hands, and somehow she notices me.
     I am taken aback, angel that I am. I did not expect this. She sees me watching her, only a few feet away, dressed in black and faceless, a wicked silver knife in my hand. She quickly realises that no one else can see me. There is something in her eyes that I am enchanted by. It fades, that fierceness, and she lowers her gaze, unimpressed with me somehow. She lets the paper fall to the ground and turns, heading back towards the handsome Georgian house.
     I realise something. She is leading me home. She knows I am following her. She glances across the street, and sees her husband standing in front of a jeweller’s shop. There is finality in his eyes and his thoughts. He has been following her too. He has met her in this place below the world, at last. He thinks she will run, and he resolves to slaughter her there in the open, no matter the consequences. But he does not know her. She crosses the street, avoiding carriages and horses, and silently takes his hand. Shaken, he leads her back to the house.
     He leads her into the bedroom. Curtains are drawn, gaslight is ignited. He orders her to disrobe. He tells her he will fuck her now, violently, and slit her throat at the moment of his liberation. She does not disrobe. Instead she tells him that she loves him, and that she cannot allow him any longer. She glances at me, uncertain, and despite her heavy garments I see that she has never been more naked than she is now.
     There are moments when angels can make themselves known to men, when the invisible can breach the visible world. You have read about such moments, in scripture and fairytale, and secretly you believe such moments to be real. You are like children in this secret belief, and children always know.
     I step from the shadows, taken with the solemn radiance of this Anna. I click my silver knife against the bedpost. Elliot turns and sees me. For a moment he is dumb-struck, not quite believing what he sees, and glances at his wife. Although I am faceless, he knows that I am smiling. He begins to scream, this killer, as though horrified of the things he dreams. There was a time when he thought I was beautiful. I fall upon him, and Elliot Crane, the Whitechapel murderer, is lost amidst whirling silver and flowing crimson. Not a drop of his blood hits the floor, and in the next moment Anna is left standing alone in the empty bedroom. She is awed, but she will live another few years.
     There is magic in the world.
     There are those who wish they had never seen it, but Anna is not one of those.
     I love you, you see. That is why I am here in the dark with you. I am the Knife.
     Call me Jack.

***********************

2 comments:

  1. All things are connected to all things, but this is talk unfit for public consumption.


    Imagine the skeleton in her closet, when you bring it back to light it hurts her, changes her, your young and mad, you want her back, like it was, you try to help but the "murder"refuses to be at fault, and minipulates it all to get you away hide the skeleton forever, coward. She loses everything but me. I will live this life helping her, but it will never be back. Its all changed. Cowards

    ReplyDelete
  2. Are we all here to pass along the messag. Can our experience be passed on through DNA? ,The last man left has to sum it up for the rest. Raj I had a great night thanks for igniting he spark of wonder.

    ReplyDelete