An ordinary domestic dandelion is a beautiful, golden yellow weed that may gradually take over your house’s garden. It is up to you to decide if the people in this are dandelions.
There is a young British woman who died long ago. Is she something that needs to be rooted out of a giant lawn, namely, London, England? Before she takes it over, ruling and dominating it with the world’s most lengthy and painful possible forms of death? Or is it Charles, a stranger in a strange land, who might seek his eternally lost soul, which he thought was in the future, who is the real dandelion?
Lastly, is it possibly the person or people you would most suspect of such a status – murderers? Some think death is something to be imitated, though it may be a weed in all of our gardens. And one of the world’s most famous killers, oft imitated, is a part of the following story.
“This will never be easy,” thought me to myself as I gazed out the filthy panes of the room I was renting. It was a beautiful day in our many districts of London, one of which inhabited England of the 1870’s. I knew, however, that I was special and different. I had been favored by the gods that be for some unusual purpose, or I was imagining things. Some unnatural thing had been telling me what to do for my life’s purposes.
For my name was Annie Chapman, born of two parents as all such usual people are, but I was definitely stuck now living in the Whitechapel area of a small but scattered parish of London, a city of multiple desires and random lost causes, but mostly punishment. In my time, it was well known - and all our mortal souls had to suffer its bitterest stings. So far as I could tell, women and children seemed to suffer most of these prejudices. The men had a hideous freedom to their causes widespread throughout Victorian England, in spite of the fact we were ruled by a queen. Feeling permanently depressed about this, I gazed out the window, looking at an autumn tree beginning to sprout its wondrous and small leaves. I recalled my father, a man of austerity and grace, who had been impoverished. The fact he was stuck presiding over an ant farm bothered me.
I sensed to myself, that although I was some colored and unfavoured, as I was not very coloured, I could perhaps get a job from the Jews down the street at one of their many small perfume, antique and trinket shoppes, a jewelry store, or perhaps a lasting slot as a flower girl in another district. Still, as my parents had told me to trust Jesus our Lord and Saviour, I was curious. I had found Whitechapel district, and it seemed to me that we were so overcrowded and under favoured in London of that time and place that it would be best to end my existence here. I did not much apply at the shoppes. I saw my looks to be somewhat freakish - and felt work for me was scarce in all known quarters.
I was not certain of suicide, but had taken to light drinking of the only local beverage that afforded me any substantial pleasure at all, which of course was small beer. I noticed these imported beers were oft German or Irish. As I was with the other local “girls” who inhabited the lodgings of our elderly female landlord, who winked at me and let me know that only pleasures of the evening or money could reconcile her duplicate balance sheets, which I was dead sure she was forced to keep, I was sad, for I knew my eventual end must come from intractable diseases. On the other hand, nightly I dreamed of a time when I could experience genuine sexual pleasure. This often involved fornication in broad daylight, which I only imagined. Sometimes I also envisioned a husband, who looked peculiarly like my father. He was finally killing me to get rid of enforced existence, and I hated this as much as anyone would in near same situation.
I loathed being only a girl in a men’s world, and did not want to be anything else. For to me, it would make no difference if I lived or died, as it seemed to be for all others in my time, but in some way I would have liked to lead an entire human existence.
My sole body was to be for the filthy old men - and the younger, equally filthy rogue, lordly and absurd - but well dressed middle aged gentleman of that era, and whatever else came my way, one which would only be stifled as far as ultimate heartbreak and pain needed to be hidden. I cheerfully went about my business, sometimes wondering if a time would come when I would meet my true lord and savior of the world, Jesus Christ. For I could not forsake the duty that God Himself had apparently handed me. I was surely to leave this world too soon. With the juxtaposition of a name like Annie Chapman with Whitechapel, I knew my end would not be pleasant, nor a good example. I understood my tale that was never told was not for your children, the god fearing, or the happy.
I often thought: the Word between me and Whitechapel was simply the word “chap,” almost a common word used in English at that time. There was a logical explanation for my concupiscent unstoppable fate. Perhaps our local, bitter deaths were supplying its greater usage. Yet after having applied at a dozen small shops, including apparently two Jewish ones, and after several episodes of being winked at, tormented by flies and insects, and smelling the street garbage, I felt something like a voice telling me where to go. I knew I was no such “chap.” I was a crappie and would never be a dowager. I had to learn that man is the dominant life form, and that woman was only a feeling appendage.
I headed for Whitechapel based upon this. There was simply nowhere else to go. But I wondered. Was there some other place for one like me, I thought as I looked down the length and breadth of my home’s glowering streets, wandering for the sake of exercise alone, during the day. I thought, it is time. I must gather my long skirts to myself, and reflect upon what I must do. It will not a good thing be. I must never gain too much weight, or I would lose the one job I had left my family early to access.
I will have to sell myself at night to these strange men, as I cannot seem to get another job. Yet, it is not so much because of my eerie skin color, I reflected. Surely, although I am “dirty,” and “filthy,” and all of those things, this could not be a pre-ordained fate. I am as much blonde and blue eyed I decided, as I am a lady of colour, although I am only one person, who must decide if she is a person. Surely a lady of the evening could never be let to be. Although at one time, I found myself at a veterinarian’s office, being told that the only living I could have was cleaning animal cages. I wondered to the man in charge if I could have any facial coverings for this. “No, chit, hurry up and clean those cages, or you are terminated from this job. Get over here, and when you are done, come in the back. I have a big surprise waiting for you, chippie.” He wanted it clearly for free. As I left, I told him, “Next time, supply the “chippie” with a mask of some kind.”
Needless to say, once outside this office, I realized what my definite fate would have to be. I had been too defiant in my own way of something I could not understand or relate my life about. I was rooming near the Whitechapel district at the time, in a rundown and filthy hovel, and I simply went to the office of the renting hostelry, talked to the manage, and was told I owed sixteen farthings for rent, even though I owed none. I knew I needed a certain amount of farthings to make my way in the world, and had oft lost count, as the varieties of pence and farthing, quid and crown danced through my growing mind. I had not met the level of souls who needed only pence, as that would come later.
I remember thinking, damn you, God in the highest. You are simply some concept dreamed up by man. I am going to live in Whitechapel district, alone, and away from you. But at night, I cannot even dream of a man. I must face down the British Empire beasts who think they are lions at night, one at a time, until “it” finally happens. And the unicorn can never help lasses who cannot see straight after two days of life. As the seal of the British Empire dictates, something is a lion, and something is a freak.
Therefore the first is a predator, it casts around for what to feed upon, and it must eat in order to survive. If this is its wife, its husband or its own land, it must make its statements, sign onto its “just” causes, and take on its own workloads. But these are always assigned to it by another force, one which subsumes it to cause its death.
Casting about for the dozen girls whom I was to work with, whom I had first met at a trade school, I found Cecilia, and Mary. I asked Mary if there was anyone else named same as her in Whitecap area. I immediate thought there ought to be two such Maries. “I should like to live in the same rooms with her,” I told Cecilia. “What, are you an invert? Do you like women? You don’t look dark or short enough. I’d think beer and some high life would be enough for you. I have a nice man who wants to see you. His name is Charles. He’s the cutest bloody bloke in England. Come back here.” She was indicating the deep interior of the tavern we congregated at, to speak between us.
I paused for a moment. “What, is Charles not lit up? Is he, ah, a drunkard, and perhaps not white or something?” I had been introduced for breeding purposes to many such. Having turned them all down as unsuitable, I had slept only with white men.
“Whatever would make you say that? He has a name and a pedigree. Don’t you think you would like to meet him? By the way, he wants to discuss an arrangement with you. He told me he wants to organize us ladies into sort of union. Can you imagine, Annie, we could work for decent wages for a change?” She giggled. “Really, he thinks he’s bonnie Prince Charlie, oh, he’s a rough but good hearted cuss. No, he’s out for blood.”
I had read in the newspapers, having been a schoolgirl and able to read, and having greatly enjoyed this period of time in my life, of things such as unions and also how men only took advantage of women. Still, I knew how men lived and died on the job. My father had perished away from our apartment, and we had never known what had happened. There had been a story in the papers out of Sussex about an industrial accident in the silver mines of Brazil. I wondered how my father had traversed the waters; maybe easily, maybe hard. In a ship, or in a slave boat? Such had begun my long slow slide downwards. I had taken to drinking and also carousing with the local men. But I had also contemplated drug abuse, especially cocaine, and had turned aside. I had thought of my education. But my mother ran out for our four other children, all younger than me, and I had to go work for my living. For a time, I had to suffer cocaine withdrawal, but we were tough girls at the time and no problem was had waiting out the shaking. You see, the elaborate clothing of our times dictated our existences almost completely. It took well nigh unto fifteen minutes to lace up one’s high button shoes, and they cramped one’s feet sufficiently to cause intolerable agony, although removal of them felt like surrender.
Most fortuitously, in Leeds I found a new style of shoes that were less ponderous. These simply laced up to the ankles and had become widespread in America. Made of patent leather, they were expensive but not impossible to buy with our wages.
Penny small pence for my thoughts, where I could ever head them, as my dark friend Cecilia, who was good at slipping in and out of the shadows and back alleys as she introduced me to the Life, dragged me to the back of the dingy tavern and I came across Charles. He was standing there, and sure enough, I had to think what I thought. He was indeed a Negro man, and he had on the most arcane African grin I had ever seen.
“Would you care to make more money at what you are bound to do?” Charles asked me, taking my hand quite gently and giving me an obviously acquisitive peck on the back of my hand. “I’ve never been treated so like a lady before, Charles. Is’t your real name?”
“Yes, but you are now to have a new name. I want to call you something else, but you may select it, my fair lady. What would’ a care to be called, now if you work for us?” He was a scant taller than me, but loomed larger than my desires could push him back.
I reflected upon how much I loved my Lord and Saviour, and how much Charles looked like the Devil. As he stood there, he resembled pictures of the Moors I had seen in my book. They were treated as the enemies of our England, and I wondered. Would this man help secure me better fortunes? No, there was no such thing as hope. He held my hand for the briefest of moments, and then released it as his gently slid downwards.
“I’m sorry, Charles, but I do so work alone. I will reside in Whitechapel, and, ah, I will await the coming of the one who will save me from my appointed task. Upon the coming of my Lord, I will then go home. Do you understand this, my Charlie?” I decided to give him his grin back, and smiled the smile of one I knew was quite uncertain. Perhaps this boyish man had something in mind along the lines of gathering up our monies. His hat was cut of the finest cloth, and his costume smacked of recent times and extremely well adjusted accouterment. He looked like a good “old boy” from say, Liverpool, where I understood the fine arts were gaining in attention, and there were nice museums. But I doubted he’d long attended school, from his overly active mannerisms. His frown was too like his smile; arduous, songlike, and full of evil implications.
“Ah, I understand. But would you like me to buy you a beer first?” The fellow stood there, looking at me proudly and far too arrogantly to be thinking he would be in any trouble for accosting me. I knew now what my prospective clients would also probably be. There would be no mercy whatsoever from the disease threat. I knew now beyond all certainty what I was going to be forced to become. And it might last longer than long. There were growing hospitals that could take me in, and the treatments there for disease were as medieval and arcane as any I had studied in my way at school.
I would be taking some of the men of England with me on this unpleasant Biblical Job like journey, I decided. If not many a long year would await my misfortune, I should be a slit throat. It would help make up for some of I and my girls’ lack of good circumstance. It was not the men folks’ fault; I could not see it any other way. And yet they all seemed to think that sex was something they owned or otherwise could throw away as some sort of ungodly machinelike contraption. I was sure I myself would turn out to be one.
“Charles, I need initiated into this. Could you buy me a beer, and could we step upwards into an upstairs bedroom, one last time, before I settle down into my life of prostitution?”
He snidely frowned, and said, “Look, young lady, I am definitely not liking your mood and would require some recompense for your time, if I was to be a fancy man for you. I have done this now for several years, and it is high time I became upwardly mobile. When do you want to go into an upstairs bedroom with me?” As he stood there, I saw that he would be rankled if I took anything like a sweet time with him. Also, I picked up a deep sense that he wanted something nice out of life which he could never obtain.
I took his two toned but silken left hand in one sudden motion. “I have sixteen pence in my pocket. If you must be such a small boy about this, I can certainly pay you for going through the motions with an aging and soiled dove such as me. It is my rent money, and it is all I have. Let us go upstairs, and for one hour, let us be a man and a woman together. You can show me the way. I will even lead the way upstairs for you. Do you want to beat on me? Do you have equipment, or is it as simple as it looks?”
“No,” said Charles, casting his eyes away. “I do, but actually, I will take your sixteen pence and get you out of here. Let us go buy you one beer, and be done with you. Come on now, such a choppy; let us go buy you a glass of wine. Come on now, Dove.”
So he led me over to where I and my friends congregated, and was the only one of his kind there as we settled in to what would be one of my few last glasses of heavy and dark brew. I sat and tired watched its aged traces swirl in the glass. The piano player was fetching a good tune out of the wooden instrument, and several of the girls were dancing merrily, pulling their skirts up aways, sometimes doing what we thought of as the stage dancing which I had seen growing up, down in another district, one which the rich were known to haunt and which had many a festive ballroom hall dance going in it. Some journeymen, carpenters and tradesmen, were dancing about, as the tavern was not as small as it looked from the outside, and it was a good time being had by all. Even me. I was surprised as I looked around, happy for a moment at the lack of Christian antipathy. The men whirled their girls around, dipping them, sometimes dancing erratically. I began tapping my shod foot rapid time to the music, and clapping my hands.
“Chuck - my bonnie lad,” I tittered suddenly into my feminine hand, which had beautiful red nail polish on each nail - but of the nailpolish was starting to chip around the edges. “Charlie my darling, let us get up and dance.” As I gazed down the bar, I could see the Jewish owner of the tavern, or so I thought of him, wiping all the glasses with one towel, and dreamed briefly of securing a job as a tavern girl. Charles seemed to flinch. I thought, would the tavern owner hire him? Perhaps he would not work there. I wanted to reach out and grab him by the waistcoat and haul him - slowly - upstairs with me.
“Wait. I have to go dance with the ladies who work for me. Wait here.” He left me, his grey tailcoats swirling around in mock protest. Then one of what I assumed now were his girls handed me a newspaper. It was a headline on that grabbed my attention. As I read it, my heart sank, although it was nothing unexpected and I had been looking for it.
It read, “Ladies of the Evening Disappearing in Whitechapel.” As I read the story, it turned out they were doing anything but disappearing. Our bodies were being found in strange and peculiar places, splayed out like carpetbags, in odd positions. And I felt chilled to the bone when I found other Mary indeed. It was a young girl I knew who had gone to a separate school than mine, once I had met her at a coffee shop, and we had shared dreams of working as writers, musicians, waitresses and artists, and she had been found in an alley with her throat ripped wide open and her abdominal cavity also gutted through her heavy clothing, in a position which began to sink deeply into me.
Sitting with my head spinning out of control, I happenstance saw a street at night. It was one of many - with dead bodies upon it. I also viewed an absolute picture of what had happened. As the grey cold swirls of a thick London negotiable fog gathered around both the victim and the oppressor, I saw who it was. He wore a long black cloak and a broad grey brimmed hat. He knew what he was doing, too good of a job at it. If it was one person, it was an unlined medical doctor. I read other articles, and there was some attempt to blame the entire local Jewish population. It finally centered on a butcher named Leather Apron, and there was talk of arresting this Jew. I knew for a cold hard fact that it was not him, but a cadaverer who lived and worked near the vicinity.
And I next saw a sepia toned picture of what the “vultures” that gather and make money off of us had done to her “pretty” corse. She was so dark and mysterious, and had lovely long black hair. They had sewed her body all up to pose her both as a new thing called pornography - and as a medical item. I had to think, I somewhat minded the porno, but was happy about the medical aspect. Then it dawned on me. This would lead to the widespread abuse of women. However, it seemed a new way to make money, one that might get some of us away from the horrendous sweatshops, where in crowds you could only work until you dropped, were out on the streets and got yours. And the growing photography arena must of course have something strange to take on. I thought, Charles should try taking pictures of us, but perhaps he has not such knowledge as that.
I was sure of a sudden that it had all been a necessity, and that it had happed before, but had not been reported on by the newspapers so frequently. Please if there be a God, I briefly prayed: do not take enormous photographs of my dead naked body. And what if this attitude spread out, engulfed the other citizens of London, and destroyed her?
“Excuse me. I have to go see a doctor now, everyone. Oh, I have to get out of here.” Being medium height but of slight build, yet a little paunchy round the middle, it took quite a lot of lifting my skirts and pushing to get the crowd aside and to leave the large room of a tavern. God was telling me where next to go. I cruised lightly down the street, giving a glance to the left of me every time, seeing the beautiful shops of the Jews and others gleaming in the broad daylight. It looked like a nice home for real people, the sort that could wish you a taught day and hand you the proper portion of goods. I looked, and there was someone who looked like Charles working in the back part of grocers. It turned out to be an island woman from Haiti who was sweet on white men, the likes of whom gave her three children, but had deserted her each time for someone else. Every time I needed fresh fruit, I would ask her to give me an extra portion for the others. But she finally stated that her billet was too long to give us any further. Her name was Hattie, and I almost asked grocers if they would hire me instead of her. Grocers was white mostly, but Hattie had been so nice to us I could not bear to hurt her and ruin her life.
I sighed, adjusting my bonnet and retying the strings alongside my glowing cheeks. In autumn in London town, there were many bustling down the sidewalks, heading places all unknown to me, many of which I had already been. I knew the shop of the doctor was down the street about two more blocks. I shifted my skirts about my leggings, and began padding like I was some sort of panther - or perhaps another cat of my own - a bit further. As my eyesight was perilously obscure, I could make out the sign above the door. It had been hand painted, but I had been told long ago that only menfolk painted signs.
“Dr. Jack Rinehart,” it seemed to proudly proclaim, “Mortician, barber, necrologist, and exterminator.” As I lingered over the last word, I seemed to hear a macabre song in my head, one about cockroaches and the plague. I shuddered as the wind whipped around my bonnet, and as I looked over at a greenly growing oak tree in a planter, it sent some leaves over to me. They slicked across my eyes - and then I took one - and peeled it off. It was the only way I could be a “peeler.” That was a member of the authorities, such as Scotland Yard, or the local bobby police. The job of a policewoman was rare indeed. All of our girls made the lowest possible wages, and were easy to take advantage of, but so were most of the men, I supposed. I had dreamed of taking the train to Stratford of Avon on Sea, but had no relatives out there whom I could stay with while I found work. I hoofed it to the chap’s office, thinking that if enough of us were dead, they would eventually catch the miscreant. Still, considering what we were doing, it seemed all right to me either way. Surely, the population of England could use some lowering.
I paused at the door of his office, wondering if it was also his residence. It was so crowded in downtown London that it probably was also his place of abode. There was at least one set of rooms above the office, and a gaslight flickering in one of them. In those days, you see, we had no electric light everywhere and relied on flame lights.
But the chap was a medical doctor. As I walked into his office, I gasped in horror. There were various undone girls on the tables, and quite a few boys. Dead boys, everywhere. Corpses were openly spread to see, obviously to be examined in spurious and hideous manners. As I wheeled around, seeing the dead for the first time in my life, I gulped and gasped. I drew a hand to my throat, putting it away, and stared at the man with a kind of hatred. Something real was telling me this was our persecutor, and not a good man.
“Are…you a mortician? Is this where you take their lives, or save them?” He looked slowly over his pince nez, taking his spectacles off, rubbing them on his bloody sleeve. I looked into what appeared to be a Teutonic face, one which I had never seen before. It was white but red with a kind of age, and looked furrowed above the brows. His hair was uncombed, and his cloth apron as blood soaked as I had ever seen on a cattle butcher. And his entire body was shot through with disease, especially most of his face.
“Miss, I presume you want to speak with me? Come have a seat over here. Would you like to get up on a table, so I can examine you?” His lips curled into a kind of vicious snarl, as he began to reach behind me, perhaps to close the door at my back. I inched myself backwards, holding the door’s handle grasped firmly, ready to swing it open, but had nowhere really to go at this point in time.
“Nooooooooooo,” I scattered through my loose teeth, thinking this could be the occasion I had been waiting for right here in his office. “Do you, that is, are you Jack Rinehart, and would you come up with me to my rooms now - and we could have a good time?” I wondered if trying to make him into a customer would settle his hash. But it was more than obvious he had something utmost lifelong in mind that I couldn’t approach. “Do you think you and I could go up the street to a lovely restaurant, and eat?”
End of Installment One