Surviving the Streets 1888.
Whitechapel was not a place you visited unless you had to. The year was 1888 and Whitechapel was known throughout London as a den of immorality. Robberies and thefts were commonplace, and every other person you met was alcohol dependant. It was estimated that there were sixty-two working brothels, and 1200 women selling themselves on the street.
It wasn't always so bad in Whitechapel, but mass immigration into the country had left the small district over crowded and suffering. The influx of people had made jobs harder to come by and many people were struggling to make a living for themselves. Hundreds were staying in doss houses and depended on paying for their bed, before someone else did.
Constance was no different. She had been beautiful when she was younger, but at thirty years old, living day to day as a prostitute, she looked worn and used. Everything about her seemed to hang off her bones, as if her muscles were too tired to hold everything up.
This year was a year of horror in Whitechapel. Women who frequented the street for their trade were cropping up dead in violent and bloody murders. Constance had known all of them so far, they had shared a bottle or three on good days. She no longer felt safe on the cobbled streets of her district, but she needed the money her trade provided, to ensure she had a bed for the night.
One fateful night Constance was out of luck. The notorious murders had stopped people stopping on the streets for long, instead preferring to frequent the public houses or staying at home. People could be seen scurrying from place to place, heads down, determined not to be picked out of the crowd.
This of course increased their chances of staying alive; but Constance, who depended on stragglers loitering outside to sell her trade, suffered greatly that night. Seeing as she had been unsuccessful in finding any business, she arrived at the doss house empty handed.
'Mary! Where are you?' she called into the darkness of the hallway.
A round woman who had made her living off the low morals and out of luck people of Whitechapel ushered Constance into the kitchen.
'Shhhh, don'tcha know people are sleepin'? What is it Constance? You got your room an' board? It's gerrin late.'
'Mary, I can get it tomorrow, no one's out there. What am I s'posed to do? Go door t' door?' Constance pleaded.
'You know th' rules Connie, no money, no bed. If I let you in wi' no pay, everyone will want it. Then where will I be Connie?' Mary was harsh, and decided.
'Mary! Wha' about the killin's? You can't leave me on th' street these days.'
'Sorry Connie, stay safe you 'ear?' Mary pushed Constance back into the dirty street and closed the door in her face.
Dejected and afraid, Constance walked down the cobbled street alone in the dark. She decided to head towards a local public house, knowing it would be closed at that hour but would re-open early in the morning.
Her caution was unnecessary, as before she had rounded the corner she felt eyes watching her. She spun on the spot, trying to locate the source of her discomfort and seeing no one, ducked into an alleyway. She had hoped to escape the feeling of danger, but in the narrow walkway it only intensified.
The path came to a sudden dead end, that Connie didn't remember being there before. This path should have taken her straight through to Buck's Row. Confused, she spun around trying to figure out how she could have gotten lost in the streets she worked daily. Terror lit her body on fire as she say the path behind her had closed in completely.
Nobody knew she was here, and it looked as though there would be no escape from the crushing walls as they moved silently towards her. Desperate to survive, Constance leapt onto a nearby pile of boxes, a delivery for some shop or other no doubt, and hoisted herself into an open window nearby.
Once she was inside, she hid herself as best she could in the dark room she found herself in. Constance had no idea where she was or if there would be trouble when she was found, but she knew she would never survive the night outside. She realised then as she hid, shaking in the darkness, that there was no killer stalking the streets of Whitechapel.
Whitechapel itself was trying to fix itself. To pull itself out of the slums, and was doing so by removing the immoral, unworthy ladies of the night. The very area she had called home her whole life had turned on her.
The next morning at dawn, Constance crept out of hiding and slipped back out of the window. Looking around, she saw the walkway was back to how it should have been all along. She could see Buck's Row from here and, she could see the slumped form of someone at the foot of the wall to the factory.
Worried, she hurried down to check on them, and on arriving she saw it was the body of another of the ladies she sometimes worked and drank with. Mary-Anne must not have been able to afford her board either last night, and when the streets couldn't get Constance, they had inflicted their rage on poor Mary Anne.
Constance fled and began to tell anyone who would listen that they are wasting their time hunting for a killer. It was the place killing them, the very essence of the district, picking the pox ridden filth off its street corners. She spent the rest of her life in Bedlam, no-one ever believed her story, though they never did identify the man they dubbed Jack the Ripper.
© Copyright 2016 R A B Bradbury. All rights reserved.
Book / Literary Fiction
Short Story / Flash Fiction
Short Story / Flash Fiction
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