A Humming Night
Kristan Melo | Hong Rui Choo
The city had not gone to sleep, as there are very few cities left in the world that still sleep and those that do aren’t frequented. Nevertheless, the city was as near to sleep as it ever would be, and thus our story begins. The sky, beyond the thick layer of smog and the even thicker layer of fog and a slightly less thick but nonetheless significant layer of cloud from which rain plummeted, was black with a plethora of stars in various arrangements. Some said they could see a spoon, a bear, or even a warrior in these stars, but truly there were no utensils or animals or people of any occupation in the sky. People just liked to add meaning to the random scatterings, so we let them name the stars’ shapes and enjoy the constellations when they can see them, which isn’t often for our city dwellers.
This city, from which tonight the inhabitants could not even see the moon, is none other than London. It is to a particular alley in the Whitechapel district that you should draw your attention. Whitechapel was known by most Londoners to be distinguishably impoverished, so the good citizens hardly dabbled there by daylight. They waited for nights like this one. Very few people would be out on such a damp and miserable evening, and the truly good people would be at home resting before the workweek began once again. But this story is not about the good people, so we will leave them to their fireplaces and sitting rooms and go back to our alley.
This alleyway was rather small, hardly room enough for three people across, and it was often overlooked by passersby. The streets were cobbled, as were nearly all the streets in this part of London, and the buildings on either side were windowless, so it created a wall of stone. Walking down this alley was a girl of 20, with a dull pink petticoat and a corset revealing more bosom than was proper. She had dirty blonde hair pulled up around her face and a thick layer of makeup hiding any natural beauty she might have had (and she did have natural beauty—clear blue eyes like crystal, a strong yet feminine brow, skin as smooth as water, and lips full and plump). She had not had a hard life or any sob story to speak of. She just found that the best way for a woman of her station to make money was not by working long hours in a factory, barely scrounging money enough to buy a loaf of bread. She had learned when she was 16 and her lack of connection and fortune resulted in a lack of marriage propositions, that she was perhaps too remarkably handsome for marriage and would do better to create a business of her body. She was not ashamed of her occupation, though she found that those whose working hours were during the day did not particularly enjoy her presence, and that quite often when she walked the streets during daylight, she would receive narrowed eyes and glares from wives who would clutch onto their husbands’ arms and steer them in a different direction. Clarisse did not mind these encounters. She would smirk at those women, for most of their husbands would come back during the night—they found Clarisse’s fully curved figure much more appealing than the shapeless lumps of their wives.
So it was after a night of work that Clarisse was walking down the nameless alley in Whitecapel to her one room flat. She was humming to herself for she had made a pretty penny that night, four men only but a hefty price they paid. Little did she know that her wordless tune was the very thing for which her murderer was listening. He had spent countless nights in this alley, waiting for her to return from the night’s callers. He knew that when the vibration of her voice reverberated off the stone walls, she had done well for herself. He knew this because the following day he would watch as she treated herself to a new hat, or an extravagant dinner, or an uncharacteristic act of charity to the nearest beggar. It was on the humming nights that he was most enraged, for who was she to rejoice in the throes of betrayal? He used to see her purely, beautifully, innocently. Once, he had even worked up the courage to approach her. He had put on his best top hat and waistcoat (which, admittedly, were rather raggedy). He could not afford a vest, but he put on his cleanest low-colored shirt and a pair of gray trousers. He had intended to tell her that she was the most marvelous woman he had ever had the pleasure of encountering, that she inspired him day and night, that he absorbed her beauty into his soul and knew that he would make her the happiest woman in the world if only she would let him try. But when he reached her, he had stumbled over his words until he was red in the face and incapable of saying anything. And she had looked him up and down, her eyes resting on the stains in his waistcoat and the tears in his hat, and she had said, “You can’ affor’ me. Bugger off.”
And he took these words into his heart and watched her night after night as she turned for man after man, sometimes more than one at once, and every time it stabbed his heart to see her unfaithful, to see her lying with someone else. She was <i>his</i>. And each time he heard her hum, he grew angrier and angrier until finally he decided that he would put her in her place. That she would never be unfaithful again. He would show her the meaning of loyalty. So on this night, he held in his hand a knife as long as a butcher’s and he vowed to himself that the next time he heard her hum, he would end the song in her throat, and he would cut out her beautiful eyes and chop off her beautiful hair and slash her beautiful parts until all that was left was a body of bloody flesh. In this way, he knew, no man would ever want her again.