WHITE GULL by Richard Godwin

*Reader’s discretion advised! – This tale of caddish skullduggery and murder contains scenes of a particularly violent nature. A strong stomach shall be necessary. You have been warned – your beloved Editor*

I have written this journal for posterity and with the strict intention of disclosing to future historians the identity of the man who became known as Jack the Ripper. The common press, both fallible and corrupt, painted a picture that I will not let remain the final word on the identity of the killer. And while what I am writing here is both a confessional and a narrative account of sorts, it is ultimately a challenge to those who believe they can determine events whose nature lies outside their sphere of experience.

I am meticulous, even in my manner of dress. I am poisoned from inside, and bleed disease and plague, since you needed me there among your sexual ruins.

*

August 1st 1873.

I used the terms ‘a peculiar form of disease occurring mostly in young women’ in my address to the British Medical Association at Oxford. I discovered the anorexia nervosa and it discovered me. For this is about the body and control of the body and I offer you now a precise archaeology of me and my mind. Read on and observe how a man may be split. I inhabit two realms and even now may invade your mind like a virus, replicating myself within your thoughts. We all lead double lives. The difference between me and you is that you dwell within your thoughts alone, inert, a static recipient of other things. And it is those other things I turn to now as I will tell you the story of how the events in White Chapel, that place of whores and excrement, came about, and why.

Standing before the Medical Association I was aware of a sense of arousal in myself as I recounted my observations. The day I made the discovery it was heightened. I was examining a young woman my the name of Daphne Bleacher, an emaciated and attractive twenty-two year old, who would have been a beauty had she not starved herself of nourishment. She had pale blue eyes and a delicate disposition and a fine clear skin that would appeal to most men.

Yet she was ill, gravely ill, and her appeal was lost by her need to deny her body. It is all about the control of the body, medicine, and murder. As I examined her, and I looked at her wan breasts, like two wrinkles upon her chest, I felt the overwhelming urge to penetrate her with my scalpel. This young woman needed to be shown where such habits may lead.

I asked her to remove her underthings and watched as she slipped out of them and got back on the examining couch. She had a mons veneris that reminded me of a peach. And I decided to show her what would happen to her if she carried on. As a scientist I trace the aetiology, I study the causes of disease, and I am doing so here in this scientific confessional. I am showing you where my own particular disease was born, there, watching a naked woman on my couch look up at me with an innocence that made me want to kill her.

I touched her, lightly at first, then more firmly, searching her eyes for arousal, but all I saw was fear. She knew what I was doing was wrong but she dared not speak to me.

‘Daphne do you know where your habit of not eating will lead to?’ I said.

‘I imagine to illness.’

‘It will lead to the loss of pleasure. That is why I am doing this, I have no feelings for you, understand, I am engaging you will bodily pleasure.’

‘But should you be touching me in such an intimate manner doctor?’

‘I am performing a thorough examination of your body. Are you a virgin?’

‘No.’

She was becoming aroused now and I wanted to do it there in my office. I glanced at the scalpel next to me, the light overhead caught its surface and it was blinding, urging me to do it. For while I lied to her as I explored her body, I wanted to desecrate her skin with medical implements. I wanted to violate her.

‘You need to enjoy food when you eat it,’ I said.

‘I am worried I will get fat.’

‘The picture you carry in your head of how you look is distorted. You can’t judge things accurately, you are not judging what is happening now with any degree of accuracy.’

‘What do you recommend I do, doctor?’ she said, looking up at me with those pale blue eyes.

‘Tell me how what I am doing feels to you.’

‘I do not dare.’

I picked up the scalpel. I was a hair’s breadth from doing it there, entering her with the metal when my reason stopped me. Not here, not in my office it counselled me. It is worse than my irrational urges, it corrupts and guards me at the same time, like a sick and poisonous lawyer always at my side telling me how to get away with things.

I put the scalpel down. I removed my hand and watched her flush with embarrassment. I handed Daphne her clothes. As she dressed it came to me where I would take the need I had discovered in myself that rainy afternoon. I would corrupt the bodies of the unwanted, of women who had no importance whatsoever.

‘I advise you to eat and have sex Daphne,’ I said.

‘I will try but my body seems to reject food.’

Then she was gone, taking her embarrassment with her. I thought about what had just occurred. I had been on the brink of killing the young woman. The thought gave me intense satisfaction and also frustration since I had not done it. And I wondered why this had occurred.

It was that night I realised it, as I lay and listed to the wind howl. Until that day I had successfully repressed my urge to take control of my patients’ bodies. I diagnose, I heal. I also want to violate and own them to the point of death. For you see death is better than intercourse and stronger. I am a deity of sorts, fighting it, but it made its demand on me that afternoon feeling her skeleton beneath her uncorrupted skin.

As a surgeon I have to force the body to its remedy, I have to ensure that disease is eliminated. I realised that there were many diseases on the streets of London, sicknesses of a moral kind that needed to be excised. If I were to do it I would simply be extending my services as a surgeon to another field. That was all, I told myself as I rolled over and dreamed of blood.

It was as I sprinkled arsenic on my breakfast of kidneys the next morning that it occurred to me that much of my career was a preparation for what was about to occur. My support for women in medicine, my record of excellence, were a perfect cover. It was as if I had built a façade to hide my true intent. I looked at myself in the mirror in the hall before leaving and it seemed to me there was another man living silently beneath my watchful eyes.

*

August 2nd 1873.

He needed voice and I was about to give it to him, or perhaps he spoke through me, and I existed as a channel for something not yet defined. A dark birth was occurring within the womb of my mind, I felt it scratching at my brain with claws as I walked to my office thinking of all the bodies I had cut in my career.

The sound of tearing flesh troubled me all day, it assumed a maddening pitch in my head as I conversed with colleagues about our latest discoveries in the field of medicine. And all the while it occurred to me I needed to cut away the sexual corruption on the streets of London. As a doctor I am commissioned to remove disease. There are other things I did during those interim years of listening to him prattle to me of the things I needed to do. I fought for my respectability and moral ground, I drank at times, at others did things, private things wherein I contemplated acts of violence to my own body.

*

August 30th 1888.

I fought it for fifteen years, that dark knowledge that dwelt inside me like a tumour. I struggled for my sense of self, reminding myself in repeated lectures before the tarnished mirror of my bathroom that I was a surgeon, a man destined to save lives. But in the end his conviction won me over and I realised it was my own voice I was hearing in my head.

Its logic was overwhelming. My every effort to bring reason to bear on it ended with my conclusion that it was I who was illogical, that what I was hearing was the necessary course of action. And so I took it one dark night when the London sky was bloodshot. I went out with my knife to find their flesh.

*

August 31st 1888.

What I was committing was moral surgery. To cut away the things that corrupt the body politic and preserve it from the whores.

They speak of the canonical five, but there were more, many more, an unnumbered amount of women I released from their disease. Except these fell within a different jurisdiction, that of my medical practice, for I did eventually succumb to cutting my patients and disguised it as surgery. But I am writing now of what occurred in Whitechapel.

I trod the pavements like a spectre, hiding in the shadows seeking my first patient out. It was long after midnight when I came across Mary Ann Nichols. She was drunk when I saw her stumbling across the road near Buck’s Row. She looked at me and raised the hem of her filthy skirt, offering her soiled flesh to me and I advanced upon her like a wraith. I was about to raise her skirt higher than she did. I was about to raise her blood to the surface of her sick skin.

I hauled her to the gated stable entrance and clamped my hand around her throat until she choked. Then I slashed her neck. It was a simple and classic cut, left to right, and severed her artery, releasing a shower of blood that left me with a sense of sexual arousal for hours. My knife was eight inches long and I cut open her stomach there beneath a sullen sky in the early morning air that smelt of acid and poison.

She fell to the ground and I raised her skirt, her genitals were monstrous, you see, a mutilation of the feminine. They had no place there among humankind. All flesh is different. There is the flesh of the decayed, those I operated on in a lawless place, and the flesh of the  pure, my good patients to whom I tended and whom I remedied.

I returned to my house and slept. All night long I was troubled by the image of her disordered sex. I rose the next day and thought of my act the night before. It was clear to me I had done the necessary thing. These women had to be removed to cleanse London. I had to redeem the city from their pollution.

I speak of a lawless place. It was evident to me that first morning that I was beyond apprehension, that despite how they tried, the police would never catch me, or even know my true identity. I knew I was acting beyond history, and that only I could disclose the identity of the man they called Jack the Ripper.

I will stuff this journal below the floorboards of my house when I am finished with it and see what alert historian stumbles onto its pages. Or I will stuff its pages into the mouth of a whore. I will make her eat the truth of what I am. I dwell within the bones of London, your piece of necessary folklore.

*

September 1st 1888.

The next morning I received an unexpected visit from an old patient. I barely recognised Daphne Bleacher as she strode into my office, a buxom and attractive woman. I will recount what she said to me. It has great significance in the history of his case and the reasons I killed the whores.

‘Doctor you have cured me,’ she said.

‘I remember you on my couch and what I advised.’

‘I took your advice. I have had many partners now and am able to eat well.’

‘So you used sex to regain the sense of pleasure.’

‘Yes, I have led a life that may have caused me to fall under moral opprobrium.’

‘Yet you no longer starve yourself.’

‘That is right doctor.’

‘I remember touching you on my couch.’

‘I was aroused and it helped me, do you think I am a whore?’

‘No, I do not think you are a whore.’

And so she left my office and left me to my conviction of what I needed to do. These were the days of my surgery.

*

September 7th 1888.

I had my imitators, that I know, small men with little minds tired of their wives or daughters. We inhabit a society as sick as a patient in need of amputation. Would the women I killed be missed? The answer is evident upon close analysis and everything I did was the result of close analysis.

*

September 8th 1888.

I found her by the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street, my second whore. I was wearing my deer-stalker hat and my knife was hidden by the long overcoat I had on. She was looking for trade, evidently in need of money and I relished the desperation in her tired eyes. You see she was already dead, living a life like that, I was simply confirming the case, knife in hand, an experienced surgeon on the scene. I took her into the back yard on the pretence of sexual intercourse, instead I slashed her throat.

She didn’t see it coming. I whipped the knife from my coat and hacked in deeply. Her flesh gave way like melting wax as she spurted blood, and I realised then in that moment on that black night just what it was I saw of Eros there in the frenetic comedy of the final moments of these soiled prostitutes. These women were ejaculating, it was their menses I had summoned from their throats. I cut open her stomach.

I need anatomical proof of what I was seeing. She had no ovaries, she was missing the vital parts that constitute a woman, I was killing a pollutant on our streets. I took away her uterus for closer examination leaving her with her lolling tongue pointing uselessly at the indifferent sky, like a clitoris in her face.

At my office I examined it. It was not flesh, I tell you, it was made of something else, but not the flesh of woman. I had my second career, that of excisor of the disease. I knew I needed to work fast and accurately to ensure the cessation of the spread of the disease. And so I worked the night shift.

*

September 29th 1888.

I recalled the many times when cutting a patient I would have the urge to slash them and mutilate them. I had successfully repressed this urge for many years and now it seemed to me it had found its natural outlet in the removal of these women. I have theorised that my role as surgeon had removed something in me, I questioned the role I had adopted at night, but logic and morality dictated to me then and I knew what while what I did may seem to some beyond the pale I was saving you all from something far worse. You needed me, you see, the man they wrongly called Jack the Ripper. You ought to have called me the White Gull, for I am not black but I inhabit a realm of moral purity beyond your cognizance. And I am no dupe, my earnest reader.

For I take it that it is your moral seriousness that has brought you to read thus far into my narrative of scientific events. Of course that and nothing else would do so.

To understand the nature of what I did you have to comprehend the moral corruption I was fighting. It was a surgery of the streets. I had taken my operating theatre to the pavements of London to offer the city a remedy. You had all fallen below a sexual mark that threatened civilisation.

With my knife I removed it and gave the police a job to do, as I watched them arrest all the wrong people. They didn’t understand what was occurring in their territory.

*

September 30th 1888.

I sharpened my knife obsessively. Each day I would rise and take it to a small room at the back of my house where I would ensure it had the edge of a razor. It was a satisfying job, preparing for my nightshift. My wife didn’t suspect a thing. I was a man whose reputation acted as a shield against all forms of suspicion. I covered my tracks well.

I ensured the cutting I performed was rough enough to remove any idea that the man committing the acts was a medical professional. I knew where to strike and how, to both ensure I was effective and remained at large. For while they hunted me I was at liberty to continue with the deeds of which I now write. I went in search of the next one. I travelled the dark streets with my knife and medical knowledge.

I sought her out, it was my knife that needed her flesh, needed its excisions to hiss from her skin in the night air. And I found her.

Elizabeth Stride in a black jacket and skirt, a posy of a red rose in a spray of maidenhair fern. I hated her in her black crepe bonnet, this posture of decency cloaking sin. For it was sin I was there to remove. I needed to redeem the feminine against the tide of filth and lust. She looked at me with the knowing eyes of one who profits from desire but she did not know what I was or what I was about to do to her.

I had plans for her, dismemberment beyond the kind I had practised on the others. She began to talk to me and I slashed her throat, quickly. She pressed her fingers to the spray of blood as I was about to cut her stomach. I wanted to relieve her of her innards and hang them on the wall, but I was disturbed that night by a pony and cart. It rattled into the yard in Berner Street. The driver did not see me, and I fled the scene unable to perform the rest of the surgery.

I couldn’t leave it there unfinished, it would have been impossible to return home and so I sought another one that night. Catherine Eddowes was in Mitre Square when I saw her. She began talking, offering her services and I hacked at her neck and mouth. I wanted to remove her mouth, since a woman of her kind should not be allowed to speak to men of moral substance.

And I mutilated her. It was the necessary act. I removed her clothes and cut her open and then I placed her intestines over her right shoulder. I placed a piece between her body and left arm. I cut the lobe and auricle of the right ear. Then I placed a bruise the size of a sixpence on the back of her left hand with my gloved thumb between her thumb and first finger. I almost laughed at the game I was playing with the police, tricking them, giving them the sense of design when the only design was the removal of these whores.

I left her there, soiled, ruined, alone and with her face to the empty sky. I returned to my house and to my bed.

You see I made it look like the work of a butcher, no surgeon would have made the cuts I did. And therein lay the genius of what I did, I disguised it all utterly from their minds. The police of course erroneously concluded the murders were the act of a man with no scientific knowledge. I was pleased with their conclusion, the mindless fools.

But as I lay down to sleep I thought of all the other things I wanted to do to their bodies. And the aborted operation irked me.

The frustration was appalling, I writhed on my bed and stirred my wife. She touched me in the dark, demanding sex with idle hands that clutched at my night clothes. And as I entered her and looked at her face below me, her mouth open as she gasped, I saw the faces of the whores and had to turn away and shudder with my back to her after I had spent myself and my desire inside her body. The room smelled of decay and I dreamed all night of chasing spectres along deserted London streets. I awoke to the sound of laughter.

*

September 31st 1888.

It was over breakfast after I washed the night way that it occurred to me. I was eating my second serving of kidneys and sprinkled some arsenic liberally on it and I looked at my wife. She was a moral woman, a good wife, and am embodiment of all the female virtues. But I could see how any woman would become corrupted if the whores continued to exist. They occupied the hem of their minds like a moral contagion. Once I had killed them there would be no need to be concerned about any woman in London. But I need to operate deeper on their bodies. I needed to remove the disease. You see, I was protecting women.

I sank my teeth into the kidneys and felt the meat nourish my mind. I prepared the next operation in my study, knowing now what it was I needed to remove.

As my wife cleared the table I watched her. I studied her movements and drew distinctions between the way a moral woman moved and the way a whore did.

My wife must have seen me watching her for she stopped and turned, looked at me, and set down the plate she was holding. She inspected her dress.

‘I thought I must have spilled something,’ she said.

‘Not at all my dear.’

‘Then why are you spying on me? Is there something amiss?’

‘Spying on you, no, is it wrong for a husband to look at his wife?’

‘Well it depend how he looks.’

‘Was there something wrong in the manner in which I was looking at you?’

‘It didn’t look like you.’

‘Now what does that mean?’

‘For a moment I thought another man was in the room.’

‘Another man?’

‘You are always so preoccupied, it is rare for you to pay me such attention.’

‘Preoccupied?’

‘With work.’

‘I see.’

‘It was the manner in which you were looking at me that disturbed me.’

‘And what manner was that?’

‘I’ve been looked at like that before by men in the street.’

‘Men in the street?’

‘Common men with foul thoughts.’

‘My dear I have no such thoughts.’

‘I know, your head is full of science and such matters.’

‘I was simply thinking what a virtuous woman you are.’

‘I see, if that is all then I shall finish clearing the table.’

‘That’s all it is.’

I watched as Susan left the room. I listened to her clatter crockery in the parlour. Then I went to my office and studied my range of scalpels, all the blades sharp and clean, and thought of all the operations I had performed with them. By noon my desire to commit another operation outside the surgery was ravenous inside me.

*

November 9th 1888.

I do not know what it was about their throats that drew me so to the initial severing of their flesh there. Perhaps it was their voices, their common hoarse whispers offering sex, emanating from sexual sewage that was so offensive to my ear that I wanted to hack it from them. Perhaps it was the fact that the flesh of it was bare and I did not want to see the rest of them unless it was the butchered parts I left for the police to pore over in their endless fascination with irrelevant details. Nevertheless it was the image of their throats naked and alive that drew me back there that night when I performed the final surgery.

I’d tried fighting it. The conversation with Susan had unnerved me. I sensed perhaps she detected a change in me. I threw myself into work and the evaluation of the body of moral woman against the body of the whores. I made detailed notes and kept these locked beneath the sesame floorboards where I will soon deposit this journal. But each time I examined a female patient and looked at their naked forms I was tempted to cut them with my scalpel. I wanted to penetrate them in numerous ways and they seemed to be coaxing me to do it, looking up at me with smiles and coy eyes that told me all I needed to know about their sexual desires and how close the general population was to catching the contagion that was spreading like a pandemic.

I knew what I needed to do to stop it. And so that night I left my house and travelled to Dorset Street in Spitalfields. I’d seen Mary Jane Kelly before, noted her whereabouts and habits and made my way there to the place where she offered her body to customers. She let me into her room and began undressing. I pulled my knife and cut her throat so fast she did not register what had occurred until she saw the blood. Then I performed the surgery on her flesh.

It was the only way to stop the disease. I had to find the core of it there in the flesh of the whore.

I placed her on the bed and removed the surface of her abdomen and thighs. I emptied her abdominal cavity of its viscera. I cut off her breasts, mutilated her arms with jagged wounds and hacked her face beyond recognition. I severed the tissues of her neck to the bone. I found the disease lurking there amid her body. I removed it and she ate it. I will not describe it to you, I do not wish to offend your sensibilities. As a man of medicine it was a simple routine operation.

I placed her uterus and kidney and one breast under her head to make it known the disease was over. I placed her other breast by her right foot and her liver between her feet. I put her intestines to the right side and her spleen to the left of her body. I put the flaps from her abdomen and thighs on a table.

I left her then and returned home where I slept until dawn. I awoke well rested and ate a hearty breakfast and enjoyed my arsenic. It was as I was pouring it on my food that I momentarily wondered if perhaps it was not a good ingredient for my meals. But I have always enjoyed the taste of arsenic and plan to continue using it. Why not add a little flavour to our meals?

I went to my office where I examined several female patients who were all pure. I had lunch with colleagues and concluded I had cured London of a severe sexual disease.

And so I ended my nocturnal forays into the world of whores and their soiled flesh. I continued to work as a surgeon and made numerous discoveries.

My operations on the street gave me great insights into the workings of disease generally. The police continued to hunt for the man who had saved London, looking in all the wrong places. It became a daily comedy to me reading their latest attempts in the newspaper, and I had to hide my laughter from my wife. Sometimes she’d look at me across the table with a question in her eyes. But she’d never suspect me, not for a moment.

*

November 10th 1888.

An eminent surgeon is beyond suspicion. I am Sir William Gull, and I have treated the Queen of England. She is morally pure, as you would expect. I have seen many bodies and know instantly what kind they are and how to treat them. And that is why I knew what I had to do on those night trips into London. If the disease returns I may have to perform more surgery on the streets.

If you have found this journal then you have become the historian of a pathology. I am going to the operating theatre.

*

Richard Godwin is the author of critically acclaimed novels Apostle Rising, Mr. Glamour, One Lost Summer, Noir City, Meaningful Conversations, Confessions Of A Hit Man, and Paranoia And The Destiny Programme.

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2 thoughts on “WHITE GULL by Richard Godwin”

  1. A deathless topic loaded with mystique, the three-month killing spree so many criminal minds wanted on their resumes. Very clever and all the more sinister, this freshly chilled steel version channeled through the mind of the Dark Lord : )

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