He pulled the gloves deliberately over his rough hands. The silk weave groaned slightly in protest, as they had never been worn before and were not used to the stretch and feel. He flexed his fingers slowly, first one digit, then another, then another, then another, then one more. They moved slowly, gradually working their way into their respective places, pushing the fabric further out. The thought crossed his mind briefly; "This is not very comfortable. My other gloves were quite worn in..." And there the thought trailed off and vanished in the air. No point considering those gloves, they were quite useless now. Ashes. For some reason the thought of those gloves -- those fine, well loved gloves -- also made him think of ashes. Perhaps they had found their way into the fire -- his eyes roamed to the cold fireplace. Cold, yes, very cold. I should call for some coal. His hands began to itch. He pulled the new gloves taut, stretched again. There, thatís better. They will grow suppler as I use them. Use them more. A shame about the other gloves, I was so accustomed to them....
He raised his eyes to the mirror, and watched himself flexing and adjusting. A glint caught his eye, and he carefully adjusted his cuff links. Gold, they were. Ornate. Very expensive. The one beautiful possession he had left. The one item he had to remind him of.... something. He looked down at his strong hands. Yes, very strong. Big, too, which is why good gloves are so hard to find. He nodded morosely at this thought. If only the other gloves... What had happened to them? His brow creased, first with thought, then with pain. The memory was there, dancing and flirting with him, coming within his peripheral vision then flitting off again when his mindís eye turned toward it. He shook his head, cleared it, breathed shakily, then went about his toilet.
The overcoat that hung off his bedpost carried a layer of dust, evidence of the condition of the city air. It was heavy, good for the chilly weather that had descended, with nice lining that told a tale of better days, like the cuff links. It now separated at the seam in all the wrong places, and the white fur collar had been sewn back on twice. He was daily picking loose threads that hung down. He gingerly brushed it with his coat bristles, careful lest the dust settle on his nice, new gloves. The particles rose in the air, hanging, indignant that their rest was disturbed, waiting for him to move away so they could settle again. But he removed the overcoat from its place before they could catch it, and so they fell to the ragged carpet instead.
He put the bristles on his dresser, and slipping in his right arm, then his left, donned the overcoat. A red handkerchief poked a corner out of the breast pocket. He pulled it out, shook it once, and wrapped it snugly round his neck. A few buttons fastened, and he was ready. The bag sat ready for him, and he accepted it under his arm.
The spotted glass afforded him a good view of himself, and he did a half turn. The view was god. A well built man, not too old, not too young. Not hanging about the middle, at least not noticeably. An average head of hair, just wavy enough to be attractive, yet still manageable, a combination not afforded many persons. Wide about the shoulders, very square. Good arms, good legs. Good, strong hands within white gloves. No, he wasnít wearing any. Those donít look like... of course. New gloves. Why was this so hard to remember? These are very new. He turned again to his self-observation. The face....
The memory flitted again, crossing his view and blurring his vision. The foggy picture confused him. He had dark hair, not golden. Yet it was a golden head that flitted by. And his skin was showed signs of too many hours in the sun without a hat. Funny, him forgetting to wear a hat on a sunny day, and here it was night and he had it on. Oh, well, thatís a manís mind for you. But all the same, the face that went by his eyes was fair and smooth, not at all like his own. Yet thru the haze he could see his own wizened skin. A gloved hand went to his cheek, where a small stubble stood out. Yes, this was his own face. So from where did this visage come?
Another shake of the head, and fragments of memory scattered into the void. Damnable thing, the mind! He swore to himself. A damnable thing! Cursed be the Maker for giving him such a fragile mind, that breaks when a breath touches it! How fortunate are the animals that act not on thought and reason, and so cannot break, but they act on instinct. Animal instinct. Yes, that was a glorious thing. His blood stirred, his pulse quickened, his eyes closed, and he smiled hungrily. Instinct. It was instinct that called him out tonight. It had called him out before this night. He didnít know why, or to what purpose. But that was the man in him, to ask for reason and rhyme. It was the animal that just accepted the call, the desire. And it was the animal that opened his eyes and headed for the door.
A soft murmur came from the parlor as he passed by from the narrow staircase. The steps usually called out in surprise when stepped on, but tonight he avoided each creaking board. Not by cunning, but by that same instinct. It knew, for some purpose, that the creaks must not be heard. Only a part of him was aware that there was anyone in the parlor. A man and a woman engaged in quiet conversation. A conversation about him, no doubt, the man in him thought bitterly. They were always talking about him, though he wasnít supposed to know. Will he ever move on with his life, can they continue to house him on their little income, is he really their responsibility, heís a grown man, so sad to have to discuss my own brother in this way, but there it is, etc. Never inquiring of him whether he would move away, what it was like to be in his shoes, whether he liked living under their roof in the first place. The indignation became a cloud over his mind, and the instinct took over once again. The conversation continued uninterrupted as the door closed softly behind him, leaving only a trail of fog trying to find warm refuge within the hall.
Once on the street, he breathed deep the thin autumn air, and coughed with the effort. He pulled the collar closer, the fur rubbing his face. It was chilly for November. Or perhaps it was the lateness of the hour. At any rate, he thought once again of his gloves, how warm his hands were, and how much warmer he will be after... What? There was that elusive memory again. A drink. Yes, thatís what you were considering, a nice warm drink. He set off down the street in the direction of a pub he knew well. Knew it from previous trips into this district of the city. The cobblestone streets echoed hollow footsteps, each announcing his presence as he continued down the avenue.
The fog was dissipating, and he found he could see quite well, although the street gas lamps were shrouded by wispy fog. He looked at the bright full moon, and thought to himself, "Sheís so beautiful. I remember her. She was here the last time I walked. Though not as full yet...." The thought trailed off, and he lowered his head, keeping it forward as he walked. Though bright, she washed out the colors that would have been dimly visible. The night had become black and white, like a photograph. You can never tell hair or eye color or complexion from a photograph. Only oneís imagination can fill in the details. Perhaps that is why I didnít recognize her the previous time. Itís an easy error to make, when youíre not standing beneath a gas lamp. Only the pale moon and her ability to wipe out all trace of color in the human features. Iím not to blame. Of course, tonight Iíll be certain to....
The pub loomed on his right. He returned to himself when a man crashed out the door, singing loudly with his chaps, drunken voices pulling him out of his reverie. They stumbled past, tipping their hats and calling, "Gíday to ya!", and went carousing down the way heíd just come. He shook himself and stepped inside, amid noise and confusion, hoping to find sane respite from his jumbled thoughts. Hot laughter and discordant speech blanketed him, and he sank gladly into it. Ale was pressed into his waiting hands. He found a chair, set down his tankard, removed his gloves carefully, and stuffed them in his pocket. No sense ruining these, too. Must keep them clean. The tankard found his hands again, and he welcomed the soothing brew as it cascaded down his throat. He lost himself for several hours. The animal instinct rested, gathering strength. The manís sense observed the masses around him. Every now and then, one hand would finger the gloves in his pocket. His finger would caress the silk, and his subconscious mind would wonder, now where did these come from....
Big Ben struck the hour, and he gathered the pieces of himself back together for the task at hand. Coins fell with a dull sound to the table, beside three drained steins and an empty plate. More gentlemen, like himself, yet so far removed, had poured in since he arrived, and he slithered his way thru the drunken hordes. His blood had begun boiling again, and it was all he could do not to lash out at the bumbling fools that blocked his path. They didnít seem to understand the work he had to do. He knew he wouldnít understand it either. But then, perhaps they werenít yet acquainted with Revenge, the need for Vindication. Yes, that was it. Vindication. That was what drove him out into the cold again. What pulled him down the street and into the shadows. And what burned in his eyes as he waited.
He saw her. Under the street lamp. Talking to another man. Just as she always did, he thought bitterly. Even when we were married, talking and simpering and smiling that cat like smile at all the handsome men she passed. Even when he was with her. He heard a laugh, a drunken laugh. The memory tried desperately to break its way to the surface. But the blanket of hatred was wrapped too tightly round him. The man too far from the surface of the beast. It could only send out whispers... not her laugh at all.... not her laugh.... not her....
But he knew it was her. He thought he had finally allotted revenge on her sweet body before, and had been freed from this demon. Then walking down this alley one night, after another drink, he had seen her again. He punished her one more time, but she came back again. Each time another form, yet he knew it was she. Mocking him. Taunting him. Daring him to finally exorcise her once and for all. Now her she was, setting him up again, this time younger, more supple, like she had been when they had first met. Not very clever, he thought. A ghostly smile appeared on his weathered face. For tonight, you will never come back.
The gentleman moved off, and he moved in. She weaved towards him, not seeing him. Until he took her arm. She looked up, and smiled drunkenly. He laughed within him as she played her hands on him, played her lips on his face. She doesnít know me. The whore is too soused to recognize me. She asked him if he needed something, something only she could give. How perfect. He whispered in her ear, and she laughed. Oh, it was her laughter all right. She tells him he will be comfortable. Yes, after tonight he will be. Youíll be all right, too, my dear. Youíll be at rest. Iíll make sure Iíve searched every inch of you, so that you will be free of the wench thatís possessed you.
They turn down Millerís Court. The room she leads him to is small, and that is all right. Number 13. He grins to himself. Such a lucky number. A fire burns in the grate and she turns away from it to undress. And he is ecstatic. It will be over soon....
He stumbled into bed just after the bell tolled another hour. He was exhausted from his work. He didnít bother to undress. A disturbing thought plagued him: where have I been? He remembered leaving the house, the drinks, the gloves.... yet what else? As he slept, a dream came to him. A pale, blond face, full of drink and too full of what life had dealt, upturned towards him. Eyes drunk, inviting him towards the bed. They grow sober as he lifts his knife. She cries out once before dying, but he is not afraid. He knows no one will come. She knows it too. And soon, he has searched every part of her, and the demon is loosed.
His cries reached their ears, and they sat up together.
"Luv, wot is that?" she asked fearfully.
"Donít know, but ah bettah check." He slipped out of bed, into his slippers, and out into the hall. She remained in bed, clutching the blankets, hoping to be protected. Such an awful, fearful sound. Like a caged animal, she thought.
He ran down the narrow hall and burst into the room. The man thrashed about in his sleep, trying to fight something invisible off his person. His brother fumbled for a rush, and lit a lamp that sat on the bedside table. "Wake up! Díya hear me? Wake up!" He shook him and shook him, until white eyes stared up at him. The breathing was shaky, sweat poured down his face. His eyes darted all around. "Where -- where?"
His brother smoothed his arm, trying to calm his own breathing. "Síall right, now, you were Ďaving a bad dream. Blimey, but ya give the wife aní me a scare, ya did!" His voice died away. The man lay on his back, trying to calm himself, and he saw the gloves in the overcoat pocket. They were no longer white. He pulled one out, and stared. Red. Warm and red. Almost pulsing with the life that had been drained out. He looked down at the man with familiar pain. Not again. Dear God, not another one! But the spotted collar mocked him, saying oh yes, again. And this time sheís gone for good.
He rose slowly. He went over to the mantle to light a fire, but the coal bin was empty. He started downstairs to fetch some more. The man sat up abruptly. "No! Donít leave me!"
He looked at his brother with pity. He doesnít remember, he thought. Just like the last few times. He doesnít know what heís done. The man looked at the glove in his brotherĎs hand. When he raised his eyes again they were sad. "Yer not goiní to burn those, are ya?" He sighed. "I was jest likiní Ďem, too."
His shoulders slumped. His eyes welled. Dear God, let this be the last time.
He said aloud, "Síall right, Iím jest gettin coal for fire. Ye lay down. Iíll look afta ye." The man lay back down again, and the other watched him for a moment before shutting the door. He stood on the landing, staring at the glove in his hand. His wife was still in bed and he hoped she stayed there. No need for her to know. HeĎll hid this from her like he hid the others. From her and from the world. From his brother.
He walked slowly down the stairs. They groaned in protest, but he didnít heed their cries. He lit a candle on the foyer table and entered the parlor. A fire crackled within a few minutes. He stared into it. Then tossed the glove in. Angry, hungry tongues licked and caressed it, and it slowly turned black. He thought about the coming morning, the coming days. The headlines burned in his mind, though he hadnít seen them yet. But he had. Three times before. The Ripper Has Struck Again. Or some such language. Heíd succeeded in keeping the details from his brother; he stayed in most days anyway. He wearily began to plan his next step. It would have to be a careful one.
And he just prayed this would be the last time.