Tarot card, The Lovers:
Gemini – the twins,
Choice and temptation,
Union of the Head and Heart.
Fingers of listless fog creep through the dark and grime. The London air is heavy, gloomy, fetid and alive. Refined gentlemen take the streets, undaunted by the shadows and smoke from gaslights lining their murky avenues. Soggy newspapers, warning of ghastly murders in East-End, are disintegrating in the gutters. Men of rugged countenance need not fear what lurks in the dark.
A woman stands at the street corner; her tattered, faded red dress breaking through the desolate fog. ‘You look lonely, sir,’ she calls, angling herself for the moonlight to catch her generous bosom. ‘Would you like some company?’
Without question, you take her by the arm, and lead her through the narrow alleyway. Her corporation, her willingness, makes your endeavour all the more easy. When you trust you are far enough from anyone to hear or witness your depravity, you push her up to the gritty brick wall.
‘Oh, right here, sir?’ she simpers. ‘My, you are keen.’
Her red lips stain the fly of your trousers. Her breath is hot, her flesh soft and warm. She feels like satin basking in sunshine.
The whore is too consumed with her wanton ways to notice you reach into your pocket. Your fingers grip the steely handle of your razor. Before she has time to falter with fright, you drive the blade through her jugular. Crimson blood pours out from her white neck, splattering her dress, and pooling with the sewage at your feet.
She collapses, sobbing, trying to scream but only managing a gurgling wail. You clamp your hand over her mouth, lest anyone hears, and plunge the blade in through her corset. The taut fabric, flesh and bone resist your strength – so you try again, harder, until your hands are slippery with blood, your wrist aches, and your body is pulsating with anticipation. The thickening fog creeps in, swallowing everything but her strangled cry.
At the bottom of the garden, there is a small building. You used to enjoy it here: grew wondrous plants for botany, dabbled with chemicals in your chemistry set, explored uncharted territory with cadavers. The world of science was broad, new and exhilaratingly at your fingertips. But disease has drained the life away. Stains tarnish the floorboards, plants wither and rot, cobwebs infect every crevice.
The windowless room is dark and poorly ventilated; the air damp and rank with mildew and gunpowder. You are suffocating down here – whether from the dark and must, the confining walls, or oppressive weight of your own flesh is impossible to determine.
You work feverishly into the night until your concoction is complete. The small vial shines like a leaden ruby in your hand. You hold the bottle to your lips, and appreciate the tantalising aroma: the top note is sweet and enticing, a rather volatile head; the heart is metallic, from haemoglobin and the mechanics of your unhallowed arts; the base note is entirely otherworldly – roses and copper, danger and freedom.
Unable to quell your compulsion, you drink the potion down. The elixir sears on its way down, blistering you from the inside out. Over time, every drink causes more and more irrevocable damage. There is no remedy to heal your internal defacement.
Your knees buckle, and the skin on your bones warp before your eyes. Your hard, lean frame softens, your skin whitens to a pure cream complexion. Your tailored clothes now hang from your delicate body like cumbersome curtains.
You shed the bulky layers of clothes, a liberating shiver tingling your skin. Before you is a mirror, the pane cracked and coated in a film of grime. You can only just make out the details of your immaculate form: hour-glass figure, breasts shaped like raindrops against a window, long hair made to be styled and complimented, full lips that are in desperate need for colour.
A smile breaks the seams on your face, and you turn on your heel. The floor boards creak as you sidestep the litter of packing straw and broken glass. You push the laboratory door open and walk out into the murky, premature dawn.
The room glows amber from the crackling hearth. The air merry with light, brandy and music. Your dress shows a daring amount of décolletage, baring your elegant swanlike neck. Governesses flock to pamper you; gentlemen flatter and lust over you; young girls secretly desire to be you.
One glass too many, your head is lighter than a cloud. Around you, the room quickens into a beautiful blur of colour, music and light. Ladies’ skirts whisk and melt into the violets and burgundies of their bejewelled bodies. Laughter booms between yours ears with powerful resonance. The glittering chandelier above casts golden prisms stars around the room. You join the swirling, dancing throng, and are floating with the most beguiling man you have ever laid eyes on. Your fingers tease the white petals on his lapel. He is enchanted by you, you know he is.
‘You look lonely, sir,’ you whisper into his ear, a coy grin twisting your red lips. ‘Would you like some company?’
Your lips graze the rough skin below his jaw line. Your gloves are stained with the sickly residue from his rose. He is swept up with your earnest intoxication, and leads you from the party.
Satin gown abandoned on the floor, your exposed skin is pulsating. The candlelight flickers across your bare shoulders. Waves of Zen roll in and crash over you. His mouth is hot, and tastes of ginger; the slightest yearning moan escapes his lips. You can feel his aether being sucked through your ruby lips, empowering you with infallible energy. Mad, passionate and extraordinary. Infinite. Brighter than the sun, you’re burning all in your path and conquering men.
Suddenly, a fist of ice punches you in the gut. It grabs hold of your insides, and twists relentlessly. You double over, gasping, sweating, but not from pleasure.
‘Are you alright, Miss?’ the dishevelled fool asks. ‘You have a sickly pallor, my lady. Perhaps you should take a moment to catch your breath.’
At first you comply, silently begging for your brain to stop teetering on its axis. Breathing is an arduous task. This corset is bound too tight, and every shallow gulp of air feels like a nauseating wallop to your core. Your porcelain skin beings to bubble like hot wax. There is an infestation of cockroaches scuttling through your veins.
No, not now. You’re not ready. You haven’t yet appreciated every fiber of this existence.
But your body is a relentless devil. It twists and aches, screams and laughs at your peril. You must take flight, before your misfortunate affliction is discovered. Staggering with the grace of a drunkard, you flee the boudoir.
Your body erupts with agony as the skin and bones stretch and deform. Desperately you tear and rip away the confining fabric. The high-pitched scream explodes from your lungs, piercing the night. In an instant, you are incapacitated. A hapless mess in London’s desolate streets.
Smog veils the night sky, masking the moon and all her beauty. The city is rife with pollution and smut. Men leave houses of ill repute, impoverished whores at their arm. There is no mistaking that post-euphoric gleam in their eyes, or lilt in their laughter. You wait in the shadows, tensely patient, desperately thirsty.
Curse whatever God thought it amusing to torture you with this condemnatory desire. It is a page from the devil’s book. Everywhere, whores and brothels, men free to explore their immoral impulses – all of them, taunting and tormenting. The injustice, the restraint and constant fear of persecution have you internally screaming at the unjust Heavens.
An inebriated fille de joie stumbles by you. She catches herself before falling, and laughs sharply to herself. How divine it would be, you muse, to ride that constant wave of feminine prowess and bliss. To render a man weak at the knees with a simple flutter of your lashes.
You help her to her feet, deceptively chivalrous. She is lulled into a false sense of security – at most, all she expects from you is to harmlessly tickle your fancy and be done for the night.
Buttons unfasten. Her breath turns the ice on your skin to steam. Lightening raptures through your body as your hand finds the pocketed blade. An unsteady laugh, made of overwhelming suspense and excitement, escapes your lips. She notices the odd sounds, and looks up just in time for you to gouge the side of her pretty little face.
She screams – oh, how she screams. She throws herself away, and you almost lose her. A scramble ensues, forcing you to tackle her to the muddy cobblestone. She howls and begs for mercy; but your cause is far too great to yield.
The precious blood spills between your fingers. Your hands are trembling as you desperately collect her life essence into the small, glass vial. Your body shudders with a mercurial breath.
The clouds in her lifeless eyes take the shape of every man she’s ever bedded and pleased. Out of gratitude, you kiss her still warm lips. She has helped you ensure another night of freedom.