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Creative Nonfiction

Creative Nonfiction Issue #55

Memorabilia

When I moved from Italy to East London in 2015, I spent the first months walking around Spitalfields and Aldgate, trying to imagine what they looked like at the end of the eighteen-hundreds, the times of Jack the Ripper. I wasn’t trying to be one of those amateur “Ripperologists” who claim to have ground-breaking theories about who the guy was (Jack the Ripper: Case Closed!). I didn’t care about Jack the Ripper as a man. The British press had done all the fascinating work for me: Victorian journalists had speculated about him extensively, depicting him as a cloaked figure with a top hat and a shiny knife, roaming the smoky alleys of the East End on rainy nights and looking for prostitutes to murder. And just imagine Victorian London, the fog so thick that it had a greenish quality, a slimy consistence; imagine the muddy water of the Thames gurgling like lava, and the piles of fresh horseshit on the pavement smoking like geysers.

I was more interested in this geography than Jack the Ripper himself, but I get why people are still intrigued by the mystery. Serial killers are fascinating, and sex and murder always sell. Still, when I moved into my East London apartment, I wanted to walk those streets with the ironbound belief that Jack the Ripper was just a piece of shit and didn’t deserve so much attention.

One day, as I walked around Whitechapel, I bumped into a bloke wearing a black cloak and a top hat and guiding a big group of American tourists. In his strong accent, he was telling his followers some gruesome details of Jack the Ripper’s story right next to people who were striding to work, hopping on buses, sipping takeaway coffees. Right next to me.

That night, I Googled “Jack the Ripper Tour Whitechapel.” Turned out, Londoners had been milking the mystery for years. There were endless Jack the Ripper tour companies: I didn’t need to use my imagination to know what the neighborhood looked like at the time. I could just go on one of the tours. Tourists of all nationalities would promenade and enjoy the buzz of the City, while Jack the Ripper tour guides talked about the murders of these women in plain sight, showing the places where they happened.

On the Internet, you can find endless lists of houses where people died, were murdered, or committed suicide. When particularly heinous crimes happen in an apartment or a house, their real estate value usually drops. Instead, since the Jack the Ripper murders, the monetary value of the East End – once one of the poorest areas of London – has never stopped increasing.

*

In 2017, I moved to Oklahoma after living in London for almost two years. Tired of the big city, I was ready for a small town in the middle of nowhere. I liked how bartenders would remember my drink and pour it as soon as I walked into the bar, how random people would smile at me in the street if we made eye contact. I could smile back, and none of us would assume that the other was a murderer. If someone makes eye contact or even smiles at you in London, they’re probably masturbating in their pockets and may cum on your coat.

Small-town America has a very specific effect on Europeans. At least, it did for me. Europeans are bombarded with representations of American suburbs in films and shows, and there is something about the aesthetics of the front yard, the garage, the wide roads, the pick-up trucks, the lights of lonely gas stations in the night, that simply scream America, freedom, and loneliness. They scream the possibility of leaving everything behind and starting over, but also the chance to be left alone with danger.

Still, I was excited to have a completely new life in front of me: I wanted to meet some handsome cowboys and have a lot of fun, even though Stillwater was a small town and the options were limited. I was fascinated by the Oklahoma atmosphere. I was used to feeling invisible in London. Now I had the chance to be different, almost special.

On one of my first nights in Oklahoma, I went to a sketchy bar called The Great White Buffalo, a few steps away from my apartment. The place was barely lit, the floor tiles were sticky with beer, and you had to zigzag between pool tables while men who pretended to smooth their pool sticks eyed women. And I liked to be eyed, until I walked up to the counter and, as I was ordering a Guinness, a man approached me. He was skinny, a bunch of freckles scattered on his neck. He had one of those long, pointy jaws with a sharp dimple that seemed to be cutting his chin in half. He put his elbow on the counter, pointed at my neck and asked me if I was “into it.” I didn’t know what he meant.

“Excuse me?” I asked, feeling a pang of my usual anxiety for not understanding English. I was still used to hearing British accents around me.

“BDSM,” he said, his southern drawl cutting the damp air of the bar. “The choker an’ all.”

I realized what had caught his attention. European girls wore chokers all the time. It was trendy; it didn’t mean much. Mine was a regular black leather choker with a steel heart.

I actually was into some light BDSM. However, I wasn’t into BDSM with that guy.

“Not at all,” I said, and left the counter. I didn’t think much of it.

*

Tour guides in London love to repeat that famous line by Samuel Johnson, “when a man is tired of London, he’s tired of life.” I got tired of London two weeks after I got there. I felt immediately exhausted; there was just too much to uncover. I was overwhelmed. Much like New York, every London neighborhood feels like a new, independent village with its own rules, and I was Italian: I’d be an outsider no matter what. I would never feel like anything more than a tourist.

Nevertheless, I started exploring my neighborhood. When people asked me where I lived and I replied, “I’m an East London gal,” I wanted it to mean something. The East “End” bears this name because it used to be the furthest area in the east of London, outside the borders of “the City.” To this day, white poles mark the separation between the East and the City, which is the core of financial and historical London. Aldgate is considered the beginning of the East End, and Aldgate East is one of the tube stops where some Jack the Ripper tours start.

For centuries, the East End was considered poor, decadent, and dangerous. Even today, there is a slight negative stereotype associated with the East London identity: it’s the symbol of the “Cockney” culture, and the home of many immigrant communities not welcomed by the British far right; it’s also the cradle of London’s working class. Nowadays, the perception of East London is also complicated by the fact that it became hip, fashionable, and touristy. All these characteristics can coexist in a single area of London.

As an Italian student, I didn’t feel like I could really be part of the East End at all. I knew too little. In Britain, like in Italy, there is an incredible variety of accents, dialects, cultures, even in towns that are very close to each other. This is also the case not only in Britain, but in London alone. Cultures and accents substitute each other, mingle and create new varieties. I was fascinated, yet intimidated. And I wasn’t the only one. In 1902, Jack London wrote the appropriately titled The People of the Abyss about his experience in the East End. The book included pictures that depicted the poverty and misery of the neighborhood. Jack London lived in workhouses, slept on the streets, and documented the lifestyles of the poor families he encountered. He wanted to live like an East-Londoner. Decades after, George Orwell went on the same journey, inspired by the famous American writer. Orwell wanted to witness the lifestyle of some fellow Londoners in one of the most infamous areas of his city.

I wanted to do that too, as an outsider, like Jack London, and as someone who wanted an authentic experience of the city where they resided, like George Orwell. Only, I didn’t know where to start.

So, when I found out that the area where I lived was once so poor, full of misery and crime, and had now become a touristy area with big shots of finance pacing those same dark alleys every day, I decided to dig deeper. I went on one of those Jack the Ripper tours.

*

American roads were always hardly lit, which still made me feel uneasy, but also strangely safe. If no light was needed, it meant no danger was feared. After London, it was almost relaxing to find myself walking alone for long stretches; I could even hum a little without strangers judging my singing skills. I could find myself improvising a dance move while listening to music in my earphones. No one was there to witness it. The road was deserted.

Stillwater, Oklahoma was a slouch of concrete. It was a small town among endless fields, but all I could see were the oceans of parking lots in front of old shopping malls with an early-two thousands vibe. I found it incredibly ugly at first, but it eventually grew on me, except for all the bugs slithering or hopping on the boiling concrete.

The week after I met that BDSM guy at the bar in Oklahoma, I walked from my apartment complex to the gas station to get cigarettes. I was wearing high heels, a skirt, some fishnets, because I was going to a bar right after. I didn’t have music on. My heels clicked on the concrete, in the dead silence of the evening.

Then a pick-up truck pulled over on the opposite side of the road. I didn’t really notice. In London I was invisible even under all the constant lights, and my subconscious was somewhat convinced I still was: when people pulled over, drove past me, walked beside me, they were just going through their business without really noticing me. But close social interactions in London were cut to the bone; people found themselves in the same space for the split of a second as they travelled in their personal, invisible tunnel, walking their way and trying not to pay attention to others. No matter how beautiful a woman could be, she was no one. I was no one.

I didn’t know things worked differently in small-town Oklahoma.

The truck driver didn’t exactly stop. They pulled over, but kept driving, slowly, at my pace. That’s when I glanced at them. I saw the window roll down, then the face of the BDSM guy showed up, his jaw pointy. “Hey, you. Need a ride?”

I pretended not to recognize him, and I kept walking. I squeezed the handle of my purse.

“No, thanks.”

“Come on, though. For real, you look like someone who needs a ride.”

“No, thanks. I’m just going to the gas station.”

The gas station lights shone in the night. There was no one around us.

I didn’t say anything for a while, and I thought that the guy would drive away. But then he recognized me. “I know you,” he said. He laughed. “The girl with the choker.”

I ignored him and kept walking – faster, but not so fast that he knew I was nervous. I hated that he felt like he had the right, the possibility, the audacity to make me feel threatened. Didn’t he imagine how a girl felt, walking alone, in heels, on a dark road, next to a man in a pick-up truck?

“Hey,” his voice got louder.

I didn’t answer. My heels felt like wings, but the gas station didn’t get any closer.

“Hey.”

“Please,” I said, my voice just a rattle. I looked ahead. I didn’t want to look at him, no matter what, no matter if he was pointing a gun at me. I didn’t want to acknowledge him.

“Fuck you,” he said.

I heard the window roll up again, and he sped up. For a second, I thought he was done. I let myself breathe. I gulped all the bile sticking to the walls of my mouth.

Then, a few feet away, he stopped the car.

I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to run back, now that the gas station was closer than my apartment complex, but I didn’t want to walk forward and find myself next to his car.

I thought about screaming. I wondered if that would have helped at all. Between the gas station and me there was a sea of empty parking spaces.

I stopped on my track, and just stood there. The guy started driving again, but slowly, and I decided to keep moving.

Maybe it was stupid. Maybe I was stupid. I wanted to show him I wasn’t scared.

When I walked beside his car, he talked to me again.

“You sure you don’t want a ride?”

“No,” I said.

“No?” he asked. “As in, no, you’re not sure?”

I felt dumb. Once again, I felt like my English was all wrong. My “no” was a certain, pissed-off no: a no to his offer, a no to his face, to his insistence, to his existence.

“I’m sure. Please leave me alone.”

This time, he really drove off. I started walking faster and faster, my breath heavy. When I stepped into the gas station, the cashier smiled at me. He was this young college student who always glanced at my boobs and commented on my ID – my passport – when I bought cigarettes. “Italian!” he said, smiling, when I handed him my passport. My hands trembled. I thought of telling him about the guy in the truck. Instead, I smiled back, hoping he wouldn’t notice how flustered I was, hoping my lipstick was still okay. He glanced at my boobs, then gave me my ID back. “Have a wonderful night,” he said.

I had worn a revealing top so guys would look at me. I wanted them to find me attractive, an Italian bombshell. I had always felt okay with the gas station cashier.

I left the store feeling patches of cold sweat on the top, under my armpits, between my breasts. I popped a cigarette in my mouth, right outside the doors of the gas station. Bugs crawled on the lights and all around me. I felt them slithering on my skin.

*

A group of mostly American tourists followed the tour guide outside Aldgate station at seven pm. The city was going home already, and unsurprisingly, it was raining. I stood under my umbrella, listening to the guide speaking an accent I wasn’t familiar with. I wondered if it was the famous Cockney accent, or if he was trying to emulate the accent that Londoners spoke at the end of the nineteenth century. Either way, I had no idea.

John Rooms, the tour guide, didn’t show us much. There are not many physical proofs of Jack the Ripper’s murders; there are just some “areas” where the murders supposedly happened. On a sidewalk, next to the wall of a building, “somewhere around this pub.” Whenever there was some space on some random wall, John would fish a small projecting device from the pocket of his long, black cloak. He would point it to the wall and show a picture, either a black-and-white photograph of the time, or an illustration from an old newspaper. The photographs showed the dismembered bodies of the women murdered by Jack the Ripper, the bones and skin of their bodies crooked in unnatural angles. They looked like those pictures of fake alien findings, with swollen necks and stomachs, their skin so white it almost blended with the background. In Elizabeth Stride’s mortuary photograph, her face didn’t even look human, her lips deformed and knotty like roots. Then, as we proceeded in our exploration, John asked parents to cover their kids’ eyes, and he projected a full-body picture of Catherine Eddowes, her face deformed, her body cut open and then sewn up by the surgeons, the stitches so big that she looked like you could easily open her up again with a zipper. And then the last victim, Mary Kelly; in the crime scene picture, you could barely see the shape of her pale body around bundles of organs and guts bursting between her spread legs. John showed all that in the middle of London. Some of the women in the audience covered their eyes.

The newspaper illustrations were almost equally upsetting. They showed the police finding female bodies – I remember one in particular, where two men found the beheaded torso of a woman. It was a representation of The Whitewall murder, which was said to have been published on The Illustrated Police News in 1888. The woman’s skin was white, brilliantly white, the only element in the whole drawing that hadn’t been shaded with the pencil, not even a little, in contrast with the black and grey of everything else. In the foreground, her bare breasts, perfectly round and perky, her nipples hard, as if she were still gaining pleasure from having been raped, dismembered, beheaded and left in the muddy slush of the East End streets.

*

After my encounter with the truck creep, I went to the bar wearing whatever I wanted. Chokers, mini-skirts, fishnets, tops that showed my breasts, leggings that didn’t hide my big, Italian butt. I walked by myself in the dark, pacing calmly towards the gas station, music in my ears. Invincible.

I remembered who Jack the Ripper used to kill. I knew the names of the victims of Ted Bundy, Gary Ridgway, Richard Speck, Kenneth Bianchi, and many others. Prostitutes, students, young women like me. Women who were poor and desperate, or independent enough to walk alone at night. The easiest targets, weak members of society.

But I didn’t want to be easy, and I didn’t want to be weak. I kept dressing the way I wanted and walking the way I wanted, because whatever happened to me, it wouldn’t have been on me. I wanted to exert my right to treat my body like I desired without getting punished for it. I wanted to be found sexy by the right men, but I also wanted to be invisible in potentially dangerous situations. I held on to the idea that I had the power to do what I wanted without consequences. I knew it was fair to expect not to be followed or raped for the way I dressed, but I also knew that the world wasn’t fair.

Not everyone thinks the same way. Oliviero Toscani, a famous Italian photographer who worked with some of the most important fashion brands in the world, said that if women want to avoid violence and rape, they need to stop trying to seduce: “away with the lipstick, the loud clothes, otherwise you’ll only attract perverts and violent men.” And he’s just one person. I wasn’t going to stay for that, like I wasn’t going to stay for all the extremely sexist and xenophobic bullshit I heard from Oklahomans: that Italians are promiscuous, a word I loathe with all my heart, because it implies judgment. Most Oklahoma girls of my age were already married, or planned to be soon. When I moved to Stillwater, I decided to spend the next few years avoiding relationships and fucking my way through a small town. And I did. I wanted to be the Italian Dolly Parton: universally desired. A woman who knew how to dress to the nines and did not care about what people thought of her, a woman who challenged the mindset of a small town without ever feeling guilty. I wanted to be an unapologetic bombshell. Among the many, I slept with married men in unhappy relationships, men who told me about marrying their wives in their twenties, having a few kids and reassessing everything at forty, without being able to escape the pressure of religion and society.

For most of them, I was an exotic commodity. I decided to have casual sexual relationships, because that’s what I wanted. But by doing so, I put myself at risk – and I was privileged and naïve enough to feel like I really shouldn’t have felt at risk at all. I didn’t really think of sex workers, women who didn’t have a nice student apartment like mine; I didn’t think that, as much as those women could fight and protest for awareness on sexual abuse, they also knew that some things couldn’t be controlled, like the women killed by the Ripper – prostitutes and women who challenged the gender roles imposed on them, or found themselves at the fringe of society.

I thought that I could exert the right of being left alone when I wanted to, and that I would be seen as an intelligent woman who was studying abroad, and also liked to have sex. I felt like I shouldn’t be abused or fetishized because of my non-standard role among the Oklahoman religious and conservative mindset. Unfortunately, some men didn’t see it the same way.

Still, I went to bars, met guys, brought home men I barely knew. I woke up on many “morning afters,” wishing the guy snoring next to me would leave, telling him that I didn’t have any breakfast and I really had to do work for school. I had a general rule: I wouldn’t follow a stranger home and find myself at his apartment. If a guy texted me at 3 am to ask me if I was up, I wouldn’t walk to his place. If I wanted to see him, I would have him come over.

I’d like to say that I always followed those rules, but I didn’t. I got drunk, and I got bold. Does a woman need to restrain herself, in order to be safe? And maybe I was a little reckless; I could take that. But I wasn’t going to be weak. That I knew for sure.

*

People go on Jack the Ripper tours to listen to a story they already know, but the interest in it hasn’t faded with time. There is a museum devoted to him, and feminists protested by throwing stones against its windows. There are Jack the Ripper souvenir shops, just like the ones that sell mugs and t-shirts of the Royal family.

When John Rooms sat in front of me in the patio of a smoky pub in Whitechapel, I had many questions for him. The tour hadn’t satisfied me: I wanted to know more about people’s obsession for the Ripper. There was something I still couldn’t grasp.

John had greasy, long hair; his face was scarred with acne. He was wearing his usual top hat and the floor-brushing, black cloak I had seen him wear as he gave the tour. I bought him a pint to thank him for chatting with me. He seemed to be speaking a different accent this time, not any less difficult for me to understand. As an Italian student, I had learnt American English from television and films, and “the Queen’s English” from teachers in school. I wasn’t familiar with colloquialisms or local accents.

Embarrassed, I asked him to slow down, but I also asked him what kind of accent he spoke. He said that it was a pretty thick South London accent. As he took off his coat, I saw that he was wearing a Jack the Ripper shirt. I wondered if that was part of his mandatory uniform, or if he just wore it like he would wear a Beatles shirt. I didn’t know how to ask that question without sounding accusatory.

I also wondered what the group of British guys drinking and smoking at the table next to ours, and the businessmen sitting behind us, would think of us, a young woman and a weirdo with a cloak and a top hat conversing about some atrocious murders happened a century before. But we were in a pub in the East End. The pub had probably witnessed much weirder stuff. We were still invisible.

John told me that he had been a guide for the tour for almost ten years, and he had started to be fascinated with the mystery when he was a kid. He defined himself as a “historian specialized in the Ripper case.” He didn’t specify his qualifications and study titles. I told him that I wasn’t interested in the case, but I wanted to know the reason why people still loved Jack the Ripper.

When I used the word “love,” he interrupted me. “People don’t love Jack the Ripper,” he said. “That’s not the right word.”

I knew I shouldn’t have, but I felt self-conscious about my English again, like I didn’t have a vocabulary large enough to have a complex conversation. And maybe I didn’t. He had just used the word “fascinated” to justify his long-lasting relationship with the Ripper case, like the fact that he had so much knowledge about the case allowed him to have a special relationship with it. Like the fascination for such an atrocious killer was something you had to gain or aspired to.

But John said that the only people who could love Jack the Ripper were the ones who would like to commit – or do commit – the same crimes. He corrected me: people are interested, fascinated, intrigued by him, for the same reason why people like horror movies.

As he went on, I thought of the relationship between horror movies, crime shows, and sex. I thought of all the horror conventions, the “last girl,” the young, attractive women being chased, kidnapped, raped, mutilated, murdered.

I wasn’t sure why I needed to be corrected. John didn’t talk about the Ripper’s case as a gendered hate crime. Still. The male gaze may not love murder, but it is interested, fascinated, intrigued in seeing women being run after, controlled, owned, and destroyed.

*

I have never seen the BDSM guy again. I thought I would, because I lived in such a small town, but as far as I know, our two encounters had only been coincidences. I remembered what Richard Speck said when a journalist asked him why he slaughtered eight nurses in their student room in Chicago: “it just wasn’t their night.” Women can’t really control what may happen to them, no matter if they’re safe in their home, walking to the gas station to get milk, wearing a mini-skirt to go to the bar, following a stranger to their place, marrying a man and living with him for thirty years, and then finding yourself killed with a kitchen knife.

I understood that I could be reasonable, and careful, but I wanted to live my life according to my own rules, and I did.

Some weeks ago, two years after I moved to Oklahoma, I watched a true crime special on Netflix, Conversation with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. I didn’t really ask myself why. Like many millennials, I grew up watching documentaries about men killing young women like me.

Suddenly, as I listened to Ted Bundy’s words crack from the tapes and watched black and white pictures of him sliding in front of my eyes, the Oklahoma wind knocked off a bike against the wall of my apartment. A crash. I jumped. I spent the rest of the night in my living room, my fingers crawling up the sleeves of my sweatshirt. I moped around the house by myself, somewhat sure that a serial killer was going to break into my apartment as soon as I let my guard down again.

I didn’t know any current serial killer cases in Oklahoma, and I hadn’t heard of any unresolved crimes bleeding through my small town. But I still remembered too many names – Dennis Rader, Richard Speck, Ted Bundy, Ed Kemper. I knew who they were, how they looked, what they liked, because their stories had been told and retold and showed and reshowed in movies and series and documentaries that I watched, like many other women like me.

I wouldn’t have thought anything of the bike falling against my window, if I had chosen to watch The Office instead. I didn’t want to live in a world where I didn’t feel like I wasn’t safe to be sleeping in my own apartment, just because it might have not been “my night.”

I fixed myself a double gin and tonic and smoked a cigarette, still sitting in my living room. I fell asleep on my couch, all lights on.

*

John said that there are at least thirty Jack the Ripper tour companies in London. When I asked him why, he told me that the case is popular because people like stories of violence. These stories have the power of compensating for our ethical and moral laws. We know we must not damage, abuse, and kill, he went on, but we do have a beastly nature. Therefore, creating, listening, and reading those stories creates the equilibrium that we need between the pressure of maintaining a “good conduct,” and the innate evilness that we try to push away.

I knew that what he was saying wasn’t entirely wrong. To this day, some criminologists think that Jack the Ripper was never identified because he never actually existed. They say that he was made-up by the tabloids in order to sell more copies. Newspapers sold like candy whenever they displayed one of the horrific illustrations of female severed bodies.

Jack the Ripper is not the story of a man. It’s a story of male gaze. A black-cloaked figure walking slowly around the foggy alley of East London, hiding a dagger under his belt, and looking for the next naked woman to expose to the public. His name was stuck in British memory for more than a century, and it still is. In 1980, a century after the murders, another killer started murdering women, mostly prostitutes, in Northern England.

The British press had learnt their lesson. Today, not many people in the UK know who Peter Sutcliffe is, but everyone remembers him as the Yorkshire Ripper.

*

Wikipedia says that “femicide or feminicide is a sex-based hate crime term, broadly defined as the intentional killing of females (women or girls) because they are females, though definitions vary depending on its cultural context.” When I type “femicide,” my Word processor underlines it in red, as if the word didn’t exist; as if femicide isn’t a thing. Not even Microsoft buys it.

In Italy, the term is considered a “neologism”: a new word. Neologisms are made-up words, just like all words, but “neo” means new, obviously, as if men have started killing women only recently, and only recently we decided that we needed a word for that.

The term was actually created by a scholar of cultural studies, Jane Caputi, and the criminologist Diane E. Russell, who listed feminicide’s possible motives as hate, contempt, pleasure, or a need of ownership of women. That’s an awful lot of reasons.

After watching the Ted Bundy tapes and the bike crash scared the shit out of me, I started watching more shows focusing on female killers, not because thinking of women killing men made me feel better; I was just tired of the same narrative, the same gaze, the same traumatized, troubled, violent male who’s also depicted as complex, fascinating, and even relatable. I bumped into the Netflix documentary about Amanda Knox, a young American woman accused of killing British student Meredith Kercher during an exchange program in Perugia, Italy, in 2007. Again, I wasn’t interested in creating an opinion on the solution of the case itself; I was interested in the narrative around it. Amanda Knox was said to have perpetrated the murder with her Italian boyfriend of the time, but the press mostly tormented her because she was beautiful and young. “Foxy Knoxy,” the British press called her.

The documentary featured Nick Pisa, a British tabloid journalist who covered the case. He said that the reason why the case got so popular and the attention to Amanda became so obsessive was that the narrative included the perfect elements: “a beautiful, picturesque hilltop town in the middle of Italy”; a particularly gruesome “sex murder,” and two girls whom he called “terribly attractive women.” Nick Pisa laughed in the camera, sitting on his stool. “What more do we need in a story?” he asked.  It was obviously a rhetorical question, but I wondered who that “we” was.

*

At the end of our chat, as the sun went down and the dark swallowed the patio of the pub, John drew an interesting comparison. “Jack the Ripper is the guy we all remember from high school,” he said. “He played sports, bullied the studious kids and treated girls like shit, but everyone thought he was cool anyway, even though he surely wasn’t. There is some undeniable coolness about bad guys.”

I listened. Not even once did he mention the problem of making so much money out of the narrative of a women-killer.

“The coolness comes from these psychos’ relationships with what we see as ‘normality.’ These villains are not monsters. They can be legends, shadows whose identities were never revealed, and whose names will always be concealed in the dark. But they could be men or women like every one of us, with a name, skin, bones, eyes to watch their victims die.”

He sounded extremely dramatic, like he was already rehearsing for his next tour. He was right, though: in a way, I was fascinated too. I had paid my ten pounds to go on the tour; I was sitting with him at that Whitechapel pub to know more about the impact Jack the Ripper still had on East London.

The following week, I visited the Bishopsgate Institute, an archive dedicated to East London located in Liverpool Street, the heart of touristy and hip East London. In the archive, I found ceramic figurines of Jack the Ripper, with the top hat, the black cloak, and, of course, the bloody dagger shining from his pocket. I found flyers of the Jack the Ripper museum, the tours, the Jack the Ripper Crime Conference, which takes place in London every year. I found videogames, board games, clocks, calendars, all Jack the Ripper-themed, all from different decades of the last two centuries. Memorabilia of femicide.

*

Every Christmas, when I go back to Italy, someone in my big Italian family always asks me if I have met “the right cowboy yet.” In the general outrage, mostly caused by my grandmothers who snap that I shouldn’t fall in love with an American, so that I can go back to Italy and marry a nice Italian boy, I look around I think of lonely gas stations in seas of parking lots; I think of the guys who tell me that I’m exotic and ask me to say Italian stuff in bed; I think of the married men who leave my apartment to go back to their wives; I think of the football players who throw me around the room as if I’m also a football, and all the Oklahoma men – most of them – who seem to ignore the fact that having sex without a condom may cause STDs or pregnancies. I think of all the men who followed me or called me or texted me obsessively and sent me pictures of their penis.

I don’t say any of it, because women aren’t supposed to put themselves in vulnerable positions, and because I know what my family would say or think. So I smile and plunge my spoon in the tortellini broth. I just haven’t found the right one yet, I say, the one thing that I won’t be killed for.

Rachele Salvini
By Rachele Salvini

Rachele Salvini is an Italian woman based in the US, where she is doing a PhD in English and Creative Writing at Oklahoma State University. She writes both in English and Italian. Her translations and work in English have been published or are forthcoming in Lunch Ticket, American Book Review, Necessary Fiction, Modern Poetry in Translation, and others. One of her essays won the 2020 edition of the Stirling Spoon contest ‘Identity in America.’