No one knew the whole story of the caged woman. She appeared to be a living receptacle for the shipment of evil in today’s society. Keep her caged and everyone could be safe. Let her escape and everyone would be doomed. This seemed true even though most people in the world never knew she or her son existed. Blind and maimed, she was displayed in the center of town for anyone to see, understand and experience how close she had come to being extinguished.
Her empty eye sockets were permanently stained with the blood that once seeped from them as tears had before, and sat amongst welts that inched outward from the vacant pockets. More apparent were her arms, one which had a twisted hand with gnarled protrusions in the place of some of her knuckles. The other lacked a hand at all, being void from midway down her forearm. Her lower extremities tapered to scarred, knobby ends just above her knees.
People almost laughed at her. Some of the children, not bold enough to get too close, while posturing in their ignorance, actually did. Those in charge, who somehow blamed her for the traumas in the last few days, were thankful for her survival and could not develop even a glint of humor.
At the moment, some art students were drawing her, creating sketches in charcoal and ink, and masterpieces in watercolors and oils. Her beauty was most visible through their creations, as they could see beyond the empty, stained orbs and imagine the fullness of her whole body, even if they had never seen it as it once was.
As it started to rain, the artists packed away their gear. The health care workers covered her display cage with a tarpaulin and placed a heater just outside of her reach, enabling her to use it only for its warmth. The old grandparents and caregivers sheltered themselves under the awnings of the nearby structures. The salt water of their tears mixed with the rain that dripped down their cheeks. It was hard for them to watch a woman suffering in her existence and do nothing to comfort her; even she, who had caused so much turmoil. Life was difficult for the ignorant and the wise, the beloved and the evil, and especially for those torn between what was good and evil to the extent that the conflict became alive on their bodies.
Eventually all turned away and left her in the center of Gabriel and to her own memories, hoping that she would deliberate on how her actions brought her to this point.
Inside her cage, she clasped onto a woolen mantle as best she could, savoring the scratches its coarse fibers caused on her skin, already raw from the violence she had undergone. The stinging kept her thoughts at bay, gathering and undulating as though they were waves at the shores of her consciousness. The waves would ultimately grow, forcing their way through the barriers of her mind. For now, the thrashing of her thoughts, as with the scrapes of the blanket on what was left of her once supple skin, was comforting. She reached for the heater, longing for the sear of its touch, but it was just close enough to allow the warmth to flow to her.
The heat did touch her and entered her through her nostrils and mouth as she breathed and gasped. Her head tensed back as she strained to keep the calming sensation away. Instead, her thoughts bombarded through the walls of her brain as the warming heater tempered her fight, and she lay still while the accounts of her life flooded and overpowered her.
~ ~ ~
Chances were there was no one who could understand how clean things had to get. Not only the floors needed to be scrubbed, then oiled and polished so as not to leave scratches, but all of the counters, including the hutch and the porcelain and crystal figurines inside of it needed to be and remain dust free. The walls, too, needed washing, the clothes laundered.
This led Alezea to getting herself cleansed. Cleansed, not just washed, first using the luffa sponge with oatmeal soap, which in itself could take up to twenty minutes to get everywhere, every curve and fold and unseen place. Then the brush was used to get as much of the loose and dead skin cells as possible, with extra attention paid to heels and elbows. Next came washing the hair with prescribed antidandruff shampoo, although she had not suffered from dandruff since she was a teenager living in the humidity of the Bayou. It still had to be done. The conditioner, infused with an extra moisturizing formula, had to be used as well. Then another wash of her body with moisturizing soap.
No matter how hot or cold it was, Alezea dried in front of the heater, sans a towel. There could be no towel lint anywhere. By the time she dressed, with clothes preselected, it was close to , just enough time to go over her hair and outfit to ensure all was in place.
Then the hollow knock on the door, which would be inaudible if there was the slightest of sounds, be it the hum of the TV or radio, or the clangs of pots and pans during their wash.
Alezea had to go toward the door, ready to open it, even though it was always opened before she could raise her hand to the knob. As the door opened, she could see him there, appearing to get larger and grander as the door swung wider. His eyes were the first things noticed. They were blazingly crimson, fierce with bloodshot anger, and eager to focus accusations and disparagement.
As always, she wondered why she had to go through such a stringent cleansing ritual, when before he stepped through the door, he slid his large, scabbed, nearly scaly hands under her blouse to her waist, leaving smears of mud and whatever else was raised up with him. It seemed that bugs and, God forbid, worms transferred to her skin as he continued to slide the length of his arm around her torso.
Although Alezea was not a light woman, he lifted her with no noticeable effort, and carried her to the newly washed, starched and ironed sheets in the bedroom, while tracking clumps of mud and other sediment with every step. He laid her on the bed, where he took her, seemingly with no pleasure, other than that gleaned by those who reach their peak of excitement only by delivering the pain inherent with sadism and torture. For Alezea, the pain felt to be slightly intermixed with pleasure. When it was done, there was only pain, her body covered with mud and grime from his body.
He then left, without having said a word, until right before he closed the front door. His instructions then sounded more like the grumble of a traveling earthquake, which she was sure everyone would swear they heard, although no one else could comprehend the message left within it:
"The next one will be a little girl; angelic…smart, but doomed. Let Thomas bury her at the Sarmeno's tonight, behind the shed. After the burial, but before you send Thomas home, tell him you will quickly finish your work and will get home early. I want a show tonight."
Alezea would likely be at her workplace slightly before Thomas, who would have the innocent in hand. Now, she had to put out of her mind this innocent one, and the countless other victims, as well as the burials and disposals of the guiltless. For Alezea had to prepare for her next penance.