#75 Consumed

by D.A. Spruzen

After the rebels killed her husband, she’d walked for months until she stumbled into this shantytown lean-to. She squatted in a corner until its owner, leached by AIDS, breathed her last. As night mists rose, she dragged the body to another alley, sidled back, and turned over the soiled mattress. She sprawled across it, surrendering to whining insects and exhaustion.

They drank all evening. While he snored, thirst consumed her. She only drank enough to become indifferent to what she had to do to eat. She’d swallowed an aspirin with the last beer—the free clinic dispensed a bottle when she complained of headaches.

She’d known happiness once. She still remembered her husband’s face, but the feelings it used to arouse eluded her. The foul miasma of the night wrenched all memory of love from her soul.

The squalid shack had no running water. She’d have to go outside. She moved with anxious care, as waking him would mean another smothering under his rancid body. She lapped the rusty tap water from her cupped hands. It was cool enough to sting her lips, for the brutal African sun still lay dormant, had not yet started its working day. She slipped back inside, eased down inch by inch, groaned when he sensed movement and slurred his need.

She chased the memory of her husband’s face again, but it skittered out of reach. A pitted moon watched through the misty open doorway until she slept at last, still consumed by thirst.

Rose, a widow and mother of three adult children, is a founding member of the Salton Symphony and one of a group of seven volunteers who call themselves the “Symphony Slaves.” As the story opens, she is in the hospital recovering from a concussion after being found unconscious outside her friend Judy’s house. Rose cannot remember how she got there, although she remembers finding Judy bludgeoned to death. This is only the first of several murders that rock the normally dull Salton, a Northern Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. Alternate chapters comprise segments of the killer’s journal in which she recalls her childhood and reveals the warped logic that enables her to eliminate those who threaten her hard-won lifestyle. She overcame her destitution with the single-minded ruthlessness that drives her to kill again and again when things go wrong. The journal converges with the narrative as the story progresses and shows the terrible fallout that can result from child abuse; but it also suggests that it is not inevitable—her sister is not a killer, after all. This woman’s intelligence and drive have worked for her and against her. This psychological suspense, the first of a trilogy, focuses on the characters’ inner lives and the social constraints that bind them. Each Symphony Slave changes as her complacency is shaken by dark events she never imagined could touch a community like Salton. And the way it all ends . . . pleases no one.

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1 comment:

Dino Parenti said...

You used some really beautiful languange and metaphors to describe a horrible condition. Really well done.