The faint trail in the monotony of the landscape seemed weaker than ever. The wind picked up and brought a cloud of dust with it.
-"Suzanna!" a man's voice called.
She shielded her eyes and peered down the deserted path.
-"Suzanna! Why don't you answer me? Are you sleeping?"
-"I thought I saw something on the road." she replied without turning her head. Her voice delivered something of a sadness.
She had a nice figure, irregular features, but not without a certain piquant outline.
Suzanne had lived there since she was a young girl, and now she lived there with her husband. He had suffered a lot of adversity and illness.
She walked up the road to the well. When she got there, a man rose from the bushes. He looked so utterly exhausted that he didn't frighten her.
"I'm being chased," he gasped, "can you hide me somewhere?" he asked in a broken voice.
The man didn't exactly look like a criminal.
-"Come!" Susanna said, "This way." She walked to the barn, while he crawled behind her. She opened the door: "Go upstairs and hide in the hay." She closed the door and walked back home, without the slightest trace of excitement in her manner. She glanced around the room, where her husband was absorbed in his morning coffee. He didn't look up and she continued on to the kitchen to do the dishes. Her movements were mechanical but deliberate and perfect. Her thoughts were on the man she just locked up in the barn.
The wind blew another cloud of dust around the house. She heard a scream. She walked to the front door, but Ian got there before her. There were two men outside.
-"Hey, how are you doing?" one of the men shouted. "Did someone just pass by here?" the other one asked.
-"No." Ian replied firmly, recognizing the deputy, and asking: "Did something happen?"
-"A man was stabbed last night. We caught the perpetrator, but then this sandstorm started, he fled and now we have lost him.
-"Suzanne thought she saw something earlier." Ian recalled, "Right baby?"
"Excuse me, madam, “the deputy said because he had not seen her. Suzanne came forward and he hastily took off his hat.
"Yes," she said hesitantly, "somewhere over there." She pointed her hand in the opposite direction of the shed.
-"That guy can run like a deer." muttered the man standing next to the deputy.
-"Hazard of his profession." the deputy said without looking away from Suzanne.
-"What profession?" Ian asked.
-"Oh, he's some stuntman or something." the deputy replied, twisting his hat in his hands. "You know, a man who jumps climbs and performs dangerous tricks in the circus. If you´ll excuse us, we have to go." the deputy said with his eyes still on Suzanne, "we've got to find that guy."
Ian got a strange feeling about his stomach. He was uncomfortable with the visible effect his wife had on that deputy.
"If that two stare at every woman they meet, they won't catch that guy till the next year," he said with a clear tone of contempt.
Suzanne returned to the kitchen to continue washing the dishes, and Ian returned to his coffee.
-"I'm going to check this afternoon if they got hold of that man."
Susanne said. Ian's uneasiness returned: "I'd rather go myself," he said with a tone of suspicion, "you stay here. I think you've got plenty of work to do here."
Suzanne brought a stack of plates to the sideboard.
"Yes," she said a little too cheerfully, "That's a good idea."
Ian looked at her thoughtfully. He lifted his hat from the coat rack and slouched onto the dusty road.
Suzanne watched him until he was almost out of sight. She turned, glanced at herself in a small mirror on the wall, and shot out the back door to the shed. She flung open the door and quickly closed it behind her. The shadows of the barn bewildered her. She bumped into a bucket of water and noticed wet straw on the floor. She lifted her eyes to the hayloft and saw the figure of the man with a bare upper body. The perfect symmetry of his chest and arms brought a jolt of excitement into Suzanne's body. She was aware that she was staring at him shamelessly.
-"I just wiped the dust off myself." he said hastily, "and then I'll come down."
He reminded her of a god descending as he swung gracefully and deftly to the ground. She stood face to face with him, staring at the wet curls on his head. She told him about the two men chasing him. A few wrinkles appeared on his forehead.
-"Can I stay here another night?" he asked, buttoning his flannel shirt.
"Yes," she heard herself say, "but you must hide in the hayloft."
"Would you," he began hesitantly and with a forced smile, "I haven't eaten anything since last night."
Suzanne nodded her head: "I´ll bring you something."
-"Did those men tell you anything about me?" he asked with an uneasy look in his eyes.
-"Yes." Susan replied.
-"I'll tell you everything that happened." But Suzanne wouldn't let him speak, "I'm going to get you something to eat before he comes back."
-"He?" the man asked.
She wanted to say to her husband, but she didn't, "Mister Nestor."
She found some clothes that seasonal workers had left behind in a big trunk, filled a carafe with water, took a bottle of whiskey from the cupboard, took some provisions, and ran out the door with a big smile on her face. She felt like a schoolgirl.
-"Here." she said as she handed him the warnings. He thanked her.
"I'll be back soon." she gasped and ran back home.
Meanwhile, her husband had been strolling along the main road for a long time. The two men who had knocked on his door earlier that day had mistaken his lanky figure for that of the criminal they were chasing. When they found out they were wrong, they decided to stop their search.
"Maybe we should search your house." the deputy said to Ian. There was nothing left for Ian but to walk to his house with those two men. He thought about getting Suzanne out of the house. He didn't want those men's eyes all over his woman again. There was a revelation to this newly awakened jealousy. A faint memory of love.
When Ian walked into his house and saw his wife had taken off her apron and put her hair up, he grew more suspicious. He felt that Suzanne had not received him warmly enough.
-"These officers are going to spend the night here and continue their quest tomorrow." Ian said bluntly to his wife. She had a kind of demure restraint and over-consciousness that he translated as coquetry. That Suzanne could have a crush on another man was simply unthinkable to his nature. Ian looked stupid and lethargic and dropped into a chair. The atmosphere in his house seemed charged with unhealthy energy. It kindled Suanne's eyes and stimulated the deputy to gross playfulness. Ian pulled his fingers convulsively around the rungs of his chair. He looked over the cupboard and noticed that his bottle of whiskey was gone. He ordered Suzanne, to bring some refreshments.
-"I'm not a bartender," Suzanne said, "if you're not satisfied with the coffee I've made for you, then you can just wobble out the door to the next best bar." there was a whiff of brutality about her words. Suzanne disappeared into the kitchen and returned a few moments later with a tray laden with cakes and steaming coffee,
The sun approached the horizon. Ira still had to bring fodder to the cows in the barn, but that meant leaving Suzanne alone with the deputy. Out of nowhere, Suzanne offered to take the feed to the barn. Ian's heart jumped a little for joy. She walked out the door and smiled triumphantly.
The fugitive sat waiting for her with a fleeting hint of brusqueness in his eagerness.
-"What took you so long?" he asked.
Breathlessly she explained it to him and showed him the men walking across the plain through the half-open door.
The sunlight fell on her panting bosom, her sandy hair, half-open mouth, and freckled upper lip. Her face was flushed.
They began to talk. He was grateful but boastful. Suzanne paid more attention to his expression than to his words. He dwelled upon himself with spaciousness. Suzanne didn't understand much of what he was saying, but it didn't matter. All she understood was that he was a gift from heaven. And she had to protect him from the entire world. He was the companion who she had never known in her youth. The lover she'd dreamed of. She couldn't understand or comprehend his inconsistencies, that was due to her ignorance, she told herself. He spoke a language of the wonderful world, from which she had been excluded. A world in which the limbs she was now admiring belonged. A hugely different world from her husband's rheumatic deformities and her shabby provincial clothes. She completely forgot herself in his monologue. She inhaled the scent of the clover-scented hay that filled the air around them.
"I must go now," she said quickly when it dawned on her that the sun had set. When she jumped up, he grabbed her hand first, then her waist. She bent her face as if to hide in the hay. Their lips met...
-"Suzanne, where are you?" came her husband's voice from the darkness.
-"I’m coming down." she said quietly. She gestured to her companion to hide.
-"You have to come back tonight!" he whispered. She blew him a kiss and slipped down the ladder.
"You haven't done much work here, have you." her husband grumbled wearily. "The cows are still waiting for you."
The gloom on her husband's face had turned into a look of heavy resignation. She glanced at the cheap clock on the mantelpiece and said she was going to bed because she was tired.
Not liking Ian's gloomy company, the deputy settled into the sofa, ready to spend the night and continue his search for the fugitive criminal at dawn.
Ian sat alone with his head sunk on his chest. He sat staring at the dying tingles of the hearth. He took another sip of whiskey. It tasted like water. He should have gone to bed, but shyness had taken hold of him. He had the inexplicable feeling that he was infringing on hidden secrets. He had to go through the open kitchen door. He walked past the sleeping deputy. All he had to do was take a hammer to crush that complacent face. Ian hurried up the creaky stairs. His wife was asleep, her face hidden in her loose hair. He began to undress and as he took off his stockings, his eyes fell on his misshapen feet. He looked at his mangled hands and sighed. He wasn't like the handsome deputy, with his slender and healthy legs and his vulgar ring on his little finger. A cold sweat began to break out. He lifted the outer blanket and crawled under it; half undressed.
Suzanne lay very still. She hardly seemed to breathe. Ian listened to the slow ticking of the clock and the unintelligible language of the plain behind the house. He had listened to it so many times but had never understood its meaning. He thought he heard voices calling him to wake up, but he fell into a deep sleep.
The clock was ticking, the wind sighed, and Suzanne lay motionless. The deputy turned on the sofa, stretched, and woke up. He was thirsty for water and fresh air. He yawned and gently pulled on his boots. He walked out through the back door. Everything was dark. He went to the well and dipped his head in it. He began to saunter back slowly, thinking of the figure of that beautiful young woman. What was it that the little shrew saw in that surly stupid brute?
Suddenly he stopped. Above the dry odors of the plain, he smelled something different.
The smell of a pipe. Perhaps it was his host who had risen. But he didn't smoke, nor did the officer accompanying him.
The smell seemed to come from the barn. His attention was diverted: the hooded figure of Mrs. Nestor came out of the house. He hid in the shadows and held his breath as he watched her disappear quickly into the barn. A violent tremor went through him. He slid to the door, and the starry sky broke into a thousand glittering fragments. The earth gave way under his feet, and he fell forward with half his skull blown away. His blood slowly widened around him and sank slowly into the earth.
The stillness of death was quickly followed by a quick and feverish rustle in the barn. There was no movement or sound from the house. The stars slowly began to fade; a thin streak of opal fire appeared on the bilge. A lone bird chirped in the bush next to the well.
The back door of the house opened, and the other officer came out, searching for the deputy.
He tripped over a cold body. He scrambled to his feet and cast a hasty glance around. The barn door was half open, the floor was strewn with trampled hay. The fugitive's tattered shirt and pants lay in a corner. The officer recognized the garments immediately. He walked back to the house and returned a few moments later with a bewildered Ian. He was lamenting that his wife had passed out at the news of the disaster.
The officer was a man of narrow ideas; to him, the mystery was clear, without proof. The deputy must have woken up, probably by the fugitive sneaking around the house. That criminal must have taken Ian's rifle that was in the kitchen and used it with fatal consequences.
The officer rushed to town for help. A rushed investigation took place. No one deemed it necessary to verify the statement without any evidence from the officer. Nor did anyone find it suspicious that he had slept through the gunshot.
After half a dozen scornful questions, Ian was set aside. Suzanne was declared hysterical and was thus excused from further questioning.
By noon everyone had left again. Long shadows fell over the quiet house, where Ian sat on his porch, staring out at the plain. Two passers-by saw a light in Mrs. Nestor's room, but no one ever saw her after that. Ian told anyone who would listen that she had gone to relatives to recover from the shock. Suzanne was not missed.
People got used to seeing the lonely Ian working the fields during the day and sitting alone on his porch at nightfall.
The judiciary system at the time was acutely aware of transgressions against its own officers, and as luck would have it, the officer, one day, was walking through the city streets and recognized his colleague's murderer. He arrested him.
It was the rainy season, and the citizens were more than happy to give the matter their full attention, looking forward to the prisoner's hanging.
After the officer gave his testimony, a disturbance occurred in the periphery of the spectators in the courtroom. Ian had stumbled into the room, soaked from the rain, and covered in mud. He was exhausted because he had come walking.
A few people started laughing at him but were promptly silenced by the judge.
The judge asked if Ian knew the prisoner. He glanced at the defendant's pale face and shook his head.
-"I've never seen him before." he answered weakly.
-"What are you doing here then?" the judge asked sternly. Ian moistened his dry lips: "Because I killed the deputy." Ian said very slowly. "I killed him," he said again, running his eyes over the circle of onlookers. -"He was making love to my wife, and he wanted to run away with her. We didn't argue, he was unarmed: I just shot him dead." He pointed to the prisoner, "That man over there, had nothing to do with that." Ian unbuttoned his collar and bared his throat: "Now hang me."
The judge asked where Ian's wife was and if she could confirm this. Ian started to tremble slightly: "She ran away that night and never came back."
-"It's true." the suspect said, "I hid that night because the deputy and his colleague were hunting me. I then stole a horse and later I found that woman crying and sobbing on the road. I lifted her onto the horse and took her to town."
The judge addressed the officer: "What do you know about this woman? Were her attentions enough to justify the husband's jealousy?"
The agent hesitated. he was a man with a crude sense of principles rather than methods of justice.
-"He was a MAN." he answered the judge. Everyone started laughing.
That the strongest and most magical of all human passions always arouse frivolity in an allusion to it is one of the inconsistencies of human nature. The judge did not attempt to contain the giggles in the court. The suspect and the witness were both dismissed.
One afternoon when a rainy mist hung over the soggy plain, a crumpled woman got out of a truck in front of Ian's house and was sitting on his porch. He got up and called her Suzanne. They lived happily ever after, due to Suzanne keeping forever in Ian´s mind, her heroic sacrifice in disappearing as a witness against him, her own forgiveness of his fruitless crime, and the gratitude he owned the fugitive...