By Joyce Carol Oates
Co-winner of the Mademoiselle College Fiction Competition and first published in August 1959. Collected in By the North Gate.
It was early afternoon when Swan reached the brink of the hill that sloped down to town. He gazed at it, at the flat, watery image he had been seeing for so long in his mind’s eye, and it was with an almost careless, brutal gesture that he drew his arm across his forehead. Then he started on down the dirt road to the town, walking slowly, casually, his head bent a little against the overhead glare. He thought briefly of how the sun must look above him, drained back into the great colorless sky. It was incredible how the heat lay about him and how he could feel himself moving through it, how he could feel it almost like water pressing against him.
He did not regret being hatless. He did not regret that when three or four cars had slowed down alongside him he had waved them by; he thought of them without any feeling at all. He found himself staring at the ground, at his dusty feet, as though he had not the strength to look up. Yet he kept on, the close, paled image of the town before him: the town with its giant elms and its narrow main street, its tight little hills, the string of stores that curled and blinked gaudily in the heat. If he followed this road along he would go through the town and finally come to a bridge, a bridge streaked with rust; and after that the houses and the stores would vanish and he would be in the country again, on this same road and with orchards on each side of him—quiet and lonely in the summer heat.
But now he was nearly in the town. Glancing ahead, he saw it suddenly before him; it appeared almost to have leaped toward him with a swift, flicking movement. He hesitated only a moment. Then he crossed to the side of the road, his eyes level, calm, squinting only from time to time against the light, fastening themselves upon cars that passed him now and then, cars and trucks and their weary, listless drivers. He saw the frame houses along the roadside begin, houses with bare front yards, with children squatting in the dust watching him steadily in their dark, mindless manner. The trees seemed to be thinning out, though there were some ahead in the park. Beyond the heat that seemed tangibly to surround him, the air was filled with the sound of children’s voices and of automobiles on other streets as well as on this one, whining by him and by the houses at which he had not yet really looked.
At the park he began to feel a sudden numbing pain in his legs; he had not noticed it before, and he thought with a flash of anger that he ought to have accepted a ride with one of those drivers, he ought not to have turned them away as he had, it was a childish thing to do. Still, it had been entirely correct and he knew it; there was nothing else he could have allowed himself to do. He peered across the park at a drugstore that faced it. The store looked empty, its windows blind above the wavering heat. Certainly it would be cooler there: He could imagine the dim array of glass and slanted merchandise; he could see someone’s face turning abruptly toward him as he entered, away from an opened newspaper, perhaps, or a conversation with another person. They would look at him, recognizing him, just another boy come into town with his father, a boy driven into town—and with his neat surface respectfulness, surely he must impress the men in this way; or, if there was a woman there, surely she would gaze at him with interest, she could not avoid it, she would even know his name, she would ask after his family. Swan wiped his forehead again, staring dizzily at the blank window of the drugstore. He could see reflected in their quiet, waiting eyes—in the eyes of those imagined persons inside—his own face: He would seem to them a strong boy, a strong young man, a little distracted by the heat, perhaps, and yet this would not be unusual, they would think nothing of it, it did not mean he had walked into town all by himself . . . . Then what would he do? Would he grip the moment as though it were a part of something winding steadily away? Would he stop, simply cease, would he hold that instant of mindless acceptance that flashed between them? How he would have to resist this, what strength it might demand to keep himself from groping backward for the door and stepping out onto the sidewalk, spent, relieved, quietly hysterical—not absolved of his sin or delivered of his punishment but simply in another dimension altogether, no longer related to it, to that which he would be able to think about later, idly; after a time it would probably no longer even be interesting, belonging only to another of his selves and never to the boy they would gaze upon and mold with their eyes, his father’s son after all, only a boy come into town on a hot afternoon.
But he crossed the park, his head down and his hands stiff in his pockets. When he looked up again he was approaching the sheriff’s office, a squat, peeling building set close to the road. It seemed quiet, empty, like so much of the town, yet with a quality of watchfulness in spite of this, as though it were looking out at him, enveloping him somehow in the rain-washed and nearly colorless wood that stretched out now on each side of him and rose above him—clapboards beginning to curl, windows that let in no light at all, a single vine stiff against the corner of the building as though it had been nailed there. Swan rapped on the screen door and opened it; the volition of his own hands surprised him. “Hello, there,” someone said. Swan saw a man sitting at the window, his feet up on the dirty sill, his arms folded; apparently he had been sitting there for some time, doing nothing, perhaps just waiting for Swan. Behind him a boy was stooping over a pile of newspapers—one of the Negroes; when Swan came in, his face jerked up immediately.
“You want somethin’, boy? What do you want?”
Swan leaned back against the door. He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know,” he said. He thought how another boy might answer. “Just come over to see what was goin’ on.”
“Well, there ain’t anything.”
The man still had not moved. Now Swan saw that he was a heavy person, so heavy that perhaps moving pained him, at least moving in this close, choking air; only his eyes were alert, and these fastened themselves on Swan’s face in a familiar, crowding way. “You don’t need to leave, though. You can stick around if you want to,” he said.
Swan shrugged his shoulders again. He allowed his gaze to wander about the room, his back against the screen door, his ears filled with a hushed, frantic sound like breathing—his own breathing—which the man and that boy there, still bent over the pile of newspapers but with his face uplifted, must surely be listening to. Maybe that was why they remained so still and so quiet: They were waiting for what he had come to tell them.
“There’s just us here today,” the man said. He nodded vaguely toward the Negro boy. “Some pris’ners in back, too, but there ain’t many. You come into town for the day?”
Swan’s eyes flitted aimlessly away from the man. “Yes,” he said.
“Where are you from?”
“The Rapids,” said Swan. He looked at the man. “Do you know where that is?”
“Sure. Couldn’t be a deppity for long without knowin’ that place,” the man said. Swan watched him for a moment; he felt uneasy about the way the man had replied. Yet this person could not know him—Swan had never seen him before—just a deputy, a thick, heavy man, his eyes stung neatly into his broad face, fixing Swan with that slow, effortless smile. “Why, Chap here is from around there himself. Ain’t you, Chap?”
Swan looked briefly at the Negro boy. He saw that he was thin and short, that he was at least a foot shorter than Swan himself, and that it would be difficult to figure out his exact age. His face contorted as Swan glanced at him, as though someone were tightening it slowly and deliberately with a screw. Swan saw, too, that the boy had a dirty strip of white gauze wrapped around his head, concealing one eye.
“That there’s name is Chaparral,” the deputy said. “Ain’t that a name for you? We come out an’ got him somewhere around the Rapids, it wasn’t but a while ago. Ain’t that a name for you, now? They’ll name themselves mostly anything.” Swan was conscious of the way the man smiled at him, of the man’s apparent feeling that his smile must include Swan, must lure him into smiling too. “You ain’t tole me your name,” the deputy said.
“I’m a Walpole,” said Swan. His words sounded queer and loud. “I just thought I’d . . . come over to see what was here. There ain’t much else to do.”
“Well, when you’re my age you’ll be glad of such days,” the deputy said. “You can stick around, though. You can never tell with a sheriff office like this is.”
“Is there much trouble?”
“There is sometimes. Course we don’t hear about most of the trouble.” Swan watched him closely. “Most of it just happens out there, an’ we never know about it.”
“What kind of things?”
“Well—if I knew that, then I’d know about them!” the deputy said. His eyes were pinning Swan to the wall. “I reckon anybody from the Rapids would know more themselves what was goin’ on. Anything can happen out in the country; couldn’t nobody catch up on all that goes on.”
Swan shrugged again, looking away.
“Ain’t that right, Chap?” The deputy leaned around to look at the boy. “You get busy there. What’s he been doin’, lookin’ at you all this time? What do you think we pay you for, standin’ around like that?”
The boy licked his lips and, to Swan’s astonishment, began laughing—in a sudden, rushed way, as though his laughter surprised himself but as though he could not help it.
The deputy glanced back at Swan. “Must be somethin’ funny,” he said. “Well. I don’t criticize them, specially ones born like this one. Long as he gets his job done, it don’t much matter.”
The boy picked up the pile of smudged newspapers and took them to the back door, still laughing, though more quietly now and almost secretly, looking back at Swan with his single, heavy-lidded eye.
“It ain’t in me to criticize them,” the deputy said, sighing. “They ain’t like us.”
“Yes,” said Swan. “What was his name? Chaparral?”
“They’ll call them anything, won’t they? They don’t never think of what it might mean.”
“Someone told them to call him that,” Swan said.
“I said, someone maybe told them to call him that. Some white man. I don’t know.”
The deputy watched him for a while. “Well,” he said finally, though he still looked at him in the same way, “you can see it’s a quiet day here.” Swan nodded vaguely. “An’ hot too . . . As hot as hell in here.”
The inside of the building suddenly struck Swan as being very small and very airless; and the darkness of the stained ceiling and the far corners was even oppressive. For an instant Swan was compelled to think of the unbelievable ease with which he could leave, if he wanted to. The deputy was still talking. “A hot summer too,” he said, “a hot dry summer . . .”
“Does he work here or somethin’?” Swan interrupted.
“That one there. The one who—you know. Does he work here for you?”
“Oh! Him. Yeah, what do you s’pose he’s doin’? He don’t have no fambly that we know of; he has to have somethin’ to do with himself. What makes you ask?”
Swan was watching the back door. “It wouldn’t be bad, to work in a sheriff office like this.”
The man laughed.
“I expect there’s a lot of things goin’ on, sometimes,” Swan said. “When they bring in people to lock up.” He began sucking the tip of his forefinger. “There’s worse things he could do.”
“The ones like him never get good jobs. They got the worst land here too.” Swan was quiet for a moment. “I wonder how he got to laughin’ just then.”
“That? There ain’t no reason. He just felt like it.”
“He was laughin’ at me.”
“No. He just felt like it.”
“It looked like—”
“It might of been your hair.”
“He said somethin’ about hair that color, once. When we got him. There ain’t many people he sees with hair so light.”
The boy came back inside then, noisily; now that he was no longer carrying anything he looked to Swan a little taller, even larger perhaps. His face was a mass of stiff, arrested wrinkles; he might have just finished laughing.
“He don’t mean anything by it,” the deputy said. “He ain’t too bad. I don’t much care to look at his face, how it is, but he gets things done. You, Chap,” the deputy said. Now his tone had altered; it sounded almost buoyant. “You show the boy here how smart you are. He can answer some questions I taught him, just on days like this here, sittin’ around with nothin’ to do. Now you, Chap, you tell me how much is two an’ two put together.”
The boy was staring at the side of the deputy’s face. He answered softly, “Four.”
The deputy grinned at Swan. “Hear that? I taught it in him myself. He takes to me like I was a regular teacher. Now, Chap. How much is three an’ three put together?”
“Four an’ four?”
“Now. How much is five an’ five?”
“Ten.” The boy spoke deliberately and politely, watching the deputy.
“Hear that? He learnt just as easy. He can even tell me how much is eight take away four?”
“Ain’t he quick at that?” the deputy said. Swan was staring at them. “What’s wrong, boy? Don’t he surprise you? Go on, now. Ask him some yourself.”
“All right,” Swan said. He was leaning back against the door; he could feel the warmer air outside touching his head, part of his neck. “How much is ten take away five?”
The boy’s eyes jerked to him. “Five,” he said.
“How much is five take away ten?”
“Backwards—backwards of five.”
The deputy peered at Swan. “There ain’t no answer to that,” he said. “What did you ask him?”
“He answered it all right.”
“What did you ask? Five take away ten?”
The deputy laughed. “There ain’t no answer to that, then. It can’t be done.” Now he nodded toward the boy. “Here, that’s enough standin’ around. Take the rest of them papers out back, will you? I wish I could trust you to burn them, but I can’t.” He waited a minute; perhaps he could feel the boy listening intently to him. “You go on, now.”
“Yes,” said the boy.
“Take care. You’re goin’ to lose this job if you don’t do it right.”
The boy passed them and went to the stacks of stained newspapers.
“He learnt that just as easy, them arithmetic things. Only it’s queer how he does it. He don’t think on it any. You seen him. It’s like his voice just says the answer, an’ he don’t need to think on it himself.”
Swan laughed shortly. “I s’pose so,” he said.
“It’s a queer thing. I can’t figure it, but then—you heard him yourself.”
“Well,” Swan said abruptly. He cleared his throat. “I hope I ain’t—in nobody’s way here.”
“What? No. You’re all right.”
“I wouldn’t want to get in the way of the law or somethin’ . . . The reason I come over is I don’t get to see many folks, out where I live.” Swan went on glibly, his eyes drifting back and forth across the man’s face. “It’s a lonely enough place.”
“Ain’t you got any friends your own age?”
“Not any ones at all?”
Swan was gazing at the man. The deputy’s voice came to him out of the dim and faintly heavy air of the room, warm, more than warm, in a manner that seemed to him familiar, as though this had all happened once before, or perhaps he had only dreamed it—but if he had dreamed it, it was much more carefully, with more detail than the manner in which it was really happening now; that was the way of all dreams. So he watched the man carefully, listening for his words; it was as though he believed they might really tell him what the man was thinking.
“You must have friends in school, haven’t you?” the man said softly. “You must get to know some ones there your own age.”
“No,” said Swan.
“No,” said Swan. He spoke in a sharp, petulant way, like a child. “There ain’t any.”
“Any what? Any other kids?”
“Any ones my own age!”
“Any ones your . . .” The deputy eyed him for a moment, almost slyly; then his face relaxed. He sat without moving, his hands fatly before him, his trousers tight across his thick, creased knees. “You could always be friends with ones not your own age, then.”
Swan, looking at the man, aware of the boy stooping and tugging at something just behind him, wondered why the scene fixed so listlessly about him did not disintegrate, vanish. He wondered what dismal and tedious force sustained it, and himself within it, within this dim, airless room, with this fat man so bluntly before him. What could he mean by it, sitting there so heavily, so profoundly, gazing at Swan? What notions prompted him to remain without moving in the presence of a contempt he must surely feel, so deliberately thrusting his presence out upon Swan? The deputy’s expression was veiled, knowing; now he was calculating how correct he had been in sitting there, waiting for someone to come to him. And the boy behind him with that dirty white bandage about his head, now straightening it, now wiping his dark, glistening forehead—what might sustain him, a creature like that, what might force him in that pained and yet contented way to draw one breath after another, on and on, tediously, incredibly, long before Swan had ever seen him and, of course, long after he would leave?
“Somethin’ wrong with you?” the deputy said.
“No,” said Swan.
“You look—sure there ain’t somethin’ wrong?”
Swan shook his head. He could hear his breath again, a loud, rasping, annoying sound; he was sure that even the Negro boy, bent over the papers in that awkward, exaggerated position, his face averted, must be hearing the sound of that breathing. “I thought—I thought you were a deputy here,” Swan said, groping in his confusion. “I thought—”
“What? What makes you say that?” the deputy said loudly. “I sure am a deppity here!”
“You are? But—”
“I sure am! What do you think I mean to do, sittin’ here, if I wasn’t a deppity employed by this whole county, if I—”
“But you ain’t got a badge on.”
“I ain’t—oh. That.” The man glanced at the stained pocket of his shirt. “I ain’t got it on,” he said. Then he smiled. “But you don’t need a badge to be a lawman, now, do you? Even a country boy like you ought to know that. You don’t need a shiny thing stuck on your shirt to uphold the law.”
Swan nodded slowly. His head had begun to ache. He felt it was time to speak; the deputy seemed to be waiting for him. “It’s just on account of how lonely it gets, out where I live,” he began uncertainly. “The reason I come here, I mean. I thought I would just come here to see how things were.”
This was fine: the man was listening closely, his smile about to widen at any moment; even the Negro boy was peering at him out of his one squinted eye in a hushed and respectful manner—though that of course looked ridiculous, since he was stooped and held what must have been a heavy bundle of old papers before him in the most awkward way.
“A boy likes to come into town with his pa, any chance he gets,” he said. He imagined the deputy was even nodding. What must he say next, what would lead him to his story? He groped for a moment, his hands coming loose at his sides; he must keep on talking.
“You wouldn’t know how lonely it gets there,” he said. “But then it must of always been that way, that was how it was first of all. Sometimes I see it like it must of looked to the ones who come to this land first, a land they didn’t even know was here till they saw it. What must that of been, to see what they did? This building here and the street, the whole town, none of it built but only land . . . . How they must of thought on it, how it must of lured them to it, that they couldn’t resist; a place where all things might be different, where nothing had anything to do with anything else yet, where all things changed and they could change along with them . . . . Come to a new land, how could you remember what you used to be? Don’t you think that’s right? Don’t you?”
He was speaking earnestly now—his voice had never been more earnest—pleading with both the deputy and the boy. “Settlers . . . pioneers . . . sure,” the deputy said vaguely.
“But I think it might not of been that way, really,” Swan went on, as if this were some profound sadness, as if they were really listening. “I think it might of been like it always was. This was no new world to them; this was the old world still. When they come they made it old . . . . Even with all time ahead, it won’t get any different, will it? So much time ahead, I mean, you’d think it could wear down anything. Don’t you think so?”
The deputy was frowning. “There is a lot of time to come,” he said slowly and with the air of someone admitting a secret. “I wouldn’t argue it.”
“Well, then,” said Swan. He took a deep breath. “I mean to tell you about something happened a while ago. There was this church picnic they had, out in the Rapids, some church or whatever it was that has it every year on a Sunday. They’re known for their—chowder.” As he spoke he reached into his pocket slowly, decorously, so that he did not flick their eyes from his face. “What I heard about it was, these four or five boys, I don’t know what age, got in a fight or something. This always happens at picnics. Kids that ain’t seen each other for a time get all together and they always fight sooner or later, it’s just how kids are. You know. But there was something about . . . some other ones, maybe just two or three, I can’t much remember, colored ones I mean, that were doing something too . . . . They shouldn’t of come there. Or if they did they shouldn’t have made much noise and to-do about it or try and run off with things; they should of known somebody would see them. Because everyone was watching them all along, to see what they’d do. You can’t trust them with things out in the open, food and things. They sooner or later try to steal them to eat. So. I heard something about how they took something, a prize at a game, only they dropped it further on; they were laughing and all, and carrying on—that they shouldn’t of done either. They shouldn’t have. So these other ones started in to chase them and there was some kind of fight, I guess, it sounds all mixed up now, a fight with green pears for a while . . . ” Swan laughed. “It sounds just like kids, don’t it? A fight with green pears . . . ”
He laughed again; he was taken by surprise. The deputy smiled immediately, and even the Negro boy smiled, as though he understood Swan.
“Well. They gave them a hard time, I guess; they put up a hard enough fight. There was two of them. They crossed all these fields, running, going so far, and still laughing . . . . Then one of them went in the crick, and they heard him running in the water by the bank, just as clear as anything; then it was just nothing—he got away. It was so dark they couldn’t find him anywhere. But the other one stopped by the crick. He wasn’t done fighting but only stopped and waited for them, you know. They’ll do that sometimes, like a rat you got chased all the way down a stairs. He just stopped. What he should of done was not fight any more. Anyone would tell him that. If I’d been there I would have told it to him before the rest of them caught up, all mad like they were—I’d have told it to him so the others couldn’t hear, I’d have whispered it to him, so he’d understand. I’d’ve made him understand. But he didn’t do that, they said later, he picked up some stones . . .”
Swan had taken a pocketknife out and looked down at it, frowning. “Yes,” he said vaguely. “He shouldn’t of done it.”
The deputy was staring at him. Swan looked past the rusted blade of the knife at the man’s white, soft-looking face.
“Why did you come here?” the man said.
Swan shrugged his shoulders. “A boy in at town, nothin’ to do; why, we always come over . . .”
“But why did you come here?”
“I don’t know,” Swan said. He spoke defiantly. “My father couldn’t give me much of an answer to what I wanted to know; maybe that’s why. But I don’t know. I don’t. I don’t know why I do anything.”
“Just a minute, now—”
“I don’t know,” Swan said simply. He smiled, and the Negro boy’s teeth immediately gleamed, though the deputy only stared at him. “I don’t know why I do anything. There ain’t any reason. If there was a reason I would know about it, wouldn’t I? Here, now, what I meant to ask . . . What I come in here to ask . . . If someone like that did what he did, took a knife and did something to another person; say, cut at his eye with it . . . I was wondering how they would get at him to make up for it.”
Swan spoke shyly now, since he realized the position of the deputy and the significance of that badge which was not even on his shirt; he could feel his own heart beat begin to slow. “I wondered if they would cut out his own eye for him. I wondered if they would. They ought. But I mean to tell them that it ain’t enough . . . . What they might do to him with a knife of their own wouldn’t be enough. It would be just something equal to the other, what they do to him equal to what he did to the other person; but that ain’t what they ought to get at. It’s the first—the first thought of it they ought to get . . . I was just wondering,” he said apologetically, “if they knew how to do it. Unless they let it be its own punishment, when you feel you’re bleeding inside.”
Swan waited a moment, looking politely at the deputy. Then he stepped forward. The movement shocked both the deputy and the boy; he saw their eyes dart to his fingers, where he held the knife loosely by its blade. The boy stared at him, his mouth open. The deputy, however, was standing. Now how quickly he moved, and with what calm, dignified authority; he merely reached out and took hold of Swan’s wrist, however. “You put that away,” he said. “Go on, now, put that away. There ain’t no need of this.”
“I come all the—”
“You heard me, boy. Put it away.” “But I come—”
“Here, now.” He leaned to Swan; he had begun to smile again. “You put that away. A fine-lookin’ boy like you, you don’t know what you mean. You don’t know what you mean by it.”
Swan hesitated; he looked at the deputy’s face, which, in the thinning light, seemed to be protruding amiably toward him.
“I mean to do something with this,” Swan said. “I mean to let him use it on me. I mean to,” he said, though his voice had been drained of all its strength; it sounded empty and forlorn, a voice heard through a tunnel. “I mean to . . . ”
“Yes,” said the deputy, nodding. “Yes. You put that away, now. You’re all right.”
“But I walked all this way in,” Swan said. He had not the strength to pull back from the deputy, who was gripping his wrist rather tightly between his thick, lard-colored fingers; so Swan looked, perhaps for sympathy, around at the Negro boy, who was watching them both in openmouthed astonishment, still clumsily embracing the bundle of newspapers. “I walked all this way in to see the sheriff . . .”
“Yes,” said the deputy. “Yes. You, there, Chap. Ain’t you done with them papers yet?”
The boy looked as though he had been struck neatly across the face. “Mostly done,” he whispered.
“See you do it, then,” the deputy said, still facing Swan, his head turned only slightly toward the boy. “Get along. What do you expect we pay you for, to stand around all day? Huh?” When the boy did not reply the deputy turned farther, the cords of his neck standing out stiffly. The boy, however, was not looking at him; he seemed instead to be transfixed by something. Then he ducked his head a little and laughed.
“What’s wrong with you, there?” the deputy said. “Huh? What’s so funny now?”
The boy stopped laughing at once. He looked at the deputy. “Just that-there hair,” he said softly.
“That hair,” he said. “Such a color like that.”
The deputy must have been staring at him. “Well, yes,” he said. “You go on, now. Ain’t you got a lot to do this afternoon? Ain’t you? What do you mean, standin’ around here like this was a holiday or somethin’? This boy come in here to see me; he ain’t got nothin’ to do with you . . .”
“I come for the sheriff,” Swan said suddenly.
The deputy turned back to Swan. “Now you here, boy, you get a holt of yourself. You stop this-here tremblin’ like you are an’ get a holt of yourself. I wouldn’t wonder you were gettin’ sick, the way you act—might be comin’ down with the heat-exhaustion fever . . .” He spoke so calmly and with such cool, nearly austere dignity that Swan was unable for a moment even to reply; he did not know what to say, he was hardly able to raise his eyes to the man’s face.
“Maybe—maybe you ain’t the deputy,” he said. “Maybe I got in the wrong place . . .”
The man still held onto Swan’s wrist, but he leaned away with a neat, almost agile movement, picking something up off the window sill. When he moved, Swan saw that the office was empty now save for them. The boy had gone; the screen door at the back of the room was now swingly slowly and almost aimlessly shut. “Now, boy, if this helps you any,” the man said, “if you’d just get it straight that it don’t matter about him, it don’t matter one bit . . . Here,” he said. He had stuck the badge onto his shirt, on the sagging pocket; it was a little tarnished and in the poor light did not even seem metallic, but there was no mistaking it just the same. “If this helps you any. I s’pose a boy like yourself, a country boy an’ all, you got to have things spelt out kind of plain for you.”
Swan was looking at the badge. “Well, that’s it,” he said, with an air of agreement. “That’s it, all right.” He stood there for a moment or so, wondering what there was for him to say next. He had no idea at all, he simply waited for the words to come and arrange themselves. “Maybe I better be goin’ on back, now, my pa might be waitin’ . . .”
“Sure, boy. You go on back home,” the deputy said. He released Swan’s wrist. Only now could Swan begin to appreciate the strength of the man’s fingers. He gazed at his wrist in a slow, dreamy way; he believed he could even see the imprint of the man’s fingers in his flesh. “Any time you’re back in town you can come over if you want,” the deputy was saying. “You ain’t in anybody’s way. Most of the time there ain’t nothin’ doin’, but you never can tell with a sheriff office like this . . . . You just come on over any time you want.”