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At first she regretted the winnowing, but then she did not: she had had a mind, but nothing had properly got in its way. That happens. The same for bodies: there were good athletes in this world who had never had the right field or the right ball get in their way. It was particle physics when you got down to it, and the numbers of people in the world today and the numbers of things to occupy them made the mechanics of successful collision difficult. So she’d burn her swamp, pat her good trees, cook her egg. She had one old clock radio, a GE in a vanilla plastic cabinet with a round dial for a tuner, which she played at night. If there were storms, she listened to the static of lightning.

When the swamp had returned in its briary vitriolic vengeance, reminding her of a beard coming out of a face that was too close to hers, she set it afire a fourth time. The fire went taller than before, so she walked around to the front of the house to see if you could see it from there, and, if you could, if it looked like the house was on fire, and there was the sheriff, parking his car.

He rolled down the window and said, “I’ve got you two puppies.” She looked in at the front seat and saw that he did. All puppies are cute, but these seemed abnormally cute. She discarded, immediately, protest. She was not going to be the sort, no matter how holed up and eccentric, to refuse a dog because of the responsibility and other nonsense.

“What kind are they?”

“The kind dogfighters give me just before they have themselves a convention.” The sheriff opened the door and let the puppies out and got out himself. They all walked back to the fire. At one point the sheriff misjudged the ground and veered sharply into Mrs. Schuping and nearly knocked her down. He was so big and tight that he felt like the oak walls of the ships that flung cannon-balls back, which Mrs. Schuping did not know had made her trees, under which they now walked, attractive to a shipbuilder two hundred years before.

The fire was a good one. There was a screaming out of human register as oxygen and carbon clawed each other to pieces, going through peat and leaf and the dirt that somehow stayed up in the leaves, even when it rained, giving the swamp its dusty look that would never be right for National Geographic. The dirt in the trees presumably turned to glass, and maybe that was why, Mrs. Schuping thought, the fire always sounded like things breaking. Tiny things breaking, a big fiery bull in the shop.

Without an inkling of premeditation, she turned to the sheriff, who was breathing and creaking there in standard fashion, and balled her fist, and very slowly brought it to his stomach and ground it mock-menacingly into him as far as it would go, which was about an inch. At this the sheriff put his hand on the back of her neck and did not look from the fire. They regarded the fire in that attitude, and the puppies romped, and in the strange orange light they looked posed for a family portrait at a discount department store.

Before going into the house, the sheriff knocked the mud off his boots, then decided that would not do and took his boots off and left them outside the back door on the porch. Mrs. Schuping put two eggs on to boil. The sheriff, who she thought might go three hundred pounds, should not eat an egg, she knew, but it was what you ate after a swamp fire — boiled hard, halved, heavy salt and pepper, and tasting somehow of smoke — and it was all she had, anyway.

They peeled the eggs at the metal table and put the shells in the aluminum pot the eggs had cooked in. Mrs. Schuping peeled hers neatly, no more than four pieces of shell, but the sheriff rolled his on the table under his palm until it was a fine mosaic. He rubbed the tiny bits of shell off with his thumb.

When the sheriff came out of the bathroom and stood by the bed, Mrs. Schuping became frightened beyond the normal, understandable apprehensions a woman can have before going to bed with a new man, especially the largest one it is conceivable to go to bed with. She also had a concern for the bed itself, and even for the structural capacity of the house — but that was hysterical; the sheriff was safely upstairs, and no matter what he did he would not get any heavier. Something else frightened her. It was as if a third party were in the room, a kind of silent presence, and then she realized what it was. The sheriff, naked, without his creaking leather, was quiet for the first time, a soundless man. It gave her goose bumps.

“Get in.”

Mrs. Schuping decided it was best to trust a man this large in the execution of his own desire and let him near-smother her. He made a way for air for her over one of his shoulders and began what he was about, which seemed to be an altogether private program at first but then got better, until she could tell the sheriff was not simply a locomotive on his own track, and things got evenly communal, traces of smoky fire in the room, but enough air. Mrs. Schuping thought of winnowing and sailing records and her mother and of how long a gizzard has to cook to be tender, how much longer than a liver, and she lost track until she heard the sheriff breathing, about to die like a catfish on a hot sidewalk, and stop.

“Mizz Shoop,” the sheriff said, when he could talk, “this is my philosophy of life and it proves it. Almost everything can happen. Yingyang.”

“What would be an example, Sheriff?”

“Well — this,” he said, his arms arcing in the space over them and reballasting the bed. “And did you hear about them boys killed that girl for p — Excuse me. For sex?”

The sheriff then related the details of a rape case he had worked on. It was not the sort of talk she expected to follow a First Time, but she let him go on and found that she did not mind it. The sheriff had set in motion the pattern of rude and somewhat random speech that would follow their lovemaking in the high springy bed under the ripped ceiling. You would be allowed to say whatever was on your mind without regard to etiquette or setting. Once, it embarrassed her to recall, she declaimed apropos of nothing while they were still breathless, “Listen. I have a father and a mother. I’m a real person.”

To this the sheriff firmly rejoined, “I think the whole goddamn country has lost its fucking mind.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Mrs. Schuping said.

They could talk like this for hours, their meanings rarely intersecting. The last thing the sheriff said before leaving that first night was “Fifty pounds in the morning. They’ll be all right under the porch.” Mrs. Schuping slept well, wondering fifty pounds of what under the house before she drifted off.

The sheriff had initiated a pattern with this remark, too, but she did not know it. She would find that the sheriff was given to talking about things that he did not bother to preface or explain, and that she preferred not asking what the hell he was talking about. Whatever the hell he was talking about would become apparent, and so far the sheriff had delivered no unwanted surprises. She saw just about what she was getting.

In the river of life’s winnowing, the sheriff represented a big boulder in the bed of the dwindling stream. It eventually would be eroded from underneath and would settle and maybe sink altogether. Mrs. Schuping, therefore, did not find the facts of her aggressively winnowing life and the solid, vigorous mass of her new man to be in conflict at all.

She had never known a man so naturally unrefined. Despite his bulk, the sheriff gave her a good feeling. That was as specific as she could be about it. He gives me a good feeling, she thought, marveling at the suspicious simplicity of the sentiment.