Author: Paul House
Pages: 300

Dust before the Wind (2001): 1. November 5th. Morning.

                                             1

 

 

 

November 15th. Morning.

 

 

            Fausto used to have a donkey. Now, though, he had to walk into town to the nearest store. Five kilometres there, and five kilometres back again. He pushed an empty wheelbarrow with a flat tyre which he used to carry his meagre shopping home and, over his shoulder, he carried a greasy bag with a dozen eggs inside. Before he had left, his sister, Lorenza, had reminded him. “Don’t forget the aspirins.” The eggs were for the Chemist. Fausto would swap them for the aspirins. Lorenza fed aspirins to the chickens when they wouldn’t lay on account of their headaches. This winter they’d had a lot of headaches. Only half way through November and he already owed the Chemist over sixty eggs.

            Fausto looked up the road ahead of him towards Villafuentes and he panted a little, short of breath. The road was empty and the trees came right to the edge on both sides. He stopped pushing the wheelbarrow and, sure that he was alone, he turned to look again at the old, leather suitcase he had just passed in the road.

“What would you want with a suitcase?” he asked himself. “You don’t go nowhere.”

And he peered off into the forest at the side of the road, half-expecting the owner to appear. For a moment he thought he saw a small boy running between the trees but then he listened hard, and the only sounds he could hear were the noises of the forest waking up. Silence breeds silence, but the forest was pregnant and fat with sounds. He shuffled forwards a couple of steps and answered his previous question.

“I don’t want the suitcase. Only what’s inside it.”

            Fausto walked slowly over to the suitcase and knelt on one knee beside it. Looking about him again, into the forest and up and down the empty road, he reached his hand gingerly towards the rusted latch, pressed it and it clicked open with a soft thud. Although there was no one there, Fausto made a languid movement with his hand, rubbed his chin and sniffed, thinking that was what a man would do who was opening his case at dawn on a small road in the middle of the forest. Again he looked up and down the road and again the road was empty. With a sudden lunge, he flipped the lid of the case open and the lid lolled back on loose, worn hinges till it rested on the ground. Fausto peered into the suitcase.

“Clothes!” he said in disgust, except on closer examination, there was a hand too. And a foot. And a mass of blooded flesh beneath the sheet he had thought a nightdress.

            Fausto walked back to his wheelbarrow and would have left. But he knew he would only find the suitcase and the mutilated body again on his way home. He sat down on the barrow. There was a rustling behind him in the trees, but when he turned he could see nothing. The road was still empty and the forest was still full, but not of people.

“Could go back home,” he said. “Pretend I was sick all day.”

            He looked at the suitcase.

“Or just dump it in amongst the trees.”

            But the sound of a car in the distance made him panic. Without thinking, he slammed the case shut and struggled with it back to his wheelbarrow. The tyre wheezed and hissed out its last bit of air beneath the dead weight of the body. Fausto lurched the barrow forwards and was stumbling down the road, wheezing casually himself by the time the car drew level with him, tooted and disappeared in a cloud of yellow dust.

            It was only when he struggled into Villafuentes pushing the barrow and the body that he realised he had left the bag of eggs behind.

 

            “You get to depend on chickens,” said Aristóbulo, with the wisdom of one who depends on nothing.

“Damned right you do!” Fausto agreed, and he tipped back a small glass of aguardiente. The bar was empty.

“So you took the body to the Justice of the Peace?”

“Wasn’t much of a body,” said Fausto. “Wasn’t much of a body at all.”

“Who was it?” Aristóbulo leaned onto the bar with his question.

“Wasn’t even enough of a body to tell if it was man or woman,” said Fausto, matter of fact. The suitcase had become, in his mind, almost immediately a tub of raw meat. “Could’ve been almost anything.”

“It wasn’t, though, was it?” said Aristóbulo. “Wasn’t almost anything.”

“No,” said Fausto, grudgingly. “It was human.”

“Man or woman,” said Aristóbulo.

“That’s what the Justice of the Peace asked,” Fausto added gravely, looking round the bar. “But I just saw it as meat.”

“I reckon you might have took it home and ate it, if that’s what you thought.”

            Fausto shook his head.

“I ain’t that dumb,” he said sulkily, and he got up and walked round to the other side of the bar. The bottle of aguardiente was on the counter by his glass, but Fausto looked along the row of bottles. If Aristóbulo hadn’t known he couldn’t, he might have thought he was reading the labels. Fausto turned back to the counter and poured the aguardiente.

“It come out good this year,” he said.

            Aristóbulo nodded.

“It’s good every year,” he said.

            Fausto returned from behind the counter and sat down again on the barstool. He looked at the small, glass thimble of aguardiente for a long time before speaking.

“I reckon,” he said finally, “that most people that finds a dead body are lucky enough to get something out of it, lucky enough to be able to steal something, at least. All I get is trouble.”

“What trouble?” asked Aristóbulo slowly.

“Only had to give them my name,” Fausto complained, as though it might have been something physical he had left behind and would now have to do without. “And then there’s them damn eggs.”

“What they gonna do with your name?”

Fausto sniffed.

“There’s questions,” he said. And then added, a touch of unavoidable pride momentarily masking his fear of authority, “That only I can answer.”

“What questions are those?”

“I don’t know,” said Fausto. “They ain’t asked me yet.”

Aristóbulo took a plug of tobacco and some cigarette papers from his pocket and placed them on the counter by the thimble of aguardiente.

“Don’t reckon I’d fancy them asking me no questions,” said Aristóbulo.

“Don’t reckon they’d want to ask you,” said Fausto. “You didn’t find no dead body, did you?”

 

 





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1. November 5th. Morning.