There was nothing to do on the island. The dogs chased glass
lizards into the dense myrtle bush. I don't know how the
children slept. Men and women did what they could to extin
guish the brightness of the stars.
One night my own supply of rum ran out, and I paced the
verandah of my little hut-on-stilts. A ship was passing, the
air was warm and moist like an animal's tongue. The island
had once been home to pirates and run-away slaves, and
giant sea turtles that crawled out by moonlight to lay their
eggs. I no longer remembered what brought me there. And
always the sound of the sea, like an overtone of eerie ap
plause, the clapping of the palms of the palmettos.
I was dreaming, slightly intoxicated, and I found myself
standing outside the little Catholic church, Stella Maris,
"Star of the Sea." The priest stood before me, a beaten, dis
shevelled man with ashes on his robes and the unmistakable
aroma of alcohol like an unholy ghost drawing us closer.
"These people," he said, waving his arm around at his imag
inary flock. "they think love's easy, something nice and tidy
that can be bought, that makes them feel good about them
selves. Believe me, it's a horrible thing to love. Love is a terri-
ble thing, terrible!"
And I, an unbeliever, believed him. The next day the owner
of the liquor store told me that the priest had been a Jew and
a lawyer from New York before converting and becoming a
priest assigned to this, the dregs of the Pope's Empire. Sharks
and wild boar had thinned-out the unbelievers. And Father
Moser drank through the night, testing his faith with Fyodor
I never knew whether or not I had dreamed-up that black-
hearted priest, but I left the island shortly, and only now
look back at my darkest hour with nostalgia.