When a devastating hurricane hits the Caribbean island of Domenique, its inhabitants are forced into a singular struggle to survive and rebuild. Isolated in their midst is Ted, a Peace Corps volunteer who fled the ashes of his former life only to find himself labeled an outsider. Infatuated by the enigmatic wife of his only friend, Ted thrusts himself into a world beyond his comprehension. As obsession turns to desperation, tensions grow and Ted is forced to decide exactly how far he will go to rebuild amidst the muddy ruins.
They fucked up the order of the reels. First, third, second. It took the audience a little while to figure it out. There was a sudden change of pace. An unaccounted for shift in the action. A sudden rough transition. Confused people sat in the dark, watching the flickering light from the projector. The realization popped amongst a few scattered individuals. The sparks caught hold and spread. A smartass comment was followed by a second. Voiced complaints went from light to heavy. People began moving towards the exit, demanding an explanation. Someone started yelling for refunds. The pimple faced kid behind the snack counter was overwhelmed. The owner came out of the ticket booth, his voice booming his mantra on endless repeat. No refunds. No refunds. Shouting. A few maintained their posts as the chairs were abandoned. A couple stayed in their chairs near the front, their faces lit by flashes of light on the screen. They were calm. At ease. An island of serenity in the growing storm of chaos. He leaned over and whispered a joke. She laughed. He smiled. It could be the start of the apocalypse and everything would be fine. She kissed him gently on the neck. Someone threw a punch at the owner. The couple started making out, oblivious to the world around them.
The cool breeze swept the memory away. It swayed the palms and fondled the fronds of the banana trees behind the rusted chain link fence at the bottom of the hill. It smelled of the ocean. It felt good. Ted trudged upwards from the mercantile in the evening light with a half gallon bottle of rum in his hand. He was tired. It had been a long day of hiking to farms higher up on the mountain. The light wind crystallized the sweat on his brow and loosened his shirt where it stuck to his back. Ted’s eyes stared down at the dirt and gravel of the road, willing his blue denim covered legs to carry his leather booted feet closer to home. With each step droplets of sweat broke loose and ran down his legs, joining their brethren in the fallen socks that bunched about the top of his work boots.
“Theodore my friend. At the rate you're going it will be morning before you get here. Hurry up, my throat is dry.”
Charles Xavier Skerritt laughed. Ted looked up at the row of single room houses that was his goal, catching the flash of white teeth in Charles Xavier’s dark face. The houses were neatly built with good roofs of sheet metal and solid walls of cinderblocks. There were five of them. White, yellow, red, orange, and purple. They all belonged to the same man, Malik, who owned the mercantile and rented the houses out cheap. All of the houses were identical except in color. Door and window in front. Door and window in back. Blank walls on either side. No reason to need to know what your neighbor was doing. Ted lived in the red one. Charles Xavier lounged in a wooden chair outside of the yellow house next door. Ted took a deep breath, wiped the salt from his brow, and redoubled his efforts. Charles Xavier cheered him on, his long fingered hands lazily beckoning before unconsciously brushing the gray hair at his temples.
Charles Xavier was not a big man, he was lean, his knees and elbows knots of bone. He sat with his chair leaned back against the wall of his house, his feet wrapped around the chair legs. His blue postman shirt hung open and his hands sat clasped in his lap. A half full mailbag sat on the ground next to him. Charles Xavier was not young, but he was not old. He claimed the gray in his hair made his handsome face more distinguished. Every move Charles Xavier made was graceful. Compared to him Ted’s movements all felt as ungainly as those of a circus bear forced to walk on its hind legs for a cheering crowd.
Ted flopped down in the offered chair and put the rum bottle on the table between them. He ran his hands through his wavy brownish red hair, thinning already at twenty-two, sat back, and stretched his tired legs out in front of him. Charles Xavier grinned at the younger man, cracked the top off of the rum bottle, and poured two large dollops into the glasses sitting on the small table between them.
“What, no beer my friend? I thought for sure a rich American like you could afford to buy your friend a cold beer.”
Ted returned a half smile.
“Not on a Peace Corps salary my friend.”
Charles Xavier handed one of the glasses to Ted and lifted his own. He stretched forward and tinked the two drinks together. Both men took a healthy swallow. Charles Xavier’s face relaxed with satisfaction. Ted’s face contorted into a grimace. The rum was cheap. It tasted like sweetened gasoline. Charles Xavier laughed at Ted’s reaction.
“You look tired.”
“I am tired.”
“Come now, it couldn’t have been that hard of a day.”
“You try lugging my heavy pack around the mountain all day.”
Charles Xavier gave Ted a false look of wounded pride and tapped his mailbag with his foot.
“You think mine is any lighter?”
Charles Xavier laughed again and took another drink of his rum.
“And how were your friends, the farmers, today?”
“Crusty and cranky as ever.”
Charles Xavier’s eyes narrowed and his lips stretched into a close lipped devilish smile. Ted waited for the next line he knew would come.
“And how about the farmers’ wives?”
Ted took another drink.
Charles Xavier brayed with laughter. Ted stayed quiet and stared down the hill at the buildings of the town of Titou. The mercantile was at the lowest point in the clearing. Ted had gone down to use the telephone to call home. He had promised his mother that he would do it every week, but in reality it was closer to monthly. His mother had talked about the usual. The squirrels that visited the yard. The family. The neighbors. Everyone was doing fine. How about him? The standard reply. He was fine. How were things? What was it like there? It was nice. Different, but nice. The same closing every time. We’re all so proud of you. The conversations with his father were much more succinct. A few short basic questions followed by a quick story about the latest foibles at the potato plant. This week some guy named Juan had wanted to change shifts because both his wife and girlfriend were working the same shift as well. The week before it had been two of the old women in their seventies who checked the potatoes for broken glass claiming that a third was stealing their cigarettes.
Aside from having the only phone in the area, the mercantile also had the only TV. The news had been on when Ted was down calling his parents. He took a sip of rum and tried to change the subject.
“You hear about the tropical storm headed toward Trinidad?”
Charles Xavier didn’t take the bait. He jabbed Ted’s arm with two fingers. “You need to relax my friend. Maybe reconsider the farmer’s wives. Some may not be much to look at, but they know how to help a man relax.”
Charles Xavier laughed again. Ted took another drink and looked over at his friend. White teeth and white eyes bright in a black face. For a moment he wondered if it was racist to think such things. Neither Idaho or Montana had been the kind of place where such questions had much of an opportunity to come up.
“I am relaxed.”
“You can’t lie to me Theodore. Look at you. For god’s sake, you're nearly buttoned to the neck.”
Ted turned back to the vista of the town and the banana plantation. His hand self-consciously fingered the top button of his shirt. He took another drink of rum. A chicken rounded the corner of the house and pecked the dirt in front of them. Most of the feathers on the chicken’s back were gone, pulled off by the rooster in its passion. The breeze felt good. Just a hint of salt from the out of sight ocean. You could see the broad blue waters farther up on the mountain, but in Titou they were still too low. Ted threw back his rum, put the empty glass on the table, and undid the top three buttons of his shirt. Charles Xavier laughed, swallowed the last of his rum, and refilled the glasses.
“See my friend. Doesn’t that feel better? If you’re going to live on Domenique, you might as well live Domenique.”
Ted nodded, but didn’t answer. He felt uncomfortable. His fingers played with the loose buttons, wanting to put them back in place. Ted wiped his hands on his jeans and picked back up his refilled glass. He could feel Charles Xavier watching him from the corner of his eye.
“Are you hungry?”
“You don’t have to feed me.”
“Nonsense. You brought the rum. The least I can do is put some food in your belly.”
Charles Xavier cocked his head back towards the open window and gave out a yell.
“Woman. Hey woman. Bring something to eat out for our friend Theodore.”
The interior of the house stayed silent. Charles Xavier looked at Ted, then back at the window, and then back at Ted again, his face shifting from smile to worry. Sounds of movement came from within the house. Charles Xavier gave a self-satisfied little grin, took a drink of rum, and sat back in his chair to enjoy the sight of the world below.
Camilla emerged from the cool shadows of the house carrying a tray. Short. Solid, but light. Floating on every step. Younger than the older man, but older than the younger. Charles Xavier clapped his hands and hooted at his wife.
“There you are my sweet one. What have you brought for us?”
Camilla didn’t answer. She moved forward on strong legs and deposited the tray on the table between the men. As she bent forward the neckline of her dress hung open. Ted, watching her as she worked, found his gaze slipping into the shadow, past the wonderful contrast of bright green against dark skin. Down into the depths of a hidden world of rounded mounds and dark black nipples. Camilla looked up from her work and her eyes pulled him up from the abyss. Ted’s eyes locked onto hers, the flush of his cheeks hidden by his sunburn. Pervert. Immoral. Degenerate. Her eyes said none of these things. They just gazed evenly into his, watching, assessing. Camilla’s lips moved upward into a smile.
“Woman, what is this? Just a couple bananas and a single papaya?”
The gaze was broken. Camilla turned towards her husband and shrugged. Ted had never heard her speak in his presence, not once in his six months on the island. Husband and wife stared at each other, fighting a silent battle of wills. Charles Xavier turned away. Camilla shrugged again and headed back into the house. Both men watched the sway of her backside until she was out of sight. Charles Xavier turned towards Ted and laughed. Ted turned back to the vista below.
“My apologies, it appears that this is all the feast that my home can offer.”
Charles Xavier leaned forward, gesturing with his glass, spilling small droplets of rum down his front.
“A guest from America such as yourself deserves to be fed the best of this island. Yam and rice. Fresh fish. Mountain chicken.”
“It’s really okay.”
Charles Xavier made as though he was getting up and then flopped back into his chair.
“I guess we’ll just have to make do with what we have.”
Charles Xavier pulled a pocket knife from his shorts and started slicing the papaya in two. Long clever fingers. Black on top and white on the bottom. Questions of what counted as racism bubbled again to the surface of Ted’s mind. Such unbidden thoughts and worries had been plaguing him since he had arrived. Why worry about such things? That’s what he kept telling himself. The world was different here. He was the one alone. The clever fingers pulled the two halves apart, revealing the golden flesh within, and shucked out the black seeds. Charles Xavier flicked the seeds onto the ground and took a bite out of one half. He held out the other half to Ted. Ted raised his hands, palms facing outward.
“No please, you have the whole thing.”
“Nonsense Theodore. You must have half. Papayas are as sweet as a woman’s kiss.”
“It’s okay. I’ll just have a banana.”
“I insist. These bananas are not good enough for you. I insist that you share in the bounty of my house.”
Charles Xavier stretched forward, pushing the papaya closer to Ted. Ted looked at the open window of the house, then back at Charles Xavier. He took the papaya half. Charles Xavier watched expectantly until Ted took a bite.
“You see Theodore. It’s very sweet, isn’t it?”
It was. Ted’s eyes fell to his hands.
The evening sun sank below the horizon and the first few scattered stars peeked down through its wake. Ted finished his half of papaya, laid the skin on the table, and got up.
“It’s getting late. I’m going to head inside.”
“Okay my friend. Don’t forget your rum. It would be a shame for some delinquent to down it without you.”
Ted lifted his glass and drained the last swallow of rum. The world around him felt buoyant and light. He put down the glass, picked up the bottle, and staggered towards his red house next door. Charles Xavier watched Ted as he struggled to mount his porch and open his door. He pulled a small chain off his neck, and fumbled with the two keys on it to get the right one into the lock. The door opened.
“Good night Theodore.”
“Good night Charles Xavier.”
The inside of the house was dark. Ted felt blindly until his hand came in contact with the string hanging in the middle of the room. A single bulb flared to life, the light blinding at first before fading to more comfortable levels. The house was small, just a single room. The doors sat at the center of their respective walls. The windows were on the opposite sides of their respective doors. Ted put the rum bottle down on the Formica counter to his left, the lime green surface broken only by a small sink and two burner stovetop. The squat fridge at the end of the counter, an old model with a locking handle, belched and coughed to life. The compressor produced a loud hum that permeated the air. Ted locked the door and sat down on one of the two chairs at the small table beneath the front window. The white paint on the table and chairs was chipped and flecking away. Ted slid off his boots and then his clothes, pale and naked for all the world to see. He left his clothes in a pile on the floor. There was no underwear. He hadn’t worn underwear since soon after arriving. It was too hot for such things. Too humid.
The toilet was on the same side wall as the table, alone in its corner, separable from the world by a mildew covered curtain. Ted didn’t bother to close the curtain when he took a piss. He stared down at the yellow stream and swayed from side to side. He felt drunk. It would probably be best if he got some food in his belly before he went to bed. The toilet flushed with a half-hearted gurgle. Ted stood in the middle of the room, undecided. He looked at his cot setup under the rear window, surrounded by a thin gossamer of mosquito netting hanging from the ceiling. His duffel bag was shoved underneath. His half open silk sleep sack, just a sleeping bag liner with a fancy name, sat on top; the red, white, and blue interior inviting him in with its promises of comfort and concealment. Fuck it. Ted yanked string and extinguished the light. He stumbled through the darkness, careful staggering steps, before finding the soothing confines that he sought. The sweet taste of the papaya was still on his tongue. Fuck it. Fuck all of it. Ted laid in the darkness, staring up at the shadows of the trees and the twinkling swath of the stars. Sleep. Sleep would be good.
Muffled voices emanated from the house next door. A woman’s giggle and a man’s laugh. Metallic squeaks. Random movements shifting into a steady pace. Heavy breathing. A quiet moan. Sounds growing in volume. A cry in the night, stifled and cut off. A second, this one allowed to go free. Bending over with a smile. The flash of black nipples. Ted stared upward at the stars and pretended not to listen. He tried to think of a world far away. A world of snowstorms, classwork, and flip cup. Another moan. The mind can ignore, but the body listens. Stiffness grew below his waist. Blood flow increased. A tent pole rose in the middle of his sleep sack staring up at him accusingly. Ted rolled onto his side.
The rhythm of the squeaks increased. Faster. Quicker. Harder. A steady guttural chant cheering them on. Sweat covered Ted’s body. A burst. A loud cry in the night. Blessed silence. Ted was breathing deeply. The stars winked through the thin glass of the window. He rolled from one side to the other in his sleep sack. It was no good. He couldn’t get comfortable. The pumps were primed.
Light skin speckled with freckles. Tan lines. Abrupt sharp borders of light to dark. Hungry lips on his. Pink nipples in his mouth and beneath his fingers. Blonde hair pooling across his lap. A hand on his hip, the nails painted bright pink. Bright blue eyes peering upwards. A woman’s husky voice in his ear.
“Do you love me?”
“Tell me that you love me.”
“You know I do.”
“I want to hear you say it.”
“I love you.”
Dark brown skin in sharp contrast with his white. Big brown eyes and a laughing smile. Hard black nipples peering from the hidden depths of the open neckline of her dress. Rising feeling. Growing ecstasy. Shame. Shame of thought. Shame of action. Climbing. Climbing to the top. To the peak. All the way. Ted’s free hand fumbled around in the duffel bag beneath the cot. He pulled out a pair of boxer shorts. His hips jerked involuntarily. The world spun and came crashing down. The soiled boxers dropped to the concrete floor. Ted laid still and waited for his breathing and heartbeat to slow. Fuck. What the fuck? God damn it. You perv. You dirty little perv. Ted rolled onto his back and stared out the window at the night sky. He closed his eyes and let himself drift off to sleep.