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Monday, March 15

From the Diaries of Peter M. Sexton ● Santiago de Cuba, 1920

Monday, March 15

The sky is clear now. There is no hint of apology from the clouds for the fuss of the night before. They ease white and puffy across the north as if to say “who, me?” Sorry, dear fellow, can’t hear you, too much air between. To the starboard gulls wheel, or else pace upon some long, low, scruffy island, witless, unaware of anything. One finds a crab, tires to escape unnoticed with the silly, spidery thing dangling helpless beneath. The other birds see, and follow, and a fracas ensues. Everyone eats.

I left Santiago; I had done what I could, and further labor was unlikely to produce any result. It was unsatisfactory, but there was little use in throwing good hours after bad. I am returning to Havana now, and we shall see what we shall see.

It was a stark morning in the house of Calvo y López. A son of the late landlady had been contacted, and he was returning from the north; I left a note instructing him how to contact me for the remainder of what I owed.

I had stayed long in bed, getting up closer to noon than sunrise; downstairs I found not only Miss Pulver and Miss Karas, but also Submariner Lamb. The police had informed Miss Pulver early that a skiff had been reported stolen during the night and that two white men fitting the description of Mordecai Seagrave and Captain Adamski were spotted leaving the mouth of the harbor at daybreak. Perhaps they were heading for Port-au-Prince, from there to make their way up through the Bahamas to Florida. Captain Adamski was also being sought by the authorities in connection with a fire that had destroyed El Club Huracán yesterday afternoon just before the storm.

I found it difficult to look Miss Pulver in the eyes this morning; she sat quietly in an armchair with a handkerchief clutched on her lap, while Miss Karas kept by her side and did her best to not look lost. However, I could well imagine the thoughts that would have been struggling their way into the light of their minds. Who could they talk to? Where should they go? Should they remain in Cuba and hope to hear word, or should they return to the States? More importantly, at the moment Miss Pulver was engaged to a murderer. What would happen if he fled to the U.S. and Cuba asked for his return to stand trial? I do not know. Did she still love him? I did not know. Surely theirs is no whirlwind romance that would dissolve into thin air the moment the storm of infatuation blows itself out, but….

As I stood before her, struggling to find words to say, I saw that she was playing with the odd little totem that Seagrave had brought back with him from under the sea, that thick, black, glasslike cylinder that I had seen on the first day I met her. Someone had supplied her with a thong to thread through the loop to make a necklace. She stared at it, seemingly unaware of anything else, and then as I watched she slipped the leather lanyard over her head and let the thing fall to her breast; it lay quietly upon the silk like some some sleeping bottle imp curled upon her bosom. It gave her a wild and foreign look, a traveler of the stars. Finally she looked up at me with eyes the color of the Caribbean sea and breakers of tears ready to spill down her cheeks. Her beauty now was so close, I ached to put my hand on her cheek for just that moment, but it was as if a great chasm had been torn between her and the ordinary world, and that now she was drifting away to some dark and strange place where I could not follow.

“May God be with you,” I said. Then I left.

The gulls glide with us now; by some trick of the wind they hover impossibly, like stones in the air, just out of reach. I do not know what to think of this land of pirates and Indians and conquistadors and forts and guns and rum and swine and the great pincushion palm trees prickling the hills. The men who I represent need only the sugar, not the rest; these impurities must be sloughed away. Remove a cube of Cuba, wash it, boil it, burn it with acid until all that remains is glittering crystal.

A porpoise breaches. And what of the Fisher of Men? Are we brought to Him as we are, with our familiar impurities, or only some refined essence? Or are we to refine ourselves, stripping away all that makes us our own self until there is only left a clear hard melting sweetness? Or does He love as we love, coming to cherish the colors and sounds and breathing, awkward and unlovely as they may be?

Now to the east I see that mainland, the rolling hills a sleeping maiden, head resting on one plump outstretched arm, the other cradling a full bosom. Delicate ridges of rockhair course down to the ripples of the sea, a smooth haunch poised against the sky in that slow soft curve that only nature can make. Behind me the great gulf of the sea roars, a churning emptiness where sailors are lost for years, dead from thirst, boats smashed, nothing between them and the abyss but a bark of wood and everywhere there is salt and drowning. Over my head still hangs the single white bird.

God forgive me for when I have been less than I should be. Save us all from danger. Please someday bring me home, for I have so very much left to do.


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