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Monserrat Rock (a dream telling) - nhpeacenik
Monserrat Rock (a dream telling)
We took the ferry out to Monserrat rock. Ours was the only car on the ferry, and as soon as we pulled onto shore the ferry left, while we drove up the short, deserted but physically constricted main street to the tiny rental cottage we'd arranged to stay in. Monserrat Rock's only real attraction was the view from the inn carved out of the rock halfway up the red basalt monolith that was all there was to the island. This cottage we had rented didn't even have a view of the sea, so, as soon as we had put away our luggage, we donned our backpacks and set out hiking up the road, which had been carved painstakingly by slaves centuries ago, spiralling around and up the mountain to the inn.

As we pulled in a few minutes earlier, we missed seeing a woman whose dark curly hair flew rhythmically from side to side, run down the inn road and dart under the ferry-slip. The couple who had rented the front room at the inn, realizing that they could no longer stand each other's company, had quarrelled. The woman had run down the mountain and taken refuge in a quiet cranny by the shore, and the man, pursuing her, had chartered a boat to search for her off-island where he thought she might have gone. In their rage and haste, they had both forgotten their twin boy and girl, who had been playing on the grounds of the inn, out of earshot.

We arrived, out of breath, to find the inn looking deserted. We walked in the door and heard a woman's voice recording a voicemail message on the phone. The speakerphone was on and we could not help but hear. She told the man not to follow her, that she needed time alone to figure it all out.

We decided to camp out in the room, hearing no objection from our strangely silent consciences. We promised ourselves we would leave if the real tenants returned. Something in the southerly breeze seemed to make it feel as if our lives were charmed and anything we chose to do would work out well in the end. The room was well stocked with food and spirits. After a good lunch we went back to see the world-famous pool, carved out of the living rock, with a keyhole view of the sea below, and stocked with a variety of tame and wild animals. On the way, we found the children and decided we needed to take charge of them until one of their parents returned. There was plenty for them to do, and it seemed they were not at all perturbed to learn the parents had run off without them. They had become quite used to fending for themselves, as their parents were increasingly preocupied with petty bickering and rivalry. They promised to return from their play at dinnertime.

The kids had already been into the water, swimming alongside the many sizes of cat, dog, monkey and otter who also spent their days in and around the pool. As I was getting into the pool, I saw a tiger-sized  grey cat emerge on the other side of the pool and lie down in the shade. This disturbed me a little, but I had read that the wild animals here were quite placid and never attacked people, so wondrously unlike the other island a few miles across the salty water was this ruddy paradise of stone.

The effects of the swim were a revelation. I motioned to my companion to join me in the water, and together in the healing waters, we came to understand our fortunate position. I realized the the parents of these children had not even thought of taking a swim before they quarreled, and I thought how sad it was that they had come so close to the solution to their strife without arriving at it. Maybe it could yet be rectified.

Centuries before, a king was exiled to this place with his large retinue of slaves and the menagerie he had collected during his long life spent in the study of magic. He had been accused of witchcraft and had been banished to this rock. He and his companions moved into a warren of caves at the place where the ferry slip now stood, where earlier island residents had planted a lush garden with date palms, grape vines and olive trees. The king promised the slaves he would let them go free on the next boat that visited the island if they would build him a home high on the rock and a road to reach it by. With the promise of freedom, the former slaves went to work with great energy and before the year was out, the construction project was complete. Not long after that, a merchant ship, unaware of the king's exile status, pulled ashore to look in wonder at the spiral road and were persuaded by the king, in consideration of payment in pearls and ivory, to take the former slaves to an uninhabited island he knew, where the soil and water were good and there were no human inhabitants to re-enslave them. The king himself complied with his banishment, knowing that the combined effect of that and his emancipation of the slaves along with his already great magical powers would permit him to exempt this one island forever from the laws that subjected all other places on earth to their fair share of misery.

The king's amimals became immortal, and they were exempted from the laws of the jungle, including the one that required them to eat. The pleasure that animals usually derive from eating and dominating each other now came from breathing the island's magical winds and soaking in its soothing waters.

As for the king, some say he still lives on the island in a form so ethereal as to be one with the wind of this place.

At dinner we talked with the twins, shared our experiences and some more fine food, then sang songs and told stories and drifted off to sleep. At dawn we started cleaning and organizing the room, then we prepared a breakfast for six, knowing, somehow, that the parents would be here soon.

We woke the twins and walked out on the front patio. The woman appeared first, and after initial surprise, thanked us for looking after the kids. We told asked her if it was OK with her to share breakfast with us before we went back to the foot of the rock. She said, " Of course!"

Sitting around the table, we all paused, expectantly. Somehow we knew the man would be here for breakfast, too. Like clockwork, around the bend he came walking. The woman beckoned to him and his fearful look changed to a smile as the south wind blew gently on both their faces. "Can you forgive me?" he asked. The woman gestured to him to come and take the seat beside her. The food and conversation were good, with a considerable amount of genial laughter. When we were finished, I asked, "Anyone for a swim?"

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