Ear­li­er this week, Daniel Tor­day wrote about con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish writ­ers in a world post-Philip Roth and allud­ing to the Torah in the mod­ern nov­el. He is the author of the recent­ly pub­lished nov­el The Last Flight of Poxl West and has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series.

Almost a decade ago now, after much delib­er­a­tion, my wife and I decid­ed to take our hon­ey­moon on the island of Domini­ca. An old friend had hon­ey­mooned there and loved it — it was the nature island of the Caribbean, and while we loved the beach and each oth­er, we didn’t want just to lie around in the sun for two weeks. I’d long heard of the island because my grandmother’s cousins, John and Rene, had been liv­ing there for almost two decades. John had been a World Bank offi­cial. In a life­time of trav­el around the world, that was where he had decid­ed to set­tle. So we’d vis­it. We would spend a week at an eco-tourist resort on the ocean side of the island, and then spend three days with these cousins on the Caribbean side. 

We left North Car­oli­na Mon­day morn­ing after our wed­ding. After sleep­ing the whole flight from Mia­mi, I awoke to see where, out­side my win­dow, out of the blue sea moaned the wild green island. Domini­ca is less than ten miles across. The entire island is com­prised of a series of vol­ca­noes, as high as forty-sev­en hun­dred feet tall. It appeared as if we were two peo­ple, in love, fly­ing togeth­er direct­ly into a tan­gle of ver­dant jun­gle. Instead we land­ed, took a ver­tig­i­nous two-hour jeep ride that test­ed the lim­its of my inner ears, tak­ing 145-degree turns on roads that seemed to drop a thou­sand feet straight into steam­ing chasms, to a resort called Jun­gle Bay. Sim­ple huts had been built using the trees cut down to clear a space for the place. Utter beau­ty. For a week we kayaked, got dai­ly mas­sages togeth­er while being plied with fresh fruit juice, ate papaya and man­go and pineap­ple our guide picked and cut while we walked. 


A week lat­er we took a taxi to my cousins’ house. The place was called Curry’s Rest. The vil­la was marked by name on our map. The Caribbean side of the island was tamer. As we turned to the east side of the island, the dra­mat­ic roads we’d dri­ven in on calmed, unfurl­ing their view to the low sea off to our right. We looked each oth­er in the eyes, and then out at the sea, tran­quil togeth­er. Then we were ascend­ing again to Curry’s Rest. After fif­teen min­utes of increas­ing­ly nar­row unpaved roads up, my cousin John greet­ed us. He was in his 80’s, hunched and swarthy with Aus­tri­an Ashke­nazi blood and Domini­can sun. By his side he held a machete. 

Wel­come, wel­come,” he said. Put down your bags and I’ll give you the run of the place.” My new wife and I looked each oth­er in the eyes. For a week we’d been mas­saged, rum-punched to relax­ation. Now we were going to see some­thing togeth­er. Curry’s Rest was an eigh­teenth-cen­tu­ry vil­la. To the far right of the build­ing was the orig­i­nal struc­ture. John showed us the red cof­fee beans just inside its open front, which he’d picked and was sun-roast­ing on chrome plat­ters. The main house was one open room with sca­lene ceil­ings. On the sec­ond floor was their bed­room, where John told us his wife was nap­ping, and a gue­stroom where we would sleep. It did not look like some­where some­one might hon­ey­moon. But it did look like a place where some­one might stay put. 

After set­tling our belong­ings, my wife and I fol­lowed John on a tour of Curry’s Rest. The only remain­ing sug­ar mill, the rea­son the island had been set­tled cen­turies ear­li­er, sat in ruins maybe a hun­dred yards from the main house. A Brit named Cur­ry had pur­chased the place from the Domini­can gov­ern­ment in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry. John bought the place from a Mr. Green. The whole prop­er­ty was almost 300 acres, but if they promised to donate all but fif­teen acres of the place to the Domini­can gov­ern­ment, with the under­stand­ing it would remain untouched, they could buy it. 

They bought it. 

We walked the grounds. My wife went in front and lis­tened, and I felt love — she was pay­ing atten­tion to John for me, and she was pay­ing atten­tion because she was inter­est­ed. Her gen­tle gen­er­ous curios­i­ty had brought me to her, and here it was on dis­play. My octo­ge­nar­i­an cousin slapped his machete into coconuts and lift­ed them for us to taste. He was hunched and bald, five feet tall, but he was an elder­ly ball of kinet­ic ener­gy. We went back to the house and napped — nei­ther my wife nor I had the ener­gy to keep up with him — and that evening, as the sun cast pink light over the tops of the trees, we drank rum punch. Rene came to join us. She was suf­fer­ing the ear­ly stages of Alzheimer’s dis­ease, John had explained as we walked. 

You might not notice it,” he said. Or you might.” 

Now we sat on the porch. The door to the large main room of the house was wide open. A bat swooped into the house. I looked at my new wife to see if she had noticed. She had. Her eyes grew wide to match mine.

Anoth­er bat swooped into the room. Two more flew out. Nei­ther of my elder­ly cousins seemed to notice.

We drank our rum punch, which was twen­ty-three times as good as what we’d had at our resort. My wife and I both let our eyes pass over Rene. We smiled at her and she smiled back. She was slight, with a head of lumi­nous grey hair. We were eight days mar­ried. Our love was big and present, like you could touch it. It wasn’t some­thing you could for­get if you tried. Across from us was a mar­ried cou­ple, iso­lat­ed in the jun­gle while one lost her mem­o­ry. Rene had left her home in Prague at the out­break of World War II for a safe haven in Lon­don. That was where she had met John, who had escaped Aus­tria under sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances. I’d long want­ed to hear the sto­ry. I asked Rene if she would tell us. She smiled and said nothing. 

When we met it was 1941,” John said. We were liv­ing in a big group home south of Lon­don, full of East Euro­pean refugees. We’d only known each oth­er a month when I was called up for ser­vice.” My wife and I had been dat­ing on and off for near­ly eight years. We loved each oth­er some­thing fierce. But it hadn’t always been easy. Love nev­er is. For a cou­ple years we were bro­ken up. By some luck, a year after I moved to a place in Fort Greene, she did, too. On Sep­tem­ber 11, though we weren’t togeth­er, right after I arrived at my office on 55th Street and saw the build­ings fall, she was the first per­son I called. Though we were each dat­ing some­one else, we spent that after­noon at a mutu­al friend’s Mid­town apart­ment, watch­ing the CNN crawl. I loved her even when we weren’t togeth­er. One Fri­day after­noon a year lat­er we ran into each oth­er in Grand Cen­tral Sta­tion. She’d come back with me to my place. After liv­ing togeth­er for two years, we were engaged. 

In those days you didn’t always have choic­es,” John said. The day I was to head in for ser­vice in the British Army, we rode togeth­er to the train sta­tion. Already we were in love. I asked Rene if she want­ed to mar­ry me. She said yes. We’ve been togeth­er since.” The two of them were sit­ting just a cou­ple of feet apart. The sun had now set. We were in that half-light that comes amid the first moments of evening. It was as if the world between us wasn’t real. Bats flit­ted in and out of the great dark room beside us. 

I looked at my new wife. She wasn’t pay­ing any atten­tion to the bats now, either. 

But what I real­ly want to know,” my cousin John said, and we real­ly want­ed to know what he real­ly want­ed to know, Is how was that new resort? We’ve heard much about it, but haven’t yet seen it.” 

We spent the next hour telling him about the resort. I’d had awful pain in my back when we were sea kayak­ing and my wife had to do much of the pad­dling. The high­light had been our long walk up to the boil­ing lake, where our tour guide, a local man named Jesus, had answered his cell phone at the high­est point of the hike, to make plans for with friends for lat­er that week. The lake was obscured by plumes of steam that lift­ed out of the water. I was afraid of heights, and didn’t like get­ting close to the edge. 

I got close to the edge,” my wife said. 

She had. I’d fol­lowed. There I’d seen some­thing I wouldn’t have oth­er­wise: for a cou­ple sec­onds the steam would lift, and down in the chasm below we could see the gray roil­ing water. With­out her nudge, I’d nev­er have seen it. Maybe this was the truth of love: the spec­tac­u­lar world you’d nev­er see with­out the per­son who brought you there. 

I reached out and grabbed my new wife’s hand. She looked at me, I guess, but dark had fall­en over us on that porch at Curry’s Rest. I want­ed to know what my cousins were think­ing. I could only make out the shad­owy forms of bats flit­ting in and out of the house. We couldn’t see John and Rene’s faces. We knew they were there, like they knew we were here, the two of us start­ing out on the years that lay before us, behind them, green moun­tain jut­ting from some blue sea. 

Daniel Tor­day’s novel­la The Sen­su­al­ist won the 2012 Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award in Out­stand­ing Debut Fic­tion. Read more about him here.

Relat­ed Content:

Daniel Tor­day is the author of The 12th Com­mand­mentThe Last Flight of Poxl West, and Boomer1. A two-time win­ner of the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award for fic­tion and the Sami Rohr Choice Prize, Torday’s sto­ries and essays have appeared in Tin House, The Paris Review, The Keny­on Review, and n+1, and have been hon­ored by the Best Amer­i­can Short Sto­ries and Best Amer­i­can Essays series. Tor­day is a Pro­fes­sor of Cre­ative Writ­ing at Bryn Mawr College.