He covers my eyes with a blindfold of elderberries and makes me promise not to peek. He thrusts a lead in my hand and, with a clicking noise out the side of his mouth, it rapidly becomes clear that we are sitting in something and that the something is moving. I peek between my elderberry mask – I can’t help it – and see that we are riding in a sleigh being pulled by ten beautiful men, all wearing crowns of peacock feathers.
‘Peacocks are the best argument for the existence of divinity,’ he once said.
‘We’ve arrived at our first stop,’ he says, lifting the blindfold up and turning me to face the sea. We stand on the flat top of a large cliff, everywhere stones covered with lime-green moss. I soon see it: a crumbled ruin of a building, inside which nestles an enormous glass box, inside which stands a Christmas tree – 13 feet tall and made of solid gold. I can see no way inside.
‘Isn’t it magnificent?” he says.
‘What exactly is it?’ I ask, swatting away the circling midges.
‘The seat of our national government. I would have thought it obvious.’ He looks at me as if I’ve gone to sleep and woken up someone else.
Back in the sleigh, he tells me that I don’t have to wear the blindfold anymore. ‘I only wanted the tree to be a surprise,’ he says.
“Onwards!” he shouts to the peacock-clad man pulling in the front.
We pass a wild-looking pony on our way to the bay, and the second of his new improvements to the island. ‘How’d that get here?’ he asks himself quietly, before taking out his pocket square and blowing his nose. Once we arrive at the bay, he unharnesses the men and they wander about, reading aloud the names on headstones in the nearby graveyard. The sea is stunning, so blue, and yet strangely full of paper.
‘What’s that?’ I ask, pointing to a large sailboat moored in the bay.
‘It’s a boat,’ he says.
‘I can see that,’ I reply, ‘but what is it?
‘It’s our new library,’ he says, ‘where we can all come to better ourselves.’
Wading into the sea, I begin to collect the floating paper. ‘If the books are in the library, on the boat, then what are all of these pages doing in the water?’
‘Beats me,’ he says.
‘We’ll have to walk to the school,’ he says. ‘I gave the horses the rest of the afternoon off.’
‘You mean the men?’ I say.
‘Of course I meant the men,’ he replies.
We walk from the bay across long slabs of slate, over hills crowned by rings of standing stones, to the far end of the island. It was nothing but desert.
‘What do you think of my school?’ he asks, making a sweeping gesture across the desert.
‘But it’s only a desert,’ I say, ‘not a school. Where did you even find a desert on the island?’
He reaches down to pick up a piece of Prickly Pear, stabbing himself with prickles. ‘Oh, I ordered it,’ he says. ‘Our children deserve nothing but the finest of educations, after all.’
Chucking the cactus into the sea, he turns and grumbles, ‘Now where did I leave those damned horses?’