Father Egan left off writing, rose from his chair and made his way — a little unsteadily — to the bottle of Flor de Cana which he had placed across the room from his desk. The study in which he worked was lit by a Coleman lamp; he had turned the mission generators off to save kerosene. The shutters were open to receive the sea breeze and the room was cool and pleasant. At Freddy's Chicken Shack up the road a wedding party was in progress and the revelers were singing along with the radio from Puerto Alvarado, marking the reggae beat with their own steel drums and crockery.
As Egan drank his rum, his inward eye filled with a vision of the Beguinage at Bruges, the great sculptured vault overhead, the windows inlaid with St. Ursula and her virgins, the columns gilded with imperial red and gold. It had been many, many years since he had seen it.
The Coleman lamp cast the shadow of his desk crucifix across the piles of books, bills and invoices that cluttered the space around his typewriter. He took a second drink of rum and considered the cruciform shadow, indulging the notion that his office space suggested the study of some heterodox doctor of the Renaissance, a man condemned by his times but sustained by faith in God and the Spirit among men.
The work on which Father Egan was engaged would fail of imprimatur, would be punishable only by a secular house. When it appeared he would be adjured to silence. He would resist, appeal to Rome if only to gain a wider hearing. When Rome thundered condemnation, he would turn to the Spiritual Church, the masses so hungry for comfort in a violently dying world.
It was the composition of this work that had led to Father Egan's intemperance in drink. For over thirty years as a Devotionist Father he had been a moderate man in that regard — but writing was hard for him and the cultural deprivations of his voluntary mission posting had rendered his life difficult by the day. He had rewritten the work six times and had reached the point where he could no longer endure it without alcohol. Yet without the work, he had found, life itself was not endurable. As for his faith — it was in a state of tension, the dark of his soul's night was such that he could not bring it to bear. And if that faith seemed moribund, he could only hope that it had returned to the seed to grow, to be transmogrified, dried and hardened in the tropical sun, destined to rise like a brilliant Tecanecan phoenix from Pascal's fire.
He had put by him the thought of a third slug and was halfway back to his desk when he heard the sound of a jeep's engine on the beach below the mission buildings; he stopped to listen as the jeep drew closer. At length, he heard the brakes squeal and the engine die, and then a man's ascending step on the stairs that led from the beach to his veranda.
Excerpted from A Flag for Sunrise by Robert Stone. Copyright 1977 by Robert Stone. Excerpted by permission of Vintage International, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved. he had