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Authors: Lindsay Hatton

Monterey Bay

BOOK: Monterey Bay
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Copyright © 2016 by Lindsay Hatton

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Excerpt from “Apology for Bad Dreams,” copyright © 1925 and renewed 1953 by Robinson Jeffers, from
The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers
. Used by permission of Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

Excerpt from “Apology for Bad Dreams” from
The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers
, Volume One: 1920–1928, Tim Hunt, editor. Copyright © 1938; renewed 1966 by Donnan and Garth Jeffers. Reprinted by permission of Stanford University Press. All rights reserved.

ISBN: 9781594206788

E-book ISBN: 9780698407503

This is a work of fiction based on actual events.


For Geordie

This coast crying out for tragedy like all beautiful places:

and like the passionate spirit of humanity

Pain for its bread: God's, many victims', the painful

deaths, the horrible transfigurements: I said in my


“Better invent than suffer: imagine victims

Lest your own flesh be chosen the agonist, or you

Martyr some creature to the beauty of the place.”

, “


gone back
Back to the small white house in the neighborhood that splits the difference between Monterey and Pacific Grove, back to the streets where the cannery workers used to live. She dreams of rising from the horsehair sofa in that bruised hour when the sky is still dark and the bay is still black. She dreams of the place where the old Monterey still exists, or at least the Monterey that's found its way into stories: the last quarter mile of the bike trail—the one that starts in Seaside and then moves up slightly from the coastline before running parallel to Cannery Row—where there's an odd, untended bit of land marked with the broken shell of an old steel storage cylinder. And here, in the weeds and ice plants, in the rusty metal that smells salty in the sun and bloody in the fog, she dreams of everything that has slipped away, everything that will never come back.

Then she dreams of the descent. Like the cannery workers before her, she aims for the door of a cannery or, better yet, the door of his lab. Instead, she arrives at the aquarium. Inside, it is empty: the barometric dead zone before the rush of the coming crowds, the air abuzz with the clean, nervous smell of salt. She lets the kelp crabs pinch her on purpose. She siphons the pistol shrimp exhibit and leaves her lips on the tube for a second too long so that some of the ocean gets in her mouth. She picks parasites from the accordion folds of a leopard shark's gills and wonders, for what seems like the millionth time, if breathing water is better than breathing air. She feeds the sea nettles a cup of bright green rotifers and marvels at the orange embrace of the world's most elegant killer. She sees something hovering in the distance, huge and terrible and tentacled and white.

And, as she wakes, she remembers three things he once tried to teach her.

First, that human blood contains the exact same liquid-to-salt ratio as the ocean.

Second, that murder can be necessary.

Third, that living in a tank is exactly like being in love.



That's what it felt like. Head, neck, arms, legs rushing toward a pit of internal gravity. Upon her descent from the train, the pit had been no larger than a seed. Now, however, it was the size of a billiard ball and growing quickly, which meant there was work to be done. Keep steady, keep calm, notice things beyond yourself and let them distract you, let them stretch you back into a workable shape. Notice the tide pools, notice the fog. Notice the biologist picking through the water. Notice how he swings the bucket as he walks, how he whistles out of the corner of his mouth, out of key. Notice the bucket in your own hand: its emptiness, its rusty handle. Her father had told her to assist the biologist in his collections, to scan the water for the sort of boneless, brainless creatures the biologist prized. Heroes advance when it makes sense to retreat, her father had reminded
her when she protested, and cowards retreat regardless of what makes sense. But he was wrong. He was wrong to have brought her here, he was wrong to have dismissed her, and now she knew without shame or regret that she would rather be a coward.

So she began her calculations. The retreat's first phase would be the most difficult: jagged, weed slicked, a long stretch of water and rocks leading to a gray strip of sand in the distance. On the beach, she could start to run. The hotel lawn could be taken at a sprint, after which she'd have to improvise: hitching a ride in the gardener's truck, stealing a delivery boy's bicycle. At the train station, she could barter something for a ticket to San Francisco, and then she would be gone. Away from her father, away from this town, away from this dreary coast and the tides that rasped across it, away from the bleak half-moon of Monterey Bay.

The plan assembled, she put her bucket down and waited for the panic to loosen its grip. Escape was possible and, at fifteen, she was old enough. The hotel, however, seemed to be suggesting otherwise. From the water's edge, she could see both the building and the shadows of its history. Once a playground for the sporting elite, it was now a sad husk of another era's opulence, a grotesque hybrid of the Spanish Revival and the Carpenter Gothic, its grandeur eroded by diverse misfortune: arson, pine mistletoe, bark-boring beetles, a rash of unsolved murders and suicides, inklings of witchcraft on the polo grounds, a stench from the nearby canneries that was, on certain days in
the high season, strong enough to be visible. If the hotel had endured, it was only in theory. Margot and her father were the establishment's first paying guests in well over a month, and although this didn't bother her in principle, it did in practice. The emptiness was like an accusation, the lobby and ballroom and dining room and hallways flaunting their vacancies as if delighted by the prospect of causing her personal offense.

In truth, she had sensed catastrophe from the outset. There had been the disaster in the Philippines, of course, and then two journeys of equal foreboding: the cargo ship from Manila to San Francisco and then the southbound train that had taken them the rest of the way down the coast. The drive to the hotel in the rented Packard had been no better, her forehead pressed to the window as she took inventory. Alvarado Street: Monterey's jittery, provincial downtown strip. The Coast Valleys gas holding tanks: two cylindrical metal landmarks of uneven height and identical ugliness. The Presidio: a pantomime of military preparation, canvas-roofed convoys trudging through the unlocked gates. Lake El Estero: a man-made ditch of brackish water, its redundant shores just a stone's throw from the bay itself. She waited for her father to echo her apprehension, to support it. But he remained silent as they reached the far side of town and came to a stop on the hotel's gravel drive, and now, ankle-deep in seawater, she knew. It wasn't just the fog, it wasn't just the smell. It wasn't just the fact that, after years of working at her father's side, she had been exiled. It was a bone-deep certainty
that Monterey was out to destroy her in the same manner it had already destroyed itself.

The escape, then. The Philippines beckoned, but so did other places: Indonesia, the Channel Islands, Bolivia. In each locale, her apprenticeship to her father had taught her many skills, most of them in lucrative fields. She had a flair for languages and a talent for negotiation. She wasn't a beauty queen, but with the possible exception of her height, she wasn't a sideshow freak either. The one thing that stood in her way, logistically speaking, was the biologist. She had been forced into his company almost an hour earlier and since then had genuinely grown to hate him. Here was a case in which the hammer had already fallen, the wings had already been clipped, life's capacity for meaningful action obliterated. There were several dozen yards between them, the sound of his whistling obscured by the crashing surf, his shape like its own shadow moving across the bay, but even from a distance she could see it all quite clearly. The dullard's delight with which he allowed himself to be engulfed by the shoreline, the unnecessary reverence with which he plucked a specimen from the water, gave it an inexplicable sniff, and then added it to his bucket. When a sea lion belched, he paused and bowed his head like a penitent at the steps of an oracle. Then a furtive yet urgent search of his left trousers pocket. The withdrawal of a flask. A long, guilty chug.

Run, coward
, she commanded herself.

But her legs refused. They had already been eaten by the
black pit of panic. So she stumped along, slipping and hobbling over the rocks, until, just a few steps from the beach, the sound of laughter made her freeze. In spite of herself, she turned around. The biologist's mouth was emitting the sounds of mockery. His eyes, however, were flashing with mockery's opposite: a gentle sort of surprise that almost made her proud.

He frowned at her. She turned and ran.

And then it was over. She was on her stomach, limbs askew, eye to eye with something that could have belonged in her sketchbook: a small black snail, its dark foot sliding across what she knew to be a widening pool of her own blood.

She dreamed of the biologist: his hands gripping the wheel of an old Buick, his fingers pale beneath the strobe of the passing treetops, her breath emerging as a drowned man's gargle. The smell of fish. Heavy limbs, swollen head.

“We're almost there,” he said. “Whatever you do, don't fall asleep.”

When she awoke, she was being carried up a staircase.

Although the pain was exceptional, it was also bright and precise. Not, in other words, a dream. It was all actually
happening: the sound of feet against wood, the sensation of being hoisted up and turned around, of being shoved through a curtain or a door, of being dropped into a nest of laughter. The high scratch of a phonograph needle.

Then the most disorienting thing yet. Silence. A wide berth of it, white and expectant, the pain brimming and stretching.

She grunted and writhed and tried to escape. The biologist tightened his grip.

“Wormy,” he said. “Where's Wormy?”

“Dunno, Doc.”

“For the last time. I'm not a doctor.”

“What happened?”

“Smashed her head.”

“She's so . . . tall.”

“All of you. Go home. Now.”

“I'll help.”

“Ethanol ampoules. The box in the garage.”

Silence again.

“Arthur! The garage!”

Another rattle of footsteps, voices retreating, smells of new and old milk, new and old smoke. A low ceiling and black walls, dented waves of yellow glass, small things watching her, bleached flesh and jellied eyes. An embryo in a glass jar, fingers on her head, pressing down, slipping on something wet that had been left there. And then a fierce tugging between her eyes, the suddenness of it wrenching her upright, and now it was only in the
darkness behind her eyes that she could see what was happening. She was thrashing like an animal, but the fingers were strong, grabbing one of her wrists and then the other.

“Wormy. Hold her down. Tell her not to fight.”

A woman's smell moving in close.

“Don't fight.”

A vial nudging itself between her teeth.

“You can hate me for this later. Just lie still.”

“Who is she, Doc?”

“The Fiske girl. I tried to warn her about those shoes.”

“She isn't one of your sharks, Edward. Please tell me you haven't been drinking.”

“Out! Both of you. Out!”

High heels, low murmurs.

And when the sounds had faded away, when she was alone with the biologist again, all that was left were the fingers on her head and a sick suspicion. The rubbing alcohol, the needle, the thread. A process no longer of sewing something together, she realized as the room turned black, but of sewing something on.

BOOK: Monterey Bay
9.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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