Monterey Bay - Lindsay Hatton

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

heart,

“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.”

—ROBINSON JEFFERS, “APOLOGY FOR BAD DREAMS”

1

1998

WHEN HE’S FIFTY YEARS DEAD, SHE DREAMS SHE’S 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.

2

1940

HER BODY WAS EATING ITSELF.

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