No one knows where she came from. Just that she appeared in Night Ocean one day. Hollow stare scratched upon vacant eyes – black holes into unnameable galaxies. You can find her lingering. Often in the corners of rooms just within your peripheral.
Wisps of golden sand hair, tangled with seaweed. Cracked skin. Coral for fingernails. Her mouth a void. Chest concave, hollowed out. Whispers in the allies like urban lore spread through the town. A witch cast out. A bloodline dating back to Salem.
Record scratch breaths. Gasping voice. When she chooses you, you’ll know.
It's beautiful here, Marrow
Come find me
Everything goes quiet in Night Ocean
Maybe it’s the pandemic that has me riled up. Maybe it’s that the state is opening things way too quickly. Maybe it’s the spike in cases. Maybe it’s because I’m on a time frame. The sooner we reopen [redacted], the moment my time with my son ceases. There’s a lot to unpack here.
Last month, I posted several poems about identity. Namely, Latinx/Chican@/Hispanic (whatever you want to label them) poets talking about how they’re not seen as enough. And I relate to these poems because I’ve been there, still standing there, for the better part of my life.
I guess I’m considered “white passing” because I’m three shades too pale to match the stereotype. When I speak, I don’t carry that accent. Because I’m so Americanized that even my white friend in high school was in shock when he learned my real name.
I don’t speak Spanish. It doesn’t come naturally to me. But that never meant I can’t speak Spanish. It’s a skill for survival when your grandparents only spoke one language. When your favorite food comes from Mexican restaurants. When the majority of the population around you speaks Spanish. When you have Spanish-speaking patrons who need assistance.
I may not have enough to carry a full conversation with someone, but enough to have polite conversations and point them in the correct direction.
But now, after nearly nine years working at [redacted], the ability to do my job correctly has been called into question. And once again, I’m standing here trying to prove myself to my peers. Because they didn’t understand me in the first place.
When my city put out a shelter-in-place order, a few of us were relocated to a call center. When asked if I was comfortable with answering questions in Spanish, my response was, “No.” To which I added, “Because I’m not even sure I’m comfortable with answering these questions in English. I don’t understand the order.”
There wasn’t a lot to the order, but certain things contradicted previous or later things. For instance, people were told not to go out for nonessential reasons, but can still have a party at a relative’s home so long as there is no more than 10 people and they practice social distancing. Several business were exempt, but still had to submit plans. When asked for clarification, we got contradicting answers from several different officials. They didn’t even give us a script to follow, which is something call centers are known for in order to prevent misleading and vague responses.
I’m not being singled out in anyway. Other staff with issues have to improve their skills. What gets me is that I’ve been on this job for nine years and not once have I been unable to assist a patron. And when I can’t assist them, it’s for reasons that I wouldn’t be able to assist them in English.
Yesterday, I sat in front of my supervisor and a witness and spoke to them in Spanish. My tone was angry and annoyed. And I could see the change in the demeanor of my usually perky supervisor. And I saw the expression of uncertainty in the witness. Neither of them knew I could speak Spanish. Not proficiently, but enough to assist people. Enough to do my job.
Truth is, I’m not annoyed with any of the two. They’re pawns. Doing what they’re told. I’ve worked at [redacted] longer than the two of them combined. And my speech wasn’t for them, but for the two that put them up to this. So I amended it when necessary and left things out.
Especially my final words: “Si creen que no puedo hacer mi trajabo, me voy. Esto es mi dos-semanas.”
Mind the missing accents (if any), I can speak it but writing it still befuddles me. And as my supervisor (whose first language is Spanish) stated, it confuses her too.
They started some time ago. Too long for me to pinpoint an actual date. Maybe two, maybe three years ago. Possibly more. Just one night, I started having them. Dreams. But not quite. The sort of dreams that feel more like memories. The kind that after waking up the next morning, you’re tearing through the house looking for that thing you lost because you suddenly remembered where you last left it. And when you inevitably don’t find it, you furrow your brow and just question the reality of it all.
They were of that variety of dream. The ones that stuck around. And as soon as you began to let them fade beyond the realms of memory, they came back to you at night.
That is until they became more recurring. From every so often to every two weeks to every week to just about every time you close your eyes. And they left me waking up in the middle of the night, getting on my phone or tablet or laptop and just searching for answers. Every search left me without nothing. Not an inch closer to an answer.
It affected my work. I could see it in the eyes of my coworkers. The way my superiors spoke to me. Saw in the disappointed looks of my family. And how my friends would text me at random. Some even calling, their voices heavy with concern.
I shrugged it off, of course. Told everyone it was nothing. That I was just preoccupied.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” the question repeated with each phone call conversation or text message.
By the end of it, the dreams became more vivid. And the warning repeated itself: Stay away from Night Ocean.
A searching online for it led me to a short story by R. H. Barlow and H. P. Lovecraft. It led me to a novel by Paul La Farge. It led me to countless articles and essays about the two works of fiction, but nothing concrete. And having never read either, it made no sense to me why the warning would echo in my ear.
I thought it was crazy. Or maybe I had been going a bit mad. These dreams were eating away from my sleep schedule. Perhaps I heard the title of the story in passing. Or maybe I misunderstood the warning in my dream. And I shouldn’t dwell on it. After all, they were just dreams. And dreams are nothing more than the subconscious speaking to us.
A lot had changed in my corner of the world. It’s not too far fetched that I would have some unaccounted stress lying below my facade. Later that morning, I phoned a friend whose profession was to assist trouble minds like mine. He, of course, wouldn’t take me in as a patient and I hadn’t expected him to. My reasoning was merely to ask for a suggested therapist. Someone as good as he if not better.
He chuckled at my slight stab to his ego, “Glad to have you back, Marrow.”
“Glad to be back,” I replied.
After making an appointment with one Doctor Angelina Cortez, I readied myself for work. The day, uneventful as it were, went by in a blur. People smiled at me. Most were happy not to see me sulking around. And my supervisor called me into her office and told me, “Whatever it is you’re doing, keep it up. I’m glad to have the old you back.”
On the way home, I stopped at the book shop I frequented often. Black Spire books stood hidden on a block of coffee shops and delis. I’m told it started off as a mom-&-pop store. It stayed within the family through the generations. And due to our small town nature, it thrived. The current owner, the great-granddaughter of the original owners, greeted me as I entered the building.
“Marrow,” she said, “long time no see, man.”
“Sorry about that Shelbs,” I said, “I’ve been preoccupied a lot with work.”
“Nah I get it, man,” she said. And her smile faltered, “Listen, I know we don’t really like talk outside of this place or whatever, but if you ever need to talk about it, we can.”
“Really, Shelby, it’s fine,” I managed before changing the subject. “Got the latest issue?”
“Are you kidding me? You haven’t been here for months, I saved you the back issues too.”
From behind her counter, Shelby pulled out a small stack of publications, issues of a poetry magazine that I’d taken a liking to.
I thumbed through one issue as Shelby asked, “You ever gonna publish anything in that magazine? Your stuff is good, Marrow. Like really good. The people at the poet’s corner really love it.”
“Maybe,” I replied,
And then I saw it. Inside the April issue: “Night Ocean” by Amber K. Gonzalez.
“Hey Shelbs, I gotta go,” I muttered. “How much do I owe you for this?”
I paid and got back into the car, dropping all but the April issue – just last month – onto the passenger seat. I flipped to the page and read the three-line poem, the only one published by Amber. Amber, who I hadn’t heard from in all this time. Amber, who blamed herself for the misfortunes of my life. Amber.
Arriving home, I found the mail scattered on the floor. The seasick green envelope standing out among the others. Her name written on the corner in her perfect script: Amber K. Gonzalez 42 East Gilman Avenue, Night Ocean.
No state. No zip code. Not even a fucking stamp.
I rip the fucking thing open and out slipped note. Small. Handwritten. Smelling of her perfume and the sea.
“It’s beautiful here, Marrow. “Come find me. “Everything goes quiet in Night Ocean.”
The same three lines as her poem. The poem I can no longer find within the pages of the April issue.
It takes me longer to notice the blood stained fingerprints left at the corners of the page.