Rose hates the bougainvillea, which grows in wild sprays of red and purple, swarming over the railings and the walls. She hates the oleander, with its sweet-smelling flowers and its toxic sap.
She hates sightseers and tourists, weekend-giddy and winter-white. She even hates the hotel, although there’s nothing really terrible about it—after all, it’s just a hotel.
Mostly, she hates the fog, always forming beyond the breakers, always waiting.
“Marine layer,” her mother says, with her head bent studiously over the books. She tallies up the cost of two hundred cases of wholesale ketchup, scratching out a number and replacing it with something different.
To Rose, the phrase sounds soft: marine layer. The kind of thing of thing you drift into just before you fall asleep.
It sounds wrong.
The fog sits on the edge of the world, too far out to matter, but it creeps. Faster than is right or decent, it rolls in over the water and covers everything.
The cliffs, which minutes ago looked out on a wide open sea, are bounded in by nothing. By stark, pale gray. A person could walk right out into the ether. They could disappear.
The hotel is blanketed by fog. And things change.
In the ground-floor suite, the ceiling seems lower and the walls don’t look right. When the light gets blue, Rose can see marks around the air conditioning vent, long rents in the wallpaper, like something has been trying to claw its way out.
The fuses go and so does the cable. Calls drop. Things go missing. Invoices and bills sit on the counter by the register, then disappear.
In the mornings, the sun is high and savage, bleaching the beige stucco of the hotel to golden-white.
Rose makes the rounds with her cart of fresh towels and her bottles of disinfectant and detergent. She wipes down the mirrors. In the sunlight, the world looks friendly, far from secretive.
But when the fog is in, Rose never cleans the glass. There is always the possibility that when she looks at her reflection, she will see someone else looking back.
The girl is Rose as she would rather be, ethereal, silver.
The other Rose has fine, pale hair that sticks to her shoulders and the outsides of her arms with weblike resolve. Her skin is translucent and perfectly smooth, unmarked by sunburn or freckles. Her eyes are not blue, but a pure, ringing gray. When she smiles, she exposes teeth of an uncommon whiteness, a moon-white. This would be pleasant and reassuring, except that Rose is not smiling back.
This second Rose appears with startling regularity, materializing into existence at the sound of the horn. She is calm and definite. She knows things. She loves the hotel and she loves the fog.
If she can catch Rose’s eye, even for a second, she will want to talk, to have a conversation. She says, “Come over here.”
She says, “Give me your hand, and I’ll do the floors for you.”
Rose scours sinks and tubs and pretends not to listen. Her sense of self, like the fog, is tenuous. A transparent creature, called into being and then interrupted before it could become substantial. She wants her resolve to be steadfast, but in the end, she always reaches back. Like the thing in the ground-floor suite, she puts her hands against the glass and considers clawing her way out.
The silver girl is there, pulling her the last few inches. It feels like hitting the surface and then going under, falling into a slow murky dream. Rose opens her eyes and finds herself looking out at a twilight-blue room and a silver girl.
The fog is in now, swallowing up the coastline, making it a different hotel and a different world.
The silver girl gets out the spray cleaner and scrubs at the handprints on the mirror. There are always so many.
Rose leans against the glass and waits for the sun to come back.
Photo by neilalderney123