The Backwaters by Paloma Ruiz

FictionIssue 26: Shifting

Dear Thomas,

I am writing home to tell you that my hair has changed. It is short now. And I would like you to celebrate me. If you can? I have read that the planet is doing just fine. That none of the bad things have happened like they said they would. All the water is sitting in all the same places. All the air is just as warm. The insects have not evolved to outlast us. There is no need, as we are lasting. You had always told me it would be the same, forever. And it’s true.

I have seen images of the deep sea. There are certain websites for this, in which you can enter anonymous chat rooms and stare at the invertebrates, those ghostly carbon membranes at the very bottom of the Mariana Trench. Sometimes people watch live streams of these, recorded by unmanned automatic submarines, and masturbate. It is good to feel that you are intimate with the very center, the very slime mold of the earth. Obviously, I watch more often for reasons of research. If you’d like to know, the bottom of the ocean looks the same as it always has. The TJ Maxx shopping bags and non-biodegradable mascara wands and tampon applicators are there sometimes, but the video resolution is low enough that they barely leave a mark between the pixels. And anyway, they have always been there. I have come to believe they were there far before us, and it was in hubris that we pretended they were ours. Perhaps they even grew there. Why not.

If you would like to show Amelia a photo of the seafloor, I have attached several JPEGs. Let me know if her eyesight has developed such that she can discern the threshold for 300dpi, and I will gladly resend as TIFFs through a large file share platform of your choice. For now, I have chosen the images with high contrast and minimal noise disruption, and also those which sparked lively debate within the chat room. I thought that as a bedtime story, if she’s amenable, you could read her these corresponding transcripts which I have scrubbed diligently of profanity and sexual innuendo for exactly such purposes:

[ART 1]


[PHILOSOPHER]: Fascinating find, looks young for this kind of organism. Does anyone have age estimations?

[GOOEYBOO]: I dunno, looks pretty old to me

[GOOEYBOO]: it’s all crusty and s***

[PHILOSOPHER]: the crust could be residual tissue from the birth canal 

[GOOEYBOO]: gross

[GOOEYBOO] has left the chat

[MICROSLUG400] has entered the chat

[MICROSLUG400]: asl?

[PHILOSOPHER]: it’s interesting how we exit one door and return from another, namely, whichever door was open at the exact moment we approached

[MICROSLUG400]: wut does that meen

[PHILOSOPHER]: were you in a chat room before this one 

[MICROSLUG400]: lol they kicked mee out and this one randomly genrated 

[PHILOSOPHER]: exactly. Do you think he looks like me? 

[MICROSLUG400]: ye, ur face looks like a fish b****, but what do your **** look like

[PHILOSOPHER]: not the same

[MICROSLUG400] has left the chat 

[PHILOSOPHER] has left the chat 


[ART 2]


[HARRYWATER]: im blazed wbu
[H2OOLUVR]: i like watching the fish but it makes me feel lonely because it reminds me of when id go fishing with my dad and wed catch these big trout on the lake but we dont talk anymoore rip
[PHILOSOPHER]: do you ever think your dad might be reborn as a fish, someday?
[H2OOLUVR]: thats f****ed up man my dads not dead hes just really bor- ing lol
[PHILOSOPHER]: oh…but if he did die, do you think he’d come back as a fish?
[HARRYWATER]: id com back as an octpous cuz b*****es like tentacles and s***
[MNTANAMANA] has entered the chat 

[H2OOLUVR]: idk probably hed wanna be a fish but i dont think we get to choose
[PHILOSOPHER]: I believe you might be right, and that it’s more about what’s waiting in the que at the moment of transference, which could be any reproducing being at any geographical point in the known universe 

[MNTANAMANA] has left the chat 

[HARRYWATER] has left the chat
[H2OOLUVR]: yeah lol agreed
[H2OOLUVR] has left the chat
[PHILOSOPHER] has left the chat



[MNTANAMANA]: what is that?

[PHILOSOPHER]: It’s not him. It was bred in a nearby hatchery, you can tell from the tag. I’ve already run its ID number and determined it was

hatched only two months ago.

[MNTANAMANA]: I know it’s not him

[PSYCHADELICSANDUDE] has entered the chat


[MNTANAMANA]: if it’s from a hatchery, how did it end up at this depth


[PHILOSOPHER]: Maybe it’s a little lost

[PSYCHADELICSANDUDE] has left the chat

[PHILOSOPHER]: I think I’ve seen everything there is to see down here that was registered and/or estimated to be roughly seven months in age

[MNTANAMANA]: some things don’t even get to seven months, you know

[PHILOSOPHER]: are you implying that he could have come back in an organism with a decreased life span – say, some type of krill or shrimp, or algae – and died again, thereby rendering my entire research protocol ineffective?

[PSYCHADELICSANDUDE] has entered the chat

[PSYCHADELICSANDUDE]: had to p*** back now fish still there ??


[PHILOSOPHER] has left the chat


Listen, I have no interest in returning home, or in being wrong. My hair has changed, you know. If you can, please respond with appropriately positive emoticons.

My own,




There’s oatmeal on the counter and bananas in the fridge. When you return, I ask that you no longer correspond with strangers on said deep sea chat rooms, as it’s inappropriate for you to do so, and I have explained this many times and I have explained to you internet safety and I have explained our security concerns for the family computer. I’ve seen your hair and it looks the same as it always has. And I’ve celebrated it, again, as I always have.

Please lock the door when you enter and exit.


(This is an extract from “The Backwaters”. Read the full fiction piece in SAND 26.)

Paloma Ruiz is an editorial assistant at Viking Books and a former contributing editor at the Public Domain Review. She loves to read and write all things magical realism, marine biology, Sci-Fi, Cli-Fi, and women’s health.