Published in the online magazine Up Above the World, 2016
The sun hung over the rounded edges of the sandstone hills, glowing in orange and red. Small patches of white sage and lavender grew in clumps near the crevices, attaching themselves an the available dirt hiding beneath the sand. The sun-facing clay wall was cast in a deep glow, reflecting the dying hues of the day. A subtle wind lapped against the water below, unstirred otherwise. Hamilton, waiting for time to pass, leaned up from laying on the sandy ground against a charcoal rock, squinting at the sunlight as it folded over the sleepy afternoon. He had been thinking of writing a letter, but the afternoon was too hot to stay inside. There’s still several weeks here, he thought, so there’s time.
Lying there by the water, before, the sun was too high to be visible, but the sunset makes new reflections. From under the cliff, he sat there, arms stretched forward and hands clasped, his head back against the ground. He wiped his forehead on the left sleeve of his woolen navy shirt. It itched and felt like sandpaper, but was dry, and the more often he wore it, the more he sweated, the smoother it became. He’d hang it in the window tonight. The pool, about 20 yards wide, looked almost flat, though it was rather deep so that a person would go over their head walking along the bottom, which was easy since it was mostly just crystalized sand and rounded pebbles, worn smooth by the swirling water over however many centuries it sat there. The shore was strewn with the same soft pebbles and bleached sand, and on the east end was a cave, completely hidden from the hills and open plateau above. In the shadows there below he could imagine such a place from above, riding by, or passing on the road. But there was hardly a reason to consider it at all from there, unless by chance wandering brought you there, and you had the balance to climb down, which seemed hazardous from above. He stood up, feeling the night wind start blowing in from the La Sal mountains to the west, their caps dipped in snow, and their bodies glowing in blue. He stood up, picking up the strap of his black rucksack, which made some sounds of metal clanging on the inside. He walked to the edge, and dipped his blue bandanna into the pool, draping the wet, twisted cloth around his neck.
Climbing the canyon wall wasn’t difficult, using just one hand to steady himself on rocks as he went up. He was tall and had large shoulders, but his body tapered to longer legs, down to his boots. He stopped near the edge, resting his thumb on his shoulder under the strap of his rucksack, and listened. Nothing seemed to move, only drops occasionally falling into the pool below from the natural well, starting somewhere in the blackness at the back of the cave.
He stepped up once more over the vertical hillside, as if it was a last long step at the top of a stairway. The sun was already falling behind the mountains, and it would be dark soon. He looked towards the mountains. The sun always seemed to set last from the view of the second-story window back home. His mother moved dishes in the kitchen, and could see his father return from working, walking down the sidewalk of Polk Street, jingling coins in his pocket. They’d wait in the elevator, and the coins would be jingling. He’d always mention it irritated him, and his father would seem hurt as if he didn’t know he’d even been doing it. He let the lace curtains down, flower patterns turning in the wind, and sat against his bed, watching the orange sunlight dissipate over the water in the distance over the water.
He looked back to the cabin, and started walking back. At the crosstie, he picked up an oil lantern, and walked onto the porch. The boards creaked, but didn’t seem unsteady. Behind him, the sun’s red glow receded, and fell over the faces of the dusty hills as the stars began to show.
It’s just after a rain. The afternoon sun has come back out, and the clouds, puffed in drippy gray and blue, have disappeared over the town. The buildings overhang, resting on the hillside. Hamilton leans forward against the window frame, condensation dripping down the glass from the inside steam of the kitchen. Out of the back window are rising grey-rock hills, brushed over by the burn of the sun, but growing dark just as easily as the clouds gloat by at a low altitude. Near the next hill the clouds encroach for the duration of the distance up the hill, alongside garbage, and abandoned furniture, broken and weakened in the sun. Wheel frames, broken bottles – broken and half filled with sand or plants growing into them – clothes, and smashed, rusty iron.
“The storm has moved away.”
“Yea? I can still hear the thunder out there.”
He stayed focused, looking out, nearly directly into the sun. His eyes seemed yellow, like snakeskins glowing in the light. He tugged at his collar, and adjusted a navy polkadot bandana tied around his neck. The sun glimmered in through the front window, resting on the corner of a wooden-framed newspaper article hanging by the door, but it just as quickly disappeared, covered by the clouds from far off.
“What’s Benedict think about what’s been happening at night?” Sandle looked up for a second, then back down into the tin wash basin filled with grey water, biting his bottom lip, light steam coming up from the surface as he worked on the plates and glasses, anything wooden floating in the grey murk. His hair was thin in the front and frizzy behind the ears, disheveled and looking dirty, and his round wire-frame glasses kept fogging up from his labored breathing leaning over, staring into the steam.
“Why’re you out of breath? You’re washing dishes.” Hamilton asked, not turning around.
“I’m not outta breath, my nose is stopped up.” He said, sniffling and wiping his nose with the palm of his hand.
“He doesn’t know about everything. Nobody tells him everything. Last time he got so angry he broke Green’s shoulder.” Hamilton said turning, but not looking at Sandle. “The problem is that he always finds out regardless.”
“Did Mustly tell you what they found at the Gold King?” Sandle said, drying off his hands and wiping his nose with the grey towel on the bar.
“He should be careful who he talks to about anything up there.”
“Yeah well he told me yesterday that he heard somebody found gold there. But nobody’s ever found anything there. You can’t get anymore gold there than you can from picking your nose.”
“I don’t think anybody listens to him anyway. He’s always talking about something he’s seen somewhere or something he heard somehow, and it’s never true.”
“But he said there was this new building up there. It’s on the river, not on the mountainside. He said it was glowing like a gateway to heaven.”
“Gateway to heaven! Hah. Some imagination. I’ll talk to him when I get up there. He at least shouldn’t be telling anybody, even if it’s nothing at all going on up there.”
“I’d sure hate to see something happen to him. It’s always the poor boys that get it. They’re not even looking for it, but they’re the first to stumble into it, and the first to be dead.”
“There is a new building up there. But it’s not a mine.”
“How do you know about that?”
“A few days ago on my way to Diamond Head, I happened on it by accident running some maps over. It’s a factory that’s using the river. I told them I was supplying the store over on Diamond Head, and they asked me some questions about the river, who uses it, who comes around, and so on. I told him I didn’t know much other than that people go by on the road, and they think the place is abandoned.”
“Who was running it?” he said, drying off his hands, and opening up a bottle for a drink from behind him, next to the wall-long mirror.
“I’d never seen them before, any of them. But they all dressed really sharp.” he said, turning out the window, the windows of the town still dark as the sun had already disappeared over the mountainside.