lanketed by morning fog, the redwoods huddle together in stillness, an air of permanence forcing down as if time has forgotten these living giants but remembers us. A single set of rusted train tracks crosses our way and cuts a path of steel through the green.
“Remember when we used to put pennies down here,” my brother says, kneeling down and gripping the metal. He rubs his hand along the rough edges and brings his face in close to smell the ancient railway. His blond hair falls over his ears and down in front of his face. “Looks like it’s been awhile.”
We both stare off, following the forgotten tracks into the woods. There is no sound, save for the echo of silence, pushing down, and it’s just enough for us to bear.
“Come on, brother.”
I cross the tracks and continue on through the tall, golden grass, down to the cliff’s edge and follow it, due North. The ocean, blue below, is still, only agitated with a light roll of swell that sways in the rising sun. Two Cranes sit on a shit-caked island boulder formation jutting from the sea. I remember a letter my mother gave me, an unremarkable piece of notebook paper, torn along the left side, yellow-stained with age, and to no one in particular but the author herself, my grandmother.
The foot path, beaten and distinct, rides the edge of the cliff and at parts has been eaten away by the receding land. I can hear the heavy step of my brother’s boots behind me and I stop to face him as he comes closer. I point down to the small beach, guarded by sandstone cliffs.
“That the one?” he says.
“Looks like it.”
“How'd they get down there?”
“He carried her.”
“Water don’t look too bad.”
“Don’t let the sunshine fool you, brother. It’s cold.”
“Hell, if the old man did it, what much can we say for ourselves if we don’t?”
My brother’s a quick one. Not one for thinking things through so much, but would rather act. The younger by six years, we haven’t been too close these last ﬁve or so, not since I moved up here to the city and he's stayed down south, near the family. There was a time we were close once, I like to think. Memories can be shaped over time, but I’ve seen the photos.
There’s one particular photo I remember, of my brother and I. We’re at the community swimming pool and it must’ve been in the dead of summer and the sun’s at it’s peak and beating down on us. We’re both in our swimming trunks and you can tell we just got out of the water cause our hair is wet and matted down our foreheads, water beading down our arms, trunks sticking to our legs like they do when they’re soaked. We each have an arm over the other’s shoulder, his doesn’t quite reach around my back and instead just rests on my arm, he’s looking up at me and he’s got his eyes closed and a big smile on his face. I mean big. Ear-to-ear and caught mid-laugh. I have a sly smirk as I’m looking down to him. I don’t know what I said , I think it might’ve been something about me pissing my pants or something. It doesn’t matter what it was, really, nothing could come close to explaining the emotion on his face and the moment we shared. That might be the closest we’ve ever been, that day. Later that night we lit ﬁrecrackers in the street and over the screech of a Piccolo Pete he told me he was my hero. Even so, I knew what he meant.
He makes his way down to the beach, the cliffs rubbing off and leaving sand on his blue jeans. I sit down and watch the sun shake on the ocean’s dance ﬂoor. In my bag, I pull out a notebook that has more of my grandmother’s letters folded into it.
My brother is drying out on the sand under the fully risen sun. Nothing touches him here. Not his split from her, and I hope not their unexpected loss, but I imagine it lingers. How could it not? That's no easy thing to turn your back on or your mind off of. He keeps it hid well, below the surface but not too far. I want to talk to him, ask him how he’s doing, and if he needs anything, but I know there are some things a man must come to on his own.
The ocean is calm and still and resembles an oil spill. There is no wind and there are no clouds. Only the crispness of fresh, Fall air. It's easy to see why it's called the golden state.
“Let's get a move on,” I shout down to my brother. I feel bad, breaking the silence and all, but he'd lie there all day if he could, and I don't blame him, he deserves it. And after all, there aren't many things better than lying on the sand, taking in the sun under the silence of an empty coast.
The road winds along. Coming within inches of the cliff’s edge at parts and then turning ninety degrees and cutting into the land and the trees. “What work,” I say.
“What do you mean,” my brother says.
“This road.” I bend down and touch the asphalt. How often do you touch a road with your hands? “What is it about a road?”
“A chance to escape,” my brother says, “to move and get away.”
I imagine paving a way for others to follow. A way for others to go and discover on their own. Seeing sights for the first time and thinking thoughts that only the road can conjure. And knowing that it was my work that made it all happen. What more could you ask for? What more could you give someone?
Around the bend we come upon a wood building with a low roof covered in tree branches and brown leaves. The windows are dusted over and the webs of spiders decorate the outside. Inside, bare shelves and counters reveal the skeleton of a store. The radiator in the corner is specked with a red rust that looks like dried blood. A postcard behind the till shows the red steel and cables of the Golden Gate Bridge, standing tall above the concrete and the city’s waves of buildings in the background, outlined letters at the top of the card read, California’s Gold.
“Doesn’t look too golden to me,” my brother says.
Climbing the hill behind the old store, a trail switchbacks through the trees. We move, plodding one boot in front of the next and quickly we’re high above the store. Between the red tree trunks we look out to the horizon at the point where the ocean and the sky kiss in a straight line.
It stands there in front of us as if grown from the Earth. Grass and shrubbery cover the roof like a head of hair and looks not out of place in the least. The logs, at parts, have been sun bleached to a fair white, and on the sides the sun doesn’t stretch moss has taken to growing between the wood. There is nothing on the outside or around the perimeter. Not a lantern, not an axe, not even a stump to sit on. “It’s perfect,” my brother says.
“Can you believe this,” he says. I don’t answer, because, well, I can’t.
“This is it,” my brother says.
“This is gold.”
My brother’s gaze hasn’t broken from the cabin. A holy land couldn’t hold a religious man’s attention as much as this wooden fortress grips my brother’s. And part of me is able to see the gold reflect in his eyes.
We walk to the front door and out of ignorance, simply lift the handle and push forward. I don’t know whether to think our journey has been rewarded, or that, even though the land has been neglected it is still private, and therefore has been left to be and grow in its own natural way, that we are able to easily enter.
My brother pushes the door open and we stand at the threshold. The sun, like a blade behind us, cuts through the doorway and ignites what’s been hidden in the dark for decades. Dirt and dust and decay has died upon this place and with it the smell dissects our senses and leaves us disoriented.
I can’t handle it and begin to cough in fits and turn my back and walk back out into the woods. I turn around and see my brother, standing in the doorway, for the first time. His back, from shoulder to shoulder, is broad and fills the doorframe, making it look small. The sleeves of his thermal are rolled to his elbows showing veins traversing down his forearms. The cuffs of his jeans are crisply rolled at two inches and fall halfway down his boots, the selvedge fabric of white and red glint in the sun. A little brother by chance, his size clearly trumps our birth-order titles and he turns around to ask if I’m all right.
“What do you say?” He pulls the handkerchief from his back pocket, covers his nose and mouth and walks into the cabin. I follow him.
A metal bed frame sits in the corner with a thin, flat mattress atop. A wooden table with two matching chairs is to the left of the gray, stone-framed fireplace. The wooden floorboards are uneven and some, at places, give a little and bend below the others. My brother makes his way through and then circles the outside of the cabin and unlocks the hinges on the shutters covering the windows. I sit down at the table and take out my notebook. In the front I have a letter folded over that I’ve read many times over, from a man I never met. Somehow, reading it now seems fitting.
On the window sill sits a brown, oval-shaped glass bottle with a rolled piece of paper sticking out from the top of the sheared lip. Newspaper thin and decorated with holes, I pull the paper from the bottle and unroll it on the counter. Undated and unsigned, the writing is faint and at parts the words illegible.
My brother stands at the sink. A wash of white light pours through the window and soaks him in his stance. Particles of the past float in the air and shine in the sun all around him. Some even land on him as he’s still, but then, in one quick move, he’ll be gone.