Right now the breeze blew cool off the Pacific, but Roberto knew it could shift at any time. Summer had ended, and now the desert winds would start: the Santa Anas, roaring through the mountain passes, heating up as they sank from higher elevations down to the coast, and any flash, even from a power tool, could ignite the canyon. It had been dry for two months straight. He walked to the barn, where the control panel was located, and turned on the sprinklers.
The water sprayed up, catching rainbows as the sun crested the eastern mountains. It hissed, soft and constant, and Roberto couldn’t help thinking of the sound as money draining away. Water was delivered to the orchard via canal, and was expensive. The Rileys had told him many times that the important thing was the health of the trees and lemons, and to protect the land from fire.
He had something even more important to do before his coworkers arrived: make the coastal path more secure. He grabbed a sledgehammer and cut through the grove to the cliff edge. The summer-dry hillsides sloped past the sparkling pool, down in a widening V to the Pacific Ocean. Occasionally hikers crossed Riley land to connect with the Backbone Trail and other hikes in the mountain range. Years back someone had installed stanchions and a chain: a rudimentary fence to remind people the drop was steep, five hundred feet down to the canyon floor.
He tested the posts and found some loosened. Mudslides and temblers made the land unstable. He wished she would stay off this trail entirely, walk the dog through the orchard, where he could better keep an eye on them, or at least use the paths on the inland side of the property. But she seemed to love the ocean. He’d seen her pass this way both mornings since she’d arrived, stopping to stare out to sea while the dog rustled through the chaparral and coastal sage.
He tapped the first post to set his aim, then swung the sledge- hammer overhead, metal connecting with metal with a loud gong. He felt the shock of the impact in the bones of his wrists and shoulders. Moving down the row of stanchions, he drove each one a few inches deeper into the ground until they were solidly embedded. The wind was blowing toward the house. He hoped the sound wouldn’t bother her, but he figured it wouldn’t. She rose early, like him.
© 2014 by Luanne Rice