The hobby of searching for gold

by Julian Canlas

When he asked me out on a Tuesday morning
to a riverbank, I imagined being Onassis under
the summer sun, tanned as a leather couch, slabbing
sunscreen on my face, as I listened to the rustling waters
and the humming magpies; not the smell of mud
under his wellies in the car and the trudge up
the mountain. The place was foggy, as if from a dream,
the ground paved with soggy footprints, and when he
held my hand to help my way through, so did the gust
and my shivers did little to alleviate my discomfort.
Gold panning is good for Tuesday, he said. Next
to his sly smile, the river almost looked beautiful,
like the postcard of the London Tube, in which people
smiled with their gold-stained teeth, or like a river
only he and I would go to be alone and cold,
readying ourselves to be part of the order—
at the very least, the order of a normal day, sleeping
my way through vacation, or to be warm in his arms
and blanketed, he cold and suffering for dragging me here.
He inspected the place, stared at the cascades over steep rocks.
Gold is the heaviest thing in this place, besides you, he shouted,
while genuflected, rolling mud on his palm. Gold lies
at the bottom of the riverbed, under all the gravel,
between the bedrock crevices, clinging on tree roots
after being swept into movement by a spring flood.
The morning began to reveal itself and the thick
canopy of trees that was our path; before me, he
could have been the only one visiting the place;
it was so hard to imagine anyone here that the place
was bound to be filled with gold—at least enough to replace
the dirt in his fingernails. We could have been
beside river Dart, drinking Sangria with exotic
foie-gras straight from the belly of his grandparent’s
duck. We could have been under the ire of parents,
or their curiosity. We could have been tasting gold,
rather than eating cheese sandwiches and warm coffee,
thick and instant-made enough to be like the mud stuck
on our legs and clothes. Here, there was only silence,
not an ounce of noise from the city. In our exertion,
the wind was welcome against my skin, as the sky
collapsed into a clear grey. He was digging under a fragile cliff,
his face growing dark with sweat and a frown,
when the rain poured. He collapsed from the weight
of searching for gold with a sly smile, snoring.