The taxi took the curves of the unmarked army road over the mountain, muffler rattling. Hayes rolled down her window. The air was heavy with fragrance, something like wild dill, yellow and blooming by the road, bright against the scrub and dry brush. She looked down at an expanse of clouds that she knew was hiding a deep blue stretch of ocean.
The clouds gave way to a clear view of the sea, a view which made her breath catch, though she’d seen it several times as a child when her family visited her grandmother, who lived in a small but extraordinary glass house on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. The army road flowed over the last of the mountain and into Highway 1. She’d been waiting for this moment for months: this smell, this light, this sense of freedom.
Surely her grandmother, Paulina, had felt the same way. She left everything in the seventies—including Hayes’s mother, Louise—for the coast of California. Louise was college-aged at the time, and, as far as Hayes could tell, had held a grudge ever since. To Hayes, everything about Paulina’s existence was a victory: the woman had exchanged church suppers for chardonnay at Nepenthe, pearls for mala beads, hymnals for Henry Miller. She did yoga, drank spinach smoothies, and on one visit urged Louise to “loosen up and get a colonic already.”
Now the cab came to a familiar curve in the road: the rusted limousine still parked in front of the local library, the sun streaming in bands through the tall redwoods, tourists pedaling rented bicycles in the middle of the highway. Private homes and ranches were scattered from the mountainside to the cliff.
“Could you pull over?” Hayes asked, eager to get out before it was clear which house was her destination. She wanted to keep her presence unknown in case she decided to heed her father’s warning and forgo her claim on the property.
“It’s an albatross,” he’d said. “You can’t afford the taxes.”
She paid the driver and stepped out with her backpack and suitcase. The driver lingered, but she waved him off, not wanting him to see her dragging her luggage down the dusty side of the road.
The roadside smelled familiar—dry pine, chaparral, salt air. She hadn’t been here in years; a wooden privacy fence had gone up between the road and the property. She tried the first of two keys, and the lock to the gate gave way. She checked to see if anyone was watching, then closed the gate behind her.