The New Black
morning. I crossed the highway without looking, stopped at the edge of the road and prayed. The triple-digit temperatures would drop below freezing after dark. There were definitely diamondbacks, possibly coyotes and the narrow chance of a flash flood. I could be in Jackdaw Flats by morning.
    When I come in from the desert, everyone will stare at me. And my name will be Ezekiel.

Craig Clevenger
    is the author of The Contortionist’s Handbook and Dermaphoria . He divides his time between San Francisco and the Mojave Desert.

    T he boy and his mother wake late in the swampy summer mornings and sit on the edge of the porch drinking their first glass of water and spooning out their wedges of melon and picking the dead heads off poppies with their toes. They brush their teeth side by side at the kitchen sink and sometimes the mother lathers the boy’s cheeks with almond soap and pretends to shave him with a butter knife, chattering in an arch accent that aspires to cockney. They fill the wheelbarrow with the boy’s stuffed animals and matchbox cars and his wand for blowing bubbles and his kazoo and tambourine and truck down to the pond where the boy lies in the hammock, holding his toys in the air and swooping them up and down and crooning to them, and the mother reads paperbacks in the deep low wicker rocker, pushing the hammock gently back and forth with her foot.
    For lunch there is French bread spread with soft cheese and served with purple pickled eggs and Jordan almonds. They picnic under the sycamore on one of the boy’s old bed sheets, patterned with smiling clouds and pastel rainbows, too childish for him now, and suck the candy shells from the nuts, and see who can flick an ant the farthest. The sheet smells as the boy used to, hot heavy cream, slightly soured, and powdered sugar, and cough syrup, black cherry.
    They put on their cleanest clothes and drift through the heat down the dirt road to town, the mother pale beneath a black umbrella and the boy’s head swimming in a man-sized baseball cap. They check at the post office for their bills and catalogues and postcards of the town which the mother has sent to the boy on the sly, and they buy a wheel of licorice or a birch beer or a small wooden crate of sour clementines. They also buy a backpack, or some tennis shoes, or a lunch box, for the boy’s first day of school, which is nearly upon them. With two pennies they wish in the fountain, and they walk home, carefully matching their steps to the footprints they made on the first leg of their journey.
    They plant mason jars in the garden to steep their sun tea, and they blow trumpeting squeals on blades of grass. They play a game that is both tic-tac-toe and hopscotch with chalk and stones on the cement walkway, and the mother turns the hose on the boy and washes off the chalk and dust and sweat while he shrills and capers. For dinner there are drumsticks, sticky and burnt, off the old gas grill, or hotdogs charred on sticks at the fire pit. Then cold red wine with seltzer water for the mother, and warm milk with vanilla and sugar for the boy, in the swooning, exhausted armchairs of the living room, with the white gauze curtains swelling at every breath of breeze.
    The mother reads to the boy in bed, adventure stories about islands or magic pools or noble lovers or gallant orphans, or the boy tells ghost stories to the mother, in which crushed faces press against the glass of windows, or trees grown over graves sigh and weep and rustle their leaves. The mother sleeps on one side of an enormous mattress, under an avalanche of pillows, and in another room the boy sleeps in a red wooden bed and his legs and arms tumble over the sides.
    It’s dawn and the boy has woken early when the friend appears. It unfurls from under the bed. Its features have not quite coalesced. Its skin rises up like a blush. The mouth, full of rapid shadows, comes painfully. As the

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