The air is thick and slow, holding a trapped sunlight that slants against the earth as the boy runs a wandering hand along the length of the blue gate. His fingers come away streaked with something pale—pollen, roadside dust, yesterday’s rainwater.
The taste of salt, bitter and strange, lingers in his mouth, and each small movement is startling to his weightless consciousness. Time courses between the remains of a wire fence and pulls at the trees and bleeds into his lungs, every exhale tugged into the slipstream of a dying present as soon as it leaves his throat.
There’s an ocean raging between the walls of his skull, a torrent of drunken chaos that grasps with vast and shapeless fingers at a ceiling of ivory bone. Half-alive things with sightless eyes move vaguely beneath the surface, swallowing lungfuls of silted water as they venture curiously through a gray and formless darkness.
At the place where the road curves and disappears, they’re tearing the ground open, uncoiling blue wires from white trucks, folding lengths of heavy cord into the shredded earth. A forklift hums methodically, and he turns his hands towards the light, staring at his wrists. Crisscrossed veins like pale electrical wires twist between a map of familiar scars—ruined earth still learning how to heal.
A dragonfly lands at the far end of the gate, lifts crooked front legs, and washes its face with a ceremonial solemnity. When it finishes, it lifts its head and they study each other, motionless, waiting for something. The dragonfly darts into the air without warning, a flash of wings and silver light, and the boy runs.
He stops at the backyard hose, sweat dripping between his squinted eyes, twisting the rust-choked knob with determination until it coughs to life and floods warm water across his hands. Standing small in the dusty openness, he lifts the hose and soaks himself—a summer baptism witnessed by none save the dragonfly resting lightly on the back of a lawn chair. When he opens his eyes, loose hair plastering wet against his forehead, he is hungry and satisfied.
He stands there for a long time, catching his breath, shivering a bit, water streaming loosely from his clothes. A dirty puddle has formed at his feet by the time he cuts the water and leaves his shoes scattered in the uncut grass, round water drops sliding between scorched stems and soaking into the thirsty earth.
The sun follows his small form, playing with his shadow, burning his bare arms, warming his hands. By the time he reaches the back door, his t-shirt is comfortably dry against his shoulders.