Our neighborhood woke like a hive, gathering outside, huddling around each other’s yards. It’s been dry. Heads nod. No rain. Heads shake. But it’s April in the desert and the monsoons are still a few months away. The sun beats down, a wedge of lemon-yellow sliced high in a corner, and on the ground, a dusty sepia as new fire streaks down the mountain coming for us, opening like a wound, licking the last of the creosote green. My brother is nowhere to be found. No one says what they’re thinking. My brother: the coyote combing the dry desert washes, throwing rocks, howling along with the new neighbor kid who’d been through a rotation of schools, the one who will be sent to military academy a month later to avoid suspicion.
The retired school teacher two houses down, the one with the Jesus fish hammered into his front door, pushes up thick glasses, tries to sound casual, Where’s your brother? Then a beat later, And his friend? They don’t ask my mother who is squatting low on the edge of our yard, thumbing a green oleander leaf with so much distance in her eyes she’s already gone. I don’t know, I say, and it’s the truth but it isn’t the whole truth because the truth is he has a drawer full of matchbooks from the restaurants and motels where my father used to take women who weren’t our mother. My brother picked our father’s pockets before he left for good: matches, mints, and money. That may have been the spark, but my brother has always been drawn to a flame and everyone knows it. But they have no proof and he isn’t here and neither is that new kid he hangs out with, the one whose father is off right now on a military assignment. And the kid’s mother isn’t here either, but we’ll learn later she’s at the school, head between the principal’s knees, trying to prevent her son from getting kicked out again, and my brother is hiding in the desert somewhere with him, planning an escape, wearing the tactical gear of men on assignment, and I’m doing cartwheels on the one patch of dying grass in this desert town, readying myself for another run, working in calf stretches and lunges knowing there’s nothing left for us here, and we’ll move soon like the last time my brother lit a fire, and I wonder if that’s what my mother and I wait for, these little fires, trying to outrun the flames of men and boys and little desert towns, towards a small patch of something green.
Sabrina Hicks is from Arizona. Her work has appeared in Brevity, Split Lip, Fractured Lit, Milk Candy Review, and many other journals. Her stories have been selected for Best Small Fictions 2021 and twice for Wigleaf’s Top 50. More of her work can be found at sabrinahicks.com.
Photography by: Artur Aldyrkhanov