Darlin Neal

In Dulce we lived high in the mountains and we had our dog Boots with us. In the summer before school, my brothers and I ran in the tall grass chasing dragonflies, holding them tenderly in the cup of our palms, in jars to study their colors briefly before setting them free back over pools of reflecting water. They were another magic like the fireflies I watched ignite in green lights in Mississippi. As they flew off into the sun, I could feel their bleating wings in my heart, in that utter joy over the beauty of the flowers.
One morning I stepped outside calling for Boots and saw a mountain lion on a rock that was taller than the trailer we lived in, just right in front of me. We stared into each others eyes. I watched him flick his tail, watching me, deciding, our breath right there in the same air, so close it mingled. I backed away, and away until I made it back to my trailer and ran inside. When I looked out, he was gone like a vision. He filled my mother with fear for what was outside, but I'd watched him watching me. I'd watched him let me go. And Boots came home with porcupine quills in his face our father had to remove with pliers. And Boots refrained from biting over the pain.
While Boots lay by the door healing, I ran over the dirt of the driveway of the trailer park to the landlord's house, playing tag football with the Indian children of our landlord. We were all so tough and fast, made of muscles and hardly cracking when we pounded into one another. I could trip and stay on my feet, jumping through that air.
And then I didn't know where the cage came from but there was a cage beside the landlord's house, the toughest most unbreakable cage and it in was a sad cub. We children watched him and wondered, looking behind us higher into the mountains, if his mother would come tearing down for him, if she would try to break the cage. At night I heard him wailing for her and I hoped she could, she'd come and save him, she'd weave her way so rapidly down the mountain, past the rocks and the trees, and break that cage apart and take him home. The moon was round and bright and glowed over his cage. I hoped so much she wasn't dead. And then the cub was gone and no one talked about it.
Longing for him to be home, I walked with my brothers over boards covering a crevice and there on the other side was a rattlesnake coiling and rattling at us. I ran and looked back from where I'd fled to see my baby brother with those blond curls staring down in curiosity, fearlessly reaching for the interesting being. I ran back and swooped him in my arms and then the men came and chopped the snake in half and talked about a den under there and how they needed to protect the children. They talked about blindness and finding ones way by scent and feel.
I thought about Dulce. I thought the earth must be sweet, the grass that grew from it, those flowers, all those animals of every size that had never hurt us. Once Boots was even bitten by a rattlesnake and his face swelled but he didn't die. The world was ethereal. I'd learned to not be so surprised by hatred, be not so woebegone now that we were away from hunger in Mississippi. In that beauty I could feel in my breath, in my blood, I didn't care. My body was lithe now, not yearning for food, but yearning to run and be outside in that murmuring world where all the dangers were worth it.