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Darlin Neal


In a red corvette he drove up.  I saw through the trailer window.  With that limp and those long arms polio left him with, he stepped out and started walking toward the butane tanks and disappeared.

When he knocked I watched my mama’s hand on the knob, heard his voice sparkling its way inside.  Water rushed in the sink.  Slicked blonde hair and laughter beamed through the doorway from a childhood dream.  I ran to the hallway bedroom and he after me, calling, “Aren’t you gonna hug my neck?  Come give me some sugar.”

I’d crammed myself up against the wall on the top bunk.  I watched him grin and kicked at his hands with my bare feet.  We both grew still. I flew off and into his arms.

My little beagle was at his heels barking, making the window glass rattle like laughter.  I knew my uncle was by himself.  I missed the little black haired boy and its black eyed mother with those lashes and those lips and that soft voice that used to belong to him.  I missed them for my uncle as he smiled and electrified the room.  I pressed my palm against his chest and felt it pounding.

I was a child but I listened. I knew he’d gone to Bakersfield, left Mississippi. I knew he’d sold cars, some of them stolen.  He’d never had so much money.  Then he went to prison.

He was out but he was going back even though we didn’t know it then. “Look here,” he said kneeling now beside me and opening a bag.  Inside he had a fancy sparkling collar for my dog.  He knew what I loved.  He couldn’t stop the hugging, the looking deep inside your eyes.

You get used to it, he told my brother later about going back.  You get so you don’t know how to be out in the world.

In Mississippi, there’d been a slaughterhouse.  There’d been manure and grass and the smell was home. There’d been gladiolas that lined all the walls of the gym where they danced for the prom year after year so many kids in his family and the gladiolas were ones his mother grew. He cut those stems from the garden himself.

When I'd just learned to walk, he'd come by in the morning and ask for my legs, if he could take them to work.  I'd wait all day.  I'd drive my parents crazy, dragging myself about, until he got off and brought them back to me.

Darlin’ Neal is the author of the forthcoming story collection, Rattlesnakes and The Moon (Press 53). Her work has appeared in The Southern Review, Shenandoah, Eleven Eleven, Puerto del Sol, The Pinch, Per Contra, Smokelong Quarterly, elimae, and dozens of other magazines. Among her awards are a Literary Arts Fellowship in Fiction from the Mississippi Arts Commission  and a Henfield Prize. Her work has been included in Best of The Web 2009 and Online Writing: The Best of The First Ten Years, and has been nominated numerous times for the Pushcart Prize. She lives in Jensen Beach and Orlando, Florida, where she holds an assistant professorship teaching in  the MFA and undergraduate Creative Writing Programs at the University of  Central Florida.

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