"Yes, sir." Mary didn't look at Daddy when she spoke.
We all got in the car, Mama and Stell Ann in front, Davie between them in his canvas baby seat. Puddin and I were in the back with Mary, who sat behind the driver's seat, tall and straight, her dark face already damp with sweat. She patted my leg to let me know she liked sitting next to me.
Mama's hair was curled and hanging loose, flashing red and gold. She handed me her sun hat, scarf, and gloves to put on the ledge in the back window. "Fold my gloves and put them under my hat, then cover my hat with the scarf." She watched me in the rearview mirror, making sure I did what she said.
She started the car. "Is everyone ready?"
"Ready, Freddy," I said. Stell sniffed. Slang was beneath her now that she was sixteen, was in Young Life, and had been saved.
Daddy leaned in Mama's window to kiss her on the cheek.
"I'll see you at Pawleys, okay?" Mama bent to move her purse and he kissed her shoulder instead. "Keep it in the road," he said.
She put the car in reverse. Had she felt his kiss on her shoulder?
Daddy waved from the garage, looking alone already, and I remembered what he'd said to Uncle Stamos, his older brother. "While they're gone, I'm going to play golf every afternoon and get stinking drunk whenever I want." I wondered how he'd feel, coming home to a quiet house, nobody on the phone, no supper in the oven. No one to yell at when he got mad.
Mama turned onto Queens Road West, into the shady green tree tunnels formed by the towering oaks. "I hope there's not much traffic between here and the highway."
On the way out of Charlotte we passed Municipal Pool, and I saw Richard Daniels poised on the new high dive while another kid did a cannonball from the low board. Nobody was a better diver than Richard. Next time I talked to him, I'd ask him to give me lessons.
When Daddy and Uncle Stamos won the contract to build those diving boards, they had hunkered for weeks over blueprints spread on the dining room table. Huge papers that smelled like ether and had WATTS CONCRETE FABRICATIONS, INC. in a box on every page, with a caption: CHARLOTTE MUNICIPAL SWIMMING POOL, and subheadings: DECK. BASE FOR THREE-METER BOARD. BASE FOR ONE-METER BOARD.
Daddy showed me how to read the drawings. "Always check the scale. An inch can equal a foot or ten feet." He held the papers flat to keep them from curling. "If you don't know the scale, you won't understand the drawings." I learned about blueprints as I breathed in his smell of tobacco and Old Spice.
He liked teaching me things. When I was in first grade he gave me a miniature toolbox with painted wooden tools, which
Mama thought was ridiculous. "That kind of thing is for boys," she'd said.
"I don't have any," Daddy had told her. "Yet." He patted her bottom. "And girls need to know the business end of a hammer."
If Daddy wanted help, I grabbed my toolbox and ran to him, but he hadn't asked for my help in a long time. Thirteen was too old for make-believe tools.
Puddin wriggled on the seat next to me. "I want to be in front when we get to Florida so I can see the ocean first."
"That won't be till tomorrow afternoon," I told her.
She put her head against my shoulder. "I can wait." Then she sat up again. "Do my braids so I look Dutch." I knotted her skimpy braids on top of her head, knowing they wouldn't stay, as fine as her hair was.
"Do I look Dutch?"
"You look like Puddin-tane with her braids tied up." Silky blonde wisps fell behind her ears.
Davie started to fuss and Mama asked Stell to check his diaper. He was almost two but wasn't taking to potty training, so Mama had him in diapers for the trip. Stell lifted him free of the car seat and asked, "Are you ever going to let me drive?"
Excerpted from The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew. Copyright © 2011 by Anna Jean Mayhew. Excerpted by permission of Kensington. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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