Cut grass and gasoline

[an excerpt from my in-progress novel, ‘Asphalt’]

‘Asphalt’ is focalized through the perspective of nine-year-old Charlotte Wyngate who has achromatopsia, a rare genetic condition. She and her mom live on a triangle of land just south of Edmonton and Charlotte spends her days in a hydrofield reading Anne of Green Gables to her imaginary friend, Mrs. Morgenstern, and plotting ways to finding her dad who has disappeared to Somewhere-in-Oregon.

The morning is cut grass and gasoline, and the plastic vinyl sticks to the backs of Charlotte’s thighs in a thin skin of sweat. Except for the small whistle out her nose, it’s quiet on the inside of the truck, with the seatbelt diagonal across her chest. The sun hits the hood, bouncing in through the windshield and Charlotte has to close her eyes tight behind her sunglasses. Even still, she can feel the hot white light against her eyelids, the sun aching on the inside of her skull.

She wants to put the radio on except turning the key one way means radio and the other way means engine and she can’t remember which way is which. She shakes the keys in her palm, then jams one into the ignition. Please please please – she twists her wrist backwards.

The 16 is slow going east out of the city.

She’s not rocketing down Aunt Judy’s driveway.

Coming north of the city, the Number Two slows around Leduc.

Charlotte thumbs the serrated dial through the traffic, a high-pitched surfing song, news and violins. Laughin’ and a-runnin’ hey hey – Dad’s old radio station at the very end – 107.9.

Mom told Charlotte she had to be on her best behaviour today, told her while they brushed their teeth for the last time in Aunt Judy’s downstairs bathroom.

“Why do I have to say goodbye if Aunt Judy is coming to the house to help unpack?” Charlotte asked, mouth full of minty foam.

But Mom said it wasn’t a day to argue, so Charlotte hugged Aunt Judy’s narrow shoulders, and said, “Thank you for everything,” because when you meant “for letting Mom and I stay in your basement for six months,” you said, “everything.”

They had packed up their old house just before Christmas, shoving everything but winter coats and boots and toques into boxes. Charlotte tried to keep her set of Little House on the Prairie by convincing Mom it was just one super long book split into different sections, but Mom put Ma and Pa and Laura and her blind sister Mary in a box for the Sally Ann. “One book only,” Mom insisted and eventually, Charlotte settled on Anne of Green Gables.

She pulls it out of her backpack and flips through the pillowcase-soft pages. She found it at a garage sale last summer and begged Mom to get it. Mom did the weird lips-in-a-thin-line thing that meant “we’re broke,” but Charlotte promised to do dishes for the rest of August, and clean the tub every other night. She had read the whole thing in a week and started back at the beginning the minute she was done.

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