"Okay, hey, watch it, careful now." Golden hoisted Pet out of the way and several more jumped in to try and take her place. "That's it, ohow! Hey, ha, all right, there. Stop. Oh boy. Ouch! Get off! Now!"
They fell back, blinking, their faces slack with surprise. Fig Newton was so stunned that tears sprang from her eyes as if she had been struck. Only Louise, who was partially deaf and rarely wore her hearing aid, kept on, gnawing on Golden's boot and growling like a dog.
"Okay, everybody," Golden rasped, pulling his pants back up to their original position. He shook off Louise and pulled Fig Newton, still weeping bitterly, close against his hip. "I'm real sorry, kids, I don't got much of a zombie in me tonight. Another time, that's a promise." He stuck his hand in his hair and sighed, tried to put on a relaxed smile. "Hoo-wee. Now, where are your mothers?"
This question brightened them up instantly. Some shrugged, others shouted, "We don't know!" In twos and threes they scattered, already whooping it up again, most of them off to resume their laps around the racetrack.
When Golden built Big House eleven years before, he had made two mistakes: not enough bathrooms, and the racetrack. The racetrack was a mistake in planning, pure and simple. The house had been built according to a standard floor plan: kitchen at the center, surrounded by the living room, family room, dining room and rec room, each of which opened into the room next to it. How could he have foreseen that such a configuration would create a kind of European-style roundabout, a perfect racetrack oval that would allow the kids to tear through the house in endless, uninterrupted procession? Big House became the scene of an ongoing stampede: kids sprinting through the rooms after each other, banking around corners and accelerating on the straightaways, careening and skidding and bouncing off walls, always, for some reason, in a counterclockwise ?ow. Sometimes just being in the house made Golden dizzy. There he'd be at his place in the kitchen having a mug of Postum or looking over some blueprints, not paying too much attention to the daily mob circling by, and the next thing he knew he'd get so light-headed he'd have to grab the counter to keep from tipping sideways off his stool.
After only a year and a half, a foot-wide track had been worn in the carpet, down to the matting, and Golden tried to ban all running in the house. He might as well have asked the planets to pause in their orbits. He tried placing a love seat in the dining room entryway to disrupt the flow even threatened to seal off the dining room completely if that's what it took, but Nola and Rose-of-Sharonthe two wives and sisters who shared this houseconvinced him that all the running, despite the noise and carpet damage, was actually a blessing; it was a good release of enthusiasm and kept them out of trouble.
"Enthusiasm?" Golden had asked. "Couldn't they run around the house, outside, where kids are supposed to release their enthusiasm? I'm worried about the ?oor joists in here."
Nola sighed, as she often did when explaining things to Golden. "You know they run out there too, but at least in here they're contained," she said. Rose-of-Sharon, working with her sister on a birthing quilt, had nodded her agreement. "In here we can keep track of them. At least in here we know they're not running out into the road, getting mowed down by cattle trucks or stolen by criminals."
And that was that. From then on, Big House would be known as a place where running indoors was not only allowed, but encouraged.
It would also be known as a place where it was dif?cult to find an available bathroom. Golden first tried the one off the back hallway, but found it occupied (it boasted a padded toilet seat and a library of Sears and Roebuck catalogs, which meant it was pretty much always in use, even in the dead of night). The seven-thousand-square-foot house struck him as a bit overdone when he'd built it, but now, as he tried to make his way to the only other ?rst-?oor bathroom, way off in the far corner, he found it downright appalling.
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