"Come on," he whispered, "come on, you sissy."
Like a man gathering to jump into an icy pond, he pushed open the door. A wave of heat hit himthe house was as hot as a bakery. The tiled entry was dim and empty, and the rich, sugary smell of something in the ovenhopefully Beverly's pineapple upside-down cakemade his mouth water. He took one stealthy heel-to-toe step, another, stopped to listen. Over the sounds of hollering and pounding feet he could hear the radio and the sound of water chuckling through overhead pipes. Normally there would have been a crush of children waiting at the door, all of them shouting at once, pulling at his clothes and asking him what he'd brought them, the little ones standing on their heads or displaying some new bruise or scabLook at me! Look at me!and the wives hanging back, waiting for their chance to lay their claims on him, each one of them a burning spotlight of attention and need.
But for the first time in his memory there was no one there to greet him. He was all alone and it unnerved him.
He listened, trying to get a sense of what he might be facing. A door slammed. Muffled voices echoed down the stairway. He willed himself to step forward, out of the dark hallway and into the light of the family room, but Golden kept imagining slipping back out the door, skulking away like a burglar, maybe heading out to the highway and getting a room at the Apache Acres Motor Inn, where he could take a long serious leak, call home to claim engine trouble, and then order some of that good country-fried steak from the all-night diner and watch Starsky and Hutch on a color televisionbut his little fantasy didn't last long because at that moment the children attacked.
Somebody yelled, "Kill the zombie!" and he was grabbed from behind by his belt, from both sides around the calves. They came from behind the couches and the top of the stairs, ten, twelve of them, ramming him with their small heads, clawing at his legs, hooking their ?ngers in the pockets of his jeans, trying to drag him down. Herschel, Fig Newton, Ferris, Darling, Jame-o, Louise, Teague. There were the second twins: Sybil and Deeanne. And the Three Stooges, yipping like mariachis. They were all sweaty and wild and for a moment it felt like the sheer weight of them might tear him apart.
On another night, Golden might have gone along, moaning like a cartoon mummy, ?ailing his arms in mock undead rage, falling with them onto the carpet of the living room ?oor, wrestling and tickling and kissingbut not tonight. No way. He locked his knees and went stiff, hoping to outlast them, but they hung on, screaming with laughter, egging each other on. Eleven-year-old Rusty, who was, as his mother called him, "hefty" and getting too old for this kind of thing, slipped from his hiding place behind the curtains and leapt off the piano bench onto Golden's back, nearly bringing the whole pile down.
"Okay now!" Golden grunted. "Let's try not to overdo it!" He was whacked across the shins with a plastic samurai sword and it felt like someone was trying to take a bite out of his kneecap.
At ?rst he offered no resistance, did little more than stand there and take the punishment as his due. But then Teague, who had developed the habit of trying to slug Golden in the crotch whenever there was an opening, did exactly that and Golden decided he'd had enough. He shrugged off Rusty and started the work of peeling them away, one by one. Several resisted, thinking it was still a game. Two or three were still at his legs and someone had climbed up his back and grabbed hold of his shirt collar. Pet, her silver-pink hair in braids, stood on her tiptoes and squeezed him fervently around the middle, putting a strain on his kidneys.
Excerpted from The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall. Copyright © 2010 by Brady Udall. Excerpted by permission of WW Norton. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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