He paused near the grandfather clock to get his bearings. When you lived in three separate houses, as Golden did, it wasn't too hard to get confused about little things like where the spare lightbulbs were kept or how to work the alarm clocks, or where, exactly, the bathrooms were located. A few weeks before, he awoke in the middle of the night and, thinking he was in Old House, walked out to what he thought was the kitchen to get a glass of water, only to end up taking a little spill down the stairs and straining something in his groin.
He was finally able to sketch a picture of the bathroom in his mindit was at the end of the hall near the garageand he pushed on with his trek: through the rec room, where a few of the older boys were scaling the rock ?replace all the way up to the ten-foot ceilings, while below the Three StoogesMartin, Boo, and Waynepracticed kung fu combinations and beat each other with cardboard wrapping-paper tubes; past the living room, where Pauline and Novella sat cross-legged in the middle of the floor, whispering secrets and shrieking about something written on a sheet of notebook paper; and on to the dining room, where a tinfoil-covered plate was positioned carefully all by itself at the head of the expansive three-sectioned table. One of the overhead track lights was trained on it so that it had the look of an artifact displayed in a museum.
The plate, Golden knew, was a sign, a message. You are late, it said. Dinner is over and, once again, we've eaten without you.
This was the kind of reprimand he'd been getting a lot lately. His construction business had been going south for more than two years now, and he had to start taking jobs farther and farther out, which meant even less time with the family. Now that he was on a job site two hundred miles away in Nye County, Nevada, he was gone for days at a time, sometimes a full week, and whenever he walked into one of his houses he felt more than ever like a stranger, an outlander unfamiliar with the customs of the place.
By showing up late tonight he'd made a particularly serious error. It was Family Home Evening, the one night of the week when the entire family gathered at Big House (the only one that could accommodate all thirty-two of them), to have dinner and a family meeting consisting of scripture reading, songs, games and maybe lemon bars or chocolate chip ice cream if everybody behaved themselves. No doubt they had cooked an elaborate dinner, cleaned the house and prepared something special for Home Evening, and waited. Waited for a husband and father who was almost never around, who had made a habit out of keeping them waiting. Then, as they had been doing more and more lately, they ate without him.
Just then little Ferris ran by, nude from the waist down, apparently recovered from his father's outburst in the entryway. One of his sisters shouted after him, "Ferris has his pants off again!" and Ferris, as if to confirm this declaration, did a joyous, hip-rolling dance that seemed vaguely suggestive, especially for a four-year-old.
"La la la," he sang. "Do do do."
Too busy enjoying his own nudity to notice Golden, the boy rubbed his butt luxuriously along the pine wainscoting and then shimmied to the other side of the room, where he pressed himself into a potted plant. Only when Novella appeared, threatening to tell his mother, did he gallop off around the racetrack, slapping his haunches as he went.
Alone again, Golden regarded the plate on the table. Despite everythinghe could not help himselfhe lifted the foil and carefully extracted a barbecued chicken wing, which he slurped at guiltily as he took mincing, sidelong steps down the hall. He turned the corner to ?nd chubby and ever-sweating Clifton at the locked bathroom door, kicking it in rhythm with a kind of plaintive boot-camp chant: "Open up, open up, right now, right now, open up, open up, hey-hey, right now."
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.
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