When he saw Golden he wailed, "Are we gonna do something about the girls in this place? What are they doing in there all the time? Huh? I hate 'em!"
Golden slumped against the wall, defeated. The boy was right the girls were bathroom hogs. Even the preadolescents could take half an hour to straighten their clothes and check their hair and perform other cryptic ministrations the boys could only guess at. And when a bathroom did become available they always seemed to get there first, as if they were trading insider information to which the boyswho saw using the bathroom as nothing more than a nuisancewere not party. Golden should have had some genuine sympathy for Clifton, but at this point all he felt was annoyed that the boy had beat him to the punch.
Under the cracking thunder of kids jumping off the bunk beds in
the room directly above him, he could hear the ratcheting of a sewing machine and turned to see a sight that made his blood turn to water: Beverly, the first wife, in the all-purpose room across the hall, working intently on a length of sheer fabric. In excruciating slow motion Golden tried to step backward out of sight, but just as he was about to clear the doorway she glanced up at him, stopping him cold. She went back to her sewing without a word.
Until now he had been sure the wives were assembled in an upstairs room deciding his fate, grimly analyzing the evidence against him, united in their desire to see him pay for his lies and transgressions. But here was Beverly, alone, and Golden couldn't decide whether this was bad news or a positive development. Maybe the scheming was already over and they had retired to separate quarters of the house, or maybe there had been no scheming at all and there was something else brewing which he could only guess at. Golden was in no state of mind to be making guesses; he felt fortunate just to have been able to locate the bathroom.
He tried to read something into Beverly's posture, but there was nothing to read; she always kept her back straight, her elbows close to her ribs. Even in her most distracted or carefree moments she never slumped or loafed or dragged, never allowed herself to sit back and take it easy. When she slept she lay with her head just so on the pillow, her hands clasped across her chest on top of the blankets, as if posing for a mattress commercial.
Pressing his thighs together so he wouldn't wet his pants, Golden hobbled across the hall and leaned against the doorjamb in a desperate attempt to look casual. He realized he was holding the half-eaten chicken wing right out in the open and in a moment of panic stuffed it into his pocket.
"Ah, hey, hello." He gave a little wave as if he were talking to her through a pane of glass. He raised his voice so she could hear him above the sewing machine and a round of sustained caterwauling that had started out in the family room. "Sorry I'm late! That darn concrete guy didn't show until four o'clock!"
There was the tiniest rise and fall of her shoulders, but she kept feeding the fabric through the machine. He stepped closer to her and felt a drop in temperature; Beverly was a woman whose moods held sway over the immediate atmosphere, who seemed to be in control of everything, including the weather. She had kinky iron-gray hair she kept in check with an assortment of clips, barrettes, clasps and stickpins. Tonight, as usual, she had her hair up in a barely contained bun, which bristled with what looked like an arsenal of miniature weaponry.
Only after she had hemmed the entire length of the fabric did she get up to deliver a perfunctory kiss on the cheek and tell him that there was dinner waiting for him at the table. She then sat back down and checked her hem under the light of a jeweler's lamp.
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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