Bright Angels and Familiars
by Eugene England, Editor

Chapter 16
At the Talent Show
Phyllis Barber

Act I. The Soloists

[227] When I was nine years old, the bishop of the Boulder City Ward, who happened to be my father, asked me to be the organist for Primary. Mormon children met together at Primary on Wednesday afternoons to study the restored gospel and sing such things as “The Handcart Song,” about pioneers who walked across the plains singing “Some must push and some must pull. ”

“It’s time to share the talent God gave you,” my father said.

I said yes. I went to work. And of course I thought I sounded good. The teachers in Primary told me so. At the time I didn’t understand how adults manipulated children, praising anything that wasn’t total disaster.

Week after week I listened for word filtering through the ward at large, hoping to hear about the new virtuoso rising up from under the desert sand, bubbling like a spring into the ward consciousness.

One Sunday afternoon at sacrament meeting, my father, in his position as bishop, made an announcement: “Two weeks from this [228] Friday night, we’re having a ward talent show. Dust off your banjos and ukeleles, warm up your vocal cords, mend that costume at the back of your closet. This is for the whole ward, not just for the few pros we love, but always hear from.”

During the week, the verification I’d been waiting for came. I received three phone calls.

“Hello, dear. This is Sister Floyd. I’ve heard you’re a fine little pianist. Could you accompany me for the talent show? I’d like to sing again.”

Sister Floyd had six children who never sat still at church. The youngest threw themselves onto the floor in tantrums when they couldn’t drink every cup in the sacrament tray. They grabbed handfuls of bread when they were only supposed to take one piece of the Saviour’s flesh. Sister Floyd was the woman I studied after my father told me about sex during a Sunday afternoon dinner when I asked the question he couldn’t avoid answering. “She does that?” I asked myself later at sacrament meeting when I saw her with a baby on her lap. “Him too?” Her husband seemed so much smaller than she was.

Second phone call: “Hello. This is Brother Frost. I come out to the ward once in a while. Maybe you remember me, maybe not. I used to play trumpet in a combo. Do you think we could practice together for this talent show?”

I remembered Brother Frost. He didn’t come to church much, and I’d heard whispers about how he was a Jack Mormon and how he’d fallen. He scared me, a shadow at the edge of the ward activities while I’d been taught to hold my candle high and bright and in the middle of things. He looked like a frost giant—a tower of a man with blonde wavy hair, a red-veined nose, and midnight blue eyes with snowflake spokes around his irises. But I’d been given my talent by God, my parents reminded me often. It wasn’t mine to hoard, and I should be generous with it, like Jesus holding out his hands to the lame and the diseased.

“I’d be happy to play for you,” I said. Brother Higginson sounded like Methusaleh when he called. “It’s time to get my violin out. Polish up something for the show.” [229] He’d been retired from the railroad for twenty years and lived with his son, the town barber.

I was flattered. Nine years old, and three adults called me to accompany them. I was surprised they hadn’t called Sister Doyle, the ward chorister, organist, choir director, and all around leader of music.

Brother Higginson started our first rehearsal by sinking into the big cushions on our sofa and telling me about his railroad days in Washington state—how he used to tend coal and clean cows off catchers. He unlatched his worn case that was more cardboard than cover, put the violin under his chin, and began tuning the strings. “Give me an A,” he kept saying as though I hadn’t heard him. He struggled out of his seat and hobbled across the space between the sofa and the piano while I played more As.

He shook when he walked; he shook when he handed me the piano music. He also shook when he played. His solo was a blur. “Darn strings,” he kept saying as he played a vague rendition of “The Hot Canary.” “Slips right out from under my fingers.”

He tried for a while but finally said he’d had enough. “You’re a fine little sight-reader, Julia.” He patted my head. “You’ve got something we talk a lot about in the business. It’s called promise.”

His fingers trembled as he laid the violin to rest. “My beautiful friend.” He stroked the varnished wood with one finger. “Sleep tight,” he said as he closed the case.

Brother Frost came over next. “He’s trying to make a comeback,” Mother told me when she saw his car pull up in front of the house. She shook her head like she was in a world where things went slowly. “I hope this’ll be good for him. Your dad’s trying to help him back on his feet.”

“When I used to play this tune, the girls’d line up for a city block.” Brother Frost handed me the brand-new sheet music to “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White.” “I had to drive in to Vegas to buy this.” But we didn’t get through the piece. He kept stopping and apologizing for his lip, never passing “It’s cherry pink …” without strangling the tone. “Out of shape,” he said. “Flabby. Sometimes I wish I’d a been smarter about a few things.” He blurted [230] a B flat into my living room. “Let’s try it again.” Once he passed the “pink,” he had trouble on the falling note, which wouldn’t land in tune.

“Damn, damn, damn,” he said while his cheeks purpled. I could hear the distorted curses coming out of the bell end of his trumpet while I struggled to modulate to a new key.

“I’ll get this if it’s the last thing I do,” he said, opening the spit valve and shaking his trumpet dry. “I’m gonna do it. Damn right, I’m gonna do it.” He pulled out the mouthpiece, dried it with green felt, and placed the pieces of his instrument in the gold velvet interior of his trumpet case.

“I like your rhumba rhythm,” he said. “And the way you sight-read! I bet you’ll play Carnegie Hall some day.”

“What’s that?”

“The place of all places in New York City. If you play Carnegie Hall, you’ve made it big time.”

“Did you play there?” I asked.

He laughed. “I’ve never seen the front doors, child.”

“I was a lead in H.M.S. Pinafore,” Sister Floyd said when she came over to my house after school, “Parowan High School’s musical. You should have heard the audience when I sang ‘Little Buttercup … She tucked her hands under her breasts and asked me to play up and down a five-note scale. “AH, ah, ah, ah, AH, ah, ah, ah, AH.” We slid up a half step and repeated it again, up and again, up and again, until her voice disintegrated. “Sore throat,” she said.

Then she handed me the battered sheet music of “Little Buttercup,” the one she’d used in high school. I sight-read the introduction successfully, glided into the first few bars of her song, and then she stopped me with both hands waving. “This is too high for my mature voice. Do you think you could transpose it to a lower key?”

Suddenly my ascending curve toward musical fame seemed threatened. I didn’t know what transpose meant, let alone know how to do it. Ground shifted under the piano bench and my feet. My vision of Carnegie Hall had been growing larger ever since Brother Frost came to practice. The Grecian columns, its brass [231] doors with floral ornamentation, its thousand steps leading to the entry guarded by stone lions. This picture which had been vast in my young fantasies diminished to tiny doll-house dimensions in one flash of a second. One question. One word I didn’t understand. Tiny Carnegie.

“Oh,” she said after the protracted silence, “if it’s too hard for you, we’ll just get by.”

“I’m sure it’s not too hard,” I protested. “It’s just that …”

“No, no, never mind.” She dismissed the subject with finality while one of her children slid down her leg like it was a firepole. I wanted to tell her I’d learn to transpose. I could do whatever I set my mind to if she’d just give me time. I could do music. I knew how to figure things out. But she was swamped by four of her children, their running noses and untied shoelaces, before I could plead my case.

“I’ll sing all the verses,” she said as she buttoned a child’s sweater. “And don’t forget the ritardando at the end. We need a dramatic ending, like my high school coach taught me.”

The night of the talent show, I dressed in a homemade green dress with plaid trim. My big sister Ellen pinned a matching plaid bow in my hair and told me I might be pretty someday. “Maybe,” she said, “… if the earth’s axis shifts.”

Mother showed me how to make the toes of my brown shoes shine with a torn piece of my old baby blanket—a flannel strip of faded stars and moons. “Rub circles on the toe until you can see yourself smiling back.”

“So, you’re going to be in the talent show tonight,” my dad said through a veil of steam rising from the breaded pork chops. “Fancy that. My little nine-year-old playing up a storm for the ward.”

“Four times she’s going to be in the talent show.” Mother filled her glass with grape juice. “Singing in a trio with her girlfriends and accompanying several members of the ward. Ray Frost included,” she said in a different tone of voice. “Was that your idea, Vern?”

“Shh,” my father said. A quick, short “Shh” meant for her ears, not ours.

[232] “Three people asked me to accompany them, Dad,” I said proudly. “And they didn’t ask Sister Doyle.”

“Oh really?” my dad said quietly.

“Sister Floyd, Brother Frost, and Brother Higginson.”

“Big deal,” my sister Ellen said.

“You might consider,” my dad unfolded the paper napkin onto his lap, “that Sister Doyle was too busy. Did you think of that?”

“Vernon!” my mother said sharply. “Why did you have to say that?”

“‘Pride goeth before the fall,’ you know that.”

“Well, that’s true,” my mother acquiesced, passing green peas and pearl onions flecked with dill.

“But Julia’s a fine accompanist, and I’m sure the people who called her recognize her ability.”

I put my elbows on the table and stabbed my fork into a baked potato just unwrapped from its foil. Always right, father, mother, always right to stop trains in their tracks, trains chugging to somewhere, stop them quickly, suddenly, unavoidably, to remind them to be humble and not chug with too much bravado, not to make too much of any accomplishment lest the Lord take it away, lest the Lord frown, lest, lest, lest.

“I don’t mean to take anything away,” he said again, “but you know how easy it is to be puffed up with pride. It’s not an attractive thing to see, Julia.”

Bloated fish. I’d seen them. Dead. Floating on top of the rank water at the edge of Lake Mead. Smelling for miles. Full of maggots and flies and death. It wasn’t attractive. My father was right about that.

 

When they announced Brother Higginson’s name, the first to perform, I walked up the stage stairs with care. I didn’t want to fall after what my father had said. I promised myself not to puff up with self-importance. I promised to float on top of God’s gifts to me, not pretending to any superiority because of them, to remember I was only a lucky wayfarer who’d been given presents to carry to God’s house, not to keep for myself.

Brother Higginson quivered like a butterfly wing all the way from [233] his chair in the audience to his place on the stage. Everyone clapped when he arrived safely. Then he rested the violin against his chest and asked me for an A. Five, six, eleven times I played an A until he was satisfied. Slowly and shakily he lifted the violin into playing position, the chin rest snug, his left arm extended uncertainly. His tremulous bow bounced lightly on top of the strings and made imprints of music on the silence. He nodded for me to begin the introduction, which I did. Pregnant silence as his bow hovered over the strings. Finally he stabbed at the high E which was supposed to sound like a canary whistling, but he hadn’t aimed right. We started over three times, and finally he stepped out of playing position and said to the audience: “Do you remember the one about the train conductor in Walla Walla?”

After that, no one paid much attention to his “Hot Canary.” They thought it was just another joke. I heard myself laughing with them, laughing so breezily at this man, God’s butterfly. Yet the sound of my laughter burned my ears, and I worried about pride even though Brother Higginson was genuinely funny as he stood there laughing at himself and shaking like he was without a coat in the Arctic.

Sister Floyd was dressed in a yellow checked pinafore over a white lacy blouse. She’d painted two bonbons of pink on her cheeks and tied a yellow satin bow around her neck. Her youngest children slid off their wooden folding chairs and wandered in the aisle until several of the sisters in the audience coaxed them into their laps and secured them with their arms.

Sister Floyd had told me to wait until she gave me the go-ahead. She needed to take a few deep breaths and find the most comfortable place to stand. She swayed where she stood, back and forth like she was rocking a baby to sleep, and she closed her eyes to concentrate on the words and music that would soon be coming out of her mouth. Finally she looked at me and mouthed the word, “Okay.”

“I’m called Little Buttercup, dear Little Buttercup.” First, she leaned toward the audience on her right side, then on her left. When she sang “Sailors should never be shy,” she wagged her finger like [234] a coquette, turned her back to the audience, and peeked over her shoulder to flutter her eyelashes. Everybody laughed and cheered. “Mommy, Mommy,” her smallest boy shouted.

“I’ve snuff and tobaccky, and excellent jacky.”Everybody joined in the fun, and there was so much noise that nobody heard her shrill notes that were out of tune. Nobody but me noticed when she started singing an octave lower.

“Yeah, Sister Floyd,” everybody cheered when she curtsied at the end. “Yeah,” like she’d hit a home run.

As he came to the stage, I noticed that Brother Frost wore a too-starched, short-sleeved shirt, a light blue tie and slacks that matched his eyes. He was so tall he had to stoop under the valance that fell in graceful pleats from the top of the stage. His trumpet looked small under his arm, like a plastic toy for boys. He looked more like an uncomfortable giant than a trumpet player, and I wondered how he ever picked up his first horn and decided to make music.

When this great hulking man put this instrument to his lips, everyone in the audience looked at him curiously. Who was he? Where had he come from? But then I spotted my father beaming from his place in the audience and remembered he had something to do with Brother Frost standing on the stage with a brass horn in front of the congregation of the Boulder City Ward.

Brother Frost took a huge gulp of air, like Jacob at the bottom of his ladder, deciding whether or not to begin the ascent to heaven. Then came the notes: “It’s cherry pink,” almost in tune until he slid off the highest one. But he didn’t stop to apologize like he had in rehearsal. Not then. Not later when he came to the same hurdle in the piece. He was perspiring, great large blotches of wet diluting the starch in his shirt, trickles of water down his temples. He pushed the notes through the brass as if he were making a bid for a new chance.

When he finished, the audience clapped with polite warmth, but my father stood up and cheered, clapped his hands hard, even whistled between his teeth, and time stretched until all I could hear was the sound of one man clapping. I wanted to close my eyes and [235] ears to my father, embarrassing me as he stood there by himself, clapping for Brother Frost who wasn’t all that good on the trumpet, clapping even though the rest of the audience had stopped.

Brother Frost shrugged his shoulders, rubbed the top of my head, and whispered, “Doesn’t matter about every note. We made it all the way through, didn’t we?”

He was smiling, but his lips were blue, his nose red. The frost giant’s hand on my head was freezing cold even though he was covered with perspiration. The chill filtered through my curls and into my skull.

I felt two sensations as I walked off the stage: an indiscriminate one related to the harsh tones in Sister Floyd’s voice, the liver-spotted hand curving around the neck of Brother Higginson’s violin, Brother Frost’s cold hands, my father standing alone in the audience, and his words about pride. The other was a sense of rare coldness in the Boulder City Ward in the desert in Nevada. Like words and snow falling on our heads as we tried to sing and play. Little people in a giant snow storm, walking through white, hidden by a thick curtain of flakes. Potential stars trying to shine in the broad daylight and in the snow. The snow piling high, lulling everyone to sleep beneath its blanket. When we open our mouths in our dreams to sing pure high notes, to purse our lips on a brass mouthpiece, or to steady our bow hand, more snow falls. Our tongues and our mouths and my hands slow in the cold. The sound freezes.

Act II. The Three Chiquitas

I scanned the audience to find my two best friends, Rose and Sheila, but the chairs next to them were taken. I’d been up on the stage too long. Choosing the next best alternative, I headed to the row where my family was sitting. My father wasn’t there though. Neither was my mother. But Ellen and Ed were. I scooted in next to them.

“Where’d Mom and Dad go?” I asked Ellen.

“They’re helping one of the performers,” she said, cracking her chewing gum between her molars.

[236] “Can I have some gum?”

“Most certainly not,” she said like she always did, like she was the Queen of Something while I was but a serf.

“Don’t sit so close to me.” She pushed me away with her elbow. I wanted to ask her if she thought I’d played the piano well or if she thought I’d go to Carnegie Hall someday, but I knew the answer before I asked the question.

“Come here, Ed,” I said to my four-year-old brother. “Come sit with me.” I herded him into my lap and held him tightly while Brother Hamlin played a polka on his clarinet. I needed somebody close to me. I needed Ed’s heartbeat under my hand.

“Do you love me?” I whispered in his ear.

He nodded yes, my faithful brother.

“Did you like how I played the piano?”

He nodded yes again.

“Are you always going to be my best friend? Through thick and thin and cold and dark and dreary?”

“Yes,” he whispered back. I squeezed him and kissed his rubbery cheek.

Then I felt a finger tapping my shoulder blade. It was Rose. “Julia, it’s time. We have three performers until we’re on.”

“Already?”

At Sister Doyle’s urging, Rose, Sheila, and I had decided to form a trio and sing “Chiquita Banana.” We hadn’t practiced all that much, spending more of our time buying plastic bananas, grapes with rubber stems, and strawberry pincushions at the dime store; testing ways to tie scarves on our heads—knots low on our foreheads, knots above our bangs, knots over the right and left ear, under the chin, at the back of our necks; experimenting with make-up-corals, reds, pinks on our cheeks and lips, blues, greens, grays on our eyes—what would look best on stage, what would make us glow; figuring out a way to make the bananas, grapes, and strawberries stay securely on our heads—giant safety pins, glue, tape, needle and thread, ear muff headpieces without the muffs; deciding on the look-alike white blouses and orange squaw skirts that we were supposed to wash, put on a broom handle while wet [237] and fasten with rubber bands to dry, the latest fashion in town. Last of all we practiced our song.

“Come on,” said Rose.

Even though we’d been preparing for weeks, I didn’t feel like singing yet. I wasn’t feeling warm enough to sing about bananas and the equator and still needed Ed against my chest and my arms tight around him. But when Rose and Sheila started backstage without me, I slipped Ed off my lap, told him to go back to his seat. “This will be uno great act,” I told him in my best señorita imitation.

“Sure,” Ellen said. One last elbow in my rib. “Don’t buy her propaganda, Ed.”

In the girls’ bathroom Rose unlatched her mother’s brown Vinyl cosmetic case and placed bottles and tubes in a row on the sink. She opened a plastic square of rouge and spread large red balls on her cheeks, bright unnatural spots that seemed to keep growing even after her fingers had gone to other tasks. Sheila opened a Baroque Pink lipstick, its tip sculpted into a fragile peak from much use. I unscrewed the lid of Peacock Blue eye shadow and smudged my eyelids. This was the real thing, our first official time to wear make-up for public display. I was shivering as if caught in the uncertain sails of Columbus’s ship as he set off for the edge of the world.

Rose manifested some natural artistic ability as she painted a new face on her old one, but Sheila knew the territory like she was born with make-up in her hand. She looked more beautiful than possible as she lined her eyes with black pencil and made her lips stand up in peaks.

I pressed a tube of lipstick against my mouth, dark red, bold red, a gash on my face because I couldn’t follow the outline of my slippery lips, not enough experience in my wrist. Dark blue on the eyelids, smeared heavily from brow to lashes, me peering through two holes in a deep blue sea, eyes blinking slowly under the painted heaviness of the lids. Red on my cheeks—wide circles of paint. Egg-colored powder on my nose and forehead. The bandana tied in place, knot on top of my head. Bananas, grapes, and strawberries dangling over my ear. Giggling all the way to the stage in our [238] white blouses and orange squaw skirts. Rose Red, Sheila Shimmer, Julie Jewel, we’d named ourselves.

Sister Doyle smiled as she sat down on the piano bench where I’d been a few minutes ago, probably suspecting what was to follow. Nevertheless, she thumped out the bright calypso rhythm on the piano. We placed our hands on our hips as we’d planned, then bounced with the rhythm.

“I’m Chiquita Banana,” we started out strongly, “And I’ve come to say.” Laughter from the audience, then a titter from Rose. We all looked straight ahead, steeling ourselves against the inevitable.

“Bananas have to ripen in a certain way.” More laughter from the audience. Because I never had been able to keep a straight face when anybody laughed at one of my jokes, I was the next to go, and the entire house of cards went with me. Laughter engulfed us, took us for a ride, wouldn’t let us stay at the talent show. Soon we were bending over, our hands on our knees, our mouths wrenched out of shape with laughter, our sides being pressed by the sides of our arms in an attempt at quiet, at peace, at containment, the show must go on.

Between us we popped out a few words here and there, sometimes completing an entire phrase. “Chiquita, Chiquita,” somebody called out of the audience. “Ariba,” plus a high trill on someone’s tongue. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, laughing along with us, no investment in perfection. Perfection was whatever happened at the Boulder City Ward Talent Show. Somehow, we rallied at the end, just soon enough to lend credibility to the fact we’d come on stage to sing a song. “So, you should never put bananas …” We climbed the scale up to the high point of “nas.” We hit the high D together, bravely suppressing our laughter. Together we held the final high note in a triumph of unity, clarity, and song. Rose Red, Sheila Shimmer, Julie Jewel—flourishing our arms in front of the ward, bobbing the fake fruit on our heads, flaunting our innocence, our pre-adolescence, our tight buds of femininity soon to blossom. The Three Chiquitas.

After the high D we finished off with the sermon from the United Fruit Company: (Where should you never put bananas?) “In the [239] refrigerator. No, no, no, no.” We shook our hips and fingers in a scolding fashion and then hissed the words “cha, cha, cha” like sassy Latinas. The applause was wide and large and plentiful.

We were a hit. We’d laughed, sung a little, blushed much, paraded ourselves in front of the audience.

And I stood there and bought their applause, swallowed it. I stood there in the swell, my body growing taller, smarter, brighter, nourished by the sound, swelling with the helium of praise, and warming my toes, my heels, my knees, thighs, and chest. They loved us. They loved me. This was much more fun than being an accompanist or playing a piano solo while everyone squirmed and coughed and wished I’d hurry up and finish. This was the applause that spoke to me.

I knew I was destined for something larger. The lights out there somewhere were waiting for my particular beauty, talent, elan. Waiting for all of us—Sheila Shimmer, Rose Red, Julie Jewel. But especially Julie Jewel who played the piano too and could sight-read like lightning.

Act III. Lovely Hula Hands

When Rose, Sheila, and I descended the stairs on our way to the bathroom to change out of our costumes, I saw something I wasn’t sure I saw. Someone who looked like my father climbing up the stairs, climbing up to the stage, passing us as we climbed down.

He was dressed in a grass skirt, two half coconuts connected by a string hanging around his neck and covering his nipples, a few straggling hairs at the center of his chest, a sultry black wig on his head, red on his cheeks and lips, blue eye shadow like the blue on my eyes. My mother stood at the bottom of the stairs laughing, her hand over her mouth, the hem of her red and white jersey dress bouncing from her laughter. She had a handful of make-up lipstick, rouge, eye pencils. She must have been the artist who painted the man who just brushed my side. My father.

“Let’s go sit out front,” Mother said. “Hurry.” She pushed me [240] along. “You don’t want to miss this.”

“What’s happening?” I said.

“Stop asking questions. ”

She put her arm around my shoulders, and we walked through the room that usually served as a classroom, now doubling as a dressing room, prop room, all purpose throw-everything-in-there room. Music cases against the wall; Maori sticks that had been tossed back and forth by a former New Zealand missionary and his wife while they chanted a Maori song; Brother Jeppson’s magic act—a top hat, a cane, a white rabbit in a small cage; a pair of stilts; a Spanish dancing costume hanging from a nail where a picture of Joseph Smith receiving his vision hung on Sundays. We walked around the obstacles and opened the door onto the large room where everyone was watching my father, who usually appeared before them in a suit and tie on Sundays.

The music was beginning. Ukeleles. The sound of the Pacific. Water crashing into shores, rolling out. Mother and I stood against the wall because our seats had been taken by someone’s children. Mother could hardly contain herself, wrapping herself with her arms, hugging them tightly around her so her bursting insides wouldn’t fall out in front of everyone.

I’d seen my father at home. He loved to dance, and it often seemed to me that some part of him could only be released when music played. And now he was Swiveling his hips, paddling air with his arms on one side of his body and then the other.

Without his eyeglasses his eyes were soft blue and inviting like movie star eyes. Bedroom eyes, like Ellen told me she had. Pretty face. Soft skin on his chest. Delicate fingers. His lustrous lashes that mother had mascaraed black fanned out against the backdrop of his painted blue eyelids. He had long black hair in place of a long blank forehead. He wore a flower in his hair and colored leis piled over his shoulders. And I wondered where he learned to make his hands swim like fish through the water and his fingers scoop for poi.

A scratchy version of “A Little Grass Shack in Hawaii” played on the ward’s record player as he threw kisses to the audience, tossed his long tresses with one hand, shimmied the coconuts on [241] his chest. My mother was laughing so hard tears were running down her cheeks.

I was not laughing yet because I was still too curious. My father maintained a solid deadpan: a disdainful island princess ignoring her suitors. He held his chin high as if to snub us and puckered his lips as if to say, “Kiss me, if you dare.” And he arced the wrists of his “Lovely Hula Hands” more gracefully than a bird in motion. Wrists bending in and out, swan’s neck hands. And then he started jutting his hips out faster, holding his arms wide, come-a, come-a.

Laughter raged like fire through the audience and swept over me. I couldn’t hold back any longer. I laughed until tears rolled out of my eyes and my legs felt weak. My father, the dancer, the joker, the bishop of the ward.

Finally the music ended and he curtsied, his foot crossing in front of his bent leg rather than in back like in a proper curtsy, showing off the plastic leis around his ankles one last time.

A standing ovation. Two people standing up on their chairs and cheering. Whistles. Clapping hands, stamping feet sounding through the cracks of the ward windows into the night, passersby probably wondering what was happening inside.

“That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen,” I heard Sister Palmer telling my mother. “I swear it’s the funniest.”

“How’d you get your husband to do that?” someone asked.

“It was his idea,” my mother said.

“Bishop Moore should be a stand-up comedian, ” all these voices over my head, talking to my mother, spewing words about my father. “He’s as good as any comic I ever saw.” And I could hear their voices as they turned away from my mother, still talking. “He really looked pretty, didn’t he? Even beautiful.”

And I ran back through the room with the costumes and props. I ran onto the stage to hug my father and squeeze him with pride before he changed into his suit. Everybody loved my father.

As I hugged his hips covered with the grass skirt and as he stroked my cheek and everyone crowded around him to tell him he was sensational, I sensed I was hugging a mystery, even a trickster like Loki in the Norse myths my teacher read to us at school. Loki [242] could change into anything, even a mare who birthed an eight-legged pony. I liked that my father was a surprise, but I needed to hold onto him for now.

“I love you, Daddy,” I said while people pressed close to us.

“Did you like that?” he asked, beaming through the blue eye shadow, his powder, his rouge.

I looked up to tell him yes, yes, yes.

He wasn’t talking to me. He was tossing words in the air over my head. Catching Sister Doyle’s words in return. “Definitely yes,” she was saying.

“You really liked it?” he asked again.

I watched his face. His mouth was open in anticipation of her words. He was smiling, waiting, yet I could see him attempting to mask his eagerness. He didn’t want Sister Doyle to know it mattered; he didn’t want himself to know it mattered. He was preening, tail feathers alive. He was puffing up before my eyes.

“Terrific. Just terrific,” Sister Doyle was saying. “Never saw anything so funny. I swear, Vernon, you ought to get a job in Vegas.”

He patted my head as he smiled with satisfaction. Then, as if I were something he wished were in another room, he whispered, “Don’t hang on so tight, Julia,” he said. “I’m sweating like a dog.”

Sister Doyle overheard. “Ladies don’t sweat,” she said. “They perspire.”

“Guess I’m still a man, then.” He laughed.

“You’re one heck of a great guy.” Sister Doyle patted his shoulder, straightened his loops of leis, and kissed him on the cheek. My father shone like noon sun; he stood tall like the wooden Indian in front of the town drugstore. No war bonnet but a high, proud chest and a black wig.

Then Sister Doyle bent down and held my chin with two fingers. “Julia,” she said. “Your dad was right. You do a great job accompanying. Glad I recommended you.” Then she went over to the piano to close it up for the night.

Suddenly, I felt the weight of the bananas, grapes, and strawberries on my head.

“Let’s go, Julia,” my father said absentmindedly as if his cup [243] wasn’t full yet, looking around to see if anyone else waited to say something.

“Not yet, Dad,” I said, still hanging onto his hips. “I need to ask you something.”

“Come on, come on,” he said, pulling me apart from him. “I’ve got to get out of this itchy skirt. Driving me bananas.”

“I’m Chiquita Banana,” I started to sing as we walked toward the stairs. “And I’ve come to say …”

“How’d your song go?”

“We laughed too much.”

“You can never laugh too much,” he said as he pulled a flower out of his wig.

“Or dance too much?” I asked him.

“Right. By the way, you did a fine job helping out Brother Frost tonight. Appreciate your helping him out, getting him over the rough spots.”

Suddenly, I summoned my courage and blocked the doorway to the stairs and the dressing room. “Do adults rule the world?”

“What do you mean?” He pulled the wig off his head and bent down on his haunches, his coconuts knocking against each other, until we were eye to eye. His blue eye shadow looked severe at close range.

“Sister Doyle told all those people to call me, didn’t she?”

“If you have to know, yes, she did.”

“Nobody called me just because they thought I was good, did they?”

“That’s extreme,”

“And you told Sister Doyle to tell them, didn’t you?”

“You got to perform didn’t you?”

“It’s not the same.” I stomped the stage with one foot. “Now I feel stupid, stupid, stupid! I wish I’d never learned to play the dumb piano.”

“Come on, Julia. Settle down.”

“And don’t start preaching pride to me. You liked how everyone told you how great you were tonight. I watched you. You like being a star for yourself, not just for God. You can’t fool me.”

[244] His grass skirt rustled in a draft that seeped through the wood frame of the Boulder City Ward house into the room where everyone’s props were waiting to be taken home and put back in closets. And it seeped into me and my father’s suddenly sad eyes as he excused himself. “I’ve got to change clothes,” he said. “Wait for me.”