Felix Rossi, his heart aching, moved from the tapestried wall where hed stood. He approached the wooden table, preparing to look down on the face he loved.
Same Wednesday, in the morningNew York
When the wind blew the Graham Smith hat off Maggie Johnsons head and rolled it down the empty upper Fifth Avenue sidewalk, she thought shed just about die. It had taken six months of saving, three more of waiting, to own it. Graham Smith made hats for royalty, for aristocrats to wear to Ascot. He made hats for the Queen. Now hed made one for Maggie Johnson of Harlem, New York, too. At the moment, it was blowing down the street.
In spite of the spectacle she knew she was making, Maggie yanked off her winter white heels, dyed to match the silk in the hat. She ran after it like a track star, fearful it would blow across the street into Central Park. Luckily, the hat stopped under the canopy that stretched from Dr. Rossis building to the curb. The red carpet had slowed it down. Maggie grabbed it, dropped her shoes, and stepped back into them, inspecting the hat. It seemed unharmed. She put it carefully on her head, one gloved hand holding the wide brim, the other holding the ostrich feathers in place.
Sam the doorman emerged in his long green coat and hat, looking her up and down, his ruddy Irish face grinning. He swung the heavy door wide by its brass handle.
"Maggie, my girl," he said, teasing. "You must be off to the races with the Queen in that lovely hat. Where did you ever find it?"
Angry and embarrassed that hed probably seen her sprinting down the sidewalk, she rushed past him. Her hand skimmed the brass railing as she went down the carpeted marble stairs, then through the lower lobby to the elevators. On her left was an old mural from some Italian palace. It showed rich folks out hunting with their dogs. In front of her were floor-to-ceiling mirrors. Waving one hand to cool herself, she smoothed her winter white dress and made sure her hat was straight, remembering not to primp because of the security cam-eras. Shed heard even the tenants forgot and gave the limo drivers and guards in back a laugh sometimes. But it pleased her to see how the ostrich feathers floated above her short hair as she walked and the white complimented her dark sienna skinnot espresso or latte like they were always calling black skin in books. Shed matched her arm to color swatches and found out. Maggie knew she was no beauty, except maybe for her eyes, but at the moment she looked years younger than thirty-five. Of course, she hadnt meant to wear this outfit here. Not until she was on the subway, on her way to church, did she remember that she hadnt cleaned Dr. Rossis lab. While he was gone, she only had to do it on Wednesday, but the week had flown by in a snap.
"Confess," Sam said, following her. "This hats from London, isnt it?"
Maggie had hoped Sam would be on his break and that she could slip in without the hat being seen by anyone inclined to ask where shed bought it and why. Ignoring him, she pushed the elevator button, fumbling in her purse for the keys, but feeling triumph. When it came to hats, nothing could outdo a Graham Smith. Maggie read Vogue, so she knew.
He reached down and touched a feather and she glared up at him. If he hadnt had such big shoulders, Sam could have been somebodys stand-in for long shots in a movie. His nose wasnt straight enough for him to be the star and there were faded scars around his neck that looked ragged like they came from brawls. Shed always thought hed make a perfect Irish wrestler. He wore his dark brown hair clipped and going in all directions like the kids did.
Sam spoke French and Italian. He said hed learned them in the merchant marine in his youth and Maggie believed him. Shed once overheard him swearing up a storm. He was a "mans man" type who probably swept foolish women off their feet with his rakish smile.
Copyright © 2003 Jamilla Rhines Lankford. All rights reserved. Used with permission of Great Reads Books LLC
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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