"What man?" Romen asked.
"Bill Cosey," replied Sandler. "Used to own a hotel and a lot of other property, including the ground under this house."
Vida shook her head. "I saw him the day he died. Hale at breakfast; dead at lunch."
"He had a lot to answer for, Vida."
"Somebody answered for him: 'No lunch.' "
"You forgive that old reprobate anything."
"He paid us good money, Sandler, and taught us, too. Things I never would have known about if I'd kept on living over a swamp in a stilt house. You know what my mother's hands looked like. Because of Bill Cosey, none of us had to keep doing that kind of work."
"It wasn't that bad. I miss it sometimes."
"Miss what? Slop jars? Snakes?"
"Oh, shoot." Vida tossed her spoon into the sherbet glass hard enough to get the clink she wanted.
"Remember the summer storms?" Sandler ignored her. "The air just before-"
"Get up, Romen." Vida tapped the boy's shoulder. "Help me with the dishes."
"I ain't finished, Gran."
"Yes you are. Up."
Romen, forcing air through his lips, pushed back his chair and unfolded himself. He tried to exchange looks with his grandfather, but the old man's eyes were inward.
"Never seen moonlight like that anywhere else." Sandler's voice was low. "Make you want to-" He collected himself. "I'm not saying I would move back."
"I sure hope not." Vida scraped the plates loudly. "You'd need gills."
"Mrs. Cosey said it was a paradise." Romen reached for a cube of pineapple with his fingers.
Vida slapped his hand. "It was a plantation. And Bill Cosey took us off of it."
"The ones he wanted." Sandler spoke to his shoulder.
"I heard that. What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing, Vida. Like you said, the man was a saint."
"There's no arguing with you."
Romen dribbled liquid soap into hot water. His hands felt good sloshing in it, though it stung the bruises on his knuckles. His side hurt more while he stood at the sink, but he felt better listening to his grandparents fussing about the olden days. Less afraid.
Excerpted from Love by Toni Morrison Copyright© 2003 by Toni Morrison. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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