Marse Goodsnake bought a slave boy home. He taught the boy all he knew. But the boy got smart and slipped off from Marse Goodsnake and found his ma again.
Marse Goodsnake came to the mother and said, I know your boys hiding round here, and tomorrow Im gonna come for him.
The boy told his ma, Dont worry. He aint never gonna catch me.
The next day the boy saw Marse Goodsnake coming, and he flipped a somersault and became a rooster. His mother threw him in the chicken pen with the other roosters. Marse Goodsnake became a fox and chased the roosters. The boy flipped a somersault and became a horse. Marse Goodsnake flipped a somersault and became a halter atop the horse. He drove the horse home, but when he stopped to let it drink from a creek, the horse flipped a somersault, leaped into the water, became a catfish, and swam off. Marse Goodsnake flipped and turned into a big fat crocodile and chased him all around. The boy turned into a hummingbird. Marse Goodsnake turned into an eagle and chased him all over the sky. The boy turned into a wedding ring. Marse Goodsnake turned into a groom who talked the bride out of her ring. Finally the boy flew up in the air, became a box of mustard seeds, and busted into a hundred seeds that covered the ground. Marse Goodsnake jumped up and turned into an old hen with a hundred chickens that ate every seed but the last. They dug and dug for that last mustard seed, dug clear through to the other side of the earth, looking for that last mustard seed . . .
A loud creak snapped Liz awake. She realized she was chewing the hard floor around the heavy pike beneath her face. She had gnawed all around the outside of it and left the head exposed. She quickly grabbed the pike with her front teeth. With great effort, she pulled it from the floor, stuck it in her closed jaw, and flipped onto her back just as Little George stepped past the old lady next to her and arrived at her feet.
A deep bank of silence seemed to press the air out of the room. In the slivers of light that cut through the attic roof, she saw Little George standing before herhis torn shirt, his muscled arms, and the profile of his beautiful nose and eyebrows beneath a straw hat. His head swiveled in a large circle, taking in the room. His head stopped when it reached her. He stepped aside her and knelt.
Brother, she said, I am not well.
Dont call me brother, Little George said.
His frame blocked her view of the rafters above. He was so tall he had to crouch to reach her in the corner. On his hips she saw the glint of several keys.
He gently ran his huge hand over her face.
I knowed there was a pretty woman under all that pus, he said.
Where am I? she asked.
Dont you worry, he said. You in the right place. Miss Pattys gone out to find new customers. You got plenty time to say hi to Little George.
He reached his hand into the pot of water behind her and withdrew it. She heard herself gasping and felt soap rubbing over her face, stinging, cleansing, then her face wiped dry. She heard the soap fall back into the water, and heard him sigh.
The arc of the attic roof caused him to bend over awkwardly as he leaned over to run his huge hands over her. He ran his hand from neck to foot, pawing her through her tattered dress, then stopping at her ankle chains. She tried to wiggle away and he shoved her into place.
You aint gonna need these for a minute, he said. He leaned over with his hands to unfasten her ankle chains. He undid the first, which was closest to him, and left the second fastened to the old woman next to her.
Liz immediately sat halfway up.
Excerpted from Song yet Sung by Charles Frazier Copyright © 2008 by James McBride. Excerpted by permission of Riverhead Books, a division of Pengion Group, 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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