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Chapter OneThe old woman they said was his great-grandmother stood eyeing him from behind the locked iron gate to the basement of her house. She had ordered that he be brought to see her as soon as he arrived, if not the same day, then the one following. In either case, he was to visit her first, she'd said, before any of the other relatives, and certainly before "the old-miss-young" across the street at No. 258 Macon. And the visit was to last a full hour. She had insisted on that also.Yet minutes had passed and she had made no move to open the gate and let him in. Nor had she spoken as yet, even though Hattie who had brought him over for the visit and was standing waiting behind him had politely greeted the woman and introduced him when she answered the bell."Hello, Mrs. Payne, it's Hattie," she'd said. "Hattie Carmichael? You might not recognize me it's been so long, so many years...And this is Sonny. His name's Sonny."Not a word. Her rheumy, clouded-over eyes immediately latching onto his face, the woman hadn't said a word. Nor had she so much as glanced at Hattie.He waited, puzzled, Hattie behind him, her height and bulk shielding him from the wind that had followed them into the bare front yard of the house. A late March wind that was behaving as if it were still the depths of winter. On the way over, it had buffeted them past the houses lining either side of the long street. They were row houses the like of which he had never seen before, all of them four stories tall under lowering, beetle-browed cornices, all of them hewn out of a dark, somber reddish-brown stone, and all with high stoops of a dozen or more steps slanting sharply down from the second story to the yard. Because of the raised, high-stepping stoops, the brown uniform houses made him think of an army goosestepping toward an enemy that was a mirror image of itself across the street.Then there was the heavy wrought-iron basement gate under the side of each stoop, identical to the one rearing up just inches from his face. A dungeon gate with arrowhead bars like spears. He liked it. Liked also the marching houses. Castles. Something about them reminded him of the castles and fortresses he was good at drawing.The woman he'd been told was his great-grandmother continued her silent scrutiny of him. For his part, he had already noted as much of her as he cared to, from the battered old-lady hat on top of her uncombed hair down to the none-too-clean housedress to be glimpsed under a long, shapeless cardigan that was as heavy as a coat hanging on her tall bony frame.The few buttons left on the sweater were all in the wrong holes and there were food stains on it as well as on the dress.Like a two-year-old, he thought, who didn't know how to dress or feed itself good.Worse, there was her hand. You're not to stare Hattie was always admonishing him. This time he couldn't help it. There was nothing wrong with the woman's right hand. That was okay. But behind the tall bars of the gate, her left hand kept up a trembly dance at her side.Did he really want someone like her for a relative?"Is something wrong, Mrs. Payne?" Hattie's voice at his back. "Have you changed your mind? Should I maybe bring him back another day?"A cut-eye. The woman finally acknowledged Hattie's presence with a single venomous cut-eye and returned her gaze to his face.It came to Sonny then: the gate wouldn't open, the visit would not take place, so long as Hattie stood drawn up behind him as if waiting to barge into the house the moment he was admitted. She was not, it had been agreed, to be part of the visit. The man who had met them at the airport two days ago and driven them in his big, fast car to this strange place called Brooklyn --- his great-uncle Edgar the man had called himself --- had prevailed upon Hattie to let him visit the woman alone.That's another thing the great-grandmother woman had insisted on. He was to be alone with her. Not even the man, who was her son, was to be present."You don't mind, do you?" the man had asked him. "A big boy like you.""No," he had lied."I warn you, she's old and acts a little odd at times, but you're not to let it bother you. After all, she's family and blood.""There're all kinds of family and blood's got nothing to do with it!" Hattie.She had sounded to Sonny as if ready to take him and herself right back home on the plane that had brought them.The man had hastily agreed with her.Now she was saying to the woman, and she was no longer being polite, "All right, Mrs. Payne, I get the message. I'm leaving. But I'll be back for him in an hour, if not before. He's to meet his other great-grandmother this morning too, y'know. She's got as much right to him as anybody else around here!"Then, bending down to hug him from behind, Hattie repeated the instructions she'd given him earlier: if there was a problem or he didn't like it or if anything happened to upset or frighten him he was to phone her and she'd come get him right away.To prevent the woman from understanding, she had switched from English to French. Or what with Hattie passed for French. Terrible. Sonny hadn't realized just how terrible was the scrambled, make-do French she spoke until he started school.Did he have the slip of paper with the number where they were staying in his pocket?"Oui," he said; and deeply offended by the cutting look she'd been dealt, Hattie, his fathermothersisterbrother and all the "kin" he'd ever known, was gone.The moment she turned out of the yard, the woman unlocked the dungeon gate.It took her a while because of the trembly hand.Excerpted from THE FISHER KING (c) Copyright 2000 by Paule Marshall . Reprinted with permission from Scribner. All rights reserved.