Her death was my fault. Other people have always been a little too quick to assure me that it wasn't; and yes, only a kid, who could have known, terrible accident, rotten luck, could have happened to anyone, it's all perfectly true and I don't believe a word of it.
It happened in New York, April 10th, fourteen years ago. (Even my hand balks at the date; I had to push to write it down, just to keep the pen moving on the paper. It used to be a perfectly ordinary day but now it sticks up on the calendar like a rusty nail.)
If the day had gone as planned, it would have faded into the sky unmarked, swallowed without a trace along with the rest of my eighth-grade year. What would I remember of it now? Little or nothing. But of course the texture of that morning is clearer than the present, down to the drenched, wet feel of the air. It had rained in the night, a terrible storm, shops were flooded and a couple of subway stations closed; and the two of us were standing on the squelching carpet outside our apartment building while her favorite doorman, Goldie, who adored her, walked backwards down Fifty-Seventh with his arm up, whistling for a taxi. Cars whooshed by in sheets of dirty spray; rain-swollen clouds tumbled high above the skyscrapers, blowing and shifting to patches of clear blue sky, and down below, on the street, beneath the exhaust fumes, the wind felt damp and soft like spring.
"Ah, he's full, my lady," Goldie called over the roar of the street, stepping out of the way as a taxi splashed round the corner and shut its light off. He was the smallest of the doormen: a wan, thin, lively little guy, light-skinned Puerto Rican, a former featherweight boxer. Though he was pouchy in the face from drinking (sometimes he turned up on the night shift smelling of J&B), still he was wiry and muscular and quickalways kidding around, always having a cigarette break on the corner, shifting from foot to foot and blowing on his white-gloved hands when it was cold, telling jokes in Spanish and cracking the other doormen up.
"You in a big hurry this morning?" he asked my mother. His nametag said BURT D. but everyone called him Goldie because of his gold tooth and because his last name, de Oro, meant "gold" in Spanish.
"No, plenty of time, we're fine." But she looked exhausted and her hands were shaky as she re-tied her scarf, which snapped and fluttered in the wind.
Goldie must have noticed this himself, because he glanced over at me (backed up evasively against the concrete planter in front of the building, looking anywhere but at her) with an air of slight disapproval.
"You're not taking the train?" he said to me.
"Oh, we've got some errands," said my mother, without much conviction, when she realized I didn't know what to say. Normally I didn't pay much attention to her clothes, but what she had on that morning (white trenchcoat, filmy pink scarf, black and white two-tone loafers) is so firmly burned into my memory that now it's difficult for me to remember her any other way.
I was thirteen. I hate to remember how awkward we were with each other that last morning, stiff enough for the doorman to notice; any other time we would have been talking companionably enough, but that morning we didn't have much to say to each other because I'd been suspended from school. They'd called her at her office the day before; she'd come home silent and furious; and the awful thing was that I didn't even know what I'd been suspended for, although I was about seventy-five percent sure that Mr. Beeman (en route from his office to the teachers' lounge) had looked out the window of the second-floor landing at exactly the wrong moment and seen me smoking on school property. (Or, rather, seen me standing around with Tom Cable while he smoked, which at my school amounted to practically the same offense.) My mother hated smoking. Her parentswhom I loved hearing stories about, and who had unfairly died before I'd had the chance to know themhad been affable horse trainers who travelled around the west and raised Morgan horses for a living: cocktail-drinking, canasta-playing livelies who went to the Kentucky Derby every year and kept cigarettes in silver boxes around the house. Then my grandmother doubled over and started coughing blood one day when she came in from the stables; and for the rest of my mother's teenage years, there had been oxygen tanks on the front porch and bedroom shades that stayed pulled down.
Excerpted from The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Copyright © 2013 by Donna Tartt. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. 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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