The cab swung into a sharp sudden turn, onto Eighty-Sixth Street. My mother slid into me and grabbed my arm; and I saw she was clammy and pale as a cod.
"Are you carsick?" I said, forgetting my own troubles for the moment. She had a woeful, fixed expression that I recognized all too well: her lips were pressed tight, her forehead was glistening and her eyes were glassy and huge.
She started to say somethingand then clapped her hand to her mouth as the cab lurched to a stop at the light, throwing us forward and then back hard against the seat.
"Hang on," I said to her, and then leaned up and knocked on the greasy plexiglass, so that the driver (a turbaned Sikh) started in surprise.
"Look," I called through the grille, "this is fine, we'll get out here, okay?"
The Sikhreflected in the garlanded mirrorgazed at me steadily. "You want to stop here."
"But this is not the address you gave."
"I know. But this is good," I said, glancing back at my mothermascara-smeared, wilted-looking, scrabbling though her bag for her wallet.
"Is she all right?" said the cabdriver doubtfully.
"Yes, yes, she's fine. We just need to get out, thanks."
With trembling hands, my mother produced a crumple of damp-looking dollars and pushed them through the grille. As the Sikh slid his hand through and palmed them (resignedly, looking away) I climbed out, holding the door open for her.
My mother stumbled a little stepping onto the curb, and I caught her arm. "Are you okay?" I said to her timidly as the cab sped away. We were on upper Fifth Avenue, by the mansions facing the park.
She took a deep breath, then wiped her brow and squeezed my arm. "Phew," she said, fanning her face with her palm. Her forehead was shiny and her eyes were still a little unfocused; she had the slightly ruffled aspect of a sea-bird blown off course. "Sorry, still got the wobblies. Thank God we're out of that cab. I'll be fine, I just need some air."
People streamed around us on the windy corner: schoolgirls in uniform, laughing and running and dodging around us; nannies pushing elaborate prams with babies seated in pairs and threes. A harried, lawyerly father brushed past us, towing his small son by the wrist. "No, Braden," I heard him say to the boy, who trotted to keep up, "you shouldn't think that way, it's more important to have a job you like"
We stepped aside to avoid the soapsuds that a janitor was dumping from a pail on the sidewalk in front of his building.
"Tell me," said my motherfingertips at her temple"was it just me, or was that cab unbelievably"
"Nasty? Hawaiian Tropic and baby poo?"
"Honestly" fanning the air in front of her face"it would have been okay if not for all the stopping and starting. I was perfectly fine and then it just hit me."
"Why don't you ever just ask if you can sit in the front seat?"
"You sound just like your father."
I looked away, embarrassedfor I'd heard it too, a hint of his annoying know-it-all tone. "Let's walk over to Madison and find some place for you to sit down," I said. I was starving to death and there was a diner over there I liked.
Butwith a shudder almost, a visible wave of nauseashe shook her head. "Air." Dashing mascara smudges from under her eyes. "The air feels good."
"Sure," I said, a bit too quickly, anxious to be accommodating. "Whatever."
I was trying hard to be agreeable but my motherfitful and woozyhad picked up on my tone; she looked at me closely, trying to figure out what I was thinking. (This was another bad habit we'd fallen into, thanks to years of life with my father: trying to read each other's minds.)
"What?" she said. "Is there someplace you want to go?"
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.
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