"Um, no, not really," I said, taking a step backwards and looking around in my consternation; even though I was hungry, I felt in no position to insist on anything.
"I'll be fine. Just give me a minute."
"Maybe" blinking and agitated, what did she want, what would please her?"how about we go sit in the park?"
To my relief, she nodded. "All right then," she said, in what I thought of as her Mary Poppins voice, "but just till I catch my breath," and we started down toward the crosswalk at Seventy-Ninth Street: past topiaries in baroque planters, ponderous doors laced with ironwork. The light had faded to an industrial gray, and the breeze was as heavy as teakettle steam. Across the street by the park, artists were setting up their stalls, unrolling their canvases, pinning up their watercolor reproductions of St. Patrick's Cathedral and the Brooklyn Bridge.
We walked along in silence. My mind was whirring busily on my own troubles (had Tom's parents got a call? Why hadn't I thought to ask him?) as well as what I was going to order for breakfast as soon as I could get her to the diner (Western omelet with home fries, side of bacon; she would have what she always had, rye toast with poached eggs and a cup of black coffee) and I was hardly paying attention where we were going when I realized she had just said something. She wasn't looking at me but out over the park; and her expression made me think of a famous French movie I didn't know the name of, where distracted people walked down windblown streets and talked a lot but didn't actually seem to be talking to each other.
"What did you say?" I asked, after a few confused beats, walking faster to catch up with her. "Try more?"
She looked startled, as if she'd forgotten I was there. The white coatflapping in the windadded to her long-legged ibis quality, as if she were about to unfurl her wings and sail away over the park.
"Try more what?"
"Oh." Her face went blank and then she shook her head and laughed quickly in the sharp, childlike way she had. "No. I said time warp."
Even though it was a strange thing to say I knew what she meant, or thought I didthat shiver of disconnection, the missing seconds on the sidewalk like a hiccup of lost time, or a few frames snipped out of a film.
"No, no, puppy, just the neighborhood." Tousling my hair, making me smile in a lopsided, half-embarrassed way: puppy was my baby name, I didn't like it any more nor the hair-tousling either, but sheepish though I felt, I was glad to see her in a better mood. "Always happens up here. Whenever I'm up here it's like I'm eighteen again and right off the bus."
"Here?" I said doubtfully, permitting her to hold my hand, not normally something I would have done. "That's weird." I knew all about my mother's early days in Manhattan, a good long way from Fifth Avenueon Avenue B, in a studio above a bar, where bums slept in the doorway and bar fights spilled out on the street and a crazy old lady named Mo kept ten or twelve illegal cats in a blocked-off stairwell on the top floor.
She shrugged. "Yeah, but up here it's still the same as the first day I ever saw it. Time tunnel. On the Lower East Sidewell, you know what it's like down there, always something new, but for me it's more this Rip van Winkle feeling, always further and further away. Some days I'd wake up and it was like they came in and rearranged the storefronts in the night. Old restaurants out of business, some trendy new bar where the dry cleaner's used to be. "
I maintained a respectful silence. The passage of time had been much on her mind lately, maybe because her birthday was coming up. I'm too old for this routine, she'd said a few days before as we'd scrambled together over the apartment, rummaging under the sofa cushions and searching in the pockets of coats and jackets for enough change to pay the delivery boy from the deli.
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."
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