She dug her hands in her coat pockets. "Up here, it's more stable," she said. Though her voice was light I could see the fog in her eyes; clearly she hadn't slept well, thanks to me. "Upper Park is one of the few places where you can still see what the city looked like in the l890s. Gramercy Park too, and the Village, some of it. When I first came to New York I thought this neighborhood was Edith Wharton and Franny and Zooey and Breakfast at Tiffany's all rolled into one."
"Franny and Zooey was the West Side."
"Yeah, but I was too dumb to know that. All I can say, is, it was pretty different from the Lower East, homeless guys starting fires in trash cans. Up here on the weekends it was magicalwandering the museumlolloping around Central Park on my own"
"Lolloping?" So much of her talk was exotic to my ear, and lollop sounded like some horse term from her childhood: a lazy gallop maybe, some equine gait between a canter and a trot.
"Oh, you know, just loping and sloping along like I do. No money, holes in my socks, living off oatmeal. Believe it or not I used to walk up here, some weekends. Saving my train fare for the ride home. That was when they still had tokens instead of cards. And even though you're supposed to pay to get in the museum? The 'suggested donation'? Well, I guess I must have had a lot more nerve back then, or maybe they just felt sorry for me becauseOh no," she said, in a changed tone, stopping cold, so that I walked a few steps by her without noticing.
"What?" Turning back. "What is it?"
"Felt something." She held out her palm and looked at the sky. "Did you?"
And just as she said it, the light seemed to fail. The sky darkened rapidly, darker every second; the wind rustled the trees in the park and the new leaves on the trees stood out tender and yellow against black clouds.
"Jeez, wouldn't you know it," said my mother. "It's about to pour." Leaning over the street, looking north: no cabs.
I caught her hand again. "Come on," I said, "we'll have better luck on the other side."
Impatiently we waited for the last few blinks on the Don't Walk sign. Bits of paper were whirling in the air and tumbling down the street. "Hey, there's a cab," I said, looking up Fifth; and just as I said it a businessman ran to the curb with his hand up, and the light popped off.
Across the street, artists ran to cover their paintings with plastic. The coffee vendor was pulling down the shutters on his cart. We hurried across and just as we made it to the other side, a fat drop of rain splashed on my cheek. Sporadic brown circleswidely spaced, big as dimesbegan to pop up on the pavement.
"Oh, drat!" cried my mother. She fumbled in her bag for her umbrellawhich was scarcely big enough for one person, let alone two.
And then it came down, cold sweeps of rain blowing in sideways, broad gusts tumbling in the treetops and flapping in the awnings across the street. My mother was struggling to get the cranky little umbrella up, without much success. People on the street and in the park were holding newspapers and briefcases over their heads, scurrying up the stairs to the portico of the museum, which was the only place on the street to get out of the rain. And there was something festive and happy about the two of us, hurrying up the steps beneath the flimsy candy-striped umbrella, quick quick quick, for all the world as if we were escaping something terrible instead of running right into it.
THREE IMPORTANT THINGS HAD happened to my mother after she arrived in New York on the bus from Kansas, friendless and practically penniless. The first was when a booking agent named Davy Jo Pickering had spotted her waiting tables in a coffee shop in the Village: an underfed teenager in Doc Martens and thrift-shop clothes, with a braid down her back so long she could sit on it. When she'd brought him his coffee, he'd offered her seven hundred and then a thousand dollars to fill in for a girl who hadn't shown up for work at the catalogue shoot across the street. He'd pointed out the location van, the equipment being set up in Sheridan Square park; he'd counted out the bills, laid them on the counter. "Give me ten minutes," she'd said; she'd brought out the rest of her breakfast orders, then hung up her apron and walked out.
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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