Theo and Boris in "The Goldfinch"

By Donna Tartt

(Donna Tartt's beautiful, Pulitzer-prize-winning new novel, The Goldfinch, has a few beautiful words to say about Theo, the narrator, and his best friend, Boris, in bed together. Here they are):

The funny thing: I'd worried, if anything, that Boris was the one who was a little too affectionate, if affectionate was the right word. The first time he'd turned in bed and draped an arm over my waist, I lay there half-asleep for a moment, not knowing what to do; staring at my old socks on the floor, empty beer bottles, my paperback copy of The Red Badge of Courage. At last---embarrassed---I faked a yawn and tried to roll away, but instead he sighted and pulled me closer, with a sleepy, snuggling notion.

Ssh, Potter, he whispered, into the back of my neck. Is only me.

 It was weird. Was it weird? It was, and it wasn't. I'd fallen back to sleep shortly after, lulled by his better, beery unwashed smell and his breath easy in my ear. I was aware I couldn't explain it without making it sound like more than it was. on nights when I woke strangled with fear there he was, catching me when I started up terrified from the bed, pulling me back down in the covers beside him, muttering in nonsense Polish, his voice throaty and strange with sleep. We'd drowse off in each other's arms, listening to music from my iPod (Thelonious Monk, the Velvet Underground, music my mother had liked) and sometimes wake clutching each other like castaways or much younger children.

And yet (this was the murky part, this was what bothered me) there had also been other, way more confusing and fucked-up nights, grappling around half-dressed, weak light sliding in from the bathroom and everything haloed and unstable without my glasses: hands on each other, rough and fast, kicked-over beers foaming on the carpet---fun and not that big of a deal when it was actually happening, more than worth it for the sharp gasp when my eyes rolled back and I forgot about everything; but when we woke the next morning stomach-down and groaning on opposite sides of the bed it receded into an incoherence of backlit flickers, choppy and poorly lit like some experimental film, the unfamiliar twist of Boris's features fading from memory already and none of it with any more bearing on our actual lives than a dream. We never spoke of it; it wasn't quite real; getting ready for school we threw shoes, splashed water at each other, chewed aspirin for our hangovers, laughed and joked around all the way to the bus stop. I knew people would think the wrong thing if they knew, I didn't want anyone to find out and I knew Boris didn't either, but all the same he seemed so completely untroubled by it that I ws fairly sure it was just a laugh, nothing to take too seriously or getting worked up about. And yet, mire than once, I had wondered if I should step up my nerve and say something; draw some kind of line, make things clear, just to make absolutely sure he didn't have the wrong idea. But the moment had never come.

Now there was no point in speaking up and and being awkward about the whole thing, though I scarcely took comfort in the fact. I hated how much I missed him.

(Artwork by Bob Bienpensant)