Excerpt of Oxford Messed Up by Andrea Kayne Kaufman
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Surprisingly, Henry's serendipitous plan had been working. And
again he found himself engineering yet another opportunity
to "accidentally run into" Gloria. It was the only way she would
spend time with him. True, they lived in the same flat at St. Cross
College. True, they were human and ostensibly both needed to eat
on occasion, outside of the dreaded refectory. And true, they were
both passionate about all things Van Morrison.
But patently and politely Gloria had refused Henry's many
invitations to lunches, teas, dinners, pubs, clubs, concerts, and
especially to listening to the extensive collection of Van Morrison
vinyl he kept in his bedroom, only meters away from her bedroom.
Underneath his sloppy good looks, dirty wrinkled rock T-shirts,
and cocky dimpled smile, Henry was incredibly insecure. No matter
how kind or gentle she was, Gloria's many rejections stung. And for
some reason, like an idiot, he kept coming back for more.
His psychologist know-it-all sister Claire suggested that Gloria's
red, sore hands and nonstop cleaning demonstrated that she had
some serious obsessive germ issues. She urged him to avoid taking
Gloria's refusals personally. But he couldn't help it. Whether he
showed it or not, Henry took everything personally.
And it made perfect sense to him that a gorgeous and intelligent
creature like Gloria would not want to spend time with him. He
considered her disinterest a karmic sign, given the sorry state of his
own psychological and physical health. He also had serious issues
and was not entirely certain he could pursue Gloria no matter what
his fantasies decreed.
The Rolling Stones were on the mark with their 1969 anthem
"You Can't Always Get What You Want." It was a fitting anthem for
Henry as well, summing up so much disappointment and missed
opportunity in his brief but eventful twenty-five years.
He owned the Stones' album Let It Bleed, on which the song in
question appeared, but his record collection also included covers
by such diverse performers as Aretha Franklin and Def Leppard.
He was especially keen on Def Leppard's acoustic version of the
Stones' classic. Listening to the song made Henry feel like an old
man at the end of a long, tiring, and entirely futile journey.
So after two weeks and fourteen no's in a row, a tired and
weary Henry stopped asking Gloria and her blood-red hands to
tea. Instead, he relegated her to the uncomplicated and often erotic
world of his dreams and fantasies, where she always said yes.
And then, in real time and with a very real Gloria, an extraordinary
thing happened. She said yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes to spending time
with him. Such a pleasant and unusual surprise; Henry felt like a
teenage girl, vividly remembering the day and time and place and
even what he was wearing - an old, ripped long-sleeve Doors T-shirt.
It was Wednesday, the 2nd of September at 17:01 GMT. He was
walking through the courtyard adjacent to the Bodleian Library
when by chance he saw Gloria sitting at an outside table with two
very serious-looking women and a stack of serious-looking books,
which he assumed were written by very serious and dead women
Unlike her colleagues, who shot him nasty looks, Gloria
appeared pleased, almost relieved, to see him. The longing in her
large almond-shaped eyes reminded him of a dog he once saw at the
pound when he was ten. The lab mix kept pushing the metal cage
and barking, trying to get Henry's attention, desperately wanting to
be adopted and loved and taken from that awful gray place. Gloria's
sad blue eyes told him she wanted to be rescued. From her dreary
colleagues and dead women poets?
Gloria's fellow research assistants packed their bags and
scurried away as he approached their table. Gloria ignored them,
even forgetting to say goodbye. With an encouraging smile, she
motioned for Henry to sit down next to her.
Excerpted from Oxford Messed Up
by Andrea Kayne Kaufman. Copyright © 2011 by Andrea Kayne Kaufman.
Excerpted by permission of Grant Place Press. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.