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 poets.
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.
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No Man's Land
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