The first time Andy met Louisa, she was covered in blood. He was a bit bloodied himself, having just suffered a minor bicycle accident where Nassau intersects with Mercer and nobody can see himself coming or going. It was a Sunday morning in 1994, and Andy was wearing the ridiculous clothing he'd let himself get talked into by the cute salesgirl at Kopp's, purple spandex shorts??"junk-huggers!" Rosenblum hooted??and a black and silver nylon shirt. Anyway, he'd been daydreaming, yes, but he was reflexively careful at that intersection. And then an Audi out of nowhere, some cursing, an unnecessary ambulance, and now here he was, cradling what was almost certainly a broken wrist and thinking about his dissertation and the way the Mercer County emergency room smelled like urine and paint. The orange plastic chair was hard under his butt; his bicycle-friendly spandex shorts offered no padding whatsoever.
Then, as CNN began to rotate through yet another story on O.J. Simpson, this girl sat down next to him, hair trailing down her shoulders and around her face, the most magnificent sample of human hair he'd ever seen. Brown and gold streaks and some blond in there too, curls and waves, like in a magazine. The face wasn't bad either, as far as he could tell from profile: a nice curve of the cheek, a slightly oversized, bumpy nose, a full mouth. But it was that hair he couldn't stop looking at. He had the absurd compulsion to stick his hands in it, and was grateful to his probably broken wrist for stopping what would have otherwise been a sure breach of etiquette.
She was not looking at him. Her left hand was wrapped in red-stained gauze, and she had blood on her white T-shirt, and blood on her jeans.
"What are you here for?" he asked. The question was absurd, but he felt that if he talked to her, he would almost certainly not stick his good hand in her hair, or, if he did, conversation would offer him an opportunity to first ask permission.
She turned her head. The face was prettier straight on than it was in profile, nice eyes, the shape of almonds, and irises the color of almonds too, and the bumps in the nose receded as a matter of perspective. She had small, shell-like ears, each one rimmed with stud earrings. She smiled. "I cut myself."
"Right," he said. She smiled at him again, and for the first time since the Audi, he didn't think, even obliquely, about his wrist. "How so?"
"Opening a can of caviar. Isn't that ridiculous? I think I cut a cephalic vein. The shit will not stop bleeding." She looked down at her bandaged arm, sighed heavily.
"A cephalic vein, huh?" he said. "Interesting." Here Andy was thinking of the Latin word cephalicus and trying to show off. "Isn't that a vein in your head?"
"Your arm," she said, holding out hers. It was a thin, freckled arm, finely covered with reddish gold hairs, except for the part that was wrapped in reddening gauze.
"But cephalization is the formation of neural structures in the head." He knew this from his biology training. "So that doesn't make any sense, that it would be in your arm."
"And yet it is."
"But that doesn't make sense." Why was he fighting with her? "Are you a biologist?"
She shook her head. "I'm actually a nurse," she said. "In Philly. Which is too bad, because if I were in Philly I'd probably get some kind of professional courtesy. But of course I have to cut myself in Princeton, where nobody knows me. And so," she said, grandly, "I wait."
"Was it really a can of caviar?"
"Who would make that up?"
"Does it hurt?"
"No worse than your wrist," she said, looking at the wrist he was cradling. Her gaze was pointed; his wrist was in his lap. Andy crossed his legs. Oh, these ridiculous bicycle shorts!
Excerpted from The Explanation for Everything by Lauren Grodstein. Copyright © 2013 by Lauren Grodstein. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. 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
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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