THURSDAY, MAY 19, 2011
No! My scream bounces off the bedroom walls and wakes me from my nightmare. I’m smothered in sweat, with the stench of stale beer, cigarettes, and poverty in my nostrils and a lingering dread of drunken violence. Sitting up, I put my head in my hands as I try to calm my escalated heart rate and erratic breathing. It’s been the same for the last four nights. Glancing at the clock, I see it’s 3:00 a.m.
I have two major meetings tomorrow…today…and I need a clear head and some sleep. Damn it, what I’d give for a good night’s sleep. And I have a round of fucking golf with Bastille. I should cancel the golf; the thought of playing and losing darkens my already bleak mood.
Clambering out of bed, I wander down the corridor and into the kitchen. There, I fill a glass with water and catch sight of myself, dressed only in pajama pants, reflected in the glass wall at the other side of the room. I turn away in disgust.
You turned her down.
She wanted you.
And you turned her down.
It was for her own good.
This has needled me for days now. Her beautiful face appears in my mind without warning, taunting me. If my shrink was back from his vacation in England I could call him. His psychobabble shit would stop me feeling this lousy.
Grey, she was just a pretty girl.
Perhaps I need a distraction; a new sub, maybe. It’s been too long since Susannah. I contemplate calling Elena in the morning. She always finds suitable candidates for me. But the truth is, I don’t want anyone new.
I want Ana.
Her disappointment, her wounded indignation, and her contempt remain with me. She walked away without a backward glance. Perhaps I raised her hopes by asking her out for coffee, only to disappoint her.
Maybe I should find some way to apologize, then I can forget about this whole sorry episode and get the girl out of my head. Leaving the glass in the sink for my housekeeper to wash, I trudge back to bed.
THE RADIO ALARM JOLTS to life at 5:45 as I’m staring at the ceiling. I haven’t slept and I’m exhausted.
Fuck! This is ridiculous.
The program on the radio is a welcome distraction until the second news item. It’s about the sale of a rare manuscript: an unfinished novel by Jane Austen called The Watsons that’s being auctioned in London.
“Books,” she said.
Christ. Even the news reminds me of little Miss Bookworm.
She’s an incurable romantic who loves the English classics. But then so do I, but for different reasons. I don’t have any Jane Austen first editions, or Bront?s, for that matter…but I do have two Thomas Hardys.
Of course! This is it! This is what I can do.
Moments later I’m in my library with Jude the Obscure and a boxed set of Tess of the d’Urbervilles in its three volumes laid out on the billiard table in front of me. Both are bleak books, with tragic themes. Hardy had a dark, twisted soul.
I shake off the thought and examine the books. Even though Jude is in better condition, it’s no contest. In Jude there is no redemption, so I’ll send her Tess, with a suitable quote. I know it’s not the most romantic book, considering the evils that befall the heroine, but she has a brief taste of romantic love in the bucolic idyll that is the English countryside. And Tess does exact revenge on the man who wronged her.
But that’s not the point. Ana mentioned Hardy as a favorite and I’m sure she’s never seen, let alone owned, a first edition.
“You sound like the ultimate consumer.” Her judgmental retort from the interview comes back to haunt me. Yes. I like to possess things, things that will rise in value, like first editions.
Feeling calmer and more composed, and a little pleased with myself, I head back into my closet and change into my running gear.
IN THE BACK OF the car I leaf through book one of the Tess first edition, looking for a quote, and at the same time wonder when Ana’s last exam will take place. I read the book years ago and have a hazy recollection of the plot. Fiction was my sanctuary when I was a teenager. My mother always marveled that I read; Elliot not so much. I craved the escape that fiction provided. He didn’t need an escape.