“I really cannot accept this!”
Her face was puce and her right earlobe had turned a shade of blue resembling an autumn sky heavy with rain. I notice things like that.
“You’ve defaced the book. How could you?”
“I’m sorry but, how do you mean, defaced it?”
“Well, you’ve bent corners of the pages here, here . . . and here, in fact throughout the entire book!”
“Yes, but how is that defacing it?”
“And, and . . .” her breathing was now stertorous and I began to be concerned for her physical well-being, “you’ve written in the margins! Scrawled notes and, and, and drawings and what-not all over it. It’s ruined!”
“Oh, come on, hardly all over it. Only in places where the ideas interest me. Not even Bronowski is so brilliant to come up with a genius idea on every page.”
“But the rules expressly forbid writing in the books we lend you. They don’t belong to you, you know.”
“I know that. But the words and ideas do, once I’ve read them.”
She looked at me sideways as if I was a specimen. Her giant bosom heaved magnificently and I stared down at the top of my left shoe which had begun spontaneously to tap the floor. It was a welcome distraction.
The silence, however, persisted slightly too long and I suffered an irrepressible need to fill it, “and because those thoughts and ideas are now mine, it seems only reasonable I should show my appreciation for the author’s gift by giving something of myself in return for the stimulation and enjoyment he has been kind enough to provoke in me.”
She stared at me blankly and I was relieved to see that her ear had returned to a near normal shade of pink and that her eyes no longer seemed to be about to jump out of her skull and attack me.
“Anyway,” I added without engaging my brain quite as swiftly as I should have done, “now that I have added my own unique insights to Bronowski’s original ideas, the next reader will benefit from a depth of knowledge that’s far greater than the sum of its parts. Surely, that’s how learning works.”
Without giving me a second glance she reached for the rubber stamp and brought it crashing down on the book’s title page with professional panache.