All the neighbors came to Helen Pierce’s garage sale. Janice Evans found a Coach purse; Stan Henderson picked up a few Makita hand tools; Jaime Jones hauled off a barely-used Brookfield leather sofa. And there were tons of books, spines barely broken. Helen was an ardent reader. I picked up one whose cover was a purple monkey lounging in a jacaranda tree, holding a peeled banana, a woman standing beneath. The cover was so pleasant, I paid cash.
That evening, I went out on the porch with a glass of red wine, cracked open the spine, and before proceeding to read, saw that it had been signed by Mr. Pierce, “Love, James.” It was an enjoyable read, with a fast plot and entertaining characters. I was starting to understand why my neighbor had bought the book in the first place. Then I turned to page 67 where, in the margin, next to an underlined sentence (“It was almost impossible to concede.”), I recognized Helen’s unmistakable slant, cramped handwriting: “Only a cocksucker would concede.”
After 45 years of marriage, the Pierce’s were divorcing, James’ latest infidelity was, we heard, simply too much for Helen to bear. Ironically, the couple in the novel was also divorcing, the wife having discovered a strange telephone number penciled in the margin of a library book Using her husband’s phone, the woman calls the number and immediately recognizes her husband’s mistress by her breathy flirtations.
Oddly, it wasn’t the fictive woman who troubled me, but Helen Pierce’s offensive marginalia. It made me view her in a whole new light