Book overboard! (Trigger warning: Accidental violence to books.)

August 8, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 8, 2015

Author’s note: Earlier today, I began chronicling my mundane exploits on a recent Sunday while on vacation at a beachside apartment complex in Ocean City, Md. And now, the conclusion to my not-so-thrilling adventure! MEM

A few minutes after leaving the parking deck, I stepped out of the elevator and onto the 14th floor. I turned to the right before remembering that I had to head the other way to get to our apartment.

I got there, unlocked the door and headed inside. My head was a bit fuzzy, and I had to concentrate to make sure I did everything I wanted to before I went back down to the beach: Trade sneakers for on sandals; grab my book; locate and swallow the pain reliever; take a towel.

After I accomplished everything I’d wanted, or so I thought at the time, I locked up the apartment and began walking toward the central elevator bank.

But then I got annoyed at myself again — there was something I’d meant to adjust inside the apartment, where I could safely put stuff down and devote both of my hands to a given task without fear of having sand get everywhere, or of having my belongings taken by passers-by. Oh well, I thought, I’ll just go over to the railing and make the adjustment.

(I’m not sure what I wanted to change — I think that there was an annoying air bubble in the waterproof pouch in which I’d placed my smart phone.  At any rate…)

This building’s residential floors have no internal public hallways, per se; to reach an apartment’s front door, one walks from an elevator along an open-air balcony. The apartment building is shaped roughly like a V with a broad, flat base; the central elevator bank is on the inside courtyard where the residence’s north and south wings come together.

This space isn’t shaped like an acute angle, as the inside of a triangle normally would be; instead, a wide balcony defines the inner courtyard. The balcony runs parallel to the outer wall on the building’s eastern side, which directly faces the ocean.

This wide area is mostly open on the courtyard side, aside from the central elevator bank. A staircase, some fenced-in mechanical equipment that I couldn’t identify and a row of apartments are respectively located east of the balcony on each level.

On the wings, the spaces on the public balcony below the railing are lined with solid paneling. However, the center side is assembled differently. A metal framework extends all along the wall.

I went over to the railing. I was wearing sunglasses, which cut down on my ability to distinguish fine details when I was out of direct sunlight. I was also, as mentioned, somewhat fuzzy-headed, and I believed that all of the space on this part of the balcony was glassed (plasticked?) in.

I went to rest Margaret Atwood’s 2009 novel, The Year of the Flood, between the handrail and a horizontal part of the frame and the plastic. But as soon as I let go of the volume, I got a nasty surprise.

While there are plastic panes in the frame spaces below the railing on each floor, there are none above it. With nothing to support its weight, the unbalanced book tipped away from me and began accelerating through the air as gravity pulled it toward the center of the planet.

I gasped in dismay. Some napkins had been tucked in between the pages of the novel. They fluttered away, and at least one draped itself over a railing or lattice. I remember, rather ludicrously, being annoyed at that: I’ll never get those napkins back.

Thank goodness, the book didn’t hit anyone, nor even (as far as I could tell) come close to doing so.

I descended to the courtyard and saw the book lying on the ground. A woman clad in beach attire was waiting for the elevator; she glanced at me as I retrieved the volume. I flushed in embarrassment.

The book was clearly damaged, but not badly so. The edges of a number of pages were bent, and part of the spine had detached. Despite this, the novel remained readable.

My errands finished, however clumsily, I gathered what was left of my wits and returned to the beach. I went swimming and got sunburned, but otherwise did no discernible harm to myself or to others.

I did, however, do a little more harm to the book. Whilst reading it after swimming, I managed to dampen it a bit.

It used to be a potentially valuable (especially if signed) first American edition of a great Canadian novelist’s work. Now, however, it’s just an object with beautiful and moving contents sheltered in a battered, ugly physical form.


Standard disclaimer: Since I wasn’t taking notes or making recordings at the time of these events, all dialogue and thought bubbles are guaranteed to be only kind of, sort of accurate. Fortunately for you, the valued reader, this free blog comes with a money-back guarantee! 

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