Exercising the craft—March 2, 2015

By Ekta R. Garg

In the MarginsYou are at the library in a quiet aisle, browsing, when you see a lonely book hidden behind the others. You dig it out and page through it, only to notice someone has carelessly written all through the margins. Rude!

That’s when you look closer and realize the writing isn’t just someone’s study notes, it’s a very urgent, interesting hidden message.



Allie wandered through the stacks and inhaled. The smell of old paper and aging glue holding that paper in weathered spines wafted toward her. Most of the freshmen had elected to spend their first weekend on campus hanging out downtown. Allie had escaped her wretched roommate and decided to walk the aisles of the library.

She ran her fingers across the spines. No one came down to this floor that often; she could tell. Given the unusual placement of this library floor—it came three floors underground—Allie knew that most students probably didn’t want to waste their time with the aged tomes on these shelves.

She started reading the titles. Clearly she had ended up in the area of books on the Civil War. Some of the books looked almost as old as the war itself.

“The Life and Times of a Former Slave Owner,” Allie murmured. She looked around as if caught doing something. Despite the fact that no one else had come to this floor with her, Allie still felt the urge to speak in hushed tones.

She pulled the book off the shelf and began leafing through the pages. The small print made her squint in places, and Allie tried to decipher the antiquated prose. After several lines she gave up.

Allie turned a few more of the thin pages with care and closed the book, but something had caught her mind’s eye. She opened the book and started going through the book with more intention. After flipping through it twice, she found it.

Someone had written in the margins of some of the pages.

What the—why would someone ruin this old book? What is wrong with people these days?

She shook her head in disapproval.

People are so disrespectful. What does this even say? ‘The writer of this book tells no truth. He espouses…’

Allie’s jaw fell open as she kept reading and her heart started beating harder.

“The writer of this book tells no truth. He espouses his merits and proclaims his changed heart. He lies. He does not believe in the freedom of slaves; far from it. I know. I am one of them. The master’s daughter, Abigail, taught me to read and write, and I write here now so that people can know the truth of the evil committed in the name of emancipation. This man still keeps slaves. Still visits the female slaves at night to satisfy his lust. Still beats us, insults us, spits at us. He claims we are no longer anyone’s property because he has allowed us to claim our freedom by buying it. But he has set the price so high, buying our freedom will come at a steep price. This man is a liar, and he doesn’t deserve the esteem that comes with the writing of a book.”

The pen had scratched a long line after this, as if the writer had lost control of the pen.

Or maybe someone jerked the slave’s arm away.

Allie felt her breath hitch, and she felt tears prick her eyes. What had happened to this unnamed slave? Had he suffered? Or—Allie shuddered—was a female slave writing this? Had she been violated by the author?

She slammed the book shut and looked at the name of the author. Something spurred Allie back to the main floor of the library, and she made a decision. No matter what happened, she would find out more about the writer of the book and the writer of the margins.

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