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NOAA about greenhouse gases since I’d be doing something for the planet. And (she reminded me) I’d been talking about putting in a bed at the far side of the patio since I moved in. Besides (she pointed out over our second glass of wine), I lived in Texas now, where the soil and the critters were different. There would be no vermin here, except for the villains in those rotting pages.

So a few days later, about an hour after my husband left for one of his business trips to Europe and I was sure he was already through security and not likely to come home to pick up something he forgot, I hauled out a huge Tupperware tub, tossed all the ARCs in it, filled it with water, and let it sit in the sun. Then I drove to a garden center to order many, many cubic yards of bark mulch to hide the evidence.

I intended for that literary spa treatment to last for a few hours, but the slick paper covers wouldn’t come off after such a short soak, or even a slightly longer one, and I knew all that colored ink and lamination gunk wasn’t what I wanted in my flower bed. I mean, what if I wanted to plant vegetables there some day?

Or grape vines, in karmic thanks?

Several days passed and my children were first fascinated and then repelled by the cloudy, yellow, bubbling, viscous solution the water had become. By now, I was wondering just what I was going to do with it.

The garbage haulers probably wouldn’t take it even if I could manage to drag it to the curb, and the city would probably classify it as hazardous waste if I called for a special pickup. I was afraid to touch it, frankly, and was getting a bit panicked. The charming thought-turned-science experiment was right outside my back door and the kids had to pass in front of it to take a swim or get to their play set. The pulpy mass seemed to be breathing if you looked at it from a certain angle, and the sides of the tub were beginning to bulge—and the tub wasn’t even covered.

It needed to go. Finally, it was the thought of having to explain to my imminently returning husband the presence of all that uncheap mulch sitting at the top of the driveway combined with the rather urgent pungency of books dissolving on my patio that made me get moving. That he would not understand my predicament would be an understatement. That he would be unsympathetic would be a bigger one.

I bought some heavy-duty rubber gloves, got a large bucket, and began separating the covers (still completely intact and legible, mind you) from the books.

I hauled about 10 buckets of sodden, heavy books across the patio and laid them all open-faced to the sky across the area I’d earmarked for my new bed, then hauled wheelbarrow upon wheelbarrow of mulch to cover them. When asked later that evening, I admitted to Hubby what was underneath all the mulch. (He might have been jet-lagged, but he’s no dummy. I suspect he was only being polite by asking.) Hubby thought about it for a moment in silence, and then suggested that if Pam ever suggested putting in a pond, I should probably switch to drinking beer when I’m with her.

I waited. Last summer’s sun was harsh, bright, and unrelenting, the air was dry, we had no rain. With high water prices and tight watering restrictions due to the worst drought in 60 years, Hubby glowered when I went out to water the mulch. Wind, of which we had plenty, would shift the bark around and sometimes I’d see telltale flaps of white pages sticking up like little flags. Were the books surrendering to Nature, I wondered, or were they begging me to rescue them and give them a decent burial in some natural woodland since there was no noble rot going on underneath all that mulch? I gently covered them over. And I waited some more.

This spring, after our mild winter and a few blessedly rainy weeks, I went outside and tentatively swept back some mulch. And then some more. I grabbed my trowel and sunk it into…fresh, new earth. Dark, rich, crumbly, sweet-smelling soil teeming with fat earthworms.

It had worked. I’d reused, recycled, repurposed, and recreated my ARCs! The angst was exorcised. My black-hearted villains had morphed into black gold. I had my flower bed…and the last word.

Although her full-time job these days is the gentle art of writing novels that keep people up at night, Marianna keeps her imagination churning by freelancing as an analyst in the corporate security and intelligence worlds. Her next thriller, Resurrection Island, will be released in October. Her website is www.MariannaJameson.com

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