A Little Black Book's Purpose
A Short Story
Little black books got a bad wrap, the little black book thought to itself, as its owner used yet another blood smeared fingertip to turn its delicate yellowing pages. Honestly, if the man would just clean his fingers first, the little black book thought, maybe the other little books would talk to me. The dictionary was absolutely terrified of the little black book. Every time they shared a room together, the ridiculous book would shutter, losing a page or two with words like “terrified” or “murderer” defined on them.
Dictionaries were not very subtle. The little black book had not started its life as frightening as it now looked. It had started in a cozy bookshop, in the hands of a wizened, kind elderly fellow. He had loved his books so much he would greet each one in the morning, dust it thoroughly and gently display it on lovely purple velvet. From its cushioned seat, the little black book had watched hundreds of people come in and out of the shop. They would peruse the shelves as the old man share stories about his books. All that had ended, however, the day the man couldn’t make payments on the shop and lost it to a man in a dark suit. The same man who never washed his fingers of blood after he’d gone out to collect interest on a loan. The man, in whose pocket the little black book spent most of its life.
Could a little black book be anything more than its contents? The little book wondered. Or am I simply what others have made me? Is that harebrained dictionary, maybe, right about me?
The owner visited a wide variety of people, from gamblers, to businessmen to drunkards, to families. They were all, always, desperate. Every once in a while, however, the little black book would peek out of the man’s pocket and catch a glimpse of the city. It was much more colorful than his owner’s office. His owner’s office was always bathed in a sickly neon pink and purple light.
Today, the little black book peeked out of the wool pocket to see a bright clear sky. The blue was brilliant and blinding. And from somewhere, snow was falling. This was exactly the kind of weather its owner hated. Sunlight. The man pulled his coat tighter and the little black book nearly lost its grip on the edge of the pocket.
The coat swung out away from the man’s body toward passersby. A pedestrian walking the other way reached out her hand momentarily. The little black book held its breath. It had heard of pickpockets, but had never been so lucky as to meet one. The stranger passed, her hand brushed the pocket.
And that was it. No dice. The little black book sunk back down into the pocket, disappointed. The owner turned the corner and they were back in the dark, slinking down an alleyway toward the man’s hideaway.
The little black book knew what was on the agenda today. A heist. The owner had apparently gotten tired of beating people up for money, and decided he wanted to try stealing for money. Having only seen the little bits of paper a few times, the little black book had only a cursory understanding of money, but it did have a fairly cemented bias against the stuff. It was hardly ever good news.
Landing on a peeling table, as the owner tossed it across the room, the little black book skidded to the edge of the table and almost fell. The owner’s partner carefully pushed the book’s edge back onto the table, straightened the book out and stood up. The two discussed their plans in the corner while the little black book waited.
It had tried to escape many times, but the owner’s partner was too fastidious. With its pages nearly full, this would be the book’s last chance.
The men had finished their plans, and the little black book was back in the dark world of its owner’s pocket. While the men made their way to the sting’s destination, the little black book perused its own pages. It had only odd snippets of the lives of a few hundred people. What they’d needed, wanted, and desperately made exchanges for, the book didn’t know exactly, but it knew what was owed. Once the job was over the last of its pages would be inked, and it expected to be burned. It had seen a few other ledgers go that way before.
Flapping its pages as it exhaled, the little book waited. The owner had taken off his jacket and tossed it over what the little book presumed was a chair. The sounds of drilling drowned out the book’s thoughts.
A few hours later and the job was done. Their pockets full of green paper, the men hurried back to their hideaway.
Dumped out onto the familiar table, the book tried to focus on anything other than the small fire that its owner was starting in an empty oil barrel. There was one story in its pages that was very special to the book. It had been drawn there before its current owner picked it up.
A child had once visited the shop, and the elderly fellow had given the little black book to her to let her draw while the adults chatted. As the little girl colored with a fury, sometimes with haphazard strokes, at other times with carefully crafted arcs and graceful curves, the little book felt the tingle of imagination bring its pages to life. The purple, pink and sparkly yellow scribbles were on the book’s very last page, and only the book itself and the little girl knew that they were, in fact, the meticulous detailing of a magical unicorn part way through its journey to a floral kingdom, to defeat an evil wizard.
As the owner lifted the little book into the air, carrying it over to the maw of flames, the little book traced the lines of the girl’s drawing, as she had decided to add wings at the last second. Unicorns were special, but flying unicorns were even more so. According to the little girl, flying unicorns produced rainbows. The little black book had never figured out how.
As it descended into the hot mess of fire the little black book decided that this would be its last memory, if it could save one thing, it would be the little girl’s drawing.
The men left, and the fire burned down to embers. The book sat in the ashes. Embers of flame continued to heat its backside, threatening to burn through the leather bound cover.
A hand reached down and pulled the book from the ashes. It dusted it off and gently placed it inside a pocket. After a while, the book noticed the pocket was lined with purple satin.
Checking its pages, the book took inventory. Fifty of its pages had been burned, and all that was left of the girl’s drawing was the tail of the unicorn. It was only a scribble of a yellow spiral, but the book knew what it was. The book folded in on itself, dejected.
The purple pocket stopped moving. A wrinkled hand gently removed the book and handed it over. The room the book was now in glowed with a nauseating florescent blue.
The new man carefully turned the pages. “You said you found this in a dumpster fire?”
The man called someone over. “Looks like it’s the shark’s ledger.”
“All of it?”
The old man with the purple pocket spoke up, “Will this help?”
The book settled onto a cold countertop as the man put it down. “I think this is exactly what we were looking for. Looks like you, sir, are due some reward money. $20,000.”
Shuffling closer to the countertop, the old man laid a gentle hand on top of the book. “Are all the names in here? All the families?”
“Most of them, looks like.”
“Can you give it back to them?”
“Okay, if you’re sure.”
Lifting the book into the air, the man behind the counter placed it in a plastic bag.
"There’s a last page in there, it doesn’t have any names on it, just a drawing. Do you think…could I have it?”
“Really?” The officer thumbed through the little black book to the last page. He flipped the singed paper back and forth. “Looks like it really is just a scribble. Sure. You can take it with you.”
With that, the officer tore the paper away from the rest of the book. Only a little bit of the book’s consciousness was left now, the trauma of the fire had taken its toll. Before the page left, the little black book scooted its consciousness over into that singed little page. The old man gently folded the piece of paper and set it back into his purple pocket.
The old man left. When he got home, he set the little scrap of paper onto a scrap of purple velvet. He framed it and mounted it to his wall, where he could show it off to his guests. The drawing his granddaughter made, when she was little.
About the author
Elizabeth's claims to fame include being born a baby with prominent eyebrows, adding extra stitches to her knitting with impressive consistency, and loving all things learning, culture, and creativity—save when graded for a master's thesis.