Little Black Book
A short story by Leslie Staton
She woke to the familiar sound of muffled screams and the feel of the walls reverberating around her. But today she woke not in her bed, but on the floor. Her head began to pound. Something crusted in her eye. Blood.
A brick lay on the floor next to her. She surmised that she had fallen asleep next to the fireplace again and a loose brick had fallen on her head. Of all the things she needed today, a pounding head was not one of them. She cleaned herself up and went to replace the fallen brick. It had fallen from near the wall, on the outermost layer of the mantle. When she went to replace the brick, she noticed a small hole behind it. Someone had carved a small hole behind the brick into the wall, and inside their was a small black book. It was an account key, with the name of her master. And on the last page, the sum of $20,000. She carefully replaced the book and the brick and started her chores.
How many items had she seen sold at auction? How many fights had she witnessed about the decline of the couple’s wealth? The man was sitting on a fortune. But why? She did not have much time to wonder this, as her mistress came down with a nasty gash under her eye that needed tending. The girl told her she should go to the hospital, but as usual the lady refused. “You are all the healing I need dear. You have seen me through so much.” The girl had no idea how the lady could muster a smile, but the girl smiled back. The two rarely spoke, but the women knew each other deeply. They were partners in pain, a bond few could-nor should, understand. The girl feared for the life of this kind lady every day, more even than for herself at times. Some days it seemed death would be a mercy.
That night the master came home later than usual. He woke the house and demanded food and drink. He lined the girls up and the girl prayed it would not be her this time. These were the nights she wished for death. But death did not come. He chose another. She prayed for the other girl to a God she feared had long since abandoned her.
Some men came to the house early the next day. The master demanded everyone go to their rooms. The girl waited for hours. There were no shouts, no clue of what was happening in the house below. The girl could hear nothing. She felt enveloped in a silence that permeated to her soul. The door crept open and the master came in, drunk, and fell against the wall when he entered the room. She had never seen him look so defeated. A monster of a man cut down to this fearful sack on her floor. But he reminded her soon enough of that monster. She would forever hate the smell of whiskey on a man’s breath.
The lady of the house came downstairs well past 3 p.m., and she was still in her night gown. She poured herself a large glass of brandy. The girl could not conceal her gasp. “But ma’am-“ But the lady’s horrible laughter stopped whatever she was going to say. She had never heard a laugh quite like this. It was the single most terrible feeling she had ever gotten from the woman. She stared in disbelief. The lady finally said, “We may all well be dead by tomorrow afternoon.” The lady threw the brandy glass in the fireplace when she had finished, and did not come out of her room for the rest of that day or that evening.
No one saw the girl leave the next morning. The men came back to the house and took the master. The servants lived in the house for over a year before the town made them move on.
Some years later, one of those old servants happened upon a woman selling farm made jams and wares at the 1939 California World’s fair. She recognized the girl immediately and wrapped her arms around her. She asked what had become of her, or their mistress who had also disappeared that day. The girl, now woman, told her she must be mistaken, for she had never been to that part of the world. She had only every known the coast.