Within These Pages
What if having it all means losing it all?
The yellow cab screeched to a stop along the curb. Manny lumbered into the back seat and told the cabbies watchful eyes reflected in the rearview mirror, “Broadway and West 114th please”. The cabbie nodded imperceptibly and lurched the taxi back into late morning traffic. It must have known, Manny thought to himself, that’s the only way that a leak above the hotel nightstand could have incapacitated my phone...and the pen I hadn’t realized I left in my pocket could’ve stained my pants...and the elevator went out. Manny glanced at the tv screen mounted in the rear of the cabbie’s headrest which displayed a shockingly beautiful local news anchor talking about a severe thunderstorm rolling into the New York City area later today. None of that simple beauty you see on local news back in Cheyenne, he thought, gotta be Miss America to anchor morning news in the Big Apple. Manny found himself wondering what the woman’s true credentials were and if it had been easier for her to...focus! Manny snapped back to the moment as his gaze danced down to the clock on the screen, 10 am. Much later than he wanted to be handling this but there won’t be time afterwards.
Manny’s original plan was to go to Penn Station and try to get it into the hands of someone who seemed to be deserving. Not one who had the misfortune of picking it up, he knew the pain it might cause an innocent passerby. He wouldn’t wish this misfortune on just anyone. Manny was hoping for the kind of person who walks into the store talking on their phone so loud that heads turn. Someone who gives the helpful sales associate an I’m busy I don’t have time for you, sort of look. Heck, that’s half the reason why Manny planned to do this in New York City. The other half is well... much less within Manny’s control.
Sonya had been sick for quite some time now, and how long she had left was anyone’s guess. Manny wasn’t even sure this would work. That this would be the final time he “forgot it” someplace and this time it wouldn’t turn up in his attache or on his desk without explanation. He had a theory that this time would be the last if he found the right person. Manny also wasn’t sure that it wasn’t already too late for Sonya, or for that matter, that this would help her at all but he couldn’t bear the thought of living without her so he needed to try. It seemed like just yesterday they were honeymooning in Paris, acquiring a taste for French wines they still held to this da...Manny you have to focus, this is all part of it’s power, it's influence, it’s...it's control.
When Manny first found the battered Moleskine he thought it was some kind of practical joke. The first time he opened it five years ago, had it really been that long, he thought the way the words appeared to him on the page as if only being written at that moment was some kind of trick of the mind or invisible ink from a joke shop. Just another goof being orchestrated by his roommates who didn’t think he could cut it as an author. Not wanting to give them the satisfaction of getting under his skin, Manny tossed the little black book into a trashcan outside of his apartment. As he got to the bus stop a couple of blocks away, he could not stop thinking about the Moleskine. What if it was some kind of lost journal of Poe or Twain, it looked old but surely not that old...right? The fact that the words told such a beautiful story hardened Manny’s resolve that it must have been written by a talented author. As the bus lumbered up the hill on that snowy day, without knowing he even made the decision, Manny found himself crossing the street to retrieve the book. The bus clambered past the empty stop and continued its route up to the campus. Manny lifted the trashcan’s lid hopefully, but found that the book was gone.
To Manny’s surprise when he opened his backpack in class later that day he found the Moleskine tucked safely inside the bag. But how had it gotten there? I left it in the trashcan, Manny thought. From that day onward, the life of Emmanuel Miller was never the same. He soon discovered the Moleskine had a curious enchantment about it. The book, seemingly empty most of the time, had strange...powers. The book would conjure up words on its pages as Manny turned them. Not just words, but stories. Works of art to be honest. Literary perfection that Manny could only dream of writing. The kind of content that many authors would consider their magnum opus. Once in a lifetime work. Manny searched everywhere he could to find the source of these tales but couldn’t locate them. So to the best of Manny’s knowledge, they were fresh works, never before published. He took full advantage of this. Manny sold that first story for $20,000. With that, he dropped out of college and never looked back. Before he knew it, Manny had a book deal, then another, and another. Within five years of finding that weathered Moleskine, Manny was the hottest author in the world. He practically had a timeshare on the New York Times Bestsellers List. But all of this success did not come without sacrifice.
For just as lucky as Manny was professionally, he was just as unlucky everywhere else in his life. Manny had been electrocuted, developed an unexplainable limp, lost perfectly good teeth, had 2 houses burn down and that was only the first couple of years. It seemed curious, the more Manny used the work the Moleskine provided him, the more successful he became as an author. However, the more successful he became the worse off he got. As the highs grew higher, the lows sunk lower. Over the last year, Manny and Sonya lost what would have been their first child. Over the last six months, Sonya had fallen inexplicably ill. While doctors were unsure if she would recover, Manny knew the cause.
The cabbie slowed to a stop along the curb opposite Columbia University’s library. Manny peeked past the cabbie’s head to the front cabin to see how much he owed, $28.50, a small price to pay for turning his life around. A banner on the library’s facade caught his eye, it advertised “Lecture by National Book Award winner, Emmanuel Miller today!”. The cabbie followed Manny’s lucid gaze, “you here to see him?” here came out heyah, the cabbie inquired nodding toward the banner, “I heard da newest one is going to be a movie this summah” the cabbie barked in his New York accent. “In a way” Manny replied, “keep the change,” he said slipping a crisp $50 bill through the plexiglass divider.
Manny stood outside the library waiting for the right...mark, no, too cold, victim? Definitely worse. Just someone. Everyone on the streets in New York City seemed like a bit of a jerk. This was proving to be harder than he thought. Manny saw a lone young woman walking briskly out of the library. She’ll do he thought. Manny picked her because he noticed her arms were full of physics textbooks. There’s no one less likely to write a novel than a physics major. His hope was that someone with no use for stories would not fall victim to the Moleskine’s malignant grip. Manny made his move, bumping the girl ensuring her books would scatter along the city sidewalk. In the commotion, he dropped the Moleskine amongst the books strewn at their feet in the dark almost alien pre-storm light. “I am so sorry, I am running terribly late,” Manny said as if scripted, as he made sure to gather at least some of the girl’s books. “It’s okay, sorry I didn’t see you coming,” the girl chimed. She thought Manny was assuredly the nicest New Yorker she had encountered all semester. As she was picking up the book that had come to rest behind her, Manny slipped the Moleskine inside the cover of a particularly thick paperback copy of Physics Fundamentals 3rd edition. Manny handed her the book with the stowaway tucked inside. As they locked eyes, Manny noticed hers were emerald green with flecks of gold. They were full of hope, the kind of eyes that say the only thing that will stop me from reaching for the stars is myself. As he bit his bottom lip, Manny considered the little black book. All the money, the success, the fame, would never be worth it. With Sonya on his mind, his trembling hand released its grip on the book for good as he said “I’m sorry”.
The girl noticed the stranger was on the verge of tears, he seemed quite emotional for such an honest accident. She was about to ask if he was okay, but as she opened her mouth the stranger had turned around and swiftly shuffled away down the sidewalk. As the girl gathered her thoughts and readjusted her grip on her books, with a thud something fell to the ground. An ancient-looking Moleskine sat alone on the sidewalk. “Sir, I think you…” she looked up West 114th street and saw only an anonymous crowd of strangers. She picked up the worn little black book as it flopped open effortlessly. She took her thumb and pressed it to the edge of the pages, making them dance from cover to cover. The pages appeared to be blank, odd for such an old book she thought. As she went to close the book, her eyes were drawn to the first page. She saw smudges that certainly weren’t there before, but that wasn’t possible...was it? She drew the book closer, closing out the city around it. Words blossomed from a milky gray to a bold scrawl on the page as if only being written just now. At that very moment, she knew it was the most beautiful prose she had ever laid her deep green eyes upon. She also knew she would be skipping her 11 am intro to physics class to read the Moleskine. The book’s magnetism had captured her in its orbit.
The sounds of Broadway retreated into the distance as she trudged up the block distractedly with her physics books tucked under her left arm, as she held the Moleskine open in her free hand. A crack of thunder rang out as the sky began to cry. Umbrellas began to bloom around her as people searched for cover. Her pace did not change. She was no longer in a hurry.