The Little Black Book

The cardboard box taunted Maureen as she stared at it. In the gloom of their spartan bedroom, she could read one of Derek’s commands scrawled on the side. Do not open. The remaining sides were fresh and new. It wouldn’t be alarming if it weren’t shoved into the darkest corner under piles of clothes. Even contemplating invading his privacy made her palms sweat. It’s not as if she’d been sneaking around. Next week was their ten-year anniversary, and as a gift, she wanted to make a romantic slideshow of their best moments. The trick was finding the old photo albums. She had searched everywhere and felt desperate. Where could they have gone? They certainly weren’t in this box. It was too small, too narrow. The question was whether or not she was brave enough to chance Derek’s wrath to find out what it contained. Was the box worth a black eye?

Derek was the love of her life. Sure, he had a couple of negative qualities, but when it was good, it was fantastic. After a decade of marriage, she was willing to look past his moments of rage. Men are many things. We need to love them through it. Her mother’s sage advice never once left her mind. Maureen had never understood this until she had met Derek at the tender age of twenty. At his encouragement, she dropped out of college so she could support his dream of being a dentist. While he toiled away with long nights of studying, she made sure their humble apartment had been clean, with meals ready on the table when he asked. It had been ramen noodles and an egg at the lowest point of their finances, but he never once complained. Derek valued what Maureen contributed. It didn’t matter what he said in those nasty moments. He didn’t mean it.

Of course, her mother would frown upon her desire to search this box. She would have advised that tempting Derek’s anger was a foolish choice. Unfortunately, Maureen was feeling rebellious. As she leaned over and slid the box out of the closet, her eyebrows shot up at the heft. No sound came from the box, but the contents weighed more than a few photo albums. The flaps of the box were folded into themselves and rustled as she pried them apart.
Inside were stacks upon stacks of money. Each pile contained various denominations. The amount was dizzying. The smell of cash was mouth-watering. What purpose did this money serve? Why was he hiding it? Her fingers brushed against the woven paper, lingering against the rubber bands that bound the money together. She glanced at her watch. There were two hours of freedom and quiet left. Sighing, she began pulling out each stack, laying them out into neat rows according to the amounts. The collection of twenties towered over the hundred dollar bills, but after a quick count, they held almost the same amount—a sum that made her gasp. She recounted two more times and blinked furiously. What the hell did Derek need with twenty-thousand dollars?
That’s when she spotted the tiny black notebook tucked into a corner of the box. Its non-descript cover lent no clues to what it held. Another glance at her watch confirmed she still had an hour and a half left. The surface was smooth like velvet in her hands as she slowly opened the notebook. Inside were child-like scrawlings, almost illegible. She smiled. Ten years of transcribing his notes and reports made her an expert on chicken scratch. The first entry was dated nearly a year prior. She began reading, eager to know her husband even better than before.
Maureen royally screwed up today. Again. I’m so tired of her fuck ups. They’re exhausting. No matter how many times I try to drill into her thick skull that the dishes need to be cleaned a certain way, she’s too stupid to understand. Naturally, I had to teach her a lesson. We ran out of ice for the bruises, but she can buy more when she’s presentable.

Maureen nodded. That day still felt fresh in her memory. Her failure to wash the pots and pans correctly had stirred his fury. Her mother had taught her that it was her duty to obey the men in her life and accept the hard lessons, even if they were painful. He was a good teacher.

The following entries were more or less the same. Some days, he complained about work. Starting his practice had been harder than imagined. Despite Maureen’s attempts to help, his mood had blackened over the last year, no matter how hard she tried. The scribbled words confirmed his mounting frustration. By the middle of the notebook, she recommitted to try even harder, even if it killed her. They loved each other, and he deserved nothing but the best.
That’s when the tone changed inside the private confessions. Maureen’s breath became lodged in her throat at each word.

I met someone. She’s incredible. Suddenly, my life has meaning again. I never thought I could love like this. Maureen has never been this sexy or funny. Maybe it’s time to leave Maureen. It’s hard to imagine more years with that hag.

Her fingers tingled as she thumbed the paper, too numb to feel any emotions. Was Derek having an affair? No, that was impossible. He was a meticulous man, adhering to a predictable schedule their entire relationship. How he found the time for a mistress was confusing. Maybe these entries were fiction. Yes, that had to be it. These were his fantasies, a way to deal with the increasing stress of his life. Everyone had fantasies. Sometimes, Maureen fantasized about leaving him and moving to Thailand. It’s not as if she would ever do so—she loved him so deeply—but it was a lovely daydream on those lonely afternoons.

She hummed a nameless tune as she flipped through more pages. More about this woman, but he never once mentioned her name. That’s how Maureen knew it had to be a fantasy. The woman’s name didn’t matter. This was just his imagination run amok. Derek was certainly not interested in that kind of sex. She would know after ten years together.

Her watch pinged, warning her she had one more hour left. Dinner needed preparing, but she needed an explanation for the money. After a moment’s hesitation, she continued, ignoring the increasing inventions about this mysterious woman. Finally, the notebook was coming to an end. She might never find out what the money went. To her relief, one of the last entries mentioned the money in the first sentence. The regret was immediate, her blood running cold. The date was two weeks before.

The money is finally ready, and the moment to eliminate Maureen is about to come to fruition. The man assured me twenty-thousand would be enough to get the job done. I hope so. I’m tired of the old bag. Jessica is eager to move on either our lives. I don’t blame her. No one wants to raise a baby with a dark cloud constantly hovering.

She had been lying to herself. This little black book wasn’t a subversive creative outlet. Those words and that cash collided together as an undoubted truth: Derek wanted her dead. Her husband, the man who had been her everything for a third of her life, wanted her gone. The money was destined for the hands that would shove her into an early grave. The revelation felt like a gunshot in her gut, rolling around like a poisonous pool of pain. Their last ten years flashed before her. Every punch. The dozens of kicks. The uncountable hours spent crying. After everything she sacrificed, the ungrateful monster wanted her dead.
That just simply wasn’t going to happen.

Sucking in a breath, Maureen began to line the box with the stacks of cash methodically. Each completed row solidified her new plan. Derek might have taken a part of her soul, but there was no way in hell he’d take any more of her life.

Once the money was tucked back inside the box, she gently placed the black notebook on top and stood. After a moment of contemplation, she reached back into the closet and pulled out her large black suitcase. The hangers rattled as she yanked at her limited amount of shirts and pants. One snapped and tumbled to the ground. Her hands impulsively reached for it but stopped right before she snatched it up from the ground. Derek would be furious. Good. Maureen began placing the clothes into the suitcase. Time was ticking by too quickly. Slamming the suitcase shut, Maureen rolled it out of the bedroom as she headed to her car. The wheels popped against each block of the sidewalk, and sweat beaded on her forehead, terrified a neighbor was peering through drapes. Slinging the suitcase into the trunk of her car, she rushed back into the house and headed back into the bedroom. Grunting as she lifted the box full of cash, she took one last look around the sparse bedroom she had shared with this psychopath for ten years. The idea of starting over fluttered in her chest, a spreading warmth that made her smile.

Placing the box beside her suitcase, she stretched to the back of the trunk and pulled out a clear bottle. Making one final trip into the house, she headed for the kitchen, the bottle sloshing with each step. Derek wouldn’t mind some leftovers. He would be home in fifteen minutes. Cheeks flushed with anxiety, Maureen placed the bottle on the counter and reached into the fridge, pulling out one of the pre-made sandwiches she kept for the times she ran errands before he came home. A pale brown plate clattered onto the Formica counter as she quickly placed it beside the sandwich container, carefully laying it in the center. Reaching for the bag of chips resting against her knife block, she sprinkled a handful beside the sandwich. Slapping her hands clean from crumbs, she carefully positioned the plate in front of his chair on the kitchen table. She scurried over to the fridge and pulled out his favorite juice. Plucking ice from the freezer, it clinked against the glass as she poured the fruity red liquid into the glass. Turning to the bottle from the car, she grabbed it with shaking hands. The bottle cap slipped from her fingers and fell to the ground. Pouring the red liquid into the juice, she plucked a spoon from a drawer and stirred the contents together. Giving it a quick sniff, she nodded at the sweet and placed it next to the sandwich. Swooping down, she snatched the fallen bottle cap and screwed it back onto the bottle. It was time to escape finally.

She hurried to the hallway closet and frantically rummaged through the containers. Thanks to her organizational skills, she was able to find her passport immediately. Sprinting to the front door, her chest heaved as the lock bolted. Time was running out.
Her car key slid into the ignition and the engine roared to life. Just as she was about to reverse, she paused and reached for her cellphone. Opening her text messages, she sent Derek a quick text so he wouldn’t worry.

Ran out for groceries. Made you supper with favorite juice. I love you!

Throwing the car into reverse, she hit the accelerator, heart thumping as the tires squealed. As the quaint prison grew smaller in her rearview mirror, Maureen grinned. Thailand was going to be beautiful.

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