The Book

Katie Kurtz

Katie Kurtz

She didn't know how the book came to her, just that she had packed it and unpacked it in the same cardboard box labeled "Authors M-Z" dozens of times and it always remained no matter how many times she lugged the box to a bookstore to pare down her collection. 
Which relationship yielded the strange little book? It had to be one that held enough promise that gifts were exchanged. Whoever gave it to her knew her well enough to know she hated inscriptions. Or was it from another writer where a hook up was hinted at drunkenly at a party while her boyfriend stood nearby? Did she buy it at that tiny bookstore in Salt Lake City on her way to Colorado? 
The book was printed somewhere foreign and covered with a plastic sleeve. It had two prices penciled inside the front cover: 10- and $7. Black and white plates illustrated the stories. The font annoyed her. 
One day when she was leafing through the book, she noticed blood smeared across the page. She looked at her pinky finger. Where did the cut come from? She couldn't say. It appeared the same way the book had: one day it wasn't there then the next day it was.
"I'm reading this book," she said to her coworkers at lunch one day.
She'd been working at the warehouse for a couple months and didn't have a rapport with any of them. 
"Is it the one where the guy kills his wife's lover and finds out later it was his half-brother and he always wanted a brother but it's too late because now he's in prison and his brother is, ya know, dead?" One of her coworkers asked. 
She waited for him to make the gesture of slitting his own throat but he just hunched over and kept eating his burrito.  
"Or is it the one where a girl is supposed to marry a much older guy and she's scared on her wedding night so she runs away and meets up with a band of gypsies and falls in love with the son of the head gypsy but he dies suddenly and the family comes looking for her because they think she did it so she has to run away again?" Another coworker asked.
"They're Romani, not gypsies and they're called rom baro, not head gypsy you dingus," the floor manager said as she breezed by. 
She took a deep breath and was about to tell them about the book. 
"Or the one where, like, a really poor boy inherits all this money from, like, a distant relative but he - I dunno - I forget what happened next it got really boring," the newest employee said in a bid to fit in. 
Another coworker joined them and started telling them about the time his band's minivan broke down while they were on tour, a story all of them had heard countless times before.
She finished her lunch and went back to her station. 
The book was stuffed with bookmarks from all the times she started reading it. Grocery store receipts and some voided checks from closed bank accounts. She had to start it over so many times because she would move or change jobs or get a new boyfriend and forget about it. Part of her wanted to finish the book but mostly she didn't want to know how it ended. 
A note in the back of the book from the publishers:
The Publishers would be glad to have your opinion of this book, its translation and design and any suggestions you may have for future publications. 
An address was provided where you could send a letter. She thought about writing and asking the publishers about the font. Unlike other books, it didn't say what the font was. It hurt her eyes to read it for too long. It would be a short a letter. 
The book was splayed face down on the back of the sofa where he plopped down immediately after dinner. She was pleased with the dinner she'd prepared and even more so with the dark chocolate and fresh figs for dessert. She blushed thinking about how impressed he'd be by such a decadent gesture. She was on her way to the kitchen to bring out the dessert.
"Hey," he said.
She turned and waited for him to say her name. 
"Come here, you," he said and tilted his chin toward her. 
"Just a sec," she said and went into the kitchen. 
At the sink, she turned the faucet on and watched the water pool over the dirty dishes.  
She waited a full week before calling her mom.  
"Hello?" Her mom still answered the phone like it was a land line. 
"Hi Mom. It's me. Your daughter," she said every time she called. 
"Oh hi honey how are things over there?" 
She stopped herself short of saying You mean Portland? and started weeping. She heard her mom telling her dad that she was crying again and no she didn't know why. 
"Well what is it?" Her mom finally asked.
 "The book. It's gone. He took it." 
"What book? Is this some new boyfriend? I don't understand what you're talking about at all," her mom said.
She stared at the empty spot on the back of the sofa and nodded silently. 

Katie Kurtz is a writer in Seattle.

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