“Excuse me, sir. Which elevator-”
“The one on the left, floors three to fifty-five. The right, floors fifty-six to ninety-eight.”
The former, with a fresh coat of gel in his hair and a fresh shave on his still developing face (a little too fresh as his under-chin would contest) hadn’t been in such a building before. His eyes had lit up upon entry, but was careful to keep moving. Getting a shooing bump on the back before making it past the welcome mat would be a bad start. He shuffled through the crowds with his empty briefcase, but it was leather and the buttons were still fully functional. He had waded into the lobby, looking for a sage.
The latter, whose wrinkly disposition had sent his youthful glow to its swan song, might as well have lived in the building for the past thirty nine years. He knew the nooks and crannies of the nooks and crannies. Like the slight wiggle in the bannister between floors sixteen and seventeen, the painting on floor thirty-one that covered the old laundry chute, and the secret vending machine on floor seventy-eight that was stocked with the extras from the building owner’s brother’s snack food company. He knew the building so well that when direction-seeking hopeful youths approached him he needed neither to lift his head from his newspaper, nor give a different answer as to satisfy a unique question. It was always the same.
The young man recovered quickly.
“And what about floor fifty five and-a-half?”
The old soul cracked a slight smile, awakening a new wrinkle out of a motionless drought. He slowly folded up the newspaper and slipped his glasses off, folding each side carefully before he rubbed his eyes and emitted a chuckle from the depths of sincerity.
“You know,” he said with a happy reluctance, “I’ve never heard that one before.”
The young man smiled, but only with his lips. Teeth would have been boastful.
“It looks like I need to use the one over there.” He nodded towards the elevator on the right.
“How high up?”
“Floor ninety-four. Room…” He briefly looked to the dizzying ceiling for an answer. Finding nothing in the rafters, he unfolded a piece of paper from his jacket pocket. “Room thirty-six C, fifth door on the right for check-in, the secretary is-”
“Sheila. Tell her you said hello to Mr. W. She’ll validate your parking.”
The young man’s face lit up.
“Thank you, Mr. W. Much appreciated.”
With a nod of approval, Mr. W. returned his glasses to their rightful grooves above his ears and unfurled the newspaper. Before plunging back into the daily news, he glanced outside for a moment; revisiting another place, another time.
Between floors 3 and 93
The elevators were surprisingly empty for a Wednesday afternoon. Only a woman, roughly forty-five and roughly objecting to it, accompanied the ride up. The young man was too excited for a quiet contest.
“Ninety-six,” she said effortlessly.
The young man pressed the “his and hers” buttons respectively. He settled back in a corner and smiled another lip-only smile as the doors closed and the ding cued his attempt at conversation.
“Surprisingly empty for a Wednesday, isn’t it?”
Just then, the elevator lurched skyward. He felt his stomach drop to somewhere between his thigh and kneecap as he grabbed the handle to his left. The woman stood completely still, maintaining her statuesque posture.
There’s no way she could have seen me, I was too sly.
Now rocketing up the shaft at a meteoric pace, he finally got his elevator legs. He cleared his throat and attempted a restart.
“You know, I-”
DING! The elevator stopped suddenly, causing him to yet again lose his balance like a wandering toddler. The sudden stop was kind enough to return his stomach abruptly to its rightful place.
How do people talk in these things?
The doors opened slowly, the sound ringing throughout the hallway. He stared in mystery at the world outside the elevator shaft. After a few seconds, he surfaced. He glanced at the woman in the opposite corner.
She smiled, only lips, and exhaled nasally in substitution for a laugh. Like watching a lost puppy stray outside the kennel for the first time, she wanted to watch without breaking composure.
The young man, realizing he had lost all credibility, stepped outside onto the marble landscape. He took one last glance back in the elevator.
“Have fun in there. Don’t get lost.” And the doors closed into a seamless slab. He hung his head. He would have traded the bump in the back on the welcome mat for this. He regathered himself for the upcoming interaction with Sheila. This time he would be smoother.
Floor 94 – Room 36c
“I don’t think that’s funny” the man in the brown suit and carefully chosen matching brown socks retorted quickly.
“Whadya mean? Of course it’s funny,” replied the man in the pompous orange suit and not-so-carefully chosen blue socks. The off-kilter colors put him somewhere between an experimental ice cream flavor that never made it to the shelves and a mesh of holiday styles, months apart. He looked at his clipboard. “This is my favorite day of the quarter. Hopeful faces, walking in here with their high shoulders. These kids are fucking morons and you know it.” He shot a disappointed look at his compeer as the clipboard slapped down on the desk. “Where’s your sense of humor these days?”
“That’s why they call it a sense of humor. Everyone sees it differently, it’s subjective. Besides, I was one of those fucking morons and so were you.” He sipped his deep brown coffee while the dogma filled the room. His orange counterpart sat in a blinking stare, not moving his head as he sipped something hot that he could neither pronounce, nor keep his patchy mustache out of.
Mr. Brown checked his watch twice in a matter of fourteen seconds. Twelve o’clock on the dot. He fixed his stare on the door to his twelve o’clock, the stillness of the knob lulling him in respite.
After a moment it twisted and the door flung open, jolting him awake.
“Your twelve o’clock is here.”
Mr. Brown wiped the puffiness out of his eyes.
“Thank you, Sheila.”
She quickly turned on her heel with a cute smile, showing each one of her shiny teeth. Mr. Brown caught himself.
She peered around the door frame.
“Any hope on this one?”
Sheila thought for a moment.
“Nothing special. I think he was trying to be sexy.”
Mr. Brown hung his head and pressed his thumb into his eyebrow. His colleague fished for the last of the whip cream in his mug. Sheila turned on her heel once more, but much slower this time.
“Although, he did get validated. Mr. W. sent him up.”
Mr. Brown looked at Sheila, then his colleague who was too busy tipping his drink back as far as his chair would recline, then at Sheila again.
“Send him in.”
more by SANDY DODGE
photograph by Leeroy