There are, as an unspoken rule, two types of days.
The first is favorable: it is one that has been looked forward to for many weeks, months, or even years leading up to its dawning. Much ado–whether vocal or internalized–has been had about this day. Phone calls have been made, promo pages have been visited, and the tickets have been bought. Bags have been packed. Outfits have been picked. Safe travels have been wished.
Then there is the second type of day. These days are rarely spoken of. They do not appear in advertisements. They are not talked about in parties. They don’t come because they are wanted. Like the first type of day, much ado is had about them, but it is usually done behind closed doors and while trying to fall asleep at night. Because of this, most think themselves to be the only ones experiencing this dreadful type of day. Not only on the day itself, but ever. “There couldn’t possibly another person feeling such a pain as this.” one thinks. “They’re all too busy experiencing the first type of day”.
It is perhaps a comforting truth to know that the second type of day is so unbelievably common that the first type is not unlike an anomaly.
Alex Bentwater was having the second type of day. He was standing in a mostly beige, echo-y lobby of a large office building. He and a handful of other people were staring at a beige wall with several sets of silver doors. The lights on all the elevator buttons were broken and, like the people around him, Alex couldn’t remember whether anyone had pressed the ‘up’ button yet. It seemed like everyone had been waiting for a while, so just for good measure Alex reached out and pressed the ‘up’ button several times.
One of the women in the group shot Alex a look that confirmed for him the ‘up’ button had already been pressed. Probably by her.
A ‘ding’ sounded from behind the group. Alex turned to see that the wall opposite was also full of elevator doors. Before he knew what was happening, the arriving elevator was full and the doors were closing. Normally this would frustrate Alex, but he was having the second type of day. Feelings outside of anxiety and dread seemed hard to come by.
There was one other person left standing with Alex. He turned to her to make some sort of useless, awkward joke about how they were the only ones who missed the elevator, but the words got stuck in his throat.
It was her.
Alex thought he could hear his blood pressure thumping off the echo-y walls of the lobby.
“I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that we see each other here.” she said in that icy tone she used when she was trying to be the mature one–which was always. Alex tried smiling politely but the edges of his mouth felt like pasty lead.
“Hey, Layla,” he said. She didn’t respond. Alex put his hands in his pockets and started shuffling his keys. He did this whenever he felt nervous; usually without even thinking about it or realizing it. The jingle of the keys bounced off the lobby walls like gunfire. He was just beginning to remember that fidgeting drove Layla crazy when she asked him to stop.
When the elevator finally arrived, the ‘ding’ that accompanied it sounded like the tolling of a bell. Alex rushed inside. He fully expected–hoped–Layla would take a different elevator. He began searching the exhausting amount of buttons for the necessary floor when a perfectly manicured hand got in the way and pressed, ’12’.
“I was just about to press that.” said Alex. Layla once again said nothing. Alex had never enjoyed being asked to ‘hold the door’ when on an elevator. Today would have been different.
The doors slid closed. They were alone.
The elevator shuddered and began climbing. As far as Alex was concerned, it would have been faster to take an elevator to the peak of everest. It was taking every ounce of will-power not to jingle his keys.
‘5’ lit up on the panel.
‘Seven floors to go’. Thought Alex. Layla stood straight-backed to his left. She was clutching a binder to her chest. ‘Should I have brought a binder?’ Alex wondered.
Finally, the ’10’ button lit up. Two more floors to go. Alex thought they must be getting close to eleven when a horrific screeching sound came from somewhere outside the elevator. The lights flickered, there was a bang, and the elevator shuddered like a dying animal. Layla stumbled into the wall, dropping her binder. Photographs and legal documents erupted into the air.
“Did we just get stuck?” asked Alex. Layla obviously refused to speak. Neither of them moved. There was a brief silence before a PA crackle filled the air.
“Hey, folks” said a voice. Every movie Alex had ever seen involving stuck elevators taught him that the man behind that voice was an overweight and incompetent security guard: “No need to panic. The elevator is momentarily stuck but we’ll get it sorted and have you out of there in no time. I’ll keep you posted on our progress.”
“Fucking brilliant,” muttered Layla. She stooped down to pick up her papers. Her hands and legs were shaking and she kept dropping paper before she could get it back to the binder.
Alex couldn’t believe he had forgotten: one of Layla’s greatest fears was getting stuck in an elevator. Why did he know that?
“Want some help?” Alex asked without moving.
“Don’t even think about it!” said Layla. The small space of the elevator made her raised voice sound like a shrill yell: “I’m not interested in having to wait any longer for this because you damaged a legal document!”
“Layla, come on, calm down–“
“Don’t fucking tell me what to do, Alex!” Layla finally managed to jam the rest of the papers into her binder and moved to get back on her feet. Her legs were still shaking and she steadied herself on the hand rail.
On her way up, she stopped in just such a position that Alex could see down the neckline of her shirt. Somehow this was still more attractive than if she had simply been lying entirely naked on a bed with her legs open.
Then he remembered why he knew about Layla’s fear of getting stuck in elevators.
“Hey, do you remember that list we made when we were dating?” asked Alex.
“Oh, God.” said Layla, “This isn’t a movie, Alex; you’re not gonna save our marriage just because we got stuck in an elevator together.”
“No, no, I know,” said Alex, “I’m just bringing it up because I remembered how scared you are of getting stuck in elevators”.
Layla gave him that look that made him feel insufferable. “What are you possibly talking about?” she asked.
“You know,” said Alex. He didn’t think it was possible to be more self-conscious, but it was happening. Alex’s voice dropped to a whisper, “The ‘adventure’ list”.
Layla scrunched her face in disgust.
“Seriously??” she asked, “THAT’S what you’re thinking about right now? So fucking typical. I can’t believe you.” Layla looked up at the elevators security camera. “Hello, mr. security guard or whatever you are? Anything to keep us posted on? I really would not like to be stuck in the elevator much longer with this pervert.”
“Ok, come on, there’s no need for that!” said Alex, angrily. He didn’t notice that this was the first time he’d felt anything other than sick to his stomach in over a week. “I was just trying to make you feel better.”
“By reminding me of a list we made when we were dating about all the different places we wanted to try having sex?” Asked Layla, “Yea, real comforting, Alex. Bra-fucking-vo. Another winning idea from the Bentwater clan.”
“Alright,” said Alex, “that’s enough.”
“Oh, are you actually telling someone what to do?” asked Layla sarcastically, “Have you grown a fucking back bone in the last few months?”
Alex didn’t reply. Every time he thought she couldn’t hurt him anymore Layla found a new way to twist the knife that she had planted so firmly into his manhood.
The PA crackled.
“Please leave the woman alone, sir.” definitely a fat, incompetent guy.
Alex’s legs were sore. He slumped into the corner of the elevator opposite to Layla. She was calling someone on her cell phone.
“Hi Paul,” she said after a moment. Her voice had changed slightly, and Alex knew that sound better than he realized. It was the voice she would use that let him know something was wrong before she even told him.
“No, not yet,” Layla was saying, “actually having an elevator issue at the moment. Yea, I’m fine, haha. They’re working on fixing it right now. Obviously I might be a bit late getting back to the office. Yea, sorry. Thanks. Yea. Yea, you too. Bye.”
She hung up her phone. The same, uncomfortable silence of the lobby ebbed its way back into the elevator.
Finally the PA crackled. “Looks like a rat got stuck in one of the pulleys.” said the security officer, “They’re tryna get it out but it’s jammed in there pretty good. Hopefully will only be a few more minutes before we’re up and running again. Sit tight.”
The silence resumed.
“I’m sorry for being such a bitch.” said Layla after a while, “Just really freaked out by this.”
Alex smirked. “I know,” he said.
Layla shook her head and laughed.
“I had a lot of fun making that list.” she said.
“Me too.” said Alex.
There was a slightly comfortable pause.
“Did we ever complete it?” asked Layla.
Alex was entirely shocked by this question. He was stuck in an elevator with his soon-to-be-ex-wife and she was asking him to reminisce on their sexcapades.
“Uhm..” was all he could say before the PA came back on.
“These elevator pulleys are somethin’ else, folks.” said the fat security guard. “We’re really tryin our hardest but that rat is stuck in there good! Unfortunately it looks like you’ll be waiting about another half hour.”
The PA clicked off. At some point, Alex and Layla had made eye contact. Neither of them was looking away.
Alex had forgotten how much was hidden in the wells behind Layla’s eyes.
“Y’know,” said Layla after a while, “we didn’t complete it.”
“Because you were too afraid of getting stuck in an elevator.” said Alex.
They jumped up at the same time. Layla ripped a piece of paper out of her binder and crumpled it around the security camera.
Photo by Charles Deluvio 🇵🇭🇨🇦