Non-fiction writers: You’re stuck in an elevator with a person from your past. Write this scene. Daily Prompt: Elevator
It’s been a long day.
I don’t mind the two hour drive from the suburbs – where I live – to Midtown Manhattan, where one of the many offices I report to is located. Its quite relaxing usually. But everyone has their off days.
Today had been one of those days. The article I had worked on all weekend had been criticised to the point where even I was convinced that all of my sources were questionable and my opinions misleading. Extra conferences and meetings had been sprung on me in which matters of little importance had been discussed for an unnecessary length. To top it all off, I had received a fair few remarks on the way I worked, that were not sugar-coated enough for me to ignore the direct stab. It was shocking to be on the receiving end of these, even after the years I had spent working, proving time and again that sex does not correlate with talent or hard work. Now – I was ready to start swearing at anyone and everyone who crossed my path.
Straightening my Marc Jacobs tweed skirt, my sandals tapping against the marble-flooring, I stop before the elevator door and press the button. The air-conditioning is starting to get on my nerves. A group of men in suits walks past, all except one having Bluetooth devices embedded in their ears. Their hushed voices echo in the capacious hallway.
Thoughts chase each other in my mind; from workplace ethics, to gender discrimination at work despite the pretense that all were equal in this society, to the importance of women standing up for themselves. I know I will not rest until I have vented on my blog.
It was going to be a long night.
There was the subdued ting of the elevator bell, perfectly tuned so as not to disturb but only enhance the atmosphere. The faint tinkling of water from one of the mini-fountains erected in the middle of the open area drowns out of the subtle sound of the elevator doors opening.
Tucking a dark brown strand behind my ear, I look up from the paper filed inside a transparent folder that I was holding to see if I would be sharing my breathing space with someone on the ride down forty-nine floors.
There was just one other in the elevator. A young man, light brown hair, slight frown creasing his forehead as he looked at his phone. A silent swear word and then he looks up to check why his ride isn’t moving. He has piercing blue eyes, the curiosity, then the shock of recognition evident in them. He is wearing an expensive-looking suit, his tie slightly askew – as if it has been tugged on countless times.
My hands grip the folder a little tighter. He pulls himself together first. The doors start to close; he jumps forward, sticking his foot between them, causing them to open up again.
“Coming?” He smiles.
I step in, aware of his gaze following me. He has recognised me. And I, him.
Eight years. Eight years later, and I find him in an elevator. How coincidental. Much like a cheesy movie.
We reach the fortieth floor in silence. The air-conditioning in the confined metal box causes his scent to mingle with mine. I stare fixedly at the paper in my hand. The words have started to go out of focus. My thoughts are far-away.
Casey Jackman. When he was eighteen, and she was seventeen. The things they had done together, the way they had fallen for each other. How he had consistently got kicked out of her parents house because Dad hadn’t liked him one bit. He was the guy who wouldn’t be caught dead in a suit. They had ditched senior prom to go to a rock concert; him in jeans and her in a prom dress because both of them were strong-headed and adamant. When they were together, they knew what they wanted. They had known each other’s quirks and faults and strengths like their own.
She had said it would last forever. He had laughed at her sappiness but she knew he agreed. They had both believed it.
Notions like that are absolute crap. High school doesn’t last. Reality always slaps you in the face. People change. Life happens.
Except maybe Casey. He had been laughing ever since she had walked in.
“What?!” I finally round on him. Thirty-fifth floor.
“I thought you were dead!” He manages, grinning at me.
I shoot him a dead-pan look. “Really, Casey?”
He sobers up a little and shrugs, “Sure. I-”
“So, you’re trying to tell me you have had no idea of my whereabouts all these years?” Why am I talking to him? It feels wrong. It brings up uncomfortable memories. Regret. Guilt. The flashing image of him in my room late at night.
He is quiet for a while. “Not really.. I had myself convinced the person making the speeches on T.V. was a doppelganger.”
Another image of him trying to say something. My disbelief. Him pulling something out of the back pocket of his jeans.
I don’t reply. What can I say?
He bent down. He looked up at me, and takes my hand. I gasp loudly. My stomach is like butterflies caught in a net, struggling to escape. My palms are tingling. His words, they are muffled. My brain seems to register them a second too late. “Ziona Evans, will you marry me?” He didn’t wait for a reply. The ring had already slid half-way up my finger. I was too numb to say anything. He had expected to hear nothing but a yes. He knew the alternative answer was an impossibility.
“How’ve you been?” His voice is quiet as he says the first serious thing since I have walked in.
The door banged open. The lights came on, making the both of us squint as our eyes struggled to adjust. “Dad!” My eyes widened, horrified. My father was a tall, intimidating man on good days. Tonight was worse. “What the hell is going on here? Jackman! How many times have I told you to stay away from my daughter?!” His hands reach forward, his mouth set grimly, and grabs Casey by the back of his neck, pulling him up and starting to drag him out. “Zee!” Casey looked at me incredulously. Say something.. But how could I? What.. I felt my throat tighten. My father was looking at me curiously, waiting to see what it was that Casey was urging me to say. If there was anything to say at all. He didn’t believe Casey on the best of days. Tonight was the final nail in the coffin. Dad gave Casey a disgusted look and hauled him out.
“What about you?” It’s only polite to ask, right? He could never see through the nonchalance, never see the actual curiosity, the need for information.
He shrugs, “Finished law school. Then took some time off. Spot of traveling. Started my formal practice, bought my own place.. Doing good.”
Fifteenth floor. Did it always take this long?
I nod slowly, “Good.. great.”
Hearing his quiet laughter, I looked up questioningly, tearing my gaze away from my hands. “What?”
“You want me to ask, Zee?”
“Don’t call me that Casey.”
“Fine. What have you been doing with your life this past decade, Ziona?”
“Eight years.” She blurted, then bit the inside of her mouth, “..not.. a decade.”
There was a silence for a while.
Finally, I ventured forth, “I’m a freelance journalist, slash a couple of weekly commitments to New York Times and Huffington. Because of the whole media-studies and political-aspect, I took up advising and being spokesperson for a couple of multinationals and international organizations. There was a lot of traveling involved in the first six to seven years, but then I had to take responsibility for um.. my brother’s daughters. Guardianship. So – I moved near them. Started taking up more local projects. I got my work-from-home dream, and I traveled.”
Fifth Floor. The end was nearing.
Casey raises his eyebrows and says, “Never knew you’d pursue your dreams, really. I mean, not doubting your ambition, but, this was always your dream job, huh?”
I raise my shoulders in a small shrug. “Yeah.. What about you? I mean – how did you ever get into law?”
He laughs, “Once I figured I couldn’t be a real boxer, I had to go after something really worthwhile. I mean, I considered becoming a surgeon but that’s commitment. Major one,” he sighed and said, “Dad was always into politics. I just, thought I dunno, I’d do something real dry. Something dead. Take my mind off…stuff.”
The elevator pings and the bell rings again, bringing me back to the now.
The doors open and there are people – in suits – waiting to get in.
I realise I am in what classifies as work clothes too. Casey is too.
“I’ll..” I start, stepping out with him, turning towards him. What? She would see him again? Would she? Would he want to? Should they?
Did she want to?
He smiles at me. “Yeah?”
It’s amazing how some things never change.
A phone rings. Casey fumbles in his jacket pocket and holds up a finger, giving me an apologetic smile.
“It’s.. It’s okay.” I say hurriedly, “It was.. nice seeing you again.”
The phone is still ringing, as Casey looks at me, his smile gone. “Yeah – yeah. Same here..” He replies.
Now, my phone rings.
I shake my head, pulling it out, see the caller ID and immediately pick it up. I turn around, starting to walk away, talking hurriedly.
At the revolving doors, leading me out of the air-conditioned hall, out into the smoky city air, I turn around, still listening to the person babbling on the other end. Casey isn’t looking at me, and is engaged on the phone.
Turning away, I walk out.
[[Credit for Casey’s dialogues to my parabatai! 🙂 ]]