It spills out of her like wine from punctured skins: “This is going nowhere.”
Their eyes halfway meet, cast to the peripheral space between their strangers’ bodies, semi-apologetic. Alex deflates.
And then the elevator shudders to a halt.
No one is answering the emergency phone. Alex isn’t sure what to do beyond yell into the receiver anyway and slam the flat of his hands against the elevator doors. Neither proves remotely effective. His frustrated sigh is met with total silence and he turns to find her curled into the corner like a world-wary new-born.
“Hey.” He steeples his fingers under her chin and tilts her face upward. The sound of her gasping unfurls, hissed exhalations that break like waves on the metal walls and seem to swallow what little space there is. “It’s okay.”
And then Alex is singing. He’s not sure where the idea comes from, but the panic pinched into her brow pulls a melody from between his lips like some unconscious instinct.
How sweet it is to be loved by you…
His voice is pitchy, out of practice, but he carries the tune well enough that her breathing sinks into the rhythm of the song as her careful voice, sweet and fragile as sugar glass, stutters to life alongside his.
“Yes. Thank you.”
The too-loud tone of the emergency phone defibrillates the quiet. Alex snatches it from its cradle and shouts flustered criticisms at the man on the other end, who promises to have the elevator doors open as soon as possible.
Inevitably, nostalgia creeps in.
Do you remember when…?
He does. Of course he does.
She reminds him of their very first Christmas together.
He’d scattered scented candles in every room so that the house had smelled of spiced apples and nutmeg, substitute holiday aromas for the turkey they didn’t even attempt to cook. Instead they reheated leftover Chinese food and drank Irish cream whisky in front of the open fire. She recalls that he’d made her a mix tape of songs that reminded him of her, and her smile summons the heat of the flames to simmer just beneath his skin.
She doesn’t remember what she gave him.
“A photo album,” he recollects, “and a polaroid camera.” He watches the memory flicker like a film reel across her eyes.
“Yes,” she says. “All our memories, and the means to record the ones to come.”
And then falls a silence that doesn’t sit right, all awkward edges that stick between Alex’s ribs; that this is the last memory they’ll share is a weight that can’t be carried by words.
“Tell me a story,” she demands.
He has never been able to deny her anything.
“Once upon a time, there was a girl. She rarely smiled. There was a boy, too. He wasn’t good for much, not really, but together they did okay, until the girl stopped smiling entirely, which made the boy feel good for even less. They didn’t know how to fix it, so they didn’t.”
There’s a pause, and then:
“That’s a terrible story.”
Alex half-smiles. “So change it.”
Once upon a time, she says, a boy told a girl a story.
It has yet to be finished.
AP Story: Elevator
Written by Shannon Eden