The Elevator

 

The spider that slid out of the trashbag that was inappropriately stashed in the elevator was just shy of an inch long. Small and underprivileged as it was, it would still have struck terror into Sophie, an insurance agent, had she seen it. Luckily, her eyes were locked onto the ceiling, regarding what looked like a cigarette lighter caught behind a shield beside a light fixture, fossilized and forgotten. The five by five foot space was a tight squeeze for the current occupants: the unwelcome, abandoned trashbag; an attentive terrier, hitherto yapping in a hot car in the parking lot, now accompanied by a ten year old boy named Jason. Plus Sophie. The arachnid raced across the worn carpet base only to halt inches before the dog’s lowering nose. Unperturbed, the animal emitted a slight grunt but then withdrew, uninterested. Who knows what animals make of life that moves with unnecessary numbers of limbs, without apparent purpose other than existence? Science knows what kind of instinct or rather reflex will have stilled the tinier creature, motivating its sudden simulation of death.

Jason asked the woman if she’d press the button for the second floor. Though it was a short, benign request, he spoke nervously, as Sophie resembled his Aunt Julie, a severe woman who used to babysit him until he finally spoke up to his parents about her tendency to hit. Jason didn’t think the tall woman by his side would hit necessarily, but she seemed familiarly tense, and might have said something plaintive about his bringing a dog into the building, which would have been bad enough. The time it took for the door to close seemed protracted causing an awkward, silent stalemate, and in Jason’s mind, a complaint about machinery that doesn’t work properly. Someone ought to check its parts, do a thorough maintenance job. Someone ought to do something, Jason thought. When the doors opened for the second floor, he exited hastily, perhaps rudely, while the terrier shuffled beneath his feet, casting another nonplussed glance at the spider. Picking up the dog, the boy rushed across a waiting area to an office where his mother waited, eager to show her fellow realtors the new family pet.

Replacing Jason was a bulky man wearing a post office uniform, who reached in front of Sophie to press a button rather than ask her to do it. It was his rudeness that caught her attention, not that of the boy. The man’s vast armpit opened up like a beast’s mouth preparing to bite—the emanating odor more than doubling the offense of the trashbag that still sat on the other side. The man shook his head, observing the clutter that forced closeness. What followed was a guttural witticism, smothered in heavy breath: something terse, fragmented and nasty about lazy Janitors, people below post office workers in the food chain, he evinced. Sophie returned a look that was not quite a thin smile, more a twitch of lips, followed by a look away, back to that cigarette lighter up above. She changed her mind, looked away from that, thinking the man might follow her gaze, notice the lighter and attempt chatter about that as well. This situation was a quintessential fear for Sophie, and for many women, she considered: being caught alone, in an elevator, with a man who might be dangerous; especially one who was sizeable and seemed gruff and impolite. The halting movement of the elevator was uncomfortable, but at least there wasn’t long to go. At 1600 Sadler Street there were only four floors. Sophie had just one left to go before meeting with her therapist on the top floor. Soon she’d be talking about men, anxiety, tight spaces, spiders, and failed attempts to quit smoking, among other things.

Therapist Daniel Pierce left his fourth floor office early afternoon, hungry for a late lunch on an hour’s break. In the hallway, he passed Bob, a postal worker with whom he shares a manly nod on a daily basis. He and Bob aren’t on a first name basis, just observant of each other’s insignia: Bob’s nametag, the sign on Daniel’s office. By the waiting area Daniel pressed the button that summons the elevator. He hoped its clunky, cumbersome movements would prove quicker than usual, as Bob is surprisingly swift in his circuit of deliveries, and if the elevator didn’t arrive soon, he’d be sharing a ride with the malodorous mailman. Behind him was a familiar sight: a grim-visaged woman, alone in the waiting area, looking flattened, too self-absorbed to read the fluff array of magazines or even notice others. The elevator door opened. Daniel stepped in and hurriedly pressed for the lobby, but Bob made it in time, crossing the threshold just before the doors closed. With a second nod, he acknowledged Daniel but also cast a glance in the direction of Sophie. He faced the counselor as the elevator went down, muttering ugliness: “uptight bitch” was the term Daniel was meant to co-sign with a knowing chuckle, perhaps an exchange of misogynistic platitudes.

It occurred to him—no, it reminded him—that if he doesn’t collude with such beliefs, he risks a dreaded reprisal. Daniel had always been wary of men like Bob; had often worried since he was a kid, and especially since that one time years ago on a commuter train when a thug accosted a female passenger and Daniel was the only other male around, that he’d feel compelled to do something, risk his own health and safety, in the service of either disapproval or actual, as in physical intervention, which wasn’t and isn’t his thing. The smell of Bob—that acrid reek of sweat from walking in the sun—wasn’t the problem. Nor was it the class divide. As the doors opened on the bottom floor, Bob stepped out first, gave Daniel a curt farewell, perhaps registering the counselor’s haughty rejection of him. Daniel moved away with a sigh, noticing a mild jump in his heart rate. It doesn’t take long to feel the specter of violence, he thought, whether it’s real or not. At the brink of the lobby doors he stopped and pulled back suddenly. Cursing and not understanding why he lifted his foot, revealing that which he’d glimpsed an instant before his last step. The spider was crushed.

 

 

 

 

 

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