Saturday, January 29, 2005

New short, short fiction

Elevator

As the elevator doors finally started to open, the baby began to squirm and cry, making it difficult for Jake’s wife to hold on to him. She turned to him in frustration. They were late for work again, having not yet mastered the strategic necessities of parenthood, which for both of them was like preparing for a camping trip everyday. Down fifteen flights into the world again, Jake thought. Out again into that roiling mass of humanity that was this city, only this time having to protect this impossibly fragile little being. Fatherhood was all still alien to him, and he found it hard to find his emotional equilibrium, which seemed to swing wildly from flight and fantasy, to fear and anger. At times he felt like the male gorillas he had seen on a TV nature special, whom the female gorillas had to keep their babies away from because they often tried to kill them by hurling them against a tree or crushing them. Gentleness did not come naturally. At the moment, neither did reality. Jake fumbled for the baby as Melissa gently tried to hand him off, and when the baby was firmly in his grasp, Melissa sighed deeply and forced a smiled, the pained and angry gesture of a young woman realizing that there was nothing liberating at all about juggling a career and trying to be a mother, that all that feminist crap she grew up believing was useless to her now. The look was not lost on Jake. He had noticed for some time that women everywhere seemed angry and disappointed , or so he imagined, and now here it was on Melissa’s face; on the wild, once fun-loving Melissa he had met in college and who had once beat him in a beer bong contest. Still looking back at him, anxious about her crying baby, Melissa took three steps backward, turned, and stepped into the shaft where the elevator was supposed to be.

To his guilt and embarrassment, Jake laughed out load at the sight of her disappearing so suddenly and without a sound. He stepped forward and looked down into the depthless shaft and saw nothing. He half expected her to pop out from behind the doors and yell "gotcha!"; she had once loved practical jokes. The baby was dead silent. In fact, the entire building was dead silent until the elevator suddenly started up again, its thick cables moving in opposite directions until the familiar elevator cabin lowered itself to their floor and jolted to a stop, as if it had meant to swallow his wife. Jake and his infant son stepped in and waited for the doors to close. He paused for a moment before deciding which button to push. He remembered the elevator had done this once before, shortly after they had moved in, before the baby had arrived, and he had complained to the building superintendent. The superintendent had said the problem was fixed. A slam-dunk lawsuit, he thought. That was one positive thing. But where to now? He knew this kind of thinking was the result of shock, that the accident had been too sudden, too absurd, and not far enough removed from the moment it had happened to allow his brain to react appropriately. He was a psychologist, after all. It was his business to understand the hidden life of the mind, to know how the psyche responded to trauma. He was fascinated by how detached he felt, how easy it was to imagine and accept the fact that Melissa was dead. It was as if the thoughts and feelings that had caused him to desire her, to stay with her, to marry her, to have a child with her, and share a life together were merely one layer of reality on top of many others within him. What monsters we are, he thought. Yet the responsibility and love he felt for the son in his arms was easy, primal, the purpose that was allowing him to hold it together while he decided what to do next. Should I go back to the apartment, he thought? Who would I call? The police? An ambulance? A coroner? Should I go down to the lobby? Where did the elevator shaft go? Could I handle finding Melissa? Wasn’t it better to drop the baby off at daycare first, then take of things? Of course, he needed to cancel his appointments. But Sylvia wasn’t in today. He would have to call all his clients individually. He should probablly call Melissa’s office too. But what would he say? "My wife won’t be in today. She fell down the elevator shaft in our building." What if I just went up to the roof and found a way to scream and cry, to kneel down, look up, and curse God? Might I be tempted to leap from the building with my son? Up or down, Jake? Up into flight and despair or down into the world of reality? Both options paralyzed him. After the lawsuit, he thought, maybe he and his son would move to Mexico or the Virgin Islands. He’d always wanted a sailboat. Maybe he could write a novel. Travel the world like a wealthy nomad. It wouldn’t be so bad. He could hire a nanny, date women again, play out all the fantasies he’d imagined for himself in his youth. Push the button, Jake. Push the button.

"Push lobby, Sweetheart," Melissa said, fumbling with their new infant carrier.

"Huh?"

"My dreamer boy," Melissa smiled lovingly at him while she strapped the baby in. "Sometimes I wonder how you ever make it through the day."

Jake pushed the button and the elevator came to life, bucking slightly before it started to go down.

"Remember," Melissa said. "You need to pick up the baby today at 3:30 sharp."

"What?"

"I’ll call to remind you."

"I’m going to call the Super about this elevator today," Jake said, watching the lighted numbers change." It doesn’t feel safe to me. Does it feel safe to you?"

"Did you have enough coffee this morning, Jake?"

"It’s an old building. It’s not natural for people to live in tall buildings. I think I’m going to call Ray today about that place in Brooklyn. Wouldn’t it be better to live in Brooklyn?"








1 Comments:

Blogger Caitlin said...

I really enjoyed your short story. very amusing. keep up the good writing!

10:02 PM  

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