Going Up

Dara Lehon


My 3-inch heels clanked obnoxiously on the marbled floor. I was late, my blouse untucking, my breath short, my face flushed, and my bags were slipping off my shoulder. A hand reached between the closing elevator doors.

"Thank you SO much," I gushed. "I'm SO late." I wiped away a trickle of sweat from my forehead.

"Anytime," said the tall man, whose defined features and great posture reminded me of the "Mr. Man" magazine model whose face decorated my night table. I hated those magazines but somehow still ended up on their mailing lists. In traditional subway stance, I stashed one bag down between my legs. Exhaling loudly, I pulled my hair out of its makeshift bun, adjusted my twisted skirt, and took a deep breath.

"What floor?" he asked, half-smiling.

"Um, 23 - thanks " I replied, looking up and continuing to re-dress myself.

I shuddered. Blood began to course through my veins at a supernatural speed as Mr. Man illuminated the 23rd button. I hastily tugged at my stockings and adjusted my bags again, trying not to touch anyone in the elevator. Though I wouldn't have minded being touched by Mr. Man's soft, yet masculine hands.

OK, enough fantasy. "How long is this going to take? I have a 9 o'clock!"

Four, 8, 11, 15, 16, 17, 19, 21, 22, 23, and finally 26, were all bright orange.

I sighed and widened my eyes. I had been up the all night finishing a proposal for an "innovative, streamlining, groundbreaking" and "any other buzzword they could think of" project that I was supposed to "team lead." Meanwhile, I had ignored my 6:30 a.m. alarm bolted from my apartment at 8:15. I glared at my co-elevator riders.

"Don't you people have somewhere to be? 4. If I worked on 4, I'd take the stairs. Lazy, inconsiderate people," I grumbled inside. The doors opened.

Eight. OK, frustration had gotten me through a floor or two. Seven more stops and I would be my office. I searched for my office key. Got it.

Damn. Dropped it.

A familiar hand swooped up the key. Ever-so-slightly embarrassed by the dolphin keychain from my now-Floridian grandmother, I smiled as Mr. Man looked into my eyes, dropping the key into my trembling, clammy hand. My eyes rolled back. He had unlocked an energy that surged through my body, down to my toes, and up through my ears. It only lasted a second but my ears were on fire.

My ears. My earrings. Oh god. I said thank you, again, and felt for my lucky pearls. Phew. They were there. Both. And my necklace? OK, it was on. I straightened my blouse and checked out my slightly scuffed shoes. I cleared my throat and tucked my drying hair behind my ears.

Tap, tap, tap. Six people left in the elevator and I started tapping my foot on the speckled, nauseating tile design beneath my feet. The elevator jumped and my eyes shifted onto the ugly Formica paneling. I was getting annoyed. "You'd think they'd have more elevators, or even and odd stops." Tap, tap, tap. "This is ridiculous." Tap, tap. "This organization is full of complete, inefficient, lazy idiots." Tap. "And I'm smarter than most of them." Tap.

I snapped out of my rampage to hear my foot tapping loudly and stopped -- my cheeks crimson and warm. Breathe. Deep breath. I bit my lip and I looked up to see the riders studying the floor numbers and the sickening floor design. Everyone except my Mr. Man, who I caught staring right at me. I had become his Mona Lisa as he searched for some explanation or deeper meaning. He was enthralled. I stared blankly at the elevator doors. But god, if he were a paintbrush, I'd love to be his palette.

"Stop the fantasy," I thought again. "Why do you fantasize about random men in elevators who don't even acknowledge you? Were you unsatisfied by your "perfect resume-man" date whose virtuous name-dropping and income levels left you speechless and conversationless? So what if, he couldn't dress like Mr. Man." I was squinting.

"Now we'd look so good together," I thought "Same style. Same taste. We even match." With that, I looked at my blazer and to my blue???? skirt. "Oh shit. This can't be. I pulled the wrong friggin' suit jacket from my closet! I'm supposed to "wow" people with my wisdom who'll be too busy staring at my uncoordinated attire?" Quickly convincing myself that "not quite-matching" was hip, I played with the buttons on my blazer and joined others in looking up at the floor display and inhaling.

19. "I can't believe that I'm still not on 23. Even my Passover Seders aren't this long. I can part the red sea, move millions of Jews out of Egypt, bake unleavened bread, and march through the desert for thousands of years sooner than I can make it to the 23rd floor. Moses wouldn't have stood for this. God wouldn't have let him. There must be a way to escape this solid steel chamber of humiliation. But No. These damned people won't have make my life a little easier when I'm having a bad day so perhaps I could just get upstairs and actually concentrate on my very well-thought out proposal."

My proposal. My heart jumped with the elevator's jolt. I knew I printed it out at 5 a.m. and slid it into my briefcase. I just knew I did. I started ruffling through my bag -- a brush, the paper, some bills. A tampon. Yes, out flew a tampon, completing a double axle and landing gracefully next to someone else's feet. Now, I was mortified.

"Please don't let that same hand that got my keys swoop down for this one. Please let him be looking at his watch, or be in deep meditational thought about me. Please don't let him realize that on top of everything, I'm cranky, and moody, and bleeding from my innards."

I dove down to the floor, grabbed the Playtex super glide, and slid it back into my bag, beneath, yes, my proposal. Success. I closed my eyes and took a few more breaths as I stood up. My Yoga class was finally paying off, but this fantasy was becoming a nightmare.

I was bright red now. The blood had rushed to my head, exacerbated by swooping down. I was a little dizzy, though I had noted some shiny wing tips by my tampon. Nice-sized feet, the laces were clean and neatly tied. "Of course, they must belong to Mr. Man," I thought. And boy, would I have loved to be tied up with him somewhere.

"Excuse me," said a woman as she gently pushed by to get out, knocking my bag off of my shoulder.

"Bitch," I grunted to myself and cleared my throat.

Only four floors left and I'd just about stopped sweating. My hair had calmed down, my pant subsided, and I felt OK about my mismatched suit. I knew my stuff. I knew exactly what I would say when I walked into that 23rd floor windowed office. I knew where I was going, and whom I was going to see. I'd get out with Mr. Man and head straight for the copy room where we'd make love on the color copier while the secretaries kept guard. He'd caress my tired feet and profess his love for me. I cleared my throat again.

Twenty-two. Thank god. Three people left in the elevator. No one moved.

"Close door! Someone hit close door!," I screamed silently from the back of the elevator. "Did someone hit the wrong button? Don't just stand there, hit the button! You're wasting time! Hit 23! No, you idiot, not open door, no one's coming in, and if they are, screw them, we need to get upstairs. Who the hell needs to get in the elevator at 22 anyway in a 26-story-building? Take the fucking stairs, you lazy piece of shit."

My silent screams did nothing. OPEN DOOR was pressed and the metal locker was once again open. Footsteps shuffled down the hall. A small woman framed by crutches hobbled into the elevator and hit 23. Slightly embarrassed by my silent outburst, which had surfaced as a nasty look.

I glanced at my watch: 8:58 a.m. "But why the hell did she need go up one flight now. She's making me late for my second big meeting where I'm the head honcho and everyone will be judging me." I started to wring my hands together. I was sweating again.

I hadn't been nervous about the actual meeting until right then, on 22, when the crippled woman got on the elevator. I hastily backed up to the corner and felt someone behind me.

"Oh, I'm sorry," I said, turning around to find my Mr. Man.

"No problem. Rough morning, huh," he said.

Oh wow. He knows. He's seen me drop my tampon and fix my stockings and ruffle my hair and straighten my unmatched skirt and tuck-in my blouse, and curse at the crippled woman, and yell at elevator buttons and revel in the touch of his hand and at his glance.

"Me too," he added.

"That's a rough morning?" I stared blankly at him and smiled.

Good god, he's the one for me. He'd make sure I'd never leave the house mismatched again, and that I was prepared for big meetings in front of new bosses and a new team. He'd be my alarm clock in the morning, waking me up with sex and kisses and sweet "I love you's." He'd even say I didn't have to work if I didn't want to and that this whole "career-woman" thing was overrated. We'd fight about it a little, but I'd give in. He was right. I should be home with our three darlings and I could 'freelance' if I wanted to. After all, we were independently wealthy. Enough about the corporate ladder, I thought. I just want to be in love and make babies and have a family and meet the man of my dreams in the elevator and

"Didn't you want 23?" said a deep, smooth voice.

No, just 3, I thought. Three or four kids should do. Maybe a dog. House in Westchester or Connecticut. Not Long Island. I'd kill myself if I lived in a place with more strip malls than trees.

"Miss?"

An obnoxious buzz resounded from the closing elevator doors and the compartment bounced, preparing to move up to the 26th floor. I gasped and swooped my bag out from in between my legs, my keys in-hand. I needed off the ride. But it was too late. My bags surrendered to the repulsive ground, spilling my bills, my hair clips, my tampons, and my proposal onto the floor. The doors sealed and I cradled my forehead in my clammy palm and laughed, shaking my head.

Oh god, I thought. I was still going up.


© Dara Lehon


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