In Which Two Strangers Get Stuck in an Elevator

“It’s stuck,” the man said, squinting at the buttons and pushing them.

My phone was charging on my desk. I couldn’t text buddies or play Words with Friends. I couldn’t pretend to be busy. It was a revoltingly unmodern thing to experience. I suddenly hated him.

I dreaded the impending conversation. He was already turning toward me to speak. I shut my eyes and rubbed my temples, feigning a headache. He’d probably want to tell me about his kids. Or his wife. Or his fucking lawn.

The buttons glowed impatiently. We were stuck on the twenty-seventh floor. I stared at the display, imploring the number to change.

“It’s stuck,” the man repeated, glancing at me. He seemed irritated.

I shrugged noncommittally and immediately felt stupid. Why did I shrug as if to say maybe? Our lives are flooded with indeterminate matters, but in a situation as unambiguous as being stuck in an elevator, you’d think that one could speak in absolutes. Most assuredly, we were stuck. There was no maybe about it.

I was relieved that he seemed annoyed, however. His irritation suggested importance. Surely he hadn’t the time to discuss domesticities with strangers in elevators.

He pressed the emergency button and waited with his hands folded across his chest.

“Yes?” a polite voice inquired. How free it sounded. How wonderfully unencumbered. How not stuck in a metal box dangling from a cable. How I hated the person the voice belonged to.

“We’re stuck,” the man said firmly.

He sounded decisive and clear-headed. His voice implied an intimate knowledge of markets and finance. He was certain about things. Once the doors opened, he knew exactly where he was going and exactly what he would do when he got there.

I had the impression that he found the world unimpressive, that the world was problematic for him, a series of mistakes he quietly intended to correct someday. I noticed that his suit was far more expensive than my own.

“We’re dispatching a caretaker to fix it,” the voice soothed.

The man glared at the speaker box, as if the person on the other end could see him. “When?” he asked sharply.

Oh, he was good. He was unafraid to demand prompt service from the only person who could help him. A haughty prisoner. I marvelled at his boldness.

“Right now, sir,” the voice replied, sounding chastened, having perhaps sensed the man’s power from his voice alone.

“Good.” The man relaxed, placated.

Now he’ll want to talk, I thought. I leaned forward to bask in his irresistible authority. Perhaps he would advise me on matters of business. Perhaps he would provide me with a tidbit of motivational wisdom. I waited excitedly for his pronouncements.

But he didn’t speak. I decided that I’d go first, but I couldn’t think of a single thing I could say that might interest him. I worried about the impression I’d make. I worried I’d look like an ass. I worried about inviting comparison between us, for he was obviously superior. I felt ashamed for having hated his guts just moments earlier, for I was now terrifically impressed. Reader, he was more than confident, he was dauntless. He was cocksure. These are the people who run the world. These are the ruthless.

I did not speak, for I had nothing to offer him. And I sensed that he knew I knew this.

The doors opened to a sea of expectant, blinking faces. They resented us for having to wait. It didn’t bother the man, though, and the crowd parted without resistance as he strode bravely through it. Meekly, I followed him toward the street.

He walked quickly, texting furiously, and was almost at the door when he turned and caught my eye.

“Thanks for not speaking to me,” he said.

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