This story is by Sheilah Ward and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Jordan LaReux was already late. Her mobile phone dinged at the fifteen minute countdown mark, when she was still five minutes from her destination. “Crap!” She increased her pace, but the heeled pumps she wore allowed her to walk only so fast. It had been a long time since she’d dressed for a business meeting. Her outfit du jour on a normal day consisted of yoga pants, sneakers, and a hoodie. She remembered the days that walking fast or running in heels was a feat easy to overcome. Back in pre-kid days. If she didn’t need this job so bad…
Her fitness watch showed that she’d made good time. Now inside the building, the elevator proved to be her next nemesis.
“C’mon, c’mon!” She pleaded, and pressed the button of the elevator several times as if doing so would bring it quicker. She looked at her watch and another drip of sticky sweat slinked down the back of her neck. The ding of the elevator arriving sounded loud in her ears, and the doors began to open slowly.
“Finally.” She stood in front of the sluggish doors, balancing her purse, briefcase, and coffee mug like an acrobat at the circus.
As they opened, Jordan, hell bent on getting in there, stood directly in front but was forced back by an exiting crowd of riders pushing their way to freedom.
“Ugh!” Jordan was now a tight rope walker, standing on one foot and extending her coffee mug hand out to avoid spilling onto her rarely worn business suit.
“Excuse me” said one man, “Pardon me” said another, “Oops, sorry!” exclaimed yet another. Jordan found herself doing a slow pirouette with the exiting crowd. Once still, she turned around to watch, with horror, the doors begin to close.
“Oh no, no way!” With a wide stride she stepped to the front of the elevator and slipped her mugless hand between the closing doors just in time to coax them back open. Using the rest of her five foot ten inch frame to open them fully, she pushed her weight first against one door, then the other and landed into the elevator car still standing on her two high heeled feet.
She leaned against the wall of the car, her purse, hair, mug, and briefcase miraculously still intact. Her heart and nerves were both beating against each other for her attention. Short of sliding her frame down to the floor, she relaxed against the wall and let her purse and briefcase drop.
“In a hurry?” said a shaky, but low voice.
Jordan looked across the car to see a man in a suit, standing in the opposite corner. She noticed that he was sweating, too, and watched as he wiped a handkerchief across his forehead.
“A bit of one, yes. An interview.” Jordan shrugged her shoulders and grinned at her co-occupant. Noticing that the elevator had yet to begin its ascent, Jordan reached and pushed the tenth floor button.
“It’s sluggish this time of day,” he said to her, as he pocketed the cloth then pinched a piece of lint off of his gray lapel. His hand shook and he took a long, loud breath.
“Well, everything seems sluggish to me today. Is it warm in here or is it me?” She asked and noticed he was already nodding his head.
“No, it is warm, yes.” Jordan watched him again. He was clean shaven and his clothes were pressed with starch creases. He reminded her of her father who had been a VP at IBM. But her father didn’t shake like this guy, she thought. Wonder what his deal is, she thought.
She turned back to the doors. They’d closed at least a minute ago. She punched the button again and was tempted to touch another to coax the thing to move. Just when she felt herself giving in, a static sound emitted from the speaker above their heads.
“Oh no!” the man moaned and began to pace the width of the elevator.
“Hello?” The voice sounded as if it was coming from a walkie-talkie.
“Yes, hello.” Jordan answered, but found herself focused on her co-occupant. His pacing was becoming more frenzied. “Hello?” she answered again, keeping her eyes on her riding mate.
“Hey, yeah.” The static voice answered. “The elevatah’s stuck. No big woop, we’re fixin’ it, but it’ll be a few mintues. Stay loose, okay?” Over and out.
“Oh please, no!” The man had stopped pacing and had flattened his form against the back of the lift. The handkerchief was out again and he was sweating profusely. “I need to get out of here!” He was shouting now and was looking at the speaker as if it were a rescuer. “Please, help me!”
It was obvious to Jordan that the guy had an issue with closed spaces. This wasn’t a good place to be in a case like that.
“Sir, listen to me.” Jordan walked toward him.
His gray eyes widened, and the black pupils dilated.
“It’s going to be okay. Really. The guy said it won’t take long, okay?” Jordan was within reach of the man now, and put her hand on his arm.
He flinched from her touch and backed into the wall even further. “I’m gonna lose it in here, I’m telling you!” His low voice was now at an alto pitch.
“No, you’re not. You and I are going to be just fine.” Jordan recalled the days when her son, now seventeen, used to have panic attacks. Jordan learned how to remain calm and how to pass that calmness onto the other person.
The voice returned. “Hey, almost done heah. We’ll have you movin in a second.” Over and out again.
“See!” Jordan touched his arm again. She felt the tense and shaking muscle under the sleek sleeve.
He looked at her with kind, but worried, eyes. He shut them as he leaned his head back. “Please hurry.” His breathing was shallow and his color almost ashen. He reached a shaking hand to his head and held it there.
Jordan didn’t move her hand and kept close. She didn’t want to swarm him; claustrophobia was a real affliction and surrounding someone who already felt closed in wouldn’t help. She leaned against the wall and decided to talk with him. Her interview time had come and gone; she hoped they’d understand.
“I’m Jordan. Jordan LaReux. I’m sorry to meet you in such unpleasant circumstances, but here we are.”
He looked at her and a slight smile formed where a taut frown had been. “You don’t have to talk to me, Jordan. I appreciate your kindness, though. I wish this damned thing would move!” He hit the wall with his hand and the sound echoed within the chamber.
“Hey, what’s goin on in theah? You people okay? What the hell was that noise?”
“Yes, we’re fine.” Jordan looked at the speaker. “You need to get us moving. My co-occupant has a pretty severe case of claustrophobia and he isn’t doing too well.”
Just then, there was a lurch, and a squeak, and the elevator began to ascend. Jordan moved back over to where her purse and briefcase were. She watched the numbers above the doors light up, one, two, three, four, finally ten.
“See? We’re here. You’re going to ten, also, right?”
The man nodded, and finally took a deep breath. “I am sorry, Jordan. I’ve been riding this elevator for fifteen years, and it’s never been stuck. You don’t know how many years it took me to get on the damn thing.” He smiled at her. “I have to admit, taking ten flights of steps every day for ten years kept me in good shape, though.” He patted his taut abdomen and laughed.
“Wow, ten flights. That’s a lot.” Although Jordan exercised, she couldn’t imagine taking ten flights of steps to start work every day. “We all have our quirks.” She smiled at him with a compassion she was surprised she possessed. She was disappointed about being late to her interview and felt as if she looked horrendous. The car was warm and she was sure her hair was flat and her makeup all but gone.
They stepped into cool of the tenth floor lobby. “You were the calm in the center of my storm today, Jordan. I hadn’t experienced one of those episodes in a very long time. I am grateful.” He reached out to shake her hand.
“Glad I could help. I can imagine how scary it must be.” Jordan felt his grasp tighten for a moment before letting go. She looked away from his gaze to the sign on the wall for the office number of where she needed to go. She looked back at the man, who smiled warmly.
“Come with me, Jordan. I’d like to introduce you to the people you are going to be working with, starting with me. I’m Cale Bolling, owner of the company you’re here to interview with.”